Skip to main content Start of content

JUST Committee Meeting

Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.

For an advanced search, use Publication Search tool.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the accessibility of this publication, please contact us at

Previous day publication Next day publication




[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, December 6, 2001

• 1134


The Chair (Mr. Andy Scott (Fredericton, Lib.)): Good morning. Bonjour, tout le monde. I call to order the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, 55th meeting.

• 1135

Today we are going to be hearing witnesses on Bill C-30, an act to establish a body that provides administrative services to the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, the Court Martial Appeal Court, and the Tax Court of Canada, to amend the Federal Court Act, the Tax Court of Canada Act, and the Judges Act, and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.

Before us today we have as witnesses officials from the Department of Justice. Members will recall that in our planning for the balance of this series of meetings it was identified that this was fundamentally an administrative piece of legislation, and we set aside this morning for hearing witnesses, and we will be doing clause-by-clause, unless something comes up today that changes our collective opinion, on Tuesday of next week.

We have as witnesses Judith Bellis, the head of the judicial affairs unit, Adèle Berthiaume, counsel to the judicial affairs unit, and Adair Crosby, counsel to the judicial affairs unit. Welcome.

I would ask the witnesses to make an opening statement. Generally, this is 10 minutes, but under the circumstances, I leave it to your discretion how we engage in this exercise, and then we'll go to questions.

Ms. Judith Bellis (Head, Judicial Affairs Unit, Department of Justice Canada): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If the committee agrees, I propose to provide a brief overview of the main elements of the bill, and my colleagues and I then will make every effort to answer any questions committee members may have with respect to what, as you can see, is very technical legislation.

At second reading the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, Stephen Owen, stated the principal objective of Bill C-30, which is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the administration of the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court of Canada through structural modifications to those courts. I might say, by way of background, Mr. Chairman, that Bill C-30 is not intended to alter the current jurisdiction of either the Federal Court or the Tax Court. Rather, the focus is on opportunities, as you have indicated, for essentially administrative improvements, many of which were identified by the Auditor General of Canada in his 1997 report on the Federal Court and Tax Court of Canada.

Also as background, I can advise the committee that the administrative improvements that will be effected by Bill C-30 have been developed in close consultation with the affected courts. The courts were actively involved, not only to respect their necessary independence, but also to ensure that the public continues to be well served and to receive the high quality of justice we've come to expect from these courts.

Bill C-30 has three main elements. The first is the creation of a new body, which will be called the Courts Administration Service and will consolidate the current administrative services of the Federal Court and the Tax Court. The second is the separation of the existing trial and appeal divisions of the Federal Court of Canada into two distinct courts managed separately by two chief justices. The third element is the conferral of superior court status on the Tax Court. I'll describe the main aspects of each of these three elements, and we'll take more specific questions following that.

The new Courts Administration Service would provide administrative support to the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court, and the Court Martial Appeal Court. This would include common management of facilities, registries, and related real property, such as libraries and case-related information systems, and common corporate services, such as finance, human resources, materials, information technology, and related management systems.

• 1140

The new service would be headed by a chief administrator, who would be a senior, experienced official appointed by the Governor in Council. The chief administrator would be the chief executive officer of the service, with overall management responsibility and administrative authority. The chief administrator would be accountable to Parliament through an annual report and would appear before parliamentary committees to answer questions on the administration of the four courts.

As committee members are well aware, the Constitution establishes that courts administration is an area of shared responsibility between the government and the judiciary. The principle of judicial independence requires that the judiciary retain control over matters touching directly on the judicial function. The bill recognizes this constitutional imperative in a number of ways. First, as you see in clause 8, the authority and responsibilities of the chief justices are specifically enumerated. The bill also expressly provides that the chief administrator will consult the chief justices when making decisions concerning the establishment and operation of the registries and when preparing budgetary submissions.

These proposals in Bill C-30 contemplate a strong collaborative partnership between the chief administrator and the chief justices in the administration of the courts. They also recognize that there may be occasional disagreements between a chief justice and the chief administrator regarding an aspect of courts administration, and that a definitive decision will be needed. On these occasions, and we expect they would be rare, the bill provides that the chief justice may give the chief administrator a binding, written direction. The chief administrator would be able to rely on that written direction in fulfilling her responsibility to account for all aspects of courts administration before parliamentary committees. She could also publish any direction in the annual report to Parliament.

Mr. Chairman, one of the reasons this bill is so long is that the establishment of the new Courts Administration Service will result in many essentially technical consequential amendments. We have attempted to provide a full explanation of the most substantive clauses in the clause-by-clause book you have been provided with, particularly at tabs D, E, and F, and there may be questions you have with respect to those issues.

Mr. Chairman, the second main element of the bill, as I have said, is the formal separation of the current Federal Court trial division and the Federal Court of Appeal. As Mr. Owen explained on second reading, the objective of this reform is essentially to clarify the respective roles of the chief justices of the trial court and the Court of Appeal in order to ensure the most efficient judicial management of each court.

Currently, the chief justice of the Federal Court is responsible for the overall management of both the trial division and the Court of Appeal. The bill would create two separate courts. This structure is the norm for most of the provincial superior courts. The current chief justice would continue to be responsible for the Court of Appeal, but would have no further responsibility for the management of the trial court, and the current associate chief justice would become the chief justice of the trial court, with overall management responsibility for that court. The chief justice of the Federal Court of Appeal would continue in his current place of precedence at the top of that structure. That too is the norm in the provincial superior courts.

