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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.

Topics

Prayer

Access To Information

June 4th, 1998 / 10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I have the honour, pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act, to lay upon the table the report of the information commissioner for the fiscal year ended March 31, 1998.

This report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to nine petitions.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Vancouver South—Burnaby B.C.

Liberal

Herb Dhaliwal LiberalMinister of National Revenue

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-43, an act to establish the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and to amend and repeal other acts as a consequence.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-418, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mandatory counselling for certain assaults).

Mr. Speaker, this morning I am please to introduce a private member's bill concerning domestic violence, which we all know is a very serious problem in our society. We know that if it is unchecked, if it is not dealt with at the beginning, the frequency increases, the intensity of assaults increases and judgment becomes impaired. It is very difficult to get out of the situation. The risk of bodily harm or even death approaches certainty as time goes on.

I am pleased to introduce this bill as a small step toward addressing domestic violence. The bill would require mandatory counselling for those convicted of domestic assault in addition to any other charges or penalties imposed by the courts.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, presented on Monday, May 25, 1998, be concurred in.

I would like to take this opportunity to make my colleagues in the House of Commons and all of our citizens in this wonderful country called Canada aware of a most crucial report that was tabled by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

The third report of our committee was entitled “Enforcing Canada's Pollution Laws: The Public Interest Must Come First”. The report was tabled on May 25, 1998. This being Environment Week, it is a most crucial time to bring this to the forefront and to apprise all of our members of the details of this committee report.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development proceeded to study the enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the pollution provisions under the Fisheries Act.

There were 24 recommendations. These are the highlights of some of the recommendations.

It is most crucial that the Minister of the Environment provide the committee with amounts budgeted and actually expended for inspections, investigations and prosecutions related to the enforcement of CEPA and the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act and, also, that any report prepared for the review process of the department in relation to enforcement be provided to the committee.

The committee also recommended that the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans develop and publish a comprehensive enforcement and compliance policy in relation to the pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act within six months of the tabling of this report.

It recommended that the Minister of the Environment ensure that the regulated parties are informed of their legal obligations under the federal environment laws and that such laws and regulations continue to apply and that they must be observed.

There are many instances in which agreements are made between provincial jurisdictions and federal jurisdictions which fail to highlight that federal legal obligations are still in tact.

The committee recommended that the new CEPA legislation, Bill C-32, enable inspectors and investigators to be designated and given the full powers of a peace officer. Bill C-32 is now being reviewed under the House process. Our inspectors and investigators who are out in the field have little power to issue fines, aside from creating warnings and starting the prosecution process.

Also recommended was that the minister establish without delay a professional intelligence gathering and analysis capacity. This is most crucial because pollution affects our communities, our health and our families. We must therefore establish an intelligence agency among police officers like the RCMP, the provincial police and the customs officers who control our border crossing.

There was also a recommendation to have whistleblower protection for anything dealing with federal obligations. We have many labour groups working in our ports, our manufacturing companies and our industries who may be aware of infractions and must therefore have whistleblower protection in order to protect their careers. There will be instances where they must extend their authority and highlight the infractions that their company or their employer may be inflicting on our environment. This is a most crucial recommendation that challenges this government to consider.

The minister should revise the current structure of enforcement and establish regional branches and that the decisions not made by officials having managerial functions must be made by members of the enforcement personnel. Enforcement decisions must be made by enforcement personnel, not managerial or political decisions.

Another recommendation is delaying the signing of the proposed subagreement on the enforcement under the Canadian council of environment ministers. Under the harmonization accord that was recently signed there was a subagreement called enforcement which was supposed to be introduced later. We strongly recommend that this be delayed because the present enforcement structure and the federal responsibilities presently are not being complied with.

The minister should publish all enforcement data relating to CEPA, the Fisheries Act and the manganese based fuels act. All these must be published for the media to scrutinize for the public's interest and for leaders and politicians in the legislatures of the provinces, the territories and the House of Commons to scrutinize the abilities of the enforcement of this country. These environmental laws are most crucial for the future health of our children.

The minister should be required to publish and table officially in parliament a detailed annual report on the enforcement actions taken in the previous year relating to all the laws and regulations of Environment Canada mandated under CEPA and the Fisheries Act.

