Bill C-31 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Judges Act
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.
Rob Nicholson Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment increases the number of judicial salaries that may be paid under paragraph 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act from thirty to fifty.
February 24th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer
Absolutely. I think this is the advantage of the appearances.
The business hours are established in the legislation for every region of the country. If the act is to be amended, that would require the attention of the committee, because Elections Canada has no say over the opening and closing hours of polling stations.
As for staff recruitment and employment insurance penalties for the unemployed who would like to work on election day, you are right. There are two aspects to this. First, work done by an election worker does not represent insurable earnings. Second, if a person who is already receiving employment insurance is paid an amount that is more than 25 % of his or her benefit, he or she will see an equal amount deducted on the next employment insurance cheque. As an example, I would say that an election worker who is paid $195 and who is also unemployed and receiving benefits of $400 will see the next benefit cheque reduced by $95. That reduces the incentive to work for the elections. In any case, these are issues that would require amendments to the Employment Insurance Act. This would at the very least require amendment to the regulations. However, this is completely beyond the mandate of Elections Canada.
You talked about identification issues. This is a new procedure. As I mentioned, generally speaking voters have adapted to it quite easily. I mentioned a few groups who faced certain obstacles. I would simply advise you to be cautious concerning the article that you mentioned. The article is based on a study that was done following by-elections that concerned only four ridings, and it was the first time that identification was required for the vote. I always wait for the general election for a result of surveys. I do not believe we can apply the results of by-elections held in four ridings on a national scale. We must be prudent in that regard. I would prefer to see the results of the national survey that was just held following the last election in order to see if those figures are confirmed.
I finally have Ms. Davies' letter. We will answer her, absolutely.
You raised the issue of access to public spaces, that is to say private spaces that are accessible to the public, whether it is a question of government properties, shopping centres, residential properties, etc. Bill C-31 increases the access of candidates to these sites. You are not doubt correct in saying that it would be beneficial to organize a public information campaign. For the last election we issued a letter from the Chief Electoral Officer recognizing candidates' right of access. This was sent to all candidates. They could easily present that letter to anyone who objected to their presence or to their activities. The feedback I got on this issue was that it generally worked very well, but we did get a few complaints from candidates who found themselves denied access to areas that were accessible for campaign activities.
June 18th, 2008 / 3:25 p.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:
Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord--Chapter 23
Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act--Chapter 26
Bill C-287, An Act respecting a National Peacekeepers' Day--Chapter 27
Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act--Chapter 30
Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement Act
May 16th, 2008 / 10:30 a.m.
John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the kind comments from my friend.
On the issue of what goes on the reserve, in any municipality in Canada one must be a resident if one is going to vote for a council which puts in place zoning by-laws. That should prevail on native reserves as well. If we are to establish local government and responsibility for local government, then the responsibility should be local. The only people who should vote on land use plans on any reserve in the country should be people who are actually resident on the reserve.
One of the issues, and it is an issue that needs addressing by Parliament, is the impact of Bill C-31. It is quite clear, when we look at membership lists, and it is very difficult to get hold of those membership lists, and talk to people on the Tsawwassen Reserve, many of them, who have lived on the reserve all their lives and whose families have never left, are offended by the fact that some who left generations ago are now reserve members and will share the benefit.
Birth is instant and with the instance of anyone living on the reserve, they are the people who, since the beginning, have put up with the noise, light and air pollution from the existing Roberts Bank terminal of the Vancouver port. It is right off the shore of the reserve. They are the ones who over the last 50 years have lived with the disturbances caused by that port. Yet the benefits of the arrangement that has been cut with the port will accrue to people with the name of Martinez who live in Los Angeles or people who live in Ottawa or Winnipeg. They are not the ones who are suffering because the port was built. It is the people who live there. Therefore, the very basis for this treaty, in fact, is undermined.
The other question about the non-aboriginals living on the reserve is a special case. This instance happened with the Westbank arrangement a couple of years ago. My view is that these people need to have the same rights as any other citizen, that if a band wants to set up an enclave where non-band members live, then those non-band members need to have the same voting rights on their taxes as other Canadians do. There can be no other way. If that must be somehow physically separated from the rest of the reserve, then so be it.
However, people should not lose their democratic rights in this way because the fallback will always come to Parliament. In the future we will be asked to justify why we allowed that to happen, and it is an explanation that I would not want to have to give.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 13th, 2008 / 11:55 a.m.
Chuck Strahl Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC
Mr. Speaker, I think the member is talking about two different issues. I realize they both may end up in the courts one way or another, but the effort in Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework because of the Supreme Court rulings on the application of provincial MRP laws. They just do not apply on reserve lands. What we are trying to do with Bill C-47 is to extend some sort of a federal framework so that, and it is not just first nations women, but primarily first nations women will have the protection that others take for granted in a provincial court system.