• 1145

The separation of the trial and appeal courts would also result in a number of technical changes, relating mostly to the titles of the courts and judges, including redistribution of the judges currently drawn from the Quebec bar between the two newly created courts. There would also need to be changes in the overall composition of the Federal Court rules committee. The chief administrator would become a member of the committee, and the membership would increase in order to ensure a judicial majority. The chief justice of the Court of Appeal would continue to designate the chair of the committee—one of the judicial members would be designated—and the Minister of Justice would continue to designate non-judicial members.

The third and last element of the bill, Mr. Chairman, would confer superior court status on the Tax Court of Canada. This change is intended to provide a sound basis for the effective collaboration that will be needed between the four courts that would be served by the Courts Administration Service. In essence, it allows the four courts to deal with each other and with the chief administrator as equal partners in the new courts administration model—they will all be superior courts. I should note that this change of status would not result in additional costs, since, as you're no doubt aware, the judges of the Tax Court already receive the same salaries and benefits as Superior Court judges.

As with the structural changes to the Federal Court of Canada, this proposal is essentially administrative in nature and is not intended to make any substantive change to the current jurisdiction and remedial power of the Tax Court. Most of the other changes to the Tax Court of Canada Act are essentially technical and relate to changes in the new titles of chief justice and associate chief justice. The bill would also codify certain jurisdiction that the Tax Court currently exercises at common law with respect to contempt ex facie, or outside the court, vexatious proceedings, and constitutional questions.

Mr. Chairman, that's a brief overview of Bill C-30. My colleagues and I would be pleased to respond to any specific questions members might have.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

I go first for seven minutes to Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick (Prince Albert, Canadian Alliance): The overall intent of these changes is to bring about improvement in effectiveness and efficiency of the Tax Court system and the Federal Court system. What kinds of specific efficiency improvements do you see coming from this change?

Ms. Judith Bellis: The specific objectives are aligned fairly closely with those identified in the Auditor General's report. The first opportunity for improved efficiencies will come from the consolidated administration of facilities. As you know, both of these courts are travelling courts, they sit across the country. The opportunity to have more consolidated facilities, court rooms, and registry support across the country was one of those seen as offering most promise for improved efficiencies.

In addition, the courts currently operate with separate corporate services, and so the expectation is that the consolidation of those kinds of corporate services will allow for improved efficiencies at that end.

Also—and this will be a matter, clearly, for the chief administrator to explore with the court—we can expect that there may be opportunities for things like technology systems, case management systems, and possibly other aspects of shared staff and human resources.

• 1150

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: There are two areas that I want to raise on this matter. It would seem to me that with all this restructuring going on, a fair amount of time will have to be devoted to staff training and retraining on all the impacts and technical effects of this type of legislation. Looking at all the technical impacts on a wide range of other pieces of legislation, it would seem to me that there must have been an awful lot of time and work by justice lawyers or somebody to review all this legislation and determine all the various amendments to it, and so on. I'm wondering if this whole process isn't going to be worse than the cure to get this thing in place.

The second question I had related to the Tax Court. You mentioned something about its being elevated to a Superior Court, but the comment I've heard on this bill is that there's really no change in jurisdiction. It seems to me there's something about it that doesn't quite fit. If you're being elevated to a Superior Court, are you not picking up some jurisdiction and some powers?

Third, if we're talking about efficiency too, how much are we saving by doing all this administrative restructuring of the court services? Is there a dollar figure we can put on how much we'll save by doing all this, or is it just assumed that it will bring about some savings to the system?

Ms. Judith Bellis: In answer to your first question, whether it is worth the exercise we're going through, the objectives are real, the courts and the chief justices certainly are supportive and see the advantages of it. And in particular, the former Auditor General, whose report was, I think, quite critical of the current inefficiencies, has written to the minister expressing his satisfaction that the proposals contained in this bill will achieve the efficiencies he had identified as being sought. So I think from the perspective of the government and the court and the Auditor General, it has been worth it. It certainly has been a technical exercise, as you point out, but although it is a technical bill, it will not have huge ramifications for other legislation, other than title changes, for the most part.

As for the Tax court and the change of status, as I indicated, the government's stated objective in conferring the superior court status is, in essence, to make them equal partners, so that all the courts are, in respect of status, on the same field. And as I also indicated, this will not create any additional cost to the public purse.

As to how much this will save in the longer term, I am not in a position to give a specific figure. Certainly, the Auditor General identified certain potential savings in his report. The implementation of these proposals will necessarily require a transition period, but we expect there will be measurable savings through the consolidation of the services over time.

• 1155

The Chair: Mr. Lanctôt, seven minutes.


Mr. Robert Lanctôt (Châteauguay, BQ): It will surely be shorter than that, Mr. Chairman.

I think the subject matter of the bill is appreciated and accepted by the Bloc Québécois. We already have that in Quebec with administrative tribunals. It works pretty well. So I really welcome this effort.

I have one point to make in order to underline judicial independence. I think we should have taken this opportunity to go further, particularly since the chief administrator will report to the House. Instead of making appointments, not only for the chief administrator but also for all judicial administrators, why don't we take this opportunity to make things more transparent, to create a board with representatives from the judiciary, the government and even from the public? This could have been a chance to make courts, judges and the judiciary system more transparent and independent.

So I wonder why—If you don't agree with this suggestion, why isn't the chief administrator chosen by Parliament instead of being appointed, if he or she reports to the House?

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume (Counsel, Judicial Affairs Unit, Department of Justice): I think I have to clarify that this appointment procedure only applies to the chief administrator. Other positions are filled from existing court staff, as is now the case. So there are no new appointments apart from the chief administrator. As to the appointment of the chief administrator, this is the procedure presently used in other parts of the judiciary, as in the case of the commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, and in other independent bodies, like the registrar of the Supreme Court. It is the same procedure used for other similar positions.

