Top judge says judiciary must decide what training needed after sex assault training bill

Bill C-5 revives a private member’s bill introduced several years ago by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose,

Canada’s top judge says the judiciary must be free to decide what training and education judges need to do their jobs well.

Richard Wagner, chief justice of the Supreme Court, made the comments Wednesday in a speech to the Canadian Bar Association — just two weeks after the Trudeau government introduced legislation that would require new judges to commit to training in sexual-assault law before taking seats on the bench.

Bill C-5 revives a private member’s bill introduced several years ago by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, which stalled in the Senate and died when Parliament dissolved for last fall’s election.

However, the new bill incorporates modifications proposed by senators to quell concerns that mandatory training for judges would impinge on judicial independence.

It was not clear whether Wagner’s reference to training in a speech devoted to the importance of maintaining judicial independence was intended as veiled criticism of the bill. He took no questions following his remarks.

“Judges have to be free to make the right decision, even when that decision may be politically unpopular,” he said. “The judiciary, as a collective, has to be free to decide what training and education judges receive to do their jobs well.”

The bill requires that judges take training in sexual-assault law but leaves it to the Canadian Judicial Council, which Wagner chairs, to develop the actual training program, in consultation with whomever it chooses, including survivors of sexual assault.

READ MORE: Liberals revive Rona Ambrose’s bill on sexual assault law training for judges

In a statement issued when Bill C-5 was introduced, the council expressed some reservations about the legislation.

“We know that sexual violence complainants, in particular, can find the judicial process confusing and even traumatic,” the council said.

“The federal government has introduced a bill aimed at strengthening the confidence of sexual assault survivors in the justice system. This is a laudable goal and one with which the judiciary wholeheartedly agrees.”

Still, it noted that the council and the National Judicial Institute already provide training and that “this work is properly and exclusively the judiciary’s role.”

Moreover, that statement pointed out that the council and institute develop training programs only for judges appointed by the federal government and are not responsible for the provincial and territorial judges who conduct many of the sexual assault trials in this country.

“Any solution that does not include provincially and territorially appointed judges is incomplete and falls short of the goal.”

In his speech, Wagner argued that judicial independence is crucial to maintaining the balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of a democracy. The executive branch sets policy, the legislative branch passes laws and the judiciary interprets those laws and must be free to do so “without any outside influence” so that Canadians can have confidence that cases are decided independently and impartially, he said.

He warned that “even actions that are taken with the best of intentions” can disrupt that delicate balance and “once judicial independence begins to erode, even just a little, the danger is that the whole edifice may eventually crumble.”

And he pointed to the United States as an example of a country where that erosion has occurred.

“We live in troubled times. The rule of law and judicial independence are under threat around the world. Just look at what’s happening south of the border.”

Wagner didn’t elaborate.

Judicial appointments are far more politicized in the U.S. Washington is currently in an uproar over Attorney General William Barr overriding trial prosecutors to recommend a lighter prison sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump. The president also just pardoned or commuted the sentences of several high-profile people convicted of frauds and corruption.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Conservation: Two elk unlawfully shot in Northern Vancouver Island

‘The elk also did not have all of the edible portions of meat removed’

Nanaimo, Royal Jubilee to be Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 frontline hospitals

Other Island hospitals will be admitting COVID-19 patients and will be used in a support role

Port Hardy’s annual summer festival FILOMI Days cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

Port Hardy’s biggest community celebration happens every year from July 17 to 19.

Reflecting on life during a pandemic

‘This is really a once in a lifetime moment where everything has come to a grinding halt’

B.C. wide burning restrictions come into effect April 16

‘Larger open burns pose an unnecessary risk and could detract from wildfire detection’

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Look at hospitalizations, not recovery stats for COVID-19, B.C. professor says

Cases in hospital are a definitive count of people who have the novel coronavirus

B.C. First Nations want to launch fight of Trans Mountain pipeline approval

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada decided not to hear five challenges about the pipeline

N95 masks on the way for Canada after 3M reaches deal with White House

The Trump White House had ordered 3M to stop shipping masks to Canada

COLUMN: The other graph that shows B.C. can beat COVID-19

Is the curve being flattened? data on hospitalizations provides a crucial answer.

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

Most Read