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View Randall Garrison Profile
Mr. Speaker, here we are on one of the last sitting days of this Parliament, and it is passing strange that the Liberals appear to be going for a very strange record.
In the last Parliament, I took a photo of myself standing next to a pile of bills on which the Conservative government had introduced time allocation. It was nearly half a metre tall. If we stacked up the bills that the Liberal government has used time allocation on, the pile would be of similar size. Even though the Liberals have not quite reached the 100 record for time allocation that the Conservatives established, they have used some kind of time allocation or closure on a greater percentage of their bills than the Harper government ever did.
Lately, we have had closure motions like this one. One of those motions restricted debate to a government speaker only, with no questions allowed. One of them occurred after four minutes of debate. This one occurs after less than two hours of debate.
Could the Minister of Justice tell us if the Liberals are going for a new record? I always like it when Conservatives and Liberals compete to be the worst.
View Pierre-Luc Dusseault Profile
View Pierre-Luc Dusseault Profile
2019-06-19 18:41 [p.29428]
Mr. Speaker, I am slightly disappointed that the Minister of Justice moved a closure motion today. Yet another minister rises today to limit the number of hours of debate in the House by using a procedure that is supposed to be extraordinary but that has become commonplace under the Liberal government. When the Liberals were on this side of this House, they spoke out every time this procedure was used. Now, they are joking around about this being their 10th closure motion. They are making jokes as if this were all a game. They are laughing at Canadians who are watching today and who are seeing a government invoking closure for the 10th time. They seem to be taking this lightly, as if it were no big deal, just another regular procedure, but it is supposed to be an extraordinary procedure.
How can my colleague defend this today? How can the Minister of Justice, who is supposed to defend our rights and justice in Canada, rise in this democratic chamber to defend the use of a procedure that is supposed to be extraordinary? The situation is rather ordinary and does not call for the use of a procedure to shut down debate and rush this bill into law.
View Pierre Nantel Profile
Ind. (QC)
View Pierre Nantel Profile
2019-06-19 18:49 [p.29429]
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House as a father from Longueuil—Saint-Hubert. We are grappling with a real crisis. Young women are getting dragged into a process that will destroy them. As a father, I am deeply troubled by that.
I know nothing about this subject, seeing as I am not a lawyer, but the point raised by my Conservative colleague caught my attention. It is true that $5,000 sounds like a paltry fine. I do not know much about this.
The government says that we have been talking about this for however many days and hours, but when it decides to cut our debate time short, it is not respecting the standard regarding the number of hours that should be allocated to debate on a given issue. The Liberals say it is fine, but this is an issue I really care about.
Do they think all bills should be debated for less time? Is the Minister of Justice trying to tell us that the parliamentary process in general is too long?
The debate on this issue does not seem like an appropriate place to save time. This is such a serious issue that we should have enough time to discuss it fully, but the Liberals are saying we have talked enough.
Does my colleague think the parliamentary process is too long? It seems to me that it is shorter in China.
View Gord Johns Profile
View Gord Johns Profile
2019-06-19 18:59 [p.29430]
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful that the minister is here today to answer questions, because New Democrats have a lot of concerns. The government is again breaking another promise. The Liberals said that they would not use closure if they were in government and condemned it when they were sitting on this side of the House. Here we go again with another omnibus bill. They said they would not put forward omnibus bills. The broken promises continue, whether it be electoral reform or environmental protection. They are ramming through legislation without proper debate.
In terms of this piece of legislation, we have not heard from enough witnesses, and the Liberals have not produced this legislation in an evidence-based way. We are concerned that this legislation might even lead to more backlogs. We have concerns that we would like to debate here in the House, and we have not had the opportunity to do so.
Here we go again with another broken promise by the government. I would like to hear the minister speak about some of the concerns New Democrats have and about why the Liberals are breaking another promise.
View Pierre-Luc Dusseault Profile
View Pierre-Luc Dusseault Profile
2019-06-19 19:57 [p.29433]
Mr. Speaker, I too was surprised to hear my colleague talk about heckling, because she is part of the Conservative caucus, which does most of the heckling in the House. Every day, during question period, that is the caucus that makes the most noise. I am surprised to hear her say that there is too much noise in the House. I would like to know whether the Conservative Party has a new, no-heckling policy for debates in the House, including question period.
My question is actually very specific. I know it is not directly related to the bill, but since the member raised the issue of heckling in the House, I would like to know whether the Conservative Party intends to introduce a no-heckling policy during question period.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 22:21 [p.29247]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the minister on his speech. I agree, on behalf of the NDP, with the thrust of his remarks with respect to the Senate amendments made to Bill C-75, certainly with respect to intimate partner violence and the bail reform provisions and, in particular, the section 802.1 where law students and agents will again be able to represent people fully in summary conviction matters. I think these are all really important matters and I agree with him.
However, surely, if the issue is about the Askov and Jordan delay principles, the elephant in the room would be the fact that the government has failed to follow up on the Prime Minister's commitment to address to the minister, in the mandate letter, the minimum mandatory sentences provisions. I agree with him that we have a crisis in the over-incarceration of indigenous people, eight times as many indigenous men per capita, 12 times as many women.
Jonathan Rudin and others who work with Aboriginal Legal Services, say that there has to be a change in the mandatory minimum provisions if we are going to change that. Why does the government not get that?
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 23:06 [p.29253]
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise, albeit at this hour, to discuss Bill C-75 and the Senate amendments that have been brought to this place from there.
I agree with the thrust of the Senate amendments on behalf of the New Democratic Party, which supports the thrust of those amendments, but reluctantly have to say that, as amended, we must oppose this bill for the reasons I will describe.
