OTTAWA – “Rape” is a loaded term.
But it’s one a senior cabinet minister thinks should be brought back into use.
Vic Toews, Canada’s public safety minister, suggested Tuesday he will re-examine bringing back the word “rape” in Canada’s laws and courtrooms.
At a news conference about eliminating criminal pardons for sexual offenders who abuse children, Toews suggested the word “sexual assault”—the legal term since 1983 for sexual activity without voluntary consent—is a “very misleading and deceiving concept” and fails to capture important distinctions.
“It can basically be from a very minor sexual touching to a rape. Unfortunately the Criminal Code was changed in that respect,” said Toews. Toews said the government was taking a “balanced” approach in barring anyone convicted of a sexual assault on a minor from ever applying for a criminal pardon. But he went on to say the words in the Criminal Code should be “re-examined.”
“I know why the law was changed. There was concern about the victimization of the victim again in the court system. And I understand that,” he said. He said it was “a horrendous time for any of us who were prosecutors under the old system. We understood the difficulties of proving a rape case.” But he said the “whole concept now of rape and minor sexual assaults, if I can use that term, has been all wrapped up into one bundle and it’s very confusing. And I think it’s a curtain that some hide under and it’s unfortunate.”
“I understand the desire not to victimize especially women again in the court system, but that’s something that might have to be looked at in the future.” Lawyer Audrey Johnson, executive director of the women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, said any change “depends on the goal.” If the ultimate goal is to have some “concrete response in terms of ending sexual violence against women, then sure, let’s have the discussions,” she said, but not if it is just about “minimizing the experiences of women.”
She said there is still a lot of resistance to the whole notion of sexual assault and rape, “however you want to define it.” And, she added, it’s “problematic to put sexual assault on a continuum.” “Who’s to say what is minor sexual touching for women?” she said “It’s all sexual assault. Women experience it as unwanted sexual contact. It is an affront to a women’s person and to her being.”