April 1, 1998

REF

Randy White

Reform

Mr. Randy White

Mr. Speaker, I can read a list of hundreds of decisions like this from federal court judges. There is no question about that.

What I tried to express to the member and to all of those listening is that the issue of judges and their decisions is important in our society today. I am really not interested in which court they are. Some of them are federal, yes. They may even be supreme.

Here is the real issue. I think the member missed the whole point. There were numerous recommendations made by the Canadian Judicial Council to change the system that has gone astray.

Those recommendations were made after numerous studies and yet this government tables a bill called Bill C-37, the Judges Act, which will give judges an 8%-plus increase. My message, therefore, is if we cannot get the judicial system corrected, why on earth would this government bring in a raise for judges? There is something wrong with the mentality of this thought. This is not brain surgery, it is reality.

I started my debate off by expressing some serious concerns about judicial decisions in my riding. These decisions, whether they are provincial, municipal, supreme court or federal court, are just plain stupid. Judges should beware. There are hundreds of thousands of people today who are concerned.

People are appalled to hear that this government has brought in a bill concerning a pay raise for judges.

For somebody to tell me, quite frankly, that I cannot refer to judges in my riding, I do not accept that. I am here to represent the people of my community. They know what and who I am talking about. That is the bottom line here, is it not?

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LIB

John Harvard

Liberal

Mr. John Harvard (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member just said that the people listening to him right now know who he is talking about. The problem is that they do not know. He is singling out criminal court judges, yet there are all kinds of judges in this country who work not only in criminal courts but in civil courts. This hon. member smears all of them with his irresponsible remarks.

He says that the work of the judges is important. He then turns around and sullies every single judge, whether provincially appointed or federally appointed in this country. I would expect a lot more responsibility from a member of the Reform Party who is constantly talking about responsibility.

The comments he has made in the last few minutes absolutely leave me abhorred.

The member said that he would not give any judge one red cent until he knows that the system is working properly. Based on what this gentleman says, does anyone really think that the judicial system will ever work well in his eyes?

Let me just say a couple of things—

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Subtopic:   Judges Act
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?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford.

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REF

Randy White

Reform

Mr. Randy White

Mr. Speaker, if this member does not like what I say, that is just too darn bad, is it not?

The fact is, I made it abundantly clear in each and every case that if that specific judge asked me for an increase the answer would be no.

This thick Liberal mind over here says I smeared every judge. He does not understand. I can appreciate that because it is his party and probably a lot of work from himself which has put this bill in front of us rather than a bill to change the judiciary as even the judicial council would like it to be changed.

If the members on the other side do not like what is happening in the judicial system, then they should change it. If they are not going to listen to the judicial council in this country, then I guess they should go on their merry way and allow stupid decisions like this to continue. After all, this is a Liberal government, is it not?

I will say once again that the bottom line is that they may not like what I have to say, but one day they are going to darn well listen.

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REF

Reed Elley

Reform

Mr. Reed Elley (Nanaimo—Cowichan, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe we were elected by the people of Canada, who are the rightful employers of civil servants in the country.

Judges are civil servants. What other recourse do the people of Canada have to hold the judiciary accountable except through their elected representatives? If we in this House do not have the freedom to be able to criticize the judiciary of this country, then who does?

I would like—

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford has a minute to respond to a question that may or may not have been directed to the member for Langley—Abbotsford.

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REF

Randy White

Reform

Mr. Randy White

Mr. Speaker, it is too bad we did not allow that fellow over there to speak again because I would like to have at him for a couple more.

We know the Liberal government does not understand where we come from because it is out of touch with some of these issues.

I have read about some very profound issues that are happening in or near my riding. They are happening in every riding, except his of course, every day, all day long and people are just darn sick of it.

I have one piece of advice to give this government. Do not bring in bills like Bill C-37, the Judges Act, to give judges a raise until the system is fixed. What is so hard about that?