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Yes, but the minister will still appoint the judicial administrators. You say they are appointed from existing staff but this will not always be the case. The bill says the minister will make these appointments.

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume: The chief justice selects the people for these positions.

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: All right.

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume: This is the purpose of this exercise.

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: You're saying that only the chief administrator will be appointed by the minister?

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume: Yes.

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: What is your position on that? Why not let Parliament do it? Why don't we have a selection board?

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume: As I said, this is the procedure used for other parts of the judiciary.

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Why don't you improve it?


Ms. Judith Bellis: Essentially, the objective in creating this model is to achieve a balance between the role of the judiciary in administration of the courts and accountability. This is essentially an administrative role, and this person will be responsible for ensuring the effective and probative management of the resources that are allocated to the court. That is essentially an extension of the government's responsibility, in order to have that balance and that improved accountability, and as my colleague has pointed out, it is the norm not only in Canada, but throughout the Commonwealth, and the registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada is in the same circumstance. The objective is essentially to have a circumstance where that effective collaboration can be promoted in the administrative area, but still with some direct means for the government to ensure its responsibility that the resources and administration are being effective exercised.

The Chair: Thank you very much.


Mr. Robert Lanctôt: My point is that this administrator reports to Parliament. So he or she should be appointed by Parliament. Commissioners who report to the House are appointed by Parliament.

• 1200

Ms. Judith Bellis: The administrator is really an executive. This is the same as other administrative appointments. It's not like the Information Commissioner. This is actually a management position.


The chief administrator will essentially be acting in fulfillment of the government's responsibility with respect to the prohibitive use of resources, and will be accountable for that on behalf of the executive in that sense.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Monsieur Lanctôt.

Monsieur Paradis.


Mr. Denis Paradis (Brome—Missisquoi, Lib.): I will briefly come back to the point made by Mr. Lanctôt. Why is the administrator reporting to Parliament? Does the registrar of the Supreme Court—I'm not familiar with that position—report to Parliament?

Ms. Judith Bellis: Not presently.

Mr. Denis Paradis: Then why is the chief administrator reporting to Parliament?

Ms. Judith Bellis: It's to improve accountability. This was one of the Auditor General's objectives.

Mr. Denis Paradis: Did the Auditor General suggest that reporting relationship? Is that what you said?

Ms. Judith Bellis: Yes.

Mr. Denis Paradis: All right. So in response to Mr. Lanctôt's question, the government appoints judges and thus, Parliament doesn't appoint the administrator. It would have been strange if on the one hand, the government appointed—

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Judges don't report to Parliament.

Mr. Denis Paradis: No. This is why I came back to this point. Why is there a report to Parliament?

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Logically, I think—

Mr. Denis Paradis: Why a report to Parliament, when this is not the case with—You say it's in the interest of transparency and accountability.

Ms. Judith Bellis: Yes.


It's an improvement that is seen as an opportunity for parliamentarians to assure themselves of the proper, effective management and administration of the courts.


Mr. Denis Paradis: If there's a report to Parliament, I presume the justice committee will receive it each year from the court administrator and we will then be able to question him on the use of funds made available to the judiciary for administration of the courts. Is there any risk of legislative interference with the judiciary?

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume: Questions asked would presumably be about the administrative aspect of activities and not activities themselves. Court administration is shared between the judiciary and the government. So we have to find the policy, and the minister has often shown that we're striving for an equitable and reasonable balance between these two things.


The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Paradis.

Mr. Cotler.

Mr. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): I support, among other things, the separation of the trial and appeal divisions of the Federal Court. Was this motivated primarily by what you would characterize as improved efficiencies, or did it take into account the already enhanced jurisdiction of the Federal Court arising from the enactment of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act in June 2000, the prospective enactment of Bill C-36, and related legislation, which incorporate by reference a recourse to the Federal Court? In other words, was there some sense that this not only improved efficiencies, but also enhanced jurisdiction?

Also, it seems to me this enhanced jurisdiction may also require an enhanced membership for both the trial and the appelate court divisions, because this enhanced jurisdiction may not be able to be dealt with by the composition of the court as it now stands.

Ms. Judith Bellis: I respond with some certainty that the proposal for the separation of the two courts was not made with respect to additional jurisdiction, since the proposals were made, and Bill C-40, which was the predecessor of this bill, included those provisions. In essence, the clarification in regard to management of the two courts was recognized as a useful measure in itself, so that there would be clear control as between the two chief justices, which, as I say, was the norm.

• 1205

As for the composition of the court, as you are no doubt aware, Bill C-36 included a clear recognition that the additional functions to be assumed by the court, not only found in Bill C-36, but as a result of the increased operational activity of the government in areas of security related matters and immigration, would require additional judges. Bill C-36 includes the creation of 15 additional positions for the court, and that was precisely in anticipation of the increased volume, rather than new jurisdiction for the court.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: I have a follow-up point. This bill is presumably all about efficiency and effectiveness, and I know a lot or practitioners who have been scratching their heads for many years wondering why we have a federal trial court division and an appeal court system, when in fact we already have a federally appointed Superior Court at the trial level in each of the provinces, plus an appeal system. Their argument is that this whole creation of the Federal Court system has caused problems with efficiency, effectiveness, unnecessary duplication, confusion about jurisdiction, and the like. I've even heard comments expressed that there isn't a great workload with the Superior Court system at the provincial level.

So I have maybe a couple of specific questions. How many judges do we have at the Federal Court level? And maybe you could give us one or two reasons as to why we really need a Federal Court system, when we don't rely on the court system we have at the provincial level.

