Morrell Andrews was sitting at her bedroom desk Thursday morning, ready for an ordinary day working from home. That was before she read a report that left her swelling with emotion.
“I was so overjoyed that I just burst into tears at my desk,” she said.
On her screen was the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights report called “Improving Support for Victims of Crime.” In it are two recommendations backing calls for change from Andrews and a group of B.C. women on the rules surrounding court-issued publication bans for sexual assault cases.
Andrews presented to the committee back in October.
The committee made two recommendations: “that section 486.4 of the Criminal Code be amended so that victims must be informed before a publication ban is imposed and given the opportunity to opt-out at any time in the process,” and “recognizing the importance of the principle of prosecutorial independence, training be given to Crown prosecutors across the country with regard to the needs of victims concerning publication bans.”
Andrews said the committee’s recommendations were comprehensive, adding she was heartened they were backed unanimously by a committee with members from the four major parties.
“We’re celebrating today. But we’re also re-energized and recommitting to doing the hard work to make sure that these recommendations actually come to life and legislation next year.”
Andrews said she plans to continue reaching out to politicians of all political stripes in both the House of Commons and the Senate and is hopeful the bill could pass and become legislation early next year.
I am humbled, and beyond thrilled, that the members unanimously agree that there is a need to amend section CC 486.4.
— Morrell Andrews (she/her) (@MorrellAndrews) December 8, 2022
While the process of making a change to the Criminal Code took a big step forward, Andrews said it’s been a long journey for the network of survivors who have spent years supporting each other and calling for change.
Andrews was sexually assaulted in 2013, when she was 18, by a driving instructor in Ontario. She reported in June 2020, and during the court process, she was shocked to find her case was under a publication ban – without her having been warned ahead of time. She successfully lifted the ban in May 2021. Since then she’s been vocal about her experience, helping other women, like Victoria’s Kelly Favro, navigate lifting publication bans.
Favro was sexually assaulted by Kenneth Charles Erickson, who was sentenced to 18 months of conditional release in December 2016. Erickson appealed the decision in 2017, a court process that got dragged out for three years. It was only after the appeal’s culmination that Favro realized there was a publication ban on her case. She struggled to lift the ban, a process she described as humiliating. Once she got it lifted, she turned to helping other women go through the same process.
One of them was Jade Neilson, a Nanaimo woman who was groomed and sexually abused over a period of approximately one year by a man in his 20s who volunteered at a youth program Neilson attended back in 2009 when she was 14.
Neilson reported the abuse in March 2021. Initially, Neilson was convinced a publication ban was in her best interest but ultimately applied to lift the ban.
The common thread in all their experiences was the fact they were silenced by a publication ban they didn’t know was placed on their name. Since then, the women have banded together to start the parliamentary petition – which currently has more than 1,000 signatures – and present to the standing committee, leading up to the report released on Dec. 8.
“It feels like the justice that very few of us feel the legal system actually provided,” said Andrews.