The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I think this is something that may have never happened in the House before, a member beginning a speech on a bill in one seat and continuing it in a separate seat on the very same day. This was made possible, of course, by a standing order change that allows us to sit absolutely anywhere in the House. I was tempted to do it from the 's seat, but that would have involved a little too many logistics. I was not sure we would get back to the debate, so I will do it from this seat here.
We are debating Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act, and we are at second reading. I want to talk about the substance of the bill. It is actually, I think, a very good bill, and I will deal with that in a minute.
First, I want to talk about the fact the government is once again rushing this debate through and imposing closure. As I consider its actions, the thought that occurs to me is that, out there in the normal world, there is a saying. It is that “your lack of planning does not equal my crisis,” but this is the House of Commons of Canada. As long as they have the support of the New Democrats, the Liberals can be as disorganized as they want and can create crises for themselves and then impose limits on democracy and open debate in order to rush through crises of their own making.
In the case of the bill, which has now been time allocated, a version of it was introduced as Bill , a government bill in the Senate, in May 2021, but it died on the Order Paper, because the , in his infinite wisdom, decided to call the least necessary election in Canadian history, which resulted in our having exactly the same seat breakdown we had prior to the election. However, it did cause everything on the Order Paper to be wiped off the Order Paper, and when we resumed in the autumn of 2021, a new bill was introduced on the Order Paper, on December 1, 2021, as Bill . Subsequently, that bill was dropped and Bill , the bill we are presently debating, found its way onto the Order Paper on December 16, 2021. It then sat on the Order Paper, undebated, for exactly six months to the day, until June 16, 2022.
The House rises in time for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, which is on the 24th of June. The bill, therefore, had a couple days of time for debate before the House rose. Then, with a whole summer going by, it did not come back until very recently, when we had been here for a month. This makes the point that the reason there is a rush, if there is a rush at all, is that the government has caused a delay. I should point out as well that the purpose of the bill is to make changes to the Judges Act, which was implemented in 1971, so we are talking about changes to something that has been in place for 50 years.
Saying this constitutes the kind of crisis that warrants putting limits on debate is, in my view, simply unreasonable and simply a reflection of the fact that it is now reflexive for the current government to put time limits on all debates on everything.
Now, let me talk about the substance of the bill.
Bill deals primarily with judges, but as for the provisions it replaces, this new process would also apply to persons other than judges who are appointed under an act of Parliament to hold office under what is known as “good behaviour”. The question of what constitutes “good behaviour” is a matter that needs to be updated from time to time, particularly in the world of the law and the actions of judges, because if something goes wrong in the court system and if judges or courts act inappropriately, we say that the law is brought into disrepute. Bringing the law into disrepute is the worst thing a judge can do. What constitutes “disrepute” does change over time as we get greater sensitivity, for example, to gender issues, which lie at the heart of the present piece of legislation, or to concerns relating to the ability of people who face various forms of disabilities to communicate with the courts and so on.
Standards within society do change. I think they usually improve, and it is reasonable to update this from time to time.
Right now, the way it works is that, should a federally appointed judge be found to be potentially in breach of their responsibilities, the issue is sent to the Canadian Judicial Council for review. The bill would establish a new process for reviewing allegations of misconduct, allegations that are not serious enough to warrant a judge's removal from office, and would make changes to the process by which recommendations regarding removal from office can be made to the .
The bill would specifically modify the existing judicial review process by establishing a process for complaints serious enough to warrant removal from office and another for offences that could warrant other sanctions, such as counselling, continuing education and reprimands.
Currently, if misconduct is less serious, a single member of the Canadian Judicial Council holds the initial review and may negotiate with a judge for remedy. I should mention as well that the Canadian Judicial Council was set up under the existing law. It dates back to 1971 and is mandated to promote efficiency and uniformity and improve the quality of judicial services in all superior courts in Canada.
