Madam Speaker, Bill would amend the Judges Act, and I know that many of my constituents will be wondering what exactly the act does and what the government is proposing to do.
Over the past few years, I think many of our democratic institutions and civic institutions have come under stress, such as different courts of law, given how the process works. I think what the government is doing here, to its credit, as I will give it credit sometimes, is shoring up an institution, the federal courts in this country, which I think need a little shoring up to ensure that my constituents can continue to have faith in them. The judges would be held accountable, but I note that the bill goes a bit beyond judges and would impact others who are federally regulated.
If we look at the summary of the bill, and a couple of points at the back end of the bill, there are provisions for a new process that would apply to “persons, other than judges, who are appointed under an Act of Parliament to hold office during good behaviour.” The bill actually goes a little beyond judges to provide a process to make sure that those people are held accountable for their behaviour while they hold office. Whenever someone does something wrong, rather than forcing them to completely resign, if they have not done something so bad they need to resign, it would allow for their careers to be salvaged through better education, with perhaps a public reprimand or a public apology. I like to think that in public life a little grace given to people is a good thing.
How judges work today has drastically changed, as the judicial council that oversees them was created back in 1971. I was not alive back in 1971. My family was not even in Canada at the time and neither were my parents. I would say that the way judges behaved in communist Poland would fall far short of the expectation of fair behaviour in Canada nowadays. However, a judge's work today includes things like case management, settlement conferences, judicial mediation and frequent interactions with people who want to self-represent, the litigants who do not believe they need the assistance of a lawyer to have proper counsel and to be properly represented before the court.
I will say, as I have said before in the House, that I have not been burdened with a legal education, which allows me an opportunity to see beyond what the law says. I apologize to all the lawyers in the House, those who have joined the bar, but I think those of us without a legal education can perhaps weigh in on the worthiness of certain matters.
Some of the responsibilities that judges have invite further consideration with respect to things like ethical guidance. In the same manner, the digital age, the phenomenon of social media, the importance of professional development for judges and the transition to postjudicial roles all raise ethical issues that were not fully considered 20 years ago. Social media especially, and its implications, apply to all of our jobs, all of our institutions and the behaviour of, for example, large multinational, publicly traded corporations as well. Everybody has a different responsibility when it comes to behaviour online and what we are posting and sharing. Whom we are sharing it with is, I think, equally important.
Judges are expected to be alert to the history, experience and circumstances of Canada's indigenous peoples and to the diversity of cultures and communities that make up this country. It is in this spirit that the judiciary is now actively involved with the wider public, both to enhance public confidence and to expand its own knowledge of the diversity of human experiences in Canada today.
The Canada of 50 years ago, when the council was first set up, is very different from today's Canada. There are many more laws that have been created by Parliament. If we look at the statutes of Canada, there are reams and reams of laws that are joined with regulations, which are even longer. Oftentimes, I find in this place that we defer a lot to the administrative state, and I have complained about this multiple times since the 42nd Parliament. I probably sound curmudgeonly at my age, but I will say that we legislate too much through regulation and allow the cabinet to set regulations. The state therefore gets to decide things, and civil servants in our departments have an incredible amount of leeway to set the rules. I do not know if that is the best we can do for Canadians in the House, and we could amend bills in a better way.
However, Bill would bring about new changes. There are 41 members on the council, which is headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and it is supposed to provide guidance and discipline to judges who fail. By my count, there were about eight cases, and one was being reviewed in Quebec, but I have not been able to catch up on the outcomes.
The proposed changes in Bill would affect federally appointed judges, who are the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada, the federal courts, the provincial and territorial superior trial courts and the provincial and territorial courts of appeal. This would not impact provincial justices in any manner, but it could set, perhaps, an example for them.
At the time this legislation was first proposed, which I think was in the Senate, it was called Bill . That was dropped because an election was called. I will judge harshly the member for Papineau, the , for making that decision, because it was mostly an administrative exercise. It is also about priorities of the government. It kind of showcases what is important to the government and the types of legislation that it elects to have tabled before the House but also moved for debate. I will mention that it is on a Friday that we are debating this particular piece of legislation.