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The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington, Organized Crime; the hon. member for Delta—South Richmond, Fisheries.

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REF

Jay Hill

Reform

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, you would think the number of times I rise to speak in the House, and the number of times you happen to be the Speaker in the chair, that we would be working a little bit closer together on my riding, and some other issues of course.

It is indeed a pleasure for me to rise and speak to Bill C-37, despite the acrimony we have just witnessed in the Chamber. It is a piece of legislation that certainly needs to have a number of points of view brought forward on it. It is an act to amend the Judges Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I would like to refer to some remarks that were directed at my colleague for Langley—Abbotsford during the question and comment period following his presentation. In speaking to this bill or any justice bill we have to address the issue of accountability.

I believe the question was asked by the representative for Nanaimo—Cowichan that if we cannot raise these specific cases in the Chamber where we have immunity from prosecution, as sensitive as they are and perhaps as insensitive as it appears we are in raising them, then where can we raise them? I think that is a valid question to ask.

What I think my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford was referring to is the growing resentment across this nation. It is frightening, quite frankly. There is a growing resentment on the part of grassroots Canadians toward our legal system.

Part of it is the issue of decisions made by judges. If we are doing our job properly as representatives of the people, we have to raise these issues on behalf of Canadians who are crying out for justice, those thousands of Canadians who appear every day in court perhaps as victims or perhaps as family or friends of victims and fail to see justice done in the decisions made by judges.

A couple of nights ago in our shadow cabinet we had the advantage of having a police chief from one of the larger communities in Canada appear before us to speak about some of these issues.

One point came home to me as I listened to this police chief who has been involved for a number of years, far too many years, in trying to raise the issues of gang related violence, youth crime and the drug problem in Canada today. I could sense his frustration as a chief of police.

I could speak about members of the police force in my riding of Prince George—Peace River who have conveyed that same frustration to me which they face on a daily basis, not only as they go about doing their job but when they appear in court before the judges to whom Bill C-37 is to give a raise. We are to reward them and give them a raise. That frustration is growing not only on the part of police officers and crown prosecutors who work diligently every day to try to put some of these horrendous criminals behind bars but on the part of the average citizen.

One of my colleagues said “and keep them there”, a very important point. It is not enough to go through the process of the police doing their job collecting evidence, catching the criminal and bringing him before the judge and of crown prosecutors doing their job if it means nothing in the end, if the person either walks scot-free because of a technicality or because a judge for whatever reason decides to hand down some lenient sentence and the victim sitting in the court that day does not see justice done.

Some of these decisions cannot be defended. I believe that is what my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford was trying to show. Despite the intervention of the member opposite, I do not believe the member in his speech was trying to smear all judges. Certainly that is not what I got from the speech. Maybe the member opposite heard a different speech from what I heard.

It is terribly important that we as representatives of the people raise these issues in doing our job. How can we do this if we have to talk about them as was said by the hon. government whip, in generalities and not cite some specific examples?

How do we make the case for the viewing audience at home that we understand and have seen the reports in newspapers about a decision that was rendered but we as the official opposition, as Reformers, do not agree with those decisions and think they are bad decisions? They are not only bad decisions for us as official opposition but they are bad decisions, more important, for the Canadian people and for the justice system. That is what brings all judges and all justices into disrepute, not something my colleague from Langley—Abbotsford could possibly say in the Chamber. It is the stupid decisions, to use his term, that have been made from coast to coast about which the average citizen reads in his daily newspaper. Those are the things that bring the justice system into the greatest disrepute, not what we say here.

One of the gravest injustices would be if we as Reformers and as the official opposition ever felt muzzled to the point where we could not raise such issues in the Chamber. It would be a grave injustice for every single victim that every felt betrayed by the system.

Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will grant me a bit of leniency; I seem to have strayed a bit from Bill C-37, as did my colleague. Justice issues are near and dear to the heart of not only members of the official opposition but I am sure to ever member of Parliament on all sides of the House. I believe all members in the House care very deeply about justice or injustice in our country. Although we obviously do not share the same points of view on how to fix the system, there is an awareness that something needs to be done.

It is our view that to bring forward Bill C-37 at this time to give judges raises—and we can argue on a individual basis whether or not it is deserved—is an insult to Canadians when so much needs to be fixed in the justice system. It is not just our saying it. We hear it every time we go back to our ridings.

The current justice minister has been talking about making changes, for example, to the Young Offenders Act ever since she was given that portfolio. We have yet to see legislation tabled in the House dealing with the very serious problems of youth crime in Canada. This was another one of the other issues the police chief discussed with the official opposition shadow cabinet the other night.

What is Bill C-37 all about? It increases the number of appeal court judges from 10 to 13. It increases the number of unified family court judges from 12 to 36. I do not have a problem with that. There is certainly a case to made for more resources in certain areas. The official opposition has noted that there is a need for more resources in the system.

I will get back to the point by one of my colleagues during questions and answers on the issue of accountability. I raised the question with the police chief the other night. Referring to the issue of organized crime, he said that they had the people to do the job but did not have enough resources. It costs a lot of money to investigate criminal activity. Some of these investigations take years.

I asked him what good it did. I am not opposed to seeing more judges in certain areas because there is a need. What good does it do in the case of organized crime if we allocate more resources, spend more money, get more investigators, go after them, get them in court and a judge rules on a technicality and they walk? What message does that send?

It is worse than doing nothing. It is incredibly frustrating to police, prosecutors and everyone involved in the case. Why I say it is worse than doing nothing is that once again it sends the wrong message. It sends a message to the criminals that they can get away with it, that crime does pay.

A criminal can do some of the most horrendous things and be hauled into court perhaps after years of intense investigation by the police or special investigators who have done a superb job on a case put together over months by a prosecutor. The criminal goes before a judge and the judge rules on a technicality or on precedent and gives a slap on the wrist. A drug dealer who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars gets a fine of a few thousand dollars, walks out of the court and laughs in the policeman's face. What message is that sending?

I am referring to accountability. By all means more resources should be put into it, but let us ensure that judges themselves are held accountable for the decisions rendered. There has to be some way in which they can be held accountable.

Right now the only way to hold them accountable is in the court of public opinion. If enough people from coast to coast get fed up with the system and hold rallies, including tens of thousands of people on Parliament Hill, then maybe the government will wake up and bring in the necessary changes instead of bringing forward Bill C-37 to increase judges' salaries retroactively.

Several members have used various figures: 8.2% combined over two years and 8.4% or 8.5%. I am not a mathematician but I am told it would be about 8.3%. I will take the middle ground. I want to compare it to the RCMP officers on the ground who are doing a real tough job. On Friday, March 27, 1998, RCMP officers secured a pay raise of 2% retroactive to January 1. They will receive a second increment of 1% on April 1, 1998 and an additional .75% on October 1.

Something is wrong with this picture. Currently judges on average are making about $140,000 a year and are to get 4.1% retroactive to last April and another 4.1% for April 1, 1998 to March 31, 1999. From talking to members of the RCMP in my riding I find that many of them are moonlighting right now. I do not know if members across the way are aware of this fact. They are finding it really tough to raise their families and make a go of it on an RCMP constable's wage.

People might ask what this has to do with the judges bill. We are talking about one segment of the justice system, the judges, getting a substantial increase to what I would consider to be a pretty fair wage now of $140,000 on average, whereas the starting salary for a third year constable is going to go from $50,508 to $52,423, about a $1,500 increase. Under this government's tax policy, I would question how much of that is actually going to remain in their pockets to help them feed their wife or husband as the case may be, and their families.

