Rethinking sexual assault laws in Canada
We suggest an alternate system that will feel restorative for victims. The adversarial system doesn't allow for victims to heal. Survivors must be empowered to participate fully, on terms equal (but not necessarily identical) to those upon which accused persons participate in our justice system. For example, accused persons are entitled to vigorous legal representation. A sexual-assault complainant should be guaranteed the same representation and protection. But currently, if the victim shows up with her own lawyer, the response of the system is suspicious and even overtly hostile. Crown attorneys will not openly share witness statements with the counsel representing the complainant.
Complainants must be offered a real choice about what sorts of justice services are available to them. While some wish to pursue traditional criminal prosecution, others may prefer to have the state carry forward a civil suit only. Other survivors may prefer a more restorative approach. Truth-and-reconciliation processes have played a positive role in addressing historical victimization on a broader, societal scale (for example, in South Africa and here in Canada). There is no reason we cannot thoughtfully adopt similar practices for individuals.