I agree with the Minister of Justice, who spoke earlier, about some of the positive changes in this initiative. The bail reform provisions are exemplary. The intimate partner violence provisions are also very good. I am pleased that the Senate had the opportunity to deal with some of the recommendations by Judge Marion Buller, who, of course, chaired the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. She had the benefit of testifying before the Senate committee and, in turn, it had the ability to reflect her wisdom. That finds its way into the amendments before us tonight.
This improves the bill quite significantly, as I will describe, but there are some very significant issues that remain. I want to commend our colleagues in the other place for the work they have done to improve this flawed bill. We need to thank them for some of the work they had the opportunity to do.
We too, on the NDP side, have done an enormous amount of research and consultation, with people from the criminal defence bar, academics, prosecutors, former deputy attorneys general and others. We have done our homework on Bill C-75. After all, it is a mammoth initiative, the most significant criminal justice reform bill in a very long time. Regrettably, as a result of those consultations, we concluded that we must continue to oppose the bill, for reasons I will describe in a moment.
To be clear, we are in support of the amendments made by the Senate, yet decry the government's inadequate response to those amendments and ultimately have to therefore oppose the final bill as amended.
To begin with, why was Bill C-75 initiated? The Minister of Justice was clear about that in his remarks earlier. He alluded to the Askov case in the Supreme Court of Canada, and then, of course, the Jordan decision. The court said that there has to be a trial within a timely period, and it set down very specific limits for both indictable and summary conviction cases.
The objective was one of efficiency. It was to try to make our courts more efficient to deal with the enormous and, quite frankly, embarrassing backlog we have with our court cases, and to deal with the consequence of the Jordan case. As we know, often people who are guilty of offences walk free because the courts are not able to give them a trial within a reasonable period. That has to be an embarrassment to all Canadians.
Efficiency was the goal of this bill. However, after the consultation I just described, the debate in the House, and the work I was part of on the justice committee, where we heard a great variety of presentations, we concluded it is simply not an adequate response to the Jordan problem.
As I alluded to earlier, there are some good things in this bill, which I will also refer to later. However, sadly some of the deeply problematic things continue in the bill. I want to talk, by way of giving illustrations, of the general concerns that the criminal justice bar has had with this bill. I will start Ms. Sayeh Hassan, who is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. By way of summary, she said, “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. We had a reasonable hope that it would do so. After all, the Prime Minister told the former minister of justice that it was part of her mandate. Nothing happened.
Sean Fine, of The Globe and Mail, wrote:
As far back as October, 2016, the [former attorney general] 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 never happened.
Our colleagues in the other place made a similar observation. It is the fourth item on their list of formal observations. I think it is worth repeating what they summarized. Under “Mandatory Minimum Sentences”, it says:
In its Delaying Justice is Denying Justice report, the Committee recommended that the Minister of Justice undertake a thorough review of existing mandatory minimum sentences in order to: ensure a reasonable, evidence-based approach to when they are appropriate; and consider whether persons with mental health issues should be considered for alternative sentencing options or treatment when faced with mandatory minimum sentences.
During its study of Bill C-75, some witnesses expressed significant disappointment that it does not include any reforms to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. In the Mandate Letter to the Minister of Justice...of 12 November 2015, [the Prime Minister] stated that the Minister...was to “conduct a review of the changes in our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade.” In the Minister’s letter to the Chair of the committee, he stated that the Government “is committed to advancing sentencing reform” and that it is “committed to reviewing the mandatory minimum penalties in the Criminal Code with an eye to eliminating many of them and restoring judicial discretion.”
The committee [of the Senate] observes that the Government of Canada has had four years to bring forward amendments to these provisions in the Criminal Code and that, to date, no legislative action has been taken.
I join with my colleagues in the other place in noting that the government's failure to address the often unconstitutional mandatory minimums cannot be understated. It is a serious problem.
This led the Criminal Lawyers' Association to write in its position paper that “[m]andatory 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”—
View Murray Rankin Profile
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 Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 23:28 [p.29256]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his thoughtful question.
I agree with him that we have to find a better way to get more discretion to judges. Again, that was the thrust of my comments about mandatory minimums. It is sad that we do not have the opportunity for judges to look at aboriginal offenders as people rather than simply checking a box, saying that this is the penalty for that offence and that is the end of the story.
However, I do agree with the parliamentary secretary that it is refreshing and positive that Judge Buller was able to talk to the Senate. We did not have that opportunity at the justice committee. To have the Senate instantly put into this bill some of the insights that the commissioner generated, I think is very positive. Whether they will go as far as we would like in dealing with the outrageous overrepresentation of indigenous women in our prisons, I do not think so, but it certainly is a positive step.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 23:30 [p.29256]
Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge the member for Richmond Centre's advocacy on behalf of seniors and the elder abuse issue. I am very familiar with it in my riding of Victoria, as members might imagine.
The possibilities of fitting the punishment to the crime have to be taken seriously. It was the Conservatives, sadly, who visited upon Canadians the mandatory minimums, which took away the discretion courts would have to do just that. However, the possibilities in this bill, through better administration of justice reforms, better bail provisions and, interestingly, contrary to the Conservatives' analysis, allowing more hybrid offences to go to the provincial court on summary conviction would encourage more prosecutors to go forward with cases. They might have been hesitant in the past to do that because they were serious indictable assaults and the like and now perhaps they would be more willing to do so when they are preceded by a summary conviction. That can be a positive step in the right direction as well.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2019-06-17 23:31 [p.29256]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Victoria for bringing us back to the original intention of the bill, which was to address the consequences of the Jordan decision and, particularly, the very serious problem of people committing serious crimes getting off scot-free because they are not getting to trial in a timely manner. My colleague did a good job of elucidating how the mandatory minimum sentence regime contributed to those delays, the problems they represent and the fact that it is not represented in the bill.
