Justice Canada Knowledge Exchange on the Criminal Justice System’s Responses to Sexual Assault Against Adults – Summary of Proceedings
On March 7-8, 2017, Justice Canada hosted a knowledge exchange focused on the criminal justice system’s responses to sexual assault against adults. The day’s objective was to better understand why, despite Canada’s robust criminal laws related to sexual assault, rates of reporting, prosecution, and conviction remain low. Speakers also explored how the criminal justice system’s responses to sexual assault could be improved, by looking at promising practices and innovative ideas from within Canada and from other common-law jurisdictions.
The knowledge exchange consisted of an armchair discussion on the evening of March 7, and a series of panel discussions on topics related to the criminal justice system’s response to sexual assault against adults on March 8, 2017. Experts in each topic provided preliminary presentations before answering questions from moderators and questions from the floor. Attendance at the event was strong, with a total of approximately 200 registered attendees. The event was recorded and will become available on video.
Summary of the discussions
The opening evening session consisted of opening remarks from Nathalie Drouin, Senior Associate Deputy Minister of Justice, and an armchair discussion between Cherry Smiley, Nlaka'pamux (Thompson) and Dine' (Navajo) artist, feminist activist and PhD student and Isobel Granger, Staff Sergeant, Ottawa Police Service, and UN sexual gender based violence investigator. The presenters provided a social context backdrop to the discussions by speaking to the issue of sexual assault in Canada and abroad. They discussed the use of sexualized violence as a weapon of war and as an instrument of colonization. The panellists described the importance of the intersection of sexism, racism and other forms of oppression in understanding sexual assault against women and the particular impact of colonialism on Indigenous women. They also provided suggestions for criminal justice system professionals to help examine unconscious biases that affect sexual assault investigations and prosecutions.
The knowledge exchange, held on International Women’s Day, included opening and closing prayers by elder Roberta Della-Pica. Opening remarks were provided by the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Statistics and the Law
This first panel provided an overview of sexual assault law in Canada and statistics in Canada. Carole Morency, Director General and Senior General Counsel of the Criminal Law Policy Section at the Department of Justice Canada, described how the Criminal Code sexual assault provisions evolved over the past 34 years in response to concerns about the criminal justice system’s treatment of sexual assault victims. The Code prohibits sexual assault in all its forms; provides a definition of consent and clearly sets out circumstances where no consent is obtained. In addition, amendments were made to the Code to protect victims from assumptions based on myths and stereotypes about how victims of sexual assault are expected to behave, to facilitate testimony by victims and to better protect their privacy.
Kathy AuCoin, Chief of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, indicated that while overall crime has declined over the past three decades, sexual assault has not and remains a gendered crime of male violence against females. Only 5% of sexual assaults in 2014 were reported to the police. In 2015, only 43% of sexual assaults reported to police resulted in a criminal charge and in 2014/2015 only 43% of those charged with sexual assault were convicted. Indigenous women and those who experienced sexual abuse as a child are at a greater risk of being victims of sexual assault.
Reporting and Investigations
This panel discussed the sexual assault reporting rates to police, barriers to reporting, available supports for survivors and promising practices related to reporting and police investigations.
Holly Johnson, Professor, Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, presented on her research with sexual assault survivors who had contacted the Ottawa Police Service. The most important point of attrition in sexual assault matters is when survivors decide not to report to police. Women identify concerns about being blamed, judged or shamed as key barriers to reporting sexual assault to the police. The percentage of sexual assault complaints recorded as “unfounded” by police and survivor’s experiences with police point to a lack of understanding of the impact of trauma on survivors which results in a lack of procedural justice (i.e., a respectful, compassionate response) for survivors.
Jennifer Richard, Director of Community Development at the Fredericton Sexual Assault Centre (FSAC), elaborated on the “culture of suspicion” in the police that plays a role in the decision not to report to police for the overwhelming majority of sexual assault survivors. She discussed the creation in 2015 of the sexual assault response team, which includes the sexual assault centre, provincial victim services, the sexual assault nurse examiners and the local police forces. In addition, the FSAC developed and piloted a trauma-informed police investigation training entitled “Improving Outcomes”. This collaboration and training has assisted in the development of a trauma-informed approach to policing. The issue of unfounded complaints remains to be discussed with police. Ms. Richard pointed out that studies show that only 2-8% of survivors make false claims to the police.
