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View Murray Rankin Profile
NDP (BC)
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 23:14 [p.29254]
Mr. Speaker, I was just making the point that the Criminal Lawyers' Association has made, about why mandatory minimum sentences are important. It is because if a criminal lawyer has the possibility, a zero-sum game, that his or her client will get the minimum sentence that is there with no discretion of the judges to forge a penalty that is appropriate in the circumstances, the lawyer is not going to cut any deals. There will be no plea bargaining. There will be no efficiency. Therefore, the greatest single efficiency gain would have been what the Prime Minister promised us would happen, which is that mandatory minimum sentences, the way the Conservatives did it, would be eliminated. That was the promise that Canadians received over and over again, only to be completely thrown out in this bill.
It is a gigantic reform initiative. To be fair, it is all pertaining to criminal law but is a gigantic effort with this gigantic problem completely ignored. It is not a problem that I alone identify as an obstacle to efficiency gains and to addressing the crisis that Jordan represents, of people walking free from very serious crimes because we cannot get a trial in a reasonable amount of time. For reasons that escape me, the Liberals completely ignored that and did a number of other things, some of which are commendable but do not do what the objective of the bill was to be, which was to address the issue of inefficiency. That is the problem that the Criminal Lawyers' Association pointed out.
The courts have been reduced to simply being, as some people call them, slot machines of justice. They have no discretion at all. If the facts are made out, the penalty is there. It is push a button. Some judges have complained to me privately that they feel like they are simply automatons. That is not what judges historically have done. The Conservatives rendered them in this position that is invidious and, frankly, embarrassing to many judges. What they thought they had the power to do, which was to render an appropriate sentence to fit the crime, was thrown out the window when mandatory minimums were imposed on so many of the sentences in the Criminal Code.
We also have a crisis in Canada with the overrepresentation of indigenous women in particular. To his credit, the Minister of Justice referred to this problem. We all are aware of it. It is another national disgrace. Jonathan Rudin testified to the justice committee. He is a very memorable witness. He is a lawyer with the Aboriginal Legal Services in Toronto. He highlighted the government's inaction with regard to abolishing mandatory minimum sentences and its particular effect on indigenous women. Here is what he said:
[w]e 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 [judges] would like [them] to be sentenced. There are still provisions that restrict judges from using conditional sentences, which can keep women out of prison.
The first thing he urged the committee to recommend was to bring into legislation that judges have sentencing discretion, which the Liberals promised to do and did not.
I suspect the problem is much worse now, but in 2015 the proportion of indigenous adults in custody relative to their percentage of the population was eight times higher for indigenous men and a staggering 12 times higher for indigenous women. Any measure that could address this problem head-on has to be looked at seriously. The government's failure to address what the mandate letter from the Prime Minister told us it would do is a serious missed opportunity.
I would like to turn to preliminary inquiries, which the minister also referred to and was the subject of some of the reform proposals that the Senate brought forward. The Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee passed an amendment to Bill C-75 that would bring back the option for preliminary inquiries for hundreds of criminal offences. Since Bill C-75 was first introduced in the House, the NDP has been advocating that preliminary hearings be retained in criminal proceedings. The Senate is attempting to reverse the government's move to eliminate preliminary inquiries for all offences, except for offences carrying a sentence of life imprisonment.
Senator Pierre Dalphond, a former judge, passed an amendment to bring back the option of preliminary inquiries for most indictable offences, as long as the judge ensures that the impact on complainants is mitigated.
The Liberals argue that this will cost court time, but we heard at the justice committee over and over again testimony that, if we got rid of preliminary inquiries, time saving would actually be marginal and the potential for miscarriage of justice would be great.
While the government has accepted many of the Senate amendments, it is using its motion to continue to severely limit the use of preliminary hearings. We have opposed this measure since Bill C-75 was brought to the House, and our stance, I am confident, remains the correct one.
The Liberals at the House justice committee voted to allow preliminary inquiries only when the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. The other place amended this provision to allow far more judicial discretion, increasing the number of offences that could have a preliminary inquiry from 70 to 463. The minister pointed out that they tried to find some middle ground on this issue.