At the time that Bill was being debated, the position of victims ombudsman was still vacant. I do want to mention that the government finally appointed one. I think it was just a few weeks ago; I have the press release right here. It was Sept 27 when it appointed a federal ombudsman for victims of crime.
I will say that in a previous life, I worked for the Hon. Steven Blaney, who is not a member of Parliament now so I can say his name. He was a great mentor to me at the time. He hired me because my father happened to have been a shipyard worker in communist Poland and was a shipyard worker at the Sorel shipyards near Montreal. Thanks to the Sorel shipyards, he was able to stay in Canada. When the Sorel shipyards went on strike, my father was one of very few workers on the floor who voted against it. He is a contrarian and that is probably why he became a Conservative.
The bill for this ombudsman for victims of crime was one of the pieces of legislation that Steven Blaney worked on, and I worked on it as his legislative assistant at the time, trying to make it work. It is gratifying to see so many years later that the government has filled the position, although it was late and many victims' rights groups were saying that the position needed to be filled right away. There was a federal ombudsman, I believe, for federal offenders, and that position, when it became vacant, was filled immediately the day after it became vacant, again due to priorities. I would look to the to ask why those were the priorities he set. Perhaps he will rise in the House to correct the record and tell me why that decision was made.
I have a Yiddish proverb, as I always do: What will become of the sheep if the wolf is the judge? It is about judicial behaviour and judgment. It sounds way better in Yiddish than it does in English, but no one wants to hear my Yiddish. I think the expectation from judges has changed over the last 50 years. I think it is unfair to judges to say that as soon as they make the smallest of mistakes or transgressions, the only solution is to fire them.
The proposals in the legislation, short of dismissal, are in proposed section 102 of the legislation:
If the review panel does not refer the complaint to the Council under section 101, it may dismiss the complaint or take one or more of the following actions if it considers it appropriate to do so in the circumstances:
In a previous life, as I have mentioned in the House a few times now, I used to work for a professional association for human resources. It was a voluntary professional association, and as part of it, I was a staff assistant to the disciplinary committee. We had an excellent chair who used to work for Syncrude. He was an excellent gentleman who really knew how the process should work. I think he had at the time a 25-year career in human resources and labour negotiations. He really knew his stuff.
What I am glad to see in this bill are things as simple as a public expression of concern from a supervisor to an employee so that everybody knows they transgressed but not to the level of being terminated. There is also a public warning and a public or private reprimand. Under proposed paragraph 102(d), we can “order the judge to apologize, either privately or publicly, by whatever means the panel considers appropriate in the circumstances”, and under proposed paragraph 102(e), we can “order the judge to take specific measures, including attending counselling or a continuing education course”. This one is oftentimes what professional associations do, and I think it is perfectly reasonable for us to introduce it into law.
I am going to segue into a previous private member's bill from a former member of Parliament whose name I can say in the House, the Hon. Rona Ambrose. I am sure she is happy in her retirement in Calgary.
As I said, that is oftentimes what professional associations do. When there is a shortcoming and a disciplinary hearing, often these disciplinary panels say that what was done is just an indication that judges need better training, better education or a refresher. Even at my age, I sometimes need a refresher on basic economics, Excel spreadsheets or even how Outlook works. I know the House has had trouble of late with its IT systems and we all had to reset our passwords. It is infuriating to have to do once someone forgets which password they are using at any one time. I see a bunch of members smiling who know it is true. It happens to all of us.
There are a lot of good ideas in proposed section 102 that would offer the public an opportunity to see judges go through what other professionals, such as engineers, nurses, doctors, surgeons, optometrists, chiropractors, human resources professionals and labour negotiators, go through with their professional associations. I think it is perfectly justified.
I want to draw everyone's attention to something interesting I found at the back end of the bill, which is that removal is justified under proposed section 119, “Removal justified”. It states, “If the full hearing panel determines, on a balance of probabilities, that the judge’s removal from office is justified, it shall make a decision to that effect.”
