As her final piece of legislation, a bill requiring judges to take sexual assault law training, works its way through Parliament, former politician Rona Ambrose is aiming to make her stamp in a new field by co-authoring a children’s book focused on equality.
Ambrose, the former interim Conservative leader, is one of the creatives, along with author Jessica Dee Humphreys, behind The International Day of the Girl: Celebrating Girls Around the World, which was released last month.
A portion of the book's proceeds are going to Plan International Canada.
Ambrose told CTV News’ Power Play on Thursday that “the book is important because we all talk about gender equality, we hear politicians talk about it, we talk about it boardrooms, but we need to talk to our kids about it.
“It’s about nine girls, all around the world, different stories, all the way from Afghanistan to Canada,” she added. The stories are inspired by real girls who had to battle through adversity, and the book is intended as a celebration of the UN International Day of the Girl, which is held on October 11. Ambrose was one of the people who spearheaded the call for a formation of an International Day of the Girl.
“We talk in the book about illiteracy, we talk about being stuck in a refugee camp, we talk about gender violence, we talk about early childhood marriage,” Ambrose told CTV News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme in a separate, extended interview Thursday.
She pointed out that the pandemic has made these struggles even harder for girls across the world, particularly those who have lost their safe space of physically attending school.
The Canadian portion of the book looks at the importance of school by looking at a true story of Canada’s neglect of Indigenous communities.
It’s based on an Indigenous girl, Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat First Nation, who fought for a new school for her community.
“She rallies kids from across the country to write letters to the government,” Ambrose said.
“We've highlighted her story in this book so that other kids from around the world will know that Canadians think of these issues too. And we need to remind Canadians that we have these issues right here in our own country.”
Indigenous girls face a particular burden in Canada, she acknowledged.
"Indigenous girls are five times more likely to suffer violence than non-Indigenous girls, and they face a lot of discrimination and racism every single day.”
She said that one thing that pushed her to start calling for an International Day of the Girl was after hearing young girls themselves tell her that they needed this representation.
“What they said was, ‘we have International Women's Day, but that's not for us, we need a day focusing on girls’ rights and the unique issues and challenges that girls face around the world’,” she said.
“If we can teach girls their rights at a young age, they will be more willing to exercise them as they grow up.”
Education is also the theme behind the last bill still in the House of Commons of those Ambrose introduced.
In February 2017, Ambrose originally introduced Bill C-337, which would require judges to undergo training on sexual assault law that would dispel victim-blaming myths and explain the impact of trauma on memory, among other things. Although it passed unanimously in the House of Commons, it stalled in the Senate, then died when Parliament dissolved ahead of the federal election last fall.
The Liberals picked up the bill in February of 2020. Justice Minister David Lametti described it as a “necessary bill,” that “will make our system more just.”
Ambrose told CTV News’ Power Play that she was encouraged by the support.
“When the Justice Minister of Canada says that he supports a bill that requires judges to take training in sexual assault law, that is a pretty big message,” she said.
“So I’m really happy to see that happen. I spoke with Erin O’Toole yesterday, who told me that he will support the bill, I know that all of the leaders of other parties are supportive, so let’s hope that now that it’s a government bill, it’ll get through quickly and get through the Senate and finally pass.”
The bill was one of the last that Ambrose championed before she announced she was leaving politics in May of 2017, and it was an important one to her.
“If you start right at the beginning, one in three women will experience sexual violence in their lives in Canada, but only one in ten will ever report it, and if you ask them why, they say it’s because they have no faith in the court system,” she said. “They don’t believe they’ll be treated fairly.”
She said stereotypes and biases can creep into courtrooms.
“The worst offender was a judge that said, “why didn’t you just keep your knees together,” to a woman who had been raped,” she said, referring to Alberta judge Robin Camp, who later resigned from the bench. “That is one of the worst situations, but there are many, many others that are similar to that, so yes, we need education, and it has to start at the top, with judges.”
The desire to contribute to a children’s book stems from a desire to teach kids early on about equality, she said.
“If kids learn about what it means to be equal, what it means to treat other people with equality, they’ll grow up to not have these kinds of assumptions, not have these kinds of biases and stereotypes, and hopefully treat one another in a way that creates more gender equality,” she said.
A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to Plan International Canada.