An Act to amend the Judges Act

This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in September 2008.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  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.

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.

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.

February 24th, 2009 / 11:40 a.m.
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Chief Electoral Officer, Office of the Chief Electoral Officer

Marc Mayrand

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.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement ActGovernment Orders

May 16th, 2008 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

John Cummins Conservative 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 ActGovernment Orders

May 13th, 2008 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative 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 ActGovernment Orders

May 13th, 2008 / 11:50 a.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc 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 TribunalGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2008 / 12:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc 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 HouseOral Questions

April 17th, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader 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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 15th, 2008 / 10:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see that we now have Bill C-13 to debate today, as we had Bill C-31 yesterday.

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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 15th, 2008 / 10:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal 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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 15th, 2008 / 10:20 a.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal 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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Yvon Godin NDP 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.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal 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.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal 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?

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April 14th, 2008 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative 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.

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April 14th, 2008 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal 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.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased this afternoon to speak to Bill C-31. As I already mentioned earlier, this bill is extremely important if we look at the needs of our judicial system across the country. It is also very important because of the current vacancies within the judiciary. The government has come up with Bill C-31 to appoint 20 extra judges.

The government certainly has its share of the responsibility for the current situation with respect to judicial appointments. When we look at the situation, the Conservatives are certainly the only ones to blame. They cannot blame anyone else but themselves in this case.

As far as the appointment of 20 extra judges is concerned, as I have said, we must make sure that Canadians receive the services to which they are entitled. This is not just a matter of people appearing in court or before a judge because they have done something wrong. Canadians also appear before a judge or judges because they want to fight for their rights.

We have a rather concrete example, which I just gave, of a woman, who, thanks to the court challenges program, was able to fight for her right to be served in French by the RCMP. The court ruled that the woman's complaint was well-founded. As the House can see, Canadians do not just appear before a judge when they have done something wrong, but also when they want to stand up for their rights, the fundamental rights of this country that cannot be denied any Canadian citizen. One of the great things about our country is also the fact that we are free to speak up for ourselves, which is possible because of the judicial system.

We need extra judges, but we also have to wonder about Bill C-31. Since January 2006, since the Conservatives have been in power in Ottawa, we have had to wonder quite a bit. What we hear and what the Conservatives say are rarely the same thing. That is why I wonder about certain aspects of the bill.

One of the aspects is ensuring the independence of the judiciary. That is what the government tries to say, but the opposite happens when it comes time to make a decision. A number of examples show that we should still be worried. Sometimes, when the government introduces a bill, we wonder if they are acting with utmost sincerity or if they have a hidden agenda. I will not go on and on. I know that some members of the government will say that I am off topic, but let us look at the example of Bill C-10 and the question of censorship. That is flagrant proof that the government is trying to introduce bills containing elements that make us believe they are sincere, while in reality they are hiding elements from us.

I spoke earlier about the importance of the independence of the judiciary. I have serious issues with certain elements—I am thinking about the members of the provincial advisory councils. The Conservatives decided to appoint people in order to obtain power. In northern New Brunswick, they appear to have stacked the deck in an attempt to control the judicial system. The Conservative government is wrong to do that. The other element in terms of Canadian judicial system appointments has to do with the appointment of people who are influential within the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives say that it is important that the best people be appointed.

Yes, it is important to appoint the most qualified people, and that should guide all of the government's decisions every day. However, a closer look at the situation suggests that it might be more than coincidence.

The Conservatives have just said that the best, most qualified people should be appointed, but we have to wonder. As it happens, the Prime Minister's former campaign director for New Brunswick, the former president of the Conservative Party in Quebec, and the former chief Conservative Party fundraiser for Alberta were all awarded judgeships.

As it also happens, the Conservative government said that there must be transparency—especially on the part of the government—that the best people must be appointed and that the most qualified people must get the job. This is about fairness and about giving people a reason to have faith in the system.

However, it just so happens that high-ranking Conservative Party members got lucky. It is quite the coincidence that these people were appointed and the others were rejected.

We might think that from time to time, party supporters might get lucky and be appointed, but that is because they are the best candidates with the best qualifications, people who can demonstrate that they have the best skills for the job.

We should take a look at the situation in the provinces. I gave just a few examples earlier of very high-ranking Conservative Party members who were appointed to the Canadian judicial system.

I find these elements very troubling. The Canadian people also have concerns about this party, which is easy to understand when things like this come up. The government is trying to make itself look as though it is transparent, as though it is the political party, the government, that wants to do things with as much clarity and transparency as possible. The sad truth is that it is filling up the room and filling up the committees via the back door. What does the Conservative government want the appointees to abide by? By Conservative ideology, of course.

Canadians have every reason to fear the Conservatives. In fact, Canadians have every reason to fear the Conservative ideology, because the future of the country in many respects is certainly not currently in the right hands. People in my riding say so all the time. There are things going on, and people are afraid of the Conservatives.

When we say, myself included, that Conservatives are not transparent, that they try to slip things in through the back door, that they add things to bills to bring them in line with the Conservative ideology, we need to be prepared to back this up. Moreover, we must be able to provide even more proof to Canadians that the Conservative government is making decisions not for the well-being of the Canadian people or of minorities, but solely for the well-being of the political party currently in power.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Jean-Claude D'Amours Liberal Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

I thank my colleague for his eloquence in addressing Bill C-31.

In examining this bill more closely, we must also ensure certain elements are present. We know that, throughout the country, we are in great need of judges and we owe no thanks to the Conservative government as we attempt to resolve the situation.

In light of Bill C-31 and the 20 additional judges, it is clear that, in terms of judicial appointments, we must ensure that certain elements are present and that there is respect, in order for the judiciary to be highly regarded by Canadians. One of the elements when making judicial appointments is balance because Canadians, in turn, expect balance when decisions are made.

I would like to ask my colleague a question. Does the Conservative government's approach to making appointments, whether for various committees or other bodies, result in balance? Or is the Conservative government trying rather to imbue the judiciary with its ideology? Will this lead to certain problems in future?

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

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

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

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

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

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-31, which aims to increase the number of judges in the provincial and territorial superior trial courts by 20.

Everyone in this House can agree that we do not have enough judges and that this addition would allow the provincial and territorial superior trial courts to serve Canadians better. Indeed, the waiting periods for trials are often so long that one might be inclined to wonder if our justice system is working properly and if it meets the standards of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We support these efforts to ensure that more judges are appointed in order to clear up the backlog that is accumulating in superior courts. I would like to point out that it was this Conservative government that interfered with the judicial advisory committee to ensure that the representatives chosen by the Minister of Justice would hold the majority of votes for each provincial judicial advisory committee.

We are all familiar with how these advisory committees operate in the provinces. Ideally, we hope that all judicial appointments are carried out in an non-partisan manner. Unfortunately, when the Conservative government insists—and uses its back-door methods to require—that all members of these committees be its chosen representatives, we must question its good faith.

It is also this same Conservative government that went to great lengths to fill the Canadian judicial system with its cronies. This was mentioned earlier, but I was unfortunately not in the House at the time, and I want to make sure that everyone knows about it. I am referring specifically to the Prime Minister's former campaign manager for New Brunswick, the former president of the Conservative Party of Quebec and the former Conservative Party fundraising manager in Alberta. The Honourable Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, even criticized this government's failure to act on judicial matters.

In recent weeks and months, we have alluded in this House to this government's lack of seriousness in appointing judges in Ontario recently. We are all aware of the importance of bilingualism in Canada's courts of justice, especially in Ontario, where the Conservative government decided to circumvent the rules. In many, if not all, cases, the minority Conservative government appointed judges without making sure they were bilingual. Obviously, I am talking about these judges' ability to understand and speak French. Certainly, the Conservative government never would have dreamed of appointing a judge who did not speak English. They did the opposite in this case, appointing judges who are very comfortable in English but cannot speak French.

I would like to take a little trip down memory lane. As hon. members know, I come from a beautiful town on the south shore of the Ottawa River in eastern Ontario. This town, which is called L'Orignal, is the administrative seat of the county or judicial district of Prescott-Russell.

I learned about the law growing up in this charming village where my father practised law. He was a crown prosecutor for the Government of Ontario for many years in this part of eastern Ontario, where the francophone community has always had a strong presence.

This region was one of the first in Ontario to provide bilingual legal services in court. The proceedings for an accused who was to appear in court could be conducted in French. My father was a francophone by birth and the Ontario government had appointed judges who were francophones and who, naturally, had a good command of English. I remember that, at the time, there was Judge Joffre Archambault and then Judge Louis Cécile. The courts could function equally well in French or English.

As a result of several recent appointments by the Conservative government, unfortunately, individuals who are accused or who must use the services of the court in various districts in Ontario will not necessarily be able to seek justice in their language, that is, in French. It is a sign of bad faith on the part of this minority government with respect to our judicial system.

I would remind you that the Conservative government is claiming to table this bill to help clear the backlog in the provincial and territorial courts and to appoint additional judges to independent tribunals that are being set up to deal with the first nations specific land claims.

This bill seeks to amend subsection 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act to authorize the appointment of 20 additional judges to superior courts in the provinces and territories. In particular, the superior courts in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut have backlogs and are experiencing ever growing delays. I would like to mention parenthetically that in my riding, Hull—Aylmer, located in the judicial district of Hull, there is definitely a need and the court delays are long.

Nunavut in particular is having a great deal of difficulty in providing access to justice for its aboriginal communities. The provinces lack resources, particularly in relation to family law, because of population growth.

On January 24, 2008—not so long ago—there were 24 judicial vacancies that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has the responsibility to fill. British Columbia currently has the largest number of vacancies, 10 in all, in its court of appeal and its supreme court.

The first nations specific claims tribunal has presented specific claims that will meet with a refusal for negotiation, or for which the negotiations will fail. Judging by the caseload for the specific claims, the federal government estimates that the new tribunal will need the equivalent of six full-time judges to manage roughly 40 claims a year. These claims come from across the country, but most started in British Columbia and some of the most complex claims are from Ontario and Quebec.

Six new judges are to be appointed to the superior courts of those provinces, proportional to their respective share of the number of specific claims. New judicial resources are to be assigned in order to allow certain superior courts to free up their experienced judges and appoint them to the specific claims tribunal.

This tribunal could be composed of 18 judges, who will be appointed to the tribunal by the governor in council on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice. The chairperson of the tribunal, in consultation with the chief justices of the jurisdictions involved, will assign these judges, probably part time, to specific claims.

Although we support the efforts to appoint extra judges, I must tell the House—as some of my colleagues have already done—that we regret that the bill does not address in any way matters related to the independence of the judiciary. I deplore this destructive attitude of the Conservative minority government.

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:15 p.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I wonder if the hon. member for Malpeque could answer that question by relating it back to Bill C-31.

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The issue was raised earlier about us sticking to the principles of what we are talking about, so let us stay away from the partisan attacks and stay focused on the issue of Bill C-31.

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I beg to differ. My point is all about the independence of the judiciary when adding new judges to the court so that decisions can be made.

The point I wanted to make by example is the fact that when the government tried to break the law, and I can give the judge's name and decision, it is the court that stood up to the ideological drive of the Prime Minister and stopped him down in his tracks. We want to appoint new judges so that there are more of them to take on the government when it tries to get around the laws, as it tried to do in that case.

Just so it is clear on the record, I must point out that in this case, on July 31, it was the last process that Canadian citizens could utilize to stop the government in its tracks and they did. This is the power of the courts and why they need to be entirely independent. I said earlier that there was a need for that independence. Adding more judges to the court and having that independence would certainly be important.

Just so everyone knows it is a fact, I will read Judge Dolores Hansen's ruling against the Government of Canada, which shows how important that independence is. In her conclusion, she stated:

For the above reasons, I conclude that the new Regulation is ultra vires and of no force and effect.

That was her judgment against the Government of Canada. It shows the need for the system and the importance for it to be adequately resourced in terms of individuals.

What makes that decision more scary is that we know, in terms of our political process and Parliament, that the top individual is the leader of the governing party, the Prime Minister. He has the power of the Prime Minister's Office and all those things, so he is very important and there needs to be a vehicle that has the authority and the independence to stand up to that individual.

In fact, within two days of that ruling, the current Prime Minister said that one way or the other the government would get to what it called barley marketing freedom or choice, which is a little spin on the words. What it is really doing is taking away the choice of farmers for collective marketing.

The members opposite can complain if they like but I make all those points because people need to understand that the independence of the judiciary and having it adequately resourced is what is very important as we go down this road.

I want to make a couple of more points on this bill. There needs to be adequate resources. This is moving us ahead somewhat toward getting more human resources to do the job. There are a lot of courts to cover here and a lot of decisions to be made. There are civil cases, criminal cases and family law cases.

I know that the current government is in favour of bilingual judges. I would remind the government that it is extremely important as we go down this road, in terms of the human resources to meet the qualifications of Bill C-31, that there be adequate consideration given to bilingual judges to cover off the courts that need them to do their job.

Our party does support the bill. We believe the amendment to the Judges Act authorizing the appointments of 20 new judges, bringing the total up to 50, is a good move forward.

As I said in my remarks, it certainly is not without some worries, and I have outlined them. A lot of those worries were expressed in the words of the Prime Minister after Judge Hansen made the decision to go against the government. She challenged the government and said that its laws were ultra vires and the Prime Minister reacted immediately.

In fact, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Agriculture went to the appeals court and they were turned down there as well. As members opposite know, they brought a law into this Parliament to find a way around the court's decision. It shows the kind of sneaky business that the government may be up to. If it does not get its way one way, it will certainly try it another.

With those few remarks, I will conclude by saying that we are in support of the legislation but I have outlined my concerns.

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April 14th, 2008 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I would remind the hon. for Malpeque that we are on third reading of Bill C-31, so if he could come back to the point of the main tenets of the bill, the House would appreciate that.

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April 14th, 2008 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

The heckling from the other side, Mr. Speaker, was because they really did not want me to explain how a minority government should operate and how in Lester Pearson's time everything was not a confidence motion. By working together to get things done, we passed so much progressive legislation by the former Liberal prime minister, whether it was the Canada pension plan, medicare, employment insurance and so on. It showed what could be done in a minority Parliament and Prime Minister Pearson showed us the way. It is too bad the present Prime Minister would not work cooperatively with the other parties. As my colleague said earlier, the government itself is even filibustering so many committees.

However, I am getting off my topic. The government members on the other side derailed my line of thought, and that is not necessarily a good thing. However, it is a good thing to explain how well Prime Minister Pearson governed and did so many positive things as compared to the current Prime Minister when it is either his way or the highway.

I will get back to Bill C-31. I will use several examples of our worries about the bill. My colleague from York West mentioned some of them, but they are important enough to mention again.

The bill does nothing to address the concerns our party has raised in the past regarding Conservative government attacks on judicial independence. My colleague from York West used an example and I will use another one. The attacks on the judiciary by some ideologically driven folks on the other side even had the Chief Justice feeling that she had reason to criticize the government for its attacks on judicial independence. That should not happen.

First, we have a judicial system in our country because of the good appointments in the past. Because of that strong independence, it is seen as one of the best judicial systems in the world. It is a system that really has not allowed a great deal of politics to enter into it to date. I know there are some efforts on the other side to do that, but we would hope that independence remains.

The second worry is the same Conservative government stacked the judicial advisory councils to ensure the justice minister's chosen representatives would have a majority voice on every provincial judiciary advisory board. When it comes to stacking judiciary advisory councils, then that is leading the appointment process to get those in place. Maybe they are qualified, but maybe they lean in a certain political direction, and that has us worried as well.