Overwhelmingly, we heard from witnesses at the justice committee that restricting the use of preliminary inquiries will not address court delays sufficiently and will sacrifice or could sacrifice the rights of the accused. For example, Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said at the committee that preliminary inquiries occupy a very small percentage of court time but “deliver huge savings to the system. Preliminary inquiries deliver these efficiencies in a number of different ways.” They focus issues for trial, reducing trial length; they identify evidentiary or legal problems in a case at an early stage so the parties can ensure that these problems don't arise during the trial; and they can facilitate the resolution of charges.
He was not alone. Time does not allow me to list all the people who agreed with Mr. Spratt, but they include the Canadian Bar Association; the Criminal Lawyers' Association; the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association, the prosecution side; various defence lawyers, such as Sarah Leamon, a criminal lawyer; Professor Lisa Silver of the University of Calgary, and on and on, yet the government did not want to go there. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why.
There is also a huge possibility that with taking preliminary inquiries away, there could be a risk that people will be wrongfully convicted. That is what Bill Trudell, the chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, said. The government says we do not need them because we now have what are called Stinchcombe disclosure provisions, Stinchcombe being a famous case requiring the Crown to provide all the evidence available to the defence witnesses. The government says that, as a result, we do not need preliminary inquiries. That certainly is not what these people have said, and on a risk-benefit analysis they think it is just not right. The possibility of a wrongful conviction seems to be something we should all be worried about.
I know that time is running out quickly, but I said I would comment on some of the positive things in the bill, and I would like to do so.
First, there is the elimination of what are called “zombie” provisions of the Criminal Code, which criminalize things that are no longer illegal. These provisions have been found to be unconstitutional and have no place in the Criminal Code.
The bill would restore the discretion of judges to impose fewer victim fine surcharges or not impose them at all. I commend the government for that step as well.
I said in my question for the Minister of Justice earlier that I commend the government for broadening the definition of intimate partner violence. That is a good step. Creating an alternative process for dealing with breaches of bail is another good step. Codifying the so-called ladder principle, which requires that the least onerous form of release be imposed, is a good thing as well.
I agree with the government, and I confess not everybody does, that abolishing peremptory challenges is a positive step. Also, the routine police evidence provision has been amended for the good.
For the LGBTQ2+ community, the vagrancy and bawdy house provisions that were often used in the past to criminalize gay men have been rightly repealed. I am proud of the role that I played at the justice committee in moving those amendments, and I commend the government for finally repealing these discriminatory provisions.
I wish to be on record as saying that there is much in this bill that is commendable. It is the fact of the missed opportunity that is so disturbing.
I still have concerns about the many hybrid offences created in Bill C-75, because contrary to what the hon. Conservative member for Sarnia—Lambton said earlier, all this does is to push them down to the already overburdened criminal courts at the provincial level. The more hybrid offences, which proceed by way of summary rather than indictment, go to the provincial courts, where 95% of all criminal matters already take place. I have talked to people in my province of British Columbia who are very concerned about the impact of this on the administration of justice in that province. Jordan is perhaps not as much of a problem in the superior courts, but is a bigger problem in the provincial courts. Surely, that was not the intent.
I know that I have little time left, but I want to complete the point I made earlier about Madam Justice Marion Buller, the chief commissioner for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She had the opportunity to go to the Senate committee with her report. A number of suggestions were made for reform in the other place and are now in the amendments before this House. I am very happy that that has happened. However, there are still serious problems with some of the legacies of residential schools and the sixties scoop that still need to be addressed.
I believe my time is almost at an end, so let me just say this. I wish we could support this bill. There is much in it that is worthwhile, but the failure to do what the Prime Minister told us they would do, deal with the mandatory minimums, and the inability to address the preliminary inquiries in a more manageable way, are the reasons we must respectfully oppose this bill.
