Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today. I have a brief statement prepared that I will present to you at this time. I brought copies of the statement in this morning for your perusal.
In 1892 an Argentinian police official used for the first time a small data bank of fingerprints that he had amassed from the local population to solve the murder of two children. The use of fingerprints was the gold standard of forensic identification technologies for over 100 years around the world.
The reign of fingerprinting as the pinnacle of human identification tools came to an end in the late 1980s when a British scientist, Dr. Alex Jeffries, who was conducting evolution research using DNA technology, applied his research to a couple of murders under investigation by British police. Not only did this application lead to the conviction of a suspect, but it was also used to exonerate another individual.
In 1989 the RCMP first used the new DNA technology in the investigation of a sexual assault. The victim identified her assailant, and a DNA analysis later confirmed him as the perpetrator. This was the first time in which DNA evidence led to a conviction in Canada and the first time in which a law enforcement laboratory developed its own DNA evidence and presented the findings in a Canadian court.
Not since the first use of fingerprints in 1892 has a forensic application witnessed such proliferation of usage and acceptance within the scientific community and, more importantly, in the courts. The use of DNA has become an important and powerful tool in combatting crime. Canada signaled its intention to make broader use of the power of DNA with the passage of the DNA Identification Act, which was proclaimed in force on June 30, 2000.
The act created the National DNA Data Bank, which began operations upon proclamation and is responsible for two indices: the convicted offender index, which contains the DNA profiles of offenders convicted of designated offences as identified in section 487.04 of the Criminal Code; and the crime scene index, which contains DNA profiles of bodily substances recovered from crime scenes of designated offences.
The data bank assists law enforcement agencies in solving crimes by linking crimes together where there are no suspects, helping to identify suspects, eliminating suspects where there is no match between crime scene DNA and a DNA profile already in the data bank, and determining whether a serial offender is involved.
Physically the National DNA Data Bank, with its laboratories, sophisticated analytical equipment, computing facilities, and team of scientists and technicians, is located in Ottawa at the RCMP Headquarters. The data bank is part of the RCMP National Police Services.
Due to privacy and contamination concerns, and by virtue of the DNA Identification Act, the data bank is a self-contained unit. The data bank is a success in every sense and has fully met the expectations and spirit of the legislation. It has never experienced a capacity problem and continues to grow each year. It is, however, engaged only with the analysis of convicted offender samples.
The data bank employs 30 scientists and technicians and receives between 350 and 450 convicted offender samples each week. As of February 19, 2007, the data bank had 6,522 matches between the convicted offender index and the crime scene index.
It is important to draw a distinction between the activities and environment of the National DNA Data Bank and the Forensic Laboratory Services. The forensic services are also a part of the RCMP National Police Services. The FLS provides forensic services to the provinces and territories that contract with the federal government for provincial and territorial policing services. Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial police departments, as well as their own forensic laboratory systems. The forensic laboratories are key partners of the data bank, as they analyze crime scene evidence in support of criminal investigations and supply DNA profiles to the crime scene index.
While DNA analysis has become a large part of the work of the forensic laboratories, these labs also undertake ballistics analysis, paint typing, chemical and drug analysis, and other forms of forensic services.
The RCMP Forensic Laboratory Services has 120 DNA scientists and technologists and produces DNA case reports from five locations across Canada: in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Ottawa, and Halifax.
The impact of DNA technology on law enforcement and judicial systems has resulted in an enhanced desire to use DNA technology to resolve criminal investigations and an exponential increase in the number of cases submitted to forensic laboratories.
The number of new cases received by FLS in 2005-06 was 23% higher than the number of new cases received in 2001-02. The FLS has responded to this by redeploying resources from other forensic areas into the DNA area, developing new DNA technologies, and enhancing processes. As well, the FLS uses individual and unit performance measures to ensure maximum performance, and a priority rating system to ensure that the most serious cases are handled first.
During the past two years, the FLS has in fact exceeded the casework quotas specified in the federal-provincial-territorial biology casework analysis agreements, BCAAs, for each province and territory. As well, it should be noted that due to reorganization and process enhancements, the Forensic Laboratory Services was capable of meeting these quotas while engaged with the Pickton murder investigation in British Columbia, to which the FLS contributed significantly.
There is, however, a greater demand for DNA casework than the Forensic Laboratory Services has the present capacity to handle. To respond to this capacity issue, in part, the RCMP will increase funding to the FLS at the beginning of the 2007-08 fiscal year. This will assist the FLS to reduce DNA casework response times within the existing demand, but will not be sufficient to handle increased casework demands imposed by legislative changes resulting from . An enhancement of the DNA Identification Act via Bill C-18 will have an impact on the FLS.
An analysis of conviction rates for primary and secondary designated cases showed that changes to the legislation will increase the FLS caseload by approximately 42% annually. This is a conservative calculation dependent upon the present rates of conviction and does not reflect the number of investigations undertaken. A change in federal or provincial government priorities or a shift in judicial priorities would see an increase in this number. As well, the number of convicted offender samples submitted to the National DNA Data Bank will increase by at least one third, again based upon conviction rates.
The FLS will have to increase its human and scientific resources to meet this enhanced demand. It has estimated that acquisition of staff and equipment will require approximately $15 million just for the Forensic Laboratory Services--$15 million in the first year, with an ongoing budget of about $7 million. It must be recognized, however, that it will require between 18 and 24 months from time of funding before operational benefits are realized. Activities pertaining to hiring staff, training, equipment acquisition, set-up and validation, and accreditation are protracted and must be undertaken in a manner that assures quality and effectiveness.