Third, this is also the same government that has gone out of its way to make a large number of patronage appointments to Canada's judiciary, including the Prime Minister's former campaign manager in New Brunswick, a former president of the Conservative Party in Quebec and the party's former chief money raiser in Alberta. We sometimes call them bagmen, but in any event he was the chief money raiser in Alberta. It is funny he happened to end up appointed.

Therefore, we do have some worries.

However, I want to come back to the point that in general we have, even with these new appointments, a judicial process that is second to none in the world in terms of qualified people. It is a process that is independent of the political process and the executive branch of government as well. Our judicial process is seen around the world as among the best and included in that is the independence of the judiciary. One of the difficulties with our current court system is the cost.

I remember when I used to be involved in the farm movement and a friend of mine in the United States said of its justice system, “justice is justice, but it is just U.S.”. Only those with the economic ability to pay and political power, “just U.S.” meant them getting fairness under the system.

The previous government put in place the court challenges program, which provided federal government funding to organizations and groups, such as the Status of Women, so they could challenge decisions through the court system and get independent rulings and effective legislation on them. Therefore, those without economic power could get some justice in the system.

The leader of the Liberal Party spoke for a considerable time the other evening on a private member's bill to reintroduce the court challenges program to allow people without economic power to challenge the system. Members opposite were part and parcel of the Conservative government's cancellation of the court challenges program, and that was seen as disgraceful around the world. Many around the world looked at our court challenges program as a model to be emulated elsewhere and Canada was recognized in good stead around the world for it.

I hope those members have now seen the error of their ways, so to speak, and will look at the private member's bill of our leader to bring the court challenges program back. Even with the additional appointments, which are so important, it would make our court system work better and be fairer to all.

Although I agree with increasing the number of judges, as I said earlier, there are other points about which I am worried.

One of the benefits of our system is that if the Prime Minister does not like somebody in the system, he cannot up and fire that individual. We must retain that benefit. We have seen other areas where that has happened. Independent authorities have had highly qualified people fired because the Prime Minister wanted to silence their criticism.

The Conservative government is driven by ideology. I will give the House some examples of critics who have been silenced and fired because they did not allay themselves with the government's policy.

One example would be Adrian Measner, who was the CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board. The government fired Linda Keen, an independent authority in terms of nuclear regulations, who did not agree with the government. The government did it to Kingsley, Shapiro and Reid. Even through the appointments process to the board of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board, the government managed to do it to a lower level employee, Deanna Allen.

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April 14th, 2008 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act. As others have indicated, the bill would amend the Judges Act to authorize the appointment of 20 new judges for provincial and territorial superior trial courts. As it states in the legislation, it moves the number up to 50 in the case of judges appointed to superior courts in the provinces other than appeal courts.

Our party supports efforts to appoint additional judges and we do that for many reasons. However, the additional appointments are not without some worry on our part, and others have outlined that before me as well. Contrary to what the current Prime Minister promised during the election, he has most often let his ideological bent get the best of him when it comes to making appointments.

I remember the appointments board he was going to have. When Parliament took its rightful position and decided that his favourite appointee did not meet the qualifications for that independent job, the Prime Minister picked up his toys and went home. Therefore, we do not have one of the most important parts of the Federal Accountability Act in place because the Prime Minister's ideological bent got the better of him.

It is the same when the Prime Minister makes appointments, that very often we believe not just are independent, but the appointees are strongly leaning toward the Prime Minister's ideological bent. That is certainly a worry. Now let me—

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April 14th, 2008 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have not been part of a group or committee that has been involved with filibustering, but I understand that the Conservatives know all about it from what is happening on the other side of the House and in the procedure and House affairs committee. I actually sat in on the procedure and House affairs committee, which is the one that is trying to deal with the in and out issues. That is the only experience I have had with filibustering.

I came today with a prepared 20 minute speech and certainly wanted to deliver it. I know there is one other Liberal speaker who will be standing at some point. I cannot say whether that is the last speaker, but I certainly know that he is more than ready to deliver his comments on Bill C-31.

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April 14th, 2008 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this very important bill. Bill C-31 would help correct some of the problems in the judicial system.

We do not have the judges that we need in place, and I find that many of us are certainly interested in seeing this legislation go forward, but in response to the issue about us speaking to what we support, I think that is part of our job. Many of us knew that Bill C-31 was going to be coming up today for debate and we took some time over the weekend to prepare our notes. Frankly, once we had done that work, we wanted to be on record as indicating our support or opposition to it. We are clearly not using delaying tactics. We are not interested in delaying anything.

I am pleased to be able to speak to Bill C-31. I have been listening very carefully to the remarks from my colleagues on all sides of the House and I will continue the debate.

Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, would amend the Judges Act to authorize the appointment of 20 new judges to provincial and territorial superior trial courts. It is unfortunate that the bill does not allow for appointments for the remaining 31 vacancies that need to be moved forward. I can understand the delay, but at the same time, this is only a one page bill, and it would have been better to look at all the vacancies that currently exist to avoid further delays.

The Liberal Party of course supports the effort to appoint additional judges to deal with increasing backlogs in the superior court system, something that we cannot allow to continue for much longer, but the bill does nothing to address some of the concerns that we have raised in the past regarding the minority Conservative government's attack on judicial independence, something that I believe is the pride and joy of Canada. It is something that we are very proud of and it is something that all of us in the House must work for to make sure that it is treasured and is not interfered with.

My colleagues will remember that in February 2006 the minority Conservative government announced that for the very first time in Canadian history the next judicial appointee to the Supreme Court of Canada would be questioned at a public parliamentary hearing. The Liberal government established a four stage consultative approach and process for Supreme Court nominees, which the Conservatives have largely adopted, recognizing the strength and the values that were in that process. The critical difference is that the Conservatives have instituted public hearings for the nominee, something that is not always welcomed by some of them.

As Liberals, we are concerned about this public hearing process. It could become politicized and impinge on the dignity of the Supreme Court, an extremely important institution. We must make sure that the very best people serve on the Supreme Court. It should have nothing to do with politics. Appointments should be based completely on their qualifications and their ability to hear cases, rationalize them and make decisions that reflect all of Canada.

The Supreme Court is an independent judicial body. Judges need to be selected based on the overriding principle of merit, not on the political leanings of the government of the day. I will stand by that principle no matter which party is in power. When the Liberals return to power, I expect that we will follow the same process of ensuring that appointments of judges to the Supreme Court are done on merit, on their balanced opinions and on their ability to listen to the issues and make a decision that reflects all of Canada.

Although the Prime Minister claimed that he does not want to over-politicize the appointments process, in the same breath he expressed a specific preference for judges who will take a literalist interpretation of the Constitution. That is typical double-talk, or double-speak, as it is referred to, which does not stand up well when we are talking about appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada. This is the same Conservative government that stacked the judicial advisory councils to ensure that the justice minister's chosen representatives have a majority voice on every provincial judicial advisory board.

This is also the same government that has gone out of its way to make a large number of patronage appointments to Canada's judiciary, including the Prime Minister's former campaign manager in New Brunswick, a former president of the Conservative Party in Quebec, and last, the party's former chief money raiser in Alberta, who I would like to think had all of the qualifications and would bring a very positive approach to the Supreme Court. Clearly, however, when we read about his background this was done much more on a political basis than on the basis of who would best represent Canadians in the Supreme Court.

Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin, highly respected throughout Canada by all Canadians, has had reason to criticize the government for its attacks on judicial independence, but perhaps this is why the Conservative member for Saskatoon—Wanuskewin attacked the integrity of the Canadian justice system and accused the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of saying that judges take on these “god-like powers”. That is quite a comment and is very reflective of the thinking of that individual member.

Those statements of that member were an insult to Canada's judges, our judicial system and the country as a whole. The Conservatives need to be concerned about all of these comments and I would hope that they would keep them under due consideration as the appointment processes come forward for the other 31 judges, which no doubt will have to come forward in the very near future.

However, come to think of it, the Conservatives need to be ashamed of the disgraceful comments made by a variety of their members, but let me go back to working to strengthen our judicial system, which is what we are talking about today, and the need for those judges to be appointed and the need to be assured by the government that those individuals are meeting the test of integrity, knowledge and balance as they go forward.

Despite promises to reform the process for judicial appointments, the Conservative government has only lowered the quality standards that had been put in place previously. Also, the Conservatives have changed the membership of the provincial judicial selection committees in order to facilitate the appointment of their own party supporters to fill vacancies across Canada. There is no doubt that they are recruiting them there rather than advertising and recruiting them through the legal system and so on, which has been done previously and has always worked very well for Canada.

As of January 2008, there are currently 31 judicial vacancies that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling. That is a lot of vacancies to be sitting there when clearly we know that there have been cases thrown out across the country because of delays in the justice system. It is important to get judges in place who have the knowledge needed to deal with these important issues.

British Columbia currently has the highest number of vacancies, with 10 vacancies between the provincial court of appeal and the provincial supreme court. We all know about the issues in British Columbia, such as the issues of land claims and a variety of other issues that it is very important to deal with. There is just no way that it will be possible if we do not have judges in place who have the language and cultural understanding required, especially when they get into some of the aboriginal issues and the issues in and around the land claims file. They are very important in these communities. People need to feel that they are being heard and getting proper hearings from the various judges. Hence, we go back to the issue of the quality and qualifications of the various individuals who are appointed as judges.

The specific claims tribunal will have the authority to make binding decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation or where negotiations fail. This is an extremely important tribunal. Those who sit on that tribunal need to be able to understand the issues and the cultural background of various individuals and they need to be able to make proper decisions.

Various speakers in the House today have commented that people will not go forward on their land claims if they are not confident that the people listening, hearing the case and judging have the qualifications and the understanding of their particular issues.

Based on the federal government's analysis of the specific claims workload, which is quite tremendous and has accumulated while we have been waiting for judges to be appointed, it has been estimated that the new tribunal will require the equivalent of six full time judges to manage the claims they have in front of them. Each and every one of these claims is not something that can be decided in several days. It takes a huge amount of work and investigation by these judges. Therefore, six full time judges are needed just in this area to deal with the specific claims tribunal, which will be their own challenge to manage and go forward with.

These claims are also dispersed all across the country, with the greatest number, as I said, in British Columbia and with some of the most complex cases originating in Ontario and Quebec. It is anticipated that six new judges will be appointed to the superior courts of these provinces in proportion to their respective share of the specific claims caseload.

Again, though, I will go back to the fact that the bill is addressing only 20 of the many openings that are still there, waiting, in need of qualified judges to hear these claims and to render a decision on them. There are also the resources that are needed. This is also about the money required in regard to these appointments, required by the federal government as well as its provincial partners, which also have to assist in this issue.

It is intended that this infusion of new judicial resources will allow a number of the superior courts to free up their experienced judges so that they may be appointed to a specific claims tribunal roster. It would be very helpful if these 20 could get brought on very quickly in order to move this forward and see if they can offer some additional help. The roster will consist of up to 18 judges who will be appointed as tribunal members by the governor in council on the recommendation of the Minister of Justice.

As for passing this bill in the next few days and getting it through to the Senate for verification, this is still going to take some time. Then we have to go forward on the recommendations and governor in council appointments, which will take quite a bit more time, so it is not as if this is going to be up and running next week. We are quite probably talking about this being up and running by next year.

Again, it just shows the length of time that is required to get these kinds of bills through. This is why it is unfortunate that this bill is representing only 20 while leaving another 31 vacancies on what is a very important operation of the government in order to have justice move forward. These judges likely would be assigned on a part time basis to specific claims matters by the tribunal chair in consultation with the chief justices of the affected courts.

This is all very important. Our brave police cannot fight crime on their own. When convicting criminals, we need enough judges and enough people there to be able to hear these important cases. It takes the community, the police and judges to have an effective judicial system working in Canada.

The average length of a court case has increased from less than five months to more than seven months, putting an increased burden on the administration of justice. Again, justice delayed is justice denied.

Yet under the Conservative government our courts are staggered by dozens of judicial vacancies that have gone on for far too long. The Conservatives inherited a list of highly qualified individuals for judicial appointment. It was not a partisan list but a list of very qualified Canadians who had put forth their names, had gone through a very extensive screening process and were ready to assume their positions as judges.These individuals also had to pass a test of experience. The only test that they do not pass is the test of ideology imposed by the current government.

The Conservatives set out on a divisive republican-style campaign to stack the bench. The Law Society of Upper Canada is sounding the alarm. This is not coming from the politics of the Liberal Party or any other party. This is clearly coming from the Law Society of Upper Canada, a highly respected body that is on a continuous mission to fight on behalf of all Canadians.

The Law Society said quite clearly, when they sounded the alarm, that ideological or political considerations from anybody in any party in the House of Commons is unacceptable and should play no part in the judicial appointment process. Yet, the government continues to insist on the ideological litmus test. As a result, appointments are going unfilled. The backlog of cases continues to grow and criminals are not being convicted fast enough.

Our charter of rights guarantees us a right to a fair trial in a reasonable period of time. Not appointing judges undermines that right and could lead to even fewer convictions. For the safety of our communities, this must stop.

I think we are all well aware of several cases that have been thrown out. I refer, in particular, to my city of Toronto where the cases of people who were charged with everything from gun fights, to drug crimes and drug pedaling were thrown out of court because we did not have enough judges and those court cases were delayed. Clearly, that is an injustice to the communities that we all represent and to the families that are there.

We all know that the minority Conservative government is more interested in making headlines than taking concrete action to fight crime.

The Liberal Party is committed, has always been, and will continue to be committed to protecting our homes and our rights. We will pursue the right set of policies to fight crime for every person, for every family, and for every community of this great country that we have the privilege of representing.

We need to adopt a comprehensive and effective approach that deals with every aspect of fighting crime: preventing it, catching the criminals, and convicting the criminals through competent and quick administration. That is why we have committed to appoint more judges and are supporting Bill C-31.

In putting more police officers on the street, more prosecutors in the courts, protecting the most vulnerable, including children and seniors, and giving our youth more opportunities to succeed, it is a balance. There always has to be a balanced approach in dealing with this issue. All of the pieces of the puzzle have to be in place in order to ensure that continues.

The Liberals are going to support this legislation so that we can move forward and amend the Judges Act to authorize the appointment of the 20 new judges for provincial and territorial superior courts.

I am calling on the Conservative government to let the courts do their job and start appointing highly qualified judges free from ideological interference. This is an extremely important part of our judicial system. All individuals who go before a judge need to know they have had their effective day in court and that they will get a competent judge who will be rendering a deciding.

I would tell government members that I sincerely hope all the judges who get appointed from the passage of this bill will ensure they are there to represent Canada first and party politics will stay out of it, no matter what party is in power. When we get partisan politics going on in a judicial system I do not think we do justice for Canada or Canadians.

I am happy to support Bill C-31. I thank the House for the opportunity to keep the debate going and that I had a chance to deliver the comments I had worked on over the weekend. I look forward to the passage of Bill C-31.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the members of the justice committee had an opportunity to hear from the department on Bill C-31. One of the issues that came up during debate was the necessity of having additional salaries for up to 20 judges. The case was made province by province, it was an existing situation, and there was concern that the growth of population and the other key factors indicated there was going to be even further demands for additional judges.

The question for the hon. member is whether or not the Department of Justice officials, the Minister of Justice, or whoever presented to the justice committee were able to explain why it took two years before they tabled this one clause bill in the House for debate. Have they indicated whether or not there is any mechanism established to more carefully monitor the demands of the system and as more judges are needed they are identified and put in place on a timely basis so that we have an effective operation of our court systems?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 3:10 p.m.
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Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, less than two months ago the Liberal critic for democratic reform said, “So far, on the justice end of it, they look like pretty good appointments and I am glad they”—meaning the Conservative government—“are filling the vacancies”.

