Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mega-trials)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2013.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to

(a) allow for the appointment of a judge as a case management judge;

(b) define the role and the powers of a case management judge;

(c) streamline the use of direct indictments preferred under section 577;

(d) allow for delayed severance orders;

(e) improve the protection of the identity of jurors;

(f) increase the maximum number of jurors who can hear the evidence on the merits; and

(g) provide that, in the case of a mistrial, certain decisions made during the trial are binding on the parties in any new trial.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be in this House today to join in the second reading debate on Bill C-2, Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act. This is an important bill to improve criminal procedure to cut the number of long, drawn-out trials sometimes referred to as megatrials.

The time to bring criminal trials to disposition has steadily increased over the last decade, a fact particularly true in the case of megatrials.

In their November 2008 report reviewing large and complex criminal cases and their procedures in Ontario, former Chief Justice Patrick LeSage and the present Justice Michael Code noted three major events that played a significant role in increasing the duration and complexity of modern criminal trials. These three causal events were the passage of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the reform of evidence law by the Supreme Court of Canada, and the addition of many new, complex statutory provisions to the Criminal Code and other related statutes.

Megatrials conducted in Canada are a clear indication of the impact that these causal events have had on the criminal justice system.

Our justice system must have the tools to respond to the demands raised by these long and complex cases to ensure that they do not collapse under their own weight. It had become necessary to find better, innovative ways to respond to the challenges raised by megatrials and to make better use of resources available in the criminal justice system. The amendments to the Criminal Code proposed in Bill C-2 are a significant step in providing these tools.

This legislation also responds to many of the recommendations made by the Air India Commission in relation to terrorism prosecutions.

The reforms proposed in this bill are the product of a great deal of consultation and collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners, as well as various other criminal justice stakeholders. These include the federal-provincial-territorial committee of heads of prosecutions, the Barreau du Québec and the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to Justice.

This work has helped us identify processes and measures that would allow the criminal justice system to function more effectively and expeditiously while respecting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I would now like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the amendments proposed by this bill.

These amendments generally relate to at least one of three main objectives: strengthening case management; reducing duplication of processes; and otherwise improving criminal procedure.

In regard to strengthening case management, a great deal of work has been done in the area of megatrial reform in the last decade. The body of policy work on this issue, including the Air India Commission report, consistently emphasizes that case management, particularly with respect to the preliminary phase of the trial, is one of the key measures to improve the efficient and effective conduct of large and complex cases. Enhanced case management in this context refers to stronger judicial control of the proceedings.

It is with this goal in mind that this bill would allow for the appointment of a case management judge in any case where it appears that his or her involvement would be beneficial to the overall management of the case and in the best interests of the justice system.

As it is not always feasible to assign a case to a trial judge early in the process, the appointment of a case management judge would allow for the ground rules to be set for the parties from the very beginning and the effective management of the proceedings.

The case management judge would be explicitly empowered to, among other things, impose deadlines on the parties and assist them in narrowing the issues, making admissions, as well as reaching agreements. He or she may also hear guilty pleas and hand down sentences.

The case management judge, who would be from the court before which the trial is to be held, would also be empowered to rule upon preliminary issues, such as charter motions. Not only would this allow for earlier resolution of these issues upon which the remainder of the trial often rests, but to the extent possible it would also enable the evidence to be presented without interruption to the jury or the trial judge sitting without a jury.

Another benefit of appointing a case management judge is that he or she could continue to play a role even after the preliminary issues have been dealt with and the presentation of the evidence on the merits has begun. Clearly, this role would be auxiliary to that of the trial judge but would include adjudicating issues referred to him or her by the trial judge. This would potentially avoid interruptions during the presentation of the evidence to the trier of fact and allow the trial judge and the case management judge to share the overwhelming responsibilities associated with conducting a megatrial.

With respect to reducing duplication of processes, improving effectiveness and reducing delays while ensuring trial fairness is consistent with this government's commitment to ensure that justice is delivered swiftly. A number of amendments proposed in Bill C-2 aim at reducing duplication of processes and speak directly to this worthwhile goal.

