House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was equality.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

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10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that bill be read the third time and passed.

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10:05 a.m.

New Brunswick Southwest
New Brunswick

Conservative

Greg Thompson Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to stand today in support of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

The amendment proposed in this bill would authorize the appointment of 20 new judges to the provincial superior trial courts, which will allow us to respond to an urgent need for more judges to handle increasing caseloads and mounting delays in a number of jurisdictions across the country. We have heard that in every corner of the country.

This amendment would support the effective and expeditious resolution of specific claims through the newly proposed specific claims tribunal.

As provided in Bill C-30, the specific claims tribunal act, the members of the specific claims tribunal are to be appointed among sitting Superior Court judges and six of the new appointments to be authorized under the bill are intended to help the Superior Courts to free up experienced judges to take on the new work of the tribunal.

The establishment of this tribunal represents the cornerstone of this government's reform of the specific claims resolution process. The remaining 14 appointments will be allocated among the 6 jurisdictions that have previously submitted compelling requests for more judges.

Each one of those jurisdictions of Nunavik, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and my home province of New Brunswick have provided detailed submissions to support their requests, and there is no doubt that these six provinces have an immediate need for these new appointments.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights gave careful consideration to this bill and approved it without amendment, which is key. All parties in this House support this bill because we recognize that there is a real and pressing need for new judicial resources within our trial courts, and so do our chief justices, our judges, members of the bar and, most important, Canadians who are involved in our judicial system.

As well, the first nations communities look forward to having access to the effective and independent process offered by the specific claims tribunal. We certainly do not expect that this amendment is the answer, because it is not the answer to all future requirements of the courts. However, it does respond to the clear needs of the six affected provinces at this time. Our government has made it very clear that we are open to considering future requests for additional judges in due course and when that need is clearly demonstrated, as it has been in this case. When that occurs, the government will respond appropriately.

Before I close, I want to make one final important point about playing politics with our courts and the judges who preside over our courts.

This week in New Brunswick, we have seen the potential harm and danger that such political games can cause. We saw the member for Beauséjour try to score partisan points by claiming that our government was not appointing enough bilingual judges. Even the facts show otherwise. The member for Beauséjour simply refused to do his homework. Either that or he simply did not know or purposely ignored the fact that three of the six judges who we have appointed in New Brunswick are bilingual. Of course that is in a province where francophones make up 30% of the province's population.

I do not need to remind members that New Brunswickers are proud of our place in Canada's only officially bilingual province. We are proud of our linguistic duality. We are proud of how francophones and anglophones work every day, shoulder to shoulder, for a better future, a stronger province and a greater country, and our government supports that vision.

We will not let the political games being played by the member for Beauséjour divide New Brunswick or sidetrack our province in its steady progress. We are very proud of our province and the progress made by all governments, past and present, of the province of New Brunswick.

In that spirit, Bill C-31 represents an important step toward improving access to justice in Canada.

I wish to thank all hon. members for their recognition, the advancement of this significant bill and their support for its speedy passage. It is very much appreciated.

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Liberal

Robert Thibault West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs for his comments. He spoke about how proud he is of New Brunswick, which he feels offers suitable legal services in French. I am happy to see how proud he is of his province.

I urge him to extend that pride to the other maritime provinces, particularly Nova Scotia. There were three bilingual Federal Court judges in that province. Two of them are retiring: Justice Boudreau and Justice Batiot. They will be replaced by anglophones. For the entire province of Nova Scotia, from Cape Breton to southwestern Nova Scotia, including the provincial capital, there will be only one bilingual judge. That is completely unacceptable. It is unthinkable that we would move down to one judge from three.

Of the judges I mentioned, Justice Boudreau was appointed by Mr. Mulroney some time ago. Mr. Chrétien appointed a number of bilingual judges in Nova Scotia. Now, this government is replacing two francophones with two anglophones. In just two years of this government, French-language legal services in Nova Scotia have dropped by 66%.

The minister spoke about his pride in the bilingual legal services in the Maritimes, but will he extend that pride to the Acadians and francophones of Nova Scotia?

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10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I was speaking specifically about New Brunswick. I will admit that I do not know the details in Nova Scotia. I am sure the Minister of Justice or the parliamentary secretary would have more knowledge and more background to respond. However, when I do speak it is on what I know has happened in the province of New Brunswick. I also know that the member supports what we have done in New Brunswick.

We have had six appointments: three who are fully bilingual, two who are francophones and one who is anglophone. It is typical of New Brunswick, which is completely and fully bilingual, something I wish I were.

This speaks to the generosity of New Brunswick. When I travel to northern New Brunswick as a unilingual anglophone, I am received as I would be in any part of this country. Some of us do not have the ability to speak both languages. I wish I did but I cannot, not like the member opposite. However, it is a real testament to the generosity of this country that when we go there, the people fully appreciate that we are working on their behalf as best we can.

It is a credit to this country and to my home province of New Brunswick that a unilingual francophone or anglophone can be successful and achieve high office in government and in our court system. However, we are very sensitive to the fact that when people go before the court, we need to have a bilingual capability within our court system, and we have worked very hard to achieve that.

I want to point out for the member opposite that the member for Beauséjour was being disingenuous when he spoke. A point I made when I responded to the newspaper, the Telegraph Journal in New Brunswick, the paper ran what I considered to be a very one-sided story that did not actually represent the facts. One of the judges, who we appointed to what we call the military judges compensation committee, is the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour. The reason he was appointed was that he is very qualified. His name is Guy A. Richard and, as I mentioned, he is the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour who stood and suggested that we did not honour bilingualism in the province of New Brunswick. That is totally disingenuous.

In addition to appointing the judges I have mentioned to the superior court, we appointed the hon. member for Beauséjour's father-in-law, and he should consider that and be very cognizant of it when he next speaks in the House of Commons.

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NDP

Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, judges are important to us in the Northwest Territories because we have a high rate of criminal charges. We appreciate the work they do.

However, the government is engaged in a cost reduction program. The plan of the Conservative government would salary judges, but how would it ensure that we have the kind of resources required to take on extra judges, given that we have to sometimes fly them and their court staff to locations thousands of miles away from their courthouse?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, we responded in a very positive way to a need across the country. I am not sure the member's constituents would be really pleased to hear him suggest that there is a high rate of crime in that area.

There is almost complete agreement on what the Government of Canada is doing, and we all know that seldom happens in this place. We are responding to a real need with the legislation. I am proud of what we are doing. The agreement we see in the House clearly indicates that Parliament supports exactly what the minister has done.

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Justice for bringing the bill forward. I also like to thank my colleague the Minister of Veterans Affairs for speaking to it today. I am a member of the justice committee and I remember discussing this bill briefly.

My question for the minister has to do with the increase in the number of superior court judges from 30 to a pool of about 50.

There are first nations reserves in my riding as there are across Canada. We have a huge backlog of land claims that need to be worked through. Could he minister could provide the House with some more information in regard to how the appointment of these judges will improve the efficiency of the land claims tribunal process and land claims and provide good value to Canadian taxpayers in moving that file forward?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Wetaskiwin for the hard work he has done on the justice committee. I had the privilege of visiting his beautiful riding.

I will get more specifically to his point. The land claims issue is a big issue. Again, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development could speak with more authority than I. This legislation is a direct response to some of the needs up there, to free up the court to proceed with some of these land claims.

The member is being much too modest himself in terms of his contribution to the justice committee and the very positive role he has played in bringing the legislation forward. All members should applaud his hard work.

I am quite convinced the bill will reflect the real need in some of the specific areas that he mentioned.