Mr. Speaker, it is such a pleasure to speak to legislation. Once again, the government is providing very progressive legislation that will make a real difference in our judicial system.
I very much would like to emphasize just how important it is to take a look at Canada as a society and how we are envied around the world. One of the reasons for that is because we understand the importance of judicial independence. There is the political realm and the judicial realm, the rule of law. Canada is recognized for this around the world and is held in fairly high esteem. In fact, many jurisdictions around the world look to the Canada system. Whether it is our Constitution, Charter of Rights or how our judicial system is so successful in providing the public confidence, they are really second to no other.
I would like to refer to my father. Many years ago, after he was unable to go to work due to personal disabilities, he took a great deal of time, and made it a hobby, to go to the courts to listen to the proceedings. He virtually was there on a full-time basis. As a result, his confidence in the system grew to a point where he had a wonderful relationship with a number of judges and attorneys both on the Crown side and the defence side. He had a very good understanding.
I use that as an example because I believe that if people had a good assessment of what takes place in our judicial system, it would add to public confidence.
Personally, as a chair of a youth justice committee for many years, I had the privilege of working on the balance, the community needs and desires and the need for some form of consequence or disposition that was fair to all sides, including victims and the perpetrators. Through that experience, I gained a deeper respect for our judicial system and the importance of it being independent of politics.
Let us fast-forward to the pandemic. We have heard the , many of my Liberal colleagues and members on all sides of the House recognize that things occurred during the pandemic from which we all can learn. A good example of that is Zoom. Three-and-a-half years ago, I did not even know Zoom existed, and now it is a major part of my life. We can look at the House of Commons' hybrid system. Now members of Parliament from British Columbia, as an example, who are serving their constituents in their ridings, can speak on the floor of the House of Commons.
Why is that relevant to this legislation? Because this legislation, in essence, is about that. We are looking for ways to improve our judicial system. During the pandemic, certain aspects of our judicial system incorporated a more virtual contribution to the delivery of justice. That is the essence of what this bill would do.
It is important to recognize that accessibility, efficiency and effectiveness are three fundamental pillars of justice. We need to strive for that. We in government have been doing that from day one, with a number of substantial pieces of legislation to make our judicial system that much better and stronger. We have seen over the last couple of years, that the courts desire this. When I say “courts”, I mean it in the broader sense of the word, all the different stakeholders at play, whether it is victims, perpetrators, lawyers, court clerks, sheriffs, everyone involved. I suspect we would find universal acceptance on the need for modernization. That is the essence of Bill .
Bill proposes a range of reforms that would make court proceedings more flexible, while protecting the rights of all participants. It would enable presentations of different forms to be done by video conference. As we look at the whole issue of modernization and how things have changed through time, we all have an obligation to look at ways to support our courts and our judicial system, and it is not unique.
In fact, members will recall Rona Ambrose's private member's bill that had recommendations that we, as legislators, felt would be in the best interest of our judicial system to ensure there was an educational component on sexual violence. After the former leader of the Conservative Party brought forward the legislation, we could not get it passed through the private members' system. The government very quickly then took the initiative and made it happen, and there was unanimous support for it.
Yesterday, during the debate on Bill , we started to see the same thing. Members of the Conservative Party, the Bloc Party, the NDP and Green Party indicated support for it. It seems that once again we have achieved unanimous support for progressive legislation that will help us modernize our court system.
This has been around for a while and there is no reason why we could not see it go to committee and listen to the stakeholders. I know a great number of stakeholders have been waiting to see this legislation advance, and hopefully we will do that.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to be able to rise today to join in the debate on Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
As has been mentioned during the course of this debate, we have heard the government speak about the urgency of the passage of this legislation, but some of the measures in here, certainly, were required long before the COVID pandemic. There are others that raise some concerns about justice, particularly when it comes to respect for victims of crime. I will include victims and their families in that.
In Bill the consent of the offender is mentioned 10 times. Let us contrast that. How many times does Bill S-4 mention the consent of a victim, the consent of a victim's family in proceeding by way other than an in-person meeting? The answer, not surprisingly, is zero. Not once does this bill mention the consent of the victim or their family, all the while speaking about the consent of an offender.
I would love to say I am surprised, or that maybe there is something we are missing here, but the fact is that this is in line with the overall agenda of the government when it comes to our criminal justice system.
We only have to look at the bills that have come before the House. We only have to look at the selective response to certain Supreme Court of Canada decisions to realize that this is a government that does not put the rights of victims first.
To use an example, we saw yesterday, in the public safety committee, a grand expansion of the law when it comes to going after law-abiding citizens, duck hunters, hunters, our constituents, all of our collective constituents who are law-abiding firearms owners. They do this in the name of combatting crime. We are targeting non-criminals in an effort to combat crime.
If we speak to the experts, if we speak to police, if we speak to big-city mayors, they will tell us that the source of illegal firearms, the source of firearms being used by gangs, is our border, our porous border, and the illegal importation of firearms.
Knowing that the illegal trafficking and importation of firearms is the cause of the firearms being on the street, that law-abiding citizens are not the cause, it would lead us to a logical conclusion that we should target that illegal importation, in direct contrast to what the government is doing in Bill , which is targeting duck hunters, farmers and sports shooters, people who are not criminals and people who are not a threat.
What are we doing about the real threat? What are we doing about the importers, the traffickers?
There is another bill that was just passed through the Senate, Bill . What that bill does is say that if someone has trafficked in a firearm, has used a firearm in the commission of an offence or in extortion, or if someone has fired a firearm with intent, they no longer, as the case has been for years, have to serve time in jail. They can go back onto the street. They can go back into the community where they committed the offence.
Where did this law come from that said a person has to serve time in jail if they commit these offences? Did it come from the previous Conservative government?
The government would love us to believe that this tough-on-crime measure came from the previous Conservative government, but if we bother to look at the facts and the evidence, the evidence says all of those mandatory penalties were in place since the 1970s, since the time of the 's father being prime minister. Some of them were introduced when the Prime Minister's father was both prime minister and justice minister.
The Liberals love to say these are unconstitutional mandatory penalties.
What does the Supreme Court have to say about this? There was a recent case from just a couple of weeks ago involving a mandatory penalty for drug trafficking, and the Supreme Court considered that and considered the seriousness in our communities of the crisis, whether it is fentanyl, cocaine or heroin.
The government of the day was a Conservative government, and I am proud to say, in an effort to combat those crimes, we said that if someone were going to traffic, produce or import these serious drugs, they were going to have to serve actual time in jail. The current government has said, in Bill , that it does not believe that, and it believes those people should be able to be back on the street.
What did the Supreme Court of Canada say? The Supreme Court of Canada upheld those provisions. It said they are constitutional and that the seriousness of these offences, when weighed with Parliament's legislative prerogative, means that Parliament was entitled, and that it was indeed constitutional, to have brought in that measure that says if someone imports, traffics or produces cocaine, fentanyl or heroin, they are going to go to jail and be taken off the street.
Does being soft on crime work? We have heard it called “hug a thug”, “soft on crime” or “a revolving door justice system”, in which, if someone commits a crime, there are no consequences and they go back on the street. Does that approach work? Why do we not look at the evidence? The evidence was just released this week, not by the Conservative Party but by Statistics Canada. The evidence says that the homicide rate in Canada has increased for three consecutive years.
The homicide rate in Canada is at the highest rate it has been since 2005. Why is 2005 significant? That was the last year of the previous Liberal government. The Conservative government came to power in 2006, and we had an agenda to straighten out our justice system, to respect victims, to put victims at the forefront and to say to serious offenders, “recidivist”.
What is a recidivist? A recidivist is someone who commits a crime; gets caught; gets tried in a court of law; gets sentenced, whether to jail time or house arrest; goes back on the street and does the same thing again and again. That is recidivism. The courts have said, and we have said, that we have to focus on criminals, and we did that.
Over the last seven years we have seen a Liberal government. The percentage I am about to say should shock all of us in the room and should shock all Canadians. The violent crime rate in Canada, since 2015, has increased 32%. That is not acceptable. That is in our rural communities—
Hon. Rick Perkins: What happened in 2015?
Hon. Rob Moore: Madam Speaker, I should remind members that 2015 is the year the Liberal government was elected.
Being soft on crime does not work. In our rural communities, in our suburbs, in our big cities and across this country, we are seeing people who are victimizing. Whether it is property crime, serious violent crime or sexual offences, we are seeing people who should be approached in a tougher manner being let back out onto the street to commit the same offences, and it has resulted in a 32% increase in violent crime.
This is not me saying that; this is Statistics Canada. It produces statistics on these things. That is evidence, and we should take evidence into account when we look at what works and what does not. I feel, and I know my Conservative colleagues feel, that one of our top priorities as members of Parliament should be the protection of innocent Canadians, the protection of families in our communities and the protection of our communities.
Does that mean we do not think offenders should get the help they need and those struggling with addiction should get the help they need? Of course they should, but we are not doing our communities any favours, and we are not doing offenders any favours, by having zero consequence for serious offences.
Bill mentions the consent of the offender 10 times. In my own riding, we have a serious story from years ago. A young woman, who was 16 years old, was working in her father's grocery store and was murdered by an offender. The offender received a life sentence.
The victim's father became an advocate for victims of crime. I met with him many times. He was a councillor in one of our communities. He spoke passionately about ways governments could support victims of crime. When we were in government, we acted on some of his recommendations and recommendations from other victims of crime.
His family would travel to Quebec for parole hearings to support the loved one who lost her life all those years ago in the eighties. They would go every two years to these parole hearings. There were times when they would have driven 10 hours, and the offender would cancel the parole hearing. The family would have to go back home not having had the parole hearing. They had many recommendations.