Shawn Devine, Chief of the North Bay Police Service, described the role of police in gathering the evidence so that they can recommend charges be laid where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed. He described the collaboration between the North Bay police services and Amelia Rising, a local sexual assault crisis centre as well as their collective efforts to implement a model along the lines of the Philadelphia model. This is a project being funded by Justice Canada’s Victims Fund.
Terry L. Fromson, Managing Attorney of the Women’s law Project and Thomas McDevitt, retired Lieutenant of the Philadelphia Police Department Special Victims Unit (SVU), spoke to the Philadelphia model. In 1999, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that one-third of rape complaints had been downgraded by police to non-criminal categories over the previous two decades. As a result, these complaints were barely investigated. A group of advocates asked the Police Commissioner to review and reinvestigate miscoded sex crime complaints spanning the previous five years. After the Department reinvestigated and found hundreds of rapes among the cases, the Commissioner extended an unprecedented invitation to the Women’s Law Project to organize advocates to review SVU cases. The Women’s Law Project accepted the invitation and the advocate case review has been conducted annually since 2000. Leadership support, a mutual goal of improving investigations, and confidentiality have led to a professional case review and the development of mutual respect and trust.
The advocates review approximately 400 files at the SVU to determine whether biases or police interrogation techniques adversely impacted the investigations and whether the cases are thoroughly investigated and properly coded, founded, or cleared. The review is conducted under a confidentiality agreement – the reviewers agree not to share any information obtained during the review with any outsiders. The reviewers have observed significant improvement in the investigations over the years. Cases are no longer placed in the 2701 non-crime code and the unfounded rate has dropped from 18% to 4%. Lt. McDevitt agreed that the case review was productive and that he learned from it that, contrary to what he had been taught, an inconsistency in relating a traumatic event is not evidence of lying. He emphasized the importance of thorough investigations and of conducting investigations and interviews in a manner that does not blame the victim.
Sexual Assault Trial: Substantive Law and Procedure
This panel consisted of a discussion of the elements of sexual assault offences; the legal definition of consent; available defences; the roles of the Crown attorney, defence counsel and the bench; and trends in the law.
Janine Benedet, Associate Dean, Peter A. Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia, indicated that the difficulties lie not with the law on the books but rather with how the law still allows judges and juries to colour their assessment of credibility and reasonableness with discriminatory myths and stereotypes. The Crown has the burden of proving lack of consent beyond a reasonable doubt, even though the law defines consent rather than the “lack of consent”. When an accused argues consent, he is effectively stating that the victim is lying under oath. The practical result in many cases is a re-instatement of the previous common-law requirements for corroboration and evidence of a recent complaint. Professor Benedet stated that the presumption of innocence does not and should not mean a presumption of consent. She suggested clarification of the circumstances under which consent is not obtained in law to ensure the proper application of the law, notably in relation to the circumstances vitiating consent.
Carmen Rioux, prosecutor with criminal and penal prosecutions, Quebec Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions, indicated that although prosecutors are not acting as counsel for the victims, they have an interest in ensuring that the victims can provide evidence that will serve justice. Therefore, before filing charges based on the results of the police investigation, the prosecutor must meet with the victim to assess her ability to tell the story and refer her to organizations that could provide support services, as needed. The prosecutor has a directive to act this way (recall that in Quebec, there is a pre-charge approval process by the prosecution).
With sexual crimes, it is not sufficient to prepare the victim to tell the facts of the crime. The prosecutor must ensure she is aware of the possibility that she will be cross-examined on other facts that arise due to the persistence of myths and prejudices in this type of case. During a first meeting, the prosecutor must therefore inform the victim of the types of questions that may be asked and warn her that everything will be done to object, in order to reassure her from a legal point of view. The goal is to put the victim at ease before the process, although these meetings are not intended to be therapeutic.
Genevieve McInnes, Defence Counsel with Edelson Clifford D’Angelo Friedman LLP, discussed the role of defence counsel in sexual assault cases and the crucial role they play in protecting the rights of the accused under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter). Ms. McInnes indicated that sexual assault cases are much more difficult than other offences against the person to resolve by way of a guilty plea. Even where the accused wishes to plead guilty to a sexual offence charge, the negative social stigma of a sexual offence as well as the burdens of the Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA) are barriers to entering an early guilty plea to sexual assault. Some provincial and territorial policies do not allow guilty pleas to lesser offences, such as assault, in sexual assault cases.
