Federal government proposes changes to sexual assault laws

By Leah Murray
June 7, 2017 - 5:25pm Updated: June 7, 2017 - 7:02pm


MEDICINE HAT, AB — The federal government is making changes to laws surrounding sexual assault for the first time in 25 years.

Bill C-51 would make it clear that an unconscious person cannot consent to sexual activity.

Rulings from the Supreme Court have already set the precedent about this, but the law as it’s written doesn’t reflect the current standard.

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled the legislation in the House of Commons Tuesday.

She said this bill is part of an effort to bring legislation up to speed with the courts.

“These proposed changes would help clarify the law on sexual assault, codifying Supreme Court of Canada decisions and provide Canadians with greater assurances that their Charter rights are being protected,” she said during a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday.

The Liberals also want to expand rape shield provisions so text messages and other communications of a sexual nature from before or after the activity in question could not be used against the complainant.

The proposed changes would also make it clear that a complainant has the right to a lawyer during rape shield proceedings, which are designed to keep a complainant’s sexual history from being used against them.

It would also set up a regime to clarify whether an accused can introduce in court any private records of a complainant, such as diary entries or notes from therapy sessions.

Kristina Johnston with the Sexual Assault Response Committee (SARC) in Medicine Hat believes these changes will better support victims of sexual assault.

“I think it will increase the application of victim's rights within the court room,” she said. “What will be imperative to this will be the training of the judges presiding.”

The proposed bill would also repeal 20 criminal offences that are outdated or invalidated by court decisions.

“These changes would help prevent expensive time consuming litigation where the outcome can already be safely predicted,” said Minister Wilson-Raybould.

The bill would also require the justice minister to explain how any newly proposed laws are compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

-With files from the Canadian Press

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