Mr. Speaker, in December of last year, shortly after the federal election, I was going through an Ottawa Citizen article which mentioned that Canadian judges would be receiving a $19 million pay raise that would boost their income 11.2% on average to more than $205,000.
The 11.2% awarded on December 13, 2000, was according to that news article quoting a justice department lawyer a compromise between the 26.3% that the judges were asking for and the demands of taxpayers to keep costs down. Government justice lawyer Judith Bellis had taken the view that the 11.2% was in the range of reasonable.
Bill C-12, the subject of today's debate, enacts that 11.2% pay raise, thereby raising the salaries of approximately 1,013 federally appointed judges who sit on provincial superior courts and courts of appeal, as well as the tax courts and the Supreme Court of Canada.
The increase, retroactive to April 1, 2000, will raise the base salary from $179,200 to $198,000 for judges who sit on appeal courts and superior courts in each province. The salaries for the chief justices in those courts will rise to $217,000 from $196,500. The same rates will also apply to federal court judges.
The judges on the Supreme Court of Canada will remain the highest paid. The eight regular judges will see an increase to $235,700 from $213,000, while Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's salary will jump to $254,000 from $230,200.
It is important to note that while the government considers this raise reasonable, the official opposition views it as extremely generous considering senior public servants have received raises of no more than 5.7%. As well, the pay of public servants is not indexed, while the pay and salaries of judges are. We on this side of the House, therefore, are opposed to Bill C-12.
For the information of other new members of the House, I would like to point out this is not the first time the Liberal government has tried to amend the Judges Act. In fact, this is the fourth time the Liberals have come forward and made changes to the act.
Originally in 1996, Bill C-2 and Bill C-42, both if I may paraphrase a former member of the House, were described as being nebulous, inconsequential pieces of legislation with little significance to Canadians who were genuinely concerned about their safety, as opposed to the simple administrative matters that these bills brought forward.
In April 1998 Bill C-37 was introduced to establish the judicial compensation and benefits commission. The compensation commission was set up as an independent advisory body after the supreme court ruled that judges' salaries were constitutionally protected and the previous system of setting pay was inadequate.
Bill C-37, increasing judges' salaries retroactively, provided them with an 8.3% pay increase over those two years. Translated into dollars, this meant an average $13,000 pay increase for federal judges with salaries increasing from $159,000 to over $172,000.
I do not know of any other federal public servant, or any hard-working Canadian citizen, who received a $13,000 pay increase in 1998. While the Liberal government and the Tories were voting in favour of the huge pay increase, Canadians' incomes were on a steady decline.
Members on this side of the House, with the exception of the Progressive Conservative Party, opposed the bill. Members on the other side of the House wrongfully insisted that our opposition to the bill was “the ravings of ill-informed and ill-prepared men of parliament who contributed to the ill-repute of the justice system”. The truth is that my party holds the judiciary in high esteem. We were opposed to Bill C-37 and we are opposed to Bill C-12, based on the fact that other senior public servants, lower level public employees and other Canadian workers had not and will not be awarded such generous increases.
In the same year that federal judges were being awarded these huge salary increases, comparatively Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers, who had had their salaries and wages frozen for five years, were granted an increase of 2% in March 1998, retroactive to January. A second pay increase was given to them in April 1998 and toward the end of that year they received another three-quarter per cent increase. Over the five years that they had been frozen, and in the next year of 1998, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police saw an increase of three and three-quarter per cent. They are on the front lines putting their lives in jeopardy. The average three year constable received less than $2,000 over those years.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the former member of Crowfoot put forward an amendment to Bill C-37 that was supported and passed in the House during report stage. That amendment ensured that every four years the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights had the opportunity to review the report of the commission on judges' salaries and benefits. The task would not be left solely to the Minister of Justice as was originally contemplated by the Liberal government.
It would be negligent of me if I also did not recognize the thorough job the Senate did in reviewing Bill C-37, the pre-emptive bill to Bill C-12, and the substantive amendments that it brought forward at the upper house.