Kathleen Dufour, Director General of the Outaouais Crime Victims Assistance Centre, indicated that the trial process is a critical stage for sexual assault victims. The myths and stereotypes facing sexual assault victims are numerous and particularly onerous for marginalized women who do not fit the typology of the “genuine victim,” including women who are Indigenous, poor, struggling with addiction or in conflict with the law. The testimonial aids in the Criminal Code can assist with this challenging stage and these were rendered more accessible in 2015. The Canadian Victims Bill of Rights also sets out rights for victims of crime to information, protection, participation and to seek restitution at the federal level. These are important tools. However, delays in the court process and the risk of cases being dismissed due to the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Jordan decision are significant for victims of sexual assault.
Marie Corbett, QC, retired Judge of the Ontario Superior Court, indicated that there is a crisis of confidence in the criminal justice system in relation to sexual assault matters. In her view, the adversarial system is part of the problem because victims lack legal rights at trial and judges are limited in their ability to question witnesses in an effort to seek the truth. Judge Corbett suggested that the definition of assault is problematic and suggested redefining it as the “intentional application of force that causes harm to another person.” Judge Corbett also suggested rethinking sexual assault law in its entirety, including the requirement to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the absence of consent (i.e., a negative) and a separate category of sexual offences for cases where there was an ongoing sexual relationship between the accused and the victim. Ms. McInnes raised Charter concerns with the suggestion to alter the standard of proof.
Keynote Address: The Impact of Trauma on the Brain
Dr. Lori Haskell, a clinical psychologist, presented on the neurobiology of trauma and the relevance for sexual assault investigations and prosecutions. She described how the fear circuitry is triggered when a person is threatened or in danger. Under such circumstances, the amygdala takes over and activates a stress response so that the person is unable to think clearly, form memories in a cohesive or chronological manner or adequately describe their experience.
Elevated hormone levels flood the blood stream which have a number of effects lasting up to 96 hours. These hormones affect victim responses during the assault, as well as the memory encoding process. Traumatic memories are encoded into the brain differently, due to the high levels of adrenaline and other stress hormones that are circulating through the body during the traumatic event. Because of this, immediately following the assault, a victim can have significant gaps in her memory of the event. Research suggests that memory consolidation takes place during sleep through the strengthening of the neural connections that form memories. Having two nights of REM sleep is especially important to transfer complex and emotionally charged experiences into retrievable verbal memory.
A well-rested victim will have better recall of their traumatic experiences. Interviews conducted immediately following the assault can undermine the credibility of the victim who may later recall details that were initially missing. Even with sleep, memory recall of traumatic experiences is slow, fragmented and disorganized.
The naturally released opioids that protect the victim from pain can give the person a “flat effect” where they show little emotion. In addition, many victims will dissociate to protect themselves by turning inward and will not recall certain observations that they would normally have recalled such as the face of the accused.
The “fight or flight” response is misleading because humans have evolved to freeze first when under threat and then flee. Many female victims experience tonic immobility, whereby they freeze and go numb during an assault. Members of the military train specifically to overcome the instinctive freeze response. For example, in the 2015 gunman attack on a train in France, most everyone froze except two trained US soldiers who intervened. However, most women do not have this type of training and instead use passive avoidance or attempt to appease men who are threatening or sexually intrusive.
The socially learned responses that women rely on when under threat are often used against them. These misunderstandings of how women “typically” respond are evident in victim blaming attitudes. Some women engage in polite post assault contact with their assailant in attempts to avoid further harm or loss, while some women do so with the hope he will acknowledge his harmful conduct and want to make amends.
Police need to interview in a way that is consistent with the underlying architecture of the memory. Traumatic events are first organized in memory on a perceptual or sensory level. Therefore, the interview should focus on eliciting these sensory memories by asking open ended questions about these details and fragmented memories. This is a significant shift in interviewing style since police are trained to interview victims based on interrogational practices, which emphasizes establishing a timeline and key facts. This traditional style of interviewing often results in inconsistent statements, since the experience cannot be recalled as an organized narrative with an accurate time sequence.
Sexual Assault Trial: Evidence, Testimonial Aids, and Expert Witnesses
The second part of the examination of the sexual assault trial involved a discussion of the rules of evidence; third party records regime; complainant’s sexual history; professional ethics; the use of testimonial aids and expert witnesses.
