An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

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

Sponsor

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to, among other things,

(a) modernize and clarify interim release provisions to simplify the forms of release that may be imposed on an accused, incorporate a principle of restraint and require that particular attention be given to the circumstances of Aboriginal accused and accused from vulnerable populations when making interim release decisions, and provide more onerous interim release requirements for offences involving violence against an intimate partner;

(b) provide for a judicial referral hearing to deal with administration of justice offences involving a failure to comply with conditions of release or failure to appear as required;

(c) abolish peremptory challenges of jurors, modify the process of challenging a juror for cause so that a judge makes the determination of whether a ground of challenge is true, and allow a judge to direct that a juror stand by for reasons of maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice;

(d) increase the maximum term of imprisonment for repeat offences involving intimate partner violence and provide that abuse of an intimate partner is an aggravating factor on sentencing;

(e) restrict the availability of a preliminary inquiry to offences punishable by imprisonment for a term of 14 years or more and strengthen the justice’s powers to limit the issues explored and witnesses to be heard at the inquiry;

(f) hybridize most indictable offences punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years or less, increase the default maximum penalty to two years less a day of imprisonment for summary conviction offences and extend the limitation period for summary conviction offences to 12 months;

(g) remove the requirement for judicial endorsement for the execution of certain out-of-province warrants and authorizations, expand judicial case management powers, allow receiving routine police evidence in writing, consolidate provisions relating to the powers of the Attorney General and allow increased use of technology to facilitate remote attendance by any person in a proceeding;

(h) re-enact the victim surcharge regime and provide the court with the discretion to waive a victim surcharge if the court is satisfied that the victim surcharge would cause the offender undue hardship or would be disproportionate to the gravity of the offence or the degree of responsibility of the offender; and

(i) remove passages and repeal provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, repeal section 159 of the Act and provide 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.

The enactment also amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act in order to reduce delays within the youth criminal justice system and enhance the effectiveness of that system with respect to administration of justice offences. For those purposes, the enactment amends that Act to, among other things,

(a) set out principles intended to encourage the use of extrajudicial measures and judicial reviews as alternatives to the laying of charges for administration of justice offences;

(b) set out requirements for imposing conditions on a young person’s release order or as part of a sentence;

(c) limit the circumstances in which a custodial sentence may be imposed for an administration of justice offence;

(d) remove the requirement for the Attorney General to determine whether to seek an adult sentence in certain circumstances; and

(e) remove the power of a youth justice court to make an order to lift the ban on publication in the case of a young person who receives a youth sentence for a violent offence, as well as the requirement to determine whether to make such an order.

Finally, the enactment amends among other Acts An Act to amend the Criminal Code (exploitation and trafficking in persons) so that certain sections of that Act can come into force on different days and also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 19, 2019 Passed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
June 19, 2019 Passed Motion for closure
Dec. 3, 2018 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Nov. 20, 2018 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Nov. 20, 2018 Failed Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (report stage amendment)
Nov. 20, 2018 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
June 11, 2018 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
June 11, 2018 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (reasoned amendment)
June 11, 2018 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (subamendment)
May 29, 2018 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. Certainly, there are practical considerations in getting legislation to move through the House. It takes a certain amount of time. With respect to the schedule of this place, it can be a challenge. I appreciate that it has been incorporated into Bill C-75, which has now been passed to the other place. I await its expeditious treatment of that bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 12:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, whom I enjoy serving with on the justice committee. I share his concerns about the Senate amendments. Therefore, I want to ask him a question about what he initially spoke of, which was the zombie sections of the Criminal Code that have been found to be unconstitutional.

He cited the Vader case, involving the murder of Lyle and Marie McCann of St. Albert. It was our committee, the justice committee, that wrote to the minister all the way back in October 2016, calling on the minister to move forward with legislation to remove unconstitutional sections. The minister did move ahead with Bill C-39, which is stuck at first reading. The government then put it into Bill C-75. However, that is going to take months to go through the Senate. Why did the government not just get it done and pass Bill C-39? It does not seem to make any sense to me. Can the hon. member comment?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 12:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join this portion of the debate and speak to Bill C-51, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another Act. Before turning to the specific issue of the amendments passed in the other place, I want to take a few minutes to remind all colleagues about what this important piece of legislation seeks to address and why it is critically important that we support its swift passage into law.

As all members will recall, Bill C-51 was introduced by the Minister of Justice on June 6, 2017. Bill C-51 was not the first criminal law reform bill introduced by the minister that seeks to make our criminal justice and laws fairer, clearer, more relevant and more accessible.

Since its introduction, the minister has introduced other critically important legislation that continues to seek those objectives. Considering also Bill C-75, it is clear that the minister has thought long and hard about the challenges facing our system and has proposed concrete measures to address them. I strongly support the minister's legislative proposals, and I understand that many of her provincial and territorial counterparts, legal academics and criminal justice system actors also support these measures.

Colleagues will recall that Bill C-51 would amend the Criminal Code in three broad ways. First, it proposes amendments that would remove unconstitutional laws. This reflects our government's unwavering commitment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The risks of leaving unconstitutional laws on our books are grave, and in a constitutional democracy like Canada that is grounded in the rule of law, it is important we take the steps necessary to prevent those risks from manifesting, as unfortunately occurred in the 2016 Alberta trial of Travis Vader.

Second, Bill C-51 proposes to remove laws from our Criminal Code that are vestiges of a bygone era and are no longer relevant in modern Canadian society, as well as laws that are redundant and capture conduct addressed by other offences of general application. We should not underestimate the importance of amendments of this nature. Criminal law is a reflection of our values. Offences like blasphemous libel, which targeted criticism against the king and Christianity, have been criticized as contrary to free expression, and have been used by certain regimes to repress free speech. Canada should not be held up as an example by repressive governments that seek to justify their own blasphemy offences as a means of curtailing criticism by pointing to the example of Canada's Criminal Code. I strongly support these amendments.

Turning to the other critically important aspect of Bill C-51, the proposed changes to modernize and clarify Canada's sexual assault laws, it is in this area that amendments were passed by the Senate that necessitate our looking at Bill C-51 again.