Near the end of his remarks, my colleague also made mention of how it is the case that the hybridization of certain offences may well end up meaning that we download the delays that currently are in Federal Court to provincial courts. It seems to me that is an important aspect to consider. Some people will recall a different kind of problem in the 1990s, when the federal government balanced its budget by offloading the financial issues on the provision of health services to provinces. I am concerned about the possibility of a similar problem, where the federal government is seeking to claim a victory on an important issue by passing the problem down to provinces, seeing those same problems recur, but in a different place, and the federal government saying it is not its responsibility and it did its job, even though it was really just a downloading.
The member did not have time in his remarks to elaborate on that and I am wondering if he could do that now.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 23:33 [p.29257]
Mr. Speaker, when the government speaks to this, it claims it has had conversations at federal, provincial and territorial meetings with their counterparts in the provinces and territories. The people I talked to were very worried about the downloading. The claim is that is not an issue, but I cannot see why it would not be when so many of these offences are being hybridized and then, of course, will be dealt with in provincial courts.
The problem is that not only are 95% of criminal cases in provincial courts, but the people are often unrepresented, whom the courts bend over backward to help. They have mental health issues frequently and are involved in the drug world and that is what clogs the courts. We are not doing much about that and there is a crisis in legal aid. Everyone knows we do not fund legal aid enough, the federal or provincial governments, so there are unrepresented litigants who are themselves taking a great deal of time.
Thankfully, there are some reforms in places like British Columbia drug courts and the like that deal with these things in a much more focused way, which hopefully will make a difference, but the problem of downloading has to be taken seriously. I just hope at the next federal-provincial-territorial meetings we can address this issue more specifically.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2019-06-17 23:35 [p.29257]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend for West Nova, who has been an excellent member of the justice committee and with whom I have enjoyed working a great deal.
I have been told more than once that hybridization was sought by the provinces. That might be the old adage of be careful what you wish for, because while I completely agree that the reforms to administration of justice matters and bail will help a great deal, I think we need to do root and branch work if we are ever going to address the burden the Jordan case will impose on provincial governments. I mentioned, for example, drug courts. I mentioned some of the more positive reforms that are taking place in some jurisdictions, British Columbia and Quebec among them. However, unless we do that, it is just impossible for me to understand, when we add all the additional offences that will be dealt with at the provincial court level, how this additional burden will not clog the system.
I would be interested to know what the provincial ministers with whom the member has been speaking have to say, because those with whom I have spoken are very concerned.
View Gord Johns Profile
View Gord Johns Profile
2018-11-28 16:20 [p.24109]
Madam Speaker, I have a lot of respect for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. We know that at committee many witnesses came forward and testified that mandatory minimums in fact contributed to the backlog. I know that the parliamentary secretary discussed this in his speech. If he knows that this is a problem and it is helping contribute to the backlog in our court system, here is a 302-page bill. The Liberals have had an opportunity to fix it right here today.
Maybe the member can explain to this House why the Liberals have not amended and fixed this problem right now, when we have heard at committee, in testimony from witnesses, that this is something that needs to be fixed, that mandatory minimums actually doubled under the previous Harper government, and that is contributing to the backlog in our court system.
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2018-11-28 16:24 [p.24110]
Madam Speaker, we heard just a few moments ago that the priority for the government was eliminating mandatory minimums. I remind the member that Liberals have now been in power for well over three years. With the idea that they get around to things or that something is a priority, they obviously need to understand that they are in government now and need to take action.
I am deeply concerned by certain provisions that the Liberals seemed to ram through committee. On the reverse onus positions, the considerations have been flagged by some witnesses, including Jonathan Rudin of Aboriginal Legal Services, that the provisions could actually perpetuate the overrepresentation of indigenous women in incarceration. Michael Spratt pointed out the concerns around restricting of preliminary inquiries. There are witnesses who brought forward concerns. The Liberals did not seem willing to address those concerns in any way.
Finally, the Liberals have now been in power for three years. Crime prevention programs that were gutted under the former Conservative government have not been restored in any way by Liberals. We know that $1 of crime prevention funding saves us $6 in policing, justice, court and prison costs. Why is the government not willing to get things right, and why is it so slow to meet the commitments it made back in 2015?
View Alistair MacGregor Profile
Madam Speaker, the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton and I sat on the justice committee last year. I certainly appreciated the subject matter we dealt with. It is a committee that demands a lot of responsibility from its members. It requires a lot of maturity, because the subject matter is always very weighty. When we are deliberating on legislation affecting the Criminal Code, there is a real sense that the actions we take when we amend that statute will have real-life consequences for people.
He is right when he talks about the government's slow legislative agenda. I will just correct him, however. Bill C-28 was actually the victim surcharge bill, but it was residing at first reading. Bill C-32 was also residing at first reading. We also had Bill C-38 and Bill C-39. The Canadian public got the feeling that the Minister of Justice, despite coming to power with a bold agenda to reform our criminal laws, was just kind of stringing the public along and giving us little crumbs, saying “Yes we're going to fix this”. Now, we finally have Bill C-75, which I liken to a giant amoeba that has swallowed all of those previous bills, but also added a whole bunch more. We are finally getting to the stage, three years later, where we get to debate this.
I agree with him that some of these bills could have been passed really quickly, like the zombie provisions of the Criminal Code. Scholars and professors have been calling for decades for the Criminal Code to be cleaned up, and we could have passed that bill very quickly, but we are only dealing with it now.
