An Act to amend the Judges Act and certain other Acts in relation to courts

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  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.

Part 1 of this enactment amends the Judges Act to implement the federal government’s response to the report of the most recent Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission regarding salaries and benefits of federally appointed judges. Included is a mechanism to divide judicial annuities upon breakdown of the conjugal relationship.

Part 2 makes certain amendments to the Federal Courts Act and a number of technical amendments to other Acts in relation to courts.

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.

Votes

Nov. 21, 2006 Passed That the Bill be now read a third time and do pass.
Nov. 7, 2006 Passed That Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Judges Act and certain other Acts in relation to courts, as amended, be concurred in at report stage and read a second time.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating what the government considers to be the most important component of the throne speech presented a few days ago, Bill C-2.

First of all, there is a myth that I would like to dispel. On several occasions the members on the government side have unfortunately taken some liberties with the truth. They have suggested that, in this Parliament, the opposition parties—the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—did not cooperate, that they acted like spoilsports and had unduly and excessively delayed passage of the justice bills. We need to set the record straight. This presentation of the facts is false, dishonest and, at the very least, misleading.

Since coming into power in January 2006, the Conservative government has tabled 12 justice bills. They were studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the legislative committee and six of them have received royal assent. Therefore, since the government came into office in January 2006, six bills have been adopted and received royal assent.

I will mention them quickly, for information purposes: Bill C-9, on conditional sentencing; Bill C-17, on the salaries of judges; Bill C-18, on the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which was meant as a tribute to a Conservative member who unfortunately passed away, and which makes street racing a new offence under the Criminal Code; the fifth bill, namely Bill C-48, on the United Nations Convention against Corruption and on international crime, was fast-tracked and supported by all opposition parties and the government; finally, the sixth one, is Bill C-59, creating a new offence, under the Criminal Code, for the unauthorized recording of a movie in a movie theatre. That legislation was quickly passed, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had enlisted the support of the official opposition and of the NDP.

Again, of the 12 bills introduced by the government, six received royal assent. That left six, with four of them being in the Senate. That was the case for Bill C-10, on minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, and for Bill C-22, on the age of protection. The Conservatives proposed to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 years. As mentioned earlier, opposition parties requested that a close in age provision be included, to provide for a difference of five or two years, depending on the age being considered.

As I just mentioned, Bill C-10 and Bill C-22 were before the Senate. Bill C-23, which is a rather technical bill on the language used during a trial before a jury, was also before the Senate, as was Bill C-35, dealing with the reverse onus, at the pre-trial hearing, for a number of very serious offences. The committee was told that this was already the usual practice, and that a justice of the peace or a superior court judge very rarely grants bail at the pre-trial hearing, when the individual is accused of murder, assault or sexual assault. This was already an established practice.

In summary, six bills have been passed and have received royal assent, and four had already gone through third reading in the House of Commons and were in the Senate. This left us with two bills: the dangerous offenders bill, Bill C-27, which I will address later, and Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving.

Could the Prime Minister and the Conservative team be asked to be a little more relaxed and show a more nuanced and respectful attitude toward the opposition?

We are going to do our job. In the past, we have given the government our cooperation when that was necessary, but we have introduced amendments because, unfortunately, an entire segment of the Conservative caucus has no idea of nuances. I will give examples. Had Bill C-32 been passed as written, without amendments, anyone driving his or her own car with a passenger on board who was in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have faced prosecution or arrest.

Was that the purpose of the legislation? This bill was intended to address a public safety issue, recognizing that no one should be operating a vehicle on public roadways while under the influence of drugs, and to allow for drivers to be subjected to standardized tests known as standardized field sobriety tests. The intention certainly was not to pass legislation to target drivers carrying drugs without their knowledge. That could happen. I could give three people a ride to my cottage without knowing that one of them has marijuana in his or her pocket. This would have made me liable to prosecution.

This is the sort of excess the Conservatives are guilty of, when we are talking about a bill, a motivation, and an intent that are utterly defensible in terms of public policy. But when the Conservatives are left to their own devices, when they are ruled by that extreme wing of their caucus and blinded by the idea of law and order, they come up with bills that have to be amended.

Conditional sentencing has been mentioned. When we began looking at Bill C-9, the first justice bill the Conservatives introduced—the member for London West will recall—we were told that conditional sentences represented only 5% of sentences.

If you look at all the sentences handed down in all the courts in Canada in recent years for which records have been kept, you see that conditional sentences, which allow offenders to serve their sentence in the community under supervision, represented only 5% of sentences.

If we had adopted the bill as introduced by the Conservatives, all offences punishable by more than two years in prison might have been excluded from this tool judges have for determining how a sentence can be served in the community.

I repeat that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who asks the opposition to vote for bills, but will not tolerate any amendments to those bills. How can anyone be so authoritarian? How can anyone be so cavalier? How can anyone be so disrespectful of Canadian democracy and tell the 57% or 58% of Canadians who did not elect Conservative members that if their representatives do not fall into line with the Conservative platform, they cannot introduce amendments in this House?

I assure my colleagues that we are going to consider the issue and that we will work very quickly, with all due diligence. And we will introduce amendments if we feel that they are in the interest of the people we represent.

The government wants this bill to go to committee quickly. The leaders have agreed on this. Later today, the whip will introduce a motion, and once again we have offered to cooperate.

Next week, we will have this bill before us, but we will not allow ourselves to be led by the nose by this government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were intractable and often mean-spirited. They constantly, systematically filibustered. Never have I seen such filibustering. Sometimes it went on day and night.

The current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food did the filibustering. He led this House in circles regarding employment equity. At the time, I was a young, naive and vulnerable member. I had just been elected and was experiencing my first filibuster. Furthermore, the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was uncompromising on the issue of employment equity, which was under the responsibility of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

They cannot have it both ways. A person cannot say that it is fine to filibuster when they are in opposition, only to turn around, once they are in the governing party, and refuse the opposition's right to present amendments. This is irresponsible and disrespectful.

Bill C-2 merges five pieces of legislation. Of those pieces of legislation, the Bloc Québécois supported four of them, with amendments. In committee, of course, we will not ask to repeat the work that has already been done.

However, we have a problem with Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders. As we all know, the Criminal Code has included provisions on this matter since 1947. In the past, we did not use the term dangerous offender, but rather habitual criminal. I wonder whether certain members, those who have been practising law for some time, remember that expression. The Liberals already changed those provisions by creating a new category of dangerous offenders—long-term offenders—in Bill C-55.

What is our line of questioning? I would like to be clear. I am telling the government that the Bloc Québécois would like to see three main groups of witnesses. First, we would like to hear constitutional experts on the constitutionality of the reverse onus principle, in the same terms in which this bill was presented.

We would then like to see a second group of witnesses. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he was unable to tell us what it is about the administrative and judicial process for dangerous offenders that is not working.

Currently, a person can be labelled a dangerous offender after committing a first serious offence. Section 753 of the Criminal Code is very clear. If there is any reason to believe that that an individual is likely to cause a death, is out of control, or is likely to reoffend, that person can be declared a dangerous offender after a first offence. I am not saying that this is what usually happens. We are not talking about a large number of people here. About 350 people have been declared dangerous offenders, and some of them have been released under mandatory supervision. Of course, most of them are inside federal prisons.

We will run this by constitutional experts. It is our responsibility to ensure that this bill is not unconstitutional. We will ask people who make their living dealing with this issue before the courts to explain to us which parts of the current legislation are not working.

We will also ask a third group of witnesses about the list of offences. In the bill before us today, five types of offences would result in an individual being declared a dangerous offender. Naturally, most of them are serious crimes, such as attempted murder, murder, homicide and serious sexual crimes.

The government wants to expand this list to include 42 offences. The preliminary list includes 22 offences, one of which is assault. I do not wish to downplay the importance of assault. However, should an individual who has been convicted of assault three times be put on a list of dangerous offenders, with all of the consequences that entails?

There is a list of designated offences, which, I agree, are offences generally punishable by a sentence of more than five years. The question is, do we need to take this further? Is it important to have these two lists of offences?

Why ask this question? We are not questioning the fact that we need provisions in the Criminal Code for people who are so dangerous and present such a risk of recidivism that they need to be designated long term offenders, or dangerous offenders. A dangerous offender is someone who can be imprisoned for an indefinite period. Obviously, they are denied their freedom and denied eligibility for parole. Certainly—and I am not afraid to say so—this is justified in some situations. We understand that for some individuals there is no chance for rehabilitation and they have to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.

Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to ensure that if we are going to pass legislation that considerably broadens the scope of this rule—which is in fact an exception to the general rule—then we have to be able to verify the facts in committee in order to make sure there is no risk of abuse or excess.

As hon. members know, the Conservatives are driven by partisan political considerations. That is “partisan” with a capital “P”.

As it stands, the crime rate has gone down in Canada. In any event, the homicide rate has gone down. The incidence of violent crime has gone down. I am not saying there has not been a worrisome increase in property crime in certain communities. However, generally speaking, we know full well that for a number of years now, major crime, such as homicide—crimes involving violence—has gone down year after year.

Criminologists who have studied these issues are saying that there is no correlation between a reliance on imprisonment and lower crime rates in a society. We do not live in a safer society and the communities are not safer because of widespread prison sentencing.

We know that the United States has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's. In Canada, there are 132 or 134 prisoners for every 100,000 people.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not realize we were going to be moving on this quickly, which is a good development because it will move these bills along, as opposed to the government's approach, which has been one of delay.

In that regard, I want to do a quick resumé of what has happened in this Parliament starting in roughly mid-February of 2006, at which time we were faced with a large number of crime bills by the government. I took the opportunity to go through the list of bills that have been dealt with in one form or another.

The list was quite lengthy, starting with Bill C-9, which was a bill on conditional sentencing. That went through both Houses and has royal assent. There was one on the Judges Act, Bill C-17, and it also went through all stages. Another one relating to DNA identification went through all stages. As for Bill C-19 on street racing, a particularly emotional point for the Conservative Party, we got that one through. There was one on criminal interest rates, Bill C-26, and it got through. There was one, Bill C-48, which dealt with international crime syndicates and the need to fight corruption at that level, coming out of the UN, and it got through. The next one, dealing with the illegal recording of movies, went very quickly through the House with all parties cooperating. It never even went to committee.