Right now the unfortunate reality is if there is a marriage breakdown, or if there is violence against a spouse, frequently or mostly against women, someone needs to intervene to get a restriction, a court order or some sort of legal means to keep the house in the possession of the woman who is raising the kids and needs the protection of the matrimonial home to that. A restraining order or a way to restrict the individual from getting close to the woman is needed and we do not have the tools to do it.
This bill is for the protection of women, for the development of individual MRP laws on each reserve over time, but a law of general application in the meantime that would allow us to have a provision which says we have to look after those interests. Although some homes are owned by the band office, for example, they might be owned collectively, social housing perhaps, many other homes are built by and owned by individual first nations people. The trouble is if there is a marriage breakdown, no laws apply. The guy with the biggest, broadest shoulders wins the argument and that is not fair for first nations women.
This bill will not solve all problems and it does not address the Bill C-31 issues, but it does attempt to fill the gap that otherwise will continue until we do fill it. The system is quite hit and miss across the country. There are some good examples of good leadership on reserve under the First Nations Land Management Act, and there are examples of many first nations which have introduced their own MRP laws, but it is too hit and miss. It does not capture the rest of aboriginal women who deserve the same protection as others.
Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act
May 13th, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's speech, and in a few minutes, I will have an opportunity to reply to him with the Bloc Québécois' position.
I would like the minister to comment on one thing. Aboriginal women are very concerned about this bill. I believe that my Liberal Party colleague will also talk about this in her speech in a moment. One thing women have been wondering about is how Bill C-47 differs from Bill C-31. Aboriginal women got the short end of the stick, as they put it, with Bill C-31, which was passed and gave back some rights and other things. How is Bill C-47, which the minister is asking the House to adopt, any different? How will it apply on reserves? Of course, I will have a chance to talk more about this later.
An Act to establish the Specific Claims Tribunal
May 12th, 2008 / 12:50 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my colleague who just spoke that if he asks me the question at a later time, I would be pleased to answer it.
This morning I travelled some 580 kilometres from my riding to Ottawa. We are in Algonquin territory here. I was thinking about how I would broach the subject of Bill C-30, which we will discuss during the next few hours. I do not often congratulate a minister in the House, but today, it must be done.
I would like to congratulate the minister who succeeded in bringing Bill C-30 this far. Everyone worked hard, including my colleague from Winnipeg South Centre, who just spoke and is the Indian affairs critic for her party; my other Liberal colleague from Nunavut as well as my NDP and Bloc colleagues, to ensure that this bill respects the wishes of first nations.
Numerous groups repeatedly told us that first nations want us to listen to them. They want decisions and agreements to be respected. If those are not respected, they want legal recourse so that a court would resolve the dispute between first nations and the federal government.
We must be honest and speak only the truth here in this House. For far too long now, the federal government was both judge and judged in first nations claims. It was the federal government that decided when the negotiations would begin and end, and what aspects they would focus on. First nations peoples were consulted very little or not at all. When the government decided that perhaps the issue should be resolved, it set the parameters for the schedule, the meetings and the central focus of the claim. This way of doing things went on for too long. Since 1947—we are not talking about last week—that is, for more than 50 years, first nations peoples have been asking the federal government to stop being both judge and judged in their comprehensive and specific land claims.
For those watching at home, that is what is happening with Bill C-30. This bill is important for a number of reasons. The first important point for the Bloc Québécois and me is that the tribunal would become independent. In committee, on several occasions, a number of first nations people asked us if it would be possible to appeal a decision rendered by the tribunal. First of all, I have always opposed that idea and I did not want to make it possible to appeal those decisions, so as to prevent the federal government from once again appealing such cases when it was not happy with the decision handed down, thereby delaying the payment of money owing to first nations peoples.
Everyone must understand one thing: first nations peoples have specific claims and have the right—they were here before us—to receive payment for the damages they have suffered.
I will give an example that everyone can understand. In an aboriginal community near my riding, at some point, Ontario Northland—whether it was this company, Canadian National or Canadian Pacific does not matter because this happened all over Canada—decided that the railroad would cut right through the middle of a reserve. The communities living on these reserves or lands that belonged to them were never compensated.
I understand and respect the minister when he says that the federal government cannot give them land because there is none or it is so far away that it would be pointless. Thus, they are trying to find a way to compensate them.
When the value of the strip of land on which the railway runs is established, it is possible to determine the loss to the First Nations and the compensation owed by the federal government. It was the federal government that authorized the railway companies—in the 1800s and early 1900s—to build a railway through their land. Therefore, the federal government must compensate the first nations.
This is a good bill and we will vote for it. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, which the first nations have been awaiting for 60 years. It is about time that this goes through and that the matter is settled. That is why we will be voting for this bill.