This same case was in the news within the last month when Correctional Service Canada, without notifying the family, said that individual was on the loose and it did not know where they were. Every two years, this family has been there in person trying to keep the individual behind bars where they belong. Obviously that caused great concern for this family. The offender is now back in custody but is still eligible for parole hearings every other year.
Those parole hearings, in person or virtual, continue to revictimize families. That is one of the principal reasons one of the pieces of legislation I am most proud of in my career as a parliamentarian, which we brought forward as a Conservative government, was respect for each individual victim's life in the case of mass murderers.
In Canada, when someone gets a life sentence, some people mistakenly think that a mass murderer or someone who commits first-degree murder is going to be behind bars for the rest of their life. We hear “life sentence” and think they will be in for life, but that is not how it works.
After 25 years, parole eligibility begins. An individual is eligible to be released after 25 years. Let us talk about what that means in the case of a mass murderer, like the individual who took the life of Tim Bosma. His widow, Sharlene, appeared at our justice committee recently to speak about victims of crime.
This is someone who has been through unimaginable pain. She eloquently spoke about her efforts and about the one solace she took. The mass murderer, this individual, was convicted of killing not only her husband, Tim, but also two other people. He had taken three lives. The only solace she took in this whole process was knowing her daughter would never have to attend a parole hearing.
The offender received a 75-year parole ineligibility period thanks to Conservative legislation that allowed consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. This means not just 25 years, but if someone takes three lives, it is 75 years. Before this a family would have to go through the very difficult process of ripping off that band-aid and having to relive the worst events of their life. That was the one solace she took.
As members in the House know, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down those provisions. This affects the individual who took the life of Tim Bosma and the individual who took the lives of three RCMP officers in Moncton, New Brunswick.
I remember that day very well. We were gathered here. We were in the lobby and watching this unfold. Three lives were taken, with a 75-year parole ineligibility period.
Because of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision just a couple of weeks ago, all of those individuals are now eligible for parole after 25 years. Does this mean they are going to be on the streets in under 25 years because they have already been serving their sentences? No, not necessarily. Maybe they will; maybe they will not. However, what this definitely means is that all of these families, including Sharlene Bosma's young daughter, are going to some day have to attend a parole hearing, look at the offender and argue why that individual, who took the life of their loved one, should have to stay behind bars.
Why am I speaking about these things? It is because victims have to be at the centre of all legislation, including Bill . When I see a bill that mentions the consent of the offender 10 times and mentions the consent of the victim zero times, it raises concern for me.
Some of what is in Bill is necessary. It allows for virtual measures where appropriate, allows police officers to apply for and obtain warrants using telecommunications and conduct fingerprinting of the accused at a later date should fingerprints not previously have been taken, expands the power of courts to make case management rules, expands the ability of the accused and offenders to appear remotely by audioconference and video conference in certain circumstances, allows for the participation of prospective jurors in the jury selection process by video conference if deemed appropriate and allows for the use of electronic or automated means to select jurors rather than the current practice of having the clerk of the court draw names from a box.
Some of these measures make sense. That is why, overall, the Conservatives are supporting Bill . However, there are a couple of things we are looking for. One is a recognition of the role of the victims.
The justice committee is completing a study on victims of crime. There was a Conservative motion asking that we study the impact of the justice system and how we can better serve victims of crime. I spoke already to some of the testimony we heard about how the justice system is stacked toward the offenders. Victims' families are in the dark. Victims are in the dark. These are victims of all kinds of crimes, whether it be property crime or violent crime. Individuals who have had a loved one taken from them are in the dark about the system.
The supports are not there as they should be, so when victims see a bill that mentions the consent of the accused 10 times and mentions victims zero times, it leads them to conclude once again that they are the afterthought in a piece of legislation. That perpetuates a justice system that is out of balance and does not put victims first. One of the things we are looking for is a refocus in this legislation on victims, their rights and making sure that nothing is done in this process that undermines the ability of a victim to feel a sense of engagement and justice to the extent they wish to in the process.
We have heard from other speakers about the urgency of this legislation. The Liberals have been in power for seven years. If we listen to them with respect to this legislation, they say these measures were called for and needed pre-COVID. To be very clear, the justice system was already severely delayed before COVID. Of course, COVID made it worse. I mentioned this in a question to a previous speaker. The reset the clock on this bill when he called an unnecessary and ironically COVID-related election, and here we are today debating this bill.
As Conservatives, we are going to continue to focus on the rights of victims and on making sure we have a justice system that takes serious crimes seriously and protects the interests of victims every step of the way.
Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I am pleased to be here today to take part in the debate on Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other acts regarding the COVID-19 response and other measures. This relates to the changes made during COVID-19.
Bill S‑4 proposes changes to the Criminal Code and other acts to correct procedural problems that criminal courts faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. We used some good examples to draft the bill we are debating today.
From the outset, I would like acknowledge the contribution of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which carried out an in-depth study of Bill S‑4 last spring. After it heard from more than 20 witnesses and reviewed a large number of documents in a very short amount of time, the bill passed third reading stage in the Senate on June 21, 2022.
The Senate adopted two amendments. The first requires the Minister of Justice to initiate an independent review on the use of remote proceedings in criminal justice matters no later than three years after the day on which the act receives royal assent, and that he report to each house of Parliament no later than five years after the day on which a review is initiated. The second requires a parliamentary review at the start of the fifth year after the day on which the act receives royal assent. These amendments are valid, and they will help ensure an effective review of the use of remote proceedings and other provisions of the act.
The reforms provided for in Bill S‑4 include the following proposals: clarify and expand the availability of remote appearances for certain criminal proceedings; provide for the participation of prospective jurors by video conference in certain circumstances; expand the power of courts to deal with administrative matters related to extrajudicial procedures for accused not represented by counsel; and improve the fingerprinting system.
In my speech, I will focus on how these specific proposals will make the criminal justice system more efficient and improve access to justice across Canada, while alleviating some of the intense pressure on courts to deal with delays and backlogs in the system.
One of the main ways Bill will make the system more efficient is by making the act clearer with respect to the court's discretion to allow the use of technology in all criminal proceedings involving preliminary inquiries, trials, pleas and sentencing.
The safeguards in the bill requiring consent and the factors that courts will have to take into account in exercising their discretion are key to understanding how the law regarding remote appearances will be clarified and enhanced. Their purpose is to help courts allow the use of technology only where appropriate, while ensuring that the accused's rights and freedoms are protected at all times.
The reforms provided for in Bill S‑4 will also make it possible to use technology in the jury selection process. With the parties' consent, the court will be able to allow or require prospective jurors to participate in the jury selection process by video conference instead of in person at the courthouse. A prospective juror is a person who is summoned to court to take part in the jury selection process. This will improve access to the justice system for ordinary people who are legally required to take part in the jury selection process, but who may not be able to go to the courthouse in person because of certain obstacles.
For instance, they may not be able to take a full day off work, or they may not have access to public transit or amenities in certain regions. They may also simply be unable to find parking downtown, where courthouses are located. This bill could solve a number of mobility issues. Other obstacles may include health problems, a lack of child care or even bad weather, similar to what we have seen recently.
A more flexible jury selection process will also help increase jury participation and diversity, which is essential to keeping our criminal justice system running smoothly. Since the jury selection process can often involve hundreds of people gathering in person at the courthouse at the same time, the use of technology could also ensure that the proceedings do not need to be adjourned because of health risks or other difficulties before the trial even begins. It could prevent jury trials from having to be postponed or suspended, which frequently happened during the pandemic because of physical distancing requirements.
In a way, we are taking advantage of what happened during the pandemic to improve the system, while bearing in mind that, when we came to power in 2015, Internet service was unreliable, or at least less reliable than it is today. Today we can say that we have invested significantly in Internet coverage. By 2026, 98% of Canadians will have Internet access. This means that today, we can think about improving the system to better meet needs in remote regions. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Rural Economic Development, I have visited and travelled through many regions, and I can attest to the fact that we need to provide more services for rural and remote regions.
The amendments to this bill respecting jury selection include safeguards. The accused and the prosecutor will have to consent to an order allowing or requiring prospective jurors to participate by video conference. In addition, the court will have to determine whether such an order is appropriate, taking into account circumstances like the privacy and security of the prospective jurors and the challenges they face when it comes to in-person participation, as well as the accused's right to a fair and public hearing.
What is important to remember is that the use of technology is optional and at the judge’s discretion. It is not compulsory. It will help courts ensure the effective and efficient administration of justice. The proposed reforms will also better equip the courts to continue to operate during difficult times, whether because of a pandemic, which we experienced, a flood, which I experienced twice in my riding since 2015, or any other situation that could have an adverse impact on physical access to courthouses in the future.
Although these reforms can be put to greater use in the management of exceptional and urgent situations, they are not limited to such circumstances. They will apply on an ongoing basis so as to make sure our courts continue to offer technology use options in the years to come. In addition to improving the Criminal Code regime governing the use of technology, other reforms in this bill will improve access to justice and the efficiency of our criminal courts. For example, Bill will expand the power of courts to make case management rules permitting court personnel to deal with administrative matters related to extrajudicial proceedings for accused not represented by counsel.
We need to act and support this bill.
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to stand in this place to represent the constituents of Avalon. I am pleased to have the opportunity to provide an overview of some of the key areas of reform proposed in Bill , an act that would amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and make related amendments to other acts.
Bill would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of criminal proceedings by giving courts more flexibility and clarity in response to the particular challenges that arose in the pandemic. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the remote appearance provisions in the Criminal Code had just been reformed through a former bill, Bill , in 2019. Those amendments had been informed by the 2013 report of the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System, entitled “Report on the Use of Technology in the Criminal Justice System”, as well as consultations with provincial and territorial governments.