In addition to that, we have had Bill C-22, which actually is part of Bill C-2, the bill that is before us now, passed at second reading in the Senate. It went through the House all the way to the Senate. We have had Bill C-10, an important bill on mandatory minimums, go through this House and into the Senate, where it was at first reading.

Similarly, Bill C-23 went through this House and got to the Senate, but it is not part of this bill. I am not sure if the government is going to bring that one back or not. On Bill C-35, which was the bill dealing with bail reviews involving alleged gun crimes and the reverse onus being placed, again, it got through all the work in this House and went to the Senate.

The final bill with regard to work that we had done and which was almost through this House was the bill dealing with impaired driving. That had cleared the committee and was coming back to the House. It would have been back in the House if we had not prorogued in the middle part of September.

These are all the bills we have had from the government. The final bill was still in committee and we had just started on it. We had three or four meetings taking witnesses on that bill, which deals with dangerous offenders and amendments to recognizance in the Criminal Code.

In addition, there were at least four to six private members' bills, all of them coming from the Conservative Party interestingly enough, which we dealt with and passed or dealt with in some fashion. One had to be withdrawn. We dealt with those as well.

All of that work was being done at the justice committee, with the exception, and this is really interesting, of two bills that went to special legislative committees. Because the justice committee's workload was so great, we moved them into special committees. However, we worked on those bills and got them through.

All of that is work we have done in a little over 18 months, yet in spite of that, there are two things the government does. It constantly complains about the length of time it takes, in regard to which the Conservatives could have done much better by originally having omnibus bills. I have said that in the House to the point where I am almost sick of hearing it myself, and I am sure everyone else in the House is, but it is the way they should have conducted themselves. Of course, though, because of their political agenda of wanting to highlight each one of these bills, they did not put them together. They finally came to their senses and realized that it is a way of moving bills through the House more rapidly.

However, we did all of that work, and now what we are hearing, which is the second point I want to make about the government, is that the delay is the fault of the opposition. That is absolutely false.

One can see from the length of the list of bills we have had to deal with, plus the private members' bills, plus working on two legislative committees in addition to all the work that we have done at justice, that nobody in the opposition has done any delaying. The delay with regard to the five bills that are incorporated now into Bill C-2 is entirely at the feet of the government. It prorogued and that cost us a month.

It is interesting to note what could have happened in that one month's time. It is my opinion that all three of the bills that were in the Senate would have been through and ready for royal assent, which again is in the hands of the government. If the government had conducted itself with any kind of efficiency, those bills probably would be law today.

The fourth bill, the one dealing with impaired driving, which again is part of Bill C-2, would have come to the House in the middle part of September when we came back. There was not a great deal of debate, and although I and my party have some reservations about it, we in fact would support it.

The bill would have had some debate in the House at report stage and third reading, but it would have been through the House and at least at first reading in the Senate now, perhaps at second reading. It is not beyond the pale to think that the bill also would have cleared the Senate and would have been ready for royal assent.

This bill bothers me. Of all the ones we have, this one bothers me the most because of the conduct of the government in dealing with the individuals, including the police officers and police associations, who lobbied really heavily to get this legislation, and in particular the families and supporters of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It bothers me that the government would have misused the loyalty and the support that those groups had given to the bill by leading them to believe that somehow it was the opposition that was holding it up, when in fact it was prorogation. Now there is this tactic of combining that bill with the other bills to actually slow down its passage. Otherwise there is a reasonably good chance it would have been law by now, and if not, it would have been in its final stages at the Senate and it certainly would have been law by the end of the year.

That is much less likely to happen now. It is more likely that this bill will not get final approval and royal assent until well into the spring, no matter what the government tries to do. Quite frankly we will do whatever we can to be cooperative in moving these bills forward.

Our party was quite prepared to have all four of those bills that I have mentioned which form 80% of Bill C-2 back at their original stages, again so they would be law or on the verge of becoming law, that is, receiving royal assent today, as opposed to what is likely to happen now. It is going to be into the new year and maybe well into the spring before these bills become law, assuming of course that the government does not collapse and there is an election, which is another problem.

The government has delayed it, and in addition, it has clearly pushed it back at least until the new year, with the real possibility of an election intervening and a number of these provisions never seeing the light of day until after the election, when we would come back and start the process all over again.

That is reprehensible conduct on the part of the government. The only reason the Conservatives are doing it is so they can stand up in public and say, “We are tough on crime”. They do the macho thing. They beat their chests. They do the King Kong thing as if they are coming out of a jungle. The reality is that the delay is all at their feet.

I am really angry when I think of all the work that so many groups have done, the victims of crime in particular, and now are being misused by the government in such a way.

I am not going to take up much more time but I do want to address the final bill that was at committee. Former Bill C-27 is now part of Bill C-2. It deals with two amendments to the Criminal Code. One would be on the provisions relating to dangerous offenders and the other is with regard to recognizance.

With regard to recognizance, I think I can safely say that all the opposition parties are in support of those provisions. They give additional authority to our judiciary to deal with people who are out in the community on their own recognizance, but we can put additional conditions on them.

The bill provides for things such as requiring them to wear a monitoring device. There is a number of other provisions that would substantially improve security in our communities regarding people who have now been released from charges and who have already served their time. It is a substantial step forward and one that has been needed.

I have said this in the House before, that when I started practising law back in the early 1970s we needed it at that time. Successive governments have tended to shy away from it. Our judiciary has attempted on a number of occasions to introduce these types of control devices, if I could put it that way, in terms of sentencing or conditions imposed on people and it has consistently lost in our courts of appeal. It required legislative intervention. The provision is in this bill and we need to pass that and get it into play so our judges can do a better job of helping protect Canadians, which they want to do.

The other part in this provision, the old Bill C-27 now part of Bill C-2, is with regard to dangerous offenders. We have significant problems with this. Originally when the bill came before the House as Bill C-27, all three opposition parties indicated that on principle they had to vote against it because it has a provision of reverse onus with regard to the dangerous offender.

All of us believe that that part of the bill would suffer a charter challenge that would be successful in striking it down. What I do not think the government has ever understood is that not only would it be struck down, but perhaps the whole dangerous offender section would be struck down. Just as we saw with the security certificates where the Supreme Court said that if it could not be fixed, they were all going down, the same type of thing could happen in a ruling on dangerous offenders. The government has never understood that.

Ultimately, the opposition parties decided that there were perhaps ways of amending this in committee to improve the use of the dangerous offender section, because we know we need to do that, and at the same time make sure that the section was not jeopardized by a successful charter challenge at some point in the future.

We were working on that when we ended in June. We fully expected that was one of the bills for the special legislative committee and that we would be back and working on it in September, that we would complete the witness testimony and improve the bill by way of amendment and if not, then I suppose we would have been faced with a conundrum of whether we could support it or not. That is where we are at this point.

That bill needs significant work in order to be sure that we do not lose the entire dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code. We will be doing that work as soon as we can get the committee up and running again and the bill into the committee.

It is very clear that the government, and I do not say this about the opposition parties, is prepared to play politics with public safety. The Conservatives want to be seen as the champions and they are prepared to take these kinds of manoeuvres of delaying these bills by incorporating them all into Bill C-2 so that they can do that. They want to stand up in the House and in the media and out on the hustings and say “we are the champions of it”, when in fact the truth is just the opposite. They were guilty. They are guilty of delay. The opposition parties are not.

Resumption of Debate on Address in ReplySpeech from the Throne

October 23rd, 2007 / 10:20 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your team a good session, and to welcome the new pages as they start their new jobs.

No one will be surprised if I speak specifically about justice. Overall, the Bloc Québécois was disappointed in the throne speech. Our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, clearly indicated our conditions and expectations.

We also spoke about the Kyoto protocol. We clearly wanted the government to confirm that it would follow through with the commitment we made when Kyoto was signed: to bring greenhouse gases down to their 1990 levels and then reduce them further still. We do not have a green government—this we know. This government is very irresponsible when it comes to the environment, and the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has had many opportunities to speak about this.

We would also have liked the government to agree with the views of many important representatives of civil society and our fellow citizens, that Canada's mission in Afghanistan must end in 2009. Since the beginning of the mission we have been critical of the fact that there has not been a satisfactory balance of development assistance, international cooperation and military objectives.

Obviously we hope that attention will be focused on the entire question of forestry and the manufacturing sector. We know what hard times those sectors have experienced. Certainly we hope that supply management will also be discussed, for it is an extremely important issue in rural communities. And we hope that the government will eliminate the spending power in relation to matters under provincial jurisdiction. There have been calls for this for 50 years, and the Bloc Québécois is certainly not going to be satisfied with the government’s dishonest subterfuge.

With that introduction, we must now talk about the justice system. First, what an exercise in cosmetics this is, what an exercise in stage management! Watching the press conference given by the Minister of Justice, his colleague the Minister of Public Safety, and the Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, we had the impression that we were attending a play by Molière, starring Tartuffe. We were given to think that since the Conservatives took power in 2006 the House of Commons has been the victim of obstruction when it comes to the justice system. We were also given to think that the government has been prevented from having its justice initiative passed.

And yet when we look a little closer, we see that since January 2006 the Conservative government has tabled 12 bills relating to the justice system. As we speak, six of those bills have received royal assent and have thus become law. Of those six bills that have become law, three were passed using what is called the fast-track procedure, with the unanimous consent of all leaders in the House of Commons.

So out of 12 bills, six have become law, and three of those were passed with the consent of all parties using the fast-track procedure; four reached the Senate, at first, second and third reading, while both in the House and in committee there were only two bills remaining. It has to be said that in parliamentary history there have been more vigorous examples of obstruction. When six bills receive royal assent, four are being considered in the Senate and only two are left, you cannot, in all honesty, appear at a press conference and say that you have been unable to get your bills passed.