I would like to draw members' attention to the wording of “balance of probability” because it is not beyond a reasonable doubt. The final decision-making will be on a balance of probabilities, which is 50% plus one. Whether a reasonable person would believes this to be true is not the metric we are using. It is 50% plus one.
Could this happen and, without using the term “reasonable”, would a person looking at the facts of the case say, yes, this probably happened on the balance of probabilities? That is a lower threshold than what is used in the Criminal Code. It is actually a lower threshold in many civil cases involving large amounts of money. That should give the public some certainty that Bill is not a piece of legislation that seeks to protect judges, but simply seeks to update the system that governs how judges are disciplined, the oversight body, as I mentioned, and what the oversight body was going to be.
Proposed division 3, as I mentioned at the beginning, is the request concerning office-holders, the removal from office of those who are not judges but appointed by an act of Parliament. It goes into some detail. There are several sections that will govern their behaviour, such as leave of absence with salary, and orders and reports laid before Parliament. Usually those officers are the ones who would provide them to Parliament, and if those positions are not filled, who would physically provide us the reports, electronically in this case?
There are provisions for removal from office and establishment. The bill reads, “The Minister may request that the Council establish a full hearing” to review someone. The reasons for a removal would be:
(c) failure in the due execution of their office;
(d) the person has been placed in a position that a reasonable, fair-minded and informed observer would consider to be incompatible with the due execution of their office.
I raise that because it is timely and, back to the Yiddish proverb, what would happen to the sheep if judges are in wolf's clothing. I do not think the word “sheep” is being used necessarily in the derogatory sense here, because I would be one of them.
Those in power have a special responsibility to those over whom they have power. We are all servants of the people, servants of our ridings especially. That is what public service is supposed to be about. It is duty and sacrifice. The reason we call it “service” is because there is a portion of sacrifice in it. We know that our jobs and roles are not forever, and we are simply stewards for the next person.
This brings me to the RCMP commissioner and the Globe and Mail article that just made public yesterday an audio recording of a meeting she had. The RCMP commissioner has a special responsibility before parliamentarians to always tell the truth. At the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security many months ago, the RCMP commissioner said one thing, and this audio recording proves it was the complete and utter opposite. There is no other interpretation one could have.
My interpretation is that the commissioner lied before the parliamentary committee. That is a heavy word to use in the House, but I certainly believe it. That is the only way I can interpret that audio recording. If the audio recording is truthful, if it is an accurate reflection and has not been modified in any way, I do not believe there is any other way one could look at it, except to believe that she misled the members of that committee who are trying to get at the truth.
Parliamentary committees are like the House of Commons. They are the grand inquest of the nation. The reason that courts and judges have all these powers is because we delegate those powers to them. The House of Commons has all of those powers. Every parliamentary committee has the power to not only invite witnesses, but also summon witnesses. They can be told to take oaths to force them to tell the truth.
People cannot deny a committee of the House of Commons the truth by saying they will self-incriminate themselves. That is actually is an American concept that we do not have here in Canada. People must tell the truth the way they know it, even if it may be harmful to them. The House of Commons can offer that protection, like the courts do. They can provide measures for witnesses to give evidence and have their identities protected.
That very famously was done multiple times in the province of Quebec during the 1990s. I remember when the Sûreté du Québec and the government were pursuing organized crime, and very effectively I might add. Oftentimes they were extending protections for those who were coming forward with critical information but needed to be protected, and later on many of them made it into the witness protection program. I have actually met one person who was in the witness protection program, and her story of how she made it into the program and her experience therein was just incredible to listen to.
I did mention I would go back to just one point about judges and training especially. It was a former leader of the Conservative Party, the hon. Rona Ambrose, who introduced a private member's bill, Bill , back in 2017. What I like about Bill is that some of those ideas are being embedded in here. At the time, that private member's bill passed here, and it went through the Senate on the second try, when Rona was not here anymore. It made it so judges needed to get specific sexual harassment and sexual assault training.
I have known people in my life who have been assaulted or sexually harassed, and it is incumbent upon judges to not use common stereotypes when judging these cases. We do expect more from them because they are in the public service. They are weighing facts and situations. What I like about this change in Bill is that a lot of the ideas embedded in Bill are now going to be made broader and available for all types of situations that might apply, where a judge could be told after a panel hearing that they should get more training.
