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Bill C-51: Vancouver Rape Relief’s submission to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, House of Commons

By Hilla Kerner
October 25, 2017

Bill C-51: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act 

The women who work in rape crisis centres did not need the “Me too” campaign to know how common it is for women to experience sexual assault and rape. Being a girl and a woman in this world means we are likely to be sexually assaulted. If we are poor, indigenous, women of colour, or women with cognitive or physical disabilities, we are even more likely to be sexually assaulted. I would say it’s almost guaranteed and, yes, me too.

In preparation for this submission, we looked at almost 6,000 cases of sexual assault and rape of women who called our rape crisis centre in the last five years. Twenty-five hundred women were raped by their husbands, boyfriends, or lovers, and another 422 women were raped by their ex-male partner after they broke up with him. Two hundred and thirty-four women were sexually assaulted, most often raped, by their male supervisor or co-worker. Eleven hundred women were sexually assaulted by someone they knew professionally, often through social circumstances like a party, mutual friends, or someone they had a first or a second date with. Three hundred and thirty women were raped by their own fathers when they were young, and another 471 women were sexually assaulted or raped by other family members or family friends. Five hundred and nine women were assaulted by men who were a stranger to them.

We appreciate the Minister of Justice’s efforts to advance sexual assault provisions with the amendments proposed in Bill C-51. We have one objection, and that is to the addition of “no consent is obtained if the complainant is unconscious”. Of course an unconscious woman cannot consent, but this is already captured under the existing law which says, “No consent is obtained” if the “complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity”.

The addition can be misused by defence counsels to argue that unconsciousness is a threshold for incapability, and since we too often see cases where judges do not know sexual assault laws, the intent behind the laws, and the intent of Supreme Court judgments instructing the application of the law, there is a serious danger that the judges will accept the defence arguments in this matter.

We support the proposed articulation that no consent is obtained if there is “no evidence that the complainant’s voluntary agreement to the activity was affirmatively expressed by words or actively expressed by conduct”.

We also support the expansion of rape shield provisions to include communication of a sexual nature or communication for a sexual purpose. We support the right to legal representation for victims in rape shield proceedings.

About the amendment concerning victims’ private records, it has been exactly 20 years since the passing of Bill C-46 which amended the Criminal Code with specific provisions regarding the production and disclosure of records of the accused in sexual assault proceedings.

We have been members of CASAC, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, since 1978. Early on, members of CASAC faced the need to protect a record; so in 1981 CASAC members passed a resolution to protect the confidentiality of records and to protect the confidentiality of what women told us regardless of legislation. Seeking women’s records from rape crisis centres is a clear and blunt attempt to undermine a victim’s credibility and violates their privacy and dignity. It is also a direct attack on rape crisis centres and our role in supporting individual victims, our demands that violent men be held accountable, and our overall fight for women’s equality and liberty.

When Bill C-46 passed, the feminists who advocated for it described it as second best, because the full demand was for no records at any time. The current proposed amendments regarding women’s records in the possession of the accused gets us closer to that demand, and we support this.

Alas, good laws mean nothing when judges do not know the law and therefore do not uphold the law. We are aware of the recent attempt by Parliament to address this issue, and we are looking forward to speaking to the matter when Bill C-337 is discussed at the relevant committee in the Senate.

Judges’ ignorance is only one element in the utter failure of the criminal justice system as a whole to hold men who commit violence against women accountable. Of the 6,000 cases that I mentioned earlier, 1,800 were reported to the police. About 30 resulted in charges, and fewer in convictions.

The common sexism and diminishment of women in all aspects of our private and public lives teach men to see and treat us as things and not as full human beings. Pornography is a devastating and effective promotion and reinforcement of men’s sexualized violence against women. Prostitution is a devastating and effective promotion of the sexual commodification of women, where women are used as a commodity that can be bought and sold by men.

The problem is not that men do not know if a woman really consented or if she really wanted to have sex with them; the problem is that they don’t care. They are allowed not to care, because they know they can rape women with impunity.

We often use the term rape culture to mean the acceptance, the collusion, the promotion of male violence against women. Men use rape culture to sustain rape structure, a structure that keeps men in domination and keeps us women in submission. The accumulation and the impact of all the individual rapes that men commit against individual women sustain all men’s power over all women.

Of course, we know it’s not all men. We know that not all men are wife beaters, sex buyers, rapists, or pornographers, but for sure, many are. We know that because of all the women who call our and other rape crisis centres, and because of all the women who are living in our and other transition houses. And now,anyone who pays attention knows it too, because of all the women who say “Me too.”

We believe men can change, but not as long as they get permission and encouragement to violate our bodily integrity and autonomy. We need to shake the pillars of the rape structure and start by holding men who commit violence against women accountable. So far, the Canadian state and its criminal justice system has been failing to do so.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises us, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law.” It is now 2017, and we women still do not have it, not the equal protection nor the equal benefit of the law.

Read the full evidence.

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