Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act. I want to acknowledge that I am speaking today on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin people.
As lawmakers, it is our cherished responsibility to see to the good stewardship of our justice system. It is also our responsibility to ensure that traditional independence, a principle that lies at the heart of that system, is safeguarded and preserved. These responsibilities go hand in hand. An independent court system, in which every Canadian has confidence that their rights will be protected and that the laws of our country will be enforced with honour and integrity, is the lifeblood of our constitutional democracy. Public confidence in the courts is essential to public confidence in the rule of law, and public confidence depends not only on the status and strength of our courts as institutions but on the integrity of the judges who occupy them.
I rise today to address a matter that engages this responsibility directly: the reform of Canada's system for investigating allegations of misconduct against federally appointed judges. It is tempting to take these observations for granted, but the reality is that they are the product of sustained vigilance and effort. Our institutions are strong because we take care to respect and nourish them. Our judiciary is strong because its members strive continuously to better serve Canadians and hold themselves to the most stringent standards of integrity, impartiality and professionalism.
Canada's superior court judiciary, which includes the judges of the Federal Court and Supreme Court of Canada as well the judges of all provincial and territorial superior courts, enjoys an unparalleled reputation for excellence. Allegations of misconduct against members of the federal judiciary are rare, and allegations so serious that removal from judicial office may be warranted are rarer still. Nevertheless, an effective process for reviewing those few allegations that arise constitutes an integral part of our justice system and helps to secure a cornerstore of the rule of law, which is public confidence in the integrity of justice.
According to our constitutional separation of powers, the judiciary itself must play a leading role in safeguarding the integrity of its members. Since 1971, the Judges Act has empowered its members, the chief justices and associate chief justices of Canada's superior courts, acting through the Canadian Judicial Council, or CJC, to receive and investigate complaints regarding the conduct of superior court judges and to report their findings and recommendations to the Minister of Justice. Only then does it fall to the minister to decide whether to seek removal of a judge. It is a decision that requires ratification by Parliament and an address to the Governor General under section 99(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867.
This power is tempered by the constitutional principle of judicial independence, and the security of tenure it affords to every superior court judge in the absence of their proven incapacity or misconduct.
Recently, the gap between these broader changes and the conduct process prescribed under the Judges Act has grown acute, bringing into jeopardy the public confidence that this process is meant to secure. Allowing the judiciary to regulate the conduct of their own members in this manner is entirely appropriate. It rightly safeguards the courts against interference by the political branches, ensuring that judges can protect the Constitution and the rights of Canadians without fear of reprisal.
While Canadians can thus have confidence in judicial leadership and control over investigations into judicial conduct, the legislative framework that enables this leadership has remained unchanged since 1971. This is despite vast changes to the legal and social landscapes in which the framework must operate.
The most serious judicial conduct cases, and those that attract the greatest public attention through the inquiry committee process, are notoriously long and costly, and are beset with parallel court challenges that take years to resolve. One of these is the length and cost of judicial conduct proceedings. As federal administrative tribunals, inquiry committees constituted by the CJC are reviewable first in the Federal Court, then by the Federal Court of Appeal and then possibly the Supreme Court of Canada.
This gives a judge who is subject to the process an opportunity to initiate as many as three stages of judicial review. This was seen recently in the case of former Justice Girouard.
Because the Judges Act lacks alternatives to full-scale divisional inquiries, all cases that raise valid concerns regardless of their gravity are forced into a procedurally complex, public and adversarial inquiry mechanism. At the conclusion of that mechanism, rather than allowing an inquiry committee to report directly to the minister, the Judges Act requires that a report and recommendation be submitted by the CJC as a whole.
The fact that judicial independence warrants the provision of publicly funded counsel to a judge has meant that in some cases, lawyers have collected millions of dollars in fees for launching exhaustive legal challenges that are ultimately proven to be without merit. The public is rightly outraged by this lack of efficiency and accountability in a process carried out in its name. The situation demands correction.
In other words, a body of at least 17 chief justices and associate chief justices from across Canada who have not had any direct involvement in the scrutiny of a given case must review the work of an inquiry committee and decide whether or not to recommend a judge's removal to the minister. This process is burdensome, inefficient and costly. Rather than having confidence that concerns about judicial conduct will receive a fair and effective resolution, Canadians see this process as duplicating features of procedural complexity and the adversarial model that can be so alienating in the justice system at large.
Another shortcoming of the current process is that the Judges Act empowers the CJC only to recommend for or against the removal of a judge. There are no lesser sanctions available. As a result, instances of misconduct may fail to be sanctioned because they do not warrant removal. There is also a risk that judges may be exposed to full-scale inquiry proceedings and to the stigma of having their removal publicly considered for conduct that is more sensibly addressed by alternative procedures and lesser sanctions.
The bill before us would thus comprehensively reform and modernize the judicial conduct process while honouring a fundamental commitment to fairness, independence and procedural rigour. Allow me to offer a brief summary emphasizing the objectives that the bill is intended to achieve.
First and foremost, the bill would streamline the judicial conduct process. It would replace the current availability of judicial review with an efficient internal appeal mechanism for judges whose conduct has been found lacking by a hearing or a review panel. In other words, rather than allowing judges to step outside the process and launch multiple court challenges that can interrupt and delay proceedings for years, the reformed process would include its own internal system of review to ensure the fairness and integrity of any findings made against a judge.
At the conclusion of the hearings process and before the report on removal is issued to the minister, both the judge whose conduct is being examined and the lawyer responsible for presenting the case against them would be entitled to appeal the outcome to an appeal panel. Rather than making CJC hearings subject to external review by multiple levels of court with the resulting costs and delays, the new process would include a fair, efficient and coherent appeal mechanism internal to the process itself.
A five-judge appeal panel would hold public hearings akin to those of an appellate court and have all the powers it needs to effectively address any shortcomings in the hearing panel's process. Once it has reached a decision, the only remaining recourse available to the judge and to presenting counsel would be to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Entrusting process oversight to the Supreme Court would reinforce public confidence and avoid lengthy judicial review proceedings through several levels of court.
These steps on appeal would be governed by strict deadlines, and any outcomes reached would form part of the report and the recommendations ultimately made to the Minister of Justice. In addition to giving confidence in the integrity of judicial conduct proceedings, these reforms are expected to reduce the length of proceedings by a matter of years.
This would avoid situations we have seen in the past where repeated appeals to the Federal Court have drawn the process out to obscene lengths.
The new process would also provide opportunities for early resolution of conduct complaints, avoiding the need in many instances to resort to adversarial public hearings. Rather than treating all cases as though they might warrant judicial removal, the CJC would be empowered to impose alternate remedies that were proportionate to the conduct at issue and better tailored to the public interest. The public at large would be better represented in these proceedings with the bill codifying a place for public representatives in the review of complaint processes.
For example, it may require a judge to take a continuing education course or apologize for the harm caused by their misconduct.
As far as conduct that warrants judicial removal is concerned, the bill requires that robust public hearings be held. The bill includes a role that will allow the presenting counsel to act as a public prosecutor in presenting a case against a judge. What is more, the judge will have ample opportunity to provide responses and present a defence with the assistance of their own lawyer.
If the hearing panel recommends the judge's removal, those recommendations will be sent to the Minister of Justice subject only to the disposition of the appeal. It will not be necessary for the entire Canadian Judicial Council to take part in the process.
These steps alone would render the judicial conduct process more flexible, timely and efficient without compromising fairness or investigative rigour. In doing so, it would also render the process less costly, more accessible and more accountable to Canadians.
Beyond mere process reforms, the bill would introduce a stable funding mechanism to support the CJC's role in investigating judicial conduct and one appropriate to the constitutionally imperative nature of this duty. It would also add safeguards requiring that the responsible officials establish guidelines consistent with government-wide standards for the administration of public funds, that the administration of those funds be subject to regular audits, and that the results of those audits be made available in public reports. This combination of financial accountability and transparency is critical in ensuring public confidence in the judicial conduct process, and it is overdue.
The provisions established in the appropriation clearly limit the categories of expenses it captures to those required to hold public hearings. Moreover, these would be subject to regulations made by the Governor in Council. Planned regulations include limiting how much lawyers involved in the process can bill, and limiting judges who are subject to proceedings to one principal lawyer. The bill also would require that the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs make guidelines affixing or providing for the determination of any fees, allowances and expenses that may be reimbursed and that are not specifically addressed by the regulations. These guidelines must be consistent with any Treasury Board directives pertaining to similar costs, and any difference must be publicly justified.
Finally, the bill would require that a mandatory independent review be completed every five years into all costs paid through the statutory appropriation. The independent reviewer would report to the Minister of Justice, the Commissioner and the chair of the CJC. The report would assess the efficacy of all applicable policies establishing financial controls and would be made public. Taken together, these measures would bring a new level of fiscal accountability to judicial conduct costs, while replacing the cumbersome and ad hoc funding approach currently in place.
All of these reforms were informed by an extensive process of public consultation. In addition to hearing from Canadians, academic experts and members of the legal profession, the government has had a sustained engagement with two judicial organizations in particular: the CJC and the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association.
The government is deeply grateful for the commitment of these organizations to supporting reform and sharing their perspectives and expertise in a spirit of respectful collaboration with officials from the Department of Justice Canada. I know that passage of these reforms is of the highest priority to judicial leaders, and the government is committed to answering their rightful requests for legislation that would support them in fulfilling their critical role.
I will conclude simply by recommending to my colleagues that we seize the opportunity to renew an institution that is vital to the trust that Canadians place in their justice system. I am convinced that Canada has the strongest justice system in the world, in no small part because we have the most exceptional and committed judiciary in the world. That reality is not inevitable, but it is the result of our sustained commitment and effort to keeping our institutions healthy and keeping our judiciary independent and strong.
Let us renew these commitments again with the passage of this legislation. I look forward to our deliberation and debate.
