Mr. Chair, dear colleagues, this is the second time that I have the opportunity to present the estimates for the Department of Justice. I must say that I still find this quite an interesting exercise. Every time, colleagues and members of Parliament have had some constructive input to offer.
I am pleased to present the spending estimates of the Department of Justice Canada to the House.
As I just said, this is the second time I appear before you to deal with the estimates. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight our current priorities and to discuss the latest achievements of the Department of Justice. I would also like to go over some of the challenges we are facing.
First, as we have seen today, one of the priorities of my department is the reform of the cannabis legislation, which I have tabled as the cannabis reform bill.
I want to be clear from the beginning that we are not legalizing marijuana and I have no plans to do so. Marijuana remains a controlled substance and offenders will continue to be punished by law.
What we are changing is the way we prosecute certain offences of possession through the use of alternative penalties.
The bill I introduced earlier today amends the legal provisions with respect to the possession of small amounts of marihuana, which will become a ticketing offence instead of leading to criminal prosecutions.
While introducing these new legal provisions, the Government of Canada will continue to proactively implement its renewed drug strategy to discourage young people from using drugs and to go after traffickers in order to reduce both the demand and supply for illegal drugs.
Through the renewed Canada's Drug Strategy, we will review the legislation to take into consideration the modern viewpoints of Canadians. The strategy seeks to ensure that the provisions concerning possession offences are more consistently enforced and that the penalties fit the seriousness of the crime.
In order to promote health, the use of marihuana must be discouraged and cannabis possession will remain illegal in Canada. However, the new measures reflect the opinion of the majority of Canadians who no longer accept the permanent stigma of a criminal record or a prison sentence that the people found guilty of possessing small amounts of cannabis have to bear.
The debate over modernizing our marijuana laws has been on and off the public agenda for three decades now. The time has come to act. We need strong, enforceable laws that make sense for Canadians and make sense internationally, laws that will send a strong message to our young people, a message saying that marijuana is harmful and will remain illegal.
This reform will address the current lack of consistency in the enforcement of cannabis possession offences across the country and ensure that enforcement resources are focused on where they are most needed by allowing police to enforce the law, but without the complications of going before the courts for minor offences.
The decision to reform the law was not taken lightly. It came as the result of an enormous amount of research, consultation and debate. Cannabis consumption is a complex issue and is first and foremost a health matter. However, one thing is clear, the time has come for us to reform our laws in this area.
The House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended that cannabis be decriminalized. The Senate special committee on illegal drugs recommended that the production and sale of cannabis be legalized.
Recent polling indicates that a majority of Canadians believe that convictions for possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use should not result in criminal penalties.
Again I want to be clear that the government has no plans to legalize the possession of this drug but clearly the current laws do not serve the public good.
However, the commercial growing of marijuana is no doubt a serious indictable offence that has serious and negative consequences on society. Commercial growers generate huge profits for criminal organizations and other stakeholders in this trade.
These growers are everywhere in cities and in houses rented in the suburbs, among other places, and often the owners are not aware of these illegal activities.
Marijuana growers resort to water and electricity meter jumping, which means they rob public utilities and pose a serious threat of fire.
Several law enforcement agencies have found very sophisticated traps designed to endanger the lives of competitors, police officers and firefighters. We must obviously protect the lives of women and men who represent our first line of defence.
I believe that Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code, which was recently referred to the Standing Committee on Justice, will effectively serve as a deterrent. Indeed, it would amend section 247 of the Criminal Code regarding the placing of traps that are likely to cause death. The amendment would provide that, if a trap is used for the purpose of committing another indictable offence, the term of imprisonment would go from five to ten years.
If bodily harm is caused to a person, the term of imprisonment would be 14 years and, if the person dies, the maximum penalty would be life imprisonment, whether the place was used for the purpose of committing an indictable offence or not.
Bill C-32 would also ensure that our laws keep pace with the rapid evolution of the Internet. The amendments in the bill would allow citizens and businesses to take reasonable steps to protect their computer systems and the valuable information that they contain against computer hackers and sly electronic communications that might contain viruses.
The amendments to the Divorce Act contained in Bill C-22 address a top priority of Canadians, ensuring that the best interests of the child remain paramount in decisions made following their parent's divorce or separation. I understand that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights expects to resume hearings on C-22 shortly.
Canadians have already stated clearly that changes to the law are not enough. Improvements must also be made to services, such as mediation and education. Canadians have also demanded a simpler, more efficient court system to accommodate the needs of parents and families struggling with separation and divorce.
In December we responded by proposing the child centre family justice strategy. Together with the provinces, territories and non-government organizations, we have embarked on an ambitious and multi-faceted program of change that includes increased funding for family justice services, expansion of successful initiatives, such as unified family courts, and legislative amendments, such as Bill C-22.
