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House of Commons Hansard #67 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was equality.

Topics

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed without debate to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

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10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that the bill be concurred in.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

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10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that bill be read the third time and passed.

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10:05 a.m.

New Brunswick Southwest New Brunswick

Conservative

Greg Thompson ConservativeMinister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to stand today in support of Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

The amendment proposed in this bill would authorize the appointment of 20 new judges to the provincial superior trial courts, which will allow us to respond to an urgent need for more judges to handle increasing caseloads and mounting delays in a number of jurisdictions across the country. We have heard that in every corner of the country.

This amendment would support the effective and expeditious resolution of specific claims through the newly proposed specific claims tribunal.

As provided in Bill C-30, the specific claims tribunal act, the members of the specific claims tribunal are to be appointed among sitting Superior Court judges and six of the new appointments to be authorized under the bill are intended to help the Superior Courts to free up experienced judges to take on the new work of the tribunal.

The establishment of this tribunal represents the cornerstone of this government's reform of the specific claims resolution process. The remaining 14 appointments will be allocated among the 6 jurisdictions that have previously submitted compelling requests for more judges.

Each one of those jurisdictions of Nunavik, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and my home province of New Brunswick have provided detailed submissions to support their requests, and there is no doubt that these six provinces have an immediate need for these new appointments.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights gave careful consideration to this bill and approved it without amendment, which is key. All parties in this House support this bill because we recognize that there is a real and pressing need for new judicial resources within our trial courts, and so do our chief justices, our judges, members of the bar and, most important, Canadians who are involved in our judicial system.

As well, the first nations communities look forward to having access to the effective and independent process offered by the specific claims tribunal. We certainly do not expect that this amendment is the answer, because it is not the answer to all future requirements of the courts. However, it does respond to the clear needs of the six affected provinces at this time. Our government has made it very clear that we are open to considering future requests for additional judges in due course and when that need is clearly demonstrated, as it has been in this case. When that occurs, the government will respond appropriately.

Before I close, I want to make one final important point about playing politics with our courts and the judges who preside over our courts.

This week in New Brunswick, we have seen the potential harm and danger that such political games can cause. We saw the member for Beauséjour try to score partisan points by claiming that our government was not appointing enough bilingual judges. Even the facts show otherwise. The member for Beauséjour simply refused to do his homework. Either that or he simply did not know or purposely ignored the fact that three of the six judges who we have appointed in New Brunswick are bilingual. Of course that is in a province where francophones make up 30% of the province's population.

I do not need to remind members that New Brunswickers are proud of our place in Canada's only officially bilingual province. We are proud of our linguistic duality. We are proud of how francophones and anglophones work every day, shoulder to shoulder, for a better future, a stronger province and a greater country, and our government supports that vision.

We will not let the political games being played by the member for Beauséjour divide New Brunswick or sidetrack our province in its steady progress. We are very proud of our province and the progress made by all governments, past and present, of the province of New Brunswick.

In that spirit, Bill C-31 represents an important step toward improving access to justice in Canada.

I wish to thank all hon. members for their recognition, the advancement of this significant bill and their support for its speedy passage. It is very much appreciated.

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10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the Minister of Veterans Affairs for his comments. He spoke about how proud he is of New Brunswick, which he feels offers suitable legal services in French. I am happy to see how proud he is of his province.

I urge him to extend that pride to the other maritime provinces, particularly Nova Scotia. There were three bilingual Federal Court judges in that province. Two of them are retiring: Justice Boudreau and Justice Batiot. They will be replaced by anglophones. For the entire province of Nova Scotia, from Cape Breton to southwestern Nova Scotia, including the provincial capital, there will be only one bilingual judge. That is completely unacceptable. It is unthinkable that we would move down to one judge from three.

Of the judges I mentioned, Justice Boudreau was appointed by Mr. Mulroney some time ago. Mr. Chrétien appointed a number of bilingual judges in Nova Scotia. Now, this government is replacing two francophones with two anglophones. In just two years of this government, French-language legal services in Nova Scotia have dropped by 66%.

The minister spoke about his pride in the bilingual legal services in the Maritimes, but will he extend that pride to the Acadians and francophones of Nova Scotia?

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10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I was speaking specifically about New Brunswick. I will admit that I do not know the details in Nova Scotia. I am sure the Minister of Justice or the parliamentary secretary would have more knowledge and more background to respond. However, when I do speak it is on what I know has happened in the province of New Brunswick. I also know that the member supports what we have done in New Brunswick.