As introduced, Bill C-51 brings forward important and welcome changes to our sexual assault laws. One area where it does so is in respect of consent to sexual activity. First, Bill C-51 proposes to clarify the important legal principle confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 2011 decision in R v. J.A. that no consent is obtained where a person is unconscious. This amendment has been well received by many, but some stakeholders suggested that it should go further to codify another important principle from the J.A. decision, that consent must also be contemporaneous to the sexual activity in question. I recall this well during the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights' study, which amended Bill C-51 to address this very point.

During our committee's study of the bill, additional amendments were proposed in the area of consent to sexual activity. These amendments were, I believe, inspired by the submissions of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, LEAF. It suggested that Bill C-51 might extend beyond the scope of its original objective, and proposed amendments that would seek to define when a person is incapable of consenting to sexual activity due to impairment that falls short of unconsciousness, such as cases involving intoxication. To my knowledge, no defence lawyer, Crown prosecutor or victims' organization spoke specifically to this proposal.

As may be recalled, the amendment proposed before the justice committee on this point was defeated due to concerns that it could have had unintended and negative consequences. For instance, concerns were expressed that by focusing entirely on the subjective state of mind of the complainant, the courts might ignore other important objective evidence that might help to establish that the complainant was incapable of consenting.

When Bill C-51 went to the other place for consideration, the legal and constitutional affairs committee there heard from only a handful of witnesses. Nevertheless, much of the discussion at that committee again centred on the issue of consent to sexual activity. Much of the testimony provided was motivated by concerns about sexual assault involving intoxication and the need to have clarity in this area. To be sure, these are legitimate concerns, and I am not trying to minimize the importance of looking closely at this issue.

As a result of these concerns, an amendment was proposed at the Senate committee to again try to specify the circumstances under which a person is incapable of consenting for reasons of impairment that fall short of unconsciousness. After a vigorous debate, those amendments were not passed. Again, the reasons for this related to concerns about the unintended consequences. Nevertheless, when the bill was returned to the Senate at third reading, amendments were made, notwithstanding the calls for caution and concern about the practical implications.

I greatly appreciate and respect the spirit behind the proposed amendments. I agree that it is critically important that we consider changes to our sexual assault laws that would help clarify the law. On the other hand, because of the very sensitive and difficult nature of sexual assault, I believe it is imperative that we only pass laws when we are 100% certain they will not create more challenges for victims and for the accused.

Unfortunately, I am not 100% certain. I am deeply concerned that passing these amendments at this late stage, and without the benefit of greater consultation and consideration, would not provide the clarity that is assumed to result from them. I am concerned that this change could lead judges to ignore other important evidence respecting capacity to consent. I am concerned that these charges focus too squarely on intoxication and do not consider the impact on individuals with cognitive impairments.

For these reasons, I must respectfully oppose the amendments passed in the other place. In so doing, I encourage the government to look closely at the issues raised by these amendments in collaboration with key partners and stakeholders. I support the message to be sent to the other place.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, speaking to the Senate amendments, I believe that adding the word “unconscious” consistent with the J.A. decision would not in any way confuse the law or create uncertainty. I think it provides some degree of clarity.

I reiterate that the wording of the specific subsection proposed in bill C-75 is broad enough to encompass not only unconsciousness but any other reason by which a complainant might be incapacitated.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I spoke to the McCann family about the fact that Bill C-39 was moved into Bill C-75 and quite frankly, they were appalled. They were appalled that the government would include Bill C-39 in a bill that would, among other things, water down sentences for impaired drivers and for kidnapping of a minor and, speaking of sexual assault, for administering a date-rape drug. I voted against Bill C-75. If the McCann family were members of Parliament and could have voted, they would have voted against it too.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 11:50 a.m.
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Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Arif Virani

Madam Speaker, to characterize what is in the bill as defence disclosure is inappropriate and incorrect. I refer the member opposite to the Darrach decision, paragraph 65 of the Supreme Court jurisprudence, which he is fond of quoting.

The member talked at length about the situation with Travis Vader and the McCann family. This is an important issue that affected his community directly and I appreciate his submissions in that regard. However, when the provisions in Bill C-39 that would have eliminated those unconstitutional provisions from the Criminal Code were moved into Bill C-75 and that legislative vehicle is being used to eliminate the very provisions he is talking about, I ask the member why he would have voted against that bill at third reading in this chamber last week?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-51, a massive omnibus bill. Perhaps it is not surprising that when we are talking about a massive omnibus bill, there are some positive aspects in it and other aspects with which I and my colleagues on this side of the House have some concerns.

One of the positives of Bill C-51 is that it seeks to remove sections of the Criminal Code that have been found to be unconstitutional by appellate courts. This is a welcomed effort to help clean up the Criminal Code. Likewise, it seeks to remove sections of the Criminal Code that are obsolete or redundant, which again is a welcome effort to clean up the Criminal Code.

As I alluded to in the question that I posed to the minister a few moments ago, while the government is moving forward with the removal of obsolete sections and sections of the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by appellate courts, it is disappointing that the government has still failed to move forward with the removal of sections of the Criminal Code that have been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The minister is quite right that Bill C-75 does include the removal of those unconstitutional sections. However, as I pointed out to the minister, it was all the way back in March 2017 that the government introduced Bill C-39.

Bill C-39 is a very straightforward bill. It is not controversial. There is support on all sides of the House for the passage of Bill C-39, and yet for whatever reason, after the minister introduced the bill on March 8, 2017, it remains stuck at first reading. It is stuck at first reading with really no explanation. This is an issue that I have spoken to on a number of occasions because it really hits home in the community of St. Albert which I am very fortunate to represent.

When we talk about unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code, zombie sections, and their removal from the Criminal Code, perhaps it sounds a little abstract and academic. However, the consequences of failing to keep the Criminal Code up to date can be very serious.

We saw that in the case of Travis Vader, who was charged and convicted of two counts of second-degree murder of Lyle and Marie McCann, an elderly couple from St. Albert. They were murdered in 2010. It was a very complicated case. The family waited a number of years for justice to arrive. Just at the moment they thought justice had arrived, they found out that, in fact, it had not because the trial judge applied a section of the Criminal Code that is inoperative as the basis for convicting Travis Vader of two counts of second-degree murder. I am referring to section 230 of the Criminal Code, a section that had been found to be unconstitutional going back to 1990, and yet there it was in the Criminal Code.

