Evidence of meeting #101 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was terms.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Carole Morency  Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Policy Sector, Department of Justice
Nathalie Drouin  Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General of Canada, Department of Justice
Johanne Bernard  Assistant Deputy Minister, Management Sector, and Chief Financial Officer, Department of Justice

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as we begin our study of the main estimates. I could read the entire agenda, but I think everyone here is perfectly capable of reading all that we're studying.

It's a great pleasure to welcome our Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould. She is joined by various officials from the Department of Justice. She is joined by Carole Morency, who is the director general and senior general counsel, criminal law policy section, policy sector; Nathalie G. Drouin, deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada; and Johanne Bernard, assistant deputy minister, management sector, and chief financial officer. Welcome.

The minister is with us until 4:30, after which officials will be open to answering questions. We'll try to get through as many questions as we can before then.

I will turn it over to the honourable minister to begin her comments.

3:30 p.m.

Vancouver Granville B.C.

Liberal

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

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you as usual to the members of the committee. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to be here before you to give some brief remarks, and then I will look to answer some questions.

As you indicated, I'm joined by Nathalie Drouin, deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada; Johanne Bernard, assistant deputy minister, management sector, and chief financial officer; and Carole Morency. Joining us as well are François Daigle, associate deputy minister; and Elizabeth Hendy, director general, programs branch. I'm also joined by representatives of a number of the independent agencies and organizations that fall within my portfolio.

I would like to discuss how the Department of Justice intends to use the funds granted through the 2018-19 main estimates to promote and maintain a fair, transparent, and accessible justice system while providing high-quality legal services to the federal government. These include a wide range of legal advisory litigation and legislative services to government departments and agencies.

The Department of Justice has a total budgetary authority of $697.75 million through the 2018-19 main estimates, an increase of $42 million from the previous fiscal year. This additional funding is for major priorities, including federal support to the family justice system, immigration and refugee legal aid, and the indigenous justice program, among others.

Much of this year's authority will support the stewardship of the Canadian legal framework by directing funding to the provinces and territories with whom we share responsibility to administer justice.

The funding will help maintain and support a bilingual and bijural national legal framework. Funding through the main estimates will also support the department's ability to transform and modernize the justice system in keeping with the values of Canadians while protecting and maintaining the rights enshrined in the Constitution and in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Our review of the criminal justice system is ongoing. It is intended to ensure that our criminal laws protect Canadians, hold offenders to account, meet the highest standards of fairness and equity, respect the charter, and demonstrate the utmost compassion to victims. These efforts will help strengthen public confidence in the justice system and judicial institutions. Our review, along with results of other consultations and government priorities, is already informing initiatives and reforms that we are introducing to modernize the criminal justice system.

In March, I introduced Bill C-75 to help reduce court delays and to address the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations as both victims and accused in the criminal justice system. We anticipate the bill will come to this committee shortly.

In Bill C-75 we are proposing amendments to the bail regime and to how breaches of administration of justice offences are handled. In particular, these changes will help eliminate the unnecessary detention of individuals pending trial, will help eliminate unnecessary bail conditions, and will ensure that fewer people are needlessly charged and convicted of minor administrative offences that do not impact public safety.

These measures will have a particularly positive impact on indigenous and marginalized Canadians who are disproportionately represented in our remand population, and who are disproportionately charged and convicted of administration of justice offences.

We are encouraging the selection of juries that better reflect the diversity of our communities, and we are bringing in stronger measures to address the problem of intimate partner violence. We are also proposing measures that will avoid re-traumatizing victims by reducing the number of inquiries and issues for which they have to testify.

In addition, Bill C-75 will reclassify many offences in the Criminal Code to give our prosecutors the discretion they need to choose the most efficient and appropriate procedure.

Our government has also launched measures to better support indigenous people and vulnerable persons as they navigate the criminal justice system. We continue to fund the indigenous court work program with $9.5 million annually. Integrating indigenous culture, language, and traditions, these court workers provide direct services before, during, and after court. They also provide courts with crucial information to guide sentencing and bail decisions while connecting victims, witnesses, and family members to culturally safe assistance. In 2016-17, over 75,000 indigenous men, women, and young people in over 435 communities received these services.

We have stabilized funding to the indigenous justice program, with over $11 million per year ongoing, to increase the use of restorative justice and reduce the rate of indigenous incarceration.

Since 2015-16, we have continually increased our funding to the department's legal aid program to fund provincial and territorial criminal legal aid programs. This helps economically disadvantaged persons at risk of incarceration, and youth facing prosecution under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The department's youth justice fund supports projects with alternatives to incarceration, and encourages a more effective youth justice system. That includes just over $6.5 million towards 16 multi-year projects that focus on culturally relevant programming for indigenous youth in the criminal justice system.

We have also increased funding to immigration and refugee legal aid by over $14 million, with an additional $3 million in contribution funding for legal aid systems and access to justice services.

