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Evidence of meeting #26 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was program.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:20 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

That was my whole point, Minister: have things in fact improved since then? Do you have the data with respect to whether there continues to be a disproportionate presence, if not increase, of aboriginal people in prison, particularly aboriginal women, and with respect to the other side of it, the under-representation of aboriginal people in law enforcement, the judicial system, and the like?

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I'll get you whatever statistical analysis of this.... I think you're quite correct that aboriginal Canadians are over-represented, and more so in a number of provinces than in other provinces.

That said, one of the reasons why I have always been a fan of the aboriginal justice strategy is that it seems to me it's a hands-on approach to try to assist individuals who get caught up in the system. One program I haven't mentioned is the court worker program, but that's another one. Getting people the kind of information and assistance they need is very important.

I mean, even in the territories, you'll remember, in the last budget we included.... A couple of new judges are from Nunavut. Again, it's to make sure that the justice system is there, if people get caught up in it, but more importantly it's to make sure that the resources are in place to assist these individuals at all levels, from the judges to the court workers and through the aboriginal justice strategy.

So we all have a stake in this. Again, whatever statistics in terms of the percentages....

But I agree with you that, regardless of whether the statistics have been updated since 2005, that's the information I have: they're over-represented in a number of provinces, particularly in western Canada. This is one of the reasons why I've been so supportive of this. When I became justice minister, I had a look at this strategy. The fact that it works, that there are statistics showing that there is less recidivism.... It's something I immediately bought into, and I've been pleased to support it over the years.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

No, I do believe the strategy works, and you did mention the recidivism. I'm also concerned about not only the reoffending and the lesser rate of recidivism, but also what we can do to prevent aboriginal people from falling into the justice system and imprisonment to begin with.

That's why I'm hoping that maybe we not only will be able to maintain the budget that has been sunsetted, but also, given the success of the program, as you indicated regarding recidivism, maybe we might be able to find an increase that will address the overall generic question of over-representation of aboriginal people in the justice system.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I appreciate your comments on that, and I thank you for your representation.

I failed to mention that from my discussions with my provincial and territorial counterparts, the increased reliance on and assistance of on-reserve policing is, they tell me, an effective way of dealing with a number of the issues. Having people who are culturally sensitive, or perhaps residents of the reserve, getting involved with law enforcement and policing is another component of this. The information and the feedback I get from that is that this is another way of sensitizing everyone to some of the challenges we face. So this has to be a part of it as well.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

The first nations policing program?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

The first nations policing program is the actual name of it. Again, it comes under Public Safety, and we work with our provincial counterparts; nonetheless it's an important component of this.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Ms. Findlay.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for being here today, Minister and officials. We appreciate it very much.

I have some questions myself on the addressing of aboriginal issues. But in listening to some of the comments, I think you may agree with me, Minister, that first nations people are often victims as well. We seem to talk a lot about first nations people who are caught up in the system due to criminal acts, but they are also victims in this country. Perhaps you could just make a comment about how we stand up for them as well as other victims.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Again, that's a very good point. This is also the other information that is conveyed to me on a regular basis, that aboriginal Canadians, and particularly aboriginal women, are over-represented as victims in this country.

You'll remember the government's strategy and allocations with respect to missing and murdered aboriginal women. This is a recognition of the fact that many times aboriginal women have become victimized. Coordinating all the different efforts to bring those who have victimized these people to justice is part of what that strategy is all about, having better communications between all levels of law enforcement in this country, and to make sure that the message gets out in terms of what has happened to some of these individuals.

We all want to see progress in this particular area, but as I say, you're quite correct that aboriginal Canadians are over-represented as victims in this country. Again, so much of the focus of what we have done as a government is directly related to protecting victims and making sure their interests are protected within the criminal justice system. So there is the victims fund and all the other programs we have in this area, and the federal ombudsman for victims of crime. All of these things assist all Canadians. But as you quite correctly pointed out, aboriginal Canadians can find themselves victims as well, so they need to be part of this.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

You mentioned the victims ombudsman. Could you just comment on that role and how that came into being?