This bill may have some small deficiencies, but overall, the first nations are satisfied. Without being partisan in the least, the government must recognize that, without the cooperation of the opposition parties in a minority government, this bill would not be before the House today. We are in agreement on it.
I hope that I will not hear in this Chamber that the Bloc Québécois has never done anything, is never able to do anything and never will do anything. I can say one thing for certain: with respect to Bill C-30, the Bloc Québécois has played a very active role with the other opposition parties to amend it, to ensure that it fulfills the obligations undertaken and, above all, to ensure that the first nations' claims are taken into account.
I know that some first nations would have liked the limit to be increased by $150 million. I examined all the claims, some of which are specific claims. We need to explain this clearly to the public. We are not talking about land, giving land back, expropriating land or evicting people from their land. We are talking about specific claims. Earlier, I mentioned a railway line that ran through an aboriginal community. In Quebec, there may well be claims pertaining to a hydro line running through a community. The first nations of Quebec will have to invite the Government of Quebec to get involved in cases that might give rise to specific claims.
Let us look at the specific claims that are pending. In Alberta, there are 33; in British Columbia, 306; in Manitoba, 25; in New Brunswick, 12. In Quebec, 68 specific claims have not yet been settled; in Ontario, 111. These numbers are important, and so are the dates of some of these claims. As hard as it is to believe, a number of these specific claims date back more than 20 years. This made no sense, and something had to be done.
That is why this bill was introduced in Parliament. I hope—and that is what I asked the minister—that it can be implemented very quickly, because it is an extremely important bill.
Of course, it will not make up for the lost land. It cannot award land. However, it can at least award financial compensation.
It is easy to understand. I will give another example. When a dam is built to hold back water, the land is flooded. As much as the federal government may want to, it cannot give the land back because it no longer exists; it is flooded. What is flooding the land worth? What is the flooded parcel of land worth? We know the land was probably flooded to regulate the flow of a river or to build a hydro dam, etc. This is part of a number of specific claims.
I can understand and appreciate the minister's response. He answered the opposition member's question quite honestly. The federal government cannot give the land back because it is does not have it. The government can be involved, it can help and ensure that a province can give some of the territory back to the first nations. To do so, there should be a debate on that. For now, what is important is that we take a step forward, as they say.
Since 1973, of the 1,297 specific claims submitted, 513 have been settled. Again, this is since 1973, not 1960 or 1947 or 1950. For most of these specific claims an average settlement of between $15,000 and $1.25 million was awarded. As one might imagine, some claims might be worth a lot more than that. Just consider Caledonia or southern Ontario. Obviously any highway that was built on Mohawk territory—Highway 406, 405 or 401—is worth a lot more. I am talking about billions of dollars. We can continue to debate the situation and the specific claims in other forums.
For now, what is important is that more than 780 files could start to be submitted to the tribunal as soon as this House adopts this bill. That is what the minister and the representative from the Assembly of First Nations told us in committee.
I would like to talk about the tribunal, because it was not clear. I know that the first nations would have liked to play a part in selecting the judges. I have been a lawyer for 30 years, and honestly, I do not know of any lobby groups or groups of any kind that participate in the selection of judges. The goal is to find independent-minded judges. I can understand that judges need a team of researchers so that they are able to make informed decisions. The judges that will sit on the specific claims tribunal must have access to all the necessary expertise, including the experience elders can provide. In fact, elders will probably be called upon to appear before the tribunal to explain, for example, that they have been in a particular location for 200 or 250 years, that they trap in a particular area, and so on.
However, the Bloc was uncompromising when it came to participation in the appointment, selection and designation of the judges who will sit on the tribunal. I think that it is very dangerous to open the doors to different lobbies—with all due respect to my colleagues opposite—whether they are police officers, the military or gay rights groups that may want more gay judges. We would open the doors to almost anyone. It did not make any sense.
That is not to say that our aboriginal brothers' claims do not deserve special attention.
That is not what I am saying. I am saying that superior court judges will be appointed. I also worked on Bill C-31, which concerns the appointment of superior court judges. It is extremely important that the department do its job in order to provide information and explain that when a specific claim reaches the superior court, the judge cannot deal with it overnight, saying “Hurry up. Give me your evidence. Send it to me in writing and I will hand down a decision.” No, the judges who hear these cases must be prepared to take as much time as is necessary.
They will have to take as much time as they need to hand down a decision after hearing all the parties. In my opinion, in a forum such as the specific claims tribunal that will be created, an independent presiding judge who does not owe anyone anything, who does not owe his appointment to a lobby group, is far more neutral when handing down a decision. That is the first thing I wanted to say. There were different opinions on this issue, and I am prepared to discuss it with the first nations that wanted to have a say on this. I will not compromise on this issue. I believe that that part of the bill will remain unchanged, and that is a good thing.