Would the hon. member agree that when we are looking at sections, like section 287, which deals with abortion, and section 159, that they could have been dealt with very quickly by the House and that it is a real shame that we are only doing that now?
View Alistair MacGregor Profile
Madam Speaker, the member was talking a lot about the hybridizations contained in Bill C-75. I was wondering if he is willing to look at that from a different perspective.
One of the concerns we had in particular is regarding the problems we have with access to legal aid right across Canada. The member would be aware of this if he is knowledgeable of the work of the Standing Committee on Justice with respect to access to justice. It is very much a patchwork quilt, because different provinces have different abilities to fund their systems. Often we have cases where paralegals and students of law are coming in to help represent clients who are being charged with offences that could result in a sentence of six months or less. The hybridization of some offences in Bill C-75 is going to bring the maximum penalties to some of these summary offences to two years less a day. One of the consequences of that is that in many provinces, paralegals and students in law school will be unable to represent these clients. Therefore, we are going to have a lot more backlog.
I am wondering if the member can comment on that and why the government was not aware of that particular consequence.
View Murray Rankin Profile
View Murray Rankin Profile
2018-11-28 17:28 [p.24117]
Madam Speaker, when I made my speech on Bill C-75 at second reading, I mentioned that we were eager to work with the government to improve the bill. I am disappointed to report not enough was done to enable us to support this legislation. The government's stated goal was to reduce court delays in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision in Jordan and to continue with trial fairness imperatives. I am afraid the bill comes up short on both counts.
This was a 302-page bill so I will not be able to address in my short time the questions I wanted to. However, I would like to speak on four themes very briefly. First, the failure to address mandatory minimum penalties; second, the hybridization issues we have heard about; third, restrictions on preliminary inquiries; and fourth, the patchwork approach to agent representation. These are among the many issues we heard testimony on at the justice committee.
We heard testimony that the measures proposed would, in fact, make matters worse in many cases. I will elaborate. Most of the action in criminal justice in Canada takes place in the provincial courts, and hybridizing offences and pushing more cases onto to those courts is hardly a solution that is going to make things better.
However, I commend the government for a number of things. I commend it for deleting the routine police evidence provision that was agreed to be problematic at the committee. I am pleased we, at the committee, persuaded the government to change that odious provision. I am also pleased to have moved, along with my colleague, the hon. member for Edmonton Centre, a provision that would repeal the bawdy house provisions and vagrancy sections of the Criminal Code that have been used so often to criminalize consensual sexual activities, particularly among the LGBTQ2 community.
However, there were hundreds of amendments brought to the committee and a number of them were not accepted. For example, the New Democratic Party brought 17 amendments to committee designed to help vulnerable people impacted by our justice system. None of them were accepted by the government.
Every day there are real people who are self-represented. They cannot afford lawyers and there is not enough legal aid in this world to represent them. Who are these people? They are primarily indigenous, poor and marginalized. It is our submission that this bill simply does not do enough to address their realities.
Many of the stakeholders we consulted have told us that the key reforms in Bill C-75 are not evidenced-based at all. The stated objective of this bill is to respond to the Jordan judgment, with its mandatory time limits, yet there is considerable doubt the changes proposed would speed up the criminal justice system. Arguably, they would have the opposite effect.
The Liberals claim that this is somehow bold criminal justice reform, yet the elephant in the room is that they failed entirely to address former prime minister Harper's regime of mandatory minimum sentences, despite their political promises and public commitments to do so. Defence lawyers and legal academics agree the reversal of this practice would have been a huge step to unclogging the delays in the system, yet the Liberals failed utterly to even address the topic at all. We believe we need to deal with the root causes of the delays, things like addiction and poverty issues, which are really the root of the crime we are dealing with.
Let me start with mandatory minimums. This is one thing that would have increased compliance with Jordan and alleviated court burden from multiple charter challenges, and it is unfathomable why the Liberals ducked this issue. So many people came to our committee and talked about it. I do not have time to list them all but they included, from Barreau du Québec, Dr. Marie-Eve Sylvestre, who is a professor at the University of Ottawa, and Jonathan Rudin of Aboriginal Legal Services. I could go on and on. All of these people have spoken out about the failure to address mandatory minimums.
There are so many quotes I do not have time to address, but Jonathan Rudin, who is the program director for Aboriginal Legal Services reminded us that even the justice minister herself acknowledged the issues with mandatory minimum sentencing, saying, “This government knows that mandatory minimum sentences do not work.” She spoke eloquently on this issue on September 29, 2017, almost a year ago.
The justice minister said:
There is absolutely no doubt that MMPs have a disproportionate effect on Indigenous people, as well as other vulnerable populations. The data are clear. The increased use of MMPs over the past decade has contributed to the overrepresentation in our prison system of Indigenous people, racialized communities and female offenders. Judges are well-equipped to assess the offender before them and ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this bill to address that issue.
I am pleased that Senator Kim Pate has introduced Bill S-251, sponsored by my colleague, the member for Saskatoon West, which provides for judicial discretion to depart from the mandatory sentence when it would be just to do so. Then the opportunities for plea bargaining when judges have the discretion that they used to have, as all the experts have said, would go a great deal of distance to solve the issue of delays.
I do not have time to do much with the issue of hybridization. I think there has been enough said about that, and in the interests of time I will skip that.
I will say that Emilie Taman, one of the witnesses, a prominent lawyer in Ottawa, said this:
Indeed, of the 136 indictable offences that are to be reclassified as hybrid by virtue of Bill C-75, 95 are offences punishable by five or ten years. Consequently, this Bill now gives the Crown, rather than the accused, control over whether trial by jury is on the table for these 95 offences. This is problematic because the Crown’s exercise of discretion is done without transparency and is only reviewable on the very high standard of abuse of process.