We have had six appointments: three who are fully bilingual, two who are francophones and one who is anglophone. It is typical of New Brunswick, which is completely and fully bilingual, something I wish I were.

This speaks to the generosity of New Brunswick. When I travel to northern New Brunswick as a unilingual anglophone, I am received as I would be in any part of this country. Some of us do not have the ability to speak both languages. I wish I did but I cannot, not like the member opposite. However, it is a real testament to the generosity of this country that when we go there, the people fully appreciate that we are working on their behalf as best we can.

It is a credit to this country and to my home province of New Brunswick that a unilingual francophone or anglophone can be successful and achieve high office in government and in our court system. However, we are very sensitive to the fact that when people go before the court, we need to have a bilingual capability within our court system, and we have worked very hard to achieve that.

I want to point out for the member opposite that the member for Beauséjour was being disingenuous when he spoke. A point I made when I responded to the newspaper, the Telegraph Journal in New Brunswick, the paper ran what I considered to be a very one-sided story that did not actually represent the facts. One of the judges, who we appointed to what we call the military judges compensation committee, is the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour. The reason he was appointed was that he is very qualified. His name is Guy A. Richard and, as I mentioned, he is the father-in-law of the member for Beauséjour who stood and suggested that we did not honour bilingualism in the province of New Brunswick. That is totally disingenuous.

In addition to appointing the judges I have mentioned to the superior court, we appointed the hon. member for Beauséjour's father-in-law, and he should consider that and be very cognizant of it when he next speaks in the House of Commons.

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10:10 a.m.

NDP

Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, judges are important to us in the Northwest Territories because we have a high rate of criminal charges. We appreciate the work they do.

However, the government is engaged in a cost reduction program. The plan of the Conservative government would salary judges, but how would it ensure that we have the kind of resources required to take on extra judges, given that we have to sometimes fly them and their court staff to locations thousands of miles away from their courthouse?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, we responded in a very positive way to a need across the country. I am not sure the member's constituents would be really pleased to hear him suggest that there is a high rate of crime in that area.

There is almost complete agreement on what the Government of Canada is doing, and we all know that seldom happens in this place. We are responding to a real need with the legislation. I am proud of what we are doing. The agreement we see in the House clearly indicates that Parliament supports exactly what the minister has done.

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Minister of Justice for bringing the bill forward. I also like to thank my colleague the Minister of Veterans Affairs for speaking to it today. I am a member of the justice committee and I remember discussing this bill briefly.

My question for the minister has to do with the increase in the number of superior court judges from 30 to a pool of about 50.

There are first nations reserves in my riding as there are across Canada. We have a huge backlog of land claims that need to be worked through. Could he minister could provide the House with some more information in regard to how the appointment of these judges will improve the efficiency of the land claims tribunal process and land claims and provide good value to Canadian taxpayers in moving that file forward?

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10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Greg Thompson Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Wetaskiwin for the hard work he has done on the justice committee. I had the privilege of visiting his beautiful riding.

I will get more specifically to his point. The land claims issue is a big issue. Again, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development could speak with more authority than I. This legislation is a direct response to some of the needs up there, to free up the court to proceed with some of these land claims.

The member is being much too modest himself in terms of his contribution to the justice committee and the very positive role he has played in bringing the legislation forward. All members should applaud his hard work.

I am quite convinced the bill will reflect the real need in some of the specific areas that he mentioned.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-31. It has now been through the justice committee and has returned to the House unamended.

It is a very short bill, but its amends a number change in the Judges Act, paragraph 24(3)(b), and thus creates the authority to authorize the appointment of 20 new judges for the provincial and territorial superior trial courts.

We know these judges are needed to deal with the increasing backlogs in the superior court system. In particular, superior courts in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut continue to experience delays and backlogs.

In a former parliamentary life, when the Liberal government was in power, I was a parliamentary secretary to the then minister of justice. I travelled through Nunavut and experienced the fact that unlike the rest of Canada, where we can travel by vehicle from one city to another, there were 26 different fly-in communities. It takes time and there are delays to which we must attend.

I remember at that time we also were starting to introduce our crime prevention programs. That is the other end of the justice system, from the trial and judgment to the prevention of crime. There needs to be a full emphasis on this aspect. It helps reduce criminal activity when people are actively engaged in different crime prevention activities. I wanted to make that point at this time.

