Evidence of meeting #26 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 justice.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

We'll bring the meeting to order.

This is meeting number 26 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, pursuant to Standing Order 81.(4), dealing with the main estimates for 2012-13, votes 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 50 under Justice, referred to the committee on Tuesday, February 28.

Before us today we have the Honourable Rob Nicholson, the Minister of Justice, and department officials with him, Ms. Kane, Mr. Kirvan and Mr. Côté. I believe the minister probably has an opening address.

11:05 a.m.

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. You're quite correct.

I'm pleased to be here with Myles Kirvan, the deputy minister; Yves Côté, associate deputy minister; and Catherine Kane, senior general counsel.

I'm appearing here today to answer questions regarding the main estimates and supplementary estimates (C) in areas that fall under my jurisdiction as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Mr. Chair, the Department of Justice plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of the justice system so that it meets the expectations of Canadians. At the same time, it must also use taxpayers' hard-earned dollars responsibly and prudently. To meet our responsibility, as the committee may recall, the Department of Justice requested financial resources through main estimates tabled last month in the amount of $694.6 million for the fiscal year 2012-13.

Mr. Chairman, since we were first elected, we've been committed to protecting Canadian families across this country, and as you know, the presence of illicit drugs is a significant source of harm in our communities. Over the last five years, the Government of Canada has allocated $232 million in new funding through the national anti-drug strategy to prevent illicit drug use, treat illicit drug dependency, and combat the production and distribution of illicit drugs.

Funding for certain components of NADS—or the national anti-drug strategy—will be sunsetting after the current year, and there will be a $130,000 decrease in the funding transferred from Health Canada to support the department's role in policy development, communications, and evaluation. Nevertheless, the Department of Justice will continue to support national anti-drug strategy activities internally, and therefore there will be no impact to the elimination of the Health Canada transfer of funds.

Mr. Chair, over the last 20 years, the aboriginal justice strategy has been an effective and culturally relevant alternative to the mainstream justice system for aboriginal offenders delivered in cooperation with police, judges, and counsel. The strategy both effectively reduces crime and provides alternatives to incarceration for less serious crimes in appropriate circumstances. We recognize that these programs do make a difference in helping to steer aboriginal people away from a lifestyle of crime and help to put an end to a cycle of violence. Research shows offenders who participate in the aboriginal justice strategy programs are less likely to re-offend than those who do not participate, and that this positive impact on recidivism endures over time.

The strategy has operated on a cost-shared basis with the provinces and territories and has been renewed every five years. Budget 2007 renewed and enhanced the strategy, bringing the federal investment to approximately $17.5 million per year over five years, of which $12.5 million is related to transfer payments. A portion of this funding, $12.3 million per year, is scheduled to sunset on March 31, 2012. These resources, as you might expect given with my previous comments, are currently under consideration for renewal in the upcoming fiscal year.

Mr. Chairman, legal aid is also an important component of our justice system. While we recognize that the administration of justice, including legal aid, is a provincial responsibility, we believe that working in collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners is important to ensure a strong justice system. Funding for certain activities related to legal aid, including immigration and refugee legal aid, court-ordered counsel and federal prosecutions, and program operations, will sunset at the end of this month. Therefore, the 2012-13 estimates do not reflect approximately $14 million in this area. Again, these resources are currently under consideration for renewal in the upcoming fiscal year of 2012-13.

Mr. Chair, as for the supplementary estimates (C), there was a total net decrease of just over $1.4 million, a portion of which was a transfer to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to support operational requirements. This decrease also represents the transfer of funds to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to provide crown witness coordinators and to implement a national website to combat organized crime.

To conclude, I'd like to express my appreciation and thanks to you and your committee members for the important work you do. The funding that the justice portfolio has received has brought results for Canadians, and I will do my utmost to ensure that these funds continue to be spent wisely.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Minister.

It's my understanding that you and your officials have to leave the committee by noon.