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

It seemed to me that there were groups or individuals assigned the task of representing every possible interest in this town, but you could ask the question, what exactly is there or who was there for victims? I appreciate that at the provincial level there are a number of different individuals and offices that deal with victims rights, but it seemed to me appropriate that we have a federal ombudsman for victims of crime.

As you have intimated by your question, we instituted that a number of years ago. To have a clearing house for somebody who can deal with the issues that affect victims in this country I think is very important. The individual who takes on that responsibility has a great responsibility, and they exercise their responsibilities in raising certain issues, and certainly I've appreciated that over the years. But it's one more component, it's one more aspect, of what we are doing to make sure victims are heard.

Even in legislation as diverse as the white collar crime...we've been making it a little easier for victims to have their matter heard before the court. Increasing funding for the victims fund to assist people who become victims overseas is another aspect, to make sure that those funds are available to these individuals. These are all part of what it is we are trying to do. As you are aware, because of your role, reducing victimization is another important component of the job we face as parliamentarians.

I've made the point on a number of occasions by, for instance, getting rid of the faint hope clause. A legitimate question asked to me by a reporter was, does this mean people aren't going to commit first degree murder because they won't be eligible for possible parole after 15 years? I said again I had no idea what would possess somebody to commit a first degree murder, but I know it will reduce victimization, because the families who have been victimized by these murderers tell me they're victimized all over again. Starting at 15 years...and then of course it's not done then; it's 17 years, 19 years. They relive it over and over again.

So ours has been a comprehensive approach to assist victims in this country, everything from a federal ombudsman for victims of crime to making sure the legislation we present before Parliament takes their rights, their interests, into consideration. I've been very proud of that, and I thank you and all those who have been so supportive of that over the years.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Minister.

Madame Boivin.

March 13th, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to the witnesses for being here.

Like my colleague Mr. Harris, I find it a shame that we only have one hour. This department, after all, is an extremely important one in the lives of Canadians.

I am going to pick up on what Ms. Findlay was saying about victims. Mr. Minister, all through the study on Bill C-10, we have heard a lot about the fact that victims are not particularly well considered, either during a trial or afterwards. We heard that from the ombudsman for victims of crime. We go to considerable lengths to deal with the crimes, and so on, but the victims of the crimes are sort of left to their own devices.

Are you satisfied with the extent to which your budget will meet the needs of victims in Canada, in terms of the offences and everything else? The main estimates we are considering set aside $2.85 million for the victims of crime initiative. That amount does not seem very helpful to me.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

It's part of our comprehensive approach on different aspects, and I mentioned a number of them. I can tell you that victims groups, victims advocates, have been very supportive of what we are doing. The role of the federal ombudsman for victims of crime is to keep raising issues; there's no question about it. Every time we might bring in legislation.... I mentioned getting rid of the faint hope clause. If you're an advocate for victims rights, you're looking for other areas, and I think that's very appropriate. We have responded over the years. I touched on a couple of the different pieces of legislation we have had. We have gone a long way toward accommodating victims.

One of the examples I touched on a moment ago with my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, is the whole area of white collar crime, which has been a huge issue in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada. When we brought in that legislation, I liked the idea of having a form right in the act so that individuals who had been victimized could fill it out and have it before the court. I had people ask me legitimately if we were trying to take over provincial jurisdiction. People can sue in courts. That's accommodated by the provinces here, and we're not trying to move into that area. But it seems to me that having a more user-friendly way of individuals putting their losses before the courts was an appropriate way to act.

You may look at that and ask why that form is there. It's to make it a little easier. Victims have no connection with the criminal justice system, and that's part of being a victim. But making it easier for them to have their matter heard before a court serves everyone.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

I absolutely agree, but you have to agree that it's still not enough; there's still more to be done. If I understand correctly, now there's no federal support for criminal injuries compensation.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Criminal injuries compensation boards have been operated by the provinces across this country. Indeed, I remember as a lawyer appearing before them myself. That being said, as you know, when there have been wrongful convictions the federal government has made contributions. I agree with you in your initial statement that we have to do more, and I can promise you we'll continue to do more.

I've talked about the issue of elder abuse, for instance. That's something we talked about in the last election. We're talking about seniors becoming victimized. Should we do more about elder abuse? I'm on board with that one as well, so we'll continue.

