House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.


Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe you will find consent for the following motion:

That if a recorded division is requested at the conclusion of any debate on any government legislation during Government Orders this day, it shall be deemed deferred to Tuesday, June 9, 1998 at the conclusion of Government Orders.

Business Of The HouseGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the motion put forward by the deputy whip of the government. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Judges Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee; and of Motion No. 1.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

June 4th, 1998 / 11:45 a.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I listened to the remarks of my hon. colleague and friend from Windsor—St. Clair, who said we ought not to focus exclusively on salary as there are other elements to consider and discuss.

Fine, but at the same time, these other elements should not overshadow the judges' salaries issue. We can talk all we want about principles, judicial independence, separation of powers, Montesquieu and what not, but the fact remains that the bill as it stands contains a very important clause on salary.

My hon. colleague and friend from Berthier—Montcalm moved a motion, that is Motion No. 1 now before us, that would amend Bill C-37 by deleting clause 5.

Clearly, clause 5 does not make sense. It makes no sense at all. What difference would it make if there were no clause 5? Judges' salaries have already been raised by 2.08% on April 1, 1997, and by another 2.08% on April 1, 1998. This has already occurred without Bill C-37.

Now the government has decided to give them more, as if 4% and a bit, when the compound rate is taken into account, were not enough. The bill gives them a 4.1% increase retroactive to April 1, 1997—that will fill their wallets—and another 4.1% retroactive to April 1, 1998, for a total salary increase, with the compound rate taken into account—and this will blow your socks off—of over 13%.

While provincial transfer payments are being cut and unemployed workers are facing ruin—with a $19 billion surplus in the EI fund—, while the government plans to cut payments to the provinces by $130 billion between now and 2003, while the health transfer is being cut and the number of hospital beds is dropping throughout Canada, the government wants to give judges a 13% increase.

We are not saying that judges do not deserve it, we are not saying that judges do not do their work well. We think they do. We are not saying that their work is not important; on the contrary, as a lawyer and legal expert myself, I feel that the work that judges do is vital in a society based on the rule of law.

The problem is that, as a society, we cannot afford this increase. We simply cannot afford it. It is a question of choices and priorities. It goes even further; it is a question of the kind of society we want to have.

We in the Bloc Quebecois believe that any government's priority must be to help the most disadvantaged, those who are ill, elderly, unable to look after themselves, or need a salary or a decent minimum income in order to live in our modern society.

The government can always claim that it will not be able to attract quality candidates without an increase, but as far as I know, and I know the legal community well, there are waiting lists for judgeships. The fact that the increase will be only 4% and not 13% will not prevent anyone from applying, far from it. There are waiting lists because the office of judge is prestigious and important. There is more than the salary involved.

Once again, this government is showing poor judgement and deciding to give money to those it will appoint later on—because, let there be no mistake about it, these are political appointments, judges are not elected—rather than giving it to the men, women and children in our society most in need of government assistance.

It is with great enthusiasm that I support the motion moved by my colleague and friend, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, because the Bloc Quebecois is working for those who need it, not for the privileged few.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Inky Mark Reform Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-37, an amendment to the Judges Act.

First I would like to comment that we really do not need a lecture from the member from Windsor on how we should or should not speak in this House. We are all cognizant of the privileges that we need to exercise as members of this House.

This is the highest court of the land. Whatever needs to be said needs to be said here. We are superior to the Supreme Court of Canada. We have a right to bring forward in this House the concerns of our constituents regarding the judicial injustice we hear about almost on a daily basis.

More and more people in this country are losing faith in the judicial system. In fact 52% have little or no faith in the current judicial system. We as members of parliament have a duty to bring their concerns and the injustices that our constituents want us to air to this House of Commons. If the Feeney case can illustrate a good example of this lack of faith in the judicial system, then the Feeney case should be illustrated and made reference to.

If this bill passes, the pay hike of 8.3% over two years for judges will certainly happen. This is really not the time to be talking about wages. As we know, members of parliament are getting blasted for the pay hike of 8% over four years even though members of parliament have not received a pay hike since 1991.

The question I would like to address with reference to this amendment is whether judges need or deserve a pay hike. My colleagues who have spoken before me on this amendment brought up the issue of need. For the record I will quote from the salary schedule to make sure the people of this country know exactly what the current salaries are as of April 1998.

In the Supreme Court of Canada the chief justice makes a salary of $208,200. If someone is just a justice in the supreme court, a salary of $192,900 is paid. Under the Federal Court and Tax Court of Canada, the chief justice and associate chief justices earn a salary of $177,700 and justices earn $162,300. In the Superior Courts the chief justice and the associate chief justices earn $177,700 and the justices earn $162,300. Certainly, these salaries far exceed the salaries of members of parliament who sit in the highest court of the land.

Do these judges deserve a pay raise? The question can only be answered if judges are evaluated by an independent panel. Certainly it is ironic to see judges comment on decisions made at the provincial level regarding judges' salaries, when the judges themselves say that the provincial governments really do not have any business capping their salaries. How ironic it is.

MPs get evaluated every four or five years by the people who pay their salaries. Judges should be evaluated to make sure that if they deserve a raise they get a raise.

The other point I would like to make is that judges are appointed for life. Members of parliament are not appointed for life. We certainly do need term limits on judges.

It is unfortunate that Bill C-37 was not amended to develop a new process for the appointment of judges, to make it one that is more open and more transparent. We heard today that the current process is very patronage based. Today judges are appointed through a political patronage system, through their connections to the political system and political parties. That is normally how someone gets to the bench. We need to make this process much more transparent and politically accountable.