Even in the other provinces, those that I did not mention, we are aware that there is a strain with simply population growth, especially stresses that could happen with the family court systems. In a family court system we cannot afford time delays. Children grow up and those issues have to be resolved sooner rather than later.

We also have the issues of mega-trials in the criminal law area. We know a lot of the criminal law is taken care of at the provincial court level, but there are those mega-trials and people can opt to go into the higher court level. The mega-trials are very complex and lengthy and consume a lot of justice system resources.

I know this is important to all Canadians. The introduction and background to Bill C-31 talks about the fact that we now have a specific claims tribunal, which will have the authority to make binding decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation or where negotiations fail. It is estimated by the government that this tribunal will require the equivalent of six full time judges to manage the caseloads of these types of claims.

The chief justices, I am sure, will have consultations with the minister or his designates to talk about the allocation of these judges. I know that B.C. and Ontario will need these resources, as well as some of the other jurisdictions, because specific claims should be settled.

It is important to have access to justice for all Canadians. It is true that justice delayed can be justice denied. In criminal law, the Askov case reminded us, very bluntly, of the importance of reasonable time limits and reasonable access to the court system. We do not want to have cases thrown out of court just because the delays have been too lengthy.

Apart from the judges needed for the tribunal work, these judges will work in the area of civil law, civil litigation, family law and criminal fields of law. They are expected to perform all their work for us with the independence and impartiality that I think Canadians expect from their justice system.

Judges apply the law to the facts at each case. They do so without imposing any of their own personal bias. Increasingly, as I have said, cases are complex and trials can become very lengthy. Delay is not wanted by Canadians. Canadians want to have justice delivered in their own language, be it English or French. This reflects the linguistic duality of our country.

It is important, and this is not a political or partisan point, that both French speaking and English speaking justices are needed in our courts. In fact, there is often interpretation provided for other languages. Some people before the Canadian justice system speak neither of these languages, but that is not the point with respect to the appointment of judges.

I have great respect for our judicial system in our country. We have an amazingly fair and independent system. I do not want to see that change in any way. I have respect for the judges who do that work. These people are somewhat limited in their association with the rest of Canadian society. There is an expected distancing so they can maintain that impartiality to do their work properly.

These increases for the number of judges have been needed for some time, and we expected the bill sooner. I will go forward. As of yesterday, March 13, even without this bill, 25 judicial vacancies were waiting to be filled. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling those. In other words, these new positions are in addition to the existing vacancies that have to be filled. This is an ongoing situation. I know we should be encouraging the filling of all positions because it is important for our system to work efficiently and properly.

As many in the House will recall, the new Conservative government stacked the judicial advisory committee to ensure that the justice minister's chosen representatives would have a majority on every provincial judicial advisory board. I will not go in to this too much at this time because it takes away from the most important discussion and subject matter of this bill, but I do note it.

It is important to keep the judicial independence in our country. I remember the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court making comment on this point. It is also important that the positions be filled and that there not be a great delay. Both of those points are important.

With respect to this short bill, we can agree in the House that it should move forward. I know my colleagues and our party want the smooth functioning of the justice system. This is one, but only one, aspect that can be assisted by this House. We must remember that there will not be a smooth functioning system if there are not enough prosecutors and if there are insufficient dollars for legal aid for people who need that assistance before the courts. We need all of the system to work cohesively, and the judges are one part of it. However, it is the full functioning of the court system that has to be brought to bear before justice is actually delivered to Canadians in a timely and effective manner.

I ask fellow members of the House to support this legislation so it can move rapidly to the other house and become law after their deliberations. This is one bill that the House can believe will be good for the country and good for the citizens. We need the expertise and the impartial judicial system in our country, which we all deserve.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish you a happy Friday, and happy Easter to you and your family.

First, I would like to tell my colleague from London West that I have wonderful memories of the time we spent working together on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

We all know that the government's record when it comes to its relationship with judges has not always been a good one. We also know that the idea of appointing police officers to various selection committees created quite a stir. And we know that would have subjected the judge selection process to an ideologically negative bias. This is something I would remind the House of, but that is not what my question is about.

I believe that our colleague from London West has a background in law, and I am sure she studied, or at least knows about, a ruling handed down a few years ago in Ontario, the province she represents. I am talking about the ruling in R. v. Askov, which nearly invalidated dozens of cases in Ontario on the grounds that they had not been ruled on, that the justice system had not been diligent enough, and that it was not compatible with the charter provision stating that everyone has the right to a fair and just trial.