Absent exceptional circumstances, such as where fresh evidence is discovered, there is no justification for the constant re-litigation of issues that have been fairly adjudicated. Such duplication of processes is not sustainable by the overburdened resources of our criminal justice system.

As the Air India Commission so aptly said: “Finality is an important value in the criminal justice system”.

As such, Bill C-2 includes provisions that would, in the spirit of recommendation 27 of the Air India Commission report, maintain the case management judge's ruling related to the disclosure or admissibility of evidence or the charter at any new trial ordered as a result of the declaration of a mistrial or in the event that a prosecution is severed into separate trials.

In addition, still with a view to reducing duplication of processes, Bill C-2 would allow the adjudication in a joint hearing of certain preliminary issues arising in separate trials. It is not uncommon that preliminary issues relating to the charter, disclosure or admissibility of evidence involve similar evidence and are raised in separate but related trials.

Currently, the evidence in support of these preliminary issues, which is at times very long and complex, needs to be adduced separately in each trial before different judges. Not only does this result in a duplication of effort and an inefficient use of resources, it also increases the risk of inconsistent rulings which reduces the public's confidence in the justice system.

Therefore, as proposed by the Air India Commission at recommendation 28 of its report, this bill would allow for such issues to be adjudicated at the same time at a joint hearing. These are significant gains in system effectiveness and efficiency that could result from this measure while preserving the accused's right to a fair trial.

Another issue addressed by this bill relates to the use of direct indictments. This special procedure requires the personal written consent of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General and allows the Crown, in special circumstances, to send a case directly to trial. Currently, where a bail hearing has been held in relation to an information, and a direct indictment is subsequently preferred for the same charges, the courts have held that the preferment is a new beginning in terms of judicial interim release. As such, a new bail hearing must be held, often requiring significant court time where multiple accused or counts are involved and the evidence is voluminous and complex.

An amendment is proposed in this bill that would eliminate this unnecessary duplication whereby bail or detention orders would be maintained where the prosecution prefers a direct indictment charging the same or an included offence.

Still on the issue of direct indictments, the Criminal Code currently allows the correction of technical defects on the face of standard indictments whereas this is not permitted in the case of direct indictments. This results in the Crown having to prefer a new direct indictment, which requires the personal written consent of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General. This unnecessary duplication of process is an inefficient use of resources. As such, a proposed amendment would empower the court to amend technical defects in direct indictments, as is currently allowed in the case of standard indictments.

As to otherwise improving criminal procedure, the bill contains other amendments aiming to generally improve criminal procedure. One of these would increase the number of jurors hearing the evidence from 12 to 14. The discharge of jurors throughout the course of an exceptionally long trial may reduce the jury below the Criminal Code minimum requirement of 10 jurors and result in a mistrial.

This legislative package includes amendments that would respond to this concern by allowing for the swearing of up to 14 jurors where circumstances warrant it. When the time comes to begin deliberations, if more than 12 jurors remain, a random selection process would determine the jurors to be released from duty to reduce the jury to 12.

Jury duty is a great service and requires significant time and effort by Canadian citizens. However, the alternative of declaring a mistrial and starting a trial anew not only reduces the public's confidence in the justice system but is also a considerable waste of resources from all sectors of the criminal justice system.

We are very cognizant of the onerous obligations on jurors and we believe the cumulative effect of the measures introduced here today would reduce the overall duration of proceedings, thus alleviating the burden on jurors.

This bill also proposes amendments that would provide for enhanced protection of juror identity. The amendments that respond to a recommendation from the report on jury reform by the steering committee on justice efficiencies and access to the justice system ensure that all jurors can participate without fear of intimidation.

The jury selection regime in the Criminal Code would be modified to have jurors systematically called in court by their number. The use of names would be the exception. Furthermore, access to juror cards or lists can be limited by the court when deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice. This is of particular importance in organized crime or terrorism prosecutions. These amendments strike a balance between the interests of the jurors and the public, the integrity of our justice system and the accused's right to a fair trial.

Finally, this legislation would make a corrective amendment to the French version of section 536.3 of the Criminal Code. This provision deals with the declaration containing a statement of issues and list of witnesses that the party requesting a preliminary inquiry must provide the court and the other party. The French language of this provision would be amended to render the language consistent with the intent reflected in the English.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal, in its 2009 decision in Gallant, highlighted the current discrepancy.