I know of a female RCMP officer in my hometown who is waitressing on the side to try to make a few extra bucks. I know of another one who lives just down the block from me who runs a bulldozer in the oilfield on his days off to try to make enough money. Yet we are giving judges an 8.3% increase.

What I am saying about this bill is not so much whether the bill is good or bad but that we have to address the issue of accountability. I want to make it perfectly clear for the members across the way I am not saying that all judges should be tarred with the same brush. There are some excellent judges. I believe the vast majority are excellent judges, doing a fine job and working long hours. It is those other judges. It is just like people in this Chamber. It is the same old story. It is the few bad apples who spoil the reputation of all. We can certainly use that same analogy when it comes to politicians, can we not?

The real failing here is not this legislation but the fact that it has been brought forward instead of a victims bill of rights, instead of amendments to the Young Offenders Act and instead of changing the fact that conditional sentencing is still being used by some judges to release violent offenders into our communities after they have been found guilty and have served no jail time. Those are the types of laws the official opposition is looking for from this government.

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Subtopic:   Judges Act
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LIB

John Harvard

Liberal

Mr. John Harvard (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say to the hon. member that we on this side do not want to muzzle him or members of the Reform Party when it comes to talking about judges or any other particular issue. We just want to have them show some responsibility.

The hon. member suggested that judges across the country should be made more accountable. It sounds good. I think we are all in favour of accountability but what does that really mean? For example, if a judge renders a sentence that is unpopular to the hon. member from Prince George or anybody from the Reform Party, does that mean the judge should be fired? We have to think this through. If we say that to judges, it is a measure of intimidation. Are we going to get the kind of independence from judges if that is the kind of accountability the hon. member is suggesting?

Let me make one other point. The hon. member from Prince George stumbled upon what I think is a very good question. He asked what is justice. It is a pretty profound question. I would like to ask a question in return. Does the Reform Party suggest that unless we have the death penalty we cannot have justice? Does the Reform Party suggest that if we do not abolish the parole system we cannot have justice? Does the Reform Party suggest that if we do not put people away in jail and throw away the key that we cannot have justice? Is that what the members of the Reform Party are saying?

The question of what is justice is very profound. However at the end of the day we need a justice system that serves the entire populace. All of us. The entire community. It includes those who have been victimized and those who are responsible for protecting our society. And yes, it includes even those who commit a crime. If they are young, 9 or 10 years of age, it is not in the interests of the population to put them away for 30 or 40 years. We want them changed so they will lead a productive life eventually.

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REF

Jay Hill

Reform

Mr. Jay Hill

Mr. Speaker, that was quite a rant. I will try to respond to some of the issues the hon. member raised.

At the outset when he rose to speak in response to the speech made by my hon. colleague from Langley—Abbotsford, he suggested that my colleague was smearing all judges. I think I dealt with that fairly extensively in my presentation.

The hon. member indicated what he was getting at was that the official opposition, the Reform Party, should show some responsibility. I would contend that we are being responsible for the reasons I gave in my speech.

If we cannot raise these types of issues here, what does he want? Does he want us to sweep it under the carpet? That is what the Liberals have been doing for many years. They have been turning a blind eye to these things. They say “We cannot raise that. We cannot criticize judges. Who are we to criticize the decisions made by judges?” Well, if not us, then who?

The hon. member said I stumbled upon the issue of justice during my speech. I think I laid it out quite clearly.

My colleague talked about the death penalty. Obviously that does not sit well with the hon. member. We Reformers have communicated our position on the death penalty very well, ever since the party was formed. We believe, unlike the government, in bottom up democracy. We believe there should be a national referendum held at the time of a national election so there would be a very small cost to it. Then we would have the will of the people on the issue of the return of capital punishment. I personally support that. Ever since I have been an MP I have brought forth private members' legislation to reinstate capital punishment. The Reform Party's official position is that the people should make decisions on moral issues such as this, not the politicians.

