News / Ottawa

Ontario government not planning to require judges to take sexual-assault training

Interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose's bill would make judicial education mandatory for federally appointed judges

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose's bill would not apply to judges the provinces appoint who hear many sexual assault cases.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose's bill would not apply to judges the provinces appoint who hear many sexual assault cases.

Despite a high-profile federal bill that would require would-be judges to take a sexual-assault course, Ontario has no plans to follow suit.

The federal bill, which interim federal Conservative leader Rona Ambrose introduced last month, was referred to committee last week. It has widespread support in the House of Commons.

Ambrose’s bill covers superior court judges, who are appointed by the federal government and hear many sexual assault cases. But judges appointed by provincial governments also preside over sexual-assault cases.

The first Jian Ghomeshi trial, for example, which ended in a controversial acquittal, was heard and decided by a provincial judge in Toronto. And another provincial appointee, Halifax Judge Gregory Lenehan, drew public ire across Canada by saying a “drunk can consent” in his acquittal of a taxi driver accused of sexual assault.

Clare Graham, a spokesperson for the Ontario Attorney General’s office, said in an email that the province doesn’t plan to make sexual-assault training mandatory for its judicial appointees.

“The independence of the judiciary is one of the key principles of Canada’s justice system,” she said in an email. “In Ontario, judges function separately and independently of the government.”

Graham said the government does believe there is work to be done in the justice system to improve outcomes for sexual assault victims.

“We recognize that although we’ve made significant strides, more needs to be done to make the criminal justice system more accessible and responsive to survivors of sexual assault,” she said.

She pointed to a new advisory group of Crown prosecutors who are working with other Crowns and police to improve sexual assault prosecutions.

“The advisory group provided training to 600 Crowns at the Ministry of the Attorney General/Ontario Crown Attorneys Association Spring Conference 2016 on conducting sexual violence prosecutions‎,” said Graham.

Jill Arthur, a communications officer for the Ontario Court of Justice, said provincial court judges are given lots of opportunity to take courses and seminars related to a wide range of legal issues, including sexual assault.

“Timely and effective judicial education is a key responsibility of the Ontario Court of Justice,” she said in an email.

She said that, while courses about sexual assault have been widely available for three decades, the court administration doesn’t track whether judges have taken them.

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