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Results: 1 - 15 of 32
View David Lametti Profile
Lib. (QC)
View David Lametti Profile
2019-06-17 22:13 [p.29246]
Mr. Speaker, I hope that everyone in this House will join me.
The fourth element is on reclassification of offences. Reclassification of offences is another key element of Bill C-75 that will modernize and streamline the Criminal Code and promote a more efficient and economical use of judicial resources.
Hybridizing offences that are punishable by a maximum penalty of two, five and 10 years' imprisonment gives the provinces and territories greater flexibility to match their resources to the cases based on the offender's circumstances and the gravity of the case.
However, this reclassification would not change the fundamental sentencing principles. The classification reforms do not reduce penalties. Serious offences will continue to be treated seriously by the courts.
The other place's amendments 1, 10, 11, 13 and 14 are about the reclassification of offences and touch on areas for which witnesses expressed concerns about amendments potentially having unintended consequences.
Amendment 1 would allow a court to order DNA sampling for offences punishable by five and 10 years' imprisonment. Bill C-75 would hybridize those offences, and DNA orders are already issued for them. This amendment is consistent with the objectives of the bill, and I urge the House to join me in supporting it.
I would also urge the House to join me in supporting amendment 11, which would amend the Identification of Criminals Act to state that a person accused of a hybrid offence can be fingerprinted even if the prosecutor opts to proceed by way of summary conviction.
Amendments 13 and 14 are consequential amendments relating to the coming-into-force date of the specified provision if amendment 12 is agreed to.
The other place's amendment 10 attempts to respond to concerns that a number of stakeholders made regarding the unintended impact of Bill C-75's proposed amendments to increase the maximum penalty for most Criminal Code offences with a summary conviction penalty to two years less a day.
Currently section 802.1 makes clear that agents, including law students, articling students, paralegals and others, cannot appear in summary conviction proceedings where the maximum term of imprisonment is greater than six months, unless the agent is authorized under a program approved by the lieutenant governor in council of the province or the accused is an organization.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights amended section 802.1 to allow provinces and territories to establish criteria in addition to their existing authority to approve programs, authorizing agents to appear in summary conviction proceedings where the maximum penalty was more than six months and to allow agents to attend court in place of the accused to seek an adjournment of the proceeding on all summary conviction matters without prior authorization.
These amendments maintain jurisdictional flexibility in this area of criminal procedure while also recognizing regional diversity and how legal representation is regulated across Canada.
The proposed other place's amendment would add a provision that would also allow agents to appear where they are authorized to do so under the law of a province. We are concerned that there might be unintended results to this amendment. As I stated earlier, this bill is the product of considerable consultation with provinces and territories and there has not been sufficient time to analyze and ascertain what the effect of this amendment would be under existing provincial and territorial laws.
Moreover, provinces and territories already have flexibility to quickly address any consequences of the reclassification scheme on agents through the amendments made to the bill in this place last December. Using the proposed new power to do this through criteria or a program established by the lieutenant governor in council is a much faster process than legislative reform.
For these reasons, we do not support the other place's amendment 10.
The fifth element is about strengthening case management. Bill C-75 will strengthen Criminal Code provisions to improve case management.
The sixth element is about improving the jury selection process. Bill C-75 will also improve the jury selection process by eliminating the potentially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges, making the selection process more transparent, promoting fairness and impartiality and making jury trials more efficient in general.
The seventh key area was implementing other additional efficiencies. One of the most widely supported aspects of the bill is the promotion of additional efficiencies, including through the use of technology where available to facilitate remote appearances.
Bill C-75 also includes reforms proposed in three bills that were previously introduced as separate bills: Bill C-28, victim surcharge; Bill C-38, exploitation and trafficking in persons, and Bill C-39, repeal of provisions ruled unconstitutional.
The other place's amendments 5, 8 and 9 respond to the December 14, 2018, decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Boudreault, which struck down the provisions in the Criminal Code related to the federal victim surcharge, used by provinces and territories to partially fund their victim services.
The other place's amendments re-enact a new victim surcharge regime that requires the imposition of a surcharge in all cases, but provides greater judicial discretion to depart from imposing the surcharge in appropriate cases, in order to address the concerns of the Supreme Court decision.
I believe the victim surcharge amendments will restore the necessary judicial discretion to ensure that the sentence imposed in each case is fit and proportionate. I urge this House to join me in supporting these amendments. These are changes that I know my provincial and territorial colleagues are awaiting.
In conclusion, as we can see, this bill contains a number of crucial measures to reduce delays in the criminal justice system. These measures will help modernize and simplify the system, while at the same time providing additional safeguards for vulnerable victims and restoring the ability to collect the federal victim surcharge.
