Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to discuss the supplementary spending estimates of the Department of Justice. Just as you were introducing people that you're pleased to be here with, I'm pleased to be here with the deputy minister and deputy attorney general, Mr. John Sims.
As you know, a number of issues have arisen since your committee last met, not the least of which is the growing economic instability around the globe. Of course, Canada is feeling the effects of this crisis, and the recent budget that was presented by my colleague Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty, and that was passed by the House, offers an action plan to get us through this crisis. It is intended to provide stimulus for economic growth, restore confidence, and support Canadians and their families during this synchronized global recession.
In this context, government departments and agencies are more accountable than ever to Canadian taxpayers.
Over and beyond our fiscal responsibilities, our government is committed to keeping Canadians safe and contributing to global security. As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I have made it a priority for the Department of Justice to develop policy and legislation that addresses crime more effectively, thereby increasing the confidence of Canadians in the justice system.
The Government is committed to accountability. This is why, in December 2006, this Government created the Public Prosecution Service of Canada as an entity separate from the Department of Justice.
Our government took this step to make it absolutely clear that criminal prosecutions are independent from political influence.
A selection committee was struck in 2007, under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act, to assess the candidates for the position of Director of Public Prosecutions. As you will recall, the committee included representatives from all opposition parties. The selection committee provided me three recommended candidates from which to choose. I appreciate the work of the committee members, a number of whom are with us today.
From this list I nominated Mr. Brian Saunders. Mr. Saunders has been acting Director of Public Prosecutions since December 2006 and has demonstrated his expertise and dedication to working in the best interests of Canadians. I am confident that he will continue to be instrumental in maintaining the level of confidence Canadians expect from their criminal justice system.
As you may know, parliamentary committee approval is required before I can recommend Mr. Saunders to the Governor in Council for appointment as Director of Public Prosecutions. I believe you indicated in your opening comments, Mr. Chairman, that this committee will review the proposed appointment of Mr. Saunders on Wednesday.
In addition to accountability, my department seeks to ensure accessibility, efficiency, and fairness of our system of justice, and to promote respect for the rule of law. In that regard, the department administers a number of funding programs that I believe are of great value to Canadians. One of them is the child-centred family law strategy.
As our supplementary estimates indicate, we wish to allocate an additional $24.42 million for the Department of Justice's child-centred family law strategy. The programs under this strategy aim to minimize the potentially negative impact of separation and divorce on children. The objectives are to help separating and divorcing parents agree on parenting arrangements that focus on the needs of their children, and to keep such cases outside of a courtroom wherever possible. This not only reduces the impact of family breakdown on our children but lessens the burdens on our courts. The strategy, which was originally slated for five years, was renewed for a sixth year, for which the supplementary funding is needed.
As of April 2009, the initiative supporting families experiencing separation and divorce, announced last September to begin in fiscal year 2009, will begin building on the successes of the previous initiative to improve access to the family justice system and encourage parents to comply with their family obligations, including support and access. Overall funding for this initiative amounts to $122 million over five years, which will support mediation, parenting education, and child support recalculation services. It will help parents make sound decisions and maintain positive relationships with their children. In addition, we will provide $16 million per year for the provinces and territories, which are responsible for the delivery of family justice services. This funding will support enforcement services to help the provinces and territories collect child support for the benefit of families.
Some of that funding will also be available for non-governmental organizations to promote legal education and professional training. This initiative demonstrates the government's commitment to strengthening Canadian families and ensuring that those families experiencing separation and divorce will continue to be well served.
My department is also requesting supplementary funding to continue providing legal advice to the Government of Canada in matters relating to national security. The funding will ensure that the government will continue to rely on the expertise and representation of Justice counsel in cases such as those detailed in the report of the Iacobucci inquiry. As the related cases come before the courts, the government will continue to rely on the expertise and representation of Justice counsel.
This government remains committed to helping victims better navigate and deal with the criminal justice and correction system. To that end, we have increased allocations to the victims fund by $5.75 million annually since budget 2006 to, among other things, provide greater financial assistance to those victims who wish to attend National Parole Board hearings, assist Canadians who have been victimized abroad, provide additional funding to provincial and territorial governments to enhance or develop new services for underserved victims of crime, and provide resources to the territories to directly assist victims with emergency costs. In total, we've increased the funding to the federal victims strategy by $54 million over four years. We have established an independent federal ombudsman for victims of crime to ensure that the federal government lives up to its commitments and obligations to victims of crime, and gives victims a strong and effective voice in the justice system.
I had the pleasure of tabling the office's first annual report to Parliament last week, along with the government response to recommendations.
The Department of Justice has the overall lead on the national anti-drug strategy, which was announced in October 2007. Through its youth justice fund for treatment programs, the Department of Justice is responsible for allocating funding through provincial, territorial, and non-governmental organizations to programs that explore and evaluate drug treatment options for youth in the justice system. Over the last year, the Department of Justice has allocated a total of $1.47 million to programs that have supported salaries for addiction workers in Prince Edward Island, offered equine therapy in western Ontario, and supported a treatment program for aboriginal youth involved in drugs and gangs in Manitoba. These programs are providing innovative treatment options for youth who are addicted to drugs.
