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View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I would normally say that I am happy to rise to speak on a bill such as this because it is a fairly simple bill. We have a rule against exposing deliberations of jurors for very good reasons: to make sure those decisions are final, to make sure there is no harassment of jurors and to preserve the rights and integrity of that deliberation process.
Bill S-206 would create a very narrow exception. It would allow those who have suffered post-traumatic stress and other mental health challenges as a result of serving on juries to disclose details of that experience to mental health professionals. It is a simple bill, one that is very necessary.
I want to take a moment to thank the former jurors who have spoken out on this issue, and in particular Mark Farrant for the work he has put into bringing this to the attention of those of us in the House.
Why am I not happy? Well, I am not happy because sometimes when we agree on something that needs to be done and agree that it is a good thing, and we do all agree, it seems to take us a very long time to get the job done.
There was a study at the justice committee, with a unanimous report tabled in 2018. All parties supported taking this kind of action and other actions to support former jurors. This was then introduced as a private member's bill in October 2018 by the member for St. Albert—Edmonton. It passed the House on April 12, 2019, with all-party support in the 42nd Parliament. Here we are, two Parliaments later, and we have not gotten this job done.
That is the reason I am not really pleased to be standing to speak to this bill today. In fact, I had hoped we might actually finish with this bill today, because if no one stands to ask for a recorded vote, this would be done. I know there are those who believe there are good reasons to have a recorded vote, and I will be happy to see the virtually unanimous support that I expect in this House for the bill. However, I have to say that what I really believe is that we need to get on with this and get it done. Let us not delay further former jurors who have suffered mental health challenges from being able to seek the professional help they need and deserve as a result of doing their civic duty.
I am proud to support this bill. I urge us all to finish with it as quickly as we can.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, it is both a great honour and a sad responsibility to stand in the House today, on behalf of the people of Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, to pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in this special commemorative session. For me, today is another one of those moments that so many of us never imagined being part of. I think we are all still in a bit of shock, because despite her advanced age, we really had not begun to think about or contemplate a world without the only head of state that most of us have known our whole lives.
It is an inspiring reminder of just how long and in how many ways the Queen served all of us to note that not only was she our longest serving monarch, but Queen Elizabeth was among the dwindling group of veterans who proudly served in World War II. In early 1945, as a young woman of 19, she joined the British Auxiliary Territorial Service, becoming the first female member of the royal family on active duty, where she served in non-traditional roles in learning how to drive and maintain vehicles, an interest she maintained for the rest of her life.
When we think of her long reign, it is important to remember that her accession to the throne really was doubly unexpected. In 1936, the unexpected abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, made her heir to the throne at age 11. Then, the early and equally unexpected death of her father, King George VI, in 1952, thrust her into the role of Queen at the age of 26.
However, Queen Elizabeth seemed to have intuitively understood from the beginning that the role of constitutional monarch requires a broad knowledge and a depth of understanding of both politics and world affairs in order to carry out the role of Queen effectively. She worked very hard at making sure that she was fulfilling that role in the best way she could. She knew that although her powers were in fact very few, they remained very significant.
I apologize here for still being a recovering political scientist even after 11 years in the House, but I do think that an understanding of the role of constitutional monarch is important to understanding just how good a queen Queen Elizabeth II was.
By the 1860s, British constitutional scholar Walter Bagehot famously asserted that only three rights remained to the British sovereign: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn, a clear statement of the line between governing and reigning in a constitutional monarchy. While the Queen could exercise those rights in private, other important functions of the monarchy always required that those rights be exercised only in private. Those other important functions are to serve as a guarantee of constitutional government, to guarantee continuity of government and to provide a symbol of national unity above politics.
It was the passage of the Statute of Westminster by the U.K. Parliament in 1931 that created a separate Canadian monarchy in law. This act also clarified that the Canadian Governor General was the direct representative of the sovereign and not the U.K. government. At the same time, it confirmed the well-established precedent that the few reserve powers of the monarchy, those largely revolving around the appointment and dismissal of prime ministers, could only be discharged by the Canadian Governor General and not the Crown. What was left to British monarchs, now established legally as our Canadian monarchs? It was almost nothing, except, again, guaranteeing constitutional government, guaranteeing continuity and guaranteeing national unity.
