WHITEHORSE, November 9, 2005 – Federal, provincial and territorial (FPT) Ministers responsible for Justice concluded their meeting today, after substantive discussions on key issues currently facing Canada’s justice system, such as sentencing, wrongful convictions, legal aid, Aboriginal justice, the criminal use of guns, proceeds of crime, organized crime and drugs.
The meeting in Whitehorse was co-chaired by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Irwin Cotler, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Anne McLellan and Yukon Justice Minister, John Edzerza.
Ministers acknowledged as a significant step forward the recent introduction of federal legislation
(Bill C-70), which responds to their concerns about the need to limit the use of conditional sentencing for serious and violent offences. All Ministers expressed hope that the Bill would be adopted quickly and said that they would closely monitor the reforms once in force.
Discussion focussed on ensuring effective investigation and prosecution of impaired driving offences. Ministers agreed on the need to address gaps in legislation to ensure that impaired drivers who cause death and bodily harm receive sentences reflecting the seriousness of these offences. Ministers noted that Bill C-70 also clarifies that conditional sentencing cannot be used for impaired driving causing death or bodily harm for repeat offenders.
Recognizing that impaired driving continues to be a significant public safety concern, Ministers asked FPT officials to consider in particular the issue of those drivers who, by refusing to provide a breath or blood sample, may try to avoid convictions for impaired driving causing death or bodily harm. Ministers also discussed the current blood alcohol level limit under the Criminal Code, as well as considering more consistent approaches in relation to the development of provincial laws.
Report from the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to Justice
Ministers agreed to the recommendations of the FPT Steering Committee, comprised of Chief Justices, Deputy Ministers of Justice and defence counsel, and its Report on the Management of Cases Going to Trial. This report details a series of practical steps and guiding principles to help ensure that Canada’s justice system remains fair, timely, effective and affordable while protecting the right of an accused to a fair trial. Recommendations include creating provincial and territorial advisory committees on the topic, streamlining the process to enhance local case management, and using case management tools, such as control lists and key indicators, for improved results. Provinces and territories will consider strategies to implement recommendations where appropriate.
Review of Guidelines for Compensation of the Wrongfully Convicted
Ministers asked that the committee of officials currently reviewing the FPT Guidelines on Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted and Imprisoned Persons, which were adopted in 1988, provide a report to Deputy Ministers in January 2006. Officials will look at issues such as updating the current limit on non-financial losses, establishing more precise and transparent criteria for determining judicial error and defining the level of proof of a wrongful conviction.
Proposal for Regular Omnibus Criminal Law Reform Bill
Recognizing the importance of FPT partnerships in developing criminal law, Ministers endorsed a proposal for a regular criminal law omnibus bill, which will recommend amendments that all jurisdictions support. This process will help ensure that such changes, which do not fit into an appropriate thematic package, are nonetheless acknowledged as a necessary and expected part of the legislative agenda.
Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court (DVTO)
Ministers received a presentation on the Yukon Domestic Violence Treatment Option Court (DVTO) as part of their on-going collaboration and exchange of best practices to strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to spousal abuse. A recent evaluation of the DVTO concluded that it has achieved its overall objectives including: providing better support for victims, ensuring appropriate sentencing including treatment of abusers, and reducing the high collapse rate of spousal abuse cases. The Yukon DVTO, as well as similar initiatives that have been established in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nunavut, demonstrate the importance of continuing to support criminal justice system innovations addressing spousal abuse that are guided by research and evaluation.
Legal Aid and Access to Justice
Provincial and territorial Ministers expressed appreciation for the dedication and leadership of the federal Justice Minister in support of their mutual commitment to meet the legal aid needs of vulnerable people in Canada in a fair and equitable manner. In turn, the federal Minister acknowledged a unanimous resolution from provincial and territorial Ministers calling for an immediate federal commitment to continue to fund and significantly increase the level of funding under the criminal legal aid agreement, including making permanent the Investment Fund, which should be for a longer term than the current three-year agreement to provide stability to legal aid delivery. The resolution also called on the federal government to significantly commit to new funding of civil legal aid.