For the benefit of our constituents, I will mention the bills that were passed.

First, there was Bill C-9, on conditional sentences. It is true that we did propose some amendments. It is our job to do that. We are a responsible opposition. What is the role of the opposition? It is to ensure that bill are improved and made as perfect as possible. We would be completely irresponsible if we did not do our work. As far as the bill on conditional sentences is concerned, the government ultimately wanted to do away with that option for judges and we highlighted that.

Bill C-17, which dealt with judges’ salaries, was also passed, followed by Bill C-18, a rather technical bill on DNA data banks. Moreover, in tribute to our unfortunately deceased colleague, Bill C-19, which creates a new offence under the Criminal Code with regard to street racing, was passed unanimously.

Two other bills were passed within 48 hours, which is an indication of the cooperation among opposition parties. One of those two was introduced by the Bloc Québécois, because of incidents of piracy, the unauthorized use of camcorders to record movies in theatres, particularly in Montreal. The other bill dealt with the signing by Canada of an international convention to fight organized crime.

Four other bills were being dealt with in the Senate, or I should say, “the other place.” There was, first, Bill C-10, concerning minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.

Next, there was Bill C-22, which dealt with the age of protection under the Criminal Code. Some of my colleagues followed that subject with a great deal of interest. The Bloc Québécois had asked for a five-year proximity clause. The Bill was before the Senate. In spite of some questions, our position was relatively favourable. The bill had been amended in committee.

Then there was Bill C-23, somewhat technical, on the language of juries and the accused.

I do not want to forget to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am sharing the time allotted to me with the likeable and charming member for Sherbrooke.

Finally, Bill C-35 on reversing the onus of proof was also passed. Some television journalists described this bill as reversing the onus of proof for parole. However, the bill was not about parole but about pre-trial bail hearings.

There were two bills remaining about which we had and still have questions and amendments to propose.

The first deals with drug-impaired driving. We are in favour of the new provision in the bill requiring individuals to take sobriety tests. Peace officers and police could stop people who are driving erratically under the influence of drugs. We were in favour of certain provisions to require people to submit to sobriety tests.

We amended the bill however because, as unlikely as it might seem, it would have been irresponsible to pass this Conservative bill without any amendments. Imagine someone driving along in his car together with a friend. They drive down the road—let us say the Trans-Canada highway, for example, to please some of my colleagues here—and it turns out that the friend, who is driving, has marijuana in his pockets or his luggage. If we had passed this bill, the car owner would have been held liable. That did not seem responsible to us or legally sound.

There was also another bill about which we had a lot of questions. Unfortunately though, I have only a minute left and so I am going to proceed to my conclusion and allow the hon. member for Sherbrooke to take over.

We are going to take our work in committee very seriously. We will not allow ourselves to be dictated to by the government which, in a fit of authoritarianism, might demand that the opposition propose no amendments to Bill C-2.

We will amend Bill C-2 if we think that is the direction in which the testimony we hear is taking us. As always, I can assure the House that the Bloc Québécois will act in a serious, responsible, reasoned way. We would also like to remind the House of the justice proposals we made last June.

Judicial AppointmentsOral Questions

February 13th, 2007 / 2:30 p.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I should let the hon. member know that we have made, now, considerably more appointments in the last year than the Liberals made in the year 2004. So, nothing could be further from the truth. We are making the appointments as quickly but as carefully as possible.

The hon. member would also know that with the passage of Bill C-17, the Judges Act, we had another couple of dozen judges go supernumerary. So, we are making progress on it, and I am sure she will be happy about that.

February 5th, 2007 / 4 p.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for this invitation to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights concerning the federal judicial appointment process.

Our Canadian democracy is strong, in part because of its constitutional underpinnings, its respect for the rule of law, and the mutual respect extended by each of the three parts of government--the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary--one to the others. With respect to several matters, the three branches have interrelated but distinct roles to play. This is particularly the case with respect to judicial affairs. Once the Governor General signs an order in council naming a person to the federal judiciary, he or she enters the judicial branch of government and enjoys the rights and responsibilities accorded to the judiciary--independence and security of tenure, to name but two--outlined under Canadian constitutional law.

However, under the Constitution Act of 1867, part VII, the legislative and executive branches of government also have fundamental roles associated with judicial matters. Under section 101 of the Constitution Act of 1867, Parliament is charged with the constitution and maintenance of our federal courts as well as the determination of the salaries of federally appointed judges. The subject matter debated by Parliament and the passage of Bill C-17 in December 2006 was an exercise of Parliament's competence in this area.

The executive branch has been charged, under section 96 of the Constitution Act of 1867, with an important responsibility with respect to judicial affairs: the appointment of federal judges. This prerogative has remained unchanged since 1867, with the Minister of Justice tasked with the responsibility of making recommendations to the federal cabinet for approval for the appointment of individuals to the federal judiciary. Constitutionally speaking, this legal power represents the heart of the federal judicial appointment process.

As of February 1, 2007, the Canadian federally appointed judiciary consists of 1,054 judges: 825 of them acting as full-time judges and the remaining 229 acting as supernumerary judges. The latter of course are those judges who by virtue of the Judges Act and recent amendments thereto have been able to elect to move from their full-time function to a reduced load given their prior service to the Canadian judicial system.

All of these judges must retire at the age of 75. Thus there is a constant turnover of judges, with ebbs and flows requiring executive action in the appointment of new judges to replace retiring ones, ones who unfortunately have died in office, and those electing supernumerary status. It's the responsibility of the Minister of Justice to make recommendations to the Governor General through cabinet to name individuals to these vacancies.

With respect to the timely filling of federal judicial vacancies, when this government took over after the last general election of January 2006, there were 23 vacancies for federally appointed judges. This government has proceeded, and will continue to proceed, with all due dispatch to fill existing vacancies. Since January 23, 2006, 58 judges have been appointed--20 in Ontario alone. This is a respectable achievement given that in the entirety of 2004, for example, only 41 federal judges were appointed in the whole country. Still, I acknowledge that as of February 1, 2007, we have 45 vacancies for federally appointed judges.

It's important to note, however, that a full two-thirds of these have arisen since the coming into force of Bill C-17 on December 14, 2006. That bill, as you know, provided federally appointed judges with new options for electing supernumerary status. Thus the vacancy list, which was reduced to just 15 prior to the coming into force of Bill C-17, almost instantly tripled in size as the direct result of 30 judges from across Canada having elected supernumerary status under the new eligibility rules.

I am committed to filling these vacancies in a timely manner, as was my predecessor. I will continue to instruct my staff to assist me in preparing recommendations for cabinet approval for the appointment of new judges.

Since 1988, the Minister of Justice has been assisted in preparing recommendations for cabinet approval for the appointment of new judges by the judicial advisory committees.

Despite the fact that the administration of candidate applications and the operation of the JACs have been carried out by the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs continuously since 1988, structural changes to the JACs themselves have been a fairly constant feature of the JAC process. Over the past 20 years, changes to the JACs have occurred--in 1991, 1994, and 1999--always with a view to creating a process that provides the Minister of Justice with advice on the merit and legal excellence of candidates aspiring to judicial appointments.

In November 2006, my predecessor announced changes to the process, which would better assist the committee in providing the minister assessments of potential candidates. Changes were made to the composition of the JACs and to their operations, but the same fundamental purpose of accessing candidates and advising the minister as to their suitability for the federal judiciary was maintained.

With respect to the composition of the JACs, the JAC process has always included input from a broad range of stakeholders. These stakeholders have, since 1988, been represented by men and women whom the Minister of Justice selects. Stakeholders from the law society in each province and territory, the provincial branch of the Canadian Bar Association, the judiciary of a province or territory, the provincial Attorneys General, and the public have in the past provided the Minister of Justice with advice in the form of assessments of potential candidates for appointment to federal and provincial superior courts.

One of the November 2006 changes to the JAC process provides the opportunity for representation from another important community. A voice from the law enforcement community, a community no less implicated in the administration of justice than are judges and lawyers, will broaden the basis for examination of potential candidates and contribute a fresh perspective on the competent and qualified individuals recommended to me for appointment to the bench.

This change, implemented by my predecessor in November of last year, broadens the base of stakeholders who will contribute to the discussion and assessment of the competence and excellence required for the appointment.

From an operational perspective, the 2006 JACs will continue to assess candidates and report to me on their quality and merit for appointment to the bench. Almost invariably, the assessment of candidates by the JACs results in a finding of consensus and a recommendation to me. Thus, voting on the merit of a candidate rarely occurs. If it does, the results of that vote are recorded on the candidate's file comment sheet, which is directly relayed to me with each candidate's file. The outcome of this vote and the comments relayed to me from the committee are taken into consideration when I decide whether to recommend such a candidate for judicial appointment.

Another change announced for the 2006 JACs is that the judicial nominee will be made chair of the JAC. As a consequence, the judicial nominee will have significant control over the oversight of the flow of discussions, and will manage the operation and expectation of assessments of candidates. In rare cases, when a vote is required, the chair will abstain unless his or her vote is required to break a tie. Taking into account the important directive function of the chair, I do not believe the judicial nominee has any less influence in the 2006 JACs than he or she would have had under earlier JACs.

A final operational change announced in November was the elimination of the “highly recommended” designation given to some candidates. As is the case for other aspects of the process, the designations “recommended” and “highly recommended” have not always existed. I remember a time when the JACs were required to assess candidates only as “qualified”or “unqualified”. The designations “unable to recommend”, “recommended”, and “highly recommended” were implemented as a post-1988 change to the process. Unfortunately, there were no criteria based upon which the JACs could objectively determine who should be awarded the “highly recommended” designation. One wonders if such criteria could ever be defined, given the different practice contexts of Canadian lawyers.

Experience also showed that the use of “highly recommended” was in some cases losing its significance, as percentage rates for candidates receiving this designation varied significantly across the country. It's hard to imagine why, on a per capita basis, there could be a significant number of more highly recommended lawyers in one jurisdiction in Canada than in another. There also seemed to be a higher prevalence for the “highly recommended” designations for lawyers coming from larger firms than those from smaller firms or smaller cities.