That prompted the justice committee, on which I serve as a member, to write a letter to the minister calling on her to introduce legislation to repeal these unconstitutional sections. It was a letter that was sent by the chair of the committee, the hon. member for Mount Royal, all the way back in October 2016.

Following that, I stood with the McCann family in December 2016, when we had a press conference in St. Albert to urge the minister to move forward with legislation. Again, to the minister's credit, she did move forward in a relatively quick fashion because the bill was introduced, as I mentioned, on March 8, 2017. Then nothing happened. It stalled.

I have been in touch with the McCann family. They just cannot understand why, on something as simple as removing unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code, sections that are of no force or effect yet remain there in black and white purporting on their face to represent the law, remain in the Criminal Code.

The minister has not been able to explain why the government could not pass Bill C-39, why that bill is stuck at first reading, why it needed to be copied and pasted into Bill C-75, an omnibus bill. Bill C-75 is a massive bill which, frankly, is controversial in many respects. It saw a number of amendments at the justice committee and is, undoubtedly, going to receive a whole lot of scrutiny when it goes to the Senate. It will likely be months and months and months before the Senate is able to address Bill C-75. Meanwhile, those unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Code are going to be there.

While the Vader case is one case, it is not the only case that a section of the Criminal Code, an inoperative section, has been applied with real and significant consequences to the administration of justice. There was a case in British Columbia back in 2005 in which the trial judge in a murder trial left a copy of a section of the Criminal Code that was inoperative with the jurors. On that basis, the conviction of the accused was appealed. The British Columbia Court of Appeal ultimately upheld the conviction but only because of the fact that the trial judge's instructions to the jury were deemed impeccable by the Court of Appeal.

That is another case, so it is not just the McCann case. We have seen other cases, including the case in British Columbia.

To say that we will just get around to this whenever is not an excuse. It opens the door to another Vader situation, and if that happens, the government will be to blame. It certainly was not to blame for what happened in the Vader case but once that became apparent about the serious consequences that can come through inaction, the fact that it has been now two years, I think, just does not hold water and there really is no excuse. However, it does speak more broadly to the fact that the government, on the big things and the small things, just cannot get it done time and time again.

Another aspect of Bill C-51 when we are talking about inoperative sections of the Criminal Code was the unfortunate decision by the government initially to include section 176 of the Criminal Code among the sections that the government deemed to be obsolete. Section 176 is hardly redundant. It is hardly obsolete. It certainly is not unconstitutional.

Indeed, section 176 is the only section of the Criminal Code to protect clergy from having their services disrupted, something that is very serious and goes to the heart of religious freedom. The government turned a blind eye, the Conservatives called them on it and, as a result, tens of thousands of Canadians spoke out, telling the government that it was wrong.

To the government's credit, it backed down at the justice committee a year ago and agreed to remove the repeal of section 176, and rightfully so. However, not long after backing down on the removal of section 176, the government, in Bill C-75, hybridized section 176, so that instead of its being treated as a solely indictable offence, it would potentially be treated as a summary conviction offence.

While this specific change does not have a significant impact on the maximum sentence, unlike some of the other offences the government is hybridizing, it sends a message, and I would submit that it sends exactly the wrong message. It sends the message that disrupting a religious service, infringing on the freedom of religion of Canadians, not just any freedom but a fundamental freedom in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is not that serious. That is just wrong and why Conservatives have opposed it and stood up in fighting Bill C-75.

A lot of Bill C-51 relates to changes to sexual assault laws in Canada. As I indicated when I rose to ask the minister a question, many aspects of this bill include welcome changes to the Criminal Code with respect to sexual assault laws. Among the positives in Bill C-51 is that it would codify the Ewanchuk decision. That means it would make it absolutely clear that the defence of mistaken belief on the basis of a purported misapprehension or misunderstanding of the law cannot be advanced. It is a positive to have clarity on that and to have the Ewanchuk decision codified.

Another positive change the government is making with respect to sexual assault provisions is the codification of the J.A. decision. The J.A. decision makes clear that in no circumstances can a complainant be deemed to be giving their consent while unconscious. By way of background, in J.A., the accused said that no sexual assault took place on the basis that the unconscious complainant had consented to both being made unconscious and the sexual activity. That argument was successful before the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal, holding that for there to be consent, that consent must at all times be contemporaneous; that consent must occur at all times at all stages of the sexual activity. Therefore, Bill C-51 would amend section 273 of the Criminal Code, which contains a list of non-exhaustive factors when consent is deemed not to have occurred. More particularly, Bill C-51 would amend that section to specifically include the word “unconscious” to make it crystal clear that in no circumstances will consent be deemed when the complainant is unconscious.

As the minister went into some detail about in her speech, there were some concerns raised by a number of witnesses, both before the justice committee when we heard from them about a year ago, as well as from witnesses who appeared before the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee. Essentially, their argument was that codifying R. v. J.A. really would not do anything, that the whole issue of consciousness has never really been an issue, and that prior to R. v. J.A. the courts were never really finding there was consent when complainants were unconscious. In that regard, the concern was that by adding the word “unconscious”, an unintended bright line would be established whereby arguments would be put forward that consciousness or lack of consciousness would be a bright line in determining the issue of consent. That was the argument.

That was part of the reason why Senator Pate put forward her amendments, her concern being that there could be some added confusion in those cases where the person was not unconscious, but, for example, highly intoxicated. Unfortunately, while the Senate amendments may have been well intentioned, they would simply cause more problems and solve a problem that really does not exist. They would establish untested factors, which would be litigated, dealing exclusively with the mental state of the complainant. We know from some of the decisions, including the Al-Rawi decision, that it was not the mental state of the complainant that resulted in the acquittal of the accused, but rather the failure of the trial judge to consider some of the other evidence. Therefore, again, the amendments are problematic.

In terms of the language in Bill C-51, it is sufficiently clear, because it speaks of unconsciousness, but then it speaks to all other circumstances outside of that, so the language is broad. On that basis, I am not convinced that it would create the bright line that was said to be a concern by Senator Pate and by some of the other witnesses who appeared before the justice committee. As for whether or not it should be codified, I do think it is helpful. It does provide some additional clarity, and so on that basis I do support that aspect of Bill C-51.