Last, but not least, these amendments represent an important step towards reversing the historically disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on indigenous peoples and marginalized peoples.
We must work together to ensure that this bill is passed before we adjourn for the summer.
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 Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2018-11-28 15:59 [p.24106]
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on behalf of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments thereto.
This legislation represents a key milestone on our government's commitment to modernizing the criminal justice system, reducing delays and ensuring the safety of all Canadians. Delays in the criminal justice system affect public safety, undermine public confidence in the administration of justice, adversely impact the rights of accused persons and fails to provide Canadians good value for money.
When proceedings are stayed due to delays, the criminal justice system itself fails. Perpetrators are not held responsible for their actions, the innocent are not given the opportunity to truly clear their name and victims suffer.
Uses of delay in the criminal justice is not a new one. In the early 1990s, tens of thousands of cases were stayed due to delay following the Supreme Court of Canada's historic decision in the Crown and Askov.
As we know, the Supreme Court's subsequent decisions in Jordan and Cody set out a new legal framework for assessing delays. That framework included a transition period in assessing the cases for which charges had been laid prior to the release of the decision.
Given that this period will come to an end next summer, we have no time to lose. We must do everything we can to improve the efficiency of our criminal justice system.
Fortunately, we have many helpful studies and reports including the in-depth study of the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Its July 2017 report is entitled “Delaying Justice is Denying Justice”. After hearing from a sum total of 138 witnesses, the standing committee concluded that the causes of delays were wide and varied. It issued a call to the legal community, including judges and federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice and attorneys general to “take decisive and immediate steps to address the causes of delays and to modernize our justice system.” It also called in the Minister of Justice to show leadership “in taking the necessary reformative action”.
I know the minister feels extremely privileged to have been entrusted with the responsibility to address this urgent issue, which also forms part of the mandate letter given to her by the Prime Minister. The Minister of Justice has taken several significant steps to improve the criminal justice system. In total, she has made now 240 judicial appointments and elevations to superior courts right across the country. In 2017 alone, the minister made 100 appointments, more than any other minister of justice in the last two decades. This year she is on pace to meet or exceed that number.
At the same time, the last two budgets presented by our government have allocated funding for an unprecedented number of new judicial positions, which are necessary to allow courts to respond to growing caseloads, including criminal matters. In all, our government has seen the creation of 75 new judicial positions over the past two years.
In fact, earlier this year, chief justices in Alberta and Quebec noted that for the first time in a long time, they were starting to notice positive trends in terms of delays. That is a very encouraging sign. The significant efforts made by judges, courts, governments and other actors in the justice system are paying off.
I will use the rest of the time that I have today to address our government's legislative response to criminal justice system delays.
I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their thorough study of the bill.
The committee heard from 95 witnesses and examined a significant number of documents on a highly complex subject. There were 58 briefs submitted by various stakeholders, including representatives of police forces, Crown attorneys, defence attorneys, legal aid programs, victims' rights advocates, representatives of indigenous groups, and academics.
The discussion on the admission of routine police evidence by affidavit was particularly important, and our government was listening.
Although our intentions were commendable, we admit that our approach, as proposed, could have had unintended consequences, especially for unrepresented accused persons.
The committee gave that concern due consideration, and we accepted its amendment in that regard.
The reforms in this bill were also generally well received by all sides. There were some concerns heard regarding the provision, the proposed reverse onus, in the context of intimate partner violence due to operational issues that some had experienced with what is known as dual charging; that is where both perpetrators and victims are charged after a victim has had to use physical force to defend herself.
Supporting survivors of domestic violence and ensuring that more perpetrators are brought to justice was part of our platform in 2015, and the reverse onus provisions, which do just that, were maintained in the bill after the committee study.
We know, including most recently, from the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Antic that the problem is not the law itself but in how it has been applied. It is important to note that provinces and territories have developed policies and training in this area. We have a solid legal framework, yet a disproportionate number of indigenous and vulnerable and marginalized accused are being denied bail. Those who are being released are being required to follow too many onerous conditions, with a strong reliance on sureties in a number of jurisdictions.
The proposed new process contained in Bill C-75 talks about judicial referral hearings, which will provide an off ramp for administration of justice offences that do not actually cause harm to a victim. This proposal has been supported enthusiastically, both by residents in my riding of Parkdale—High Park and by Canadians right across the country, who are concerned about the disproportionate overrepresentation of indigenous and racialized persons in our criminal justice system.
