Judges need training for sex assault cases
Thursday, Apr 13, 2017 06:00 am
New federally appointed judges attended a week-long seminar in Quebec last week where the hot-button topic was the suggestion that mandatory and comprehensive legal training regarding sexual assault laws are needed for those called to the bench.
The idea stems from recent cases that have the public and the law community concerned about judges and their ability to properly preside over sexual assault cases.
Judges across the country, including four in Alberta, have come under fire for their insensitive handling of these types of cases. From one judge asking a victim why she could not keep her knees together to others ignoring the clear rules of consent outlined in Canadian law.
Such legal bias had a profound effect on two women in Cochrane who spent years fighting for justice against their stepfather who stood accused of sexually assaulting them.
Three years ago, Justice K. Yamauchi found Allan Dean Griffin not guilty of sexually assaulting his two stepdaughters and his biological daughter. Yamauchi is one of the four aforementioned Alberta justices.
When granting the appeal that led to a second trial, where Griffin was found guilty of the assaults against his stepdaughters, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled Yamauchi relied on “discredited myths and stereotypes” about how victims react in such circumstances.
Part of Yamauchi’s doubt was the fact the women, who were as young as five when the assaults occurred, did not come forward earlier.
It is that kind of victim blaming that has cast such a dark cloud over the Canadian justice system when it comes to sex cases.
CBC, which was granted access to the seminar, reported that retired B.C. Supreme Court Judge Lynn Smith told the new appointees that, even though the rates of violent crime are falling, the number of reported sexual assaults remains steady. Not only that, conviction rates for sexual assault fall far below those for other violent crimes.
“The continuing high incidence, the continuing low reporting rate, the fact that very few cases go to trial and that there’s a very high level of scrutiny and suspicion about the criminal justice system are as a result of those factors,” she said.
The Griffin case illustrates why women have difficulty coming forward. Not only were they faced with unfair questioning about why they waited to come forward, the failure of the legal system forced them to testify about the traumatic incidents three times.
While we can’t infringe on the innocent-until-proven-guilty precepts of our legal system, we must be more diligent in how we handle sexual assault cases and that begins with remembering who is on trial. Hint: it’s not the victim.
Perhaps better education for judges is the way to go – something that was discussed at last week’s seminar and currently in the House of Commons in the form of a private member’s bill by interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.
Regardless of who initiates the change, it is high time it happens.
There has been too much talk for too long and in the meantime women continue to be revictimized by a system that should be fighting for their justice.