Ambrose’s ‘parting gift’ long overdue for Canadians

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Canadian judges, both future and current, need an updated education on sexual assault law if they are going to preside over cases.

The former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose resigned one day after her sexual assault bill passed unanimously. The bill mandates compulsory sexual assault law training for lawyers who plan to become judges.

Judges are trained to be impartial, but personal bias is impossible to expunge. Sexual assault training can’t remove prejudice, but it can make people aware of their own personal bias.

Amid national backlash for inappropriate comments and acquittals from Canadian judges in past sexual assault cases, the training will make future judges accountable for their actions and intensely aware of what is unacceptable.

Cases concerning sexual assault  survivors haven’t always been taken seriously in Canada’s history and culture. Though the bill is a welcome change, it is only one piece of the puzzle.

While it promises that there will be transparency over who has received the training, the bill won’t make the seminars compulsory for current judges. This creates an inconsistency with how the law is practised between incoming and current judges.

Sexual assault cases deal with blurred lines that separate what is legal and what is not. The job of a judge presiding over a sensitive case like that of sexual assault is to be the person who can firmly draw that line.  Since our current judges are the ones who have a history of crossing the line when presiding over sexual assault cases, they seem to be the ones who need to learn about sexual assault law the most.

Continued education for both current and future judges in Canada is what will ensure just administration over sexual assault cases. Survivors are more likely to report sexual assault if they believe that the judicial system will treat them fairly. Taking survivors and their experiences seriously in court will bolster the shift in the victim-blaming culture that surrounds sexual assault across Canada and the world.

The next step is to extend Ambrose’s bill to current Canadian judges that have the power to change the world today rather than only for tomorrow.

Journal Editorial Board

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