The RCMP is committed to the provision of safe homes and safe communities and is eager to work with the government to enhance this very important forensic and law enforcement tool.
Thank you very much.
Your first question is about the wisdom of allowing this to take place. In essence what happened in Bill C-25--or it's Bill C-13 now--chapter 25 of the Statutes of Canada 2005, was to permit the domestic sharing of information concerning what we call a moderate match.
I don't know if you recall the last testimony that we had—I think you had to leave when I tried to respond to your previous question on this—but it should be on the record.
Moderate matches are cases where we don't understand whether or not we have a clear match, given the scientific problems of analysis. I understand there are cases where you have mixtures of DNA from victims and perpetrators. You have cases where DNA evidence is degraded due to age. It's an old crime scene, or bodies are found and it's difficult to be absolutely certain what those amplified DNA profiles are.
So in the convicted offender index you have what we call, or at least what the scientists inform me is, a gold standard. These are samples, body substances, taken from people at the time—usually blood in clean circumstances—from which they are able to derive very good profiles. In most cases the amount of scientific failure to derive a profile is statistically very small in the number of rejected cases. I can't tell you what exactly that is, but it's very small. So we have a high reliance on the convicted offender index profiles. The crime scene profiles can be mixtures, degraded profiles, so it may be difficult to tell whether or not there is exactly the same profile from the crime scene.
So the ability was put into Bill C-13 to allow moderate match profiles to be exchanged. There's no personal information. It's simply a matter of putting to the people in the crime scene labs: here's the profile we have; is it possible that the profile you have is the same but you just misread it, or you weren't able to derive it properly? Then they can reanalyze and say yes, this is a match, or no, it's not. The personal information would then be requested separately for further investigation. It may be linked to another crime scene; it may be linked to the convicted offender index. That's the reason we have this provision in Bill C-13.
What we're asking for in Bill is the ability to do exactly the same thing with national comparisons.
As I tried to explain before, there is a great chance that international comparisons will be using parts of the DNA profile that we don't necessarily analyze in our system, but they do. So there may be only a limited number of matches between the same loci, and that leads to a higher incidence of probability of moderate match requirements to determine whether we have an exact match.
If this work isn't done at one level, in other words, as much as possible to reduce the potential matches.... It speeds up the investigations internally. It could be in the interests of our police forces to know whether we have an international offender, and it's certainly of interest to the foreign countries, for the same reason, to link crime scenes or offenders who are operating internationally together. Hence speed is of the essence in many of these investigations.
The result would be a speedier resolution of whether or not we have a match. If that information can't be sent abroad, then chances are it would be simply said that we don't have enough information to tell you whether or not you have a match. Then the information may be stalled, even though that could result in information of use to the police as an investigative lead in resolving an international serial offender, a terrorist, or some other event that is going on.
So the impetus for this international sharing is to simply ensure that the correct information about matches can be resolved scientifically between the analysts. There will be no sharing of personal information or even the resolution of a potential crime scene until it's resolved between the scientists whether or not they have a match, or a close enough match, that they'd want the information about the offenders or the other crime scene that it would link to.
So it's really to allow internationally the same thing we've been allowed to do domestically, and no more information will be shared internationally than would be allowed domestically for the same purposes. It's subject to our international agreement through INTERPOL, which limits the use of all of this information for the investigation and prosecution of a criminal offence. That's required now of the commissioner by the legislation and the DNA Identification Act, and it's been done through an INTERPOL master agreement. Each exchange of information is subject to a reiteration of the conditions that apply to the transfer of that DNA profile.
I do not think that you understood my question.
I understand what it could mean, ultimately, to have DNA samples of people planning conspiracies. However, the Canadian Bar Association states that paragraph 8(5)(e) would add to the list conspiracy to commit and attempt to commit certain offences, although the actual result may be the planning rather than the carrying out of an act.
Is it wise on the part of the legislator to allow the taking of DNA samples considering the potentially intrusive nature of such a measure in identifying individuals for offences that have not been perpetrated but are at the planning stage? Of course, it is possible to lay charges of conspiracy. That exists under section 465 of the Criminal Code. Nevertheless, we are talking about samples here. I am wondering whether or not we've gone too far by expanding the list.
Perhaps you are not quite the right person to answer this question, but I did want to express this concern to you. Ultimately, we will have to invite the minister to reappear so that he can explain why conspiracy has been added.
Mr. Buckle, could you please clearly explain the difference between the work done by the National DNA Data Bank and the Forensic Laboratory Services, which are available in five provinces. I think that I grasped the difference, but it would be good to have it repeated. How do these two entities distribute the work? How are they complementary?
When first arrived, its purpose was really to deal with the problem of what we call non-designated offences being sent in by courts. Those offences were kept in the data bank unanalyzed, but undestroyed, because we had a valid court order. But on the face of it, they looked defective to the Commissioner of the RCMP, and he didn't want to put offences into the data bank that didn't qualify, and he had no real way to deal with them. So a number of amendments were brought in to allow the commissioner to send those cases back to the attorney general of a province for review. Part of that was to allow the attorneys general to seek advice from the courts--in other words, to have the order quashed and dealt with.
After consultation with the attorneys general, they were of the view they could give advice to the RCMP commissioner without having to go back to a court to quash all of these orders. They said, in their opinion, if they confirmed the opinion of the commissioner this was a non-designated offence, the commissioner should be able to destroy it based on that advice.