I believe that legal aid is one of the pillars of Canada's justice system and ensures continued protection of individual rights. In budget 2007, for the first time in more than a decade, the government converted the $30 million in interim resources into ongoing permanent funding for criminal legal aid.
This approach provides stable and predictable federal funding that will assist the provinces and territories in developing long-term strategies to support and manage the delivery of criminal legal aid.
In addition, this government continued interim resources for immigration and refugee legal aid of $11.5 million annually to the provinces that provide these services: British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador. I believe that in cooperation with our provincial and territorial partners we will continue to build a more effective legal aid system.
Mr. Chairman, our department has also requested some $3 million in the main estimates for grants and contributions under the justice partnership and innovation program. This program contributes to policy development to ensure the justice system remains accessible, efficient, and effective. Some of the resources dedicated to the program are used to support public legal education and information organizations that provide Canadians with plain language, user-friendly legal information on issues related to general law, family violence, or family law. The Department of Justice is committed to continuing to play a leadership role in ensuring that Canadians have access to justice.
Mr. Chairman, our government also recognizes that our aboriginals enter our criminal justice system in disproportionate numbers. To that end, we have renewed our commitment to the aboriginal justice strategy until 2012, and we'll make an additional investment of $40 million, for a total of $85 million over five years.
The strategy provides programs and justice services to more than 400 aboriginal communities across Canada, helping to hold offenders accountable for their actions, increasing awareness of victims issues, and promoting greater youth connection with aboriginal culture and traditions. Over time, they have helped reduce the number of aboriginal people coming into conflict with the justice system. By recommitting and increasing our support to this strategy, the Government of Canada will be better able to continue its partnership with aboriginal communities, service providers, and our provincial and territorial partners.
Mr. Chairman, we have accomplished much in the way of justice legislation, which has been complemented by initiatives and legislation undertaken by my colleagues, the public safety minister Stockwell Day and now Peter Van Loan.
As you know, we have passed into law the comprehensive Tackling Violent Crime Act, which aims to better protect youth from sexual predators, protect society from dangerous offenders, get serious with drug-impaired drivers, and toughen sentencing and bail for those who commit serious gun crimes. We've also increased penalties for those who are convicted of street racing, ended conditional sentences for serious personal injury offences, introduced a national anti-drug strategy, and conducted a cross-Canada review of the youth criminal justice system.
I want to reiterate why we undertook the review of the youth criminal justice system. Many Canadians have told us that serious and violent young offenders are sometimes not held fully accountable under the act. Our government shares the concern, and it has committed to ensuring that youth sentences are proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. We felt that the fifth anniversary of the act provided an opportune time to embark upon a review of how this country deals with its young offenders.
In February 2008, I met with my provincial and territorial colleagues here in Ottawa, which was followed by cross-country round table sessions with youth and partner organizations. I sought the input of provinces and territories because they of course play a key role in administering the act. It was clear that for the majority of non-violent offenders the act is working, but for the small percentage of violent repeat offenders it has not worked. Colleagues, I think it is important to improve Canadians' confidence in the youth justice system, and it is something to which we all must be committed.
Mr. Chairman, we know there are a number of serious violent youth offenders. Some of these offenders have serious mental health issues that require specialized assessment and treatment services. Through the intensive rehabilitation custody and supervision program, or IRCS, the Department of Justice assists provinces and territories in providing these services. We have asked for $11 million in federal funding, from fiscal years 2008 to 2012, to be made available to the provinces and territories.
We have broadened the scope for this funding. Prior to this change, only youths serving an IRCS sentence for serious offences, which include murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, and aggravated assault, received the treatment. Now youth who have similar mental issues and have committed a violent offence involving serious bodily injury, or harm for which an adult would be subject to a maximum of a 14-year penalty, are eligible for this treatment. By providing this funding, we are helping to ensure that some potentially dangerous young offenders will get the treatment they need to reduce the risk they pose to the community. This will not only protect the public but help rehabilitate these youth.
The safety and security of Canadians is a priority for our government, so you can be sure that we will continue to proceed with our agenda, including addressing such issues as identity theft, property crimes, and the growing threat of organized gangs.
The abuse and neglect of older adults is of concern to our government. The federal Department of Justice is pleased to be participating in the federal elder abuse initiative, which was allocated $13 million over three years in budget 2008. The initiative is led by Human Resources and Social Development Canada, and our department's portion will be contributed to that initiative. With the funding, we intend to assist public legal education organizations within the provinces with programs and publications on the legal aspects of elder abuse, as well as fund research on crimes against seniors and on how to raise awareness of elder abuse.