The panel could say that a particular judge has erred in law, in a particular situation or maybe in dealing with a particularly difficult litigant, and they could say that they need some more training. It could be four, five or six courses or a half-day mediation, whatever that is, and I think that is perfectly reasonable. It is actually a good thing, and it will improve sexual assault trials. It will improve the system. It will improve outcomes for victims. It will make sure women are heard. That cannot be a bad thing. It is only a good thing, so I am pretty happy to see portions in there.
I know I am getting short on time, so I want to make sure I briefly go over the government's priorities now. Bill is a good piece of legislation. I am hoping when it gets to committee members will be able to do further reviews, and if any errors are caught in the bill that they can be corrected at committee. My experience has been that sometimes there are errors in legislation. The French and English sometimes do not quite match up, and sometimes there are new ideas that come forward when witnesses testify before the committee that things could be made better.
The Canadian Bar Association is supportive of this bill. It thinks it is fair and reasonable in terms of its process. What I want to talk about in my last few minutes is the government's priorities. The gun grab against lawful firearms owners is going to do nothing to stop the shootings in our cities. It is happening in Calgary, and it is happening in Vancouver, Surrey, Toronto, Montreal and Laval. We have had three police officers murdered in the line of duty just in the last 10 days. More needs to be done against organized crime. Lawful firearms owners are not the problem. A gun grab, where provinces now are refusing to set aside provincial resources to support the federal government's actions, should the blinking red light telling the government it has erred and is on the wrong track.
The , over the last two Parliaments I have been here, has hybridized many offences. Some of them are heinous offences that should never be hybridized but eligible for a summary conviction, where someone could get fined or a couple of months in jail. It is not enough. The minister repeats that serious crimes will get serious time. I do not believe that, not based on his track record. That is not the case at all. Crime is up in our country. Violent crime has only been going up since 2015.
I think he still lives in Mahogany, but the president of the Calgary Police Association lives in my riding. There are many police officers who live in my riding. Policing is a difficult line of work to be in, just as it is a difficult line of work to be a judge. The Parliament of Canada, our legislators, should be supporting frontline officers by ensuring we put the criminals behind bars and keeping them there to keep the public safe.
I support Bill . I welcome questions.
Madam Speaker, as I was sharing, we all have EDAs and campaign teams. Although it is our names on the ballots, there is a huge group of people, and I count almost 200 volunteers over the course of my last three or so years in politics, who have helped fight for the cause. I am so thankful and blessed because of my EDA and campaign team and all those people who have worked so hard to fight for the principles that I am so proud to stand in this place to represent.
When it comes to the reason we are all here, I often joke when I speak with classes in my constituency that there are only three job qualifications to be a member of Parliament in Canada. Just three; that's it. Number one, we have to be Canadian. Number two, we have to be over the age of 18. Number three, we simply have to get more votes than the other guy or gal. That process, that participation in our democratic system that each parliamentarian has, with, at least in the current standing, 338 different paths, different types of individuals, different parties represented, different backgrounds, different experiences and different professions, brings a unique cross-section of Canadians to this place.
I cannot thank the people of Battle River—Crowfoot enough for the last three years. I have spoken over 400 times in this place, being up in question period, giving speeches, speaking over 500 times in committee, being part of interparliamentary groups, meeting with delegations and being a part of international trips, representing the people of Battle River—Crowfoot here in Canada and around the world, voting almost 400 times, jointly seconding private members' bills, and all the various ways of communication.
Last night we talked about mental health and being able to break some of the stigma surrounding things like mental illness. There are things like constituency communication, social media outreach, more than a dozen mail-outs and visiting 63 communities. I represent a constituency that is about the same size as the province of Nova Scotia and has about 60 or so self-governing municipalities. I have visited each one of those communities over the last three years, some more than once, and attended hundreds of events, doing dozens of town halls and helping when it comes to the base of what being an elected official is about: helping people and taking thousands of calls, helping with practical issues regarding case work or the Phoenix pay system, helping veterans and members of the military, and helping people with passport issues or immigration or whatever the case may be.