Ministers agreed to work together on the development of a national legal aid framework. Quebec will continue to exchange information and expertise with other jurisdictions and will pursue a bilateral agreement with the federal government instead of participating in the national framework.
The federal Minister indicated that he will continue to pursue and promote a comprehensive and sustainable approach to legal aid and access to justice at the federal level.
Ministers discussed Aboriginal justice, which has emerged as a priority issue. They agreed on the need to deal with the over-representation of Aboriginal people as offenders and victims and their under-representation as court-workers, lawyers and judges. Ministers agreed to work together to address the underlying causes that tend to bring Aboriginal people in contact with the criminal justice system. Ministers agreed that this work will be guided by the efforts of the Working Group on Aboriginal Justice, and will take into account efforts already underway by the provinces, territories and Aboriginal people.
Criminal Use of Guns
Ministers were unanimous in expressing serious concern with the recent escalation in gun violence in certain urban centres, and emphasized the need to develop and implement on an urgent basis a multi-pronged strategy, which includes immediate legislation, more effective enforcement, as well as preventative and social initiatives that address the root causes of crime. The federal Minister of Justice indicated that the federal government would be announcing such a strategy very soon.
Ministers agreed that their Deputies would convene a meeting in early 2006 to review additional proposals to address crimes committed with the use of firearms, enhanced sentencing for illegal firearms offences, and the links between illegal drugs, illegal firearms and organized crime. These proposals will be forwarded to a special meeting of Ministers in the Spring of 2006.
Ministers agreed that solutions must target criminal gun use without impeding the use of firearms by hunters, farmers and Aboriginal people. Western and Northern jurisdictions indicated that their support is conditional upon those solutions not targeting non-compliance with the federal gun registry.
Proceeds of Crime – Reversal of the Burden of Proof
Provincial and territorial Ministers discussed the unanimous resolution that they had adopted in January 2005 concerning modifications to the Criminal Code to create a reverse onus burden of proof for illegal proceeds of crime and asked that Bill C-53 be amended in consequence. The federal Minister agreed to examine immediately the proposal from the provinces and territories, which proposes the application of the reversal to certain Criminal Code offences generating profits.
Organized Crime and Drug Issues
Ministers approved recommendations to enhance stronger regional and national coordination on organized crime, including a national Ministerial meeting on this important issue, and expressed support for additional resources for regional committees on the National Coordinating Committee on Organized Crime (NCCOC).
Ministers further discussed strategies to combat marijuana grow-operations and synthetic drug production. They acknowledged the ongoing work of the NCCOC and the Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials (Criminal).
In particular, Ministers noted the devastating impacts of crystal methamphetamine and synthetic drugs on communities, families and children. Ministers endorsed a proposed National Strategy to combat the risks associated with marijuana and synthetic drug production to ensure that enforcement, licensing, offences and the penalties are effective. Ministers also welcomed recent changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to strengthen penalties regarding crystal methamphetamine, which responded to concerns raised, in particular, by Western premiers. Ministers expressed strong consensus to continue working with Health Canada, a key partner, to take action on licensing, legislation and resourcing issues relating to enforcement on the bulk importation of ephedrine and the diversion of precursor chemicals.
Proposed Meeting of FPT Ministers Responsible for Human Rights
Ministers discussed the significant influence that international human rights law has on domestic law and policy, the importance of affirming Canada's commitment to human rights, and developments regarding a the proposed holding of a FPT conference of Ministers Responsible for Human Rights in 2006.
Joint Meeting of FPT Status of Women Ministers and Justice Ministers
Ministers endorsed a proposal from their counterparts responsible for the Status of Women, to meet and discuss common issues concerning the experiences of women in the justice system. A joint meeting agenda will be developed by senior officials from interested jurisdictions.
