Hon. Joseph A. Day (Leader of the Senate Liberals): Minister, good afternoon. My question relates to Bill C-337, An Act to amend the Judges Act and the Criminal Code (sexual assault). This bill was passed unanimously in the House of Commons. From my reading of the bill, before a practising lawyer can be appointed as a judge or even considered for appointment as a judge, she or he must have completed a course in sexual assault law. That’s fine for lawyers living in the big cities, like Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal, but I’m concerned about those practising law in the smaller rural communities, such as northern British Columbia or northern New Brunswick, my home province.
Does your department have a plan in place, and have you set aside resources, so that lawyers who are practising in areas where it would be much more difficult for them to take these courses will have access to those courses and therefore be considered for appointment as a judge?
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C., M.P., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada: Thank you, honourable senator, for the important questions. I was very pleased to be able to receive from the Committee on the Status of Women recommendations on amendments to Bill C-337 that spoke to judicial training, as you mentioned. The amendments brought forward were around broadening the training in terms of the broader social context to ensure that judges have the necessary training to recognize the differences among the people who present themselves in front of them.
So I was pleased that there was all-party support for this important private member’s bill.
I believe there should be — and, senator, you raise an important question — to ensure there is equal access to the necessary training in order to be in compliance with what this bill articulates. I would welcome feedback from the honourable senators, as well as debate and discussion. I’m always open to potential amendments, but I know this bill will benefit from your deliberations.
In terms of what the Department of Justice has done beyond this bill, we have engaged in discussions with the federal Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs in terms of supporting the training of judges. We have had the opportunity to provide resources to the National Judicial Institute to support training for judges. As well, there’s consideration through the commissioner for the opportunity to provide online training to judges if it’s not possible for an expert to live in every single community, or to find an expert that can provide the necessary training.
There are legitimate questions, and we would certainly welcome the feedback from the honourable senators with respect to the private member’s bill, Bill C-337.
Senator Day: Just to clarify, the concern I have is practising lawyers who are not judges. You have a lot of training programs for judges once they’ve been appointed, and I think that’s absolutely wonderful; we should be doing that. But you’re not going to be able to consider for appointment lawyers who are practising in rural areas who haven’t had the opportunity to take these sensitivity courses beforehand.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould: Thank you, senator, for the clarification. I think I misheard your question. I recognize that for lawyers who potentially want to become judges, this might be an obstacle for them putting their names forward. That definitely needs to be addressed, and again, we would benefit from further discussions with you.
Please recognize I have spoken about this with my officials, and it came up through the course of the discussions at committee, but we’ll continue to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to put their name forward to potentially sit as a Superior Court justice.