What we have advanced is a shining example of exactly what the Supreme Court of Canada and the Senate committee report were imploring when calling for “a cultural shift among justice system participants that moves them away from complacency and towards efficiency, cooperation and fairness.”
My colleagues will also recall that Bill C-75 includes two proposals in relation to preliminary inquiries. First, the bill proposes to restrict preliminary inquiries for adults accused to offences punishable by life imprisonment, for example, murder or kidnapping. Second, it will permit the judge presiding over the preliminary inquiry to limit the issues to be explored and the number of witnesses to be heard at the preliminary inquiry.
The approach in Bill C-75 with respect to preliminary inquiries reflects the extensive consideration and consultation on various options throughout the years and the best evidence available, and ultimately proposes a balanced approach between various interests at stake. It also proposes an approach that was endorsed and supported by the provincial and territorial ministers of justice during the extensive consultations undertaken by the minister with her provincial and territorial counterparts.
One topic that was a particular focus for the committee was the reclassification of offences. Reclassification will result in amendments to many provisions in the code, both for the purposes of hybridizing existing indictable offences that carry a maximum penalty of imprisonment of 10 years or less, and to create uniform maximum penalty of imprisonment on summary conviction of two years less a day.
The reclassification amendments were supported by the minister's provincial and territorial counterparts, who felt strongly that these amendments would give prosecutors much-needed flexibility based on the gravity of cases before them.
Notably, the reclassification amendments are procedural. They change how conduct that is not deserving of an indictable sentence range can be treated. It is already a well-known feature of our criminal justice system that prosecutors assess the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender to determine which type of sentence to seek from the court.
Importantly, nothing in the bill proposes to lower the sentences that would be awarded under the law. These reforms would not change the fundamental principles of sentencing. We value the variety of perspectives and knowledge that the many witnesses contributed to the Standing Committee on Justice's study.
Bill C-75's proposed reclassification of indictable offences, punishable by maximum of 10 years imprisonment or less, does not treat these offences any less seriously for sentencing purposes.
Nonetheless, this is an important point. The justice committee heard compelling testimony from witnesses on the terrorism and advocating genocide offences. Our government recognizes that these are crimes against the state, against society at large for the purpose of advancing a political objective, in the case of terrorism. In the case of advocating genocide, these are crimes not just against society at large but crimes against humanity.
I say that with some experience in the area, as a former prosecutor at the UN war crimes tribunal for Rwanda. I know first-hand that there is no more reprehensible crime known to law then genocide, which is advocating for the destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
The standing committee unanimously recommended that these offences be carved out of the reclassification approach in Bill C-75. We thank the committee for its diligent work in this area, and agree wholeheartedly with this amendment.
On that note, we moved consequential government amendments to remedy an unintended error from one of these committee amendments in order to reflect the committee's objective of removing these offences from the list of those that were being reclassified.
We also welcomed the committee's amendments to section 802.1 of the Criminal Code to allow the provinces and territories to set criteria permitting agents, that is non-lawyers, such as law students, articling students and paralegals, to appear on summary conviction offences punishable by more than six months imprisonment and to allow agents to appear on any summary conviction offence for the purpose of an adjournment.
One of the unintended consequences of the proposal to reclassify offences in the Criminal Code is that agents would not have been able to appear for individuals on most summary conviction offences unless authorized by the provinces and territories. The justice committee helpfully amended section 802.1 of the Criminal Code to enable provinces and territories to establish criteria for agent representation on summary conviction offences with a maximum penalty of greater than six months imprisonment in addition to the current authority to create programs for this purpose as well as to allow agents to appear on any summary conviction offences for adjournments.
This amendment would address concerns over access to justice issues. It would maintain jurisdictional flexibility while also recognizing regional diversity in how legal representation is regulated across Canada.
On this point, I would underscore that access to justice informs not only the core aspect of the bill, but in all of the efforts we are undertaking at the justice ministry and the efforts made by the minister. The minister has brought this issue to the attention of her provincial and territorial counterparts so they will take the requisite prompt legislative action to set the necessary criteria for this important matter relating to access to justice.
I would also like to talk about the jury reforms proposed in Bill C-75. These changes will make major improvements to our jury selection process by abolishing peremptory challenges for Crown and defence attorneys, allowing judges to direct that a juror stand by for reasons of maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice, modernizing challenges for cause, empowering judges to decide challenges for cause, and allowing trials to continue with the consent of the parties in the event that the number of jurors is reduced below 10, in order to avoid mistrials.
The under-representation of indigenous peoples and visible minorities on juries is a major concern. This problem has been well-documented for years. We believe that eliminating peremptory challenges will significantly improve the diversity of juries.
