Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-57, an act to amend the Nunavut Act with respect to the Nunavut court of justice and to amend other acts in consequence.
I would like to state that I will be sharing my time today with the member for Tobique—Mactaquac.
This bill amends the judicial system and the appointment of judges in the new territory of Nunavut which will be created on April 1, 1999.
This new territory is being created as part of the Nunavut land claim agreement, originally signed by the Progressive Conservative government in 1993.
I will repeat this for the benefit of everyone in the House because I have heard several people state the size of the new territory and no one has been right yet. For the record, the new territory will be 2,242,000 square kilometres, which is approximately one-fifth the size of Canada and 69% of the existing Northwest Territories.
It is important to ensure that a smooth transition occurs in April when Nunavut comes into effect. Obviously it is imperative to have a judicial system in place and to have the necessary people appointed and in place to begin work on April 1, 1999.
The amendments put forward by this legislation are going to establish a unique court system in Canada. Currently all Canadian jurisdictions operate with a two-court system where a provincial or a territorial court works in conjunction with a higher court, either a Queen's bench or a supreme court, depending on the terminology used. This legislation will implement a one-court system unique to the eastern Arctic.
This legislation to amend the Nunavut Act is necessary because under the original act a two-level court system would be implemented in the new territory. By amending the act the Inuit of Nunavut hope the judicial system will more accurately reflect their traditions. Whether this will be the result remains questionable.
One of the concerns of the Inuit is the location of prisons. Currently there is no federal facility in the north, so anyone serving a sentence of more than two years must go to a facility in the south. The only other option is an exchange agreement whereby a regional facility would agree to house the inmate. This issue, however, while important to the Inuit, is separate from the judicial system and not addressed by this legislation.
With these amendments there will be three judges appointed to travel to the various outlying communities in the new territory of Nunavut. These three judges will preside over civil, criminal and family cases. Currently the judge who presides over all of the cases in the eastern Arctic also follows this system for most civil and criminal cases. She is based in Iqaluit and travels to the remote communities as required. Cases dealing with issues such as divorce and adoption, however, are referred to the supreme court based in Yellowknife.
Under this legislation the three judges appointed to hear cases in Nunavut will have the same power and authority to hear all cases without the need to refer to a higher court level. At the same time, a court of appeal, about which I have heard a number of questions asked, will still exist should appeals be made, namely the Nunavut court of appeal.
This legislation will allow a one-level court system to be introduced to the eastern Arctic. The western region of the Northwest Territories, as well as the rest of Canada will closely watch this experimental system. Should it be successful, I understand that the western region is considering adopting a similar approach for its own judicial system.
I have had the opportunity on a few occasions to travel to the western and eastern Arctic and I am looking forward to the creation of Nunavut on April 1. Last year I had the opportunity to speak to other amendments to the Nunavut Act that will help to ensure that programs and procedures are in place and operational on April 1, 1999.
This legislation will also provide additional seats in this House, which will allow representation for both territories which are currently the Northwest Territories.
The PC Party was instrumental in establishing the basis for this new territory. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to work on this piece of legislation, one that will ensure everything is in place and ready to go next April. This will be an historic time for Canada and it provides an excellent opportunity to introduce a one court system.
Whether the court system meets the high expectations of the Inuit remains to be seen, but it will be an opportunity to see how the justice system can be adapted to unique circumstances.
While a one court system has been discussed on different occasions as an alternative to the two court system, it has never been implemented. Given the conditions existing in the eastern Arctic, it is an excellent opportunity to introduce such a system.
It is assumed that the one court system will have the advantage of being both cheaper to operate and more efficient with only one level of court to travel to the various communities instead of two. This should reduce the operating costs, particularly since it is necessary to fly to the outlying communities.
This is especially relevant when one considers that the new territory of Nunavut consists of 26 communities with a total population of approximately 26,000 people. This system may also improve efficiency since each judge will be able to preside over the various types of cases and it should reduce the scheduling program problems that the two court levels would entail.
On the other hand, this means only one system is available for different types of offences combining territorial and federal issues and jurisdictions. This may raise concerns about the fairness of a system that hears cases from all levels.
At the same time, while there may be some adjustments to the new system and some minor hurdles to overcome, the system will be unique to the new territory and closely monitored by the Government of Canada, particularly the western portion of the current Northwest Territories.
The legislation is necessary to establish the judicial system as a one court system, another step in ensuring a smooth transition to the new territory on April 1, 1999.
The Progressive Conservative Party has always supported the creation of Nunavut and the land claims settlement that set out the establishment of the new territory. I am looking forward to the creation of Nunavut next year and will continue to support legislation that assists in this endeavour.
I welcome the opportunity to study the legislation at committee.