Mr. Speaker, I think this is something that may have never happened in the House before, a member beginning a speech on a bill in one seat and continuing it in a separate seat on the very same day. This was made possible, of course, by a standing order change that allows us to sit absolutely anywhere in the House. I was tempted to do it from the Prime Minister's seat, but that would have involved a little too many logistics. I was not sure we would get back to the debate, so I will do it from this seat here.
We are debating Bill C-9, an act to amend the Judges Act, and we are at second reading. I want to talk about the substance of the bill. It is actually, I think, a very good bill, and I will deal with that in a minute.
First, I want to talk about the fact the government is once again rushing this debate through and imposing closure. As I consider its actions, the thought that occurs to me is that, out there in the normal world, there is a saying. It is that “your lack of planning does not equal my crisis,” but this is the House of Commons of Canada. As long as they have the support of the New Democrats, the Liberals can be as disorganized as they want and can create crises for themselves and then impose limits on democracy and open debate in order to rush through crises of their own making.
In the case of the bill, which has now been time allocated, a version of it was introduced as Bill S-5, a government bill in the Senate, in May 2021, but it died on the Order Paper, because the Prime Minister, in his infinite wisdom, decided to call the least necessary election in Canadian history, which resulted in our having exactly the same seat breakdown we had prior to the election. However, it did cause everything on the Order Paper to be wiped off the Order Paper, and when we resumed in the autumn of 2021, a new bill was introduced on the Order Paper, on December 1, 2021, as Bill S-3. Subsequently, that bill was dropped and Bill C-9, the bill we are presently debating, found its way onto the Order Paper on December 16, 2021. It then sat on the Order Paper, undebated, for exactly six months to the day, until June 16, 2022.
The House rises in time for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, which is on the 24th of June. The bill, therefore, had a couple days of time for debate before the House rose. Then, with a whole summer going by, it did not come back until very recently, when we had been here for a month. This makes the point that the reason there is a rush, if there is a rush at all, is that the government has caused a delay. I should point out as well that the purpose of the bill is to make changes to the Judges Act, which was implemented in 1971, so we are talking about changes to something that has been in place for 50 years.
Saying this constitutes the kind of crisis that warrants putting limits on debate is, in my view, simply unreasonable and simply a reflection of the fact that it is now reflexive for the current government to put time limits on all debates on everything.
Now, let me talk about the substance of the bill.
Bill C-9 deals primarily with judges, but as for the provisions it replaces, this new process would also apply to persons other than judges who are appointed under an act of Parliament to hold office under what is known as “good behaviour”. The question of what constitutes “good behaviour” is a matter that needs to be updated from time to time, particularly in the world of the law and the actions of judges, because if something goes wrong in the court system and if judges or courts act inappropriately, we say that the law is brought into disrepute. Bringing the law into disrepute is the worst thing a judge can do. What constitutes “disrepute” does change over time as we get greater sensitivity, for example, to gender issues, which lie at the heart of the present piece of legislation, or to concerns relating to the ability of people who face various forms of disabilities to communicate with the courts and so on.
Standards within society do change. I think they usually improve, and it is reasonable to update this from time to time.
Right now, the way it works is that, should a federally appointed judge be found to be potentially in breach of their responsibilities, the issue is sent to the Canadian Judicial Council for review. The bill would establish a new process for reviewing allegations of misconduct, allegations that are not serious enough to warrant a judge's removal from office, and would make changes to the process by which recommendations regarding removal from office can be made to the Minister of Justice.
The bill would specifically modify the existing judicial review process by establishing a process for complaints serious enough to warrant removal from office and another for offences that could warrant other sanctions, such as counselling, continuing education and reprimands.
Currently, if misconduct is less serious, a single member of the Canadian Judicial Council holds the initial review and may negotiate with a judge for remedy. I should mention as well that the Canadian Judicial Council was set up under the existing law. It dates back to 1971 and is mandated to promote efficiency and uniformity and improve the quality of judicial services in all superior courts in Canada.
The reasons a judge could be removed from office include infirmity, misconduct, failure in the due execution of judicial office, and the judge's being “in a position that a reasonable, fair-minded and informed observer would consider to be incompatible with the due execution of judicial office”.
Under the new rules, a screening officer could dismiss complaints rather than referring them to the review panel, should they appear frivolous or improper. Certain things, such as a complaint that alleges sexual harassment or discrimination, may not be dismissed. The full screening criteria would be published by the Canadian Judicial Council.
These amendments address the shortcomings of the current process by imposing mandatory sanctions on a judge when a complaint of misconduct is found to be justified but not to be serious enough to warrant removal from office. Again, such sanctions could include counselling, continuing education and reprimands.
In the name of transparency, this legislation would require that the Canadian Judicial Council include the number of complaints received and how they were resolved in its public annual report, something that is a very sound idea.
Since its inception in 1971, the Canadian Judicial Council has completed inquiries into eight complaints considered serious enough that they would warrant removal from the bench. Four of them, in fact, did result in recommendations for removal.
Under the new process, as laid out in Bill C-9, the Canadian Judicial Council would continue to preside over the judicial complaints process, which would start with a three-person panel. If the complaint is serious enough that it might warrant removal from the bench, it could be referred to a separate, five-person hearing panel.
As I am out of time, I will just make the observation that, on the whole, this is a good piece of legislation. I am glad it is before us. It could have been before us earlier. I very much welcome the opportunity to vote in favour and send this off to committee, but of course I object to the rush we have been put in to do that.