We saw the odd spectacle of the member for Yukon speaking to Bill C-31 on judges saying that he wanted unanimous consent from all parties to pass the bill, then his own Liberal colleagues denied him that consent.

I put the question to the member for Yukon, what is going on over there?

We have seen the delay that has taken place in the justice committee. Thankfully we have already passed Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, but there are other bills that need to pass to address crime and victims of crime.

Now a bill that we all support is being delayed in this House. What is going on over there?

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

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 1:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will allow that member to have the first question.

I would like to talk about the treatment of judges in general in Parliament, which has been totally unfair. I will go into the specifics of the bill and talk about a number of items that I support, but I have some questions about its implementation.

First, as people know, the last Parliament judges were afforded a pay raise. The final signatures had not come through. As part of a very unfair and backward treatment of judges, that pay raise was denied by the government and was not allowed to go forward.

The next item was the change in the selection of judges. In our system the fundamental basis of our democratic system is the general separation of the judiciary, the executive branch and Parliament. The people are convinced there is a good separation and that there is a good process for the recommendation of judges. The executive branch still has the authority and approves the actual judges. However, the judicial councils, which have various expertise from the various groups on them, had suggested that they should make recommendations to the government, although the government could still decide who it wanted.

The minister added another government member to that body, which was a horrendous change. Now there is a majority of government members on that selection committee. Not only does the minister get to make the final decision, but he also gets to have a majority of people appointed on the committee that makes the recommendations to him. What faith will people have that the judges appointed are independent? This has already led to some very questionable appointments, which I might get to later.

I also want to comment on a third backward step in treating our judiciary. The government has taken away the discretion of judges in a number of the bills brought before Parliament. Judges have a lifetime of expertise. The judges see all the evidence, hear all the cases and sit through the entire procedure. They have research and all the precedents to make the most reasonable decisions on the punishment someone should receive and the type of remediation so society will be as safe as possible and the person is least likely to reoffend.

People are different and different punishment and rehabilitation would apply. However, unfortunately, we have been presented with a number of bills that would reduce the discretion of judges, and not to increase the maximum penalties, which people might want, to deal with offenders, which could make them more safe.

A perfect example was Bill C-23, which would have reduced a whole number of relatively successful remedies. To a large extent, the criminal justice system has failed for the last thousand years. Huge numbers of criminals who go to prison come out and reoffend.

A number of community type justices, as the chief police of Ottawa can tell us, have a much better success rate than what has been done traditionally. Up to only 30% or 40% of youth going through those types of rehabilitation are likely to reoffend, as opposed to 50%, 60% or 70% under the traditional system.

We had an innovative, successful type of approach in some cases and we had a bill that would take away from the judges their ability to use that type of tool. Fortunately the opposition parties fixed that bill and reinstated those successful remedies in a vast majority of cases.

I want to compliment the minister on looking at a point related to judge. It was related to the chief justices in the three territories. By an anomaly of the system, back in history there was a reason, because of function, to separate the title of the chief justices of the territories. I believe they were called head judges. Now the judicial councils and everyone who deals with judges understand that their roles are identical to chief justices in the provinces and therefore the names should change.

I appreciate the minister looking into that for the last six months or so. Hopefully he will soon provide me a written outline of what the exact issue is, if there is still an issue, or if the government could make that change. I know there were some thoughts that it might be different responsibilities, but the Judicial Council basically has said that they are identical.

The last point in the whole area of the background for the bill is related to the lack of analysis done and the unpreparedness of the justice system for the huge agenda. As I think everyone in Parliament knows, there has been a massive agenda on justice. There have been more bills through the justice committee than probably all the other committees put together, which is fine if work needs to be done there. However, an analysis of the repercussions has to been if those bills are to become law. What effect will they have on government? What effect will they have on prisons? What effect will they have on the budgets of the provincial and territorial governments? On the bill before us, what effect will it have on judges?

Time and time again in committee we asked about the analyses and about the preparation that had been done. It was very limited, if any. No planning had been done on the effects on an already overcrowded jail system. More important, on the resources in that jail system, the teachers, the anger managers, all the supports that go with the jail system and the parole system, no analysis had been done on the extra cost to the provincial governments or who would pay for them. No analysis had been done on the extra procedures that police may have had to undertake or whether it would take more time for them to go through these procedures and therefore more time in the courts.

Therefore, it is surprising that if there were these new types of increases in the justice system, that there would not be a need for more judges to deal with these situations, especially in the sense where it becomes harder to get a rehabilitative sentence and someone has to face a sentence that could be far longer and more severe than actually a natural justice would suggest. Therefore, it may not even stand up to a constitutional challenge. However, because of these limited stiffer sentences, then more defendants would have to go to court. They would not have the other options where they could make a deal, where they could get rehabilitation, which would make them less dangerous to society. Therefore, this would increase the number of people in the system, the court time and the number of court cases, and therefore the need for judges.

We may get this bill through and have to do another bill right away. We are so far behind because there has not been any analysis done in this area. I hope the government has listened to this and does an analysis of the whole system and the ramifications of the many bills that we have passed in Parliament and the impact they would have on the rest of the justice system.

With regard to this bill, as I said earlier, it involves increasing the number of judges by 20 judges, of who 6 equivalent full time judges would be for the specific claims process, which I will comment on a bit later.

These additional judges would deal with the increasing backlogs in the superior court system in six particular areas of the country, including Nunavut and New Brunswick. About four or five other jurisdictions have outlined their backlogs, especially in family court and youth related matters.

When cases come forward related to child custody cases or different types of family court cases, they have to be dealt with quickly. They usually involve serious issues, such as the conditions under which a child might live, or the parent with whom the child might live and there has been a crisis, as can be seen lately.

Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia are other areas where there have been delays. Nunavut, in particular, has problem providing justices to their far-flung aboriginal communities. As we know, it is very difficult to get anywhere in Nunavut. On a per capita basis, we certainly need a good number of judges. New Brunswick has had problems recently about the appointment of unilingual judges who replace bilingual judges when they retire. They are unable to carry the same workload or cover the same number of people with whom they need to deal.

As of January 24, there are currently 31 judicial vacancies that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling. Even by filling the existing vacancies, the minister could appoint more judges than this entire bill would allow. The largest number of vacancies is in British Columbia between the provincial Court of Appeal of and the provincial Supreme Court.

We support the increase in the number of judges and we strongly support any appropriate amendments made by the committee related to the specific claims tribunals, which we worked on when we were in government. These are much needed changes, although there are questions about exactly how that and the appointments would work, et cetera. I will talk about that in a moment.

Yet, unfortunately, the government continues to put forward measures that are unsuitable and insufficient. Even though I agree that Bill C-31 should pass and that we need to increase the number of judges, I do not approve of the implementation of this bill. Perhaps this is because I worked so much in the field and saw first hand that there are not enough judges, especially in New Brunswick, as I said earlier.

Just before I get on to the specific claims tribunals, I want to talk about what the government was questioned on previously relating to the bill. I hope that there is a plan in place and that it is related to the regional distribution of the judges.

There are some very distinct challenges in New Brunswick, Nunavut, Quebec and Ontario related to language as well as getting judges out to difficult locations. I wonder if the government has indeed, based on questions from the opposition, come up with a plan for that type of distribution.

Just so that there is no misunderstanding, I want to say once again how hard-working, experienced, thoughtful and independent the judges are and we certainly appreciate them.

In relation to the specific claims tribunal, how is the government going to ensure that the judges are fully knowledgeable about aboriginal affairs? The aboriginal people want to ensure that they certainly have a full and fair hearing. What is a little worrisome is that there is no way for appeals. There are very few things in our society where there is not a possibility of appeal.

I am very supportive of items in the bill, but I am not so happy with the way judges have been treated throughout this Parliament in other ways.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 1:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My apologies, but I have been listening to the member for quite a while and he is speaking about the court challenges program. I wonder if the member could be reminded that we are not dealing with that program right now, that according to the orders of the House, we are dealing with Bill C-31.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to see Bill C-31 move forward. I listened to my colleague's comments on the various issues of concern that he has. I have to ask why he thinks it has taken so long to deal with an issue of such importance as ensuring we have sufficient judges across the land to deal with the variety of issues that are currently out there. Is there any particular reason he thinks that this has taken a while for this to come forward?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to the debate on Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, at third reading.

Bill C-31, if passed as is, would make it possible to appoint more judges to the provincial superior courts. This would mean 20 judges more than the current limit.

The purpose of increasing the number of judges is to improve the flexibility of the legal system so that superior courts can handle the many cases for which they are responsible, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Moreover, it would allow judges from superior courts to be assigned to the new specific claims tribunal, which was created by the Specific Claims Tribunal Act.

Bill C-31 is necessary because the number of judges provided for under the Judges Act has not changed for years. Accordingly, the act does not take into account the population increase and the resulting new social realities, including divorce, and the increasing complexity of some cases. These factors have caused delays in the legal system that penalize citizens.

This bill is a necessary update to accelerate and improve provincial legal systems. It makes sense, which is why this bill was recommended without amendment by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

That being said, beyond good intentions, it is important to point out that Bill C-31 will never successfully cover up two major problems concerning justice that are of grave concern to me, that is, the judicial appointment process and the elimination of the court challenges program. Any citizen who cares about having an impartial, efficient judicial system deserves to know about this government's questionable intentions on these two issues.

Regarding my first concern, I would like to emphasize the subjective nature of the judicial appointment process. I have talked about it on several occasions during past speeches. It is such a major problem that it could compromise the desired effects of Bill C-31. I would remind the House that, since being elected, this government has always said it would rather get tough on crime than prevent it. Bill C-31 is nothing more than a slight blip in an ideology that advocates penalizing and imprisoning as many people as possible as the only way to reduce crime.

First of all, I will provide some context by saying that judges are appointed by the government from a list made by a judicial advisory committee whose members voted for the candidate they deem best qualified.

Before the changes made by the Conservatives, the advisory committees had seven members. Out of seven evaluators, four members were politically independent, in other words, there was a representative from the Canadian Bar Association, another from the bar of the province concerned, a representative of the provincial department and, finally, someone to represent the judges. The three other members, appointed by the federal Department of Justice, came from the public. These individuals frequently subscribed to the ideas of the government of the day.

It is important to realize that, as it turned out, the federal government was in the minority on that committee and therefore could not impose a candidate. Nevertheless, the Conservative government was not happy about this situation because it would have had a hard time passing its political “law and order” agenda for justice. So without consulting the legal community, this government unilaterally decided to change the makeup of the advisory committees in the following manner.

First, in addition to the three members of the public, it decided to appoint a police officer, thereby ensuring that four members would be government supporters. Then the judges' representative was denied the right to vote except to break a tie. This means that the government has a majority on these committees and is able to impose its repressive law and order ideology with ease. I believe this is blatant disregard for the entire legal community and clearly shows a shocking lack of faith in the judicial system and the recognized professionalism of judges.

I would like to draw to my distinguished colleagues' attention to the results of The Globe and Mail 's investigation into the matter, published on February 12, 2007, which showed that, apart from the police officers, no fewer than 16 of the 33 individuals appointed to 12 advisory committees were connected in some way to the Conservative Party. This is not a mistake; we are talking about half the candidates. Coincidence? Unlikely. The newspaper revealed a number of cases where the connection was extremely clear.

The members of the Bloc have been saying for a long time that we can hardly wait for the day when partisanship no longer plays a role in judicial appointments and independent committees will choose the most competent judges.

As for my second concern, the government used the excuse of budget cuts to government operations—even though they had a $10 billion surplus—to eliminate the court challenges program, which was cherished by minorities that wished to defend their fundamental rights. That program was created to put individuals and citizens' groups on a level playing field when going to court against a government they felt was is interfering with one or several of their constitutional rights.

When citizens must take the government to court to seek justice, the latter has a slew of lawyers at its service, while ordinary citizens must use their own savings to defend themselves. Since court costs are huge, these people could rely on the court challenges program to balance things out.

With this completely unjustifiable budget cut, the government is showing us, yet again, that its vision on legal matters is narrow and shortsighted and has nothing to do with the word “efficiency”. One thing is certain: the abolition of the court challenges program violates at least five laws or provisions of the Constitution. Before making such a huge decision, the federal government should have consulted with the interested parties, the minorities affected.

But, as is the case with the judicial appointment process, the Conservative government did not consult anyone before shamefully eliminating a program that had proven effective, all to save a mere $5.6 million out of an annual budget of $283 billion. Many organizations have harshly criticized this cut, and rightfully so.

It is clear that the court challenges program was abolished for purely ideological reasons. I think that the Conservatives do not care one bit about minority rights. I feel strongly about this because I am a staunch defender of human rights, as shown by my Bill C-384, which will soon be debated in this House.

It seems as though the Conservatives are discomfited by minority groups such as disabled persons and gays, and by immigrants' rights organizations, women's rights organizations, and all organizations that defend minority groups.

I stated that the court challenges program has proven its effectiveness not only by defending minority rights, but also in the context of common law, by providing jurisprudence. I will provide a recent example of its effectiveness so that everyone will understand how important this program is.

On April 11, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Marie-Claire Paulin and the Société des Acadiens et Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick, stating that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police must offer its services in both official languages across the entire province of New Brunswick. The RCMP, as a federal institution, was only required to provide services in the minority language in areas where numbers warrant. In her comments about her lawsuit, which has taken eight years, Mrs. Paulin clearly stated that she would not have been able to take her case all the way to the Supreme Court without the help of the court challenges program.

This is the program that the Conservatives have eliminated. Without this opportunity, this woman would have had to have been content with unilingual English service in her own province. This is the sad vision being offered to us today, which greatly concerns me. But the people can always rely on the vigilance and efforts of the Bloc Québécois to make the government understand that this situation is wrong and that they should reverse their decision.

I would like to conclude by saying that if one puts the aforementioned concerns into perspective—the political machinations involved in appointing judges and the elimination of a program as important to minorities as the court challenges program—one cannot help but question this government's real intentions when it comes to justice.

Exactly how will Bill C-31 be able to meet the demand when the intent is to punish rather than prevent? On the one hand, we can expect the legal system to become overburdened very quickly. On the other hand, having more judges will not make a difference if citizens do not have the means to exercise their rights. In my opinion, Bill C-31 is nothing but a drop of good intention and effort in an ocean of ill-conceived punitive approaches.

Nevertheless, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-31 so that it can go through the legislative process. All the same, the problem remains: partisanship will always play a major role in the selection of judges regardless of the total number of judges on a superior court.

The Bloc Québécois will always continue the fight to eliminate partisan appointments to the bench. It will do all it can to help the people get truly independent committees whose judge appointment processes ensure that the most competent people are chosen. The Bloc Québécois has also always been extremely supportive of the court challenges program. The government's lack of sensitivity on this issue is inconceivable, as is the fact that it is so out of touch with the needs of our community.

We will do everything in our power to ensure that the government understands that when it comes to justice, it is headed the wrong way. It is even contradicting Quebec's approach, which has often put the lie to the Conservatives' ideological shortcuts and preconceived notions.

We will always be there for Quebec.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-31. Members will know that this bill is simply a one paragraph bill to amend the Judges Act.

Yet after reading the debates at second reading and hearing about the discussions at justice committee, as well as hearing the member who just spoke, it is clear that the bill would have some fundamental implications for all Canadians with regard to providing the kinds of services we require in our judicial system at both the federal and provincial levels.

As well, there was some discussion about the federal government making new laws that have to be in force at the provincial and territorial levels, but we have not taken into account the resources necessary for the provinces and territories to be able to enforce those laws. Passing laws that cannot be properly enforced across the country is a bit of a nil process. We have heard this time and time again.

I want to reflect on some of the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice when this bill was first debated on January 28, about two years after the government took office.