The reasons a judge could be removed from office include infirmity, misconduct, failure in the due execution of judicial office, and the judge's being “in a position that a reasonable, fair-minded and informed observer would consider to be incompatible with the due execution of judicial office”.
Under the new rules, a screening officer could dismiss complaints rather than referring them to the review panel, should they appear frivolous or improper. Certain things, such as a complaint that alleges sexual harassment or discrimination, may not be dismissed. The full screening criteria would be published by the Canadian Judicial Council.
These amendments address the shortcomings of the current process by imposing mandatory sanctions on a judge when a complaint of misconduct is found to be justified but not to be serious enough to warrant removal from office. Again, such sanctions could include counselling, continuing education and reprimands.
In the name of transparency, this legislation would require that the Canadian Judicial Council include the number of complaints received and how they were resolved in its public annual report, something that is a very sound idea.
Since its inception in 1971, the Canadian Judicial Council has completed inquiries into eight complaints considered serious enough that they would warrant removal from the bench. Four of them, in fact, did result in recommendations for removal.
Under the new process, as laid out in Bill , the Canadian Judicial Council would continue to preside over the judicial complaints process, which would start with a three-person panel. If the complaint is serious enough that it might warrant removal from the bench, it could be referred to a separate, five-person hearing panel.
As I am out of time, I will just make the observation that, on the whole, this is a good piece of legislation. I am glad it is before us. It could have been before us earlier. I very much welcome the opportunity to vote in favour and send this off to committee, but of course I object to the rush we have been put in to do that.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise again in this place on behalf of my constituents in Regina—Qu'Appelle to speak to this very important piece of legislation.
Again, I find myself following a comment made by the hon. member for , and I just cannot help myself, so I will have to address some of the erroneous statements he made to my colleague from , which is the idea that somehow it is the opposition's fault that government legislation is not moving through the House. I have been here for several parliaments now, and I have never dealt with a government House team before that has had this idea that the opposition is somehow jointly responsible for moving government legislation through the House.
The member is surprised that members of Parliament from the Conservative Party want to speak to government bills. Well, we all come from diverse backgrounds. We all come from different parts of the country. We all may have constituents in our ridings who have had different experiences with the criminal justice system, so many of us may want to bring that wisdom, that expertise, that experience that we have to the floor of the House to make sure that all points of view are heard when we are dealing with something as important as the judicial branch of our government.
Therefore, I do not buy the parliamentary secretary's argument at all that there is justification for bringing in time allocation on the bill. There are 338 members of Parliament, and we do not expect every single MP to speak to every single bill, but it should not surprise the government when it brings forward legislation that members of the opposition party might want to speak to it and might want to highlight areas of the bill that cause concern or pause, or flag things that we would invite our colleagues at committee to address. This is part of the normal process.
The Liberals do not bring us into the consultation process before they draft the bill. They do not give us a heads-up, send over a working document or have a shared Google document that our shadow minister could see to make suggestions and edits to. They bring forward a bill, and they drop it on the table of the House of Commons. Then we have to go through it and study it. All that takes time, especially when we have our hands full dealing with the waste and corruption this government continues to push through the government system in many different ways.
We are constantly poring through Public Accounts to find wasteful spending and, lo and behold, we find them all the time. Just a few weeks ago, we discovered that the government spent $54 million of taxpayers' money on an app that could have been designed in a weekend, and most experts say that it could have been designed for a fraction of the cost that the government ended up billing taxpayers for. It is a good thing we did go through those accounts in great detail because we discovered that one of the companies listed as receiving a payment claims that it did not work at all on the app.
The parliamentary secretary might be frustrated that members of Parliament on this side take some time to review, with great scrutiny and detail, the Liberal legislation, even when there is broad consensus on the need or broad consensus on the objective of the bill. The parliamentary secretary will understand why we take out our microscopes, put our glasses on and really do a deep dive into these types of things, because every single time we do, we find more examples of Liberal waste, corruption and mismanagement.
