Judicial council offers up courses for judges on handling sex assault cases

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Judicial Council has launched a new website showcasing the training courses it is offering to federally appointed judges — including seminars to help judges handle sexual assault cases.

In a statement on the site, council chair Richard Wagner, who is also the Supreme Court’s chief justice, says so-called social context education gives judges the skills necessary to ensure “myths” and “stereotypes” do not influence judicial decisions.

The website, at judicialeducation.cjc-ccm.ca, includes 10 offerings focused on sexual assault law, as well as one on sexual assault trials.

The latter course includes video-based programs that provide judges with an overview of the sort of issues they’re liable to face.

In one session, experienced jurists discuss “rape myths” and “stereotypes,” and how such myths can propagate “rapidly” during various stages of the judicial process.

The question of how well-equipped judges in Canada are to handle sexual assault cases has been a hot topic in recent years, most recently after a Nova Scotia judge acquitted a Halifax cab driver, suggesting that even an intoxicated woman can consent to sex.

The federal Liberal government has thrown its support behind a bill, currently before the Senate, that would require judges to take courses in sexual assault law.

Bill C-337 would also limit judicial appointments to those who have completed comprehensive education in sexual assault law and social context.

It would also require the council to report on continuing education seminars in matters related to sexual assault law and change the Criminal Code to require courts to provide written reasons in sexual assault decisions.

The bill was introduced in 2017 by former Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose after Provincial Court Judge Gregory Lenehan acquitted Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assault, even though police found the partially naked complainant unconscious in the back of Al-Rawi’s cab shortly after the alleged incident.

The ruling — along with Lenehan’s comment in his decision that “clearly, a drunk can consent” to sex — prompted widespread protest. Earlier this year, Nova Scotia’s top court ordered a new trial in the case.