Ms. Judith Bellis: I'm going to ask my colleague, Ms. Crosby, to respond to that.

Ms. Adair Crosby (Counsel, Judicial Affairs Unit, Department of Justice Canada): With respect to the number of judges on the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal, there are currently 34 positions provided for in the Federal Court Act. They are distributed between the two courts.

As to why we actually have a Federal Court—

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: How many judges are there at the trial division?

Ms. Adair Crosby: 19.

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: 19.

Ms. Adair Crosby: With respect to why we have a Federal Court at all, the Federal Court was created in 1971 as the successor to the Exchequer Court of Canada, which was established in 1875. So it's got a long history. It's one of the courts created under section 101 of the Constitution Act for the better administration of the laws of Canada. It's intended to embody a national institution that serves all Canadians. It's a two-tier travelling court that has offices across Canada and can reach fairly remote locations. It's also a bilingual and a bi-jural court that represents all of the regions of Canada. So it offers benefits with respect to the interpretation of federal legislation, including consistency in decision-making.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Mr. Lanctôt, any further questions?


Mr. Robert Lanctôt: I just want to return one more time to my previous point. If you require a report to Parliament, wouldn't it be in the interest of judicial independence if Parliament were to appoint the administrator? Why should the minister make that appointment?

• 1210

Ms. Adèle Berthiaume: That is a choice—

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Wouldn't the judiciary be more independent if Parliament appointed the administrator?

Ms. Judith Bellis: You have to balance judicial independence and accountability for the use of public funds. This is the government's choice. It's a political choice. That's the only explanation I can give you.

Mr. Robert Lanctôt: The only thing I'm asking is for a yes or no answer. Wouldn't it be more transparent? Wouldn't the perception of judicial independence be greater?

Ms. Judith Bellis: I cannot answer. As a citizen, I can say that I don't agree. This is a matter of opinion and we can argue about it. However, the government chose the model used throughout the Commonwealth.


The Chair: Thank you.

I think we've entertained all the inquiries, and I'm aware of the fact that Mr. Sorenson would like to put a motion. So I'd like to thank very much the officials for assisting us through this process. We will be doing clause-by-clause, and we'll see you again, I presume, next week. Thank you very much.

Ms. Judith Bellis: Thank you.

The Chair: Now I turn to Mr. Sorenson.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, Canadian Alliance): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We did serve notice of a motion that would be coming forward. It was originally supposed to be yesterday, but today is a good time to do it, seeing that we have time. The motion is being passed out, and maybe I should just give you the opportunity to read through it.

The Chair: Or you can read it to us.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: I'll read it, that sounds good.

    Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights request by means of a report to the House that the Solicitor General conduct an immediate audit of the custodial arrangements for all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment and,

    That the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights receive a briefing from the office of the Solicitor General on the custodial arrangements for all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment.

The reason this motion is being brought forward is that we have, over the last little while, been looking at Correctional Service Canada, and there have been a number of different reports from two or three years ago brought forward dealing with Corrections Canada. But we've recently had the case of Clinton Suzack, who murdered a constable with the Ontario police, Constable MacDonald, execution style. Suzack had a long record, six counts of assault causing bodily harm, one count of aggravated assault, eight counts of assault, and he was on the run from parole authorities when he murdered the police constable.

In 1995 Mr. Suzack was categorized as a high-risk offender. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility for 25 years for the first-degree murder of the Sudbury constable. The judge who sentenced Mr. Suzack suggested that he spend 25 years in a maximum security penitentiary. He was originally incarcerated in maximum security at Kingston. About two years ago, in 1999, he was transferred to Joyceville, a medium security penitentiary, despite serving only four and a half years of his life sentence.

• 1215

In December 1999 the Canadian Police Association wrote to the Solicitor General providing the background information regarding Suzack and demanding to know why this first-degree individual who killed a police officer was sent to Joyceville in such a short period of time. I quote from that letter from the Canadian Police Association. They requested:

    an immediate audit of the custodial arrangements for all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment, to ensure that public safety is not being compromised by the policies and practices of Correctional Service Canada.

The Canadian Police Association's request was never met. In fact, they never even received any type of significant response from the Solicitor General.

As most of you know from recent media accounts, Suzack was transferred from Joyceville to William Head, which has created a huge public outcry and demands again from the Ontario Police Association that he be transferred back to a maximum security penitentiary. It was brought forward to the Ontario legislature and also into the House of Commons. At that point in time the Solicitor General suggested that Mr. Suzack was in the right facility. They had a certain way of evaluating where these offenders were placed. He believed he was in the right facility.

Then, just a few days after that, he was transferred out of William Head to Mission. Rather than being sent back to a maximum security facility, he was sent in a lateral move to another medium security penitentiary. Although it's no longer listed on the Correctional Service Canada website, Mission was profiled on the website as being “a major feeder institution for minimum security and day parole centres”. Mr. Chairman, shortly after the time it was on the website and it came to the House, everything about Mission and everything about William Head in regard to their mission statement was pulled off the website.

Clinton Suzack is not an isolated case. There are numerous cases that have come to light in the past few years, mostly those dealing with killers of police officers, where first-degree murderers have unjustly and unwisely been moved to medium security facilities.

Gary Fitzgerald, who murdered Huntsville, Ontario, police constable Richard Verdecchia in 1981 by shooting him eight times, escaped in 1999 from Ferndale Institution in B.C. He was the fourth inmate to walk away that year. Fitzgerald was subsequently described as being “armed, dangerous, very unpredictable”. He was implicated in two previous escape attempts, in 1984 and 1993, and yet he was kept in Ferndale.