There is so much that goes into what we do in this place. The headlines always grab the big news items of the day, but as I reflect on the last three or so years that I have had the honour of taking my seat in this place, looking back at my experiences, those who helped me get here, my family and the impact this has on them, and those who mentored me, I truly am very blessed and thankful for the opportunity to serve in this place.
I appreciate the latitude given me for a moment to share some thoughts on three years of being able to serve in this place.
To the substance of Bill before us, I would note that this is the sort of bill that should have been passed a while ago. I know there have been a few questions asked about why Conservatives are speaking to this bill. I am speaking for myself, and I think for many of my colleagues, when I say we like to do our jobs to make sure that we comprehensively look at, evaluate and examine everything that comes forward in this place.
When the government talks about this bill in particular, I believe it was Bill in the last Parliament, and there is a constitutional intricacy that the government, especially, likes to dismiss or not elaborate on when it blames Conservatives for somehow obstructing the democratic process by doing our jobs. Bill was something that died on the Order Paper when an unnecessary election was called in the summer of last year.
I could certainly get into the many aspects of that, with our returning to this place with almost an identical makeup, the frustrations that were felt by so many Canadians and the erosion of trust in our institutions. I will expand on that a bit more. I would share with the member for how many of those frustrations manifested themselves over the course of that last campaign, with the selfishness of a who tried to use what seemed to be a few polls bending in his direction, even when he promised to do the exact opposite of what he did.
The reason I bring that up today is not only to highlight the hypocrisy of government members. They seem to want to blame everybody but themselves for some of these things. I suggest they would be best positioned to look in the mirror to truly self-evaluate some of the reasons we find ourselves in those places.
This is a bill that addresses a very practical issue, which is that over the course of the evolution of our legal system we have the need for changes to be made. Specifically, Bill addresses that there would have to be a review process, even though a judge is and should be a lifetime appointment. Certainly we see the consequences of when politics are injected into the selection of judges and some of the challenges associated with that, but there could be the need for a review. We saw that need in the case that brought this whole conversation forward a number of years ago, when a judge made some very disparaging comments that certainly called into question the integrity of his ability to oversee that specific court case. There has to be a process. There has to be the ability to discipline individuals on the bench.
Of course, we all need to have accountability and integrity checks within each of our professions, whether it be in this place as members of Parliament, in Canada's Senate or in our judicial branch of government. We have created many instances of this with the Ethics Commissioner, the Lobbying Commissioner, reporting requirements and all of those associated things. Bill is just a practical response to ensure that we address one of the key aspects of where we have seen what I alluded to earlier, which is that erosion of trust in our institutions.
There are many reasons for that erosion of trust, certainly some of which are very political and some of which are very practical. Many of which, I would suggest, need to be unpacked so that we can truly get to the bottom of them. Because this is a justice bill and specifically relates to the Judges Act, I am going to focus on some of my constituents' experiences when it comes to how they perceive the justice system.
I have been asked a number of times by the and other Liberal members why I do not trust judges. This bill actually speaks to why there has to be firm parliamentary oversight. In the Westminster system. Parliament is supreme, and I am thankful for that. That is one of the things that makes our system of government the best in the world: that Parliament and the voices of the people ultimately have that final say.
One of the comments that is often made to me is that we do not have a justice system anymore, but we have a legal system and that legal system is failing. That is not my perception. That is the perception of many constituents who share with me those feelings and their experiences associated with it.
I mentioned before that there are 338 different paths to get here, but I have no doubt that each and every person in this place will have heard from constituents who have had their own experiences when it comes to the way that the legal system, Canada's justice system, is not serving them well. I am going to highlight a few of those instances from the perspective of being a rural Canadian.
I mentioned in my observations of being in Parliament for three years that I represent a large rural area. My constituency is 53,000 square kilometres of what I would suggest is the most beautiful countryside in the world. When somebody asks me what the area I represent is like, I say it is a lot like cowboy country. It is the beautiful rolling hills and wheat fields as far as the eye can see. The only thing dividing one piece of land and the next is a simple barbed wire fence, and even then sometimes it is hard to find those with how vast the space is. I think about the many people who live there, and although sometimes it is sparsely populated, it would work out to be about two individuals per square kilometre. That is the density of my constituency, approximately.