Madam Speaker, as we approach the final sitting days of the House before it rises, this is likely my last opportunity to speak before we all return to our ridings for the summer months. In light of this, I would like to start off my remarks today by acknowledging the great people of my riding of Fundy Royal, whom I am honoured to represent here in this 44th Parliament.
On the topic at hand, we are here today to discuss Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act. I will begin by going over a bit of a summary of the bill.
The legislation would amend the Judges Act to replace the process through which the conduct of federally appointed judges is reviewed by the Canadian Judicial Council. It would establish a new process for reviewing allegations of misconduct that are not serious enough to warrant a judge’s removal from office and would make changes to the process by which recommendations regarding removal from office can be made to the . As with the provisions it replaces, this new process would also apply to persons, other than judges, who are appointed under an act of Parliament to hold office during good behaviour.
In short, the objective of the legislation is to update the Judges Act to strengthen the judicial complaints process. The existing process was established in 1971, so it is due for a refresh. We can all agree that strengthening and increasing confidence in the judicial system, and taking action to better respond to complaints that it may receive from Canadians, are good things. Canadians are really depending on this Parliament to strengthen our judicial system.
As it stands, the judicial system in Canada has been weakened by COVID delays and a lack of resources for victims in particular, like, as I have mentioned, the vacant victims ombudsman position. There really is no excuse today for that when we see so many stories ripped from the headlines that impact Canadian victims. We also see legislation like the bill the just mentioned, Bill . The victims we have talked to, whom we have seen and heard from at committee, are concerned about that bill and its predecessor bill, Bill . The victims ombudsman had a lot to say about it.
I would love the benefit of hearing from a victims ombudsman, except we do not have one. We were supposed to have that position filled back in October, so for many, many months it has been vacant. That is completely unacceptable, not only for victims and their families but also for all Canadians. I should note that when the position of the federal ombudsman for federal offenders in our federal prison system became vacant, it was filled the next day. We can see where the government's priorities are.
Bill was originally introduced in the Senate as Bill on May 25, 2021. The previous version of the bill did not complete second reading. We heard commentary across the way about delays, with some asking why we are talking about delays. Why was that bill not passed? Well, the called his snap pandemic election in August 2021. That is what happened with that version of the bill.
The bill was reintroduced in the Senate last year as Bill , but the government had an apparent change of heart, dropping Bill S-3 from the Senate Order Paper in December of 2021 and introducing that bill in the House of Commons as Bill . That is where it has languished for months until today, just days before we go into our summer recess.
The bill would modify the existing judicial review process by establishing a process for complaints serious enough to warrant removal from office, and another process for offences that would warrant sanctions other than removal, such as counselling, continuing education and reprimands. Currently, if misconduct is less serious, a single member of the Canadian Judicial Council who conducts the initial review may negotiate with a judge for an appropriate remedy.
It may be helpful at this point to provide a bit of background on the Canadian Judicial Council, what it does and who its members are.
Established by Parliament in 1971, the Canadian Judicial Council is mandated to “promote the efficiency, uniformity, and to improve the quality of judicial services in all superior courts in Canada.” Through this mandate, the Canadian Judicial Council presides over the judicial complaints process.
The Canadian Judicial Council is made up of 41 members and is led by the current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Hon. Richard Wagner, who is chairperson of the council. The membership is made up of chief justices and associate chief justices of the Canadian provincial and federal superior courts. The goal of the members is to improve consistency in the administration of justice before the courts and the quality of services in Canada's superior courts.
Returning back to the bill itself, the reasons a judge could be removed from office are laid out. These include infirmity, misconduct, failure in the due execution of judicial office and “the judge [being] in a position that a reasonable, fairminded and informed observer would consider to be incompatible with the due execution of judicial office.” A screening officer can dismiss complaints should they seem frivolous or improper, rather than referring to them to the review panel. A complaint that alleges sexual harassment or discrimination may not be dismissed. The full screening criteria will be published by the Canadian Judicial Council.
The minister or Attorney General may themselves request the Canadian Judicial Council establish a full hearing panel to determine whether the removal from the office of a superior court judge is justified. The Canadian Judicial Council is to submit a report within three months after the end of each calendar year with respect to the number of complaints received and the actions taken. The intention of this bill, as stated by the government, is to streamline the process for more serious complaints for which removal from the bench could be an outcome.
As I mentioned earlier, these amendments would also address the current shortcomings of the process by imposing mandatory sanctions on a judge when a complaint of misconduct is found to be justified but not to be serious enough to warrant removal from office. Again, such sanctions could include counselling, continuing education and reprimands. In the name of transparency, this legislation would require that the Canadian Judicial Council include the number of complaints received and how they were resolved in its annual public report.
To clarify, the Canadian Judicial Council’s process applies only to federally appointed judges, which are the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada and the federal courts, the provincial and territorial superior trial courts and the provincial and territorial courts of appeal. The provinces and territories are responsible for reviewing the conduct of the judges at the provincial-territorial trial court level, who are also provincially appointed.
Since its inception in 1971, the Canadian Judicial Council has completed inquiries into eight complaints considered serious enough that they could warrant a judge's removal from the bench. Four of them, in fact, did result in recommendations for removal. A ninth inquiry is under way, but has faced delays due to public health restrictions imposed by the Province of Quebec, such as curfew and indoor capacity limits.
Under the proposed new process laid out in Bill , the Canadian Judicial Council would continue to preside over the judicial complaints process, which would start with a three-person review panel deciding to either investigate a complaint of misconduct or, if the complaint is serious enough that it might warrant removal from the bench, refer it to a separate five-person hearing panel. If appropriate, a three-person review panel made up of a Canadian Judicial Council member, a judge and a layperson could impose such sanctions as public apologies or courses of continuing education. If warranted, a five-person hearing panel made up of two Canadian Judicial Council members, a judge, a lawyer and a layperson could, after holding a public hearing, recommend removal from the bench to the Minister of Justice.
Judges who face removal from the bench would have access to an appeal panel made up of three Canadian Judicial Council members and two judges and finally to the Supreme Court of Canada, should the court agree to hear the appeal.
I know that sounded very convoluted and lengthy, but believe it or not, this would actually streamline the current process for court review of council decisions, which currently involves judicial review by two additional levels of court, those being the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal, before a judge can ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The amendments would provide for a funding mechanism for the new process. The financial impact of the review process has been raised by a number of stakeholders. I want to encourage the Liberal government to take its fiscal responsibility to taxpayers into consideration with all government policies, but this bill is as good a start as any.
I would like to take a moment to point out that we have the former leader of the Conservative Party to thank for paving the way to having this bill before the House of Commons today. The Hon. Rona Ambrose introduced her private member's bill, Bill , in 2017. This legislation would require the Canadian judiciary to produce a report every year that detailed how many judges had completed training in sexual assault law and how many cases were heard by judges who had not been trained, as well as a description of the courses that were taken. It would also require any lawyer applying for a position in the judiciary to have first completed sexual assault case training and education. Last, it would result in a greater number of written decisions from judges presiding over sexual assault trials, thus providing improved transparency for Canadians seeking justice.
The original premise of Bill was in response to a complaint about the behaviour a federal judge who was presiding over a case of sexual assault in 2014. The Canadian Judicial Council of which we speak today launched an investigation into the behaviour of that judge. Ultimately, in March 2017, the Canadian Judicial Council sent a letter to the federal Minister of Justice recommending that this judge be removed from the bench, and the minister accepted the recommendation.
The bill before us today works to expedite and facilitate the complaints process so that extreme cases like the one I just referenced can be fully and properly reviewed without causing too much disruption in terms of time, costs and delays in processing smaller but still important complaints.
Earlier this year, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights received correspondence from the Canadian Bar Association stating its support for the legislation as written in Bill . In part, its letter reads as follows:
The CBA commented on the state of the judicial discipline process in its 2014 submission to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC). On the subject of judicial discipline proceedings, our 16 recommendations were to ensure that the objectives of balancing the independence of the judiciary and the public’s confidence in the administration of justice were respected in the process. The CJC and Justice Canada responded with its own reports, which culminated in the present amendments to the Judges Act proposed by the Minister of Justice.
The letter from the Canadian Bar Association goes on to say:
In the view of the CBA Subcommittee, Bill C-9 strikes a fair balance between the right to procedural fairness and public confidence in the integrity of the justice system with the discipline of judges who form the core of that system. The proposed amendments enhance the accountability of judges, builds transparency, and creates cost-efficiencies in the process for handling complaints against members of the Bench.
I would like to pause here briefly just to say that at a moment like this, looking at a bill like this, it seems to me that it would be a very good time to have a federal ombudsman for victims of crime to hear the perspective on how the judicial complaints process is or is not currently working and how this bill would or would not be able to meet those challenges or rectify those concerns.
In testimony given to the justice committee on June 3, 2021, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime at that time raised what she described as a “most critical” issue, which was the legal recourse or remedy that victims have if their rights are violated.
Currently, victims do not have a way to enforce the rights given to them in law; they only have a right to make a complaint to various agencies. This means that victims have to rely on the goodwill of criminal justice officials and corrections officials to give effect to or implement their statutory rights under the bill. This means victims count on police, Crown prosecutors, courts, review boards, corrections officials and parole boards to deliver, uphold and respect their rights.
But my office continues to receive complaints from victims that are common across all jurisdictions in Canada. Victims report to us that they are not consistently provided information about their rights or how to exercise them, they feel overlooked in all of the processes, and they have no recourse when officials don't respect their rights.
While the bill we are discussing today is, as I said earlier, a step in the right direction, there is certainly more work that needs to be done to make sure our justice system in Canada works for everyone who comes into contact with it, and I will add especially victims. One way this can be achieved is by immediately filling the position of federal ombudsman for victims of crime, which has now been vacant for nine months. There is absolutely no excuse for this position to have remained vacant for nine months when other positions are filled immediately, including, as I mentioned earlier, the position of ombudsman for those who are in our federal prisons.
