That the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, presented on Tuesday, April 28, 2014, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, the Statutory Review of Part XVII of the Criminal Code Report says the following:
The 8 November 2012 order of reference from the House of Commons provided “[t]hat the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights be the committee for the purposes of section 533.1 of the Criminal Code.” During the subsequent parliamentary session, an identical order of reference was adopted by the House of Commons on 16 October 2013.
Section 533.1, added to the Criminal Code (“the Code”) upon passage of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments) in 2008, reads as follows:
(1) Within three years after this section comes into force, a comprehensive review of the provisions and operation of this Part shall be undertaken by any committee of the Senate, of the House of Commons or of both Houses of Parliament that may be designated or established by the Senate or the House of Commons, or by both Houses of Parliament, as the case may be, for that purpose.
(2) The committee referred to in subsection (1) shall, within a year after a review is undertaken under that subsection or within any further time that may be authorized by the Senate, the House of Commons or both Houses of Parliament, as the case may be, submit a report on the review to Parliament, including a statement of any changes that the committee recommends.
The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (“the Committee”) began its study of Part XVII of the Code (Language of Accused) on 27 May 2013. It held five meetings and heard witnesses from the Department of Justice, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Fédération des associations de juristes d’expression française de common law (FAJEF), the Language Rights Support Program, lawyers Gérard Lévesque and Steven Slimovitch, law student Geneviève Lévesque and the Commissioner of Official Languages.
On 5 November 2013, the Committee wrote to all the provincial and territorial ministers of Justice asking for information on their experience administering Part XVII, including best practices and problems identified. They were also invited to give evidence. The Committee received seven replies, which, according to the ministers, is to serve as their evidence. These letters are appended to this report.
I am reading part of the report on the accused. This is important, because there was a review and five years have passed, but there are still problems with the right of the accused.
Despite a few regional issues and differences, these letters state that Part XVII of the Code is generally being administered without any major difficulty. However, there is still room for improvement.
This report outlines the main issues raised by the witnesses. It is not a comprehensive review of all issues pertaining to language rights in criminal law. That is why the Committee recommends that the Department of Justice continue working with the key actors and that a parliamentary committee follow up in five years with a review of Part XVII of the Code and its administration.
The background on Part XVII is as follows:
Part XVII, enacted in 1978, gradually came into force, province by province, and finally throughout Canada in January 1990. In Beaulac, the Supreme Court of Canada found that equal access to designated courts in the official language of the accused is “a substantive right and not a procedural one that can be interfered with.” It is Parliament’s responsibility to determine the extent and scope of language rights under Part XVII. These rights are distinct from the right to make full answer and defence under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter).
Under Part XVII, on application by the accused, a judge will order that the accused be tried before a judge, or judge and jury, as the case may be, who speak the official language of Canada that is the language of the accused. If the accused speaks neither English nor French, a judge will order that he or she be tried before a judge, or judge and jury, who speak the official language of Canada in which the accused can best give testimony. Courts are also required to make interpreters available to assist the accused, counsel and witnesses.
Before Bill C-13 was introduced, studies by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages and an inquiry conducted by the Department of Justice identified barriers to full and equal access to the criminal justice system in the official language of the accused’s choice. The amendments proposed by Bill C-13 were designed to help reduce these barriers and the problems of interpretation that had been identified.
Bill C-13 made various amendments to the Code, some of them related to provisions concerning the language of the accused. In particular, it stated that a bilingual trial might be warranted in the case of co-accused understanding different official languages. On 29 January 2008, the Senate passed Bill C-13, with, among other things, an amendment requiring a comprehensive review within three years of the provisions of Part XVII of the Code coming into force. It is this review that the Committee undertook.
The Senate also sought to amend the bill so that the presiding judge would remain responsible for personally informing the accused of his or her right to a trial in the official language of their choice. However, this amendment was not adopted. Bill C-13 received Royal Assent on 29 May 2008. Part XVII came into force on 1 October 2008.
2.1 OBLIGATION TO ADVISE THE ACCUSED OF HIS OR HER RIGHT (SUBS. 530(3) OF THE CODE)
Before the adoption of Bill C-13, the presiding judge was required to inform the accused of his or her right to a trial in the official language of their choice only where they were not represented by counsel. Bill C-13 removed this condition, meaning that the judge must now ensure that the accused is informed of this right in all cases. However, the judge is not obliged to inform the accused personally, but must ensure that the accused is informed of his or her right — by counsel, for example.
Therefore, the judge is responsible for making sure that the accused has been informed of his or her right to a trial in the language of their choice.