It would be a tough sell to convince Canadians of this significant, emerging and terrible situation that we have with not enough judges to hear the various cases in various jurisdictions. If this is such a priority, what happened during the last two years?

Members will recall that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh referred to the activity within the justice committee. Members also may recall that during the first session of this Parliament there were 10 or 12 bills, all pretty well straightforward, all pretty well involving many of the same witnesses, and yet those bills were not introduced as is normally the case. Normally where there is a broad range or potpourri of items to amend the Criminal Code, they all would be included in an omnibus bill which we would then be able to deal with in a more productive fashion. Many of those bills were very straightforward and, quite frankly, were not contested by anybody in this place.

However, this process dragged on for a bit. As a matter of fact, instead of using an omnibus bill, the government introduced each bill one at a time. It was done that way for political purposes. The government was trying to paint a picture. It was trying to say that because somebody else had done a bad job many changes needed to be made to the Criminal Code. The Conservatives said they were going to be tough on crime. All that really did was delay the processing of important legislation.

The justice committee is one of the busiest committees, if not the busiest, and cannot deal with 10 bills all at once. It has to deal with them one at a time. The committee has to decide the priorities. If the committee streams to them sequentially, it is very difficult to do anything other than the next one coming at it.

The House also may recall that when the parliamentary session came to an end a number of those bills were at various stages. I think one or two were already in the Senate. After the throne speech, when the second session started, the government reinstated some of those bills at the same point they were at when the House was prorogued, but most of them were then put into an omnibus bill and we had to start right at the very beginning again.

Again, I suggest that this had to do more with trying to get political points for reintroducing or repackaging legislation that had already been in the House for over a year, simply for the government to be able to say, “Look at how busy we are on justice issues and there are a lot of things we have to change”. All that it really did was delay the passage of important legislation and amendments to the Criminal Code.

When I saw the timeline on Bill C-31 and read the speech of the parliamentary secretary from January 28, it laid out a case that clearly there was a problem, that there were not enough judges to handle the cases in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, particularly in family law cases, and in the north, aboriginal land claims items were being delayed.

One starts asking oneself questions if a backlog has been built up, if there are projections of population increases that are going to require certain things, and if more and more people have less and less money to be able to defend themselves and hire lawyers. People are going to court without being represented by counsel, which means that suddenly judges have longer trials. It was well laid out by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Is it not a priority? If it was a priority and if it is a priority today, and I think it is, why was it not introduced earlier in Parliament? We are talking about two years after a government takes office. The justice department clearly is aware of it, because it is the continuity. Politicians come and go, but the people in the various departments are the continuity and they know what the priorities are.

Why is this so? The member for Windsor—Tecumseh had some thoughts about it, and it had to do with basically setting up some things for appointments of judges. This is another area of concern. I do not think there is a party that is going to oppose this bill with regard to providing the legislation that is necessary to amend the Judges Act to pay salaries for up to 20 additional judges.

There are two issues that remain. First, how are we going to prevent the same circumstances from occurring in the future? The country is growing. The litigious nature of our population is increasing. The courts are backlogged. This is going to continue. What is the plan to make sure that we do not find ourselves in the same situation of the courts not being able to respond, where instead of the average case taking three to six months, it is taking a year? Suddenly that involves a lot more time, a lot more money, a lot more delay and a lot less justice. There has to be a commitment.

Second, the other point raised by both the parliamentary secretary and the previous speaker in questioning was with regard to the independence of the judiciary. The previous speaker was very diplomatic in suggesting that the questioning of judicial independence was a cloak for ideological preferences for people. However, there is some evidence that what has happened already has in fact shown that there can be some partisan influence, which I do not think is very appropriate. As has been stated, it causes some concern to the Law Society, the Bar Association and those who have a stake in making sure the judicial system operates efficiently and effectively.

There have been such cases. For instance, the Prime Minister's former campaign manager in New Brunswick was appointed as a judge, a former president of the Conservative Party in Quebec was appointed as a judge, and the party's former chief money raiser in Alberta was appointed as a judge. I do not know what signal that gives to people, but I am not sure that it is a good signal to be giving to Canadians.

With regard to ideological side, even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has had reason to be critical of the government for its attacks on judicial independence. We have seen a number of examples of that as well.

Thus, the bill may be only a paragraph long, but it is a proxy for looking at the bigger picture with regard to the condition the courts are in, why they are in that shape, and why the government has not been accountable and responsible for making sure that this situation was not exacerbated. Delaying the appointment of qualified, properly recruited judges for our various levels of the courts is an ongoing and very important process, and it was ignored. I think that speaks volumes.

As has been indicated, the bill amends one paragraph, paragraph 24(3)(b), of the Judges Act. It authorizes salaries to be paid for up to an additional 20 new judges in provincial and territorial superior trial courts.

I found it interesting to hear about the demographics and the needs of Ontario and Atlantic Canada, particularly in the family court side, and the fact that 90% of these cases never do get to trial. In fact, now we have this other operation, where trials are pending and suddenly go to motions, and the judges are more engaged now in this.

The whole nature of the operation of the judicial system is starting to morph itself into something a little different than Canadians might realize. It is taking our judges a lot longer to do cases simply because they are more complex. As was laid out in debate, we have a lot of cases that have more serious problems to deal with, such as issues of drugs, organized crime or gang violence, and so on.

As this changes, Canadians need to have the assurance from the government that when we deal with legislation like this there is in fact an accountability as to the progress being made. Have we taken sufficient steps to make sure that not only can these backlogs be dealt with but so can the projected growth? Have we ensured that we have a mechanism and a plan in place so the courts continue to be responsive to the needs of our judicial system?

The other important part has to do with some of the other legislation and the consequences of passing federal legislation when the responsibility for the enforcement is at the provincial level. If we do not have the resources at the policing levels to enforce the laws that the federal government passes, there really is a question that comes up. How effective are our laws if they cannot be enforced? What about plea bargains and the number of cases that are just not heard in time so charges are dropped and justice is not seen to be done?

These are the kinds of questions that lay people ask. The lawyers can deal with the details and some of the more profession-specific issues, but I wanted to speak on this simply from the standpoint of a lay Canadian. In terms of the Canadian justice system, the operation of the courts, my observations, what I hear from debate and what I hear from the bar associations or the legal community itself, is that there are some concerns. There is a lack of confidence in the ability of the federal government to be responsive to the needs of Canadians and to make sure that the judicial system is operating efficiently.

Those are significant indictments of our federal system: to make laws but not have the resources to follow them. It is easy to do laws, but where is that partnership in terms of making sure that we have the enforcement side of the equation taken care of?

This is where it would be good to see the Government of Canada coming to this better arrangement with the provinces and the territories to ensure that those resources are going to be there. There has to be a proper analysis of the implications of our federal legislation.

From time to time there is gender analysis that is required in certain cases, but in this particular case, what we are talking about is to demonstrate that if we do this, here are the consequences, to say we understand what the consequences are going to be. We understand where the financial burden is going to be and we understand there is a plan to make it happen.

Parliamentarians ought to know whether there is a plan, whether there is that certitude that if we were to pass a law, that it would really happen, that it would be enforced, it would do the right things, it would deal with backlogs, and would ensure that the increasing demands on our judicial system would be met in a timely manner.

Those things have not happened. Parliamentarians have not been given those assurances by the government. We have just simply been told there is a backlog and so we have to have 20 more judges, but that is only a small part of it. I just cannot imagine why we cannot have a responsible government being open and transparent with Parliament and with Canadians, because that is who we represent, to say we have done the work, we know what has happened.

Those were the two concerns I wanted to raise today. First, that I did not see the analysis of the implications of passing this legislation to the consequences of those who must enforce the legislation. The second one has to do with the plan to ensure that, at the federal level, we continue to monitor this and that the priorities are there. It was clear to me, by reading the speeches and from the committee work, that the priority is clear and uncontested, and this bill will be supported by all parties.

However, the problem is it took two years before a one paragraph bill came before this place. That is unacceptable to Canadians. It is unacceptable to Parliament. I ask the government to ensure that these kinds of priorities are not simply put off to the side only from the standpoint that they are not as spicy and interesting to the public for partisan purposes. The real implications are that the courts are backlogged; the courts are jammed. They are affecting people's lives and delaying justice, and that means that justice is denied.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 12:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his always wise input to brief but important legislation.

I took the opportunity to look at the government's representations with regard to Bill C-31 before it went to committee. It laid out very clearly many of the facts of which the member had advised the House in his speech, particularly about the concentration of the family issues in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, as well as the pressures in the aboriginal communities.

One of the things I do not hear is that the case was made that these were existing and projected demands on the judicial system.

Second reading of Bill C-31 started on January 28, two years after the government took office. It makes me wonder where the accountability is of appointing sufficient judges to ensure we do not run into a situation where someone could say that justice delayed is justice denied. From a lay perspective, if we cannot have our courts operating in an efficient fashion there will be consequential implications to that.

I do recall what we went through in the first session when a myriad of bills were thrown at the justice committee. I think there were 10 or 12 bills at one point in time. The government was saying that somebody was delaying these things but Bill C-31 was not among them.

When we came back in the second session, rather than reintroduce most of those bills at the same point in the legislative process, many of them were rolled into an omnibus bill, which meant that we had to restart most of the work on a lot of these bill that already had been done.

Accountability is the concern I want to raise with the member. This is a very straightforward priority. The justice department was clearly aware of it and it briefed the government and the minister at the outset. However, the government did not get the job done.

I wonder if the member could help us understand why it is that we are faced with a significant and tragic backlog at a time when the government had the opportunity to address it very quickly in a straightforward bill.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

April 14th, 2008 / 12:05 p.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-31. It is a very short bill. It is a government bill that will have the effect of increasing the number of judges at our superior court levels across the country, from 30 currently to 50.

We have roughly 900 judges at that level across the country. These particular appointments are in a special category and they are as a result of an agreement that the federal government made with the provinces a number of years ago, which allowed us to manoeuvre around what was a constitutional problem and allowed for these appointments to be made at the request of the provinces.

That is what has happened in this case. A number of provinces have come forward and made requests to increase the number of judges, with the current federal government recommending to Parliament, in the form of this legislation, that the number be increased from 30 to 50.

It is important to note that we are at third reading and that we have had committee hearings in the justice committee. This is the committee that is no longer functioning, but it was at the time this bill went to it. We did take some hearings on it. They were quite brief because, as I said, the issue is a very narrow one.

Before we get to what happened at committee, I want to put in context what has happened with the workload of our judiciary at the superior court level across the country. That workload has been increasing dramatically as a result of a number of factors.

First, we simply have a growth in population. The last time the number of judges was increased across the country was almost 25 years ago. Therefore, in that period of time, we have had a substantial increase in our population, resulting inevitably in an increase in the number of cases coming before the courts.

I want to make the point that this level of court is not the court that deals with most of our criminal cases. Roughly 95% of all criminal cases and charges in the country are dealt with at the provincial court level and by judges appointed by provinces. However, what does happen at this level and what has happened more and more often is the number of trials that run on for extended periods of time have increased dramatically.

We have seen this under regular charges and the more serious charges under the Criminal Code. However, where we have particularly seen it, has been in the area of drug charges. Oftentimes there is an element of organized crime involved and the trials go on with multiple accused for extended periods of time, literally in some cases, for more than a year, but often for three to six months. This is almost becoming the norm when there are multiple defendants in these areas because of the amount of evidence to be put forward by the prosecutor and then the response from the defence. The length of the trials has increased dramatically therefore putting a burden on our courts in that regard.

The area where the workload has gone up dramatically has been in family law. Without any doubt, I think any observer of our courts would accept this is the reality, that the biggest workload increase by our judges at this level of courts has been in the family law area. It takes the form in two ways: huge increase in the number of motions brought prior to trial, which most of our judges at the superior court level sit on and try these motions; and then the actual trials.

Again, in the family law area well over 90% of all matrimonial breakdowns that result in any kind of litigation never gets to trial, but a good deal of it does get dealt with at the motions level, and those numbers have gone up dramatically.

There were a series of articles in the Toronto area at the end of last year, early part of this year, showing the number of times cases at the motion level had to be adjourned simply because there were not enough judges available to hear them. This makes it much more expensive for the claimants in those cases, whether they are the plaintiffs or the defendants. Lawyers attend, wait for their turn on the motions and then, at the end of the day, time runs out and they have to come back another day. They end up charging their clients for their time in court even though they were not able to argue the case.

This happens repeatedly. I certainly know in my home community of Windsor that it is happening. I know it is happening in Toronto because of those articles. It is my understanding it is happening across the country in greater numbers.

Because of the costs, we find more claimants who end up in front of the courts at the trial stage unrepresented. This puts an additional heavy burden on our judiciary to ensure the trial is conducted properly and fairly for both sides. Even when one side is not represented by counsel, it requires additional time for the judge to ensure there is a fair trial, thereby lengthening the trial. Therefore, that has increased the workload and the time allocated.

We can look as well in the civil litigation area around personal injuries files. I can remember when I first started to practise a long time ago, those trials would take on average two to three days. Now, often two to three weeks is pretty well the average, and it is not usual for them to take over a month's time. Again, for most of that period of time, the number of judges in Canada has not been increased at all.

Having set that context, I want move to what happened at the committee. I had expressed in my speech at second reading, as did other members of the House, concern as to whether the increase in the number of judges, from 30 to 50, would be adequate to meet the growth in demand for services by our judiciary.

I want to then put in context and make it clear what came out of the committee, and I think a number of us knew in any event. The way the system works is the additional judges who will be appointed will be paid out of funds from the federal level of government. However, all the services that go with the additional judicial appointments are paid out of provincial funds, and that is all the staff. For those people who have not been in court very often, that is a very significant number of people. There are court reporters. There are usually one or two people providing security. On average, at this level of court, between six and ten people have to be there for that courtroom to function. In addition, there is the capital outlay for the building space so there are sufficient courtrooms available for the judiciary to perform their functions.

Therefore, the tab, if I can use that colloquialism, at the provincial level is substantially higher than the wages of the judicial person on a ratio of about 3:1 people, on average, across the country.

During the course of the committee hearings, there was a strong feeling that additional judges were needed, and we heard this from the bar associations, the law societies, the judicial councils, the senior judges who provide the administration for our courts. However, and I do not want to overplay this evidence, it was quite clear, from what we heard from the justice minister, that there would have been, if it had been left up to the judicial councils, the bar associations and the law societies, a significantly greater number of judges, on top of the 20 judges, being sought by the provinces. However, because the provinces were not in a financial position to cover those added expenses, this was in effect to what they agreed.

Even the wealthier provinces like Ontario were not prepared to seek additional judicial appointments at this time because of the costs that were attended thereto.

With regard to the bill, I have to think that sometime in the next few years we will again be faced with another request from the provincial level to make additional appointments. I believe this simply will not be sufficient.

I want to make one final point that came out in the course of our debate around the bill. Of the 20 judges, 6 judges' time will be allocated to the land claims tribunal. All of that other work that needs to be done, whether it is in the criminal law area, the family law area, the area of personal injury or other general civil litigation, we are only getting the time of 14 additional judges, not 20.

We also heard a concern from a number of the first nations communities as to whether the six judges appointed to the tribunal on a periodic basis would be sufficient, in addition to the ones who were already allocated. We may, in the next few years, be hearing from the first nations community, which is dealing with a huge number of land claim applications, that it may require additional judicial appointment time in order to get through a huge backlog in that area.

I want to make the point that all political parties and all sectors of the community are adamant that we deal fairly but in an expeditious way with those claims. However, we will not be able to do that without having a sufficient number of judges. I expect that at some point in the next few years there will be a request for additional judges to cover this off and another government will be back asking for additional appointments.

