Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all the members of the committee for all that you're doing in the justice committee. I know you've been busy and I know you'll continue to be busy. We have a very full agenda, as you know, and I--and I think all Canadians--appreciate all the work you're doing in this area.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to answer any questions you may have with respect to the main estimates.
Mr. Chairman, as you know, we are fortunate to have in this country a remarkable legal heritage that is the basis of one of the finest justice systems in the world. The Department of Justice has the responsibility of supporting that system and working to make it as fair, accessible, and efficient as possible. This is a considerable task at any time, but even more so today, when we are faced with insecurity on a number of fronts.
You, of course, are aware of the global financial crisis that we are in. More recently we have seen the rise of fear over the possibility of another international threat, a pandemic in the form of the H1N1 flu virus. While neither of these is a justice issue as such, they both inevitably touch on a wide range of legal issues. More importantly, they can seriously undermine confidence in our institutions and our sense of order and security in general, which has implications for the government's priority of a safe, secure society for all Canadians.
These events serve as a reminder of a larger context of the world in which we live. I believe that with calm and consistent leadership, Canada will weather these and other storms to come with our values and our legal institutions intact, but it will require a realistic and serious commitment on our part.
The government is committed to acting responsibly.
The government has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to protecting Canadian families and communities across this country. The Department of Justice supports that commitment through its unique role as the government's legal adviser, which also includes its work in developing policy and, of course, drafting and reforming laws.
Mr. Chairman, over the last year, our government has continued to make progress toward the goal of promoting safer communities by tackling crime with all the resources at its command. In the year ahead, the Department of Justice will support these efforts as efficiently and effectively as possible, both on its own and in collaboration with other federal departments and agencies, but also with partners from the provinces and territories as well as non-governmental organizations. These are very important as well.
One recent example of these efforts took place just last week. The fourth annual National Victims of Crime Awareness Week brought together a wide range of people and organizations jointly working to ensure that victims of crime have a voice that is heard in this country and have greater access to services.
It's been two years now since our government appointed the first federal ombudsman for victims of crime. This ombudsman will continue to ensure that the needs and concerns of victims are met.
Victims of crime will continue to be a priority for this government and the Department of Justice throughout this year and beyond. The estimates include our commitment of $52 million over four years--starting April 1, 2007--for programs, services, and funding to help the federal government and provinces and territories respond to a variety of needs of victims of crime.
The progress we have seen in this area over the last few years is encouraging. I am proud of the role my department has played. The perspectives and stories of victims of crime provide invaluable insight and inspiration in our common effort to ensure that Canadian society remains safe and secure.
Another area in which the department is increasingly involved is the struggle against organized crime. This is a growing problem in Canada, one with wide-ranging effects on crime in general. It also has the potential to not only undermine public security and the rule of law but also to consume a vast amount of resources in the process, as is the case through prolonged investigations and mega-trials.
Although the burden of prosecution has largely passed from Justice to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, as reflected in the estimates, my department still plays a major role--of course, notably on the legislative front.
In February we introduced new legislation to provide the justice system with the tools we need to fight street gangs and other forms of organized crime. The bill includes provisions to address such serious crimes as gang murders, drive-by shootings, and peace officer assault, as well as gang peace bonds. That bill, , passed third reading on April 24. It was introduced into the Senate on April 28. I understand that yesterday a Liberal senator spoke on this issue, and it has already been introduced by my colleague Senator Wallace.
I want to use this opportunity to thank you, Mr. Chair, and all the members of this committee for your diligent and expeditious examination of this piece of legislation. It's definitely a step in the right direction.
Around the same time, we also reintroduced a bill targeting serious drug crime in support of the national anti-drug strategy. The illegal drug trade is well known as a major source of income and influence for organized crime.
As I explained at the time, this bill was intended as a proportionate and measured response aimed at disrupting criminal enterprise by providing mandatory minimum prison terms for drug producers and dealers who threaten the safety of our communities and indeed threaten our way of life.
In particular, it provided for mandatory jail times for the importing and exporting of illegal drugs, and special penalties for offences carried out for organized crime or involving young people. The people who bring in illegal drugs to this country are a part of organized crime. I've heard that over and over again.
One cannot dispute that putting in prison a member of an organized crime group, particularly someone who is in a leadership role in the organization, disrupts or weakens the enterprise. I don't see how anybody can dispute that. A weakened organization cannot as effectively conduct their illegal business. I hope there will be agreement from everyone on that point.