Peremptory challenges give both the accused and the Crown the power to exclude potential jurors without having to provide a reason. They have no place in our courtrooms, given the potential for abuse. Once this bill has passed, Canada will join countries like England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which abolished peremptory challenges in 1988.
We must remember that provincial and territorial laws and processes play an important role in determining candidates for jury duty and the methods used to compile jury lists.
The federal government is just one piece of the puzzle. However, I am pleased to see that federal, provincial and territorial government representatives are working together on a wide range of jury-related issues in order to make further recommendations on how to improve Canada's jury system. I believe that the questions raised during the committee's study of Bill C-75 will help with these deliberations.
I was also pleased to see that the committee was generally in favour of the more technical proposals aimed at reducing delays and improving efficiency in our system, in particular with respect to removing the requirement for judicial endorsement for the execution of out-of-province warrants, clarifying the signing authority of clerks of the court, and facilitating remote appearances.
As well, I wish to highlight the committee's unanimous support of the repeal of section 159 of the Criminal code, a proposal that has been well received in the LGBTQ community, as well as the proposed amendment to repeal the vagrancy and bawdy house offences, which have been historically and improperly used to target consensual adult sexual activity. These amendments continue our government's important work to address discrimination against LGBTQ2 Canadians.
Importantly the committee also supported Bill C-75's proposal to repeal the abortion offences that the Supreme Court of Canada struck down as unconstitutional in the Morgentaler decision in 1988. Our government will always protect a woman's reproductive rights and her right to choose what to do with her own body.
As I have already stated, Bill C-75 proposes comprehensive reforms that will help to ensure that an accused person's right to be tried within a reasonable time is respected and that all justice system participants, including victims and witnesses, do not face delays.
At the same time, we are deeply conscious of the need and have heard the call for sentencing reform, including mandatory minimum penalties. The minister remains committed to advancing change.
The courts have made it clear that many mandatory minimum penalties present serious challenges from a constitutional perspective. The minister has been clear that her view is that judges should be provided the necessary discretion to impose sentences appropriate to the offender before them.
That said, we need to ensure we put in place sentencing reform that will stand the test of time. Mandatory minimum penalties are being litigated quite extensively. There are cases in which the Supreme Court has upheld the mandatory minimum penalty and there are cases in which the court has not.
We want to ensure we have taken all steps and done our due diligence as we continue to work on sentencing reform so the changes we make will stand the test of time.
The bold reforms proposed in the legislation have been the subject of extensive discussions, consultations and collaboration with the minister's provincial and territorial colleagues. Our commitment to prioritize key legislative reforms that we felt cumulatively would have the biggest impact in reducing delays in the criminal justice system remains strong.
This discussion and the consultations have included extensive debate within this very chamber itself. The House has debated Bill C-75 for a total of 14 hours and 45 minutes thus far. Ninety-five witnesses in the course of 27 hours were heard by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during extended sitting hours. A total of 28 members of the opposition benches from multiple parties have spoken out on the bill.
Further to that, we have listened to the standing committee's recommendations and to key stakeholders who have committed to address the issues of delays in the criminal justice system. Bill C-75, as amended, is a result of this commitment and reflects the beginning of a culture change that the Supreme Court was calling for in its Jordan and its Cody decisions. I therefore urge all members to support this important legislation.
View Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-11-28 16:27 [p.24111]
Madam Speaker, I rise once again to speak to Bill C-75. One of the biggest problems with Bill C-75 is that, although the objective of the legislation is to reduce delay in Canada's courts, it actually does very little to reduce delay. For a bill that is designed to reduce delay, the fact that it does not reduce delay is a pretty big problem.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and other Liberal MPs who have spoken on the bill in this place have patted themselves on the back about, as they have put it, the good work of the justice committee, which heard from 95 witnesses, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice just stated, and that Liberal MPs listened to the key stakeholders and acted on the concerns raised by stakeholders.
In the three years I have been a member of Parliament I have never seen a piece of legislation more widely criticized in virtually all aspects of this massive 300-page bill than Bill C-75. Despite the rhetoric from across the way about listening to key stakeholders, the reality is that on issue after issue, the Liberals did not listen. They ignored the concerns raised by key stakeholders at committee. Instead they rammed the bill through committee and, other than a few minor changes, we are largely stuck with a very flawed bill, a bill that is problematic in so many different ways.
