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Results: 46 - 60 of 84
View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
View Linda Duncan Profile
2018-11-08 11:34 [p.23436]
Madam Speaker, the member's colleagues have stood in the House frequently to call on the government of the day to fill the vacancies for judicial appointments. As he is aware, as he was in the last Parliament with me, the Conservative government also failed to fill those vacancies and failed to respond to the pleas of the former Conservative attorney general of Alberta. I wonder if he could speak to that. There has been a languishing problem in that area for a long time.
I wonder if the member could also speak to the previous government's decision to impose minimum mandatory sentences. As the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association has pointed out, that has been one of the major causes of clogging the courts. Why, then, is his party completely opposed to any kind of reform of that measure?
View Sheila Malcolmson Profile
NDP (BC)
View Sheila Malcolmson Profile
2018-11-08 12:02 [p.23440]
Mr. Speaker, from the NDP side, we had hoped that this proposed legislation would repair the mandatory minimum policy change that the Conservatives brought in during the previous government.
We have heard testimony at the status of women committee about judges no longer having judicial discretion to impose sentences on an offender serving time on weekends, when the offender could get their family to look after their kids and keep the family together, and could still keep their regular job during the week. Often, in the case of women, particularly indigenous women, they may well have been an accessory to a crime and plead guilty just to get the charge over and under way, but they do not have access to good representation. There is a lot of evidence that mandatory minimums have been harder on indigenous women than anyone else and have broken up families. In fact, 68% of court challenges are related to mandatory minimums.
Have the Conservatives had any second thoughts or regrets about the decision they made in the previous Parliament? Do they wish the government had kept its promise, followed its mandate letter and included a repeal of mandatory minimums in this proposed legislation?
View Sheila Malcolmson Profile
NDP (BC)
View Sheila Malcolmson Profile
2018-11-08 12:16 [p.23442]
Mr. Speaker, status of women committee heard testimony from Jonathan Rudin from Aboriginal Legal Services, who I note my colleague quoted as a defender of the legislation. Almost a year ago, having described the impact of mandatory minimum sentencing as being particularly hard on indigenous women and on having removed judicial discretion, the pattern observed was that there were more indigenous women in prison, that their families were taken away and that their children were incredibly damaged on their return, maybe even creating intergenerational impacts.
Mr. Rudin said
The first thing we urge the committee to recommend and to try at least to do is to have the current government bring in the legislation they have promised to bring in to restore to judges their discretion to sentence people without the burden of mandatory minimum sentences and the restrictions on conditional sentences.
Does my colleague agree with Jonathan Rudin's advice in this case?
Although the government campaigned to make this change three years ago, it has done nothing. It has not fulfilled its commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action to repeal the Conservative's mandatory minimum legislation. The government had an opportunity in the bill and it has failed to meet it.
View Wayne Stetski Profile
NDP (BC)
View Wayne Stetski Profile
2018-11-08 12:49 [p.23446]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to briefly address preliminary inquiries.
Preliminary inquiries are, in essence, dress rehearsals for subsequent trials, and they are only used in 3% of cases. Therefore, eliminating these is not really going to save a lot of time. Sometimes, during these preliminary inquiries, the Crown's case can collapse entirely and one does not end up having to hold a much longer trial.
Critics also claim that their elimination can limit the rights of the accused to fully comprehend the case against them, and may increase wrongful convictions. In fact, the Canadian Bar Association said:
Bill C-75 would restrict preliminary inquiries to offences with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This would not reduce court delays and would negatively impact the criminal justice system as a whole. As lawyers who practice in Canada’s criminal courts every day, we know the practical value of preliminary inquiries to the criminal justice system.
I am interested in what the member would have to say to the Canadian Bar Association on preliminary inquiries.
View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
View Linda Duncan Profile
2018-11-08 12:52 [p.23446]
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise to speak to Bill C-75.
We have waited long and hard for these omnibus changes to the Criminal Code, and a number of the changes have been welcomed by our party. Regrettably, a number of changes that could have been made, and that were promised by the Liberals, have not been made. That is deeply disappointing not just to us, but to Canadians and the lawyers who represent them when they end up before the courts.
Many of the reforms and the calls for reform have come from the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in the Jordan case, which many members have spoken about here. That decision put in place a new framework and timeline on the necessity of processing trials through the courts with the intention of trying to resolve the backlog of cases. Many of the impacted cases have involved very serious offences, but charges are simply being dropped because the cases have not proceeded expeditiously, consistent with the charter of rights, and in accordance with the new timelines imposed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin two years back admonished the government in saying that “The perpetual crisis of judicial vacancies in Canada is an avoidable problem that needs to be tackled and solved.” This has been the focus of a lot of debate in this place in the nine years I have been elected. Repeated calls by the opposition to the then Conservative government are now continuing with the Liberal government to fill those vacancies.