Recently in Manitoba the attorney general, Mr. Vic Toews, was criticized for getting involved in the judicial appointment process. Personally I applaud the attorney general for Manitoba for his intervention. If he is acting on behalf of the people of Manitoba, he certainly has a right to make sure that the federal laws are complied with and that the best judges are appointed.

Another point I want to bring to this House is that under the current federal agreement, in Manitoba three of the federal judges must reside outside the city of Winnipeg. That is a contract the federal government made with the provincial government. Recently there has been pressure to reduce these numbers.

I believe that judges need to reflect the mosaic of the province. Considering that 40% of the population lives outside the city of Winnipeg, I believe that 40% of the federal judges in the province of Manitoba should also live outside the city of Winnipeg. I would hope the Minister of Justice would agree with my opinion.

The government should not be concentrating its efforts on pay raises for judges. We should be concentrating on introducing victims bills of rights legislation and making substantial changes to the Young Offenders Act.

I close by referring to an article printed in the Free China Journal dated May 15. It was a surprise to me. The title is “Victim recompense law passes”.

The Government of Taiwan recently passed new legislation aimed to correct the public misconception that legal measures only protect the offenders. A majority of citizens in our country certainly believe that the laws are there for the law breakers and certainly not for the law-abiding citizen. The legislature of Taiwan had just passed a law that provides timely compensation to crime victims and their families. This unprecedented legislation stipulates that if the breadwinner of a family is killed during a crime, his or her family should apply for compensation for this sad state of affairs.

In the past the government also tried direct compensation. It found that direct compensation of this type was often difficult to obtain. In many cases suspects could either not be positively identified or remained at large. It made it impossible for victims to be legally compensated for those who committed the crime. As a result those affected families plunged into a life of financial hardships.

This is a good example that governments do care about the victims of their country. This is a first step that they have taken to make sure that families are looked after. I will send a copy of this news item to the Minister of Justice.

There are certainly many issues this government needs to address beyond that of pay increases for federal judges. The people of this country have waited for a long time for things to change. Unfortunately this government tends to spend its time concentrating on money issues rather than real issues that people have in mind.

Judges ActGovernment Orders



Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Motion No. 1 related to Bill C-37, amendments to the Judges Act. The motion put forward by the Bloc member is that Bill C-37 be amended by deleting clause 5.

Clause 5 has to do with pay increases for judges. The way the pay increase would work is it is an increase of 4.1% retroactive from April 1, 1997 to March 31, 1998, and an additional 4.1% from April 1, 1998 to March 31, 1999. At that time the salaries will be reviewed by a newly created body called the judicial compensation and benefits commission. What this amounts to is that judges will get about an 8.3% increase over two years. It is important to note that the average salary for judges at the moment is approximately $140,000 a year.

A few minutes ago in the debate the member for Windsor—St. Clair said that by talking about these judges and the outrageous decisions that they have been making we are undermining the prestige of the judges and the courts. I say to the hon. member that it is not us undermining the prestige of the judges and the courts, it is the judges who make the ridiculous decisions that appear out there. Many of my colleagues on this side of the House have given the most outrageous examples of decisions that have been made by judges over the last while. I will be giving a few from my own area as part of speaking to Motion No. 1. If these judges were more representative of their community and our community values we would not be faced with these problems.

In connection with the comments made by the member for Windsor—St. Clair, a poll last July showed that more than 50% of those polled have little faith in judges. Surely that is a very good message to all of us that there is something wrong if more than half the population feels that judges are not doing the right thing. It is time to address a major problem.

In the North Vancouver area a number of my close friends are members of the RCMP. In North Vancouver the RCMP looks after our policing. Some members have told me about their frustration with judges and how difficult it is as a police officer to get some sort of charge against somebody and then get it to stick. There are so many technical flaws or problems in the way of laying a charge in the first place and then to be successful in court to get somebody convicted. Then to get them put in jail is a tremendously difficult thing to do.

It is very frustrating for police officers who know they are faced with this problem every day. Police officers are working hard to keep our streets safe and to get these offenders dealt with. Yet starting constables have had their wages frozen for five years and the starting salary for a third year constable is in the range of $50,500 to about $52,400. That is $90,000 less than the judges who are making judgments on the sorts of criminals these police officers are bringing forward.

As many of my colleagues have mentioned earlier, most Canadians now are starting to think about the justice system not as a justice system but as a legal system, a wonderful place for the judges to share experiences with one another and to talk about the technicalities and how they can find flaws in the things that parliament has passed as our laws. The will of parliament should be ultimate in these decisions.

In the Lynn Valley area, like many other areas of the country, we have a fair bit of youth crime. Of my constituents, like those across Canada, well over 90% would like to see significant changes to the Young Offenders Act and they would like to see some judges being a lot more particular about the sentencing of youth offenders. For example, in May there was a court date for some young offenders in my riding who allegedly had committed a devastating crime in the Lynn Valley area in March.

What they are alleged to have done is that in the middle of night they attacked a person in the street, beat him so severely that plastic surgery was required and practically trashed a person's house and their almost brand new car. They were identified and arrested. But of course nobody could give out their names. It was extremely frustrating to the father of the victim who wants to take civil action against these people but was unable to get names until recently when they appeared in court. There is a general feeling in the community that these people should be named, especially once they are convicted.

There was a court date set for May. Only a few of these defendants actually showed up in court. What did the judge do? He said “you should tell your friends they really should appear”. He set a new court date and put the case off for another few months.

