Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the debate on the amendments made in the Senate to Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
Bill C-13 was passed by the Senate on January 29 with six amendments. I will speak to each of them.
Four amendments to the language of trial provisions were made, including the creation of two new provisions. An additional amendment makes changes to the coming into force provision of Bill C-13, while the sixth amendment coordinates changes proposed to the same Criminal Code provision in both Bill C-13 and Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act.
Before turning to each amendment, I wish to underline the fact that, with respect to the language of trial amendments, both the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law, a national federation representing the provincial associations of francophone jurists, are satisfied with the proposals found in Bill C-13 as passed by the House of Commons. The proposals in this regard were carefully studied by both the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
I will now turn to each amendment.
The first amendment proposed by the Senate is with respect to clause 18, a clause meant to ensure that all accused persons in this country are aware of their fundamental language rights. As members know, the current Criminal Code provision grants only unrepresented accused the right to be advised of their language rights by the judge.
As passed by the House of Commons, clause 18 proposed to extend this right to all accused, whether represented by counsel or not. In other words, clause 18 would broaden the right to be advised so that it would benefit all accused persons. This would heed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Beaulac case of 1999 as well as respond to a recommendation made by the Commissioner of Official Languages.
This being said, clause 18 as introduced did not impose a duty on the judge to personally inform each accused of his or her language rights. Rather, the clause stated that the judge “shall ensure that they are advised”.
The amendment proposed to clause 18 by the Senate would now require the presiding judge, at the accused's first appearance, to personally inform each and every accused of their language rights. We do not agree with this amendment.
During the consultation on the proposals that led to Bill C-13, provinces and court administrators clearly told the government that a requirement for the judge to personally inform all accused, including accused persons with legal representation, would create a significant burden on judges and courts as well as considerably increase delays in criminal proceedings.
Obviously, further delays in criminal proceedings is something that all of us in this House should work against.
As many provinces developed efficient ways of ensuring that accused persons are made aware of their language rights, the government drafted Bill C-13 with a specific view to recognizing different provincial and territorial practices in this area.
Let us be clear. The duty continues to rest upon the judge. He or she must ensure that the accused is advised. The use of the words “shall ensure” does not, as some have suggested, dilute in any way the right that is granted.
In fact, it is an expression that is often used in federal legislation, for instance, in the Official Languages Act. For example, section 22 of that act states that:
Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that any member of the public can communicate with and obtain available services from its head or central office in either official language....
Section 16 states that federal courts have the duty to ensure that judges can understand the proceedings in either English or French, without the use of an interpreter.
To use the wording of the Supreme Court of Canada, the right granted will continue to be “a substantive right and not a procedural one that can be interfered with”.
By ensuring that all accused, whether represented or not, are advised of their language rights, clause 18, as introduced and as passed by this House, not only avoided the possibility of accused persons exercising their language rights outside of the prescribed timeframe, but, more importantly, ensured that positive measures are taken to improve the means by which all Canadians can avail themselves of their language rights.
For all of these reasons, we disagree with this amendment, this being the first amendment.
The second amendment proposed in the Senate was made to clause 19, dealing with the translation of charging documents. Clause 19 of Bill C-13 grants all the accused the right to ask for a translation of the information or indictment. An amendment to the English version of clause 19 was made by the Senate, as it was felt that the wording needed to be changed to clarify that the entire charging document is to be translated.
I must say that this was the intent of the initial provision and as such, we do not think that the amendment is absolutely necessary. This being said, we do not object to the amendment, as it has simply clarified what was the original intent.
The third amendment adopted by the Senate is the creation of new clause 21.1. This clause calls on the Minister of Justice to prepare and table an annual report in Parliament on the number of bilingual trials, the number of trials held in French outside of the province of Quebec and the province of New Brunswick, and the number of trials held in English in Quebec.
I appreciate that statistics of this kind may be useful in assessing the implementation of the language rights provisions of the Criminal Code. Detailed statistics often provide indicators that are essential for an overall appreciation of the impact made by legislation. Indeed the department has explored with its provincial and territorial counterparts ways in which this could be accomplished and will continue to do so in the future.
I am sure that hon. members will agree that it is not good public policy to enact a provision that imposes responsibilities on those that do not have the means to fulfill them. Practically speaking, the amendment also fails to take into account the fact that in some jurisdictions, minority language trials will take place without any formal orders issued, pursuant to section 530 of the Criminal Code. These cases are thus difficult to track and call into question the accuracy of the data that would be collected.
However, the problem with this amendment is that it imposes a statutory duty on the federal Minister of Justice, whereas in fact it is only provincial and/or territorial attorneys general who have the ability to actually collect this information. In addition, provinces and territories have told us that they do not keep statistics related to the language of trial provisions in the Criminal Code.
As I already stated, we would be asking for, and enforcing in criminal law, provisions that the provinces are not at this time equipped to fulfill.
For all these reasons, we do not support this amendment, not because we disagree with the principle or the idea that statistics of this kind would be useful, but mainly because it imposes upon the federal Minister of Justice an obligation to provide information the minister does not possess or control.
Other informal avenues to collect such data will continue to be explored. However, we cannot support the inclusion of a legislative requirement in the Criminal Code to report on information that is not under the responsibility of the federal Minister of Justice.
The fourth amendment creates new clause 21.2. This clause requires a comprehensive review of the Criminal Code's language of trial provisions be undertaken by a parliamentary committee. I understand that the Senate committee considered it necessary to create this provision in order to ensure that monitoring the implementation of the new provisions, as well as of part XVII of the Criminal Code as a whole, will occur within three years of the coming into force of this provision.
Although we do not disagree with this amendment, we do not believe that this new section is actually needed in order for Parliament to review the provisions and operation of the language of trial provisions of the Criminal Code.
Section 88 of the Official Languages Act specifically provides for the creation of a committee of the House, of the Senate, or both, to review the administration of the act. Two such committees currently exist and have the authority to study the language of trial provisions of the Criminal Code.
The fifth amendment adopted by the Senate makes corresponding changes to the coming into force provision at clause 46. It provides that new clauses 21.1 and 21.2 will come into force in the same manner as other language of trial provisions. While I disagree with the creation of new clause 21.1, we support the amendment to the coming into force provision as it does not directly refer to clause 21.1.
Finally, a sixth amendment was made to create new clause 45.2 for the purpose of coordinating two sets of amendments in Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, and Bill C-13, both of which propose changes to the same Criminal Code provision dealing with impaired driving. This amendment is required and should be supported.
I would like to urge all hon. members to support amendments numbered 2, 4, 5 and 6, but not to support amendments numbered 1 and 3.
I hope that both Houses can come to an expeditious agreement on this very important piece of legislation that aims to improve many other aspects of the criminal justice system.