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NDP

Gordon Earle

New Democratic Party

Mr. Gordon Earle (Halifax West, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned that he believes all members in this House are in favour of justice. I would concur that all members indeed should be in favour of justice. It is for this very reason that I have difficulty supporting Bill C-37. There is a very serious injustice being discussed here.

We are discussing a bill which would in effect give to judges raises of approximately 8.4%. With no disrespect to any judges or any group of people which the government might consider giving a raise to, I find it difficult to consider giving a raise to people when the government has failed and continues to fail to settle the pay equity concerns of over 200,000 current and former employees of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

There are numerous people to whom the government owes money, yet the government fails to come to grips with this. It is the result of a law that was introduced by the same Liberals 20 years ago. We have a complaint that has been outstanding for about 14 years and today we are debating a bill that would give others a raise.

People in my constituency question me daily regarding what we are doing about their pay equity. They want to know when the government will pay them what they are due. And then I am expected to support the government giving an increase to another group when it fails to look after people to whom money is already owed. I see that as a very serious injustice, one which I think should be addressed. Until that kind of justice prevails, it will be very hard to support a bill which gives a raise to any group of people.

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REF

Jay Hill

Reform

Mr. Jay Hill

Mr. Speaker, I did not hear a question in my hon. colleague's remarks. He raises a valid point, although his remarks about pay equity I do not think apply specifically to Bill C-37 which we are debating today.

The member has raised the issue of equity. I tried to deal in a small way with that issue as well in my presentation. I referred to the fact that why have we singled out the judges and said that they deserve an 8.3% increase compounded over two years but not the RCMP officers or that the RCMP officers get a fraction of that amount. What about the crown prosecutors? What about the people who are in the trenches slogging it out trying to make this justice system work?

I said in my presentation that a lot of judges are trying hard to make the system work. Despite the comments made by myself and others, there are judges who have made a lot of good decisions. We could run through a list of them and name them too. But when we want to raise the issue of what is wrong with the system, we want to raise the decisions that do not garner the support in the real world.

In this Chamber what we are supposed to talk about when we are debating legislation is how it impacts in the real world outside these walls, this hallowed hall of Parliament. That is what we are supposed to be talking about. That is what my colleagues and I when we are talking about Bill C-37 are going to be trying to bring to the attention of the government and of the viewers watching in the real world. It is, what are the failings of this legislation?

As my colleague from the NDP remarked, he sees the failings as the mere fact that the government is bringing forward this legislation instead of addressing issues he feels are vitally important. I respect that, as I respect what Reformers are trying to bring forward, the long list of changes to the criminal justice system that we have been pushing ever since we formed the party back in 1987.

Yes, I recognize that the police, the prison guards, the crown prosecutors, every single person involved in our justice system is frustrated. We are frustrated here too. Reformers are frustrated. We have been beating on the doors of government for 10 long years and we do not have the changes that people are crying out for in Canada. Are they awake over there?

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REF

Jack Ramsay

Reform

Mr. Jack Ramsay (Crowfoot, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, as I rise to address Bill C-37 I assume that the debate will end on this bill sometime today. The bill will then go to committee where we will be able to examine it through the eyes of those with vested interests and concerns in this area.

As I listened to the debate today in the House and I listened to hon. members from both sides raising concerns and answering questions put to them by one another, the first point which came to my mind and which I think should be addressed is to whom should judges be accountable. We talk about accountability. To whom are they accountable?

Judges are supposed to be accountable to the law that we pass here on behalf of the people of Canada. As representatives of the people, we are supposed to listen to what they are saying, bring their concerns here and pass legislation that will address those concerns. Then we appoint judges, and we pay them pretty well but apparently not well enough, to do what? To interpret that law.

We tell the judges what to do by the law we pass in this place. The problem is that certainly since I have been in this House and for far too long before that, the legislators of Parliament have failed to tell the judges clearly what the people are telling them they want done.