In that regard, let me first highlight the issue of hybridization. Putting aside the issue of watering down serious indictable offences, which is certainly a serious concern, from the standpoint of reducing delay, hybridization is going to download even more cases onto provincial courts. Some 99.6% of criminal cases are already heard before provincial courts, and if any member questions my statement about the fact this would result in the further downloading of cases, do not take my word for it. Take the Canadian Bar Association's word. The Canadian Bar Association, in its brief to the justice committee said that hybridization, “...would likely mean more cases will be heard in provincial court. This could result in further delays in those courts....” No kidding. Despite what the Canadian Bar Association said, the government said, “No problem. We'll just download more cases on to provincial courts”.
Then, there were public safety concerns raised about hybridization. One of the concerns raised was by John Muise, a former member of the Parole Board. He noted that offences being reclassified included breaches of long-term supervision orders. Long-term supervision orders apply to the most dangerous sexual predators in our society. We are talking about individuals who are so dangerous that after they complete their sentence, they are subject to a long-term supervision order for up to 10 years, with many stringent conditions.
John Muise said that it is a serious problem to treat breaches of these orders which are imposed on the most dangerous of people and that they should remain solely indictable, mainly because a breach of a long-term supervision order is a sign that these very dangerous offenders are returning to their cycle of violence and exploitation of vulnerable persons. We are not talking about marginalized people here, as the hon. parliamentary secretary referred to with respect to minor administration of justice offences, breaches of orders, which should be treated seriously. In this case, we are talking about the most serious offenders. Instead of heeding the advice of John Muise, the government said, “No problem; we'll move ahead”, forgetting about what a member of the Parole Board of Canada had said.
As well, Mr. Chow, deputy chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department, appeared before our committee. He said that there was another problem to reclassifying some very serious indictable offences as it relates to taking a sample and putting it into a national DNA database. Right now, if someone is convicted for one of those offences as an indictable offence, the Crown could apply to a judge to take a DNA sample to be put into the national DNA data bank. However, with Bill C-75, if the offence was prosecuted by way of summary conviction and the individual was convicted, it would be a summary conviction offence rather than an indictable offence, and no such application could be made.
In talking about the impact that might have upon police investigations, Deputy Chief Constable Chow noted in his testimony that of the 85 offences that are being reclassified, as a result of DNA samples being taken over the last number of years, 19 homicides and 24 sexual assaults were solved. However, instead of listening to Mr. Chow, instead of listening to Mr. Muise, the government said, “We don't care. We're moving ahead.”
Then there is the issue of preliminary inquiries. The government is limiting preliminary inquiries to be held if the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, and for all other offences with a lesser maximum penalty, a preliminary inquiry would no longer be available. The government claims that this will help speed up the court process. Witness after witness begged to differ with the government. The brief submitted to the committee by the Canadian Bar Association stated on limiting preliminary inquiries:
This would not reduce court delays and would negatively impact the criminal justice system as a whole.... Any connection between court delays and the preliminary hearing is speculative at best.
If members do not want to take the word of the Canadian Bar Association, perhaps they might be interested in taking the word of the Barreau du Québec, which stated:
The Barreau du Québec opposes this amendment. By limiting the use of preliminary inquiries, some argue that we can speed up the judicial process and thus reduce delays. We believe that limiting preliminary inquiries in this way would be ineffective or even counterproductive.
Then there was Philip Star, a criminal defence lawyer from Nova Scotia, who said before the committee in respect to preliminary inquiries:
They're incredibly helpful, not only to the accused, but to the Crown and ultimately to our system, by cutting down on delays....
So much for the government's assertion that limiting preliminary inquiries is somehow going to reduce delays.
It gets better, because Laurelly Dale, another lawyer, a defence counsel, who appeared before the committee said:
Two major studies have concluded that preliminary inquiries do not contribute substantially to the problem of court delay. Preliminary hearings facilitate the resolution of potentially lengthy and expensive trials in superior court. They are often used instead of rather than in addition to trials. They expedite the administration of justice. It is far easier and quicker to get a two- to four-day prelim, as opposed to a one- to two-week trial in superior court.
Then there is Michael Spratt, who said:
There is a delay problem in our courts, but preliminary inquiries are not the cause of that delay.
Witness after witness, as I said, told the government that this is not going to work. It is not going to reduce delay. Did the government listen? Did the Liberal members on the justice committee listen? Apparently not.
Further testimony on prelims was from Sarah Leamon who said:
...87% of them actually resolve after the preliminary inquiry process. It saves the complainant,—
—in the context of a sexual assault complainant—
—in the vast majority of circumstances, from having to testify again and from being re-traumatized.
While the Liberal members opposite say they listened, the evidence before the committee and the response of the government to the evidence before the committee demonstrates exactly the opposite.
