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'You're all cowards': Ford government quashes debate on sexual assault justice bill

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Ontario New Democrats are accusing the government of arrogance, hubris, and disdain for women after Progressive Conservatives shut down a debate set to take place tomorrow on a bill aimed at improving transparency around sexual assault cases.

The private member's bill from Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife was to be debated Wednesday afternoon, with more than a hundred survivors and advocates expected in attendance at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

In a move that blindsided the opposition, PCs voted Tuesday to send 'Lydia's Law' to committee without debate. NDP MPPs shouted "shame" and "cowards" as government MPPs stood to vote.

"It's shocking actually that they would have such disdain for women," Fife told reporters through tears.

Bill 189 draws on recommendations from Ontario's Auditor General in 2019. It calls on the Attorney General to report each year on the number of criminal cases that have been held up for more than eight months, analyze the reasons for the delays, and address them.

Fife says 1,119 sexual assault cases were thrown out in 2023 and 1,326 the year before.

"This is a broken justice system that fails women and girls every single day and Lydia's Law would have held the minister, the Attorney General to account," she said.

NDP leader Marit Stiles took to social media following Tuesday's vote, calling the decision to advance the bill to the committee stage without debate "despicable."

"I can't believe the Conservatives just quashed [MPP Fife's] legislation that supports sexual assault victims without warning OR debate," Stiles wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "This is despicable. Shame on you, Doug Ford."

In turn, Government House leader Paul Calandra accused the NDP of putting on "a show" and dismissed accusations the government is trying to kill the bill.

Calandra explains the goal was to get it to a committee already studying intimate partner violence sooner.

"There's some very good things, positives, in this particular piece of legislation and had (the NDP) spent like six seconds thinking about parliamentary process and how it could be effective in the bill, then perhaps they'd be a little less fulsome in their shouting."

Calandra expects elements of Lydia's Law will be folded into the final committee report.

But the NDP insists female legislators, survivors, and advocates have been silenced.

"We don't trust this government. They've shown us who they really are and how they treat women in Ontario," Fife said.

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