Madam Chair, I will speak to two issues: access to justice in both official languages, and genetic discrimination. I will speak for about 10 minutes. Then I will ask the minister questions in both official languages.
One thing I do want to say before I begin is how much I have appreciated the opportunity to work with the Minister of Justice. Since he has been appointed, he has been nothing but a pleasure to work with, and I want to thank him for that.
One of my concerns is the issue of access to justice in both of Canada's official languages. I represent a bilingual riding where two-thirds of the population speaks English and one-third speaks French.
In my view, all Canadians from all provinces and territories should have access to justice in both of Canada's official languages.
One of the things that I was pleased with is that at the beginning of our tenure at the justice committee, we proposed a unanimous report that asked for the reinstatement of the court challenges program, with both an official language component and an equality component. That program was restored by this government, and I appreciate that, because it allows official language minority communities throughout the country to seek funds in order to challenge government rules that pose a challenge to their charter rights. That is something that the government did that I really appreciate.
We looked at that at the justice committee. At the justice committee, when we were doing our access to justice study, we also proposed that funding be offered to allow provinces to create templates for lawyers that allow them to enter into contracts in both official languages throughout Canada. It was actually frightening to hear that in some provinces, contracts could not be drawn up in both official languages because lawyers did not have access to templates. One of the things I am really pleased with, which I will get to a little later, is that the government has offered funding to improve that access.
Another thing that is very important is for judges to be able to hear witness testimony in both official languages.
The government's action plan for official languages delivers on many of the recommendations made by the Commissioner of Official Languages and his counterparts in Ontario and New Brunswick in the 2013 report entitled “Access to Justice in Both Official Languages: Improving the Bilingual Capacity of the Superior Court Judiciary”.
Our action plan takes a multidimensional approach that guarantees that participants in Canada's justice system have better access to justice in both of Canada's official languages.
First, in many cases, access to justice would be moot without a justice system capable of rendering justice in both languages. To that end, in October 2016 there were reforms to the Superior Court appointments process, and those measures are contained in the action plan to enhance the bilingual capacity of the Superior Court judiciary. These changes have increased the transparency and accountability of the appointments process while laying the groundwork for a longer-term vision for continuous improvement, including in the area of bilingual capacity.
The other important change regarding judges is the process for appointing judges to the Supreme Court of Canada. Our government set out to make this process more open, transparent and accountable and to ensure that judges appointed to the Supreme Court are truly bilingual.
We followed that process when we appointed Justices Malcolm Rowe and Sheilah L. Martin. I am sure that we will do the same thing when we find a replacement for Clément Gascon.
Ultimately, it is very important to ensure that all judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada are bilingual, and one day, that might be the case for appeal court judges as well.
I am really proud of that progress.
I would also like to talk about a couple of other things we have done with respect to bilingualism. The justice committee, once again unanimously, amended Bill C-78 so it would ensure people have the right to divorce in both official languages across Canada. One of the things we heard from witnesses from British Columbia and a couple of Maritime provinces such as Newfoundland was that one could not obtain a divorce in French in those provinces. That is shocking.
A divorce proceeding might be the only encounter a person has with the justice system, and it is a very emotional time. As a witness, a person would not want to have to talk to a judge about such emotional things in a language that is not their mother tongue. That is what was happening in some provinces in Canada.
I am proud that the Standing Committee on Justice unanimously recommended changing Bill C-78.
I am proud that the government agreed to that recommendation. That is what passed this House of Commons and I hope will pass the other place.
I also want to talk about the enhancement of the access to justice in both official languages support fund under the action plan for official languages 2018-2023. This grants and contributions program provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, post-secondary institutions and provincial and territorial partners, including provincial courts, to improve access to justice in official language minority communities.
Beyond the existing amounts, our government has committed to additional funding of $13.75 million over five years to improve access to justice in both official languages. These new investments will enable the consolidation of current access to justice activities for official language minority communities, the creation of new fields of activities and the re-establishment of operational core funding for eligible community organizations.
In addition to this funding, consultation with stakeholders is key.
I know that our Department of Justice organizes an annual meeting as part of the advisory committee on access to justice in both official languages. This advisory committee brings together legal representatives of official language minority communities and spokespersons for these communities, such as the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada and the Quebec Community Groups Network.
I know this money will go to a good cause. We heard from these groups how difficult it was in certain cases to obtain access to justice in both official languages. Despite constitutional and legal rules, people who come from a small rural community often have a difficult time finding an attorney and a court that will hear them and work with them in their language. The more tools governments across Canada, including our federal government, can offer to this process, the better the chance all Canadians will have of seeking access to justice in their official language.
I also said I wanted to talk about one other thing, which is genetic discrimination. This House, by majority, adopted a law to prohibit genetic discrimination. That was a proposal that was unanimously adopted by the justice committee. The previous minister of justice did not agree with that, and a factum was filed by the Government of Canada in the Quebec Court of Appeal, saying that the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act adopted by a majority in Parliament was not within the criminal law power of Parliament.
I have noted with interest that the government has now filed a factum in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, which highlights the importance of privacy and the chance that such a law would be intra vires the privacy interests or the right of Parliament to legislate on privacy issues.
Madam Chair, I am going to ask my first question to the Minister of Justice now. Mr. Minister, could you explain to the House the privacy arguments advanced in the factum on the genetic discrimination bill before the Supreme Court of Canada?