Rona Ambrose's Bill On Training For Would-Be Judges Wins Liberal Support

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OTTAWA — The Liberal government says it will support a proposed Conservative bill that would require anyone hoping to be considered for the bench to undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.

David Taylor, a spokesman for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, says the government is satisfied with minor changes the Commons status of women committee made to the legislation, introduced by Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose.

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Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose speaks in the House of Commons on May 15, 2017. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Ambrose's bill would also change the Criminal Code to require either recorded or written decisions in sexual assault cases, and would require the Canadian Judicial Council to report on continuing education courses on sexual assault law.

The proposed legislation also has the support of one of the women at the centre of last year's high-profile trial of Jian Ghomeshi.

Linda Redgrave says judges need to better understand the impact that trauma can have on the memory and behaviour of someone who has experienced sexual assault.

Redgrave, whose identity was protected by a publication ban before she asked for it to be lifted, was among those who accused the former CBC personality of sexual assault before his dramatic and controversial acquittal in March 2016.

'It's luck of the draw'

"Unless there is some kind of judicial training in place, then we don't have fair access to justice," said Redgrave, who founded a non-profit organization called Coming Forward to help support victims of sexual assault navigate the justice system.

"We're getting what we're getting.... It's luck of the draw."

In acquitting Ghomeshi, Ontario Court Justice William Horkins said he was unable to rely on Redgrave's testimony, describing her version of events as "shifting" and her behaviour as "odd."

"The expectation of how a victim of abuse will, or should, be expected to behave must not be assessed on the basis of stereotypical models," Horkins wrote in his ruling.

"Having said that, I have no hesitation in saying that the behaviour of this complainant is, at the very least, odd. The factual inconsistencies in her evidence cause me to approach her evidence with great skepticism."

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Linda Redgrave is seen outside Ontario court of justice in Toronto on May 11, 2016. (Photo: Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

Horkins also noted all he had to go on was the credibility of the complainants, which is not unusual in matters involving sexual assault.

Horkins declined to comment, but a spokeswoman for the Ontario Court of Justice says all its judges are given education in "social awareness," including on issues related to gender-based violence and sexual assault.

Redgrave said better and more consistent training could change the way judges determine the credibility of a sexual assault complainant.

She said it could also help encourage more victims to turn to the courts.

The Ghomeshi trial and ruling, both of which prompted an emotional debate about how abuse complainants are treated by the justice system, likely did the opposite, she added.

"I think it sent a message loud and clear to tell people that if you try to come forward, your credibility is going to be taken down."

In a written brief to the House of Commons committee that studied the proposed legislation, also known as Bill C-337, Redgrave and Toronto lawyer Helgi Maki argued the training for judges should include learning about "the neurobiological impact of trauma," as well as how to conduct a trial in a way that understands this impact.

Drawing on the work of Lori Haskell, a Toronto clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma, Redgrave and Maki wrote that victims of sexual assault can find themselves feeling frozen and unable to fight back, have trouble making decisions, show no emotional expression after an assault takes place and experience memory loss.

New Democrats want to fast-track bill

New Democrats want the Liberals and Conservatives to agree to fast-track the bill so that it comes back up for third reading this week.

Last month, Ambrose told the status of women committee that her idea for the bill stems all the way back to when she was in university, when she took part in a project looking into how sexual assault complainants were treated in the courtroom.

She told the committee she remembered a prosecutor asking a young girl why she had been sitting in the lap of the defendant, who she said was a man in his fifties.

"These kinds of stereotypes still exist, these kinds of mythologies continue, and we see them in our courtrooms," Ambrose said April 4.

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