The amendments proposed in this bill would serve to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system, particularly where long and complex trials are involved. Modernizing judicial tools to improve the conduct of long and complex trials would also be beneficial to the fight against organized crime and terrorism.

I trust that members will support this bill that seeks to improve our court's ability to conduct long, complex cases and make significant improvements to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the first request on the opposition side is for the member to speak a bit about the role of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. As we know, it is the NDP member for Windsor—Tecumseh who brought this idea forward and has been pushing and advocating for legislation that would stop what many Canadians have been profoundly disappointed about, which is the fact that these trials often are not brought to fruition because of inadequacies that exist in current legislation.

We certainly pay tribute to the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for his work in promoting the fact that we need legislation. I would like the member to comment on the role played by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we welcome the role of the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He has agreed that this is very necessary legislation for the efficiencies required within the criminal justice system so we can better deal with such long and complex trials. We welcome his support and are pleased that he has agreed with us that this is very necessary legislation to be put forward at this time.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent speech on the part of the member, but there has actually been another case where the official opposition has promoted solutions. Far from the government getting agreement from the NDP and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, it is actually the opposite.

This is a case where the official opposition brought forward solutions to a problem that many Canadians know about and the government has chosen to agree, for which we thank it, but that was the intent of my question. Could the member actually talk about the fact that this is an NDP-originated idea and solution that is being brought forward? Some credit should go to the government because it is accepting the practical solutions that the NDP, as the official opposition, brought forward in the House.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, our government first introduced this bill on November 2, 2010. At that time, we had six bills on the order paper and it was difficult to get any legislation passed in a minority Parliament. By the time the election was called, the Minister of Justice had 14 bills on the order paper.

We welcome this new co-operation by the opposition members with respect to our legislative agenda and we look forward to working with all members of the opposition with respect to these initiatives.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the hon. member to the House.

One of the bills she just described and the obstructionist ways of the opposition is stretching it a bit. It is a revision of history. One of the reasons a lot of these bills were put back to the starting point, we will say, was the proroguing of the House. The proroguing of the House did cancel these bills and we began from that very starting point once again. Perhaps she would like to comment on what effect the proroguing of the House did have on a lot of these justice bills.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are very pleased with the strong mandate that the Canadian voters have given this government and with respect to their endorsement of our tough on crime approach and agenda.

With respect to the unnecessary election that was called, which led to many of the proposed legislative initiatives not proceeding, we are now doing our best to bring them forward. With respect to any co-operation from the opposition, we welcome it.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for Delta—Richmond East, not only for her election to this House but also to her position as parliamentary secretary.

I am very pleased to have the chance to speak to this bill on second reading. I have studied it extensively. I believe the approach to accelerating megatrials is sound, particularly with the appointment of a case management judge. This should help. I think all members of the House should also be cognizant that we need to do more. We will need more resources for judges. We need to appoint more judges at the federal level. Our provincial colleagues may also need more resources to ensure these trials go quickly.

I have one specific concern about one piece of legislation that I do not think is entirely necessary, and I would be grateful for the member's comments. My concern is about taking away the right of an accused person on preferred indictment to seek bail. It is not really a necessary piece of the legislation to accelerate trials. I wonder if she could speak to that.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, all the measures in this bill are meant to increase efficiencies within the system. They are meant to deal with the preliminary aspects of these long and complex trials. There are changes with respect to the regular and preferred indictment provisions. However, if the member opposite would look at them more carefully, she would see that they do not lead to the conclusion she has drawn.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, a number of years back, in Manitoba, there was a need to try to prosecute large numbers of members of gangs. They ended up having to create a separate court facility in order to accommodate the different type of trial that was expected.

Does the parliamentary secretary anticipate that there would be some additional costs incurred in terms of courtroom modifications or anything of that nature? Does this bill have anything to do with that sort of a potential expenditure going forward?

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the actual workings of the courthouse environment are not within the purview of this ministry. However, I will say that the whole idea of this, what is being called, megatrials bill is to increase efficiencies and avoid duplication of processes. So, to the extent that it will work the way we envision that it will, and I see no reason why it would not, it will actually make it less necessary for larger accommodations.

