Evidence of meeting #103 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 offences.

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

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Minister, for being here, and thanks to your officials.

I would like to focus my questions on the significant issue of delays. In your opening remarks, you highlighted how important it is to you that we improve efficiencies in the system and that we reduce delays. Could you tell us, given that you have more time now, what specific aspects of this bill will assist in that endeavour?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I have more time now: I like that.

I really appreciate the question. I know that this is the objective that all of us are seeking to address, to answer the call by the Supreme Court of Canada that there be a culture shift in addressing delays and to ensure that we do everything we can to provide an accused person with the ability to come to trial in a reasonable time so that cases aren't stayed. The latter is not the objective of anybody. Our review of the criminal justice system sought to ensure public safety, to show compassion for victims, and to hold offenders to account.

In that capacity, and based on the instructions I received from the Prime Minister, working with my colleagues in the provinces and territories and doing extensive consultations across the country, we came to the reforms that are being put forward in Bill C-75 to address bail reforms; streamline the process with respect to bail; to look at the administration of justice offences, which are a significant cause of delay in the justice system; to look at the reclassification of offences to enable prosecutors to make determinations on how to proceed; to look at preliminary inquiries, which, like the other issues, was strongly advocated by provinces and territories for reform; and to look at judicial case management and other efficiencies that have been articulated in Bill C-75.

It's a very detailed bill, as has been said. There are a lot of aspects and technical provisions contained within it, but cumulatively, this piece of legislation will—in my mind, and I'm confident about this—address delays in the criminal justice system, along with other initiatives that our government has put forward and continues to do.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Thank you.

Second, in the Jordan decision, as you know, it was emphasized that all of the various actors in our systems are supposed to assist to make sure that we do not have delays in the system. Therefore, I was heartened to see in the news release that there was talk about how some collaboration has taken place between your officials and provincial and territorial officials.

To ensure that this proceeds in a standardized fashion, will there be any assistance from the government to the provinces and territories?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

In terms of financial assistance?

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Financial or otherwise.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I would say that in terms of our collaboration, my colleagues and I in the federal government will continue that collaborative approach with the provinces and territories. We have regular meetings among all of us to assess and reassess what we can do better and what we can do to address issues that are a challenge for, as you say, all actors in the criminal justice system, from prosecutors to defence counsel to judges.

Again, the menu of bold reforms we've put in place with Bill C-75 have come at the request of many of those provinces and territories. Last September we got to a place where we could issue a joint press release on the need to ensure that these bold reforms move, and that we continue to work together. We'll definitely continue to do that.

In terms of resources, we always have conversations about the necessary resources. Provinces and territories have expressed to me and, I certainly suspect, to my officials that a lot of these changes and reforms proposed in Bill C-75 will assist with the efficiencies and resources necessary in the criminal justice system. That's an ongoing conversation that we will have.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ali Ehsassi Liberal Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Minister.

Now, I'd like to give my remaining time to—

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

You don't have any remaining time.

I'm sorry. There are essentially five slots left for the rest of the round. The only way we're going to be able to get these in while the minister is still here is to make them three-minute slots. I'm going to suggest to my colleagues that everybody will get a three-minute slot going forward.

Mr. Boissonnault, go ahead for your slot.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Minister, as you know, section 159 has been on the books in the Criminal Code for a long time, and it's an issue that the LGBTQ community has been asking to have removed from statutes for decades.

I'm wondering if you can tell us why it matters to you as Minister of Justice and why our government is taking steps to make sure that this discriminatory provision is removed from the Criminal Code.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

As the member knows, the removal of section 159 by Bill C-75 is something that has been long-standing since we introduced Bill C-39 to ensure that we do some charter cleanup.

Section 159 in the Criminal Code has been rendered unconstitutional. It is discriminatory. Our government is committed to ensuring the rights of all Canadians and equality for all Canadians.

Another example would be the introduction and passage of Bill C-16, which you're very familiar with, with regard to gender identity and expression. It's an ongoing commitment to ensure the human rights and equality of all individuals.