Another area where I agree with the government is in respect to the applicability of the twin myths under section 276. Section 276 of the Criminal Code prohibits using evidence of a complainant's sexual activity for the purpose of advancing two discriminatory myths, namely that the sexual activity of the complainant makes the complainant less believable or most likely to consent. What Bill C-51 clarifies is that in no circumstances may evidence be tendered for the purpose of advancing those twin myths. That is a step in the right direction.

However, one of the areas I do have some questions about with respect to section 276 is an amendment proposed in the bill related to the definition of sexual activity. In that regard, Bill C-51 seeks to amend sexual activity to include “any communication made for a sexual purpose or whose content is of a sexual nature.” There is some concern that the definition may be overly broad. It is understandable why in this digital age, for the purpose of section 276, it makes sense to include communications in the form of text messages with photos or videos, etc. However, there was some concern expressed by the witnesses that it would be broad enough to encompass communications that were immediately before or after the alleged assault, which could be highly relevant in properly determining the case. Communications that might provide some context as to what in fact took place might no longer be admissible as a result of the wording of that section. Therefore, while I support the objective of the section, and the intent of the amendment is a good one, I do have some concerns about its breadth and how it might impact the types of cases I referenced.

On the whole, Bill C-51 is a good bill, but my biggest concern is with respect to the defence disclosure requirements. The defence disclosure requirements require the defence to bring forward an application in order to admit any record relating to the complainant. That application must be brought at least 60 days before trial. What is wrong with that? There are a number of problems I see with it. First, the definition is extremely broad. The wording is “no record relating to the complainant”. To be clear about what that means and what we are talking about, it is not about a record of the complainant involving their sexual activity. That is captured in section 276 of the Criminal Code, relating to the twin myths I just spoke of.

We are not talking about records for which there would be a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as health, therapeutic or educational records involving the complainant. They are already addressed in section 278.1 of the Criminal Code. What we are talking about is any record relating to the complainant. What type of record might that encompass? It could encompass just about anything, regardless of whether there was any connection to a reasonable privacy interest on the part of a complainant. We are talking about joint records. We are talking about Crown records. We are talking about records that might have been obtained by way of a third party application. So broad is the wording of this amendment, it could arguably relate to a record of the accused to the degree that the record was a basis upon which to cross-examine a complainant and therefore would relate to the complainant.

Why is that a problem when we are talking about all these records? We should just think about that for a minute. Let us think about it from a practical standpoint. Put aside issues of trial fairness. Put aside issues of the presumption of innocence. Think about it from a practical standpoint, the mechanics of how this is going to work. From that standpoint, there are very serious concerns.

If we are talking about any records, in most cases we could be talking about thousands of records the defence counsel would have to comb through and bring an application for, and a court would have to go through each record to determine its admissibility, not, by the way, on the basis of relevance and materiality but on the basis of eight factors provided for in Bill C-51, eight factors that have not been tested and have obviously not, to date, been litigated, because the bill has not been passed.

That would create a lot of uncertainty. It would create a lot of new litigation, and it would create the potential for real delay in our already backlogged courts. That would be an issue at the best of times, but it would particularly be an issue in light of the Jordan decision, where we have cases that are being thrown out due to delay, yet here is something that is likely to have a very significant impact on adding to delays. That is just if the defence counsel brings an application 60 days before the trial.

Again, thinking about how this might play out, there might be a record that does not seem to be that relevant, that does not seem to really assist the defence or relate to needing to be tendered as evidence, but an issue might arise at trial, and suddenly that record that did not seem very significant becomes extremely significant. Then what would we have? We would have a mid-trial application, with the possibility of a mid-trial adjournment, contributing to even more delay. That would slow things down. It would create delay, but for what purpose, what objective?

There are some who say that it would be consistent with the Mills decision of the Supreme Court in that this would guard against fishing expeditions on the part of an accused against a complainant, except for the fact that we are talking about records already in the control and possession of the accused. Therefore, there would be no fishing expedition to be had, because they would already be in the control of the accused. That argument that has been put forward does not hold a lot of water.

Another argument put forward is that it would protect the privacy of a complainant. A great deal of sensitivity is required to do what is possible to protect the privacy of complainants. I wholeheartedly agree with that. There is no question that victims are victimized when they go through the assault and can be victimized again as they go through the trial and the court process. There is no question that efforts need to be made to protect victims. However, again, we are talking about any record, regardless of whether the victim had a reasonable privacy interest and regardless of the nature of the document. As long as it related to the complainant in some way, one would need to go through this process. To the degree that it would protect complainants and the privacy of complainants, it would add a lot more than that due to the very broad wording of that section. That is a concern.

While it seems to go a lot further than necessary to protect a complainant, it would potentially have very significant consequences for the ability of an accused person to advance a defence, and ultimately, for the court to fulfill its role as a proof finder. It would significantly impact upon the presumption of innocence. It would significantly impact upon an accused person's right to make full answer and defence. When we speak about the right to make full answer and defence and how important it is, I cite the Supreme Court in R. v. La, wherein the court stated, at paragraph 43:

The right to make full answer and defence is one of the pillars of criminal justice on which we heavily depend to ensure that the innocent are not convicted.

How would this provision potentially impact the ability of an accused to make full answer and defence? In one significant way, it would impede the ability of an accused person to cross-examine a complainant. When we talk about cross-examination, I quote the Supreme Court again on the important role of proper, thorough cross-examination in getting to the truth. The Supreme Court said, in the Lyttle decision, that “without significant and unwarranted restraint” it is “an indispensable ally in the search for the truth.”

Cross-examination is an important tool to guard against wrongful convictions. One might ask how this disclosure would impact upon the ability of an accused to make a full answer and defence and undertake a thorough cross-examination of a complainant. It would in one very simple way. It would create a positive disclosure requirement ahead of a trial. This bill would mark the first time in the Criminal Code that there would be a disclosure requirement for an accused person to provide to the Crown in advance of a trial, aside from a handful of narrow exceptions that have been well accepted and are not in the least bit controversial. The bill would require not only that evidence be disclosed to the Crown before a trial but that the evidence be disclosed to a complainant. Not only that, under Bill C-51, a complainant would have the right to counsel at that application. Therefore, instead of two parties at the application, the Crown and the defence, there would now be three parties, the Crown, the defence and the complainant.

