An Act to amend the Criminal Code (unconstitutional provisions) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.



Second reading (House), as of March 8, 2017
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things, remove passages and repeal provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. It also repeals section 159 of that Act and provides that no person shall be convicted of any historical offence of a sexual nature unless the act that constitutes the offence would constitute an offence under the Criminal Code if it were committed on the day on which the charge was laid. It also makes consequential amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act.


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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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Pam Damoff Liberal Oakville North—Burlington, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today's debate on Bill C-51. It is fair to say that the bill has enjoyed broad and bipartisan support from all members in the House. I wish to acknowledge this support and to thank members from all parties for the collaborative, constructive, and focused discussions that have taken place so far, including before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I expect that this approach will continue and hope that we can quickly move this important legislation forward.

As is well known, Bill C-51 reflects the mandate of the Minister of Justice to review the criminal justice system. It proposes changes that would make the criminal law fairer, clearer, more relevant, and more accessible. These changes are critically important.

The Criminal Code provides the anchor for the criminal justice system and the actions taken within it. As such, these changes would help to advance the minister's ongoing work to transform the criminal justice system and ensure that it continues to promote public safety, hold offenders to account, and meet the needs of victims.

Bill C-51 proposes changes to the Criminal Code and to the Department of Justice Act. I am particularly proud to be part of a government that has shown a consistent and unwavering commitment to promoting the greatest possible respect for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This commitment is reflected in Bill C-51 in many ways. Notably, it proposes changes that would require the Minister of Justice to table a charter statement in Parliament for every government bill. These statements are already being tabled by the minister in respect of her bills. Under Bill C-51, this would be mandatory for the current and future governments.

Some have suggested that this type of change is unnecessary, given the minister's current statutory responsibility to examine every bill introduced in Parliament to determine if any of its proposed changes are inconsistent with the charter. However, we can go further, and that is what Bill C-51 would do. By providing Parliament, the public, and all stakeholders with information on the effects of all government legislation on our constitutionally protected rights, these changes would contribute to a more informed debate on government legislation and a more informed justice system. It is in all of our interests to ensure that those responsible for administering the justice system understand how federal laws implicate our charter rights. This is particularly true for the criminal justice system.

Bill C-51's proposed changes to the Criminal Code can be said to fall into three broad categories. First, Bill C-51 would repeal a number of offences in the Criminal Code that are obsolete or are otherwise redundant. Next, Bill C-51 would build on the work started by the Minister of Justice in Bill C-39, which proposes to repeal provisions that have been found unconstitutional by the courts. It also seeks to amend provisions that have been identified as raising charter risks but that have not been constitutionally considered.

I see the proposed changes in Bill C-51 as reflecting a recognition by the Minister of Justice that, for far too long, we have not been engaging in the kind of modernizing, clarifying, and rationalizing necessary to ensure that our Criminal Code remains coherent and contemporary. Criminal law academics from across Canada, as well as justice system stakeholders, have been calling for this kind of law reform for years. The public also deserves nothing less than a Criminal Code that reflects modern society and that is an accurate reflection of the law in force today. Bill C-51 seeks to make these kinds of changes, and I congratulate the Minister of Justice for making this kind of criminal law reform a priority.

Bill C-51 has generated a lively and important debate. Much of the focus of the debates and the concerns expressed to date have been centred on the bill's proposed changes to sexual assault law, an area that many recognize as complex and for which we would all agree clarity is particularly important. It is an area of particular interest to me as vice-chair of the Status of Women Committee.

I will focus the remainder of my remarks on this section of the bill. I think this area is important for a number of reasons, especially in light of what we have seen in Canada and elsewhere as an ever-expanding dialogue and discussion about gender-based violence and inappropriate and unacceptable sexualized conduct. This violence is almost universally perpetrated by men toward women or toward LGBTQ2 individuals. We know that many survivors of sexual violence in Canada believe that the criminal justice system is not well equipped to address their needs and that if they do come forward to report a crime, they will not see justice.

We do have to do better in addressing these realities, and within our own responsibility can make positive contributions in this regard. Bill C-51 would clarify and strengthen the law on sexual assault, and would help address concerns about how the law is applied in practice. I was particularly pleased to see the changes to consent that are included in this bill.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the justice committee's hearings during testimony on consent. I am pleased to see that at report stage these definitions have been further clarified. We know that no means no and that someone who is incapacitated by alcohol or otherwise or is unconscious is not able to provide informed consent. Now the Criminal Code would reflect these realities.

These changes are, however, only one part of the solution. I am proud of the work of our status of women committee, reflected in our government's commitment to tackling gender-based violence and promoting gender equality as a priority. Efforts like the establishment of a national strategy to address gender-based violence and the allocation of $12 million through the victims fund for projects are designed to improve the criminal justice system's response to sexual assault against adults. This funding is going toward initiatives pursued by the provinces and territories to support victims of sexual assault to receive independent legal advice or the development of awareness raising for the judiciary on gender-based violence. These initiative are important and will contribute to making the justice system more responsive to the needs of survivors of sexual assault.

Furthermore, our government has made judicial education a priority. In April 2017, we announced nearly $100,000 in new funding to the National Judicial Institute to develop training for federally and provincially appointed judges that will focus on gender-based violence, including sexual assault and domestic violence. Additionally, budget 2017 provided funding to the Canadian Judicial Council to support judicial education and training. This funding will ensure that more judges have access to professional development with a greater focus on gender and diversity training.

I urge all members of the chamber to support Bill C-51. I believe this bill is critically important in ensuring that survivors of sexual assault are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 11th, 2017 / noon
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Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, our government was proud to introduce Bill C-51 on June 6, 2017. That day marked an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to make the criminal law fairer, clearer, more relevant, accessible, and compassionate.

Since that time, Bill C-51 has been the subject of extensive and compelling debate both at the second reading stage and during its study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

I want to offer my thanks to the many members who have participated in these debates and to members of the standing committee in particular, whose deliberations strengthened Bill C-51 through amendments that seek to further the objectives we identified when we introduced this important legislation.

I would also like to extend my great appreciation to the many witnesses who took the time to examine the bill and appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Although I may not agree with all the points that were made by the witnesses who spoke to this bill, I fully recognize the importance of their contributions because they have allowed Parliament to have a rich and thorough discussion on the bill.

I now want to walk through the changes included in Bill C-51. These have received broad support in this House, at committee, and among key stakeholders.

Bill C-51 seeks to address sexual assault, an issue that could scarcely be more relevant, given the present Canadian and international discourse on this important subject. Survivors of sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct are standing up and speaking out as never before. I am proud to say that our government stands behind survivors and that we are adding our voice to theirs by bringing change on numerous fronts, including the reforms set out in Bill C-51.

The bill proposes amendments that build upon an already robust legal framework that has been consistently regarded as one of the best sexual assault regimes in the world. However, despite its explicit acknowledgement that outdated myths about a victim's sexual history should have no bearing on whether she should be believed, and despite the clear rules about when consent is or is not valid in law, challenges remain.