This is absolutely ridiculous and outrageous. Surely the judge should have issued arrest warrants immediately for those people who did not turn up. Instead, it was almost a flippant comment for him to make.

This is the sort of comment that brings judges into disrepute. Maybe they have been numbed by hearing so many cases that they just do not take anything seriously any more. They are at this point where we have to start imposing minimum sentences for these judges to use. Otherwise they are just not going to do anything.

There was another case in the Vancouver area recently where a prisoner in the Kent institution escaped from the institution in a cardboard box. He asked for a stand for his television set. He knew there were not any stands for television sets, so he then made the suggestion that a cardboard box would be fine.

The prison authorities found him a nice big cardboard box which he put under his TV set. While the cardboard box was there over a period of a few months, he reinforced it with bits of plywood and stuff that he got from the prison workshop. He knew a friend of his was going to be released at a certain date. On the night before he climbed into this box and his prisoner friend took it to his cell. It was put in storage overnight as personal effects of the prisoner who would be leaving the next morning.

At no time did the prison authorities ever check the box to see what was in there. The following morning it was loaded into the trunk of a car and left with the prisoner who was being released.

This prisoner who was in the cardboard box was then released from the trunk and he was out at large. He was recaptured within a short time. But he had already escaped numerous times from correctional facilities.

The ridiculous part was when he came to court for this crime, what did the judge do? He sentenced him all right to a number of years in prison but he made it concurrent with the sentence he was already serving. So there is no additional time. It is free time. Escaping from prison means nothing. They get it free. Try it again, please.

We have to congratulate the prisoner for his creativity in escaping in the cardboard box but there is absolutely no accountability for that and the judge undermines the confidence of the public by making ridiculous decisions like that.

There is a member on the government side who has been trying to get a private member's bill into this place which would get rid of these concurrent sentences and make people serve time for these types of crimes.

This prisoner had been into bank robberies and had been jailed for those a number of times and he has all these concurrent sentences. They get time for the first crime but not for subsequent withdrawals so it does not really matter what they do.

What we are really pointing out here is that if judges will have their pay increased from the already very generous level of $140,000 per year on average, it is about time they were a little more accountable. One of the things that the official opposition has proposed is that judges should be selected through a more democratic process.

If we cannot get to the point where the constituents actually elect the judges themselves to truly reflect community values, let us at least have some sort of public process where parliamentarians or MLAs at the provincial level can at least grill and question, get to the bottom and background of people who are to be appointed as judges. I think that is a reasonable approach. It is a step we should be taking and before any of us agree to pass a bill like Bill C-37 with these very generous pay increases we should be insisting on accountability for judges.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is the House ready for the question.

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The question is on Motion No. 1. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those in favour will please say yea.

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

All those opposed will please say nay.

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12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred.

The House will now proceed to the consideration of Motion No. 2.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB


Montion No. 2

That Bill C-37, in Clause 6, be amended by adding after line 34 on page 3 the following:

“(6.1) A report that is tabled in each House of Parliament under subsection (6), shall, on the day it is tabled or if the House is not sitting on that day, on the day that House next sits, be referred by that House to a committee of that House that is designated or established by that House for the purpose of considering matters relating to justice.

(6.2) A committee referred to in subsection (6.1) may conduct inquiries or public hearings in respect of a report referred to it under that subsection, and if it does so, the committee shall, not later than ninety sitting days after the report is referred to it, report its findings to the House that designated or established the committee.

(6.3) For the purpose of subsection (6.2), “sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons or the Senate, as the case may be, sits.”

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address Motion No. 2. Bill C-37 establishes the judicial compensation and benefits commission to inquire into the adequacy of the salaries and benefits of judges under section 26(1) of the bill. Inquiries will commence on September 1, 1999 and on September 1 of every fourth year after 1999, and the commission is to submit a report with recommendations to the Minister of Justice within nine months after the date of commencement. That is authorized by section 26(2) of the bill.

The Minister of Justice is to table a copy of the commission's report in each house of parliament as required by section 26(6). The minister is to respond to the commission's report within six months after receiving it as authorized under section 26(7).

Parliament is given no opportunity or authority to respond to the report. Motion No. 2 gives the appropriate committee, which is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, an opportunity to review the commission's report, call witnesses, examine the commission's report and report its findings to the House.

Why do we want this? For one thing to determine on behalf of the people of Canada whether or not the recommendations contained within that report are fair to society at large, the people of Canada.

What is being recommended in terms of pay raises by this bill is it is going to increase the pay for federal court judges all the way from $5,000 to $17,000 over a two year period. It reminds me a little bit of the report that was tabled in the House recommending that members of parliament receive a 2% increase over the next four years. This is at a time when so many families are struggling.

The Kim Hicks family, a family of six, is trying to make ends meet on approximately $30,000 a year. They are having difficulty paying for dental treatments and eyeglass appointments. Thousands of families in this country are living under economic conditions today where they are struggling to keep the family body and soul together. If this bill is passed it will demand more money from those families by way of taxation in order to give judges a raise in pay. These are judges who, as my colleague has indicated, are receiving on average $140,000 a year. The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada receives over $200,000 a year.

It is not fair for this bill to command parliament to use its taxation powers to again weaken the economic stability of thousands and thousands of individuals and families across this country. This applies equally to the report tabled in the House indicating that we as MPs deserve another 2% raise over the next four years. We are going to take money from these families that are struggling to provide for their children.

Why are we going to tax them more? Because judges need a raise and of course we need a raise. This is wrong. It is wrong because it is not fair.

