Sexual assault laws are changing in Canada. Political movements like #MeToo and several high-profile cases involving sexual related activity in Canada have shed light on sexual assault laws and how these crimes are reported and charged. This post will highlight some of the recent changes to the sexual related assaults and aggravated sexual assault sections of the Criminal Code of Canada.
According to a study by Justice Canada, most sexual assaults in Canada are not reported to the police. When asked why, over two-thirds of the respondents stated that they had little confidence “in the police, the court process, or the criminal justice system in general.” Many victims of sexual related assaults face barriers to reporting, including dismissal by police, re-victimization during a trial and trials that only result in a conviction half of the time.
In an effort to improve the situation for victims, the government of Canada has introduced several new bills that they claim will help support sexual assault victims and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system.
Sexual Assault is A Broad Term
The definition of sexual assault is an assault that transpires in circumstances of a sexual nature. This definition includes all unwanted sexual activity, including touching, grabbing, kissing and fondling as well as rape. This definition replaced the offence of rape, which no longer appears in the code.
Recent changes to the criminal code also include prohibiting all non-consensual sexual activity. They also provide a clear definition of consent, identifying when consent cannot be obtained (such as if a person is intoxicated or passed out) and set rules for the admissibility of evidence to deter myths and stereotypes about victims of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault.
New changes to the code involving young people include setting the age of consent, which is normally 16 to 18 years of age where the sexual activity involves prostitution, pornography or occurs in a relationship of authority, trust or dependency such as a teacher, coach or babysitter. These changes also introduce a mandatory minimum sexual assault sentence of one year in prison if the victim is under 16 years of age.
Changes to The Judges Act
Recent amendments to the criminal code and judges act aim to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system. This includes training for judges and more transparency into how their decisions in cases of sexual assault are made. Any candidates seeking an appointment to the provincial superior court must agree to training on sexual assault and social context, including systemic racism and systemic discrimination.
Judges are also required to provide written reasons for their decisions under sexual assault provisions, including those that reference historical sexual assault offences. This rule increases transparency in sexual assault decisions and ensures decisions are made without the influence of myths or stereotypes.
The #MeToo Movement
Social justice movements such as #Metoo have helped bring more awareness to the weaknesses in Canada’s sexual activity laws. The increased attention has also given courage to many women to report an assault, leading to an increase in reported cases of victims being sexually assaulted. While there is still work to be done, these recent changes to sexual assault laws aimed at changing attitudes and stereotypes along with increased protections for victims are a good start.
If you or someone in your family is facing charges of sexual related assault or aggravated sexual assault you need an experienced criminal lawyer who fully understands the recent changes to the laws and can help you get the best result for your case. William Jaksa is an experienced sexual assault lawyer with over ten years of experience fighting for clients. Contact William Jaksa today for a consultation on your case.