By contrast, as I was mentioning, when the offenders ombudsman position became vacant, the Liberal government filled it the very next day, as it should have been. It should be filled right away, but so should the position of the ombudsman for victims of crime.
In 2021, the Canadian Judicial Council published “Ethical Principles for Judges”. I would like to reference excerpts from this publication to add some context into the role and duty of the judiciary.
They read as follows:
An independent and impartial judiciary is the right of all and constitutes a fundamental pillar of democratic governance, the rule of law and justice in Canada....
Today, judges’ work includes case management, settlement conferences, judicial mediation, and frequent interaction with self-represented litigants. These responsibilities invite further consideration with respect to ethical guidance. In the same manner, the digital age, the phenomenon of social media, the importance of professional development for judges and the transition to post-judicial roles all raise ethical issues that were not fully considered twenty years ago. Judges are expected to be alert to the history, experience and circumstances of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and to the diversity of cultures and communities that make up this country. In this spirit, the judiciary is now more actively involved with the wider public, both to enhance public confidence and to expand its own knowledge of the diversity of human experiences in Canada today.
As was just referenced, social context and society overall change over time, and critical institutions like the justice system must grow to reflect these changes. Much of the time, this simply requires education on emerging issues or a more updated perspective on older issues.
In order to grow, there is a crucial partnership that must be respected between the judiciary and Parliament. While the Parliament and the courts are separate entities, there is a back-and-forth conversation between the two that is essential to our democracy and our judiciary. We have recently seen examples in which that conversation, unfortunately, was desperately lacking. On Friday, May 27, of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the punishment of life without parole in cases concerning mass murderers.
When confronted on the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Liberal government is determined to stick to their talking points by telling Parliament and concerned Canadians that we should not worry about mass killers actually receiving parole, because that possible outcome is extremely rare. What that actually means is that this government is comfortable putting these families through a revictimizing, retraumatizing parole process, even though, at the end of the day, it is essentially all for show because, according to the government, we just need to trust that a mass killer will not receive parole anyway.
In the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling, the decision stated, “A life sentence without a realistic possibility of parole presupposes the offender is beyond redemption and cannot be rehabilitated. This is degrading in nature and incompatible with human dignity. It amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.”
What the court is saying here is that keeping mass killers behind bars for the number of years that a judge has already decided would adequately reflect the gravity of their crimes amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment”. Personally, I and many others feel and believe that having the victims' families endure a parole hearing every two years for the rest of their lives is the real cruel and unusual punishment, and the federal government has a duty and a responsibility to respond to the court’s decision, something that it has not done and has shown no inclination to do.
Essentially, the Supreme Court also ruled on May 13 that one can drink one’s way out of a serious crime. We have called on the government to respond to that as well, and we look forward to debate on the response that needs to be coming. Just because the Supreme Court has made these rulings does not mean that this is the end of the road. What it means is that there is a discussion and a dialogue that has to take place, and now the ball is in our court. It is for us to deal with these decisions in Parliament. The Liberals can now create legislation that responds to the Supreme Court’s decisions, and this legislation can be used to make sure that victims, survivors and their families can live in a country where they are equally protected and respected by our justice system.
Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act, is a step in the right direction. I will note that there is much, much more to be done to make sure that the justice system is fair and balanced for all.
Madam Speaker, for years, people have been calling for reforms of the process for reviewing allegations of judicial misconduct, whether the review results in a removal or not. This is not the first time that such a bill has been introduced in the House. The Judicial Council itself has called for this. If we can pass this legislation, it will benefit all stakeholders in the judicial system and all Quebeckers and Canadians. The judicial system is the backbone of any society that wants to live, thrive and evolve in peace. Without a judicial system, it would be total anarchy, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
No one wants to abolish the courts. Everyone wants to be able to have faith that the courts will resolve our disputes. Ideally, it would resolve all of them, and for that to happen, we must appoint judges with spotless records in terms of credibility and professionalism. The first step is to ensure that the appointment process is effective and non-partisan. I will come back to this.
We must also ensure that once a judge is appointed, they are consistently subject to ethical conduct rules that are acceptable to everyone involved. Finally, we must ensure that, in cases of misconduct, there is a reliable and effective process for reviewing and, where appropriate, fairly sanctioning the conduct of the party at fault.
We have to admit that the review process in place is among the best in the world. We are not starting from scratch, and that is a good thing. Having myself participated in discussions with bar associations in other jurisdictions in Europe and elsewhere, I can say that what we have here in Quebec and Canada is the envy of many other democratic societies.
That being said, recent examples have shown that we need to think about a new and improved process that would prevent abuses. Having a process that takes years before all reviews and appeals have been exhausted, while the principal continues to receive a salary and benefits—often including a generous pension fund—and these costs are assumed by the public, certainly does not help boost confidence in the judicial system.
Of course, it is just as important that judges who are the subject of a complaint can express their point of view, defend themselves and exercise their rights just like any other citizen. The process needs to be fair and should not unduly favour the person who is guilty of misconduct and seeks to abuse the system. In this respect, Bill meets our expectations and should receive our support, as well as that of all Canadians. I am happy about this and even hopeful that we will now tackle the other key process, judicial appointments.
It would be nice to see the government finally set partisan politics aside when appointing new judges.
Does the “Liberalist” the government is so fond of still have a place in the selection process? We have talked about this many times in the House. We will have to talk more.
Could the final selection from the short list be done by a committee made up of a representative from each of the recognized parties? Could representatives of the public or professional bodies also take part? That is certainly something to think about.
In my opinion, we are ready for this review process. The Bloc Québécois has been calling for it for a long time, and we will continue to do so. Bill C-9 may set the stage for us to seriously consider it. Will the be bold enough to propose it? I hope so. If he does, I can assure him right now of our full co-operation.
Until then, let us hope that the reform of the complaints review process proposed in Bill C-9 can build public trust in our judicial system.
I said “our judicial system” because we must never forget that the judicial system belongs to the people and must be accountable to the people. We are merely the ones responsible for ensuring the system is effective.
I will not rehash here the process that led to the relatively recent resignation of a Superior Court justice for whom the review process, given the many appeals and challenges against him, apparently had no hope of ending before he was assured the monetary benefits of his office. However, we must recognize that we cannot allow this heinous impression of non-accountability and dishonesty persist, whether it is well-founded or not. We need to assume our responsibilities and make sure that the public never doubts the credibility, goodwill and effectiveness of our courts.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand this morning to discuss Bill .
While I was reading the bill, I had a bit of déjà vu. I remember driving on the 417 in the spring while listening to the speeches in the House on Bill , which was sponsored by Senator Dalphond, for whom I have tremendous respect. I still call him “Your Honour”.
I know that Bill S‑5 died on the Order Paper because of the election. The fact that I was supposed to discuss Bill C‑9 in the spring but did not get a chance to shows that we may be a bit behind on the legislative agenda. That is the only criticism I will offer today. As for the rest, I am highly satisfied at least with the spirit of the bill we are studying, as is the Canadian Judicial Council, which strongly supports it.
We are talking about it today. One of the pillars or cornerstones of the bill is the importance of the separation of powers between the legislative, judicial and executive branches. This has been the case since 1971, when the Canadian Judicial Council was created and made responsible for reviewing complaints. This is maintained in Bill .
To ensure the separation of powers, the ability to remove judges is also maintained, as originally provided for in section 99(1) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which states that “the judges of the superior courts shall hold office during good behaviour, but shall be removable by the Governor General on address of the Senate and House of Commons”.
If we relied specifically on this principle, it might appear as though the legislative branch and the executive branch, meaning us here in Parliament, had power over the removal of judges. However, since 1971, the complaint review process has been the responsibility of the Canadian Judicial Council, which must issue recommendations to the Minister of Justice in order for the removal to take place. This complaint review process has been around for over 50 years.
With respect to what has been done since 1971, the improvements in Bill C‑9 meet certain needs. In this case, better is not the enemy of good. We tend to think that if something is working reasonably well, we should not necessarily seek perfection. I think that this used to apply in this case.
There are three essential issues that the bill resolves. The first is that the current process is extremely long. Given the numerous opportunities to file for appeals and judicial reviews during the process, it can take a very long time to review a complaint. My colleagues mentioned that. Unfortunately, we saw proof of this with a Superior Court judge whose name I will not mention, but whose review process lasted from 2012 to 2021. If I remember correctly, the decision was handed down in 2021.
As my colleague from Rivière-du-Nord mentioned, the problem is that, during that whole time, the judge continues to receive their salary and benefits and contribute to their pension. That in itself can be an incentive to come up with endless stalling tactics and draw the process out in order to keep the financial benefits.
This bill makes certain changes. In particular, it modifies the process to include the creation of an appeal panel, the final body before the Supreme Court to which a judge who is at fault can apply. This eliminates the need to go through the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal to reach the Supreme Court, assuming it even agrees to hear the appeal. The bill streamlines the process.
As my colleagues mentioned, under the current version of the act, judges still receive their salary and benefits. Clause 126(1) of the new act remedies that situation. It states, and I quote:
For the purposes of calculating an annuity under Part I, if a full hearing panel decides that the removal from office of a judge who is the subject of a complaint is justified, the day after the day on which the judge is given notice of the full hearing panel’s decision is the day to be used to determine the number of years the judge has been in judicial office and the salary annexed to the office held by the judge at the time of his or her resignation, removal or attaining the age of retirement unless (a) the decision is set aside by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, or by the decision of an appeal panel if the appeal panel’s decision is final; (b) the Minister’s response under subsection 140(1) provides that no action is to be taken to remove the judge from office; or (c) the matter of removal of the judge from office is put to one or both Houses of Parliament and is rejected by either of them.
As a result, a judge who is found to be at fault will not receive a salary during that period.
Another problem with the previous version of the bill was that there were no half-measures for lesser offences, so to speak. It was all black or white. The panel's only options were to issue a recommendation for removal or to not issue one. The only middle ground involved negotiating some sort of disciplinary action with the judge on a case-by-case basis. However, judges were quite free to say that they did not want any part in that process because it was not mandatory.