June 19th, 2018 / 4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you, Minister, and thank you for your work along with Minister Goodale on Bill C-66, which we hope to see get royal assent later this week.

I want to thank you for your leadership in getting section 159 to this point so that it can come out of the Criminal Code. It means a lot to the LGBTQ community. As special adviser to the Prime Minister on LGBTQ issues, I thank you for your work on behalf of the community and on behalf of our government.

I sit on indigenous caucus on the government side, and we are interested, and I am particularly interested, in how the provisions in Bill C-75 are going to help make lives better for indigenous Canadians, reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in our criminal justice system, and see a criminal justice system that is fair and that sees people for who they are and the experiences with which they come to the criminal justice system.

If you could comment on that, I'd be grateful.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Thank you for the question and the work that you and all members do to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system.

As I noted earlier, this is a prime objective of the reforms we're proposing with respect to bail and administration of justice offences. For one thing, these offences have a greater impact on indigenous Canadians and other marginalized Canadians, and we're also looking at making reforms that will ensure that law enforcement officers and the courts have regard for the individual circumstances of the individual before them.

There are a number of other measures that our government is moving on and proposing around transforming the justice system with respect to restorative justice and other measures that seek to rehabilitate and to address prevention. These will assist in addressing the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples in the justice system.

Do we have more work to do? We absolutely do, and we need to ensure that we're taking a whole-of-government approach that looks at health, housing, education, and the ongoing reality of the colonial legacy.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you so much.

Mr. Cooper.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Madam Minister.

No one disagrees with the fact that Bill C-75 does not change sentencing principles, but it clearly waters down sentences, going from a 10-year maximum to a two-years-less-a-day maximum if prosecuted by way of summary conviction. That is clear. That is the issue, and that is what is so concerning when we're talking about offences such as impaired driving causing bodily harm, kidnapping a minor, arson for fraudulent purposes, and I could go on.

I want to ask you, Madam Minister, about some of the choices that were made in terms of listing, through Bill C-75, offences as hybrid offences.

Can you explain, for example, why you have decided to leave subsection 249(3), dangerous operation of a vehicle causing bodily harm, an indictable offence while making impaired driving causing bodily harm a hybrid offence?

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Maybe I can address the initial comments you made. You stated that this is going to water down sentences. I would entirely disagree with that statement.

You stated up front that this is not impacting sentencing principles; I would say that it's not impacting or watering down sentences that will come from the passage of this legislation. Prosecutors will have the discretion, based on the circumstances in the cases before them, to decide how to proceed, whether that's by way of summary conviction or by indictment.

This is not going to say that the sentence is not going to match the facts. I have confidence in the prosecutors in terms of making that decision and, ultimately, it will be a judge who decides and determines what the appropriate sentence will be.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Minister, again, I've asked you a specific question, and that is to explain why, for example, dangerous operation of a vehicle causing bodily harm is an indictable offence while Bill C-75 waters down sentencing for impaired driving causing bodily harm, thus making that a hybrid offence among other offences that are being turned into hybrid offences, whereas other offences that are very similar remain indictable offences.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I'll ask Carole to go through the process with respect to the specific events that the member raises.

4:50 p.m.

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

In response to the question, the approach in Bill C-75 is to come at it from a procedural perspective, and it's looking at offences that are straight indictable now—10, five, and two years, as the minister has responded.

Perhaps implicit in the question is that the name of the offence suggests that it is only capable of being committed in one way and in the most serious way. I think that as the minister said in her opening remarks, offences recognized with the penalty structure recognize that an offence can be committed in a variety of ways, and it can range from less serious—the gravity can be less—to the more serious on the scale.

