Sexual assault victims need more help navigating justice system, report says

Following consultations with sexual assault survivors and community groups, an expert committee is recommending victims be given all the tools and support they need to report crimes, denounce their attackers, and survive the outcome.

Expert committee recommends creating specialized tribunal, offering victims free legal advice

Quebec's minister responsible for the status of women, Isabelle Charest says restoring victims' trust in the judicial system is crucial. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

An expert committee has made public 190 recommendations aimed at ensuring victims of sexual assault and domestic violence feel supported from the moment they come forward.

The committee wants services available to victims to be integrated, so they don't have to relive the trauma by repeatedly recounting the assault.

It is also recommending the creation of a tribunal specializing in sexual assault and domestic violence to help victims navigate the justice system, and for victims to receive four hours of free legal advice from experts specialized in sexual assault or domestic violence.

"The system doesn't inspire enough confidence," said committee co-president Élizabeth Corte, a former Quebec court judge. "Clearly, it doesn't meet victims' needs."

The panel, created in March 2019 by Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, is made up of researchers, social workers, criminologists, and other experts, and produced its 292-page report after consulting victims and community groups.

It did not, however, provide a breakdown of how much it would cost to put the suggestions into practice.

"It wasn't our role and we didn't have the expertise to do it. What we tried to do is to suggest the ideal situation, not what we're able to pay for," Corte said.

Isabelle Charest, the Quebec minister responsible for the status of women, said $50 million over five years will be devoted to implementing the recommendations.

Charest said she and her colleagues from the three other political parties are ready to act on the recommendations, which include:

  • Ensuring someone communicates with a victim within 24 hours of the accused's release and informs them of the bail conditions.
  • Improving and better promoting the SOS Violence conjugale et Info-aide violence sexuelle hotlines.
  • Making sure that cases involving sexual crimes are submitted to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions for analysis, instead of being closed following the police investigation.
  • Providing psychosocial and judicial support in line with Indigenous cultural values.
  • Better supporting victims as they deal with all forms of the law, such as the criminal justice system or family law.

Facilitating access, supporting Indigenous victims

While services for sexual assault victims exist, they're spread out across the province and the quality of services varies, said Québec Solidaire MNA Christine Labrie.

Labrie said that creating integrated service centres specifically for sexual assault victims is a way to potentially streamline resources.

"We absolutely must put victims at the centre of the judiciary system," said Labrie.

"They have told us over and over. They don't know where to go or what to do after enduring violence."

The panel suggested developing culturally relevant services for victims from Indigenous communities, including creating a centre that would, among other things, accompany them through the traditional justice system and propose restorative justice options.

All judges and prosecutors assigned to cases involving victims from Indigenous communities would be required to undergo regular training on socio-historic contexts contributing to violence, non-verbal communication training and Indigenous concepts of justice.