There are many more cases that I'm sure have not come to light regarding first-degree murderers who have been transferred to medium security facilities after serving only a few years of their life sentences. That, friends, is the reason I brought this motion forward.

Also, in my riding I have a penitentiary, Drumheller. On May 11 there was an uprising in that penitentiary. I toured through shortly after the uprising, and the damage was unbelievable. There is no way I could explain to you what that prison and those units looked like after I had visited, after the inmates had their uprising. They did it again just a short month ago. In that uprising one murder took place. They got hold of one individual and a murder took place.

Subsequent to that I've met officers who are employed by Correctional Service Canada. The morale is unbelievably low. Their concern is the maximum security risk individuals who are being sent down to medium or minimum.

To close, in the name of public safety and in support of the Canadian Police Association, representing 30,000 police officers, I ask you for your support for this motion. This is not a motion that is calling on anyone to do something far beyond the realm of what's realistic, but I think it is something that is needed. I call now for an immediate audit of the custodial arrangements, not of all prisoners, but of all first-degree murderers in Canada.

Thank you.

• 1220

The Chair: We've heard the motion.

Mr. Lee.

Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough—Rouge River, Lib.): The subject matter is not new to the committee. This committee, over the last 25 years, has periodically undertaken studies of one form or another of CCRA and its predecessor Corrections Canada. If I'm not mistaken, this committee completed a full review of the CCRA by means of a subcommittee that reported a little over a year ago. The government replied about a year ago to the subcommittee's and this committee's report. It was pretty comprehensive, and it had members on it whose perspective reached back many years.

It's not to say there weren't any new issues. There always are issues in the corrections service, but it's not clear to me from what Mr. Sorenson has said that there is a huge brand new issue. I do accept that there is a media issue, there is a public perception issue. The public perception issue can stand alone, and it has more to do, as I see it, not with public safety, but with how the prisoner is being handled in respect of punishment. I think the public is aware of that, I'm aware of that.

We have to remember, however, that when we created the statute, it clearly required the corrections service to house inmates based on the security issue, the safety issue, not on the punishment side. Whether you're looking at the criteria used in sentencing or the criteria used in housing of inmates, it was a matter of safety for the public, not punishment.

I could look at this issue from that perspective. I could ask the question, is the corrections service properly housing its high-risk inmates? Those are the ones you would address first, not the low-risk inmates. As for Mr. Suzack, he appears to have been assessed as a low-risk inmate, and he has been cascaded down from potentially high security to medium to lower. While Mr. Sorenson has raised the question about the degree of risk this particular inmate presents, he's also raising the same issue about all the other inmates across the whole corrections service. Perhaps it is just Mr. Suzack.

A voice: All lifers.

Mr. Derek Lee: All lifers. Most of us will know that in the corrections service it is lifers who usually present the lowest risks. That is statistically verifiable. I'll stand by that.

In any event, I'm not convinced that we need an audit of the entire corrections service with respect to lifers. I think that if the question is asked, it is quite manageable to answer it. The answer that will come back will show statistically where those who have life sentences are being housed, whether the institution is a low or a medium security institution or a high security institution. And we have institutions out there, Mr. Chairman, that are blended. We no longer have exclusively high-, medium-, or low-risk security institutions, you get a blend.

I think the approach Mr. Sorenson has taken is that he's levered off a high-profile media issue that was more focused on the punishment perspective and brought that into an audit that's going to look at the safety issue. I think the question can simply be asked, and Correctional Service may be able to answer it fairly expeditiously, without having the committee report to the House.

• 1225

Mr. Sorenson is asking us to report to the House to request an audit. We don't have to do that. We can simply ask Correctional Service the question, and that's what I think we should have done first. He's a member of the committee, he's at liberty to do that now on his own, or he can try to get the committee to ask the question itself. It may provide some interesting information. I don't think we need to report to the House and I don't think we need what he calls an audit, but I'm always happy to support him in asking questions. That's part of our job around here.

Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Lee.

Mr. Fitzpatrick.

Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick: My riding is Prince Albert. I have the federal penitentiary there, Prince Albert Penitentiary, and it has been my experience and my staff's experience that we are confronted with a lot of concerns out of that institution. I've talked to a lot of victims of people who I think should have been regarded as high-risk, people who have got out and done some pretty terrible things to others in that area. I'm just scratching my head about how people are assessed for these sorts of things. It just doesn't seem to make any sense.

My own observation, based on what I see coming through here is, is that this thing is just about out of control, how they deal with these sorts of matters. I have people working in that institution who provide me with information—they're not supposed to be doing that, but they do—and I don't like what I hear is happening in that place. One individual was stabbed 54 times by a gang in that penitentiary. What we have are street gangs in Winnipeg being sentenced to this institution, and they're organizing gangs inside that institution. I'm not an expert on how you de-gang something, but I really think the system is off base in the way they're approaching this problem. Something should be done, and I really think we're going to be looking at some major incident blowing up out of that institution in the next year or so, from what I'm hearing, and they've already had some major incidents.

Maybe this thing has been looked at before, but I'm amazed at some of the procedures and processes that are in effect in that institution and the policies they have in place, and I think it's time somebody with some independence re-evaluated this thing from a safety standpoint. So I support Mr. Sorenson's motion all the way.

The Chair: Could we hear now from the Cowansville Institution?


Mr. Denis Paradis: There's also a federal penitentiary in my riding. It's the Cowansville penitentiary that you just mentioned. This is no country club. When I read our colleague's motion, I thought that the committee will have to meet in the new year to review its agenda.