We see open ended legislation where judges are allowed to decide. Judges do not like minimum sentences. Why? It tells them they must at least give a minimum sentence if a person is convicted of an offence carrying a minimum sentence. We are told that judges do not like this. They want greater flexibility and I understand their rationale.

We look at the minimum sentence that we have prescribed by law in Bill C-68. If anyone is convicted of a criminal offence wherein they used a firearm, they are sentenced to jail for four years. We hear the rationale that there are some circumstances where that would be cruel and unusual punishment. We look at that. I am sure the government, the elected representatives of the people, has to weigh that. How serious is it for someone to use a firearm in the commission of a criminal offence? Should it carry a minimum four year sentence?

If we look at the offender from the viewpoint that the offender is a victim of society, a victim of his upbringing, a victim of whatever, and not accountable for his actions, then of course we will feel sorry and say that it is not fair, that it is not just.

On the other hand, if we look only at the victim and at what has happened to the victim, we will say that four years perhaps is a fair and just minimum sentence.

What we have to do is draw a balance. Legislators should be doing that. We should not be allowing judges to tell us what to do. Yet that is what is happening.

The greatest reason for this, of course, is charter of rights and freedoms that came into effect in 1982. The courts now have the right to weigh all legislation against whether it violates the charter rights of an individual.

We could talk for hours about charter rights. People arriving in Canada illegally immediately have the protection of the charter, criminals fleeing another country. Murderers like Mr. Ng appeared in Canada and immediately received the protection of the charter of rights and freedoms.

It took our justice system almost six years to get him out of the country and back to where he would be able to face the charges of murder levied against him in the United States.

When we look at the proper manner in which to hold judges accountable, we have to look at a number of things including judicial independence.

My hon. friend opposite spoke about intimidation and said that it is a measure of intimidation. Again, we look for a balance. If we look at what happened in Alberta when Premier Ralph Klein, in an attempt to get spending under control, asked all civil servants including teachers and so on to take a 5% rollback, he also asked the judges to do that.

My goodness, we saw what happened there. Judges took that to themselves by way of a case. It was ruled that would be considered interference into their judicial independence.

What do we have here? There is a supposed a raise in pay involved in this statute to the courts. Are we to assume that if federal court judges across the country make a request to Parliament for a raise and that raise is denied, it could be construed as an interference into their judicial independence?

Can defence counsels walk into their court room and ask the judge to dismiss the case because their independence has been interfered with by the state? Is that what we are getting to? Is that what we are arriving at? When this bill comes before the committee we are going to be calling witnesses. I eagerly await their answers to those kinds of questions.

That is the direction it appears we are going in. If a benefit or a remuneration is demanded or requested by the judges and it is turned down by the government of the land, provincial or federal, it could be construed as violation of their judicial independence. We have to weigh that.

We look at the fairness of the 8.5% increase or whatever it is. We had the Kim Hicks family in Parliament before Christmas. This is a family of six, a man, a wife and four young children living on $30,000 a year. Judges are making approximately $140,000 a year now. If this raise goes through some judges will be making $150,000 or more. That is the income that five families in the position of the Hicks family would have to live on. Is it fair?

I hear people say we have to provide a good salary, otherwise we will not attract competent judges because they can make much more in the private sector. Is greed really the motivation to accept an appointment to the bench? Is $140,000 not reasonable for a man or a woman, a family, a head of a household? Is that not reasonable? Ask Kim Hicks that question, if $140,000 is not reasonable and we should be going to the lengths we have to in order to grant federal court judges greater benefit and remuneration.

The question of fairness and balance must enter into this. We know that many civil servants, including RCMP members my colleague spoke of, have had their salaries frozen for years. What about them? Why are we making an exception in this case? Do we start at the top when it comes to responding to salary demands? We have some of our grassroots military people living on $17,000 or $18,000 a year. What about them? I have often wondered what judges do when they have people appear before them accused of crimes of theft or whatever who are destitute. How do they feel when they look at the economic conditions, some of which produce crime? How do they feel? They want another 8%.

