Mr. Speaker, I hope you will allow that member to have the first question.
I would like to talk about the treatment of judges in general in Parliament, which has been totally unfair. I will go into the specifics of the bill and talk about a number of items that I support, but I have some questions about its implementation.
First, as people know, the last Parliament judges were afforded a pay raise. The final signatures had not come through. As part of a very unfair and backward treatment of judges, that pay raise was denied by the government and was not allowed to go forward.
The next item was the change in the selection of judges. In our system the fundamental basis of our democratic system is the general separation of the judiciary, the executive branch and Parliament. The people are convinced there is a good separation and that there is a good process for the recommendation of judges. The executive branch still has the authority and approves the actual judges. However, the judicial councils, which have various expertise from the various groups on them, had suggested that they should make recommendations to the government, although the government could still decide who it wanted.
The minister added another government member to that body, which was a horrendous change. Now there is a majority of government members on that selection committee. Not only does the minister get to make the final decision, but he also gets to have a majority of people appointed on the committee that makes the recommendations to him. What faith will people have that the judges appointed are independent? This has already led to some very questionable appointments, which I might get to later.
I also want to comment on a third backward step in treating our judiciary. The government has taken away the discretion of judges in a number of the bills brought before Parliament. Judges have a lifetime of expertise. The judges see all the evidence, hear all the cases and sit through the entire procedure. They have research and all the precedents to make the most reasonable decisions on the punishment someone should receive and the type of remediation so society will be as safe as possible and the person is least likely to reoffend.
People are different and different punishment and rehabilitation would apply. However, unfortunately, we have been presented with a number of bills that would reduce the discretion of judges, and not to increase the maximum penalties, which people might want, to deal with offenders, which could make them more safe.
A perfect example was Bill C-23, which would have reduced a whole number of relatively successful remedies. To a large extent, the criminal justice system has failed for the last thousand years. Huge numbers of criminals who go to prison come out and reoffend.
A number of community type justices, as the chief police of Ottawa can tell us, have a much better success rate than what has been done traditionally. Up to only 30% or 40% of youth going through those types of rehabilitation are likely to reoffend, as opposed to 50%, 60% or 70% under the traditional system.
We had an innovative, successful type of approach in some cases and we had a bill that would take away from the judges their ability to use that type of tool. Fortunately the opposition parties fixed that bill and reinstated those successful remedies in a vast majority of cases.
I want to compliment the minister on looking at a point related to judge. It was related to the chief justices in the three territories. By an anomaly of the system, back in history there was a reason, because of function, to separate the title of the chief justices of the territories. I believe they were called head judges. Now the judicial councils and everyone who deals with judges understand that their roles are identical to chief justices in the provinces and therefore the names should change.
I appreciate the minister looking into that for the last six months or so. Hopefully he will soon provide me a written outline of what the exact issue is, if there is still an issue, or if the government could make that change. I know there were some thoughts that it might be different responsibilities, but the Judicial Council basically has said that they are identical.
The last point in the whole area of the background for the bill is related to the lack of analysis done and the unpreparedness of the justice system for the huge agenda. As I think everyone in Parliament knows, there has been a massive agenda on justice. There have been more bills through the justice committee than probably all the other committees put together, which is fine if work needs to be done there. However, an analysis of the repercussions has to been if those bills are to become law. What effect will they have on government? What effect will they have on prisons? What effect will they have on the budgets of the provincial and territorial governments? On the bill before us, what effect will it have on judges?
Time and time again in committee we asked about the analyses and about the preparation that had been done. It was very limited, if any. No planning had been done on the effects on an already overcrowded jail system. More important, on the resources in that jail system, the teachers, the anger managers, all the supports that go with the jail system and the parole system, no analysis had been done on the extra cost to the provincial governments or who would pay for them. No analysis had been done on the extra procedures that police may have had to undertake or whether it would take more time for them to go through these procedures and therefore more time in the courts.
Therefore, it is surprising that if there were these new types of increases in the justice system, that there would not be a need for more judges to deal with these situations, especially in the sense where it becomes harder to get a rehabilitative sentence and someone has to face a sentence that could be far longer and more severe than actually a natural justice would suggest. Therefore, it may not even stand up to a constitutional challenge. However, because of these limited stiffer sentences, then more defendants would have to go to court. They would not have the other options where they could make a deal, where they could get rehabilitation, which would make them less dangerous to society. Therefore, this would increase the number of people in the system, the court time and the number of court cases, and therefore the need for judges.
We may get this bill through and have to do another bill right away. We are so far behind because there has not been any analysis done in this area. I hope the government has listened to this and does an analysis of the whole system and the ramifications of the many bills that we have passed in Parliament and the impact they would have on the rest of the justice system.
With regard to this bill, as I said earlier, it involves increasing the number of judges by 20 judges, of who 6 equivalent full time judges would be for the specific claims process, which I will comment on a bit later.
These additional judges would deal with the increasing backlogs in the superior court system in six particular areas of the country, including Nunavut and New Brunswick. About four or five other jurisdictions have outlined their backlogs, especially in family court and youth related matters.
When cases come forward related to child custody cases or different types of family court cases, they have to be dealt with quickly. They usually involve serious issues, such as the conditions under which a child might live, or the parent with whom the child might live and there has been a crisis, as can be seen lately.
Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia are other areas where there have been delays. Nunavut, in particular, has problem providing justices to their far-flung aboriginal communities. As we know, it is very difficult to get anywhere in Nunavut. On a per capita basis, we certainly need a good number of judges. New Brunswick has had problems recently about the appointment of unilingual judges who replace bilingual judges when they retire. They are unable to carry the same workload or cover the same number of people with whom they need to deal.
As of January 24, there are currently 31 judicial vacancies that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling. Even by filling the existing vacancies, the minister could appoint more judges than this entire bill would allow. The largest number of vacancies is in British Columbia between the provincial Court of Appeal of and the provincial Supreme Court.
We support the increase in the number of judges and we strongly support any appropriate amendments made by the committee related to the specific claims tribunals, which we worked on when we were in government. These are much needed changes, although there are questions about exactly how that and the appointments would work, et cetera. I will talk about that in a moment.
Yet, unfortunately, the government continues to put forward measures that are unsuitable and insufficient. Even though I agree that Bill C-31 should pass and that we need to increase the number of judges, I do not approve of the implementation of this bill. Perhaps this is because I worked so much in the field and saw first hand that there are not enough judges, especially in New Brunswick, as I said earlier.
Just before I get on to the specific claims tribunals, I want to talk about what the government was questioned on previously relating to the bill. I hope that there is a plan in place and that it is related to the regional distribution of the judges.
There are some very distinct challenges in New Brunswick, Nunavut, Quebec and Ontario related to language as well as getting judges out to difficult locations. I wonder if the government has indeed, based on questions from the opposition, come up with a plan for that type of distribution.
Just so that there is no misunderstanding, I want to say once again how hard-working, experienced, thoughtful and independent the judges are and we certainly appreciate them.
In relation to the specific claims tribunal, how is the government going to ensure that the judges are fully knowledgeable about aboriginal affairs? The aboriginal people want to ensure that they certainly have a full and fair hearing. What is a little worrisome is that there is no way for appeals. There are very few things in our society where there is not a possibility of appeal.
I am very supportive of items in the bill, but I am not so happy with the way judges have been treated throughout this Parliament in other ways.