Evidence of meeting #16 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was prosecutions.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Brian J. Saunders  Director of Public Prosecutions, Public Prosecution Service of Canada

8:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I'll call the meeting to order. This is meeting number 16. Pursuant to Standing Order 81(5), we're on the supplementary estimates (B) for 2011-12, with votes on 30b and 35b under the Department of Justice, referred to the committee on Thursday, November 3, 2011.

We're pleased to have the Honourable Rob Nicholson, the Minister of Justice, with us, and Mr. Saunders, as the director of public prosecutions.

I understand, Minister, that you may have an opening address that you wish to deliver. We'd be happy to hear it.

November 29th, 2011 / 8:45 a.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice

Thank you very much.

And thank you to the committee members.

I'm here to answer questions regarding the supplementary estimates (B) in areas that fall under my jurisdiction as Attorney General of Canada.

Mr. Chairman, among my responsibilities is ensuring that our justice system operates in a transparent and efficient manner. As the committee is aware, the Department of Justice did not submit any items to be tabled under supplementary estimates (B).

Today I will speak to those items tabled in supplementary estimates (B) by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, or PPSC, and the Courts Administration Service, or CAS, in my role as Attorney General. And I'm pleased in that regard to have Mr. Brian Saunders, the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, with me on this occasion.

Before I get into those estimates, I'd like to just reference the other areas in my portfolio, which are organizations with distinct mandates and different relationships to the minister and linkages with the department.

The Human Rights Commission was established in 1978 to administer the Canadian Human Rights Act, which promotes equality of opportunity and protects individuals from discrimination based on race, national ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body created by statute, and it has operated independently of the Canadian Human Rights Commission except for certain administrative functions. Legislative changes in 1998 further separated the tribunal from the commission to confirm its independence and impartiality. The tribunal ensures that Canadians' right to equality, equal opportunity, fair treatment, and an environment free of discrimination is not violated by federally regulated employers and suppliers of goods, services, facilities, and accommodation, including the government itself.

The Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs was established in 1978 under the Judges Act to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and to place federally appointed judges at arm's length in administrative terms from the Department of Justice. The office allocates statutory funding for federally appointed judges' salaries, allowances, annuities, and their surviving beneficiaries' benefits, voted appropriations to support the administrative activities of the Office of the Commissioner, and separately voted appropriations that fund the administration activities of the Canadian Judicial Council. My portfolio also includes the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, of course, as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.

As I indicated earlier, and as you're aware, I'm here to discuss those items tabled in supplementary estimates (B) by the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the Courts Administration Service.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada was created in 2006 to separate the federal prosecution function from the Department of Justice. It is headed by the director of public prosecutions, who reports directly to the Attorney General, and again, I'm pleased to have Brian Saunders here with me today. The PPSC supports the Attorney General by prosecuting all federal, non-criminal offences as well as certain criminal offences—organized crime, terrorism, fraud, and federal offences in the three territories. The PPSC plays a crucial role in the effective enforcement of federal legislation, including, of course, drug offences and in maintaining public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system. It plays an important role in pre-charged support for complex crimes.

The supplementary estimates before you include a request for approximately $4.9 million for the PPSC. This funding will help in the fight against the laundering of proceeds of crime and the financing of terrorist activities. It will support the appointment of crown witness coordinators under the victims of crime initiative to provide court-based victim witness support in the territories, help with the eventual relocation of headquarters offices, and support a national website for combatting organized crime.

Mr. Chairman, my portfolio also includes the Courts Administration Service. The Courts Administration Service was established in 2003 by the Courts Administration Service Act to provide registry, judicial, and corporate services to four federal courts. They are the Federal Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, the Tax Court, and the Court Martial Appeal Court. The CAS enables the courts to function, to hear and resolve cases in a fair, expeditious, and efficient manner. It also provides a full range of services relating to court hearings, processes court documents, records hearings, maintains court records, and makes information available to the judiciary and all those others who need it, including the public.

The funding request for the CAS is approximately $2.5 million. This is intended to address issues of program integrity. More specifically, the funding will help CAS meet its ongoing obligations to support the positions of prothonotaries, or judicial officers, who assist in managing complex cases, thereby promoting efficient court operations and conserving scarce judicial resources.