So that change was put into the legislation.
The other issue was to deal with—
I'll take your second question first.
The data bank was set up to separate any personal information from the genetic information. In fact, the information resides in two separate indices. The genetic information resides within the National DNA Data Bank. A genetic profile is just a series of numbers, and attached to that is a bar code, and the people who work with that information have no other information on the individual from whom the DNA profile came. The fingerprints, address, and personal description are all contained within our criminal records area in another building within the RCMP complex. In fact, the staff from each area do not comingle. We have taken measures to ensure that the data bank, the unit that I described earlier, is actually removed in its governance structure from the governance structures of either of those other two entities, whether it be Forensic Laboratory Services or the criminal records area. Also, there is legislation that guides us in the retention of personal information and genetic information.
Your first question had to do with comparing DNA samples. Again, I'd like to draw the distinction between the DNA data bank and Forensic Laboratory Services. Forensic Laboratory Services are the people, if I can say, who are at the pointy end of the law enforcement stick. They work with the investigators to try to make matches at a crime scene, whether it be to match a crime scene to a crime scene or to match a crime scene to a suspect. Some of those samples end up in the National DNA Data Bank. For instance, if an offender is convicted, that sample could go into the National DNA Data Bank for designated offences. The non-suspect DNA from crime scenes would go into the crime scene index.
If there is going to be a match...I'll give you a scenario. There's an investigation. There's been bloodletting, and the investigators collect blood from a crime scene and bring it in to be analyzed by one of our forensic labs in the field, right across Canada, whether it be a provincial lab or the federal labs. That genetic profile is then searched against the convicted offender profiles within the data bank and also against the other non-suspect crime scene samples within the data bank to see if there's a hit with either one. That's a scenario that could be used to link the labs across Canada with the DNA data bank.
Well, I can tell you that in order for a sample to be taken from a convicted offender, there had to be a valid court order. If you have a case where...and I think it's a human factor.
My explanation from talking to judges and prosecutors is that the system is complex. In other words, you have a long murder trial, complex evidence; at the end of it you have a number of determinations again on sentencing that a judge has to make with respect to these serious offences: he has to consider whether or not a prohibition order should be made, or whether an application may be made for a dangerous offender.... There are a number of things that may delay sentencing.
The simple explanation is that in the process, DNA orders were simply overlooked, and that no one considered making an order until it was recognized, perhaps, later. Then the court found itself to be functus—in other words, it had no jurisdiction to make such an order—and without an order, the police wouldn't execute it; therefore, no DNA sample was submitted to the bank for an entry in the convicted offender index. That's the general scenario to explain why only 50% or so of the expected primary offences were being received by the data bank.
This was an attempt to say that at least for these most serious offences the court would be required to make such an order.
We have to perhaps deal with the issue that, if that happened, they would have a 90-day extension to allow the court to go back to revisit it. There are some processes we'll have to look at in terms of that—what happens if a court still forgets—and how we're going to have to deal with that potential.
At the moment, that's the explanation I'd give you for why, in the 50% or so of the primary offences, we were not receiving samples.
Could you indicate, from your knowledge, the driving motivation for the business of potential sharing of the profile with foreign jurisdictions? Is it simply reciprocity with the other jurisdictions? Is it a real belief that information from them will help us? Or is it just a bit of brotherhood amongst friendly law enforcement agencies, that sharing might produce a benefit?
What's motivating this particular amendment to enable more sharing of the profiles? I see the end result. I just don't know what the motivator is, and perhaps you could help me there.
Secondly, something in our visit to the RCMP labs was very helpful to me, and I thank you for it. One of the questions that came up—and it doesn't have to do with the data bank, but with the Forensic Laboratory Services—I want to get on the record, because it came up during our visit.
What happens when Sergeant Jones from Upper River Junction shows up in his pickup truck, and he has 50 pieces of evidence in the back of the truck, and he says, “Mrs. Smith thinks her nephew stole her car keys. Can you just check all this stuff and see what you can find?”—as a fishing expedition? I'm wondering what protocols may exist to better ration, better utilize the Forensic Laboratory Services in the face of what appears to be an open door policy.
If a police force in a contract province—it doesn't necessarily have to be the Mounties, but it could be—just wants to get that stuff checked over for DNA, and it really doesn't fit within priorities....
Could you address that too, please?
Thank you very much. Perhaps I'll address that one, and then I'll ask my colleague David Bird to address your international sharing question.
There's no doubt that we deal within a very broad jurisdiction within Canada. The priorities in one area may be different from the priorities in another area. Rapes and murders are quite uncommon in small towns across this country, but unfortunately some of our larger cities are seeing an increase in those kinds of activities. There's no doubt that for the people who live in those communities, it doesn't matter what the crime is. If they feel it's important, then there needs to be some attention paid to it.
However, within our Forensic Laboratory Services, and I think in forensic services in general in North America, there is a capacity issue. Shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which we see on TV, have made it more prominent in people's minds. DNA analysis is a very powerful tool. We see greater and greater demand for it all the time.
Therefore, we've had to ensure that we use our resources to try to resolve the most serious crimes first. In order to do that, we have a conversation with these investigators. So if Constable Jones showed up from Upper River Junction and wanted to resolve a case for a person in his community, we would have a conversation with him to determine exactly what type of crime he was looking at. Then we would try to portray the significance of priority and the fact that we would consider rapes, murders, and some of the other designated offences to be of a higher priority for the use of that service, given that we have a capacity issue, than the theft of an automobile. I believe there are other investigative techniques that could be used to try to resolve that crime before we invoked the use of expensive technologies.