Karen Busby, Professor of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba, reiterated the message that Canada has robust sexual assault laws. She noted that the accused’s right to full answer and defence is not absolute. Professors Elaine Craig and Elizabeth Sheehy have commented on the misapplication of the rape shield provisions by some judges, whereby they apply the presumptive exclusionary test to the twin myths (i.e., that evidence of prior or subsequent sexual activity indicates that a victim is more likely to have consented to the sexual activity in question or less worthy of belief), which are categorically excluded. Moreover, some courts justify bypassing the rape shield application process altogether on account of expediency. Professor Busby recommended the following with respect to rape shield applications: providing sexual assault training for Crown prosecutors; maintaining pressure on judges to use the rape shield application process; clarifying that there is no right to a discriminatory defence; and permitting victims to be represented by counsel at rape shield application hearings.
With respect to third party record applications, Professor Busby noted the lack of studies on their use over the past decade and made the following recommendations: that those jurisdictions that do not provide legal aid for victim’s counsel in these hearings consider doing so; that transcripts be made available for decisions in these hearings; and that the loophole created by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Shearing, which permitted the use of private records in the hands of the accused without having to apply the third party records application process, be closed.
Jill Witkin, Counsel with the Crown Law Office in Ontario and Chair of the Sexual Violence Advisory Group, indicated that the credibility of the complainant is at the heart of the Crown prosecutor’s case. She noted that although the threshold for discretionary testimonial aids was lowered in 2015, Crown prosecutors often fear being given a hard time by the bench if they request these aids. Ms. Witkin suggested that we push to have these applied more routinely as was done for child witnesses. She also pointed to the difficulty faced by victims having to testify twice when there is a preliminary inquiry. She noted that “committal” is rarely challenged on preliminary inquiries and therefore preliminary hearings could be reduced or eliminated for sexual assault trials. Ms. Witkin suggested that applications for legal aid sponsored counsel be made available to victims prior to the third party record application being triggered by the defence. Finally, she emphasized the importance for Crown prosecutors to present expert evidence of the neurobiology of trauma to contextualize the reactions of the victim.
Michael Spratt, Defence Counsel with Abergel Goldstein and Partners LLP, indicated that myths and stereotypes also operate against accused persons and that a lack of diversity in the judiciary and in juries do not assist in this regard. He opined that there should be no reverse onus and that it is not the burden of the accused to show that the complainant fabricated the story. With respect to ethical cross-examination techniques, Mr. Spratt indicated that issues of credibility are at the heart of the defence but that it is not in the interests of the accused to rely on the twin myths to attack the credibility of the complainant before a judge or jury. As regards preliminary inquiries, Mr. Spratt stated that eliminating them would likely cause delays later in the trial because preliminary inquiries provide opportunities for defence to see if any third party records or rape shield applications might be required. Mr. Spratt pointed to the problem of zero tolerance policies for Crown prosecutors that hamper their ability to plead in sexual assault cases where the victim, accused and Crown all agree to a lesser charge.
David Butt, Barrister with Camden Lane Chambers, indicated that although there has been an evolution in the role of victims in the trial process, particularly with respect to the ability for them to be represented by counsel at third party record application hearings, victims could benefit from their own counsel. In order to avoid tainting evidence after charges are laid, victims are often kept in the dark by the police and the Crown prosecutors. Victims often need to talk due to their trauma however everything they share with professionals can be released through disclosure or third party record applications. By contrast, communications between the victim and their counsel are protected by solicitor-client privilege. Mr. Butt suggested that the rape shield provisions should be amended to grant complainants’ standing during these application hearings. He also suggested the definition of “sexual activity” in the context of the rape shield provisions be clarified to cover social media communications that relate to a complainant’s sexual activity, in order to protect these private communications.
Marie Corbett, QC, retired Judge of the Ontario Superior Court, indicated that enduring the cross-examination of child and adult complainants in sexual assault trials is one of the most difficult aspects of being on the bench. In R. v. Lyttle,the Supreme Court of Canada held that cross-examination is the ultimate way of getting at the truth in our adversarial system and therefore judges are loath to intervene. Judge Corbett had the following suggestions: make greater use of admissions to avoid excessive cross-examinations; and reconsider the evidentiary rule against the admission of self-serving evidence in the context of prior consistent statements where the person who made the statement is available for cross-examination. Judge Corbett disagreed with the suggestion that written reasons be required as this would be inefficient. However, she agreed that all oral reasons should be transcribed and made available.
