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Bill C-5 could put sexual assault victims back at risk, warn women’s groups and senators

Jennifer Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, said women will be even less likely to contact the police if they believe their abuser will not be punished.Nicole Osborne/The Globe and Mail

Support groups for victims of domestic violence and sexual offenses warn against a federal plan that would allow more people convicted of sexual assault to avoid jail time.

Bill C-5 would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for many offences, including drug and firearms offences. The reforms aim in part to reduce the disproportionately high incarceration rates of blacks and Native in Canada.

But senators and support groups for victims of violence say a clause in the bill that would allow judges to impose community sentences for sexual assault and kidnapping could put women, including those in Indigenous and Black communities, in greater danger.

Mandatory minimum sentences harm the justice system

They say the reform sends the wrong message about the seriousness of sexual assault and violence against women in general.

Jennifer Dunn, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Center in Ontario, told The Globe and Mail that women will be even less likely to contact the police if they believe their abuser will not face jail time.

“Only 6% of sexual assaults are reported and only one in five ends in a conviction,” Ms Dunn said. “There are a lot of things this bill seeks to address that we agree with, but small parts of the bill are going to be detrimental to women who are going through this.”

She said conditional sentences – for example, saying a sex offender can’t enter the victim’s property – are routinely abused, giving the example of an attacker who set up a lounge chair in the yard neighbor to watch a victim after being banned. of his property.

Wednesday, Quebec Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu – whose eldest daughter, Julie, was abducted, raped and murdered by a repeat offender – tried to remove sexual assault and kidnapping from the list of offenses that could result in house arrest and other penalties suspended.

Mr Boisvenu said those who suffer from domestic violence often reside in the same city or town, or even on the same street, as the person who assaulted them, and would live in fear if their abuser were allowed to return to their home. their neighborhood after being sentenced.

The government did not accept Mr. Boisvenu’s amendment to Bill C-5, tabled in the Senate Legal Affairs Committee, although it was supported by several other senators, including his Conservative colleague Denise Batters.

Senator Marc Gold, the government representative in the Senate, told the committee that judges would always have the discretion to impose prison sentences and will do so “almost all the time”. Proposal measure would only apply to crimes which would have resulted in a prison sentence of less than two years.

“The government is in full agreement that serious criminal behavior should be met with serious penalties,” Gold said.

Mr. Boisvenu, who founded a shelter for abused women, told the Globe he intended to try again when the bill reached third reading in the Senate, to ensure that perpetrators of sexual assault were not left behind. account.

Allowing perpetrators to serve their sentences at home would further reduce women victims’ confidence in the justice system, he warned.

Martine Jeanson, president of La Maison Des Guerrières, a Quebec support group for women victims of domestic violence, said reducing sentences for sexual assault would put women at risk.

“For 20 years I have worked with victims of domestic violence and children and women who have been raped. We try to protect them. We see more and more women being killed. Women don’t even want to call the police anymore,” she said.

Chantalle Aubertin, press secretary to Justice Minister David Lametti, said “gender-based violence and domestic violence have no place in Canada and our government has made it a priority to end it. in all its forms “.

She said the bill allows for “greater use of conditional sentencing in appropriate cases, so judges have the discretion to create effective sentences that address the root causes of crime.” … The result is parents at home to raise their children; more people who can keep their jobs and feed their families without resorting to crime; and better access to alternative justice mechanisms, such as restorative justice programs.

Murray Sinclair, former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a retired senator, told the Senate committee earlier this month that the bill does not go far enough to reduce the over-incarceration of Indigenous and Black offenders.