Changes to sex offender bill may ease sex assault survivors’ pain | John L. Hill

By John L. Hill

Law360 Canada (May 4, 2023, 3:00 PM EDT) --
John Hill
John L. Hill
In late April, second reading was given to legislation introduced in the Senate that would amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act. The proposed legislation is known as Bill S-12.

While it seeks to amend various pieces of legislation applicable to sex offenders, the portion of the bill dealing with allowing victims of sexual assault to have their names known drew the most response. Should the bill become law it would amend the Criminal Code to, among other things, codify the process for modifying and revoking publication bans, and add a requirement for sentencing courts to inquire into whether the victim of an offence would like to receive information about the administration of the offender’s sentence and, in the affirmative, provide the Correctional Service of Canada with the victim’s contact information.

Why should this be controversial? Consider the havoc caused by Selva Subbiah, Canada’s most notorious rapist. He was 32 years old in 1992 when he pleaded guilty to 20 charges including sexual assault and administering a noxious substance. The sentence imposed was 16 years’ imprisonment with eight years of parole ineligibility.

Originally Subbiah was charged with 60 counts involving assaults and drugs. Halfway through his preliminary hearing, after 25 women had testified against him, Subbiah knew the jig was up. He changed his plea to guilty.

By Feb. 28, 1994, Subbiah was facing 274 charges relating to assaults on 72 women. Charges included 53 counts of sexual assault, 94 charges of administering a noxious substance and 94 charges of administering a stupefying drug. This time a 20-year sentence was imposed to run concurrent with his 1992 sentence. Yet throughout his trials, there was no naming the victims of his assaults. Supposedly, by allowing them to be named it was thought it would be a disincentive from others coming forward to report their abuse. Obviously with Subbiah, women volunteered in record numbers to come forward.

I have acted for clients, men and women, who have been victims of sexual assault. In the vast majority of these cases, I sensed that the victims felt they had done something wrong or felt shame in not preventing it. It shocked me that my first sentence upon hearing their stories I needed to say “You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Nonetheless there is the ongoing trauma and being required by law to mask their identities reinforced the illogical perception that they had indeed done something to be ashamed of.

In light of the tabling of Bill S-12, NDP MP Laurel Collins has spoken out. “For so many survivors of sexual violence a huge part of their healing process is the ability to talk about their own lived experiences. This archaic and paternalistic rule took away the voices of countless survivors, retraumatized many and even discouraged them from seeking justice in the first place,” said Collins. “For decades governments left this dated policy in place, allowing lawyers to make decisions about what information could be shared publicly, including the survivors’ own name, without having to consider the survivors wishes. Even with the government’s proposed changes, lawyers still don’t need to get survivors’ consent before putting in place a publication ban. Survivors deserve more than that and New Democrats will be pushing this government to improve their legislation.”

Laurel Collins is right. Victims of sexual assault have been abused enough without having to feel shamed by being forced to conceal their identities.

In a minority government situation, it is good to know that the NDP is supportive of this legislation proposed by Justice Minister David Lametti. Perhaps in committee, the legislation can be improved to ensured that the victims of sexual assault alone can make the choice to speak out and loudly proclaim: “I have done nothing wrong; I am not ashamed!”

John L. Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. He is also the author of Pine Box Parole: Terry Fitzsimmons and the Quest to End Solitary Confinement (Durvile & UpRoute Books), which was published Sept. 1. Contact him at

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