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Waterloo MPP calls PC government’s move on sexual assault justice bill 'cruel'


A Waterloo MPP is speaking out after her private member’s bill, aimed at improving transparency around sexual assault cases, was pulled from debate.

In a move that blindsided the opposition, Progressive Conservatives voted Tuesday to send NDP MPP Catherine Fife’s bill, named 'Lydia's Law,' to committee without debate. Some NDP MPPs shouted "shame" and "cowards" as PC MPPs stood to vote.

“It's just shocking that they would have such disdain for women,” Fife said afterwards, as she fought back tears.

According to Fife, there were more than 1,100 sexual assault cases thrown out in 2023 and 1,300 the year before.

Lydia’s Law would attempt to make the justice process more transparent for victims.

“80 per cent of sexual violence and sexual assault incidents are not reported to the police because, as Lydia learned, it's a very hostile and re-traumatizing system,” Fife told CTV Kitchener in an interview on Thursday.

The bill is named after a woman currently going through the court system. A publication ban prevents the media from sharing any information about her case.

“It is one thing to be silenced through the court system, but to be silenced in the Ontario Legislature, is not only cruel, it's dangerous, and it's irresponsible behavior on the part of the government,” said Fife.

More than 100 survivors and advocates had planned on going to Queen's Park for the debate that was originally scheduled for Wednesday, before it was cancelled.

The NDP now fear Lydia’s Law will disappear.

“I do have another bill, ‘Til Death Do Us Part Bill’, which has been sent to committee for 457 days. So when the government says ‘we're going to expedite it,’ really what they mean is that they're going to just let it sit there,” Fife said.

On Tuesday, Government House Leader Paul Calandra dismissed accusations that the PC government is trying to kill the bill.

“I'm uncertain as to why they're so angry about us expediting it to a committee designed to look specifically at the issues that are raised in the bill. I have every confidence that the committee is going to do the work they’ve been asked to do,”Calandra said. “[It] will get back to the house and we’ll deal with it.”

Calandra explained the goal is to get the bill to a committee already studying intimate partner violence sooner, and that he expects elements of Lydia's Law will be folded into the final committee report.

Meantime, Fife told CTV News, there’s a big difference between intimate partner violence and sexual assaults and said they shouldn’t be lumped together.

“If the government had permitted the debate to happen, they would know the difference,” she said.

SASC reacts

Sara Casselman, the executive director of Sexual Assault Centre Waterloo Region was also at Queen's Park, and said our community isn't immune to the rising number of cases of sexual assault.

“I remember, 10 years ago, we might have 40 people on our waiting list for counseling services. And last year, we topped out at 341 survivors waiting for counseling services,” Casselman said.

She estimates more than 13,000 sexual assaults happen in Waterloo Region every year and admits most of them aren’t reported.

Lydia’s Law aims to hold the attorney general accountable and Cassleman said that's desperately needed.

“It's rare that there is a guilty verdict in cases and people misinterpret that to think that sexual violence is rare and in fact, it's not. We know that one in three women in Canada will have that experience at some point in their life,” said Cassleman.

Fife promises this isn't the end of the bill. It will go to the justice committee where Fife said she's prepared to try to pull it and debate it so survivors have their voices heard. She said there’s also an online petition to help bring it back to Queen’s Park. 

With files from CTV Toronto. Top Stories

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