Let us think about what that would mean with respect to the trial. The defence would have records in its control. It would now be tendering them and having to argue why they were relevant and should be admitted. That would provide a whole lot of insight into potential lines of cross-examination and the strategy of the defence. That could have a huge impact when it came to trial.

There is no question that the vast majority of complainants are telling the truth, but not all complainants are telling the truth. I want to emphasize again that the vast majority are, but not every single complainant is. In those rare cases when a complainant was not telling the truth, this positive disclosure requirement would open the door to tipping off someone who was not telling the truth before it got to trial to understand the defence strategy and the potential lines of cross-examination. It would certainly give someone who was not telling the truth a huge advantage going into the trial. The person could change his or her story or address perceived shortcomings in the case against the accused.

It gets even more complicated than that because of what I referred to with respect to who the parties to the application would be, because it would not just be the Crown and the defence. It would also be the complainant's lawyer. The complainant would have the right to be represented through his or her lawyer.

However, if it was, for example, just the Crown that was a party to the application, and we did have a situation where a complainant was maybe not telling the whole truth on issues around preparation leading up to that application, those questions could be asked at the trial of the complainant, but because the complainant would be represented by counsel, suddenly those questions become subject to solicitor-client privilege. Again, it is another impediment to asking questions, to cross-examining a complainant.

Make no mistake, I fully support every step that is necessary to protect complainants, having regard for the sensitivity of sexual assault and the profound toll it can have on victims. However, the issue in this particular instance is that we are talking about something that is so broad, so unwieldy, that while the intention may have been a good one, it misses the mark when it comes to fully protecting complainants all the while doing much to undermine the ability of an accused person to make full answer and defence.

When I spoke previously on Bill C-51, I quoted Madam Justice Molloy of the Ontario Superior Court, which I think bears reading into the record again. Madam Justice Molloy, in the Nyznik decision in acquitting three individuals of sexual assault, stated that:

Although the slogan ‘Believe the victim’ has become popularized of late, it has no place in a criminal trial. To approach a trial with the assumption that the complainant is telling the truth is the equivalent of imposing a presumption of guilt on the person accused of sexual assault and then placing a burden on him to prove his innocence. That is antithetical to the fundamental principles of justice enshrined in our Constitution and the values underlying our free and democratic society.

Bill C-51, with respect to the defence disclosure requirements, does not strike the right balance of protecting the victim while guarding against the potential for wrongful convictions. Therefore, I flag that issue as a serious concern that I have. However, on the whole, there are positive aspects to the bill that we are happy to support.

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December 6th, 2018 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Madam Speaker, I am not going to speculate as to whether or not a previous bill, Bill C-39, could have been passed by unanimous consent.

What I am confident in and very pleased with is that Bill C-75 includes the former Bill C-39 to remove these zombie laws that my friend has spoken about. It is contained within Bill C-75, which has passed third reading in this House and is on its way to the other place. I look forward to the debate and discussion in the other place on this important piece of criminal justice reform and to the speedy passage of Bill C-75 so that we can, in fact, remove the zombie provisions that are contained within the Criminal Code.

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December 6th, 2018 / 11 a.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, it is positive that Bill C-51 seeks to remove redundant and obsolete sections of the Criminal Code. What is unfortunate is that the government still has not been able to move forward with the removal of the so-called zombie laws, the sections of the Criminal Code that have been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The minister mentioned Bill C-75, which includes the removal of those provisions. However, the minister neglected to note that Bill C-39 was introduced all the way back in March 2017, which would have removed those sections. Why did the government not pass Bill C-39, which could have been passed unanimously in this House almost two years ago?

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December 6th, 2018 / 11 a.m.
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Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Madam Speaker, this gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the parliamentary secretary's important work on advancing our justice legislation. His questions give me the opportunity to highlight broadly what our government continues to do with respect to addressing sexual assault and gender-based violence.

We have invested significant dollars in budget 2018 to combat gender-based violence, including sexual assault. We have provided $25 million over five years for legal aid for victims of workplace sexual harassment. We and the Minister of Status of Women are embarking on a national strategy to address gender-based violence and to support judicial education and training, among other initiatives, in the Department of Justice, such as the victims fund. We continue to work with my counterparts in the provinces and territories to continue to have a fulsome response to gender-based violence.

In terms of our legislative agenda on law reform, there is a direct connection between Bill C-51 and Bill C-75, which is the criminal justice reform bill that addresses efficiencies and effectiveness, all of which are intended to ensure that we are protecting and supporting victims of crime.

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December 6th, 2018 / 11 a.m.
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Arif Virani Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the minister's comments today, especially on December 6 as we recognize the 29th anniversary of the Montreal massacre, on a bill that would address head-on gender violence, this day and everyday. I thought the minister captured the sentiment that “no” does not mean “yes”, a simple but important phrase.

I want to ask the minister two questions. One builds on the question that was posed by the NDP with respect to other efforts that have been made not just by the justice ministry but across government, to assist in addressing gender-based violence. I am thinking about the access to justice components of pro bono law in Ontario, the victims fund, as mentioned by the minister, and also our efforts to support legal aid.

Second, could the minister connect this bill to another important initiative, which is our response to the Jordan decision in Bill C-75 to clean up provisions that have been found unconstitutional? That bill would reduce backlogs and delays. How does that address our efforts to respond to Jordan?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 6th, 2018 / 10:35 a.m.
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Vancouver Granville B.C.

Liberal

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

moved:

That a Message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that the House respectfully disagrees with amendments 1 and 2 made by the Senate to 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 they are inconsistent with the Bill’s objective of codifying Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence on a narrow aspect of the law on sexual assault and instead seek to legislate a different, much more complex legal issue, without the benefit of consistent guidance from appellate courts or a broad range of stakeholder perspectives.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to stand to speak to Bill C-51, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Department of Justice Act and to make consequential amendments to another act, and to respond to the amendments from the other place in this regard. It is a particular honour for me to stand to speak to the bill on white ribbon day, which, as we heard, commemorates the massacre that occurred in Montreal 29 years ago today.