What are those challenges? We know that sexual assaults continue to occur far too often in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, there were approximately 21,000 police-reported sexual assaults in Canada in 2016. That is an average of 57 sexual assaults every day in Canada. That number is staggering, but when, according to the general survey on victimization, only five per cent of sexual assaults experienced by Canadians over 15 are reported to the police, the likely number of actual sexual assaults that occur every day in Canada becomes unfathomable and could well be over 1,000 incidents every day. When thinking about those numbers and the fact that so many cases of sexual assault go unreported, we must think about what we can do to not only reduce the incidence of sexual assault in Canada but ensure that more victims, and let us be clear that this is a gender-based crime that disproportionately targets women and girls, feel encouraged to come forward to report their experiences to the police and to law enforcement.

One way we can, at the federal level, help encourage women to come forward is through law reform that increases the likelihood that our laws will be applied as they were intended, and in so doing, reduce the potential for unnecessary distress experienced by victims who participate in the criminal justice process. That is what Bill C-51 proposes to do. As introduced, it would make important changes to clarify the law, including by making clear that consent must be affirmatively expressed by words or actively expressed through conduct. This principle would codify the Supreme Court of Canada's 1999 Ewanchuk decision and make clear that there is no consent unless the complainant said yes through words or through conduct. Passivity is not consent.

We have also codified the principle set down by the court in its 2011 decision in R. v. J.A., where the court held that a person cannot consent in advance to sexual activity that occurs while they are unconscious.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard a number of witnesses on this particular amendment. Some witnesses expressed their support for this codification, but others argued that it did not entirely or accurately codify the court's findings in R. v. J.A. Those witnesses argued that J.A. stands for a broader proposition. They noted that the court held that our consent law requires ongoing conscious consent and that partners have to be capable of asking their partners to stop at any point. Our government was listening carefully to witnesses and members, and we are pleased to support the committee's amendment to Bill C-51 that would codify this broader principle from J.A. Doing so is in keeping with the objectives of the bill, including to ensure that the Criminal Code is clear and reflects the law as applied by the courts.

Bill C-51's proposed sexual assault reforms do more, however, than simply codify key Supreme Court decisions. They will also create a new regime governing the admissibility of evidence in the hands of an accused person, where that evidence is a complainant’s private record. At its core, this regime is anchored in the following key principles.

First, it respects the fair trial rights of the accused in that it does not prevent relevant evidence from being used in court. The Supreme Court has already recognized that an accused's right to full answer and defence does not include a right to defence by ambush.

Second, it acknowledges the privacy interests of a complainant. While privacy interests do not trump all else, the regime seeks to acknowledge that victims of sexual assault and other related crime, even when participating in a trial, have a right to have their privacy considered and respected to the greatest extent possibly.

Finally, the regime seeks to facilitate the truth-seeking function of the courts by ensuring that evidence that is clearly irrelevant to an issue at trial is not put before the courts, with its potential to obfuscate and distract the trier of fact.

These are important changes and ones that have been called for by Parliament. In their 2012 report on the third-party-records regime in sexual assault proceedings, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs recommended the enactment of a regime governing the admissibility of a complainant's private records in the hands of an accused. I am pleased that we are doing so as part of Bill C-51.

The second major aspect of Bill C-51 is its proposal to clean up the Criminal Code by removing offences that are no longer relevant because they address conduct that is not inherently blameworthy, because the criminal law should not be used to target such conduct, or because the conduct is addressed by other offences of general application.

To be clear, a foundational principle upon which our criminal law is based is that of restraint. This means that we, as parliamentarians, should ensure that criminal offences, with all the attendant stigma and consequences associated with being called a criminal, are only used to address conduct that cannot or should not be addressed through other mechanisms. Bill C-51 would reflect this principle by removing offences such as the prohibition on advertising the return of stolen property “no questions asked”, a provision under section 143; making crime comics; challenging someone to a duel; and impersonating someone during a university exam.

I am confident that removing these offences will have no adverse consequences and will help make our criminal law more reflective of the values Canadians hold dear in 2017.

Bill C-51 would make other important changes to remove offences that are no longer pertinent in today's society. One such example is the removal of the offence of blasphemous libel under, currently, section 296. This old offence, with its English origins in the 1600s, has as its purpose the suppression of criticism directed at God, the king, and government. Such an offence is a historical holdover and has no place in a liberal democracy, where freedom of expression is enshrined as a constitutionally protected right. In so removing this offence, we would follow the example of the United Kingdom, which repealed its analogous offence almost a decade ago, in 2008.

During the committee proceedings on Bill C-51, we heard testimony from the Centre for Free Expression that we should go further and that in addition to repealing blasphemous libel, our government should be repealing the offences targeting seditious and defamatory libel as well. Although such amendments would have been outside the scope of the bill, these are interesting suggestions, and they do indeed warrant further discussion.

I know, for example, that England abolished its seditious libel offences in 2009. I also know that there are divergent opinions on whether defamatory libel should be criminal. We have all benefited from the discussion on these proposals, and our government will take them under advisement as we continue to examine ways to make our criminal law and criminal justice system more reflective and responsive to the realities of Canada today

Before moving on, let me talk briefly about the amendment made by the standing committee to Bill C-51, which is supported by our government, that seeks to retain section 176, the offence of interfering with religious services. As the minister said when she appeared before the committee to discuss the bill, the repeal of section 176 would, in fact, not leave a gap in the criminal law's ability to meaningfully respond to the conduct captured by this offence. She also said that its removal would not in any way undermine the ability of Canadians to practice their faith freely and free from violence. Both statements remain true today.

At the same time, we appreciate and acknowledge that for many stakeholders, the removal of the offence would send the wrong message and that in an era when xenophobia and religious intolerance are all too frequent, Parliament has a responsibility to ensure that its actions do not, directly or indirectly, provide opportunities for the promotion of such intolerance.

Our government was listening carefully to members of the religious community, and I am pleased to say that we will support not only the retention of section 176 but an expansion of that section to ensure maximum inclusivity.

By way of conclusion on this point, I would note that intolerance of any kind is simply unacceptable, and I know that the vast majority of Canadians, even when they may not share the same religious convictions as their neighbours, will conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful and welcoming. Intolerance that leads to threats or violence must be swiftly addressed by the police, and I know that the criminal law provides them with a broad range of tools to effectively respond to such conduct.

Bill C-51 also reflects our government's unwavering commitment to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It does so in a number of ways. First, Bill C-51 proposes to amend provisions that have been found unconstitutional by our courts.

In this vein, Bill C-51 builds on the work we started with Bill C-39, which we introduced on March 8, 2017. Bill C-39 repeals provisions found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as the prohibition against anal intercourse that has been found unconstitutional by numerous courts of appeal.

Bill C-51 seeks to repeal provisions found unconstitutional by appeal courts, and in some cases trial courts, in circumstances where there can be little doubt as to their unconstitutionality. For example, Bill C-51 seeks to repeal the rule that prevents judges from giving enhanced credit for pre-sentence custody for offenders who were detained due to a bail breach. This rule has been found unconstitutional by the Manitoba Court of Appeal and creates a situation where similarly situated offenders can receive substantially different credit for pre-sentence custody, which can undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.

Bill C-51 also proposes to amend a number of provisions that could result in an accused's being convicted for an offence, even though they raised a reasonable doubt as to their guilt. Such an outcome is at odds with the most basic rules and fundamental principles upon which our criminal law is based, not to mention our charter rights.

These changes are important, and we are not waiting for costly unnecessary charter litigation to tell us that these rules are unconstitutional. Making these changes would ensure that our criminal justice system is more efficient and continues to hold offenders to account while reinforcing the fundamental principle that it is the state that bears the responsibility of proving offences beyond a reasonable doubt.

