US & Canada

Canada to change sex assault consent laws

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Canada has announced it is amending its sexual assault laws to clarify what consent means and better protect victims in court.

The proposed changes were announced on Tuesday by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The law would clarify that someone cannot consent while unconscious, and expands "rape shield laws".

Many of the proposed changes had already been introduced by the courts, but had yet to be written into law.

"I am hopeful that the proposed changes to the sexual assault provisions will go a long way towards ensuring that complainants are treated with the compassion, dignity and respect they deserve," said Ms Wilson-Raybould in a statement.

The proposed laws were introduced as part of Bill C-51, which would also require the minister of justice to table a statement for each new government bill on how the bill would affect Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill is expected to pass given the Liberals have a majority in Parliament.

In 1992, Canada introduced "rape shield laws" that ban a complainant's sexual history or medical records from being used as evidence that she was likely to have consented to sex or that she was unreliable. The changes proposed on Tuesday would expand these laws to include sexual texts, emails, pictures and videos.

Similarly, in 2011 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that someone cannot consent to sex while unconscious. But this provision had not been written into the Criminal Code, and advocates say more clarity is needed.

The law would also specify that a complainant has the right to an attorney when the courts are deciding whether a complainant's sexual history is admissible or not.

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