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 Murray Rankin Profile
NDP (BC)
View Murray Rankin Profile
2018-05-24 16:16 [p.19611]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and contribute to what has been a passionate debate. Who knew that criminal justice could be that? Like the colleagues who have spoken before me, we, on the NDP side, have done an enormous amount of consultation with folks from the criminal defence bar, university prosecutors, deputy attorneys general, and the like. Regrettably, as a consequence of that, we have had to conclude that we must oppose this bill.
However, I want to make it clear to my colleagues that our goal is to work with the government, take it at its word, and offer our hand to see whether we can make this a better bill in the justice committee. After all, it is over 300 pages. It is an omnibus criminal justice amendment. We want to work constructively to make it better for Canadians and get it to committee as quickly as possible for that purpose.
Obviously, in any criminal justice reform, there are two goals. The goal of efficiency is clearly the government's stated objective: making our courts more efficient, doing away with the backlog, and dealing with the consequences of the Jordan case, in which the Supreme Court confirmed that we need to have speedy justice in this country. Efficiency is the government's stated objective, and I will come back to that. At the same time, we can never, of course, lose sight of the rights of the accused in our justice system.
With the research and consultation we have done, I want to say at the outset that we recognize there are some good things in this bill, which I will refer to, but there are also some deeply problematic things, which, in some cases, everyone we spoke to thought to be problematic. It is in that spirit that we engage in this debate.
For example, Ms. Sayeh Hassan, a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer, summarized what many have told us when she wrote:
While there are parts of Bill C-75 that have the potential for improving the criminal justice system, many other parts will not only be unhelpful when it comes to reducing delay but will also wipe out numerous rights currently afforded to an accused person.
The big, ugly elephant in the room is the fact that the government chose to completely ignore what so many people have talked about, which is the need to get rid of mandatory minimum sentencing. That was a hope that people had the right to expect the minister to address. After all, justice writer Sean Fine of The Globe and Mail notes:
As far back as October, 2016, the Justice Minister told the Criminal Lawyers' Association in a speech that she would change the minimum sentencing laws “in the near future.” Days later, she told The Globe that new legislation would be coming soon, “certainly in the early part of next year.”
It is now 2018, and here is a 300-page bill that does not even talk about that reform initiative, which would have dealt with the issue of delay in a much more effective way. I also note that it was in her mandate letter and was ignored in this 300-page bill. Although I have enormous respect for the minister, it needs to be pointed out that the absence of reform of mandatory minimum sentencing is a significant missed opportunity.
We all know we have a clogged-up justice system and so forth. As has been pointed out, we all know the serious injustices that have occurred. Just last month in Calgary, there was a high-profile case involving Nick Chan, an alleged gang member and leader, who was acquitted of charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and leading a criminal organization. Why? Because of the inability to have a court trial resolved in a short period of time, according to the 2016 Jordan decision. All Canadians find that unacceptable.
The question that must be asked is whether this bill helps address that problem head-on. The argument from many is that it remains a serious problem. For example, in its position paper, the Criminal Lawyers' Association states:
Mandatory minimum sentences frustrate the process of resolving cases by limiting the crown’s discretion to offer a penalty that will limit the crown's ability to take a position that will foster resolution before trial.
Here is what happens. Defence lawyers have this mandatory minimum sentence, so they are not going to take a chance on the court's discretion, because the Harper Conservatives essentially took away the discretion that our trial judges had. The result is that we have people going to trial who, in the past, would not have chosen a trial; they would have pleaded to a lower charge. It is inexcusable that this issue did not even get addressed in this bill.
Another thing, which my colleague from Nanaimo—Ladysmith has spoken about numerous times, is that we have a crisis in Canada with the overrepresentation of indigenous women, in particular. My colleague has done that work as a member of the status of women committee. During testimony at that committee, Jonathan Rudin, of Aboriginal Legal Services, highlighted the government's inaction with regard to abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing and its effect on indigenous women. He said:
[W]e 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 [the judges] would like [them] to be sentenced. There are still provisions that restrict judges from using conditional sentences, which can keep women out of prison.
