Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the report stage debate in support of Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments thereto.
As a lawyer, I am all too familiar with the effect of delays on all Canadians, particularly those involved in the criminal justice system. I am proud to be a member of a government that is taking a meaningful and significant approach to promoting efficiency in our criminal justice system, reducing case completion times and contributing to increased public confidence while respecting the rights of those involved and ensuring that public safety is maintained.
I believe that, together, all of the elements of Bill C-75 will help create the necessary change in culture and strengthen the criminal justice system's capacity to complete cases within the time frame prescribed by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Jordan decision and recommended by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in its report entitled “Delaying Justice is denying justice”.
I am grateful to the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for its hard work in studying Bill C-75.
Although there are many important aspects of this bill that I believe will contribute to a more efficient criminal justice system, I would like to focus my remarks this morning on preliminary inquiry reform, enhancing judicial case management, and facilitating remote appearances. I would also like briefly to touch on the amendments brought forward by the committee and consequential technical amendments thereto.
As the minister pointed out in her speech, Bill C-75 includes two proposals for preliminary inquiries.
First, the bill would restrict the availability of this procedure to accused adults charged with 63 of the most serious Criminal Code offences that are punishable by life imprisonment, such as kidnapping and murder.
Second, it would strengthen the powers of judges at the preliminary inquiry and limit the issues explored and the number of witnesses to be heard.
The Supreme Court of Canada, in Jordan, and the Senate legal affairs committee, in its final report on delays, recommended that preliminary inquiry reform be considered.
We acknowledge that the issue of preliminary inquiry reform has been the subject of lively debate for literally decades. Some have said that restricting preliminary inquiries would have little impact on delays, given that they are held in only 3% of cases. However, it is important to underscore that this impact would be greater in those provinces where the preliminary inquiry procedure is widely used, such as in Ontario and in the province of Quebec.
Also, we cannot overlook the cumulative impact of all of Bill C-75's proposals that seek to streamline the criminal justice system processes.
Lawyers Laurelly Dale and Michael Spratt testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that limiting preliminary inquiries, as the bill proposes, could result in delays and undermine the accused's right to a fair trial. In contrast, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police indicated in its written submissions that it supported the reforms.
In addition, Daisy Kler from the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women's Shelter and Elizabeth Sheehy said that these reforms were a step in the right direction and that requiring victims to testify twice, once at the preliminary inquiry and again at the trial, increases the risk of revictimization.
As stated by the Minister of Justice at the second reading of Bill C-75, the proposed preliminary inquiry amendments are the culmination of years of study and consideration in various fora, such as federal-provincial-territorial meetings. These reforms represent a balanced approach between the opposing views put forward before both committees and expressed before this very chamber. They would make this procedure more efficient and more expedient while respecting the rights of the accused to a fair trial and preventing some witnesses and victims from having to testify twice, which can have a very important impact, as I just mentioned, on women litigants in the criminal justice system.
Bill C-75 would also allow for the earlier appointment of case management judges, recognizing their unique and vital role in ensuring that the momentum of cases is maintained and that they are completed in an efficient, effective, just and timely manner.
Bill C-75 also proposes to expand the use of remote appearances provided for in the Criminal Code by enabling anyone participating in criminal cases to appear by audioconference or video conference throughout the trial, as long as the applicable criteria are met. This would include the accused, the witnesses, the lawyers, the judges or justices of the peace, the interpreters and the sureties.
Canada has allowed remote appearances for many years. These amendments seek to broaden the existing framework, with the possibility of using technology to promote access to justice where the infrastructure exists and as permitted by the rules of court.
These optional tools in Bill C-75 aim to increase access to justice, streamline processes and reduce system costs, such as the cost of the accused's transport and the cost of witness attendance, without impacting existing resources such as those through the indigenous court worker program. They also respond to the Senate committee's recommendation to increase the use of remote appearances for accused persons.
The proposals in Bill C-75 in relation to preliminary inquiries, judicial case management and remote appearances, together with all the other reforms in this bill, would ensure that our criminal justice system was efficient, just and in line with the values of our communities and all Canadians.
As a product of the extensive study of this bill and the compelling testimony from witnesses, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights amended the bill with regard to routine police evidence and some reclassification of offences. As a result of these amendments, four technical and consequential amendments must be moved to ensure coherence in the legislation. These amendments follow from the proper amendments made by the committee.
The first of the technical amendments involves the consequential amendment to clause 294 of Bill C-75. This clause deals with the admission of police officer transcripts as evidence and currently references the definition of “a police officer” in proposed section 657.01 of the Criminal Code. As proposed section 657.01 was amended and deleted at committee, an amendment is now required to clause 294 to remove the reference to that previously proposed section.
The second and third amendments being put forward today respond to the committee's intention to keep the offences of advocating or promoting the commission of terrorism, under section 83.221 of the Code, as a straight indictable offence. Accordingly, the second amendment today would delete clause 22, and the third amendment would delete subclause 407(5), which is a coordinating clause in accordance with Bill C-59. Again, these are consequential technical amendments that follow from the important and extensive study by the committee of this bill.
The fourth amendment presented to the House today would correct a drafting error resulting from an amendment to clause 389, which includes a mistake in the French version of the title of Bill C-75 and describes Bill C-75 as “Loi modifiant le Code criminel, la Loi sur le système de justice pénale pour les adolescents et d'autres lois et apportant des modifications corrélatives à certaines lois”. This is again a technical amendment that follows from the important amendments made at the committee stage.
To conclude, I want to highlight what we are doing in this law. We have a situation where access to justice is critical. We have a situation where court delays are preventing justice from being rendered. We also have the Jordan decision that was presented by the Supreme Court of Canada. Following the results of the Jordan decision, the minister and the parliamentary secretary went around the country and heard from stakeholders. They heard from people in the system. They heard from federal, provincial and territorial partners. As a result of that collaboration with provincial and territorial partners, we put forward Bill C-75 in this House. The bill was then studied at committee stage and the committee, after hearing robust testimony from a number of stakeholders from around the country who were involved in the criminal justice system, properly and rightfully took the initiative to amend the bill in the right direction with respect to the key areas I have mentioned. That is the way our system is meant to work. It is meant to work collaboratively, and that is what we did with this bill.
Bill C-75 would ensure that women were not revictimized through the preliminary inquiry process. The bill would ensure that we would no longer have the overrepresentation of indigenous and other marginalized communities in our justice system by changing the way we select jurors and changing the tools judges have to ensure more diverse and representative juries in communities. Very importantly, Bill C-75 would ensure access to justice. It would treat administration of justice offences through a separate model, a different model, that would allow things to be dealt with in a more general manner, in a manner that would speed up the proceedings and would not overly criminalize people who are interacting with the justice system.
These are important initiatives. This is an important bill. It is in the right direction, and that is why I urge all members of this House to support it.