Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate.
This bill is one which I think has already been described as technical in nature, but certainly is a very important bill and one that has laudable aims and goals. On behalf of my colleagues in the Progressive Conservative coalition, we are supportive of the bill, the efforts it entails in making the courts more effective and efficient and, to use the vernacular, keeping the wheels of justice turning in what is increasingly a very complex system throughout this country.
It has salary components and elements of consolidation. The salary components perhaps are those which could be described as the most sexy parts of this bill. In essence, their aim is to ensure that judges remain independent and free of influence. The bill touches upon some of the very tenets of law in that it is meant to ensure there is greater access and efficiency in the administration of justice.
The bill itself touches upon a number of elements that I hope to discuss in my brief remarks, but there is an important component behind all bills that relate to justice.
If I can digress for just a moment, one of the cornerstones of justice is the importance of truth, the importance of the evidence itself being presented in a truthful fashion. All efforts that are made to ensure that this is implicit in the administration of justice are very important. We could learn from this in the Chamber in the process we engage in as members of parliament; the importance of truth, the importance of ministers and of all members to be truthful in their relating of evidence, information and their exchanges within the Chamber.
The bill touches on a large number of other areas of the law. It touches on things such as the Federal Court of Appeal, the Court Martial Appeal Court, the Tax Court of Canada. It amends the Federal Court Act, the Judges Act and other consequential acts.
It can be described best as an omnibus bill. We have seen numerous omnibus legislation in this government's tenure. Some of that has been a very poison and partisan process which often has been used to try to scuttle opposition criticisms of certain elements of legislation. I do not believe that is the case with the bill before the House.
What the bill tries to do is consolidate the current administrative services of the Federal Court of Canada, the Court Martial Appeal Court and the Tax Court of Canada into a single courts administration service. It is aimed at streamlining the delivery of court services.
Often when we hear members of the government use this word, it is fair to say that we expect the opposite because streamlining has really not been this government's forte. In fact, we have seen expansion of bureaucracy under this particular government. However, at least in its intent the bill is certainly trying to streamline the current system. It amends the Federal Court Act and related legislation to create a separate Federal Court of Appeal and it amends the Tax Court of Canada and related legislation that changes the status of the tax court to that of a superior court.
It also goes about amending other federal statutes such as the Judges Act and the Access to Information Act, which we know has been thwarted in some instances very recently by this government, particularly as it relates to the disclosure of charge accounts of senior bureaucrats and ministers. That is unfortunate and is inconsistent with the government's earlier promises to be more transparent and more open in its administration. That certainly has not been the case.
The bill also touches upon the Canada Elections Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Employment Insurance Act, Extradiction Act, Immigration Act, Income Tax Act, National Defence Act and Privacy Act to name a few. This is not the complete list.
I want to talk just for a moment about some of the substantive elements of the bill.
Bill C-30 proposes to change the Federal Court Act so that:
The Court shall consist of two divisions, called the Federal Court—Appeal Division (which may be referred to as the Court of Appeal or Federal Court of Appeal) and the Federal Court—Trial Division.
Under clause 19, section 10(1) of the act would read:
--any judge of a superior, county or district court in Canada, and any person who has held office as a judge of a superior, county or district court in Canada, may, at the request of the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal made with the approval of the Governor in Council, act as a judge of the Federal Court of Appeal, and while so acting has all the powers of a judge of that court and shall be referred to as a deputy judge of that court.
This would expand the diversity of the actions of judges in that capacity.
This can happen under current legislation but judges need the permission of the chief justice or chief judge of the court on which they currently serve as members, or they would need the permission of the attorney general of the province. It creates a new process to be followed.
Under the bill, section 11 of the act would read:
(1) Every person who is a barrister or an advocate in a province may practise as a barrister or an advocate in the Federal Court of Appeal or the Federal Court.
(2) Every person who is an attorney or a solicitor in a superior court of a province may practise as an attorney or a solicitor in the Federal Court of Appeal or the Federal Court.
It goes on to talk about the attorney, advocate or solicitor being an officer of the court.
Clause 21 of the bill with respect to sheriffs and their actions within the court is of importance and deserves highlighting. Under it, section 13 of the act would state:
(1) The Governor in Council may appoint a sheriff of the Federal Court of Appeal and of the Federal Court for any geographical area.
(2) If no sheriff is appointed under subsection (1) for a court for a geographical area, the sheriff and deputy sheriffs of the county or other judicial division or part of the county within that geographical area who are appointed under provincial law are ex officio sheriffs and deputy sheriffs--
In the constituency I represent in Nova Scotia, Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, we have an efficient and effective sheriff system due in great part to men like Jim MacDonald who is the high sheriff for Pictou county. The men and women acting in that capacity are custodians of justice in a very real sense. They are called on daily in their duties to help administer. They are the front line deliverers of many services and in some cases are the enforcers of the law.
They work closely with other elements in the administration system like the prothonotary. We are fortunate in Pictou county to have a woman as capable and competent as Doris Scanlan. She and others in the area I represent are doing an extremely good job for the people of Pictou county and surrounding areas.
One of the changes in Bill C-30 that relates to sheriffs would give every sheriff or deputy sheriff of the court ex officio status. A marshal as an ex officio would become a deputy marshall of the court.
There are elements of the bill that speak to the jurisdiction of the trial division. Under subclause 25(3) of Bill C-30, section 17 of the Federal Court Act would be modified as follows:
(3) The Federal Court has exclusive originaljurisdiction to hear and determine thefollowing matters:
(a) the amount to be paid if the Crown andany person have agreed in writing that the Crown or that person shall pay an amount to be determined by the Federal Court, the Federal Court—Trial Division or the Exchequer Court of Canada; and
(b) any question of law, fact or mixed lawand fact that the Crown and any person haveagreed in writing shall be determined by the Federal Court, the Federal Court--Trial Division or the Exchequer Court of Canada.
