Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments). The government has already presented important measures in the House that aim at providing better protection for Canadians against crime.
Bill C-23 responds to the government's multifaceted goal of tackling crime by strengthening sentencing measures, enhancing the efficiency of certain procedures and improving access to justice by clarifying court related language rights provisions in criminal proceedings. Most of these amendments are the result of changes that the provinces, territories and other stakeholders have been instrumental in helping our government identify.
Hon. members will appreciate that Bill C-23 is not about fundamental law reform. Rather, it is about fine tuning. While the amendments contained in Bill C-23 are generally of a technical nature, they are nonetheless important. These amendments can be divided into three major groups. I propose to first highlight some of the criminal procedure amendments. I will then say a few words with respect to the amendments proposed to the language rights provisions of the Criminal Code. Finally, I will detail some of the sentencing amendments.
First, let me deal with criminal procedure.
Criminal procedure amendments would, among other things, improve procedural efficiencies and rectify certain shortcomings in criminal proceedings. Other amendments would confirm the intent behind some criminal procedure provisions and clarify their application. For instance, a corrective amendment is needed to rectify the situation by which the appeal route of a Superior Court judge's order is to return seized property to another judge of the same court. This is obviously problematic. In order to make this appeal route consistent with other similar appeal route processes and to avoid the unusual situation whereby a judge is called upon to review the decision of a fellow judge from the same level of court, the amendment would provide that the appeal of a superior court in relation to the forfeiture of things seized would lie with the Court of Appeal rather than with the Superior Court.
Another amendment would bring more clarity to section 481.2 of the Criminal Code, which deals with the ability to charge and try an accused in any territorial division for an act or omission committed outside of Canada. This amendment would clarify that the intent would not be to make any criminal act or omission committed outside of Canada an offence in Canada. Usually offences are prosecuted in the territorial division where they are committed. This, however, poses a difficulty with respect to those offences that, while having been committed outside of Canada, can be prosecuted in our country in accordance with a federal statute. War crimes are examples of such offences.
Unfortunately, the current wording of section 481.2 leaves room for interpretation whereby any offence committed outside of Canada could be prosecuted here, and that is clearly not the case. The amendment would now make it clear that this provision would deal strictly with court jurisdiction and would act as a residual clause where proper court jurisdiction with respect to territorial division would not otherwise be provided for in another federal statute.
Another criminal procedure amendment is proposed with respect to the right of an accused to be tried before a judge, sitting without a jury, where an indictment has been preferred; that is, where the Crown files the indictment directly before the Superior Court. Currently, when this is the case, the accused may not, without the written consent of the Crown prosecutor, choose to be tried before a court sitting without a jury. The amendment would allow the accused to elect to be tried before a Superior Court judge, sitting without a jury, subject to certain conditions. This amendment would introduce more flexibility and would assist in avoiding unnecessary jury trials where the accused would prefer to be tried by a judge alone.
Another proposed amendment will streamline the process for executing search warrants in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant has been issued. Currently, before a search warrant can be executed in another province, it must be presented to a judge or a justice in the other jurisdiction for endorsement in its original paper form. Obviously, this can be time consuming, complicated and inefficient. This process is resource intensive and very time consuming. The proposed amendment will allow the search warrant to be sent by facsimile or by another means of telecommunication, thereby permitting a copy of the search warrant to be endorsed by a judge or a justice in that other jurisdiction.
By taking advantage of technologies that are both reliable and expedient, we are making better use of the time and resources of law enforcement agencies.
Bill C-23 also contains two amendments in relation to jury selection. When selecting jurors, the Crown and the defence are each afforded a certain number of peremptory challenges; that is the ability to unilaterally reject a potential juror without having to invoke any specific ground. One proposed amendment will fill a gap in the current scheme by clarifying that peremptory challenges will also be available where a sworn juror is excused before the evidence is heard and where a replacement juror must be selected.
The other proposed amendment will assist in preserving the impartiality of prospective jury members, as well as sworn jurors, by providing the court with the power to order the exclusion of jurors from the courtroom where a potential juror is being questioned in the course of a challenge for cause and may potentially through his or her answers inadvertently jeopardize the jurors impartiality.
These technical yet practical changes to the various processes that operate in the criminal justice system will contribute to the improvement and greater efficiency of criminal procedure.
I will speak a bit about language rights. The amendments in Bill C-23 with respect to language rights deal with an accused person during a criminal proceeding. The right of all accused to a trial in either official language is consistent with both the letter and the spirit of the language provisions enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1867, and in section 19 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Since 1978, the Criminal Code has sought to ensure access to services of equal quality for members of both official language communities. This is an important objective because, as the Supreme Court of Canada noted, “Rights regarding the English and French languages are basic to the continued viability of the nation”.
From time to time it becomes necessary for Parliament to intervene to provide the means by which such rights can be enjoyed.
Canadians have told us there are still obstacles to full and equal access to the criminal justice system in one's own official language. Court decisions, as well as reports by the Commissioner of Official Languages, confirm that barriers continue to stand in the way of the exercise of these fundamental rights. The proposed amendments will bring the Criminal Code provisions in line with judicial interpretation, thereby avoiding misunderstandings, legal debates and costly delays. One example of such difficulties involves the application of the language provisions of the Criminal Code to bilingual trials. In R. v. Beaulac, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that all the rights that are provided to an accused person in the context of a trial in one official language also apply to bilingual trials. Yet the lower courts are still struggling with these issues as well as with the practical manner in which bilingual trials are to be held.