Finally, the comment sheet provided by the JACs for each candidate is more explicit with respects to strengths and weaknesses of a candidate than any one- or two-word label like “recommended” or “highly recommended”.

All but one of the 2006 JACs have now been constituted, you'll be pleased to know, and several are already meeting to assess over 150 candidates from across Canada who are awaiting consideration of their application for a federal judgeship. I am confident that the 2006 JACs will continue to conduct their examination and assessment of candidates with the same expertise, diligence, and conscience as prior JACs, and will forward recommendations that will permit me to make judicial appointments in a timely fashion, from among candidates of merit and legal excellence.

Finally, I would like to add a brief word about a subject related to the federal judicial appointment process: the outstanding requests for additional judicial resources. I expect committee members are also aware that a number of jurisdictions have expressed the need to have additional judges added to their courts, over and above filling all current vacancies. I want to say I'm prepared to give these requests serious consideration; however, I'm sure all committee members would appreciate that the creation of additional judicial positions involves significant additional ongoing expenditure of public resources. It is therefore not only reasonable, but responsible to ensure that there is a clear, objective indicator of the need for that expenditure. Therefore, my first priority is to get all the vacancies filled in a timely way.

As I've indicated, I think we are making significant headway now that the new judicial advisory committees are in place. Once those vacancies are filled, I will be in a position to better assess the overall needs of the requesting courts, in light of their entire existing judicial complement.

In addition, the government cannot simply act alone in providing additional positions even where their establishment is justified. Rather, amendments to the Judges Act would be required to provide necessary authority for the government to make those appointments. I would hope that all-party support would be secured for the quick passage of such an amendment in the event that the case for additional expenditure of public funds is justified.

Thank you for your attention and I look forward to any questions you may have.

December 11th, 2006 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

To tell you the truth, I wasn't aware that the situation existed in your province. Certainly, as I relate to the situation I'm familiar with and which stirred me to move on this private member's bill, the one parent was very, very ill and the family got involved as well. So there are all kinds of aspects, as you say, of aunts and uncles. If the child isn't aware the other parent is ill, then there are ways to make that happen.

I would think it would be a tool that would help in most situations to deal with terminally ill parents to put this into Bill C-17—and I'd be interested to see what the officials say about section 16 as well—to just make it part of the criteria the judge looks at when he makes these decisions.

Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 21st, 2006 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

It being 5:30 p.m., pursuant to order made Thursday, November 9, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at third reading stage of Bill C-17.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from November 9 consideration of the motion that Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Judges Act and certain other Acts in relation to courts, be read the third time and passed.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, for once I can disagree with my whip, and I will do it at the beginning of my speech. Because we are at third reading stage, this bill will unfortunately be passed or rejected by this House and therefore cannot be referred back to committee.

As I said, I have rarely disagreed with my whip in this House, and I am doing it now because he thought that we could reconsider Bill C-17, which we have already examined. I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and we examined this bill after second reading, only a few days ago.

It is strange, extremely strange even, how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Liberals had set up the same system for judges, and to avoid upsetting them, upsetting judges or whoever it might be, the Conservatives have decided to go ahead with it.

I will begin by saying that establishing the salaries of federal judges is an obligation set out in the Canadian Constitution. The federal government must pay judges’ salaries, and there have always been problems. We saw this in committee. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada appeared before us to explain his view of things, as did senior officials, and everyone is in a quandary.

Do I dare to use the expression? Judges’ salaries, with all due respect for the entire judiciary, are like a hot potato in the hands of the various levels of government, and the various political parties have a little trouble with this. The only party that does not is the Bloc Québécois. We do not aspire to power, and we are in this House until a majority of Quebecers decide to take the path of sovereignty for Quebec. We therefore have no axe to grind. We believe that we can speak to the people of Canada and say: enough is enough.

Listen, Your Honour. Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, if I referred to you as a judge. You would then deserve a much higher salary because, and this is what I was saying, if we give our consent to going ahead with Bill C-17, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada will be earning more money than the Prime Minister who appointed her. That does not make any sense. I do not and will never agree that the Prime Minister of Canada should earn less money than the top government bureaucrat. I do not agree with this.

The Chief Justice would then earn $298,500, the Prime Minister would earn $295,400 and superior court judges would earn over $240,000 retroactively to January 1, 2004, under this bill. That will result in undue pressure and I am going to try to say it in my own words, by virtue of my 25 years of practice in criminal law.

I have pleaded before provincial judges in Quebec, before Superior Court judges who were presiding over trials, and obviously before the Quebec Court of Appeal. I have pleaded before to the Supreme Court as well, of course. Today, on this splendid November 9, there is a gap of almost $50,000 between the salary of a judge of the Superior Court and a judge of the Quebec Court. That gap will increase. What will happen then? Either there will be a total lack of interest or the governments of the provinces, in particular the Quebec government, will be forced to increase the salaries of their judges to meet, if they can, the salaries of the Superior Court judges. That will cost a lot of money.

The Bloc Québécois does not agree with giving a salary increase of 7.25% effective April 1, 2004, accompanied by legislated indexation on the first of April each year.

Why is the increase 7.25? We did some research and as of April 1, 2004, the increase in the cost of living was 2.5%. Why then give an addition 5%, especially considering the salaries. We are not talking about a salary of $22,000 or $30,000 but an annual salary of almost $250,000; 7.25% of $250,000 is a lot of money.

Even if we were the only ones to say it, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is unacceptable and that the people of Canada do not agree with it. At least, they would not agree if they were well informed, as we are here in this House, as we were at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when all the experts told us that it was much too high.

We would like the judicial compensation and benefits commission to be able to do its work. Here is what happens. Given that the government has a hot potato, it creates the judicial compensation and benefits commission. The commission makes its report, but the government is not satisfied; it rejects the report and asks the commission to start over. Whether they are Liberal or Conservative that is how governments have acted for several years, for far too long.

They had found the solution by creating the judicial compensation and benefits commission. At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, we had the opportunity to hear from the chair of the commission, Mr. McLennan, as well as two members, Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Cherniak. They told us that they had done their work; they investigated all sides of the issue and met with everyone. They made their recommendations.

Why does the government interfere in areas that do not concern it? Let the commission do its work and we will see what happens. Having said that, the commission did its work and we should have adopted their report. That would have solved all the problems.

Like the previous government, the Conservatives were being hypocritical. They refused to recognize the work done by this commission and instead introduced a bill. This bill is very complicated. It creates different classes: appeal court judges, federal court of appeal judges, federal court judges, judges who sit in the North, judges who sit less in the North than those who regularly go there and for less time. They are making Swiss cheese of judges’ salaries. Salaries will be so cut up that no one will be able to figure them out, when the commission had solved the problem.

What we are proposing is an independent procedure for setting salaries, not just for judges but for parliamentarians as well.

There is no question of increasing MPs’ salaries to $300,000—we should not get carried away—but what we have always wanted, and what worked, was that MPs’ salaries would follow the lead of the judicial compensation and benefits commission. MPs’ salaries were added to ensure that they did not vote themselves excessive increases.

I was not in the House at the time but listened to the debate. I was a lawyer practising in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, and there was a meeting of the bar where this was discussed. We thought it was a good idea and that MPs, their staffs and judges would no longer be in a conflict of interest. But they decided to cut that.

Judges' compensation will therefore be subject to Bill C-17 and, according to what the government says, it will get around to parliamentarians’ salaries when it has time.

We would have wanted judges’ salaries to be based on the same indexing procedure as parliamentarians’ so that they would rise each year at the same rate as the salaries of unionized employees of large businesses in the private sector, so about 2.4%. Everyone should have cost-of-living adjustments.

Why does this government want to put judges in a class of their own with a 7.25% increase retroactive to January 2004, and then add a cost of living adjustment?

The Minister of Justice and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice came before the committee and told us that the independence of judges had to be protected. For heaven’s sake. I think that at $250,000 a year, judges’ independence is quite nicely protected. Why give them another 7.25% a year, retroactive to January 2004? Judges are going to end up with salaries of nearly $280,000. That is too much in our view.

We will therefore oppose this bill. Even if they are the only ones in this House to do so, the members from the Bloc Québécois will oppose the bill. Sadly, the bill is likely to pass anyway, since the Liberals, who are playing the same politics as the Conservatives, will probably go for generous salary increases for judges. Perhaps some of them harbour ambitions of sitting on the bench. Time will tell, but I do not think that the public will tolerate this kind of thing for very long. Again, as we said before, we want judges' salaries to be determined using the same indexing mechanism used for parliamentarians. Given that our salaries are now subject to a yearly indexation of 2.4%, we cannot see why that same increase could not apply to judges.

Before closing, I want to add that we would like the government to reinstate the statutory obligation to tie the salaries of parliamentarians to those of judges.

I have five minutes remaining. I shall not rush therefore to conclude. Questions will be answered later, as there are ten minutes provided for that. I can see that my hon. colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse is anxious to put a question to me. I will gladly answer him. I have a pretty good idea of what his question will be.

We have called for a separate method of appointing judges to the Supreme Court. At present, they are appointed by the Prime Minister from a list.

We wanted Quebec, the government of the province concerned, as the case may be, or the region where a position needs to be filled to be able to submit a closed list of candidates to be reviewed by a committee including federal members before being sent to the federal Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister for final selection.

The Liberals had grasped that. I hope that the Conservatives will as well. We would like essentially the same method, with committee reviews, to be used for appointing judges to federal courts.

I should remind members that, for the Bloc Québécois, the independence of the judiciary is essential to the safeguarding of our judicial system. I will not denigrate anyone in this House by saying that all parliamentarians believe that the independence of the judiciary is one of the fundamental principles of our judicial system. I think that is what everyone believes.

We would like a system whereby the process for appointing judges, and Superior Court judges in particular, is a non-partisan one.