This bill remedies that situation. As soon as a complaint, which can be based on written submissions to the panel, has been examined, the panel can impose redress measures in cases where the reason for the complaint does not constitute grounds for removal.
The review panel can order the judge, for example, to take professional development courses or require him to apologize. In some cases, this can help more effectively remedy a situation when the judge is open to having certain sanctions apply. This may be sufficient, in certain cases, to avoid continuing with a full complaint process and public hearing, which could be long and expensive.
One of the options in the new bill is for the council to issue a private or public expression of concern. There is a certain transparency in the process. The council can issue a private or public warning, a private or public reprimand or order the judge to apologize. As I mentioned in my question to the member for , the only thing that is a little unusual is one of the measures in clause 102, as follows:
(g) with the consent of the judge, take any other action that the panel considers appropriate in the circumstances.
Perhaps there are questions that should be asked when the bill is referred to a committee for study after second reading, if it gets to that stage, which should not be a problem. For example, why is the judge's consent required? Why do the victims have no say in choosing the sanction to be applied for an offence that is less serious than one that might lead to removal from office?
Another thing the bill deals with is how onerous the process is. Previously, the Canadian Judicial Council itself had to make a recommendation to the minister to have a judge removed. The way it was set up, there was one panel that reviewed the case and another panel that, if it received the complaint, had to pass it on to the Canadian Judicial Council itself. The whole thing involved about 17 chief justices or associate chief justices from courts that were not already part of the process. It diverted energy from solving other problems in the courts, and the process did not necessarily help ensure procedural fairness for judges. This bill fixes that. The review panel itself will now be able to make a recommendation to the minister to relieve a judge of her or his duties. This kind of short-circuits a process that was not necessary and did not guarantee procedural fairness.
All these factors significantly improve the process. However, as my colleague from explained, this is not the only way to improve people's perception that the justice system is impartial and create a clear separation between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
I think we also need to look at updating the judicial appointment process. The Bloc Québécois has called for this numerous times by suggesting things like creating a special all-party committee tasked with recommending a new selection process. I have not lost hope. Like my colleague, I believe that human nature is fundamentally good and is capable of doing good things, although I too am sometimes disappointed. Still, I am always willing to work with anyone who is equally willing, and I encourage the government to introduce a bill to review the appointment process.
Madam Speaker, I will turn to the substance of Bill in a moment, but first I want to talk about how we got here, a process that for me illustrates disarray on the government's side in this 44th Parliament. Some days it still seems almost as if the Liberals really did not expect to have to govern after the last election.
Certainly, the bill was essentially ready to go well before the pandemic hit. For unknown reasons, the government decided to have it introduced in the Senate on May 25, 2020, as Bill , and it died there when the unnecessary 2021 election was called. Then it was reintroduced by the government leader in the Senate as Bill on December 1, 2021. After a dispute over whether the bill could actually be introduced in the Senate as it would require a royal recommendation to allow expenditures by the Judicial Council under the bill, the bill was withdrawn from the Senate on December 15, 2021, and reintroduced as a government bill, Bill , in the House on December 16, 2021, if members can follow that bouncing ball.
Despite the disarray on the government side, the bill still seemed to be a priority for the Liberal government as it was included in the December 2021 mandate letter for the . There, the directed that the Minister of Justice, “Secure support for the swift passage of reforms to the judicial conduct process in the Judges Act to ensure the process is fair, effective and efficient so as to foster greater confidence in the judicial system.”
That's fair enough, and no doubt there is important work for us to do on improving the process by which complaints against federal judges are handled. However, here we come to the question of priorities of the Liberals and their effectiveness when it comes to addressing, in a timely manner, the pressing crises in our justice system and, of course, the question of the persistent obstructionism of the Conservatives, as the official opposition, in this sitting of Parliament.
While I remain disappointed that the government chose to ensure the defeat of private member's Bill from the member for , which would have decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of drugs, we have made some progress on the opioid crisis. Pushed into action by the impending vote on the private member's bill, the Liberals, after months of delay, finally granted an interim exemption to the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for British Columbia, in effect decriminalizing personal possession for small amounts of drugs for the next three years.
That's a good thing, yes, but it only raises the question of why wait another six months. This delay seems likely to ensure that 2022 will eclipse the appalling record set in 2021 in British Columbia for the greatest number of overdose deaths in B.C. Also, why only British Columbia? The epidemic of deaths from toxic drug supply continues unabated across the country and in all corners of the country, both urban and rural. Passing Bill would have allowed us to begin to apply the tools we know that work right now: decriminalizing the personal possession of small amounts of drugs and guaranteeing a safe supply of drugs for those suffering from addictions. Bill C-216 would have brought a permanent change to the law to guarantee that addiction is dealt with as a health matter and not a criminal matter.
The crisis that demands urgent action is, of course, systemic racism in our criminal justice system. The most prominent evidence of the reality of this crisis is the over-incarceration of indigenous and Black Canadians in this country. All members by now are familiar with the shocking facts that indigenous people are more than six times as likely as other Canadians to end up incarcerated and that Black Canadians are more than twice as likely. Most shocking I think to all of us is the fact that indigenous women make up 50% of women incarcerated in federal institutions when they are less than 5% of the population.
Of course, injustice does not end with incarceration, as there is the legacy of the resulting criminal record. Not only have indigenous and racialized Canadians been disproportionately targeted for investigation, prosecution, fining or imprisonment, the most marginalized among us then end up stuck with criminal records. These are criminal records that make getting a job almost impossible, criminal records that often restrict access to affordable housing or even ordinary rental housing because of criminal record checks, criminal records that make volunteering with kids and seniors impossible, criminal records that restrict travel and criminal records that even make it difficult to get a bank loan or a mortgage.
The good news is that we have taken some steps to address the systemic racism in our court system with the passage of Bill yesterday. As soon as the Senate acts, we will see the elimination of 20 mandatory minimum penalties, most importantly those in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which fell very heavily on indigenous and racialized Canadians and have been a major contributor to over-incarceration.
Again, we would have liked to see bolder action here with the expansion of the existing Gladue principles to give judges discretion to waive all remaining mandatory minimums when it would be unjust to impose them on indigenous or racialized Canadians due to their circumstances. Unfortunately, this was not in the bill. One may ask why I am going on so long about this. It is judges' discretion that will make a big difference, so people have to have confidence in the judiciary.
Despite the public image that we never co-operate in Parliament, we had good co-operation in the justice committee. That co-operation allowed the passage of my amendment to Bill , which will see the elimination of criminal records for personal possession of drugs within two years through a process called sequestration. What this means in practice is that these records will no longer show up in criminal record checks.
Today, we are moving on to debate Bill and finally, some members may say, I am coming to the substance of this bill. This is a bill to reform the process for handling complaints against federal judges. As I said, it is important in our system to maintain public confidence in those judges. Is this a crisis? Clearly it is not. Is it as urgent as decriminalizing drugs or removing systemic racism in our justice system? Clearly it is not. Is this as important? I would argue that in fact it is, because trust in the integrity of our justice system is integral to the fate of our democracy, especially in these trying times. We have to have faith in the integrity of the justice system and that means in the judges themselves, so we have to do better when it comes to holding the judiciary accountable, but we have to do so in ways that respect their fundamental independence and protect the system against government and political interference.
Bill suggests ways in which we can do this and, as I mentioned at the outset, measures have been ready to go on this for a very long time. Can we do better on holding judges accountable? Yes, we can, but it took well over two years for the government to get this bill before the House today and many of the ideas in it were first proposed in Canadian Bar Association reports as early as 2014. Some appeared in private members' bills tabled in the House as early as 2017, so it is past time to get to work on this bill.
Let me distinguish just for a moment what we are actually talking about. We are not talking about mistakes in law that occur from time to time in the federal courts. There is a clear remedy for these kinds of mistakes, and it is the appeal process. Instead, we are talking about the failure of federally appointed judges to meet the high standards that have been set for them and that we naturally should demand of them. That is either when it comes to personal conduct or to maintaining impartiality on the bench.
I should say from the outset that the Canadian record is remarkably good when it comes to cases of serious misconduct warranting removal from the bench. In the history of Canada, the Canadian Judicial Council has recommended removal for only five federally appointed judges. Four of those resigned before Parliament could deal with their cases, and the fifth before Parliament could act on the case. Whether these judges resigned before being removed solely to protect their pensions, which has been alleged, or simply to avoid the stigma of being the first federal judge ever removed by Parliament, I leave for others to judge.
Leaving the process in the hands of judges themselves is probably necessary, as this is both a key and crucial feature of our current system. It is the one that guarantees governments cannot influence the decisions of judges by threatening to remove them from office. Complaints about federally appointed judges are handled by the Canadian Judicial Council, which is made up of the 41 chief justices and associate chief justices of federally appointed courts.
The Canadian Judicial Council is chaired by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who appoints a committee to examine complaints. If a complaint is initially found to have merit, a three-judge panel examines the complaint and either decides to dismiss it, to recommend no further action because the misconduct does not warrant removal from the bench, or to hold a public inquiry. Again, this is relatively rare, with only 14 inquiries held over the past 40 years.
If there was an inquiry, the committee would then forward its findings to the full Judicial Council, along with a recommendation on the possible removal. If removal is recommended, the judge has the right to appeal to an appeals panel and, if needed, further appeal beyond that. The Supreme Court of Canada can choose to hear the appeal directly, but the current process is that the case would be heard at the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada could hear the case. This seems unnecessarily complicated and provoking of unnecessary delay. Bill would address the problem, but while the current system does work in the most serious cases of judicial behaviour, the process is long and drawn out.
Bill would also address the major gap in the current process, which is that it has proved largely ineffective in dealing with cases of misbehaviour that would not be serious enough to warrant removal from the bench. This is the fact: There is only one possible remedy in the current process, which is removal from the bench. Serious misbehaviour, though rare, is not hard to spot as it always involves law-breaking by the judge concerned or outright corruption.