Within the RCMP, there are two things we have undertaken to ensure that the resources are more for serious offences. We discuss with the investigator where the most probative value would be in the--you said, 50--exhibits from Constable Jones, who would ask him if he could pick his best six or eight exhibits that would most likely answer the question that he wants us to answer. If we were dealing with a murder, it would be to give us the best six or eight exhibits whereby we could potentially link the suspect to the murder. That doesn't mean that we're limiting it to six or eight in total. It just means that we want to try to get the biggest bang for the buck right up front.
The other thing we're doing is using a system called a priority rating of operational files whereby, through a series of questions with the investigator, we can rank the more serious cases. You can appreciate that we deal mostly with very serious cases--rapes, murders, and sexual assaults of various types. We want to ensure that when we have a case of murder or a rape, or both, and there's no suspect, that gets the highest priority.
Through a series of questions and some software that we've acquired, we can actually rank those cases. We will advise the investigator, “Listen, you brought a case in, we've ranked it, and it falls within our grid as being an A2, and we can respond to that case within this period of time. Is that of help to you, or do you want to discuss it some more?” Sometimes investigators will tell us, “No, that'll work. Our court date is down the road, and we'll get there.” Other times they'll tell us, “No, we really want to get this done.” We'll have that conversation with them to try to ensure that we're actually utilizing those resources in the most efficient manner possible.
Does that answer your question, sir?
The only guarantees I could provide you with are those provided by the DNA Identification Act, which makes it a criminal offence for the commissioner or the commissioner's delegates to use DNA information that the agency has in the National DNA Data Bank for any other purpose than what's permitted by the DNA Identification Act. There are restrictions on the use, and there are restrictions on what can be communicated, and there are further restrictions domestically on further communication by those who receive that information from the RCMP.
So the current DNA Identification Act and the amendments in Bill are, in my view, very restrictive. The DNA information that the RCMP has can only be communicated as authorized by the DNA Identification Act, section 6, and any other communication is an offence. Similarly, any other research that could be done with the DNA profiles, except to derive a forensic DNA profile, for the purposes of DNA data banking would be an offence.
Those are fairly serious prohibitions, and that in itself should be sufficient, in my view, to satisfy Canadians' concerns that there may be unauthorized or illegal uses of DNA profiles in the National DNA Data Bank. We probably have the most robust genetic privacy regime in any DNA data bank where the people who are using the DNA do not know the personal identification of the person who has submitted it. So the data bank operates anonymously with respect to the personal information. All it has is genetic information, and it has a very restricted legal regime that allows it to communicate only for the purposes that the DNA identification allow it to, and that's to essentially compare the convicted offender index with the crime scene index and report a match, and the moderate matching provisions that allow it to ensure the question, do we have a match? That's the expansion of the regime.
Otherwise, that is essentially all the DNA data bank officials can do with the DNA they have in the National DNA Data Bank. They ask, do we have a match? And then if it does, it goes to another portion that doesn't have the genetic information. All they have is personal.
Good morning to all the witnesses.
My question is for Mr. Bird or Mr. Buckle. I will try to be as precise as possible.
Let's suppose that a 14-year old youth is convicted of murder. The offender will not necessarily be treated as an adult but he'll come under a particular piece of legislation. This young man or woman will have to remain in custody for approximately three years, at the most. I repeat: this youth will not be treated as an adult, but we are talking about a case of murder.
One detail seems to be missing. Perhaps the RCMP counsel, Mr. Bird, could answer me. This difficulty may occur in the other provinces. However, I'm not familiar with the legislation from the other provinces. In Quebec, this measure applies to young offenders under the age of 18 who are convicted of murder, except in cases where the young offenders are sent to an adult institution. I would emphasize this nuance.
I would like to know whether or not, in these circumstances, the DNA for this individual would be sent to you or whether or not the judge could ask that this be done.
The DNA Identification Act does not prescribe where crime scene profiles will come from. It simply obliges the commissioner to deal with what he receives for entering into the convicted offender index, and as a matter of policy and as a matter of the amendments to Bill that analysis would need to be done by the commissioner himself or someone he would contract to. However, at this time my understanding is that it is done entirely by RCMP officials, and I understand there's no policy change to permit this information, for the convicted offender index, to be contracted out.
With respect to the crime scene profiles, the problems are really related to policy on the use of the CODIS system to transmit information to the National DNA Data Bank. The labs' use of the CODIS system--this is a combined DNA analysis system that the FBI have developed and allow the world to use--allows for a consistent transfer of information, at least domestically, and that's essentially the system we use for exchanging information with the 27 other countries--I believe--that use the FBI system.
It makes for an easier transfer of information internationally, but that's not the primary purpose of it. It's really to allow the internal domestic data bank to operate effectively from the network of labs in Canada. So you have labs in Quebec and Ontario, separate from the RCMP labs, all using the same system to transmit their profiles to the DNA data bank.
My understanding is that if a private lab were to do this work, it would require, under the CODIS rules, that one of the official provincial labs or the RCMP lab validate the results of the research that was done, but that research would not go the other way. You would not be seeing information in the DNA data bank being sent to private labs for their use.
All the information is sent to the National DNA Data Bank, and once it's there, it's under the restrictions that allow for the communication of profiles. The convicted offender index could not be used to transmit information out, except in the case of a moderate match when there's a discussion between perhaps contractors of the police to determine whether or not they have a convicted offender match, but it would be used only for that purpose.