In other words, we are giving the Crown counsel of the land the ability to make up their minds about which way to go in the privacy of their offices. Contrast that with judicial discretion, where in open court judges decide whether the penalty fits the crime. How different. How far we have come and how far away we are from justice. The potential for bias is real.
I believe that time will not allow me to do much more, but I am so enticed by what the hon. parliamentary secretary said about preliminary inquires that, in the interest of time, I want to address that issue head-on.
The government appears to believe that restricting preliminaries will save court time and protect vulnerable witnesses. The Canadian Bar Association, the Criminal Lawyers' Association, the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, and the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association are among the witnesses that utterly disagree with the parliamentary secretary.
We heard considerable testimony about preliminaries actually reducing court delay. We heard extensive, compelling testimony that preliminary inquiries are a necessary tool to preserve trial fairness.
The Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario said:
Eliminating preliminary inquiries for all cases other than those for which a maximum period of imprisonment of life is available will not further the interests of justice or assist with the orderly and efficient administration of criminal justice. The Committee should recommend that these changes not be made.
I had a dozen quotes to give on this, but I think my favourite witness was Professor Lisa Silver of the University of Calgary's faculty of law. She said that we have to protect people from having a trial where none is necessary and that the “preliminary inquiry, at its core, exists as the legislative 'shield' between the accused and the Crown.”
She gave an example, a story which members may well remember, that of Susan Nelles, a nurse at the cardiac ward at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who was accused of murdering children. During the preliminary inquiry, they found a complete lack of evidence. The result was the charges were dropped. The result, in Professor Silver's view, was that preliminary inquiries are a vital step in ensuring due process and fair trials.
The other issue I want to talk about involves restricting agent representation. Upping the penalty for summary offences to two years less a day is going to have an adverse effect for agent representation across our country. I am talking about law students, paralegals and other agents that currently represent a large “gap population”, as they are called, in our country. There are many individuals who simply do not qualify for legal aid and are too poor to afford a lawyer.
The government has decided it is up to the provinces and territories to regulate what type of agent can represent what crime. This is not co-operative federalism; this is creating a patchwork effect to justice across Canada. Access to appropriate counsel should not depend on where people live, but now it will. We have student legal aid services, people such as Lisa Cirillo, Suzanne Johnson and Doug Ferguson, who asked the government to reverse the measure that would limit agent representation, and yet nothing appears to have been done on that point.
Let me be clear. An unrepresented accused will absolutely increase court delay and deprive that person of his or her right to a proper trial. It often forces the Crown and judges into an uncomfortable position where they must occasionally advise, assist and support the self-represented accused when this is contrary to their official role in the process.
We proposed a number of changes to increase jury representativeness. They were rejected. Professor Kent Roach talked about the shameful situation of juries, such as the failure to have any indigenous jurors on the Gerald Stanley case, and suggested, as did the Criminal Lawyers' Association that we have the ability to look at the jury and the judge given the discretion to decide whether it was representative or indeed embarrassing. That was rejected by my colleagues.
I am sorry I do not have time to say much more, but I will say this. There is a real opportunity lost. We do not do comprehensive criminal justice reform very often in our country. The Liberals brought in a 302-page bill. Some of the key issues I have addressed will only exacerbate the problem before us, making less justice and further delays. There are some things in this bill we like, but on balance we have to say, sadly, we cannot support it.
View Carol Hughes Profile
It being 5:40 p.m., pursuant to order made on Tuesday, November 20, 2018, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill now before the House.
The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): In my opinion the nays have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Carol Hughes): Pursuant to order made on Tuesday, November 27, the recorded division stands deferred until Monday, December 3, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.
View Christine Moore Profile
View Christine Moore Profile
2018-11-20 10:17 [p.23583]
Madam Speaker, this is a fairly lengthy bill, and although it corrects some problems, it creates others. The government is trying to improve the justice system and make it work better, but unfortunately, this bill creates two new problems for every problem it resolves or situation it improves.
Does the minister not believe that we should take the time to resolve all of the new problems the bill creates before passing it, so that we do not end up with new problems that will cause further court delays?
View Matthew Dubé Profile
View Matthew Dubé Profile
2018-11-20 10:21 [p.23584]
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for her answers.
Since the start of this debate on yet another time allocation motion, several members have commented on the complexity of this bill and the fact that it covers many issues we need to discuss. We should also talk about what is not in the bill. For example, the NDP has talked about how the government broke its promise to deal with mandatory minimum sentences.
The minister thanked the committee for its work. That is great, but the reason the committee took so long and was so thorough and heard from so many witnesses is that the bill is very complex, as I said just now.
I would like the minister to explain why she wants a time allocation motion for such a complex bill.
I spoke during debate on this bill. I had 10 minutes instead of 20. I thought 10 minutes would be enough time to say everything I wanted to say, but before I knew it, the Speaker was raising her hand to signal that my time was up. That is how it goes in the House. The point is, 10 minutes, even 20 minutes, is not enough time to talk about everything in this bill.
How can the minister suggest that all parliamentarians will have enough time to dig into this extremely important and complex issue if there is a time allocation motion and so little debate?
View Peter Julian Profile
View Peter Julian Profile
2018-11-20 10:30 [p.23585]
Madam Speaker, this is another sad day in Parliament. We remember back in 2015 the Prime Minister made a commitment to change Parliament from the incredibly stubborn actions of the former government of Stephen Harper and put into place provisions that allowed for democratic debate.