While some have trouble seeing a monarch as a symbol of continuity and of the state and unity, personally, I see this concept as providing a key advantage by separating the concept of loyalty from politics. There are other solutions to this problem, but none are so simple and reliable as a constitutional monarchy. That is why there are so many constitutional monarchs among the great democracies of the world, not just Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and other members of the Commonwealth, but also Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Norway and Japan.
Today, we need to remind ourselves how much Queen Elizabeth II has come to represent the model constitutional monarch and exemplify the strengths of constitutional monarchy. In our system, the fact that loyalty is expressed toward the Crown protects us from the worst ravages of civil discord. Our oaths are sworn to the Crown and not to the politicians of the day. This means, as some of us like to point out, that everyone can feel free to oppose the Prime Minister without having our loyalty to Canada being questioned. We have seen the dangers of unifying symbolic and political roles in a single person and how that is still playing out in our neighbour to the south.
Queen Elizabeth's long life has caused many to take for granted a second strength of constitutional monarchy, which is continuity. She saw 12 Canadian prime ministers, from Louis St. Laurent to our current Prime Minister, 12 B.C. premiers, from W.A.C. Bennett to John Horgan, and countless other provincial premiers come and go. It is not a surprise given that she served Canada for nearly half of our time as an independent country.
When a constitutional monarch dies, there is no doubt about the continuity of the institution, as their heirs automatically assume the throne. When prime ministers leave office, in turn the constitutional monarchy guarantees there will be someone there to make sure the job is filled.
At this point, I want to acknowledge that the symbol of the Crown has differing meanings for first nations in this country, and I express my respect for those who have different understandings of the role and responsibilities of the sovereign as they relate to first nations. I acknowledge that this understandably results in differing and diverse reactions to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II among first nations.
Now, after my long digression on the role of the monarchy, let me return to the long reign of Queen Elizabeth in less theoretical terms.
She did this job with incredible grace and dignity, in good times and bad, and always under the relentless scrutiny of the press and public. However, somehow, despite the limitations inherent in her role, Queen Elizabeth still managed to let the person she was shine through. I am going to recount two stories that illustrate this for me, although neither is my own story. I trust the owners will not mind, as they have told these stories publicly before.
A few days ago, Dmitriy Shapiro reminded us of the story of the Queen's meeting with Holocaust survivors at the 60th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz in 2005, as recounted by late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks wrote about the Queen's attendance where she met with Holocaust survivors, and while protocol and scheduling normally kept the Queen to a very tight schedule, with the Queen usually being ushered away promptly by her staff at the end of her appearance, on this occasion Queen Elizabeth refused to leave. She remained, speaking individually to members of the large group who had gathered. One of her attendants told Rabbi Sacks that they had never seen her stay so long after a scheduled departure. Let me quote Rabbi Sacks:
She gave each survivor—it was a large group—her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story. It was an act of kindness that almost had me in tears. One after another, the survivors came to me in a kind of trance, saying: “Sixty years ago I did not know if I would be alive tomorrow, and here I am today talking to the queen.” It brought a kind of blessed closure into deeply lacerated lives.
My second story, more brief, demonstrates the Queen's compassion. It has been told by Catherine Clark, who was stuck, as a 10-year-old, at a reception of a Commonwealth heads of government meeting. When she said she wanted to leave, she was told that no one could leave before the Queen, so she waited by the door. A short time later, the Queen came by and asked why she was still at the reception after all this time. Catherine told the Queen that she was waiting for her to leave first, to which the Queen responded, “Well, let’s go then, shall we?” Then she took her hand and off they went.
There are so many more stories of this kind, stories of her kindness and genuine interest in the ordinary people she served. She has touched so many individuals and families. Even in my own family, my uncle, John Garrison, now in his eighties, still likes to recount the story of serving as part of an honour guard when Queen Elizabeth placed a wreath at the Canadian cross on a visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington in 1957. He recalls standing along the red carpet when she passed, close enough to reach out and touch her, although he says with a glint in his eye, “Even at a young age I understood that things wouldn't go well for me if I actually did that.”