Second, there is the limit of $150 million. We were asked to raise this limit. In my opinion, a limit of $150 million will be sufficient for a great many specific claims. I would say that it will be sufficient for about 80% of claims. At least 50 of the 800 claims are for far more than $150 million, but other claims are for $15,000, $20,000, $1 million or $25 million. The limit for specific claims is $150 million. That is very attractive.
What is also attractive is that the government has allocated a certain amount of money. I hope that this is not an empty promise. I want to remind the minister and the government that in committee, we were told that the government had earmarked $250 million a year for the next 10 years. If my calculations are correct, that amounts to $2.5 billion. The government will have to include that amount in all its upcoming budgets to send a message to the first nations that once the tribunal has handed down a decision, the federal government will pay compensation without delay.
The third issue I want to discuss is the idea that a decision is final and cannot be appealed. I was in litigation for 30 years and, at that time, we had the possibility of going to the Court of Appeal and, if we were not satisfied, to the Supreme Court for very specific cases such as interpretation of the Criminal Code or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What seemed important to us here is that the tribunal can rule that a decision is final and cannot be appealed.
Why a final decision that cannot be appealed? I have said it, and I will not shy away from it. Many settlements have been delayed because the government was judge and judged, it set the limits itself and so on. I would be worried that if we had a level of appeal, the government would use it to appeal a case and therefore delay the settlement.
I see that I have approximately 30 seconds left, so I will quickly say that this is a very interesting bill. I will finish by saying that it is about time we were presented with a bill prepared in collaboration—again, in collaboration—with first nations. There is nothing better.
During the week, we will be studying one or two bills, but the debates will be different. Before us now, we have a bill prepared in collaboration with the first nations, and the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill.
Business of the House
April 17th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, in last fall's throne speech, our government presented five clear truths to Canadians.
We said we would get tough on crime, maintain our prosperous and vibrant economy, improve the environment and health of Canadians, strengthen our federation and restore Canada's place in the world. Over the past few months we have made significant progress in all of these areas with lowering taxes and debt, extending the military mission in Afghanistan, and passing the Tackling Violent Crime Act to get tough on crime.
This week is indeed stronger justice system week. We have been successful so far in moving forward on our plan to tackle violent crime with Bill C-31, a bill to amend the Judges Act which has been sent to the Senate, and Bill C-26, our anti-drug law which passed second reading.
However, we will not rest on our laurels. Today and tomorrow we will wrap up our stronger justice system week by hopefully returning our bill on criminal procedure, Bill C-13, to the Senate. We also hope to debate our bill to reinstate modified provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act, Bill S-3, as well as Bill C-45, dealing with our military justice system.
Next week's theme is “putting voters first” because MPs will be returning to their ridings to consult Canadians in their communities.
The following week, we will be examining another priority: “improving the environment and health of Canadians”.
As members already know, our environmental plan announced in the throne speech was adopted by the House last fall.
There is, however, more to be done. We will start by debating Bill C-33. This bill requires that by 2010, 5% of gasoline, and by 2012, 2% of diesel and home heating oil be comprised of renewable fuels. This bill will help reduce greenhouse gases and represents an important part of our legislative plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
In addition, we will begin debate on two very important bills concerning food safety and consumer and health products in Canada, namely Bill C-51 to modernize the Food and Drugs Act and Bill C-52to establish An Act respecting the safety of consumer products.
Taking together, these two bills represent an extraordinarily tough and thoroughly new approach to consumer safety. I hope that the opposition will work with the government to ensure these pass through the legislative process in a quick and timely fashion.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
I like to think that governments live and learn. None of us are perfect and I would suggest that neither is the government. When it decided to prorogue it may not have realized the implication to the many bills important to Canadians that would be hindered by that decision.
We all live and die by the decisions we make here in the House of Commons. It will be up to Canadians to decide whether we are fast enough or the government is fast enough at producing legislation. There has been a lot of justice legislation tabled, some of which we have supported, and we will continue to move forward in the best interest of Canadians.
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for York West for her continued input on criminal justice issues.
Yesterday, there was a great deal of discussion about judges, particularly the fact that there are 31 vacancies already and another 20 are sought to be authorized by Bill C-31. It also came out that there had been no analysis or projections done on the demand for the court system. Now I see in Bill C-13 that we have even more elements of whether there will be greater demands placed upon our courts.
I wonder if the member would care to amplify on the fact that the government has delayed this legislation. It could have been passed easily enough had it not prorogued and introduced a different type of bill, effectively to do the same kind of thing.
We saw that yesterday as well. A number of bills in the first session were already well advanced and yet the government decided to consolidate them in an omnibus bill, thereby requiring that the whole process start all over again.
It seems that the government is not committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system is proceeding in an efficient fashion.