I'm looking at the second paragraph. It says that we will at some time “receive a briefing from the office of the Solicitor General on the custodial arrangements for all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment.”

I think this should be part of the issues we will review when we return after the Christmas break to see if they should be added to our agenda. This is how I see it. I don't think we need a motion. I we want officials from the Correctional Service to give us a briefing on the custodial arrangements of inmates, we can surely discuss it as we review other issues to place on our agenda when we return in the new year.

This is how I think we should hear the officials from the Correctional Service of Canada. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Paradis.


Mr. Sorenson, and then Madame Allard.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: There were a couple of times when I felt like maybe I could have just mentioned a point of order, but I think the discussion was good.

The point of this motion and the point of the audit is not to audit Correctional Service Canada. It's not an audit of what's going right and what's going wrong. It is only an audit of the custodial arrangements of all inmates serving life imprisonment.

• 1230

Mr. Lee talked about a year ago when our justice committee commissioned, I guess, a study on Corrections Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. That was in a previous Parliament. I have read through the report, and you're absolutely correct, it was an excellent report. Off the top of my head, I think there were 53 recommendations that they brought forward; again, I may be wrong in some of my numbers, but I believe the government acknowledged that 43 or 48 of them should be accepted, and up to this point none of them have been adopted or accepted by the government. I did question Mr. DeVillers as we were walking up to Centre Block one day, because I think he chaired the review, and he was looking forward to some of those recommendations being brought forward, but they never were.

But that's not what this audit is doing. This audit is basically saying that these are the individuals who have been given life imprisonment, this is the record, this is how long they spent in maximum security, this is where they are now. I'm not here to question the whole of Correctional Service Canada, their mandate and what they're doing, but I know from talking to the corrections officers the concerns coming forward about maximum security risks being put into a lower penitentiary. It is a huge issue with them. All this is doing is basically asking for the information. This is not something where we're going to start at the present time opening up the whole question of Correctional Service Canada, because you're right, Mr. Lee, we have done that a year and a half or two years ago. This audit would simply give us the information.

I'm not even saying it's anything to do with accountability. Mr. Lee said that Correctional Service's mandate is more safety of inmates than punishment. I'm reading a book right now that says much the same thing. The thrust of the book is that we send individuals to prison as punishment, not for punishment. What this is doing is basically just looking at those who were assessed as maximum risk and asking where they are now.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Madame Allard.


Ms. Carole-Marie Allard (Laval East, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

There's also a penitentiary in my riding. We have a very large prison complex in Laval. Being a new member, I understand that some of us have been here longer than others.

In any case, I think it's important for us to know the criteria used to establish custodial arrangements for lifers. There are issues of security at stake and, as parliamentarians, we should make sure that the people we represent are adequately protected.

I must admit I am new here. Derek seems to say this is an administrative matter since transfers are decided by the Correctional Service. However, I think the committee should be aware of the criteria used. I know I would want it. But doing it for all inmates may be a little too much. My colleague Denis Paradis suggests adding this issue to our agenda. I agree that we should make a medium-term audit but for the reasons I just mentioned, I think that what Mr. Sorenson suggests is perhaps too much.


The Chair: No more penitentiaries?

Mr. Ken Epp (Elk Island, Canadian Alliance): I have one, but I have nothing to say about it.

The Chair: I have a list here for those who would like a penitentiary.

Mr. Cadman.

Mr. Chuck Cadman (Surrey North, Canadian Alliance): They mostly vote Liberal.

I don't have a penitentiary, but I have the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre, which sometimes seems like a penitentiary.

• 1235

I just want to go on record on the public safety issue of it, if I may just remind colleagues of some of the problems we've seen at Sumas Correctional Centre, which is essentially residential. That started to come to the fore a number of years ago, certainly with an inmate named Armbruster, who I'm sure many of you are aware of, who was cascaded down. The problem seemed to start occurring, according to some of the folks who work in those centres, when we started to get maximum security risks being cascaded down due to statutory release provisions. They were showing up in places like Sumas, when they really weren't ready for it, but the statutes required them to. So I think this is something that has to be taken into consideration. And I'd support my colleagues' motion, because I think it would tend to capture some of those areas too.

The Chair: I want to call the question.

Mr. Lee.

Mr. Derek Lee: The second part of the motion asks for a briefing on the subject. That seems pretty reasonable. Why would we report to the House before we got the briefing? Could we get the briefing, and then determine if a report to the House is necessary?

Let me point out as well that the committee has all the power the House has to subpoena documents, send for persons' papers and records. Reporting to the House that we want to do it is almost a redundant exercise. It's going back to the sourcing: we want to do this, and the answer of the House is, you already have the power, why don't you do it?

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: A briefing, to me, is different from.... I would still like to see the audit done. If they want to brief us after the time of the audit.... That audit comes and says, these are the lifers, this is the record, this is where they've been; Suzack was put in Kingston in such and such a year, he was sent to Joyceville, then he was sent to Williamshead, then he was sent to Mission. I think that's what we want. If it's going to be a briefing, and then we go to the House, that's fine. I think this should be something that is available to all parliamentarians.

Some 13,000 Ontario police asked for this, and they didn't receive a reply. The Canadian Police Association, 30,000, have asked for this, and there's been no reply. If this information was deemed not open to the police associations, please, as members of Parliament, at least give us the information, so that we know the status of who's in what prison.

The Chair: I was listening closely to Mr. Sorenson, because Mr. Lee was, I think, proposing an alternative to the motion. I saw some receptivity to Mr. Lee's alternative, but I take it Mr. Sorenson wants the question put. Then if somebody suggests that there's some other way to proceed after the question is put, we'll perhaps pursue that. We still have some time left.

