Mr. Chair, I will provide 10 minutes of remarks and then I will welcome questions from my parliamentary secretary, the outstanding member for Parkdale—High Park.
I would first like to recognize the Algonquin nation, on whose traditional territory we are gathering this evening.
I will briefly describe how the funding allocated in the main estimates 2019-20 will support our work at the Department of Justice.
I would like to remind the committee that the department strives to promote and maintain a fair, transparent and accessible justice system. The department also helps guide the modernization of the justice system. What is more, it provides the federal government with legal services and support.
The Department of Justice has a total budgetary authority of $744.52 million through 2019-20 main estimates, which is an increase of $46.77 million from the previous fiscal year. This additional funding is for major priorities, including but not limited to innovating and modernizing how regulations are drafted and implemented, enhancing the integrity of Canada’s borders and asylum system, providing Canadians with better access to public legal aid education and information, and supporting renewed legal relationships with indigenous peoples.
Much of this year's authority will support the administration of justice and the Canadian legal framework by directing funding to the provinces and territories, with whom we share the responsibility in this important area.
The funding will also help maintain and support our bilingual and bijural national legal framework. It will also support the department’s ability to transform and modernize the justice system, while protecting and promoting the rights enshrined in the Constitution and the charter.
I would like to outline some of the key funding we have received and the initiatives that it will help support.
First, we are currently conducting a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in order to determine how effective it is in protecting Canadians. The review, which involved extensive public consultations, will also help ensure that our laws hold offenders accountable, that they are fair and equitable, that they respect the charter and that they show compassion and support for victims.
This ongoing review has already helped inform the initiatives and reforms we have introduced.
For one thing, the review contributed to Bill C-75. With this bill, our government is fulfilling its promise to move forward with substantive criminal justice reforms that will have a real and lasting impact on court delays. It will help increase efficiencies and reduce delays for all those involved in the criminal justice system while respecting their rights and protecting public safety. This important legislation is now before the other place, and I look forward to seeing it passed during this Parliament.
We are deeply committed to reconciliation and to transforming our relationship with indigenous peoples.
The directive on civil litigation involving indigenous peoples was released in January 2019. It supports our commitment to reconciliation and rights recognition by providing advice on the approaches, positions and decisions taken in the context of civil litigation involving indigenous peoples and related issues.
I would also add that we recognize the importance of revitalizing indigenous legal systems and the important role that indigenous law institutes can play in understanding, developing and implementing indigenous laws.
To this end, budget 2019 proposes $10 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, in support of indigenous law initiatives across Canada through the justice partnership and innovation program, JPIP, to improve equality for indigenous peoples in Canada's legal system. This builds on the $9.5 million per year we already provide for the delivery of indigenous courtwork services through the indigenous courtwork program. With their knowledge of indigenous culture, language and traditions, court workers provide direct support before, during and after court proceedings.
We are also continuing our efforts to fill judicial vacancies and increase diversity in the Canadian judiciary. The appointment process for superior court justices that we introduced is more transparent, inclusive and responsible.
We have made over 300 judicial appointments since November 2015. These exceptional jurists reflect the diversity that gives Canada its strength. More than half of those judges are women, and 30% are functionally bilingual. The appointments reflect an increased representation of visible minorities, indigenous peoples, people from the LGBTQ2S community, and people who identify as living with a disability.
While on the subject of diversity, it is important to highlight our continued support for protecting the rights and freedoms of the LGBTQ2S community. One example is our Bill C-16, which received royal assent in June 2017. It amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to add two prohibited grounds of discrimination: gender identity and gender expression. It also amended the Criminal Code by adding gender identity or expression to the list of identifiable groups that are protected from hate propaganda. Finally, it made clear that hatred on the basis of gender identity or expression should be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing for a criminal offence.
We are also very proud of Bill C-78, which is currently before the other place. The legislation seeks to modernize federal family law and put the needs of the child first.
The last time our family laws have undergone significant amendments was 20 years ago. They fail to address a number of difficult issues, including relocation and family violence. I hope the reform will pass quickly.
Completing this legislation is our expansion of unified family courts. In budget 2018, our government funded the creation of 39 new judicial positions beginning April 1, 2019. Twelve of these new appointments were recently made to Ontario's Unified Family Court.
We are also maintaining and strengthening access to justice in both official languages.
Budget 2019 would give the Department of Justice $21.6 million over five years, starting in 2020-21, to support the legislative changes in Bill C-78 that seek to increase access to family justice in either official language.
This funding builds on our efforts in budget 2018, which provided an additional $10 million over five years and $2 million per year ongoing for Justice Canada's access to justice in both official languages support fund.
Another top priority for our government is ensuring that victims receive the support they need.
In 2019-20, the victims fund at the Department of Justice will provide $28.72 million in grants and contributions to support research and innovative pilot projects, as well as front-line services for victims and survivors of crime across Canada.
The Department of Justice is also committed to helping immigrants and refugees. Budget 2017 included funding for immigration and refugee legal aid on an ongoing basis: $62.9 million was identified over a five-year period, with an additional $11.5 million per year thereafter. This funding helps prevent delays in immigration and refugee processes and, most importantly, helps ensure access to justice for economically disadvantaged immigrants and refugees.
Budget 2019 builds on previous investments and commits an additional $52 million over three years, primarily for immigration and refugee legal aid, but also to support the delivery of legal services.
I want to thank the committee for giving me an opportunity to speak to them today. The work of the Department of Justice is complex, and my brief comments offer merely a glimpse of the excellent work done by department employees.