Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak to this important matter. The Minister of Justice mentioned to me earlier today that he recently met with the Commissioner of Official Languages and that he wishes to thank the commissioner for his very good work in this area and all areas concerning official languages.
As members know, access to justice in both official languages is an important issue for all Canadians. Canadians wish to live in a law-abiding society with an equitable, accessible and fair justice system for all. In criminal matters, these principles mean that the courts must be able to operate in French and in English in accordance with the official language chosen by the accused for his or her trial. It is extremely important that one's constitutional rights are well understood, and this is a fundamental principle of justice.
First, it is important to remember that because of the division of legislative authority between the federal and provincial governments, the federal government has a limited role in the implementation of the Criminal Code provisions. While the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over amendments made to the Criminal Code and over criminal procedure, the provinces are primarily responsible for the administration of the courts and the prosecutions under the Criminal Code.
While the Prime Minister has executive authority for the appointment of superior and appeal courts judges, the provinces and territories are responsible for the composition of the provincial courts. This means that under the provisions of the Criminal Code, which form the basis for the standing committee's statutory review of part XVII, the provinces and territories must ensure that they have the institutional and human resources necessary within their respective criminal justice systems to allow defendants to face trial in the official language of their choice. That said, working within its jurisdiction and its means, the Government of Canada is supported by the minister and the Department of Justice, and works with its provincial and territorial counterparts in order to support and improve the implementation of the language provisions found in the Criminal Code.
Our government's commitment to official languages is undeniable. In Canada's economic action plan 2013, our government pledged to support official languages by maintaining funding dedicated to protecting, celebrating and reinforcing Canada's linguistic duality. This commitment is reflected in the road map for Canada's official languages 2013 to 2018. The road map, which was approved by this government in December 2013, has three pillars: education, immigration and communities. Under the road map, the Government of Canada has undertaken a number of measures to fulfill its commitment and to support our provincial and territorial partners. The access to justice in both official languages support fund, with a five-year funding envelope of $40 million, allocates resources to, among others, the provinces, territories, court administrations, universities, training centres and official language minority communities. This funding supports justice in both official languages within their respective spheres of activity. In addition to grants and contributions, the government also provides support to its governmental and non-governmental partners in the form of collaborative activities and ongoing consultations.
All told, provinces and territories can count on this government to provide them with the necessary financial and collaborative support for language-training programs that are specifically adapted to the needs of justice stakeholders, including crown prosecutors, provincial court clerks, provincially appointed criminal judges, and probation officers.
In addition, as part of its ongoing efforts and in response to the standing committee's recommendations stemming from the statutory review of part XVII of the Criminal Code, the Department of Justice has made a contribution toward the creation of a national consortium for justice training in both official languages. The consortium is essentially made up of post-secondary teaching institutions, jurilinguistic centres and non-profit organizations that provide training services. This consortium will advise the Department of Justice, where appropriate, on the language-training needs of provincial justice stakeholders. It will also develop collaborative approaches among its members in an effort to meet these training needs. It should be noted that the Minister of Justice, as evidenced by the government's comprehensive response to the committee's report, has committed to bringing the committee's recommendation with respect to court interpreters and transcribers to the consortium's attention for consideration.
In addition to its justice stakeholder training initiatives, this government is committed to ensuring that all Canadians from coast to coast to coast can rely on accurate, reliable and easy ways to find and access legal information in the official language of their choice. In this regard, the Department of Justice will call upon an extensive network of partners to develop a concept of justice information hubs. In order to prevent the unnecessary duplication of structures and to build bridges between organizations serving both official language communities, partnerships between minority community associations and organizations will be encouraged.
Once they are rolled out, these hubs would serve as a stepping stone for Canadians to become more knowledgeable about their legal rights and obligations, including their language rights under the Criminal Code and the Canadian charter, and to be better equipped to deal with everyday legal issues.
In addition to the access to justice in both official languages support fund initiatives, the Government of Canada also fulfills its commitment through the Contraventions Act fund, which provides provinces and territories that have signed agreements with the Department of Justice to implement the federal contraventions regime with financial support to cover judicial and extrajudicial measures that guarantee language rights provided under part XVII of the Criminal Code and part IV of the Official Languages Act, regarding services and communications to the public.
This fund, consisting of approximately $50 million over five years, demonstrates the government's strong commitment to supporting measures and providing the necessary resources, such as the hiring of bilingual judicial and extrajudicial court personnel, language training, bilingual signage and documentation, to enhance Canadians' access to justice in both official languages.
Furthermore, the government's commitment to justice in both official languages is also reflected by the close co-operation between federal institutions, such as the Department of Justice, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Department of Public Safety. As evidence of this close co-operation on the issue of access to justice in both official languages, these institutions have created an interdepartmental network on justice and security, specifically dedicated to the issues faced by Canada's francophone and anglophone minority communities.
At the intergovernmental level, the Government of Canada has adopted a fair and reasonable approach to support access to justice in both official languages, based on collaboration with the provinces and territories. As the standing committee rightly recommends in its report, it is essential that the government continue in the same vein in order to ensure compliance with part XVII of the Criminal Code and to find solutions to the particular challenges associated with access to justice in both official languages.
As part of its efforts in this regard, the Department of Justice co-chairs a federal-provincial-territorial working group on access to justice in both official languages. In addition, other intergovernmental forums, such as the federal-provincial-territorial heads of prosecution committee, are actively addressing issues relating to the implementation of part XVII of the Criminal Code as part of their respective mandates.
As stated at the outset, and as evidenced by the concrete measures and steps I have just outlined, the government's commitment to official languages is abundantly clear.
On behalf of the government, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for its work accomplished as part of the statutory review of part XVII of the Criminal Code. Rest assured, the Government of Canada is taking the committee's recommendations into consideration and is grateful for the possible solutions that the committee outlined so as to help ensure a better implementation of part XVII of the Criminal Code, and more generally, access to justice in both official languages for all Canadians.