Bill continues to build on those reforms, taking into account new calls for reform by those working in the criminal justice system during the pandemic and courts' experiences with the increased use of technology that occurred as a result.
My remarks today will focus on the necessity of the proposed amendments relating to remote proceedings, which represent a continuation of existing legal practices here in Canada.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, criminal court proceedings were presumptively held in person. Remote appearances were permitted under the Criminal Code but were very much the exception. There were provisions in the Criminal Code to allow people to attend some proceedings by way of audio or visual connection, but since they were not routinely used, legal clarification or guidance was needed.
The pandemic had an abrupt and immediate effect on the operation of courts, as courts across Canada shut down for periods of time and had to figure out how to operate without in-person attendance or with very limited in-person attendance. To cope with the pandemic and maintain the administration of justice, including maintaining access to the courts, courts around the country pivoted away from in-person appearances and held numerous hearings and matters in a virtual space.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced changes to how courts operate. Unrestricted in-person appearances were no longer permitted, and initially courts were forced to adjourn the majority of appearances, ranging from pleas to trials. This created a backlog of cases in the court system that still needed to be heard, regardless of the circumstances of the pandemic. In many cases, having participants appear by video conference when possible allowed court operations to resume.
However, even with courts adapting and modernizing to address the challenges they faced during the pandemic, many remain unable to operate at their prepandemic capacity. Indeed, the median length of time for an adult case to resolve in criminal court increased when compared with prepandemic levels. Further complicating matters was the fact that the number of adult criminal court cases that exceeded the presumptive time limits set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Jordan had increased significantly since the onset of the pandemic.
Bill targets changes to the Criminal Code that would give courts increased flexibility in how they hold criminal proceedings and how they issue orders such as search warrants and production orders in the context of an investigation. These changes are needed to address the ongoing pressures on the criminal court system brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic and enhance access to justice for all Canadians, now and in the future. A key impact of these provisions would be a more efficient justice system that is equipped to serve Canadians and address the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic.
Allowing and continuing remote appearances is not just about responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote appearances would provide greater flexibility for courts to continue proceedings when it is not possible to do so in person for other reasons, such as natural disasters. During its study of the bill, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs heard witness testimony about the closure of the Calgary courthouse during the floods of 2013. Due to the natural disaster, the court was forced to close proceedings for a period of time. Matters could not be heard and were adjourned.
The changes proposed in Bill make clear that certain proceedings can move ahead by audio or visual conference, even when in-person attendance is not possible or safe, allowing courts to operate as efficiently as possible in the interest of all participants in the criminal justice system.
While there has been acceptance of proceedings occurring by way of audio or video conference, the reforms included in Bill S-4 do not seek to make this the norm or default. Indeed, as before, the principle set out in the Criminal Code will continue to be: “Except as otherwise provided... a person who appears at, participates in or presides at a proceeding shall do so in person.” This principle would not change. Rather than upending the legal system, the bill would continue to allow the flexibility of proceedings in a manner that makes sense in the circumstances, with appropriate safeguards built in.
When considering whether to authorize remote proceedings, courts will be obligated to consider the impact on the safety of the participants, while supporting greater access to justice moving forward, including for those living in remote communities. Courts would also be required to ensure that decisions to authorize remote appearances are exercised in accordance with the charter, including the right of an accused person to make full answer and defence, and to have a fair and public hearing.
While Bill would clarify and expand when remote appearances are possible, it would not be the first to introduce these concepts into the Criminal Code. At committee, there were some concerns expressed over a judge's ability to assess the credibility of witnesses and accused persons during remote proceedings, as well as the importance of protecting an accused person's ability to face their accuser.
While these are important considerations the court must turn its mind to in each case, they are not unique to the provisions Bill would amend. Indeed, courts have found that seeing a complainant or witness face to face is not fundamental to our system of justice, and the Criminal Code has permitted remote attendance by witnesses for more than 20 years.
Subsection 800(2.1) has authorized summary conviction trials by video for in-custody accused since 1997. Sections 714.1 and 714.2 have permitted appearances by witnesses by video conference since 1999. Bill , which was passed by this House in 2019, modernized and facilitated some appearances by audio and video conference of all persons involved in criminal cases, including judges, under certain circumstances.
Rather than overhauling criminal procedure, Bill would continue to permit proceedings by remote appearance. The bill would pick up where Bill left off, in light of the experience that was gained and the questions that arose with use of technology in the criminal courts during the pandemic. Bill S-4 would make practical and necessary amendments to the Criminal Code. These amendments would facilitate efficient operation of the criminal courts and have a direct impact on people who need or want to access the criminal justice system. The bill is not intended to make remote trials and hearings the norm, but rather would give the courts the flexibility to proceed in this manner when it is appropriate under the circumstances and where the technology exists.
These are limited but necessary reforms that have been developed in consultation with the provinces and territories and take into consideration the views of stakeholders. I am confident the bill and the proposed reforms would improve efficiencies in our criminal justice system while still providing careful oversight by the courts to ensure that the rights of accused persons and offenders are protected with the use of technology.
For these reasons, I urge all members to support Bill .
Madam Speaker, as always, it is an honour to join in the important debates and discussions that take place in the House and to be able to discuss the wide variety of issues, both directly and indirectly, addressed through Bill .
I will be streaming this speech live on Facebook, where I will endeavour to not only address some of the very important aspects of Bill but also endeavour to take feedback and comments from those who are watching on Facebook. My Facebook handle is “@dckurek”. I look forward to addressing some of the comments and concerns that constituents bring forward.
Bill would codify some of the dynamics that existed during the course of COVID. These are things like video appearances and certain technical and administrative challenges associated with the circumstances around offices being closed, for example, the fact that the fingerprinting could be a delayed process and a whole host of administrative concerns.
I would highlight and encourage those watching live on Facebook to share their stories as well about some of the dynamics associated with rural crime. Access to justice is something that is not unique to rural Canadians. This did not start in 2020 with COVID, and it certainly has not repaired itself as we have seen life get back normal.
My constituency, for example, as many who are watching from there will know, is about five hours from corner to corner, and it is hours to the nearest courthouse. In many cases, the response time of law enforcement to very serious crimes is measured in hours or even sometimes in days. It is an important context in which we see this soft-on-crime approach.
I happen to agree with a statement that was made the other day by one of my Conservative colleagues that this is a hug-a-thug approach. It is really unfortunate, because we are seeing that my constituents are facing the consequences of that soft-on-crime approach by not seeing our justice system as a system that serves justice. In fact, the most common statements that I receive from constituents are that we do not have a justice system, and that it is simply a poor excuse for a legal system.
I certainly see the Liberal record over the past seven years as being one that piles on failure after failure, whether it be Bill , which would eliminate a whole host of sentences for very serious crimes, or the , with an astounding level of ignorance and arrogance, who simply says that we will leave it up to the judges. I have more examples than I could fit in days of debate about where the justice system does not actually bring about the punishments that should certainly fit the crime, and we are seeing a massive erosion of trust in the system.
I see, specifically, a member from the government who seems to be participating in my Facebook live. I thank him for his viewership and amplification of the sound, common-sense Conservative message that certainly resonates with Canadians.
I would note something that I think is especially relevant. There is an astounding level of ignorance displayed by the Liberals, and this was highlighted just the other day. The rule of law, to them, seems to be this plaything. I would like to read a text message sent from the that was revealed at the Emergencies Act inquiry commission. The parliamentary secretary who just commented on my feed should maybe pay attention to this. It says:
...you need to get the police to move....
And the CAF if necessary....
Too many people are being seriously adversely impacted by what is an occupation. I am getting out as soon as I can. People are looking to us/you for leadership. And not stupid people. People like Carney, Cath, my team.
The reply goes on to say, “How many tanks are you asking for...I just wanna ask [the ] how many we've got on hand.”
The response from Canada's was, “I reckon one will do.”
That is astounding, and I would suggest disgusting, that the Liberals would suggest that pulling out tanks to bring to the streets of our capital city would, in any universe, be an acceptable practice. We see how—
Absolutely, Madam Speaker.
We see how the Liberal government is refusing access to justice for Canadians.
Bill has some practical steps to ensure that my constituents would see a small step forward to be able to access the court system through things like video conference and whatnot. However, this is in the context of the larger trend where we have the Liberals more concerned about tanks on our streets than ensuring that Canadians have justice.
Somebody watching made the comment that we need time that fits the crime. We have a justice system, as is being highlighted by some of those who are commenting, where instead of prioritizing the rights of victims, in some cases those whom have seen absolutely devastating crimes, including sexual assault or a firearm being discharged with intent, the Liberals are eliminating sentences.
My constituents have made it very clear. The Liberals like to say that somehow we do not support justice or whatever the case is. There is one party in the House that stands up for victims, and that is the Conservative Party. That is increasingly clear, as we see the Liberals demand that somehow a soft-on-crime approach is a good way to stand up for victims of crime. That could not be further from the truth. We see a backlog within the court system that is leaving serious crimes without even seeing their day in court.
Imagine a victim, such as a senior in my constituency who came to me with respect to being held up at gunpoint. This was with an illegal gun, and it was not by a law-abiding firearms owner. That individual skipped bail, and in less than four hours they were back on the street. There were threats made against RCMP officers in my constituency, and we saw that within less than a day somebody who had threatened the life of an RCMP officer was back out on the street. This has a very significant correlation to the way that we have access to justice in this country.
I would suggest that the Liberals pay close attention, because there are many victims. These are not traditional Conservative supporters. I am not talking about just the folks I represent in rural Alberta. I am talking about folks from Liberal ridings who in some cases have reached out to Conservatives and said they are frustrated with that Liberal approach.
Somebody in the comments asked when the is going to resign. Certainly, I would have a whole host of constituents who would be very interested in finding the answer to that question.
