Quebec Bar releases recommendations on how courts deal with sexual assault

The Quebec Bar Association wants to make it easier for victims of sexual assault to have their cases heard in court.

Defence lawyers should receive training on best practices for cross-examination of vulnerable people, bar says

Amid the #MeToo movement and reckoning among law enforcement agencies on how sexual assault accusations are handled, the Quebec Bar Association has emitted a number of recommendations. (CBC)

The Quebec Bar Association wants to make it easier for alleged victims of sexual assault to have their cases heard in court. 

A working group set up by the bar has come up with a list of recommendations — including a call for legislative changes — for Quebec police forces, lawyers and the provincial government.

The association said it created the group to examine how sexual assault cases are handled throughout the judicial process, following the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault accusations and trial, as well as a Globe and Mail investigation that found a large number of cases are declared unfounded by police forces across Canada.

Paul-Matthieu Grondin, the head of the Quebec bar, said the recommendations are "avenues of action and reflection that can improve the justice system. The bar believes action must be taken immediately to ensure fairer treatment for victims of sexual violence."

"As a society, we must act," Grondin added.

The recommendations include:

  • Reviewing sexual assault allegations thrown out by police in which a social worker helped file the report.
  • Making sure sexual assault files are handled by police officers who are part of specialized sexual assault units
  • Providing all police officers with one hour of sensitivity training about how to approach alleged victims.
  • Providing free or affordable legal consultations to alleged victims and increasing the visibility of reference services to find lawyers.
  • Providing defence lawyers with training on best practices for cross-examining vulnerable people, including alleged victims of sexual assault.
  • Amending the Quebec law that lays out the regulations governing the compensation of crime victims. It says compensation claims should be granted "without regard to the behaviour of the victim of sexual assault."

The recommendations, the result of work that began nearly a year ago, coincide with the growing momentum of the #MeToo movement in the weeks since the firing of American film producer Harvey Weinstein over a slew of allegations he'd sexually harassed and abused women for years with impunity. 

The list of alleged perpetrators grows daily and includes a number of Quebec media personalities and entertainers, including Just for Laughs co-founder, Gilbert Rozon

The association says it wanted to release its recommendations before a forum on sexual violence which the provincial government is planning.