But in either case, I guess there's a concern. Certainly we've been given some information that the way the system works--before the intended law and the intended amendments--at least for primary designated offences, is that there is a 50% rate of insertion into the bank. It's hoped, I guess, that Bill C-18 will cure that by making these mandatory orders.
I respect that. But if you have, between primary and secondary designated offence convictions--there are some 35,000, almost, CSI samples--about 142,000 samples now in the bank, according to your brief, it seems to me, speaking to capacity here, that if this law is changed, we know that there are going to be mandated insertions into the bank, so to speak. So that will increase the volume darn near 200,000 over time. That's not even accurate--forget what I said--but it will increase the insertions into the bank.
There is some history here with respect to a letter from this committee's predecessor to the Auditor General, in May 2005, about backlog. I guess I want some assurance that with the additional $14 million, and the continuing $7 million in funding expected.... There's some concern, as legislators, from a public point of view, as to whether you'll be able to keep up with the demands of this new law.
A follow-up to that would be whether the government has consulted with you with respect to your budgetary needs, and have you given the Department of Justice--keeping the Chinese wall between the RCMP and the Department of Justice—assurance, and vice versa, that the job can be done with that funding?
Mr. Chair, I'd like to separate again, just so I can respond to the question, the convicted offender index and the crime scene index.
We estimated that changes to the legislation would increase the number of submissions to the convicted offender index by about 10,000 samples a year. The data bank was actually built back in 2000 for a much larger capacity than we're presently seeing. And our analysis indicated that within the data bank itself, we could certainly absorb those 10,000 extra samples without seeing any impact or any increase in the amount of time it would take to do the samples or any increase in the turnaround time. In other words, the data bank has sufficient capacity to handle the convicted offender samples.
The concern we had was with the crime scene index samples. Our conservative estimate is that the legislation will increase the potential sample intake by about 42%. We've built a business case, which we have presented to our colleagues in Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, PSEPC, that outlines our estimated needs of about $15 million for the first year, with an ongoing $7 million for the other years. That would take care of the sample increase coming in as a result of Bill C-18.
We recognize that there is a capacity gap that exists right now. I've discussed this with my colleagues within the RCMP, and the senior executive committee of the RCMP will release funding to Forensic Laboratory Services on April 1 this year so we can bridge that capacity gap in anticipation of further samples coming in because of Bill C-18.
Perhaps I can respond to that.
I think I would suggest to the committee that you look back at the testimony received from witnesses during the consideration of Bill C-13. I was here when you heard from Dr. Chris Maguire of forensic services in the U.K. system. He talked about their experience in concentrating their DNA data bank collection for crime scenes and offenders related to break and enters, robberies, and car thefts. Through their statistics they were able to show the progression from lesser offences to more serious offences. By concentrating resources on those types of offences, they were able to reduce crime rates in the municipalities or the regions where they were concentrating on those kinds of offences.
So they did a number of studies on the effectiveness of that kind of work. I understand the State of Florida DNA data bank did similar kinds of studies, and Dr. David Koffman, who you also heard from, I believe, was able to confirm the same kind of results. By concentrating on those lesser offences, they were able to solve the more serious cases--cases concerning the instances of sexual assaults particularly, but also other serious crimes that were linked to the lesser offences.
I understand the data bank itself has now been able to link and solve a number of very serious offences by doing work on break and enters particularly. There is a very high correlation here, with links between break and enters and more serious crimes, such as murders and rapes.
But they can give you those statistics directly, I think.
I have a couple of points, Mr. Chair.
One, during the course of the witness testimony, there was some discussion--off the record, I would call it--flying back and forth suggesting that we on this side would support Ms. Jennings' motion. That is certainly not the case, considering the preamble. If it was a sincere effort to have our support so that we could have the unanimous vote of committee....
Among other things, I was very clear last week that the government would not support a motion or an amendment to a motion that has such torqued language in the preamble. If anyone doesn't believe that, then they can just reference the discussion we had at the last committee: “Whereas this modified review procedure bears flagrant signs of partisanship and ideological influence”. Does that sound like something we would support? If there's a sincere effort to have us support it, we're not even getting past first base when that's the kind of preamble we have.
I'll give time to Mr. Petit, as I know he has brought some ideas forward.
I think this study is too narrow. We've had judicial appointments from the very beginning of time as a country, and why are we looking at judicial appointments from the last year? I can't help but think that this is a partisan attack, or almost mischief, on the part of others. There's this issue of judicial appointments, and there have been judicial advisory committees since 1988. Judicial appointments have been made by ministers of justice forever, yet we're so concerned about the judicial appointments process. But let's just look at the last year. Let's just look, since there was a change in government. Let's not look to the year before last. Let's not look to 1993 and forward, the last 13 years, when we had a different government. Mr. Ménard's motion is, let's just look at what's happened since we formed government. To me, that's insincere. If we want an honest look at judicial appointments, or if we want an honest look at the judicial advisory process, then we have to look past the last year.
That would be my position. It may not matter; you may have the numbers, but the government is not going to support a motion that has such a torqued preamble.
We discussed last time about two sessions rather than three. I made those presentations to Mr. Ménard and Ms. Jennings and others.
Also, on the issue of interfering with committee work, Ms. Jennings' motion does make it clear that we would proceed with regularly scheduled committee work, and we all agree we should get on with . This, I trust, would not interfere with that, but still it's too problematic for my support.