If we want to give the judges or the members of parliament more take home pay, why do we not offer them a tax cut? I would sooner have a 10% tax cut than a 15% raise in pay. But let us do it for all Canadians. And until we can do it for all Canadians, let us not put a greater burden on them by demanding that they pay more in taxes so that we and the judges can receive more for ourselves and our families. It is not right. And it is not right because it is not fair.

The greatest threat to the economic stability of individuals and their families is the unlimited and unrestricted power of government to tax away their wealth. It is absolutely wrong. When the commission makes its report saying that the judges' benefits should be increased at the expense of Canadian families and society at large, surely we must examine our own consciences and ask ourselves whether this is fair. I think when most of us look in the mirror we have to say no it is not fair. It is not fair. How can we compare an average salary of $140,000 a year for the judges with a family of six struggling to make ends meet on $30,000 a year?

If this bill as it is worded goes through without any scrutiny, some of these judges are going to receive a $17,000 increase in pay over the next two years. We as MPs will receive 2% a year, almost $5,000 more in the next four years. We are going to receive that. How? By the force of law determined by the majority over there. We are going to take that $5,000 for each one of us out of the pockets of the taxpayers, out of the pockets of the families that are struggling to feed, clothe and shelter, to educate, to care for their children. We are going to do far, far more when we pass the bill that is going to give the federal judges in this land a raise of over 8% in the next two years.

There is something wrong with this. It is simply the unrestricted and abusive power of the House, of this government to tax the wealth away from the people in this country who make and create that wealth every year.

Right now we are the highest taxed country in the G-7. The average family spends more in taxes than it does on food, clothing and shelter. One in five children are reported to be living in poverty. What does that say about the families they come from? They are living in poverty too. Why? Because approximately 50 cents of every dollar earned is paid toward taxes in one form or another. This bill is going to take more from them.

It is reprehensible what we are doing to the people of Canada. We are sent here to stand on guard, to protect the rights of the Canadian people who have sent us here. We are not protecting their rights when we do these kinds of things. We are not protecting their rights when we demand 2% for ourselves and they have got to suffer more. That is not right. It is not fair. It is reprehensible and should be reconsidered.

I cannot go back to the people in Crowfoot and say this is fair and just. I will go back and say it is wrong. We are caught in the middle of this, all of us. Why? Because the government simply decides what it is going to do and it is going to do it. It is going to exercise its power to take money from them. Why? Because the judges need more on top of $140,000 and we need more. It is not right.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to the motion of my colleague from Crowfoot. He is asking that Clause No. 6 be amended so that all reports to the House tabled by the minister will be referred to the justice committee in order for it to conduct inquiries or public hearings in respect of the report and to report its findings to the House. It is a very sensible amendment.

I find it rather unusual to hear colleagues from the other side of the House, particularly the chairman of the justice committee, say that there are some really good points in Bill C-37. If there are some really good points, then there must be some really bad ones. I wonder why the government members do not recognize them and amend them. I wonder why they do not enter into the debate and try to make some common sense out of what we want to achieve by making these amendments.

The Minister of Justice is to table a copy of the commission's report but parliament has been given no opportunity to respond. This motion would allow that to happen. Like so many aspects of this Liberal government, its members continue to feel they do not have to be accountable to parliament. By not including this amendment to Bill C-37, they will again prove how undemocratic they have become.

Time and time again this government has contributed to the declining role of parliamentarians. We have seen this most recently at the hands of judicial activism. For example, on a day to day basis we witness the rights of criminals superseding the rights of victims through the court imposed conditional sentences. That happens every day of the week.

Most recently in the case of Rosenberg v Canada, a lesbian challenged the constitutionality of the Income Tax Act since it forced Revenue Canada to refuse to register her employer's private pension plan if it extended death benefits to same sex partners. In the unanimous decision on April 23 the Ontario court of appeal decided to read a same sex definition of the term spouse into the act.

I think the government has an obligation to defend its stated position on the definition of spouse. If an appeal fails, then the issue should be put before this parliament and it should be debated. That is what democracy is all about. When there are going to be changes to the definitions in our laws or any changes to the laws, they should be decided by the people in this place, the highest court in the land.

When we are having that debate we should consciously and sincerely keep in mind the wishes of the Canadian people we represent. We should ask what the Canadian people want to see come out of this House of Commons. Then we should oblige them by being good representatives and entering into debate on their behalf.

When he was defending the need for Bill C-33, the former justice minister made this statement “We should not rely upon the courts to make public policy in matters of this kind. That is up to legislators and we should have the courage to do it”. I think we all agree with that statement. He made a very wise and good statement. The only thing is that they say it in one place and they do not do it when they have the opportunity. This kind of an amendment would help make these things possible.

It comes down to one question. Is the current justice minister going to let the courts decide on such things as the redefinition of the term spouse, or is parliament going to decide? As far as I am concerned I have seen too many decisions made by these higher courts that have become law. They are beginning to run the country.

The highest court of the land is here. We are the ones who are supposed to make the laws, not the Supreme Court of Canada. It has a vital job on its hands but it is not to impose its will of nine unelected, unaccountable individuals on the will of 30 million Canadians. We are the representatives of the 30 million Canadians and we must have the say as to what their will is toward the laws that govern this land.

The courts constantly make an end run around the democratic process. This is the same as the Minister of Justice merely tabling the report but not allowing it to be scrutinized by members of parliament. It is the same thing as invoking closure on a number of bills. They do that all the time. They are denying me as a member of parliament the right to represent the views of the people of Wild Rose. By denying me the right to debate or scrutinize these issues, they are denying me the ability to serve the people of my riding, which is what I was sent here to do.