Our respect for the charter is also evident in the changes we are proposing to the Department of Justice Act. Although these changes have not been the subject of significant debate or commentary, a number of witnesses who testified before the justice committee welcomed this innovation in our law.

The amendments proposed in Bill C-51 will require our government, and all future governments, to table in Parliament a statement outlining the potential charter effects of all government legislation. The Minister of Justice has been doing this already as a matter of practice, but with Bill C-51, it will become an obligation.

These charter statements provide information to Parliament, stakeholders, and the public writ large about the charter rights and freedoms that are potentially engaged by a bill and set out how they may be engaged.

In the charter statement for Bill C-51, for example, the sexual assault reforms are discussed and an explanation is provided on how they interact with an accused's section 7 right to life, liberty, and security of the person. The charter statement further notes how a failure to remove unconstitutional laws can undermine the rule of law, create confusion, and make our Criminal Code less accessible.

I am proud of these reforms and believe that charter statements will quickly become a critical resource for justice system participants, parliamentarians, and members of the public who are interested in learning more about how our laws may engage the charter.

Let me conclude by again thanking all members for their excellent deliberations on Bill C-51. The widespread support it has received is testament to its importance and the need to move forward with these changes. I look forward to continuing to follow Bill C-51's passage through Parliament, and will continue to work diligently to bring forward the kinds of changes needed to address the most pressing challenges facing our criminal justice system today.

Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions ActGovernment Orders

December 8th, 2017 / 10:05 a.m.
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Ajax Ontario


Mark Holland LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-66.

I, along with all members, was in the House for the landmark apology that was offered by the Prime Minister to the LGBTQ2 community. The apology was then echoed by every party leader in the House. It was an incredibly moving moment.

I remember debating same sex marriage in the House. I remember how difficult the debate was and how proud I was to support the legislation at the time. To see how much progress we have made on this issue as a country is very heartening.

I attended an event that the Canadian Human Rights Voice hosted, where Todd Ross was honoured, and he shared his story. He served in the Canadian military with distinction. However, as a very young man, he was forced, through lie detector tests, to come out to two strangers in a room that he was gay, before he had the opportunity to come out to anybody else, and he was forcibly removed from our military. To hear share his story, and what that apology by our Prime Minister and every party leader meant to him was so important. We already see the effects of that apology. However, that apology in and of itself is not enough.

The Prime Minister's assertion that the injustices will never be repeated again, that we will not make the same mistakes is essential. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that we work with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities to make right past wrongs and to ensure this never happens again. We are proud of the relationship we have with this community, but we recognize how much work needs to be done. Bill C-66 is a critical part of that.

It is difficult for many of us to fathom that there was a time in our history where laws allowed persons to be charged, prosecuted, and criminally convicted simply because of who they loved. LGBTQ2 Canadians were humiliated, imprisoned, and saddled with criminal records because of their sexual orientation. They were forced to live with permanent stains on their lives when they had done nothing wrong, until now.

Bill C-66, the expungement of historically unjust convictions act, would create a process to permanently destroy the records of a conviction of offence involving consensual activity between same sex partners that would be lawful today. It would give the Parole Board of Canada jurisdiction to order or refuse to order expungement of a conviction. It would deem a person convicted of an offence for which expungement was ordered never to have been convicted of that offence.

This is very different from other processes that currently exist today. For example, a record suspension or pardon, the purpose of which is to remove barriers to reintegration for former offenders, does not destroy the criminal record. It sets aside for most purposes, but the criminal record could be disclosed or revoked in certain circumstances when public safety is at risk. Also, record suspensions or pardons cannot be granted posthumously, meaning those who have died do not get an opportunity to have their name cleared.

In contrast, the government fully recognizes that those convictions constitute a historic injustice and that they should not be viewed as former offenders. They are not only wrong today but they were wrong then, in violation of our charter, and of fundamental rights. These convictions were for an act that should never have been a crime. However, this expungement process will allow these convictions to be fully and permanently removed from federal databases.

For thousands of Canadians impacted, the process will be straightforward. Applying will be free of charge. Those eligible to apply directly can do so to the Parole Board. In the case of deceased persons, a family member, loved one, or other appropriate representative will be able to apply on their behalf. This is consistent with the recommendation of Egale Canada's human rights trust.

Applicants will need to provide evidence that the conviction meets certain criteria, including that the act was between same-sex individuals, that it was consensual, and that those involved were at least 16 years of age or subject to a close in age defence under the Criminal Code.

Upon confirmation of a successful application, the record of the conviction can be destroyed. That means once the Parole Board orders expungement, the RCMP will permanently destroy any record of the conviction in its custody. It will also notify any federal department or agency that to its knowledge has any records of the conviction and direct it to do the same. Relevant court and municipal and provincial forces will be notified of the expungement order as well.

Expungement offers more than a clean criminal record check. It is recognition that the conviction was unjust and that it never should have occurred in the first place. It is recognition that it was inconsistent with the fundamental rights now protected under the charter of rights and freedoms.

All of this is not to say that there will be blanket expungement. Indeed, we want to ensure we are only catching those who meet the set criteria. Criminal records for individuals convicted of non-consensual sexual activity will continue to be upheld. Applications submitted for an ineligible offence or by an ineligible applicant will also be rejected. Furthermore, an automatic expungement process would be irresponsible as it could result in the expungement of records for acts that are still criminal.

However, those eligible will find the process to expunge their record very straightforward. This includes military service members whose offences sometimes were prosecuted under the National Defence Act. That is why we have allowed for a schedule of eligible offences that will apply to convictions under the Criminal Code as well as convictions under the National Defence Act.

Applications must be for offences listed in the schedule of the act, and initially this will include buggery, gross indecency, and anal intercourse.

The act would allow for the Governor-in-Council, in future, to make other historically unjust convictions eligible for expungement by amending the schedule of eligible offences, and as necessary, criteria through order in council.

Given the historic nature of these offences, if court or police records are not available, sworn statements may be accepted as evidence.

It should be noted that anyone attempting to mislead the Parole Board about a historical offence can be charged with perjury.

To put all of this in place, the government has set side $4 million over two years to implement this new process. Proactive outreach will also be undertaken to increase awareness of the initiative, the criteria, and the application process among potential applicants. The government will work with federal partners and stakeholders from the LGBTQ2 community to inform potential applicants.

It is now incumbent upon us to ensure that happens sooner rather than later.

The moment the bill is passed we can begin accepting applications, which is why I would urge all members to pass the bill as expeditiously as possible. The Parole Board of Canada can begin accepting applications as soon as this legislation is brought into force.

At the same time the government introduced the bill, it announced a settlement in the class action lawsuit for actions related to the purge. This will provide up to $145 million to former public servants and military and RCMP members impacted by state-sponsored systemic oppression and rejection.

The agreement in principle also includes a minimum investment of $15 million by the Government of Canada for projects that will record and memorialize those historic events, so we never forget our past, so we never repeat it again in the future. That includes museum exhibits curated by the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. It includes a national monument located right in Ottawa, along with an education package memorializing the historic discrimination against the LGBTQ2 community.

As I have mentioned, all of this represents an important step but not a panacea. Working to create the inclusive and diverse country we want will take sustained effort and collaboration on all our parts.