Now, the appointment of some 20 judges has corrected that situation, but I would like the member to comment on the ruling in R. v. Askov and to explain why we need a diligent justice system.

I would also ask that she share her thoughts on the attitude of the committee chair, who has refused to call a meeting of the committee because he does not want anyone looking into the ethical issues surrounding the Cadman affair.

I would like the member to take a good five or six minutes to answer these questions.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, for many years I sat with this colleague on the justice committee and found that he worked quite diligently on the aspects of criminal law and the bills. We worked well together in that committee.

He is also correct in that I did practise law for 15 years. I did some teaching of law, both at the bar class and at the university part-time continuing education level. Some of us with that training do understand an important decision like Askov.

The Askov decision impacted the criminal courts. In my province of Ontario, some people who were charged were let go without the continuation of those charges. Why? Because of delay. To have fairness in a justice system, we must have timely hearings, which means that we cannot keep putting off court dates. Witnesses disappear. They forget. We must have that court system functioning in a timely fashion so that the court functions at its optimal level.

In those cases, Askov had a great impact. It put a real chill on the system. It took us back. People who did not have their trials completed were let go because the system was not providing the systemic fairness that comes with timely work. That is very important. That criminal law case now applies everywhere in the criminal justice system. There is no case saying that in family law or civil litigation, but the principles are there, which is that both sides get procedural fairness. Timeliness is one very important aspect.

I have another comment. When I was in the justice committee, we always had our meetings. In fact, we had many meetings. I can remember that back in 1995 we were meeting all the time with pieces of legislation, sometimes until late into the night. But I believe there are two or three justice committee meetings now where the chair has refused to do his duty as the procedural chair of the committee and sit and take the votes. He has left the committee, leaving I think two vice-chairs, but this changes the numbers for voting systems. We in this House know that a procedural manual has been given to members of the government, which tells committee chairs how to operate, how to delay and how to get favourable witnesses.

I have chaired the finance committee, for example, three times in former parliaments. I made sure that the system was fair to all. I made sure that everyone could bring forth the witnesses they wanted to and that both sides of the argument were there. In fact, the chair's job was not to do a partisan job but to ensure that the procedural rules were followed.

I think most of us in the House can do that and I am surprised at what is happening in the justice committee. This is a committee that needs to work. This is a committee that has a high volume of legislation. I know that members sitting opposite were with me when we did hard work in that committee. We may disagree on our points of view and the way we want something to come out of the committee, but I also know that there has been a very strong history of everybody working hard in the committee. I think it is a shame that it is not continuing.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand up and share with you the position of my party, the great force of national liberation that is the Bloc Québécois, on Bill C-31. This bill may seem to be rather technical, but it has to do with the workings of the justice system. Bill C-31, which has been called for by people who play a role before or after the court system, is a short bill with only two clauses that will enable the federal government to appoint superior court judges.

At present, the federal government can appoint 30 judges, and there is a definite backlog in the court system. In the administration of justice, it is not uncommon for a year and a half, two years, two and half years, or three years to go by between the time legal proceedings start and the time a judge or a judge and jury hand down a decision. Obviously, we are not talking about the Supreme Court of Canada. We are talking about superior courts, which hear cases involving common offences under the Criminal Code. They do not rule on technical points of law, like appeal courts. And they certainly do not hand down decisions that speak to our values or clarify the constitutionality or validity of legal provisions, as the Supreme Court of Canada does. Superior courts deal with the cases that should be the least contentious possible.

Bill C-31 proposes to add 20 supernumerary judges, bringing to 50 the number of judges who could be appointed to the various superior courts. With your permission, I would like to take a few moments to explain to my colleagues in this House why trial courts should not be confused with superior courts.

Quebec will one day be a country that will enjoy all the elements of sovereignty, you can rest assured. For us as sovereigntists, when we talk about our plans, sovereignty means three things: keeping our own tax dollars, repatriating all powers to Quebec and, of course, deciding on our foreign policy.

As an aside, yesterday, I confirmed something with our research staff. It is estimated that in 2008, Quebeckers will pay $50 billion in taxes to Ottawa. Imagine how things would be different if the National Assembly could keep those tax dollars. Obviously, we would do some things differently. From the information gathered by our research staff—an excellent and very dedicated staff—I read that the National Defence budget will increase from $9 billion to $19 billion in the 2010s. Can you imagine? The military budget will double, primarily because of military procurement.