Mr. Chair, our government is committed to ensuring that victims of sexual assault and gender-based violence are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. The Department of Justice victims fund provides $27.4 million in grants and contributions, supporting 476 projects across Canada. This funding supports research, innovative pilot projects, and front-line services for victims and survivors of crime across Canada.

In 2017-18, more than 100 victims of human trafficking received case management and related services, and more than 450 women and girls at risk received information about services and assistance.

In budget 2017, our government introduced its gender-based violence strategy and over $100 million over five years. Budget 2018 contributed an additional $86 million over five years, and $20 million annually thereafter, to expand on the strategy, with my department as a key contributor.

Budget 2018 proposed $50.4 million over five years to address sexual harassment in the workplace, $25.4 million for boosting legal support funding across the country to support legal action by victims, and $25 million for outreach.

We have continued our efforts to promote and maintain a more diverse judiciary. Since 2015, I have made 179 appointments and elevations. Of these appointees, over half are women, eight are indigenous, 15 are visible minorities, 11 identify as LGBTQ2, and three are persons with a disability. We continue to fund the necessary training for a more culturally sensitive and responsive bench, as well.

Finally, last month I introduced Bill C-78, the first changes to the Divorce Act in more than 20 years. The proposed reforms will ensure that our family law system is focused on the best interest of the child, better supports the safety and well-being of individuals and families, and is more efficient.

Our commitment to improving family justice includes budget 2018 funding of $77.2 million over four years and a further $20.8 million ongoing to expand the unified family courts across the country. This measure will create 39 new judicial positions across a number of provinces, while enhancing access to justice and improving outcomes for families and individuals.

Again, Mr. Chair, I would certainly like to thank the members of this committee for their ongoing work, and I look forward to our discussions today.

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much, Minister Wilson-Raybould.

Colleagues, the minister is with us until 4:30. If we keep to our times, we should get two rounds of questions in.

We're going to start with Mr. Nicholson.

June 5th, 2018 / 3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Thank you very much, and thank you, Minister.

Your last comment was one of the first things I was going to ask about, with respect to the unified family court. Have you had any uptake or feedback from the provinces with respect to this? Generally this would have to be a consolidation of the courts in a particular area. What have you heard from them so far?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I appreciate the question. We were very pleased to have the ability to expand unified family courts in budget 2018.

Leading up to budget 2018, and by virtue of the fact that it was in my mandate letter from the Prime Minister, we have been engaged with the provinces and territories on an ongoing basis, and we are pleased to say that there has been substantial feedback from the provinces, in particular from Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador, all of whom are more than anxious and pleased to participate in the unified family courts.

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I'm sure it will be well received.

You talked about Bill C-75. You were quoted as saying that hybridizing these offences will not make them less serious or subject to lower sentences.

You may have heard your colleague Ralph Goodale today in question period. He said that with respect to impaired driving, your government, and indeed our government, has the toughest laws in the world, I think he said, in terms of that.

If this is hybridized, and somebody is convicted of impaired driving causing bodily harm, there will now be the option under Bill C-75 of having that as a summary conviction offence, with a penalty of 18 months, or even a fine, I believe. Do you not think that is actually lessening the penalties with respect to impaired driving causing bodily harm?

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I did hear the Minister of Public Safety speak in the House today. I believe what he was referencing is that, with the passage of Bill C-46, we will be among the countries with the toughest impaired driving laws in the world. I'm very hopeful that this bill is going to proceed through the other place.

In terms of the hybridization of offences, we've had the opportunity to have these discussions in a number of different forums. What we are doing with respect to the hybridization of offences is giving prosecutors the necessary discretion, as the member knows very well, to proceed by way of summary conviction or indictment, and this does not in any way touch on the sentencing, the fundamental principles of sentencing. This is, again, to provide the discretion to prosecutors to proceed in either fashion, recognizing that proceeding by way of summary offences, where the situation merits, will contribute to quicker processing or moving through the courts to address delays, in the comprehensive package that we've put in place with respect to Bill C-75.

I will say that, with respect to the impaired driving offence that Mr. Nicholson raises, the hybridization of that particular offence was something that was contained within Bill C-226 by his colleague Steven Blaney. This was something that was in that particular piece of legislation, as was something I'm very proud of that is contained within Bill C-46, mandatory alcohol screening.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

That being said, you said that with the passage of Bill C-46, we'll have the toughest sentencing regime with respect to impaired driving. Do you not think there's anything inconsistent with the possibility that part of the penalty could be a summary conviction? In terms of the toughest sentences in the world, I'll be very interested and we'll have a lot of witnesses who come forward. I'd be fascinated to hear if this is the case in any other jurisdiction.