In other words, these trials will be shortened and the procedures will be shortened. We will not have the same duplication of processes. With respect to where there are multiple accused, there is a provision that severance can be delayed. So, if there is evidence arising that can be brought forward with respect to several accused, they do not each have to be treated separately in the process.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I have a basic question for my colleague. Why is the government introducing this legislation? Obviously we have a strong crime agenda. We are looking forward to helping Canadians to be safe in their communities.

It is really a simple question. Why exactly is the government introducing this type of legislation?

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, essentially, there has been a lot of attention paid to these megatrials, multiple trials, particularly as they relate to organized crime and terrorism.

With our tough on crime agenda and our desire on this side of the House to ensure that justice is swift in Canada but fair, it is time to bring criminal trials like this to an earlier disposition. We also seek to avoid mistrials, which often arise because of the complexity of cases like these.

We are enthusiastic about the efficiencies that will be created in terms of resources, time, energy and for the general public's confidence in the justice system.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-2, which has become known as the megatrials bill.

The House and the Canadian public should be aware that this legislation has been a long time coming. The pressure for this has existed in the system for well over five years now. We began using megatrials in the criminal justice system maybe 12 to 13 years ago, and they have been far from successful. Several have literally collapsed completely, where 10 and 20 accused walked away without the trial ever being completed and with no subsequent charges.

I think, in particular, of the one case in Manitoba where a great deal of money was spent on building a whole new facility. A huge amount of hours of police time, prosecutor time, judicial time and the defence bar was involved. At the end of the day, the entire thing collapsed with no convictions. That probably is the most notorious failure of the megatrials, but they are necessary.

What has become obvious to a lot of people, and only recently to the government, is that there are some practical solutions to the problems we have confronted.

The bill was originally introduced by the government in November 2010. The reason the NDP has pressed the government to bring it back in now is because of a decision out of Quebec just two weeks ago in a megatrial involving organized crime in the form of the biker gangs. Something like 100-plus people were charged. Judge Brunton, who dealt with preliminary matters in the megatrial, concluded that 31 accused would have their charges dismissed because there was no way they would get to trial in less than 10 years. Therefore, we are faced with that reality. That is a clear finding of fact on his part.

Society is somewhat fortunate in that the charges that were dismissed were not the more serious ones. A murder charge, attempted murder, other violent assault type of crimes plus organized crime charges were involved in that megatrial, all against bikers in Quebec. The balance of the charges are still outstanding. Based on Judge Brunton's ruling, there are still some of those that may be at risk six months or a year from now. It is absolutely crucial that we get this legislation through as quickly as possible.

I am sure a number of people have heard that the leader of the Green Party in the House has some objection to the speedy passing of the bill. The Quebec minister of justice came here to discuss this with her, to encourage her to withdraw her objections to the speedy passage of the bill because the administration of justice in Quebec know how serious it would be if we did not get the bill into place as quickly as possible.

My party and I encourage the government to get this through. We were happy when it finally brought the motion forward today to speed it through. If we follow the motion, it will be done by Wednesday of next week. That will give the Senate time to look at it and get it through in the following few days. Even if our House is complete, the other House will still have time to finish it off before it breaks for the summer. Then the government will have the ability to get royal assent and we will see this in Canadian law by the end of this month. That is the plan.

I want to acknowledge that Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada was very quick to respond when I first spoke to him about this. I am critical of him because there were a whole bunch of other laws in the last Parliament that took precedence over this one.

I also want to acknowledge the co-operation from the Liberal Party critic. He was very quick to respond favourably to the quick passage of the bill.

The reason I am significantly critical of the government on this one is that if we go back and look at the history of the types of proposals in this bill, which will become the law of the country by the end of the month, almost all of them have been outstanding for several years.

We saw some of them come out of the Air India report by Justice Major. More extensively, we have had a number of these recommendations coming from the meetings of the attorneys general and solicitors general at the provincial and territorial level when they meet with the federal government, usually about every six months.

A number of them have been filtering through that. The government sat on them for this lengthy period of time. Those proposals go back for a number of years.