Judy Sgro York West, ON
Mr. Speaker, we should not even have that discussion. Frankly, there are two official languages in Canada, period. Throughout Canada, regardless of what community, individuals have the right to be serviced in either language.
Yesterday we dealt with Bill C-31, which was the appointment of judges. The issue of finding bilingual judges was raised several times. I know it may be easier to find anglophone judges and so on but we have two official languages in Canada. It has been a strength for Canada.
As Canada grows, I think we will find that two languages are much more positive than any barriers. We need to work to overcome those barriers and encourage the whole issue of bilingualism as a strength for our country.
April 14th, 2008 / 6:10 p.m.
Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-13, to which a few changes have been proposed. I am especially worried about the changes concerning judges and the possibility that the case be heard in the preferred language of those involved, be they minority francophones outside Quebec or minority anglophones in Quebec.
The judge's decision is important for the person appearing before the court. What will happen to that person in the future? The individual must be able to clearly understand the judge, just as the judge must be able to properly understand the accused. This gives citizens the opportunity to have a fair trial in their preferred language, in their home province, in order to be able to deliver their arguments and their defence.
The decision finally handed down last Friday by the Supreme Court in the case of Marie-Claire Paulin from New Brunswick was very important for minorities. For those who do not know the case, Marie-Claire Paulin, a woman from Tracadie-Sheila, went to the Woodstock area and was arrested by the RCMP. This case has been in the courts for a number of years now. Trial proceedings began in New Brunswick at least eight years ago with the Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick, which was represented by several lawyers, but it was primarily Michel Doucet who argued the case.
The RCMP did not provide service in French in certain areas of New Brunswick. We must see the link between this case and this bill. One cannot ignore the case of Marie-Claire Paulin, who received service only in the official language that was not her mother tongue. In the Woodstock area and other areas of New Brunswick, the RCMP provided its services only in English. Ms. Paulin was arrested by the RCMP in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province of Canada, and wanted to be served in her language. She fought her case in court and won, but the federal government decided to appeal the decision and it won. It is unfortunate that the Liberals and the ministers of Justice and Official Languages of the day, who claimed to defend minorities, supported the government's initiative to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
When the New Brunswickers decided to go to court, the government pressed for the case to be heard by the Supreme Court in order to defend the RCMP which, it believed, did not have to provide service in French because it was a federal force. Under federal law, service must be provided in French where numbers warrant. It deemed that it was not warranted by the numbers in Woodstock, New Brunswick. However, according to the law and the Constitution, it is clear that New Brunswick is responsible for providing government services in the province's two official languages, and that includes legal services. If you are stopped by the police and required to go to court in New Brunswick, the proceedings must be in the official language of the person in question. In this case, it was French.
Regrettably, the Liberal government at the time went to court and the case was brought before the Supreme Court. The Conservative government, which came to power in 2006, did not rescind the decision.
It could at least have acknowledged that the RCMP did have a responsibility because it signed a provincial contract and had to respect the law of the province of New Brunswick.
This case does not apply only to francophones. It also relevant for an anglophone who goes to the Shippagan or Caraquet region, for example. A police officer who speaks to an anglophone must be able to reply in the language of choice of that person, that is English. This will ensure that there is respect for both communities in New Brunswick because citizens will be served in the language of their choice.
Justice Bastarache's decision was very sound. He will be missed when he retires in June. He will be particularly missed by minority communities, not only in New Brunswick but throughout Canada, because he has ruled in favour of minorities and his decisions have been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada. The very honourable Justice Bastarache will be missed by the Supreme Court of Canada.
That is why we are recommending to the Conservative government that, when it comes time to appoint another judge, to make sure he or she is bilingual. We cannot ask that the person be francophone, but we can ask that they speak fluent French and English.
That way, when lawyers appear before the Supreme Court of Canada with their clients, they will be able to express themselves in the language of their choice without having to rely solely on the interpretation services. With all due respect to those services, that is not what we want; we want the person to be able to express themselves in the language of their choice.
The government has the obligation to ensure that the next judges appointed to the Supreme Court will be able to function in both official languages of our country.
Just before the study of Bill C-13, there was a debate on Bill C-31, on judicial appointments. Again, the Standing Committee on Official Languages has found that as far as judicial appointments are concerned, there are not enough bilingual judges—not only in New Brunswick, but across the country.
Let us talk about Bill C-13. New Brunswick is a province recognized as bilingual under the Constitution. Bill C-88, which was enshrined in the Constitution, states that citizens will be served in the language of their choice. An amendment was made to that bill to ensure that anyone in New Brunswick wishing to appear in court and use the language of their choice, would not have to travel from Bathurst to Saint John or vice versa. I am pleased with the amendment.
The other provinces, if I am not mistaken, have agreed that people have the right to travel to regions where there is a francophone judge in order to present their case before a judge who speaks their mother tongue.
