OTTAWA — Justice Minister David Lametti is warning the Senate that making further amendments to legislation requiring new judges to take training on sexual assault law could doom the bill to failing for a third time.
Bill C-3 is before the Senate legal affairs committee this week, more than four years after former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose first tabled a similar private member's bill in February 2017.
Ambrose's bill passed the House of Commons with unanimous support in 2017 but never made it through the Senate before Parliament was dissolved for the 2019 election.
Lametti reintroduced it as a government bill in February 2020 with amendments that senators had proposed to Ambrose's bill and then had to reintroduce it again last fall after Parliament was prorogued by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in late August.
Lametti says the government has listened to concerns about judicial independence raised by the Senate in 2019 and by the Canadian Judicial Council, which will set up and run the training courses.
But he says he is not that open to further amendments because time is of the essence in a minority Parliament that could fall at any time.
"I believe that amendments this time around will endanger the bill itself and will possibly result in its dying on the order paper," he told the committee Wednesday.
Lametti was responding to a question from Quebec Sen. Pierre Dalphond, a former judge and member of the Progressive Senate Group, who also wondered why the minister believes the current bill intrudes less on judicial independence.
Lametti said the bill was altered to leave the development of the judge's training course up to the judicial council. It also now recommends, but no longer requires, the council to table an annual report on how the training is conducted.
"I firmly believe we have a good bill," he said.
Several senators appeared unconvinced that the judicial independence issue has been resolved.
Ambrose introduced her bill following a number of high-profile cases where judges' conduct during sexual assault trials was questioned, including making statements about a victim's behaviour before, during and after the assault.
Lametti told the committee the bill is designed to give victims confidence that the judicial system will be fair.
"It is to reassure survivors that when they come forward, they will be treated with dignity and respect by judges who have the knowledge, skills and sensitivity to correctly apply what is a very complex and nuanced area of the law," he said.
The legislation amends the Judges Act so new judges appointed to provincial superior courts must agree to take training on sexual assault law and social context.
The latter refers to awareness training to ensure everyone who is involved in a court case is treated fairly and respectfully, without influence of stereotypes, myths or prejudices. The bill was specifically amended last fall to ensure social context also includes systemic racism and discrimination.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2021.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press