moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise before you today to move third reading of Bill C-9. I am pleased not only because of the importance of this piece of legislation in ensuring that we maintain a robust justice system, but also because of the unanimous support it received at the end of October when we last debated this bill.
I thank my esteemed colleagues for their contributions. I am grateful to all those who shared their opinions on this bill, which made it possible to delve deeper into the issues it raises and consider them from every angle. It was really a collaborative effort, and I am proud to have played a role in it.
It is clear from our previous discussions on this bill that, regardless of our political differences, we all share the common goal of protecting the independence of the judicial system. We are supporting that fundamental goal today by implementing a rigorous, tailored process for dealing with disciplinary complaints against judges.
Given the stage Bill C-9 is at in the parliamentary process, I assume that everyone is aware of the context that gave rise to this bill. That context has been very well explained, which helped guide our recent discussions. The merits of the bill have also been debated at length in previous sittings. Nevertheless, I would like to take this opportunity to go over a few key points.
At the outset, it is important to emphasize that the modifications to the judicial conduct process proposed by this bill are substantive and far-reaching. They are not mere adjustments meant to update a process in need of updating.
I will begin with two important elements concerning judicial conduct in general before touching upon the principal areas of reform.
A robust mechanism for governing judicial conduct is critical in upholding public trust in the justice system as a whole. This is so for two closely related reasons. First, the existence of such a regime is essential even where, as in Canada, the judiciary is long established and well respected. Second, protecting judicial independence does not mean insulating judges from the consequences of misconduct. I will briefly cover each point in turn.
The impetus for amendments proposed by Bill C-9 is not a crisis of judicial ethics. It is quite the opposite. Misconduct by judges in Canada is rare. Allegations are thankfully infrequent, with findings of misconduct rarer still. We Canadians are privileged beneficiaries of a truly excellent judiciary, whose quality is widely recognized both at home and abroad. This does not mean that a strong judicial conduct regime is not necessary. It is. Maintaining the solid foundation of public confidence on which the excellence of our judiciary rests requires a robust mechanism for dealing with complaints against judges. Such a mechanism is essential to ensuring continued confidence in both the judiciary itself and the justice system overall. Canadians must be confident that instances of judicial misconduct will be addressed.
A well-functioning judicial conduct regime therefore remains critical, even when allegations of judicial misconduct are infrequent. Protecting public trust in the administration of justice demands that a mechanism be in place and be ready to respond appropriately to complaints against members of the judiciary as they are made. This is a tangible guarantee of accountability. It helps preserve confidence that allegations are taken seriously, all while respecting principles of procedural fairness.
A judicial conduct process that would serve to insulate judges from the consequences of misconduct could be just as harmful to public confidence as the complete absence of a conduct process.
That is why the provisions of Bill C‑9 propose a responsive approach seeking to ensure that allegations are addressed as fairly and effectively as possible. The proposed mechanism respects both the people filing the complaint and those who are the subject of the complaint. By providing a legitimate avenue for the careful review of allegations, we have the assurance that there is some oversight over the conduct of judges and that they will be held to account when necessary. At the same time, this promotes confidence in the administration of justice on a broader scale.
It is important to point out that the careful development of a judicial conduct process is not at all incompatible with the fundamental principle of judicial independence, guaranteed under paragraph 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the provisions on the judiciary in the Constitution Act, 1867. In fact, they go hand in hand.
That being said, we must be careful to strike a delicate balance between these two important considerations. The process we put in place to conscientiously address allegations of judicial misconduct must not contravene the constitutional guarantees that seek to ensure judicial independence.
We can be confident that this bill strikes the right balance. Canadians can trust that their judges are making independent and impartial decisions and, at the same time, they can rest assured that the judges' conduct remains subject to review. Ultimately, this will improve trust in the administration of justice, both with respect to individual judges and on a broader scale.
Let me now provide a brief overview of the legal and constitutional foundations of the judicial conduct process. At its core lies the Canadian Judicial Council, or CJC, the body responsible for receiving, reviewing and investigating complaints against members of the federally appointed judiciary. It works at arm’s length from the executive and legislative branches of government.
The Judges Act requires the CJC to submit a report to the Minister of Justice containing a recommendation on whether the judge whose conduct is at issue should be removed from office. It is for the minister to then consider whether to advise cabinet that the matter of the judge’s removal should be put to the houses of Parliament. In order for a judge to be removed from office, both the House of Commons and the Senate must vote in favour. If they do so, a request is made to the Governor General to remove the judge from office.
As I have previously noted, this process requires a counterweight in the form of constitutional protections for judicial independence. One aspect of judicial independence is security of tenure. More specifically, the requirements of security of tenure prevent a judge’s removal from office except in cases of proven incapacity or misconduct. As a further safeguard, a hearing is required, at which the judge has an opportunity to be heard and to test and adduce evidence. These imperatives lie at the heart of any judicial conduct process. They are the keys to ensuring all stages of such a process are free from undue influence from the other branches of government.
It follows that any healthy system of justice finds its roots, at least in part, in the framework established to handle allegations of misconduct by its judges. All of us would expect to be treated fairly if we were involved in a matter before the courts. The same requirement for procedural fairness applies to judges in the review of their conduct. While not in and of itself a court process, it must necessarily mirror some of the key elements of court proceedings, namely, fairness throughout while ensuring any resolution is appropriate to its context. The process must function efficiently in terms of both time and resources, producing final outcomes in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.
