A group of Vancouver Island women calling for legislative change on how publication bans are handled in sexual assault cases may soon see results.
Bill S-12 was introduced in the Senate by Senator Marc Gold on Wednesday (April 26), proposing requirements for judges when implementing publication bans on sexual assault cases.
If passed, the bill would require judges to ask prosecutors if they have sought victim input on whether to impose a publication ban. It also codifies the process for getting a ban lifted and would require judges to ask if victims want to receive ongoing information about their case after sentencing and ensure that wish is entered into the public record.
Speaking at a press conference, Vancouver woman Morrell Andrews, one of the organizers of My Voice My Choice, an advocacy collective of women who have been silenced by publication bans, said she was thrilled to see the legislation coming forward.
“If these changes that have been proposed today were made years ago, we would not have the victims and complainants of today having to resort to Twitter DMS to ask for help or to create WhatsApp groups to crowdsource legal advice,” Andrews said. “I’m elated to see this federal legislation that addresses the gaps and how publication bans are actually being implemented in this country.”
It’s been a long road for Andrews and women like her who have been campaigning for changes for years. Andrews, along with several Vancouver Island women, launched a federal petition sponsored by Victoria NDP MP Laurel Collins, which garnered around 4,900 signatures. That came after Andrews presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in October calling for change. The committee’s report came out in December, backing some of Andrews’ recommendations.
Lifting a ban will still require a hearing, which requires the accused to be notified and allowed to give submissions against having a publication ban lifted, something victims have said can be re-traumatizing.
“I can’t think of an example other than when there are multiple victims who have differing views on publication bans, that a judge would ever say no to the lifting of a publication ban when the victim has sought it at the outset, or changed position during the process to have it lifted. That’s certainly something we can look at in the legislative process to clarify,” said federal Justice Minister David Lametti, who spoke at the press conference.
Andrews suggested more education and greater data monitoring around publication bans could help navigate the issue in the future.
“It’s a real challenge to understand the issue,” Andrews said. “You can’t change what you don’t measure.”
Lametti said he expected cross-party support on the issue, with Andrews thanking members from the Conservatives and NDP for their support during the process.
“My last message to parliamentarians is please be decisive as you move forward with this legislation. It is marginal but it is a huge improvement to a system and will have a meaningful impact on people who are just trying to make it through and find some sort of resolution to harms that have been caused. I want you to be ambitious and I want you to work hard and demand something better for us,” said Andrews.
The bill also sought to make Supreme Court-mandated changes to who’s automatically signed up for the National Sex Offender Registry, after the court ruled last year it was unconstitutional to add everyone convicted of a sexual offence.
It would limit automatic registration to repeat sexual offenders, and serious child sexual offenders. Others convicted of one of the crimes listed in the law can avoid being added if they can demonstrate they do not pose a risk to the community.
The bill also expands the crimes covered by the registry to include the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and extortion, and will require registered sex offenders to provide 14 days’ notice before travelling.
The Supreme Court said those changes have to come into effect by Oct. 29, otherwise courts will no longer be able to order offenders to be added to the National Sex Offender Registry.
“In light of that I trust that all my parliamentary colleagues share my commitment to making sure that this situation does not happen,” said Lametti. “Canadians expect us to work together and quickly to preserve the National Sex Offender Registry by passing Bill S-12.”
— with a file from the Canadian Press