When I was elected I received power. That power is to serve. The kinds of things we are doing here takes that power completely away with decisions made undemocratically behind closed doors: whether we like it or not this is the way it will be.

They come from behind closed doors and make decisions by a handful of a very few. Then they tell all members of their particular party how they are to vote. They had better vote that way because if they do not they will be punished. What kind of representation is that?

Recently I made a new friend in Airdrie, Alberta. The gentleman is in his elderly years and is a veteran of World War II. He is a paraplegic and is having some very difficult times with the income he receives and the help we think he should get that he just does not get.

I was in his home visiting this individual. What a shame it has come to the point where the following words came out of his mouth: “I have a medal of honour. I have a medal of bravery. I would like to give you these two medals to take back to the government. Give them back to the minister of defence and tell him I don't want them because I didn't fight for the kinds of things that are going on in this country today. The undemocratic processes that go on are not what I fought for”. He is demanding that we change things.

He believed that his comrades in their graves across the seas who fought and gave their lives for this country during that great war would be turning over in their graves if they knew what was going on today with regard to the democratic process for which they fought so hard to try to maintain.

I encourage all members to vote in favour of Motion No. 2 to make the bill a little more bearable and to prove the worth of every member of parliament. Members of the House should be given the opportunity to be the representatives many of us want to be and are unable to be because of undemocratic processes.

Dictatorship should end, starting with these kinds of measures. Things should be brought before us to scrutinize. Things should be brought into this place to let us debate the definition of spouse. The little minority groups with power in their hands should not define these things for us and tell us what they will be. The people at large whom we serve should have some say in the wages of a judge or the wages of an MP. Let them be the ones who make decisions in this regard. We should remember they are the ones who pay the bills.

It is a shame that this place is in a state where we know more about what is good for every Canadian in the land than the Canadian people themselves. We know more and so we impose our will through all kinds of undemocratic measures. There is no call for that.

Canada is the greatest country in the world. It could be the greatest democracy in the world, but we are not a democracy. We are a dictatorship. Let us change it and let us change it today.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, I spoke to Motion No. 1, which I moved, and I indicated the Bloc Quebecois' position. Subsequently, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice asked me the Bloc's position on the bill. I want to make sure we clearly understand each other and am going to take a few minutes to explain it.

As we are giving judges increases I consider unjustified at the moment because of the state of public finances and because billions of dollars are being taken away from people who need it and as the aim of my motion was to prevent this increase of approximately 13% from being given to the judges, it is understandable that, if my amendment is passed, we will support the bill in its entirety, because there are good things in it, things that are in response to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.

I want to set things straight. The basis of this bill is good, because the government is responding to a decision by the Supreme Court. However, since it waters down to such an extent the remarks made by the highest court on the remuneration of judges, we will understandably vote against the bill if the motion is not passed.

That said, I wish to tell the Reform Party that the Bloc Quebecois will support Motion No. 2, since it is important. I think it is more responsive to the Supreme Court decision, and that its aim specifically is to clarify the increases that might be given to federal court justices in the future.

The motion calls for three paragraphs to be added to clause 6 of the bill to ensure greater detail or to involve parliamentarians more. I do not want to play teacher, but I think that, to clearly understand the Reform motion, one must look at the context and, in particular, examine the clause where the amendment is desired.

Clause 6 creates the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission. It is mandated, at intervals set out in the act, to examine the Judges Act in order to determine adequacy of salaries, whether the act needs to be amended and whether the judges have reported comments to this Commission, and then to report to the Minister of Justice.

Paragraph (1) describes the mandate of the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission. Paragraph (2) states that an inquiry is to be held every fourth year, starting with September 1, 1999. Paragraph (3) states that the Commission must report to the Minister of Justice. Paragraph (4) refers to the possibility of initiating inquiries at the minister's request.

Paragraph (5) refers to extensions, in case the commission wants more time before submitting the report. If the Judicial Compensation and Benefits Commission does not have enough time to produce the report, it may obtain an extension under the act.

Paragraph (6) states as follows:

(6) The Minister shall table a copy of the report in each House of Parliament on any of the first ten days on which that House is sitting after the Minister receives the report.

The Reform Party amendment follows paragraph (6) of this clause and adds the following:

(6.1) A report that is tabled in each House of Parliament under subsection (6) shall, on the day it is tabled or if the House is not sitting on that day, on the day that House next sits, be referred by that House to a committee of that House that is designated or established by that House for the purpose of considering matters relating to Justice.

As we know, the Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the one that would be mandated, or given jurisdiction, to examine the report tabled in this House.

The next paragraph, (6.2) in the Reform amendment to the bill, states:

(6.2) A committee referred to in subsection (6.1) may conduct inquiries or public hearings in respect of a report referred to it under that subsection, and if it does so, the committee shall, not later than ninety sitting days after the report is referred to it, report its findings to the House that designated or established the committee.

This is the important part. A report is submitted to the minister, the minister tables it in this House and the Senate, and everything stops there. Yet, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is authorized to examine it and is very familiar with everything connected with the Judges Act and other related acts.

If the Reform Party's amendments were passed, members of this committee could hold an inquiry and hearings. Why? For one thing, the committee would have the very specific goal of coming up with amendments that would reflect the public's wishes. All members of parliament are elected to represent the constituents in their respective ridings. We are, I believe, very well placed to know how the public feels about a given issue. Right now, I am sure that a 13.8% increase for judges would not fly, when we know that they are earning, on average, $140,000 a year or thereabouts.

