Question Period: Sexual Assault – 14 February 2017

Here is the transcript and video of oral questions, recorded in the language in which it was spoken.

Mr. Coon: Last week, the Globe and Mail revealed that New Brunswick has the highest rate of sexual assault complaints that police consider unfounded, at 32%. The national average was 19%, while, in Saint John, 51% of sexual assault complaints were dismissed as baseless. This is extremely alarming, since sexual violence is already underreported in our province. The New Brunswick Women’s Council is calling on the government to take immediate action. My question is this: What is the Minister of Justice and Public Safety doing to resolve the injustice to women who come forward to report sexual assault to the police, given the low conviction rate?

Hon. Mr. Gallant: I hope that the member opposite does not mind my getting up on this, as the Minister responsible for Women’s Equality and also as Premier. This is very troubling, and it is something that is alarming and that we are very much aware of. I just want to let you know and update the members of the Legislature on what has been done since this report came out. We have actually had a meeting and conversation with the ministers responsible for women’s equality in the Atlantic Canada Region, with Newfoundland and Labrador sending the Deputy Speaker, whom you introduced just last week. We discussed this very issue of how we can coordinate a response that is appropriate, to make sure that we look into this very troublesome situation. We also had a conversation with the minister responsible federally. The same message was given to her, that we wanted to work with the federal government as well on any response that it would see forthcoming, based on this report. I thank the leader of the third party very much for bringing this to the attention of the Legislature.

Mr. Coon: All New Brunswick police forces have committed to reviewing the sexual assault
complaints they have dismissed, but the New Brunswick Women’s Council wants the case review process to involve experts from sexual assault crisis centres. The question is, Will the minister ensure that our police forces include those with the frontline expertise and direct service experience with sexual violence in these case reviews?

Hon. Mr. Gallant: Again, I will get up just to mention quickly to the member that we, as a government, are taking this very seriously and want to work with our Atlantic Region counterparts as well as with the federal government in any response that we would all deem appropriate. Officials have already been asked to discuss exactly what this could look like and how we could coordinate our efforts to analyze this situation and, ultimately, rectify it. To the point about the Women’s Council, just to let the member opposite and all the Legislature know, I did meet with the Women’s Council this weekend, on Saturday. We discussed this very topic. I let the council know that we are working with our counterparts in the region and federally to make sure that we have a response and analysis and that, of course, we rectify this situation as soon as possible. Exactly how we will go about that does remain to be seen, but, at this point, I can tell you that we are taking this very seriously and working with our colleagues to make sure that we move this file forward as quickly as possible.

Mr. Coon: It is great to see the Premier taking this as seriously as he is in his responsibility for women and as Premier. I do want to ask, though: Given the need for better and more consistent oversight of how our police forces deal with sexual assault, will this government investigate why 10 out of 12 New Brunswick police forces classified complaints of sexual assault as unfounded at rates higher than the national average? Will the government then report those findings back to
the House?

L’hon. M. Gallant: Pour nous, c’est un dossier très sérieux, et nous trouvons que c’est très important d’analyser la situation pour en arriver à une réponse assez rapidement. Pour ce faire, nous avons déjà entrepris des pourparlers avec les autres gouvernements, et plus particulièrement avec les ministres responsables de l’égalité des femmes dans les provinces de l’Atlantique ainsi qu’avec notre collègue au fédéral. Nous voulons nous assurer de coordiner nos réponses et de nos analyses respectives. Ce travail sera peut-être fait conjointement, ou encore peut-être que nous amènerons tous à la table nos propres analyses de la situation pour coordonner nos actions. En ce moment, je peux vous dire que notre gouvernement traite ce dossier avec beaucoup de sérieux. Nous aurons une réponse, mais il reste à voir de quelle façon exacte nous travaillerons avec le gouvernement fédéral et les autres provinces. Très bientôt, nous ferons une mise à jour à la Chambre concernant ce sujet très important.