Do you know of any other jurisdiction, particularly in the common law, where you could be convicted of impaired driving causing bodily harm and you might be subject to a penalty as low as a fine?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I was just looking over at Carole Morency. I do not know at this point about other jurisdictions. I'm happy to find out and answer that question for the member afterwards.

However, in terms of the hybridization and how a prosecutor would proceed, it would be based on the facts of each individual case and what would be necessary and appropriate given the gravity of the offence.

We'll follow up in terms of the answer, but we certainly will, in continuing to work with the provinces and territories and continuing our overarching review of the criminal justice system, ensure that the four measures that are contained within Bill C-75 will be monitored, will be further considered as we continue to work in a collaborative fashion with other jurisdictions.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

We're going into the summer break, as you know, and I remember that at the last summer break, one of the sections in the bill that was introduced into Parliament was removing section 176, the section that protects religious services and members of the clergy. While there was some discussion just before the break, one of the things that I heard from colleagues and others is that a huge number of emails were sent and contacts were made with members of the government and with the Department of Justice.

Are you starting to hear any push-back already on the impaired driving section and the hybridization of that particular offence? Are you starting to hear that, or is that something we might hear over the course of the summer?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

In terms of the impaired driving offences?

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Yes, are you getting some push-back on this or lots of inquiries?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I can't think of a specific push-back that we've been getting, but as you know, we receive a substantial amount of correspondence in our office, and we'll continue to follow all the feedback and concerns around this.

We have received very public support from Mothers Against Drunk Driving—

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Are they supportive of the hybridization of this section?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Yes, they're supportive of the contents of Bill C-46 and the various provisions it contains.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Have they taken a position on Bill C-75?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I don't believe we've heard specifics on the hybridization of offences in Bill C-75. I would look to Carole.

3:45 p.m.

Carole Morency Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Policy Sector, Department of Justice

Just to clarify, Bill C-46 proposes to hybridize what is currently a straight indictable offence of impaired driving causing bodily harm.

Bill C-75 proposes a consequential amendment, because Bill C-75 is proposing to hybridize a number of offences and in doing so it's using a particular approach and wording, so the only consequential relationship between Bill C-75 and Bill C-46 is that the wording that's proposed to be adopted as part of the broader package in C-75 would be reflected in the impaired driving causing bodily harm hybridization as well.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

You have no more time.

Mr. McKinnon.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Minister and officials, for being here once again.

Minister, the 2018-19 departmental plan notes that the department will be advancing work in various priority areas, including HIV non-disclosure. Can you provide the committee with details about this departmental priority?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

HIV non-disclosure is a public health issue. We are working very diligently with our partners within Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and provinces and territories to do as much as we can to reduce the stigma and discrimination. To that end we were very pleased on World AIDS Day last year to release a report we had compiled that engaged many stakeholders, many different jurisdictions, about how we can proceed to address this particular issue and not to overly criminalize HIV non-disclosure but make decisions based on evidence.

We've received a substantial amount of feedback, as I said, contained within the report, and we are going to continue to ensure that we work with stakeholders, with the provinces and territories, on how we can proceed perhaps looking at guidelines for prosecutors. I know the Province of Ontario has taken steps in this regard, and we applaud them for their work, but just to underscore, we are continuing to work on this important issue, and we'll continue to work on it with our colleagues in the provinces and territories.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Do you think this would require amendments to legislation, and if so, when might such legislation be brought before the House?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

In terms of the HIV non-disclosure? There are options. We released the report last year that speaks to the potential of working with our counterparts to release guidelines to prosecutors. No decision has been made on how we can proceed. As I said, the Province of Ontario has taken some steps. We're certainly continuing to look at this and working with Health Canada and others to take an approach to HIV non-disclosure that doesn't overly criminalize individuals, that takes a public health approach to ensure we are reducing the stigma around HIV and tackling it in what they call the 90-90-90 approach.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Thank you.

In a bit of a change of pace, we'll move to court challenges. As you may recall, our committee did a study on the court challenges program and made recommendations. The 2018-19 departmental plan again notes that the Department of Justice will support the Department of Canadian Heritage “to restore a modern Court Challenges program to enable Canadians to bring before the courts cases of national significance related to constitutional and quasi-constitutional matters...”.

In September 2017 the government announced that the University of Ottawa had been selected to implement and administer the new program. According to the Department of Canadian Heritage, “Decisions regarding CCP funding will be rendered by two independent expert panels: an Official Language Rights Expert Panel and a Human Rights Expert Panel.” It says that the members of the panels are to be identified through a “transparent” process. Have the members of the expert panels been identified at this point?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

You have described the status of the court challenges program. Of course, in support of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, I was incredibly pleased on February 7 of last year to reinstate the court challenges program.

As far as I understand it, this would be a question for the Minister of Canadian Heritage. I do not believe that those individuals have been identified. What I do know is that work is ongoing to move to be able to identify those individuals and ensure that the court challenges program is up and running as soon as possible.