Here is another example. Somebody on Facebook highlighted that the government spends more time persecuting law-abiding firearms owners than it does those who perpetrate serious crimes, including serious gun crimes. The hypocrisy that is demonstrated in that on a daily basis has contributed to that erosion of trust that is taking place within our system. This is something that I hope that the Liberals listen to very closely.
An erosion of trust is something that is very difficult to earn back. That is not something that is simply a platitude, a campaign-platform promise or whatever the case is. It takes time, it takes effort and it takes a demonstration. I have said this before in this place and I will say it again: If the Liberals are good at one thing it is politics, but when it comes to actually governing they fail each and every time.
In fact, I find it very interesting that, whether it be on the issues directly related to Bill , which has a lot to do with access to the justice system and that sort of thing or the host of other concerns that MPs in this place hear on a regular basis, we see that over the past seven years the—
Madam Speaker, let me take this opportunity to highlight that I find it really ironic that the so-called progressives in this place would be opposed, with the exception of the member from the NDP. I am certainly endeavouring to make this place more accessible to the people, using something like social media to ensure that could be the case. I find it very interesting that the members from the Liberal Party seem to be concerned that Canadians would know what is going on in this place. I will do everything I can to expose the Liberal management of government, whether it is its legislative agenda or whatever the case.
I happen to know a constituent who works with victims of crime a lot, and her name is Michelle Hauser. She just commented on this video, saying nobody feels safe. That encompasses much of the concern that many of my constituents are facing when it comes to the status of justice here in Canada. Law enforcement response times in rural communities are not only measured in hours but sometimes in days, and I am not talking about a minor infraction, that somebody jaywalked across a gravel road. I am talking about major crimes, robberies, assaults, things like that. Access to justice is fundamental to a modern, functioning democracy, and we see that being taken away.
The Liberals delayed for more than a year the appointment of the victims ombudsman. I am pleased there was an appointment made as it was absolutely necessary, but we see the soft-on-crime approach, where the is more worried about bringing tanks to the streets of our capital city to shut down protesters the Liberals disagree with than ensuring that regular Canadians have access to the fundamental principles of justice, which I would hope every member of this place supports.
We see the necessity of law enforcement having the tools required to gather the evidence, to make sure there is time within our court system, so people can have their day in court, both for those accused of crimes and also to ensure victims have everything required so they can see justice done. If justice is not done, that erodes the confidence Canadians need to have, not just in the legal system proper but in every facet of government. If Canadians cannot feel safe in their own homes, that fundamentally erodes one of the very basic principles of what makes western democracy.
I speak with law enforcement often, whether it is the Mounties in my constituency who drive up and down the many thousands of kilometres in my riding or the Camrose Police Service, which does great work, and many of the officers do fantastic service to the community.
Some have come to me confidentially and said it is overwhelming for them. They will, in some cases, spend late nights burning the midnight oil after a long day of patrol or gathering information on investigations, and all of these sorts of things, yet when the case goes before a judge, it is simply tossed. Imagine how somebody in law enforcement would feel after spending days putting together a case, only to have it tossed out and the criminal back on the streets victimizing again. These are very serious things. I cannot emphasize that enough.
The revolving door of the justice system is a real concern. It is one thing for the system to ensure that those who are brought within it, having been accused of a crime, are not unnecessarily held up or anything like that. However, when those who have multiple arrest warrants are arrested again for something that may be unrelated or in another jurisdiction, and then all of a sudden they are back out on the streets again, we are talking about access to justice. For the many victims, the consequence is that their victimizers are once again out on the streets.
A comment from Lynn says, “No one should be above the law.”
I agree. No one should. That is a message the should take seriously. No one should be above the law, not one person, whether it is each and every one of the 338 of us in this place, or every single Canadian. The rule of law is at the very foundation of who we are as a democratic society. To see an erosion of that is absolutely devastating.
A question is asked by Shawna about how we address parole issues. It is a huge concern.
We occasionally hear the stories that grab a headline about some horrific crime that has been committed and that criminal who has been found guilty of that crime. Then there is a public outpouring that keeps that person behind bars, yet we see continually from the government a pursuit of an agenda that would lessen the ability to keep some of those serious criminals behind bars. That is relevant because it is victims who ultimately suffer.
We need to figure out a path forward so that serious sexual predators in the country face the consequences of their crimes.
That is essential for the safety of our society in general. Although it did not happen in my constituency, there is a very clear example. A young woman and her baby were killed. Her partner is from my constituency, so it hits really close to home. They were living next door to a sexual predator. They were murdered. It was a failure of the justice system.
Access to justice is fundamental and key. We are seeing it is being increasingly denied to Canadians.
I take that point about losing faith in the RCMP institution. There has been political interference in the largest mass shooting in Canadian history. The commissioner of the RCMP was facing political pressure from a minister to further the Liberals' political agenda.
We talk about access to justice. When we have the top brass of Canada's national law enforcement organization facing political pressure—
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am pleased to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other acts. Bill S-4 addresses issues that the COVID–19 pandemic has brought to light regarding the ways in which criminal trials are conducted in this country. It also builds on past government initiatives, including Bill , which came into force in 2019 and made significant progress in modernizing our criminal justice system, including by facilitating the appearance of accused persons, lawyers and judges by audioconference or video conference throughout the criminal justice process. Bill C-75 also enacted Criminal Code amendments to improve the jury selection process.
Bill 's amendments support the increased use of technology in criminal courts across Canada, including in the following areas: remote appearances for accused persons and offenders, remote participation of prospective jurors and the use of technology in a jury selection process. My remarks today will focus on the amendments relating to the use of technology during the jury selection process.
As many members know, a jury is a group of randomly selected citizens who act as the fact-finders in criminal trials, replacing the judge in this role when accused persons exercise their subsection 11(f) charter right to a jury trial after being charged with certain offences. It is the civic duty of all Canadians over the age of 18 to serve on a jury if selected. Jurors make critical contributions to the criminal justice system in Canada, and the Supreme Court of Canada has held that a jury reflects the common sense, values and conscience of the community.
Subsection 11(d) of the charter also guarantees an accused person an independent, impartial and representative jury. The Criminal Code sets out the procedural rules regulating jury trials and jury selection and includes safeguards that reflect this charter right.
The jury selection process is a hearing held for the purposes of selecting qualified members to form the jury. Typically, persons referred to as prospective jurors are identified and summoned in accordance with provincial or territorial laws, and directed to attend at a specified courthouse or other location at a specified date and time in order to partake in a jury selection process. Being summoned for jury duty does not necessarily mean that a person will be asked to serve on the jury. However, compliance with the summons is mandatory, and people may only be excused from jury duty for certain reasons, including where it would cause personal hardship for them to serve.
The COVID–19 pandemic and public health requirements for physical distancing posed significant challenges for the jury selection process since it sometimes involves several hundred people being physically present in the same location at the same time. Bill 's amendments provide courts with the flexibility to hold jury selection processes with prospective jurors appearing by video conference rather than in person. These amendments aim to not only address the challenges caused by the pandemic, but also optimize the jury selection process beyond the pandemic and moving forward.
Importantly, a key aspect of Bill will be increased efficiency of the justice system, facilitated by the use of technology. The amendments enable a court to allow or require prospective jurors to participate by video conference so long as the court considers it appropriate and the accused person and Crown prosecutor consent to the jury selection process occurring this way.
Where a court allows a prospective juror to participate by video conference, it would be that individual's choice whether they want to participate in person or remotely. Where the court requires prospective jurors to participate in a jury selection process by video conference, it will need to approve a location that is equipped with the technological infrastructure for them to participate by those means, such as a community centre or a courtroom set up with the requisite equipment.
If the court does not approve such a location, it will only be able to permit prospective jurors to participate by video conference from another location, such their home or office, if they choose to participate that way. However, in this case, the court will also need to provide the option for prospective jurors to participate in the jury selection process in person.
These amendments aim to maintain the representativeness of the jury selection process in two ways.
First, they facilitate the participation of persons in the jury selection process by reducing the burdens and barriers of attending in person. Although participating by video conference from home or the office would not eliminate the need to take time off work, it would likely lessen the time commitment required compared to commuting to the courthouse and waiting sometimes several hours for the process to commence. This can facilitate the participation of prospective jurors living in rural or remote areas by minimizing travel time and costs, and help those who need to find child care or who hold precarious employment by reducing the time required for child care or the time they need to take off work. These changes would both reduce the burden for individual jurors and enhance the efficiency of the overall system.
Second, the changes would ensure that persons who do not have access to adequate video conferencing technology or who have a limited understanding of the technology will continue to be able to participate in the jury selection process and ultimately form part of the trial's jury.
Our government recognizes that there is a digital divide in Canada and that many Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, do not have adequate access to a high-speed and stable Internet connection. Although the government is committed to closing the divide, the amendments would ensure that at least a properly equipped location or an option to appear in person will always be available to prospective jurors to ensure participation by as many Canadians as possible.
The bill's amendments to the jury selection process also include important safeguards. As mentioned previously, prior to permitting or acquiring prospective jurors to participate by video conference, both the accused person and the prosecutor will need to consent to such an order being made. Also, the court will need to determine that making such an order is appropriate by considering listed factors, including the challenges related to the in-person participation of prospective jurors, their privacy and security, and the accused person's right to a fair and public hearing.
I would also like to take a moment to touch on the related proposals that would permit the use of electronic or automated means to randomly select prospective jurors during the jury selection process. The current process is both time- and resource-intensive, as it requires a large number of physical cards with juror identification information on them to be manually created for each prospective juror and then manually drawn as well. This amendment would provide courts with the option of a more efficient and less resource-draining process. Along with the amendments previously discussed, it also aims to optimize the jury selection process beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
I believe this bill helps transform and modernize our criminal justice system while ensuring respect for all persons involved in the criminal court process, including accused persons and prospective jurors. A more efficient justice system will benefit all Canadians, and I ask that all members of the House support the passage of this bill as quickly as possible.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking to Bill at second reading today.