At present, it is the same as before. In other words, the Liberals appointed Liberals and the Conservatives appoint Conservatives. We had proof at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, when the Minister of Justice came to tell us that he had received a list containing only the names of people with Liberal allegiances. He asked the committee to redo its homework, and suddenly there appeared the names of potential judges who had made their careers, helped and worked for the Conservative Party. This is unacceptable.

I sat on the judicial appointment committee in Quebec. Clearly I had no aspiration to be made a judge, but I sat on the committee. It is independent and composed of a member of the bar, the chief justice or deputy judge of the responsible court and a representative of the public. We establish a list and we meet with all the candidates listed, and then we give the minister a list of two to four candidates, and the minister chooses the judges by means of this list.

I have put the question to the minister and I put it now to this House: why could we not have the same system? Also, I had put it to the previous Minister of Justice, the hon. member for Mount Royal, and I have put it to the current Minister of Justice. But I still have not received any answers.

The House must reiterate the importance of the independence of the judiciary.

To leave time for questions, and as my hon. colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse will surely wish to ask me some, as will other colleagues in this House, I will say in closing that we are against this bill and we are going to vote no, in spite of everything. Perhaps we will be the only ones in this House to vote against the bill, but we will have stood steadfast, throughout the time we have been here, and we will do so for as long as we are here.

If it is up to us, we will still be here for the coming years, in view of the survey whose results we saw this morning. Things are going pretty well, after all. We will be here to represent Quebec’s interests and to defend them until sovereignty. One of these interests is that judges should not receive salary increases above the cost of living index, which is currently at about 2.4% annually. I do not see why they should receive more, and no one can give us an explanation.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 12:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on how you direct the proceedings when you are in the chair. Everything runs very smoothly.

I am pleased to speak about Bill C-17, an act to amend the Judges Act and certain other acts in relation to courts, and especially about judges' salaries. First, I would like to say that the Bloc Québécois does not support the bill in principle, and I will explain why. I will also explain what we in the Bloc Québécois would suggest.

In their statements before question period and whenever they get the chance, the Conservatives like to say, “Oh, the Bloc is useless, the Bloc doesn't make any proposals”, and so on. I would remind hon. members that the Bloc is not content merely to criticize. It also suggests improvements to legislation proposed by the government. When legislation is acceptable and sounds reasonable, the Bloc Québécois votes for it. We do not want to stoop to petty politics by saying, “We are opposed to that because it comes from the government or another party”. But when legislation does not seem reasonable, the Bloc Québécois is not afraid to strongly condemn it and suggest improvements.

This bill proposes that the government increase judges' salaries by 7.25% effective April 1, 2004. Yes, Mr. Speaker, you heard correctly, 7.25%. I am speaking to the people sitting in the gallery or watching us on the Parliamentary channel. I would like to know whether many of them got a 7.25% increase in the past year.

As my colleague from Alfred-Pellan so aptly pointed out, when we go to seniors' facilities and golden-age clubs, people say to us, “Our old age pension cheque went up last month”. It went up by 18¢ or 47¢, but that does not even buy one cup of coffee a week. It is important to stress that this bill provides for a 7.25% salary increase for judges, who incidentally are not underpaid.

I wish to say right away that the Bloc Québécois did not set out to campaign against judges as individuals or as an institution. What is at issue is legislation which gives judges a 7.25% increase in salary retroactive to April 1, 2004. That is the issue. I would not want anyone to make allegations that the Bloc Québécois has something against judges, because that is not at all the case.

We in the Bloc Québécois believe that this salary increase is completely unreasonable. I will also explain how it came about under the process, what we had before and what happened at the time, and so how we now have a bill which provides solely for increases in judges' salaries.

We also realize that by constantly changing the recommendations of the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission, both the Liberals and the Conservatives unduly politicize the process of setting salaries. In this matter, the Conservative government has chosen to continue this hypocritical tradition instituted in the 13 years of Liberal rule, by continuing not to link the salaries of parliamentarians and judges.

Here is what happened. We realized that it was a delicate matter for parliamentarians to vote on their own salary increases. This could give rise to comments by columnists or the public, citizens who we meet by chance at various activities in our neighbourhoods, at the mall or at social events.

Sometimes people would tell us that it made no sense for us to vote for our own salary increases. That is quite true. The government at the time, the Liberal government, had contacted us about a different process for determining the salaries of parliamentarians and judges. There is a commission that sets the salaries and examines various criteria, including the cost of living, inflation and salaries paid under various collective agreements in Canada. This mechanism is fairly complex and I certainly would not have the time to explain it in detail in a 20-minute speech.

Accordingly, members would no longer have to vote on their own salaries since it would be the role of the commission to make a decision on that subject. This was a body made up of House leaders. Earlier today—at the time I was working in committee—our House leader probably explained that some basic principles were established. For example, to determine the salary of the Prime Minister, one should ask what is the highest office, in terms of hierarchy but also in terms of salary, appointed by the Prime Minister. Who is that? That person is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The question then was whether it was normal, acceptable and realistic that the Prime Minister should earn the same salary as the highest official that he or she appoints. All the parties were represented around the table and all answered “Yes” to that question. That was how it was established that the salary of the Prime Minister should be the same as the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

A second question also arose : is it normal, acceptable and realistic that ministers, who have a little less responsibility than the Prime Minister but a little more responsibility than a constituency member, should receive 75% of the salary paid to the Prime Minister? All parties answered “Yes” to that question, and as a result ministers’ salaries were established. I purposely did not use the words “ordinary member” or “mere member” because even the Prime Minister is a “member” before becoming Prime Minister. The same applies to ministers because we are in a parliamentary system. Unlike us, in other countries the ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister or President without the need to be elected. We are in a parliamentary system with 308 members.

That led to a third question. What about the other members in this House? That includes me, as well as the majority of my colleagues who are here in the House at noon today and who are listening attentively to my remarks. Is it normal that these members should earn 50% of the salary of the Prime Minister and 25% less than a minister because they have fewer responsibilities? Thus, the salary for members was established.

The salary structure of the 308 elected members of this House was tied to the recommendations of this totally independent commission and, through it, the salary of judges was also determined.

Still, through some petty politicking, in 2004, the House leader, and government House leader, when the Liberals were in power, decided that it was no longer appropriate for members’ salaries to be pegged to judges’ salaries, and that we should put an end to that.

The outcome was that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court now earns more money than the Prime Minister. I will explain the figures later, if time allows.

So the most senior public servant appointed by the Prime Minister now earns more money than he does. I worked for 16 years in human resources, in the pulp and paper industry, before becoming an MP. I never saw an employee, a worker, earn more than the plant manager, unless of course he did excessive overtime, spent literally 95 hours a week in the factory and worked all holidays, etc. Industrial health and safety legislation, however, stipulates that employees must not work more than a certain number of consecutive hours, I think it is 16 hours.

So we have before us a totally absurd principle pertaining to salary structure, introduced at the time by the Liberal Party House leader, Tony Valeri, and perpetuated by the Conservative government. What is needed is to separate the remuneration of MPs from the remuneration of judges, which is the point of this bill.

We in the Bloc Québécois, through our House leader, gave our word in good faith. We were in favour of the principles whereby judges’ salaries should be linked to MPs’ salaries.

This is not petty politicking on our part. We are not challenging this out of plain pettiness towards the judiciary. We are acting on the following ground: if the earlier principle was true when it was established, how is it different today?

I remind the House that this year MPs got a 2.4% salary increase. I still have contacts with the private sector and the public sector, and I think that this matches the increases given to union employees in the large private sector companies, whether paper mills, aluminum plants or the automobile industry—which unfortunately we no longer have in Quebec. I consider that this percentage is reasonable and acceptable, but what about the 7.5% that the judges are going to get? It is totally unacceptable.

The Bloc Québécois is proposing an independent salary setting mechanism for parliamentarians as well as for judges, and calling for the government to reintroduce a legislative obligation to link the salaries of parliamentarians to the salaries of judges.

Also, because the indexing of the salaries of judges and parliamentarians has to be reasonable, the Bloc Québécois is asking that the salaries of judges be based on the same indexing mechanism as the salaries of parliamentarians, so that their salaries increase each year in step with those of unionized employees of big corporations in the private sector.

This is what I wanted to say on the matter. For all these reasons, I can tell this House that the Bloc Québécois will not support this bill, at least not in principle. This bill will likely be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, on which I sit.

In due course, we will determine whether amendments should be proposed. This bill is completely unacceptable. Furthermore, I deplore the fact that the Liberals and Conservatives are speaking with one voice on this matter. This is sheer hypocrisy. They are ignoring the facts in order to try to look good.

I would like to repeat once again that our position does not mean that we have anything against judges, either as individuals or as an institution. I would not want there to be any misunderstanding about what we are saying. Bill C-17 is before the House and the Bloc Québécois is offering its opinions on this bill. Let no one think that we wish to put certain people in categories.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 11:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to debate Bill C-17, an act to amend the Judges Act and certain other Acts in relation to courts.

Before I begin my remarks, I will note that I have just come from a meeting with a delegation from Mongolia. I certainly commend them for being here. I think we have a lot in common with that country. I am delighted that we were able to meet with the Mongolians, who have made the effort to come to Parliament today.

I would like to briefly comment on the remarks made by the Bloc member who just spoke. I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that a few hours ago I actually made a recommendation for how eloquent a speaker he was. That was certainly upheld by his speech today. I think all parliamentarians should take note of how eloquently he spoke. One of the keys in making an eloquent speech is to make only one or two points. He did that admirably. It was a dynamic speech.

The bad news is that I disagree with the two points the member made.

First, I have always had difficulty talking about the salaries of members of Parliament. I have never thought that salaries should decided by elected officials at any level.

Second, comparing judges and members of Parliament is like comparing apples and oranges. A special independent commission was set up to do the research on a particular occupational group. It did the research and came up with a recommendation that cannot necessarily be applied to other groups because there may be different histories, conditions and situations. It is a more complex situation.

Some members have suggested that it is a delicate topic any time we talk about the salaries of judges in a debate. I am not going to talk about their salaries. It would be a contradiction of the whole point that I am trying to make in this debate, and that is the independence of the legislative branch and the government.