Presently we hear instances that the fisheries minister is required to table the report here in the House of Commons and has not been able to because the provincial governments have not been able to give him the data. The harmonization accord has many holes in it. If these different levels of government cannot be involved in providing a report to the House of Commons there is something drastically wrong with the relationship we have with the provincial departments.

Another major recommendation that challenges this government and the environment minister is to conduct an indepth study to determine whether methyl mercury released in the aquatic environment as a result of the creation of reservoirs, dams and hydro projects in the great rivers of our northern regions is accumulation in the fish and the food cycle. This must be realized because under the CEPA regulations mercury is considered to be a natural substance and not a human induced toxin into our environment. However, because the building of dams increases mercury in our food system we need to have an indepth study on how to address this issue.

The most important recommendation that the minister is challenged to seek and the Government of Canada grant is more resources to ensure proper enforcement on the environment legislation. Time and time again witnesses who were questioned in committee said there was a lack of resources as a result of cutbacks from program reviews one and two. These were financial reviews, not environmental enforcement reviews for the protection of our environment. These were reviews to see where cutbacks should be properly made, surgically cut for the financial wellness of this country. We see the financial well-being of this country. We see an exuberant amount of surpluses in programs that previously were in deficit. Now is the time to draw a priority and consider the environment as a number one priority, especially in this beautiful country.

The introduction of the report and the recommendations are a result of public meetings held from February 18 to March 26, 1998. The committee heard various witnesses from industry, from aboriginal peoples, from labour organizations, environmental groups and government officials, numerous submissions from stakeholders from across Canada.

In this consideration we would like to note the bravery and congratulate the field staff members of Environment Canada who came out and were honest in their perception of the challenges they face in their daily operations as inspectors, as investigators in enforcing the CEPA regulations and the fisheries regulations.

The key points in the report which are highlighted are Environment Canada's enforcement responsibilities and the need for effective enforcement, enforcement problems under federal-provincial-territorial agreements and involving the Canadian public, which is the most crucial aspect of the report, the public's right to know and the public's right to the protection of our environment.

I draw to the attention of the House a book that was most crucial. A quote from this book is that citizens of nations should have a bill of rights. The charter of rights and freedoms of this country should be considered to include environmental protection so that we are free of the poisons and the toxins of the many industries that indiscriminately induce these toxins and pollutants into our water, our air and our land, the very nature of the life we are going to depend on for future generation.

In context we have the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That is our bill of rights. That is what defines the protection of our environment. But the act is useless if it is not enforced. Without a police officer system on a highway, who is going to keep track of the speed limits? Who is going to keep track of the traffic infractions? Who is going to keep track of all the violations that take place from day to day without the volunteer aspect that we expect from our citizens? The CEPA regulations and this recommendation from the committee highlight that enforcement is a crucial aspect of the protection of our environment.

Under CEPA there are 26 regulations that deal with PCBs, ocean dumping, clean air and water, CFCs, dioxins, furons and fuels. All these issues deal with every constituency in this country. All members of parliament should be aware of the implications, of the inability of the government and the department to enforce these laws.

Under the Fisheries Act we also add fish habitat, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans and the coastlines. We have the drastic results of the Atlantic fisheries and the decline in our fish, the Pacific coast, the changes in our environment, the protection of the fish species and the very economy that depends on it. A total of 32 regulations fall under CEPA enforcement and the fisheries.

In recent times there have been seven equivalency and administrative agreements with the provinces and the territories. Three are specifically under CEPA and two under the Fisheries Act. One of them we highlight is Quebec, federal pulp and paper regulations, a major agreement between federal and provincial jurisdictions.

The Northwest Territories is defining a framework agreement in the five regional offices that comply with the enforcement and the interpretation, the Atlantic regional office, the Quebec regional office, the Ontario regional office, the prairie and northern regional office and the Pacific-Yukon regional office. These regional offices play an important role. In some of the data we were provided with, between 1996 and 1997 there 701 inspections under CEPA, 53 investigations were conducted, 2 directions, 28 warnings, 5 prosecutions and 7 convictions. In some cases investigations had begun in previous years.

In Fisheries Act data for the same year there were 778 inspections, 25 investigations, 1 direction, 8 warnings, 5 prosecutions and 6 convictions.

