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View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate of Bill C-75. I would like to use my time today to discuss some aspects of amendments to the selection of juries. As we know, jury reform is an area of shared jurisdiction and Parliament is responsible for the criminal law and the rules in the Criminal Code setting out the framework for in-court jury selection. The provinces and territories are responsible for determining, for example, who is eligible for jury duty and the process by which the jury roll is compiled. Bill C-75 proposes several reforms with respect to the in-court jury selection process.
First, is the abolishment of peremptory challenges. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard several witnesses testify on jury reforms. Several legal experts and advocates expressed strong support for their elimination, as it would finally put an end to discriminatory exclusion of jurors.
Kent Roach from the University of Toronto stated:
The proposed abolition of peremptory challenges in s.271 of Bill C-75 is the most effective and efficient way to ensure that neither the Crown or the accused engages in discrimination against Aboriginal people and other disadvantaged and identifiable groups when selecting a juror.
Brent Kettles from Toronto said:
...having peremptory challenges cannot help but lower the public confidence in the administration of justice when members of the public and perspective jurors watch perspective jurors excluded on the basis of no reason, on the basis of no evidence, and without any information.
When those exclusions are based basically on the gut feeling of who is likely to be sympathetic to one side or the other, then that doesn't give the public or perspective jurors a feeling that jury selection is happening in a way that is fair and impartial, and also represents the community.
Legal expert Vanessa McDonnell noted:
It's important to recognize that these challenges have historically been, and can be, used against accused persons to their detriment. We have to balance the perceived benefit of having the peremptory challenge in your pocket to challenge someone whom defence counsel doesn't feel quite right about against the very real risk, I would suggest, that these challenges are going to be used in a way that disadvantages the accused person. My view is that, on balance, the potential harm, not only to the system but to accused persons, is greater than any benefit that accrues.
Discrimination in the selection of juries has been documented for decades. Concerns about the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges and its impact on indigenous people being under-represented on juries were raised in 1991 by Senator Murray Sinclair, then a judge with the Manitoba aboriginal justice inquiry.
More recently, we heard from retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, who studied these issues in his 2013 report on first nations representation on Ontario Juries. Having read these reports and after hearing from many experts on the topic, I am confident that Bill C-75 proposes the right approach in abolishing peremptory challenges. It is a simple and effective way to prevent deliberate discrimination and the arbitrary exclusion of qualified jury members.
Furthermore, to bring greater efficiencies to the jury selection process and to make it more impartial, the bill proposes to empower a judge to decide whether to exclude jurors challenged for cause—for example, because they are biased to one side—by either the defence or prosecution.
Currently, such challenges are decided by two laypersons called “triers” who are not trained in the law. This process has been problematic, causing delays in jury trials even before they begin and appeals resulting in orders for a new trial.
The proposal would shift the responsibility for such challenges to judges, who are trained adjudicators and therefore better placed to screen out impartial jurors. The proposed change reflects a recommendation made in 2009 by the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System, a group established by the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice, comprising judges, deputy ministers of justice from across Canada, defence lawyers, representatives of the bar associations and the police. It is also consistent with what is done in other common law countries, such as England, Australia and New Zealand.
I am confident that this change in procedure would result in improvements in the overall efficiency of our jury trials.
There are also several proposed changes to modernize and update the challenge for cause grounds. Notably, the proposed change to reduce the number of jurors with criminal records for minor offences who could be challenged and excluded from jury duty would help address concerns that excluding individuals with minor criminal records disproportionately impacts certain segments of society, including indigenous persons, as noted by Justice Iacobucci. It would also assist in improving broader participation on juries, and thus, jury representativeness.
In conclusion, the jury reforms in Bill C-75 would mark critical progress in the area of promoting fairness, diversity and participation in the jury selection process. These improvements would also enhance efficiencies, as well as public confidence, in the criminal justice system.
I call upon all members of the House to support this transformative bill.
View Marco Mendicino Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Marco Mendicino Profile
2018-11-20 15:24 [p.23625]
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise and speak to Bill C-75, which represents a package of bold and comprehensive reforms. This is not the first time that I have spoken to this significant piece of legislation. I did have the opportunity to comment on it previously in my former capacity as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and the attorney general of Canada.
I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to a number of people who have contributed to Bill C-75. First, obviously, I would like to thank the Minister of Justice for her leadership. I would also like to thank members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their close study of the bill, and all of the stakeholders and contributors who through their testimony before committee and their written submissions provided for a very rigorous and thoughtful study of this bill.
Having had the benefit of reviewing those submissions and some of the testimony and seeing the hard work and contributing to it myself by participating in round tables around the country, consulting with stakeholders in conjunction with the Minister of Justice, I am confident in saying that Bill C-75 is a momentous piece of legislation. When it becomes law, it will improve our overall criminal justice system.
