Mr. Chairman and committee members, thank you for giving us the opportunity to appear before you this morning. As you know, the minister will be appearing in a couple of weeks to speak about her priorities and the department's main estimates. I won't speak to any of that, with your permission. Since this is our first appearance before the new committee, and we will be back before you many times, I think, on important and complex matters, with your permission what I'd like to do, in addition to speaking briefly to the items in supplementary estimates (C), is to talk a little bit about who we are, what we do, and how we serve the Government of Canada and Canadians.
The Department of Justice has a mandate to support the dual roles of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada. We are a department with a long and proud history. The first minister of justice was Sir John A. Macdonald. The department was formally created in 1868, so we've been around for a long time. Since lawyers and the fear of lawyers drives so much public policy, we're involved in most of what government does one way or the other. We're a legal department, a program and policy department, and we support government activities from coast to coast to coast.
Under Canada's federal system, the administration of justice is an area of shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces and territories. In addition to all of the work we do with the federal government—I'll speak a little bit more about that—we have a very close and ongoing relationship with the provinces and territories in respect of program and policy and delivery and in respect of law reform, to try to ensure that Canada's justice system provides the security, the fairness, and the access to justice that meets the expectations of Canadians in terms of the very high standards they rightly expect our justice system to meet.
We support the Minister of Justice in responsibilities for 52 statutes in areas of federal law, with a particular focus on ensuring a bilingual and bijural national legal framework. Our principal areas of focus, and what you'll hear most from us in the coming years, are in criminal justice, including justice for victims of crime and youth criminal justice. We're also responsible for family justice, especially the Divorce Act; access to justice; aboriginal justice; matters of public law; constitutional, administrative, and international law; and private international law.
We also support the Attorney General as the chief law officer of the crown, both in terms of the ongoing operations of government and the development of new policies, programs, and services. We have the joy and privilege of working with ministers and departments throughout government through some of their best and worst days—days when they are delivering things that are important for Canadians and are difficult and complex, and days when they are facing ongoing legal challenges, or new legal crises that emerge—and helping them work through all of that.
We provide legal advice to the government and federal government departments and agencies. We represent the crown in civil litigation before administrative tribunals. We also draft all government laws and regulations. Today we're responsible for approximately 45,000 pieces of litigation which are going on from coast to coast to coast. Those involve individual car accidents involving RCMP members, constitutional issues of the highest importance, individual tax filers who are challenging, employment insurance challenges, and things like that. We represent the government in all civil litigation and administrative matters. We're responsible for hiring agents. I can come back and talk more about the hiring of agents. The truth is that the justice department represents the government in the vast majority of litigation that's now done.
We're comprised of our headquarters and legal service units in the national capital and six regional offices. We have a presence in 15 cities across Canada. Canadians get to sue the Government of Canada where they live. Our regional offices mainly handle litigation. Canadians get to sue the federal government in tribunals and in courts, provincial superior courts and in the Federal Court. We appear in virtually all courts and federal tribunals across the country.
As of now, we have about 4,400 employees and a budget of approximately $1 billion, give or take. That budget is divided into a few main areas. We have a program budget of about $358 million. That supports programs in the areas of legal aid, youth justice, supporting families, victims of crime, aboriginal justice and aboriginal court workers, access to justice dans les deux langues officielles, and the Contraventions Act.
We have an operating budget of about $570 million, which pays mainly for employees. That budget is divided into two parts. Some of it comes as a direct appropriation from Parliament to the department—that's about $274 million—but we're fairly unique as a federal department in that we bill clients for legal work we do for them, so we have about $296 million in what's called net vote authority.
Our counsel and other employees who provide legal services are partly paid for by money that comes directly to us, and they are partly paid for by money that we get from clients for legal work. That's all approved by Treasury Board and governed by Treasury Board rules.
In these supplementary estimates we requested $8.07 million in voted and statutory authorities. That's divided into a few significant pots. The first is about $2.4 million for the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, to ensure that victims have access to the resources needed to exercise the rights that were provided to them for information, protection, participation, and seeking restitution. In the last Parliament, a bill was passed creating a new consolidation of victims' rights at the federal level. This money is to allow us to help implement that law.
There is $2.014 million to combat online crime by supporting investigative powers for the 21st century and ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime. This allows Canada to enhance its ability to fight cybercrime at home and to co-operate internationally, because cybercrime is a growing problem that does not respect international borders.
Also, $3.6 million of the supplementary estimates (C) is for division 9 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which is mainly for security certificate and related proceedings, especially involving security dimensions of immigration.
Finally, we're transferring a small amount of money to Status of Women to help support a national aboriginal circle against family violence in connection with the ongoing tragedy of the violence that's inflicted on aboriginal women and girls.