In particular, I would like to single out the efforts of Senator Anne Cools for her diligent efforts in revealing the many inadequacies of Bill C-37. Senator Cools apparently exposed the fact that Bill C-37 would effectively allow judges to set their own wages, salaries and benefits and in so doing would set up the possibility of there being a show down between parliament and the judiciary. It would allow judges to appeal parliament's decision regarding a recommendation of the salary increase put forward in the courts. Essentially the judges would have the final say over whether or not parliamentarians were giving them a sufficient raise.
Although former judicial pay commissioner David Scott said it was unlikely that judges would ever be setting their own salaries, he would not rule out the possibility of the judiciary challenging parliament's response to the commission's recommendations for a pay increase or for reducing pay.
The judiciary would have to prove, however, in a court that the refusal to increase salaries or a decision to lower them was motivated by a wish to diminish the independence of judges. Mr. Scott said that even if the judges won in such a case, the court could only declare parliament's motion on the issue void and that would result in a stalemate. As pointed out by the Liberal senator, this would “deprive Canadians of their undoubted constitutional right to parliament's control over the public purse in respect to the judiciary”.
Clearly, the control of the public purse rests with the elected members of parliament and not with the unelected members of the judiciary.
Section 100 of the 1867, Constitution Act, states in part that the salaries, allowances and pensions of the judges shall be fixed and provided by the Parliament of Canada. Clause 6 of Bill C-37 potentially abolished parliament's role in fixing judges' salaries.
Obviously we must question why the Minister of Justice at that time was so willing to bestow such potentially wielding powers on the judiciary through Bill C-37. One can only surmise, and again I use the words of Senator Cools when she said:
The real intent (of Bill C-37) is to remove parliament from the process.... There is a problem in that certain particular judges seem to crave a closeness to certain individuals in the Department of Justice and are trying to cling, closer and closer, to the executive rather than to parliament.
She went on to say to the Senate:
In other words, honourable senators, what is happening here is that 200 years of history are being turned on their head, and we are being told in this judgment that, quite frankly, judges prefer their fate to be in the hands of the executive rather than in the hands of parliament. It is a most curious and interesting subject matter.
It is more than curious and interesting, it is fearful.
Bill C-37, which was also an act to amend the Judges Act as it was originally drafted by the Department of Justice, had another problem. It created a legal right for a judge to have two spouses. The two spouses clause was meant to deal with circumstances in which a married judge, who was separated from his or her wife or husband and was living common law with another person, died. It would have allowed a judge to have both spouses, married and common law, to be eligible for the lucrative pension. In addition, the common law spouse would collect a one time payout of one-sixth of the judge's annual salary at the time of his or her passing.
Former supreme court Justice William Estey said that this particular section of Bill C-37 would “give his former colleagues on the bench the right to a kind of homemade harem. It would effectively create two separate sets of family law, one for the judges and one for everyone else”.
During debate on this legislation it was noted that the situations such as the contemplated one in Bill C-37 were rare. Therefore, questions arose as to why such a clause was put into Bill C-37. Critics suggested that this particular clause was tailor made for Chief Justice LeSage who was separated from his wife and had resided for about a year with Judge Lang. If Chief Justice LeSage were to die, the new amendment would have allowed both Judge Lang and Mrs. LeSage to qualify as his surviving spouse and share his pension.
As pointed out by Senator Cools during the debate, Bill C-37 appeared tailor fit to particular individuals. Senator Cools said “We have a situation in this country where individuals have access to the legislative writing machine”. Senator Cools said that it was very bothersome. Again, that is more than bothersome. That is a huge concern.
I understand that Bill C-37 was not the first time that the government has tailor made legislation to amend the Judges Act. Bill C-42, as mentioned earlier, also amended the Judges Act. It changed the pension scheme and working conditions of the federally appointed judiciary. In particular, it set out the terms on which Canadian judges could participate in international activities.
Although it was never explicitly admitted by the House or by the government, it was no secret that these amendments to the Judges Act arose due to the 1996 appointment of then Madam Justice Louise Arbour to the United Nations as a prosecutor for its special war crimes division.
