The Hill Times - Defence Lawyers ‘Cringe’ at New Sex-Assault Rules in Justice Bill

This entry consists of experts from a recent article in The Hill Times by Charelle Evelyn, which I was quoted in, dealing with Bill C-51.

Some defence lawyers are looking to the Senate to fix a government justice bill they say would make unconstitutional changes to the way courts deal with sexual assault cases.

"I kind of cringe at this bill because I feel like its really reaction," said Sarah Leamon, a Vancouver-based criminal defence lawyer with Acumen Law Corporation, who appeared before the House Justice Committee during its study of the bill in the fall.  "And I don't like the creation of what I see being, basically, a dual justice system based on the class of offence."

Bill C-51 was introduced in June as a perceived response to the Jian Ghomeshi trials, which saw the former CBC Radio host acquitted of sexual assault charges in March 2016.  Since then, the #MeToo hashtag and sex assault allegations against powerful players in Hollywood, the media, and other public positions has captured headlines.

The current conversation about what constitutes consent and what constitutes sexual assault is a positive development, said Ms. Leamon, but that doesn't mean that it's a judicial issue that requires legislative reform.

"I don't think that we can look to the justice system and revamping the justice system, making all of these allowances for just one particular kind of offence, in order to solve the problem that not a judicial problem; it's a social problem," she said.

Another issue she said she has with the bill is the allowance for sexual assault complainants to have the right to their own legal representation, outside of Crown counsel, for the hearings in which evidence is deemed admissible or not.

This could create a schism between victims of sexual assault, who have this right to counsel, and victims of other types of violent crimes who do not.  Additionally, there's nothing in the bill that backstops how people would access their own legal representation, when legal aid is already underfunded.

Unless theres a fund set up specifically for sexual assault victims, people will have to foot the bill for their own lawyers, creating a two-tier systems of those who can afford representation and those who cannot, Ms. Leamon said.

"I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of marginalized women about it because I work with a lot of non-profits in the Downtown Eastside and it's a concern," she said.  "They actually don't want to see that because often marginalized women feel that they already have enough barriers and if this is just another barrier to access justice, they can't afford to hire a lawyer so it makes it more difficult for them to come forward."

You can read the entire article, written by Charelle Evelyn, on The Hill Times.