The committee tasked with studying the report could report to this House that it had heard such and such a witness from the general public and that the increase was not warranted, or not large enough, because we do not know what shape the public purse will be in in ten years. Perhaps that would be the time to increase the salaries of judges, public servants and people generally.

Once the poverty problem has been solved and the money currently being stolen by the federal government through brutal cuts has been put back into health, education and social assistance, then and only then might it be the right time to consider giving a raise to judges, public servants, deputy ministers and, why not, members of parliament, the Prime Minister and so on. But now is not the time, and if it had given serious consideration to the report, I think the committee would have told the minister not to raise the salaries of judges right now.

Perhaps the parliamentary committee will have to give some thought to the amendment put forward by the Reform Party, which I think also responds to a rather widespread desire among members. We sit regularly on these committees, give a great deal of our time and take our job there very seriously. I for one at least work very hard at the justice committee and, given the time and energy we put into our committee work, we are not involved enough.

I think that, ultimately, an amendment like this one will enhance the role of MPs, perhaps, allowing them to make more of a contribution on a bill or a very specific aspect like the salaries of judges and all the various benefits they get.

I will conclude by repeating that we will vote in favour of the Reform amendment because it supports the objective of transparency demanded by the public and, above all, the contribution the people of my riding and every riding across Canada and in Quebec want their elected representatives make.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Reform Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rose yesterday to speak to Motion No. 1. Today I rise to speak to Motion No. 2 put forward by my colleague from Crowfoot.

Before I start on a detailed analysis I would like to say that in general the motion is taking about bringing transparency and accountability to a system that has long been hidden behind curtains where arbitrary decisions are made.

Therefore the motion put forward by my colleague from Crowfoot is very important. I ask all members to take a careful look at it. As my colleague from the Bloc said, it brings transparency and accountability to this system.

I rose yesterday in support of the Bloc motion asking that the judges' pay raise be not given to judges due to reasons I listed. The same rationale applies to me as well. I would be a hypocrite if I stood here and said I like the 2% pay raise that is to be given to members of parliament. Those same arguments apply to me.

Therefore I want to go on record that I am not in agreement with the 2% pay raise to be given to members of parliament because over the four year period that is a 10% pay raise compounded.

The motion in front of the House asks the justice committee to view what the judicial compensation and benefits commission will come up with and have public hearings. What greater accountability is there than that?

The people of Canada will have a choice to say whether true compensation packages are in agreement with what the judges of this country are saying.

It brings accountability to the judges too because when these hearings are held, people will have room to vent their views regarding how the judicial system has been conducting itself. As members know, today this is under scrutiny.

It is viewed and seen that the judiciary is interfering with the wishes of the people as expressed through parliament by the charter of rights and coming to decisions that at times seem quite baffling.

Therefore it is very important that this benefits commission report is brought in front of the committee so that it can be scrutinized by members of parliament and by the Canadian public.

Another question regards where the laws of the nation are made. Are they made in the judiciary chambers or are they made in parliament? That is a very critical and important point in light of recent decisions made by people who have chosen to read what the charter of rights is saying as opposed to the wishes of what the Canadians want as expressed through the Chamber.

How does the Canadian public express displeasure and dissatisfaction on the way the judiciary can proceed if it is not held accountable? It can do that through the consultation package. It can do that when public hearings are made. Submissions can be made and attention can be brought to the judiciary regarding what the people of Canada feel. This brings some kind of accountability to judges.

To some degree judges would be happy to see the feedback coming from the Canadian public on how they are perceived, although we understand quite clearly that they are the guardians of the law. They have to follow the law. They have to interpret the law. They do not have to read into something when it is not there. The responsibility of a creating a concise law belongs to this Chamber.

That is why this compensation package is generous in everybody's point of view, in the opposition's point of view, but of course not in the government's point of view. We know what its point of view is. Its point of view is to spend money, keep the elite happy.

I said yesterday in reference to working class people that Canadians do not even dream of having this kind of compensation package. But today I am speaking on Motion No. 2 where some attempt is being made to take the whole picture into account so that Canadians are served well through transparency and accountability of the judicial system. That is very important in their eyes. It touches their lives every day.

The Constitution guarantees judiciary independence. We are not infringing on judiciary independence. We are extremely proud of the fact that the judiciary is independent in this nation. It is not under pressure. It is not pressured to compromise on the decisions it makes.

Nevertheless there still has to be accountability. Nevertheless the judiciary represents also the views of society. It is important that there be an understanding by the public and by the judiciary of what they expect of each other.

I conclude by appealing to all members of parliament to look at this motion and see that it is a small step toward dialogue between the judiciary and the Canadian public.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Reed Elley Reform Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, as I did yesterday, I rise to speak against Bill C-37 but to speak in favour of the amendment put forward by my hon. colleague from Crowfoot.

The criticism we offer on this bill should serve as reason enough for Liberals to support the amendment that has been put forward by my colleague, the member for Crowfoot. However, as very often is the case in the House, the government will ram this bill through pretty much as it is. It is not really interested in hearing any constructive criticism from the opposition or our attempts to make the legislation better. It wants to ram it through and it will.

Bill C-37 will increase the number of appeal court judges from 10 to 13. It also will increase the number of unified family court judges from 12 to 36. On the face of it this in itself is not a bad move by the government. There is a terrific backlog in our courts across the nation. More judges will facilitate the movement of these cases through the court system.

However, given the justice system's penchant for inventing rather than interpreting the laws these days, I do not believe that Canadians generally will see this as a positive move.