The Department of Justice will make substantial investments in this strategy. In December I announced $163 million over five years to modernize the family justice system in Canada.
Now, another very important issue raised by Bill C-20.
This bill deals with the protection of children and other vulnerable persons. Protecting children is obviously a high priority for Canadians, and the government is listening to them.
Bill C-20, which was introduced recently, provides better protection for children against all forms of exploitation. It reflects the broad consultations and close cooperation with the provinces, the territories, non-governmental organizations and the general public.
The proposed reforms are designed to give children better protection against all forms of exploitation, including sexual abuse and child pornography, and to meet the needs of children and other vulnerable persons, such as victims and witnesses in the criminal justice system, more effectively.
Canada's criminal laws against sexual abuse of children, including child pornography, are among the strictest in the world. Bill C-20 will go even further in strengthening our prohibitions with regard to child pornography. It also proposes creating a new category of prohibited sexual exploitation for those who are between 14 and 18, which will require the courts to examine the nature and the circumstances of the relationship, including the age difference.
Another purpose of Bill C-20 is to make it easier for young victims and witnesses to testify. It proposes to strengthen their ability to provide a clear, complete and accurate description of the events while ensuring that the rights of the accused will be protected and respected.
Another topic that I would like to talk about concerns the protection of Canada's capital markets. I believe that improving the fairness of our system extends well beyond matters of liability and into our capital market. Recent scandals involving corporate malfeasance in the United States have spurred officials in my department to review Canadian laws. I hope to table a bill on this matter in the very near future.
My department will be investing resources and playing a significant role in the integrated enforcement teams that will be investigating and prosecuting the most serious corporate frauds and market illegalities. Justice officials will partner with their peers in finance, industry and the office of the Solicitor General in this coordinated approach.
The other important topic I would like to talk about now is the criminal liability of corporations. Improving fairness in our justice system is indeed an ongoing priority.
The Department of Justice has been working very hard to draft new legislative provisions on corporate criminal liability taking into account the recommendations made by the many commissions and studies on the Westray mine disaster. A series of amendments to the Criminal Code would make business executives more responsible for the safety of their employees.
Another important topic I would like to raise here is access to justice; as we have said, this has been an ongoing priority of my department, which wants to ensure that Canadians, no matter where they live, can use the official language of their choice in all their dealings with federal legislation. This is the whole issue of official languages.
We have made great strides in that respect, working closely with our governmental and non-governmental partners in the provinces and territories, and I am confident we can still improve access to justice in both official languages.
Under the government's action plan on official languages, my department will invest $27 million over the next five years to meet its obligations under the Legislative Instruments Re-enactment Act and the Federal Court's decision on the Contraventions Act.
Another $18.5 million will also be invested in a fund in support of access to justice in both official languages. Together, these initiatives represent a $45.5 million investment in the area of access to justice in both official languages.
Legal aid is another significant component of the access to justice. The government is strongly committed to ensuring that economically disadvantaged Canadians have equitable access to criminal legal aid. I am pleased to report significant progress on initiating criminal legal aid renewal.
The recent federal budget announced increases to the criminal legal aid base fund and committed additional funds for innovative programs developed and implemented by the provinces and territories. Federal funding for criminal legal aid will increase by $89 million in the new criminal legal aid agreement. Of this amount, $83 million will go directly to the provinces and territories.
Over the next three years the government will invest $379.2 million in legal aid. These funds will help ensure that economically disadvantaged Canadians have access to justice.
Now let me deal with another important topic, crime prevention. To work effectively, our justice system must be relevant to all Canadians. It must be directly connected to and be an integral and familiar part of every community.
I am convinced that a relevant system must help citizens recommend, develop and implement effective solutions to community problems. Even though such solutions may go beyond the regular limits of case law, often they are powerful engines of social change.
The national crime prevention strategy has proven to be especially successful at improving the relevance of Canada's justice system. This strategy involves providing financial support for innovative local projects that reduce crime and victimization, and target issues of local concern.
For example, in Surrey, British Columbia, a literacy project would enable disadvantaged Canadians to acquire new skills and jobs. In Fort McPherson, a summer camp program would help instill a new sense of pride in young people at risk. In Ontario, a partnership project with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police would help combat auto theft by educating youth about the negative consequences of that act.
These projects are just a few current examples of our collaborative approach to crime prevention, an approach that has succeeded in enlisting an increasing number of Canadians in the fight against crime. These projects also establish vital links between Canadians and their system of justice. I am pleased to say that over the next three years the national crime prevention strategy will invest $225 million to make our communities safer.
In conclusion, while I am pleased with the accomplishments of my department, I recognize that much work remains to be done to create a system that is fair, accessible and relevant to all. We must broaden our collaboration with the provinces, territories, and with individual Canadians to improve our justice system, prevent crime, and reduce the effect of victimization.