Mr. Chairman, I tabled the motion, that you are all familiar with, with the firm conviction that the committee should take the time not to review what occurred in the past nor to examine what occurred 10 years ago. The action taken by the government will change the judicial selection process. As we know, this is an extremely sensitive process because it is a pillar of democracy.
Mr. Chairman, the motion seeks to ascertain whether the nomination of the members from police departments is very wise given the balance that we wish to preserve. My motion called for three meetings to hear from witnesses. Moreover, I have spoken to Mr. Antonio Lamer, and to Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé. Both would be prepared to meet with us. I know that many people would be prepared to appear before the committee. I am aware of the affection and respect that all members of this committee have for Mr. Antonio Lamer and Ms. L'Heureux-Dubé and I can assure you that they will both be prepared to share their 10 years of expertise with us.
Nor did I wish, Mr. Chairman, to take up too much committee time unduly. That is why I thought that we could have three meetings, plus one more to draft the report.
I would remind you, Mr. Chairman, that under our standing orders, we will be voting on the four motions; the preamble is never part of the vote. The preamble has interpretative, explanatory value but is never part of the vote. Obviously, I do not intend to withdraw it. I think that the government action falls in line with a very known ideological orientation. We accept that, but I think that that must be part of the terms of the debate. I don't understand why Mr. Moore is so sensitive, why he wants the preamble to be withdrawn. My objective was not to hurt the feelings of the government members, but I do think that we need to say things as they are.
And why, Mr. Chairman, appoint police officers? Why not nurses, professors, teachers or other people who, in society, also have things to say about the administration of justice? The government intentionally chose to appoint police officers because that falls in line with its ideological orientation. We respect that. We can understand that, in a democracy, but we are saying that this is the work of the opposition and the committee to debate the issue.
I would conclude, Mr. Chairman, by saying one thing. On several occasions, I have heard government members say that they had an agenda. Yes, and we respect the fact that the government is the government. This is a minority government—and God forbid that it should ever become a majority one—and we have reviewed five bills. We reviewed section 25 of the Criminal Code, conditional sentencing, Bill C-9, Bill C-10 and, on Thursday, we will be dealing with Bill C-18. Therefore, it cannot be said that the official opposition was choosing not to follow the government's agenda. It is normal that there be, within a committee, a balance between the work that the opposition would like to see done and the work that the government would like to do.
Why can't the government use 100% of its time to implement the government's agenda? Because it did not elect 100% of the members. The answer is as boring and as parliamentary as that.
Mr. Chairman, if the government wishes to support my amendment, I would be very happy. Moreover, I am going to support the amendments tabled by Ms. Jennings. It is not our policy in the Bloc Québécois, to sit in committee longer than planned. This is coming from our whip, because we are very, very busy. Basically, the opposition is working to make the government better. This is obviously full-time work, and there is not one day where we are not exhausted, Mr. Chairman. That is why our whip does not authorize us, generally speaking, to sit outside of normal committee hours. It is because our services are required elsewhere. However, in the spirit of good cooperation and cordiality, in the spirit of mutual respect and reciprocal affection, I will bow to Ms. Jennings' amendments which would authorize the chair to hold an additional meeting.
Mr. Chairman, I am hopeful that this amendment, along with the initial proposal, will garner the support of all committee members and we will be able to shed some light on this matter in committee. We all know that these are issues that stir up a great deal of passion in the House. The Leader of the Bloc Québécois and the Leader of the Liberal Party have asked many questions. The NDP has asked questions about the selection process. It is only normal that we do our job as opposition parliamentarians.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to thank my colleague Mr. Réal Ménard for his comments. I can tell you that we Liberals are in support of Mr. Ménard's motion, first of all because we believe that the objective is quite commendable and also because it is a topic on which many parties, both within and outside Parliament, have already expressed an interest, namely to obtain a review of the judicial selection process that the current Conservative government has set up.
Nevertheless, given the objectives and priorities of the Liberal caucus regarding strategy and justice, we have a liberal justice strategy by which we have given priority, ourselves, to government bills presented last spring, after the opening of Parliament. In the fall of 2006, we had very clearly identified bills with which we were in complete agreement and we offered our collaboration and cooperation to the government so that we could fast track these bills so that they could be debated in the House, referred to committee, studied in committee, referred at report stage to the House, etc. Unfortunately, the government did not feel it necessary to accept our offer, which dealt with several bills, including Bill , which concerned the age of consent. It was only in February that the government finally saw fit to put it on the calendar for the second reading debate.
We want to see the work of this committee progress, with respect to this bill. That's why, despite the fact that we are supporting Mr. Ménard's motion in the name of the Bloc, we members felt that it would be wise to make or suggest amendments to his very motion. Our objective was to enable the committee to continue its work and follow its regular calendar, to proceed with the second reading examination of Bill C-22 on the age of consent, but at the same time, to take into account the importance that many interested parties are giving to the review done by the government of the judicial selection process, without any consultation.
I should add that I am not the one saying this, nor is it Mr. Ménard, Ms. Freeman, Mr. Comartin, Mr. Murphy, Mr. D'Amours or Ms. Barnes. This is coming from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada herself, who stated publicly that if the government wanted to change or review the judicial selection process, it was obliged to consult. However, this consultation was never done.
So not only do we support Mr. Ménard's motion, but we have also brought forward our own amendment. You heard Mr. Ménard state that the Bloc will be supporting the Liberal amendment, presented by me, to his motion.