As the Prime Minister noted in his apology, “Discrimination against LGBTQ2 communities is not a moment in time, but an ongoing centuries-old campaign. We want to be a partner and ally to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the years going forward.”

That is why we have been and will continue to work hard to address issues impacting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, and two-spirit individuals.

I am deeply proud of what the government has accomplished to date and of the work that is still ongoing. Just over a year ago, the Prime Minister named the hon. member for Edmonton Centre as his special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues. An LGBTQ2 secretariat has also been established within the Privy Council to support government initiatives on these issues.

With the recent passage of Bill C-16, gender identity and gender expression are now prohibited grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. Bill C-16 also expands hate propaganda offences in the Criminal Code to protect identifiable groups that are targeted for their gender identity or expression. Another piece of legislation, Bill C-39, has been introduced to repeal section 159 of the Criminal Code.

Work is also under way to develop a long-term vision for blood services that ensures safety and non-discrimination in donation practices. In fact, the Minister of Health was instructed in her mandate letter to work with the provinces and territories toward that very goal.

The government is working toward adopting policies and practices that remove unnecessary collection of gender markings in government forms. We are also working to introduce an X gender designation on passport applications. This would ensure Canadians who do not identify as either male or female receive the same services and support as everyone else does.

The government also plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2019. It will do so by providing funding for initiatives that increase awareness of the people, actions, and struggles that led to that milestone.

For example, more than $770,000 in federal funding will be provided to the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust to support the “Legalizing Love: The Road to June 27, 1969” travelling exhibit project.

I am also proud to note that Canada is actively promoting LGBTQ2 rights on the international state, including as co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition.

Since 2014, we have provided $2.9 million in funding for projects that support violence prevention programs, awareness campaigns, and advocacy efforts in support of LGBTQ2 communities abroad. These include initiatives aimed to combat homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia in education systems.

In Canada, we know that LGBTQ2 youth have a disproportionately high rate of homelessness. According to a 2016 Statistics Canada study, while members of LGBTQ2 communities make up between 5% and 10% of our population, they represent between 25% to 40% of our homeless youth. A new and unique facility, currently under construction in Toronto, will be exclusively dedicated to serving this very vulnerable group. The Egale Centre will offer transitional and emergency housing, as well as counselling services, for homeless LGBTQ2 youth.

Last week, the government announced just over $47,800 in federal funding to help improve the Egale Centre's security. The funding will be used for the installation of security cameras and access control systems. The enhanced security measures will mean greater peace of mind and a safer and more secure facility, for the benefit of the Egale Centre's residents, staff and volunteers.

I am proud to stand with a government that is committed to protecting the fundamental human rights of all Canadians. All people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression must be able to live their lives free from stigma, violence, discrimination, or prejudice.

Sadly, as we know, there was a time in our history when the prevailing attitude to LGBTQ2 issues was very different from today. People could be criminally charged and convicted simply because of their sexual orientation. The could lose their jobs, their livelihoods, and their loved ones, or be barred from serving their country. They could be bullied, ostracized, and made a pariah by their own government.

The landmark bill we are discussing today is an important and necessary step toward righting the historical discrimination faced by LGBTQ2 Canadians for so many years. It is a key step we are taking, but is only one of many. It is in the context of a world in which calls for equality are slowly being answered.

Just yesterday, the legalization of same-sex marriage occurred in Australia. It joined countries like the U.K., Germany, and many others. They are also looking at making reparations for the historic discrimination that happened to the LGBTQ2 communities within their countries.

We remain in a world in which many LGBTQ2 individuals are still forced to live in fear, fear of being rejected, fear of being hated, fear of facing violence or even facing death, just because of who they love. Sometimes the gaps appear so far apart, they are like worlds we cannot bring together. However, as the proverb goes, a river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence, and the calls for an inclusive world in which diversity can thrive are stronger and more persistent than ever. The apology that was given by all of the leaders in this House was demonstrative of that. The fact that we can come together as a House and be able to stand and acknowledge our part with respect to the wrongs of the past, as well as to be able to talk about the future we want, not only for our country but for all people across the world, about basic human rights, and the right as basic and as simple as being able to love the person that one loves without fear of reprisal, is something that we can stand for and propagate.

I am proud to introduce this bill. I urge all members to support it expeditiously.

JusticeStatements By Members

November 28th, 2017 / 2:15 p.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, last year the conviction of Travis Vader on two counts of second degree murder was vacated after the trial judge applied a section of the Criminal Code that had been found to be unconstitutional all the way back in 1990, and yet there it was still in the Criminal Code 26 years later. After waiting six years for justice, the McCann family was obviously devastated by the vacated convictions.

In March, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-39 to see the removal of constitutionally inoperative sections from the Criminal Code. Yet eight months later, the minister has done absolutely nothing to move Bill C-39 forward and absolutely nothing to see that what happened to the McCann family never happens again. It is time for the minister to stop the delay and pass Bill C-39.

Human RightsOral Questions

November 27th, 2017 / 2:40 p.m.
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Ahuntsic-Cartierville Québec


Mélanie Joly LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, as I said already in French, all Canadians should be safe to be themselves, free from discrimination of any kind.

We have already made significant progress in this House on these issues with Bill C-16 and Bill C-39. Our special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues, the MP for Edmonton Centre, has been working with the community concerning the different issues that affect them in their everyday lives.

We have committed to apologize in an inclusive and meaningful manner tomorrow. Our government is working with a national advisory committee representing the community, to make sure that these excuses are—

Human RightsOral Questions

November 27th, 2017 / 2:40 p.m.
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Ahuntsic-Cartierville Québec


Mélanie Joly LiberalMinister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians should feel safe to be themselves, free from discrimination. We have already made significant progress on these issues with Bill C-16 and Bill C-39.

Our special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues, the member for Edmonton Centre, has been consulting extensively with the community to ensure that we give a full and meaningful apology.

We are committed to making this formal apology tomorrow, November 28. Our government is working with the national advisory committee representing the community to make sure that this is a full apology.

Human RightsOral Questions

November 9th, 2017 / 2:55 p.m.
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Parkdale—High Park Ontario


Arif Virani LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, all Canadians should be safe to be themselves, love whom they choose, and be free from discrimination of any kind.

We have already made significant progress on these issues with Bill C-16 and Bill C-39. Our special adviser on LGBTQ2 issues, the member for Edmonton Centre, has been working hard and consulting broadly with the community to ensure that when an apology happens, it will be thorough and complete. That applies to veterans who are LGBTQ as well.

Funds have been allocated for things like the expungement of records. We will be addressing the issues of veterans.

October 23rd, 2017 / 4:40 p.m.
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Lawyer, Abergel Goldstein and Partners, As an Individual

Michael Spratt

That's great. It's going to be the first time.

One of those positive aspects is the removal of reverse onus provisions. A fundamental principle of our justice system is that the crown and the state must prove all elements of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. Reverse onus provisions have the effect of imposing legal burdens on an accused person. Presumptions of those types, a reversal of the burden like that, can conflict with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the constitutional right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Removing those reverse onus provisions is good, but practically speaking, that's pretty low-hanging fruit. It's not something that comes up on a daily basis, and it's not something that is going to change too much in our court.