The proposed amendments clarify such matters and specify that the right of an accused person to be tried by a judge, who speaks the official language of the accused, as well as the duty of the Crown prosecutor to speak that language, indeed do apply to bilingual trials. The amendments also provide the presiding judge with the necessary tools to manage bilingual trials in a fair and efficient manner. In doing so, the amendments implement recommendations made by the commissioner of official languages in 1995 that certain amendments be made to section 530 of the Criminal Code.
The commissioner's study also identified another vexing problem. The study noted that difficulties had arisen in a situation where there were co-accused who did not speak the same official language and that, in the absence of clear indications in the Criminal Code, the matter was being raised more and more frequently.
Some courts have ordered that each co-accused be tried separately in his or her official language. Such decisions have significant repercussions on court resources, as they involve a duplication of trials. They also offend the general principle that persons who are jointly accused should normally be tried together. On the other hand, some courts have ruled that the right of each accused can be reconciled by ordering a bilingual trial.
The proposed amendment brings clarity to the issue by stipulating that the situation of a joint trial involving co-accused, who do not share the same official language, warrants an order for a trial before a judge or judge and jury who speak both official languages. Such an amendment not only brings greater clarity to the code, but also ensures that a proper balance is struck between the rights of the accused person and the efficient administration of justice.
When taken as a whole, the proposed amendments are balanced and fair. They will resolve a number of problems that have been identified with the existing provisions, bringing greater efficiency and putting an end to some persistent legal debates, while also removing some of the hurdles on the road to a greater access to justice in both official languages in our country.
I now turn to the issue of sentencing and I will highlight some of the amendments that are proposed to the sentencing provisions of the Criminal Code.
Bill C-23 contains a number of proposed amendments, some of which will clarify how certain sanctions are intended to apply. Others will improve existing processes or update the law in this area. For instance, one amendment will allow a sentencing court to refer an offender, under the supervision of the court and in appropriate circumstances, to a provincially or territorially approved treatment program before sentence is imposed. In the right circumstances and where appropriate, addiction treatment programs and domestic violence counselling programs can contribute to public protection from crimes where the underlying causes are addiction or where there has been family violence.
Early court supervised access by offenders to these treatment programs can serve as a strong incentive for behavioural change and successful rehabilitation. Specialized drug treatment courts, such as the ones in place in Toronto and Vancouver, are based on the U.S. model that works to adjourn sentencing proceedings, following a finding of guilt, to allow the offender to enter and to complete a court mandated program. By delaying sentencing until the completion of the program, the offender is given a strong incentive to succeed.
Domestic violence courts or court processes have also been implemented in a number of jurisdictions across Canada. These specialized courts include education, counselling or treatment programs for offenders aimed at reducing the offending behaviour.
Allowing sentencing courts to refer offenders in appropriate circumstances to such programs before sentence is imposed will promote early access to rehabilitation and reduce recidivism, thereby contributing to the protection of the public by attacking the source of the problem at an earlier stage.
Another proposed amendment to the sentencing proceedings will provide appeal courts with the power to suspend a conditional sentence order until the appeal is determined. Currently what can sometimes happen is that the conditional sentence is served before the appeal from sentence or conviction is heard. This amendment will ensure consistency with similar appeal court powers, such as in the case of a probation order where a suspension of the sentence, until the appeal is determined, is already provided.
A related amendment, applicable to both conditional sentence orders and probation orders, would allow the court that imposed one of these two sentences the power to bind the person until the appeal would be determined with conditions similar to those imposed on an accused person who is released on bail.
One amendment is also proposed to update the provision with respect to forfeiture of computer systems and other things used in the commission of certain child pornography offences by adding to the existing list of offences the offence of luring a child by means of a computer, so a court may also order the forfeiture and disposal of computers where the offender is convicted of luring a child.
With respect to clarifying current penalties, one Criminal Code proposed amendment will expressly state that where no maximum jail term is provided in a federal statute for an offender who is in default of a monetary penalty imposed for an indictable offence, the maximum term of imprisonment will be five years.
Penalties for impaired driving offences where there is a death or injury are also clarified by an amendment so that there is no uncertainty: minimum fines and jail terms that must be imposed for a first, second or subsequent driving offence, such as failure or refusal to provide a breath sample, must also be imposed when the impaired driving offender is convicted of the more serious offences of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death.
This amendment will mean that conditional sentence orders cannot be imposed for impaired driving offences causing injury or death, as the Criminal Code does not authorize the imposition of such orders for an offence where a minimum penalty is provided.
Other impaired driving offences will tighten and clarify application of driving prohibition orders, including the application of ignition interlock device programs, with a possibility of early return to driving where the program is in place.
Bill C-23 will also increase the current $2,000 maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction. This amount has remained untouched since 1985, while the monetary values for other offences have increased. It is time to update the law in this area by raising the maximum monetary penalty to $10,000. The increase will provide more flexibility for crown prosecutors to proceed by way of summary conviction, in particular where the sanction sought is a higher amount than $2,000.
Before I conclude, there is one final sentencing amendment that I feel should be highlighted, that is, the amendment with respect to victims of unwanted communications.
Such orders can already be imposed on an accused person in remand or released on bail as well as on an offender who is on probation. Current disciplinary measures in correctional institutions with respect to unwanted communications vary among jurisdictions, with most cases being addressed on a case by case basis.
This amendment will provide sentencing courts with an added means to protect victims from unwanted communications by providing the sentencing court with the power to order a convicted person not to communicate with identified persons such as victims and witnesses while the person is incarcerated.
In addition, it will be an offence to breach an order not to communicate with an identified person.
In conclusion, I wish to state that in contemplating criminal law reform we must not lose sight of the system in which these substantive provisions of the Criminal Code operate. It is important that we take the time to respond to calls for changes such as the ones highlighted today, so that our criminal justice system can most effectively contribute to the protection of society. That, I trust, is the goal of all parliamentarians in this place.