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Federal ombudsperson launches probe into treatment of sexual assault survivors by Canadian justice system


The federal ombudsperson for victims of crime has initiated a national investigation into the experiences of sexual assault survivors within Canada's justice system.

This move comes amid growing concerns that survivors often feel marginalized and disempowered, with their rights frequently overshadowed by those of their perpetrators.

“Everyone wants the system to work better and survivors want to be heard," said federal ombusperson Benjamin Roebuck. "They want to feel respected and protected in the system. They want access to rights that are meaningful. It's definitely time for our office to step in.”

The investigation will examine every stage of survivors' interactions with the justice system, from the initial reporting phase, through to post-sentencing procedures. 

This approach will involve extensive consultation with survivors, service providers, legal experts, academics, and community organizations. An expert advisory panel will be created to analyze the findings and come up with concrete solutions.

A key focus of the investigation is Section 278.1 of the Criminal Code, which permits individuals accused of sexual assault to ask a judge for access to private counselling records of the victim.

Advocacy group Survivors Safety Matters is welcoming the investigation as a crucial step towards addressing systemic injustices.

“It's very encouraging to have somebody looking at this segment of the criminal justice system," said Alexa Barkley, co-founder of Survivors Safety Matters. "It feels long overdue.”

The group remains hopeful that the ombudsperson's office will have the necessary resources and authority to create lasting change.

“People know in their hearts what justice feels like, and what it looks like," said Tanya Couch, co-founder of Survivors Safety Matters. "What we have right now doesn't feel like justice. We would hope that there'll be a whole new system created.”

The group has launched a petition addressed to the House of Commons, advocating for revisions to Section 278 of Canada’s Criminal Code. Top Stories

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