To conclude, I would like to express my appreciation and thanks to you and your committee for all the work you are doing and will do in the future. The Department of Justice is instrumental in the government's work to respond to the needs of Canadians. Our many programs and initiatives require collaboration, of course, with our provincial partners as well as municipalities and other government departments. This collaboration accounts for much of my department's success in responding to the needs of Canadians through our many programs and initiatives. If we're able to keep Canadians safe and improve access to justice, our department will need to continue to receive the funding to do so. As I've demonstrated, these funds have brought results, and I will do my utmost to ensure that these funds will continue to be spent wisely in the service of Canadians.
Thank you very much.
I'm sure you've had an opportunity to speak to a number of them in New Brunswick.
About a year ago, as I indicated in my opening remarks, I did consult with provincial and territorial attorneys general and justice ministers as to their views with respect to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I indicated to them, as I have indicated to you, that with five years under our belt with that particular piece of legislation, this is an appropriate time to have a look at it.
I heard many things, quite frankly, across the country, and comments on every issue within it, quite frankly. I heard from some people that the Youth Criminal Justice Act works well in many instances, particularly with respect to non-violent offenders. There was certainly consensus that there has to be a separate youth criminal justice system. It's something I am very much committed to, and that came through loud and clear.
We did, though, have push-back with respect to the most violent of young offenders and those of them who are repeat violent offenders. There actually was quite a bit of concern expressed to me. In terms of what these cost, the deputy minister has indicated to me that the estimate for these round tables across the country was approximately $85,000.
In terms of what you can expect, again, we haven't introduced legislation on changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We've indicated that we will come forward with changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and that will certainly be the product of what we heard across this country and input we have received from our provincial and territorial counterparts as well as others.
For instance, one of the reports that's had a great impact on this, in my opinion, is the Nunn report out of Nova Scotia, with which you would be quite familiar. That report, among other things, focused on the challenge of having individuals or young people being charged and released and charged and released on a revolving-door basis. Mr. Justice Nunn specifically directed his attention to that. You may remember that we introduced legislation that specifically addressed it and the question of deterrence and denunciation, which you just mentioned. Again, that did not pass because the last Parliament did not continue. Again, we're committed to moving ahead and improving the system, improving services to young people.
I've been of the opinion since I've practised law that our best chance of helping people in the criminal justice system is when they are young. If you have somebody who's 45 and they've been committing crimes all their life, that's more of a challenge, quite frankly, than to intervene with somebody who is 16 or 17 years old. We remain absolutely committed to this separate criminal justice system for young people. Again, I think the five-year anniversary of that act was an appropriate time to have a look at it. As I indicated, I started that consultation process with provincial and territorial attorneys general in February of last year.
Thank you very much for the question.
As I indicated to you in my opening remarks, legal aid is a vital component of the criminal justice system. While I appreciate that it's administered and for the most part funded by the provincial governments, it is a vital component of what we are doing in making sure that an individual gets the kind of representation they have to have when they're tied up with this. Sometimes, and not necessarily for bad reasons, temporary funding is put out just to see how a program is going to work, whether it's valuable. That's legitimate.
I think it's important, to the extent that we can, to provide long-term, stable funding that can be counted upon by, in this case, the provinces, rather than have the door open on a regular basis to see whether in fact that level of federal government support is going to be there. The provinces have to be in a position to be able to plan their financial future, their budgetary measures, and they have priorities. Of course one of them is legal aid.
So I think this is a better way to do it, to establish that this is permanent funding and something that can be counted upon, because again, having access to legal counsel is an essential component of fairness within our system. We are pleased to work with our provincial and territorial counterparts on that and we'll continue to do so.
The Constitution of this country provides that the administration of justice is given to the provinces, but the actual passing of Criminal Code changes is to the federal government. While there is that split, it's still a partnership. We all have a stake in seeing that the system works.
As I said, I think we can take a great deal of pride in this country in our criminal justice system. That's not to say we don't have changes or we shouldn't have changes. We are absolutely committed, as we were in the last Parliament, to make sure there are those changes to the criminal justice system. As I indicated to you, we will be coming forward with more changes. It's my hope that this committee doesn't get bogged down in political gamesmanship. I certainly hope we wouldn't get into that. I hope the committee can work constructively to move forward with a number of these initiatives that Canadians are asking us for.
We can take a great deal of pride in some of the things we have done. Raising the age of protection from 14 to 16 is very, very important. I think it sends out the correct message to those individuals, for example, who are in the business of molesting and taking advantage of young people. I think we can all take some satisfaction that we've helped to get that through.
But there are other things we have to move on. As I indicated to you, identity theft is one of them, and changes to the laws with respect to auto theft. There are gaps in the law right now. We have to plug up those cracks in the system and make sure that our laws are up to date.
On the one hand, the provinces administer these laws, but again, we're the ones who bring forward so much of what they have to deal with. This is one of the reasons I am in consultation on a regular basis with my provincial counterparts, because I know they're the ones who have to administer the laws that we pass. It's been a good relationship, and I look forward to continuing to work them, as I look forward to continuing to work with you.