I highlight the major topics of the report, including the need for effective enforcement and limited resources as a result of the program review of the environment. Environment Canada has realized a 40% cutback in its the financial budget. There is also a loss of the Fraser River action plan that deals with the west coast. The Fraser is a major river system. The Pacific-Yukon budget has been cut by 30%. This cut was effective on April 1. Five hundred and fifty average inspections are expected to drop to three hundred and eighty-five as a result of the cutbacks. The cuts have a definite impact on enforcement. Vacant positions are not being filled, existing workloads and work expectations are insurmountable.

There are issues of climate change and a need to research and collect data on the state of our environment and our fish habitat. But the workload and the expectation is based on the existing workload which has been cutback by 40%. In the Quebec region alone, 60% of its enforcement budget is actually used for enforcement. We must direct these resources to where they are needed. Existing vacancies in Quebec have been left unfilled for as long as two years although it is one of the most industrialized provinces in Canada.

Poor information supplied to the committee by the department is a major highlight. We are still waiting for information from the department that was requested by our committee. To date it has not materialized. No on really knows how bad the situation is. No details are brought out on the enforcement versus compliance promotion and other activities. Two inspectors in Ontario provide four to five days per company to verify the national pollutant release inventory, a new international compliance. We are making international commitments to do inventory on our national state of pollution but our workload is being carried by the existing staff. In B.C. areas, including non-industrial impacts, there are approximately 17,200 possible sites for a total of 16 staff.

Entire sections of CEPA are not being enforced in Canada. We are trying to juggle and hope industry does not know much about the unenforced regulations and that Canadians believe the protection of our environment is of utmost importance. But we cannot assume. We must make sure enforcement of this law is taking place. Fifteen inspectors in the prairie region cover an area roughly 50% of Canada's land mass.

In 1992-93 there were 1,233 inspections concerning CEPA by inspectors, 93 investigations, 105 warnings, 2 directions and 22 prosecutions. By 1996 the situation deteriorated. We were down to 97 warnings, 15 prosecutions, no directions and no convictions, a clear reduction in environment presence and in regulatory enforcement.

The deputy minister admitted at committee under intense pressure of questioning that there were inadequate resources in terms of environment enforcement. A KPMG survey highlighted that the voluntary measures expected from companies are inadequate, about 16% efficiency compared with enforcement and regulatory compliance measures where 90% will comply.

This government continues to promote voluntary measures. In many areas of the report, there is a lack of resources, a lack of enforcement and also a lack of real harmonization between the provinces.

There is inadequate responsibility of reporting to parliament on the infractions to the fisheries habitat. The provincial regulators and enforcers are supposed to provide this information to the fisheries minister. He has still not been able to provide this report to the House of Commons for all the public in Canada to know. He is legally liable.

The agreement between Quebec and Canada on the application of federal pulp and paper regulations was highlighted. There were 20 infractions in the same year that this was re-signed and renewed and no prosecutions were instituted.

More alarming was the aquaculture memorandum of understanding between DFO and New Brunswick. In that area there was rampant disease and marine pollution. Pesticides were dumped to control an aquaculture problem but the natural environment was being compromised as a result.

In 1997 Ontario pulled out of its agreement with DFO to enforce fish habitat protection. The existing enforcement officers out of the Ontario region are expected to carry out what the province of Ontario is supposed to be doing.

Existing resources have been cut back. The expectations have increased and this report is a major highlight. We must address the enforcement of our environment and pollution protection of this country.

I beg that this House understand the implications of this report and the challenge for this government to make the environment a number one priority, especially this week which is environment week.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That the House do now proceed to the orders of the day.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 190Routine Proceedings

11:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from June 3 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

11:15 a.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise at report stage of Bill C-37 to amend to the Judges Act after having been so rudely interrupted by that NDP procedural motion.

The bill seeks to raise the compensation paid to judges appointed by the federal government over the course of two years by 8.3%. Already federally appointed judges on average are paid approximately $140,000 which is not exactly small change. It is a significant chunk of public revenue.

Let me make it clear at the outset that I and my colleagues in official opposition do not object to paying judges or anybody else who works for the public. We do not expect these people to be disadvantaged in terms of their compensation. We think fair compensation ought to apply to judges as it does to all other members of our public service, people who work for the crown.