Bill would reform the Criminal Code and related acts in order to modernize the criminal justice system here in Canada. The bill seeks to provide courts with greater flexibility in the manner in which they conduct their business, while respecting the rights of all participants in our justice system. As a former litigator, I understand and truly believe in the importance of doing this. While I will detail some of the specific measures included in the bill in my speech today, I would like to take a moment to speak more broadly about why modernizing our justice system is so critical, particularly at this time.
Let us take, for example, gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is on the rise. Frontline organizations saw increases in gender-based violence of about 20% during the pandemic. Domestic violence, in particular, is on the rise. We are at the beginning of our 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Access to justice is a critical piece of solving this puzzle. We have seen backlogs in the courts due to the pandemic. We have seen increases in the demand for our justice system and, in particular, for the time of our judges. Therefore, freeing up resources and ensuring that judges are available in the courts in order to do the work that Canadians need them to do is of fundamental importance in respect of gender-based violence and all forms of violence in this country. Bill would go a long way toward ensuring that our justice system is not only modernized but is in fact streamlined, and that additional resources are available for litigants who require them.
I will now speak more specifically to the telewarrant-related amendments of Bill , which have been well received by many witnesses. Witnesses noted that these new provisions would simplify the warrant application process, improve access to judicial services and, very importantly, save police resources.
Under the current Criminal Code provisions on telewarrants, peace officers can apply for and obtain only certain investigative warrants by telephone or other means of telecommunication. The telewarrant regime was enacted in the Criminal Code in 1985, so it is time to reform that system.
It is important to remember that the telewarrant regime was established to provide law enforcement with greater access to judges for the purpose of obtaining search warrants. It was established to make it easier to meet some of the challenges associated with policing in a country so vast that the nearest courthouse can easily be 1,000 kilometres away.
The telewarrant provisions have been amended only occasionally since they were first enacted. For instance, they were amended in 1994 to allow for an applicant to request a search warrant by a means of telecommunication capable of rendering the communication in written form. The purpose at the time was to accommodate new forms of written communication, including the fax machine.
During the pandemic, the courts were able to rely on new technologies to reduce the health risks to those involved in the judicial system. This experience demonstrated the important role that technology can play in addressing challenges in the criminal justice system. Accordingly, the expansion of the telewarrant process would provide greater flexibility in how the courts and police can meet the requirements for obtaining investigative tools without having an impact on judicial protections that apply to the issuance of search warrants and other judicial authorizations.
Judges and justices of the peace will continue to rule on these matters in the manner they deem to be most appropriate. With this approach, we are modernizing our judicial system to make justice more efficient and freeing up time and resources for our judges and law enforcement.
Let us talk again about gender-based violence. We know that it is growing at a very alarming rate, and that access to justice is fundamental for women. We are embarking on the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and we must make the necessary changes to our justice system to ensure better access to justice for all. That is fundamental.
The amendments to the telewarrant process address the following issues. First, the current telewarrant regime is available for only some warrants and investigative orders under the Criminal Code, such as a general warrant or a warrant to obtain blood samples in impaired driving cases. However, the telewarrant regime cannot be used for many common judicial authorizations sought by law enforcement, such as warrants to seize firearms, warrants for trafficking devices and orders to produce data.
In addition, at the present time, telewarrants, as opposed to warrants obtained by personal attendance, may be issued only in respect of indictable offences, and telewarrant applications may be made only to specially designated justices. Furthermore, while public officers responsible for enforcing federal statutes may apply for Criminal Code search warrants and other judicial authorizations, they can do so only by applying in person.
Given the limited scope of the telewarrant process, police officers spend countless hours on the road and waiting outside the office of the justice of the peace at the courthouse to get warrants that cannot currently be requested by a means of telecommunication.
Bill replaces the current provisions on telewarrants with a simplified, standardized process that will apply to a wide variety of search warrants, orders and investigative authorizations, while maintaining the protective measures for the issuance of judicial authorizations.
One key element of this new process is that where the search warrant application is submitted by means of a telecommunication that produces a writing, for example, an email, a peace officer will no longer be required to meet the existing precondition that is in place right now, that it has to be impracticable to appear in person.
The current in-person search warrant application process often involves hand delivery of applications by police officers at the courthouse, without even an interaction with a judge. By removing the impracticable appearance in person requirement, search warrant applications submitted in written form will be treated in the exact same way, whether they are submitted electronically or in person.
However, the police officer's ability to make an oral application for a search warrant by phone, for example, will be maintained in situations in which it is impracticable to present the application electronically, for example, where the officer is in a remote location with no Internet access. These changes to the current law on accessing telewarrant regimes promote the use of written applications as a standard approach to be followed by law enforcement when applying for their authorizations.
In closing, making it possible to obtain a wider variety of search warrants and other judicial authorizations through technological means will make the criminal justice system more effective by reducing the number of cases where law enforcement is required to obtain those judicial authorizations in person and to physically submit requests for search warrants.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak to Bill . I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for . We are looking forward to hearing his comments as well.
As we all know, the goal of this bill is to increase the efficiency, the effectiveness and the accessibility of the criminal justice system in response to the challenges that we had with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to the enormous backlog that we have in the criminal justice system today.
The Conservatives have been raising concerns about delays and potential for criminals to simply walk free due to the Supreme Court's decision on Jordan. That decision said that no more than 18 months could pass between laying a charge and the end of a trial case in provincial courts or 30 months for cases in superior courts. We have seen a number of cases throughout Canada, provincially, certainly exceeding the 18 months over the last couple of years.
In the interest of serving justice, why would we not implement all the modern tools and resources at our disposal today to maximize productivity?
The resources being considered include amending the process for peace officers to apply and obtain a warrant using telecommunication rather than appear in person and expanding the ability to conduct fingerprinting of the accused at a later date, in exceptional circumstances, should fingerprinting not previously have been taken. The justice would have the discretion to determine what would be considered necessary in these circumstances.
Also being considered is expanding the power of courts to make case management rules permitting court personnel to deal with administrative matters for accused who are not presented by counsel. We currently have a case in Saskatoon to which this certainly applies. Currently, this only applies to those represented by counsel.
Also being considered is expanding the ability for the accused and offenders to appear remotely by audio conference or even video conference in certain circumstances and the allowing of the participation of prospective jurors in the jury selection process by video conference if deemed appropriate and if the prosecutor and the accused consent, as well as using electronic and automatic means to select jurors.
Some of these modernizations are beneficial from both a safety and a financial perspective. For example, participating virtually would cut down on the transportation time and the cost and the resources needed to transport and protect the accused.
As we know, transportation costs are skyrocketing, it seems like every day. We all know that. It is not an insignificant consideration, considering the price of diesel and gas, especially in remote and northern communities.
The federal ombudsman for victims of crime has also raised a number of concerns regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the justice system, which must be carefully weighed in the consideration of Bill .
The ombudsman pointed out that accessing justice in remote areas of the country, where bandwidth and Internet access remain an issue, could have a negative impact on the delivery of justice. We would not want to see that.
She also flagged the issue of ensuring that jurors remain anonymous and the potential to compromise their privacy with facial recognition software. For some victims and their families, it is an important part of their healing process to see the accused and the offenders in person or by video conference. In these situations, the use of a telephone would certainly deprive them of this opportunity.
The needs of the victim must, and I repeat, must always be weighed when considering an amendment to the Criminal Code.
Access to the Internet for rural Canadians has been a long issue in our country. The current government has promised for years to improve access to the Internet, and we know that this is a big issue in rural Saskatchewan, where I live, and certainly in remote and northern spots in Canada. It is blotchy at best, as it cuts in and out, and it has been an issue for the last seven years that the government has been in office.
Not everyone has access to the Internet. We saw this during COVID where schools tried to participate in classrooms and some did not even have access to a computer. There are issues with the Internet, which is a concern for prospective jurors to appear by video conference during the jury selection.
A jury summons, as we all know, is a very serious responsibility. However, I think many Canadians simply cannot take time off, particularly if one is a small business owner. It is near impossible for many to be compensated properly. As we all know, time is money and for the majority in our country, the two are certainly hard to fit in when someone does open that letter up and has been selected for jury duty.
Our legal system, without question, and we have talked about it for the last two days in this place, needs to improve. Bill aims to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and accessibility of the criminal justice system in response to the challenges that we have heard of over the last two years with the pandemic. The bill would also clarify and somewhat broaden the circumstances under which accused individuals, the offenders and others involved in criminal proceedings, may appear by audio conference or video conference.
I want to step back and have members think about the horrible incident we had at the James Smith reserve in my province of Saskatchewan, where, unfortunately, 11 people lost their lives over a warrant that had been out for months for Myles Sanderson.
If members recall, Sanderson became one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history. That day was September 4. Sanderson murdered 11 and injured 18 others during an early morning killing spree. In total, when Sanderson did die, he had been charged with 125 crimes. James Smith is a small community, roughly about 1,900, in northeast Saskatchewan. Therefore, when we see tragedies like this occur, we often have to ask ourselves if we could have prevented this. The warning signals were there for months, if not years.
It is not a coincidence that, since 2015, the violent crime rate in Canada has gone up 32%. This is a staggering statistic that for which the government must answer.
The community of James Smith is now left to pick up the pieces of this senseless act. The community has been victimized. Victims should be given at least as much consideration as offenders, but in Bill , they are not even mentioned once. This soft-on-crime agenda by the Liberal government is not serving justice in our country.
