Women Press for Special Court to Justice Sexual Assault Victims

Because Quebec has turned a blind eye to sexual assault in its state system, victim advocate groups are urging the province to pass the new bill.

In 2006, Liberal Premier Jean Charest instituted the province’s Sexual Assault Crisis Centre, which was supposed to have reformed Quebec’s way of handling sexual assault victims.

But critics say the ministry of Public Health does nothing to help victims and continues to charge as little as $30 a visit.

Then one day, an assault survivor decided she had had enough. She called radio station 98.5 FM, and shouted at the top of her lungs about how the Rape Crisis Centre had failed to help her, and pushed for a special court for sexual assault victims to make sure justice was served.

That was five years ago. Quebec finally passed a bill late last year that aims to correct these faults.

Bill 75, which imposes penalties for witnesses who fail to report a crime, passed after three years of hearings at the National Assembly. It creates a court for Sexual Assault Victims, or SCIF, that punishes those who hide their secrets. It also grants survivors of assault a new way to gain compensation.

That victim, Anita Vandersluis, began the campaign seven years ago because she was not protected and because she couldn’t find any help. She said the family was also disadvantaged because they were humiliated because it was revealed that her husband had raped her while she was seven months pregnant.

Anita felt like no one would believe her. After she found refuge in shelters, she grew increasingly frustrated because the accused was not sent to jail and she was forced to pay the rapist’s court bills and his lawyer.

Back then, Anita said she had to make trips to Toronto to meet a judge. But under the new bill, the accused will be in custody until the trial and the defence can’t pay anyone to stand up for the accused. Anita said she will no longer have to go through that mess.

Paul-François de Vaupenant, a lawyer who helps set up these special courts, said that special courts are essential to help survivors overcome their trauma and earn a better standard of living. “Here in Quebec, I think we really need the special court. We need help to take care of them and care of their families. And we need to ensure that the person who committed the crime is then punished.”

This is not the first special court for crime victims in Quebec. According to Bill 75, the special court will operate with a maximum of 150 trials per year. These victims will be given special accommodations, including separate courtrooms, quiet rooms, and more time with their lawyers, so they can give their lawyers time to argue without interruption.

But in practice, it may prove too costly. Bill 75 does not provide any additional funding for the court, so it will probably end up costing the province. It would cost an estimated $60 million to start up the court at its maximum capacity, according to an estimate by a consultant hired by the ministry of justice.

Riane Rivard is worried about this. She said the idea for a special court was a good one but the minister of justice wasn’t able to allocate the funds to support it.

“The court needs the same financial resources that the other courts have,” Rivard said. “If they don’t have those funds, then people aren’t going to be confident to participate in the court.”

Parti Québécois Party Senator Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said he was willing to vote for the bill in its current form because “the Liberal minister must always have sufficient financial resources to have a proper court. Otherwise they just give lip service to the idea of a special court.”

It looks like Bill 75 may not be such a bad idea.

Philippe Leduc contributed to this report.

David Banks is a contributor at Fox News Channel, a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation, and author of “

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