Mr. Chairman, the CAS would also use this funding to enhance court security. The enhanced funding will, among other things, be used to support the development of a security framework, strengthen the security perimeter in courtrooms and offices, help introduce fully trained court security officers, and enhance central monitoring and response functions.

To conclude, I'd again like to express my appreciation and thanks to you, Mr. Chair, and to your committee members for the important work you do on behalf of this country. The funding that the justice portfolio has received has brought results for Canadians, and I will certainly do my utmost to see that the funding requests brought in today will be spent wisely.

Thank you very much. If you have any questions, I'd be pleased to answer.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Minister.

Mr. Harris, you have five minutes.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Welcome, Minister, to our committee this morning.

Your presentation included issues in relation to victim services and the crown witness program in the north. We often hear your government talk about the victims of crime and their issues, but we heard during our hearings, for example, that criminal injuries compensation in this country is sadly lacking. We had a woman whose daughter was murdered, and she had a tremendous number of expenses related to trying to look after her granddaughter and deal with the legal issues resulting from that.

We do know that criminal injuries compensation boards across the country have in many cases been disbanded. There are some victim services, however, replacing that, and I know you're talking about witness support in the north. Is your government considering reviving the support for victim services across the country? We recognize there are jurisdictional issues, but the whole criminal injuries compensation plan in this country, which was developed with the support of the federal government, was flourishing for a while. I used it quite regularly in the 1990s to assist victims of sexual assault in the Mount Cashel cases, but since then, with some exceptions, it's been largely disbanded. Do you see this as a priority, Mr. Nicholson, for your government, or are you going to stick with the court witness support issues?

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

We're going to be continuing to support all the different areas that we're doing with respect to victims. As you know, criminal injuries compensation boards are provided by each province in this country. Again, I believe they have been helpful.

With respect to the whole question of victims, I'm sure you'll note that in the years before we formed the government, the average support for victims was a little less than $9 million. Since 2007 we've increased that by an additional $13 million.

I'm very pleased with the programs we have done. In the child advocacy centres, for the first time the federal government is involved with building a sensitive environment for children who have been victims of crime, to assist them. I'm very pleased about that. Of course, we're very pleased about the additional funding that has now been put into missing and murdered aboriginal women. We'll be involved shortly with the victims of crime awareness week. I'm pleased that we are moving forward. In effect, the creation of a federal ombudsman for victims of crime is something I had the honour to announce, I guess almost five years ago now.

All these things are steps in the right direction, but of course we need the support of our colleagues across the country, and certainly you've identified one of them.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I guess that means you're not—

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

We're not taking over criminal injuries.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

You're not interested in bolstering that across the country.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

I'm interested in anything to do with the support of victims, but we will not be financing those programs that are currently financed by the provinces.

8:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

In the area of prosecutions in relation to drugs, we had, for example, in Bill C-10, a reference to the drug courts that provide for an opportunity for avoiding minimum mandatory sentences, and there's reference to drug courts and drug programs approved by the Attorney General. Yet across this country the vast majority of the population who might be affected by this don't have access to a drug court. There are only several in the country—

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

It's my understanding that we're here to speak to these estimates, not turn this into an inquiry on Bill C-10. The honourable member asked for the minister to be here. He is here. The estimates are tabled, we're here to discuss them, but these questions are going way off the topic of these estimates.

9 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

On the point of order, Mr. Chairman, it's traditional that estimates are broadly interpreted, and we're talking about the administration of justice and the courts here, and the question—if I have an opportunity to get to it—is what kind of funding is available from the government in terms of the administration of justice with respect to drug courts and the opportunities that might be available.

This seems to be very relevant to the director of public prosecutions, to the court administration. If we're talking about drug courts and programs related to that approved by the Attorney General, this seems entirely relevant to the Minister of Justice portfolio and to the matters before us.

9 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I think you're right, Mr. Harris, except that this is not on accounts; it's on supplementary estimates. That's what the questions should be directed to, the supplementary estimates.

When we did the accounts back in June...if you will, that's more fair game on the whole thing, but in this case, we've asked the minister to appear on the supplementary estimates. I've read through it, and I don't see anything where—

9 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Can I ask him why he's not asking for more money to implement this program? We're talking about additional costs associated with that.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

This is not a main estimates discussion. As you have just pointed out, we are here to discuss these supplementary estimates. That's what we're here to deal with. These questions are going far outside of that range.