Less serious complaints about misbehaviour are almost always about the question of impartiality. What would an example be of this less serious misbehaviour? A case in Saskatchewan in 2021 is a case in point. Five complaints were received about a judge who appeared in pictures with a group indirectly connected to a case on which, though he had finished hearings, he had not yet delivered judgment.
The judge in this case agreed this was a serious error on his part and that it could reflect negatively on perceptions about his impartiality in the case before him. The complaints did not proceed, as almost no one thought the judge should be removed and he had promised it would never happen again. Under the current provisions, no action could have been taken, if the judge had disputed the allegations, other than to recommend his removal from the bench for appearing in a photograph.
Bill would allow for additional remedial options other than the current sole option of recommending removal. The bill proposes the referral of complaints to a three-judge review panel, which might find removal to be warranted, and then the review panel could refer the complaint to a larger five-judge hearing panel. At the review stage, however, the review panel could still dismiss the complaint or impose remedies other than removal.
What would Canadians get out of these changes? Most importantly, they would get confidence in the judiciary that would be better maintained by having a process that was both more timely and could deal more effectively with less serious complaints. This should help prevent the judicial system from falling into disrepute and help preserve the very important trust in the impartiality of the judiciary.
Bill might actually save some taxpayer money on cases involving allegations of misconduct by federal judges, as the current process can stretch out for years. Cases involving serious misconduct now often take up to four years to resolve. Bill C-9 would expedite that process by removing the two levels of court appeals that I mentioned.
At the same time, there also may be an increase in costs for dealing with less serious allegations as there would be more options available that are currently dismissed early in the process. The benefit here is that less serious cases would no longer simply be dismissed, and instead sanctions for remedies would be possible.
In the end, and after hearing debate today, I believe Bill should prove to be relatively uncontentious. The Canadian Bar Association was part of the consultations that were held by the judicial council when Senate Bill was being drafted in the previous Parliament. There was a broader consultation that dealt with measures to clarify expectations on what constitutes “good behaviour” for federal judges that are largely set in regulations. Bill C-9 simply reforms the process for dealing with judges who fail to meet those standards.
Bill would also require more transparency with regard to how complaints are handled. The Canadian Judicial Council is responsible for administering this process, and Bill C-9 would require the council to include the number of complaints it received and how they were resolved in its annual public report.
In conclusion, New Democrats support modernizing the process for complaints against federally appointed judges, and we support adding alternative remedial options behind the current sole option of removal from the bench. The bill would allow for varied sanctions such as counselling, continuing education and other reprimands. New Democrats are supportive of streamlining and updating the process to handle complaints against federally appointed judges. This process has not been updated for 50 years. It is time for a modern complaint system for a modernized judiciary, and one that will help increase public confidence in federal judges.
The bill provides an opportunity for parties to work together to get an important reform in place, as it is yet another example of things that did not get done earlier because of the unnecessary 2021 election. We should get this done so that we can then turn our attention back to tackling the serious issues in our justice system that remain, and to confronting the opioid crisis that is better dealt with as a health matter than a judicial matter. I hope to see Bill advance quickly through the House and in the other place.
Mr. Speaker, as we approach the end of the parliamentary session, I want to take a moment to give thanks to my family, my staff, all of the people of Halifax West and all who have supported me and continue to support me in order to do my best in service.
I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am pleased to join my hon. colleagues today to speak in favour of Bill , which proposes reforms to the current process for reviewing allegations of misconduct against federally appointed judges.
The role occupied by the judiciary in our system of government is unique. While one judge in the performance of their duties will interact with countless members of the public, the reverse is not true. Most individuals outside of the legal profession will have little direct exposure to judges in courtrooms in the course of their lives, yet for those individuals who do appear in court, that process is likely to be a major event in their lives. The behaviour of the judge handling their case will shape that person's impression of the justice system as a whole. For individuals who arrive in our courts seeking justice or facing serious jeopardy to their liberty, it is not an overstatement to say that the judge represents the personal embodiment of the values of integrity and impartiality that our justice system is trusted to uphold.
In addition, many people only ever see judges at a distance, in the context of significant or controversial issues. Canada has a high degree of respect for its judiciary and for the administration of justice overall, but it will require constant attention and effort to keep it that way.
Just as the impact of a judge’s behaviour on a particular individual can have great significance, so too can allegations of judicial misconduct have significant effects on public confidence and trust. Complaints against Canadian judges are rare, especially those severe enough to implicate potential removal from office. However, when they do occur, they capture public attention precisely because they diverge so radically from the norm. The public is entitled to see those allegations taken seriously and addressed through a process that itself reflects the best ideals of our justice system. Canadians need to know that the judicial system is fair to all, including the judiciary, and it is on this theme I wish to speak to members today.
Appropriate mechanisms for reviewing judicial conduct must be grounded in the constitutional realities of the judicial role. Judicial independence protects judges from outside influence of any kind, actual or perceived, in the exercise of their functions. This is absolutely critical to ensuring that the adjudication of cases is impartial and fair and is seen as such.
One form of influence against which judges are protected is the threat of personal reprimand or removal from their offices for conduct or decisions that may be contrary to the preferences of those in political power. For this reason, the Supreme Court of Canada has specified that the review of allegations related to judicial conduct, while vital to preserving public confidence in its own right, must be controlled and led by the judiciary itself. Moreover, the mechanisms for this review must allow opportunities for the judge in question to be fully and fairly heard.
Once a fair, judge-led process culminates in a recommendation on whether a judge should be removed from office, our great Constitution shifts the responsibility to us as parliamentarians to determine whether we will indeed remove the judge via an address to the Governor General. It is a testament to both the strength of our judiciary and the respect of this chamber for the sanctity of judicial independence that, to date, this power has never been exercised. It is a power that indeed must be reserved for circumstances of true necessity, when a judge refuses to leave office after it has been credibly established that their conduct threatens public confidence in the administration of justice.
To be sure that this power is exercised appropriately, Parliament must know that a judge-led review of the conduct of another judge was effective, impartial and thorough. This means ensuring the judge in question was treated with absolute fairness. This notion is at the very heart of the amendments we are debating today.
The current judicial conduct process, as set out in the Judges Act and operationalized by the Canadian Judicial Council, is in dire need of modernization and reform. The council has done what it can do to overhaul the process by making changes to its procedures, but much more is still needed, and that requires legislative amendments. As my colleagues have shared, a primary concern with the existing mechanism is its lack of efficiency, stemming from a rigid structure that is not easily adaptable to reviewing different types of judicial conduct. Associated with this are high costs in terms of money, time and detriment to the public trust.
Despite the intention of providing fairness to an impugned judge, the current regime can instead foster near endless litigation, as every facet of the inquiry process is susceptible to challenge through judicial review, compounded by appeals to multiple levels of court, often on grounds that have little merit or that bear on the public interest. My colleagues have referred to some of these examples, and I will not repeat them. It suffices to note that as matters linger unresolved for extended periods and at great cost, confidence in the administration of justice and the judiciary is undermined.
Procedural fairness, as accorded to judges, is necessary. Indeed, it is as equally important as the fairness that must be accorded to individuals in judges’ own courtrooms. However, procedural fairness can be satisfied in a way that does not enable adversarial zeal, calculated delay and resulting negative repercussions for Canadians. The Canadian Judicial Council itself has acknowledged that the status quo is at odds with the public interest. It is now for us as lawmakers to act.
Bill proposes a suite of reforms designed to overhaul the process for handling judicial conduct complaints. All have been carefully crafted to ensure that public confidence is enhanced, recognizing that this requires independence and efficiency, as well as a high degree of procedural fairness. Satisfying those complementary objectives will in turn foster greater trust in the administration of justice more broadly.
Bill would enhance the versatility of the judicial conduct process by providing a review panel to deal with less severe cases, that is, allegations of misconduct that are not so serious as to potentially warrant removal from office. This introduces responsiveness and nuance through options other than a full-scale hearing, sparing both judges and complainants from the strain of adversarial public hearings and the possible stigma of publicizing unverified allegations. A judge would nevertheless retain the right to be aware of all allegations, respond to them comprehensively and benefit from the advice and advocacy of skilled counsel.
Given the scrutiny and profile that public hearings necessarily entail, the need for fairness is especially important whenever it is required. Under the new process, allegations of misconduct so serious that removal from office may be warranted would be handled by a hearing panel comprising five members. It would include representatives of the judiciary, the legal profession and the public, and hearings would function in a manner akin to a trial. Prosecuting counsel would also be appointed, with the responsibility to present the case against the judge, much as a criminal prosecutor would do. The judge would be entitled to rigorous opportunities to call evidence and examine counsel. The process would ensure that the full rigour of an adversarial hearing, with the same clear court procedure, applies to all hearings.
I doubt anyone could reasonably claim that the processes I have described would fail to provide procedural fairness to a judge whose conduct has been called into question. They are not only fair but exhaustive and rigorous, designed to apply the rigour of our justice system to serious allegations while also allowing more humane and effective alternatives when allegations do not rise to a serious level. Most importantly, we as parliamentarians can be assured that should the day ever come when we need to consider a recommendation for judicial removal, we can have confidence that the recommendation stems from a scrupulous, fair and effective process.
With that, I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to support Bill , an act to amend the Judges Act.
This bill proposes to overhaul a process that is essential to maintaining public confidence in our justice system, namely the mechanisms used for examining allegations of judicial misconduct.
If there is one class of legislation that everyone in the House should be able to agree on unanimously, it is laws having to do with our justice system.
In the time I have been in the House, I have been really pleased to see the non-partisan ways that members have been able to work together on justice-related issues on many occasions. I am going to outline one that just happened last week.
My hon. colleague from proposed a private member's bill to carve out an exception to allow jurors to speak to mental health professionals about what happened during the time they were in deliberations. Up until now, the Criminal Code has prohibited jurors from doing so, thus creating a problem where a juror who is profoundly affected by what happens in deliberations is unable to speak about it to somebody who can counsel them on their mental health.
