MONTREAL — The deputies of the three opposition parties represented in the national Assembly have met with the minister of Justice, Monday, to consider ways to improve the handling of complaints of sexual assault in the justice system.
Some have suggested to establish a special court for cases of sexual assault. The prime minister François Legault said to be open to the idea.
The pq’s Véronique Hivon, who pleads strongly for this option, believes that the modest number of women who file complaints of sexual assault demonstrates that it is necessary to reform the system.
“The confidence is not there in the justice system. If the victims had confidence, they would stand in front of police, they would file complaints”, she argued before the meeting at the Palais de Justice de Montréal, where she met with minister Sonia LeBel, the liberal Hélène David and the solidarity Christine Labrie.
According to the data of the federal ministry of Justice, in 2014, only 5 percent of sexual assaults had been reported in Canada. This figure has increased after the surge of movement #Metoo ( #Moiaussi), which encouraged women to denounce.
Statistics Canada has found that by 2017, the number of reports increased, especially in Quebec, where we observed the largest increase of 61 percent.
Give a greater role to the victim
“There are times that say: “We are in the process of reviewing the rights of the accused”. This is not that at all. This is guaranteed in our constitutional law,” added Ms. Hivon.
The idea is to train Crown attorneys, judges and Court staff so that they understand all the nuances of the records of sexual assaults, she explained. In addition, victims have access to psychosocial services systematically, and across the province.
Ms. Hivon said the goal is to give a greater role to the victim, for it is not only “an object to lead to a conviction.”
Such a tribunal does not exist in Canada. But there is one in South Africa and there is also a pilot project in New Zealand, ” said Ms. Hivon.
A step in the right direction
According to the professor of law at McGill University Angela Campbell, a special tribunal – similar to what exists elsewhere in Canada for the records of domestic violence – would be a way to improve the system.
Cases of sexual assault against women remain high, but in a large number of cases, the crimes are not reported or go unpunished, she added.
According to Ms. Campbell, a tribunal may be established by the provinces, since the objective is not to alter the criminal Code – which is federal jurisdiction – but to reform the way the laws are applied in Quebec.
“We want judges who understand the criminal law also understand that a victim doesn’t lie necessarily, because it took him ten years to denounce them,” she explained.
In criminal cases, she says, the Crown attorney takes over and the alleged victim has no role other than that of witness. A court would add elements of restorative justice in the punishment and training of employees of the court so that they inform the complainants about the procedures from the beginning to the end.
“The value is to have specialized staff and judges responsible for these cases, which have all the training necessary to apply strictly to criminal justice, but also who have an understanding very nuanced and profound sexual assault as a social phenomenon,” said Ms. Campbell.
At the end of their meeting, the deputies have not announced anything specific, but they reported a “productive meeting and non-partisan”.
“I am excited to have hosted my colleagues to discuss these important issues,” said minister LeBel in their joint communiqué.
“I look forward to working with my colleagues and the many stakeholders that mark the journey of the victims to improve the situation.”