The first thing that he urged the committee to recommend was to bring in legislation to give judges that discretion, which the Liberals promised to do. The elephant in the room is that they did no such thing. In 2015, and it is probably worse now, the proportion of indigenous adults in custody relative to their percentage of the population was eight times higher for indigenous men and 12 times higher for indigenous women. Any measure that could address that problem head-on has to be looked at seriously, and the government's failure to address what the mandate letter by the Prime Minister told it to is a serious missed opportunity.
I promised I would focus on some of the positives in this bill, from the perspective of the NDP.
First, the elimination of so-called zombie provisions of the Criminal Code is a good thing. For example, the criminalization that has existed for anal intercourse could have been removed long ago, so we are pleased that finally the government has done it. I wish it had done that with other zombie provisions, such as water skiing at night, which remains an offence in the Criminal Code. Maybe the government will look at that one later.
Second, it is a good thing that the bill would restore the discretion of judges to impose fewer victim fine surcharges or not to impose victim fine surcharges at all. I commend the government for doing that. As I believe my Conservative colleague has also pointed out, broadening the definition of intimate partner violence is also a good step. Creating an alternate process for dealing with some of the alleged breaches of bail is another good step. Codifying the so-called ladder principle, requiring that the least onerous form of release be imposed, is a good thing.
I personally think that abolishing peremptory challenges is a good thing. Although I recognize there is disagreement among many on that, I think it is a good thing. I want to put that on the record.
On the other hand, here are some of the negative things.
Absolutely every single person we talked to said that the provision on admissibility of so-called routine police evidence is overly broad and could be problematic to marginalized people in particular. Everyone agreed that routine police evidence language has to be fixed. Many people were happy that the time of day when the offence occurred, the weather, or routine lab results would be made available. However, the way it is drafted, it could even include the ability of the crown to not have a police officer come and provide eyewitness testimony. I do not think this was intended by the government, but it is an example of what appears to be a hastily drafted bill that needs to be fixed. The irony is that most judges are going to allow cross-examination of police officers, so Sergeant Brown will have to be brought back at some later time, with more delay as a result. That is surely unintended. It is surely something we can work together to fix.
Professor Peter Sankoff of the University of Alberta went so far as to call this measure extremely dangerous and ineffective. It is not just we who are saying this.
We have heard a lot about hybrid offences today. I am sure the government would agree that there seems to be a need to change the hybridization offences aspect. As colleagues have pointed out, the downloading to provincial courts of many offences is only going to move the problem of clogged courts at the superior court level to the provincial courts because more cases will be dealt with as summary conviction matters. I wonder if the consultation with the provincial and territorial ministers has made that point clear. The provincial court in British Columbia already hears 95% of all criminal matters. I am sure it is not that much different elsewhere, so I would invite the government to consider how we can work together to address that problem of obvious downloading.
Another area of concern, perhaps a sleeper, is that the government intends to increase the maximum penalties for summary convictions. In practical terms, what that means is that agents like law students and paralegals, who are currently able to represent people accused of an offence with a maximum penalty of six months or less, will not be able to do so for a whole range of offences if these changes go forward. It is an unintended consequence, but it certainly has to be addressed, because we not only have a problem already with unrepresented people in the provincial courts and judges bending over backwards, appropriately, to help those people who cannot afford or obtain the services of a lawyer, but now they will also not be able to get paralegals or law students to represent them in some cases. That again is something that I would have thought the government did not want to occur, but it appears to be something that would occur.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge that increased funding was provided for legal aid in budget 2018. I think that is something everyone agrees was long overdue. I commend the government for doing it. However, in the province of British Columbia, as we saw in yesterday's Vancouver Sun, it is simply too little, too late. It is a gigantic increase compared to the past, but now, according to Mark Benton, the CEO of the Legal Services Society, “Many lawyers providing services to the poor are doing it at a loss—the tariffs too low for most to earn a living, and so low that LSS is having trouble attracting and retaining lawyers.” We have got to deal with that.