As part of my mandate commitments I have been reviewing the criminal justice system with a view to ensuring that it is meeting its objectives and maintaining public safety. My review is also intended to ensure our criminal justice system is fair, relevant, efficient and accessible, that it meets the needs of its victims, respects an accused's right to a fair trial and is better able to respond to the causes and consequences of offending.

These are broad and important objectives, so our government has approached these tasks in phases. In Bill C-39, we removed passages and repealed provisions in the Criminal Code that had been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, so that the law as written reflected the law as applied.

In Bill C-46, we significantly modernized Canada's impaired driving laws in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to provide law enforcement with the resources they need to effectively detect and prosecute impaired driving.

In Bill C-75, we seek to tackle the delays that are encumbering our courts.

Today, with Bill C-51, we continue to build on our government's commitment to reviewing the criminal justice system and to making all aspects of the criminal law fairer, clearer and more accessible to Canadians. In particular, the bill seeks to modernize the Criminal Code by repealing or amending provisions that courts have found unconstitutional or that raise unavoidable charter risk.

The bill also aims to ensure that offences in the Criminal Code continue to reflect today's society and its values. To that end the bill removes a number of obsolete or redundant criminal offences that no longer have a place in our criminal law.

Further, the bill creates amendments to the Department of Justice Act. Pursuant to these amendments, the Minister of Justice would have a statutory duty for every government bill to table in Parliament a statement that sets out the bill's potential effects on the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the charter. For every one of the bills I have tabled, I have tabled charter statements. These amendments would provide greater openness and transparency about the effects of government legislation on charter rights.

Finally, the bill seeks to clarify and strengthen the law on sexual assault in order to prevent misapplication of the law and to help make the criminal justice system fairer and more compassionate toward complainants in sexual assault matters.

The importance of these reforms cannot be overstated, and I would like to recognize and acknowledge all those who have been subject to sexual assault and gender-based violence. Sexual assault is a serious problem in Canada. It affects communities across the country and across all social and economic barriers, and it remains a significant barrier to women's equality.

Addressing violence against women is an issue of the utmost importance to me and to our government as a whole. We remain deeply committed to ensuring that our criminal justice system is responsive to the needs of sexual assault victims. To that end, we have provided significant funding for judicial education relating to sexual assault law, so that judges are better educated on this crucial area of law.

We have also made millions of dollars available through the victims fund to enhance the criminal justice system's response to sexual violence. These resources support important work such as pilot projects in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador to provide four free hours of independent legal advice to victims of sexual assault.

It is through efforts like these, as well as those contained in Bill C-51, that we are working to effect a culture shift in our criminal justice system and to foster an environment where sexual assault complainants feel empowered to come forward for justice and support.

We should be proud that Canadian laws around sexual assault are robust and comprehensive, even more so with the proposed steps set out in Bill C-51. However, we must also recognize that more work lies ahead, and we must continue to strive for further improvements. In short, we must continue to work to reduce the incidence of sexual assault in Canada and to ensure more victims feel encouraged to come forward and report their experiences to police.

To that end, Bill C-51 would make important changes to strengthen the law of sexual assault. These changes include creating a new regime governing the admissibility of evidence in the hands of an accused, where the evidence is a complainant's private record.

In addition to the strengthening the law of sexual assault, Bill C-51 would also clarify the law. It would do so by making clear that consent must be affirmatively expressed by words or actively expressed through conduct. This principle codifies the Supreme Court of Canada's 1999 Ewanchuk decision, and makes it explicit that there is no consent unless the complainant said “yes” through her words or her conduct. Passivity is not consent, and “no” does not mean “yes”.

Finally, as introduced, Bill C-51 proposes to clarify one aspect of the law pertaining to consent or capacity to consent to sexual activity by codifying the Supreme Court of Canada's 2011 decision in J.A. In J.A., the Supreme Court held that an unconscious person is not capable of providing consent to sexual activity. Therefore, the bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to state explicitly that an unconscious person is incapable of consenting, but also to clarify that a person may be incapable of consenting for reasons other than unconsciousness.

To pause for a moment, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the members of the other place for their very careful study of Bill C-51. While the other place supported most of the bill, it adopted amendments related to the determination of a complainant's incapacity to consent to sexual activity in the context of sexual assault.

By way of background, many stakeholders welcomed Bill C-51's proposed sexual assault reforms after its introduction. Some offered suggestions concerning the elaboration of the Criminal Code consent provisions to reflect J.A. In part, those witnesses argued that the J.A. decision stands for a broader proposition. They noted that the court held that our consent law requires ongoing conscious consent and that partners need to be capable of asking their partner to stop at any point.

In other words, they suggested that the bill should be amended to reflect an additional principle articulated by the Supreme Court in J.A. to the effect that consent must be contemporaneous with the sexual activity in question.

After hearing from a number of witnesses on the question, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights agreed, and amended to clarify that consent must be present at the time the sexual activity in question takes place. Our government agreed with that point, and we were happy to see that the justice committee amended Bill C-51 at that time so it would codify this broader principle in J.A. Doing so was in keeping with the objectives of the bill, including to ensure that the criminal law is clear and reflects the law as applied.

However, some stakeholders offered additional suggestions concerning our proposed codification of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in J.A. They suggested that the provision that would codify that no consent is obtained if a complainant is unconscious be entirely removed. While the House committee did not amend the legislation to this effect, the other place nonetheless proceeded to adopt amendments that would eliminate this provision.

In its stead, the other place proposed a list of factors to guide the court in determining when a complainant is incapable of consenting.

According to the proposed amendments, complainants are incapable of consenting if they are unable to: one, understand the nature, circumstances, risks and consequences of the sexual activity; two, understand they have the choice to engage in the sexual activity; or three, affirmatively express agreement to the sexual activity in words or active conduct.

I would like to be clear. I agree that courts could benefit from guidance in making determinations on a complainant's incapacity to consent when she or he is conscious. The proposed amendments underscore some very significant issues in the area of consent. I also agree that intoxication, short of unconsciousness, represents challenges in the adjudication of sexual assault cases.

For one, as Bill C-51 specifically recognizes, incapacity applies to a broad range of cases well beyond those in which intoxication is an issue. This is an important conversation that we must continue to have. It is for this reason that I plan to consult with a variety of stakeholders on this issue moving forward to determine whether further action is helpful with respect to our common goals and if so, how this might be effectively accomplished.

