Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to address the House on Bill C-42, an act to amend the Judges Act and to make consequential amendments to another act.
Hon. members are aware that crimes of indescribable brutality have been perpetrated on tens of thousands of people in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. A Canadian judge, Madam Justice Louise Arbour of the Ontario Court of Appeal has been requested by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to serve as chief prosecutor of the UN International Commission on War Crimes for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
The appointment of Madam Justice Arbour to this very important and prestigious international position is without doubt a great honour to Canada. A necessary condition imposed by the United Nations for Madam Justice Arbour to take up this appointment is that her salary and expenses are to be paid by the United Nations during the period in which she will be serving as the chief prosecutor. This requirement relates to the UN's own requirements for the independence of its chief prosecutor and it would require Madam Justice Arbour to take leave without pay from the Ontario Court of Appeal and to receive a salary from the United Nations.
There is no provision in the Judges Act as it is currently constituted for a federally appointed judge to be granted leave of absence without pay to work for an international organization such as the United Nations. Nor does the act permit the salary and expenses of a judge during the period of leave to be paid by any organization or entity other than the Government of Canada. The amendments contained in Bill C-42, which have the full support of the Canadian Judicial Council, would permit this type of arrangement to be entered into by Madam Justice Arbour, and should another appropriate occasion arise, by other Canadian judges.
This bill makes other minor amendments. The bill transfers from cabinet to chief justices the authority to approve judicial leaves of absence of up to six months. This recommendation was made by the 1992 Triennial Commission on Judges' Salaries and Benefits and is endorsed by the Canadian Judicial Council. It allows a judge to request maternity or parental leave without having to seek cabinet approval.
Bill C-42 also recognizes the importance of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada by including the chief justice of that court on the membership of the Canadian Judicial Council. The requirements of the chief justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court arising out of the representational duties and functions that are inherent to that officer are also reflected in the bill which authorizes the payment of a modest representational allowance of up to $5,000 per year to the head of that court. The chief justices of the Courts of Appeal of the Yukon and Northwest Territories are being granted similar representational allowances.
Bill C-42 would also permit the appointment of up to three judges Canada wide to the provincial courts of appeal which have been experiencing increasing workloads and backlogs over the past number of years.
Finally, the bill corrects some technical errors and clarifies some ambiguous language in the Judges Act.
Bill C-42 is a modest legislative measure but at the same time a significant one because it will permit a Canadian judge to respond to a request by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to take on an international assignment of the utmost importance to the world at large.
I would respectfully urge all hon. members to approve the quick passage of amendments to the Judges Act.