To resolve this problem when it comes to appointing judges, the government must truly take into account the official languages of the country and start appointing more bilingual judges who are able to speak both official languages, either an anglophone judge who speaks fluent French or a francophone judge who speaks fluent English, in order to better serve the community.
I am also proud to note that in their decision, the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that the Conservative government's decision to abolish the court challenges program has had a negative impact on minorities. For these reasons, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the RCMP to pay the court costs of $135,000.
Last week in the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I could not believe my ears. The former premier of New Brunswick, who toured the country looking at official languages, said that abolishing the court challenges program was not the end of the world. People could go to court with or without the court challenges program.
The same week that Mr. Lord said that we did not need the court challenges program because people could go to court, the Supreme Court itself rendered a decision—I think I have it right here—acknowledging that the abolition of the court challenges program could affect communities. Paragraph 27 of the decision states the following:
The appellants ask for $135,000 in costs. In light of the abolition of the Court Challenges Program, which would have applied to a case such as this one, and since the respondent appears to have acknowledged the importance of the principles in issue in this case, as she has not asked for costs, the appellants are awarded the requested amount.
The Supreme Court ordered the RCMP to pay all the court costs. I would like to congratulate the Supreme Court. Today, I would like to be able to congratulate the Conservative government by saying, “You will continue to give the ultimate tool that people need, that minorities need to be able to go to court”.
What do we need? First of all, we need judges who can speak, hear, listen to and understand our country's two official languages. We need that, and that was in Bill C-31.
That is not all that was in Bill C-31. It was also about judicial appointments. When it comes to judicial appointments, of course we have to pay attention to how we can appoint judges who have a clear understanding of what our country is, who understand our country's value, who understand the Official Languages Act, who can understand people's mentalities, the approaches of our two peoples. At the same time, they must be able to look at the effect this can have on minorities, on people who are sensitive to this.
Unless the government wants to appoint judges, with all due respect, from the far right who will decide to cut everything, to side with the government, to share the government's philosophy and change everything. We made progress in the past and we are making progress now, but minorities have always had to fight for progress and they still do.
With all due respect, Marie-Claire Paulin did not have the money to go to the Supreme Court. We also have to thank the Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick for supporting Marie-Claire Paulin's case, as well as all of the francophone communities who supported her too.
If francophone or minority communities are forced to pay so that citizens can go to court, that means less money for those communities. Minority communities have to fight to get government money so they can develop and get things for themselves all over the country, whether they are in Quebec or the rest of Canada.
If people have to use that government money to go to court, the communities lose that money, which they could otherwise spend on schools, training, immersion schools, teachers, or the support that people need.
We will support this bill. Moreover, we call on the government—we cannot say this often enough—to ensure justice for communities and people through the judicial appointment process. I think that will make a huge difference.
That will make a huge difference because people need to be served in the language of their choice. If our country is recognized as being bilingual, we have to enforce the law. To enforce it, the people who enforce it need to be capable of understanding both official languages. That is why we will strongly recommend it to the government. Once again, we will also ask that the court challenges program be reinstated.
I was a little worried recently when the Liberal leader said that if he were elected, he would reinstate the court challenges program and would double its funding.
I am afraid, in that case, that he may be breaking the law twice as often and that is why he would need more money.
The only thing we are asking is that the government comply with the Official Languages Act and respect Canadians. Perhaps then people will never need to go to court again. When Marie-Claire Paulin was pulled over and ticketed in Woodstock, if the police had spoken to her in French, she would not have needed to go to court.
It is hoped that the ruling will not be interpreted in such a way that an RCMP officer who pulls someone over can make that person sit at the side of road for half an hour or an hour, waiting for another officer who can speak that person's language. If people want to be treated equally, they should not have to wait until another police officer comes to speak to them.
Things are going to change in New Brunswick from now on. The RCMP will have to change its mindset, because it was really the RCMP that caused the situation when it decided it no longer needed to have bilingual officers in certain regions. Now the RCMP has realized that this was not acceptable in New Brunswick.The ruling by Mr. Justice Bastarache and his fellow Supreme Court judges is a good decision for minorities. I can guarantee that it is welcomed in the community in New Brunswick.
I want to sincerely commend Mr. Doucet for his tenacity in this process. The Conservatives have said that they abolished the court challenges program because it only served to help friends of the Liberals to make money. I cannot image how Mr. Doucet is a friend of the Liberals or how he made money on the court challenges program. Most of the time, Mr. Doucet does not even get paid to represent our minority communities. In most cases, he has never been paid to go to court. He has only been paid for court costs, the cost of paper, photocopies and those types of things.
Mr. Doucet has been an example to the communities. As the member for Acadie—Bathurst, I am proud to congratulate Mr. Doucet for all the good work he has done in this case. The Conservatives have accused people who were using the court challenges program of only being there to make money at the expense of minorities, but that is absolutely not what happened.