I agree with you we have to continue to keep looking for other ways to assist victims in this country.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

I think that is important. We have heard people say that the punishment helped them recover from the event they had been the victim of. But, at the same time, restitution has to mean more than just punishing the criminal.

On another matter, legal aid, I have a hard time understanding why there is a reduction in funding of $14.42 million. After all, access to the justice system is not the easiest thing in the world at the moment. You know that as well as I do because you are a lawyer too. The bars in most provinces and territories are having difficulty making justice more accessible. So it seems to me that cutting legal aid is not necessarily the greatest idea.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Again, this is part of the ongoing budgetary process. As you may remember, sometimes I'm here on the estimates and you say, why isn't it in the main estimates?

I think the Government of Canada has an important role to play in legal aid with respect to the provinces, and particularly with respect to the territories. We have an expanded role within the territories, and it's one, certainly, that I have supported. There is support of over $108 million to the provinces that's ongoing. But again, a number of these are part of the ongoing budgetary process.

As I say, your colleague, Mr. Harris, was good enough to invite me at some future date to discuss those, and again, as always, I try to be accommodating to this committee.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Jean.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister and deputy ministers, for attending today.

Minister, you must be exhausted. I came here almost eight years ago and one of our major pillars, of course, in getting elected at that time for most of the members in the party was crime legislation. Now, after hundreds of written briefs, hundreds of hours of testimony from experts, and more than five years of attempts to try to pass this in the House, we finally have Bill C-10, an omnibus bill that speaks up for victims.

I had some Twitter feeds this morning from constituents who were very pleased with the vote last night, but they wanted to know what was next for our government in terms of standing up for victims and whether or not we're going to continue to do exactly that.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Jean, for your comments.

I don't consider it exhausting; I consider it inspirational, exhilarating, to assist and stand up for victims in this country. When I've met them over the years.... Just in the last week I had conversations with Sheldon Kennedy, the Wamback family. When I discuss this with victims who are very interested and concerned and supportive of the initiatives we have, believe me, it is exhilarating. I'm so pleased to be able to play a small part in this, and I thank you and others who have worked on these issues.

But as you quite correctly point out, we have to continue to move forward. I touched on the issue, for instance, of elder abuse. I've heard more about this, and I don't think it's just a function of the aging of Canadian society. A number of these issues are coming to public attention; perhaps people are talking about them more, perhaps there's more awareness. I know the Government of Canada puts out a number of ads, which you may have seen on television, that focus people's attention on the potential abuse of seniors in this country, so this has to be a part of it.

And this committee has dealt with the bill with respect to citizen's arrest, clarifying after almost 172 years the rules with respect to self-defence.

Some of these were long overdue, in my opinion, and I'm pleased that we're moving forward on them.

We don't rest in the Department of Justice. We continue to move forward with initiatives that better reflect the interests of victims and law-abiding Canadians, and certainly that's what we're going to continue to do.

But thank you for the question.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

In fact, the bill passed yesterday by the House has been described as one of the most important measures for victims in 100 years.

Mr. Minister, what impresses me the most out of all of this is that out of the $694 million, we are actually looking at a projected reduction of $43 million in the budgetary expenditures in this calendar year from last calendar year. So not only are we passing a tremendous amount of legislation to keep victims safe, we're also being much more efficient with our dollars and our spending of those dollars for Canadians.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

That's fair enough, and to be fair to you, don't go spending the money yet. As I indicated to your colleagues across the aisle, there are a number of important programs that, because of the funding process and cycle, are sunsetting at the end of this month. So like all Canadians, I will be looking forward to the budget presented by our colleague, the Minister of Finance.

I recognize and understand the point you're making, that we have to be very careful with the public funds. In the overall scheme of government, the Department of Justice represents a fairly small percentage of the overall expenditures in this country, but it's a very important one. It's a department that gives assistance to other areas; they find themselves in court thousands of times. On the Attorney General's side, the public prosecutor has a vital role in prosecuting drug crimes in this country. But we all have a stake in making sure the spending of the hard-earned money of Canadian taxpayers is done wisely and appropriately and conservatively.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you very much, Minister, and thank you for all your hard work and that of your officials and for protecting victims across the country.