Up until now, victims of sexual assault and domestic violence had their cases heard through the traditional justice system. In 2019, the wheels of reform were put into motion when an expert committee was formed to examine the current measures or lack thereof available. This expert committee was also tasked with studying potential measures that could be adopted to tailor the justice for victims rather than a one size fits all approach. Quebec has now planned a reform of the justice system. They have created a specialized court, which will be a division of the Court of Quebec, for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. This reform is based on a need to modernize and adapt the current judicial process for sexual assault and domestic violence victims.
A Bill, founded on the Committee’s 190 recommendations will be presented in Parliament this Fall 2021 with the intention to be adopted quickly. In early 2022, pilot projects will be launched in various courts throughout Quebec with the goal of assessing the practical mechanics of this specialized court before implementing the fundamental changes rooted in these recommendations permanently in every court of Quebec. The raison d’être of this specialized court is to ensure that victims are at the center of the judicial process. Denouncing sexual assault or domestic violence is a very difficult feat for victims who often feel that the judicial system lacks compassion and affinity for them.
The Quebec government, via this judicial reform, will provide victims with comprehensive support by accompanying victims throughout the judicial process from the moment the victim files the complaint at their local police station. Since this is the first place of contact that victims have with the judicial process, police stations within each neighborhood will have a specialized department with police officers specialized and trained in sexual assault and domestic violence. This reform will also ensure that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence will be accompanied by the same prosecutor from the beginning of the judicial process to the end; a process called ‘vertical proceeding’. This is a progressive alteration of the traditional criminal judicial process, which will allow victims to avoid having to recount their story multiple times. This is critical as victims of sexual assault and domestic violence often drop the charges against their perpetrator out of guilt and are discouraged by the judicial system.
This reform is designed to encourage victims to come forward by denouncing reprehensible behaviours and see justice rendered. Victims will not be alone, from start to finish of the judicial process, victims will be offered psychosocial support. The establishment of a specialized court will help modernize the justice system and bring about the necessary culture change required to adapt it to the needs of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. A step in the right direction!