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Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says Ontario wrong not to require judges training

Ambrose's widely supported private member's bill aims to help candidates for federal judicial appointments recognize myths and stereotypes

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.

The Canadian Press

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said she can’t understand why the Ontario government isn’t prepared to require new judges to take sexual-assault training.

Ambrose has all-party support for a private member's bill in the House of Commons requiring prospective judges to take sexual assault training before being appointed to the bench.

Her bill would only cover federally appointed judges, but provincial judges oversee many sexual assault cases. Clare Graham, a spokesperson for Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi, told Metro earlier this week that the province doesn’t plan similar legislation.

“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.”

Ambrose said she’s confident her bill is constitutionally sound and judicial independence shouldn’t extend so far as to prevent the province from ensuring basic training is happening.

“Unfortunately, in this country judges are treated like gods. We are not even allowed to ask them if they’re taking the training,” she said.

Representatives of the both the Ontario Court of Justice, whose judges are provincial appointees, and Ontario Superior Court, hose judges are federal appointees, confirmed that training is available, but they don't track which judges have taken it.

Ambrose said some judges may simply not have the information and training they need to make good rulings.

“Some of them don’t have any training in sexual assault law, some aren’t even criminal lawyers and they’re presiding over sexual assault cases.”

She said bad rulings undermine already-low confidence in the system: estimates are that only one in 10 victims comes forward.

“That’s what this is about, it is about actually creating confidence in the justice system.”

She said if all judges better understood rape myths and stereotypes, victims could be more confident in the system.  

“Then they don’t feel that going through the system is a judgment on their character, but an actual judgment on their case.”

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