Thank you, Mr. Chair and colleagues.
I'm pleased to be with you this morning to answer questions regarding the items in supplementary estimates (B).
Mr. Chairman, as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, I'm tasked with helping to ensure that our justice system continues to meet the needs of Canadians and that it can remain relevant, fair, and accessible.
Our government has been moving forward on several priority areas in criminal justice, in particular, so that Canadians can continue to be proud of our justice system and have confidence in its operation. We have toughened penalties against offenders, such as drug dealers, criminals who use firearms, and sexual predators who prey on children, the most vulnerable of our society.
We have also implemented measures to keep dangerous and violent offenders behind bars rather than under house arrest, and eliminated the practice of double time reduction in the sentencing of criminals for time served before trials, so-called sentence discounts.
Mr. Chair, this summer I also embarked on a series of consultations across the country, during which time I listened to Canadians from every province and territory speak about how the justice system could better serve victims of crime and what they would like to see in a federal victims bill of rights, which will be introduced in the coming days.
As we have discovered, unfortunately, victims in the justice system very often feel that they are being re-victimized by the system itself. They feel that the system is failing them and doesn't meet their needs, and we need to reverse that trend. Since 2006, our government has allocated more than $120 million specifically to victims, to give them a more effective voice in both our justice and correctional systems, through program initiatives delivered by the Department of Justice. This includes funding for new or enhanced child advocacy centres. I encourage all colleagues, if you have an opportunity, to visit a child advocacy centre in your region. They're doing amazing, compassionate work to help ease the trauma of a child caught up in the justice system. The centres help coordinate investigation, prosecution, and the treatment of child abuse, while helping abused children in a very important way.
We also need to continue to address victims' needs in other areas. I believe we have learned a great deal and we could help inform the legislation that our government intends to introduce, as I mentioned, to entrench the rights of victims into federal law.
Mr. Chair, another issue we have to tackle is cyberbullying, and we've taken steps in that direction as recently as yesterday. We have, unfortunately, seen that cyberbullying in its worst form can be life-threatening. We need a range of education, awareness, prevention, and enforcement activities to combat this scourge, including a stronger justice system response, and we intend to provide one. Governments at all levels have expedited a review of federal, provincial, and territorial law surrounding this issue, and I look forward to working with all of you to ensure that Bill C-13 is an effective criminal justice response that we can all support and move forward in an expedited way.
Chairman, colleagues, Canadians expect their justice system to keep them safe, first and foremost. Our government understands this expectation and is committed to protecting Canadians from individuals who pose a high risk to public safety. To that end, our government is introducing legislation to help protect Canadians from an accused who suffers from a mental disorder.
Our government has already introduced legislation to help protect Canadians from mentally disordered accused persons who have been found to be not criminally responsible and who pose a high risk to public safety. Our legislation will ensure that the safety of the public is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process.
There have been a number of misconceptions surrounding the intent of our legislation. I can assuredly tell members of this committee that we have no intention of increasing the negative stigma attached to those who suffer from a mental illness.
In fact, Mr. Chair, if I could pause here for a moment, the intention is in fact to designate those who are deemed high risk and to separate them from the rest who would have been given the designation of not criminally responsible. I believe if this is done properly, it will in fact reduce the stigma.
So, Mr. Chair, the Bill C-14, the not criminally responsible reform act, will only touch upon a small percentage of accused deemed high risk. In fact, those deemed within the entire criminal justice system not criminally responsible amount to less than 1%.
This effort will limit access for those high-risk accused in terms of escorted passes from mental health institutions. Again, for emphasis, this is what we're talking about: secure mental health facilities, not our classic jail system. This will be done in a way that will provide flexibility to provincial and territorial review boards tasked with reviewing these cases by giving them the option to extend reviews from the current two years up to a maximum of three years.
Our government also wants to ensure that our children are better protected against sexual exploitation.
Mr. Chair, we'll be introducing legislation soon that deals with the range of sexual offences, including child pornography, while ensuring that offenders receive tougher sentences when convicted of such offences.
Our government has always been committed to ensuring the integrity of our criminal justice system. We reiterated that commitment with the Speech from the Throne.
The items that the justice system has submitted to be tabled under supplementary estimates (B) for consideration today will further our work towards protecting Canadians and ensuring safer streets and communities, a goal we all share.
Chair, you will note that the Department of Justice's net increase is $10.94 million, including $996,000 in vote 1, and $9.8 million in vote 5.
One major area of expenditure is the renewal of the funding for the aboriginal justice strategy for fiscal year 2013-14. The aboriginal justice strategy is federally led and is an initiative that is cost-shared with the provinces and territories and supports community-based justice programs that help address the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in our criminal justice system. It provides funding to approximately 275 communities. It's a community-based program that reaches more than 800 aboriginal communities in all jurisdictions.
Chair, this is also an adjustment of $320,000 from the Department of Foreign Affairs after our Department of Justice eliminated a position in the Canadian embassy in Paris under the deficit reduction action plan.
In supplementary estimates (B) you should also note this is to indicate a reduction in vote 1 of approximately $374,000, which represents a reduction in travel costs by the department.
The estimates also include an overall reduction of $7,000, as a result of the creation of Shared Services Canada, which is in part related to eliminating the Justice position I mentioned in Paris.
To conclude, I want to thank all committee members for your diligence in examination of these figures and the estimates. I thank you for the important work that you do. I look forward to working with you on a number of very important initiatives that are making their way through this committee during the fall and into the new year.
The funding that the justice portfolio has received has brought results for Canadians. I assure you I'll do my utmost to ensure that these funds will continue to be spent wisely.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank you, and I look forward to your questions.