The Department of Justice has a long tradition of excellence, one we work very hard to maintain. We've been successful in delivering on government priorities while supporting client departments to deliver on their own priorities. As I said, we are in many ways not just a department that supports the minister, but we are department like some others, a central agency that supports all of government, because law and lawyers and the fear of lawyers drives so much public policy.
We're continually working to innovate and drive changes in the way we practise law so that we're keeping up with trends in the world and in Canada. We're trying to provide leadership on how we can be most efficient, and we're continuing to drive improvement and innovation in how we address the challenges we face today and the challenges we see coming in the future.
I'd now like to address some recent media reports alleging that the department's lawyers and others were overpaid. I'd like to take a moment to put on the record that this is simply not true. I can explain in more detail if the committee would like and I'd be pleased to come back to the committee to provide even more information. The reports indicated that the department, through some payroll error, had received $50 million in pay that wasn't owed.
What happened was this: We have an official pay system and we have another system that allows us...because we bill clients for almost $300 million in work, we have to keep track of how much legal work we do. We asked our people who were doing that to keep all of their time in that system. Unfortunately, we didn't connect the two systems. If they were entering leave in one system, it didn't automatically flow into the other. We also didn't apply the same rules to the two systems.
Starting in 2007, people dutifully started to enter their time in the timekeeping system, just as many of you enter your time in a personal calendar somewhere. I bet if you went back three or four years, you could find a day in your calendar that said you were away, and you'd say that no, you were supposed to be away but you actually did some work on that day; you were called in to do something. That's fundamentally a part of what explains what happened here.
The iCase system, the timekeeping system, was completed. We asked people to fill in 37.5 hours of their time. Some people who only work three days a week put in two days and said they were away on leave. They were getting paid three days a week. They're getting leave three days a week. That discrepancy is not an overpayment. Some of them entered leave in iCase and they said, “I'm going to be away on leave”, and it shouldn't have been entered into PeopleSoft because in fact they came into work. Some people entered leave in iCase and they were loaned to us from other departments and they entered it in PeopleSoft.
The original estimate, when we discovered it, showed that there could have been a significant number of differences between the two systems. I wasn't prepared to have the department accused of having defrauded Canadians of $50 million, so we launched a fairly significant exercise to try to reconcile the two systems.
Very quickly into that, about half of those discrepancies went away. They were easily explained by the kinds of examples I've given. Since then we've been working through the other changes so that very quickly it became clear that most of those discrepancies, about half of them, had no implications whatsoever. Some others did and we've worked through those now so that by a few months into this exercise, it was clear that some people had to go back and correct their leave, and sick leave or vacation leave had to be adjusted. For existing employees that's been done.
Where it hasn't been done is where employees are away on long-term sick leave or disability leave. I'm not going to hound employees who are away on long-term leave. However, as those employees come back from leave, we ask them to do the reconciliation, and that process carries on.
We are now on an operating budget of about $500 million. After we'd done the initial review, it became clear that we thought for existing employees we were talking about a discrepancy of around $2 million or $3 million. That number continues to come down as employees come back and they tidy up their records.
Why didn't they tidy up their iCase records? When you came into work, did you feel it important to go back and change your calendar? No, you just came in and you did whatever it is you needed to do and the calendar wasn't your official leave recording system, so why fix it?
Some of this was employees believing that the two systems had been connected at the back end and that by entering leave in one place, they thought it would be entered in the other place.
For some, the changes are simply a reflection that they're for different purposes, but I do want to affirm there was never a case of overpayment and that we have been very diligent. I advised the comptroller general. As soon as this came to my attention, I advised the external department audit committee. We've kept both up to date as we've unfolded this. We have worked diligently to try to ensure that the employees can hold their heads high and understand that the record-keeping problems that were found have been fixed and that nobody got anything they weren't deserving.
I wanted to put that on the record and I'd be happy to provide more information if you'd like.
With that, I will close my remarks and say we look forward as a department to supporting the minister and working with you, because there are important and pressing and complex issues that we'll be working through together over the coming years.
We welcome your questions, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to welcome the members of the Department of Justice. Thank you for all that you do.
As you indicated, Mr. Pentney, there's a long and proud history at the Department of Justice and you are there to support the Government of Canada on its best and worst days. That is a considerable challenge for any department, but I know it's most appreciated.
One of the issues, and you may or may not have the information on this, but I'll just flag it with you.... By the way thank you for your explanation, and I agree with the chair and I think it was important to have that on the record and I think it's appreciated by all the members of the committee. Something that has always been of particular interest to me, which you mentioned in your opening remarks with respect to support for victims and victims of crime, is the child advocacy centres.
My colleague Chris Bittle will know about the child advocacy centre in St. Catharines; it was one of the pioneers, one of the very first ones in Canada.