I also want to thank the thousands of people who work within our criminal justice system day in and day out, law enforcement, police, members of the judiciary, and all the social services which are wrapped around the criminal justice system. Having worked in it myself for over a decade, I can say without any hesitation that these are individuals who care about protecting our community while also offering the prospect and opportunity for people who find themselves caught within the criminal justice system to reform and to rehabilitate, which is a fundamental principle of the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to our sentencing processes.
There is obviously more to do. The Supreme Court of Canada put into very sharp focus the task that is ahead of us as a result of some of the ongoing challenges which the criminal justice system is confronted with every day. What are those challenges? They range from, obviously, the overrepresentation of marginalized individuals, in particular, members of the racialized community, as well as our indigenous peoples. Far too often, for reasons that are not their fault but rather a result of the systemic challenges which they face on an individual basis as well as the collective challenges that communities face, they find themselves caught in the web of the criminal justice system.
We need to be very candid with ourselves about what those challenges look like. We see overrepresentation of racialized members as well as indigenous peoples in our jails right across the country.
We also know there is an under-representation of those very same groups within the legal profession and within the judiciary. The work that the Minister of Justice has undertaken in appointing a judiciary which is more reflective of the diversity of this great country is in part a sincere effort to address that challenge. Having spoken with many members right across the continuum of our society, I can say that we have made progress, but there is still more work to do.
I also would note that the Supreme Court of Canada in Jordan did point out quite rightly and quite justifiably that there are serious concerns when it comes to delay, court delay in particular, and if not addressed, a denial of the right to have a trial within a reasonable period of time can amount to an infringement of a person's rights under the charter, particularly under section 11(b) of the charter. It was incumbent upon all of us in the words of the Supreme Court to address the culture of complacency which for far too long has shackled our ability to address delay.
Having had the benefit of reflection and having had the benefit of consultation and discourse in the context of Bill C-75, we now have a suite of reforms which will not solve all of the problems, but certainly will begin to dramatically rewire and hopefully create a criminal justice system, a set of processes, which will allow people to have access to justice, have the right to have their day in court, and begin that path to rehabilitation which is so important in order to create communities which are strong, resilient and safe.
I will now highlight some of the important components of Bill C-75, much of which has been debated for quite some time now in this House and at committee. Eventually, the bill will make its way over to the other place and then back.
It begins at the very start of the criminal justice system process when an individual is arrested and is brought before the court for his or her first appearance. It is at that moment the court is then asked to determine whether that person should be released or detained pending his or her trial.
We have enshrined a principle of restraint in Bill C-75, the point of which is to ensure that justice actors who are appearing in court, either representing the Crown or the defence or in their capacity as duty counsel, are not automatically overburdening judicial interim release orders with conditions which essentially are a prescription for reoffending and failure. Rather, through this principle of restraint, we are encouraging all of the parties who are involved in the determination of bail to assess the conditions which are necessary to address one of the three statutory grounds on which an individual is released.
From the perspective of the primary grounds, if the person is a flight risk, what are the conditions that are necessary to secure the person's ongoing attendance before the court? On the secondary grounds, is there a serious risk of reoffending? What are the conditions that are necessary for the purposes of ensuring that the community's concerns are addressed on secondary grounds? Obviously, under the tertiary grounds, we question whether there are additional conditions which are required to maintain the public's confidence in the administration of justice. Again, we look for some nexus between what are the conditions which are being asked for by either party and their advancement of the tertiary ground concerns.
We have, through the principle of restraint, really fostered a much more responsible approach. This is about addressing the culture of the criminal justice system right from the get-go, once a person is implicated with charges at the bail stage.
We have also, in the context of Bill C-75, introduced a suite of reforms that will, hopefully, reduce the number of administration of justice offences which are in the system. Looking at the statistics which are available right across the country, we see, for example in the province of Ontario, that over 40% of the charges in the provincial court system, the Ontario Court of Justice, could be classified under the administration of justice offences.
We are looking to find alternative ways to address potential breaches through the principle of restraint, to actually reduce the likelihood that there will be an unnecessary technical charge which is unrelated to the underlying substantive offence, but also to introduce a concept called judicial referral hearings, where even if there is a legitimate breach, to look for other ways to address it, short of introducing an entire set of new charges.
I would also point out that Bill C-75 addresses intimate partner violence. This is something that I heard very personally and I know the minister did as well in our round tables. There is the need to address the systemic barriers which for far too long have prevented victims from coming forward. How are we doing that? In the case of repeat offenders, people who have been convicted in the past of sexual offences or offences related to intimate partner violence, to put the onus on them to determine whether they should be entitled to bail, and also to look for additional factors to be taken into consideration.
At the back end there are more tools available both to the prosecutor as well as to the court to determine what is the appropriate sentence by lifting the maximum sentences available, again for repeat offenders. That, coupled with the investments which we are making in the victims fund, by looking at other ways in which we can make it easier for victims to be able to come forward to ensure that they are heard, to ensure that they have a voice in the system, is absolutely crucial in order to ensure that there is access to justice.
These are just some of the highlights in Bill C-75. Again, there is no one simple solution to solving all of the challenges which the criminal justice system is confronted with.