Close to 40 closure motions have now been brought forward in this Parliament by the Liberal government. It is called time allocation, but that is splitting hairs. It is closure. It is shutting down the right to debate in the House of Commons. At the same time as closure is being enacted in the House of Commons, at the finance committee, Liberal representatives are systematically defeating all of the opposition amendments designed to improve the major flaws in the budget implementation bill, huge omnibus legislation that has been given scant hours of treatment and where Liberal MPs are simply voting down any improvements to the legislation. This means it will have to be tested by the courts, as we saw under the Stephen Harper government. The Liberals are going right back to the kinds of practices that Canadians deplore. They are doubling down.
We have this piece of legislation, and the minister admits that the vast majority of amendments to it were refused. Yes, there were witnesses, but the Liberals were not listening to the witnesses.
My question is very simple. Why have the Liberals enacted all of the worst practices of the Stephen Harper government to ram legislation through without due consideration in this Parliament?
View Jenny Kwan Profile
View Jenny Kwan Profile
2018-11-20 10:37 [p.23586]
Madam Speaker, as a new member in this House of Commons, I remember campaigning at some of the campaign stops where the minister was also present. We all talked about how we needed to see a government that was different from the Harper government and that would do things differently. The minister advocated for and campaigned on real change. The Prime Minister of today made a commitment, and part of that commitment is that we will no longer engage in the practice the Harper administration embarked on, which is to shut down debate.
Surely, the minister understands how fundamentally important that is to our democracy. It was something she campaigned on and advocated for in public. However, here we are having seen bill after bill where debate was shut down, this bill being another one of them. The minister talked about consultation before the bill was introduced. However, now that the bill is here, as a member, I have not had a chance to engage in this debate. I would very much like to. I am not part of the committee that engaged in the discussion around that. As the minister knows, only one member from the NDP is allowed on that committee so many of us have been excluded from that process. How is that a new way of business? How is it good for democracy when the government consistently shuts down debate, including on this bill?
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-11-20 11:40 [p.23591]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and put some thoughts on the record with respect to Bill C-75, which is the government's response, we are told, to the Jordan decision, which had to do with lengthy delays in the criminal justice system in Canada. The ruling maintained that cases had to be dealt with in a certain amount of time or the people accused of committing a crime would be off the hook. We have seen across the country instances of people accused of very serious crimes not being tried in court because of a failure to meet deadlines.
It is quite important, I think, that both the government and Parliament take action. This is a long-standing complaint, and not just in some of the most serious crimes and trials. We have also heard from Canadians who have had occasion, one way or another, to deal with court proceedings, especially if they are victims or the families of victims, that they are often outraged at the amount of time it takes to get justice. Of course, justice delayed too often is justice denied. The Jordan decision emphasizes that even more so and raises the stakes in terms of being able to deal with issues in a timely way. If we do not do so now, we will face a situation of people never being tried for the crimes they are accused of having committed.
Our responsibility as parliamentarians is to judge, on balance, this piece of legislation being presented by the government, which was not greatly amended at committee. I know the hon. member for Victoria and the NDP caucus did a lot of great work on this bill and made a lot of proposals at committee that were not accepted by the government, so this really remains a government package of reforms. Our duty as parliamentarians is to decide whether, on balance, this is going to address the issues that were raised in the Jordan decision and expedite our legal processes so that Canadians can expect to get justice through the courts.
One of the ways the government could have done that prior to presenting any legislation in this House would have been to act swiftly to appoint federal judges. It has been an ongoing story of this Parliament in terms of the failure of the justice minister to ensure that the roster of judges is full. We have heard many times in this House that the government ought to have been acting more quickly. Vacancies remain on the bench. The fact of the matter is that even if we have perfect laws, which we do not now and will not after Bill C-75 passes, if we do not have judges to hear the cases, it matters very little what the laws on the books are. It is the judges who hear the cases and the judges who make decisions.
Thus, it is incumbent upon the government to move more quickly on this. It has been three years now. Surely the government is not going to make a case that Canada does not have people qualified to hold those positions. The people are out there. It is a matter of the government making it a priority to actually make those appointments happen. Saying it is a priority is not enough. They have to actually appoint those judges. I do not want to hear government members getting up to talk about how important it is to them. I will wait to see when those positions are filled. That is the true test of how important it is for the government, and so far, it has not been very important.
The other thing we know is that if this is the government's signature justice reform, which it appears to be, a contributing factor to what is at stake with the Jordan decision is the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. That issue was very popular with the previous Conservative government. For a wide range of criminal charges, they brought in mandatory minimum sentences. We know that those are problematic in a number of ways. I think they are problematic in principle.
The fact of the matter is that no two crimes are the same. There are different circumstances depending on the particular crime and who is involved. The people best qualified to make decisions about what is an appropriate time to serve, along with other measures, such as addictions treatment and whatever else is factored into sentencing, are the people who hear the cases. I do not think it is for Parliament to pre-judge, for any case or set of cases, what the appropriate punishment is. That is why we have judges, people who are trained in the legal profession and have seen many different cases and are able to discriminate.
It is appropriate to entrust that work to judges, for whom it is a profession. Mandatory minimum sentences are about taking that away. One of the side effects of that, particularly in cases of smaller charges like minor drug possession and charges of that nature, is that when people know there is going to be a mandatory jail sentence of two, three, four or five years, it is really a disincentive for them to plead guilty. We have tools in order to make sure the most serious cases are heard in a timely way, and that murderers and gang members are not getting off easy because of the Jordan decision. One of those tools is to take some of those smaller cases and plead them out. People are not going to do that if it means serious jail time.