There are other measures that can be taken, some of which have been taken by the current government, to try to address the backlog in the courts and to ensure that justice is done. However, there are a number of significant measures that the justice minister was apparently mandated to undertake and chose not to do, at least not at this time, but maybe after the next election, which is usually the reason given.
Judicial appointments are seen as one solution to the backlog. Other possible solutions have been requested and, as mentioned, not adopted in Bill C-75, despite the calls by my colleague, the New Democrat justice critic, the MP for Victoria. His calls have been drawn from the testimony of experts in the field, including the Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association.
I am a member from Alberta, and in the nine years I have been here, there have been calls by the attorney general of my province for judicial vacancies to be filled, which is the prerogative of the federal government. Hundreds of cases have been thrown out because of the failure to fill vacancies across the country. There is an appreciation that some of those vacancies have been filled, particularly since this past April. However, as I have noted, these calls were made by the opposition to the then Conservative government and the calls now continue to the Liberal government. My Province of Alberta has been calling for federal action to fill these judicial vacancies and is pleased that some action is being taken, but I do want to credit my own provincial government for taking action.
The Canadian Bar Association has criticized the government for the chronic failure to appoint judges, in some cases with a delay of more than a year. As I mentioned, I commend the Alberta government for its action in filling vacancies and creating new positions in the provincial courts “to ensure Albertans have more timely and representative access to justice.” It has also appointed additional clerks and prosecutors to ensure that the cases proceed more expeditiously.
I particularly wish to point out some of the recent appointments made by the Government of Alberta. In April of this year, Judge Karen Crowshoe, the first indigenous woman called to the Alberta Bar Association, became the first female first nation provincial court judge. Also, in this week alone, the Alberta court appointed Judge Cheryl Arcand-Kootenay, who is now the third first nation woman appointed to the provincial court. Moreover, Judge Melanie Hayes-Richards was appointed to the Edmonton Criminal Court. Finally, Judge Michelle Christopher was appointed as the first female judge in the judicial district of Medicine Hat in the history of our province. Kudos to the Government of Alberta.
There are a number of solutions that could have been taken in Bill C-75 that were not taken. For example, my colleagues have consistently called for the government to cease charging Canadians for the simple possession of small amounts of cannabis. All of those charges, the tens of thousands of Canadians charged for simple possession, have clogged our courts. We could have simply resolved that, even in the past year when the government made it clear that it was going to legalize cannabis, by stopping those criminal charges. However, it chose not to, and so the courts remain clogged.
In addition, there have been a lot of calls, including by Moms Stop the Harm, to address opioid addiction. They have been calling for the decriminalization of small amounts of opioids for personal use and to address it as a mental health challenge. Again, those charges could reduce time in our courts.
On preliminary inquiries, a number of my colleagues in this place have talked to the concerns about the government deciding in Bill C-75 to remove the opportunity for preliminary inquiries. The government has professed that this removal would make the judicial process more efficient, but as has been mentioned, it is a very small percentage, 2% to 3%, of cases that ever go through preliminary inquiry. Obviously, it would not have a substantial effect in reducing the clogging of the courts.
There has been concern at the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers that this may pose a serious risk of more wrongful convictions. We have to remember why we have preliminary inquiries. It was mentioned previously that in some cases, as a result of a preliminary inquiry, the charges are dropped. It is a good opportunity for the defence to review the evidence by the Crown. It is concerning that while the government continually likes to use the word “balance”, the bill is not adequately balancing greater efficiency in the courts and the protection of the rights of the accused.
I would also like to speak to the issue of mandatory minimum sentences, which has been discussed a lot in this place. Based on a lot of expert witnesses testimony at committee, my colleagues are expressing great disappointment that removal of mandatory minimum sentences was not addressed in this 300-page omnibus criminal justice bill. They are disappointed that it was not dealt with, particularly as dealing with mandatory minimums was specifically prescribed in the mandate letter of the justice minister. It seemed logical that this would included in this omnibus bill. Many remain puzzled as to why there is a delay on that. Is it going to be yet another Liberal promise that is delayed until the next election? It is a solution that could genuinely address the clogging of the courts, and we encourage the government to move forward more expeditiously and table a measure on that before we recess for the next election.
Many expert witnesses at committee, including the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, recommended taking action on these measures introduced by the Harper government. This is a significant factor clogging the courts. The association said:
Mandatory minimum sentences frustrate the process of resolving cases by limiting the Crown's discretion to offer a penalty that will limit the Crowns ability to take a position that will foster resolution before trial.
We have been told that the effect has been to increase the choice to go to trial rather than pleading to a lower charge. That is because of the necessity by that law that a minimum penalty will be imposed. Therefore, many who are charged will then say they will go to court and try to beat the rap, because otherwise they may receive a greater sentence. That has really clogged the courts.