The bill, which is a straightforward bill in many respects, is not terribly big, but I find it awfully heavy. It is laden down with irony because the bill would establish a process for judicial office holders who engage in misconduct that does not rise to the level of losing their position but some type of disciplinary process. Does it seem ironic to anybody in the House right now that we have a who is bringing in a mechanism to deal with misconduct and inappropriate behaviour?
Boy, would I like to see the principle of the bill expanded. Maybe we could expand it so that it does not just apply to the judicial branch but the executive branch of government as well, because I would love to see what a review council might do with a prime minister who committed awfully racists acts.
Imagine our Prime Minister, a public office holder, dressing up in racist costumes and putting on blackface so many times that he lost track of how often he did it. Imagine what a complaints council or a review tribunal would do with that allegation.
How about interfering in a criminal prosecution case? How about leaning on a public prosecutor to try to get a special deal for a very well-connected and very powerful corporation in the 's own backyard? What would a complaints process do with that kind of improper allegation?
How about the accusations we have heard about bullying and harassment in the 's own caucus, which drove a female person of colour out of the House, forcing her out of politics altogether? She no longer wished to cope with the type of treatment she was subjected to by the Prime Minister. This is a Liberal member of Parliament I am talking about, who experienced that type of offensive behaviour from her own leader. I would love to see what a complaints council or review tribunal would do with that.
I sure hope that our friends on the committee can build some consensus with other political parties and find a way to expand the scope of this bill. I would signal to my colleagues in other parties that if the idea brought to committee is to expand the scope of this bill to include public officer holders in the executive branch, the cabinet and the , the Conservatives will be there to support those types of amendments at committee. We might even move those amendments.
I wonder if the hon. member for would establish the same principle that he is looking to establish around the judicial branch. Would he support efforts to hold all members of cabinet accountable, including the ? Maybe he will have an opportunity during questions and comments to inform the House as to whether or not he would be in favour of that. Will he show some consistency when it comes to holding public office holders to the highest level of behaviour and conduct? If the Liberals do not, it will be rather telling, but we will know why. We will know that the member is afraid of how that would affect his own political leader.
The bill is also significant for what is not in it. The bill addresses the judicial system in Canada, and any time a government looks at our Criminal Code and our criminal justice system, the Conservatives eagerly await measures that will strengthen our justice system to protect innocent Canadians and victims of crime. That is something we are always hopeful will be contained in legislation.
Unfortunately, the Liberals decided to leave that out of this bill. They would have had lots of opportunities to look at the types of policies they have enacted in the last few years, which have made the situation worse. For example, the government has lowered penalties for some of the most violent types of offenders. They have lowered penalties for people who use firearms in the commission of certain crimes. As a result of the government's policies over the last seven years, there is a crime wave going on in many of our large cities and even in rural communities.
I represent the riding of Regina—Qu'Appelle, which is about 50% urban and 50% rural, and I hear different concerns about the judicial system. However, they can both relate to the rising crime waves. In the city of Regina, which is obviously a more urban area, there are all kinds of property crimes, thefts and personal assaults, and people are very concerned about the rising rates of them.
In rural areas, people are concerned about response times and the fact that when they call 911 when they are victims of a crime or when a crime is in progress, it can take 15, 20 or sometimes 40 minutes for a police officer to respond to the call. The government, without any consultation with those municipalities, retroactively made changes to the pay system and has left the bill with them, something I am hearing a lot about from people who live in the rural part of Regina—Qu'Appelle.
The Conservatives are eager to discuss this at committee. We are very disappointed that the government, because of its lack of planning and its mismanagement of the House calendar, has now had to bring in time allocation. We wish there was more in this bill to apply the same types of standards for behaviour to the . We understand why the Liberals will not do that, as they have to protect their political leader, but it does show the hypocrisy that the government has when it comes to rules for everyone else but not for its own leadership.