The recent supreme court decisions to redefine family in this country is very much a case in point. I do not think Canadians in the long run are going to stand for the supreme court actually being in the business of making laws when, by our Constitution and our parliamentary tradition, the duly elected representatives of the people of Canada in parliament are the ones who should be making the laws, particularly on such important issues as definition of family. Those laws should be made here in the House, certainly not in the Supreme Court of Canada.

However, there is a bad trend across this country which has been recognized by Canadians and which we in the Reform Party will fight that trend as best we can.

The bill would also raise judges' salaries retroactively by 4.1% and an additional 4.1% from April 1, 1998 to March 31, 1999. In other words, judges will get an 8.3% increase over two years. Noting that their average salary now is around $140,000, most Canadians are going to ask whether they really need that kind of raise. I wonder if the judges have come in on bended knee pleading the case that they need more money. I rather doubt it.

Many other Canadians who have been receiving only cost of living raises or perhaps no raise over the past few years will wonder why in the world judges need to receive an 8.3% increase over the next two years. How cynical for this government to award judges, senior bureaucrats and its own ministers with large pay raises and bonuses while at the same time frontline police officers and low level public servants will receive little to nothing. It does not make sense and it is not fair.

Granted, my friends across the way will cry out piously and wave their arms at me saying that is not true. In March they gave RCMP members a raise. My goodness, how good they were to them. I remind everyone that RCMP salaries have been frozen for five years. The last stage of the increase calls for a .75% increase to take effect on October 1, 1998. It does not make sense and it is not fair.

This bill also seeks to establish a judicial compensation and benefits commission to inquire into the adequacy of the salaries and benefits of judges. I want to spend a few moments to discuss that commission in some detail. Indeed it shows that under the guise of judicial reform Liberals still have not lost their taste for pork barrel politics.

The creation of the judicial compensation and benefits commission provides the federal government with yet another opportunity to make patronage appointments and another opportunity for hardworking Liberals to be rewarded with a place at the trough. The activities of this commission will commence September 1, 1999. On September 1 of every fourth year after 1999 the commission is to submit a report with recommendations to the Minister of Justice within nine months after the date of commencement. Eventually the Minister of Justice is to table a copy of the commission's report.

However, that does not really matter because parliament is given no opportunity or authority to respond. Again this underscores the lack of public accountability within this proposal.

The commission will consist of three members appointed by the governor in council. In effect, governor in council appointments are code language for patronage appointments. One member is nominated by the judiciary, one nominated by the Minister of Justice and the one who acts as chair will be nominated by the first two persons nominated. The members will hold office for a term of four years and are eligible to be reappointed for one further term. There is more opportunity for patronage.

As Canadians can see, the appointment process is lacking in transparency and therefore credibility. At no step in the appointment process does the public or parliament have a say. Reformers want to ensure the appointment process is transparent and publicly accountable in order to eliminate this kind of patronage. In fact, our national Reform assembly in Vancouver in 1996 accepted recommendations made in this regard. The report outlined a more populace style of appointment, whereby a committee would review and interview candidates whose names would be put forward to the Prime Minister.

That type of enlightened thinking is not present in this bill. I suspect that is because Liberals are against anything that smacks of populism.

Canadians will be unimpressed with this legislation. Overall it does nothing to address some of the fundamental problems inherent in the justice system. In fact, while pressing issues of criminal justice go unaddressed in this country, this is the third time the Liberals have amended the Judges Act. There are better things for us to do in this parliament.

During the last parliament, in 1996, the government introduced Bills C-2 and C-42. Both bills were inconsequential pieces of legislation and were of little significance to Canadians who are concerned about their safety, and rightly so.

Both Liberal justice ministers have failed to introduce the victims' bill of rights which we in the Reform Party have advocated for many years. It has been given a low priority on the justice agenda, as if they really do not care about the victims of crime in this country. Both the present and past justice ministers failed to substantially amend the Young Offenders Act. Instead they tinker around the edges of it. Both ministers have failed to limit the use of conditional sentences for violent offenders. Instead the justice committee's time is spent dealing with these administrative matters.

There are other shortcomings in the bill, but I want to turn my attention just briefly to the amendment put forward by my Reform colleague from Crowfoot. The amendment would give the appropriate committee an opportunity to review the commission's report, call witnesses and report their findings to the House. Does that not make sense? Is that not democracy in action?

I call upon all of my colleagues in the House to support the amendment and defeat the bill.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.


Roy H. Bailey Reform Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in this debate because of a number of incidents which have happened across Canada in the last year.

A year ago we were just getting over the terrible devastation of the Red River flood. The devastation not only took away people's income, but in many cases it destroyed their property, it destroyed their lives and in some cases it destroyed families.

We just recovered from that and last winter we had a terrible ice storm which again took millions of dollars and ruined peoples' lives for one year, two years or even more.

While the effects of these two national calamities go on, we stand here today debating a proposal to give people who are servants of the people an approximate 8% raise in salary. This going on while hundreds of people have not even started to pick up their shoelaces from the disasters. It is incomprehensible. Does the government not realize that we are elected as members of Parliament to serve the people?

How can I possibly respond to a letter I received the other day? It was from a single parent with two children whose income is slightly below the poverty line. Are the people who are in dire need about to get a retroactive 8% increase? The answer is no.

There are hundreds of people who have to file income tax returns who should not even be on the tax rolls. When they see people being appointed to positions and receiving an 8% raise in salaries that are already $140,000, they cry out in a loud voice from ocean to ocean to ocean. They do not cry “no”; they cry “no way”.

