NEWS
07/06/2018 17:55 EDT | Updated 07/06/2018 17:55 EDT

Canadian Judges Can Now Take Steps To Better Understand Sexual Assault

One of the video courses teaches about how "rape myths" can propagate "rapidly" during a trial.

Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Richard Wagner, centre, says that social context education provides judges with necessary skills to ensure "myths" and "stereotypes" do not influence judicial decisions.
Justin Tang / The Canadian Press
Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Richard Wagner, centre, says that social context education provides judges with necessary skills to ensure "myths" and "stereotypes" do not influence judicial decisions.

OTTAWA — The Canadian Judicial Council has launched a new website showcasing the training courses it is offering to federally appointed judges — including seminars to help judges handle sexual assault cases.

In a statement on the site, council chair Richard Wagner, who is also the Supreme Court's chief justice, says so-called social context education gives judges the skills necessary to ensure "myths" and "stereotypes" do not influence judicial decisions.

The website, at judicialeducation.cjc-ccm.ca, includes 10 offerings focused on sexual assault law, as well as one on sexual assault trials.

The latter course includes video-based programs that provide judges with an overview of the sort of issues they're liable to face.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner participates in a media availability in Ottawa on June 22, 2018.

In one session, experienced jurists discuss "rape myths" and "stereotypes," and how such myths can propagate "rapidly" during various stages of the judicial process.

Johanna Laporte, the director of communications for the council, said Canada has "extensive" training for judges on a range of issues and the website is intended to inform Canadians of how judges keep up to date with the law and social context.

"While the recent public debate about sexual assault training for judges has cast a light on the need for added transparency, Council's main impetus was to showcase the breadth and depth of judicial education programming," said Laporte.

Brendan McDermid / Reuters
Protesters participate in a #MeToo demonstration in New York on Dec. 9, 2017. The movement has challenged the way people think about sexual assault.

"Many courses have elements of social context awareness and sexual assault law woven into them and Council hopes that visitors will see that these complex issues are discussed in a variety of settings — not just in a stand alone course."

The question of how well-equipped judges in Canada are to handle sexual assault cases has been a hot topic in recent years.

In 2017, a Nova Scotia judge acquitted a Halifax cab driver at trial, suggesting that even an intoxicated woman can consent to sex.

Todd Korol / The Canadian Press
Federal Court Justice Robin Camp leaves a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in a Calgary hotel on Sept. 9, 2016.

And during a trial in 2014, Alberta judge Robin Camp — referring to the complainant as "the accused" — asked why she hadn't resisted the alleged assault by keeping her "knees together." Camp stepped down after the council recommended that he be removed from the bench. He was reinstated last May by the Law Society of Alberta.

The federal Liberal government has thrown its support behind a bill, currently before the Senate, that would require judges to take courses in sexual assault law.

Bill C-337 would also limit judicial appointments to those who have completed comprehensive education in sexual assault law and social context.

Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press
Demonstrators protest Judge Gregory Lenehan's decision to acquit a Halifax taxi driver charged with sexual assault during a rally in Halifax on March 7, 2017.

It would also require the council to report on continuing education seminars in matters related to sexual assault law and change the Criminal Code to require courts to provide written reasons in sexual assault decisions.

The bill was introduced in 2017 by former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose after Nova Scotia provincial court judge Gregory Lenehan acquitted Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assault, even though police found the partially naked complainant unconscious in the back of Al-Rawi's cab shortly after the alleged incident.

The ruling — along with Lenehan's comment in his decision that "clearly, a drunk can consent" to sex — prompted widespread protest. Earlier this year, Nova Scotia's top court ordered a new trial in the case.

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