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

B.C. COVID-19 contact restrictions working, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

’Not out of the woods yet’ as next two weeks are critical

UPDATED: Some states of local emergency suspended by ministerial order

Suspension applies to regional districts but not First Nations

A letter from Bella Coola doctors on COVID-19: ‘All our lives depend on your actions now’

“None of us are invincible; we can all get it and spread it without even knowing.”

COVID-19: Bella Coola RCMP close detachment front door access

The public is being asked to call 250 799 5363 for assistance

B.C. COVID-19 cases rise 92 to 884, one more death, 81 in care

Outbreak action underway in 12 long-term care homes

B.C. veterinarians want to smooth the fur of COVID-19-worried pet owners

Vets expect to continue giving your fur buddies the help they need while social distancing

B.C. VIEWS: Small businesses need our help

Just as integral in neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Surrey as they are in Prince George or Kelowna

‘Tremendous’ response from blood donors has supply keeping pace with demand

About 400,000 of Canada’s 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis

Morning world update: Cases surge past 600,000; positive news in Germany

Spain suffers its deadliest day as Germany considers April 20 to possibly loosen restrictions

VIDEO: Penguins roam empty halls of Vancouver Aquarium

COVID-19 has forced the Vancouver Aquarium to close access to guests – leaving room for its residents

Kids get back to learning in B.C., online

Ministry of Education rolls out new tool for school

Most Read