These elements are core to the reforms proposed by Bill C-9. While our current judicial conduct regime served us well for many years, helping to create the preconditions needed for the strong justice system we enjoy today, it is now in need of improvement. As I have already stated, this is not change for change’s sake, nor is it prompted solely by the need to update a half-century-old process. Fundamental changes in the legal landscape coupled with evolving societal norms have occurred, revealing specific shortcomings to the existing process. These could be addressed through the reforms proposed by Bill C-9.
Bill C-9’s proposed amendments target the following key areas: efficiency, accountability and procedural fairness. All three are crucial determinants of public trust and would be met by this bill. An efficient process would optimize both time and financial resources. Timely resolution of matters would help provide certainty to those involved. On a broader scale, timeliness and efficiency would foster confidence the process functions as it should, with allegations addressed promptly and effectively.
Currently it is possible for judges to initiate judicial review of CJC decisions at multiple stages. Each of these judicial reviews, begun in the Federal Court, can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and, potentially, to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even if such proceedings are commenced for all of the right reasons, the lifespan of a matter can too easily become stretched out unreasonably. Efficiency is also, of course, related to cost, as timely resolution of allegations helps avoid ballooning costs.
In combination with the possibility of unduly extending proceedings over many years, public confidence in the process can suffer if its costs appear excessive. A key aspect of the new regime proposed by Bill C-9 would be its improved flexibility and responsiveness. It proposes a more refined tool for the resolution of judicial conduct matters not serious enough to warrant removal: a suite of potential sanctions that would allow for the imposition of a sanction that is more contextualized and appropriate for remedying the misconduct in question.
There is only one sanction expressly available under the current regime, and that is removal from office. It is therefore both potentially overbroad and underinclusive. Consider conduct that, while recognized as inappropriate, should warrant something less than overruling judges’ constitutionally protected security of tenure.
Even exposure to the required full-scale inquiry without actual removal can cause irreparable damage to a judge’s reputation. The CJC has told us it often struggles with the application of these stark either-or alternatives, that is, between recommending the most serious penalty or none at all. In either case the public may perceive injustice.
It is also important to highlight the idea of justice being done, as well as being seen to be done. Public trust in the judiciary relies not only on judges being held accountable, but also on judges being seen to be held accountable. By providing for options other than removal from office, such as participating in an education program or issuing a formal apology, Bill C-9 would provide a more balanced approach that reinforces accountability to Canadians at all levels. It would be an important step forward in continuing to foster the confidence of the public in our justice system.
It is essential to remember that our system of law exists to serve the public. It operates because we have confidence in its legitimacy, trusting in the capacity of its members and mechanisms to administer justice. This is no accident, but rather the result of sustained and concerted efforts over time. Here in Canada we are fortunate to have a strong foundation upon which to build. This requires ongoing attention, however, by ensuring measures are undertaken to safeguard public trust.
Bill C-9, for example, would introduce greater transparency and public participation into the judicial conduct regime. Members of the general public who are neither lawyers nor judges would participate at two crucial stages of the proposed new process.
First, they would be members of review panels charged with determining whether less serious misconduct has occurred and what sanction, short of removal, would be appropriate in the circumstances. Second, a layperson would be a member of full hearing panels that determine whether serious misconduct warrants a recommendation for removal from office.
These changes would respond to feedback received during extensive consultation across a wide range of groups, members of the public included. Along with accountability to the public, the regime would seek judicial accountability.
Critical to the process’s legitimacy is that judges would be held accountable for their behaviour in both fact and public perception. As I have mentioned, the perception that the system operates as it should is equally as important as the fact that it actually does. Expanding the options for addressing instances of inappropriate judicial behaviour would improve both. Consequences tailored to each circumstance could be deployed, meaningfully addressing a wider range of misconduct. This amended framework would also encourage creativity in approaching resolution and sanction, with a view to imposing the most suitable remedy for misconduct that warrants a response short of removal.
The final element relating to accountability is financial. As I noted earlier, the current regime can easily spiral into excessively long and expensive proceedings, undermining public trust. In addition to the reforms I have already discussed in relation to efficiency, Bill C-9 proposes a more stable funding mechanism and new controls for the use of public funds.
More specifically, funding would come from two sources. Some funding would be drawn from the consolidated revenue fund, while the rest would come from the commissioner for federal judicial affairs' budgetary appropriation, obtained through the regular budget cycle. The consolidated revenue fund would only be used to cover costs that inevitably arise from the requirement to hold public hearings when a complaint reaches a certain stage in the process. These costs are both non-discretionary and unpredictable. The more predictable day-to-day administrative expenses would be paid out of funds obtained by the commissioner for federal judicial affairs as part of the budget cycle.
Additional safeguards have been put in place with respect to disbursements from the consolidated revenue fund. There is a policy that limits the amount that can be charged by lawyers representing judges who are the subject of a complaint. Bill C‑9 also proposes that the commissioner for federal judicial affairs be more involved, both to review other procedural expenses and to work with the Canadian Judicial Council on the five-year review of costs borne by the consolidated revenue fund.
The Canadian judiciary's performance is exemplary in every regard. I am proud of our judges, both past and present, who were and are dedicated to serving their fellow Canadians to the best of their ability. However, despite the high standards to which we hold judges, and which the vast majority of them achieve, misconduct inevitably occurs. As I explained, even though such incidents are rare, having effective mechanisms in place to address them is a crucial determinant to maintaining the public trust.
Just as each individual allegation of misconduct presents an opportunity to bolster public confidence in the judiciary, so too does this bill. We have the unique privilege of taking concrete action toward strengthening the administration of justice. I was heartened by our collaboration earlier in the process, particularly at committee, that has enabled Bill C-9 to arrive at the stage where it is today. Let us continue in that spirit and send this bill on for consideration by our colleagues in the other place.