It is important to note that the objective of Bill C-13 is to send a message to communities and individuals, telling them they have the right to appear in court in the official language of their choice anywhere in Canada. That is important. And people must know this. Once the new legislation takes effect, they must be told that they can be represented in the language of their choice.
It is similar to when a patient goes to the doctor and tries to explain what is wrong using hand gestures, because they do not speak the same language. What if that patient goes into surgery and the doctor removes the wrong thing and a big chunk is taken out? It is the same idea here. When someone appears in court, it is absolutely crucial that both parties understand one another to ensure that the accused person is judged fairly.
April 14th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB
I can hear the Conservative members acting up. That is what we call lack of respect. Once they have listened to the interpretation, they will understand what I just told them. The truth is that there has to be respect not only in the House, but in everything.
Let us look at the situation. With regard to Bill C-31, it is clear that if the government had met its obligations over the past two and a half years and had filled positions equitably as it went along, we would not need to discuss certain things today.
Today, we are talking about a bill that aims to increase the number of judges, because it is important that Canadians be treated equitably. It is also important that the government have a legal system in place so that people who have needs and want to defend their rights can do so, and not just when it suits the government.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives sometimes tell people that they can go to court whenever they want to, even if they have no money, because that is not a problem. In the end, if people do not have any money, they will not be treated equitably in this country. We do not understand that in the same way. We want to make sure Canadians have the services they need so that when they want to defend their rights, the tools are in place in the government or the legal system. In this way, Canadians will be able to defend their rights, which is crucial.
The comments my colleague opposite made before he posed his question are deplorable. The fact is that the Conservatives are not equipped or capable to debate a bill like Bill C-31. They are forced to make personal attacks on individual members. This is unfortunate, but in recent months, the Conservatives have been embroiled in one scandal after another.
We can talk about Bill C-31 if the members want to, but the members opposite are going to have to be much more serious when making their comments. One thing is clear: either they have not listened to anything that has been said or they have not understood anything that has been said. Perhaps it is a bit of both or something else.
The fact is that there are concerns about Bill C-31, and they are justified. Access to justice must be provided equitably. Decisions about judicial appointments must be made equitably and not in a partisan way, as the Conservatives have been doing for the past two and a half years.
April 14th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB
Mr. Speaker, it is ironic to hear my colleague ask questions and wonder whether I talked about the bill at all.
My colleague opposite started giving examples of some situations that happened in the past. I will be reasonable and remind him of certain questionable facts involving his party that surfaced in the past weeks and months. But I will stop there. The truth is that I talked about Bill C-31 because I truly believe that we have to take a very close look at it.
Perhaps these words will ring a bell for the member: the Cadman affair, NAFTAgate, the Elections Canada in and out scheme, the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. Does the member want me to go on?
April 14th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the member opposite, I had to go back to today's projected order of business to find out exactly what we were debating because he seemed to be wandering a bit.
He went on at length as to why it took our government two years to deal with this amendment to the Judges Act.
The act was last amended in 1998 by the Liberal government. In the subsequent six or eight years that it was in the position of government, it did nothing else on it. It is a little disingenuous to say that two years is too long a period of time when the Liberals did not touch it for eight years.
He also mentioned that Canadians do not have a very high opinion of politicians. I think we are even second last to lawyers. However, I wonder if some of the actions of previous Liberal governments, for example the sponsorship scandal and some of the images that Canadians had of money changing hands in brown bags, if that might have had something to do with that opinion.
To get back to what we are debating here today, Bill C-31, an amendment to the Judges Act, perhaps he could comment on why the Liberals did not act on it for eight years when they were in government.
April 14th, 2008 / 5:15 p.m.
Jean-Claude D'Amours Madawaska—Restigouche, NB
It certainly is. It is exactly what they are doing.
Back to the appointment of judges. The Conservative Party regularly says that it is pro-bilingualism. To be pro-bilingualism, the government needs to do more than simply say so. It needs to take concrete action so that Canadians will trust politicians. Then Canadians will find that these are good laws and that our parliamentarians are being fair so that each and every Canadian can benefit.
As for bilingualism, it is a matter of access to justice. Access to justice is a concept that is very easy to explain and understand. It means that each citizen can be served in the language of their choice and be treated fairly. That is access to justice. But when it comes to bilingualism, access to justice is another worry that Canadians have about the Conservatives.
It is crucial that francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec have access to justice. The government cannot just say it is going to appoint judges and allow them to sit and do their work, regardless of their ability to express themselves in one of the official languages. People who need a service and who defend their rights in the language of their choice may not receive the same service. It is scary to see what the Conservatives are doing. Yet they tell us, through the media, that they are in favour of bilingualism and want to give francophone minorities outside Quebec every possible opportunity.