I am not going to comment on whether judges are making too much or not enough, whether the original recommendation was enough, or whether the government's cut is too much. To do so would defeat the whole purpose, which is that we should not have great influence over the judiciary so that it can be independent.

Probably I will vote for Bill C-17, and certainly the Liberals will be supporting it, but only under extreme duress, which I will explain. My point is around the whole argument of the independence of the judiciary.

First, though, I want to reiterate a technical point that I made at the previous reading of the bill. It is related to my jurisdiction as the northern critic for the three northern territories. In the bill, the chief justices in the provinces are so named, but under subsections 22(1), 22(2) and 22(2.1), the bill refers to those who are the chief justices in the territories as senior judges. This is an archaic definition.

There have been no objections in the House to harmonizing these terms. The three territorial governments have suggested that the titles be harmonized. The federal minister of justice at the time and the judicial council also have recommended that this be modernized and updated so that the senior judges in the territories would also be called chief justices. As we see in the bill, they have the same responsibilities and receive the same remuneration. They should also receive the same title. I hope that technicality in the bill can be changed.

I would like to thank the justice minister. After discussions, the Minister of Justice has taken this suggestion to the Prime Minister, who apparently has to make that decision. Hopefully he will make this change so that we can get this technical improvement people are asking for and we can change the title of senior judge to chief justice so they are all the same.

As the representative for the north, I am totally in favour of the discussions related to the northern allowance and the added costs of doing business and living in the north that are covered in this bill.

I would like to comment first of all about some of the witnesses. I think the first group of witnesses we had at committee was the commission that determined these salaries. I must say that, just like some of us, they were apoplectic when I talked to them personally about this decision that had been made. They were not apoplectic that their decision had been changed, but that the process had been politicized.

They had given their report to the previous government, which had agreed with the report and was going to maintain that independence of the judiciary with no serious reason to question it. All of a sudden, a new government came in and changed the recommendations. What had changed from one day to the next?

The members of the committee thought that was an exceptional politicization of the process and exactly what was not supposed to occur. They were trying to create the independence of this commission, so it would not have political or legislative interference in the judiciary.

The reason that was given at the time was the cost, that the government could not influence its agenda the way it wanted to. Really, except for a few members on the Conservative side of the House, I do not think anyone could really understand or accept that a minor amount of $3,000 in the scope of the entire Canadian budget would stop a government from implementing its agenda, in particular at a time when there is a $13 billion surplus. It is really ludicrous to even consider that argument.

On top of that, the government has more cash than it ever expected to have. It cut the Kelowna accord which is $5 billion extra. The day care agreements that we had with the provinces would be $10 billion or $15 billion more. The government also let a number of excellent greenhouse gas programs expire, such as EnerGuide, so there was all sorts of extra cash. If we were to go with that rationale, the government would probably have too much cash and should be paying the judges more. It just does not wash.

I would like to present more evidence and more opinions to the same effect.

The way the system has been set up to maintain an independence of the judiciary begins with this independent commission. That commission had a member from the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association and a member from the government. They then chose the chair. This commission makes recommendations regarding benefits for judges. Unless there are serious reasons, and it is very specifically laid out as to the definition of those reasons, Parliament would approve those and make the final decision. However, as I was just suggesting, the government did not give any serious defensible rationale under the guidelines and description that the Supreme Court of Canada gave.

When we were decrying the very sad and senseless cutting of the Law Reform Commission, the justice minister suggested there were a number of other bodies that could give advice to government. One of them that was suggested was the Canadian Bar Association, which, by the way, said at that time that it was shocked that the government would suggest that, because it did not have the resources and time to do all the good work the Law Commission was doing.

Nevertheless, if the government wants to use the Canadian Bar Association instead of the Law Reform Commission, let me just quote what the Canadian Bar Association submitted to the committee on this bill, which backs up what I was just saying.

In its submission, it said:

The CBA is concerned that the government response fails to pay adequate heed to the constitutional imperative to depoliticize the process of setting judicial salaries and benefits, in accordance with the principles set out by the Supreme Court of Canada.

So, it is not just coming from me or from this side of the House and some of the other speakers we have heard. It is coming from the Canadian Bar Association, who the minister himself said was an excellent body to provide advice to the government.

It went on:

More particularly, the government response fails to provide adequate reasons, and evidence in support of those reasons, to deviate from the salary recommendations in the 2003 commission report.

In fact, it went on further. The whole basis of the point that I am trying to make today reflects on the independence of the judiciary. It is, as the Canadian Bar Association says: “An independent judiciary is a cornerstone of a democratic society”.

I am sure all parliamentarians agree with that basic foundation of our constitutional democracy, of law and order acceptance in Canada, and that there is a total separation of the judiciary and the legislative process. How could we have powerful legislators telling judges or influencing judges in their decisions: who they convicted, what they did, and the types of sentences? Would that be fair? Would that be equal justice before all? Of course not. I am sure every parliamentarian would agree with that.

The independence of the judiciary is referenced in the Constitution and it is just a cornerstone principle. As the Canadian Bar Association went on to say: “An independent judiciary is 'the lifeblood of constitutionalism in democratic societies'”.

So, it is this principle that I am basing my arguments on today. I do not think anyone would suggest that if they were getting paid by someone, someone influencing their salary, that it would not have an influence on their decisions. Certainly, with regard to all the employers I have had over my life that were paying me, I took some deference to their opinions and views. That is exactly why an independent commission was set up that had to have serious reasons for altering its recommendations.

I want to go on to present further comments on the report and those reasons as identified by the Canadian Bar Association.

The CBA believes that the government response is so generalized and so lacking in particulars that it fails to give a meaningful effort to the 2003 commission report.

The government submitted two reasons. The second reason that it provided, a technical reason, and I give it credit, was actually accurate. It was accepted by the bar commission as a potential minor reason for some modification of the report. But it had this as the second reason.

Its first reason, which was given much more prominence in the view of the Canadian Bar Association in its decision, had no waiting specified in its decision, so it would be hard for observers to make an evaluation to that effect. However, it seems to give to the knowledgeable observers far more credibility to the first rationale which was not found to be acceptable and was not found to fall within the Supreme Court guidelines, and was not acceptable as a reason.

So, under those circumstances, the Canadian Bar Association just said that this is not acceptable, this does not maintain the independence of the judiciary and so, these changes are not appropriate. In fact, it suggested the best outcome for the judicial independence would be for Bill C-17 to be amended without delay to compare with the recommendations of the 2003 commission report.

I guess in the long run that would be best. However, we live in the real world, the day-to-day world. We also have to take into account other ramifications.

Judges must now wait for three years out of a four year cycle. It is about to start next year again and this decision is holding up the whole process.

Certainly, I personally do not mind doing it on a matter of principle, but on the other hand, through these technicalities, I do not want to hold up the process. The judges need to get on with their lives. The process can start again next year and we hope these considerations will be kept in mind.

I hope that in the future this will be a good warning to those people involved in the process to remember the great Canadian principle, that of modern constitutional democracies, which believe in the rule of law and that the independence of the legislature and the judiciary should be maintained. That is a very important principle of our society.

In conclusion, I have one last reference to a report from the Canadian Bar Association to substantiate that. It says that if we carry on like this with the government bill as is, it further risks damaging the judicial independence and public support for the administration of justice.

We certainly do not want that to happen. As previous speakers have said, we have one of the most honoured justice systems in the world. People from around the world are looking to our retired judges to lead worldwide initiatives. There is great credibility and part of that credibility is based on the independence of the judiciary to do its best. I hope I have made that point strongly today and that it will be thought out carefully in the future when this process comes back to us in the not too distant future.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 11:35 a.m.
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NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the speech by my colleague from Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, in order to understand his arguments.

I listened very carefully to the social justice arguments that were put forward on behalf of the Bloc Québécois that has allowed the Bloc to rationalize why it is supporting the government position with regard to Bill C-17.

I have a lot of sympathy for that social justice argument. I think there is every reason to be concerned about the growing gap. There is every reason to be concerned about paying exorbitant, excessive salaries to one segment of the population, even if we can make a case for a higher level of education and so on as compared to working people. The member knows that the New Democratic Party is very much seized with the same arguments.

I am extremely surprised frankly that the member chose not to address at all what I think is at the heart of the government's actions with respect to the bill and that is the serious erosion of the independence of the judiciary.

I listened carefully when the member made the arguments on the basis of comparability of salaries and so on. However, what I did not hear was any suggestion whatever coming from the member about whether his party had any concerns about the independence of the judiciary which is being severely compromised by the government's actions.

It has been described that we are involved in a farcical process because the government knows that we do not have the means to actually act on even a decision that might represent the majority of this party because it is holding the power and the purse strings to do that in the processes.

I did not hear the member acknowledge that, taken in and of itself, the encroachment on the independence of the judiciary represented by the bill is problematic enough, but taken together with the elimination of the court challenges program and the Law Commission, we are seeing a very serious, dangerous and devious pattern.

I wonder if the member would address those aspects of concern that have certainly been identified as a very serious aspect of what is going on with the government's decision to basically throw out the independent process for determining the level of remuneration for judges.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 11:15 a.m.
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Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to once again rise in this House to discuss Bill C-17 dealing with the salaries of federally appointed judges across Canada.

It is a delicate matter to discuss the salaries of the judiciary. We agree on that fact. It is important for those who are listening to us and who are trying to understand this, to know that the Bloc Québécois voted against the bill on second reading because we consider that the increase offered to judges by the government is well beyond the norm in all other sectors of Canadian activity where the government and public funds are involved. It is important that we explain to the people why we have adopted this position.

On May 31, 2004, the mechanism for establishing the compensation of judges went into action; the commission presented its report and recommended a salary adjustment of about 10% for judges and parliamentarians. The salaries of parliamentarians had been linked to that of judges by the previous Liberal government—not the government just prior to the last election but the government of Jean Chrétien. At that time, the Liberals had decided, I believe with the unanimous consent of the House, that it was important that not only the salaries of judges but also those of parliamentarians should be removed from public debate.