What concerns me in the bill is the double standard we are creating for one small group within those who work in the public sector, that group being federal judges. It seems particularly strange to me at a time when frontline workers in the federal government, particularly frontline workers in the federal justice system, people such as frontline members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, frontline members of the Correctional Service of Canada, frontline people who enforce our laws, receive little or no pay increases year after year. However, those at the very top of the stratum, those who are already paid far more than most Canadians, would get the biggest increase. Quite frankly the approach taken by the commission which reported and in the legislation seems inequitable, unfair and inappropriate.

The people on the frontline of the justice system like RCMP constables and correctional service officers are people who day after day put their lives on the line for the enforcement of law and order. They are accountable to performance. If they do not perform they can be dismissed. If they make huge errors in judgment they can be dismissed or disciplined. In other words they are accountable.

What about the judges? Are they accountable? No, they are not. They are accountable to no one but themselves. I submit the principle of accountability for compensation ought to apply throughout the public sector just as it does within the private sector.

When my constituents look at some of the judgments made by federal judges at various levels including the Supreme Court of Canada, what they see sometimes astounds them. Other members of my party have made reference to some of the recent shocking court judgments by the people we are now proposing to raise their pay by 8.3%.

For instance, members will have heard recently about the Feeney case. The court ruled that a man who was clearly guilty of first degree murder would be acquitted because a police officer entered his residence without a search warrant, after having knocked on the door and announced himself, to find the perpetrator of this atrocious crime in bed with blood on his person and throughout his trailer from the murder he had just committed. It is unbelievable.

We are now proposing to raise the pay of the judge who made this decision by 8.3%. Not only is he not accountable but we cannot balance his pay with his performance. We have a cast of people who are appointed without public oversight, without parliamentary scrutiny, by the sole discretion of the Governor General in Council, the Prime Minister, and are not accountable even if they make widely outrageous decisions.

What do we say to these people? We say they are not accountable. They make bizarre decisions some of the time. We cannot measure their performance but we will give them an 8.3% pay raise anyway. It is just plain wrong. It shows a completely contorted sense of priorities on the part of the government.

Canadians families are now in the second decade of no after tax increase in their disposable incomes. Frontline workers in the federal government have had no raises for seven years. That we should talk about the best paid people in the country getting an 8.3% pay raise is completely unacceptable.

Yesterday one of my colleagues pointed out that there is a clause in Bill C-37 dealing with survivor benefits, speaking of the spouses of judges. There is a definition of spouse in the act, as there should be. Every federal statute dealing with family benefits requires the term spouse and therefore defines the term.

Recently Madam Justice Rosalie Abella of the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in the Rosenberg case that the traditional definition of spouse, the definition which exists in Bill C-37 and hundreds of other federal statutes, the definition which is rooted in 1,000 years of common law history and 3,000 years of the Mosaic law tradition, is no longer applicable to all federal statutes including the one we are debating today.

We are proposing to give Madam Justice Abella an 8.3% pay raise after having made a decision contrary to the interest of the government, contrary to the interest of justice, contrary to any kind of public accountability. This justice was appointed without any kind of oversight or scrutiny by the public, by parliament or by elected representatives of the people. She was appointed behind closed doors by bureaucrats in the justice department offering their short list of candidates to the politicians in cabinet to choose one name over another.

We should have a moratorium on pay raises for judges of the federal government until or unless there is some kind of accountability. Once again, compensation must be linked to accountability.

We in the opposition have called for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to review and comment on judicial nominees by the federal government. At least then we could have some kind of screening process to make sure that irresponsible, ideologically driven, radical judges like Rosalie Abella do not find their way on to the bench. If people like Rosalie Abella want to legislate their political agenda I suggest they run for public office as has everyone in this place and not sit on the bench where they think they can unilaterally impose their political agenda, peculiar as it may be, on the rest of Canadians.

The time has come for us to review the entire process of appointments of judges and the enormous undemocratic power which our courts exercise. Until we have done that we cannot and should not offer them a reward in terms of a 8.3% pay increase until they are finally accountable for the decisions they make.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we continue the debate I would like to put on the record of the House the fact that it is quite permissible to speak in general terms about the judiciary. However it is not appropriate to speak about a specific judge or to impugn motive directed to a specific judge. That is not appropriate. It is appropriate to question the judiciary in general terms but not specific judges.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

Reform

Howard Hilstrom Reform Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, thank you for those word of wisdom in guiding the House along a proper path of decorum and wise speech.

