Hon. Sue Barnes (London West, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to Bill C-31. It has now been through the justice committee and has returned to the House unamended.
It is a very short bill, but its amends a number change in the Judges Act, paragraph 24(3)(b), and thus creates the authority to authorize the appointment of 20 new judges for the provincial and territorial superior trial courts.
We know these judges are needed to deal with the increasing backlogs in the superior court system. In particular, superior courts in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Nunavut continue to experience delays and backlogs.
In a former parliamentary life, when the Liberal government was in power, I was a parliamentary secretary to the then minister of justice. I travelled through Nunavut and experienced the fact that unlike the rest of Canada, where we can travel by vehicle from one city to another, there were 26 different fly-in communities. It takes time and there are delays to which we must attend.
I remember at that time we also were starting to introduce our crime prevention programs. That is the other end of the justice system, from the trial and judgment to the prevention of crime. There needs to be a full emphasis on this aspect. It helps reduce criminal activity when people are actively engaged in different crime prevention activities. I wanted to make that point at this time.
Even in the other provinces, those that I did not mention, we are aware that there is a strain with simply population growth, especially stresses that could happen with the family court systems. In a family court system we cannot afford time delays. Children grow up and those issues have to be resolved sooner rather than later.
We also have the issues of mega-trials in the criminal law area. We know a lot of the criminal law is taken care of at the provincial court level, but there are those mega-trials and people can opt to go into the higher court level. The mega-trials are very complex and lengthy and consume a lot of justice system resources.
I know this is important to all Canadians. The introduction and background to Bill C-31 talks about the fact that we now have a specific claims tribunal, which will have the authority to make binding decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation or where negotiations fail. It is estimated by the government that this tribunal will require the equivalent of six full time judges to manage the caseloads of these types of claims.
The chief justices, I am sure, will have consultations with the minister or his designates to talk about the allocation of these judges. I know that B.C. and Ontario will need these resources, as well as some of the other jurisdictions, because specific claims should be settled.
It is important to have access to justice for all Canadians. It is true that justice delayed can be justice denied. In criminal law, the Askov case reminded us, very bluntly, of the importance of reasonable time limits and reasonable access to the court system. We do not want to have cases thrown out of court just because the delays have been too lengthy.
Apart from the judges needed for the tribunal work, these judges will work in the area of civil law, civil litigation, family law and criminal fields of law. They are expected to perform all their work for us with the independence and impartiality that I think Canadians expect from their justice system.
Judges apply the law to the facts at each case. They do so without imposing any of their own personal bias. Increasingly, as I have said, cases are complex and trials can become very lengthy. Delay is not wanted by Canadians. Canadians want to have justice delivered in their own language, be it English or French. This reflects the linguistic duality of our country.
It is important, and this is not a political or partisan point, that both French speaking and English speaking justices are needed in our courts. In fact, there is often interpretation provided for other languages. Some people before the Canadian justice system speak neither of these languages, but that is not the point with respect to the appointment of judges.
I have great respect for our judicial system in our country. We have an amazingly fair and independent system. I do not want to see that change in any way. I have respect for the judges who do that work. These people are somewhat limited in their association with the rest of Canadian society. There is an expected distancing so they can maintain that impartiality to do their work properly.
These increases for the number of judges have been needed for some time, and we expected the bill sooner. I will go forward. As of yesterday, March 13, even without this bill, 25 judicial vacancies were waiting to be filled. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is responsible for filling those. In other words, these new positions are in addition to the existing vacancies that have to be filled. This is an ongoing situation. I know we should be encouraging the filling of all positions because it is important for our system to work efficiently and properly.
As many in the House will recall, the new Conservative government stacked the judicial advisory committee to ensure that the justice minister's chosen representatives would have a majority on every provincial judicial advisory board. I will not go in to this too much at this time because it takes away from the most important discussion and subject matter of this bill, but I do note it.
It is important to keep the judicial independence in our country. I remember the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court making comment on this point. It is also important that the positions be filled and that there not be a great delay. Both of those points are important.
With respect to this short bill, we can agree in the House that it should move forward. I know my colleagues and our party want the smooth functioning of the justice system. This is one, but only one, aspect that can be assisted by this House. We must remember that there will not be a smooth functioning system if there are not enough prosecutors and if there are insufficient dollars for legal aid for people who need that assistance before the courts. We need all of the system to work cohesively, and the judges are one part of it. However, it is the full functioning of the court system that has to be brought to bear before justice is actually delivered to Canadians in a timely and effective manner.
I ask fellow members of the House to support this legislation so it can move rapidly to the other house and become law after their deliberations. This is one bill that the House can believe will be good for the country and good for the citizens. We need the expertise and the impartial judicial system in our country, which we all deserve.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Judges Act