Quebec gets closer to creating special tribunal for sexual and domestic violence victims

The province is getting ready to table a bill that would create a special tribunal for sexual and domestic violence cases. A new report gives a glimpse of what that tribunal could look like.

New report says victim-centred approach for tribunal is key to rebuilding trust

Simon Jolin-Barrette, the province's justice minister, is expected to table a bill this fall to pave the way for the creation of a special tribunal for cases of sexual and domestic violence. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

With legislation to create a tribunal specializing in cases of sexual and domestic violence expected this fall, a new report is outlining how it should be set up.

The report serves as the province's road map, highlighting what needs to be done in order for the tribunal to provide better support to victims and, ultimately, encourage others to come forward. 

It was drafted by a large group made up of experts from several provincial ministries, as well as the Court of Quebec and the Crown prosecutor's office. 

This fall, Simon Jolin-Barrette, the province's justice minister, plans to table a bill which, if passed, would pave the way for a pilot project to test the inner workings of the tribunal, before it becomes permanent.

"For me it's very clear that the victim needs to be comfortable and trust the justice system throughout the process of coming forward and the judicial process," Jolin-Barrette said during an interview with Radio-Canada's Tout un Matin

"I don't want any victim to refrain from coming forward because of a fear of not being properly supported in the justice system."

To achieve that goal, the tribunal should have an approach "centred on the victim," the report states.

This includes facilitating access to legal, psychological and social services throughout the judicial process and making sure people from these different fields work together more efficiently, the report says.

It also says the tribunal should consider "cultural and historical realities" when accompanying Indigenous victims. 

Translation services, shorter delays and continuous training for everyone involved in the process are also deemed necessary.

The group was put together in February, shortly after a committee of more than 20 experts presented a report titled Rebâtir la confiance — French for "Rebuilding trust" — to the Quebec government in December 2020.

A specialized tribunal can help preserve or build trust in victims of sexual assault and survivors of domestic violence, said Sophie Gagnon, a lawyer and executive director of the legal clinic Juripop.

Until plans for the tribunal are revealed in full detail, she added, it's not clear how it will work, but she sees the potential for good.

It could provide speedier legal proceedings and staff that are better trained to understand what victims are going through — providing a service that is more focused on caring for the victims and ensuring they aren't re-traumatized by the process, she said.

"I do hope that if the experiences of victims and survivors are better within courtrooms then that will lead to more complaints with the police and just a better working of the judicial system with regards to sexual assault," she said.

Jolin-Barette said he hopes to get the special tribunals up and running as quickly as possible.

"I think we need to modernize the justice system and all the actors of the justice system need to work together," he said. "And that's my job to make sure that these pilot projects by the bill will be in place as soon as possible."

with files from Lauren McCallum