The repeal of outdated offences, similarly, is a good thing. The Criminal Code should be a simple document. It should be a general document that we can apply to specific situations. We are all, after all, presumed to know the law. The more complex and, literally, weighty the Criminal Code becomes, the more mistakes will be made by members of the public, judges, and triers of facts. Offences like alarming Her Majesty, possessing crime comic books, or disrupting religious services are simply unnecessary and add to the complexity that ought to be avoided.

Any harm caused by those activities—for example, disrupting a religious service—is covered by other sections of the Criminal Code: general public disturbance sections, harassment sections, and sections dealing with threats or assaults. Of course, as my colleague said, any actions that are motivated by hate, prejudice, or extreme ideology can be adequately dealt with as an aggravating factor on sentencing, and they already are. The only people who are really upset about removing those zombie laws and outdated laws are law professors, who are going to have one less funny story to tell their students about outdated and absurd Criminal Code sections. It's good that those are being repealed.

This bill doesn't repeal all outdated or unconstitutional sections, nor does Bill C-39, which I'm sure this committee will be dealing with as well. For example, the unconstitutional mandatory minimum sentences, which have been found to violate the charter at various courts of appeal, and by the Supreme Court in the case of Nur, are left untouched by both of those bills. If we are really serious about taking out sections that have been found to be unconstitutional, there is no principled reason not to include those sections as well. The bill should be amended to include that. That's a glaring omission that should be corrected.

The other aspect of this bill is about sexual assault. It codifies some existing law with respect to sexual assault. I don't see too much of a problem with that. Too often, common law developments are hidden from the public. You have to have a subscription to CanLII or Quicklaw, or to be following a case, to actually see those developments in court. I think it's a good thing to codify some of those sections. It would be really good if we had a law reform commission again, which could take a broad look at our Criminal Code.

For example, the Supreme Court has made it clear that an unconscious person can't consent to sexual activity. That's the law. It's common sense, but it's also currently the law. Bill C-51 doesn't change that, but it makes it clear, and I don't think anyone could be faulted for that. It's a good thing as well.

One of the changes in this bill is unlike all the others, and that is the process for reverse disclosure—in my view, an unconstitutional expansion of the Mills regime with respect to documents in the possession of an accused person. It's a major fault of this bill. There are three issues with that. The first is the reverse disclosure problems. The second is overbreadth issues, which was touched upon by the previous panel, and the third is the impact that this would have on access to justice and to trial delays in our courts.

Dealing with the reverse disclosure aspect.... An accused has to bring this application within 60 days of their trial, and they have to disclose on the record, as part of that application, not only the record and the detailed particulars of the record and the information that they want to adduce, but also their trial strategy, why that's important. This is all prior to hearing the crown's case, prior to the complainant testifying. That's unprecedented in Canadian law. It infringes upon the right to silence.

The Supreme Court has confirmed that disclosure flows from the state to the accused. In the context of the adversarial system, the defence need not disclose any material to the crown. This isn't a civil system, after all; life, liberty, and security of the person are at stake.

This change also impacts the right to a full answer and defence in a fair trial. It undermines the process of cross-examination, which is a crucible for the discovery of truth. The Supreme Court of Canada has said that Canadian courts, as in most common law jurisdictions, have been extremely cautious in restricting the power of the accused to call evidence in his or her defence, a reluctance founded in the fundamental tenets of our justice system that an innocent person must not be convicted. It follows from this that the prejudice must be substantially outweighed by the value of the evidence before courts can interfere. We cannot assume in our courts that all complainants are honest and credible. We can hashtag and believe all survivors outside of court, but not in court. That's a recipe for wrongful conviction. That is the fundamental tension with this process of reverse disclosure.

What we have to realize is that when the defence discloses this information, if a complainant is not telling the truth, if they are lying—and that happens—then you're disclosing that information to a liar. You're disclosing the information that could prove they're lying to a liar before they testify in court, so that they have time to change their stories and they have time to shade the truth. That is not the crucible of cross-examination that will result in accurate findings. It's a legislative woodshed for false allegations.

You can think of examples. For instance, a complainant who says that they were stabbed in the past and has the scars and shows them to the police, but the accused has lawfully obtained medical records showing that the scars came from surgery; or the example of a text message that the complainant sends to a third party, and that message is then forwarded to the accused and it is damning evidence that the complainant is not telling the truth. It's not in the interests of justice to disclose that information in advance.

I'd be happy to answer any questions about the other issues, with respect to trial delays and the like, but I would like to echo what Ms. Davies said in the previous panel, that this is also overbroad. There's a case before the Supreme Court right now touching on this issue, and for anyone who says that text messages aren't covered, we can turn to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which said they probably are, so we might have answers soon.

But in terms of breadth, I think this committee should take a hard look at that. I have some amendments that I can suggest when I'm questioned.

October 18th, 2017 / 4:15 p.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would just reiterate to the minister the urgency in passing Bill C-39. What happened in the McCann case was not unique. It has happened before, and it is just a matter of time before another judge applies an inoperative section and another family is victimized like the McCanns.

Section 176 isn't unconstitutional. The constitutionality of it has been upheld by the courts. It isn't obsolete, given the fact that there have been multiple cases in which individuals have been charged and convicted under section 176. As well, it isn't redundant inasmuch as it is the only provision in the Criminal Code that directly protects individuals to freely practise their religion.

In your testimony you made reference to the fact that section 176 applies only in the case of the Christian faith, but subsection 176(2) very clearly speaks to disturbing religious worship or certain meetings and again makes reference to “religious worship”. It says nothing about Christianity. I'm not aware of any court that has ever interpreted this section to apply only to the Christian faith. Perhaps you misspoke, or perhaps you could clarify on what basis you stated that section 176 applies to the Christian faith.

October 18th, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
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Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I recognize the member's comments and advocacy with the letter that was sent from this committee around the zombie provisions that are in the Criminal Code.

I am fully committed to doing as much as I can to advocate for the moving of Bill C-39 through the parliamentary process. Like you, I want to have those provisions, section 230 of the Criminal Code, removed as well as the other unconstitutional provisions that are articulated in Bill C-39, and likewise, other bills that I have felt very fortunate to have introduced around the victim fine surcharge.

Bill C-39 was phase one of the Criminal Code cleanup bill, and Bill C-51 is the second phase. I'm hopeful that they will all proceed as quickly as possible because I share your concern about having zombie provisions remain in the Criminal Code and having individuals charged under provisions that have been rendered unconstitutional.

October 18th, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
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Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Madam Minister.

I certainly note that Bill C-51 does remove certain obsolete sections of the Criminal Code. I want to ask a question more broadly about the government's effort to clean up the Criminal Code. You have stated that it is a priority of the government.

One year ago, Travis Vader's conviction on two counts of second degree murder of Lyle and Marie McCann of St. Albert, Alberta was vacated after the trial judge applied an inoperative section of the Criminal Code, a section that had been found unconstitutional some 25 years earlier.

This committee wrote to you. I held a press conference with Bret McCann in December calling on the government to move forward to remove zombie laws, unconstitutional provisions. To your credit, you did introduce Bill C-39 on March 8, and seven months later, it remains stuck at first reading.

What is the delay on Bill C-39?

October 18th, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.
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Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

For the past two years, and even before that, there have been many commentators—academics, people involved in the criminal justice system—who have made commentary around specific provisions in the Criminal Code.