At the justice committee, we heard from jurors. We put forward a package of recommendations in the 42nd Parliament related to how we should improve the lives of jurors. My colleague from worked with a colleague in the Senate. They put this forward in both Houses and were able to secure the unanimous adoption of a bill that will profoundly change the life of jurors. That is the way we should do things in this House more frequently.
This bill is another excellent example of where there has been profound collegiality. There has been a lot of consultation and there is a general consensus that we should move forward. I echo the comments of my dear friend from that we should find a way to pass this before we have any type of summer break.
That being said, one of the things that I think is really important in this country is the respect for our institutions. We have wonderful federal judges who have been appointed in this country, people of great distinction in their field. When people go before the courts, they need to have confidence that the judges are impartial and fair and that judges have the ability to fairly adjudicate their case. This means we need a process that the public can trust for judges who are accused of misconduct.
There are things in this country we should not question. We should not be questioning the central bank. We should not be questioning the justice system. We should have profound confidence in these national institutions no matter our party or our political leanings. Therefore, it is up to us as parliamentarians to create laws that provide that confidence. This bill does that in three essential ways.
On the first point, I am going to use the example my friend from used earlier, of when a judge is photographed between the time the judge finishes judging a case and the opinion is published and there is a picture of the judge with a group of people who are a party to the case. That does not necessarily warrant that judge's removal from office for life and an act of both Houses of Parliament to remove the judge. Right now, there are no sanctions below removal that are available to the Canadian Judicial Council. This bill offers us alternatives such as training, an apology in public and other things a judge can do to excuse behaviour that does not rise to the level of warranting removal.
Second, we have seen a misuse of the system. There are judges who have been accused, but there have been very few because our judges are a very distinguished, excellent group of people. I do not want anything I say in this speech to be considered a slap in the face to the federal judiciary which is made up of excellent people. There are always some people who are alleged to have committed and do commit some misconduct. The idea that people can tie this up in knots for years and years with appeal after appeal until they are able to get their pension does not make any sense.
I am very pleased that we now have a process with a panel of three to five people to start, if the relationship is extremely troubling, and that its decision can be appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Canada. There will be no appeals to the Federal Court or the Federal Court of Appeal. The process will be much faster, and I believe that this is very important.
There is something else that is important, and that is transparency. At present, the Canadian Judicial Council is not required to prepare an annual report of all complaints submitted. It will now be required to disclose annually that it has received such complaints and to explain how they were addressed. That is also important for transparency.
I would also like to mention that there has been a lot of discussion in the House about the importance of the rights of victims. Let me say that when it comes to all parties and every parliamentarian, there is a profound respect for the rights of victims and the need for victims to feel they were fairly served by the justice system. It is very important to respect the rights of the criminal defendant, but it is also important to make sure victims are considered throughout the process.
This process that would be in place would be a faster process. This means people who were alleged to be victims of misconduct would have their final decision much faster than they would otherwise have had it. That also is important.
I am going to sort of make a clarion call. Especially at the end of the session, there is often a lot of partisanship and anger shown, but as a group, we can do so much good. I know this from experience, having worked with Conservative colleagues, like my friend from , and my colleagues in the NDP. I have worked often with the member for , as well as my friend from and members of the Bloc.
We all worked together to do constructive things. If we use the next week to pass bills we agree are constructive, I believe that we will accomplish a lot. I am therefore asking my colleagues in the House to work together to find a way to pass this bill before the end of June. I believe that it would be a great thing for Canadians.
This would allow us to show Canadians, who are discouraged when they see the acrimony floating around, that parliamentarians really can work together and accomplish things. I think that confidence in our national institutions is so important to restore.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is a pleasure to rise to speak to Bill , which is an act that would create a complaint mechanism for judges. We have certainly heard from all sides today that everyone thinks this is a great idea. This is not to say judges do not do a good job, because we know we have great judges in this country who work hard, but as with any career discipline, there is always the odd thing going on that is not good.
I remember when I was the chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women we talked about some of the things that were happening. In one sexual assault case, a judge actually asked the complainant, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” In another sexual assault case, another judge said, “she was drunk” in the taxi.
Rona Ambrose brought forward Bill to try to get at this issue of judges who do not have experience in sexual assault presiding over those cases. Although that bill unfortunately did not make it through under her private member's bill, the government brought it back, and we passed it earlier in the session. This would offer judges training, and in fact, it would offer lawyers who want to be judges training as well. That is the kind of remedy we want to see.
I was very pleased to hear the member for , who just spoke, talk about what this bill would allow. Other than just the extreme option of getting rid of a judge for whatever behaviour was complained about, there is a whole realm of possibilities, including verbal warnings, letter warnings, public apologies, training and multiple other options. This is something very good about this bill.
I do have a concern about the state of judges in our country since the Liberal government was elected. I started in 2015, and at that time we were missing I think 60 judges who needed to be appointed. Because of that, and because the Jordan decision, there were numerous examples of murderers and rapists who went free because there were not enough judges to handle the workload in a timely fashion.
There was an attempt made to put in a process. The government wanted to increase the diversity of the judges being selected, which is great, because one of the things that will make for a healthier democracy and rule of law is to have diverse thought and diverse representation of the population.
Unfortunately, what happened is the government used the Liberal fundraising database to figure out which judges should be picked from the lawyer pool. There were also fundraisers going on with the minister of justice at the time, which caused a big scandal because lawyers were paying $500 to meet her, and they all wanted to become judges. We know that is certainly not in keeping with conflict of interest rules in the House. The scandal went on for quite a while.
It is important to have diversity of thought with judges so they can check one another. If people are all in a group and they think together, it can be a bad thing. We have seen some of the Supreme Court decisions that came out recently that have caused concern across the country, such as the one that says, if a person is intoxicated, it could be a defence for murder, sexual assault, etc. Canadians in general would reject that and say no. The person is the one who chose to keep drinking or doing drugs until they became that intoxicated, and there needs to be an ownership of the behaviour. Those judges all together did not have enough diversity of thought for somebody to say that decision might not be a good thing.
I would suggest, from a Conservative perspective, that when somebody has killed multiple people, consecutive sentencing gave a lot of comfort to victims. The Supreme Court decision on that is another example. Parliament has a duty to review those decisions and have the discussions about whether that is really where we want to go on those topics. The whole purpose of having judges is that they are the executors of the rule of law in our nation.
I am very concerned that, in the last seven years, we are not seeing more rule of law. We are seeing more people committing crimes. The crime rates are increasing, including gun crime and violent crime. However, when I look at the response from the government, it looks like we are seeing a continual erosion of the rule of law.
The member who spoke previously mentioned that I am the first female engineer in the House, and we have an expression in the engineering world about a frog in a pot. Gradually the temperature in the pot increases until eventually we boil the frog, but the frog is not able to sense that the temperature is going up because it is so incremental. I would argue, with respect to the rule of law in Canada, the temperature is going up.
We had Bill , which reduced the sentencing to fines or less than two years of time in jail for crimes such as abduction of a person under the age of 16, abduction of a person under the age of 14, arson for fraudulent purposes, marriage under 16 and participation in the activity of a terrorist group. There are a number of offences there, and I did not see the justification for that. We have heard from police chiefs that, although in some cases they agreed, in many cases there are serious crimes happening that now have only a slap on the wrist, which is not sending the right message about the rule of law and the importance of it.
In this parliamentary session, we now have Bill coming forward, which would remove mandatory minimums on robbery with a firearm; extortion with a firearm; discharging a firearm with intent; using a firearm in the commission of offences; trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing, exporting, or possession of serious drugs; and production of these serious drugs, which are killing thousands of Canadians. Also, Bill would allow some of these sentences to be put down to house arrest, including that of sexual assault.
Somebody could victimize someone in their community and then serve the time there. I do not think that is something that we should leave to the discretion of judges, when we have seen in the past a judge ask, “couldn't you just keep your knees together?” There is a naivete if we think we can leave it to chance. Yes, in the majority of cases, judges will judge with wisdom, but it is the every now and again that we want to prevent and what our laws should prevent.
Abduction of a person under 14 could become a house arrest sentence. This is unbelievable. We have a huge human trafficking issue in this country, and this not only sends the wrong message, but it is also not going to fix things because, when people are left with a potential house arrest, those who are committing crimes can commit them out of their house. It is the same thing for someone trafficking drugs who gets house arrest. How convenient is that for people to stop by and pick up drugs?
These things make no sense to me, and so I am very concerned when I look at the erosion of our rule of law. At the same time, there is an erosion of protection for victims. We had Bill in the previous Parliament on victim surcharge. It used to be that there was some recompense made for victims who had suffered and had to travel distances to go to parole hearings and that kind of thing, but that was taken away.
This is a soft-on-crime government, and while I support Bill because when judges do not get it right we need to fix that, but I am very concerned that we are having this continual erosion of the rule of law. We have heard many speeches in the House that have said that there is a high rate of reoffending. People are committing crimes, getting out, committing them again and being put back in, and there really is no rehabilitation happening. That is not to say that there should not be, but the situation today is that there is not. If we know that people are going to reoffend and go out on the street, we have to protect the public, and we have a duty to do that.
The mechanism in the bill is to make sure that judges are doing their due diligence. We would have mechanisms, not just an extreme one, but progressions, that would allow us to take corrective action and manage the judicial system to ensure its integrity. This will preserve the rule of law, although the concerns I have expressed do remain.
Mr. Speaker, I join with my colleagues in discussing Bill today. I am appreciative of the bill and the fact that it would grant the premise that we have been advocating for a very long time, and that Liberals have been arguing against for a very long time, that judges need to be held accountable. There needs to be a remedy for egregious actions on the part of judges.
