House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was appointments.

Topics

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Hull—Aylmer mentioned something important, which is access to justice. Access to justice is something very important for the constituents in our various ridings. Access to justice is certainly related to bilingualism. We ensure that the judges appointed will be able to provide services for Canadians in the language spoken by those Canadians.

The government constantly talks about bilingualism and regularly throws around related words, as though it were the defender and saviour of bilingualism, but that is absolutely not the case. The Conservatives' actions clearly show official language minority communities that the government thinks nothing of those who need services in the language of their choice.

Could my colleague tell us whether this attitude from the Conservative government undermines what we refer to as access to justice? Does being unable to appear before the court in the language of their choice undermine access to justice for official language minority communities, the francophones outside of Quebec, or the anglophones in Quebec?

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche for his very relevant question. My colleague is obviously from New Brunswick, where everyone is also very aware of what it means when a judge cannot allow an accused or someone in the judicial system to address the court in his or her preferred official language.

I spoke earlier about judges who were appointed in Ontario by this minority Conservative government, which failed to show good judgment by making sure that those judges were bilingual—perhaps not all those judges, but a majority of them. It would be entirely inconceivable that a judge appointed by the federal government to the Superior Court of Quebec, for example, could not hear a case in English. However, it is a different matter when we talk about francophones outside Quebec. I do not need to spell it out.

There are francophones throughout New Brunswick and Ontario. The same is true in Manitoba, where there are francophones in the Winnipeg area and elsewhere. There may not be as many in Saskatchewan, but there are still quite a few.

You know the area, Mr. Speaker, and it is certainly useful for you to be able to speak French because you have francophone constituents. Obviously, there are many francophones in Alberta, right up into the northern part of the province.

I had an uncle who had a wonderful name, the same as mine. He was a missionary in northern Alberta, where he seldom spoke English. He spoke French in the diocese north of Edmonton. Members will say that there are fewer francophones in British Columbia, but I went there recently and spoke to people in French.

Obviously, the government is doing the same thing in these provinces. I can tell you what happened to me when I went to the Northwest Territories in 1995 or 1996. I met with people, including a very interesting woman. As we talked, I learned that her mother had been raised in L'Orignal, the beautiful little town in eastern Ontario where I grew up. In short, there are francophones all across the country. It is very important that the government enable these people to use the official language of their choice.

To answer my colleague's question, it is very important that bilingual judges be appointed across Canada so that people everywhere have access to a bilingual legal system. Every time the government gives bilingualism short shrift, it makes a serious mistake. As was reported in this House not long ago, the minority Conservative government has made mistakes in Ontario recently.

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

There is one minute left for questions and comments. With a very brief question or comment, the hon. member for York West.

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I note for my hon. colleague that the whole issue of bilingual judges is extremely important. I have only a short time for this question, but in respect to the current government looking at the pool of names it would have, is the hon. member confident that there are sufficient names for the committee to be able to review the appointments of judges to ensure that the judges are bilingual?

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, if I understand correctly, my colleague would like to know whether the government has the means—I am not talking about financial means, but human resources means—to be able to properly evaluate whether a judge is bilingual.

At the beginning of my speech, 15 or 20 minutes ago, I spoke about the advisory councils in the provinces. These councils are made up of representatives from the government, the bar, the province and so on. Obviously these councils have the human resources to ensure that the candidates or the judges appointed are bilingual and that they can continue to offer services in one of this country's official languages, based on the choice of the people involved.

Mr. Speaker, you seem to be impatient about my response. I am finished, and I thank you very much.

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

I have been in this place long enough to know that there are times when bills are presented to the House by the government and the argument is made that it is a housekeeping bill, that there really should be no delay and that it should be passed quickly by the House. In some cases that is true, but it is not always the case. Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to find out exactly what the piece of legislation purports to do.

I must say when I look at this bill there is a certain logic to it. However, if we put it in the broader context of the Conservative government and how it has approached appointments generally, it does cause one to pause and to reflect somewhat.

I am thinking of a number of things. One of them is the government's initiative to set up a public appointments commission. This was a plank in the 2006 election. The idea, as I understood it, was that the Conservative Party was going to have a non-partisan system of appointments. It was going to set up an arm's length commission and have all the major appointments go through this commission. I am not sure that appointment of judges would go through that particular commission, but the subject is appointments, generally.