So I'm going to call the question on Mr. Sorenson's motion first.

(Motion negatived: nays 7; yeas 5)

• 1240

The Chair: The motion is defeated, but the chair would recognize that in the course of the discussion about the motion, the suggestion was put that when we do our agenda for the spring, we could call the minister on the matter of the second half of this motion and get a briefing from the office of the Solicitor General on the custodial arrangements for all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment. I'm not sure of the details of that, but I think I see some acceptance on the part of the committee that we would invite the office of the Solicitor General to appear generally on this.

Madame Allard.


Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: I think we should have a list of institutions with their level of security. It's not easy to sort out all these maximum and minimum security institutions. So a list would be useful.


The Chair: Mr. Sorenson.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: Mr. Chair, I should maybe consider this a little longer, but if you would be open to another motion, I would move:

    That an audit of the custodial arrangements for all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment be undertaken, and that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights receive a briefing from the office of the Solicitor General on the custodial arrangements from that audit of all inmates serving sentences of life imprisonment.

The Chair: I think we just defeated it.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: No, this is not the same motion. This motion is not anything that would be delivered to the House. Obviously, they have to do an audit to give the briefing. That is what I want. I don't want a briefing from Correctional Service Canada. I think the thrust of what the government side suggested was that this does not have to be some huge report that is brought to the House, but rather could be done in a briefing from the office. But I don't want to undermine what this is regarding. I don't want a briefing on what's happening out there in general, I want an audit brought here to this committee.

The Chair: Mr. Sorenson, I'm prepared to accept some alternative to this, but you'll have to convince me that it's different. Then we'll put that to a vote too. Or you can respond to the suggestion I think was made—and I'm in the committee's hands here—that we call the minister or the department in the new year on the question, and decide where to go following that.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: What was accepted by the Liberals here today was the second part of my motion. There was no problem with the second part—is that right? The key here is the word all, because I want the information on all inmates who have received life sentences, not to be told that after three years life sentencers can go and do this and that and the other. I would like to see an audit. Basically, that's the only way you're going to do it. It doesn't have to be a long drawn-out audit, but it has to be a concise record chronologically of where their time has been spent.

The Chair: If the idea here is that it's an audit specific to inmates, I think you will find that would be contrary to privacy provisions, which would not allow that kind of specific detail. You could get a mathematical audit, I think, which is what you don't want to get, but my sense is that it would not be possible to get an inmate-specific accounting of where people are and how they got there. I think it would be a violation of privacy.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: Is this chairman saying that it would contravene rights of privacy to have the members of Parliament, the ones elected, know how long those who have been incarcerated for life sentences have spent in life sentences?

The Chair: The chair's not saying that at all. What I'm saying, Mr. Sorenson, is that I think—and I'm not an expert on this—there are certain limitations on inmate-specific explanations. I may be wrong, I don't want to be held to this, but I'm just trying to inform this discussion.

I had a list, and Madame Allard is first.

Ms. Carole-Marie Allard: No, I made my point.

The Chair: Mr. Grose.

• 1245

Mr. Ivan Grose (Oshawa, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I get lost when things get too complicated. That was the main reason I voted against the motion. Why don't we do our job? Why don't we get someone from Correctional Service Canada, not the Solicitor General's office? Then you've got somebody else involved in the thing and we don't get the figures from the horse's mouth. Get someone from Correctional Service, possibly the chairperson, to come with a head count. They should be able to take that off a computer in five minutes. Ask her to be prepared to give us that and the length of time, not necessarily for the specific individuals. I don't know, not being a lawyer, whether that would be allowed or not, but let's see if we can. If not, let's get a head count, so we can average out that apparently, a life sentence means you spend five years in maximum, three years in medium, and the rest of the time in minimum, whatever—I'm not suggesting those are the periods. Let's get that from the horse's mouth, and then we can decide what to do with it. That's our job. If we're not satisfied, and then if we're not satisfied with what the Solicitor General tells us, we can go to the House. That again is our job. Let's get it started here: make it simple and get some plain figures. I am even opposed to having the Solicitor General involved in it. Let's talk to Correctional Service Canada. They make the decisions on who is moved, they should be able to give us the raw figures.

The Chair: Next is Monsieur Paradis.


Mr. Denis Paradis: Mr. Chairman, I think Mr. Sorenson's second suggestion is out of order. We have already voted on the first one. I repeat that this should be part of our agenda for next spring. I am willing to examine Mr. Sorenson's legitimate request, but it should be included in our agenda with other issues according to the order of priority that we will determine immediately after the Christmas break.


The Chair: Mister Lee.

Mr. Derek Lee: Mr. Chairman, the reason I shy away from the audit at this time is that we're not clear how much data is to be included in the audit. The files on some inmates are this thick. I think we should take Mr. Grose's approach and ask Correctional Service Canada to provide a briefing on custodial arrangements for those who have life sentences, for all inmates. That's already included in the second part of the motion, but if members have particular interests in particular circumstances or particular inmates, all the member has to do is signal that in advance of whatever meeting we're going to have, and either Correctional Service have the information or they don't. If members believe that information should be forthcoming, the committee can take steps to obtain it at that time. But by adopting the second part of this motion, we're well on the road to doing what I think Mr. Sorenson wants, and if the committee is advised to look more deeply and get more data, then it can do so after receiving the briefing.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

John McKay.

Mr. John McKay (Scarborough East, Lib.): Actually, the previous speaker's—


Mr. Robert Lanctôt: On a point of order. I did not receive a notice about a motion. I see that some parties are not represented. We are talking about our future work. I think we're out of order. We shouldn't even discuss this. If we are to talk about our future agenda, then we must have notice. I am here but other parties are not represented and are not even aware of what we are discussing.


