Top judge says judiciary must decide what training needed after sex assault training bill

Bill C-5 revives a private member’s bill introduced several years ago by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose,

Canada’s top judge says the judiciary must be free to decide what training and education judges need to do their jobs well.

Richard Wagner, chief justice of the Supreme Court, made the comments Wednesday in a speech to the Canadian Bar Association — just two weeks after the Trudeau government introduced legislation that would require new judges to commit to training in sexual-assault law before taking seats on the bench.

Bill C-5 revives a private member’s bill introduced several years ago by former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, which stalled in the Senate and died when Parliament dissolved for last fall’s election.

However, the new bill incorporates modifications proposed by senators to quell concerns that mandatory training for judges would impinge on judicial independence.

It was not clear whether Wagner’s reference to training in a speech devoted to the importance of maintaining judicial independence was intended as veiled criticism of the bill. He took no questions following his remarks.

“Judges have to be free to make the right decision, even when that decision may be politically unpopular,” he said. “The judiciary, as a collective, has to be free to decide what training and education judges receive to do their jobs well.”

The bill requires that judges take training in sexual-assault law but leaves it to the Canadian Judicial Council, which Wagner chairs, to develop the actual training program, in consultation with whomever it chooses, including survivors of sexual assault.

READ MORE: Liberals revive Rona Ambrose’s bill on sexual assault law training for judges

In a statement issued when Bill C-5 was introduced, the council expressed some reservations about the legislation.

“We know that sexual violence complainants, in particular, can find the judicial process confusing and even traumatic,” the council said.

“The federal government has introduced a bill aimed at strengthening the confidence of sexual assault survivors in the justice system. This is a laudable goal and one with which the judiciary wholeheartedly agrees.”

Still, it noted that the council and the National Judicial Institute already provide training and that “this work is properly and exclusively the judiciary’s role.”

Moreover, that statement pointed out that the council and institute develop training programs only for judges appointed by the federal government and are not responsible for the provincial and territorial judges who conduct many of the sexual assault trials in this country.

“Any solution that does not include provincially and territorially appointed judges is incomplete and falls short of the goal.”

In his speech, Wagner argued that judicial independence is crucial to maintaining the balance among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of a democracy. The executive branch sets policy, the legislative branch passes laws and the judiciary interprets those laws and must be free to do so “without any outside influence” so that Canadians can have confidence that cases are decided independently and impartially, he said.

He warned that “even actions that are taken with the best of intentions” can disrupt that delicate balance and “once judicial independence begins to erode, even just a little, the danger is that the whole edifice may eventually crumble.”

And he pointed to the United States as an example of a country where that erosion has occurred.

“We live in troubled times. The rule of law and judicial independence are under threat around the world. Just look at what’s happening south of the border.”

Wagner didn’t elaborate.

Judicial appointments are far more politicized in the U.S. Washington is currently in an uproar over Attorney General William Barr overriding trial prosecutors to recommend a lighter prison sentence for Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump. The president also just pardoned or commuted the sentences of several high-profile people convicted of frauds and corruption.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Q&A: Interior Health CEO answers questions on COVID-19 response

Susan Brown, president and CEO of Interior Health, answers questions regarding COVID-19

6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes the Kootenays

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout parts of B.C. and Alberta

Grand Forks and Boundary cancellations, changes due to COVID-19

This newspaper’s list of community events, institutions that change or cancel due to pandemic

Gallery 2 launches new online art program

Every Wednesday the gallery will post a prompt to inspire artists at home

Grand Forks distillery shifts to make sanitizer

How a Grand Forks distillery is stepping up during the COVID-19 pandemic

‘We don’t need this right now’: B.C. man breaks up road rage incident

Two men were throwing punches on Tillicum Road in Saanich on Vancouver Island

‘There can be no ambiguity’: Travellers brought home to B.C. must self-isolate

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandatory isolation must be abided by

COVID-19 has been impacting Canadian economy since January

But full effects of pandemic won’t be known for months

Doctors trained abroad want to join front lines of COVID-19 fight in Canada

B.C. is looking to allow internationally trained doctors to work under the supervision of attending physicians

Fake test kits and other COVID online scams play on public anxiety: fraud centre

Vancouver has seen a spike in commercial property crimes, with offices and stores empty because of COVID-19

Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

Subsidy will cost Canada $71 billion, but push down cost of emergency benefit, Morneau said

Feds amplify stay-home message as cost of financial aid to Canadians mounts

Liberals have unveiled around $200B in direct financial aid and tax deferrals

‘We will get through this’: B.C. sees new COVID-19 death, but 57% have recovered

A total of 1,066 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus

Most Read