(4) The Federal Court has concurrent original jurisdiction to hear and determine proceedings to determine disputes in which the Crown is or may be under an obligationand in respect of which there are or may be conflicting claims.
The bill is technical in nature but deals with the nuts and bolts of the administration of justice, be it in civil matters or matters involving the criminal administration of justice.
A number of clauses deal with payment and the affixing or assigning of debt. I am referring to judgments of the court. Clause 50 of the bill deals with section 52 of the existing act which states:
The Federal Court of Appeal may
(a) quash proceedings in cases brought before it in which it has no jurisdiction or whenever those proceedings are not taken in good faith--
That is in essence the power to quash proceedings.
In the case of an appeal from the trial division it would have the power to dismiss the appeal or give judgment and awards the trial division should have given or awarded.
Again, the bill deals with making decisions based on fact, assignment of debt, and declarations or conclusions the trial division may have made that are subject to appeal.
The sections dealing with the tax court can be viewed as quite complicated but are of great importance. My colleague in the Alliance Party from Saskatchewan spoke quite eloquently in suggesting the administration of justice and civil court actions have become extremely cumbersome and convoluted and are beyond the pale of most average citizens. The ability to access justice and court administration has become cumbersome and almost unattainable in some instances because of the cost. It is cost prohibitive in many instances to take an action to court.
I mention this to underscore the importance of speeding up the way we react to conflicts in the law and the time it takes to get matters to the courts and the judges. We are finding time and again that the Department of Justice is in many instances complicit in efforts to delay justice because it is used as a tactic. It is used as a tactic in all levels of court to the advantage of individuals who have the ability to pay. The government is in a much stronger position if it can drag matters out to the point where people simply give up and go away because they cannot afford a lawyer or filing costs and in many instances cannot afford to wait and put their lives on hold.
This is an extremely important problem throughout the country. I hope the bill will have an impact on it. I am not completely confident it is the solution the government holds it out to be, but I see some merit in its efforts to streamline administration and make the courts more effective.
My hon. friend from Cumberland--Colchester would agree that it depends very much on the professionals and the proficiency of people working in the system. Whether in government, law, business or professional sports, a certain standard and level of efficiency must be applied. It cannot always be imposed by legislation. It must be fostered. It must be encouraged. It must be rewarded in some instances.
I hope the personnel who carry out the administration of justice will take seriously the intent of the bill. This is not in any way to cast aspersions on those who work in the system. I made a statement yesterday in the House about legal aid lawyers in Canada who do a tremendous job with a lack of resources. They go far beyond the pale in terms of the preparation time they require and the extraordinary effort they make to ensure access to justice on behalf of their clients.
It truly is a crisis. I do not use the word lightly because the phrase is often over-used in this place. Prosecutors and legal aid lawyers are labouring under a system that has become bogged down. The wheels of justice have not been turning in an effective way. I am hopeful that Bill C-30 is a starting point. It is an opportunity to revisit and re-examine areas in which we can become more efficient.
I alluded earlier to the Judges Act. One of the upshots of the bill would be to address increasing concerns about judges being susceptible to influence. I will be blunt. I am talking about organized crime, biker gangs or terrorists, either within our country or globally, attempting to influence judges through intimidation or bribes.
As the subcommittee on organized crime made a brief foray into the problem of organized crime in Canada it became clear that the scourge of organized criminal activity had far reaching influence in both criminal and legitimate sectors of Canadian society. We cannot in any way, shape or form allow such influence to permeate the halls of justice.
Thus the issue of judges and justices' salaries becomes increasingly important. We must find a way to ensure judicial independence is always maintained and that judges are not tempted by any outside influence that could compromise their rulings from the bench. This is an element of the bill we in the coalition feel is extremely important and one we embrace and support.
The salaries of federal court judges in recent years have by Canadian standards been seen as quite high. However let us consider the importance of the job they do, the pristine nature of the law, the need for it to be administered correctly and the need to attract the best, brightest, and most ethical. I strongly urge Canadians to think about the issue in that context.
The margin of error for people who administer justice is very small. Sadly, in recent days and years we have seen examples where people who should not have been entrusted with the responsibility have made improper rulings and commentary that have done considerable damage to communities and to the public image of their profession.
The bill would set out the levels of salaries, fix rates of compensation and deal with the duties judges are expected to perform. It would deal with how long they are required or permitted to stay in their positions and how they might be removed for indiscretions. It would deal with designation and salary adjustments if they choose to step down or are removed involuntarily from their positions of responsibility.
The bill is quite voluminous. It touches on important administrative departments and legislation in the current context.
The Access to Information Act is another bill which deserves our attention. There is a change afoot within section 52 of that act. It states:
(1) Any application under section 41 or 42 relating to a record or a part of a record that the head of a government institution has refused to disclose by reason of paragraph 13(1)(a) or (b) or section 15 shall be heard and determined by the Associate Chief Justice of the Federal Court or by such other judge of the Court as the Associate Chief Justice may designate to hear such applications.
This is very apropos to a current situation. The information commissioner, John Reid, has commenced an action because of the refusal of the PMO to turn over certain documents pertaining to the Prime Minister's schedule. Sadly, the issue of whether the documents should be made public is sometimes blurred. The information commissioner is not suggesting the documents simply be made public. He is suggesting he has the right to look at them and determine whether they should be made public.
Mr. Reid is a former member of parliament and distinguished member of the House. It is ludicrous and beyond perverse that the Prime Minister, who is ultimately responsible for appointing the information commissioner and entrusting those responsibilities to him, is in essence saying he does not trust him to make the call. It is somewhat disturbing and inconsistent with any suggestion of transparency in government.