Canada's Original Think Tank

Debate on the amendment at third reading of Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

Debate on the amendment at third reading of Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

Debate on the amendment at third reading of Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable senators, I wasn’t planning on speaking to this amendment, but I’ve been thinking about the issues and I very much appreciate the speeches today.

The issue of consent in sexual assault is something that is vitally important to Canadian society. I thank Senator McPhedran for bringing up the cases she did. You brought up the Tisdale rape case in Saskatchewan where it was a 12-year-old First Nation girl. You brought up the case of Cindy Gladue, an Aboriginal woman from Edmonton. Rehtaeh Parsons, of course, we had all heard about.

Nobody talked about Helen Betty Osborne. Senator Sinclair knows this case very well from 1971. It was a case that, as a young woman, really struck me. She was a young First Nation woman going to high school in Flin Flon, and four young men decided they wanted to party. They picked Betty because she was an Indian girl. They wanted to party and have sex with an Indian girl. She was brutally murdered.

The point is Indigenous women and girls, as we all know, are much more vulnerable to rape, sexual assault and murder. The issue of consent here is how often do the voices of Indigenous women get heard to the same level, to the same extent as non-Indigenous women? Often, alcohol is involved. The victim is fed alcohol. They go out to party. The young girl in the Tisdale rape case was fed beer at 12 years old. Not only is she underage, but she is given alcohol to make her drunk. We all know that alcohol is an inhibitory drug and it affects rational thinking. You no longer think rationally. Even though she may not have been unconscious or even if she were an adult, if she had been forced to drink or had been drinking willingly, she is not going to be thinking rationally. How can she give consent under those circumstances?

We also know today that we have date rape drugs that render the victim totally limp. They can’t move. It’s like they’re unconscious, but their brain is still active. We know that very well from cases in the United States. We know that from the Bill Cosby case.

I support your amendment, Senator Pate, but what was really in my mind was the role of the Senate. The previous speaker, Senator Dalphond, was saying it’s really up to the committee. I think this is a very complicated thing, so I’m very happy with what Senator Colin Deacon said. It is very complicated, but we, as individuals in the Senate, also have to make those decisions ourselves.

I think in this case we have an issue that strikes at the heart of the well-being of all Canadian women such that we have to take a stand. If the measure is to be delayed, so what? If it goes to the House of Commons and they say no and it comes back, I think we should say no again. Take a stand. Who will take a stand for women and Indigenous women in particular? Women’s issues often get pushed to the bottom of the list. Here’s a chance where, as a group, as a Senate, we can make a huge difference. We can stand up and we can say, “Yes, the committee should have done this.” But in this case, for whatever reasons, the committee decided not to go that way. Committees are made up of individual people and are swayed by different arguments.

So I think, as with medical assistance in dying bill, each one of us has to take our stand and say what we are going to believe in. Although I believe in the process and that the committee should have wrestled with this because they are the experts, at the same time, I think there are some things that we, as a Senate, need to stand up and say we will not accept. Maybe we’re not an elected body, but we are standing up for those women, and particularly for those most vulnerable women in the Indigenous community, saying this has to change. This is a disease within our society.

I thank you, Senator Pate, as a new senator, for having the courage to come forward with this. I will support your amendment.