Quebec Considers the Creation of Special Sexual Assault Court

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The #MeToo movement’s reach has expanded beyond our cultural institutions. Now, our judicial institutions are reflecting on the #MeToo movement and how to appropriately respond.

The high-profile case of Gilbert Rozen shined a spotlight on the workings of the #MeToo movement on Quebec’s most regarded cultural institutions.  Rozon, the founder of the Just for Laughs Festival, became embedded in a sexual misconduct scandal in October 2017 after becoming subject to numerous sexual assault allegations.

The case of Rozon also put a spotlight on the justice system’s mechanisms and processes for dealing with sexual assault claimants.  While 14 women filed police complaints about Rozon’s inappropriate behaviour, Crown prosecutors decided only to charge Rozen in connection with one of the files.

The Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales (DPCP) explained in a statement that sometimes charges are not laid, not because the victim is not believed, but because the Crown doesn’t believe it can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Despite the DPCP’s effort to reassure victims, outrage and concern nonetheless surfaced.  Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel considered the effect that the decision to not pursue the 13 other complaints would have on the deterrence of victims coming forward. “I don’t want that to discourage them to speak out; it’s very important to speak out,” Lebel said in response to the decision. The Supreme Court of Canada has also pondered the importance of the reporting of sexual offences, emphasizing that both the complainant, and indeed the community at large, have an interest in the reporting and prosecution of sexual offences.

In response to the concerns in connection with the prosecutorial choices relating to Rozen, and perhaps the #MeToo movement more generally, LeBel convened an all-party meeting to consider reforms to the way Quebec adjudicates sexual assault cases. Specifically, to consider having a separate court division to hear sexual assault cases.  Premier François Legault is open to the idea, as well as members of other Quebec opposition parties.

While the proposal for the separate court division is in the early stages of being considered concretely, certain ideas of how it would work have been circulating. Veronique Hivon of the Parti Québécois, who first proposed the idea in Quebec, noted that proposed elements of the specialized court would include:

-Setting up integrated resource centres for victims. These would be places where resources — both legal and psychological — could be streamlined and made easily available;

● Victims having access to social workers throughout their legal process;

●  Judges and lawyers would receive specialized training;

●  Legal experts could testify about the effects of trauma.

While Quebec’s creation of a sexual assault court would be a novelty in Canada, specialized courts are not unheard of. For instance, most obviously, there are youth division courts. However, there also exists domestic violence courts. In 2011, the New Brunswick provincial government created a domestic violence court to address violence against women.  The New Brunswick domestic violence court combines specialization in domestic violence cases with co-ordinated community-based resources for support and treatment of victims and offenders during the court process. The court has four goals:

●    to improve the response of the criminal justice system to victim needs and safety planning;
●    to promote offender accountability and early intervention to help stop the cycle of violence;
●    to accelerate prosecution and court processes; and
●    to offer timely access to services for victims and offenders.

There also exists examples outside of Canada of specialized courts for sexual offences. The main source of inspiration for the Quebec courts apparently comes from South Africa, where the legal system has continuously been experimenting with sexual offence courts since 1993. Several dozen courthouses across South Africa have been upgraded to provide separate rooms for victims to testify, private waiting areas and on-call support services. The United Nations has also recommended creating tribunals specialized in violence against women. 

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.