My own experiences with the Queen were always at a greater distance, including being on the streets of Ottawa in 1983 when the Queen came to preside over the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution and in 1994 when she came to the Commonwealth Games in Victoria. On those occasions, I saw the genuine affection for the Queen first-hand.
My closest personal connection to Queen Elizabeth came at the time of her Diamond Jubilee. One way the Queen chose to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee was by awarding medals for community service, which is so fitting for a monarch whose whole life was one of exemplary service. It was a great honour as a member of Parliament to award those medals in my riding on her behalf, and it meant so much to the recipients.
Queen Elizabeth's love for Canada was shown by her many visits: 22 as a sovereign in total, I am told, including seven visits to British Columbia, with stops on Vancouver Island each time. Some stops in my riding are well documented, including her visits to review cadets at what was then the Royal Roads Military College in 1951 and 1983, showcasing the close connection the royal family has always had with the Canadian Forces.
As well in 1983, the Queen unveiled a plaque at Craigflower school in my riding to commemorate it as the oldest school building still standing in western Canada.
Of course, some of her visits had greater significance, including the 1971 visit marking the 100th anniversary of British Columbia joining Confederation, the 1994 opening of the Commonwealth Games, and probably the most Canadian thing Her Majesty ever did, which was to drop the puck at a National Hockey League exhibition game between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks in 2002.
What stands out to me in all those visits was the obvious care and attention shown to all those the Queen and other members of the royal family met. This care and attention given to all kinds of Canadians has set a powerful message of belonging and inclusion. In doing so, the Queen set a precedent that will long survive her, a precedent I have recently seen Prince William and Prince Harry follow in carrying on the legacy of Princess Diana in embracing the 2SLGBTQI+ community.
As my time draws to a close, let me extend my personal condolences, along with those of my constituents, to the royal family in this time of great personal loss, of a mother, a grandmother and a great-grandmother.
Let me also say that I, like many, find it hard to imagine a Canada and indeed a world without the Queen. However, in our political tradition, where precedent plays such a great role, I am confident the Queen has left us with clear guidance on how to preserve a democratic government and how to promote unity and inclusion. She has given us a powerful example of a life of service, one lived with enormous dignity and grace.
Farewell, Queen Elizabeth II. May she rest in peace.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I want to thank the minister for his openness and co-operation in working with other parties to address this issue.
I wonder if he shares with me a concern I have. A confusion of simple intoxication with extreme intoxication has been inserted into the public discourse, in particular online. I guess what I hope we can do tonight is somehow address the fact that in this country, simple intoxication has never been and never will be a defence against violent criminal acts.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I know the member shares the same concern we have as New Democrats: This is only one part of attacking violence against women. Does she share with me the concern that the justice committee has twice recommended to the House that the government act to make coercive and controlling behaviour an offence in the Criminal Code? We know that coercive and controlling behaviour contributes directly to violence. Does she share my concern about the sloth with which the government is approaching that recommendation?
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking tonight on Bill C-28, though perhaps not to be speaking at this hour, but I am glad to see Parliament acting quickly in response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Brown, which found section 33.1 of the Criminal Code, prohibiting the use of the extreme intoxication defence, unconstitutional. That was on May 13 of this year, only some five weeks ago.
It is important to note that the Supreme Court found section 33.1 violated the charter, both section 7, which provides protection for life, liberty and security of the person, and section 11(d), which protects the presumption of innocence. It is also important to note that our legal system has gone back and forth over time on the legality of using extreme intoxication as a defence in crimes requiring an element of intent.
The Supreme Court of Canada, before the charter, in 1978, in a case called R. v. Leary, said it never could be used as a defence in those kinds of cases. However, after the charter was established in 1994, in a case called R. v. Daviault, the Supreme Court overruled what I guess we could call the previous common law rule and restored the possibility of using extreme intoxication as a defence, finding that the prohibition violated the charter.
