Judges training bill aimed at the wrong target

  • April 21, 2020

Bill C-5, the latest iteration of legislation proposing to mandate sexual assault training for federal judges contains important modifications from a private member’s bill with a similar purpose tabled in the last Parliament, but still contains some worrisome elements apart from its impact on the independence of the judiciary: to wit, it addresses the wrong audience.

“The Bill would require applicants unlikely to ever confront sexual assault cases (e.g., applicants for the Tax Court of Canada) to undertake training they would never use,” the CBA’s Criminal Justice Section and Judicial Issues Subcommittee write in a letter to the Chair of the House Justice and Human Rights Committee, adding that “the bill would not address sexual assault awareness for judges in provincial and territorial courts where most sexual assault cases are heard.”

Unlike its previous incarnation, the bill would no longer require all applicants to have sexual assault training before being appointed, only that the applicants undertake to complete such training. Even so, the wording raises new questions, such as whether an appointment would be suspended or reserved until the training has been completed, who would administer recognized training and how, and who would bear the costs of the training. If an appointee failed to complete the training, would that person be subject to disciplinary charges or other sanctions?

The CBA notes that the Canadian Judicial Council and the National Judicial Institute already offer training on sexual assault awareness.

“Bill C-5 aims to address a gap that does not exist in the federal judiciary while at the same time omits any proposals to address potential problems in provincial and territorial judiciaries, where almost all sexual assault cases are heard.”