Mr. Speaker, as I rise to address Bill C-37 I assume that the debate will end on this bill sometime today. The bill will then go to committee where we will be able to examine it through the eyes of those with vested interests and concerns in this area.
As I listened to the debate today in the House and I listened to hon. members from both sides raising concerns and answering questions put to them by one another, the first point which came to my mind and which I think should be addressed is to whom should judges be accountable. We talk about accountability. To whom are they accountable?
Judges are supposed to be accountable to the law that we pass here on behalf of the people of Canada. As representatives of the people, we are supposed to listen to what they are saying, bring their concerns here and pass legislation that will address those concerns. Then we appoint judges, and we pay them pretty well but apparently not well enough, to do what? To interpret that law.
We tell the judges what to do by the law we pass in this place. The problem is that certainly since I have been in this House and for far too long before that, the legislators of Parliament have failed to tell the judges clearly what the people are telling them they want done.
We see open ended legislation where judges are allowed to decide. Judges do not like minimum sentences. Why? It tells them they must at least give a minimum sentence if a person is convicted of an offence carrying a minimum sentence. We are told that judges do not like this. They want greater flexibility and I understand their rationale.
We look at the minimum sentence that we have prescribed by law in Bill C-68. If anyone is convicted of a criminal offence wherein they used a firearm, they are sentenced to jail for four years. We hear the rationale that there are some circumstances where that would be cruel and unusual punishment. We look at that. I am sure the government, the elected representatives of the people, has to weigh that. How serious is it for someone to use a firearm in the commission of a criminal offence? Should it carry a minimum four year sentence?
If we look at the offender from the viewpoint that the offender is a victim of society, a victim of his upbringing, a victim of whatever, and not accountable for his actions, then of course we will feel sorry and say that it is not fair, that it is not just.
On the other hand, if we look only at the victim and at what has happened to the victim, we will say that four years perhaps is a fair and just minimum sentence.
What we have to do is draw a balance. Legislators should be doing that. We should not be allowing judges to tell us what to do. Yet that is what is happening.
The greatest reason for this, of course, is charter of rights and freedoms that came into effect in 1982. The courts now have the right to weigh all legislation against whether it violates the charter rights of an individual.
We could talk for hours about charter rights. People arriving in Canada illegally immediately have the protection of the charter, criminals fleeing another country. Murderers like Mr. Ng appeared in Canada and immediately received the protection of the charter of rights and freedoms.
It took our justice system almost six years to get him out of the country and back to where he would be able to face the charges of murder levied against him in the United States.
When we look at the proper manner in which to hold judges accountable, we have to look at a number of things including judicial independence.
My hon. friend opposite spoke about intimidation and said that it is a measure of intimidation. Again, we look for a balance. If we look at what happened in Alberta when Premier Ralph Klein, in an attempt to get spending under control, asked all civil servants including teachers and so on to take a 5% rollback, he also asked the judges to do that.
My goodness, we saw what happened there. Judges took that to themselves by way of a case. It was ruled that would be considered interference into their judicial independence.
What do we have here? There is a supposed a raise in pay involved in this statute to the courts. Are we to assume that if federal court judges across the country make a request to Parliament for a raise and that raise is denied, it could be construed as an interference into their judicial independence?
Can defence counsels walk into their court room and ask the judge to dismiss the case because their independence has been interfered with by the state? Is that what we are getting to? Is that what we are arriving at? When this bill comes before the committee we are going to be calling witnesses. I eagerly await their answers to those kinds of questions.
That is the direction it appears we are going in. If a benefit or a remuneration is demanded or requested by the judges and it is turned down by the government of the land, provincial or federal, it could be construed as violation of their judicial independence. We have to weigh that.
We look at the fairness of the 8.5% increase or whatever it is. We had the Kim Hicks family in Parliament before Christmas. This is a family of six, a man, a wife and four young children living on $30,000 a year. Judges are making approximately $140,000 a year now. If this raise goes through some judges will be making $150,000 or more. That is the income that five families in the position of the Hicks family would have to live on. Is it fair?