Again, there are people in the courts and the police force who are involved in making those kinds of decisions when they have that discretion. It is important to leave it to judges, prosecutors and the police to prioritize those cases, precisely to make sure that the worst ones and the ones they have the best chance of getting a conviction on are tried. Those people then get justice, and the courts are not bogged down with other kinds of cases without any ability to make a judgment call about what is relatively more or less important.
That was a major problem with changes to the justice system that we saw in the last Parliament. Outside of the Conservative Party and people who supported them in the last election, there was a pretty broad consensus that those things had to be repealed. We do not see that here. That is an obvious thing that is not in this legislation. It would have helped with respect to the Jordan decision, and would have been important to do on principle anyway.
One of the other things the bill does is establish hybrid offences between the provinces and the federal government. There is real concern that this is going to mean we are going to improve federal court wait times at the expense of provincial court wait times. This is classically Liberal, in a certain way.
I do not want to be too partisan about it, but I remember the nineties, when the federal government decided it was going to balance the budget at all costs. It made deep cuts to the health and social transfer. That ended up on the ledger of provincial governments, which now did not have the same funding for health services and other services that they were providing to their populations. Those governments went into deficit or had to take other measures, whether it was cuts to services or raising taxes, in order to be able to maintain what had theretofore been supported by the federal government.
For as much as the federal books looked better, there was only one taxpayer, and those people paid it at the provincial level instead of at the federal level. What looked good on the federal government did not ultimately make a difference to Canadians. They paid for it, either through higher taxes at the provincial level or through serious cuts to service.
Unfortunately, we had a Conservative government in the nineties, and we paid for that in terms of serious cuts to services. We lost nurses and teachers, and the federal government sat pretty while pretending it was not responsible for that. At the end of the day, its budget cuts did that.
We are gearing up for the potential for something similar, where the federal government will say, “Look at us. The wait times for the Federal Court are way down.” However, we have the potential to see those same waits happening at the provincial level, because people who at one time would have faced a charge at the federal level will now instead face a similar charge at the provincial level. We will not get rid of the wait times; we are just shifting the burden from the federal books to the provincial books.
For anyone paying close attention, the Liberals are not fooling anybody. If our job is to make sure those wait times go down and justice is served in a timely way, it is really important that we do it in a way that actually accomplishes that and does not give the federal government a talking point at the expense of the provinces.
I am out of time, but I look forward to questions.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-11-20 11:51 [p.23592]
Madam Speaker, of course we want a bench that is reflective of the Canadian population in general, but I do not agree with the idea that it would take three years to develop. I do not think it ought to have taken as long as it did for the government to appoint the judges that it has.
The other side of that is to look at vacancies. As much as Liberals want to talk about the number of judges they have appointed, the fact is that there are a still a great number of vacancies, and judges have to be appointed in order to fill the bench.
If I am hosting a dinner, for instance, for which I need 500 plates but the caterer delivers 150, I tell the caterer there are 350 people without a meal. If he then says he would like to focus on the 150 people who have a meal, that is all well and good and I can understand why the caterer might want to do that, but it is not an acceptable answer.
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2018-11-20 11:53 [p.23593]
Madam Speaker, my colleague will know I do not have the same legal background as he does. However, even without a legal background, if we look at this bill, and these measures especially, from the point of view of whether this is ultimately going to reduce delay, we would still be dealing with the same number of charges. They would just be dealt with in a different place. Therefore, I do not see how that, in and of itself, contributes to a reduction in delay.
The member is quite right to point out that the timeline for having things dealt with under the Jordan decision is shorter in provincial courts than it is in the Federal Court. It would not diminish the number of cases that need to be heard, nor any of the work that goes into trials. If it is shortening the timeline on top of that, then the question is how this contributes to reducing delay and ensuring that cases are not thrown out because they have not been heard within a reasonable amount of time. I just do not see how this meets that test.
View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech. However, many people question whether the bill can achieve its objective to reduce the backlog in the justice system and, as set out in the Jordan decision, ensure more appropriate timelines.
For example, Michael Spratt, former director of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, said in committee that the proposed changes will likely lead to more delays, racial inequalities, and unfair trials.
If the government brings in small measures that do not seem to impress those who really know how this works and how to clear the backlog in the justice system, if it does not invest in appointing more judges, filling the seats that the Liberal government has left empty so far, then how can the government achieve the expected outcome, namely to fully comply with the Jordan decision?
View Alexandre Boulerice Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this important bill, which affects entire segments of our justice system and is essential to the organization of our society.
However, I have no choice but to start this brief speech by saying that the government's approach has left a very bad taste in my mouth. I am choking on this gag that has been forced on me.
The Liberal government is once again imposing a gag order. It has used this tool over 50 times in the past three years to prevent parliamentarians from discussing and fully debating this type of bill, which will affect our justice system, the way justice is meted out in our country, and the rights of victims and accused persons.
Once again, the Liberal government is refusing to allow us to take the time we normally would to conduct a full and exhaustive study of a bill. It is the same broken record, the same old story. The Liberals promised to restore confidence in our institutions, to restore Parliament's credibility, and to once again allow parliamentarians, MPs, to fully participate in discussions. Instead, the government is once again muzzling us and sweeping us aside.
Bill C-75, which we are debating today, is the government's response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Jordan. The court was examining some very long delays in some complex cases. These delays represented a denial of justice for the accused. The cases were never-ending, going on for years.
The Jordan decision set limits. For a normal case, there must not be more than 18 months between the time when charges are filed and the trial is concluded. There are, however, some exceptions. In some cases, the maximum may be 30 months.
