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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A private member’s bill that would require sexual assault training for incoming judges has passed unanimously in the P.E.I. legislature.
The bill, introduced by Progressive Conservative MLA Jamie Fox, would apply to lawyers seeking an appointment as a judge, as well as justices of the peace and retired judges being considered for part-time appointments.
Former Conservative Party of Canada leader Rona Ambrose, who has introduced a similar bill in the House of Commons, travelled to P.E.I. to speak in favour of the bill on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, she said sexual assault survivors are often revictimized in the legal system — sometimes due to stigmas and stereotypical attitudes, and sometimes due to a lack of training in the complexities of sexual assault law.
The bill still requires royal assent, but once that happens, P.E.I. will become the first jurisdiction in Canada to require sexual assault legal training for judges.
Members of the government bench made several amendments to the bill. One amendment would ensure the training program in sexual assault law be established by the chief judge of P.E.I.
Another amendment included a goal of education about gender equality and the history of Indigenous people.
The last-minute amendments came together amidst a chaotic winter day in Charlottetown.
Debate on the bill was interrupted by a power outage around 4:30 p.m. MLA’s and staff negotiated last-minute amendments, lit by cellphone flashlights, at the Coles building before power was restored around 6 p.m.
In the end, the Mandatory Sexual Assault Training Law Education Act was passed with the amendments.
Justice Minister Jordan Brown supported the amended bill, but spoke about the importance of not impinging upon the independence of judges.
“What we want to avoid is legislation that could be challenged in court, opening the possibility for sexual assault victims to be revictimized by a system that is not on strong legal footing," Brown said in the legislature.
Brown said the amendments ensured that the possibility of this would be minimized.
Ambrose thanked both Premier Wade MacLauchlan and Brown for working to pass the bill.
She said she believed that requiring training in sexual assault legal training would send a strong message about reducing stigma.
“The intention here, with this bill, is about creating confidence in our justice system,” Ambrose said.