We specifically sought to engage with academics on this issue. We've had over 15 round tables on the Criminal Code with criminal justice experts from all different areas. My officials have engaged in substantive working group discussions with our provincial and territorial counterparts to comprehensively review the Criminal Code, and certainly, as Bill C-39 reflects, eliminate unconstitutional provisions in the Criminal Code. With respect to Bill C-51, we looked at redundant and archaic provisions, and we also looked at where lower courts have considered specific sections to include and remove those provisions.

October 18th, 2017 / 3:30 p.m.
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Vancouver Granville B.C.


Jody Wilson-Raybould LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to all members of this committee for inviting me to appear again at this time to speak to and discuss Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act.

As you know, the Prime Minister has mandated me to review the criminal justice system, which is critically important and a long overdue task. As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I am committed to making our laws fairer, clearer, more relevant, and more accessible to all Canadians. Bill C-51 reflects that commitment.

As I continue to work with the provinces and territories, as well as criminal justice system stakeholders, I am guided by a set of clear objectives.

First, using the criminal law to keep Canadians safe, and holding offenders to account for their crimes in a just and appropriate way. Second, making sure that our criminal justice system shows compassion and responds to the needs of victims of crime. Third, responding to the needs of vulnerable populations, and ensuring that the system does not exacerbate the challenges faced by already marginalized groups. Finally, working to make clearer links between the justice system and other social systems, so we are able to more effectively respond to the root causes of crime.

Bill C-51 reflects these objectives through changes that will have a positive and lasting impact on victims of sexual violence. This bill also affirms the fundamental truths upon which our justice system is based, including that criminal law should be used with restraint, that the state bears the responsibility of proving alleged criminal conduct, and that all criminal law must respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Chair and members of the committee, you will already be familiar with the content of the bill. In the time available to me, I don't think I can comprehensively speak to all aspects of the bill. Instead, I will provide a brief overview of the main aspects of the bill, and spend the remainder of my time focusing on some key points of discussion that have arisen since I first introduced the bill on June 6.

It may be useful to think of Bill C-51's proposed amendments as falling into four broad categories. Most of these changes are to the Criminal Code; however, the bill also proposes important improvements to the Department of Justice Act.

The first broad set of reforms under the Criminal Code seek to clarify and bolster the laws surrounding sexual assault. Second, Bill C-51 seeks to build on the proposed changes included in Bill C-39, which I introduced on March 8, by repealing or amending Criminal Code provisions that have been found unconstitutional by the courts. The third area of reform involves amendments that would remove a number of obsolete or redundant criminal offences. Finally, amendments to the Department of Justice Act would create a new statutory duty for the Minister of Justice to table in Parliament a charter statement for every government bill that sets out the bill's potential effects on rights and freedoms guaranteed in the charter.

Turning first to the sexual assault law reforms, all parliamentarians recognize the importance of taking steps to ensure that the criminal law is as clear and unequivocal as possible in its response to sexual violence. We all know that sexual assault complainants face significant challenges. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that our laws be both clear and clearly understood. This is important for all parties involved in such proceedings: judges, prosecutors, defence counsel, accused, and victims. It is also important for the proper functioning of the system overall.

In this respect, the proposed changes clarify that persons cannot consent to sexual activity when they are incapable of doing so, including when they are unconscious. This change is in line with the Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. J.A.

Second, changes would clarify that accused persons cannot rely on the defence of mistaken belief in consent if their mistake is a mistake of law, or if their belief is based on the complainant's passivity. In this way, it would codify the Supreme Court's decision in R. v. Ewanchuk.

The bill will also fill the gap in law by introducing a specific procedure for determining the admissibility of private records relating to the complainant such as private journals that are in the hands of the accused. This will complement existing procedures that apply when the accused seeks to obtain records held by persons other than the crown, for example, a therapist.

I pause here to respond to the concerns that have been expressed around these changes. It has been suggested by some that these amendments amount to a codification of a defence disclosure obligation. I want to be very clear that this is simply not true. These changes provide no rights to the crown to receive evidence, nor do they mean that the defence would be obligated to hand such evidence over. Rather, the changes concern rules of evidence and seek to balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the complainant and to support the truth-seeking function of the courts.

As was noted in the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Darrach, a voir dire held to determine whether evidence of past sexual history is admissible is not defence disclosure. Additionally, the bill proposes changes to remove laws that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts. One example is the proposal to remove the restriction that prevents sentencing courts from giving enhanced credit to persons detained prior to being tried and convicted because they've breached a condition of bail. This was found unconstitutional by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in Bittern.

Next, Bill C-51 proposes to repeal 20 different offences that are either redundant of other offences of general application, or no longer have relevance in Canada today. Examples include challenging someone to a dual; posting a reward for a return of a stolen item, no questions asked; possessing criminal or crime comics; and publishing a blasphemous libel. These changes are expected to make our laws fairer, clearer, and more relevant and accessible to Canadians.

I've received a number of letters from Canadians expressing concern about Bill C-51's proposed repeal of section 176, which appears to offer specific protections to Christian clergymen. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to respond to these concerns now.

I want to be clear that removing this offence will not in any way undermine Canadians' ability to practise their religious faith, nor do I expect it to lead to an increase in violence in such situations. Many criminal offences of general application will continue to be available to address all of the conduct that is prohibited by section 176. It remains an aggravating factor in sentencing if an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion.

Finally, changes to the Department of Justice Act would require the Minister of Justice to table charter statements that would identify and highlight key charter rights and freedoms that are engaged by any government bill. They would also set out considerations that support the justification of any limits that a bill may have on charter rights or freedoms.

As members are aware, I have been tabling charter statements for bills that I have introduced since becoming Minister of Justice. We have also begun to expand this practice to bills introduced by other ministers as well. The amendments would entrench this practice in law and extend it to all future government bills. These changes, as well as those proposed to the Criminal Code, reflect our government's unwavering and deep commitment to respecting the charter.

Quite simply, we can never abdicate our responsibility as a government to ensure that our decisions, including those reflected through law reform, comply with our fundamental rights and freedoms. That is why I'm so pleased to sponsor a bill that reinforces the obligation of current and future governments to adhere to this most basic duty.

Mr. Chair, I want to thank you again for the opportunity to appear before this committee and I look forward to all of the questions and discussions.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

June 15th, 2017 / 8:20 p.m.
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Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to be splitting my time with the member for Kootenay—Columbia.

Today I rise in the House to talk about a justice housecleaning bill. Our courts and justice system are facing an unprecedented crisis. Before moving to the specifics of the bill, I feel obliged to address this issue, because it is through justice that fairness is administered. I say this because I have no difficulty believing that recent events have had victims cast serious doubt on the fairness of the Canadian justice system.

Last July the Jordan ruling unleashed a flurry of uncertainty, confusion, sheer indignation, and outrage. The ramifications are still being being felt today. In this ruling, the court said that Jordan's charter rights had been violated due to an unreasonable 49-month wait for a trial. The drug charges against him were stayed. Since then, this confusion has led to hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal cases being stopped simply because they took too long to come to trial. We have seen at least two murderers go free. The decisions have widespread implications for victims and their families. These people have had experiences for which they will never get the chance to see justice done.

This breach of public safety was caused by a number of factors. Recently, a Senate report urged the federal justice minister to take the lead in changing the Criminal Code to reduce procedural and other barriers to a speedy trial and to fill judicial vacancies as soon as judges retire. This is perhaps the most important step the government could take.