However, most important, I do not have any understanding or appreciation of why the government did not move immediately after the LeSage-Code report. Justice LeSage is the retired judge from Ontario. At the time Mr. Code was a professor and is now a justice in Ontario, as well.

In the period of 2007, and finally reporting in 2008, they were commissioned by the provincial Government of Ontario to conduct an analysis of how we could better handle, within the criminal justice system, megatrials, ensuring that they were fair, that due process was respected, those rights that we all have as Canadians under the Charter, but also that we had an efficient, speedy trial process, where due process was respected, but so were the rights of the accused and society as a whole.

Their report came out in 2008. It was very clear on almost everything that is in this bill. There were more recommendations than what is in the bill because other issues were dealt with in that report. We did not see a response, in the form of a bill, from the government until more than two years later. I do not have any understanding as to why that is, other than it had other bills it thought were more attractive politically for them to push than this one.

It is not the only time we have faced this. My proposal to speed a bill up occurred once before in 2010. It was known as the Shoker bill, which is the name of the case that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. It was a practical solution that we needed and it was strongly recommended by our police forces because it gave them an additional tool to deal with people who had breached their probation and parole.

It sat lingering on the order paper for almost two years, while we went through one of the prorogations and an election. Just before we broke for the end of the year, I made a similar proposal. It took me about two weeks to convince the government to do it. There was no explanation. It was a very simple bill. The proposal for the resolution of it had been outstanding for several years, but it needed to be pushed. It did not attract attention. It was not one of those photo op opportunities for the government.

Having that experience, and finally convincing the government to do it in that case, we felt we should do the same thing for this. Of course it was triggered in particular by that decision in Quebec of a couple of weeks ago.

I also want to be clear about the importance of getting this through. The Quebec case is not the only megatrial case going on in the country right now. There are at least several others and there are some others coming. We just had a major raid in Ontario, either yesterday or the day before, that is likely to end up in a megatrial.

Based on the ruling from Judge Brunton in the Quebec case, with absolute certainty, I am sure defence lawyers on behalf of the accused are looking at that decision and wondering whether they can apply it in some of these other megatrials, having additional accused persons discharged before we have the opportunity to actually prosecute them, presuming sufficient evidence to convict them.

There is a risk here, beyond the consequences of the Quebec case, as there are others outstanding where we may be faced with the same thing.

I have one more point and I want to be careful about this because the case is still before the court. However, I urge both the Government of Canada and the province of Quebec to consider an appeal in that case. The reason I feel comfortable in saying this is that Judge Brunton, in his decision, made reference to the fact that Bill C-53, which was the bill that preceded this in the last Parliament, was outstanding. Had we had that, his decision might have been different.

Based on the general rule against substantive laws being retroactive, the immediate reaction is that it would not make any difference if we appeal it. However, that is not correct. In law, if the issue of retroactivity is applicable, it is applicable when it is not substantive law. This bill is all procedural. It is process law rather than substantive law.

Therefore, I urge the government to take into account that principle of law and appeal the decision. I urge the province of Quebec to do the same thing and introduce before the court of appeal the fact that this bill is now law and could be applied to the megatrial that is going on in Quebec retroactively.

It is urgent that we get the bill through so we may be able to salvage those 31 charges in Quebec and forestall those types of dismissals in any number of other megatrials, either ones that are already started or ones that may be coming in the near future.

If we leave it to the normal process, the bill will not become law. It would go through committee and all the hearings that would take at least several more months, and we are going to have the summer break soon. If we do not get this through next week and have it in law by the end of the summer, it will probably be the end of the year, or more likely into 2012 before the bill becomes law. For the sake of the protection of our society right across the country, we cannot afford the luxury of waiting that long.

There has been criticism of pushing a bill like this through, as it is a fairly extensive bill, and whether we are going through the democratic process. I certainly have been critical of the government at times when it tried to force bills of a substantive nature through. Again, that is not what this bill is.

We have had a lot of time to analyze the bill. When I say “we”, I am speaking of the justice critics of the various parties in the House. Over the last five or six years, we have looked at the issue. The response we needed to make as a legislature was very clear, and we have understood that. There is nothing in this bill that I can see that calls for an extensive review of it.