We have some significant challenges. Specifically when it comes to our justice system, we see how the dynamics associated with rural crime have changed significantly in the last number of years. From both when I was elected in 2019 and also my work being involved in politics in the community prior to that, I have seen the crime severity index increase dramatically.
It is astounding, some of the stories I hear from constituents, members of the community and law enforcement officers who are on the first line. There are crimes that just a few years would never have been thought possible to be committed in a small town of only a few hundred people, yet with the Internet and access to gangs, drugs and all of these associated things, some of the things that happen are astounding. Then, there is the revolving door of the justice system.
Before I get to the revolving door of the justice system, I will share that I was invited to attend a town hall in a small town. It was about 200 people in this community. There were about 100 people who came to the town hall. It was on rural crime, organized by the mayor and council. They had invited their member of Parliament and their MLA, who was not able to make it, but also their local law enforcement, the RCMP.
I got there and, as is often the case, the RCMP had planned to be there but got a call, so they were not able to be there when the town hall started. I listened for probably an hour to story after story, and we were not just talking about hypotheticals. We were talking about real lived experiences and tragic instances where people's homes were broken into and where individuals were terrorized, and after multiple instances of calling the police, somebody would be arrested and taken away, but a few days later they would be back in that same community terrorizing the streets again.
There were dozens and dozens of examples, and there was a lot of frustration there. There was a lot of frustration at lawmakers and there was a lot of frustration at local law enforcement. It was one of the things I endeavoured to highlight during that time, and I was thankful that the RCMP came for the last third of the meeting. I would suggest it was providential that, when I stood up and said, to the room of about a hundred people, to be sure not to blame those men and women in uniform for some of the challenges and that they were working as hard as they possibly could, only a moment later the Mountie who serves the area, in a detachment with only three officers, walked into the town hall.
I was happy to cede the floor to him, and it was amazing. We could see in the eyes of many that they were frustrated, because sometimes it would be a four- or five-hour response time after calling 911. With something like a serious break-in with a firearm, it could be four or five hours before a police officer even got to somebody's door. We are talking about serious stuff here, but that Mountie started to unpack what his days looked like and some of the rules and restrictions he, as a law enforcement and peace officer, was forced to abide by.
I saw after that instance many others like it. I highlight specifically that town hall in the community of Amisk, but there have been many other instances like that, where we see that erosion of trust taking place within specifically, because we are talking about the Judges Act, the legal system in our country.
Therefore, when the stands up and says something like those who do serious crimes in this country will serve serious time, it is almost laughable. It is laughable I would suggest in a tragic way, because the experience of so many of my constituents speaks to the exact opposite of that.
When I look back as a political observer, although I would have been quite young when there was a change from a past Liberal government to a Conservative government, I know that crime was a big issue. One thing that was interesting is this. The Liberals like to blame Stephen Harper somehow for imposing mandatory minimums. However, some of the mandatory minimums of Bill that the blames Harper for have actually been around significantly longer. I believe some of those were put into place by former prime ministers, including Chrétien, Mulroney and even Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Often the demand for mandatory minimums is something that comes from a true frustration from the public. I would suggest that if we are not careful, we will end up seeing that erosion of trust take place to the point where people may end up taking the law into their own hands. I do not think anybody in this place, regardless of party, wants to see that happen. When we see a government focus more on demonizing law-abiding firearms owners than dealing with smuggled guns coming across our border, that is a problem and it is demoralizing for those who have been robbed by a firearm or been the victim of a crime that should involve serious time.
Therefore, when it comes to Bill , we need to do everything we can to ensure that we address some of the erosion of trust within our institutions and, in this case, make sure there is a mechanism to ensure that those on the bench are held to a high account, as Canadians expect us to do.
I believe we should expect those who are appointed as judges to be held to that higher account, and Bill is part of a practical mechanism to ensure that.