Although we have grave concerns about the adequacy, there is no doubt that we need at least these 20 judges and probably many more. The NDP will be supporting the legislation on third reading but with the caution that at some point in the near future we will probably be back before the House asking for additional judges.

The House resumed from March 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the third time and passed.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

April 10th, 2008 / 3:20 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that the House of Commons has just now voted to approve the budget implementation bill at second reading. The bill will now proceed to the Standing Committee on Finance where it will be studied by members of that committee.

I know that the Liberal Party originally said that it adamantly opposed the bill, so we welcome its change of heart yesterday with its help to defeat the NDP motion, which would have effectively killed the bill, and its kind cooperation today to make sure it passed at second reading.

As I am sure the Liberal House leader is aware, the passage of the bill is important to the stability of the Canadian economy during a time of global economic uncertainty and to reduce the immigration application backlog that is causing Canada to lose much needed talent from potential immigrants. We hope it will be dealt with quickly at committee so that we can have it back to the House for third reading, where I am sure it will once again receive the same warm greeting.

Today and tomorrow, we will continue to debate Bill C-23, which amends the Canada Marine Act; Bill C-33, which will regulate a renewable content of 5% in gasoline by 2010, and 2% in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2012; and Bill C-5, which has to do with responsibility in the event of a nuclear incident, as part of Improving the Health and Safety of Canadians Week.

Next week will be a stronger justice system week. We will start by debating, at report stage and third reading, Bill C-31, which amends the Judges Act to allow the application of additional resources to our judicial system.

We will also consider Senate amendments to Bill C-13, which is our bill to amend the Criminal Code in relation to criminal procedure, language of the accused, and other matters.

We will then continue by debating Bill S-3, our bill to reinstate modified versions of the anti-terrorism provisions--the investigative hearings and the recognizance with conditions provisions--in the Criminal Code. This important piece of legislation, which has already passed the Senate, will safeguard national security while at the same time protecting the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. I hope all members of the House will work with the government to ensure its quick and timely passage.

We will debate Bill C-26, which imposes mandatory prison sentences for producers and traffickers of illegal drugs, particularly for those who sell drugs to children.

Lastly, time permitting, we will start debating Bill C-45, which has to do with our military justice system.

With regard to the bill dealing with aboriginal human rights, we understand, sadly, that the opposition parties gutted the relevant provisions and protections in it. Therefore, I am surprised by the enthusiasm of the opposition House leader for it. Perhaps if the members are, as they were on Bill C-50, prepared to reverse their position and support the restoration of those meaningful principles, we would be happy to bring it forward again.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

April 3rd, 2008 / 3 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by thanking the opposition House leader for performing his basic parliamentary duty by asking the Thursday question. We have missed it once or twice. I believe it is important that this government have the opportunity to inform the House of its legislative agenda for the coming week.

Today we have started to debate the budget implementation bill. It incorporates the measures that were announced in budget 2008 and adopted by this House on two different occasions.

These are prudent, focused, responsible measures, including the tax-free savings account, $350 million for the Canada student grant program, and more money for police officers, the environment, health, and infrastructure for our cities.

We will continue to debate the bill tomorrow as well as throughout next week. The government has read reports that the opposition is going to delay and obstruct the passage of the bill. I hope that does not happen.

Next week will be improving the health and safety of Canadians week. A number of measures will be announced to accomplish this goal.

I cannot provide any details on these exact measures, but I am sure hon. members will agree that these are excellent initiatives that will improve the health and safety of Canadians.

Next week we will also debate changes to the Judges Act, Bill C-31; the Senate amendments to Bill C-13, our legislation to amend the Criminal Code in relation to criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other matters; and Bill C-23, which amends the Canada Marine Act.

The government will also debate—and pass, we hope—important bills to enhance the economy and accountability. There will be Bill C-33 to regulate a renewable content of 5% in gasoline by 2010, and a 2% requirement for renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2012.

We will also debate Bill C-5, which deals with responsibility in the event of a nuclear incident, Bill C-7, which amends the Aeronautics Act, and Bill C-29, to create a standard process for dealing with loans made to political parties, candidates and associations.

I would like to indicate that next Tuesday will be an allotted day.

In terms of the question on creating a committee of the House regarding Afghanistan, I thank the member for his question. We did receive a letter from him asking about that yesterday. We appreciate the support of this House of Commons for the motion, which has allowed the Prime Minister to travel to Bucharest and obtain the commitments that have been obtained from our NATO allies and allow that mission to continue.

We do believe it is important for that committee to be formed so it can operate shortly, and we will be proceeding with that soon.

April 2nd, 2008 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

I was present at the hearings on bill C-31 regarding the appointment of additional Superior Court judges. At that time, I asked the Minister of Justice whether selection criteria for Superior Court judges should include a knowledge of aboriginal issues or claims, not necessarily for inclusion in that bill, but in future legislation. Lawyers wishing to serve on the Superior Court should at least have some basic knowledge of aboriginal affairs. The current judges who will enforce Bill C-30 don't have any knowledge of native issues.

I would like to know what you think about that.

March 31st, 2008 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

What we are hearing is very important. I would simply like to add one thing. From the moment the Superior Court is involved—and I served on that court for 30 years—a process is called into question.

I drew Minister Nicholson's attention to a problem when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I served on that committee when it was examining Bill C-31 respecting the appointment of judges. At this point in time, superior court judges are not ready to hear cases pursuant to Bill C-30. This is where first nations will have an important role to play. If we adopt the bill as it is currently worded, judges will most certainly be sitting superior court justices with the experience of non-native people. That is a debate that first nations will have to have. That is the choice they made.

As for the $150 million figure, I agree with you that the reference to this amount should be deleted completely. Superior court judges are empowered to hand down rulings involving substantially more than $150 million.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

March 14th, 2008 / 10:40 a.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by your comments because Bill C-31 pertains to justice and judges. I believe that there are links to be made between other bills and I know you will allow me to establish these links.

Bill C-31 before us deals with the appointment of judges. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, but I was saying how disappointed we are that we did not wait for the Youth Criminal Justice Act to be fully reviewed before introducing a bill which deals with only two provisions. You will recall that, under your tenure as Speaker of the House of Commons, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, one of the best members ever of this House, tabled 2,700 amendments. That led you to make a ruling—and this is not a criticism—that tightened the criteria for introducing amendments.

Coming back to Bill C-31, I will be mentioning the Askov case. There are constitutional guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is not a legal instrument that the National Assembly finds desirable, of course. In 1982, the National Assembly almost unanimously passed a motion opposing the unilateral patriation of the Constitution. Pierre Elliott Trudeau's Liberals at the time disregarded the will of the National Assembly. Even Claude Ryan, the leader of the official opposition in the National Assembly at that time, agreed with René Lévesque.

In any case, this Constitution, which was patriated against the wishes of the National Assembly, contains a charter setting out legal guarantees. We are familiar with the major legal guarantees in the charter. Freedom must be inviolable: the freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of expression are protected. The will is expressed that trials be fair and equitable and concern is shown for the manner evidence is obtained. There is a provision in section 24 that allows evidence to be excluded if the manner it was obtained is unconstitutional.

Among the legal guarantees listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms patriated against the will of Quebec, there is the right to a fair and equitable trial. For a trial to be fair and reasonable, it has to take place within a reasonable time. Obviously, if a year and half, two years, two years and half or three years go by between the time when proceedings are initiated by prosecutors and the time when a judge, or a judge and jury, makes a decision, that violates this constitutional guarantee.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill before us because it provides for the appointment of 20 new judges who will help unclog the judicial system and ensure that justice is rendered within much a more reasonable time, more expeditiously and more diligently. With respect to these 20 judges, we do not know the details yet about how many there will be for Quebec, Ontario or Newfoundland.

However, there is something I must tell the House, on behalf of my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, a friend of aboriginal peoples. He is a man of the law and a dedicated attorney, who has always maintained the balance between defending people who are in the system, and fulfilling the Crown's obligation to sentence individuals if necessary. It was a pleasure to have the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue attend the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This was at the time when the committee was meeting and the government accepted the fact that there was work to be done in this committee. This is no longer the case, since the Conservative chair refuses to convene the Standing Committee on Justice.

This is very difficult for me because I love my job. I am very happy with my life. I enjoy speaking at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but first I have to have a chance to do so. During the last three sittings I have not had that opportunity.

That said, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue spoke. He accompanied me to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to talk to us about aboriginal law. When I studied law at the University of Ottawa, I took a course on aboriginal law, and I become aware of how valuable it is.

As we know, one judge who currently sits on the Ontario Court of Appeal will very likely be appointed to the new aboriginal reconciliation tribunal. This means that the Ontario Court of Appeal will be short one judge. Obviously, we expect that in the arbitration, appointment, provision or allocation of the new resources provided for in Bill C-31, the federal government will take into consideration this potential appointment of an Ontario Court of Appeal judge to the reconciliation tribunal.

Being a vigilant person, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, who is a friend of aboriginal peoples, asked a question in this House when the Conservative government refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, setting us back 20 years. Yet all the opposition parties—the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberals—were calling for the ratification of this instrument. Only the archaic, backward-looking, old-fashioned Conservative government refused to ratify this agreement. The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue was good enough to make us aware of this legal tool that the first nations were calling for.

We all know how important the reconciliation commission will be. This historic commission will shed light on the abuse and injustices suffered by the first nations, our founding peoples. The government of René Lévesque recognized the first nations in 1985. When Lévesque was premier, he recognized the 11 first nations in the National Assembly. Hon. members will also recall that Jacques Parizeau's referendum plan, which was distributed door to door in 1995, recognized aboriginal peoples, just as it recognized the historic contribution made by anglophone Quebeckers to Quebec.

I do not want to stray from the issue we are debating. I do want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-31. We worked hard in committee to deliver this bill to the government as quickly as possible. This very short bill will mean that justice can be administered much more quickly. Everyone remembers the ruling in R. v. Askov, where the Ontario Court of Appeal released some accused persons because they had not been able to stand trial within a reasonable time. The case caused a stir in the justice community.

Since then, governments have been under pressure to appoint more judges to the various appeal courts. Every year, there are more trials, and they are often very complex. As well, stalling tactics are used to delay proceedings. We all know what happens in a court of justice. We should therefore applaud the fact that there will be another 20 judges. As I said earlier, we do not know how many there will be for Quebec. We hope that there will be at least three more, but we will wait for confirmation of this.

In conclusion, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. I will be happy to answer any questions my colleagues may have. I hope to again have the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, just like in the good old days.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

March 14th, 2008 / 10:40 a.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. A member has pointed out that there is a problem because the hon. member for Hochelaga is not speaking about the bill currently before this House, which is an act to amend the Judges Act.

He should perhaps return to the matter at hand, debate on Bill C-31 at third reading, rather than discussing all other bills the government has introduced pertaining to the Department of Justice.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

March 14th, 2008 / 10:30 a.m.
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Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand up and share with you the position of my party, the great force of national liberation that is the Bloc Québécois, on Bill C-31. This bill may seem to be rather technical, but it has to do with the workings of the justice system. Bill C-31, which has been called for by people who play a role before or after the court system, is a short bill with only two clauses that will enable the federal government to appoint superior court judges.

At present, the federal government can appoint 30 judges, and there is a definite backlog in the court system. In the administration of justice, it is not uncommon for a year and a half, two years, two and half years, or three years to go by between the time legal proceedings start and the time a judge or a judge and jury hand down a decision. Obviously, we are not talking about the Supreme Court of Canada. We are talking about superior courts, which hear cases involving common offences under the Criminal Code. They do not rule on technical points of law, like appeal courts. And they certainly do not hand down decisions that speak to our values or clarify the constitutionality or validity of legal provisions, as the Supreme Court of Canada does. Superior courts deal with the cases that should be the least contentious possible.

Bill C-31 proposes to add 20 supernumerary judges, bringing to 50 the number of judges who could be appointed to the various superior courts. With your permission, I would like to take a few moments to explain to my colleagues in this House why trial courts should not be confused with superior courts.

Quebec will one day be a country that will enjoy all the elements of sovereignty, you can rest assured. For us as sovereigntists, when we talk about our plans, sovereignty means three things: keeping our own tax dollars, repatriating all powers to Quebec and, of course, deciding on our foreign policy.

As an aside, yesterday, I confirmed something with our research staff. It is estimated that in 2008, Quebeckers will pay $50 billion in taxes to Ottawa. Imagine how things would be different if the National Assembly could keep those tax dollars. Obviously, we would do some things differently. From the information gathered by our research staff—an excellent and very dedicated staff—I read that the National Defence budget will increase from $9 billion to $19 billion in the 2010s. Can you imagine? The military budget will double, primarily because of military procurement.

Do you think that a sovereign Quebec would have made the same decision? As my colleagues will agree, a sovereign Quebec would have placed much greater emphasis on international cooperation and development assistance. We would have been much more present in Africa, especially francophone Africa, and in Haiti, and we would have developed the cooperation practices that seem to be lacking in this government.

Accordingly, a sovereign Quebec would of course enjoy all the attributes of a separate state. However, that is not the case at this time. That is why everyone listening must understand that Quebec, the National Assembly and the Quebec justice minister appoint judges to municipal courts and the Court of Quebec. The Court of Quebec has two divisions: the civil division and the youth division.

By the way, I find it distressing that a bill will soon be before us, but we in the Bloc Québécois will not be supporting it. As I told the steering committee of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights the day before last, gone are the days when there was at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights a climate of frank camaraderie whereby members would give each other a friendly slap on the back or ask one another how they were doing, and there was the notion of caring about one another.

We know that the climate has deteriorated at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We have a chair who refuses to take his responsibilities and preside over the committee. How did we get to this point of no return?

It is like in a couple when it is obvious that a domestic spat will escalate to a point of no return. Of course, I am not speaking of myself. My home life is totally free from any stormy dispute because I am so blissfully in love.

At any rate, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has not been meeting because the member for Beauséjour introduced a motion inviting the committee to look into allegations made in the Cadman affair and conduct an investigation under section 119 of the Criminal Code. Naturally, that is within the purview of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Is it not our duty—and this question is for all my colleagues—to ensure that at all times, institutions and those who keep them running, parliamentarians, are above any suspicion when the media and a book raise allegations of corruption? Whether these allegations are founded or not is up to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to decide. Other committees could have addressed this issue, but for reasons I do not want to get into again, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was unable to.

The hon. member for Beauséjour, a generally respectable man with great self-control, did his job as a parliamentarian by tabling this motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which the Bloc obviously supported. When the chair of the committee deemed the motion out of order, we challenged the chair's decision, in accordance with the House of Commons Standing Orders. However, the chair refused to hold a vote to determine whether the motion would be challenged and he left the chair, leaving a terrible void that prevented the committee from functioning.

That said, I do not want to get off topic. Let us come back to Bill C-31.

The National Assembly of Quebec oversees appointments to municipal courts and the Court of Quebec. The Court of Quebec has two divisions: the civil division and the youth division. I dreaded the thought of having to deal with Bill C-25, which is a very bad bill.

Bill C-25 deals with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Before the five-year review of the bill has even taken place, the government wants to amend two provisions. The Bloc Québécois maintains that—

Judges ActGovernment Orders

March 14th, 2008 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-31. It has now been through the justice committee and has returned to the House unamended.

It is a very short bill, but its amends a number change in the Judges Act, paragraph 24(3)(b), and thus creates the authority to authorize the appointment of 20 new judges for the provincial and territorial superior trial courts.

We know these judges are needed to deal with the increasing backlogs in the superior court system. In particular, superior courts in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut continue to experience delays and backlogs.