The details of the Daviault case were particularly horrible, which other members recounted earlier, and they actually caused Parliament to act fairly quickly in 1995 to restore the prohibition on the use of extreme intoxication as a defence by inserting section 33.1 of the Criminal Code. That is the section the Supreme Court now has said is unconstitutional once again.
I want to stop here and remind everyone that simple intoxication has never been a defence in Canada for crimes of violence of any sort, including sexual assault, and nothing about the current Supreme Court decision or about Bill C-28 changes that. Simple intoxication is not a criminal defence in this country, but there has been a great deal of misinformation, particularly online, that has misled people into thinking that somehow simply being drunk is a defence in criminal law in Canada.
We have to remember that extreme intoxication is a very specific and limited circumstance, a specific circumstance where impairment is so severe that people have no control over their bodies, their minds have no control over their bodies or, in common language, they are unconscious about what they are doing. Even though these cases are rare, like other members who have spoken before me, I am glad to see us acting quickly to restrict the possibility of anyone being able to escape responsibility for their actions by using the extreme intoxication defence and avoiding responsibility, therefore, for the harms that they have caused others.
Many groups have urged us to act quickly, but I acknowledge that there are some others who are concerned that we risk not getting it exactly right by moving too quickly. That is why I am glad to see that the motion we are dealing with tonight has a provision in it for hearings at the justice committee in the fall. It is unusual for us to conduct hearings on a law so soon after passing it, but I think it gives us a chance to review what we are doing here tonight to see if we have in fact had unforeseen problems or to see if in fact there is more that we need to do. That is why I am confident with us moving ahead tonight because we will do that review in the fall.
The Supreme Court of Canada itself pointed out a couple of options available to us as parliamentarians to restrict the possible use of an extreme intoxication defence while still respecting the charter. I believe that Bill C-28 does this well, in ways that would effectively re-establish the principle that in almost all cases, extreme intoxication is no defence.
How would Bill C-28 do this? It would do it in two ways. In order to make a claim of extreme intoxication, defendants will have to provide expert evidence in their own cases that their intoxication was so severe as to amount to what in law is called automatism. This is a well-known legal concept and a specific state already defined in law that the mind is not in control of the body. Therefore, defendants have to present evidence in their own cases, not that it is possible that they were extremely intoxicated and not just claiming that they were extremely intoxicated, but that they were, according to expert evidence presented, in a state of extreme intoxication. That evidence, of course, will have to be presented in court and can be tested in court.
The second way in which Bill C-28 would make it difficult to use this defence is that the prosecution would be able to argue that even if the accused has proved that they were in a state of extreme intoxication, they failed on the standard of criminal negligence because they failed to take the measures a reasonable person would have taken to avoid causing harm.
If a person takes intoxicants or combines prescription drugs and illegal drugs or combines alcohol and magic mushrooms or whatever it is that the accused was doing, and if they, as a reasonable person, should have known the possibility of losing control and the possibility of violence, then they should have taken measures to limit that possibility, and if they did not, then they could not use this defence.
My summary, in plain language, is that the Supreme Court of Canada cracked open the door on the use of extreme intoxication defence, and what we are doing with Bill C-28 is shutting that door as far as possible while still being consistent with the Charter of Rights.
The Minister of Justice has presented a charter statement for Bill C-28 that certifies that Bill C-28 is in fact charter compliant and consistent with the decision of the Supreme Court in R. v. Brown. I have no reason to doubt the content of that charter statement.
As likely the last speaker on Bill C-28 tonight before we adopt it, I do not want to risk going on at too great a length, but let me say that after a House sometimes has had a bad reputation with the public for being overly partisan and polarized and unable to look after the public good, I believe we are demonstrating something different here tonight.
Through the confidence and supply agreement between the Liberals and New Democrats, I believe we have already demonstrated that in a minority Parliament we can co-operate and work together to get things done, but Bill C-28 demonstrates an even broader ability of parliamentarians from all parties to come together co-operatively and to act swiftly in the public interest. That is what we will be doing tonight when we pass Bill C-28 a little over a month after a Supreme Court decision that cracked that door open to escaping responsibility for violent acts by claiming extreme intoxication.
What we are doing tonight is once again, as I said, making that a remote possibility. We are making it the remote possibility that it should be.