The government picked three members for the commission. In fact a very good friend of mine, Roy MacLaren, was asked if he would serve. The government selected Mr. Gwyn Morgan as the chair of the public appointments commission. Mr. Morgan went before a committee of the House of Commons. He was subjected to some questioning. In fact the committee decided in the end that it was not comfortable with Mr. Morgan's appointment as the chairman of the public appointments commission, notwithstanding Mr. Morgan's very strong record in the private sector, in the oil and gas industry, as president and CEO of EnCana. He had said some things that raised the ire of a number of the members of the committee. It was no secret at the time that Mr. Morgan was an active fundraiser for the Conservative Party. His appointment went to the committee. The committee did not like the appointment of Mr. Gwyn Morgan and the committee said no.

That did not need to stop that whole process, if there was some need to have a public appointments commission. If the government could have achieved this laudable objective of having completely non-partisan appointments, something which I think the cynics in town and across Canada would argue and debate, but nonetheless a very laudable objective, if it actually had decided to pursue that, what would have been the problem with the government saying that Mr. Morgan did not make the cut, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Canadians who would be qualified to chair such a commission. Instead the Conservatives picked up their toys, ran out of the sandbox and said, “If you are not going to play with our toys, we are not playing with you”. That was the end of the public appointments commission, notwithstanding that this was a party plank of some importance.

Of course the Conservatives use it as an opportunity to blame the committee and blame the Liberals, and say, “We are getting the job done”. I am so tired of that expression. They have been in power now for over two years, but we do not get a decent answer in question period; it is always about the 13 years the Liberals were in power, blah, blah, blah.

In any case, they could have proceeded with the public appointments commission and demonstrated that they wanted a non-partisan process for appointments and picked someone else, notwithstanding Mr. Gwyn Morgan's career and his very good qualifications in the sense of the private sector, someone who was not perhaps so actively involved in a partisan way. But no, they did not. They picked up their toys and off they went and said, “It is those old Liberals again. They are obstructionist”.

I begin to wonder when I look at the bill before us today what is really behind an act to amend the Judges Act and the appointments. Not many people in the House would argue that we have a backlog in appointment of judges, but we also have a backlog in immigration. Many people should be appointed to the Immigration and Refugee Board. In fact, I was told by one of my colleagues that there are something like 30 vacancies outstanding, perhaps more. These are the people who adjudicate on refugee claims and they get involved with appeals and a whole range of other issues. What is stopping the Conservative government from appointing these Immigration and Refugee Board judges?

When I look at the bill before us I wonder what really is going on behind this seemingly innocuous bill to amend the Judges Act. We know we have backlogs in immigration. In fact the government, if I might, sneakily put changes to the immigration policy of this country into the budget implementation act, Bill C-50. The government added it in at one of the clauses at the end, almost as an afterthought, but it is not an afterthought. It fundamentally changes the way we deal with immigration policy.

We know there are ways of dealing with backlogs, such as to hire more people and put them into missions abroad. That is what the Liberal government was trying to do. We went to committee and the committee rejected the proposal in the estimates, so there we are. But that is the way to deal with the backlog. The idea that the minister would have complete discretion should raise some hackles, as should Bill C-31 because it raises similar issues.

I would like to talk also about the Senate. When we are talking about appointments, I know there are those opposite and indeed some on this side of the House who would like to see the Senate reformed, but we all know as reasonable people that the Senate will only be reformed through constitutional change.

While Conservative Party members go on and on about how bills are delayed in the Senate and the Senate is obstructing the will of Parliament, the Conservatives have the ability now to appoint, I am not sure exactly how many senators, but they could appoint a stack of Conservative senators. The way the Constitution of this--

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, perhaps the member needs a lesson on how to filibuster. He has to be talking about Bill C-31. He cannot just mention Bill C-31 and change from filibustering and talk about immigration. Then he says Bill C-31 which makes it all right for him to go into a bit of a diatribe on what he thinks about Senate reform. This has to stop at this point. The member must be relevant on talking about Bill C-31 if he indeed wants to continue this filibuster.

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank the parliamentary secretary for raising the point. Perhaps if the member for Etobicoke North could bring his remarks back to the contents of the bill as it is as third reading, he could continue on with his remarks.

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must say I object to this being characterized as a filibustering effort. There is no such thing involved at all. The member opposite tries to conjure up these conspiracy theories, but he knows full well that we have a serious bill before us, Bill C-31, and as responsible members of the House of Commons, we are here to debate it. That is exactly what I will do.

I was trying to put the appointment of judges in the broader context of appointments, appointments with respect to the Senate, appointments with respect to the Immigration and Refugee Board and appointments that were supposedly going to be handled through a public appointments commission that never happened.

