A publication ban is a court order which, in the context of a criminal trial, prohibits anyone from revealing the identity of a victim, witness or justice system participant. One of the aims of this order is to enable victims of sexual assault to participate in the criminal process without fear of the media disclosing their identity.
While publication bans are intended to protect victims, the group of survivors My Voice, My Choice has highlighted the fact that they can be problematic for victims who wish to share their stories. Some victims/survivors have even faced criminal charges for revealing their own identity!
To address this issue, the government drafted Bill S-12, which, among other things, reforms the publication ban regime. The aim of this bill is to ensure that victims/survivors were better informed of their rights, that they could have a publication ban withdrawn when they wished, and that they were less at risk of being criminalized.
When the bill was introduced in the Senate, it immediately became apparent that, in its first iteration, it would fail to accomplish these goals. This is why the National Association of Women and the Law worked with the government and other feminist groups and lawyers to improve the bill.
We participated in numerous meetings with the government, submitted a brief detailing changes that needed to be made to the bill, and testified before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
We are pleased to see that the Senate Committee adopted all the amendments proposed by the government to address the issues we raised. In its current version and thanks to these changes, the bill:
- ensures that victims who violate a publication ban on their own identity are no longer criminalized;
- clarifies and simplifies the process for revoking or varying a publication ban;
- guarantees better access to justice by requiring judges and prosecutors to consult with and inform victims.
The next step is the study and adoption of the bill by the House of Commons, which we will be monitoring this fall. We will also be working with other groups to advocate for an effective communications strategy from the government to ensure that, once the bill is adopted, those involved in the justice system, including judges, victims’ lawyers and prosecutors, are made aware of the changes and implement them.
We congratulate the government on its openness and collaboration. We will continue to engage in constructive dialogues to improve bills related to women’s rights in Canada.