Mr. Harris, you're beginning the round.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm disappointed to hear that. I knew the minister had other plans at noon, but I was hoping we'd have the officials join us so we could go into more detail on this important aspect of the budget and the spending of government. I think we all understand that the question of parliamentary oversight of budgetary matters is now under active consideration.

An hour to deal with a question of $694 million of expenditures and possible changes in a lot of programs is not an adequate role for parliamentarians. Nevertheless, we will make use of the time we have.

I'll start, Mr. Minister, by asking about one of the programs you mentioned in your opening remarks, and that is the aboriginal justice strategy. Last year, by the last figures that are available, there were 144 programs involved in this aboriginal justice strategy serving approximately 400 communities. As you noted, the five-year funding is expiring at the end of March.

You've indicated very positive comments about the value of this program. I guess what you're saying is to wait and see what's in the budget.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Again, you're quite correct, Mr. Harris.

I am a big fan of this particular program. In fact, you may have underestimated slightly the number of communities it serves—about 673 aboriginal communities across this country. The strategy provides funding to 275 community-based justice programs, along with 48 capacity-building projects.

What I have liked about this program is that it works. The advice I have received over the years and the feedback I have received with respect to the aboriginal justice strategy is that it is of considerable assistance in providing culturally appropriate services to the individuals who do get involved with the criminal justice system. At the same time, by working with these individuals we've seen a decrease in their recidivism, and this is something that all of us can support.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

We all support it. I'm asking if you're saying to wait and see what's in the budget. If that's the case, would you be willing to come back to talk to that, Minister?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Exactly. It was a five-year program and it sunsets in another couple of weeks. Again, this will be part of the budgetary process.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

We all understand that. We have very limited time here. I'm just wondering if you're willing to come back after the budget is down so that we can talk some more about what the government actually commits to on these programs in the budget.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

I'm always open to...whenever I can accommodate the committee here. I'll certainly do my best, as I have in the past.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I'm sorry for underestimating the number of programs. I was going by figures released by the Department of Justice. If it's actually more than that, I'm happy to hear it and would look forward to their increasing. I know that many aboriginal communities and northern communities are concerned about the consequences of potential loss of these programs.

There's another program that's similarly placed, and that's the youth justice fund, which provides for projects addressing youth-specific issues, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, mental health issues, substance abuse, and gang involvement.

The program, according to the documents we have, was reduced by $2.5 million in the last year. Are there any plans to continue that particular program? I have it here as the youth justice fund, which was desirable to...a program that started in 1999-2000 and is considered an ongoing program. The budget amount seems to have dropped from $5 million spent in 2010-11 down to $2.5 million.

Is that a program you would like to see continue at the former funding level?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

I would like to see it continue. Actually, the $5 million is constant funding, and it will continue. The challenge we have, as you know from when I appeared here before on supplementary estimates, is that the budgetary process in this country doesn't provide all of the funding all at once, so again, it's a little uneven, but the $5 million is there and is continuing.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Harris.

Mr. Goguen.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for attending, Minister.

Thank you to the officials for coming here today.

Mr. Harris talked about the programs for the young offenders. I'm wondering if you could advise us, Minister, of what the government has done in the areas of prevention and rehabilitation and which programs are available for youth under these.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Well, we just touched on it briefly. That's the $5 million to the youth justice fund, which supports the prevention of continued youth involvement and contact with the justice system by focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration. This is part of what we are doing. There is a major contribution by the federal government every year to the provinces under the youth justice services funding. It's $177 million per year.

Again, one of the other programs that doesn't get as much publicity as it might is the intensive rehabilitative custody and supervision program. We provide $11 million per year to ensure that young people get the specialized resources, the assessment, and the treatment they might require.

While much of this is done by the provinces, we have a role to play as well. It's part of the national crime prevention strategy. I think that's at $45 million per year. All of these are part of our initiatives to work with our provincial colleagues to assist young people, but again, we have extensive involvement in making sure that young people get the treatment they need and are encouraged to stay out of the criminal justice system. There are a number of different initiatives, and I'm pleased that those are going to continue.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Am I done?