I talked earlier about the preliminary inquiry issue with my friend from Niagara Falls and I understand that there is a difference of opinion on this issue. However, the facts are that these proposed changes would only save about 3% of court time. While the government proudly said the legislation will reduce the use by 87%, which sounds great, it did not tell us that it is not going to save a lot of time. Then why do it? Why do it when there is a risk, according to the chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, Bill Trudell, that there will be more wrongful convictions? Why would we take away a right? The government says we have the Stinchcombe disclosure and it is a different world from when we started with preliminary inquires, but what is the risk-benefit equation here? We are saving 3% of court time and we are causing perhaps a wrongful conviction. I do not think that lines up. It is overbroad. Therefore, I think it is something we need to worry about.
I commented on intimate partner violence and bail; in the interest of time, I will not say any more.
There is a concern about the impact of this bill on those who have suffered the legacy of residential schools and the like, such as in the sixties scoop. For example, the Criminal Lawyers' Association said as follows:
Sadly, intimate partner violence is one of the recognized legacies of residential schools and the 60s scoop. Creating a reverse onus at the bail stage and increasing the sentence on conviction will likely aggravate the crisis of the over-representation of indigenous people in our prisons.
A similar concern was echoed by Professor Elizabeth Sheehy, as well as Professor Isabel Grant, so I think we need to get our hands around this issue and figure out whether we can find another way, despite the fact that I believe it was well intentioned.
In conclusion, what I want to point out now are some of the things we think could be used to address some of these problems.
First, the government claims it has made judicial appointments, which we heard the Conservatives say as well, but there still appears to be a problem with judicial vacancies. I am not saying that is a singular solution, but it needs to be addressed as part of a comprehensive solution.
Second, as I have said, we wish the government would reconsider the failure to review mandatory minimum sentences.
Third, the NDP believes that decriminalizing small amounts of drugs in this opioid crisis that we are experiencing would definitely have an impact on the clogged courts that we face. Who are the people in our provincial courts often unrepresented? Disproportionately, they are people with mental health challenges, people with addictions, people who are poor and simply cannot afford a lawyer, and legal aid does not have the ability to look after them. That is what is clogging up the system.
If we look at it from that end of the telescope, we would make truly important reform efforts. Jagmeet Singh has made a bold statement that decriminalizing small quantities of drugs is something we need to give serious thought to as part of the solution to our clogged-up courts. Not criminalizing these issues, but treating them as mental health issues and health issues generally is the way to go. We have to find a better way.
In Vancouver and Victoria we have drug courts and some creative ways to address this problem, but they have not been adequate. We still have serious problems.
By criminalizing people, we give them criminal records. What does having a criminal record mean? It means people cannot get a job in many cases. Are we thinking about that? It is really important.
I have talked in the House many times about the injustice of thousands of Canadians having criminal records for possession of small quantities of cannabis. There are still people who are unable to find a job because they are still being charged under the current law, which is about to change. I commend the member of Parliament for Hull—Aylmer for his intention to implement a bill that would see these records expunged. I do not think that goes far enough, but I will certainly join with him in that initiative.
Finally, we would offer greater social supports. They are at the core of this issue. We need greater funding for legal aid, which would surely cut down on the number of unrepresented individuals and ensure that more accused people would have access to much-needed resources.
Earlier today, I referred to an excellent summary about the consultations that the government undertook in this regard, a March 2018 report of the Department of Justice entitled “What we Heard—Transforming Canada's Criminal Justice System”. I want to read into the record its fundamental conclusion and ask the House whether the bill does the job.
It says:
Almost all roundtable participants stressed the same major concern. They said that most people who come in contact with the criminal justice system are vulnerable or marginalized individuals. They are struggling with mental health and addiction issues, poverty, homelessness, and prior victimization. Most felt the criminal justice system is not equipped to address the issues that cause criminal behaviour in these groups, nor should it be. Participants felt these issues are worsened by an over-reliance on incarceration.
We are very much in agreement, and I hope that my hon. colleagues will consider these concerns and work with us at the justice committee to make the kinds of changes to our criminal justice system that are so obviously needed.
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