06/06/2017 03:37 EDT | Updated 06/06/2017 03:50 EDT

Feds Aim To Bring Sexual Assault Law Up To Speed With The Courts And The Times

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says the proposed legislation would "modernize" several Criminal Code provisions.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is changing sexual assault law to make it clear that an unconscious person cannot consent to sexual activity, part of an effort to bring legislation up to speed with the courts — and the times.

"I'm hopeful that these proposed changes will go a long way towards ensuring that victims of sexual assault are treated with compassion and with the respect that they deserve," Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Tuesday.

The proposed legislation, known as Bill C-51, would also expand rape shield provisions to include text messages and other communications of a sexual nature, either from before or after the sexual activity in question.

The bill makes clear that a complainant would have the right to a lawyer during rape shield proceedings, which are designed to prevent a complainant's sexual history from being used against them.

It would also set up a regime to clarify whether an accused can introduce in court any private records of a complainant, such as diary entries or notes from therapy sessions.

The bill is also a continuation of a Liberal plan to repeal or update sections of the Criminal Code that have been found obsolete, including: bans on challenging someone to a duel; pretending to practice witchcraft; publishing, selling or owning comic books about crime; or advertising a reward for the return of stolen property, with "no questions asked."

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says the proposed legislation would "modernize" several Criminal Code provisions. (Photo: Reuters)

It would also clean up sections the courts have found unconstitutional by narrowing the definition of defamatory libel, getting rid of some prosecutorial shortcuts related to gambling, theft and possession of property obtained by crime, and a limit on credit for time served.

"These proposed changes would update and modernize several Criminal Code provisions to better reflect the charter and make law more relevant to our modern society," Wilson-Raybould said.

The bill would also require the justice minister to explain publicly why any newly proposed laws — including those outside her portfolio — are compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Wilson-Raybould, who has promised a larger overhaul of the criminal justice system that includes sentencing reform such as changes to mandatory minimum penalties, defended the decision to introduce this legislation first.

"Some reforms are going to take longer because they require more substantive engagement around the legal and policy issues," Wilson-Raybould said Tuesday. "That's not to say that because they're taking longer, they're not as important or that this one is more important."

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