I move that a vote be held.
To begin with, I read Mr. Ménard's motion, which I find very interesting. I also read Ms. Jennings' amendment, which I find even more interesting.
If you read Mr. Ménard's motion—and he has said that the preamble will be retained—it says the following:
Whereas this modified review procedure bears flagrant signs of partisanship and ideological influence;
1. That the government postpone the reform made to the composition of the judge selection committees and that it restore the previous procedure for these committees.
Up to that point, I can read it, it is comprehensible. Nevertheless, if you want to say that we are partisan, we have to know what happened previously. I think that this is logic itself. If you want to say that we are partisan and that we are ideologues, I want to know what occurred from 1993 to the present.
At that point, I began to consider the possibility of getting behind what Ms. Jennings was saying, that is that we should study the issue in-depth. I sincerely believe that the Liberals, like the Conservatives and Bloquists, want to know what has gone on since then. We are trading insults, accusing each other of being ideological or not, of being partisan or not. I don't agree. We must get to the bottom of things. To do this, people have to have an opportunity to say that the judicial system is impervious to partisan and ideological decisions.
I share the position taken by Mr. Ménard of the Bloc Québécois, but I also agree with the Liberals who want to investigate what occurred between 1993 and today. Certain things have been said in the House, and I will ascertain whether or not this is true. I'm still a lawyer, I still practice in Quebec, I still appear before judges and I do not want to have any doubt in my mind when I go before the court. That also applies to the future lawyer that Mr. Ménard will be, and to Mr. Brian Murphy, who is a lawyer as well. He does not want to have any doubts when he appears before the court about there possibly being any partisanship on our side, or ideological problems, as Mr. Ménard asserted. I don't want that. Justice must be impartial.
If you read my amendment, which I had translated into English as best I could because I didn't have access to all of the services last evening in order to have this done, you will note that I am in reality proposing a subamendment. Under this subamendment, we would start a subcommittee. I think that this issue is too important to deal with it in two or three meetings and then adopt it very quickly. No, we must study the issue in an in-depth manner. This is an important aspect under section 100 of the Constitution. We are the ones who appoint all members of the judiciary. We must therefore study the issue in an in-depth manner.
With respect to Ms. amendment, I am entitled to move a sub-amendment which should be in order for the following reason.
I do not agree that there should be a minimum of three meetings. We can see that she wants to hold more than that, and I would like there to be many more because the issue is too important. I will not tolerate this situation where, after two or three sessions, we all decide, as a group, to scratch our backs. We are serious parliamentarians, I have no doubt about that, with respect to both the opposition and the government members. I think that we should cast our net further afield and not simply invite those witnesses that may want to make disclosures that could suit us.
I would imagine that we will have to obtain a budget for this purpose: there are many services required to do this. I could easily see us holding many more meetings than just these three, which alone represent six hours of debate. That is not enough. I would suggest that we plan for about ten meetings where we call witnesses. It is not true that they will call only those they want to hear.
I understand that I am in a minority and that they can do what they want. However, as parliamentarians, I really believe that we should ensure that everything is done properly and that public confidence in the process is restored. Indeed, if people are saying that we are partisans and ideologues, I may want to know what happened before, during and after my stay here. That's what I would like to know. And isn't it true that, in order to get a good answer, three meetings are not sufficient.
You said that the Honourable Supreme Court Justice spoke in your favour. I have a great deal of respect for Mrs. Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, who is a lawyer from Quebec City. Indeed, she was my family's lawyer for a long time. So I have a great deal of respect for her, but we are parliamentarians. We are not...
I've listened to what Mr. Petit said, and I think he was referring to extra sessions if we have a broader consultation, and I think that's called for.
Earlier I was asking why one year. I question Mr. Ménard on that, because as you know, the judicial advisory committees have been in place since 1988 and they've been changed a number of times. To say it is something earth-shattering that the composition of the judicial advisory committees would be changed—in my opinion a positive change, but that's a matter for debate.... We're all entitled to our opinions on it, but why would we just look at the last year? I think we should look at more than the last year concerning the judicial advisory committees.
Now, if we're discussing just Ms. Jennings' motions and amendments to her motions, I would be prepared to support a motion--if you want unanimous support; if not, it doesn't matter. But if you wanted unanimous support, I would be prepared to support a motion that did not have such a torqued preamble, as we have already discussed—I'm certainly not going to support your preamble—and that calls for the committee to devote two sessions...and carrying on with the rest, as long as it doesn't interfere, as you said, with our priority to deal with Bill .
I'm fine with point 2, with the amendment to change the “three” to “a minimum of two”.
Then finally, in point 3, I would say: “That these additional sessions be dedicated to hearing witnesses who will inform the Committee of the consequences the government's proposed changes will have on the...legal system.”
I think it's presupposing the outcome of the testimony to say "the integrity of the legal system", as if there would be some negative impact on the integrity. We'll draw our conclusions perhaps from the testimony we hear from witnesses, but I'm not prepared to support a motion that's calling for the study of changes that we've made to the judicial advisory committee. I'm fine with studying it, and I've made that clear, but not with a motion that seems to already have drawn its conclusion. I would like to hear the testimony, and then we can all draw our conclusions.
If the opposition members want to genuinely study it, then I would suggest we talk about making those few amendments that leave in place the main goal of studying the judicial advisory committees for a couple of days, at times that do not take away from Bill or Bill .