The bill follows other pre-pandemic efforts to modernize the criminal justice system and reduce the delays in court proceedings. Delays in the criminal justice were already a serious issue before the pandemic. The measures contained in Bill would both modernize and make it more efficient, hopefully, for certain aspects of the delivery of justice.
Several family members have come forward in recent weeks with traumatic stories from the James Smith Cree Nation tragedy. Their stories are a crucial part in the healing process in the delivery of justice on that reserve. These are people we must be mindful of when crafting, carefully, this legislation. If we get the bill right, it will balance the need to improve efficiency with the rights of the people it serves, and always consider the victims and their families as a cornerstone of any justice legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise here today to speak in the House about Bill . We have been spending some time reviewing the attributes of the bill and the importance of making sure we address the backlog issue in the criminal justice system and the ways we can better expedite that. This is obviously in relation to the aftermath and effects of COVID-19 and the ever-increasing backlogs. One way of addressing them is to make sure that the technology available and disposable to us is utilized effectively to help address issues where possible.
That is why overall in principle we support the bill. There may be some friendly amendments we want to see passed through the process of the bill working its way through the House, but the need to address the challenges and the backlogs in the criminal justice system should be paramount.
There is a rising frustration with the backlog issue and people who are facing delays in justice. There is an expression for this: Justice delayed is ultimately justice denied. We need to do whatever we can as parliamentarians to effectively address that backlog and make sure that justice is delivered fairly, equitably and expeditiously.
In preparation for my remarks today, I could not help but think of an old country song. I think it is a folk song. I will not sing it today, as all members would leave here very quickly, but it is an old song they may recognize:
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza,
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.
Then she says:
So fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry,
So fix it dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.
Then he goes through all of the excuses about straw and needing an axe, which will not work because it is dull. Then she says to use a rock and sharpen the axe. Well, he cannot find a rock. Then she says they will get water and fix that.
They go back and forth, and the bottom line is that the excuses kept coming for not addressing the hole in the bucket. He kept offering up reasons as to why it could not be fixed. The hole never got addressed, but the excuses kept being offered. Well, I stand in the House today to say that there is a hole in the justice bucket, dear Speaker, dear Speaker, and we need to address the hole.
It is not just the backlogs, so today I want to address the bigger issue, which is stopping the revolving door into and out of our prison system.
We cannot address the backlog issue without discussing the bigger picture. How do we make sure that those who have committed crimes, served their time, paid their debt to society and returned back to their communities do not re-enter the judicial system, clog it up again and create more backlogs? The best way to do that is to address the hole in the bucket, as it were, and make sure we are addressing the rates of recidivism and how we can collectively get those rates down.
The best way we can do that is through effective partnerships. Yes, government has a role. Yes, the judicial system has a role. However, so do some tremendous organizations and groups in our country, across the nation, that help make sure we address the root causes of the hole in the individual's bucket.
How do we do that? It is not just by reaching across the aisle here to get good legislation passed, which is important and one step, and making sure that bills are improved upon and made the best they can be to address backlogs. It is also by looking at the best practices around the world, not just here at home within our country, where there are some great practices having great results that need to be looked at. Let us look across the world for systems and programs that are having a tremendous effect in reducing the overall rates of recidivism.
This is a passion for me. In the last Parliament, I had the privilege of seeing my private member's bill, Bill , pass and become a law thanks to the overwhelming support of members on both sides of the aisle. I am very thankful for that and had good input on that bill from various parties. We saw it come out of the Senate unanimously and it became a law in June 2021. That bill was for addressing recidivism and making sure we do what we can to bring those rates down and stop the revolving door into and out of our prison system.
At the time, just a year and a half ago, when I proposed the bill and the bill went through, the rates of recidivism in this country were close to 25%. That means that up to 25% of people who served their time and got out of federal prison were ending up back in the criminal justice system within two years.
That is a tragic statistic, but what is even more tragic is that those stats have gotten worse in the last 18 months. I can tell members that right now it is nearly a third, or close to 33%. According to the latest StatsCan statistics on the Department of Justice website, over 30% of adult offenders are finding themselves reconvicted. Talk about a hole in the bucket. We have a massive hole in the bucket in the criminal justice system in Canada that needs to be addressed.
Some would say we have to do “this”, and it is going to be the ultimate answer, or we could do “that”, and it is going to be the ultimate answer. I think it is going to take different types of approaches to get the balance right to correct this problem.
There is a punitive role in criminal justice. There absolutely has to be adequate punishment for severity of crimes, absolutely. If someone does a crime, time has to be served, and we must make sure they pay their debt to society, especially for heinous and violent crimes. That is absolutely critical, and we advocate for that on this side of the House.
However, we also need to recognize that there is a role for restorative justice. It is a role for those who come alongside and are complementary on the back end to make sure that those who have committed a crime, once they have done their time, are not only getting help while they are serving their time. Perhaps this is done with new and innovative programs, like what is being proposed by my hon. colleague from with her recent private member's bill to address addictions while people are incarcerated. It would be a great step in the right direction to start some of that good programming while they are on the inside.
Let us also make sure that when they get on the outside, we are partnering with effective organizations that are doing tremendous work. Then, once people are released from the prison system, they can find a place to go where they can get their education completed, get 12-step programming, get life skills development and get job opportunities and placements. Often when people come out of the criminal justice system, it is hard for them to find meaningful employment because they have a criminal record.
How can we effectively work together with other organizations to find solutions, not only at the front end while they are incarcerated but also once they have been released?
What would go a long way in addressing the backlogs in the criminal justice system is reducing crime overall. We need to deter crime with a punitive approach to make sure that if someone does criminal activity, there is a consequence. However, there also needs to be a restorative approach that makes sure that if someone has messed up and made a mistake, we have supports that can bring them the help they need to make sure they do not go back to a life of crime. I think this two-pronged approach is going to help address the proverbial hole in the bucket that needs to be addressed.
I thank the Speaker for the opportunity to address this today and to be in the House. I cannot help but think of all those who are serving in the field, volunteering and helping to make a difference in keeping people from going back to a criminal lifestyle. I pay tribute to them today. I thank the volunteer organizations, non-profit organizations, chaplains and others who are doing the hard work, the necessary work, the work of coming alongside the wounded in our society to make sure they are getting the help they need. Let us help our communities as a whole, help victims and make sure that those who perpetrate crimes do not reoffend and that they help others in need.
With that, I conclude my remarks today, and I thank the House for the opportunity to address this. Let us do all we can to fix the hole in the justice bucket.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased today to have an opportunity to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other acts on the COVID-19 response and other measures. This bill would increase our justice system's efficiency and ensure that all Canadians have equal access.
The COVID-19 pandemic altered our everyday lives, including necessitating new ways of accessing the criminal justice system. The solutions invented to accommodate our circumstances proved efficient and should be used going forward to optimize the ways in which criminal trials are conducted in Canada. This bill's proposed amendments support the increased use of technology in criminal courts across Canada. This has a variety of applications, such as the use of technology in the jury selection process, remote participation of prospective jurors and remote appearances for accused persons and offenders.
I want to focus first on the amendments relating to the jury selection process. The amendments would enable a court to allow or require prospective jurors to participate by video conference so long as the court considers it appropriate and the accused person and Crown prosecutor consent to the jury selection process occurring this way. When a court allows prospective jurors to participate by video conference, it will be an individual's choice whether they want to participate in person or remotely.
Importantly, Bill accompanies the government's efforts to increase remote Internet access across our country and close the digital divide. However, while we work toward efficient Canada-wide Internet access, there are measures in place to help individuals who may not have optimal connection. When the court requires prospective jurors to participate in the jury selection process by video conference, it would need to approve a location equipped with the technological infrastructure for them to participate by those means, such as a community centre or courtroom set up with the requisite equipment.
If the court does not approve such a location, it will only be able to permit prospective jurors to participate by video conference from other locations, such their homes or offices, if they choose to participate that way. However, in this case, the court would also need to provide the option for prospective jurors to participate in the jury selection process in person.
These amendments would help our jury system represent the face of Canada. Increased representativeness would be ensured by first reducing the barrier of attending in person. Prospective jurors living in rural or remote areas would enjoy minimized travel time and costs, and those who need to find child care or who hold precarious employment would experience reduced time required to find alternative child care or time needed off work. It would also reduce emissions, I will add.
Second, the changes would ensure that persons who do not have access to adequate video conferencing technology, or who have limited understanding of the technology itself, would continue to be able to participate in the jury selection process and ultimately form part of the trial jury. These are critical measures to bridge discrepancies in Internet access while we work to shore up connection across Canada, including in my home province of New Brunswick.
In addition to improving the Criminal Code regime governing the use of technology, other reforms in this bill would improve access to justice and efficiencies in our criminal courts. For example, Bill would expand the power of courts to make case management rules to allow court personnel to deal directly with unrepresented accused persons on administrative matters for out-of-court proceedings. Currently this is only permitted if the accused person is represented by counsel. This may represent a relatively small change to the Criminal Code, but I believe it would go a long way to improving access to justice for unrepresented accused persons.
It is very important to note that these uses of technology are optional and subject to the judge's discretion, as opposed to being mandatory. I want to stress this point. These measures would assist courts in continuing to deliver justice in an effective and efficient way. The proposed reforms would also better equip courts with the tools to keep things moving during challenging times, because of a pandemic, a flood or any other situation that could hinder physical access to the courts in the future. While these reforms may be relied on in a more significant way in managing exceptional and emergency circumstances, they would not be limited to such circumstances. They would apply on a permanent basis to ensure that the options to use technology continue to be available to our courts for years to come.