It became usual, proper and accepted that from then on the salaries of the two groups became linked. Among other principles, it seemed to us unreasonable and illogical that mechanisms should determine that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who holds a very high office, but an office that in terms of hierarchy is not as high as the Prime Minister, and with the passage of time, that other members of the judiciary, should have a much higher salary than the Prime Minister.

All those who are listening to us, who are at home and are of good faith, will certainly want to say that it is perfectly normal and they believe that the salary of the Prime Minister should be higher than the salary of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if only by a single dollar.

Finally, with the acceptance of this mechanism or idea, a link was established between the salaries of judges and those of parliamentarians by concluding that if the mechanism works so well for judges, it should be the same for parliamentarians. So, it was agreed once and for all to stop talking about that because the situation is even more odious for members since they are the ones who have to determine their own salaries. If it is annoying to members to discuss judges’ salaries, you can image how annoying it is to talk about their own salaries.

This means that in our democracy, here in Canada primarily, we have often seen in the past, in the provinces, cases where elected representatives’ salaries were harshly criticized by the public. In some governments, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers, people who have good job security, are paid more than ministers, and in some cases than the premier. There should really be some degree of fairness, and the public is entitled to know about these things.

At the initiative of the previous Liberal government, under Jean Chrétien, judges’ salaries were used as the model and the increases that members of Parliament should receive were tied to the increases given to judges.

At the time the report was submitted, the increase was about 10%. The former Liberal prime minister, the one who was in office at the time of the election, the member for LaSalle—Émard who is still a member today, suddenly got excited. It had become unthinkable and horrible that members be given a 10% salary increase. There were headlines in the newspapers and this became something quite shameful. It was indeed a large increase. Everyone thought it was huge, knowing that all of the raises being given in other parts of the economy were 1.5% or 2% or 3% or something of that sort.

How could we justify parliamentarians suddenly being given a 10% raise? This had nothing to do with parliamentarians; in fact it was the mechanism for setting judges’ salaries that had produced a 10% increase in members’ salaries.

Parliamentarians had nothing to do with this. I was told I would be getting a 10% increase. The prime minister got all excited and said that this did not make sense, because Canadians did not have the resources to give politicians a 10% raise. Everyone applauded and said that it did not make sense to give a 10% raise. This did not look good, because if other people were getting a 2% raise, why would we get a 10% raise? We agreed.

When the decision was made to break the law that put politicians and judges in the same box, or undo that law, the Bloc Québécois, concerned about fairness to the public, said that if a 10% raise for politicians was scandalous, because people did not have the resources to pay that kind of increase, which was understandable, the public did not have the resources to give judges that kind of increase either. My goodness, there are more judges than members of Parliament.

I am trying to understand the logic followed by the member for LaSalle—Émard, who was the prime minister at the time.

No, Canadians did not have the resources to pay what the mechanism for determining judges’ salaries called for, which was a 10% increase. That was scandalous. Members of Parliament had to be distanced from what was being asked for. We would not give ourselves such a raise; we would make it closer to employees’ salary increase, a raise of 2% or 3%. Everyone agreed to this. Everyone thought that it made sense. In all the living rooms of the land, people applauded.

What people did not know, however, was that the Prime Minister had it in mind that the increase, which was too expensive for Canadians and for the 308 members of this House, was not too expensive for the hundreds and even thousands of judges in Canada. To the Prime Minister’s mind, the resolution no longer worked; the idea no longer worked.

These are the kinds of actions that have put us in the situation we are facing today. We have to re-assess judges' salaries and set aside the recommendations in the mechanism because at one time, politically opportunistic people destroyed the credibility of the mechanism and the process. In an “attempt to win votes”, they tried to make us believe that Canadians would be much poorer if the 308 members of this House and the hundreds or thousands of judges in Canada got a 10% pay raise.

We agreed with the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Canadians cannot give a 10% pay raise to members of Parliament—we understand and we agree—they do not have to. But then nobody should get a raise. We cannot give a raise to one half of the people and not the other.

Canadian citizens are too poor to pay their members of Parliament a reasonable salary or to give them a pay raise, yet they are rich enough to give judges a raise? Hold on a second. We like judges well enough and we respect the judiciary, but our priority is justice. We support social justice. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Period. End of discussion.

Citizens made it very clear to the member for LaSalle—Émard what they thought of his decision. The member for LaSalle—Émard, who was Prime Minister at the time, kind of broke the mechanism. Since then, the Bloc Québécois has said that it will not agree to another mechanism unless and until there is a guarantee that judges will be treated fairly with respect to citizens, that is, that their pay raises will match everyone else's.

I would like someone to explain to me why it is that Canadians can afford to grant judges a salary increase of 7%, yet they cannot afford to grant a salary increase of 4% to a deputy minister, a 4% increase to an assistant deputy minister, a 4% increase to a public servant who looks after the cleaning here in Parliament, a 4% increase to any professional who works in the public service—such as an engineer or accountant, for example—and a 4% increase to MPs. Someone please explain this to me. It is taxpayers who must pay and who we are asking to make an effort.

We definitely want the judiciary to have the respect of Canadians, to function independently, and to maintain the trust of Canadians.We must avoid at all cost creating a situation in which judges receive a salary increase that is completely out of line with what other Canadians receive and what they can afford to pay everyone who serves the Government of Canada, at all levels. Judges serve the Government of Canada and Canadian citizens in an independent judicial system that is not isolated from the economic situation of this country. That is the reality.

Rulings have been handed down, such as the Bodner case in Alberta. The court clearly acknowledged that decisions about the allocation of public resources belong to legislatures and to governments. Governments are entitled to reject or modify commission recommendations provided that they have articulated a legitimate reason for doing so—which is fine, that the government’s reasons rely upon a reasonable factual foundation—which is also fine, and that, viewed globally and with deference to the government’s opinion, the commission process has been respected.

The commission has reported, the government believes that the economy does not permit giving anyone much more than the overall increase in the economy as a whole, and the government is able to explain this. It sees to me that that should become the rule. That is what the judgment says. However, governments do not have the courage to apply decisions as they should. They have a bad habit of behaving in one way when public opinion is at stake and another when it is not very much. As an elected representative of the people, I cannot accept that.

I am prepared to meet voters under any circumstances and justify the decisions for which I voted in Parliament. I am prepared to do that at any time. I am not prepared, though, to meet people in my riding to explain an injustice. I am not prepared to meet them and say that the government does not think it has enough money for certain very deserving social causes, it does not have enough money to help older workers who were let go in mass layoffs due to globalization problems.

I cannot say that to forest workers in the riding of Roberval. These are people who are 58 years old and toiled all their lives in a plant or sawmill. Now these people are being let go, and at 60 or 62 years of age, they do not have the necessary pension funds. They are condemned to give up their houses, cottages and cars. They go on welfare until they turn 65 and can get their Canada pension. I cannot in all conscience meet these people and tell them that the government does not have $75 million to spend on all the older workers victimized by mass layoffs in Canada. On the other hand, though, the government does have $75 million to spend on judges all across Canada over three years. It is going to give them annual increases between $14,000 and $20,000.

I hold our judges and parliamentarians in high regard, but I cannot in all conscience and as a member of Parliament tell my voters that I agree with a $14,000 to $20,000 salary increase for judges, who are already earning between $220,000 and $260,000, when the government does not have $12,000 or $14,000 for families that have been reduced to poverty through economic circumstances, globalization and mass layoffs. I am sorry, but I cannot do that. There are some things a person just cannot do in life, and that is one I cannot do.

I have nothing against judges, but let them be subject to the same criteria as parliamentarians, which my Liberal colleague referred to earlier. Let them be subject to the same criteria.

Why should the rule whereby increases in wages and salaries reflect the collective wealth of society not apply to judges?

Would the protection of judges from public opprobrium not be best achieved by ensuring that their salary increases are not sickening to those for whom poverty and misery are a part of their daily lives? Does protecting judges not mean ensuring fair pay, but pay that reflects the increase in collective wealth across the country? Am I to understand that, until this year, the Canadian judiciary was 7% poorer than average Canadians? Absolutely not.

In Canada, the judiciary is well paid, as it should be. It should nevertheless be granted pay increases which reflect a social and economic reality that cannot be ignored.

I do not see why a profoundly human speech in tune with reality, or explaining to people that the mechanism for setting judges' salaries should take into account the increase in collective wealth, would raise opposition on the other side of the House. If I said anything terribly wrong today, let me be chided on the spot. What was wrong with saying that I believe it is not right for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to have a salary set by this House that is higher than that of the Prime Minister? There is no cause for scandal in that.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 10:40 a.m.
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NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have heard my colleague's comments on Bill C-17 dealing with the whole issue of compensation for the judiciary. I have enormous respect for my colleague's indepth knowledge of the law, which is why he is such a good justice critic, but also for his profound understanding of what is so dangerous about this bill.

It would be very easy for the government to fluff it off and persuade people that judges are already well paid anyway. However, what is clear is that the concern goes so much further and much deeper. We want to know what underlies the proposed changes that are brought forward here in terms of an outright attack on the independence of the judiciary.

The member referred to the fact that our judiciary is well-known and that it is respected throughout the world. As the international development and foreign affairs critic, I am aware of how our judges and our retired judges are sought after by countries around the world to assist with the judicial reforms needed in other countries. In fact, the new love affair of the government is to be talking about democratic development. Everybody knows that the reform in the judiciary and the independence of the judiciary is absolutely critical.

I wonder if the member might elaborate further on the stature of our judiciary. He said that they are not perfect, and none is, but in terms of how they are seen, not just within Canada but literally around the world, for their distinguished service to justice.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

November 9th, 2006 / 10:20 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak on the third reading of Bill C-17, a piece of legislation that at least purports to incorporate into law, as is required by legislation, the report of an independent commission with regard to salaries and other compensation for our judiciary at the federal level, all the way from the Supreme Court of Canada to our superior courts across the country, as well as our federal court system. There are approximately 1,100 of those judges across the country.