One of the judges from the Supreme Court of Canada made reference to the greed that is all too evident in our legal system. Should we not look for those individuals who are competent, who understand and know the law and who have an aptitude and a willingness to serve on the bench, to serve Canada without the thought of remuneration beyond which many people can only dream? Should we not be looking for men and women of such calibre where they are prepared with their skills and abilities to serve Canadians? They have a lifetime job. Their remuneration is guaranteed.

Mr. Speaker, it is not like you or I where we might be bumped off at the next election. Their employment is guaranteed, assured. Their remuneration as well is guaranteed, assured. Is it fair what they are asking for and what this bill is designed to give them?

I want to see what the witnesses have to say when they appear before the committee and we ask them some of these questions. We do have a degree of responsibility. We do have a sense of responsibility in this area. We must guard the independence of our judiciary. We must do that.

Case after case we can recite in the House leaves the Canadian people dissatisfied with the decisions of some courts. Over 50% in an Angus Reid poll last July indicated that they have little faith not in our justice system but in our courts.

Chief Justice Lamer appeared before a group of lawyers requesting them—to me it was a plea—to defend the court system. The defence of the court system should come from the people as a result of feeling well served. The honour we bestow on the courts should come as a result of the people feeling well served, that the laws are there to protect them and their protection is derived from the interpretation of the law from judges who have a keen sense of what their duties and responsibilities are not only to the law but to society at large.

I will look forward to the further examination of the bill. There are many elements of the bill that must be brought forward and fleshed out so that we have a clear understanding of what we are doing.

The bill does not provide for the appointment of additional judges. Why? Because we have a court system that is clogged. Why do we have a court system that is clogged? We are not intending to increase the judges in the area of criminal law, from my understanding. If we look at the criminal justice system it is being clogged. There are 40,000 cases backlogged in B.C. alone.

Members should ask themselves why and what is the judges' role in this at those levels, those provincial court judges. Perhaps in most cases as they go up the line to the levels of appeal it is federal court judges who deal with that. Why do we have a backlog? Because in legislation after legislation that we have examined just since I have been here, which is only four and a half years, we see where there are additional levels of appeal being instituted into the system.

The only amendment that was brought to the Young Offenders Act was Bill C-37 under the former justice minister and we introduced another level of appeal there. Now young offenders can be transferred automatically to adult court but they have a level of appeal where they can appeal to have their hearing held in youth court.

We saw 745, the faint hope clause. What did we have there? Instituted another level of appeal. So there are levels and levels of appeal and what do they do? They slow down the court cases.

I have a newspaper article on my desk about cases on the east coast. It is now being questioned as to whether or not the cases will make it through court because of the longevity of the cases, and the Supreme Court of Canada's decision that if a case drags on too long it is an injustice to the accused. Cases are being thrown out. One case was thrown out recently in British Columbia. Why? Because this government has been bringing in pieces of legislation that simply create a traffic jam by allowing more and more time to be wasted or used up by appeal after appeal. That is wrong.

I want all members to take a very close look at this bill. The honouring of our judges should be automatic. It should come as a result of our being well served. We should always seek out the wisdom of our judges to interpret the law that is in the best interest of society. But when our provincial court judges across the land allow convicted rapists and other violent offenders to walk free through conditional sentencing, a piece of legislation never intended to be used in that manner, then we had better believe we have reason to be concerned and we have reason to question the judgment.

We cannot expect that the honour we should bestow upon judges will come forth as a result of decisions like that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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REF

Werner Schmidt

Reform

Mr. Werner Schmidt (Kelowna, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I was actually thrilled by the kinds of comments my colleague made. There is one area I would like him to address.

The member talked about the judges' responsibility to interpret the law, the judges' responsibility to apply the law fairly and with equity and that the punishment somehow be related to the crime, all of these kinds of things. They are very significant and important matters.