It is a pleasure today to speak to Bill C-37. When I rose to speak to the bill on March 30 I suggested several areas of the bill that should be considered for amendment to ensure its stated intent could be achieved. I rise today to emphasize to members of the House the need for such changes.

Many of Canada's judges may well deserve a reasonable raise of certainly no more than 2% which is what lower paid employees are getting in the public service. By way of general comment, 2% on $20,000 is much less than 2% on $140,000. The lowest and the most needy in society are getting a much lower dollar to take home and buy the basic necessities of life than the higher paid in society.

Low salaries are typical of the justice sector in general, especially in the area of law enforcement. I understand a new mechanism for determining salaries of Canada's judges is needed. As one of my hon. colleague's pointed out earlier, the bill will increase the salaries of judges by 8.3% over two years. Most Canadians would agree this is an unreasonable proposition, especially when we consider judges' salaries in comparison to those of other members of the law enforcement community.

The lowest paid in this public sector still suffer financial hardship due to the broken promise of the government for a resolution, for example, of the pay equity issue. Here again we are dealing with people making in the neighbourhood of $20,000 to $28,000 a year.

I also speak specifically about Canada's national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Along with that group, I suppose, one could include crown attorneys, clerks and paralegals.

RCMP officers put their lives on the line pretty well every day, but have only received their first small raise since approximately 1991. Police officers make headlines by saving lives.

The House knows how Canada's judges have taken over parliament's role in changing, through interpretation, legislation. The current issue that is of great concern is the change in the definition of spouse. The Rosenberg case, which was referred to previously, has taken it out of the hands of parliament, which should rightfully deal with an issue as major as determining the definition of the word spouse. I would like to think that at some point, possibly in the fall, we will be back debating that particular issue on behalf of Canadians to come up with a resolution out of this House as opposed to the courts doing it.

I would like hon. members of the House to consider how a rank and file RCMP officer will feel when this bill is passed. Officers work every day in dangerous circumstances. Many of our judges seem to be out of touch with the current standards of the average citizen in our community.

I recently brought a petition to the House in reference to the Giles case in Manitoba. One of the primary statements that I made in regard to that petition was that judges have to reflect the standards, the morals and the current beliefs of a society. Otherwise, what are they doing on the bench?

This brings me to another point with regard to Bill C-37. It seeks to establish an independent mechanism for salary determination in order to maintain the independence of the judiciary. There are two problems with this. I agree in part with the intention of this because we certainly want judges to be independent. However, they also have to be accountable and, as I said, reflect the society they are judging.

Canada's judges should certainly not fear salary cuts if they render decisions against the government. However, the commission to be established under this legislation cannot hope to provide that independence. I believe that the appointment process of one representative by the judges, one by the government and one by both to make up the tribunal does not lend itself to that independence.

The government must move to prevent patronage appointments in the case of government appointments, which are undoubtedly going to occur under this legislation. While it may be agreed that the judiciary should be independent of the government, this should not mean that judges are unaccountable.

I know that hon. members opposite can mention the systems in place for judicial review. I realize that many feel that appeal courts provide all of the accountability necessary in our judicial system because they provide a mechanism whereby bad decisions can sometimes be reversed.

However, this does little to address the deeper problem, which is judges who make decisions that are offensive to their community standards. In that case there is no mechanism for any accountability back to these members of our society. It is here that the question of judicial accountability becomes tricky. Judges should, as we have already agreed, be independent of parliament, which might otherwise manipulate their decisions for political purposes.

The judges should not be totally independent of the communities and the people they serve. Judges who render decisions in keeping with Canada's laws and who use the flexibility provided them under these laws to render sentences in keeping with the expectations of their communities should be recognized for doing so.

Local communities should have greater opportunity to give direct feedback to judges' associations outside of the courtroom. If we cannot move to a system whereby judges are elected by the people for fixed terms of office, we can at least give communities a voice in the process.

This legislation should be amended to allow for the input of victims groups and community leaders in the salary determination process for individual judges. The judges would receive this feedback on a yearly basis which would help to ensure that they reflect the values and standards of the public they serve. The point is that there would be more immediate feedback in the instance of an extremely lenient sentence being given to a child molester or a probationary sentence being given to someone convicted of manslaughter. The judges would find out right away that a large segment of society is against that kind of sentencing.

