Rona Ambrose says she has a “simple fix” for what she calls a gap that exists around awareness of sexual assault law in Canada. The Interim Conservative Leader is putting forward a private member’s bill that would make training around things like rape mythology mandatory for anyone who wants to become a judge.
“Most people that are victimized by a rape—very few of them actually take it forward into the justice system,” Ambrose told Global News in an exclusive interview.
“I feel like at this point people have lost confidence in the system.”
Citing her university experience working at a rape crisis centre, Ambrose said she was part of a project that tracked the way victims of sexual assault were treated by judges, the prosecution and the court system in general, including sentencing deliberations. She said the “laws on the books are good” but many victims don’t feel the system is aware of what they are going through.
WATCH: Ambrose tables private bill; judges, lawyers should receive training when it comes to sexual assault cases
“It will be surprising to a lot of Canadians to find out that we do have judges that are overseeing these cases that actually haven’t taken the training that you would expect them to take around sexual assault law.
“This is a very small but effective way to close that gap—to make sure that we have a more fair courtroom, that we have judges and lawyers who understand these cases, the impact of these cases, and I think that will be more fair for a victim and even for an accused.”
The retrial of Alexander Wagar, twice acquitted in a Calgary courtroom, made headlines for comments made by the judge who originally heard the case.
Robin Camp was a provincial court judge during the initial trial in 2014, during which he repeatedly called the sex assault complainant “the accused” and asked her why she couldn’t “keep her knees together.”
As part of a judicial review which eventually recommended Camp be removed from the bar, the South African native admitted he had no knowledge of Canadian criminal law at the time. He mainly focused on contractual, bankruptcy and trust law in his career—plus oil and gas litigation. He never received training or judicial education on sexual assault law or how to conduct such trials.
Ambrose referred to recent “high-profile cases” but said that’s not what her bill is about.
“These cases are not like every other case and we do need the people that are overseeing them and the people that are in the system—and this is from police, to victim services people, to the lawyers, to the judges—I think all of them have to have the proper training to deal with these kinds of issues around sexual assault.”
Watch below: Lawyer Joseph Neuberger weighs in on a report recommending Justice Robin Camp be removed from the bench for his infamous comment
When asked why she didn’t try to push for training when she was part of the sitting government, Ambrose said she didn’t know the gap existed until she started research over the last year-and-a-half.
She said she’s hopeful the bill will pass, adding she’s been speaking with advocates and premiers, noting she wants the bill to take effect both federally and provincially.
“I really do think it’s a very simple ask, a very simple fix. And at the end of the day, my question to somebody that opposed this would be: why not? Why not just take the training?
“It’ll make you a better lawyer, a better judge, a better victim services officer, a better police officer and I think it’s a positive thing.”