I wonder whether my hon. colleague could say not only is that the case but judges, in rendering honest, righteous, fair and equitable decisions, inherently have a leadership role that will tell the community and young people there is a way to prevent further involvement. There is the role of leadership to society. Does our society not look toward the judges who interpret the law and who are upholders of righteousness, that they will in fact provide some leadership to our community? Would he comment on that?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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REF

Jack Ramsay

Reform

Mr. Jack Ramsay

I want to thank my colleague for his question.

Back in the days when I was a youngster we looked with awe and respect to our judges. They were bestowed with a wisdom we thought few people had. As a result of that wisdom and their common sense, knowledge and skills, we relied upon them. We placed our trust in them to not only understand the law but to understand procedure so that when an accused appeared before them, a fair trial for that individual was assured. We looked upon judges for that.

It is a special quality of leadership which we have in this country. We have had it in the past. That kind of leadership has helped build this great nation. When we find that more than 50% of Canadians are beginning to lose faith in that kind of leadership, then we have to look at why.

I heard the debate earlier on and it was rankled and so on. It is unfortunate but we do have to maintain the right as elected representatives. Why do we have immunity in this place? Why? It is so that we can examine those sensitive issues without fear or apprehension. When something is going wrong in a former hallowed area of our system, we can examine it on behalf of the people. We can examine it openly, fairly and honestly in order to arrive at a balanced judgment as to what should be done.

I am hoping that we do arrive at a balanced judgment in terms of this bill and whether or not someone making $140,000 deserves a raise today when so many people are struggling to keep body and soul together on a salary that is a lot lower than $140,000. I hope we can strike that balance.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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REF

Val Meredith

Reform

Ms. Val Meredith (South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member if this is another case of legislation from the government side that has some aspects in it which might be acceptable and could be supported, but also includes other things which make it difficult for us to give the government our support on in its efforts to amend the justice system.

Is this again one of those situations where there is some good but there is a lot of stuff in it that is not acceptable?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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REF

Jack Ramsay

Reform

Mr. Jack Ramsay

Mr. Speaker, yes, this is another one of those bills where we can put one foot on one side and the other foot on the other side. It gives rise for concern. On the addition of the judges, we must support that. If I could put it this way, it is supportable.

However there are aspects to this bill which suggest that if the judges do not receive this remuneration, it could be considered as improper interference in the judicial independence of our judges. If that is true, we will find out when this bill is sent to committee. There is the example in Alberta. It is a reverse example because they wanted to reduce by 5% the pay of all civil servants, including judges. It was ruled that it appeared to constitute a political interference into the judicial independence of our judges.

If that is a part of this bill, then what does it ultimately mean? It means that our federal judges, with respect to them, can make a demand upon the public purse. Even if it is considered to be unreasonable, it is almost like a gun is being held to the heads of the elected representatives of the country. If they deny it, they will then be in a position where they can be accused of interfering with the judicial independence of the courts. Any defence counsel can then come into court and say “My Lord, I want you to dismiss the case because your judicial independence has been interfered with and you cannot render a fair and just hearing to my client”.

We as a committee want to look at that. I will certainly be asking questions about it.

Yes, this bill contains aspects I can personally support but it contains aspects that I have real concerns about as well.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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REF

Roy H. Bailey

Reform

Mr. Roy Bailey (Souris—Moose Mountain, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question. He alluded to his background. I too in various capacities served in this area. I served for 25 years as a justice of the peace in different areas of the province of Saskatchewan. At one time, if the judge was not travelling, he would actually have me conduct court and so on. I am quite used to that procedure.

Is it not true in the member's opinion that in recent years not only the public but those who would like to bring charges are afraid to bring charges on any given case because they feel there is no hope of getting a verdict? Is that—

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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?

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Crowfoot has 30 seconds for a response.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Judges Act
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April 1, 1998