In a former parliamentary life, when the Liberal government was in power, I was a parliamentary secretary to the then minister of justice. I travelled through Nunavut and experienced the fact that unlike the rest of Canada, where we can travel by vehicle from one city to another, there were 26 different fly-in communities. It takes time and there are delays to which we must attend.

I remember at that time we also were starting to introduce our crime prevention programs. That is the other end of the justice system, from the trial and judgment to the prevention of crime. There needs to be a full emphasis on this aspect. It helps reduce criminal activity when people are actively engaged in different crime prevention activities. I wanted to make that point at this time.

Even in the other provinces, those that I did not mention, we are aware that there is a strain with simply population growth, especially stresses that could happen with the family court systems. In a family court system we cannot afford time delays. Children grow up and those issues have to be resolved sooner rather than later.

We also have the issues of mega-trials in the criminal law area. We know a lot of the criminal law is taken care of at the provincial court level, but there are those mega-trials and people can opt to go into the higher court level. The mega-trials are very complex and lengthy and consume a lot of justice system resources.

I know this is important to all Canadians. The introduction and background to Bill C-31 talks about the fact that we now have a specific claims tribunal, which will have the authority to make binding decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation or where negotiations fail. It is estimated by the government that this tribunal will require the equivalent of six full time judges to manage the caseloads of these types of claims.

The chief justices, I am sure, will have consultations with the minister or his designates to talk about the allocation of these judges. I know that B.C. and Ontario will need these resources, as well as some of the other jurisdictions, because specific claims should be settled.

It is important to have access to justice for all Canadians. It is true that justice delayed can be justice denied. In criminal law, the Askov case reminded us, very bluntly, of the importance of reasonable time limits and reasonable access to the court system. We do not want to have cases thrown out of court just because the delays have been too lengthy.

Apart from the judges needed for the tribunal work, these judges will work in the area of civil law, civil litigation, family law and criminal fields of law. They are expected to perform all their work for us with the independence and impartiality that I think Canadians expect from their justice system.

Judges apply the law to the facts at each case. They do so without imposing any of their own personal bias. Increasingly, as I have said, cases are complex and trials can become very lengthy. Delay is not wanted by Canadians. Canadians want to have justice delivered in their own language, be it English or French. This reflects the linguistic duality of our country.

It is important, and this is not a political or partisan point, that both French speaking and English speaking justices are needed in our courts. In fact, there is often interpretation provided for other languages. Some people before the Canadian justice system speak neither of these languages, but that is not the point with respect to the appointment of judges.

I have great respect for our judicial system in our country. We have an amazingly fair and independent system. I do not want to see that change in any way. I have respect for the judges who do that work. These people are somewhat limited in their association with the rest of Canadian society. There is an expected distancing so they can maintain that impartiality to do their work properly.

These increases for the number of judges have been needed for some time, and we expected the bill sooner. I will go forward. As of yesterday, March 13, even without this bill, 25 judicial vacancies were waiting to be filled. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling those. In other words, these new positions are in addition to the existing vacancies that have to be filled. This is an ongoing situation. I know we should be encouraging the filling of all positions because it is important for our system to work efficiently and properly.

As many in the House will recall, the new Conservative government stacked the judicial advisory committee to ensure that the justice minister's chosen representatives would have a majority on every provincial judicial advisory board. I will not go in to this too much at this time because it takes away from the most important discussion and subject matter of this bill, but I do note it.

It is important to keep the judicial independence in our country. I remember the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court making comment on this point. It is also important that the positions be filled and that there not be a great delay. Both of those points are important.

With respect to this short bill, we can agree in the House that it should move forward. I know my colleagues and our party want the smooth functioning of the justice system. This is one, but only one, aspect that can be assisted by this House. We must remember that there will not be a smooth functioning system if there are not enough prosecutors and if there are insufficient dollars for legal aid for people who need that assistance before the courts. We need all of the system to work cohesively, and the judges are one part of it. However, it is the full functioning of the court system that has to be brought to bear before justice is actually delivered to Canadians in a timely and effective manner.

I ask fellow members of the House to support this legislation so it can move rapidly to the other house and become law after their deliberations. This is one bill that the House can believe will be good for the country and good for the citizens. We need the expertise and the impartial judicial system in our country, which we all deserve.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

March 14th, 2008 / 10:05 a.m.
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New Brunswick Southwest New Brunswick

Conservative

Greg Thompson ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

March 5th, 2008 / 3:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

In accordance with the order of reference of Monday, January 28, 2008, your committee has considered Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act and agreed on Tuesday, March 4, to report it without amendment.

March 4th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

That is it. Bill C-31 has been carried.

Now we have other business and we will go in camera.

[Proceedings continue in camera]

March 4th, 2008 / 4:35 p.m.
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

I call the standing committee back to order.

Now we'll go to clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-31. I'll call the vote on clause 1.

(Clause 1 agreed to)

March 4th, 2008 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Minister, let us assume that Bill C-31 — I believe it will be passed today — will pass and that Bill C-30, which we will probably be studying until the end of April, will also pass.

According to your plans, when will the new judges be able to undertake their duties? Will the chief justices and the provinces be given any directives so that they can start looking for judges to work on the Specific Claims Tribunal?

March 4th, 2008 / 3:30 p.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Thank you for the invitation to make some comments with respect to Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

It's probably one of the shortest bills this committee will see, I suppose. It's straight to the point. It's one amendment to the Judges Act, but I think it is a good news story across this country that we are moving to increase, by 20, the number of judges under this section. It will permit us to add judges, and I think there is a consensus across this country that we can use more.

The bill will allow the government to achieve two very important objectives. It will increase support and access to justice for Canadians from all walks of life. The appointment of these additional judges will facilitate the timely resolution of the specific claims.

Proposed paragraph 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act, which we refer to as the pool, creates the authority to appoint judges to the superior trial courts of any jurisdiction in Canada. The pool was created, as you may know, in the 1970s, because of the recognized difficulty in having to constantly amend the Judges Act every time you need another judge. Rather than do that, they created a pool of judges.

The concept was to allow the government to respond quickly to needs within each province or territory. I can tell you that Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador have each previously submitted requests for additional judges, as have other provinces that have come forward.

Submissions have come in over the years. Some jurisdictions have had the benefit of sophisticated data collection to justify why they need more judges, while others have worked painstakingly to collect information that indicates their need and to back up their requests. In all instances, chief justices, judges, court staff, and provincial government officials have made tremendous efforts to make the case as to why we need more judges.

The same degree of commitment to providing clear and comprehensive data has been demonstrated by the judiciary and the Governments of Quebec and Nunavut, each of which also have outstanding requests for additional judges for their superior courts.

In Quebec, mounting civil and family law matters have been straining the court for several years now. This bill will provide some long-needed relief for the Quebec Superior Court.

The pressures on the Nunavut Court of Justice are particularly compelling and urgent. There are three resident judges sitting on the court of justice. The court is also served by deputy judges from other provinces and territories. These are sitting or retired superior court judges who offer to sit in Nunavut, typically for one-week periods. These judges provide much needed assistance to the court, but they cannot completely respond to the existing needs within the territory.

As you can imagine, geography has a huge impact on the work of the court in Nunavut. The territory covers one-fifth of the land mass of this country, two million square kilometres. Its population of approximately 29,500 is scattered across communities ranging in size from 150 to 6,000 people. Judges of the Nunavut court frequently travel on circuit through various forms of transportation--by air, snow machine, or boat. Crime rates are also a concern in the north. The number of complex criminal trials is beginning to mount, with several being adjourned over the course of the past year due to unavailability of judges. Civil and family caseloads are growing, and with the development of a bar of resident lawyers, the number of matters before the courts will continue to increase. In sum, the situation on the Nunavut court is reaching crisis proportions, and we cannot allow this to continue.

It is proposed that 14 of the new appointments be allocated among jurisdictions to address the existing pressures and backlogs. The bill will also provide the judicial resources necessary to ensure that the provincial superior courts are in a position to provide judges to act as members of the newly proposed special claims tribunal.

Assuring timely and impartial resolution of these claims is a key objective of the new tribunal. This tribunal will have the authority to make decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation or negotiations fail.

As the Prime Minister indicated in June of 2007, it is critical that the members of the tribunal have the necessary experience, capacity, and credibility to examine historical facts and evidence. They must be able to address complex questions surrounding Canada's legal obligations and determine appropriate levels of compensation. For this reason, the proposed Specific Claims Tribunals Act provides that tribunal members will be superior court judges.

It is estimated that the tribunal will require the equivalent of six full-time judges to handle its anticipated caseload of 40 claims per year. These claims are dispersed across the country, with the greatest number arising in British Columbia and some of the most complex cases originating in Ontario and Quebec.

All provincial superior courts are currently working at full capacity, with a number of them, as I have just described, experiencing significant backlogs and delays. As a result, authority for an additional six judges is being sought to provide the trial courts with the capacity to absorb the new work of the tribunal and to address these claims on a priority basis.

It is intended that with this infusion of new judicial resources the courts will be able to allow a number of their experienced judges to be appointed to a tribunal roster of up to 18 judges. It is proposed that these judges would sit on the tribunal on a part-time basis for a period of time equivalent to the number of additional judges provided to the court. The judges to the roster would continue to sit for the balance of their time on cases assigned, as usual, by the chief justice of their own courts.

Allocation of the 20 new judges to specific jurisdictions will take place following consultation with the chief justices of the courts and the provincial and territorial governments. My officials have already commenced discussions with their provincial and territorial counterparts to obtain up-to-date data upon which to base these final decisions.

As you can see, Mr. Chair and honourable members, this bill is extremely important for Canadians, and in particular aboriginal communities. I trust that members will recognize the urgent need to facilitate the passage of this bill so that these new judges may be appointed as soon as possible and that we may provide meaningful access for those individuals that require it.

I should let you know as well, Mr. Chair, before I conclude, that I want to bring to the committee's attention the possible need for an amendment to Bill C-31. The amendment relates to the establishment of the truth and reconciliation commission.

As members may be aware, the truth and reconciliation commission will provide former students, families, and anyone who has been touched by the Indian residential schools experience with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate manner. The TRC will provide a comprehensive historical record of the policies and operations of schools, as well as what happened to the first nations, Métis, and Inuit children who attended them. The commission clearly has important responsibilities to fulfill in the course of its five-year mandate.

Following a rigorous selection process, the selection panel for the TRC commissioners unanimously put forward the name of a sitting judge to act as chair of the TRC. This judge is well respected by aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities alike and is uniquely qualified for this position.

All parties to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement support his appointment to this key post; however, this appointment would leave one of the busiest courts in the country one judge short for the judge's five-year absence. In order to avoid this unintended detrimental impact on the court, an amendment would be needed to Bill C-31 to provide for an additional clause modifying one of the sections of the Judges Act. We will continue to explore the issues related to this amendment, which, if we proceed with it, would need to be moved at the report stage.

Those are my opening comments, Mr. Chair. If there are any questions from the committee, my colleagues and I would be pleased to respond.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

January 31st, 2008 / 3:05 p.m.
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York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, since this is the first Thursday question of the year, I want to formally welcome everyone back to the House of Commons. Hopefully, we will be even more productive in 2008 than we were in 2007.

Judging by the first sitting day, I think we will be.

So far, the House has passed Bill C-8, on railway transportation, and Bill C-9, on the settlement of investment disputes.

Moreover, Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, and Bill C-27, on identity theft, have been referred to committee.

This is a rather good start.

We hope to keep up that level of productivity by quickly passing our legislation to strengthen the security certificates process, which started debate at report stage today. That is of course Bill C-3. We now have a House order to assist us in facilitating that debate. We will continue to debate the bill until report stage is completed.

While all members of the House do not understand the importance of the bill, I believe that the official opposition does. I hope that we can work together in a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship to have it passed before the date identified by the Supreme Court of Canada as the date by which it would like to see the law passed, February 23.

Following Bill C-3 tomorrow we will continue with the unfinished business from this week, namely Bill C-33, renewable fuels; Bill C-39, the grain act; Bill C-7, aeronautics; and Bill C-5, nuclear liability.

Next week will be a safe and secure Canada week.

Debates will continue until the bill is passed by this House.

After that, we will debate Bill C-25, which would strengthen the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and Bill C-26, which imposes mandatory minimum penalties for producers and traffickers of drugs, particularly for those who sell drugs to children. We also hope to discuss the Senate's amendments to Bill C-13, on criminal procedure.

Finally, in keeping with next week's theme, I would suggest that my hon. colleague opposite explain to his colleagues in the Senate the importance of quickly passing the Tackling Violent Crime Act, the bill which is overwhelmingly supported by Canadians across the country, and which was the number one priority of the government throughout the fall session of Parliament and which passed this House last fall. It has already been in the Senate longer than its entire time in the House of Commons, yet the Liberal dominated Senate has not even started committee hearings on the Tackling Violent Crime Act.

While the elected accountable members of the House rapidly passed the bill, which I would like to remind everyone was a question of confidence, unfortunately it looks like the unelected, unaccountable Liberal dominated Senate is up to its old tricks again of delaying and obstructing in every way. Let me be clear. This government will not stand and allow Liberal senators to obstruct, delay and ultimately kill the bill. The Tackling Violent Crime Act was quickly passed in the House and Canadians expect the Liberal dominated Senate to act in the same fashion and pass it quickly.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

January 28th, 2008 / 12:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, although our party supports Bill C-31 because we understand that there is a need to deal with the backlog in the superior court system, I agree with my colleague that it is not an adequate solution. However, we still need to support it because we are dealing with a backlog. I agree with my hon. colleague that there are huge costs and implications and we are dealing with people's rights. Justice is never served when it is delayed.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on an issue that is of great importance to Canadians and that is the whole issue that the government seems to be attacking the judiciary. I think the judicial system needs to be defended by our parliamentary system because it is one of the cornerstones of our institution of democracy. Perhaps my hon. colleague could comment on the whole issue of judicial independence and the need to respect our judicial system in this country.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

January 28th, 2008 / 12:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join the debate on something that directly affects the proper functioning of our justice system and thus the people of Quebec and Canada. I am talking about Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

The purpose of the bill is to allow a greater number of judges to be appointed to superior courts of the provinces, or 20 more judges than the current limit. The intention of this increase is to improve the flexibility of the justice system in order to process the many cases before the superior courts more quickly and more efficiently. The bill will also allow judges from superior courts to be assigned to the new specific claims tribunal, which was created by the Specific Claims Tribunal Act.

I should mention, with respect to this bill, that my constituents have often talked to me about how cumbersome and slow the current justice system is. However, let us make a distinction between cliché and reality. We have to acknowledge that the complexity of the cases, the proceedings, the needless procedures and a shortage of judges are causing delays. Nonetheless, I know that the increased number of cases, in family law in particular, is such that parents in Quebec sometimes have to wait several months before their alimony or custody case is finally settled by a judge.

This is an unfortunate situation, but it is so because the number of judges provided for under the Judges Act has not changed for years. Accordingly, the Act does not take into account the population increase and the resulting new social realities, including divorce and increasingly complex cases.

At present, the Judges Act provides for a Chief Justice, a Senior Associate Chief Justice and an Associate Chief Justice for the Superior Court of Quebec, and for 140 other judges. For anyone who knows a little bit about the judicial system in Quebec, I would point out that the Superior Court hears civil and commercial cases where the amount at issue is over $70,000, administrative and family law cases, bankruptcy cases, jury trials and criminal trials, and appeals in summary conviction cases.

Under paragraph 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act, the Superior Court of Quebec may still appoint 30 new judges, above and beyond its current 144 judges, to meet the needs that arise. Under Bill C-31, it could go ahead and have 50 additional judges. Clearly, that amounts to a ceiling that is higher than the one we have now by 20 judges.