I hear people say we have to provide a good salary, otherwise we will not attract competent judges because they can make much more in the private sector. Is greed really the motivation to accept an appointment to the bench? Is $140,000 not reasonable for a man or a woman, a family, a head of a household? Is that not reasonable? Ask Kim Hicks that question, if $140,000 is not reasonable and we should be going to the lengths we have to in order to grant federal court judges greater benefit and remuneration.
The question of fairness and balance must enter into this. We know that many civil servants, including RCMP members my colleague spoke of, have had their salaries frozen for years. What about them? Why are we making an exception in this case? Do we start at the top when it comes to responding to salary demands? We have some of our grassroots military people living on $17,000 or $18,000 a year. What about them? I have often wondered what judges do when they have people appear before them accused of crimes of theft or whatever who are destitute. How do they feel when they look at the economic conditions, some of which produce crime? How do they feel? They want another 8%.
One of the judges from the Supreme Court of Canada made reference to the greed that is all too evident in our legal system. Should we not look for those individuals who are competent, who understand and know the law and who have an aptitude and a willingness to serve on the bench, to serve Canada without the thought of remuneration beyond which many people can only dream? Should we not be looking for men and women of such calibre where they are prepared with their skills and abilities to serve Canadians? They have a lifetime job. Their remuneration is guaranteed.
Mr. Speaker, it is not like you or I where we might be bumped off at the next election. Their employment is guaranteed, assured. Their remuneration as well is guaranteed, assured. Is it fair what they are asking for and what this bill is designed to give them?
I want to see what the witnesses have to say when they appear before the committee and we ask them some of these questions. We do have a degree of responsibility. We do have a sense of responsibility in this area. We must guard the independence of our judiciary. We must do that.
Case after case we can recite in the House leaves the Canadian people dissatisfied with the decisions of some courts. Over 50% in an Angus Reid poll last July indicated that they have little faith not in our justice system but in our courts.
Chief Justice Lamer appeared before a group of lawyers requesting them—to me it was a plea—to defend the court system. The defence of the court system should come from the people as a result of feeling well served. The honour we bestow on the courts should come as a result of the people feeling well served, that the laws are there to protect them and their protection is derived from the interpretation of the law from judges who have a keen sense of what their duties and responsibilities are not only to the law but to society at large.
I will look forward to the further examination of the bill. There are many elements of the bill that must be brought forward and fleshed out so that we have a clear understanding of what we are doing.
The bill does not provide for the appointment of additional judges. Why? Because we have a court system that is clogged. Why do we have a court system that is clogged? We are not intending to increase the judges in the area of criminal law, from my understanding. If we look at the criminal justice system it is being clogged. There are 40,000 cases backlogged in B.C. alone.
Members should ask themselves why and what is the judges' role in this at those levels, those provincial court judges. Perhaps in most cases as they go up the line to the levels of appeal it is federal court judges who deal with that. Why do we have a backlog? Because in legislation after legislation that we have examined just since I have been here, which is only four and a half years, we see where there are additional levels of appeal being instituted into the system.
The only amendment that was brought to the Young Offenders Act was Bill C-37 under the former justice minister and we introduced another level of appeal there. Now young offenders can be transferred automatically to adult court but they have a level of appeal where they can appeal to have their hearing held in youth court.
We saw 745, the faint hope clause. What did we have there? Instituted another level of appeal. So there are levels and levels of appeal and what do they do? They slow down the court cases.
I have a newspaper article on my desk about cases on the east coast. It is now being questioned as to whether or not the cases will make it through court because of the longevity of the cases, and the Supreme Court of Canada's decision that if a case drags on too long it is an injustice to the accused. Cases are being thrown out. One case was thrown out recently in British Columbia. Why? Because this government has been bringing in pieces of legislation that simply create a traffic jam by allowing more and more time to be wasted or used up by appeal after appeal. That is wrong.
I want all members to take a very close look at this bill. The honouring of our judges should be automatic. It should come as a result of our being well served. We should always seek out the wisdom of our judges to interpret the law that is in the best interest of society. But when our provincial court judges across the land allow convicted rapists and other violent offenders to walk free through conditional sentencing, a piece of legislation never intended to be used in that manner, then we had better believe we have reason to be concerned and we have reason to question the judgment.
We cannot expect that the honour we should bestow upon judges will come forth as a result of decisions like that.