Mr. Speaker, the Judges Act we are being urged to amend through Bill C-42 is based on sections 96 and 100 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which provided that the Canadian Parliament could create a general court of appeal for Canada, as well as appoint and pay superior court judges in every province.
This law sets out the working conditions applying to the judges of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court, the Tax Court of Canada, the appeal courts and the superior courts in each of the provinces. This law is like a collective agreement for federally appointed judges. It also establishes the Canadian Judicial Council, whose mandate is to make superior jurisdictions and the Canadian tax commission work better.
Through this law, the legislative power exerts obvious control over the judiciary. It is the legislative power that decides how much judges should be paid, what pension and other benefits they should receive, how much leave they can take, and what activities they can participate in.
We are being called on today to review some of the working conditions of federally appointed judges.
Of course, this does not give the government any right to interfere in the judicial process as it has recently, unfortunately, by threatening the Chief Justice of the Federal Court himself to take away all files relating to war criminals and handing them over to the Supreme Court of Canada if the proceedings were not conducted more expeditiously.
Judges appointed by the federal government must be able to perform their duties as their conscience dictates. In order to be independent, they need working relations where the executive branch does not have them over the barrel.
Let us take a look at the main amendments. The existing legislation allows the provinces to create seven positions as judges in addition to the number prescribed by law for each province as well as for the Yukon and the territories. The proposed change to the applicable provision would introduce a degree of flexibility by giving the provinces the power to appoint more judges.
The purpose of the bill is to increase the number of additional judges from seven to ten. The provinces will be able to avail themselves of this provision as required. It seems reasonable to us,
given that how fast cases go to trial and how much work each judge has to do is dependent on the number of judges.
Several amendments are simply designed to clarify the wording of certain sections without changing the scope of the legislation. Let me give you an example. Subsection 27(2) of the existing legislation states that each judge of the Yukon Territory and of the Northwest Territories "who is in receipt of a salary under section 22" shall be paid an allowance, while in the amendment, reference is made to the act instead of to section 22 specifically.
This amendment was necessary because additional judges are not paid under section 22, but under sections 28 and 29. As you can see, we are really talking about technical details. However, it was clearly not the legislator's intention to deprive additional judges of this isolation allowance.
A new paragraph provides that, from now on, only a leave of absence of more than six months will require the approval of the governor in council. Currently, a leave of absence of more than one month requires the authorization of the government. This provision gives more independence to the courts vis-à-vis the executive power.
In light of the fact that an assistant deputy minister recently interfered with the judicial process by contacting the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, we understand the need to ensure greater administrative autonomy to the judiciary. We must make sure judges do not have to beg as regards their working conditions, so that they do not feel at the mercy of the executive. We support this measure.
The most innovative provision in this bill is undoubtedly the possibility for judges to now participate, with the authorization of the government, in international activities.
Until now, judges had to devote themselves exclusively to their judicial duties. Indeed, section 56 of the Judges Act provides that: "No judge shall, either directly or indirectly, for himself or others, engage in any occupation or business other than his judicial duties, but every judge shall devote himself exclusively to those judicial duties".
There exists, furthermore, a tradition requiring judges to avoid involvement in situations that could oblige them to take a stand in public.
It is therefore a departure from our legal tradition to allow judges to take part in international activities. They should, however, obtain prior approval for leave of absence without pay, but they may receive remuneration from an international organization.
We believe that this new avenue will be of benefit to the international community. It will give Canada an opportunity to share its savoir-faire, to demonstrate its abilities to an international audience, without detracting from the impartiality of our courts.
For judges, this bill increases the possibility of an international career in the context of international co-operation projects, and in the creation and operation of international tribunals. Justice is called upon to cross borders. Many crimes cannot be effectively combatted except through international bodies and co-operation between countries.
If our judges cannot participate in projects involving more than one country, Canada may find itself left out of certain debates, in particular those affecting the development of international law and the creation of international law tribunals. It is also an opportunity for our judges to acquire in other countries knowledge and abilities that could enrich our own institutions.
We are in favour of this bill primarily because it will increase the independence of judges and their exposure to the international context.