Momentum is building behind a group of B.C. women calling for changes to the rules on court publication bans in sexual assault cases.
A petition launched by the women, who have formed a collective called My Voice My Choice, closed on Friday (March 10), with the number of signatures nearly doubling in the final week to 4,900.
Petition e-4192, sponsored by Victoria NDP MP Laurel Collins, calls on the federal government to make a number of changes on how victims are kept informed of publication bans on their sexual assault cases, give victims a choice on whether a publication ban is implemented or not and help them lift those publication bans if they wish.
Members of the group have been raising awareness of the petition for months. Victoria resident Kelly Favro has spoken about the issue on a wide range of platforms, including an Australian podcast and the Canadian True Crime podcast, which helped fuel the petition’s tally rise. She was heartened to see the numbers increase and also the warm response she received.
“The listeners were very supportive,” Favro said. “I don’t think I saw one negative comment on social media, which is a huge rarity for somebody who’s going through a sexual assault because Twitter’s a nasty place.”
The women involved have been advocating around this issue for years, but momentum has started to build as the petition closes. The group is now turning its eyes to the federal government to make legislative changes.
“One of the very positive things about the work that we’ve done and how publicly we’ve been doing it is that we’ve been able to connect with more people who have been affected by publication bans, and we’re able to provide support to each other,” said Morrell Andrews, a Vancouver woman who was one of the first to get involved.
Andrews says she’s seen encouraging signs from the government.
“I’ve been having conversations with colleagues from multiple different parties,” said Collins. “I think once people hear about this issue, I think everyone can agree that this is something that needs to be changed.”
Collins is eyeing June 23 as the deadline to get legislation tabled in Parliament, as that’s the end of the current session before Parliament goes on break for two months.
“In a minority Parliament, we never know how long the government will last and when the next election will be,” said Collins. “So the sooner we get legislation tabled, the sooner it can pass, and we can rest assured that it will actually get fixed.”
As well as the petition, Collins plans to table a unanimous consent motion in May, calling on the government to move ahead with legislation.
The group is also planning a week of events in Ottawa in the first week of May – sexual assault awareness month – including a press conference, virtual event and town hall.
“We will continue to keep pushing for legislative change so that it doesn’t have to be victim-to-victim sending documents, back and forth on WhatsApp,” said Andrews. “It can just be a simple fix, and hopefully, in the future people like us won’t have to know each other. They can just go on with their lives and not have to find other people to find a way out of the ban.”
– with files from David Fraser/The Canadian Press.
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