In taking the time we need to get this right, we recognize just how complex the law of consent is. There is no clear guidance from the Supreme Court or other appellate courts to which we can turn for an exhaustive definition of what incapacity means. In addition, because Bill C-51 proposes to legislate on a very narrow aspect of the law of consent, more detailed guidance and specific instructions on this further issue are needed from stakeholders, as well as those who would be impacted by the further changes in this area. Without this guidance, the risk of unintended consequences is very real.

Moreover, the amendments made in the other place on this issue, though very laudable in their aim, unfortunately do not assist courts in adjudicating incapacity cases. For one, the amendments focus on concerns that arise in cases where the complainant is conscious but intoxicated. As a result, our government has concerns about the potential impact of the amendments on the law governing incapacity to consent in other types of incapacity cases, including those where incapacity is due to a more stable state, such as individuals living with cognitive impairment.

I also wish to note a couple of points concerning the way the courts currently treat these issues.

First, appellate decisions show that a complainant's ability to understand that he or she has a choice to engage in sexual activity or not is determinative of incapacity. However, it is not clear from the existing case law whether the other elements proposed in the amendments are determinative of incapacity or merely factors to be taken into consideration, supported by circumstantial evidence in assessing capacity.

For example, in overturning the Al-Rawi trial decision earlier this year, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal rejected incapacity to communicate as a determinative test for incapacity to consent. As a result, courts may well have difficulty interpreting the proposed provision.

Furthermore, the amendments' proposed factors focus solely on elements that are internal to the complainant and may lead some courts to overlook relevant circumstantial evidence in the determination of incapacity. Though the complainant's subjective state is important, there is a risk that the amendments will lead courts to overlook other evidence that bears on the complainant's capacity. This was also an error of the trial court in this case, as noted by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

The amendments adopted in the other place would also prohibit drawing inferences about the complainant's capacity to consent to the sexual activity at issue from evidence of capacity to consent at the time of another sexual activity. These amendments simply restate a well-settled principle of law, which is already proposed for codification in Bill C-51. That principle is that consent must be contemporaneous with the sexual activity in question. This principle applies equally to capacity to consent. Each allegation of sexual assault must be considered on its own merits. The law is clear in this regard and the bill already proposes to codify it.

In short, the proposed changes are well-intentioned, but will not achieve their aim and, in fact, carry great risk of unintended consequences in what is a difficult yet critical area of law. Sexual assault law is too important to leave any room for error. If the definition of incapacity is to be provided, it is imperative we get it right.

If we are to alter this complex area of law in such a significant way, we must be informed by adequate analysis and debate in both chambers as well as by a broad range of stakeholder perspectives, including prosecutors from whom neither of the committees in this place or the other had the opportunity to hear. In addition, we need to consult with the defence bar, police associations and victims groups.

It is our obligation to ensure that the hundreds of sexual assault cases that are prosecuted every day in the country are not negatively affected by an amendment that has yet to be subject to full discussion and deliberation.

As I mentioned before, in order for these issues to receive the treatment they deserve and require, I will and have committed to study the issue of incapacity, with a view to striking the right balance on this important matter. I am grateful to the witnesses who appeared before the Senate committee for suggesting that this issue be the subject of further study. I look forward to consulting with them further as part of my future review.

Our government continues to work toward fostering an environment where survivors of sexual assault feel empowered to come forward and trust the system they turn to for justice and support. Consulting on and studying the issue of capacity to consent while conscious will form an integral part of that effort.

I am incredibly proud of our government's efforts to date within the area of sexual assault law. I am confident that our continued efforts will help to ensure that all victims are treated with compassion, dignity and the respect they deserve.

Bill C-51 is an important part of our work on this issue. It is also consistent with our broader efforts to ensure that our criminal law is responsible to the needs of all Canadians and that it reflects our values. Our government will continue to find ways to improve upon our criminal justice system so it keeps Canadians safe, respects victims, responds to the needs of vulnerable populations and addresses the underlying social causes of crime. I am proud of the role Bill C-51 will play in helping us to achieve these goals. I look forward to the bill's expeditious passage to ensure these important reforms are enacted without further delay.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

December 3rd, 2018 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

It being 6:30 p.m., pursuant to order made on Tuesday, November 27, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-75.

Call in the members.

The House resumed from November 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

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November 28th, 2018 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, when I made my speech on Bill C-75 at second reading, I mentioned that we were eager to work with the government to improve the bill. I am disappointed to report not enough was done to enable us to support this legislation. The government's stated goal was to reduce court delays in accordance with the Supreme Court's decision in Jordan and to continue with trial fairness imperatives. I am afraid the bill comes up short on both counts.

This was a 302-page bill so I will not be able to address in my short time the questions I wanted to. However, I would like to speak on four themes very briefly. First, the failure to address mandatory minimum penalties; second, the hybridization issues we have heard about; third, restrictions on preliminary inquiries; and fourth, the patchwork approach to agent representation. These are among the many issues we heard testimony on at the justice committee.

We heard testimony that the measures proposed would, in fact, make matters worse in many cases. I will elaborate. Most of the action in criminal justice in Canada takes place in the provincial courts, and hybridizing offences and pushing more cases onto to those courts is hardly a solution that is going to make things better.

However, I commend the government for a number of things. I commend it for deleting the routine police evidence provision that was agreed to be problematic at the committee. I am pleased we, at the committee, persuaded the government to change that odious provision. I am also pleased to have moved, along with my colleague, the hon. member for Edmonton Centre, a provision that would repeal the bawdy house provisions and vagrancy sections of the Criminal Code that have been used so often to criminalize consensual sexual activities, particularly among the LGBTQ2 community.

However, there were hundreds of amendments brought to the committee and a number of them were not accepted. For example, the New Democratic Party brought 17 amendments to committee designed to help vulnerable people impacted by our justice system. None of them were accepted by the government.

Every day there are real people who are self-represented. They cannot afford lawyers and there is not enough legal aid in this world to represent them. Who are these people? They are primarily indigenous, poor and marginalized. It is our submission that this bill simply does not do enough to address their realities.