The Jordan decision was meant to prevent justice from being unduly delayed or denied, but it has also led to the release of criminals who essentially escaped justice, an unforeseen consequence of the decision. When cases go beyond the time limit set by the Jordan decision, the accused in these cases walk free and never have to face justice or face the charges that were filed against them.
That being said, the government's response must be to determine how to free up the justice system and ensure that criminals are made to stand trial and cannot escape conviction and be released.
That would not necessarily be a good thing from a public safety perspective. We want to keep that from happening again. We agree with the Jordan decision because it was based on sound reasons and grounds, but it has had unintended and dangerous consequences for our society and our fellow citizens.
Is the government's response adequate? That is where we disagree with the Liberal government. We do not think that the solutions set out in Bill C-75 will meet the objective of speeding up the court system so that any accused persons are duly tried within the time frame set out in Jordan. The simplest and most effective solution would be to put more resources into the system so that more files, more cases and more charges can be dealt with more quickly. There are a number of things the government could do to make that happen. The easiest one would be to appoint judges. If there were more judges, then there would be more trials. If there were more trials, then they would be handled much more diligently and would take less time.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government has been dragging its feet on this for three years, and there are still quite a few vacant seats on federal court benches. We are still waiting for those decisions to be made.
To the NDP, this is not about being tougher. The NDP believes that until the government decides to invest in the judicial system, open courts, appoint judges and hire clerks so everyone in the legal system can meet these deadlines, anything else is just a half measure and could even make things worse.
Before getting into preliminary inquiries and routine police evidence, I would like to take two minutes to mourn yet another broken Liberal promise.
This bill is 300 pages long and covers all kinds of things. One might have thought that, while making such major changes to our judicial system, the Liberal government would have taken the opportunity to keep its promise to scrap the mandatory minimum sentences brought in by the Stephen Harper government.
During the campaign, the Liberals told us they would get rid of those mandatory minimum sentences because they made for a bad system that prevented judges from doing their job properly. They said they wanted to restore flexibility to the judicial system and empower judges to exercise judgment because no two cases, no two situations, and no two trials are identical. There are always slight differences.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, took a right-wing populist approach to mandatory minimum sentences. They wanted to provide a show of force and send a message to criminals that they would not get away with anything. Instead, judges' hands were tied, as legislation took away their ability to determine, based on a full understanding of the evidence presented, the best way forward and the most appropriate sentence for an accused.
This is even more disappointing considering that not only was it one of the Liberals' promises in their election platform, but it was also included in the mandate letter given to the Minister of Justice. The mandate letter said that mandatory minimums were a priority issue for the Liberals, yet the Liberals did not include this important matter in their criminal justice reform legislation. This is a lost opportunity to implement real, meaningful reform.
We are left, then, with the status quo, and judges still have no discretion around sentencing. Defence counsel will have no incentive to negotiate a plea, and the number of cases going to trial could increase. Once again, the Liberals missed the boat. This problem could have been solved.
I would like to take a moment to quote a few people. Amanda Carling, Emily Hill, Kent Roach and Jonathan Rudin wrote an article earlier this year in The Globe and Mail. The authors believe that mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea. They argue that Parliament cannot possibly know all the varieties of offences and offenders who might commit them. Furthermore, such sentencing does not take into account the various circumstances offenders might find themselves in, for example, whether offenders live in abject poverty, have intellectual disabilities or mental health issues, have experienced racism or abuse in the past, or have children who rely on them. The authors added that mandatory minimum sentences do not allow judges to decide whether incarceration is necessary to deter, rehabilitate or punish a particular offender.
I think that is a major point that the Liberals should have included in this bill, but they missed the mark. Let us not forget that the courts are a reflection of the social problems and the social reality in our communities. This bill not only offers solutions that will not help clear the backlog in the system, but it does very little to recognize the root causes of the court backlogs, the myriad of social problems such as poverty, addiction, mental health problems, marginalization, and so forth. Investments and social support are urgently needed to reduce the burden on the courts and address the complex issue of over-representation of minorities, especially indigenous or racialized persons in the prison system.
In closing, I want to point out that the NDP is particularly concerned about the provision authorizing the admission of routine police evidence presented by way of affidavit. In other words, if we consider the fact that this routine evidence is presented through an affidavit, there is no opportunity during a trial to cross-examine the police officer on this piece of evidence. We think this could infringe on the rights of the accused to a full and complete defence.
View Rachel Blaney Profile
View Rachel Blaney Profile
2018-11-20 15:37 [p.23627]
Mr. Speaker, in the work I have done in my riding, I have heard both from the RCMP and from legal representatives. They are frustrated with dealing with issues that are really better served by people who provide support and deal with social issues.
When we look at the bill, again, we see the absolute neglect of dealing with the social issues and understanding that not all of these issues need to be in the legal system. We know the system is already overflowing. There are so many challenges. In fact, multiple experts have said that this will not deal with that at all and that it will not actually do what it says, which is to ensure the system has fewer people going through it.
I would appreciate it if the member could talk about how he or his government would justify not addressing the social issues that are clogging our system every day.
View Pierre Nantel Profile
Ind. (QC)
View Pierre Nantel Profile
2018-11-20 15:54 [p.23629]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his remarks.
We all know that Conservatives and New Democrats do not always agree. However, one point on which we can agree is that the government's failure to appoint judges is deplorable. Without more judges, delays in the justice system will not get better.
I would like to know if my colleague finds that utterly deplorable. The election is a year away, but we all know that anything the government does between now and then will be motivated solely by a desire to get re-elected.
For the past three years, the government's legislative agenda has been quite sparse. The government has not changed much, and when it does do something people were looking forward to, such as this bill, it does a poor job.
What does the member think of that?
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