More recently, just over two weeks ago, we introduced legislation to crack down on tackling property crime in general, particularly on the serious crime of auto theft. This has been identified as a primary activity for organized crime. I'm very pleased that is expected to pass second reading today, and that too, of course, will be referred to this committee. I hope that you will deal with that piece of legislation in an expeditious manner as well, Mr. Chairman.
The bill is well supported, I have to tell you, particularly by, among others, the Insurance Bureau of Canada, which estimates that auto theft costs more than $1 billion a year, taking into account court costs and other legal expenses, as well as health care, policing, and so on. Once again, this legislation is built on the principle that the best way to fight gangs and organized crime is to disrupt the criminal enterprises they depend on.
I met recently with representatives of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association. One dealer told me that one evening his padlocked fence was cut open, and a number of high-end vehicles, worth a total of more than $300,000, were stolen. When he notified the police the next day, they gave him the case number and told him to call his insurance company, as there was no way they would be able to locate and recover these vehicles. The vehicles would have been either shipped out of the country by then or dismantled or chopped up to be sold as parts.
As well as creating the separate offence of auto theft, the bill would provide for the application of customs powers to allow the Canada Border Services Agency to identify and prevent stolen property from leaving the country. This is a huge change, one that has to be made to give our border guards the ability to intercept this kind of activity.
Organized crime represents a serious problem, and no part of our society is immune to its effects. It's not going to be disappearing any time soon, but this government remains committed to addressing the impact of gangs and organized crime on families and communities.
We remain, of course, committed to a balanced approach to justice. Through legislative means, we are amending and updating the Criminal Code to ensure that this country has effective and proportionate sentences while also investing a significant amount in prevention strategies and programs.
Under the national anti-drug strategy, we have provided funds to the St. Mary's Counselling Service's High on Life Challenge program in Kitchener, Ontario.That's an example. We've given $400,000 to the Lethbridge, Alberta, school district for their Teaming up for Addiction Free Youth--the Watson project. We have supported B.C.'s Ooknakane Friendship Centre's youth health and wellness project; in Brandon, Manitoba, the Community Alcohol and Drug Education Coalition drug prevention mobilization plan; the La Ronge, Saskatchewan, Pre-Cam Community School drug awareness and prevention project; and in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, the YMCA Building Assets in Youth program. We've added $1 million to the support, treatment, education, and prevention program right here in Ottawa; and $327,000 to the Vermillion River region. Mr. Chair, these are the kinds of things we have to be investing in. We are giving $10 million for two new treatment initiatives in Vancouver.
I could go on with the list of prevention dollars spent by this government under the national anti-drug program prevention strategy, Mr. Chair. This is what we have to do to make sure there is a balanced approach--we recognize that--to assist individuals, particularly young people at risk.
In conclusion, I would like to mention that the Department of Justice as a central agency supports almost all the work of the government in some capacity, so the scope of its activities is considerable. The department is constantly interacting with the justice system and its many players, including the judiciary, other levels of government, professional associations, and a wide range of non-governmental organizations, from the community level to the national stage.
A good example of this work is the series of funding announcements under the justice partnership and innovation program announced April 7. The program, administered by the Department of Justice, supports activities that respond to the changing conditions affecting Canadian justice policy. These include the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, the Law Courts Education Society of B.C., and the Canadian Criminal Justice Association's Canadian Congress on Criminal Justice.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to express to you and all the members of this Committee, my deep appreciation for the important work you are doing.
The Department of Justice is instrumental in the government's work of responding to the needs of Canadians. As you know, we will continue to bring forward that balanced approach that's necessary on all these issues, because this is what this country deserves.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to welcome the Minister and the members of his team to the Committee.
Since I have a number of questions, I will try to be brief, and I know you will do the same.
As you probably know, Quebec scored a major victory a few weeks ago, with the arrest of 156 individuals, 111 of whom belong to the Hells Angels. Five bunkers were seized. Since 2001, Quebec has made tremendous progress in combating organized crime. Considerable action has been taken to that end.
However, I have been made aware of concerns expressed by certain provinces. This is a matter that was discussed at the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Meeting of Ministers of Justice—megatrials and the resources they require on the part of the provinces. I would like you to provide us with some information on this. Could the Committee be given a copy of the studies that were tabled at the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Meeting of Ministers of Justice? And, how do you see the future, in terms of megatrials?
I am going to move directly to my second question and give you a chance to answer after that. I will have other comments to make later on.
I think the next challenge will, to a great extent, be the interface between the legal economy and organized crime. Some sectors are more vulnerable than others. There have been several reports on this. I don't know what the situation is in English Canada, but in Quebec, this is an issue that has caused a lot of ink to flow. The construction, automobile and landscaping industries, in particular, have been mentioned in this context.