For those who are unfamiliar with child advocacy centres, they are a one-stop centre to assist children who have been abused and have been the victims of crime. Law enforcement, medical attention, all are brought to the same location to assist children. The Government of Canada has been in the business for a number of years of contributing to that.
Does that continue to be a part of the estimates that you have here, or is it something that might be seen in the main estimates?
Again, I was looking over some of the documentation. It's a little difficult to locate, but I want at least to ask you about that and at least flag it for you. Any information you have on that I think would be appreciated by the committee.
Thank you for the question.
The first thing that should be said is that over time, Parliament had adopted a number of measures to enhance the capacity of victims to know about what was happening in regard to their case, and to have some rights to participate, but that was spread through the Criminal Code and some other statutes. One of the things that the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights did was to consolidate that. It also, if you like, underlined the importance of, for example, information sharing, which is what the question has focused on.
We are in the early stages of implementing the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. The truth is that most of that implementation will roll out through provincial police forces and prosecution services and in provincial courts, which is where the vast majority of criminal matters are handled. There has been extensive training and information sharing with all of the jurisdictions to ensure that they're aware of what is in the Victims Bill of Rights, and we have an ongoing relationship with the provinces and territories to be able to continue to support them as questions arise around it.
I would say that, subject to comments from my colleagues, it's early for us to be able to assess the impact right now, because it is simply in the early days of rolling out. We do know that provinces and territories, through their prosecution services in particular, are giving effect to it, and it applies in respect of federal prosecutions as well. The way the division of workload works here, the vast majority of criminal matters are handled through provinces and territories. It is early days but we're confident that the measures are being implemented.
The last thing I would say is that there is a victims ombudsman. There are victims ombudsman types of offices in many provinces and territories, and there's a federal victims ombudsman. So there are outlets for individuals who don't feel that their rights have been respected, and we'll look to those ombudsmen, not just the federal one. At some point we'll hear, no doubt, from the federal victims ombudsman. It's an important and powerful office. That office and provincial offices do give victims who feel that their rights haven't been respected an outlet to raise concerns. We'll be monitoring those very carefully as well.
First, I'm an accounting officer under the Federal Accountability Act. I take very seriously my obligations to this committee and to Parliament to be accountable for the financial management of the department and management issues and to be transparent and open about that. If there had been a $50-million problem, Parliament would have heard about it. We're operating a $1-billion budget, give or take; about $570 million of that is operating, and about 80% of that at least is salaries.
When it became a $2-million problem heading toward a $1-million problem, heading toward a $500,000 problem, it was viewed as not material. Let me be clear. The comptroller general says that sets the rules in terms of materiality. What's material in reporting to Parliament is a completely different question of whether or not people who have leave discrepancies that really need to be fixed should fix them. It was always our intention, and continues to be our intention, to ensure that as much of that as possible will be done.
At that stage, it was not viewed as an important matter to bring to Parliament. The unfortunate part is that what's been reported is an initial estimate based on an initial set of discrepancies that we knew didn't at all represent the truth. Through extensive work by lots of people throughout the department, to some grief I might say, I show up and say to the employees who do this that they're going to go back to 2007 and look through their old calendars and their old files and their old records and try to figure out all this. They don't thank us very much, and say that's a wonderful bit of news. They go through all that effort. They reconcile what's required one way or the other, and it comes down to less than $2 million.
Perhaps I should have brought more information to Parliament at the time, but when we got to filing the report officially, the advice that we had and our judgment was it had become such a small amount that we should note there had been an issue, but it wasn't necessary to go into the full explanation.
In some ways now, I wonder whether I should have had the full explanation so it was on the record and wasn't susceptible to being reported. As I say, the moment it came to my attention, I wasn't willing to take the chance that Justice employees would be accused of having somehow defrauded Canadians of $45 million of pay. That's why we did the exercise, notwithstanding the exercise, that seems to have been the impression that was left. There was a notation on our financial records, admittedly an opaque notation, that indicated it. We had worked with the comptroller general throughout this to make sure that we were complying with the rules as the system understands it.
Today we have a certain number of unfilled positions, and therefore, we will not likely spend all the salary dollars that were appropriated to us. From year to year in a $570-million budget, there will always be some slippage in how much of our salary dollars we're spending. We're allowed to carry forward some of that money. When we got to an amount of $2 million or less, it's really in that zone that I have people on maternity leave or hiring replacements. There will be a two-month gap. I won't spend all that salary dollar. We'll carry it forward to next year.
I wouldn't want to give you that figure today, because it's a very hard thing to capture on a day-to-day basis, but at any one time, there's a certain amount of flexibility on how we're spending our money. But I would assure you that had there been a significant amount, I would have been reporting it.
Thank you for the question.
Yes, we can speak to it, and the minister will speak more to it, because it's not reflected in the supplementary estimates but will be reflected in the main estimates.
