Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, colleagues. It's a pleasure to be before you to discuss, as noted by the chair, the main estimates for the Department of Justice.
This is my 56th appearance before a standing committee as a government minister. Joining me today are the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general, William Pentney; the associate deputy minister, Pierre Legault; and senior assistant deputy minister of policy, Donald Piragoff; all of whom have extensive experience before committees as well and certainly within this department.
Mr. Chair and colleagues, in my role as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, I'm responsible for ensuring that our justice system remains fair, relevant, and accessible to Canadians. It also involves, of course, overseeing a significant budget, with an eye to fiscal prudence and respect for taxpayers.
The Government of Canada introduced measures in connection with several criminal justice priorities. Our objective is to to make our streets and communities safer, and ensure that our justice system continues to bolster the safety of Canadians through our criminal justice laws, policies and programs.
Among them, Mr. Chair, we are pleased to announce that the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act has come into force. This law takes effect very soon and deals specifically with law enforcement online. This is a bill with which you and members of this committee are very familiar. I thank you for your work in this regard.
We've seen increased activity with regard to the subject of cyberbullying, which has had a devastating impact on many young people in Canada, affecting their reputations, their self-esteem, and their mental health. Also, it has directly contributed to the unfortunate decision that a number of young people have taken to end their own lives, young people like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, Todd Loik, and countless others, which is why the government acted to protect young people from malicious online behaviour, such as posting intimate images on the Internet, and the insidious and relentless harassment that often follows.
This is coupled with outreach efforts that are ongoing, and with education and the involvement of many people and organizations—such as the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in Winnipeg—which have directly contributed to the assistance of young people who are feeling cornered, hopeless, and in some cases desperate. Things such as GetHelpNow.ca and Cybertip.ca are areas in which young people are able to access information about how to remove offending material.
The Government of Canada also understands that Canadians expect their justice system to keep them safe, and we are committed to protecting Canadians from individuals who may pose a high risk to public safety. It's an obligation and a responsibility that we take very seriously.
Obviously, the evolving threat of terrorism is one those most troubling threats. In response to this risk, we introduced a bill earlier this year, which again is a bill you're familiar with, Bill C-51, to strengthen our existing anti-terrorism laws to ensure that they continue to respond appropriately to all forms of terrorism.
As you know, the bill is currently before the Senate. Among other things, such as enabling police to be more proactive in identifying radicalization and acting accordingly, this bill will fill a current gap in the Criminal Code by creating a new Criminal Code offence criminalizing the advocacy and promotion of terrorism, including those that would encourage attacks on Canadians.
Protecting victims of crime is another area in which we have been very active, as has this committee. We are moving to provide a more effective voice in our justice system as a key priority for our government. Victims of crime deserve to be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect.
Mr. Chair, to that end, we introduced the Victims Bill of Rights. It received royal assent last month. This legislation enables the rights of victims of crime at a federal level and establishes statutory rights to information, protection, participation, and in some cases restitution. It also ensures that there is a complaint process to deal with breaches of those rights.
Again, I could mention others that this committee has been seized with, including Quanto's law, tougher penalties for child predators, and several other bills, for which I again express my appreciation for the diligence of this committee.
Mr. Chair, the Department of Justice is estimating net budgetary expenditures of $673.9 million in the year 2015-16, which is a net spending increase of $43.3 million from the 2014-15 main estimates. The net increase in spending illustrates the Government of Canada's commitment to maintaining, as mentioned, the integrity and the importance of our justice system in terms of accessibility to it through programs and personnel.
Mr. Chair, one especially important area of increased spending, totalling $1.9 million, represents the funding in support of non-legislative measures to address prostitution. In 2014, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act came into force. This uniquely Canadian model was informed by the results of government consultations, public consultations, on the subject of prostitution in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in Bedford.
That consultation received more than 31,000 responses from Canadians, in addition to the in-person round tables. This was the largest consultation, I note, ever undertaken by the Department of Justice to date, and it recognized in the legislation the significant harms associated with prostitution. In a combination of Department of Justice money and Public Safety money, $20 million is being made available through a fund over five years for programs aimed specifically at helping those who sell sexual services to exit prostitution.
Mr. Chair, this is a compassionate and common-sense program that we are delivering, and we believe it will make a positive difference. The funding will provide services such as trauma therapy, addiction recovery, employment training, and financial literacy. It could also be used to support transitional housing, emergency safe houses, child care, and drop-in centres. I can tell you that there has been tremendous uptake on this program funding. In addition, there will be funding made available to help law enforcement agencies connect with those who want to leave prostitution and help them find emergency or long-term services, such as those I just mentioned.
The new resources demonstrate the government's commitment to meaningfully support those exploited through prostitution. We are ensuring that the laws address as well the serious harms associated with prostitution and deliver the protection that vulnerable Canadians and communities have come to expect and deserve from this government.
Mr. Chair, in February of 2015, the government announced that it had extended its support for the aboriginal justice strategy to include an additional $11.1 million for fiscal year 2016-17. The aboriginal justice strategy supports community-based justice programs across the country that have delivered results in reducing crime and victimization in aboriginal communities. There are approximately 275 aboriginal justice programs. There is outreach to over 800 aboriginal communities now, touching every province and territory, both on and off reserve, and in rural, urban, and northern communities.
Lowering recidivism and reducing the overrepresentation of aboriginal Canadians in our justice system is at the root. The programs are cost-effective and produce short- and long-term savings for Canadians by freeing up police, court, and correctional resources to address more serious crime. This is in addition to other programs such as the $25 million that is directly focused on the subject of murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Although there was an effort with respect to the main estimates—an increase of $43.3 million—there have also been decisions taken around the providing of legal services as part of our commitment to better and more effectively manage resources. Within the department, there was a review of the legal services provided to all government departments. As you know, we do a great deal of work on behalf of other departments and other agencies in government. As a result, we've identified immediate measures to reduce legal services demand and costs. There is another wave that is aimed specifically at simplifying and increasing access to legal services. It will be implemented within the coming fiscal year.
Over the next year, the department will also continue to work to meet the needs of the Government of Canada's policy objectives. They include enhancing legislation to hold offenders accountable; supporting initiatives to address such issues as security and terrorism, as I referenced earlier; working with other departments to address crime prevention; rehabilitation, treatment, and enforcement activities that relate to illicit drugs; and continuing our aboriginal justice issues. I would also add to that list the work that's done with young offenders. In particular, there are various branches of this youth justice initiative that deal with guns and gangs.
These initiatives will help the Department of Justice continue to build a system that improves access and meets the diverse needs of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, the Government of Canada is determined to protect the integrity of our justice system. We have reaffirmed that commitment through the level of funding allocated to the Justice portfolio.
The items presented by the Department of Justice for inclusion in the 2015-2016 main estimates will help to guarantee that we continue to have a fair society that respects our legislation and has an accessible, effective and equitable justice system.
Finally, the funding that the justice portfolio has received delivers results. I'm proud to say that, aided by very able officials, we'll continue to see that these funds are spent wisely while ensuring that Canadians have the fair, relevant, and accessible justice system that they expect.
I want to again thank you, Mr. Chair and members of this committee, for your diligence and determination in examining in many cases very complex bills and for the contribution you are making in that regard.
I look forward to taking your questions over this period. Similarly, I know that officials here, along with representatives from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, from the Administrative Tribunals Support Service, and other officials will be attending, I believe, at the next meeting, on May 13, to answer any questions in those particular areas.
Thank you, Chair.