The Chair: All members are aware that we received a notice of motion, and Mr. Sorenson can put his motion at any time. Consequently, we are not right now discussing something that was not anticipated. This has been on the order paper for our committee since it was put forward, so we are not breaking new ground. We are not—


Mr. Robert Lanctôt: We voted against it.


The Chair: We took a vote.


Mr. Robert Lanctôt: Next, we—


The Chair: I'm ruling on this, Monsieur Lanctôt. The fact is that we took a vote. The motion was defeated. However, during the course of the discussion alternative arrangements have been suggested, and I don't feel that we're breaking any new ground in this discussion, given the fact that we received this motion. It's been on the order paper, and we're on the same basic area of discussion that is represented by this motion.

• 1250

Mr. McKay.

Mr. John McKay: Two points have sort of been covered by previous speakers. First, I would modify the motion to delete the Solicitor General and insert Correctional Service Canada. Second, with respect to the claim of privilege, if you want to ask a particular question about a particular inmate and the individual witness claims privilege on that—

A voice: Privacy.

Mr. John McKay: —privacy issues—privilege is much the same way of putting it—I'm sure Mr. Lee will be able to give you advice on that point, and we'll deal with it at that time. So I think in some respects, that goes a long way towards what you're interested in.

The Chair: Mr. Epp.

Mr. Ken Epp: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

As a visitor to this committee, I want to share with you what I've discovered, being mostly on the finance committee. When we want information, we throw the net wide open and hope to get a little bit of information. It seems the bureaucrats generally reduce it to what's manageable. So my advice to this committee would be to ask for the audit, and then see what they do with it. You have nothing to lose by it, and you may get what you want. I estimate that there are around 2,000, or a few more, individuals incarcerated for murder in Canada. If that's the case, you may not want a person-by-person listing. I think the Solicitor General or Correctional Service Canada will probably devise that.

So I would recommend to you that you go with the second part here, that you have a briefing, if that can be done relatively quickly, and then decide at that stage how much more information they can give you. I would also include in that the request for an audit, just to see what they give you. They probably would come up with a summary.

The Chair: I'm trying to see what kind of consensus emerges. If I may, I think I see a consensus that we call the Commissioner of the Correctional Service. Am I right in that? I think I do.

A voice: Why not?

The Chair: So we call the commissioner. What we seem to not have a consensus on is whether or not we're asking for an audit or simply having the commissioner appear. Am I right on that?

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: I'm interested in Mr. McKay's suggestion, and I would stand for the change from the Solicitor General. I guess when we wrote that motion we realized the Solicitor General isn't going to conduct the audit; obviously, he would have his Correctional Service people doing it. So if that were the amendment, that it be the Correctional Service commissioner, Ms. McClung, or whoever they would deem the person to come and do it, that would suit me fine. This is not for every murderer, it's not for every place where there's been a manslaughter or murder take place, it's for those who have had life imprisonment imposed.

The Chair: Are you still asking for audit? Because if you're asking for an audit, we'll put it to a vote. My sense is, that won't happen. Mr. Sorenson, if you go with calling the Commissioner of Correctional Service on the subject matter, my guess is you're going to get it. It's up to you, Mr. Sorenson, I'm prepared to entertain a motion calling for an audit.

Mr. Ken Epp: I would take it, because I think it's going to be that or nothing. That's my suggestion.

The Chair: Mr. Epp, we appreciate the advice of the finance committee. I'm sure, Mr. Epp, that the members here will want to catch you after—we have some advice to give the finance committee.

Mr. Ken Epp: I'm sure.

The Chair: Mr. Sorenson, the ball is probably in your court.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: I don't believe this motion was asking for steak dinner, and now you're saying here's a hot dog. I think what we were asking for was just a well-balanced meal, not something out of line, and we're getting a crumb.

The Chair: We can't speak to the existing motion, Mr. Sorenson, it's been defeated, so we're trying to come up with an alternative.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: I agree, that's correct. And all I've heard about is that we need to have a briefing, just a briefing. We had Corrections Canada and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act a year and half ago, and a whole report where not one of the recommendations has been accepted yet and brought forward. Not one.

• 1255

Mr. Derek Lee: That's not true.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: That's what Mr. DeVillers told me.

Mr. Derek Lee: We don't have to burden the record with that, but I think you should stand corrected; there have been some changes made as a result of the report. That's another issue.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: Well, maybe there's been some very recent legislation.

Mr. Derek Lee: These things take time.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: But what we're saying is, we see these things happen; we're going to have a report, and the reports just disappear. What we were asking for were specifics. If a motion comes from that side in regard to the second part of this, then—

The Chair: Here's what will happen. I see a consensus to call the Commissioner of Correctional Service on the subject early in the new year. That is the consensus. If you are prepared, as the chair, I will do that. We'll send the letter today.


Mr. Denis Paradis: Mr. Chairman, this is the consensus of the committee. It's not up to Mr. Sorenson alone to decide.


The Chair: No, I was trying to get Mr. Sorenson on this.

Mr. Derek Lee: You don't want to do that.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: It is not what we're asking for.

The Chair: No, but what you asked for was defeated in a motion.

Mr. Kevin Sorenson: That's right, so I'm not bringing the motion forward. But if a motion were to come...

The Chair: Okay. I'm going to call the Commissioner of Correctional Service, as a result of today's discussion, to appear early in February on the subject matter contained in the motion that was defeated.

On that point, the meeting is adjourned.

Top of document