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

WEATHER: Environment Canada forecasts snow for Ridge Meadows

Wednesday will see mostly sun and cloud

Maple Ridge HandyDART driver worried about safety with COVID-19

Union says operators need more personal protective equipment

Ridge Meadows RCMP release year end review video

List detachment’s successes throughout 2019

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows issue fire bans

Cities say poor air quality from smoke could further exacerbate current COVID-19 climate

VIDEO: RCMP bring 7 p.m. parade to front doors of Ridge Meadows Hospital

Cruisers with lights and sirens blaring give boost to those working within

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

Liberals delay release of 75% wage subsidy details, costs: Morneau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

World COVID-19 update: NATO suspicious of Russian military drills; Cruise ships ordered to stay at sea

Comprehensive update of coronavirus news from around the world for Wednesday, April 1

John Horgan extends B.C.’s state of emergency for COVID-19

Premier urges everyone to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice

UPDATE: 6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes B.C. Interior

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout the Okanagan

Two inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19

Correctional Service of Canada did not release any details on the identities of the inmates

B.C. heart surgery patient rarely leaves home

James Jepson is especially vulnerable to the novel coronavirus

BC SPCA launches matching campaign to help vulnerable animals after big donations

Two BC SPCA donors have offered up to $65,000 in matching donations

Quarantined B.C. mom say pandemic has put special-needs families in ‘crisis mode’

Surrey’s Christine Williams shares family’s challenges, strengths

Most Read