I hope we come across other opportunities in this Parliament to have the same zeal for working together. One of those opportunities is on the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour, and there is a link here because we are talking about violence primarily against women.
Twice the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has recommended to the House that the government introduce legislation to make coercive and controlling behaviour a criminal offence. Such legislation would recognize that coercive and controlling behaviour is in itself a form of violence, but it would also recognize that it is very often a precursor to physical violence.
As I said, twice now the justice committee has recommended this to the House, and I hope we will find an opportunity to get the same all-party agreement and the same ability to move forward on that piece of legislation as well.
In conclusion, sometimes I am very proud to be a part of this Parliament, and tonight, on Bill C-28, is one of those nights.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I want to state again, as I have many times, that the hon. member for Fundy Royal and I have a good working relationship, despite the fact there are many things we might not agree on. Sometimes there is common ground, as there is tonight.
Certainly I agree with him. Though it was not our idea and I believe it may have been his idea, the motion we are dealing with would order the justice committee to conduct such hearings in the fall. As I said in my speech, it will give us the opportunity to see whether we have done the right thing and whether there is more we can do on the issue of violence against women through extreme intoxication.
Absolutely, the answer is yes.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, my experience is the same as what the minister and others have expressed, which is that the vast majority of people I have heard from in this short period of time, especially ordinary citizens, would like to see us move very quickly to close this possible loophole. The majority of organizations that are more active in legal reform have also said they think this bill accomplishes what we need to do.
As I said in my speech, there are some, but only a few I have heard from in the past few days, that think that we could do more or that we could make closing the door even tighter. I am not sure they are correct about that, given the Supreme Court decision, but I am certainly willing to hear from them in the hearings we will conduct this fall.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, in justice, when talking about a number of issues, there is always an area where we need to do more. That is the issue of violence against women. We have heard the Liberal government talk about its action plan for quite a long time now, and I think most of us are ready to see that plan and would like to make sure there is actually action in the action plan.
As I mentioned toward the end of my speech, the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour is a form of violence, but it also usually leads to physical violence eventually. We have had all-party agreement at the justice committee; we achieved that twice. We have held hearings at the justice committee. I express my hope, and I do it again, that sometime very soon in this Parliament we will get the same all-party agreement to move quickly on that issue as well.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I was glad to hear the member say that the Bloc is supporting the red flag laws, which would allow for the removal of firearms from homes, because we know that, in this country, there are about 10 intimate partner violence incidents a week involving firearms.
Would he agree with me that is one of the reasons for urgency in getting this bill through Parliament? Despite other concerns we have about the bill, I think it is very important that we do something to help remove firearms from homes with intimate partner violence.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Madam Speaker, I will turn to the substance of Bill C-9 in a moment, but first I want to talk about how we got here, a process that for me illustrates disarray on the government's side in this 44th Parliament. Some days it still seems almost as if the Liberals really did not expect to have to govern after the last election.
Certainly, the bill was essentially ready to go well before the pandemic hit. For unknown reasons, the government decided to have it introduced in the Senate on May 25, 2020, as Bill S-5, and it died there when the unnecessary 2021 election was called. Then it was reintroduced by the government leader in the Senate as Bill S-3 on December 1, 2021. After a dispute over whether the bill could actually be introduced in the Senate as it would require a royal recommendation to allow expenditures by the Judicial Council under the bill, the bill was withdrawn from the Senate on December 15, 2021, and reintroduced as a government bill, Bill C-9, in the House on December 16, 2021, if members can follow that bouncing ball.
Despite the disarray on the government side, the bill still seemed to be a priority for the Liberal government as it was included in the December 2021 mandate letter for the Minister of Justice. There, the Prime Minister directed that the Minister of Justice, “Secure support for the swift passage of reforms to the judicial conduct process in the Judges Act to ensure the process is fair, effective and efficient so as to foster greater confidence in the judicial system.”
That's fair enough, and no doubt there is important work for us to do on improving the process by which complaints against federal judges are handled. However, here we come to the question of priorities of the Liberals and their effectiveness when it comes to addressing, in a timely manner, the pressing crises in our justice system and, of course, the question of the persistent obstructionism of the Conservatives, as the official opposition, in this sitting of Parliament.
