Ontario bill for victims of assault sent to committee

Ontario bill for victims of assault sent to committee
Ontario bill for victims of assault sent to committee

TORONTO — Sexual assault survivors and opposition parties at Queen’s Park are fuming over the Doug Ford government’s “procedural maneuvers” over a judicial bill.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra sent the NDP’s bill on the justice system and sexual assault cases to committee on Tuesday. However, this procedure had the effect of canceling the debate on this bill in the House on Wednesday.

About a hundred survivors and activists were to go to Queen’s Park on Wednesday to attend this debate, in order to press the Progressive Conservative government to take concrete measures to improve the “traumatic and cruel” justice system in this matter. These women now feel muzzled.

New Democrat Catherine Fife’s private member’s bill, dubbed “Lydia’s Law,” would require the Ontario government to publish statistics on the progression of sexual assault cases through the courts. It would also require progress reports on the implementation of recommendations from the Auditor General of Ontario regarding resources in the criminal justice system.

The bill is named after a young Ontario woman who was sexually assaulted and subsequently involved in lengthy and arduous legal proceedings.

Cait Alexander, a sexual assault survivor who once lived in Toronto, had flown in from Los Angeles to attend Wednesday’s now-canceled debate at Queen’s Park.

“We don’t need more studies, more committees: we need governments that listen and adopt the bills,” she declared. This government should stop playing childish games and take firm and concrete measures to truly guarantee everyone what they deserve as an individual right to personal security.”

The bill had already been tabled in the Legislative Assembly and was scheduled for second reading debate, but the government voted to send it to committee before it was even studied.

MP Fife believes that the Progressive Conservative government is killing her bill by sending it to committee so that it languishes there and is never adopted. She maintains that 1,171 sexual assault cases were stayed in court in 2023 and 1,326 the previous year. “We don’t know why and we would have the right to know.”

Document the reasons

“The bill would have required the Attorney General to prepare a public progress report detailing criminal cases, awaiting disposition, and to analyze the reasons for delays, with supporting data, including a breakdown of why these cases judicial proceedings are rejected.”

Criminal courts in Ontario are extremely busy and understaffed, leading to delays and dismissals of cases. Jails across the province are overcrowded, which is expected to get worse with the directive to prosecutors to challenge bail for every serious case.

Mr Calandra disputes Ms Fife’s interpretation of the legislative procedure. “It doesn’t kill [le projet de loi]absolutely not: that sends it to committee,” he argued.

The government said it was carefully examining the issue of sexual assault through a committee chaired by Conservative backbencher Jess Dixon, a former crown prosecutor.

“There are very good sections in this particular bill, and that is why we sent it to committee,” assured the government leader. This committee will return with recommendations on how to reform the justice system for survivors of sexual assault.”

Mr. Calandra said last month that his government would support another NDP bill aimed at recognizing that domestic violence constitutes “an epidemic in Ontario”.

“We want to get real results, right? So, there is no point in recognizing something, an epidemic, if it is not accompanied by measurable results, with which we can act,” explained the leader of the government in the House.

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