I live in New Brunswick, a province that is in this situation. Where I live, francophones are in the minority. That is the reality. We need services in our language. But when we look at realities such as the abolition of the court challenges program, it is too bad, but it is a prime example of what I am talking about. The government cuts a program that costs peanuts and helps people defend their rights in court and gain access to services.
In my books, the government is not sincere when it says one thing and then turns around and cuts a program like that. When we say something, we have to be able to walk the talk. Our actions have to be consistent with what we say. At present, the Conservatives are saying one thing, but they are doing another by eliminating access to services for francophones outside Quebec and anglophones in Quebec. They are doing this to all minorities.
The court challenges program was not just in place to defend language rights. Everyone knows that it also helped people with special needs, persons with disabilities and women. It is slightly illogical to consider women a minority since they account for a large proportion of Canada's population, but this reflects a reality we can see.
When it comes to access to justice, it is very hard to really have confidence in the government. The Conservatives have said they want to have additional positions. The government and the Conservative members should stand up and walk the talk.
First, we, the members in this House, would be in a position to trust the Conservatives a little more, because, after all, we must not exaggerate. Thus, we could trust the Conservatives a little more and Canadians could also trust them a little more, because at this time, they do not trust them, specifically because any time the members of the Conservative government speak in this House or speak to the media, they say the exact opposite of what they actually do.
However, if, as parliamentarians, we can prove to Canadians that members of this House are doing the job for which they are paid, defending the interests of their constituents, only then will citizens no longer feel like they come last and will they be inclined to show greater support for their politicians and representatives in the polls. In addition, our actions will be fair and consistent with our words when it is time to set policy and make decisions. The Conservatives, however, do just the opposite.
I spoke earlier about bilingualism and the court challenges program. Consider for example the New Brunswick woman who could not be served in French by the RCMP and who was able to defend her rights thanks to a court decision and the court challenges program. Let us imagine this woman's situation if, in addition to not being able to access services in her language in New Brunswick, she also had to deal with a judicial system that did not allow her access to justice in her language. That would be ridiculous. That really is the direction being taken by the Conservatives and this is reflected in their actions. Canadian are afraid of their actions. This is one reason why Canadians have many fears about the Conservatives.
Let us now imagine if this woman, in addition to not being served in her language—and the court ruled that she should have been served in her language—did not even have access to judicial services in her language.
It really would be incredible. It would make no sense. I am convinced that my colleagues on this side of the House agree with me. It would also be interesting if the Conservative government were to acknowledge this. Citizens would have a little more trust in the government. At the very least, one thing is certain. We, the Liberals, rise to keep the Conservatives in check because Canadians have faith in the Liberals. We have established many programs over the years and over the decades. We established the criteria and the rules to ensure that Canadians are treated fairly.
I will go back to the example given a little earlier: the court challenges program. The results of this program speak for themselves. There was the case of Montfort Hospital in the national capital region. This program also made it possible for French-language schools to be opened in some provinces where there are few francophones. And there are other examples.
As I was saying earlier, what they say and do are two different things. As we know, the court challenges program was eliminated twice. By what kind of government? Not by the Liberals, but by the Conservatives. For this reason, Canadians trust the Liberals. That is also why Canadians want change. The Conservatives say one thing to the people, the media and the House of Commons and then do another.
At some point, we will take over from the Conservatives. I can guarantee you that the time will come for the Conservatives to face the music. Then the Liberals will ensure that Canadians are treated equitably and that they have equal access to justice. Canadians will not fear their government as is the case today.
Bill C-31 is necessary for increasing the number of judges in the country. However, as one can guess by all the examples I have given, there are many things that can make us fear the worst, that can change the entire face of the judiciary and, in fact, the entire face of the country within a few yeas. The Conservatives do not want to go in a direction of greater fairness. They do not want to ensure that the machinery of government or the judicial system is fairer. They are trying to stack the deck to gain control, to allow their Conservative ideology to prevail instead of allowing fairness and equity to prevail. We talk about equity on many levels: pay equity, equity among peoples. These are magic words all hon. members should keep in mind. When we are fair, everyone wins.
They want to favour certain people. As I was saying earlier, who does the Conservative government just happen to be favouring? As luck would have it, they are favouring senior Conservative Party members within the different provinces. That is quite the coincidence.
Sometimes a person is appointed. One might think that person is possibly the best candidate to be appointed, with the best skills and qualifications. At the second appointment, there begin to be some serious doubts. We start to wonder whether the Conservative way of doing things is just to ensure that the Conservative ideology is spread far and wide. At the third appointment, we have more than just doubts. We wonder what is happening and whether they are in the process of so completely changing the face of Canada that Canadians will no longer recognize themselves.
Bill C-31 is certainly important for increasing the number of judges. Nonetheless, access to justice must prevail above all.