Sentencing and Corrections
This panel discussed current issues in sentencing and corrections for offenders found guilty of sexual assault, including issues related to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Gladue principles, victim impact statements, community impact statements, therapeutic models and promising practices.
Guy Bourgon, Senior Research Advisor at Public Safety Canada and a clinical psychologist, spoke to why individuals offend sexually, and noted that a propensity for rule breaking combined with sexual motivations often result in repeat sexual offending. He also spoke to effective programming for sex offenders, and noted that community-based programs such as Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) have been empirically proven to reduce sexual reoffending and help reintegrate sexual offenders into their community after completing their sentence.
Sue Bogle, Crown Counsel with the Yukon office of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), noted that the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights has helped to raise awareness among judges that victims are entitled to write a victim impact statement and present it to the court for consideration. Ms. Bogle pointed out that there is an inherent difficulty for Crowns in sexual assault sentencing hearings in balancing the sentencing principles of deterrence/denunciation on one hand, and rehabilitation (especially for Indigenous offenders) on the other hand. It can be done, in the right context, with a shorter jail term combined with a lengthy probation term with conditions for sex offender treatment/alcohol treatment etc. In addition, where offenders are Indigenous, pre-sentencing Gladue reports may be prepared and in many cases these offenders were themselves victims of sexual abuse as children. In some cases, especially those involving Indigenous offenders, it is possible to have restorative type sentencing hearings but the victim has to be fully advised and supported so there is not an imbalance of power. Ms. Bogle noted the new victim advocate role being established in the Yukon as a promising practice.
Ms. Bogle spoke about the Sex Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA), and the fact that the mandatory nature of an offender being registered upon being found guilty can be an impediment to plea negotiations, as there is no discretion for the Crown except to take pleas to assault rather than sexual assault, which is not a common practice.
Breese Davies, Defence Counsel and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto, stated that since conditional sentences are no longer possible in indictable sexual assault cases, judges are limited in their ability to craft community-based sentences for offenders. She opined that as restorative justice programs are not available in most communities, sentencing is only focused on deterrence and denunciation and not on rehabilitation or promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders or acknowledging the harm done to victims.
Ms. Davies indicated her lack of support for the 2012 changes to the Sexual Offender Information Registration Act (SOIRA) which removed judicial discretion to exempt an offender from the registry or of its use for preventive purposes as opposed to investigative purposes only. She questioned whether SOIRA is Charter compliant and noted that it is currently the subject of a Charter challenge in Alberta (R. v. Ndhlovu, 2016 ABQB 595, which found the provisions violated section 7 of the Charter; section 1 hearing pending).
Anita Parker, with the Native Services Program at the John Howard Society of London and District spoke to the considerations that should be taken into account by criminal justice professionals when supporting Indigenous victims and survivors of sexual assault. She noted that in small Indigenous communities, victims can face repercussions for disclosing a sexual assault, and that in some communities, lateral violence is a very real problem that should be noted by professionals. A survivor’s safety should be of the utmost importance. Ms. Parker pointed out the importance of individuals checking themselves for biases. She also stressed the need for more female first responders and the positive impact this would have for Indigenous victims who decide to report an assault.
Promising Practices and Alternatives to Traditional Criminal Justice Trials
This panel discussed promising practices to address sexual assault against adults from Canada and other common-law jurisdictions. The panelists also examined alternative approaches to the traditional criminal justice process, including restorative justice.
Jo-Anne Wemmers, International Centre for Comparative Criminology, University of Montreal, presented on the benefits of restorative justice (RJ). She noted that while only 5% of sexual-assault victims in Canada report their victimization to police, as many as one-in-four victims of sexual assault is interested in RJ. Professor Wemmers reported that studies suggest that victim participation in RJ may be beneficial for victims’ psychological wellbeing by reducing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and stress. She noted that although some victims are interested in RJ, they are often not informed that RJ is an option. One of the biggest challenges facing victims who wish to participate in RJ in the context of sexual violence is the negative attitude of others (i.e., non-victims). When victims react to their victimization in ways that do not meet society’s expectations, they risk disapproval. This includes when victims of sexual violence choose RJ rather than conventional criminal justice (the RJ process at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Dentistry serves as an example).