Another important element of increased efficiency in this bill pertains to digital fingerprinting. Bill would amend the Criminal Code to allow a court to issue a summons for fingerprinting if an accused was previously required to appear but such identification was not completed for exceptional reasons. In addition, courts would be able to make an order for the fingerprinting of an accused person being released on bail. These reforms would facilitate the efficient collection of fingerprints, which is critical for the smooth functioning of our court system. When courts operate efficiently, more Canadians access justice and our country is better off.
The expanded telewarrant system is also critical. Expanding the possibility of obtaining a greater number of search warrants and other judicial authorizations by means of telecommunication would contribute to efficiency gains in the criminal justice system by reducing the need for in-person attendance and physical delivery of search warrant applications by law enforcement. Indeed courts have found that seeing a complainant or witness face to face is not fundamental to our system of justice, and the Criminal Code has permitted remote attendance by witnesses for more than 20 years.
Subsection 800(2.1) has, since 1997, authorized summary conviction trials by video for accused persons in custody. Sections 714.1 and 714.2 have permitted appearances by witnesses by video conference since 1999.
Bill , which was passed by the House in 2019, modernized and facilitated some appearances by audio or video conferences of all persons involved in criminal cases, including judges, under certain circumstances.
Rather than overhauling criminal procedure, Bill continues to permit proceedings by remote appearance. This bill picks up where Bill left off, in light of the experience gained and the questions that arose with the use of technology in the criminal courts during the pandemic.
I would like to personalize this for a bit, if I may. Before I joined the House, my work was centred on supporting youth at risk in the education system. From time to time, students would find themselves interacting with the justice system. I had the opportunity to help them navigate these public institutions, understand their rights, and when the circumstances permitted, to also pursue justice. I remember a particularly frustrating time in which unnecessary delays prolonged the personal suffering of a survivor of sexual assault, adding to their trauma. I remember the anger and frustration this evoked and the feelings of helplessness for all involved.
Canadians deserve a justice system that is accessible, efficient and effective, and that provides true access to justice for all. The pandemic has taught us that technology can be used to help make the justice system work better for all people who come in contact with it. Bill proposes a range of reforms that will make court proceedings more flexible while protecting the rights of participants.
The reforms proposed in Bill flow from the important work of the action committee on court operations in response to COVID–19, co-chaired by the and Chief Justice Richard Wagner. They are also informed by important contributions from the provinces and territories, as well as other justice system stakeholders. With Bill , we have the opportunity to improve our justice system by making those good ideas permanent.
Bill is an example of how we can improve the legal system, but there are other ways we can also discuss pushing things forward. I would like to mention restorative justice, which is an approach that seeks to repair harm by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about it and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime.
It will invest in programs for first nations and indigenous courts as well, creating more pathways for healing by including indigenous knowledge and traditions, restorative justice practices and elders in the court process.
It will reform how sexual assault cases are prosecuted in Canada through a feminist equality lens.
It will ensure that everyone, regardless of income level, should be able to use the remedies that Canadian laws and the Canadian legal system provide.
It focuses on a system truly built on preventing youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, responding to the needs of young persons, and providing guidance and support.
Without continuing our work on multiple fronts, we cannot claim that there will be true justice for anyone who is involved in legal proceedings. Bill is part of the solution, and we need to continue to build on it to restore confidence in our legal system.
In 2022, the national justice survey revealed that 49% of Canadians are not confident the Canadian criminal justice system is fair to all people, and that 39% think it is not accessible to all. These numbers are incredibly alarming, and Bill is a step in the right direction.
In conclusion, Bill 's measures are both practical and necessary. They would assist the provinces and territories, which are responsible for the criminal administration of justice, by giving criminal courts additional tools to tackle delays. They would also benefit everyday court users. For these reasons, I urge everyone in the House to support Bill .
Mr. Speaker, as always, it is a deep honour that I am allowed to stand in this place and represent the incredible people of Edmonton Strathcona, and particularly to speak about Bill .
Bill is all about increasing access to justice. It would make sure that all Canadians have the equal right or the equal access to our judicial system. It would remove barriers to justice and do all of the things that everyone in the House will and can support.
I am very happy to see this legislation. I commend the government for bringing this legislation forward. It makes sense. Our judicial system has been neglected. We have not modernized our judicial system to keep up with the times, to stay current and to be as accessible as it could be.
This would make part of our judicial system better. It would increase the use of technology in appropriate ways. It would include increasing audio and video conferencing options, which will vastly improve the ability of people in remote or northern communities to access justice. As I have said, it will modernize our system, and this is an important thing that we need to do as legislators. As parliamentarians, our role is to continuously look at how we can improve our judicial system, how we can make it more accessible and make it better for all Canadians.
The hope is that it would fundamentally fix the backlogs in our system. There were backlogs that we saw during COVID and that we saw even before COVID. The backlogs have meant that justice has been denied. As many have said before me today in the House, justice delayed is justice denied.
I am happy that the government brought this forward, and the New Democrats will be supporting it. However, I have some serious concerns about why it took the government so long to bring it back. It was something that was put before us in the last Parliament. An unnecessary election was called and therefore it died on the Order Paper. The election was in September 2021, so it has been 14 months since that time, and we have not seen this legislation before now. While I am commending the government for bringing it forward, I would have liked to see this come sooner.
When I look at this legislation, I have to reflect on what more could be done. We have seen some real challenges and questions, both at a provincial level and a federal level, in terms of appointing judges, making sure that judges are adequately appointed and making sure that questions around how judges are appointed are transparent and Canadians can trust that.
One area that is very important to me is the failure to support legal aid properly. This is both a federal and a provincial jurisdiction. As a member of Parliament who represents the citizens of Alberta, I have to say that Alberta is in crisis right now with our legal aid system.
I will read from an article in The Globe and Mail that was published earlier this year by Deborah Hatch, who is the director of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers and the past president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association of Alberta. She said, “For as long as the provincial government resists increasing legal aid funding in a substantial and immediate way, individuals in the justice system, and ultimately our democracy, will suffer.” It is quite shocking that, ultimately, our democracy will suffer.
It is clear to me that in recent years, with the failures to appoint judges and with the failures to fully support our legal aid system, in fact, Albertans have had less access to legal services. Albertans' access and ability to interact with our legal services have been reduced. While it is happening in Alberta, and it is a provincial jurisdiction, it is something that all parliamentarians must be watching and be deeply concerned with.
The Canadian Bar Association wrote last month that without adequately funded legal aid, our justice system will continue to deteriorate.
The Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association said, “lawyers in the defence bar who represent the accused through legal aid deserve fair and competitive compensation”. However, that is not happening right now in Alberta.
One interesting statistic, when I look at legal aid, that I find fascinating, is in this quote: “Independent research has shown that $2.25-million is saved for every $1-million injected into legal aid”. Therefore, for every $1 million that we spend on legal aid, we save two and a half million dollars. Even my very fiscally minded Conservative friends can surely see that this would be a very compelling argument.
I have other concerns with what is happening in Alberta as well. We have a new premier, Danielle Smith, who is proposing a sovereignty act—
Mr. Speaker, I thank the cheering crowd behind me who will make my speech a lot more interesting than it would be otherwise.
I rise today to speak to Bill and the improvements that we hope it will make to the justice system through telecommunications and technology.
When I prepare a speech, I always seek inspiration by looking at what other intelligent people have already said on the subject. In this case, I referred to what Judge Pierre Dalphond had to say. I know him more as a judge than as a senator. He said that necessity is the mother of all invention. That is how I wanted to open my speech.
I am, or was, a lawyer in life. I was a civil lawyer. That being said, there are commonalities among all types of practices. I would like to talk about some of the things I experienced as a lawyer where these measures would have made things much more effective. COVID‑19 helped to resolve some problems.
About five years ago, a partner and I tried to set up an online divorce service for people who wanted to proceed with mediation amicably but lived some distance apart. Affidavits needed to be signed in order to complete the files. We contacted Quebec's justice minister, but we did not manage to obtain permission for the oaths to be done via video conference. We tried Quebec's Register of Commissioners for Oaths and were told that it was not under their jurisdiction but instead fell to Quebec City. In short, we ended up giving up because it was far too complicated.
Every cloud has a silver lining, though. One of the first things that happened when COVID‑19 hit was that virtual swearing-in was allowed. That also prevented a gaggle of lawyers from showing up at court in the morning to set a date. Sometimes they would travel from Montreal to Saint‑Jérôme, wait an hour and a half in the hall, spend five minutes in front of a judge, set a date, return home and send legal aid a bill for $80, end of story.
When COVID‑19 hit, a solution was found to the problem of too many people showing up at the courthouse in a pandemic, and we figured out how to do everything virtually within a reasonable period of time. I do hope that Bill S‑4 will have that kind of positive impact on the way courts operate.
Here is another example from the civilian side of things, the Tribunal administratif du logement, which updated its operations a few years ago. Now all cases are digitized, because sometimes remote hearings had to be held and it was better not to move physical case files, which tended to get lost on the way from one tribunal to another. Video conferencing made the tribunal as a whole more technologically advanced, and that made things easier for lawyers, who had access to their case files online.
We hope that Bill S‑4 will have a positive impact and, more importantly, that we can avoid bad ideas masquerading as good ones. I am going to raise a few of these points.
The bill changes two main types of things. First, it clarifies and expands the rules for remote appearances and seeks to increase the use of technology in the jury selection process. It also expands the telewarrant system under the Criminal Code, allowing a wider variety of search warrants, authorizations and orders, for example, to be obtained through telecommunications.
The main areas amended by Bill S‑4 relate to juries. The bill would allow for the use of electronic or other automated means for the purposes of jury selection. It would provide for the participation, in certain circumstances, of prospective jurors in the jury selection process by video conference. This would be only in certain circumstances, with the consent and at the discretion of the court.
It would avoid certain problems. For example, when I would arrive at the courthouse in the morning and see a crowd in the entrance hall, everyone knew that jury selection was taking place. It would avoid bringing together between 100 and 500 people in the same place during a pandemic.