I believe in the fallen nature of man and that the dividing line between good and evil runs through the heart of a person. I do not think anybody is above doing wrong or evil things, and we must all fight against that all the time. That stands for everybody, including judges. Judges can get it wrong and sometimes do evil things. Those things happen in the fallen world we live in. For that reason, there need to be accountability mechanisms for all individuals.
Accountability is baked into many of the things we do. It is baked into democracy and there are the checks and balances of democracy. In this place, we have one of the most obvious checks and balances, which is the vote when it comes to getting re-elected or being elected. We run on our record and on what we plan to do, and that is an accountability mechanism. That is being accountable to the people back home.
There are other checks and balances in our system. We have the Constitution, and all the laws we bring in this place must be checked against our Constitution, making sure that individual freedoms and liberties are maintained. We have provincial jurisdiction and federal jurisdiction, and both of those are guarded jealously. That is one of the checks and balances in our system. Then we have a thing called judicial independence, where politicians and the political sphere are not supposed to influence judges, so to speak. However, every now and then judges will have personal failures, where whatever they have done is beyond the pale of public activity and they would be deemed unfit to be judges any longer. This bill puts out a mechanism in order to deal with that.
I will read some of the reasons for removal that this bill lays out: “(a) infirmity; (b) misconduct; (c) failure in the due execution of judicial office; (d) the judge is in a position that a reasonable, fair-minded and informed observer would consider to be incompatible with the due execution of judicial office.” I think this is a fair bill, and it would put in place a due process for the removal of judges from their position.
As I said earlier, I am appreciative of this bill because it grants the premise that judges need to be held accountable. I do not know about others, but where I come from there is a growing dissatisfaction or mistrust, or “lack of confidence” is probably the best term, for folks back home around the judicial system and holding criminals to account. We are starting to see this spill over into urban areas, where criminals operate with impunity. They steal things in broad daylight and commit acts of violence in broad daylight, disobeying the law in general and violating local communities. In rural Canada, theft is a real challenge, and it is somewhat a crime of opportunity. Where I live, the police getting to my door is a matter of perhaps hours, so criminals can do their criminal activity and be long gone before the police show up.
While I think this bill is an important starting piece, there is an entire sentiment that the current Liberal government drives, which starts perhaps with its tacit support of the “Defund the Police” movement, but also this general idea that the justice system will allow people to get out of jail more easily and will not penalize people. These kinds of things, which we often hear from the government, have led to the police not being able to make arrests, and when they do make arrests they are not able to get convictions, which becomes a major challenge. It demoralizes the police, the lack of political support from movements like “Defund the Police”. It undermines the political support police think they have.
They know that if they are going to pursue criminals, they need to have public support for their actions, and we are seeing more and more the police telling folks that they probably will not get a conviction or that they will have to go through all that effort and the criminal would be back out in six months. If what is missing from the victim's place is a small thing, they are not going to put the resources toward that, because they have a major case they are working on and they are diverting the resources to that, as they are likely to get a conviction there. Individuals' lives are devastated. When people come home to find that their fridge, washing machine and dishwasher are missing, that basically all of the appliances in their house have been stolen, it is a violating thing. To have somebody come into their house and steal things like that is unnerving. Perhaps it is not a great monetary loss, but it is extremely disconcerting for the folks who are missing those things.
Pollsters will track this kind of thing, the trust in our institutions, and generally Canadians' trust has been going down over the last seven years. We saw that under Conservative governments, trust in institutions, trust that institutions were doing what people expected them to do, was going up. Now we have seen a dramatic decrease in the trust in institutions, which bears itself out in two ways. One is that now people do not even call the police when their stuff goes missing. I hear that over and over again. People say that the police cannot do anything about it and therefore they do not even call. The other side of the coin is that criminals operate with increasingly brazen activity. We saw it in Calgary recently: two cars blazing down the road, shooting at each other while driving down the road, with no apparent fear that the police would show up, apprehend them and put an end to this firefight. It ended in the tragic death of a mother of five. That was in Calgary, just recently.
Folks will now come into rural yards and start stealing things. When the homeowner shows up and asks what they are doing, they say they are stealing things. He says, “I am standing right here”, and they just say, “What are you going to do about it?” We have that increasingly. We have just brazen activity by criminals because they see the lack of the system's ability to hold them to account, and therefore operate with complete impunity and brazenness that we have never seen before.
I would say that in my own life, I have witnessed the deterioration of trust in the community, trust in general. When I was growing up in my community, no one had a chain-link fence, no one had a gate at the end of the driveway, but these sorts of things are more and more common.
I lay this at the feet of the current government and the fact that it does not take this seriously. It does not provide the political support and tacitly supports movements like “Defund the Police”, which undermines our way of life, our quality of life and our ability to live peacefully in this country, and has led to a deterioration of the interactions we have as a society.
I look forward to questions on this.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to address the House virtually today.
There are a number of thoughts that I would like to share with respect to this piece of legislation. It is legislation that has been in the works for a considerable amount of time. As much as I have been enjoying some of the questions and answers, especially when the Conservatives are being pushed as to when they are going to look at it or whether they would consider the passage of the legislation. Just given the context of what the official opposition members are saying, I do not anticipate that the bill will be passing before summer. I think the Conservatives have some spin notes that they want to try to leave on this particular legislation.
The biggest one that comes to my mind is the issue of “soft on crime”. It is especially members of the Conservative hard-right element who like to say that they are much harder on crime, that government needs to be tough on crime and that if it is not a Conservative government, it is soft on crime. Whether it makes sense or not, that is the line that the Conservatives like to give because of public perception.
That said, the bill will pass when it will pass, ultimately. I am hopeful that, as we can sense, the majority of the House see the value in Bill , because it is something that is needed.
I want to start by making a couple of observations from some of the stakeholders. I want to do that this time around because I really do respect our judicial system as one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy. Our rule of law, our judicial system and the idea of independence are held dear by, I would like to think, all members of the House.
For that reason, I thought it was important to start off with a quote. It is from the Right Hon. Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada and chairperson of the Canadian Judicial Council. He stated:
Over the past few years, the Council has consistently called for new legislation to be tabled in order to improve the process by which concerns about judicial conduct are reviewed. The efforts of members of Council to develop proposals in this regard have been fruitful, and we appreciate the openness with which the Minister of Justice has engaged the Council in his consultations.
I will go to another quote from the Canadian Judicial Council. It states:
While the Council will take some time to carefully review the proposed amendments, we are confident that these reforms will bring about much needed efficiency and transparency to the judicial conduct review process.
I wanted to start with those opening quotes because of the respect that I have for judicial independence. I also recognize that there has been a great deal of work, whether by the minister or by administration or by civil servants. They have worked very closely with the many different stakeholders while at the same time respecting the importance of judicial independence. That is why, when I look at the legislation—and I concur with some of the comments being made by my New Democratic Party colleagues and Green Party members, who seem to support the legislation and its speedy passage—I would like to think that the bill itself should not be controversial. It is actually fairly straightforward. There will be other opportunities for the opposition members to try to score their political points, if I could put it that way.
I do think there would have been a great deal of value in seeing Bill C-9 at least pass through second reading so that it could go to committee stage, possibly during the summer, when feedback could be heard from the public and experts, with the idea of coming back in the fall for report stage and third reading.
The Conservative members who spoke before me were interesting. I picked up on two comments; one was the issue of “soft on crime”, which I have already referenced and maybe will go into a little more later, but they also brought up the issue of appointments of judges. I was somewhat taken aback by some of the comments that were put on the record.
We were being criticized because we did not make appointments shortly after being elected into government, as we were reviewing and establishing a more independent, apolitical, transparent appointment process to ensure that our judicial system would be that much more transparent. Yes, there might have been some delays in those appointments, but they were taking the extreme position that murderers went free because of some delays in appointments. I would welcome and challenge the Conservative members to cite specific examples of someone who not only allegedly murdered but did murder an individual and ultimately, because they could not get a day in court, were let go without any charges being laid in that situation. I would be very much interested in a name. If they could provide me with one, they can always send it to my P9 email or raise it inside the House.
The member went on to talk about Jody Wilson-Raybould, being very critical of her for not making appointments and implying in the comments that she would only make an appointment if the person donated to the party. Again, those were very extreme statements being made by the Conservative Party. It is not fair. It is interesting how they seem to have forgiven the past—at least, most of the Conservative caucus has—in regard to Jody Wilson-Raybould, but I remember the allegations a number of years ago on that front.
It is important to look at the appointments that have actually been made. The government has made somewhere in the neighbourhood of 400 appointments since 2016. If we do the comparison, I would love to hear the numbers from the previous administration. When it comes to this administration, out of the hundreds of appointments to our judicial system, 55% have been women. I would love to hear a comparison with the previous 10 years under Stephen Harper.
About 3% of our appointments, or marginally just above that, were indigenous. That is important to recognize. Over 10% are visible minorities. The LGBTQ2 appointments are over 5%. Not only are we identifying ideal, competent, incredible individuals, but as a result of a more transparent, depoliticized appointment process, I believe that overall the appointments are more effective in better reflecting what our society looks like today.
On both of those points, whether it is judges and the appointment of judges or the issue of the Conservatives being soft on crime and saying the government is not tough enough on crime, I would challenge the Conservatives to prove their points, not necessarily on this legislation, but on other pieces of legislation so we can ultimately see Bill pass.
It is important to recognize that we do need to see a balance. We have the fundamental pillar of our judicial independence and it is important there be a high level of confidence held by the public in the administration of justice. I believe the legislation we are looking at deals with that in a very fair fashion.
The amendments will ultimately allow for the Canadian Judicial Council to continue to preside over the process proposed in the legislation. This would start with a three-person review panel ultimately deciding to investigate a complaint of misconduct. In some situations, if the complaint is serious enough, it might even warrant dismissal or removal from the bench. In situations like that, it could be referred to a separate five-person panel.
In the first case, it would be strictly a three-person review panel made up of CJC members. A judge and a layperson could impose sanctions such as public apologies and continuing education.