That's the approach that Bill C-75 has taken: to provide a procedural option to crowns in appropriate cases to seek to move in a more simple, expeditious way for cases that, based on existing case law, based on the circumstances of the case before the court, will dictate that it's more likely that case is going to get a sentence at that lower end of the spectrum for sentencing. It is not to suggest that the existing case law that says that a serious case that in similar circumstances should attract a penalty of eight years on a maximum of 10 should still attract a penalty of eight years if it's appropriate and proportionate to other cases in similar situations.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Mr. Fraser.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Colin Fraser Liberal West Nova, NS

Thanks very much. I'll make a brief comment and then pass the rest of my time to Ms. Khalid.

I think this is a really important point to pick up on regarding hybrid offences. There are a lot of hybrid offences in the code now. The crowns use their discretion every day to make a decision about whether to elect to proceed summarily or by way of indictment.

Unfortunately, I think there is misinformation out there about the fact that this is something new, that summary offences are a way to basically get off with just a fine. I want to put to rest that notion, because it's mis-characterizing the good work that crowns do every day in using their discretion to make these elections. I note that there are plenty of hybrid offences on things that can range in seriousness, such as sexual assault. It's really important that we use precise language when we're talking about the work that the crowns do to not mislead people into thinking that this is an option that the accused has to make.

I would now like to give my time to Ms. Khalid for her question.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Iqra Khalid Liberal Mississauga—Erin Mills, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Fraser.

Thank you so much, Minister, for your time and for coming in today.

I have a question about intimate partner violence. The law and the judiciary have really been pushing the needle forward on this in cases such as Ewanchuk, where the defence of implied consent was rejected, and Lavallee, where the battered woman syndrome was recognized officially, and now we have legislation.

Can you please explain how Bill C-75 will move forward progress on intimate partner violence? Second, we know the judiciary plays a huge role in this as well, in sensitivity and understanding gender diversity. For the record, can you also explain what is the percentage of women on our benches and how we are moving that forward as well?

Thank you.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Those are two really important questions, and I'll take the latter first.

In terms of the judiciary, I'm incredibly pleased to have a new judicial appointments process that has resulted in more women than men being appointed to the bench, overall, as superior court justices across the country. The number is in the range of 38% now being women. The number might be a little bit higher. I'll get the exact percentage for the committee, but the number is continuing to increase based on the judicial appointments that we've been able to make over the course of two years, which will have an impact in ensuring that the bench represents the diversity of the country.

In terms of measures—and I'll go quickly, Mr. Chair—of intimate partner violence, there are a number of measures, really important ones, that we're proposing to strengthen our response to intimate partner violence.

Around bail, there's imposing a reverse onus. At bail, we are seeking to require the courts to consider whether an accused is charged with intimate partner violence when determining whether to release that accused person. We're clarifying that strangulation and choking are elevated forms of assault. We are further, as I said in my opening remarks, defining what an intimate partner is to include former spouses, common-law partners, and dating partners. We're clarifying the current sentencing provisions and we're allowing for the possibility of seeking a higher maximum penalty in cases involving repeat intimate partner offenders.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

You did indeed do that quickly. Thank you so much.

Mr. MacKenzie.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Thank you to the minister.

Minister, there are some changes proposed that would allow for remote audio or video conferencing to be added to the code. I'm wondering if you could explain how the rights of the accused to cross-examine the witnesses can be safeguarded and how the whole process would work.

In particular, I think we have many courtrooms that are not equipped with video conferencing capabilities. It's probably fine in large urban areas, but in many parts of the country I'm not sure how you intend that to roll out.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

I think it's an important question.

We're looking at including measures to enhance the ability of remote appearances, recognizing—as you quite rightly point out—that the technology is not necessarily there in all jurisdictions. That's something that we continue to have conversations about with my counterparts in the provinces and territories.

With respect to remote appearances enabling and allowing the accused to appear remotely, that certainly doesn't take away from the ability to cross-examine an accused person. Permitting participants to proceed by way of remote appearances, as well as potentially judges in particular circumstances, none of these measures are intended to take away from the ability to cross-examine an accused in an appropriate manner. The intent behind these proposed changes is to assist in alleviating delays due to travel and the necessity to continue to delay if someone's not available and outside of the location.