Apparently opposition members naively agreed in June of that year, just before the House recessed for the summer, without any debate in the House, without any debate at committee, to pass Bill C-42 after being assured by the former justice minister that it was a simple innocuous housekeeping bill. It was not until the amended bill was returned from the Senate and the testimony of witnesses that appeared before the Senate committee were made known that my colleagues realized that Bill C-42, as claimed by legal experts, had “the appearance of transgressing the vital principle of judicial impartiality”, the very principle that our Minister of Justice has just spoken on.
In particular, I refer to the testimony of Professor Morton:
The government is concerned, as well it should be, with the current status of Justice Arbour and the implications of her status for those responsible at justice. The government seems to hope that by passing Bill C-42 as quickly as possible it can retroactively legitimate apparent indiscretions by Justice Arbour and possibly others—
It would appear that Justice Arbour agreed to the appointment before it had been approved by the Minister of Justice (or any other officials), thereby forcing the minister to react to a fait accompli. Furthermore, it then appears that the minister, rather than recommending to Justice Arbour that she postpone her new activities (at the Hague) pending necessary amendments to the Judges Act, sought to temporarily legitimate her actions by an order in council; and then (because the order in council is conceded to be insufficient) sought to retroactively legitimate Justice Arbour's new employment with general amendments to the Judges Act, Bill C-42, thereby forcing the hand of Parliament.
Professor Morton added:
No doubt some will say that this is nit-picking. My response is simple. If the justice minister and appeal court judges cannot be expected to comply with the letter of the law, then who can?...Indeed within the last month the justice minister himself pronounced on the meaning and the importance of the rule of the law. The rule of the law is “a living” principle that is fundamental to our democratic way of life. In substance it means that everyone in our society, including ministers of government, premiers, the rich and powerful and the ordinary citizen alike, is governed by the same law of the land.
While one section of Bill C-42 at that point in time appeared tailor made for Arbour, another section of that very same bill was apparently designed for the then chief justice of the supreme court in that it offered an unprecedented pension benefit to the chief justice and his wife at the very time when the top court was considering the most politically sensitive case of the decade, perhaps of confederation, whether Quebec had a constitutional right to secede from Canada.
The proposed changes did away with the prohibition on judicial double-dipping. Previously a retired judge received a pension equal to two-thirds of his annual salary; on average, about $104,000. When he died, his spouse collected a survivor's pension worth one-third of his salary or $52,000, provided that she was not a retired judge.
Under the new law retired judge spouses will collect both, thus receiving a total pension equivalent to their salary before retirement. The most obvious beneficiary of the change was Chief Justice Lamer and his wife, Federal Court of Canada Justice Danièle Tremblay-Lamer.
With regard to this section of Bill C-42, Professor Morton said:
Without imputing any illicit motive to anyone involved—the timing of this proposed change could not be worse.
Morton also said that sceptics would claim:
It is unacceptable that a chief justice who is about to benefit from the minister's proposed pension policy change now sits in judgment of the minister's Quebec reference—the most politically sensitive constitutional case of the decade.
In closing, I would assure the House and Canadians in general that the official opposition will closely scrutinize Bill C-12. In particular, we will review the provision of the bill that changes the annuities scheme.
I am not a financial expert. I am not an expert on annuities or the pay schedules that are put forward in the bill. Without the advantage of expert advice at this stage, what appears to happen is that the changes being made to the Judges Act allow a judge who is married for the second time to another judge after the death of his or her first spouse, also a judge, to collect both or two survivor benefits upon the death of the second spouse. One could only guess why the government is contemplating such a rare and highly unlikely situation.
As we have already mentioned, four times the Liberal government has come to make amendments to the Judges Act. We have seen time and time again where the government has tailor made legislation to fit certain individuals and certain situations. We will also assure the House and Canadians in general that Bill C-12 is not tailor made to any individuals. If it were, it would definitely compromise the impartiality of our judiciary.