I quote Jonathan Rudin of the Aboriginal Legal Services, who has emphasized the need to restore judicial discretion, particularly for indigenous women, as the Liberals promised. He said:
...we have to look at the fact that there are still mandatory minimum sentences that take away from judges the ability to sentence indigenous women the way they would like to be sentenced. There are still provisions that restrict judges from using conditional sentences, which can keep women out of prison.
I look forward to questions and could elaborate further then.
View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
View Linda Duncan Profile
2018-11-08 13:02 [p.23448]
Mr. Speaker, of course I agree with that suggestion, but what I find stunning is that when I visit the law school in my constituency at the University of Alberta, I see that a large majority of the students are women. When I graduated a huge number of graduates were women.
It is not that we do not have qualified women. It is not that we do not have qualified indigenous lawyers. It is not that we do not have people from all kinds of racial backgrounds. What it is, is a poor excuse for the delay in the appointment of judges.
View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
View Linda Duncan Profile
2018-11-08 13:04 [p.23448]
Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned during questions to other colleagues, when the Conservative Party was in power, it was also chastised by provincial attorneys general for the delay in appointments. I think both bear the responsibility and I see no reason whatsoever for not proceeding. We have many qualified lawyers in this country.
It is not the only solution. Appointment to the courts is important. We need more prosecutors. We could also reduce the number of cases going forward if we took some of the measures that we recommended, for example, simply referring a lot of people who are addicted to opioids to mental health and other supports instead of charging them. There are many solutions.
A lot of people in court are not represented because they cannot afford it. The government should step up to the plate and provide more money for legal aid.
View Linda Duncan Profile
NDP (AB)
View Linda Duncan Profile
2018-11-08 13:06 [p.23449]
Mr. Speaker, we are talking here about changes to the Criminal Code. Our party was very clear. We have long called for the decriminalization of simple possession, which could have been done in the first year the government was in office. We could have avoided tens of thousands of charges against Canadians who now probably cannot cross the border as a result.
View Matthew Dubé Profile
NDP (QC)
View Matthew Dubé Profile
2018-11-08 13:19 [p.23450]
Mr. Speaker, I want to make one correction. My colleague tried to claim that the NDP is worried about preliminary hearings because this measure would not really reduce delays in the justice system and because, ultimately, there are not enough hearings to create delays. This was certainly one point that came up.
However, in essence, our major concern is what we heard from defence lawyers in committee. They explained their concerns that, without preliminary hearings, it would not be possible to identify the cases in which the accused is, in the end, actually innocent and should not have been charged.
Eliminating the preliminary hearing process will mean that people who are not guilty will end going to trial. The conviction rate for people who are not guilty will go up.
What does my colleague think about that? Is he not worried about eliminating this essential step to preventing false convictions in a system where vulnerable Canadians are already overrepresented?
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
NDP (QC)
View Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Profile
2018-11-08 15:33 [p.23473]
Madam Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.
If the government wants to reduce delays in the criminal justice system, why did it not use this bill to eliminate the mandatory minimum penalty regime imposed by the Harper government a few years ago?
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-11-08 15:49 [p.23475]
Madam Speaker, a number of amendments were rejected in committee. Which of these rejected amendments was he most disappointed by?
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-11-08 15:52 [p.23475]
Madam Speaker, Bill C-75 is at report stage. The purpose of this bill, introduced by the Liberals, is to improve the compliance rate with the Jordan decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and to reduce the backlog in the justice system.
Unfortunately, we have heard many times that Bill C-75 was rushed. Some of the wording is very vague, and the bill does not meet the main objective, which is to improve the justice system so it works better for everyone.
One of the biggest disappointments, which was not addressed in committee, is the lack of bold reforms for the criminal justice system, such as abolishing the mandatory minimum sentences that proliferated under the Harper government. That is a major element, because unfortunately, although mandatory minimums are respected in most cases, there are many unusual cases for which judges would have liked to have some flexibility.
Unfortunately, judges' hands are often tied by mandatory minimum sentences, and they have no choice but to impose them, despite circumstances that can be extremely sad. I am thinking about the rise in “suicide by cop” attempts, which primarily involve police.
Some people reach a point in their lives where they are in extreme distress and feel suicidal. They sometimes threaten on-duty police officers with real guns or paintball guns, fake guns that look real, in order to get themselves shot. These situations are unfortunately known as “suicide by cop” and are a sign of someone who is suffering tremendously.
Gun crimes are often subject to mandatory minimum sentences. During the trial, if the judge recognizes that the problem is not a criminal issue, but an issue of mental illness or distress, and that the offender would be better off receiving treatment than being branded a criminal, this judge has very few legal options. I think it is especially important to give back some flexibility to judges by eliminating mandatory minimums. It is also important to understand that in cases where the accused truly committed the crime, the sentences go far beyond the mandatory minimums.