The fact that judges actually are public servants should not be lost on the House or on the judges themselves. It seems that the concept that they are public servants is a missing ingredient in our society today.

When I consider the legislative action which has been taken and, in particular, the bill which we are debating today, something becomes obvious. The government is not reflecting community values, standards and current thinking on appropriate compensation for public servants, the judges, who are the subject of this bill.

I would like to comment on Motion No. 1 and the rationale behind the motion. Clause 5 pertains to the increase in judges' salaries which will be 4.1%, retroactive to April 1, 1997. No one is getting an increase retroactive to April 1, 1997 and the judges should not be getting one either.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, as chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I want to comment specifically on Motion No. 2, which is the motion that is before the House at this time. This motion would—

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Motion No. 1.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

With respect, there must be a way the hon. member would be able to work her comments into Motion No. 1.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, with respect to Motion No. 1, members have been talking specifically about the salary increases. However, I think it is important for us to acknowledge and to realize that, in general, while the bill focuses in part on salaries, it focuses on other things too. That seems to have escaped the attention of all of the opposition parties.

In particular, attention should be given to the initiative to create unified family courts. I see that the hon. member for London West is in the House. She will know, because she practised law before the courts in London, that the unified family court, an experiment which began in the city of London, Ontario, has been a very great boon to that community. It has allowed the justice system to become streamlined in an area that is crucial to family life and to the good operation of a community.

When these disputes come before a court, it is important that we create a system that allows them to be dealt with as efficiently as possible.

I want to comment on the mood of this debate, particularly with respect to the comments that have been made about specific members of the judiciary and the judiciary in general. When I hear comments like “judges should be independent of parliament but not of their communities” I think that sounds good. Judges live in communities. They should be in touch with their communities. That is good. That is why the government has created committees composed of members of communities who are not all judges but lay people as well. These committees vet applications for judicial positions and pass judgment on applicants before they come to the minister's attention.

I think of the implications of the statement that judges should be independent of parliament but not of their communities. The hon. member seems to be saying that if a community group or people in the community do not like a judgment, even though that judgment is correct in law, then somehow they can yank the chain to bring the judge to attention and to account.

I heard a member from Calgary suggest, with respect to the Rosenberg decision, that a particular judge was promoting her own political goals and views. These are very serious allegations to be made about a group of people, or even about specific people, who are themselves public servants and not in a position to defend themselves. Before we use our privileges in the House to speak publicly, freely and without any repercussions, I would suggest that we be very careful.

When we look at other countries such as Cuba, or countries where we have concerns about the absence of democratic rights, we look for certain characteristics when we test them for their beliefs in democratic principles. We look for a free parliamentary assembly where people are elected and more than one party can run. We look for privileges for parliamentarians so they can speak freely. We also look for an independent judiciary. A sign of democracy is having systems in place which allow the judiciary to operate independently and not worry about whether their salaries will be paid or about whether they will be yanked back or punished by a community group with a particular agenda if they make a correct decision in law in relation to the constitution.

Reformers are playing with a very serious concept here. Judicial independence is more important than almost any other principle of democracy. It is certainly as important as our right to speak freely in this House, and I would suggest that members opposite be very careful about how they use or abuse that privilege.

We must keep in mind that whether we are in opposition or in government, parliamentarians are part of the justice system. We make the laws. We are every bit as much a part of the justice system as judges, police officers, victims, criminals and litigants in civil law suits.

It is incumbent on us when we are debating these principles to keep the level of debate at a point where we ourselves are not undermining the institutions that we value. The institution of the independent judiciary is so fundamental to our democracy that it should be protected. It should be nurtured. It should not be attacked in an irresponsible and ill-informed manner. I would suggest that that is what we are hearing today.

Judges cannot respond because it is not appropriate for them to respond. It is not appropriate for them to respond because of their position. That makes them sitting ducks for people who are promoting an agenda of fear and intolerance so that they can then use that to further their political agenda.

We have to be very careful to preserve these precious rights. We have to be very careful to make sure that our judiciary is respected and is taken care of so that they can continue to do the fine job that they are doing.

For those reasons, I will be opposing Motion No. 1 and voting against it. I am very happy to be able to support Bill C-37. I just wish we could hear some more about the good things that that bill is doing, including the unified family court.