In the opinion of the Bloc Québécois and myself, adding judges to handle the many cases before the courts is part of the solution for improving access to justice. Undeniably, it is the government’s duty to make sure that the public has access to the courts when they need it, that all accused persons are able to stand trial within a reasonable time, and that the system is not handicapped by a shortage of judges.

However, this must not become a panacea! I say this while at the same time believing that Bill C-31 is not a bad bill—quite the contrary—but the intended effects could be diminished by the ideology of this minority government, focused as it is on “law and order”. This approach concerns me, and I would like to share my concerns with my distinguished colleagues and with the general public watching us today.

In my speeches in the past, and in my work on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I have frequently referred to my grave concern about the enforcement-oriented approach taken by the Conservatives. It has expanded considerably since this government changed the rules for the judicial advisory committees. In my view, this manoeuvre by the Conservatives, along with a number of others I will talk about later, suggests that these amendments are somewhat secondary details in their minds.

Why is it so important to debate this? Because every one of our fellow citizens expects to have an impartial, objective judicial system, where they feel protected from any political or ideological position that might influence a judgment. It seems, however, that the recent judicial appointments made by this government do not adhere to the idea of impartiality that the public expects. This interventionist attitude is extremely disturbing, and I believe it is important that people be made aware of what this minority government is doing and planning to do to ensure that its “law and order” ideology can be implemented smoothly.

In the case of judicial appointments, my colleagues will stand firmly behind me when I say that we have to try to strike a balance. That is why our judicial system is founded on an independent judiciary.

The Bloc Québécois has been saying for a long time now in this House that we are looking forward to the day when there will no longer be partisan appointments to the judiciary, when we will have independent committees selecting our judges, selecting people with the very best qualifications.

I am not saying the current judiciary is not qualified, but I am saying that often judges are appointed in a partisan and political manner. The media regularly decries this practice and shares its displeasure with the public, who in turn become cynical. The government must not try to appoint judges that suit its ideology, because that could interfere with the impartiality of the courts, a fundamental rule of justice shared by all citizens.

Once again, to all those who are not very familiar with the judicial appointment system, it has often been debated because of the political interference that has been found.

The problem currently before us is twofold: on one hand this minority government has changed the judicial appointment process; on the other hand it is taking advantage of these changes to ensure a position on the judiciary for candidates who are ideologically in favour of or well connected, directly or indirectly, to the Conservative Party.

Let us be clear: this practice was not invented by the Conservatives, since they themselves have criticized the Liberals for doing the same thing in the past. However, these accusations illustrate the extent of the problem of appointing judges and the impartiality of the justice system.

For those who are watching us, I will provide some context by saying that judges are appointed by the government from a list made by a judicial advisory committee whose members voted for the candidate they deem best qualified.

Before the changes made by the Conservatives, the advisory committees had seven members. Out of seven evaluators, four members were politically independent, in other words, there was a representative from the Canadian Bar Association, another from the bar of the province concerned, a representative of the provincial department and, finally, someone to represent the judges. The three other members were appointed by the federal Department of Justice came from the public. These individuals frequently subscribed to the ideas of the government of the day.

It is important to realize that, as it turned out, the federal government was in the minority on that committee and therefore could not impose a candidate.

Nevertheless, the Conservative government was not happy about this situation because it would have had a hard time passing its political “law and order” agenda for justice. So without consulting the legal community, my colleague from Provencher, who was then Minister of Justice, changed the makeup of the advisory committees as follows: First, in addition to the three members of the public, he decided to appoint a police officer, thereby ensuring that four members would be government supporters. Then he denied the judges' representative the right to vote except to break a tie. And there you have it. The government gave itself a majority on these committees and was able to impose its repressive “law and order” ideology with ease.

I can already hear people protesting that this will not compromise the qualifications of those appointed, that we are exaggerating, or that we think this creates opportunities to interfere even though it does not.

However, various events have proven us right. I am not just talking about a few isolated cases. I am talking about a system that has a direct impact on the objectivity of our legal system.

I would like to draw to my distinguished colleagues' attention the results of The Globe and Mail's investigation into the matter, published on February 12, 2007, which showed that, apart from the police officers, no fewer than 16 of the 33 individuals appointed to 12 advisory committees were connected in some way to the Conservative Party. Sixteen of them. Coincidence? Unlikely. The newspaper revealed a number of cases where the connection was extremely clear.

Once again, some may say that this does not mean the individuals are not well suited to the job, that there is no conflict here, and that nobody is trying to push any agenda whatsoever. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In response to repeated questions about these appointments, the Prime Minister's own statements indicated that our concerns about changes to the advisory committees were well founded.

The Prime Minister said, on February 15, 2007, in this House, “We want to make sure we are bringing forward laws to make sure that we crack down on crime, that we make our streets and communities safer. We want to make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with those objectives”. The result is that they add a police officer and make partisan appointments to the advisory committees and take the vote away from the judiciary!

I have no hesitation in saying that our police officers do very honourable work. That does not mean, though, that they are necessarily the best qualified to participate in the appointment of judges who hear mostly non-criminal cases. I should say as well that police officers represent primarily the executive branch of government, which is subject to judicial control. The presence of a police officer on a committee of this kind would further undermine the separation of powers on which our constitutional state is based.

It is blatantly obvious, therefore, that citizens cannot count on an impartial judicial system so long as this scheme is in place. When it comes to justice, this government should think long and hard about its real objectives.

When we look at the concerns I have listed—the political manoeuvring surrounding the evaluation committees, the elimination of a program like the legal challenges program, and the law and order ideology of this government—I am puzzled by the proposals in Bill C-31 to improve the legal system.

Certainly, more judges should improve access to justice, but if the Conservative ideology is rapidly implemented, how will the proposed change in Bill C-31 be enough to meet the demand? If the Conservatives want to punish rather than prevent, the legal system will quickly become overloaded. At the other end of the spectrum, adding judges will not do any good when people do not have the means to exercise their rights.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-31. Maybe some things can be clarified during study in committee. In any case, though, the problem remains: partisanship will always play a major role in the selection of judges regardless of the total number of judges on a superior court. The Bloc Québécois will always continue the fight to eliminate partisan appointments to the bench. It will do all it can to help the people get truly independent committees that choose judges in such a way that we get those who are most competent.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

January 28th, 2008 / 12:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House here today to speak to Bill C-31. This is my first opportunity to do so as the official opposition critic for justice. I must say, I look forward to working with my hon. colleagues on such important issues.

We have already heard some members ask the parliamentary secretary some questions. I have known him well for a few years now. He is, like me, a member from New Brunswick. I look forward to working with him and his colleagues on the House standing committee, so as to discuss these issues of mutual concern on the subject of justice, especially since I know the government is particularly concerned about criminal justice issues.

This piece of legislation which creates additional superior court positions in different jurisdictions across the country is something that we in the Liberal Party think should have been brought forward a number of months ago. In fact, in the previous Parliament it was legislation that was before the House at the same time as the legislation to deal with the recommendations of the quadrennial commission with respect to pay increases for federally appointed judges. It really is not new the idea that there is a backlog in the court system and that there is additional pressure on the trial courts across the country for a number of reasons which were correctly enunciated in many cases by the parliamentary secretary.

The Liberal Party sees this legislation as positive. We see it in a certain sense as unfortunate that it has taken this long. We would have preferred to see the government, in the legislation dealing with the quadrennial commission report some months ago, also include this particular provision to increase the number of seats on superior courts across the country.

The parliamentary secretary referred to six jurisdictions where there have been identified backlogs. I can speak with some personal knowledge about the jurisdiction that the parliamentary secretary and I represent, the province of New Brunswick.

It is a fact that in many cases, for example on an interim motion, in the family court in New Brunswick sometimes litigants have to wait eight months before being heard by a family court judge on what is a motion for interim relief. This is clearly an unacceptable circumstance. That is why the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench of New Brunswick, the bar association and provincial attorneys general going back into the previous government had all been requesting that Parliament legislate to create additional spaces. In that sense, this legislation conforms to something that achieves a broad consensus across the country.

There is no doubt that the delays in family courts can be particularly troublesome. In many cases, because of changes in child protection legislation across the country, child protection cases clog up the docket. Because of the urgency of many of these matters they end up in effect bumping down the line some of the cases involving interim relief, cases of child custody, which can be very difficult and traumatic for families, not to mention the economic costs of continually having them delayed and adjourned.

For that reason, we think this legislation is needed and seeks to address a problem which has been identified for a number of years in many jurisdictions as pressing.

As for the 20 new appointments the government would make, if Parliament were to pass this bill, I would like the parliamentary secretary to be a little more conscious of linguistic issues, for instance, in my province, New Brunswick. We saw some strange situations, where bilingual or even francophone judges were replaced by unilingual anglophone judges. Once again, this has meant delays for anyone who wishes to plead their case before the courts in New Brunswick in French.

In one particular instance in the Moncton area, a francophone judge was appointed. The fact that someone was appointed who can conduct trials in French was very much appreciated. It was very important.

I would also ask the government to be equally aware of the fact that, in other jurisdictions in Canada, linguistic balance can be very important, if one claims to truly care about the issue of trials subject to delays or the issue of access to justice. Access to justice in one's mother tongue is also a fundamental question. If we cannot find a way to appoint judges who can conduct these trials or hear evidence in English or French, depending on the case, trial delays will increase at an alarming rate.

The parliamentary secretary also talked about the specific claims tribunal. Again, this will put additional pressure on superior court judges in some jurisdictions. There is no doubt that supernumerary judges or judges of long experience may in many cases be ideally suited to do a rotation on some of these specific claims tribunals, which means that chief justices in these jurisdictions will again have a need for more resources and for an increase in judges to hear some cases that have waited for a very long time. That is another valid reason why Parliament should consider increasing the number of superior court judges.

On this side of the House, we in the Liberal Party have some concern with respect to the appointments process this particular Conservative government has undertaken. One of its first acts was to attempt to stack the judicial appointments advisory committees in the provinces to ensure that the Minister of Justice would in fact control a majority of the members of the judicial appointments advisory committees in the provinces.

The parliamentary secretary talked about the independence of the judiciary. This is certainly something that I think all members value greatly. That independence is not enhanced when we try to stack and manipulate the independent process by which the qualifications of judicial candidates are assessed.

At the time of these changes, we raised some concerns about why the government would decide that it is important to have representatives of the police on these advisory committees. If one of the delays or concerns the parliamentary secretary identified is with respect to family courts across the country, or in some jurisdictions, the value that a police officer brings to the selection or evaluation of candidates for a family court appointment I think shows that the government was simply trying to pretend to give law enforcement a role in a process that really should be independent.

The minister should have resisted the temptation to be able to stack and manipulate these committees to ensure that he always would have a majority on each committee in every province, committees that are given the important responsibility of evaluating the competence and credentials of the men and women seeking to be appointed to the superior court.

Therefore, at committee we intend to look also at the issue of the appointments process. We are not satisfied that the government has been entirely responsible with respect to the independence of this appointment process, but we do recognize that there is a need to give these courts across the country increased resources. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is why we regret that this was not brought forward many months ago. The ideal time would have been when the government legislated its response to the quadrennial commission report.

In conclusion, I think all members share the sentiment that for those who seek to appear before the superior courts in jurisdictions across the country, whether it is with respect to a criminal charge and a criminal matter, a family law matter, other civil litigation or, in this particular example, with respect to specific claims tribunals, timely access to justice has long been held to be a fundamental right of Canadians.

In criminal law, the Askov case, as members will know, redefined what is reasonable access, that is, the right to be heard within a reasonable time. Surely that same principle in criminal law applies with respect to some of the most difficult cases in family law, where the custody of children can be at issue, where families are seeking to have their cases heard, and where, I think all members will agree, an eight month delay on an interim motion for interim relief simply does not make sense.

That is why if the government proceeds with this legislation quickly it will find that members of the Liberal Party are anxious to cooperate, but we would urge the government to resist the temptation in these appointments to once again seek out partisan appointments or once again attempt to manipulate the process by which the minister is given a list of persons, men and women, qualified to be appointed to the superior courts.

We believe that access to justice within a reasonable timeframe is a fundamental right, just as access to justice in one's first language is also a fundamental right in Canada. We therefore urge the government to respect these values.

We have been somewhat worried about some of the appointments made in recent months. Even so, we believe that adding 20 positions at the superior court and tribunal level should be fast-tracked by the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

January 28th, 2008 / noon
See context

Conservative

Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

moved that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

December 13th, 2007 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. It seems to me that any committee has a responsibility—and I've heard comments about the fact that this bill came before the committee after unanimous consent on the floor—although I understand some bills haven't had this happen, to call forward witnesses to help shape and inform their view of the legislation that's presented to them. And because of past errors, whether it was Bill C-31 in 1985 or other bills such as--it's interesting--Bill C-31 in this Parliament, the committee has a responsibility to do its due diligence.

So hearing from witnesses and trying to craft amendments that would meet the needs of the testimony that witnesses put forward--some very solid testimony--resulted in some amendments, but unfortunately the government developed a bill that had little scope for change. And when the government prorogued the House--if you want to talk about delay--and chose to resubmit a bill that completely ignored the testimony that came before the committee, the committee members, it's my understanding, in good faith attempted to address some of the shortfalls of the bill. But because of the narrow scope of the bill we're simply unable to do some of the things that need to be done.

I think it's important that we reiterate the stance that...I haven't heard one opposition member say that they do not support human rights, the ability of first nations to file human rights complaints against the Indian Act. I haven't heard one opposition member say they don't support that position, but we have an obligation to ensure that the legislation we're considering isn't going to have unintended consequences, and this is part of this process.

We've seen certainly the government members disregard the will of the committee time and time again. So I think that's an important piece to put on the record.

I think also the constant interruptions when somebody doesn't have the floor are completely disrespectful of how we try to operate in this committee. And I appreciate your attempts to try to keep control, Mr. Chair.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from northern Ontario for his work on this file having been the member for the New Democratic Party who was on the committee for Bill C-31. I understand his frustration when we have a bill that is supposed to encourage franchise, or at least the integrity and that is what the government would say and the other parties support it, and ends up doing the opposite. It is very frustrating.

We put forward amendments to make sure that every Canadian who is eligible could vote. We put forward the idea of universal suffrage. We believe fundamentally that there should be a universal commitment by any government to have door to door enumerations. We called it universal enumeration for universal suffrage.

We asked for a statutory declaration for voters. We asked for a change in how voter cards are distributed. They should be put in envelopes addressed to the voters, so that there would be no problem with cards lying around.

All of those ideas that we put forward were rejected. It is our submission that we do that first before we meddle with things like putting birth dates on voter's lists and sharing them with political parties so that they can use them for their own purposes.

My question is this. What is it that we can do to fix the bill, so that we do not come back in another couple months having to fix yet another flawed piece of legislation?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague, in representing an area like Cape Breton, will know the problems. I do not know where Elections Canada gets its maps from sometimes but I know that in my riding people are sent to polling stations 40 or 50 kilometres up the road. The result of that is that they simply do not vote or, if they do try to vote in their own town, they are told they cannot even though they have been in that town their whole life, and they end up not voting. That is a very serious issue.

When Bill C-31 was brought forward, our party brought forward a number of amendments to try to make the bill workable because at the end of the day, as I keep repeating, our job is to make legislation that works and that is practical.

When we found that there was not that much interest in addressing the issues we were raising, the fact that numerous people would not meet this new requirement and we needed to fix the problem, we ended up voting against that bill because we felt that it would come back to haunt us. It has already come back to haunt us twice.

The other astounding testimony that was given just the other day on Bill C-18 by Jim Quail was that this was now facing a charter challenge. It was going to court. Again, no one seemed interested in asking him any questions about the fact that we might get legislation that gets its rear-end kicked all over the courts. However, I asked him questions and there was a clear legal precedent about any interference in the right to vote.

