Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my supreme displeasure over a letter written by the deputy minister of Renewable Resources, Mr. Joe Handley, in support of a young man who has pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm. The same young man was also charged with sexual assault. It was reported in last week's paper that the Crown dropped the charge of sexual assault because the assailant believed the victim was consenting.
Mr. Speaker, lot me make it perfectly clear that, as a long-time northern broadcaster, I fully support freedom of speech for all Canadians. If Mr. Handley, as a private citizen, wishes to write a personal letter in support of the young man, then that is his right. However, this freedom of speech does not give Mr. Handley the right to use his position as a deputy minister of this government in an attempt to influence the courts of this land.
Mr. Speaker, the letters of support written by Mr. Handley and others were presented by the accused's lawyers in an effort to obtain a conditional discharge. Given that the Northwest Territories has the highest rate of reported sexual assaults in Canada, I would like to think that this government fully supports northern women in their struggle against violence. But what are the women of the Northwest Territories to believe, Mr. Speaker? On one hand, we support women through agencies such as the NWT Council on the Status of Women and the NWT affirmative action advisory committee. But on the other hand, a senior government official offers a character reference which was presented to the court in support of a request for a conditional discharge for a man who has pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm.
There has been much concern expressed over lenient sentencing, including conditional discharges, in cases of family violence and sexual assault. Since letters of the type provided by Mr. Handley are used to try to mitigate in sentencing, I think we all have to stop and reflect, when asked to provide a letter of reference, what message will we send? We must all be careful to ensure that our actions speak as loudly as our words.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to assure the Minister of Renewable Resources that I will be pursuing this matter further during question period. Thank you.