Historically this has been a very difficult problem for legislatures, at both the federal and the provincial level. The problem we have is because of the structure of our Constitution, which recognizes the independence of our judiciary and, quite frankly, the importance of an independent judiciary to the democracy of Canada. We never have been able to satisfactorily deal with how we compensate those judges and maintain their independence from the legislative and administrative branches of government.

Approximately 10 years ago, a system was developed as a result of several court decisions, and one since then, that required the legislative branch, this House and government, to establish an independent commission, a commission that would be composed of an independent neutral chair, one person delegated from the government and one from the judiciary. That commission was to investigate the compensation paid to judges right across the country at the federal level and make recommendations in the form of a report.

That report then came back, first to the government, and to the House as well, to be dealt with in committee and encompassed in legislation. That is why the bill is before the House at this point. What happened to some significant degree, and I think shamefully, is that the process either has been ignored by the government in its proper sense or has been hijacked to some degree for ideological reasons by the government. I suppose we could use interchangeable terms here.

The report that came back recommended certain compensation levels, straight salary levels, while a number of issues around pensions and fringe benefits, if I can put it in that vernacular, were to be dealt with by way of these recommendations for the government to implement.

One of the travesties of what has gone on here is that this report is almost four years old now. The previous Liberal government, as was so common with that government, dithered on it and did not deal with it other than preparing some legislation to accept it. That government then basically just let it sit, ignoring its constitutional responsibilities to process the commission's recommendations in a reasonable timeframe. That had been part of one of the court decisions, that whatever methodology was deployed it had to be used in a reasonable timeframe. The past Liberal government did not do that.

Then we had the Conservative government. Of course, I think the country generally knows its attitude toward the judiciary. One of the first things it did, in the form of this legislation encompassed in Bill C-17, was to slash the compensation, both in salary and in some of the benefits, by over 25%. To go through the bill's history, it then went to the justice committee. Attempts were made there by me on behalf of the NDP to reinstate the commission's recommendations.

I want to go directly to the intellectual dishonestly of the government with regard to this. The courts, in a series of cases, have said the commission's recommendations are to be accepted and can only be deviated from if set criteria are met. What came forward from the government was a couple of arguments, no more than that. The government tried to characterize them as sound reasons, but they were arguments that were specious and in fact intellectually dishonest.

One of the reasons the government gave for slashing the compensation recommendation was that it had the right to take into account the state of financial circumstances at the federal level when making a determination. One has to appreciate how ridiculous that was, because in the three and a half years when this report was sitting there and not being dealt with, either by the Liberal government or by the Conservative government, there were surpluses in this country that amounted to in excess of $20 billion over that period of time.

This was not money that was going to be spent by either the Liberal or Conservative governments on other programs, on other necessities in the country. It was simply set back and used to pay down the debt. That is what it was used for. The government tried to contrive an argument that somehow it had the right to take into account financial circumstances, but when one looks at the facts that of course was meaningless.

The other argument the government made was that when the commission did its assessment it did not properly take into account incomes of lawyers, because that is one of the tests that we use to set the compensation we pay our judges. The argument was that it did not take into account a broad enough scope. That simply was not true.

In fact, members of the commission appeared before the justice committee and pointed out that they made an assessment of income levels within the legal community right across the country, in large cities, large law firms, small communities, small law firms and individual practitioners of law. They said they had done all that, that they had done their job and done it properly and had reached a consensus among the three of them, the independent chair, the government appointee and the judiciary appointee. They had reached a consensus that this was the proper amount to be dealing with. So the second argument, the second so-called reason, was basically destroyed by the facts of how the commission had conducted its work.

As I said, the NDP, in my person, attempted to bring it back. It was voted down. First there was a decision that the government would not grant the royal prerogative, even though when the minister was in front of the committee he was equivocal as to whether he would accept the recommendation to increase the amount of compensation to what it was originally in the commission's recommendations.

It was ruled out. There has been no indication since then that this will change, and in fact, just the opposite. Very clearly, if those amendments were brought forward to increase the amount to its original level as recommended by the commission, the government would invoke the royal prerogative and would not be prepared to accept those changes.

That is the bill we now have in front of us at third reading for its upcoming final vote in the House.

I have to say very clearly with regard to this process that it was not honoured. It was just the opposite. In terms of the timelines that were applied, it is a disgrace for both governments, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Specifically, the Conservative government's approach or attempt to explain away its reasons for reducing the amount of compensation for judges is, as I said earlier, specious. It is intellectually dishonest. Quite frankly, it is a disgrace to the importance and the significance of having an independent judiciary, because this goes right to the heart of it.

If someone is going to go after judges' compensation in this fashion, both ignoring the process and then trying to undermine it with specious arguments, it really is very difficult not to see that the independence of the judiciary is being attacked by the government.

This is a pattern that we have seen from the government, both as a political party before it became government this last year and since it has been in power. I will go back to that to give other examples of how I have seen the judiciary at the federal level come under attack from that political party.

Before I do that, I want to make one final point with regard to the process. Given that it has taken us so long, we are now at a stage where the government has to appoint a new commission because the cycle for judicial compensation is actually in vogue at this point. The government has not done that but I assume it will be doing it shortly.

However, it begs the question: Are we going to go through the same process, assuming, and one would hope not, that the government will still be in power when the recommendation comes back from the commission? Will the government again ignore an independent commission doing good work, the solid processing of information, to determine what is appropriate compensation for our judiciary?

Given what I have seen go on in this process, I have no reason to believe that the government will not undermine the process if it does not get the recommendation that it believes is appropriate rather than what the independent commission believes is appropriate.

I believe this is part of a pattern. I will just go through a number of points where I see the Conservative Party, which is now government, attacking our judiciary from a number of different vantage points.

When the debate was going on over same sex marriage, the Leader of the Conservative Party, now the Prime Minister, made wild accusations of our judiciary being biased, that they were small “l” liberal appointments appointed by large “L” Liberal governments to specifically enhance the program of rights for the gay and lesbian community in this country. It was a wild accusation, it was offensive to the independence of our judiciary and it was wrong.

One of the leading decisions that came out of the Court of Appeal in Ontario, a three member court, was made by Justice McMurtry, a Conservative cabinet minister in the provincial Government of Ontario at one time, who was appointed to the bench by the Mulroney Conservative government. The court interpreted the Constitution and the Charter of Rights specifically based on equality rights. The Conservative Party did not want to hear that and so the Leader of the Conservative Party made a wild accusation that, ultimately, was factually incorrect.

Near the end of the election campaign, we again heard him say that he saw the judiciary as being one of his opponents if he were elected. His government and his party see the judiciary, not as part of the constitutional structure of this country and not as part of the fundamental support for democracy in this country, but as an ideological opponent to the government and its political party.

Shortly after the election, we had the member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin attacking and putting words into the mouth of the Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice alleging she had made certain statements. The member subsequently had to apologize because they were statements that he had made up. What it showed was the attitude of the Conservative Party, now the government, toward the judiciary. It has total disrespect and it is willing to fabricate accusations against the judiciary, all of it based on a strong, ideological bent that it sees the Supreme Court, our superior courts and our Federal Courts as not being supportive.

We hear a number of members from that party constantly attacking the judiciary for making laws, not interpreting them, which is their role and the role they in fact play.

Having practised law in our courts for 27 years before I was appointed here, our judges are better than any judges in the world. I do not hesitate to say that I am proud to be part of a legal community that produces those judges. They are not perfect but they are better than any other judicial branch in the world. It is recognized around the world. If one were to go to Australia, the United States, Britain or any number of other Commonwealth countries with a similar legal structure, that is what we would hear. The decisions our judges make are used repeatedly in other countries because of the respect they have for our judiciaries, but not our government, the Conservative Party, which constantly attacks our judiciary for making laws.

They are not making laws. Their role is to interpret the Constitution and the Charter of Rights, which is what they do and they do it extremely well.

As we saw, once the Conservative Party got into power it cut the court challenges program. The methodology in that is to undermine the role that our judges play. It means that we will have a reduction in the quality and, I might even say, the quantity of cases that go in front of the court that challenge both federal and provincial statutes, practices and policies. If these cases do get there, there will likely to be a lesser quality of argument because the funding for the court challenges program has been cut by the government in a very petty, vindictive way and with absolutely no rationale for it.

We hear the President of the Treasury Board, when he stands in this House, constantly, in his bombastic fashion, attacking the court challenges program, which is really an attack on the judiciary.

The government then cut the Law Commission, which played a role of support for this House, for the committees in this House and for the legal infrastructure, if I can put it that way. It had a very important role in the research that it does and the reports that it produces. It allowed for dialogue to go on, not only within the legal community but also within the political community. It helped foster that dialogue as to where we should be going with our legal system. A great program has been cut and, I think, cut illegally.

The government did not even have the gumption to bring forth a bill, which is what I believe they must do to terminate the Law Commission. It did not do that because it knew that all three of the opposition parties would have voted it down. This is a very clear indication of the government's attitude toward the judiciary and the judicial system. It sees itself as being an opponent of that system and doing whatever it can to undermine it in a variety of ways.

Now we have the appointments of the judges. The government is at a level of hypocrisy that is frightening, as is the minister who, on the justice committee, was very strong about us cleaning up the judicial appointment process and trying depoliticize it as much as possible. We have models at the provincial level where that has been done.

The Conservatives have been in power now for a number of months. They could have done that but we have heard nothing. What we are seeing is that a good third of the appointments that have been made so far at the federal level are appointments of people who have very close ties to the Conservative Party. They may very well be good judges. The minister thinks he may have done even more than those, and it would not surprise me if he has. Maybe we have not identified all of them.

The point is that the Conservatives take a cynical approach toward the judiciary by seeing it as an opponent. They need to take care of the judiciary which means they need to undermine the judges and do whatever they can to lessen their authority.

Ultimately, it brings into disrepute the government and it does attack the very essence of the constitutional structure in this country, the important leg of that, of course, being the independent judiciary.