Once again, if we are going to make laws, we need to ensure they stand up to scrutiny and the test of time. Unfortunately, Bill C-18 could have done it, and we were certainly willing to work at it, but at the end of the day I think we will be back to square one. We will still have problems with the way the vote has come down.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 1:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I respect my colleague's intervention on this topic and his understanding of the issues here, and I share his concern. I have heard it time and again over the last number of elections about the preparation of voters lists and the departure from enumeration. We know that the last enumeration was in 1997.

I had an incident in my riding where one community was voting in the poll in the adjacent community and vice versa. There is always contention around this but I know positive steps have been made in advance polling.

The member brought forward some very significant issues. If he could fill me in on when Bill C-31 was passed, I believe the member for Timmins—James Bay was on that committee, would he or his party have had the opportunity to tender a dissenting report at that time?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the member that I have read the list of required identification. I also know that many homeless people simply do not have identification, nor do they have a residence. The list is lovely, but if people do not have the identification, then they do not have it.

I want to come back to the member's statements around fraud. One of the things the New Democrats have talked about is that both bills, Bills C-31 and C-18, were using a sledgehammer on a problem that was virtually non-existent.

According to the Chief Electoral Officer, in 2006 there was one case of fraud in the entire country, in 2004 there were zero cases, and in 2000 there were three cases. If the member is aware of this apparently large amount of fraud happening, I wonder if he has brought it to the attention of the Chief Electoral Officer. According to the Chief Electoral Officer's records, there simply are not that many cases out there.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 represents change. My colleague will understand that 10 years ago, Quebec adopted a bill to avoid voter fraud that is similar to the bill before us. We are therefore one step closer to the day when, we hope, there will be voter cards. Voter cards would allow voters in any province or territory to vote even if they move. With voter cards, voting would be much simpler and easier. In Quebec, the voter card could be used for school board elections as well as municipal, provincial and federal elections. It would prevent voter fraud.

That is the goal of any democracy: to make sure no one manipulates the democratic process or uses it for other purposes. That is the goal Quebec is trying to achieve.

Gradually, we are evolving. The legislation that has been in effect in Quebec for 10 years is being put in place here in Ottawa. We are helping our democracy move forward.

I thank my colleague for her question.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague talk about Bill C-31 on the right to vote. Fraud is a huge issue. In Quebec, many dead people voted in the 1995 referendum.

I would therefore like to know the opinion of the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. What does he think about using voter cards to avoid all that? No, I am not joking. What does he think about voter cards, which the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois have been demanding for years?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am always amazed at how the NDP handles these matters.

If my colleague had bothered to inform herself of the identification allowed by the Chief Electoral Officer, she would know that the list includes, among other things, an attestation of residence issued by the responsible authorities, such as shelters, soup kitchens, student or senior residences, long-term care facilities, aboriginal reserves, work camps, and so forth.

This is not rocket science. Out of the 150,000 people the hon. member is referring to, most have some form of documentation that they present at soup kitchens. As for the rest, I agree with her, they will need someone to vouch for them. One thing is certain, for anyone, homeless or not, living in a remote area, there are not as many polling stations as there are in Montreal, where there are thousands. If the person votes at the polling station nearest to where they usually live, there will be someone who knows them who would be more than happy to vouch for them.

The NDP wants us to go back to the way things were before, when, in order to vote, one simply had to swear their identity under oath. That was the whole point of Bill C-31 and everything Quebec has done in the past decade or so to deal with electoral fraud. If the NDP wants to go back to the days of electoral fraud, that is up to them.

I think we should do something about the 150,000 people for whom this causes a problem. We have to have a more thorough look at how we can get them to vote. They all should have a chance to vote. The fact remains that a person without identification, whether they are homeless or not and living near a polling station, can still swear an oath in front of someone who knows them. I am sure that many people know those who stay in a certain sector, even if they are homeless.

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 12:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are a few items the member raised which need some correction.

He indicated that the New Democrats were opposed to Bill C-31. As it turns out, it was with very good reason. The bill had some serious problems and now we have Bill C-18 in order to fix the problems in Bill C-31. Part of the solution simply does not address some of the concerns that we raised in Bill C-31.

The solution around having the ability to have one person vouch for one potential voter is just not workable. We talked about this in the past. There are a number of homeless people who often have contact with a street worker or case worker and that person will know 10, 15, or 20 people. If those 10, 15, or 20 people have to go out and find 10, 15 or 20 individuals to vouch for them, they simply will lose their opportunity to vote.

In a recent report, Miloon Kothari indicated that the Government of Canada and provincial governments keep very poor statistics on homeless people. His estimate, and many academics feel that this is grossly underrepresented, is that there are least 150,000 homeless people on the streets of Canada.

Is the member saying that 150,000 people in this country simply should not have the right to vote because they cannot find 150,000 people to vouch for them if they do not have appropriate ID?

The second issue that has come up regards first nations. The member for Timmins—James Bay has raised this issue. Many first nations communities are remote and rural communities. Many first nations do not have the required identification. Some band members do not have status cards. There is a long convoluted process. If they lose their status card, they have to reapply to the Department of Indian Affairs to replace it. Sometimes a band council could provide a letter to vouch for someone, but in many cases it is very difficult for people to get the required identification.

Is the member saying it is okay for a minimum of 150,000 people to potentially lose their right to vote? Is he saying it is okay for first nations, who only in the 1960s gained the right to vote in Canada, to be shut out from voting?

Canada Elections ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2007 / 11:55 a.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand in the House and speak to this bill at the third reading stage.

Bill C-18, quite frankly, fixes a problem incurred with voting. To provide a bit of context and a brief history of the reason for Bill C-18 coming before the House, it was because the House originally passed Bill C-31 which basically dealt with voter identification.

The intent of Bill C-31 was so that individuals who wished to cast ballots in federal elections would be required to produce identification showing their name and residency. This seemed to me to be a common sense provision because, as we all know, though Canadians have the right to vote, they have to be, number one, Canadian citizens and, number two, reside in the riding in which they wish to cast their ballot.

We wanted to put provisions in place that required individuals to produce identification, verifying that they lived in the ridings in which they wished to cast ballots. That was the genesis of Bill C-31. However, there was a problem. Bill C-31 stated that in determining proof of residency, voters had to prove their residential addresses.

This, of course, was debated in committee. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada came before committee to analyze the bill. No one in the committee nor the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada recognized the fact that the term “residential address” or “civic address” would in fact exclude a great many Canadians.

Approximately one million Canadians, in fact, do not have residential or civic addresses. These are primarily rural Canadians living in ridings in Canada who would normally be allowed to vote, but instead of having residential addresses have post office boxes or rural route numbers or a land description, which would be their identification of residency.

Bill C-31 inadvertently excluded everyone who did not have a residential address. As I said just a few moments ago, approximately one million rural Canadians were in that category. If people lived in rural Canada, whether it be Saskatchewan, Ontario, British Columbia or Quebec, and had rural route numbers or post office box numbers instead of street addresses, with the passage of Bill C-31 they would be denied their right or ability to vote.

This flaw in Bill C-31 was first discovered in late September, early October, by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer. Following three byelections held in September in Quebec, the Chief Electoral Officer did a review of the voting practices in Quebec during those three byelections and during that examination discovered this flaw in Bill C-31 dealing with residential addresses.

He immediately informed the government, which, in turn, immediately took corrective action and the result is what we have before us today, Bill C-18. It very simply remedies the glitch found in Bill C-31 by stating that any individual who produces proper identification and whose residency information on that identification is consistent with the information on the electoral lists will then be eligible to vote.

In other words, to put it very clearly and graphically, if an individual has a driver's licence that says he or she resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada and the electoral list confirms that this individual resides at post office box 123 anywhere in Canada, or to put it another way, if the driver's licence information and the information on the electoral list are consistent, that individual can then vote and that remedied the situation.

That is why we introduced the bill, that is why the bill is before us today and that is why we wish, as a government, to ensure the bill passes and is delivered to the Senate today. We hope then that our friends in the Senate will pass it quickly and give it royal assent before the end of this calendar year.

The urgency is that there may be byelections or a general election very soon in the new year. No one knows the certainty of a general election, but we do know byelections will have to be called before the end of this month. We want to ensure that all Canadians in rural Canada, who had been disenfranchised inadvertently, are now back on the voters list, that they have the eligibility requirements correct and that they will be able to cast ballots.

I know almost all parties in the House, almost all members in the House, support this legislation. The exception being some members of the New Democratic Party. I find it interesting that their opposition is not really with Bill C-18, but with Bill C-31.

During debate and during committee examination of Bill C-31, the NDP primarily was concerned that many Canadians could potentially be disenfranchised because of the identification requirements contained in the bill. Specifically, the NDP was concerned because of the homeless. Many homeless people, perhaps the vast majority of them, do not possess identification. This was a legitimate concern raised by the members of the NDP. Their solution to that was quite simply that identification requirements contained in Bill C-31 should be eliminated, that people who did not possess proper identification as to proof of identity and residence should still be allowed to vote if they signed an oath or some kind of a declaration at a various polling station on voting day.

While I recognize there will be some individuals in the category of the homeless or maybe other transient individuals who do not have proper identification, the committee determined in its wisdom, and I supported this decision, that the public interest was best served if individuals were required to produce identification.

I believe it is a common sense approach. After all, if people cannot identify themselves, if they cannot prove they actually live in a particular riding, why then should they be allowed to vote? We were concerned about voter fraud. In fact, Bill C-31 was called the voter integrity bill. It was merely intended to ensure the integrity of the voting system, so everyone who wished to vote in a particular riding across Canada would have to demonstrate they actually resided in that riding. I think that is a reasonable approach to take. Hence, Bill C-31 was passed.

The opposition to Bill C-18 from my colleagues in the NDP has really nothing to do with Bill C-18. It goes back to their opposition to Bill C-31. Up to this point, they have been trying to, in my opinion, unduly delay passage of Bill C-18 because of their opposition to the provisions contained in Bill C-31.

However, I am very pleased to see Bill C-18 before us today. I believe we will see passage of this very important bill later today. I also hope, as I mentioned a few moments ago, that our friends and colleagues in the Senate, in their wisdom, will give speedy passage to Bill C-18.

I will reiterate that the bill was brought forward as a corrective measure to ensure that rural Canadians, who had been inadvertently disenfranchised by the provisions contained in Bill C-31, were dealt with in an appropriate manner to ensure they would have the ability to vote in the next general election.

There is nothing more complicated than that. There is nothing more detailed than that. It is merely a simple bill designed to correct an inequity that occurred.

In dealing with the bill in an expeditious manner, as we have, we have demonstrated that Parliament and the committee system within Parliament can work when all members determine that partisan interests should be set aside and the greater good be addressed. Even though there have been disagreements at committee, and I am sure we will still see disagreements to some extent in the debate today, at the end of the day objections will have been duly noted but the bill will pass and for good reason.

I do not want to stand in the House and say that a wrong was not corrected. We have the ability to correct, but we chose not to for whatever reasons. I believe most Canadians would vehemently disagree with that.

While Bill C-18 perhaps should not have been necessary, it was done so to correct an unintended consequence as a result of the passage of Bill C-31.

December 11th, 2007 / noon
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Conservative

The Chair Conservative Gary Goodyear

You might want to allow us to run from this end. And again, I want to caution you on relevance. It seems to me we're trying a case here on Bill C-31. I have concerns about sub judice convention.

The next round is five minutes.

Mr. Proulx.

December 11th, 2007 / 11:55 a.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

In your experience, do you believe there is enough legal precedence for your legal action to be brought forward? That would be the first part of the question.

The second part of the question is this. Given the testimony of Bill C-31, where these issues were clearly laid out, where witnesses and certainly members of the New Democratic Party laid out for the government what they would be facing, do you believe the simple lack of due diligence on the government's part is part of the reason they're following the same mistaken road once again?

Judges ActRoutine Proceedings

November 28th, 2007 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

November 26th, 2007 / 6:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise today to speak on Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act. With this debate, I feel as though I am reliving some previous debates we had here in the House of Commons. A few years ago, the Bloc Québécois waged a strong offensive against the then Liberal government regarding the Young Offenders Act. I remember that my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm, Michel Bellehumeur, who was the Bloc Québécois justice critic, voiced what the legal community and the National Assembly were calling for. What is more, my colleague defended the Quebec model against the repressive model put forward by the federal government at the time. We were proposing and defending rehabilitative and preventive approach.

Essentially, quite apart from Bill C-25, the real problem lies there. Before we debate the bills we should adopt in the House of Commons, we need to take a long, hard look at the approach and the model we are using when, in our justice system, some people, groups and governments are trying to shift the burden of proof to adolescents and use pretrial detention, with the effects that can have on adolescents. That is where the problem lies.

Quebec made a choice to work with adolescents. It decided not to simply view detention as the only way to respond to acts that could be criminal, but to bring together social stakeholders who work with our young people and involve educators and families so that young people can have a healthy environment. If adolescents do things that are not acceptable, it is because they are being seriously affected by various social problems. It is because they are in an environment where poverty is a reality for them. It is because young people are having more and more difficulty in finding jobs. It is because they feel they have no future.

When these young people commit a wrongdoing, it is because there is a fundamental problem, a societal problem upstream. What do we have here to deal with this situation? We have a government which is using the stick to deal with these social issues, with the problems relating to youth employment, or with the deadlock that young Quebeckers and Canadians are facing. We must ask ourselves whether this is the proper approach to put young people back on the right track. We, on this side of the House, do not believe it is.

We believe that rehabilitation and prevention must prevail. Inequalities are getting worse. Delinquency is becoming a way of life for an increasing number of young people. The exclusion of young people in the workplace, and in their environment, is becoming a major issue. Rather than coming up with a justice system that uses the stick against young people, we should provide adequate assistance to this generation, whose members often no longer hold any hopes.

What we are promoting today is a model that has proven successful, that has allowed us to have a homicide rate that is three times lower than that of the United States.

Of course, because we read major newspapers, every now and then we see that some young people committed a wrongdoing. In fact, what the federal government is trying to implement here in Canada is an approach similar to the one used in the United States, whose effectiveness has not been demonstrated.

For example, the homicide rate is three times higher in the United States than it is here, in Canada. So, did this approach based on repression help improve the situation? Of course not.

It is the same thing with violent crimes committed by young people. It is true that, in Quebec, the latest figures for 2006 point to an increase in violent crimes committed by young people. However, that is the only such data. All the other available data show that this type of violence is not increasing. Come to think of it, the government's approach is not aimed at the proper group.

What is the purpose of Bill C-25? According to clause 1, a judge must presume that the pretrial detention of a young person is necessary if:

1(2)(a) the young person is charged with a violent offence or an offence that otherwise endangered the public by creating a substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm to another person;

1(2)(b) the young person has been found guilty of failing to comply with non-custodial sentences or conditions of release; or

1(2)(c) the young person is charged with an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt—

What is the government trying to accomplish with clause 1? Two things. First, it is trying to use presumption against young people and transfer the burden and the responsibility to them even though the problem is a genuine, social one.

Second, the bill seeks pretrial detention of adolescents even though we know that trials often result in not guilty verdicts. Adolescents would be kept in jail even though the verdict could turn out not to be a guilty one. Imagine the impact of that on adolescents in their formative years.

The battle we are fighting today over Bill C-25 is the same battle my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm fought several years ago over the Young Offenders Act.

In conclusion, we are defending the Quebec model here, a model that promotes prevention and the rehabilitation of our young people, as opposed to the federal government's approach, which is about repression and detention, and which is not at all the approach that should be used when young people need help.