Bill watch
Tiffany Lau is a staff lawyer at the Barbra Schlifer Clinic

This month, two proposed pieces of legislation made their way through the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (“Committee”) for consideration.

The first of these Bills is C-337, a private member bill that proposes mandated sexual assault training for federally appointed judges.  C-337 was put forward by now former Conservative Party Leader Rona Ambrose in 2017.  In 2016, the Clinic, along with WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre, were among a select number of organizations granted permission to intervene on the judicial inquiry into the conduct of then Justice Robin Camp during a sexual assault trial.  The Judicial Council recommended his removal and former Justice Camp ultimately resigned from the Bench.  Despite receiving unanimous bipartisan support in the House of Commons, C-337 stalled in the Senate for two years and just recently saw renewed action this month. 

Despite a special request by Senator Pierre Dalphond for the Senate to sit an additional hour to address C-337, C-337 was ultimately blocked from coming to a vote. However, this is not the end of the road for Bill C-337.  The Liberal Party, Conservative Party, New Democratic Party and the Green Party have all promised that it will be part of their platforms to table legislation for mandatory sexual assault training for judges if elected. 

Second, Bill C-78 proposed and passed amendments to the Divorce Act (federal family law legislation) that specifically defines family violence and includes family violence within the factors that determine the best interests of the child.  The Clinic has endorsed the joint statement and amendments by Luke’s Place and the National Association of Women and the Law.  Compared to C-337, C-78 moved quickly through the House and Senate.  Rather than propose amendments to the Bill itself, which would have delayed the passing of the Bill, the Committee opted to append observations to their report. One of these was the acknowledgement that despite C-78 using gender-neutral language when describing family violence, it is mainly women who are the victims of violence. Bill C-78 was passed on June 21.

There are currently laws across many areas of law that are designed to address and protect victims of violence.  For example, according to the Ontario Children’s Law Reform Act, the court must consider whether the person has committed any violence or abuse against their spouse, child or parent of the child in question when assessing their ability to parent.   In the Criminal Code, there are laws restricting the use of past sexual history in sexual cases.   There is case law across many areas of law that consider the issue of violence against women with nuance and understanding of the dynamics of violence.  Yet many of the Clinic’s clients often report negative experiences with the justice system.  Many continue to refrain from reporting violence altogether.  The concern for our clients is not only the laws as they appear on paper but also in their application by those who are tasked to apply, uphold and interpret the law. If not applied with care, even the best-intended legislation can turn into means for the disempowerment of survivors.