Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a pleasure to follow the remarks from the hon. member for Victoria and the hon. member for West Nova, both of whom have been outstanding members of the justice committee and will be missed in this place for their wisdom, sincerity, honesty and integrity. I will very much miss both of my colleagues.
I am pleased to rise to talk about the amendments adopted by the Senate at third reading on June 13, 2019.
First and foremost, I would like to thank all members of the other place for their thoughtful consideration of Bill C-75. In particular, I want to thank the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for its diligent and comprehensive examination of the bill.
This bill proposes major reforms to reduce delays by modernizing the criminal justice system and enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of procedures, while ensuring the safety of Canadians and seeking to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous people in the system.
The provinces and territories, along with many members and many stakeholders in the criminal justice system, are looking forward to the enactment of this legislation.
Bill C-75 introduced reforms in seven key areas: modernizing and streamlining bail; enhancing the existing approach to administration of justice offences, including for youth; restricting the availability of preliminary inquiries to offences with penalties of life imprisonment; reclassifying offences; strengthening judicial case management; improving the jury selection process; and implementing other additional efficiencies.
The other place has proposed amendments to the bill related to bail, reclassification of offences, the victim surcharge and preliminary inquiries.
Although the focus of my remarks will be on the other place's amendments related to the preliminary inquiry provisions of the bill, I would like to preface these by highlighting a few other areas that, cumulatively, will improve efficiencies and reduce delays.
Bill C-75 includes widely supported changes to bail provisions. They seek to enact a principle of restraint for the police and the courts to ensure that the earliest possible release of the accused is favoured over detention, while providing additional guidance to the police on how to impose the appropriate conditions.
The bill would improve the approach used for administration of justice offences, such as breach of bail conditions.
These offences represent a significant volume of Canadian criminal court processing. The creation of a judicial referral hearing would result in fewer charges for these offences being laid, given that the hearing would serve as an alternative for bail breaches and failures to attend court in cases where there has been no physical, emotional or financial harm to a victim.
I would now like to turn to the amendments proposed by the other place to the preliminary inquiry reforms in Bill C-75.
As introduced, the bill would have restricted the availability of preliminary inquiries to adults accused of the 70 offences in the Criminal Code for which they could be liable to life imprisonment. The government's objective has been clear from the beginning on this matter: to reduce the number of preliminary inquiries held in Canada to create efficiencies and limit the impact on those who would have to testify twice. In the jurisdictions that hold the majority of these hearings, the improved efficiencies in the criminal justice process could be significant.
Our committee, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs heard from many stakeholders from the legal community, including the defence bar and Crown attorney associations, such as the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec, that opposed such a significant restriction on the availability of preliminary inquiries, arguing that they are vital in providing important evidence to the accused of the case against them.
As a result of these concerns, the committee in the other place moved an amendment that would expand the availability of preliminary inquiries, on a discretionary basis, to all other indictable offences, an additional 393 offences, in two situations. The first would be where one or both parties requested one and a justice was satisfied that appropriate measures were taken to mitigate the impact on victims. The second situation would be where only one party requested a preliminary inquiry, a justice was satisfied that it was in the best interest of the administration of justice that one be held and appropriate measures were taken to mitigate the impact on victims.
As proposed, the amendment would add a step in the criminal justice process to justify holding a preliminary inquiry. It could generate uncertainty for the parties as to whether a preliminary inquiry would be held and would likely result in litigation on the interpretation of the new complex criteria, ultimately leading to additional delays.
Even witnesses who came before our committee who believed that the proposals contained in Bill C-75 were too restrictive agreed that they could add to delays. For example, in her testimony before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, one of our most incredible witnesses, lawyer Sarah Leamon, from British Columbia, stated:
Now, we know that when a person does decide to go ahead with a preliminary inquiry, the matter will take significantly longer to conclude and is likely to use more judicial resources. That is supported by statistics from Statistics Canada, as well as The Canadian Bar Association....
Given that the amendment was driven by concerns, which were also echoed by members across party lines in this chamber, that the availability of preliminary inquiries was being too severely curtailed by Bill C-75, and I must note that there were many members of our committee who wanted to try to find a way to amend the bill to expand the scope of preliminary inquiries, I am very pleased that the Senate proposed something. The government, in response, is offering a constructive alternative approach. This would involve making preliminary inquiries available for offences carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years or more of imprisonment.
Although this would expand the availability of preliminary inquiries to an additional 86 offences, it would be consistent with the objective of Bill C-75 as introduced as well as with the 2017 federal-provincial consensus to restrict them to offences carrying the most serious terms of imprisonment. This approach would be palatable to jurisdictions that would have further restricted their availability to the most serious offences in the Criminal Code, such as murder and high treason. It would also provide certainty as to which offences would be eligible for a preliminary inquiry and would avoid the risk of litigation inherent in the Senate amendment.
This proposal strikes an artful compromise and a good balance, and I strongly support it.
Overall, this important bill responds to the systemic problem of delays in the criminal justice system, while introducing innovative measures for driving a shift in culture, as noted by the Supreme Court in Jordan.
I ask all my colleagues to support this very good bill and the constructive approach of the government and the Minister of Justice, who I strongly support, to the amendments from the Senate.