Response to Minister’s Statement on Sexual Assault Prevention Month

Queen’s Park, May 31, 2016 – I’m pleased to rise as women’s issues critic on behalf of the Ontario NDP caucus to respond to the minister’s statement on Sexual Assault Prevention Month.

I want to begin by offering my profound thanks and lasting admiration for the difficult and draining work that front-line workers do in sexual assault centres, rape crisis centres and violence against women agencies across the province to prevent sexual violence and to raise awareness of sexual assault. Most of all, I want to thank them for their commitment to listening to survivors, to believing what they say and to helping them move forward with compassion and empathy.

I also want to acknowledge survivors of sexual assault for their courage in sharing their stories, their willingness to support each other, and their determination to end sexual violence and abuse.

In addition to awareness activities that have been undertaken as part of Sexual Assault Prevention Month and throughout this past year, this past May saw sexual assault front and centre on the media and public agenda. The month began with the brave disclosure by Temerra Dixon of the trauma she experienced because of the doctor who sexually abused her and three other female patients. Temerra went public because of the disciplinary panel’s decision to allow the doctor to keep his licence and continue to practise after being found guilty.

Speaker, there can be no question that groping, that any physical contact between physicians and their patients, constitutes sexual assault. It represents a shocking betrayal of trust and violation of a physician’s duty to care. But, while current legislation makes revocation of a physician’s licence mandatory for nearly every other form of sexual abuse, there is no automatic revocation in the case of sexual touching. This is wrong, Speaker, and it has to change. Doctors who molest their patients should not be allowed to continue to practise.

Ontario patients and advocates have been calling for years for this legal loophole to change. The College of Physicians and Surgeons has joined the call for amendments to revoke the licences of all doctors who abuse. A year and a half ago, the government created a task force to study this issue. The study is complete but the report is sitting on the minister’s desk. The longer the government refuses to release the report, the longer patients, especially female patients, will remain unprotected from this kind of sexual assault.

This past month also saw the Ghomeshi trial come to a close with the signing of a peace bond, the issuing of an apology to Kathryn Borel and the withdrawal of the sexual assault charge against him. This reignited the public discussion about sexual violence and the justice system that has been playing out in the media and in living rooms across the nation for more than a year. What the Ghomeshi spectacle reveals is the grim reality behind the statistics of sexual assault and why so many sexual assault survivors do not report their assaults to the police. They fear not being believed; they fear being judged for what they did or what they wore; they fear being re-victimized and re-traumatized by the criminal justice process.

I hope that this month marks the moment that the government acknowledges the complete failure of our current legal system to deal with sexual assault. Independent legal advice for sexual assault survivors is a good start, but I urge this government to do more. I urge this government to implement the recommendations of the all-party Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment to provide dedicated legal representation for survivors, access to sexual assault courts and restorative justice, and extensive training for all involved. More importantly, when 19 out of 20 victims of sexual assault choose not to go through the justice system, we need prevention and we need support that enables survivors to heal.

My private members bill, Bill 177, which passed second reading in this Legislature in March with all-party support, is a critical piece of the support that is needed. My bill would provide up to 10 days of paid leave for workers who have experienced sexual violence or domestic violence to seek medical attention, to access counselling, to relocate, to talk to police, lawyers or go to court. My bill would also require mandatory workplace training on sexual violence and domestic violence. I urge this Liberal government to move my bill through committee or to reintroduce it as government legislation.

One out of three Ontario women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Most will be under the age of 25. Most will know the person who attacked them. The overwhelming majority will not report their assault to the police. We can and must do better to prevent sexual violence from occurring and to put in place appropriate supports to allow survivors to heal from the harm they experienced.