While I remain disappointed that the government chose to ensure the defeat of private member's Bill C-216 from the member for Courtenay—Alberni, which would have decriminalized personal possession of small amounts of drugs, we have made some progress on the opioid crisis. Pushed into action by the impending vote on the private member's bill, the Liberals, after months of delay, finally granted an interim exemption to the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for British Columbia, in effect decriminalizing personal possession for small amounts of drugs for the next three years.
That's a good thing, yes, but it only raises the question of why wait another six months. This delay seems likely to ensure that 2022 will eclipse the appalling record set in 2021 in British Columbia for the greatest number of overdose deaths in B.C. Also, why only British Columbia? The epidemic of deaths from toxic drug supply continues unabated across the country and in all corners of the country, both urban and rural. Passing Bill C-216 would have allowed us to begin to apply the tools we know that work right now: decriminalizing the personal possession of small amounts of drugs and guaranteeing a safe supply of drugs for those suffering from addictions. Bill C-216 would have brought a permanent change to the law to guarantee that addiction is dealt with as a health matter and not a criminal matter.
The crisis that demands urgent action is, of course, systemic racism in our criminal justice system. The most prominent evidence of the reality of this crisis is the over-incarceration of indigenous and Black Canadians in this country. All members by now are familiar with the shocking facts that indigenous people are more than six times as likely as other Canadians to end up incarcerated and that Black Canadians are more than twice as likely. Most shocking I think to all of us is the fact that indigenous women make up 50% of women incarcerated in federal institutions when they are less than 5% of the population.
Of course, injustice does not end with incarceration, as there is the legacy of the resulting criminal record. Not only have indigenous and racialized Canadians been disproportionately targeted for investigation, prosecution, fining or imprisonment, the most marginalized among us then end up stuck with criminal records. These are criminal records that make getting a job almost impossible, criminal records that often restrict access to affordable housing or even ordinary rental housing because of criminal record checks, criminal records that make volunteering with kids and seniors impossible, criminal records that restrict travel and criminal records that even make it difficult to get a bank loan or a mortgage.
The good news is that we have taken some steps to address the systemic racism in our court system with the passage of Bill C-5 yesterday. As soon as the Senate acts, we will see the elimination of 20 mandatory minimum penalties, most importantly those in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which fell very heavily on indigenous and racialized Canadians and have been a major contributor to over-incarceration.
Again, we would have liked to see bolder action here with the expansion of the existing Gladue principles to give judges discretion to waive all remaining mandatory minimums when it would be unjust to impose them on indigenous or racialized Canadians due to their circumstances. Unfortunately, this was not in the bill. One may ask why I am going on so long about this. It is judges' discretion that will make a big difference, so people have to have confidence in the judiciary.
Despite the public image that we never co-operate in Parliament, we had good co-operation in the justice committee. That co-operation allowed the passage of my amendment to Bill C-5, which will see the elimination of criminal records for personal possession of drugs within two years through a process called sequestration. What this means in practice is that these records will no longer show up in criminal record checks.
Today, we are moving on to debate Bill C-9 and finally, some members may say, I am coming to the substance of this bill. This is a bill to reform the process for handling complaints against federal judges. As I said, it is important in our system to maintain public confidence in those judges. Is this a crisis? Clearly it is not. Is it as urgent as decriminalizing drugs or removing systemic racism in our justice system? Clearly it is not. Is this as important? I would argue that in fact it is, because trust in the integrity of our justice system is integral to the fate of our democracy, especially in these trying times. We have to have faith in the integrity of the justice system and that means in the judges themselves, so we have to do better when it comes to holding the judiciary accountable, but we have to do so in ways that respect their fundamental independence and protect the system against government and political interference.
Bill C-9 suggests ways in which we can do this and, as I mentioned at the outset, measures have been ready to go on this for a very long time. Can we do better on holding judges accountable? Yes, we can, but it took well over two years for the government to get this bill before the House today and many of the ideas in it were first proposed in Canadian Bar Association reports as early as 2014. Some appeared in private members' bills tabled in the House as early as 2017, so it is past time to get to work on this bill.
