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Rona Ambrose’s bill on sex assault education for judges to be fast-tracked

Rona Ambrose speaks during Question Period at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, March 24, 2016.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The House of Commons has unanimously agreed to fast-track a bill introduced by interim Tory leader Rona Ambrose that would require would-be judges to take courses in sexual assault law.

The Commons has accepted a motion from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair to bypass the usual second-reading debate and send the legislation straight to committee.

The bill, C-377, would restrict eligibility for an appointment to the bench to candidates who have completed comprehensive sexual assault education.

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It would also require the Canadian Judicial 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.

Ambrose says too many women and girls are reluctant to come forward after being sexually assaulted and that judges need better training in handling such cases.

The bill took on more urgency after a judge in Halifax recently acquitted a suspect in a sexual assault case and suggested that even an intoxicated woman could consent to sex.

"The circumstances are disturbing and, incredibly, the judge ruled that, 'Clearly, a drunk can consent'," Ambrose said in the Commons Wednesday.

"Countless legal experts have pointed out the mistakes in this judgment. I have introduced a very common-sense bill to make sure that judges are not making basic errors or, even worse, painful comments that make victims think twice of ever pursuing justice," she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed that there is work to be done on the issue.

"We need to make sure that we are doing a much better job than we are right now and that is why I look forward to parliamentarians having an opportunity to discuss ways in which we are going to be able to improve it, including with the member's bill," he said.

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As a student, Trudeau said he worked at a sexual assault centre at McGill University and knows how devastating a sexual assault can be.

"We need to do much more, even 25 years later, to make sure that we are fighting against it, that we are reducing it, and that we are creating a justice system and a system of policing that actually enables survivors of sexual assault to come forward and get justice," he said.

The agreement to fast-track the bill came as MPs and ministers repeatedly spoke of the importance of International Women's Day.

Mulcair said it is rare to get this kind of unanimous support, but it comes on an important issue.

"When it comes to how our judicial system handles cases of sexual assault, we must all come together and say: we believe survivors," he said.

Video: Taxi driver's sex assault acquittal sparks protest in Halifax (The Canadian Press)
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