I want to particularly emphasize the process of the LeSage-Code report. The end result of that report was one that was supported because prosecutors, other judicial members and the defence bar were all involved in the work that was done in preparing the report. When it came out, I did not hear anybody from the bar, prosecutors, the defence or the judiciary who were critical of the recommendations of LeSage-Code report. I did not hear any objections to it at all. Everybody has looked at this and thinks this is the way to keep the megatrial, but do it efficiently and in fairness to the accused.

I know we have allowed for very short hearings before the justice committee next week, but if we were to have extensive hearings, we would hear from the defence bar, the prosecution and judges that this would be the way to go.

I want to make one more point in this regard. When I first began looking at this, I had a sense of déjà vu. I went through this in my practice back in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s in Ontario in the civil court cases. We implemented the case management process, and not just for large trials, although that was where it was most effective, but for all civil cases.

It had a positive impact in Ontario and has been adopted, though I am not sure about Quebec, in all the other common law jurisdictions.

The idea behind it is simply to let the judiciary in this country take control of files, so that if one side or the other in the case wants to delay the matter unreasonably, the case management judge is there to control the process. It has been reasonably effective. It is not perfect on the civil side and it will not be perfect on the criminal law side, but it is a methodology that makes our system more efficient and, quite frankly, more fair.

One can imagine, in the Quebec case, a witness waiting 10 years to testify, an innocent bystander and witness from the general community having to come back after 10 years and testify against an accused. How well do members think a person's memory is going to last?

Witnesses also know they have this hanging over their heads, that they are witnesses and there is a need for them to be prepared on a repeated basis. There are any number of reasons why we should move on this with regard to protecting, not just the accused and the rights of the accused but the other parties involved, such as police, prosecutors, and society as a whole in terms of the witnesses who get called in these kinds of cases.

The parliamentary secretary has done an excellent job of summarizing the legislation. I am not going to go through it in any particular detail. I wanted to mention case management because that is sort of the key to this working.

The idea, for instance, is for two extra jurors to be empanelled. There have been several trials where they went all the way and in the last week or two ran below 10 jurors. In our system, 12 are empanelled but there have to be 10 to make the final decision.

We never want the accused, witnesses or the system as a whole being put through the process of a long criminal trial and then in the last week or two having to start over again because three jurors became ill in the process and could not continue. Having 14 jurors empanelled will probably eliminate that from ever happening again. I use that as one example.

The other big example is avoiding duplication in the process by having one judge responsible for all of the preliminary matters. That has been a major problem for megatrials in terms of stringing them out. It has also opened up the door many times for appeals because preliminary matters are dealt with by more than one judge and sometimes there will be conflicting decisions. Once there is a conflicting decision, it is almost an automatic appeal and the Court of Appeal must decide, of the conflicting decisions, which one is the right one.

It is a good bill. I do not want to take that away at all from the government. As I said, it flows out of both the major report in the Air India case and more particularly from the Lesage-Code report. Those recommendations were followed and it is time for Parliament to do its job.

As I said, when I asked my question of the minister, the police have done their job, the prosecutors have done theirs, and it is time for Parliament to do its job by getting this bill through.

Fair and Efficient Criminal Trials Act
Government Orders

June 16th, 2011 / 1:10 p.m.
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Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe
New Brunswick

Conservative

Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, it is apparent that this bill introduces a practical solution and balances the interests and necessity of the efficient administration of justice in a fair way while respecting the rights of the accused.

From the hon. member's comments, I ponder if he is simply attempting to play politics with this issue. The government introduced this bill in November 2010. Not once during the last Parliament did the hon. member ask that this bill be expedited. Suddenly, there is a sense of urgency in his comments.

Believe me, the government would certainly have welcomed any co-operation from the opposition on our justice agenda. Now that the member's party, largely founded in Quebec, and the issue have come to the forefront and into the headlines, the member has discovered a new-found interest in this justice issue.

I would like to ask the member, will his new sense of co-operation extend to the rest of our justice legislation, or will his party only be supporting legislation that plays well for it politically, specifically in Quebec?