I am coming now to the question more specifically before us with respect to judges. First of all we need to understand that judges have to be non-partisan. It does not necessarily mean that judges do not bring their own personal perspectives to the job. This is obviously the case. A judge who is going to be appointed will have a certain bias toward--

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I hate to do this to the hon. member in the middle of his speech, but I have to read this into the record before five o'clock. It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Welland, Environment Canada.

I regret having had to do that, but the hon. member for Etobicoke North can continue.

Judges Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is quite acceptable. I know you have your job to do as well. I was glad to hear of the adjournment motion later on this evening and I will be sure to attend.

There is a need for an impartial and non-partisan judiciary. Of course, every judge brings his or her own ideas and experience to the table--we cannot debate that--but a judge certainly should not be involved in partisan activities.

Canada is blessed with a very competent judiciary and we want to keep it that way. One of the things we are not so troubled with in Canada, but it is evident in many countries around the world is a corrupt judiciary. If I might, I would like to tell a little story about the time I was in Nairobi, Kenya.

Daniel arap Moi was president at the time. There was an election and Mr. Kibaki was elected as president of Kenya. He had run on an anti-corruption ticket and the moment he was elected, he fired about 40% of the judges in Kenya. We were quite excited about that, because it was a fairly well-known fact that in Kenya there was a list and if someone wanted to get off a burglary charge, it cost so many Kenyan shillings and if someone wanted to get off another charge, it was so many Kenyan shillings. It was a menu. It was the most astounding egregious thing I had ever seen. When President Kibaki fired 40% of the judges, we all thought it was a very positive development. However, what happened was that about a year later the president ended up being more corrupt than President Daniel arap Moi.

The point is that we do not have a corrupt judiciary in this country and we want to keep it that way. We have to be very careful, therefore, in the way we appoint judges. We need to ensure they are people of the highest calibre and highest personal integrity. How do countries prosecute corrupt elected officials if there is a corrupt judiciary? It just does not happen. People get off and there is a perpetual cycle of corruption.

I have a very good friend who is a Federal Court judge and he tells me stories. He had a very successful career in the private sector as a lawyer. He wanted to be a judge. He loves the law. He loves debating law. He became a Federal Court judge. When I speak to him today, he tells me about how he loves his work, but how the workload at the Federal Court is absolutely incredible. Of course, Federal Court judges travel across the country. He is a very competent lawyer and judge.

We should also be appointing more Federal Court judges. This bill is derelict in that regard, I would submit. It deals with the Superior Court backlog in appointments but it does not deal with the Federal Court.

The Federal Court is very important in our country. It deals with a whole range of things, immigration law, taxation law, aeronautics law. In fact, there was a milestone case recently with respect to Canada Post and pay equity. Issues like that go before the Federal Court. It is very important that we have a full complement of Federal Court judges, as we should also have a full complement of Superior Court judges. The Superior Court is also responsible for many of the specific claims that are brought forward by our first nations people.

This is another issue that needs to be resolved. In fairness to the government, I think it is trying to expedite some of the land claim cases. It is very important because the mining industry and the natural resource sector are trying to move forward and develop opportunities, revenues, create jobs, and the land claim sort of hangs over the whole affair and creates uncertainty. It is not a very positive investment climate.

It is a good thing that the Conservative government is moving aggressively to try to solve those land claims, but there are many other issues for our first nations people. We are not here to debate the Kelowna accord, of course, but I know that my colleague from LaSalle—Émard feels very strongly, as do all of us on this side, that we should help our first nations people with their infrastructure, schooling, housing and water. That is why we need good judges in the superior courts. They should also reflect the diversity of this country. I presume that when we appoint the judges there will be fair opportunity for women and for people who are bilingual, and fair opportunity for first nations people to become judges, because for many it is a very honourable thing to be a judge.

Many judges face great sacrifices. In many instances, they can earn a lot more money in the private sector by being a trial lawyer or a corporate lawyer, for example. However, judges have decided that they want to serve their country and participate in the judicial process. I take my hat off to all those people.

Sometimes we have situations like the one we had in the last Parliament with respect to the DNA lab at the RCMP headquarters. When I went there one day, I was told that the lab was getting only 50% of the DNA samples it was supposed to be getting. We checked it out and found out what had happened. It was a relatively new concept and prosecutors and judges were supposed to make decisions around forwarding DNA samples to the RCMP lab. The more DNA samples the RCMP labs have, the easier it is to solve crimes and prevent crimes. I was perplexed and troubled by the fact that the DNA labs were not getting all the DNA samples that they should have been.