Melanie Randall, Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario, acknowledged that the use of restorative justice (RJ) in sexual assault cases is controversial. She stressed that while Canada has excellent affirmative consent laws and that the criminal justice system can be effective in responding to some sexual assault cases, there is room to explore alternatives for the vast majority of victims who choose not to use the traditional criminal justice process. Professor Randall spoke to her own experience of initially being opposed to the use of RJ in sexual assault and other gender‑based violence cases to an acknowledgement of the potential for these responses to meet the needs of some survivors. She indicated that this is conditional upon the application of three overarching principles: (1) that the RJ process be equality-focused; (2) that it be trauma-informed; and (3) that the process leverage the knowledge and expertise in the violence against women sector. She quoted Judith L. Herman who stated that “[i]f one set out by design to devise a system for provoking intrusive post-traumatic symptoms, one could not do better than a court of law”. Professor Randall noted that RJ avoids the fracturation of the victim’s narrative, which helps the victim heal.
Kate McKenzie-Bridle, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor with the New Zealand Law Commission, presented the paper on legal reforms for sexual assault cases that was developed for the New Zealand Law Commission. The final report included reform options such as: providing independent sexual violence advisers for sexual assault victims (to support and advise a victim from the outset, when a complaint is laid with the police, through to completion of the court process); establishing a specialist sexual violence court where participants, including the judiciary, prosecutors and legal aid counsel would need to complete sexual assault training (in the latter instance prior to accreditation); fast-tracking cases to reduce delays; enabling the possibility of intermediaries to assist certain complainants understand cross-examination; agreeing on the use of expert evidence on the neurobiology of trauma; using a restorative justice-type of process that would operate outside of the criminal justice system; and establishing a Sexual Violence Commission. While the New Zealand Government is still considering these recommendations, Ms. McKenzie-Bridle noted that a pilot sexual violence court has begun which will be evaluated after two years. A post-sentencing restorative justice program for sexual offences is already available and “Project Restore” currently operates restorative justice completely outside of the court process where the parties agree (usually for historic sexual offending).
Ms. McKenzie-Bridle also explained how a previous discussion paper examining a possible move away from the purely adversarial to a more inquisitorial system, which included an option to amend the jury process, so as to have only a judge and two assessors was in effect rejected by the Government (when the project was put on hold and reactivated without reference to inquisitorial models).
Jill Witkin, Counsel, Crown Law Office (Ontario) and Chair, Sexual Violence Advisory Group, presented on the Government of Ontario’s 2015 Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment and discussed the enhanced prosecution model which is designed to improve sexual offence prosecutions in Ontario. Seven full-time prosecutors are dedicated to prosecuting, educating, mentoring and developing a resource base for trial Crowns, including a comprehensive best practices manual. Their model also employs inter-disciplinary consultations with sexual assault nurse examiners, victim witness assistance and sexual assault centres. Six regional conferences were held in 2015-2016 for police, victim services and Crown prosecutors, which included presentations on the neurobiology of trauma. A resource for survivors of sexual assault is being prepared along with the Victims and Vulnerable Persons Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General. Ms. Witkin also indicated that under the Action Plan the government of Ontario is piloting a program to provide four hours of independent legal advice to victims of sexual assault.
Carmen Rioux, prosecutor, criminal and penal prosecutions with the Quebec Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP), presented the Stratégie gouvernementale pour prévenir et contrer les violences sexuelles 2016-2021 [2016-2021 Government strategy to prevent and counter sexual violence] (the Strategy). This Government of Quebec strategy was launched in October 2016 and targets both sexual assault and sexual exploitation. It proposes 55 concrete actions that involve 12 government ministries and organizations. The Government of Quebec will invest $200M over the next five years to prevent and counter sexual violence, of which $44M will be used to implement the 55 new commitments set out in the strategy. During her presentation, Ms. Rioux gave a brief overview and focussed mainly on the actions for the DPCP in the strategy, namely to adopt a program for meetings between the prosecutor and the victim, to produce information capsules on the judicial process and on the role of the prosecutor in sexual assault or sexual exploitation cases, to coordinate prosecutions in anti-sexual exploitation of children on the Internet cases, and to develop a “prosecutor's guide” that addresses sexual offences, sexual exploitation and trafficking in persons.
The knowledge exchange provided an excellent opportunity to touch on a number of challenges facing the criminal justice system in responding to sexual assaults against adults and to highlight some promising practices and innovative ideas to improve the system.
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