Let me distinguish just for a moment what we are actually talking about. We are not talking about mistakes in law that occur from time to time in the federal courts. There is a clear remedy for these kinds of mistakes, and it is the appeal process. Instead, we are talking about the failure of federally appointed judges to meet the high standards that have been set for them and that we naturally should demand of them. That is either when it comes to personal conduct or to maintaining impartiality on the bench.
I should say from the outset that the Canadian record is remarkably good when it comes to cases of serious misconduct warranting removal from the bench. In the history of Canada, the Canadian Judicial Council has recommended removal for only five federally appointed judges. Four of those resigned before Parliament could deal with their cases, and the fifth before Parliament could act on the case. Whether these judges resigned before being removed solely to protect their pensions, which has been alleged, or simply to avoid the stigma of being the first federal judge ever removed by Parliament, I leave for others to judge.
Leaving the process in the hands of judges themselves is probably necessary, as this is both a key and crucial feature of our current system. It is the one that guarantees governments cannot influence the decisions of judges by threatening to remove them from office. Complaints about federally appointed judges are handled by the Canadian Judicial Council, which is made up of the 41 chief justices and associate chief justices of federally appointed courts.
The Canadian Judicial Council is chaired by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who appoints a committee to examine complaints. If a complaint is initially found to have merit, a three-judge panel examines the complaint and either decides to dismiss it, to recommend no further action because the misconduct does not warrant removal from the bench, or to hold a public inquiry. Again, this is relatively rare, with only 14 inquiries held over the past 40 years.
If there was an inquiry, the committee would then forward its findings to the full Judicial Council, along with a recommendation on the possible removal. If removal is recommended, the judge has the right to appeal to an appeals panel and, if needed, further appeal beyond that. The Supreme Court of Canada can choose to hear the appeal directly, but the current process is that the case would be heard at the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal before the Supreme Court of Canada could hear the case. This seems unnecessarily complicated and provoking of unnecessary delay. Bill C-9 would address the problem, but while the current system does work in the most serious cases of judicial behaviour, the process is long and drawn out.
Bill C-9 would also address the major gap in the current process, which is that it has proved largely ineffective in dealing with cases of misbehaviour that would not be serious enough to warrant removal from the bench. This is the fact: There is only one possible remedy in the current process, which is removal from the bench. Serious misbehaviour, though rare, is not hard to spot as it always involves law-breaking by the judge concerned or outright corruption.
Less serious complaints about misbehaviour are almost always about the question of impartiality. What would an example be of this less serious misbehaviour? A case in Saskatchewan in 2021 is a case in point. Five complaints were received about a judge who appeared in pictures with a group indirectly connected to a case on which, though he had finished hearings, he had not yet delivered judgment.
The judge in this case agreed this was a serious error on his part and that it could reflect negatively on perceptions about his impartiality in the case before him. The complaints did not proceed, as almost no one thought the judge should be removed and he had promised it would never happen again. Under the current provisions, no action could have been taken, if the judge had disputed the allegations, other than to recommend his removal from the bench for appearing in a photograph.
Bill C-9 would allow for additional remedial options other than the current sole option of recommending removal. The bill proposes the referral of complaints to a three-judge review panel, which might find removal to be warranted, and then the review panel could refer the complaint to a larger five-judge hearing panel. At the review stage, however, the review panel could still dismiss the complaint or impose remedies other than removal.
What would Canadians get out of these changes? Most importantly, they would get confidence in the judiciary that would be better maintained by having a process that was both more timely and could deal more effectively with less serious complaints. This should help prevent the judicial system from falling into disrepute and help preserve the very important trust in the impartiality of the judiciary.
Bill C-9 might actually save some taxpayer money on cases involving allegations of misconduct by federal judges, as the current process can stretch out for years. Cases involving serious misconduct now often take up to four years to resolve. Bill C-9 would expedite that process by removing the two levels of court appeals that I mentioned.
At the same time, there also may be an increase in costs for dealing with less serious allegations as there would be more options available that are currently dismissed early in the process. The benefit here is that less serious cases would no longer simply be dismissed, and instead sanctions for remedies would be possible.
