Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to an important piece of legislation. I had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions of a number of members on Bill S-4. It is a piece of legislation that was in the House previously, but in a different form. It originated in the House of Commons, where there was a great deal of discussion about it, and it has been reintroduced to the House in the form of a Senate bill, with very few substantial changes.
Having said that, I look at the legislation as a form of modernization. I do not say that lightly. I recall a couple of instances from years ago when I was a justice critic in the Manitoba legislature. There was a great deal of talk about how we could utilize technology to ensure that our judicial system was more effective.
One thing that used to really frustrate me was, when I would drive to the Manitoba legislature from home, I would pass the courts and see all the police cars parked there due to police waiting for trial, many of whom would never even get to testify on that particular day and would be called upon to come back another day, or I would be at another facility where there was serious police traffic, all court related. I remember talking to law enforcement officers who indicated it would be far better to capitalize on some of the technology, such as video conferencing, and the positive impact that would have. I believe it would be quite effective.
When I heard about the legislation coming from the Senate, legislation that originated in the House and was then reintroduced through the Senate, I looked at it from the perspective that, at the end of day, Canadians want a system that will be there in an independent fashion, independent of politics. We very much believe in the rule of law and judicial independence, but there is still a role for legislators and parliamentarians to look at ways to improve the system. That is what we are seeing here. This legislation that the government brought forward would ensure better accessibility. It would make the system more efficient and, ultimately, more effective.
As was cited earlier, we hear a great deal about the importance of getting justice as quickly as possible. There are certain things we have learned from the pandemic. We often heard, when the pandemic was at its peak, that we should look for ways to learn from the pandemic to improve our systems. The technology can easily be brought into our judicial system. We should at least provide the opportunity for its usage. I like to think that providing that opportunity would make a difference.
Bill S-4 proposes a range of reforms that would make court proceedings more flexible while protecting the rights of all participants. The reforms would flow from important work that was done and conducted by the Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19, co-chaired by the Minister of Justice and Chief Justice Richard Wagner.
When we look at the tangible things coming out of the legislation, we see one would allow an accused person to appear by video conference at a preliminary inquiry, on consent of the parties and where the court considers it appropriate, including when evidence is actually being presented. In addition, it would allow an accused person to appear by video conference for trial for a summary conviction offence, on consent and where the court considers it appropriate, including when evidence is being presented.
Another important point to recognize in the legislation is that it would allow an accused person to appear via video conference for a trial for an indictable offence on the consent of parties and where the court considers it appropriate, including when evidence is being presented, except in the case of evidence before a jury.
I have two more points to highlight. It would allow an accused person to appear by video conference and audio conference for making a plea on consent of the parties and, where the court considers it appropriate, a plea by audio conference. This would only occur when the court was satisfied that video conferencing was not readily available, and the court could still inquire about the conditions of accepting a guilty plea under subsection 606(1.1), despite not being able to see the accused person, which was proposed in clause 715.234.
The last point I would make to Bill S-4 is that it would allow the offender to appear by video conference or audio conference for sentencing purposes, on the consent of the parties and where a court considers it appropriate. Sentencing by audio conference would only occur when the court was satisfied that video conferencing was not readily available, as proposed in clause 715.235.
I do appreciate the importance of video conferencing. My New Democratic friend from James Bay—