Training on sexual assault issues will now be required for new provincial judges in Ontario, following outcry over judges’ comments about complainants in other parts of the country.
A recently updated Ontario Court of Justice plan specifies that an education program for newly appointed judges is now mandatory.
The program, which includes instruction on legal and equality issues, has always been a key component of judicial education, but previously wasn’t expressly included in the plan as a requirement, said a court spokeswoman.
“The newly appointed judges education includes education on sexual assault issues but it is not exclusively focused on sexual assault,” Kate Andrew said in a statement.
Politicians from both the Ontario Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have been pushing the issue at the provincial legislature, with two private members’ bills seeking to mandate such training.
The issue has made headlines recently after an Alberta judge, who has since resigned, asked a sexual assault complainant why she couldn’t keep her knees together, and a Halifax judge said “a drunk can consent,” while acquitting a taxi driver of sexual assault.
There is also a bill before Parliament from interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose that would require anyone who wanted to be considered for a federal judicial appointment to undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.
Though the new Ontario judicial training requirement applies to new judges, it does not apply to current judges. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said there is ongoing training that judges receive, but what exactly it entails and how much is up to the court.
“The issues around judicial training are totally within the scope and the responsibility of the judiciary,” he said. “It’s a very integral part of our system to have judicial independence. I had communicated with the chief justice (Lise Maisonneuve), letting her know the desire of the House that the training for judges be mandatory, but that decision is up to her.”
Progressive Conservative Laurie Scott, who is behind one of the two Ontario private members’ bills, said it doesn’t infringe on judicial independence to mandate such training for all judges.
“They have a continuing education plan, it’s already set up, why can’t this be included as mandatory?” she said.
“I hear from both victims and police services…that judges, not all judges of course, are still not understanding the trauma associated with a sexual assault.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the training needs to apply to existing judges too, because the recent issues that have arisen have surrounded current judges.
“The idea that new judges will get more training, well that’s fine and good, but it’s existing judges that apparently need some upgrading in their education,” she said.