Politics

Rona Ambrose’s last act in politics is to combat sexism in the courts

Interim Conservative Party leader Rona Ambrose announced Tuesday morning that she would be taking a final bow from politics, and leaving Ottawa this summer.

Ambrose will be leaving Parliament with one last accomplishment: her legislation that aims to tackle sexism in the court system passed unanimously on Monday and is now headed to the Senate, where it is expected to become law without much delay.

“It’s the first time in Ottawa that the media actually found out last,” Ambrose quipped at Tuesday morning of her impending departure.

Ambrose took over the helm of the second-place party in 2015, after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it quits following his loss to Justin Trudeau, his successor.

During her 13 years in Ottawa, Ambrose served in a host of cabinet roles, and has recently been heralded as a very effective opposition leader.

The bill also requires sitting judges to provide an explanation of why someone is acquitted or found guilty in a variety of sexual offences.

Earlier in the year, she drafted legislation aimed at addressing a problem that has become top-of-mind for a lot of Canadians: Sexual assault.

Her legislation, C-337, requires that before anyone becomes a judge, they must have “education in sexual assault law that has been developed in consultation with sexual assault survivors, as well as with groups and organizations that support them.” That includes “principles of consent” as well as “education regarding myths and stereotypes associated with sexual assault complainants.”

The bill also requires sitting judges to provide an explanation of why someone is acquitted or found guilty in a variety of sexual offences.

Ambrose’s bill takes aim at stories from across Canada where the court system has acquitted those accused of sexual assault, sparking outrage.

In some cases, the judges were accused of labouring under myths and misapprehensions about the women who brought the accusations forward — such as former Justice Robin Camp, who asked a sexual assault survivor why she didn’t keep her “knees together.”

However, in other cases, the verdict was the subject of debate. One in particular, in Halifax, involved a taxi driver accused of sexually assaulting a passenger who was found not guilty after a judge was unable to determine whether the sex occurred before or after the woman fell unconscious. Public outrage and protests erupted, accusing the judge of relying on outmoded stereotypes, including a comment that “clearly, a drunk can consent.” Some lawyers not involved in the case contended that the judge made the right decision based on the facts in front of him — but that the decision was communicated poorly to the public. That case is under appeal.

Ambrose’s bill puts weight behind the Trudeau government’s push to boost diversity on the bench.

“This is about building confidence in our justice system so that more victims of sexual assault feel comfortable reporting and seeking justice,” Ambrose said before the bill passed the House of Commons on Monday. “This is something we can all do together to show victims that we believe them.”

Ambrose’s bill puts weight behind the Trudeau government’s push to boost diversity on the bench, which involved appointing more women as judges.

The Alberta MP said she would be resigning her seat when the House of Commons rises for in June, meaning a by-election could happen later this Summer or early Fall.

Bloomberg reported Monday that Ambrose is heading to Washington, D.C. for a position at the Wilson Centre’s Canada Institute, a think-tank that focuses on trade between America and Canada.

The Conservative Party picks a new leader on May 27 in Toronto. In a statement released Tuesday, Ambrose said she was confident that “the Conservative Party is going to be in capable hands.”

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