Many of the stakeholders we consulted have told us that the key reforms in Bill C-75 are not evidenced-based at all. The stated objective of this bill is to respond to the Jordan judgment, with its mandatory time limits, yet there is considerable doubt the changes proposed would speed up the criminal justice system. Arguably, they would have the opposite effect.

The Liberals claim that this is somehow bold criminal justice reform, yet the elephant in the room is that they failed entirely to address former prime minister Harper's regime of mandatory minimum sentences, despite their political promises and public commitments to do so. Defence lawyers and legal academics agree the reversal of this practice would have been a huge step to unclogging the delays in the system, yet the Liberals failed utterly to even address the topic at all. We believe we need to deal with the root causes of the delays, things like addiction and poverty issues, which are really the root of the crime we are dealing with.

Let me start with mandatory minimums. This is one thing that would have increased compliance with Jordan and alleviated court burden from multiple charter challenges, and it is unfathomable why the Liberals ducked this issue. So many people came to our committee and talked about it. I do not have time to list them all but they included, from Barreau du Québec, Dr. Marie-Eve Sylvestre, who is a professor at the University of Ottawa, and Jonathan Rudin of Aboriginal Legal Services. I could go on and on. All of these people have spoken out about the failure to address mandatory minimums.

There are so many quotes I do not have time to address, but Jonathan Rudin, who is the program director for Aboriginal Legal Services reminded us that even the justice minister herself acknowledged the issues with mandatory minimum sentencing, saying, “This government knows that mandatory minimum sentences do not work.” She spoke eloquently on this issue on September 29, 2017, almost a year ago.

The justice minister said:

There is absolutely no doubt that MMPs have a disproportionate effect on Indigenous people, as well as other vulnerable populations. The data are clear. The increased use of MMPs over the past decade has contributed to the overrepresentation in our prison system of Indigenous people, racialized communities and female offenders. Judges are well-equipped to assess the offender before them and ensure that the punishment fits the crime.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in this bill to address that issue.

I am pleased that Senator Kim Pate has introduced Bill S-251, sponsored by my colleague, the member for Saskatoon West, which provides for judicial discretion to depart from the mandatory sentence when it would be just to do so. Then the opportunities for plea bargaining when judges have the discretion that they used to have, as all the experts have said, would go a great deal of distance to solve the issue of delays.

I do not have time to do much with the issue of hybridization. I think there has been enough said about that, and in the interests of time I will skip that.

I will say that Emilie Taman, one of the witnesses, a prominent lawyer in Ottawa, said this:

Indeed, of the 136 indictable offences that are to be reclassified as hybrid by virtue of Bill C-75, 95 are offences punishable by five or ten years. Consequently, this Bill now gives the Crown, rather than the accused, control over whether trial by jury is on the table for these 95 offences. This is problematic because the Crown’s exercise of discretion is done without transparency and is only reviewable on the very high standard of abuse of process.

In other words, we are giving the Crown counsel of the land the ability to make up their minds about which way to go in the privacy of their offices. Contrast that with judicial discretion, where in open court judges decide whether the penalty fits the crime. How different. How far we have come and how far away we are from justice. The potential for bias is real.

I believe that time will not allow me to do much more, but I am so enticed by what the hon. parliamentary secretary said about preliminary inquires that, in the interest of time, I want to address that issue head-on.

The government appears to believe that restricting preliminaries will save court time and protect vulnerable witnesses. The Canadian Bar Association, the Criminal Lawyers' Association, the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, and the Alberta Crown Attorneys' Association are among the witnesses that utterly disagree with the parliamentary secretary.

We heard considerable testimony about preliminaries actually reducing court delay. We heard extensive, compelling testimony that preliminary inquiries are a necessary tool to preserve trial fairness.

The Criminal Lawyers' Association of Ontario said:

Eliminating preliminary inquiries for all cases other than those for which a maximum period of imprisonment of life is available will not further the interests of justice or assist with the orderly and efficient administration of criminal justice. The Committee should recommend that these changes not be made.

I had a dozen quotes to give on this, but I think my favourite witness was Professor Lisa Silver of the University of Calgary's faculty of law. She said that we have to protect people from having a trial where none is necessary and that the “preliminary inquiry, at its core, exists as the legislative 'shield' between the accused and the Crown.”

She gave an example, a story which members may well remember, that of Susan Nelles, a nurse at the cardiac ward at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who was accused of murdering children. During the preliminary inquiry, they found a complete lack of evidence. The result was the charges were dropped. The result, in Professor Silver's view, was that preliminary inquiries are a vital step in ensuring due process and fair trials.

The other issue I want to talk about involves restricting agent representation. Upping the penalty for summary offences to two years less a day is going to have an adverse effect for agent representation across our country. I am talking about law students, paralegals and other agents that currently represent a large “gap population”, as they are called, in our country. There are many individuals who simply do not qualify for legal aid and are too poor to afford a lawyer.

The government has decided it is up to the provinces and territories to regulate what type of agent can represent what crime. This is not co-operative federalism; this is creating a patchwork effect to justice across Canada. Access to appropriate counsel should not depend on where people live, but now it will. We have student legal aid services, people such as Lisa Cirillo, Suzanne Johnson and Doug Ferguson, who asked the government to reverse the measure that would limit agent representation, and yet nothing appears to have been done on that point.

Let me be clear. An unrepresented accused will absolutely increase court delay and deprive that person of his or her right to a proper trial. It often forces the Crown and judges into an uncomfortable position where they must occasionally advise, assist and support the self-represented accused when this is contrary to their official role in the process.

We proposed a number of changes to increase jury representativeness. They were rejected. Professor Kent Roach talked about the shameful situation of juries, such as the failure to have any indigenous jurors on the Gerald Stanley case, and suggested, as did the Criminal Lawyers' Association that we have the ability to look at the jury and the judge given the discretion to decide whether it was representative or indeed embarrassing. That was rejected by my colleagues.

I am sorry I do not have time to say much more, but I will say this. There is a real opportunity lost. We do not do comprehensive criminal justice reform very often in our country. The Liberals brought in a 302-page bill. Some of the key issues I have addressed will only exacerbate the problem before us, making less justice and further delays. There are some things in this bill we like, but on balance we have to say, sadly, we cannot support it.