Mandatory minimum sentences often have a perverse effect on the justice system. They do not allow judges to consider the extenuating circumstances surrounding the events or the accused's past, experiences, personal situation or family responsibilities. Mandatory minimums allow for absolutely no flexibility.
Another problem this bill does not fix, a problem that impacts the justice system, is lack of financial support for victims and their families, as well as for the accused. The poverty threshold for access to legal aid is very low when the accused does not have a family or dependents. One must be very poor to get legal aid.
Some people simply cannot afford a lawyer. They cannot get legal aid because their income is too high. For example, a young man in his early twenties who earns $30,000 or $40,000 a year cannot get legal aid because his income is considered too high. There is no way he can afford $30,000 in legal fees, so he cannot get good legal advice. That young man will find himself caught up in a system that does not allow him access to legal advice.
The legal system also needs to take victims into consideration, because the whole process would go more smoothly if they had better support. In many cases, they get absolutely no support. Many a parent whose child was killed in a car accident, which is such a tragedy, says they have no access to resources of any kind, no financial support to attend court proceedings. They pay for everything out of pocket.
Lack of access to justice for financial reasons is a serious problem that hinders the effectiveness of our justice system. Bill C-75 does nothing to address that. In the case of both victims and the accused, we need to take a more logical approach and be able to support them. We must be able to ensure that they understand what is happening. For instance, when victims' families get completely lost in the procedures, they often have to pay for lawyers out of their own pockets in order to understand what is going on, get advice and figure out all the procedural rules. That is one particular aspect of the bill that could have been explored, or at least corrected, in committee. It still has not been corrected or addressed. I also have to say that, since it was not done at the outset, we were more limited.
Furthermore, if we want to make the judicial system more efficient, we absolutely must separate acts that genuinely criminally motivated from acts committed as a result of social problems. So many charges related to simple possession of any kind of drug wind up in court.
I think we will have to explore whether drug possession is actually more of a health problem. That is a very important issue that absolutely must be addressed.
In order to find a better solution, should we not consider drug possession and ultimately drug use as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue?
Would that not give us more time to focus on serious crimes and free up our judges who have to deal with offenders who have been charged with drug possession? I believe these offenders would be much better off if they were treated at a hospital and given quick access to detox services.
Would it not be better to treat these cases as health issues and save our resources to deal with cases involving serious sexual violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence against indigenous women? Many such crimes are committed, and unfortunately, our justice system does not deal with them very effectively.
We could set better priorities by rethinking the way our justice system works. Many offences are related to social problems. People living in extreme poverty will commit small offences to try to survive. Is the solution to criminalize them or, on the contrary, is it to better address those social issues and dedicate our resources to people with truly sick criminal behaviour? I think we would all benefit from that.
Since my time is up, I now hope to provide thoughtful answers to my colleagues' questions.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-11-08 16:03 [p.23477]
Madam Speaker, obviously, having access to law students or people in the legal system who can provide representation can help. However, that does not work for every type of offence.
Access to law students often depends on having law schools nearby. There are no universities offering law programs in Abitibi-Témiscamingue.
The people in my riding will not have access to law students, even if the law changes. That is a fundamental problem.
If a 21-year-old has to take out a loan to pay $30,000 or $40,000 in legal fees, the rest of their life is ruined. This debt will have an impact on their life and career for 10, 15 or 20 years.
Even if the person earns too much to qualify for legal aid, legal fees are so high now that some people plead guilty simply because they cannot afford a lawyer.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-11-08 16:06 [p.23477]
Madam Speaker, I am very concerned that there will be no more preliminary inquiries. A preliminary inquiry is like a rehearsal for the trial. In particular, it is an opportunity to test the evidence.
Sometimes, the preliminary inquiry shows that there is no need for a trial. If there is no preliminary inquiry, that means that cases that do not need to go to trial will automatically go to trial anyway. There may be insufficient evidence, or it may be determined that the case does not meet the criteria for an indictable offence.
Preliminary inquiries are extremely important, especially given that the entire justice system will be competing against itself. For example, matrimonial cases are also dealt with in the same justice system. When a trial that could have been avoided is held anyway, less time is available for matrimonial cases. As a result, family cases that require immediate intervention by a judge take longer.
There are many aspects to consider, and I think that it was not a good idea to eliminate preliminary inquiries.
View Christine Moore Profile
NDP (QC)
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-11-08 17:05 [p.23485]
Mr. Speaker, over the past few months and years, there has been a lot of discussion about crimes involving sexual violence, especially against women. We have shown just how ineffective the justice system is at dealing with these cases and how badly a different approach is needed. We want to keep victims from being traumatized by their experience in the justice system.
Does the bill before us today solve the problems in the justice system concerning cases of sexual violence, or does it fail to make any concrete improvements for victims?
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