Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative leader Jamie Baillie is trying to tighten the province’s sexual assault legislation.
The PC Caucus is introducing two bills this week at Province House to try and improve the protection of victims’ rights, and to change the rules of reporting sexual assaults at Nova Scotia’s university and college campuses.
“They’re really designed to make our campuses more safe for young women and men, from sexual violence and for those people who are attacked—the few that are brave enough to come forward into the courts to make sure they’re treated respectfully and that they see justice is done,” says Baillie.
Specifically, the first bill seeks to amend previous legislation by declaring victims to have the “right to be treated with respect when giving evidence” and the “right to legal representation in relation to the prosecution of the accused.”
The change, Baillie says, it to provide more respectful treatment of victims in court, and to allow for legal counsel if they can’t afford their own.
The second bill demands every college, university and private career college should develop a sexual violence policy, and offer 24-hour victim support services. The bill also outlines notions of a complaint and reporting process, institutional transparency and a call for increased student services.
“Certainly, I’m looking forward to working with both of the other political parties on these bills, and any that they bring forward that have the same objective,” says Baillie. “To me, this should not, and hopefully is not about whose party did what; we should be united in these efforts.”
The proposed bills come a month after Mitchell Leeander Goodwin was sentenced to just 90 days in jail—to be served on weekends—after he was found guilty of repeatedly sexually assaulting a woman over a period of several hours back in 2012, and weeks after the acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi.
“The Ghomeshi trial, that happened nationally, I think highlighted a big problem, which is, for some sad reason, it’s considered acceptable to attack the character and the sexual history of the victim,” says Baillie. “Surely, we can have a criminal justice system that is fair and reaches just conclusions, without resorting to those kinds of tactics.”
Currently the provincial Liberal government is spending $1.2 million over the next two years in “Prevention Innovation Grants” to combat sexual violence. This year’s budget also re-announced $700,000 in funding for more sexual assault nurse examiners. Only Halifax and Antigonish have these examiners right now, and no timeline has been presented for when service providers will be chosen or when the nurses will begin work.
As a father of two teenage daughters, Baillie says he sees the importance of strengthening laws surrounding sexual assault.
“In that awful circumstance where my daughter could be attacked, I want her to know that the legal system will be there to protect her, to be respectful of her and to hold her predator accountable under the law for what he or she has done.”