Do you think that a sovereign Quebec would have made the same decision? As my colleagues will agree, a sovereign Quebec would have placed much greater emphasis on international cooperation and development assistance. We would have been much more present in Africa, especially francophone Africa, and in Haiti, and we would have developed the cooperation practices that seem to be lacking in this government.

Accordingly, a sovereign Quebec would of course enjoy all the attributes of a separate state. However, that is not the case at this time. That is why everyone listening must understand that Quebec, the National Assembly and the Quebec justice minister appoint judges to municipal courts and the Court of Quebec. The Court of Quebec has two divisions: the civil division and the youth division.

By the way, I find it distressing that a bill will soon be before us, but we in the Bloc Québécois will not be supporting it. As I told the steering committee of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights the day before last, gone are the days when there was at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights a climate of frank camaraderie whereby members would give each other a friendly slap on the back or ask one another how they were doing, and there was the notion of caring about one another.

We know that the climate has deteriorated at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We have a chair who refuses to take his responsibilities and preside over the committee. How did we get to this point of no return?

It is like in a couple when it is obvious that a domestic spat will escalate to a point of no return. Of course, I am not speaking of myself. My home life is totally free from any stormy dispute because I am so blissfully in love.

At any rate, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has not been meeting because the member for Beauséjour introduced a motion inviting the committee to look into allegations made in the Cadman affair and conduct an investigation under section 119 of the Criminal Code. Naturally, that is within the purview of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Is it not our duty—and this question is for all my colleagues—to ensure that at all times, institutions and those who keep them running, parliamentarians, are above any suspicion when the media and a book raise allegations of corruption? Whether these allegations are founded or not is up to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to decide. Other committees could have addressed this issue, but for reasons I do not want to get into again, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was unable to.

The hon. member for Beauséjour, a generally respectable man with great self-control, did his job as a parliamentarian by tabling this motion in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which the Bloc obviously supported. When the chair of the committee deemed the motion out of order, we challenged the chair's decision, in accordance with the House of Commons Standing Orders. However, the chair refused to hold a vote to determine whether the motion would be challenged and he left the chair, leaving a terrible void that prevented the committee from functioning.

That said, I do not want to get off topic. Let us come back to Bill C-31.

The National Assembly of Quebec oversees appointments to municipal courts and the Court of Quebec. The Court of Quebec has two divisions: the civil division and the youth division. I dreaded the thought of having to deal with Bill C-25, which is a very bad bill.

Bill C-25 deals with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Before the five-year review of the bill has even taken place, the government wants to amend two provisions. The Bloc Québécois maintains that—

Judges ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

An hon. member

Oh, oh!

Judges ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order, please. A member has pointed out that there is a problem because the hon. member for Hochelaga is not speaking about the bill currently before this House, which is an act to amend the Judges Act.

He should perhaps return to the matter at hand, debate on Bill C-31 at third reading, rather than discussing all other bills the government has introduced pertaining to the Department of Justice.

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10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised by your comments because Bill C-31 pertains to justice and judges. I believe that there are links to be made between other bills and I know you will allow me to establish these links.

Bill C-31 before us deals with the appointment of judges. The Bloc Québécois supports this bill, but I was saying how disappointed we are that we did not wait for the Youth Criminal Justice Act to be fully reviewed before introducing a bill which deals with only two provisions. You will recall that, under your tenure as Speaker of the House of Commons, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé, one of the best members ever of this House, tabled 2,700 amendments. That led you to make a ruling—and this is not a criticism—that tightened the criteria for introducing amendments.

Coming back to Bill C-31, I will be mentioning the Askov case. There are constitutional guarantees in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is not a legal instrument that the National Assembly finds desirable, of course. In 1982, the National Assembly almost unanimously passed a motion opposing the unilateral patriation of the Constitution. Pierre Elliott Trudeau's Liberals at the time disregarded the will of the National Assembly. Even Claude Ryan, the leader of the official opposition in the National Assembly at that time, agreed with René Lévesque.

In any case, this Constitution, which was patriated against the wishes of the National Assembly, contains a charter setting out legal guarantees. We are familiar with the major legal guarantees in the charter. Freedom must be inviolable: the freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of expression are protected. The will is expressed that trials be fair and equitable and concern is shown for the manner evidence is obtained. There is a provision in section 24 that allows evidence to be excluded if the manner it was obtained is unconstitutional.