Do you have any study that would enable us to better inform ourselves as to the threat of organized crime infiltrating the legal economy?
Mr. Minister, I'd like to thank you and your officials for your attendance here this afternoon.
Once again, I'd like to congratulate you on all the proposed legislation before the House--Bill , Bill , Bill , and Bill C-26, plus the identity theft bill, the number of which escapes me; I believe it's in the Senate.
Mr. Minister, as you are aware, this committee travelled to Vancouver last week. In Vancouver I had the opportunity, and again subsequently on Monday when we were examining Bill , to ask questions of a Mr. Kirk Tousaw, who was speaking on behalf of the BC Civil Liberties Association and an anti-prohibition league, whose name escapes me. He's also a one-time New Democratic candidate in the electoral district of Vancouver--Quadra.
You might be interested to know...and perhaps you do know, because I know that you and your staff follow these proceedings quite closely. Mr. Tousaw indicated a couple of things that I found disconcerting, to say the least.
First of all, in his view, very hard drugs, very serious chemical substances such as methamphetamine and crack cocaine and even heroin, ought to be legalized. In fact, he indicated to me that, in his view, the entire Controlled Drugs and Substances Act ought to be repealed.
As you might know--if you heard my S.O. 31 in the House today, you will know--a young 14-year-old girl in Edmonton, the city that I represent, recently died, tragically, from an overdose of ecstasy, which she had purchased at West Edmonton Mall, a place that is frequented by children and other young persons. In light of these events, I just wondered if you had any comment on the suggestion that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act ought to be repealed and that hard drugs ought to be no longer subject to prohibition.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'm pleased to once again have the opportunity to address this committee, this time to discuss Bill .
As you know, the government promised to restrict the credit awarded at sentencing for pretrial custody for persons who were denied bail because of their criminal record or who violated bail. Currently, subsection 719(3) of the Criminal Code permits a court to take into account the time an accused awaiting trial has spent in pre-sentence custody when determining the sentence to be imposed on that person upon conviction. However, the code does not prescribe a particular mathematical formula for taking into account such time. Sometimes the credit awarded has been as high as three days for one, but courts have traditionally started giving, over the last number of years, two-for-one credit for time served in pre-sentence custody.
The practice was acknowledged in the decision of Regina v. Wust in 2000, where the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that although there is no mechanical formula for crediting pre-sentence custody, a two-for-one credit ratio in that case was appropriate to reflect the conditions of the individual. However, the Supreme Court stated that a different credit ratio could be applied, depending on the circumstances of the detention.
The current practice of awarding two-for-one credit for pre-sentence custody is problematic. For instance, in some cases it may encourage some accused to abuse the court process by deliberately choosing to stay in remand in the hope of getting a shorter term of imprisonment once they have been awarded credit for time served. Also, the population in remand centres now exceeds the population found in sentenced custody in Canada's provincial and territorial jails. This is why attorneys general and correctional ministers strongly support limiting credit for time served as a way to reduce, among other things, the growing size of their remand population.
The practice of awarding overly generous credit can put the administration of justice into disrepute because it creates the impression that offenders are getting more lenient sentences than they deserve. The public does not understand how the final sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime. For these reasons, the current practice of routinely awarding two-for-one credit must be curtailed.
There are cases where courts have awarded less than two-for-one, and the reasons they justified doing so support the proposal contained in Bill C-25. In those instances, the credit awarded was justified because the offenders were unlikely to obtain early parole because of their criminal record, or because the time spent in remand is a result of a breach of bail conditions. It is for all of these reasons that Bill C-25 proposes to provide, as a general rule, credit of one-to-one. However, where circumstances justify it, courts will be able to award up to one and a half days for every day spent in pre-sentence custody. In such cases the courts would be required to provide an explanation of those circumstances.
Now, those circumstances are not defined in the bill. This permits the court to have discretion to consider on a case-by-case basis where the credit to be awarded for time spent in pre-sentence custody should be more than the general rule of one-to-one. We would expect the application of a credit ratio of one and a half to one would be considered where, for whatever reason, the conditions of detention were extremely poor, or when the trial is unnecessarily delayed by factors not attributable to the accused.
Where accused, however, are remanded for having violated bail conditions or because of their criminal record, the credit will be limited to one day for every day spent in pre-sentence custody. As a result of this initiative, a greater number of offenders would now serve a federal sentence of two or more years, and there will be an increased number of federal offenders spending time in federal custody.