Even if one accepts the reasoning of the government, despite all of the evidence before the committee that limiting preliminary inquiries will in fact reduce delay, it is important to note that preliminary inquiries only take up about 3% of court time across Canada. To the degree that this is going to have a beneficial impact, the fact remains it is a very small piece of the much larger problem of backlog and delay in Canada's courts.
Let us look at the issue of judicial referral hearings, and the evidence that was before the committee on judicial referral hearings. Serious concerns were raised, including by John Muise, a former member of the Parole Board of Canada, as well as from Mr. Chow from the Vancouver Police Department, about the fact that individuals who commit an administration of justice offence, who are referred to a judicial referral hearing, would not have that breach of an order or other administration of justice offence entered into CPIC.
Right now, if someone does commit an AOJ offence, it is entered into CPIC, but thanks to the government's judicial referral hearing process, that would not happen. As I mentioned when I posed a question to the hon. parliamentary secretary, the consequences of not presenting the full CPIC record before a judge or justice of the peace can have devastating consequences. My community learned this when Constable David Wynn was shot and killed by someone who had an extensive criminal record, including an extensive record of administration of justice offences.
Now the government is saying that the court would not even have the benefit, if that CPIC record were to be presented, of the totality of that offender's criminal record because, after all, those offences would not be entered into CPIC. When I asked the parliamentary secretary what the government intended to do to fix this serious public safety issue, which was brought up more than once before the justice committee, he regretfully did not have an answer.
I should note again that in terms of judicial referral hearings, while they will have an impact on undermining public safety because those breaches will not be entered into CPIC, the impact of administration of justice offences on the backlog in our system is actually quite limited. That is because AOJ offences are typically dealt with as tagalong offences. What I mean by that is that they are usually dealt with at the same time that the main or underlying charge is dealt with. Therefore, in terms of the amount of court time and court resources that are being used for the purpose of dealing with administration of justice offences, in fact, it is quite minimal.
Again, members should not take my word for it. They should take the word of Rick Woodburn, the president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. Here is what Mr. Woodburn said to the justice committee:
I can tell you from the ground, they don't clog up the system. They don't take that much time. A breach of a court order takes very little time to prove, even if it goes to trial—and that's rare. Keep in the back of your mind that these charges aren't clogging up the system.
Did the Liberals keep that in the back of their minds? Apparently not because they just went ahead with the judicial referral hearing process without a plan, without any thought of the serious public safety issues that were raised before the justice committee.
Then there is the issue of peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges have nothing to do with delay, but they were added to this bill. The basis upon which the government has decided to eliminate peremptory challenges is that somehow it will increase the representativeness of juries. Witness after witness said quite the opposite, but instead of listening to those witnesses, the government just moved ahead.
Taken together, the record is very clear. Ninety-five witnesses gave evidence at committee and on issue after issue, the Liberals ignored the evidence. The Liberals ignored the witnesses and as a result, we have a very flawed bill that is not going to get to the heart of the problem, which is to reduce the delay and backlog in Canada's courts.
View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2018-11-28 16:56 [p.24114]
Madam Speaker, very briefly, as to the competency of the government, I would point to our medical assistance in dying bill, Bill C-45, and Bill C-46, and our appointment of 240 judges.
The member opposite took issue with peremptory challenges. The question I would put to him is on this issue. First of all, we have not just eliminated peremptory challenges, but are allowing judges to ensure that any jury will be diverse and represent the community it serves. We emphasize challenges for cause.
Does the member opposite believe, as in England, as it was done 30 years ago, that it is important that if one seeks to stand aside a juror, one has a reason for that, other than simply just the way that juror looks, and that one can enunciate that reason in front of an impartial adjudicator?
View Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-11-28 16:57 [p.24114]
Madam Speaker, I would cite the Canadian Bar Association, which has said that in the case of peremptory challenges, “they are more frequently used to the benefit of Indigenous and other racialized persons”. The Bar Association went on to say that the bill's amendments to the jury process “abolishing peremptory challenges, seem insufficiently considered. If legislative reform is required, it should be based on empirical data generated through a thorough examination of the jury system.”
Indeed, that was said before the committee. There was a lot of evidence about how this is actually going to make it less likely that juries are representative. One of the proposals was perhaps in—
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 Elizabeth May Profile
View Elizabeth May Profile
2018-11-20 13:07 [p.23603]
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to rise today at report stage of Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts. This is an omnibus bill that addresses matters related to the Criminal Code of Canada.
At first, everyone in our society who deals with major justice issues were quite pleased with what the Minister of Justice had to say. There is a clear need for reform. Unfortunately, many in the legal community and elsewhere who are calling for real reform are disappointed.