Among the legal guarantees listed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms patriated against the will of Quebec, there is the right to a fair and equitable trial. For a trial to be fair and reasonable, it has to take place within a reasonable time. Obviously, if a year and half, two years, two years and half or three years go by between the time when proceedings are initiated by prosecutors and the time when a judge, or a judge and jury, makes a decision, that violates this constitutional guarantee.

The Bloc Québécois supports the bill before us because it provides for the appointment of 20 new judges who will help unclog the judicial system and ensure that justice is rendered within much a more reasonable time, more expeditiously and more diligently. With respect to these 20 judges, we do not know the details yet about how many there will be for Quebec, Ontario or Newfoundland.

However, there is something I must tell the House, on behalf of my colleague, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, a friend of aboriginal peoples. He is a man of the law and a dedicated attorney, who has always maintained the balance between defending people who are in the system, and fulfilling the Crown's obligation to sentence individuals if necessary. It was a pleasure to have the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue attend the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This was at the time when the committee was meeting and the government accepted the fact that there was work to be done in this committee. This is no longer the case, since the Conservative chair refuses to convene the Standing Committee on Justice.

This is very difficult for me because I love my job. I am very happy with my life. I enjoy speaking at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, but first I have to have a chance to do so. During the last three sittings I have not had that opportunity.

That said, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue spoke. He accompanied me to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to talk to us about aboriginal law. When I studied law at the University of Ottawa, I took a course on aboriginal law, and I become aware of how valuable it is.

As we know, one judge who currently sits on the Ontario Court of Appeal will very likely be appointed to the new aboriginal reconciliation tribunal. This means that the Ontario Court of Appeal will be short one judge. Obviously, we expect that in the arbitration, appointment, provision or allocation of the new resources provided for in Bill C-31, the federal government will take into consideration this potential appointment of an Ontario Court of Appeal judge to the reconciliation tribunal.

Being a vigilant person, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, who is a friend of aboriginal peoples, asked a question in this House when the Conservative government refused to sign the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, setting us back 20 years. Yet all the opposition parties—the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberals—were calling for the ratification of this instrument. Only the archaic, backward-looking, old-fashioned Conservative government refused to ratify this agreement. The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue was good enough to make us aware of this legal tool that the first nations were calling for.

We all know how important the reconciliation commission will be. This historic commission will shed light on the abuse and injustices suffered by the first nations, our founding peoples. The government of René Lévesque recognized the first nations in 1985. When Lévesque was premier, he recognized the 11 first nations in the National Assembly. Hon. members will also recall that Jacques Parizeau's referendum plan, which was distributed door to door in 1995, recognized aboriginal peoples, just as it recognized the historic contribution made by anglophone Quebeckers to Quebec.

I do not want to stray from the issue we are debating. I do want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-31. We worked hard in committee to deliver this bill to the government as quickly as possible. This very short bill will mean that justice can be administered much more quickly. Everyone remembers the ruling in R. v. Askov, where the Ontario Court of Appeal released some accused persons because they had not been able to stand trial within a reasonable time. The case caused a stir in the justice community.

Since then, governments have been under pressure to appoint more judges to the various appeal courts. Every year, there are more trials, and they are often very complex. As well, stalling tactics are used to delay proceedings. We all know what happens in a court of justice. We should therefore applaud the fact that there will be another 20 judges. As I said earlier, we do not know how many there will be for Quebec. We hope that there will be at least three more, but we will wait for confirmation of this.

In conclusion, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. I will be happy to answer any questions my colleagues may have. I hope to again have the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, just like in the good old days.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When debate resumes, 10 minutes will be allotted for questions and comments on the presentation by the hon. member for Hochelaga.

Proceedings in Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Mississauga South on March 3, 2008, concerning the proceedings in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics at its meeting of February 28, 2008.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for their contributions.

In raising his point of order, the member for Mississauga South expressed concerns about motions adopted by the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee at its meeting of February 28, 2008. Of particular concern was the motion ordering the committee, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), to investigate the fundraising practices of the Liberal Party of Canada. The member for Mississauga South, indicated that, as chair of the committee, he had ruled this motion inadmissible as it did not include any reference to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members or any ethical standards that may have been violated but rather actually made direct reference to potential violations of the Canada Elections Act. His ruling was appealed and overturned, and the motion was adopted.

The member for Mississauga South contended that the access to information, privacy and ethics committee has now embarked on a study which is beyond its mandate as set out in Standing Order 108. Questioning the committee's authority to disregard the Standing Orders in this way, he maintained that his committee was encroaching on the mandate of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The member for Hull—Aylmer and the member for Scarborough—Rouge River voiced their support for these arguments.