I rise with great pride to speak on behalf of the bill. I urge all members to support it. At the end of the day, it will bring the criminal justice system into the 21st century and therefore be a great service to our country.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
2018-11-20 16:42 [p.23636]
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here today in this honourable House to talk about Bill C-75.
This is a long overdue change to the legal system, which has been bogged down, in many cases to such an extent that cases have been found to have lost their meaning and been adjourned. People whom we suspected were guilty got away without going through due process at all. Those circumstances cannot happen. It is not justice. It is not fair.
This is one step towards making a fairer, more efficient and effective judicial system. Bill C-75 is a meaningful and significant approach to promoting efficiency, and I would assume that all members of the House would like to see that happen. Efficiency and effectiveness are what every member would like to see in our systems, because we would not want to waste one penny of taxpayer money on something that could be done better. It is always our goal to do better. That is exactly what this bill does.
This bill would, in a significant way, promote efficiency in our criminal justice system, reduce case completion times, as I mentioned earlier, and contribute to increased public confidence while respecting the rights of those involved and ensuring that public safety is maintained.
In terms of preliminary inquiries, this bill would restrict preliminary inquires to adults accused of the 63 most serious offences in the Criminal Code, which carry a sentence of life imprisonment, like murder; and would reinforce a judge's power to limit the questions to be examined, as well as the number of witnesses who will appear.
The Supreme Court of Canada in its Jordan decision, and the Senate legal affairs committee in its final report on delays in the justice system, recommended that preliminary inquiry reform be considered. We should be proud to support a bill that takes into account not only the recommendations of this House but also of the upper house and of the provinces and territories that have been working on this issue for many years. It has been discussed for decades.
Some say that restricting preliminary inquiries might have little impact on the delays. Even though it concerns only 3% of the cases, it would still have a significant impact on those provinces where this procedure is used more often, such as Ontario and Quebec. We know, because of the population base involved, that this would have a significant impact on the whole judicial system.
Also, we cannot overlook the cumulative effect of all of Bill C-75's proposals that seek to streamline the criminal justice system process.
It is of course for the betterment of both the accused and victims to have the system move fairly and efficiently in a timely manner. The proposed preliminary inquiry amendments are the culmination of years of study and consideration in federal-provincial-territorial and other meetings.
We know that it is not easy to negotiate a framework when we have many divergent views and jurisdictions involved, but this is going to be good for Canadians. It will be good for the indigenous population of our country, who have unfortunately been the victim of a system that many have called racist. If we look at the number of indigenous people in our jails, it is extremely high. One must ask why the system seems to incarcerate so many more indigenous people than their population warrants. These changes will be more effective and fairer for our indigenous population, and that is a commitment of our Prime Minister.
This is a balanced approach. We often see that in this House, in particular, where we have the left and the right, the positions can be quite separated, with the Liberals coming in the middle and providing a balanced approach and centre to both.
I think most Canadians are reasonable centralists and, as we have seen in the past, this type of negotiated solution means compromises on both sides. As we look at the balanced approach between opposing views put forward by both committees and those expressed by the House, they are considered and put forward in this bill.
This bill would make this procedure more efficient and expedient. Of course, that is the goal of all of our programs for Canadians, as well as being meaningful, respectful and available to all Canadians. It is important to respect the accused person's right to a fair trial. This would also help witnesses and victims by preventing some of them from having to testify twice. That is just not reasonable for the system. It is hard on victims, very hard on witnesses, so to eliminate this would be of benefit to all.
Let us look at the issue of case management. Bill C-75 would allow for the earlier appointment of case management judges. This recognizes their unique and vital role in ensuring the momentum of cases is maintained, and that they are completed in an efficient, effective, just and timely manner. This was also recommended by the Senate report on delays in the criminal justice system.
It is important to discuss, even if briefly, the use of technology and how it would provide fairness, particularly to the indigenous population of Canada. I come from Manitoba, which has the highest per capita number of indigenous people of any province. In many cases, they are in fairly remote and isolated communities where participating in a full process is extremely difficult because there are no roads, access is limited and broadband connections are poor. These are all issues that make justice much more difficult for indigenous people in those circumstances.
In terms of technology, the bill proposes to allow remote appearances by audio or video conference for accused, witnesses, lawyers, judges, justices of the peace and interpreters, under certain circumstances. This would obviously assist many people, although it is not always appropriate. Canada has allowed remote appearances for many years, and these amendments seek to broaden the existing framework.
These optional tools in Bill C-75 aim to increase access to justice, streamline processes and reduce system costs, such as the transport of the accused and witness attendance costs, without impacting existing resources such as those through the indigenous court worker program. The changes we are proposing also respond to the Senate committee recommendations, which called for an increase to the use of remote appearances for accused persons.
In conclusion, the proposals in Bill C-75 in relation to preliminary inquiries, judicial case management and remote appearances, together with all of the other reforms, would ensure that our criminal justice system is efficient, just and in line with the values of our communities and all Canadians.
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