We need to follow the advice of this motion. We need to listen to the words of my colleague from Calgary who says “Let us take this back. Let us have a review of what we are doing”.

I well recall when the famous charter of rights and freedoms was implemented. I recall the statement being made that now we have the ability to make the laws. Therein is the danger which the people have echoed throughout this country for the past two years. They are saying “I thought we elected our MPs and our MLAs to make laws”.

In the newspapers in the past three months I have seen terms like “The tribunal orders the government”. The word “orders” is used. The tribunals are telling us what definition such terms as spouse and marriage will take. This government has nothing to say about it because of the courts? Democracy is wavering on some of these issues and it is wavering badly.

I want to talk about my constituents. At this time last year, between the two cities I represent, we had a very fierce hail storm. The people out west could not tell whether it was crop or summer fallow. That is how bad it was. They did not lose $140,000. Many of those people lost an amount which is double that of the wages of a federal judge. Did they get retroactive pay?

They have not pulled up their bootstraps from that and now they are facing a drought. To add to that, there are hundreds thousands of acres, including those in the neighbouring province of Manitoba, that have had six nights of killing frost. Seventy thousand people are sitting out there not knowing what their income will be this fall. I am just referring to western Canada. But we are going to give a handful of judges an 8% raise on incomes of $140,000. I cannot believe it. I hope that all the people of Canada from coast to coast to coast who are listening to the debate today are aware of that.

About 18 months ago Maclean's magazine did a poll on what bothered Canadians the most. Up near the top of the list was our court system. They said that they were losing faith in our court system and now we are going to reward judges with an 8% salary increase.

Any member of this House, on any side of the House, who represents any party in the House, should be thinking about the real producers of wealth in this country. They should be thinking about the miners and about those who provide the food. They should be thinking about the people who are raising families, the unemployed and the youth who cannot find jobs. But what are they saying? We have a great country. We just gave our judges an 8% raise.

This is wrong. This bill, as the amendment says, should go back to committee. The government should have no fear of sending it back. I do not care whether the session is almost over. For the government to move closure on this bill will ring out across this land like no emergency has ever rung out. The people will say “The government has done it again”.

The government is robbing from Canadians to pay people a salary in excess of $140,000. It is saying that the rest of the people can work it out for themselves. The farmers, the people who live in the Saguenay, on the prairies, in the Red River valley and elsewhere will just have to pick up their own bootstraps. It may take them 10 years to get back to normal.

I beg the House to support this motion. If anything, stall it. Send it back. I think the judges can live on $140,000 without due concern. I think that can happen. I do not think our justice system is going to fall to pieces. This is a good motion and I beg everyone to support it.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to partake in the debate today. There has been a great deal of bluster and a great deal of frank discussion about the merits of this particular piece of legislation.

To focus specifically on the motion before the House, what we are in essence contemplating and what the motion would have this House do is return this particular piece of legislation to the committee for further discussion and consideration.

As the previous speaker has indicated, it would hold this piece of legislation in abeyance until perhaps some of the more controversial elements of it have been dealt with in a more substantive way.

It also calls for the review process to kick in. Before the legislation is put in place there would be a further opportunity for scrutiny on some of the detail. In particular, we have heard the official opposition voice its concerns about the salary scale that judges would enjoy should this legislation be passed through this House. Then, of course, it will be further examined in the other Chamber.

There is a great deal of irony, of course, in the remarks of the official opposition, knowing that members of the House are contemplating raises for themselves. I think we have to be very careful, very circumspect, when we speak to this topic.

I do take some exception to some of the personal attacks and some of the remarks that have been made about the judiciary. I think we owe it to ourselves as parliamentarians to be very, very cautious indeed when we start to denigrate and question the integrity of the judiciary. It is certainly not a simple solution to castigate the entire legal process and the players in it.

I can assure members that there are many problems within our justice system. I do not think anyone in this country would disagree with that. However, I believe that the majority of people who are presently working in the justice system are doing their best. Although it is an imperfect system, when compared with other countries it is certainly something we should be proud of.

It is always easy to take the wrecking ball approach and knock down the system we have, but we must always be prepared to replace it with something that is constructive. Unfortunately, there is a tendency at times to simply tear things down without having something positive to replace them with. I feel it is important to have that on the record.

The motion itself, I will indicate quite clearly, the Conservative Party supports. We feel that there is an importance in this motion in that it calls for further credibility of the system and further transparency. It would allow for greater public scrutiny and for the calling of further witnesses to testify. It is a positive suggestion and one that appears quite non-partisan in nature. I believe this is very important when it comes to issues of justice because the benefits or the downside of justice issues really do not know political boundaries.

Once more we see far too often in the House issues of health, education and justice becoming mired in partisan remarks and personal remarks. We must sometimes be a little more tempered when we speak on the floor of the Chamber.

We are certainly for the process of examination or re-examination as the case would be with this motion. We are supportive in principle. A positive suggestion has been put forward. As a member of the justice committee I am not reluctant at all to delve into this question, to look at it further.

There are many positive things about the bill itself, if I can speak momentarily about it in the broader scheme. The suggestion that we will be having more unified family court judges will be of great benefit.

The legislation as well talks about a review process. That is a process that would in future examine the question of compensation. Let us face it. What we need in the system more than anything else is good personnel. We need judges who will be competent, judges who come from the practice of law and bring with them that experience. That personal element does not come cheap. We have to ensure that we will have individuals who are prepared in many cases to make sacrifices by leaving the profession.

We are supportive of this amendment. We would suggest all members of the House similarly support the motion, and I will leave my remarks at that.