The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has the power to review and report on the policies, programs, and expenditure plans of the Department of Justice, which has the mandate to support the dual roles of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada (the chief law officer of the Crown). The Committee also has the power to study the policies, programs and legislation of the following entities:
In particular, the Committee may review proposed amendments to federal legislation relating to certain aspects of the criminal law, family law, human rights law, and the administration of justice, notably with respect to the following statutes:
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights may also undertake studies on subjects related to its mandate, either as referred to it by the House of Commons or on its own initiative. In the course of a study, the Committee holds public meetings, considers evidence from witnesses, and reviews written submissions and other authoritative documents. At the conclusion of a study, the Committee usually reports its findings and makes recommendations. The Committee may request a government response within 120 days.
Detailed information on the role and powers of House of Commons committees can be found in the Compendium of House of Commons Procedure and in Chapter XIII of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights used to be known as the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs and the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General. This reflected the fact that it was responsible for examining the operations of both the Department of Justice and the Department of the Solicitor General, along with their associated agencies.
On September 30, 1997, the House of Commons changed the Committee’s name to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The name change signalled that the Committee took on part of the mandate of the former Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
In February 2004, the House of Commons again changed the Committee’s name to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. This change was due to the reorganization and renaming of the Solicitor General portfolio, including responsibility for the newly created Canada Border Services Agency. In April 2006, the House of Commons again changed the Committee’s name to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, at the same time establishing the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to take on the balance of the former mandate.
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee and as such will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the Committee. They are part of the Committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analyst works individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the Committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) are available to assist Members who are not in Cabinet in the preparation of private Members’ bills or of amendments to Government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, Members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the Committee Stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the Report Stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once bill is sent to Committee, the clerk of the Committee provides the name of the Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the Members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the Committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from Members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to Committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee concerning any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide Members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of Report Stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the Members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
Further information on the PBO may be found at: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/
In recent years, the Committee has studied numerous government and private member’s bills, produced several substantive reports, and considered various Order in Council appointments. Among the most notable reports produced and government bills studied are the following (see LEGISinfo for more information on the bills listed below):