Power & Politics

'Shocking': Rona Ambrose wants Senate to pick up the pace on sex assault bill

The Senate seems to be setting a slow pace on a bill mandating sexual assault training for judges — and the bill's original sponsor, former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose, isn't happy about it.

Former Conservative minister's bill to mandate training for judges stalled in Senate for nearly two years

Former Conservative Interim leader Rona Ambrose wants the Senate to move forward quickly on her bill making sexual assault law training mandatory for incoming judges. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

The Senate seems to be setting a slow pace on a bill mandating sexual assault training for judges — and the bill's original sponsor, Rona Ambrose, isn't happy about it.

"It's very upsetting because there are a lot of women and men who want to see us build more confidence in the justice system," the former federal Conservative Party interim leader told CBC News Network's Power & Politics today.

"It's really shocking."

Before leaving politics in July 2017, Ambrose introduced Bill C-337 to make training for incoming judges on sexual assault law compulsory. She said it was a response to a series of high-profile sex assault cases that showed some judges still adhere to false stereotypes about women and sexual violence.

"The idea behind my bill is if you want to become a judge, you actually have to undertake sexual assault law training," Ambrose told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.

"You would never say, 'Why didn't you keep your legs closed? Why did you wear that short skirt to the bar?' It's about dealing with the rape mythology."

'It's about creating confidence in the system,' the former interim Conservative leader says. 7:52

The bill passed in the House of Commons with bipartisan support in 2017 but has been stalled in the Senate since passing its second reading in May 2018.

It was referred to the Senate committee on legal affairs back in May, but so far no date has been set to study the bill.

Sen. Serge Joyal, who chairs the committee, was unavailable for an interview. His office said it was unable to cite a date for sending the bill to committee.

Ambrose said the lack of progress in the Red Chamber is frustrating.

"We passed it within four months in the House of Commons and it's been stuck in the Senate for almost two years," she said. "Because it's already been studied in the House, it's possible this could be done quite quickly."

Concerns over interference in judiciary

The bill has its champions in the Senate — including Conservative senator and former judge Raynell Andreychuk, who sponsored the legislation. Other senators have raised concerns.

Former Independent senator Joan Fraser, who retired in February 2018, argued that it was "neither appropriate nor wise for Parliament to be getting into the fine details of dictating what legal education must include."

Ambrose disagrees, saying her bill isn't about telling judges what to think.

"This isn't about targeting judges sitting on the bench. It's about targeting lawyers who want to be appointed one day," she said. "It's about creating confidence in the system."

P.E.I. debates similar bill

In Prince Edward Island, a similar bill making sexual assault law education mandatory for aspiring judges is being debated this week.

Bill 110 will have its second reading in the provincial legislature in Charlottetown Thursday. The proposed legislation would require lawyers who want to become judges to be trained on sexual assault law. Retired judges out of the system for more than two years and looking to fill in on the bench would also have to undergo training.

P.E.I. Conservative MLA and justice critic Jamie Fox, who put forward the private member's bill in May 2018, said in a separate interview with CBC News that Ambrose helped with the bill.

"We consulted with Rona on this extensively and when you hear what she did with Bill C-337, I think that's a testament to her. She got the ball rolling on this, and there's been a lot of teamwork across many lines on this bill."

Ambrose will be in the P.E.I. legislature Thursday to offer her support, Fox said. He said he believes there are "very strong signals" the bill will go on to third reading before receiving royal assent and becoming law "in the very near future."

That could mean the P.E.I. bill entering into force before the federal version — something Ambrose said would be a positive thing.

"It will hopefully add pressure to the Senate to get this moving," she said. "Let's hope this creates some momentum."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.