Mr. Chairman, as Ms. Jennings' co-mover, I must say that we do not want to withdraw the preamble.
Your colleague requested ten sessions; you want two. We think that we may strike a balance by suggesting three. But if Ms. Jennings is in agreement, we would also agree to withdraw the word “integrity”. Hence, the motion would read:
to hearing witnesses who will inform the Committee of the consequences the government's proposed changes will have on the legal system.
However, there is no question about withdrawing the preamble, whether the government likes it or not.
Mr. Chairman, I would like Mr. Moore to explain why police officers have been included. If it's not for ideological reasons, why not include nurses or teachers? There are a lot of people in society who have things to say about the legal system.
The government is entitled to have this ideological orientation, but it must not try to make us believe that this is not what it's talking about. They're entitled to want to include police officers, but this is in line with ideological considerations. Otherwise, what's the point of having a police officer participate in appointing a judge to the Canadian Tax Court? How does a police officer have any expertise in that area? So there is an ideological orientation. We are in a democracy, we accept the fact that people do have ideologies, but don't try to make us believe that the government is not acting on the basis of ideological considerations.
Why am I against going back to the 1980s? The problem is not that the government wants to change the nomination process. Yes, the minister is entitled to change the nomination process. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights must be consulted.
Moreover, if the Liberals had appointed police officers to the selection committee, I am convinced that my colleague, Richard Marceau, would have tabled this motion. We are not doing this because this is a Conservative government, we are taking this action because we don't think that it is desirable to have police officers, who often begin the process of laying charges, sitting on selection committees. That's what we are debating about.
You have done this for ideological reasons. Otherwise, we are prepared to vote unanimously in favour of appointing nurses, professors, journalists, people who had expertise as well. The government was very careful about expanding the range of people they want to see appointed to this committee, because they want to have police officers who buy into its vision of the legal system. The government is entitled to say that, but it should not take offence when we point this out.
I will not, for any consideration whatsoever, withdraw the preamble, and I hope that I have the support of my Liberal and NDP colleagues.
We could have a debate on this, and I don't think now is the time.
I do reject, though, the premise of some of Mr. Ménard's comments that somehow we can pigeonhole police officers into one category of ideological thought or persuasion. Just as there are lawyers on these judicial advisory committees--do we say that lawyers are of one ideological persuasion? I do not believe you would suggest that. In the same way, the police officer representative on the judicial advisory committee should not be put into one box. So I think that was an unfair thing to say.
Also, on the issue of teachers, journalists, and firefighters, there is the ability to appoint anybody to the judicial advisory committees. There's a spot, as we know, for a representative from the province; a representative from the bar association; and at-large representatives such as teachers, journalists, or anybody else. But we did create a spot just for police officers, because police officers play a part in the judicial system, just as lawyers play a part in the judicial system.
You may disagree with that, and I take it that you do, but I do think it's unfair to suggest that all of the police officer appointees would come with one set of value systems or one set of ideological thought.
Now, as to the motion of Ms. Jennings, I put forward something we could support. Obviously we do not support the preamble, so we will not support the motion.
We're trying to be constructive, so I agree with Mr. Ménard that we should have a study. I agree with him now, as Ms. Jennings has amended his motion, that it should not interfere with what has come from the House, with what this committee is invested with from the House, and that's the responsibility for Bill and Bill .
So we could have unanimous agreement on this motion, but not if we leave in the preamble or paragraph 1 of the motion.
The parliamentary secretary talked about the fact that there were police officers sitting on a committee. Mr. Ménard gave a long statement that we were ideologues, etc.
Earlier, I simply wanted to know if the fact of appointing a police officer to this committee made us ideologues. When members from the Liberal Party appointed lawyers, were they ideologues as well? I would like to know because we need to make a decision. The members from the Liberal Party who appointed these people—and here I am making the same criticism that Mr. Ménard has made with respect to us—were they ideologues? Were they acting in a partisan way? I need to know that, because I am new to the government.
has been around for 14 years, he knows the entire system. Very often, even in my province, it has been said that certain federal judges have an Ottawa slant, because there is a perception. It is important that people appearing before these judges no longer have this perception.
So the member is saying that because we have appointed a police officer, we are ideologues. But I would ask him this question: when you appointed the seven other individuals, in 1993, were you ideologues, were you acting in a partisan way? I don't know.
I do believe you when you say that Ms. Jennings wants to make the same inquiry as I do. I want to know if this is true or false. I especially want to reassure the people that what Mr. Ménard and I have been saying is false and that we are all good people, good parliamentarians, and that we all want to have an impartial justice system. That's all that I want. That is why I wanted to hold a more in-depth investigation.
However, if you erect barriers, if you put the lid on the pot, it's very simple, things will continue to heat up underneath. Don't forget that. The only thing that's going to be said in the House and the only thing that the public is going to say is that we wanted to move, but that we only moved a bit. We are here, we have a unique opportunity in our career as parliamentarians to do some good work, to perhaps bring about a change, to make improvements that will ensure that when Mr. Murphy and Mr. Ménard become lawyers and that we make our representations before the judges, that we will have absolutely no doubts in our minds about them. That's all that I want.
I know that Ms. Jennings wants the same thing as I do, although we do appear to disagree about certain points. Moreover, I thought that this was what the Bloc Québécois wanted. I am pleased to see that Mr. Ménard is very abreast of events and that he is so supportive of what we call the Canadian courts. I know that this is not in line with his views, but I find it wonderful that he is able to get beyond this, to sublimate in order to help us.