In his comments, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform spoke of the well-recognized procedural principle that committees are masters of their own proceedings.

In the absence of a report from the committee, he suggested that it would be inappropriate for the Speaker to pass judgment on the question raised by the member for Mississauga South and cautioned against prejudging the direction that the committee study might take.

After careful review of all the interventions on this point of order, it seems to me that the crux of the matter is determining first, to whom the House has given a mandate in matters related to ethics, and second, what differentiates one mandate from another.

Standing Order 108(3)(h) states that the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics has responsibility for overseeing the effectiveness, management and operation, together with the operational and expenditure plans, of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, as well the commissioner’s annual reports on activities in relation to public office holders. It is important to note that reports on complaints involving public office holders are provided for in the Parliament of Canada Act and are filed with the Prime Minister, with no provisions to have them referred to a committee.

This committee mandate is not to be confused with that of the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner whose remit is twofold: first, to support the House of Commons in governing the conduct of its members by administering the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons which has been in effect since 2004; and second, to administer the Conflict of Interest Act for public office holders which came into effect on July 9, 2007.

Oversight of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's work related to members under the Parliament of Canada Act and with respect to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members is the responsibility of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This is clearly indicated in Standing Order 108(3)(a)(vii) and (viii). The procedure and House affairs committee is also responsible for matters relating to the election of members as set out in subparagraph (vi) of Standing Order 108(3)(a).

As was pointed out in a ruling given by the then Deputy Speaker on June 3, 2003, at p.6775 of the Debates, concerning alleged irregularities in the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Transport:

I have said that committees are granted much liberty by the House but, along with the right to conduct their proceedings in a way that facilitates their deliberations, committees have a concomitant responsibility to see that the necessary rules and procedures are followed—

Similarly, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at p. 879 explains that:

Committees are entitled to report to the House only with respect to matters within their mandate. When reporting to the House, committees must indicate the authority under which the study was done (i.e., the Standing Order or the order of reference). If the committee’s report has exceeded or has been outside its order of reference, the Speaker has judged such a report, or the offending section, to be out of order.

Two particularly illustrative examples are included in the footnote to this citation. The first involves a report by the then Standing Committee on Finance, Trade and Economic Affairs regarding the radio and television broadcasting of all committee proceedings, which Mr. Speaker Bosley, in a ruling given on December 14, 1984, Debates page 1243, ruled out of order on the grounds that the committee had exceeded its order of reference. The second relates to a report presented by the then Standing Committee on Labour, Manpower and Immigration which likewise was ruled inadmissible by Mr. Speaker Bosley in the Debates on February 28, 1985, page 2603, again because the committee had exceeded its terms of reference.

Even this brief overview serves to remind us all that the House has taken great care to define and differentiate the responsibilities of its committees, particularly where there might at first glance appear to be overlapping jurisdictions. That said, it is also clear that the House has chosen to allow committees great flexibility and considerable powers, including the power to use their own initiative by undertaking studies within their mandates.

Inherent in the power the House grants to its committees is the basic principle that each committee will respect its mandate. Implicit in the flexibility that committees have traditionally enjoyed is the understanding that they will be judicious in the exercise of their powers. Can it be said that the ethics committee, measured against these standards, is acting appropriately in this instance? Frankly I find it hard to answer that question for a number of reasons.

First, as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader has reminded the Chair, successive Speakers have been reluctant to intervene in the proceedings of committees except in highly exceptional circumstances. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary goes on to caution against presuming on the direction that the committee’s study might take and jumping to conclusions about the nature of any report it might present.

I must acknowledge the validity of that argument. The Chair is not in a position to determine what interpretation the committee will give to the motions that gave rise to the point of order raised by the hon. member for Mississauga South. However, I do wish to make clear to the House that the question of committees respecting their mandates is not one which the House should take lightly.

For the present, I cannot find sufficient grounds to usurp the role of committee members in regulating the affairs of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. However, if and when the committee presents a report, should members continue to have concerns about the work of the committee, they will have an opportunity to raise them in the House and I will revisit the question at that time.

But, if the House will bear with me, I said earlier that I was not comfortable deciding on whether or not what the Ethics Committee had done was appropriate. I would like to return to that statement and I ask for members’ indulgence in hearing me out.

Any observer of the 39th Parliament will realize that the problem of the ethics committee is only one of the recent manifestations of the need for crisis management in committees.