The federal government supports especially criminal legal aid through transfers to provinces. Those transfers have not decreased for many years; it's also true that they haven't increased for many years. Those transfers are a kind of core transfer for criminal legal aid, an additional transfer in respect of some public safety and anti-terrorism matters involving legal aid, and an additional transfer in respect of immigration and refugee matters where legal aid is required. There's about $108 million, or $112 million, I guess, in fairness, that's transferred to provinces and territories in respect of core criminal legal aid.
Civil legal aid, especially for matters involving family law, is transferred through the Canada social transfer, the bulk transfer that goes to provinces. Those transfers have increased by virtue of an escalator that is built into that transfer year over year.
Having said that, this system has faced, and provinces and territories have faced, an ongoing set of challenges. We've worked actively to address criminal legal aid through some efficiency measures by trying to find ways of ensuring that there's not needless delay in bringing cases to trial. We continue to work on that. We also work on family justice by trying to support people in finding ways to address their issues other than going back to court.
We've also been involved in the major studies. We provided important support to the study on access to justice in civil and family law that was spearheaded by the Chief Justice and particularly led by Justice Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada. We were actively and deeply involved in that, and we continue to be involved with provinces and territories in trying to find ways of achieving more efficiencies and effectiveness in the system to ensure the widest access to justice.
Then there's the last thing you mentioned, the administrative tribunals support service. That's a story about the ways in which administrative justice can become more effective, in part by consolidating back offices to allow them to take advantage of technology in ways that small tribunals and agencies would never be able to do if they were left on their own. The effort to consolidate administrative services to allow them to share technology, hearing rooms, and otherwise was an effort to look at ways within the existing resource envelope of providing more people more access to more justice more often.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, and honourable members. Thank you for inviting us here today.
I've provided the chair with a copy of the opening statement with a focus on the supplementary estimates (C). With your permission, Mr. Chair, I'll provide you, as Mr. Pentney did, with a brief summary of what we do as an organization before getting into supplementary estimates (C).
We were established as a separate organization in December 2006. Before then, the federal prosecution services was part of the Department of Justice. We were established in order to give greater transparency to the principle of prosecutorial independence and thereby enhance public confidence in the administration of justice. Our mandate is much more straightforward than that of the Department of Justice. It is set out in our enabling legislation, the Director of Public Prosecutions Act. It consists principally of providing advice to investigative agencies where requested and conducting prosecutions of offences within federal jurisdiction. By federal jurisdiction I'm referring generally to drug offences, national security offences, economic and regulatory offences under federal law, all Criminal Code offences in the three northern territories, as well as certain code offences in the provinces. You will know of course that prosecutions are shared jurisdictions in Canada. The provinces do most of the prosecutions under the Criminal Code pursuant to the definition of “Attorney General” in the Criminal Code.
We are composed of a headquarters here in Ottawa and offices in every province, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, which we service from our Moncton office through the use of agents. We have approximately 1,000 employees of whom 530 are lawyers, 80 are paralegals, and 150 to 160 are legal assistants who work with the lawyers and paralegals in preparing cases for court. We also retain the services of private sector lawyers across the country. As you can understand, we have to appear in every court across this country, and often it's not economical to have a full-time employee in a small community in a northern part of Ontario or Manitoba to do one case a week. We have approximately 550 private sector lawyers under retainer who act as federal prosecutors. Our budget is $185.7 million a year. That's what we're seeking in the main estimates this year. We also, as is the case with Justice, have the authority to recover costs of certain services from other government organizations, basically investigative agencies, and we can recover up to $22.7 million a year.
The position of the commissioner of Canada elections has been part of our organization since October 2014. As you know, he is responsible for conducting investigations under the Canada Elections Act and the federal Referendum Act, and for ensuring compliance with those statutes. His budget forms part of our budget, but by law he's to conduct his investigations independently of our organization. He's also a deputy head for purposes of staffing and labour relations within his organization. None of these supplementary estimates (C) requests concern the office of the commissioner of Canada Elections.
I'll now turn to the two requests we have under supplementary estimates (C). They amount to $4.6 million and are for, as I say, two initiatives. Four million dollars is to cover an anticipated increase in prosecution labour work resulting from the coming into force of the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. The act amended the Criminal Code to provide investigators with new investigative tools. It is expected that prosecutors will be called upon to provide advice on the use of these tools and whether they've been used appropriately. The remaining $0.6 million is the result of the enactment of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. The act places new responsibilities on prosecutors in respect of victims. The funds will be used to cover the salary costs of four additional crown witness coordinators in the north. The coordinators provide crucial support to complainants and victims as witnesses as they navigate their way through the criminal justice system.
With that, I'll conclude my opening remarks. We welcome any questions.