There is a great sense of disappointment. The longer we work with Bill C-75, the more the disappointment deepens. Michael Spratt, the former chair of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers' Association, has been quoted in this debate before. As he put it, “It all sounded so good. But it has all gone so wrong.”
I did attempt to make improvements to the legislation. Members of this place will know that while my status as leader of the Green Party of Canada does not allow me to sit on any committees, through the work of the PMO, first under former primer minister Stephen Harper and now under our current Prime Minister, I have what some might think of as an opportunity but I have to say it is an enormous burden that increases my workload. It is rather unfair because if it were not for what the committees have done, I could have been presenting substantive amendments here at report stage. That is my right as a member of Parliament and not of one of the three big parties. I have very few rights as a member of Parliament with one seat for the Green Party, but one of those rights was to be able to make substantive amendments at report stage. My rights have been subsumed into what, as I said, was done first by the Conservative government and now by the Liberals, to say that I have an opportunity to present amendments during clause-by-clause study at committee, although I am not a member of the committee. I do not have a right to vote, but I get a chance to speak to my amendments.
It was under that committee motion I was able to present 46 amendments. I participated vigorously in the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-75. It was a very discouraging process as very few amendments from opposition parties were accepted. Most of my amendments went directly to testimony from many witnesses who wanted to see the bill improved and I am disappointed that none of my 46 amendments made it through.
I should say that some of the worst parts of Bill C-75 were changed on the basis of government-proposed amendments. One of the ones that had worried me a great deal was the idea that in a criminal trial, evidence from the police could come in the form of a written statement without proffering the police officer in question for cross-examination. That was amended so that the prosecutors cannot use what is called routine police evidence without having someone put forward to be cross-examined. There was also the repeal of the vagrancy law and repeal of the law about keeping a common bawdy house.
However, many other sections of this bill cry out for further amendment, so at this point I want to highlight those sections that really need to be amended. We are at report stage, and third reading will come in short order. We are already under time allocation. I hope that when this bill gets to the other place, as it inevitably will, the other place will pass amendments that are needed.
It is quite clear that this bill, in some key areas, would do the opposite of what the government has promised, particularly in relation to disadvantaged people, particularly in relation to the status of indigenous peoples in our prisons, and particularly in relation to access to justice and fairness which have actually been worsened in this bill. That is not something I expected to be standing up and saying at report stage, but there it is. It is massively disappointing, and I hope that the Senate will improve it.
One of the things that was done, and I am not sure it was the best solution, but it was clearly a response to the Stanley case where it was a massive sense of a miscarriage of justice. When there is a jury, it is supposed to be a jury of the accused person's peers. If the person is an indigenous youth and his or her jury is entirely Caucasian, it is not exactly a jury of his or her peers. One of the reasons this happens is the use of peremptory challenges. Therefore, I do appreciate the effort in Bill C-75 to eliminate peremptory challenges. However, I want to go over the way in which this bill actually takes this backward.
The effort here of course, as many other hon. members have pointed out, is that this bill is in direct response to the Jordan decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016. In the Jordan case, the delays were so profound that the case could not proceed. Therefore, I think it is very clear that all Canadians feel the same sense of concern with the new trial timelines of 18 months for provincial courts and 30 months for superior court. No one wants people to be freed, who at this point still have the presumption of innocence, because they have not gone through their court case. If the evidence is good enough, the prosecutors bring those people forward. The idea that they are just let out of jail because the trial times and the processing of that person took too long offends our sense of justice. The Government of Canada and the Parliament of Canada were given a very quick jab toward justice by the Supreme Court of Canada. However, have we got it right?
In an effort to speed up trials, I will mention one thing first, which is the issue of eliminating preliminary inquiries. There was a great deal of evidence before our committee that the Government of Canada and the justice department did not have good data to tell us that preliminary inquiries were a source of great delay.
I want to quote from one of the legal experts. Bill Trudell is the current chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. He described preliminary inquiries like this, “They're like X-rays before an operation”. That is a very useful thing to have. They do not happen all the time, but when we remove them without good evidence as to why we are removing them, we could end up having innocent people convicted. In fact, Bill Trudell said that as difficult as it was for him to say, he thinks more innocent people will be convicted because we have taken out preliminary inquiries without quite having the evidence that that was a good thing to do to speed up trials.
We have heard a lot from my friends in the Conservative caucus about the question of hybridization. We have the problem that, having changed the range of sentencing, the effect of Bill C-75 is to also increase the sentencing for a summary conviction from six months to two years.