The current process has turned out, in many ways, to be exceptionally costly at times, and equally as important, it is not very timely. We have seen situations where it could take years before anything is actually concluded.
That is the reason our judicial system is saying that we need to make changes. Today, judges facing possible removal from office because of serious allegations of misconduct have several opportunities throughout the process to launch these judicial reviews. However, as I indicated, the process in some cases can be too long and can be at a fairly significant cost.
Replacing the process through which the Canadian Judicial Council reviews the conduct of a federally appointed judge is the essence of what the legislation is proposing to do. It establishes a new process for reviewing allegations of misconduct that are not serious enough to warrant a judge's removal from office and makes changes to the process by which recommendations regarding removal from office can be made by the .
The new process would allow for the imposition of sanctions for misconduct which, while not serious enough to warrant removal, may warrant sanctions that are quite different. The current process does not allow for such sanctions. The member for highlighted some examples. Where a judge's actions have been deemed to have offended something and there needs to be a consequence for the actions, there are more opportunities for different types of consequences.
We could see anything ranging from verbal warnings to written warnings, to suspensions or public apologies. We could even see additional training being required, and ultimately, of course, judges being released. This legislation enables a suite of actions that could be imposed on a judge, given a certain behaviour or comment that is made publicly.
Not only have we heard today, but we have also heard it in the past. We have had private members' bills. I think of Rona Ambrose. She talked about educating judges, particularly in the area of rape victims. Her piece of legislation ultimately received support from all areas of the House. Parliamentarians from all political stripes recognized the need to have some form of educational programming for newly appointed judges to take things into consideration. In fact, my daughter, who is a local representative in the province of Manitoba, had also taken that particular initiative after hearing about what Rona Ambrose had done.
Ultimately, the government pushed that legislation through in the years that followed after Ms. Ambrose left the House of Commons, but we attribute it to Rona and we attribute it to the fact that there is a universal desire for that training.
It was not that long ago when we had another private member's bill, one from one of my colleagues from Montreal. There was a great deal of effort by members on all sides of the House to see that legislation, Bill , which is still before the House today, pass second reading and go to committee. It came out of third reading because of that desire.
For those who are not familiar, Ms. Ambrose's piece of legislation is recognized as Keira's law for good reason. I will quote from an article, “When I brought forward the evidence about abuse of Mr. Brown, we had a judge, for example, who said that domestic violence is not relevant to parenting and, 'I'm going to ignore it.'”
Periodically statements come out of our judicial system that call into question the public confidence. That is one of the reasons it is so important that we pass this legislation. It recognizes that our independent judicial system and our judges, who we do need to respect, can make mistakes. Obviously, a vast majority of judgments are done in a way in which they meet the expectations of Canadians, but on occasion, when that does not happen, there needs to be a more effective mechanism to ensure there is an appropriate consequence. This legislation would enable some variation of consequences for judges, at times, who cross the line.
I have appreciated the opportunity to share a few thoughts and will be more than happy to answer any questions.
Mr. Speaker, I am actually going to go through the substance of this bill. I agree with many parts of it. I would say this is one of the least contentious pieces of legislation that we will go through and that we have discussed. However, I do believe that our job, for which we are very well compensated by Canadian taxpayers, is to make sure we understand any legislation that goes through the chamber as it will all have an impact our country. After all, that is why we were sent here by our constituents and that is why we are paid by the taxpayers.
Some members of the government party do not seem to have a substantive grasp of this, as my last two questions pointed out. They were unable to answer even simple questions over the substance of this legislation.
Let us start out on our journey of what happens in a disciplinary procedure. I actually had the privilege of sitting on another body's disciplinary committee and found it to be very important and critical. Just to put this into context before we walk through the process, it is by weeding out those poor actors who are not living up to the expectations of the community that we improve the profession. I must say that, by and large, our justices are amazing people doing great work. They are keeping our cities and our streets safe. They are working to rehabilitate those who have gone off course, and I truly applaud their work. It is not many jobs that place the fate of individuals in one's hands and have that type of stress, so I would like to start by giving my thanks to the justices.
There are those justices who go off course, for whatever reason. They are unable or incapable of performing the duties that they are required to by law. It is incredibly important that when we have those folks off course we either bring them back on course or, in very severe circumstances when their careers simply cannot be salvaged, take them off the bench. For the most part, our justices are great, but it is incredibly important that we keep everyone accountable, from the House to the judges across our country and to the highest offices of the land.
The first step is the issuance of a complaint. Under the old system, the executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council would screen them. Now, they are putting in place a screening officer. It would be a lawyer's job to have those complaints come in and to initially screen them. Having sat on a professional disciplinary board myself, often complaints are just vexatious. They might be from litigants who got a decision they did not happen to like, but the judge did nothing wrong. When someone is in a decision-making capacity, they cannot make all the people happy all the time. Unfortunately, some of that bubbles up into complaints.
I believe that having a professional at the screening desk whose full-time job, as I understand it, is to review these complaints is a great step. I am sure the executive director was doing a good job, but they have multiple other tasks as well. Having a professional screening individual, who is a lawyer, review complaints is, I believe, a great step.
The next step is a very important one. After the initial complaint has been issued, the judge who is the subject of the complaint will get a notification of that complaint. I assume it will be a written notification. They then get the ability to respond with written submissions. At that point, that could be reviewed to see whether it is a legitimate claim or not. That claim could be dismissed on the grounds of the written submissions of the justice.
Once again, this is important. I like this part of the process. As I said, it is incredibly important that we hold everyone accountable so that if there are justices who are behaving inappropriately, we pull them off the bench.
Also very important is that we make this as painless as possible for justices who have done nothing wrong, but are the subject of vexatious or unnecessary complaints. This is obviously a very stressful job to begin with, so if there are vexatious claims it is incredibly important we get them voided and annulled as soon as possible. Throughout this new process, there would be multiple off-ramps where multiple individuals could review a claim and say whether something was a real claim or whether it should be dismissed.
One critical point in the initial review of the complaint by the screening officer is that discrimination and sexual harassment complaints could not be dismissed. I really like that, too. If we look at the numbers, the math and the history of our country, unfortunately sexual harassment claims have been way too often dismissed out of hand as “she said, he said” or otherwise. This would put an absolute right for those complaints to continue on, ensure they are not dismissed out of hand and that they do get a hearing, which is novel.
I have not seen this in other professional disciplinary boards. It may exist, but I have not seen it and it is a great step. One of the lowest prosecution rates we have is for sexual assault and for discriminatory crimes. Putting that in place would put in another safeguard to make sure that where there is discrimination and sexual harassment going on, that claim, if submitted, would always get a hearing. Other claims that may be lesser in nature could be dismissed out of hand, and I support that. This makes a lot of sense.
I also want to bring up that Conservatives agree this legislation needs to be reviewed.
After we get to the screening officer and the reviewing member, the next step would be the review panel. After there has been a complaint, the screening officer has said they believe something is legitimate and the justice has written their submissions back that they still believe this deserves to be heard, it would go to a review panel that would include a member, a judge and a layperson. It is nice that a layperson has been included in a number of these bills. Sometimes it should not always be the profession judging the profession, especially when it comes to judges, because the impact of a judge is well beyond the legal profession.
When it gets in front of the review panel, the review panel would consider the substance of the complaint, any related documents, observations provided by the viewing member, written submissions provided by the judge at issue and those of the chief justice. This would be a new addition in proposed section 99.
The review panel would have the ability to do one of three things. The panel could refer the case to a full hearing, which should be done if it believes the removal of the justice is a potential outcome of the offence: The offence is serious enough that it could warrant the removal of the justice. Another option, or another off-ramp, if the review panel does not believe this is a legitimate concern is to dismiss the complaint. Once again, if a person is innocent, it is another opportunity for them to have their innocence expressed and to have an off-ramp.
The next is to impose alternative sanctions short of removal. At this stage and level, the review panel could put in sanctions and penalties. This does not happen under the current system. It actually needs to be kicked back to the Canadian Judicial Council, which would then decide. This step would be taken away, which would expedite the process and make it that much more efficient.
I will quickly go through the list of possible sanctions that the review panel could put in.
It could issue a public or private expression of concern, a warning or a reprimand. From my experience working with a professional disciplinary committee, I know that oftentimes, if we can get to someone early, someone who may not be a bad person but may have made a mistake, then the opportunity to counsel them, educate them and put them in the right direction is far more productive. They may go on to be a fabulous justice, and this was just one indiscretion, one mistake along the way that they learned from. I think we need to give people, including justices, a second chance where it is merited.
The review panel could order a judge to privately or public apologize or take specific measures, including attending counselling or continuing education. We are in a mental health crisis, and I do not believe that justices are completely immune to it, particularly given the stress of their job. Perhaps counselling is a solution. We may have an extremely talented person who has been going through a difficult time. As a community, we want to do everything we can to help them with whatever issues they may have. Also, they are an extremely valuable part of our community, being a justice, so we want to see the investment rewarded with a great, long career.
The review panel could take any action that it considers equivalent to the above options. With a judge's consent, it could also make an agreement, which is great too because not everything is one size fits all. Overly prescriptive legislation, in my opinion, can often be challenging, so this would give judges the ability to sit with members of the review panel and decide and agree on some steps going forward so that we can get their career back on a path that makes sure they are dispensing justice in a way that the community would be proud of.
With regard to the review panel, if one of the sanctions I talked about was put in place, there would be a review process or an appeal process, which is a little confusing in the legislation, called a “reduced hearing panel”. I would have named it the “appeal panel” for the sanctions or put the word “appeal” in there somewhere, but that is effectively what this is. The justice would have the ability to call for a review of the sanctions that are less important than removal.
I will leave the step about a full removal for the second part of my speech because I do not want to continue with that, but I will note that the reduced hearing panel has an interesting part to it. Judges could go from getting sanctions to being put in a full panel hearing, which could actually lead to a worse circumstance. I have some questions about that and will raise them later on in my speech.