Jolin-Barrette confronts Quebec Court Chief Justice over special court for domestic violence victims

Quebec Minister for the French Language Simon Jolin-Barrette at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

A confrontation is emerging between the executive and the judiciary, against the backdrop of the upcoming creation of a specialized court for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette strongly reaffirmed Thursday his intention to go ahead with his decision to adapt the judicial system to the needs of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, despite the reservations and fierce opposition expressed by the judiciary.

In the House on Thursday, the minister had a motion unanimously adopted in the National Assembly reaffirming that many victims do not have confidence in the current justice system and that a change of culture and a modernization of the way things are done must be imposed, in particular through accompaniment and information services at the various stages of the judicial process.

The initiative also assumes that all actors in the judicial system, including police officers and judges, will have to undergo training to better manage this type of case.

The desired change will necessarily involve the creation of a specialized tribunal, according to the government, as provided for in Bill 92, sponsored by Minister Jolin-Barrette and which will be the subject of a consultation starting on Oct. 19.

"No one will be able to prevent a change of culture within the courts, within the justice system," said the minister after introducing his motion, which appeared to be a thinly veiled reply to the statement made that same day in the pages of the newspaper Le Devoir by the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec, Lucie Rondeau.

Judge Rondeau believes that the measures contained in the bill should not be the responsibility of a court. She sees this as a fundamental issue for the administration and independence of justice. She, therefore, opposes the creation of this body, not excluding the idea of undertaking legal recourse to challenge its legitimacy.

The table is now set for a head-on collision between the executive and the judiciary.

The creation of a specialized court adapted to the needs of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence was the main recommendation of the report Rebâtir la confiance (Rebuilding Trust), written by a group of experts and hailed by politicians. 

To effect change on this scale, 'the contribution of all justice system players is essential,' states the motion tabled Thursday and immediately sent to all sexual assault and domestic violence advocacy groups.

In his motion, the minister pointed out that "the National Assembly is sovereign and that its members voted unanimously in favour of the principle of Bill 92, An Act to establish a court specializing in sexual violence and spousal abuse and providing for the training of judges in these matters."

Incidentally, this is not the first time that Minister Jolin-Barrette and Chief Justice Rondeau have crossed swords. In March, the judge and the minister publicly stated their disagreement on the relevance of requiring bilingualism for judges.

Rondeau defended the independence of the judiciary in this regard, while the minister argued that bilingualism should not be mandatory for judges of the Court of Quebec.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 7, 2021. 

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