The Liberals have also added in Bill C-75 provisions about the use of agents that I do not think were thoroughly thought through. To give a better sense of agents, and this goes to the question of access to justice, suppose people are not quite poor enough to get a legal aid lawyer but are trying to navigate the legal system and they cannot afford a lawyer. In many of those cases, for a very long time, criminal defendants have had the benefit, particularly if they are low income, of law school clinics, which are young lawyers in training. They are student lawyers working as a clinic to provide legal services to people charged with lesser offences. It is too late to amend as here we are at report stage. I hope the other place will amend this to ensure access to legal aid clinics out of law schools in order to help marginalized groups navigating the legal system. I think this is an unintended consequence. I am certain that people in the Department of Justice did not ponder this and say that one of the problems is too many poor people are getting help from law students. That was not a problem that wanted solving, that was a very good and ongoing process that has been recklessly compromised in this bill. I have to hope that when it gets to the other place, we can fix this and make sure that in the definition of “agents” we exclude law students and law schools running clinics.
There are other aspects of this bill where the Liberals have just failed altogether to deal with the issue of the disproportionate number of indigenous people behind bars. They have taken in some aspects, in taking things into account. However, one of my amendments, that I really regret was not accepted, was we have no definition of “vulnerable populations”, and a lot of the evidence that came before the justice committee suggested we need such a definition. I tried one and it failed. Maybe the other place can try again. I hope that Bill C-75 will see more improvement in the other place before it becomes law.
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 Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-11-20 13:43 [p.23608]
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley spoke a lot about jury reform and the elimination of peremptory challenges. This is something we on this side took very seriously and were open to at committee. We heard from various witnesses. The member cited Professor Roach.
I would also note that uniformly, every member of the defence bar who appeared before our committee told us not to eliminate peremptory challenges. In that regard, I would quote Solomon Friedman, a criminal defence lawyer in Ottawa. He said:
Given the overrepresentation of aboriginal persons and racialized minorities as accused in our criminal justice system, at present the peremptory challenge is often the only tool counsel can use in order to ensure that the jury, even in some small way, is representative of the accused.
Michael Spratt, a past board member of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, was very outspoken in his opposition.
I am wondering if the hon. member could comment, given the uniform opposition from the criminal defence bar.
View Doug Eyolfson Profile
Lib. (MB)
Mr. Speaker, it is correct that there are many members of the defence lawyers community that have made this assumption. However, we have a system right now that drastically under-represents aboriginal people and racialized people in our jury system. The system we have had up until now does not work, and this legislation would be a valuable means of helping to correct this imbalance.
View Michael Cooper Profile
View Michael Cooper Profile
2018-11-20 16:55 [p.23637]
Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul also touched upon the issue of peremptory challenges. This is something we took very seriously in terms of considering their abolition. Unanimously, before the justice committee, the criminal defence bar said that peremptory challenges were absolutely essential in order to ensure a fair trial.
In that regard, I would draw the hon. member's attention to the comments of Richard Fowler of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, who stated before the committee, “I will just say, as an aside, that the abolition of peremptory challenges is a huge mistake. I've selected over 100 juries, and I've never seen it misused. It's necessary.”
Another lawyer, Solomon Friedman, indicated that it was essential to ensure that juries are representative of the broader population.
Could the hon. member address those points?
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
2018-11-20 16:56 [p.23637]
Mr. Speaker, I would be glad to do so.
We remember cases in Canada where the jury did not reflect the local population. We heard from many people that there was a question of fairness and justice. Removing the peremptory challenge would, for example, limit the ability of a defence attorney to remove individuals based on something quite superficial. It might also limit the ability of the jury to be as reflective of the community as we would hope.
We want to ensure that there is representation from all of the ethnic groups in our local communities, and that the justice system is fair and open for all.
View Lloyd Longfield Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Lloyd Longfield Profile
2018-11-20 17:11 [p.23639]
Mr. Speaker, the member mentioned delays, moving away from the peremptory challenges which caused a lot of delays in our system and going toward the set aside provisions in the current proposed legislation to streamline the jury selection process, give control to the judges to make sure we have diversity. Could the hon. member talk about how that could improve our efficiency in the court system going forward?
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
2018-11-20 17:11 [p.23639]
Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that the outcomes we see, the numbers we see year after year from the Office of the Correctional Investigator, should trouble all Canadians. They should really raise questions as to why certain provisions and practices exist and how they affect racialized people. It is very clear that peremptory challenge is one of those issues where we have seen some serious miscarriages of justice over the years. It is a very important step in Bill C-75 that would address a major concern of many victimized communities that have been seeking justice.
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