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Sex assault education for Saskatchewan legal professionals good for survivors: official

Monday, January 27, 2020 @ 12:44 PM | By Terry Davidson

Saskatchewan’s government is continuing its development of a sex assault education program for legal professionals in efforts to strengthen survivors’ confidence in the justice system.

Ministry of Justice and Attorney General spokesperson Noel Busse recently confirmed that officials are “currently working with the legal community to provide the first intake of the program this year.”

According to a news release from late November, components of the program include education on sexual assault provisions within the Criminal Code, supports for survivors, courtroom technology available for victims and the effects of trauma caused by sexual violence.

The program comes several months after the Sexual Assault Services of Saskatchewan released its Sexual Violence Action Plan, which included a recommendation for enhanced resources around helping survivors navigate the legal process.

In light of this, said Busse, the government felt a need for the program.

“I think as a province we’ve seen in recent provincial and federal reports … the need for survivors of sexual assault and victims of gender-based violence to have increased confidence in the justice system,” Busse said. “And one of the ways to do that … is to ensure that legal professionals are informed about ... protections that are afforded to complainants in criminal prosecutions.”

Busse said there will be a fee for participants, but at this stage was not able to say how much. 

“I can tell you that the program will be priced to ensure that the cost doesn’t represent a financial barrier to someone who is interested in taking it,” he said. “The goal is to make it affordable.”

He noted, however, that lawyers will receive a continuing professional development credit for taking the course. 

“We’re currently in the developmental stages,” he said. “The goal is to provide the program twice a year — once in Regina and once in Saskatoon — but we don’t have a specific timeline. We’re working to get it up and be able to provide it this year.”

Busse said each program will be carried out conference-style and take place over one to two days. 

“A lot of these details are still being finalized as we work with our partners to put this in place, so I’m not really able to [give] a lot of details as to what the timeline is or how many people are going to be in it or how long it is going to be,” he said. “It would work like most programs in that you would have a time set and you would have a specific number of students who would attend and then you would repeat that process as more people came through.”

Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan

The program, he said, is being developed by a committee consisting of officials from Saskatchewan's justice ministry, the Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association, the provincial court and Court of Queen's Bench. 

Back in November, Saskatchewan Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said that hearing from survivors was an impetus in getting the ball rolling.

“We have heard consistent feedback that survivors of sexual violence feel the need for increased confidence in the justice system,” Morgan said. “One of our primary focuses of this program is to ensure the Saskatchewan legal community is informed about legal protections afforded to complainants in a criminal prosecution.”

The sex assault education program comes as part of a growing movement towards empowering victims of crime.

In March 2019, Nova Scotia announced it would be offering free legal representation to complainants who face having their sexual histories brought up in criminal court. In May, Manitoba’s government sank more than $400,000 into victims support programs. And in April, that same province proposed widening the scope in its protection of victims of domestic violence by adding sex assault to the list of reasons why a tenant may end a residential lease early. 

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