It is not normal for criminal cases to take between five to 10 times longer to be tried in Canada than in the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand. Worse still, the delays are getting longer and the legal costs are going up even as the overall crime rates are dropping. It is time for the minister to get serious about filling judicial vacancies. There is an almost record-breaking number of vacancies on the superior courts, 53 at time of this speech. We also need the Liberals to provide proper resources for support staff and courtrooms. This is so important. The national judicial vacancy rate has more than tripled since this government took office. The lack of judges has increased access problems and court delays that were already posing a threat to a fair process and public safety.

There is no reason intelligent appointments cannot be made in an open way while Ottawa works on a more formalized process. Good government, public safety, and the rights of those caught up in the justice system depend on it. This brings me to the current bill we are debating. The problems addressed are important, but they are comparatively piecemeal changes to the Criminal Code, knowing that the justice system is in a full-blown crisis.

Let me be very clear. We should be doing this exercise. Updating the Criminal Code will lead to less mistakes and a clearer comprehension of the text. Many of these provisions are like time capsules, chronicling other times, but they certainly do not belong in our Criminal Code any longer. These are often referred to as zombie provisions. Legal scholars have been calling for a very long time for them to be removed from the Criminal Code, and it is past time for Parliament to act.

However, this housecleaning bill is not the government's first. In fact, it is the third. Bills C-32 and C-39 precede it. The trouble is that they are still in second reading with very little movement, leaving many Canadians wondering whether they are a priority. Is this bill even going to be a priority?

I am encouraged by elements in the bill. The important sections that clarify the sexual assault laws would have significant benefits for survivors and work toward preventing sexual assault. That is so important in this country. However, there needs to be legal aid funding that allows for victims to exercise their rights. The bill would clarify that an unconscious person is incapable of consent. It expands the rape shield provisions to expressly include communications of a sexual nature or communications for a sexual purpose.

The code's rape shield provisions already provide that evidence of a complainant's past sexual history cannot be used to support an inference that the complainant was more likely to have consented to the sexual activity at issue or that the complainant is less worthy of belief. It would create a regime to determine whether an accused could introduce a complainant's private records at trial that the accused had in his or her possession. This adds to the existing regime governing an accused's ability to obtain a complainant's private records, such as diaries, medical records, psychological counselling records, and school records, when those records are in the hands of a third party.

The bill provides that a complainant has a right to legal representation in rape shield proceedings.

There has been criticism from legal and feminist groups that have wondered how effective the measures of having a lawyer would be if the complainants cannot afford representation. Legal aid funding needs to be provided, as there is currently simply not enough.

As Michael Spratt, vice president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, said when speaking on the bill, this “is another half-hearted attempt to reform the justice system by grabbing the lowest of the low hanging fruit.” The crisis that is under way is a manifestation of the need for deeper structural changes within our judicial system.

This is one step, but I hope to see some more positive steps to deal with the issues that are greatly inhibiting our legal system in the country. I most definitely want to see more resources so the victims of any kind of sexual assault get the support they need and have the funding to do so.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

June 15th, 2017 / 4:35 p.m.
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Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario


Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I take the floor to discuss Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act. This legislation reflects our government's deep commitment to ensuring that our criminal justice system protects Canadians, holds offenders to account, upholds the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and shows the utmost compassion for victims.

By amending the Criminal Code and related legislation, we can contribute to a fairer, clearer, and more accessible criminal justice system. We are committed to changes that will have a positive and lasting impact on victims' experiences in the criminal justice system and that affirm the charter rights of all Canadians. This bill would do just that. These changes reflect our government's deep respect for the charter. The bill also represents another deliverable flowing from the ongoing review of the criminal justice system that the Minister of Justice has been mandated by the Prime Minister to carry out.

Broadly speaking, the bill's proposals fall into four categories, the majority of which involve amendments to the Criminal Code. First, there are amendments to clarify and strengthen the law of sexual assault. Second, there are amendments to remove or amend provisions that have been found unconstitutional by the courts, building on the amendments set out in Bill C-39, which the Minister of Justice introduced on March 8. Third, a number of obsolete or duplicative offences would be removed. Finally, the bill would amend the Department of Justice Act to create a new statutory duty for the minister of justice to table a charter statement for every government bill, setting out any potential effects a bill may have on the rights and freedoms of Canadians.

Let me begin by addressing the proposed sexual assault amendments. As is well known, in the past few years we have seen a dramatic increase in public interest in and concerns about sexual assault and how the criminal justice system responds to it. The Minister of Justice and her department continue to collaborate with partners and stakeholders to learn, share, and discuss a broad range of issues and ideas for improving how we, as a society, address the ongoing problem of sexual assault. One of the most important roles of the federal government is to ensure that we have the best possible legal framework in place to ensure our communities are protected and victims are treated with respect.

The measures proposed in this legislation today are one step in this process. They seek to ensure that the law is as clear as it can be, in order to minimize the possibility of the law being misunderstood or applied improperly. The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to clarify certain circumstances where consent is not obtained and where the defence of mistaken belief in consent is not available to the accused. It would also introduce stricter rules for the admissibility of complainants' prior sexual history, as well as their private records. In addition, the bill would provide that the complainant has standing and is entitled to be represented by legal counsel during rape shield proceedings.

The Criminal Code already clearly defines consent as voluntary agreement to the sexual activity in question. It also sets out a list of circumstances when consent has not been obtained as a matter of law. For example, the Criminal Code currently states that no consent is obtained where the complainant is incapable of consenting. One of the proposed amendments to the bill would make it clear that there is no consent when the complainant is unconscious, as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada decision in J.A. As the court reminded us there, consent must be contemporaneous or received at the time of the sexual activity in question. To most of us, it seems obvious that an unconscious person cannot consent to sexual activity. Nevertheless, providing for this additional clarity in the Criminal Code promises greater protection for victims of sexual assault.

While many have welcomed these amendments, some have also expressed concern. Specifically, some have noted that this amendment may pose a risk of being interpreted in a way that would disadvantage victims. They argue that codifying the rule that consent cannot be obtained from an unconscious person could lead to defence counsel arguing in court that the law no longer recognizes incapacity to consent short of full unconsciousness, such as when a complainant is extremely intoxicated or only semi-conscious. While our government shares the viewpoint of these critics—that consent must be ongoing and affirmatively given—respectfully, the government does not believe that this is a legitimate concern. Our government agrees entirely that the law should remain clear on this point. Consent cannot be obtained from an unconscious person, and the law also remains that consent cannot be obtained from a person who is conscious but incapable of consenting, for other reasons.

However, this is already clearly reflected in the bill. Unconsciousness is set out in a different subsection from the one that refers to incapacity generally, and new language is proposed to make it abundantly clear that incapacity to consent can be for reasons other than unconsciousness. This demonstrates that the unconsciousness provision is not intended to preclude or replace the many other situations that may be captured by the incapacity provision. Simply put, unconsciousness does not subsume all of the existing circumstances of incapacity to consent. Both would be reflected in the text of the Criminal Code.

The legislation would also amend the defence of mistaken belief in consent. This defence operates where it has been proved as a matter of fact that there was no consent, but the accused asserts that he genuinely, albeit mistakenly, believed that the complainant consented. The law already sets out restrictions on the accused's ability to use this defence. The accused cannot raise the defence if the accused's belief was due to the accused own recklessness, willful blindness, intoxication, or failure to take reasonable steps to confirm consent.