Almost a year ago, in a ruling given on March 29, 2007, I referred to the challenges encountered in this minority parliament, saying, in part:

...neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.

I went on to refer to situations in committee where, because decisions of the Chair are subject to appeal, decisions that were procedurally sound had been overturned by the majority.

Since that time, appeals of decisions by chairs appear to have proliferated, with the result that having decided to ignore our usual procedure and practices, committees have found themselves in situations that verge on anarchy. Even the prestigious Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which, as the Striking Committee is the very heartbeat of the committee system, has not escaped the general lawlessness. Last week, I understand that the committee elected as its chair a member who stated unequivocally that he did not want the nomination.

What responsibility does the Speaker bear for quelling this anarchy that appears to be serially afflicting committees in recent weeks? I would refer hon. members to a comment of Mr. Speaker Lamoureux on July 24, 1969 when he said:

What hon. members would like the Chair to do...is to substitute his judgment for the judgment of certain hon. members. Can I do this in accordance with the traditions of Canada...where the Speaker is not the master of the house...? The Speaker is a servant of the house. Hon. members may want me to be the master of the house today but tomorrow, when, perhaps in other circumstances I might claim this privilege, they might have a different opinion....It would make me a hero, I suppose, if I were to adopt the attitude that I could judge political situations such as this and substitute my judgment for that of certain hon. members.... But I do not believe that this is the role of a Speaker under our system...

The rules that govern our deliberations and the practices that have evolved over time generally serve the House and its committees very well. As your Speaker, I will sometimes suggest that members take their grievances to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and ask them to look at whether changes to our Standing Orders might alleviate such difficulties in the future. But that would not be a helpful suggestion in the present circumstances.

Hon. members know as well as I do, or even better than I do since they are living with the consequences daily, that it is not by tinkering with the rules that we will solve our current difficulties. Nor do I believe, whatever certain media commentators may say, that our difficulties would be resolved if only I, as your Speaker, agreed to act in loco parentis and scolded hon. members into seeing reason. Frankly speaking, I do not think it is overly dramatic to say that many of our committees are suffering from a dysfunctional virus that, if allowed to propagate unchecked, risks preventing members from fulfilling the mandate given to them by their constituents.

To quote House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 210:

...it remains true that parliamentary procedure is intended to ensure that there is a balance between the government's need to get its business through the House, and the opposition's responsibility to debate that business without completely immobilizing the proceedings of the House.

The Speaker must remain ever mindful of the first principles of our parliamentary tradition which Bourinot described thus:

To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner—

It matters not that the minority in the 39th Parliament happens to be the government, not the opposition, or that the majority is held by the combined opposition parties, not the government.

The Shakespearean quote, “The fault...is not in our stars, but in ourselves...” seems sadly apt in the circumstances.

Like all Canadians, and indeed all hon. members, I realize and respect that political exigencies often dictate the strategies adopted by parties in the House. However, as your Speaker, I appeal to those to whom the management of the business of the Parliament has been entrusted--the House leaders and the whips of all parties--to take leadership on this matter. I ask that they address themselves to the crisis in the committee system that is teetering dangerously close to the precipice at the moment. I ask them to work together to find a balance that will allow the parties to pursue their political objectives and will permit all members to carry on their work. I am confident that working together in good faith they can come to an agreement that will return us to the equilibrium that our procedures and practices have been designed to protect. As your Speaker, I stand ready to lend whatever assistance I can.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for having raised the matters relating to the standing committee he chairs and the opportunity to address the larger picture.

I thank the House for its attention.

Unborn Victims of CrimeStatements by Members

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, the public debate on my private member's bill, Bill C-484, is going very well. When people hear and understand the true purpose of my bill and are assured that it is targeted totally and directly to the pregnant woman who has chosen to give birth to her child, they agree that this legislation is urgently needed.

This bill would protect women because a person cannot get to the child without attacking the mother. Studies show that pregnant women are much more vulnerable to attack and the attacks are more vicious. My bill would protect them. A woman should not be left to stand alone in defence of her life and the life of her child.

Seventy-two per cent of Canadians support this legislation. Seventy-five per cent of women support it. Seventy-nine per cent of youth support it. Support crosses political lines, with the lowest level being at 66% for those who identify that they vote for the NDP. Every group has a majority of people in support of this legislation.

When a willing mother is having a wanted child, no one has the right to take that choice and the child that she wants away from her.