2.1.1 FAILURE TO ADVISE
The Committee heard that in practice, it is desirable to have some flexibility in how the accused is advised. It is the failure to advise the accused that is troubling. In some cases, subsection 530(3) seems to “fall between the cracks” and simply no notice is given. As noted by the Assistant Deputy Attorney General of Ontario, James Cornish, in his letter to the Committee, “[i]t appears, however, that this level of compliance with s. 530(3) has not been accomplished across the board in Ontario (…) [F]urther effort is still required (…)”
This is 2014, and we are still trying to inform judges. It should not be that hard to inform the accused of his or her language rights. This is 2014 and we are conducting studies. Even well-known lawyers tell us that in the criminal law process, people are not informed.
The lack of “active offer” was also identified in 2012 by the French Language Services Bench and Bar Advisory Committee to the Attorney General of Ontario and was reiterated by the witnesses who appeared before the Committee. The witnesses suggested several reasons behind this failure to advise, such as the fact that certain judges are not informed or trained in that regard.
The Department of Justice has its work cut out for it, or else people, or judges, simply do not want to get informed. It does not seem that complicated to me.
The report even says that judges should get a note so that they do not forget to inform the accused. This law has been around since the 1900s, and this is still a problem in a country like ours. Forty years after the passage of the Official Languages Act, we are still arguing with judges and training judges to inform the accused.
For example, just because someone's last name is Doucet does not mean that French is their mother tongue. It is a question of choice, but often the judge sees the last name and assumes the person is francophone.
I will explain why I chose to use the name “Doucet” in my example. One of my colleagues, the former union president at the Brunswick mine—once I left the position—had the last name Doucet, but he did not speak a word of French. Everyone spoke to him and wrote him letters in French, and he always responded by saying he did not speak French.
If the judge relies on a name like Doucet, Boivin or even Godin—there are some French-speaking Godins and some English-speaking ones—to determine whether the person is francophone or anglophone, he could be mistaken. In the justice system, it is important that people be able to express themselves in their own language. We cannot stress that enough. My bill about Supreme Court justices indicated that it is unusual that the justices sitting on the highest court are not bilingual. That shows how the government is still stuck on this. It agreed to make the Federal Court and the court of appeal bilingual. However, the government feels that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, does not need to be bilingual. That really worries me.
We have the report and the study. The study was positive. It worries me that even at the end of 2014, people are still asking questions about this and trying to convince judges to do what they are supposed to do in every province in the country and tell the accused that he has a right. It is the law. We are still trying to convince them. I do not think there should be any need to convince them. We should simply have to tell them that they represent justice and the law and that they have to follow the law or face the consequences.
I would like to compare this to the rules of the road again. If people drive faster than the speed limit, there are consequences. Nobody tells the offender that they hope he will soon learn to drive at the speed limit. I have never seen a police officer stop someone and tell him that he can do it another 50 times so that he can learn to drive at the speed limit or that even though he was driving 300 kilometres per hour, he still has time to learn.
The time has come for the Minister of Justice to step up and send a clear message to all judges about this.
The minister responded to the committee. To respond to the committee in a positive way is one thing, but what really matters is action, what happens on the ground. The act was passed in the 1990s, and we are still having problems on the ground today. I invite the minister to follow up with his department to make sure that when the next study is done, this will no longer be a problem. Our country's two official languages will have been accepted very respectfully and will be promoted. When both languages are promoted and respected, I can guarantee that the two populations will get along better than they do now. Furthermore, this has to come from above, from our leaders, our governments and the Supreme Court, for instance. This has to come from above and be practised on the ground. I guarantee that everyone will get along better at that point. As long as people know that bilingualism is not being embraced by those higher up, they will continue to fight one another down below.
As Antonine Maillet said, when the two ships left Europe, one came from France and the other from England. When they arrived in Canada, they fired their cannons at each other. One side won. We know that; it is why we are a minority. However, there were two founding peoples, the francophones and anglophones, along with our first nations. We are still fighting about official languages in Canada today. Some other countries have four, five or six languages. Parents tell their children that being able to speak several languages is a gift. Here we are still telling our children not to speak English or not to speak French. Both sides are guilty. I am not taking sides here. That is why I am sincerely saying that this must come from above, from the leadership, from governments and the Supreme Court, in order to demonstrate that learning both languages is not a sin.
I have children and I encouraged them to learn both languages. If they can learn a third, they should do so.
This is part of our history, when the two founding peoples came to Canada. We must build our country together respectfully. We are not asking anglophones to be francophones or vice versa. We are only asking that the two peoples be served in the official language of our country.
I am asking the minister to act immediately.