In the end, and after hearing debate today, I believe Bill C-9 should prove to be relatively uncontentious. The Canadian Bar Association was part of the consultations that were held by the judicial council when Senate Bill S-5 was being drafted in the previous Parliament. There was a broader consultation that dealt with measures to clarify expectations on what constitutes “good behaviour” for federal judges that are largely set in regulations. Bill C-9 simply reforms the process for dealing with judges who fail to meet those standards.
Bill C-9 would also require more transparency with regard to how complaints are handled. The Canadian Judicial Council is responsible for administering this process, and Bill C-9 would require the council to include the number of complaints it received and how they were resolved in its annual public report.
In conclusion, New Democrats support modernizing the process for complaints against federally appointed judges, and we support adding alternative remedial options behind the current sole option of removal from the bench. The bill would allow for varied sanctions such as counselling, continuing education and other reprimands. New Democrats are supportive of streamlining and updating the process to handle complaints against federally appointed judges. This process has not been updated for 50 years. It is time for a modern complaint system for a modernized judiciary, and one that will help increase public confidence in federal judges.
The bill provides an opportunity for parties to work together to get an important reform in place, as it is yet another example of things that did not get done earlier because of the unnecessary 2021 election. We should get this done so that we can then turn our attention back to tackling the serious issues in our justice system that remain, and to confronting the opioid crisis that is better dealt with as a health matter than a judicial matter. I hope to see Bill C-9 advance quickly through the House and in the other place.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Hamilton Centre's dedication to ensuring that we reform the justice system to try to remove the systemic racism that exists.
As I said in my speech, Bill C-9 is important in that the public, from diverse backgrounds, has to have confidence in this system. The other things that we have talked about here, which are getting the opioid crisis out of the justice system and directly tackling the systemic racism that results in the over-incarceration of indigenous and racialized Canadians, are in crisis. We need to move further and we need to move faster in addressing those matters in our justice system than we have been able to do in this Parliament. We are making progress, but not enough and not fast enough.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I will state, as the member for Fundy Royal did, that although sometimes we disagree, we have worked very effectively together at the justice committee for some time. I expect that we will continue to do so.
He is well aware that both he and I have raised with the minister, on numerous occasions, the issue of the vacancy in the office of the ombudsman for federal victims of crime. I do think it is urgent that this spot be filled. It is a very important role in amplifying the voices of victims, and a very important role in letting us know in Parliament what the true state of affairs is when it comes to victims and our justice system. The previous federal ombudsman for victims of crime provided very useful testimony at committee many times, and I think we could have used that kind of testimony on some of the issues we are dealing with this time.
I would certainly agree with the member that this vacancy needs to be filled as soon as possible.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I think the proof is in the pudding. I think this is a good proposal. It will allow the judicial council, as I said, to deal with less serious cases of misconduct that obviously do not warrant removal from the bench, but right now we see those complaints dismissed out of hand. I do not think that serves the public well, and I do not think it serves judges well. By having a new review committee to take a look at these less serious complaints, complaints that do not necessarily involve law-breaking or corruption, we can get some other sanctions applied to help influence judges to maintain the high standards that are expected of them.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his kind words on my role on the committee.
I just want to say, before I answer the question specifically, that the removal of criminal records for personal possession potentially affects 250,000 Canadians, so this would have a big impact. If we are worried about public safety, we need to make sure that those who have come in conflict with the law have every opportunity to reintegrate themselves into society, to support their families and to get things back on track. Bill C-5 would help do that.
With respect to Bill C-9, I have been frustrated, I would say, for almost five years now because we have not simply gotten this done. I think there is agreement, and like the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, I would recommend to House leaders that we find a way to move this bill forward very quickly.
View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I share the hon. member's concerns about activities undertaken by former members of the judiciary, but we have a thorny problem there in that when former judges resume their private lives, it is hard to imagine how we can impose standards upon them that are different from what we expect of others. I think it is a matter worthy of investigation and worthy of consultation broadly in society and in the legal and judicial community to find a solution to this problem.
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