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Sexual assault survivors blast Ontario government for delays in passing key bill

Cait Alexander, an advocate and survivor of sexual assault, flew from Los Angeles to Toronto to watch a debate on Tuesday inside the Ontario legislature.

Motivated by a burning desire to reform Ontario’s ailing court system, after battling through it as a victim for much of her 20s, she came to see elected officials debate a proposed law she believed could finally make a difference.

When she arrived in Toronto, and as MPPs headed into the chamber to debate the legislation, however, the government changed course and sent the bill to be considered by a committee without giving it any time for debate.

“Games are typically for children… it’s bewildering that I have to say this: human suffering and human lives are not a game,” Alexander said on Wednesday morning. “Yet, here we are, playing a dangerous one with the Canadian injustice system.”

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The proposed private members bill was labelled Lydia’s Law, named after a young Ontario woman who was sexually assaulted and embroiled in lengthy and difficult court proceedings.

“Lydia was denied her voice in the justice system and then she was denied her voice in Ontario’s legislature,” Ontario NDP MPP Catherine Fife, who is behind the legislation, said. “That is cruel, it truly is.”

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Lydia’s Law would have forced the Attorney General to prepare a report to show how much progress has been made on key recommendations by the auditor general, and set up a working group to monitor it.

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Among other measures, it would also make the government review its Victim Quick Response Program and report the results of that review.

Data from the Ontario court system show that 1.326 sexual assault cases were withdrawn before trial in 2022. The next year, 1,171 were withdrawn before trial.

“This bill would have been embarrassing for this government because these numbers are so shocking,” Fife said.

“This is a government that talks tough on crime, they’re the law and order party. And these numbers — 1,326 sexual assault cases that are dismissed — run counter to that law-and-order tough talk.

The government for its part said deciding not to allow the house to debate the motion — which survivors of sexual assault and advocates had travelled to see — does not mean it won’t eventually progress.

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“No, absolutely not — it’s expediting it into committee,” Progressive Conservative House Leader Paul Calandra said when asked if he was killing the bill.

“We have a legislative committee that is looking at intimate partner violence, this is very much in the vein of that legislative committee, they are working on it. We’ve sent it directly to the committee that was doing that study. So, it seems to be common sense to me.”

Despite Calandra’s protestations, Fife said she felt it was a new “trend” for the government to send opposition legislation straight to committee without debate. A Green Party bill on housing suffered the same fate earlier in the year.

“They languish there and they die there,” Fife said.

While the proposed legislation makes its way to committee, Alexander said the court system remains broken and will continue to fail survivors of sexual assault.

“When I was a little girl, what I should have wished for on every single birthday was a justice system that actually listens to victims,” she said.

“I wish for that now.”

— with a file from The Canadian Press

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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