Bill C-51 would amend the law to clarify, in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Ewanchuk, that this defence is also not available if the accused's belief is based on a mistake of law. For example, if the accused believed that the complainant consented, even though she was unconscious, or if the accused believed that the complainant's silence or passivity meant that she consented, there would be mistakes of law, and the defence, therefore, would not be available. I believe these changes would help to minimize errors by making the code clearer, more accessible, and easier to apply.

Another amendment concerns the rape shield provisions, which regulate the admissibility of evidence of a complainant's past sexual activity in a manner that balances the complainant's dignity and privacy interests with the fair trial rights of the accused. These provisions were introduced by then minister of justice the Right Hon. Kim Campbell in the early 1990s in order to guard against courts relying on what are known as the twin myths, those being that a complainant's past sexual activity is evidence that she is more likely to have consented to the activity in question, or that she is less worthy of belief.

Bill C-51 would amend the rape shield provisions to clarify that they apply not only to past sexual activity but also to communications made by the complainant that are of a sexual nature or are made for a sexual purpose. Just as it would be inappropriate to infer complainants were more likely to have consented based on their past sexual activities, it is equally inappropriate to find that they are more likely to have consented because of the sexual nature of their past communications. Some courts are already applying the rape shield process to such communications. Bill C-51 would standardize this procedure.

The bill would also fill a gap in the law by introducing a specific procedure for determining the admissibility of private records relating to the complainant, such as private journals or therapeutic records, which are in the possession of the accused. Specifically, if those accused seek to adduce complainants' private records, they must bring an application under the new provisions. As is the case under the existing rape shield provisions, such records would be admissible if the judge determines that they are relevant to an issue at trial and have significant probative value that is not outweighed by the danger of prejudice to the proper administration of justice.

It is worth noting that these changes would implement a recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs from its 2012 report on the third party records regime.

Other changes to the sexual assault regime include expressly clarifying that complainants must be informed of their right to be represented by a lawyer in the course of rape shield proceedings, as well as an extension of the notice period associated with such proceedings, to ensure that all parties have adequate time to prepare.

I would like to briefly address some comments that have been made regarding these last two proposals and their impact on charter rights. Our government respects the charter rights of all Canadians, including those accused of crimes. This holds no less true in the context of sexual assault proceedings. We believe that these amendments maintain the fair trial rights of the accused, and at the same time, they recognize the privacy rights of victims. Indeed, the amendments' objectives are largely the same as those that underpin the rape shield provisions, which were found to be charter compliant by the Supreme Court.

More information on the charter compliance of these changes can be seen in the charter statement, which was tabled in this House on June 6.

Ultimately, these important amendments to the law of sexual assault would help ensure that victims are treated with the utmost respect and the compassion they deserve, and that offenders are held to account.

I would now like to address the other Criminal Code amendments proposed in this bill. In keeping with the Minister of Justice's mandate, this diverse set of changes would make the law more relevant, more modern, and more consistent with the charter.

One cluster of amendments involves the repeal of Criminal Code provisions that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts. For instance, the bill proposes to remove the restriction that prevents sentencing courts from giving enhanced credit to those detained prior to trial because they had breached a condition of bail. This part of the provision was found unconstitutional by the Manitoba Court of Appeal last year in Regina v. Bittern. This amendment would complement the change proposed in Bill C-39 that would remove the restriction on giving enhanced credit to those who were detained due to a previous conviction. This was found unconstitutional last year by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The bill also proposes to remove a variety of evidentiary presumptions that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts, including presumptions related to gambling offences. Presumptions are shortcuts designed to help the prosecution prove an element of the offence by instead proving a different but related fact. These provisions may sometimes violate the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental precept of our criminal justice system and one we are committed to upholding.

Another set of amendments would repeal what is known as a “reverse onus”, which refers to placing a burden on the accused to prove a fact. Normally the presumption of innocence places the burden of proof on the crown throughout the trial, and any transfer of that burden of proof to the accused may unjustifiably violate the presumption of innocence. Some reversals can be upheld constitutionally; an example is the reversal of the burden of proof associated with the defence of mental disorder. However, numerous other reverse onuses are likely to violate the rights of Canadians and should therefore be removed from the Criminal Code.

This bill would amend 32 offences that contain the phrase “without lawful excuse, the proof of which lies on him”. The second part of this phrase, “the proof of which lies on him”, is generally interpreted to create a reverse onus such that any time the accused wanted to raise a lawful excuse in defence against a charge, the accused would need to prove it on a balance of probabilities rather than just raise a reasonable doubt.

Our government does not believe that accused persons charged with these offences should be put to the task of challenging the constitutionality of these clauses, which present avoidable charter risks. Forcing people to challenge unconstitutional laws or laws that are likely unconstitutional delays criminal trials and burdens the justice system. This is not in the interests of victims, accused persons, or justice. Instead, our government is committed to continued leadership on proactive criminal justice reform while defending the rule of law.

I want to be clear that these amendments will not negatively impact public safety. These provisions being removed are either already found to be unconstitutional or likely to be found so, and as such they would not be operative in any case.

The bill also proposes to repeal offences that are outdated or otherwise redundant. It would repeal 20 such offences. Many Canadians may not know that the criminal law currently prohibits conduct such as challenging someone to a duel, posting a reward for the return of a stolen item with no questions asked, possessing crime comics, advertising a drug to enhance sexual virility, publishing a blasphemous libel, and fraudulently practising witchcraft.

Canadians are far better served by a Criminal Code that is focused on conduct that actually causes harms or risks causing harms to Canadians and our fundamental values.

Finally, the bill would amend the Department of Justice Act to create a new statutory duty for the Minister of Justice. This duty would require the minister, and future ministers, to table a charter statement for every government bill that is introduced. That statement will set out any potential effects a bill may have on the charter rights and freedoms of Canadians.

The Minister of Justice has already been tabling these statements in relation to bills that she has introduced. The proposed amendment to the Department of Justice Act would formalize this practice and extend it to all government bills. This would complement the existing duty on the Minister of Justice to examine every government bill for inconsistency with the charter.

Going forward, charter statements will identify and highlight key charter rights and freedoms that are engaged by any government bill tabled after this legislation comes in force. They will also set out considerations that support the justification of any limits that a bill may have on a charter right or freedom.

That said, charter statements are not the same as the legal advice provided by a minister of justice or his or her officials during the course of a bill's development. That advice will remain confidential and protected by solicitor-client privilege.

Rather, charter statements are intended to provide Parliament and the public with legal information about the charter implications of proposed legislation. They are meant to flag key charter issues and to be a resource to Parliament and the public for the purposes of enriching debate.

This initiative is motivated by the Minister of Justice's commitment to openness and transparency and is intended to further the commitment in relation to one of our government's core responsibilities: enacting legislation that respects the Constitution, including the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the charter.

This amendment is particularly timely, as 2017 marks the 35th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This initiative recognizes the essential role the charter plays in our free and democratic society, and our government is very proud to propose it.

I urge all members to support this important legislation, which represents one more step in the minister's review of the criminal justice system, one more step in our government's commitment to the charter, and one more step toward ensuring that our laws are relevant, fair, and accessible to all Canadians.