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An unconscious person cannot consent to sexual activity, the Liberal government has confirmed in new legislation that aims to update Canada's Criminal Code.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tabled the multi-pronged bill today, which expands provisions for sexual assault complainants.
It introduces a series of amendments to clarify and strengthen the sexual assault and "rape shield" laws, including some that reflect Supreme Court of Canada decisions and address "misapplications" of current law.
"Our government is committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system protects Canadians, holds offenders to account, upholds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and shows compassion to victims," Wilson-Raybould said during a news conference on Parliament Hill.
"This includes an unwavering commitment to ensuring that complainants of sexual assault matters are treated with the utmost dignity and respect."
The justice minister said the proposed reforms represent the first major changes to Canada's sexual assault laws since then Justice Minister Kim Campbell brought in rape shield provisions 25 years ago.
The rape shield provisions prevent a complainant accusing someone of a sexual assault from being cross-examined in court about their past sexual history.
The provisions are being expanded to include communications the accuser has made of a sexual nature and whether records of those communications can be introduced in court.
The changes would allow the complainant to retain legal representation in rape shield proceedings.
Wilson-Raybould said clarifying consent is one of many "appropriate measures" on the way to improve protections for sexual assault victims.
The proposed legislation would also require the government to table a charter statement in Parliament for every new government bill introduced, defending how a given bill complies with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.