What we discovered was that because it was a relatively new concept, the prosecutors had to make the case to the judge that the DNA samples should be submitted to the lab. In some cases the prosecutors were not doing that. In some cases the judges were neither asking for nor demanding the information on whether the DNA samples should go to the lab.

Therefore, at committee we made some changes to the DNA law. I think they were positive changes, adopted finally by the House and by the Senate, in which we recommended that for those most heinous of crimes, such as murder, rape and crimes of that nature, where there is a convicted person, the judge would have no discretion and the DNA samples would automatically be referred to the DNA lab. This is not to say that judges lack the wisdom to decide whether DNA samples should be sent to the lab. It just made it absolutely crystal clear that when the most heinous of crimes were involved, the court would be prescribed to submit the DNA samples to the RCMP lab.

That tells a story about the importance of quality judges and the role parliamentarians can have in reviewing bills and legislation such as Bill C-31. I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak. I hope the government follows through on some of these appointments. It is fine to have a bill, but even if the bill is passed by Parliament, the government still has to appoint judges. It has to appoint Immigration and Refugee Board judges. It still has to appoint senators. It cannot sit on its hands. The government has to actually do it. It is one thing to have the legislation, but then the legislation has to be implemented.

If the bill does pass, I hope the government will act on it, fill some of the vacancies and appoint the judges who are needed for this country to be governed properly.

Canadian Heritage
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Before moving on to questions and comments, I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 97.1(2) I am designating Tuesday, May 13, as the day fixed for the consideration of the motion to concur in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. The report contains a recommendation not to proceed further with Bill C-327, An Act to amend the Broadcasting Act (reduction of violence in television broadcasts).

The motion shall be debated for one hour immediately after private members' business on that day, after which the House will proceed to the adjournment debate pursuant to Standing Order 38.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the third time and passed.

Judges Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia
B.C.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I would like to compliment the member for Etobicoke North on his past service to the House. I understand he has decided that when we reach the point of going to a general election he will not run again. I would like to acknowledge the fact that he has been a consistently solid contributor to the affairs of the nation.

It is within that spirit that I wonder if he might want to reconsider some comments he made. I say this with the deepest sincerity. The member was talking about the fact that a Mr. Gwyn Morgan, who had been given the job of becoming involved in the appointments process, ended up not being confirmed by the opposition. This was immensely regrettable because of the standing of Mr. Morgan within the corporate community of Canada and indeed within his own community around Calgary.

It really gives us a good reason for why many people of exceptionally high calibre who could be contributing to public life in Canada choose to stay away. As a matter of fact, he was given the appointment by our current Prime Minister and was going to be getting the princely sum of $1 per year in order to carry out this function. In fact, it did not happen.

I wonder if the member might want to reconsider his comments, because certainly a person of the immensely high calibre of Gwyn Morgan, whether he happened to have been associated with our party, the member's party or any other party, is really quite irrelevant. He would have brought a tremendous asset base to this chamber and was prepared to do it virtually as a volunteer, obviously, for a $1 fee. I wonder if the member, who I know is a very honourable gentleman, might want to reconsider his inference toward Mr. Morgan.

Judges Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kootenay—Columbia, the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage, for his kind words. Over the years we have worked together at committee or in different venues and have always had a good rapport and a good understanding of each other.

However, I am somewhat puzzled, I must say, by his request that I would retract something I have said.

Here is the reality. In fact, I met Mr. Gwyn Morgan. As a businessman he did some amazing things with EnCana. I worked with EnCana on some policy issues and I have a lot of respect for Mr. Gwyn Morgan, but the point I was trying to make was not really a comment on Mr. Gwyn Morgan's capabilities or otherwise. The reality is that he was a Conservative fundraiser, but the other part is that he made some comments that people found distasteful.

Irrespective of all of that, the committee said that in its wisdom it did not want to confirm Mr. Gwyn Morgan. What would have been the problem, then, for the Conservative government to say that the public appointments commission is really a good idea, we thought it was the best batter, but the batter struck out, so let us find another batter and let us get on with this if we really are committed to this notion of non-partisan appointments? I think it is a very laudable objective.

Whether it could have been achieved with a public appointments commission, I am not so sure, because we would have to sort of unravel the whole political history and political economy of Canada to reach that point. The reality, and we all know it, is that when we get down to the short list there are many people who are equally qualified. There might be a person with excellent qualifications and another person with excellent qualifications, and the way the system works is that for two people of equal qualifications the Prime Minister has the discretion to do what he or she wishes.

That is how it works in this country. If the government wants to change that, it should advance this public appointments commission instead of running away with its toys, packing up its tent and going home.