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Newly named federal judges must also undergo sexual harassment training

A long-awaited bill requiring new judges to attend sexual harassment and institutional bias training before being named to the bench has been signed into law.

After passing third reading in the Senate, Bill C-3 obtained royal assent on Thursday.

“This bill sends a very strong message to sexual assault survivors and to all Canadians: You can rest assured that our judicial system will treat you fairly and respectfully … [and] cases of sexual assault will be heard without the influence of myths and prejudice.” Justice Minister David Lametti said in French at a press conference Friday.

The bill would have a major effect on how judges are appointed by the federal government and how sexual harassment cases are treated in Canada.
The Judges Act and the Criminal Code are also amended by the bill.
Both newly named federal judges must plan to take continuing education courses on sexual harassment law and the “social background,” which involves structural bias and discrimination.
Only judges newly appointed to provincial and territorial superior courts — the highest levels of court in a province or territory — are subject to the condition.

These judges hear the most serious criminal and civil cases and have the authority to review provincial and territorial court decisions.
Seminars will be held by the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), an autonomous agency that regulates the federal judiciary, and the National Justice Institute, which offers educational programs for judges.
The seminars must be produced after consultation with sexual harassment survivors and related groups, according to the law. It also mandates that the CJC report to the justice minister on the content of the seminars it offers each year, as well as the number of judges who attend each one.

These judges hear the most serious criminal and civil cases and have the authority to review provincial and territorial court decisions.
Seminars will be held by the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), an autonomous agency that regulates the federal judiciary, and the National Justice Institute, which offers educational programs for judges.
The seminars must be produced after consultation with sexual harassment survivors and related groups, according to the law. It also mandates that the CJC report to the justice minister on the content of the seminars it offers each year, as well as the number of judges who attend each one.

Former Federal Court judge Robin Camp was chastised for remarks he made during a sexual harassment trial in Calgary in 2014.
According to court transcripts from the trial, Camp, who was a provincial court judge at the time, repeatedly referred to the plaintiff, who was homeless and 19 years old at the time of the alleged attack, as “the accused.” “Pain and sex sometimes go together,” he told the young woman, and he asked, “Why couldn’t you just hold your knees together?”
After the CJC recommended that he be suspended from the bench, Camp stepped down from Federal Court in March 2018.

Ambrose told CBC News after the bill passed that such incidents made women less likely to report sexual attacks to authorities.

“We should expect that those people that we appoint to the bench are completely competent in the law when they’re overseeing trials,” she said.

“And they also should keep up with training that around social norms and values. So that includes unconscious bias training, how they treat people in the courtroom [and] the kind of language that’s used in the courtroom.”

Ambrose’ bill received bipartisan support in the House of Commons in May 2017, but was held up in the Senate for two years. When the federal election of 2019 swept the legislative slate clean, it expired on the order pad.
Some Independent and Liberal senators initially opposed the bill, claiming it would violate the fundamental principle of judicial independence. However, Senate legal affairs committee amendments tended to address those issues.

Later, at the close of the legislative session in the summer of 2019, Conservative senators used procedural maneuvers to run out the clock on a number of private member’s bills, including Ambrose’s bill and another aimed at ensuring federal laws were harmonized with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Ambrose accused her former colleagues in the Red Chamber of playing “political games” by delaying the bill’s passage in a June 2019 interview with the National Post.

After forming a minority government following the election, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-3 in October 2019. It breezed through the House in November and was approved unamended by the Senate on Thursday.

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