It would also avoid situations where the first 10 jurors to be interviewed can be hand-picked. Another advantage is that it would not result in all potential jurors being in one place together, discussing amongst themselves and giving advice to one another on how to avoid jury duty, because people can be quite creative when they do not want to serve on a jury.
There is something else that Bill S‑4 amends: It expands the opportunities for remote appearances by audio conference or video conference in certain circumstances for accused individuals and offenders. I will come back to this and the potential pitfalls. It would also expand the powers of the courts to establish case management rules that permit court personnel to deal with administrative matters for unrepresented accused persons.
Currently, only in cases where an accused is represented by counsel is it possible to communicate with a judge by video conference to deal with routine issues, which can be done much more quickly by video conference. If this measure were also applied to accused persons who are not represented by counsel, then court officials could be used instead of taking up hearing rooms and a judge's time, which could be better spent. This could potentially increase efficiency.
The bill would also permit courts to order fingerprinting, for identification purposes, at the interim release stage or any other stage of the process to avoid delays if fingerprints could not previously have been taken for exceptional reasons. For example, during the arrest, an accused—
Mr. Speaker, I was talking about identification processes and fingerprinting. This bill would allow it to be done at any point in the process because, in certain situations, there is not always an opportunity to do it at the time of the arrest. During the pandemic, it became clear that it is difficult to hold someone's thumb to take their fingerprint while standing a metre away.
Finally, some of the telewarrant provisions would also be replaced, to further expand the type of warrant that could be issued by telecommunication. This does not change the legal threshold for issuing the warrant. It does not change the criteria for granting warrants. It simply frees up judges and police officers who would otherwise have to meet in person to discuss whether issuing a warrant is appropriate.
There is, however, perhaps a downside to this. Since everything would happen in writing and the arguments would be sent along with an affidavit to the judge, who would then issue the telewarrant, it prevents the judge from being able to ask a police officer questions to get a little more clarification on whether issuing a warrant is appropriate. There are still some pitfalls.
There have already been discussions about this bill. Given that it originated in the Senate, the various stakeholders have submitted their recommendations. The Barreau du Québec has been working hard on this. I would like to come back to one aspect in particular, and that is the part concerning appearances by video conference.
The Barreau du Québec made some recommendations. The bill will clarify, for accused persons, the availability of remote appearances by video conference at preliminary inquiries and trials for indictable offences or offences punishable on summary conviction, including when testimony is heard, but not when evidence is presented before a jury.
Therefore, a jury trial will always take place in person, but there will be exceptions for non-jury proceedings. I would remind members that, in certain cases, video conferencing can hide certain mannerisms or amplify certain facial expressions that could be misinterpreted by a judge or lawyer and alter their perception of an individual's body language during a hearing.
It is also harder to gauge what is happening between the parties when we are not in close proximity to them. For example, if a lawyer passes their client a note, it is not possible to kick someone under the table to indicate that it would be best to keep silent in that moment. This has an impact on our ability to fully understand what is happening at a hearing.
I want to give another example from my practice. When I was working in international family law and dealing with child kidnapping cases, I had to question witnesses in France in a context where we had to make sure that they were always alone in the hearing room to avoid witness contamination. I questioned the first witness, but when I asked him to go and get the other witness because it was her turn to testify, he just pulled his wife into view. She was beside him and had heard the whole thing. There can be concerns about witness contamination, and we can assume that we will not be exempt from that risk if we proceed with Bill .
This is a serious issue. For example, what happens if this kind of irregularity occurs during a trial? Would the trial have to be scrapped? Would the whole thing have to start over? That would mean wasting even more time than if all the witnesses had been there in person from the start. This is something we have to consider.
Here is another issue. People can testify via video conference with the parties' consent and the court's authorization. What happens if an accused becomes aware along the way that their constitutional rights have been violated by the fact that they made that choice, so they decide to switch? Does the whole process have to start over? Does a new hearing date have to be set if the accused is participating remotely? Efficiency can suffer because of that too, and I think that should be one of the factors we consider in our study of this issue.
Another aspect that the Barreau du Québec suggests studying is the long-term repercussions of Bill S‑4. We are still in “COVID mode”, and we still need to respond to COVID-19, but Bill will change courtroom proceedings in the long term, even after the pandemic is over. The other problem is that, rather than making remote proceedings the exception, Bill S‑4 makes them the norm. That will fundamentally change the face of our justice system.
This could affect the attorney-client relationship. What impact will this have on the lawyer's professional responsibility in recommending, for example, that the client choose to testify remotely? This question will have to be studied.
We will also need to examine the open court issue. Trials are supposed to be public in almost every case. If they are held by video conference, the average person will not have access to them. I am thinking of my colleague from because I remember how, at one time, seniors used to go and watch hearings at the courthouse and make bets on the outcome, just to pass the time. I cannot help but think of those people, who will be losing an interesting source of entertainment if the courts start operating only by video conference.
The use of video conferencing might also compromise the right to a fair trial. We spoke about non-verbal communication and how it is important in assessing witnesses' credibility. This approach may impact that.
Another issue is that this could create a disparity between large urban centres and the regions. There might be a tendency to think that, since it is easier for people who live far away to do things by video conference, then we should favour that approach for them. In big urban centres, it does not cost witnesses and parties as much to travel, so their court proceedings would always be held in person. That would create a two-tiered justice system. These are some of the issues arising from Bill that will need to be assessed over the long term.
The Barreau du Québec also recommends deleting the new proposed section 715.241 of the Criminal Code, which allows the court to “require an accused who is in custody and who has access to legal advice to appear by videoconference in any proceeding referred to in those sections, other than a part in which the evidence of a witness is taken”. The Barreau du Québec is of the view that this should never be at the court's discretion, that the parties should always have to consent to proceeding by video conference and that it should not be imposed on anyone. The Barreau du Québec also recommends that, before the bill comes into force, we clarify the distinction between an accused who has access to legal advice and one who is represented by counsel in a context where only accused persons with representation can communicate with counsel.
Clients who are receiving legal advice and are in a video conference might not technically have the right to call or request their right to counsel during a trial if they are not formally represented by a lawyer. In a courtroom, they could still get legal advice from a lawyer, if one is present.
It is important to keep in mind that we need to strike a balance between the convenience of new technology and actual gains in efficiency. We can compare this to the long-term hybrid format people want for the House. When we talk to journalists about changes to the debate format here, they complain about not having direct access to witnesses. For example, when all they can see is a person talking on screen, they do not get a general sense of what is happening in the committee room. They do not see people's reactions to what the witness just said. Those reactions make journalists' work easier. They also do not have access to members leaving the House. Virtual might be easier, but it does not necessarily do as good a job of protecting democracy.
Another thing to consider is the work of interpreters. When Centre Block reopens, they might be thrown together in a room quite separate from the House and committee work. What we are hearing on the ground is that this makes their work a lot harder, because when they are considering what is being said, they look at more than just the spoken word. Emotions are important in conveying a message in another language, and this includes analyzing non-verbal cues and facial expressions, which is harder to do by video conference.
Another pitfall that must be avoided is thinking that Bill S-4 is going to solve all of the world's problems. While we may improve the issue of delays somewhat, that does not mean that everything is fixed and we can turn around and walk away.
For example, bringing into force Bill S‑4 without addressing the connectivity problems would be like trading four quarters for a dollar. It will change nothing because the system will not be equipped to properly install the technology for appearances. This will not fix the infamous Liberalist file. My colleagues have talked about that here as well. This will not necessarily address the issue of public trust in the justice system.
I spent a bit of time in Albania not that long ago. The justice minister explained that his role was not to appoint judges, but to ensure that the infrastructure or the administrative aspect of the judicial branch works properly.
He knows the statistics, the number of files that come in each day, the number of rooms and the technology required, but he is not responsible for appointing judges. We could perhaps follow the example of that country in future.
The issue of judicial vacancies has also not been resolved. Many judges are appointed in Quebec and the provinces. I am thinking of Quebec court judges. There are also the clerks, constables and others required for the orderly administration of justice. Some cases do not move forward because of delays in appointing federal or Superior Court judges.
To avoid the problems I mentioned from occurring in the future, the bill provides for a review in three and five years. The bill at least has a certain advantage. It provides for a review after three years by an independent committee, which is excellent.
Clause 78.1(1) of the bill reads as follows:
The Minister of Justice must, no later than three years after the day on which this Act receives royal assent, initiate one or more independent reviews on the use of remote proceedings in criminal justice matters that must include an assessment of whether remote proceedings
(a) enhance, preserve or adversely affect access to justice;
(b) maintain fundamental principles of the administration of justice; and
(c) adequately address the rights and obligations of participants in the criminal justice system, including accused persons.
The bill also provides for a parliamentary review at the start of the fifth year of its existence. I hope this will allow us to determine whether there were any bad ideas masquerading as good ones in the implementation of this bill.
I hope that the feedback of lawyers will be sought on this because they are the ones who will see how this is actually working on the ground. When they are not consulted enough, that is often when mistakes are made. A bill that started off with good intentions may end up being a bad bill. As I said, we are going to make permanent something that basically resulted from a temporary situation like COVID‑19.
I hope that when this legislation is reviewed in three or five years, legislators will have the humility to correct the measures that did not work rather than waiting until they are challenged in court where it will take more time and energy to correct them.
The review of the act will certainly be a useful exercise. I hope that legislators will backtrack if needed and that doing so will not be seen as a sign of failure but as a real will to advance justice, reduce delays and prevent the Jordan ruling from applying because of issues that can be easily resolved. That is my wish. Perhaps it is asking too much of politicians to show some humility, but that is my wish for this bill going forward.