This time the federal system will present the opportunity for longer-term programming that may have a positive effect on the offender. We can't lose sight of that, getting that individual the kind of help they need. Explanations for the length of a sentence are usually provided in open court at the time of sentencing; however, judges are not specifically required to explain the basis for their decision to award pre-sentence credit. As a result, they don't always do so, and this deprives the public of information about the reasons credit is given for pre-sentence detention. It leaves them in the dark about why the pretrial detention should allow a convicted criminal to receive a discounted sentence.
This is why Bill C-25 proposes to require courts to note the sentence that it would have imposed without the credit, the amount of credit awarded, as well as the actual sentence imposed. This requirement will result in greater certainty and consistency and should improve public confidence in the administration of justice. These are important public policy objectives.
It is difficult for Canadians to understand how these short sentences, which are the result of giving a two-for-one credit for any time spent in pre-trial detention, can act as a condemnation of illegal behaviour, dissuade offenders from committing offences or protect society.
Canadians have told us loud and clear that they would like to see more truth in sentencing by ending the practice of giving double-time credit for pretrial custody.
Mr. Speaker, we are listening to their concerns. I appreciate the support of our provincial and territorial partners for this proposed legislative amendment to provide greater truth in sentencing. This is among the reasons why I call on all members of this committee to support this bill.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Moore, and thank you for all you do as one of my two parliamentary secretaries. You and have been very helpful with our justice agenda.
I'm pleased, as well, that you have quoted Cecil Clarke, the Attorney General of Nova Scotia. He has been very helpful and very supportive of our crime agenda. Allison Redford from Alberta, as well, has been very supportive. They're doing it for the right reasons. They want the system to work.
People want to have confidence in the criminal justice system. If you analyze and dissect the elements of a successful society, a successful country, people look to see if there are parliamentary institutions that work. Our parliamentary institutions work in this country. But they also want to make sure there is a justice system that works as well. There is no finer justice system than the one we have in Canada, but we must be vigilant all the time to maintain public confidence in that system. And certainly this is a component of that.
I was out in British Columbia about a month ago, and the attorney general was pointing out a case of a guy who didn't want to have a bail hearing because he wanted to be racking up two-for-one credit. I practised some criminal law in the early eighties, and I had never heard of such a thing. You went and saw your client, and the first thing they wanted to do was get back out onto the street after a bail hearing. But the attorney general was telling me that this individual said, “Skip that. I don't want any bail hearing. Just let me sit here.” So presumably, if and when he's sentenced, he gets this credit of at least two for one.
This is not what we need in this country. This doesn't make sense. We want people to get justice in a timely manner. We want this to be done in a fair way, and we don't want to have any incentive for anybody to have delays in the system.
On the main estimates, we talked about some of the challenges in having access to justice and in making sure the court system works. Well, this is an important step in the right direction for making sure there is no incentive for slowing down the criminal justice system. And it gets slowed down under this particular system, so we have to move forward.
Again, I thank you, and I appreciate your support and comments on this.
Again, it sort of meshes what we're talking about with what we heard out west, and it's the general concept of judicial independence and accountability. Those are the two horns of the dilemma, in that I think everybody would agree it's important to have an independent judiciary. There's no question. But we certainly heard from some witnesses out west, and occasionally here, that there is a lack of judicial accountability. How is this relevant, you're probably wondering by looking at the ceiling. What I mean, Mr. Minister, is that this bill itself is dealing in part with...I wouldn't say curbing, but at least better defining to what extent judges will have discretion in awarding time credit for dead time served.
On the other hand, I thought your comments were very proper, encouraging, and just what you'd expect a Minister of Justice to say about our judges determining the law as it's written by Parliament, which is what I said out west. Frankly, the House of Commons is responsible for writing the laws, and if there's a problem with it, it may lie with us as parliamentarians, as lawmakers, and more so, even as the Minister of Justice, who proposes the laws to the lawmakers.
We heard a number of people say that the problem lay with judges. Particularly, I think the comment was in British Columbia, where there were studies talking about leniency and all that sort of thing.
My general question is this. You converse with attorneys general. I know my own attorney general, T.J. Burke, the first aboriginal attorney general in Canada, talks to chief justices at provincial and federal levels and talks about managing court time and all that sort of thing. I know there is a Canadian Judicial Council, which sort of oversees the issue of inappropriate behaviour. Are you confident, Mr. Minister, first of all, that our judiciary is acting independently—I think that's a given—but also that there is accountability? Do you foresee any changes necessary other than from time to time tweaking the law with respect to discretion? If one were to believe everything one heard from some of these people, like Darryl Plecas—I'll put it on the table—a lot of this is a judge-made problem.