Madam Speaker, it is wonderful to be here this afternoon and rise to speak on Bill S-4, a bill that demonstrates co-operation on a jurisdictional basis with the provinces, and a bill that moves our justice system forward so Canadians know our justice system is accessible, efficient and effective, and provides true access to justice for all Canadians from coast to coast to coast. It is with much pleasure that I rise to speak to the bill.
I am pleased to be here and to have the opportunity to provide an overview of some of the key areas of reform proposed in Bill S-4, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other acts.
Informed by federal, provincial and territorial dialogue and key stakeholder input, the proposed amendments are intended to mitigate the impact of court delays on accused persons and on victims by supporting the efficient and effective operation of the criminal courts during and in the aftermath of the pandemic. They are designed to enhance the courts' ability to ensure that their operations respect both public health concerns for all participants in the criminal justice system and the charter rights of accused persons to be tried within a reasonable time in order to maintain public confidence in our justice system.
The proposed amendments are based on the following criteria: One, they were critical to increasing the efficiency of the criminal justice system during the conditions of the pandemic; two, they address the current impediments to efficiency in the Criminal Code; three, they would have little or no prejudicial impact on accused persons; four, they are likely to receive broad-based parliamentary support; and five, they would result in amendments to the Criminal Code that would continue to provide efficiencies post pandemic.
The pandemic significantly impacted the operation of the criminal courts in Canada, as we all know, with courts either temporarily closing or severely restricting their operations due to public health orders. Furthermore, the pandemic exposed weaknesses in our criminal court system that can be fixed by providing remote access to proceedings under special circumstances. Bill S-4 would go beyond correcting for issues discovered during the pandemic and would make the justice process in Canada more efficient and accessible.
Bill S-4 addresses issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light regarding the ways in which criminal trials are conducted in this country. It also builds on past government initiatives, including Bill C-75 from a previous Parliament, which came into force in 2019 and made significant progress in modernizing our criminal justice system, including by facilitating the appearance of accused persons, lawyers and judges by audio or video conference throughout the criminal justice process.
Criminal justice is an area of shared jurisdiction, and co-operation with provincial and territorial partners is key. Parliament has exclusive authority to enact criminal law, including criminal procedure. Provinces and territories have jurisdiction over the administration of justice, including criminal courts.
While the courts and criminal justice professionals are, for the most part, managing to maintain essential services in the criminal justice process during the pandemic, accused persons, offenders, victims and witnesses are nonetheless being impacted by delays.
While many challenges facing the criminal courts have been operational in nature, some have arisen due to legislative impediments in the Criminal Code. Consequently, the pandemic has revealed the need for a number of amendments to the Criminal Code to provide clarity to the courts on issues that have arisen and to make the criminal process more efficient and effective by expanding the permissible use of technology during the pandemic, for the recuperation period and beyond. These proposed reforms are for the benefit of all participants in the criminal justice system.
Bill S-4 would modernize our criminal justice system by employing video conference and audio conference technology to accommodate for pandemic-era challenges, and it would equip our courts to handle similar challenges that may arise in the future. Furthermore, we would improve all Canadians' access to justice.
The bill would not change the principle that all persons involved in the criminal justice process must physically appear in person unless otherwise authorized under the Criminal Code. Courts will still have discretion in this area. However, this bill would ensure that the judicial process is not unduly stalled, by permitting remote conference options under extenuating circumstances.
Canadians deserve a justice system that is accessible, efficient and effective, and that provides true access to justice for all. The pandemic has taught us that technology can help make the justice system work better for all people who come in contact with it. Bill S-4 proposes a range of reforms that will make court proceedings more flexible while protecting the rights of all participants.
The reforms proposed in Bill S-4 flow from the important work of the Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19, co-chaired by the Minister of Justice and Chief Justice Richard Wagner. They are also informed by important contributions from the provinces and territories, as well as other justice system stakeholders. With Bill S-4, we have the opportunity to improve our justice system by making those good ideas permanent.
Since March 2020, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has engaged regularly on the impacts of the pandemic on criminal courts with provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice and public safety. The proposed amendments take into consideration input received from provinces, territories and other key stakeholders.
In addition, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has continued to be kept apprised of the challenges faced by courts across Canada in his role as co-chair of the Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19. These discussions have all informed the proposed changes introduced in the bill.
A more efficient justice system will benefit all Canadians. I ask that all members of this House support the quick passage of the bill. I believe Bill S-4 helps transform and modernize our criminal justice system while ensuring respect for all persons involved in the criminal court process, including accused persons and prospective jurors.
I am confident Bill S-4 and the proposed reforms will improve our criminal justice system while facilitating careful oversight by the courts to ensure that the rights of accused persons and offenders are protected.
The gist of this bill, its main purpose, is that Canadians deserve a justice system that is accessible, efficient and effective, and that provides access to justice for all. I thank everyone for allowing me the time to speak on a very important bill for all Canadians.