Ministers reviewed the work of FPT officials on the Victims Surcharge, an amount added to fines imposed for Criminal Code offences, which is used to provide assistance to victims of crime. Ministers discussed the need to raise awareness among prosecutors and judges about the surcharge, as well as best practices and enforcement approaches.
Ministers reiterated their concerns about the need for enhanced federal funding over the next several years. The federal minister agreed he would continue to advocate for such resources with his federal colleagues.
Ministers discussed pre-trial detention and custody provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA), noting the study by the Uniform Law Conference, the upcoming work of the Nunn Commission of Inquiry into the death of Theresa McEvoy and views of the FPT Working Group on Youth Justice. Ministers directed officials to review the pre-trial detention and custody provisions on a priority basis. They also noted that there are other areas of the YCJA that require review, such as the presumption of adult sentencing, in order to respond to a Quebec Court of Appeal judgement.
DNA Data Bank Offences
Ministers discussed the need to better address the numerous murders of women involved in the sex trade. They explored options for ensuring that police and prosecutors have the tools they need to address this issue, including strategies such as taking DNA samples from men convicted of communicating in public for the purpose of buying sex.
Ministers talked about ways to increase the effectiveness of sentencing with particular attention given to a discussion of the use of mandatory minimum sentences.
Dangerous and Long-Term Offenders
Ministers endorsed recommendations from FPT officials on ways to strengthen how the criminal justice system deals with dangerous and long-term offenders, and agreed to begin work on implementation as appropriate. The FPT High-Risk Offender Working group reported to Ministers on a number of reforms that will, in particular, target high-risk violent and sexual offenders. There was support for several recommendations that call for continued investment in programs, communication, research studies and community collaboration, as well as amendments to the Part XXIV Dangerous Offender provisions. Officials were also asked to study the issue of those offenders who do not meet the criteria for dangerous or long-term offender designation but still pose a significant threat to public safety.
DNA/Missing Persons Index
Ministers acknowledged the distress faced by families of missing persons and reinforced their continued commitment to exploring options for a DNA Missing Persons Index (MPI). Ministers discussed the results of their 2005 public consultations on a DNA MPI and noted that input from this exercise has significantly advanced this issue. FPT officials were directed to continue their work in examining cost, privacy and legal implications to bring forward recommendations to Ministers at the next FPT meeting.
Ministers expressed concern over statistics showing that fully half of the incarcerated population in Canada is remanded pending trial. Discussion focussed on factors within each component of the justice system that may be contributing to this increase, including the issue of the two-for-one sentencing credit for remand time served. Ministers endorsed the recommendations offered by the Heads of Corrections. They also noted the ongoing work of the Heads of Correction, Heads of Prosecution and the Coordinating Committee of Senior Officials (Criminal) to help address this complex problem. Ministers indicated that they will discuss this issue at future meetings after taking into consideration the reports and recommendations of their officials, and asked officials to report back at the next FPT Ministers meeting.
Two-Year Rule in Sentencing
Some Ministers raised the issue of exploring options for an integrated correctional delivery service between federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions. Jurisdictions must first be further surveyed to determine if sufficient interest exists. Challenges, goals and expectations would then need to be well defined.
Update on the Status of Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America
Ministers discussed the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, which was signed in March 2005. Ministers agreed that federal-provincial-territorial consultation and collaboration are key to achieving effective implementation.
Radio-Interoperability in Community and Public Safety
Ministers discussed the need for interoperable radio systems for emergency responders in order to coordinate communications management and enhance crisis response. Ministers agreed for the need to work collaboratively on a national strategy that would address the issue of compatibility with systems already in place.
Renewal of National Crime Prevention Strategy
Ministers said they valued the accomplishments of the National Crime Prevention Strategy. Recognizing that addressing the root cause of crime requires commitment from all governments, Ministers agreed to continue working collaboratively on the goals and priorities of the National Strategy. They remarked that partnerships and ongoing dialogue are critical to ensure that the program delivery within the provinces and territories achieve the desired results.
Recognizing that under the Criminal Code, only provincial governments may conduct and manage lottery schemes, Ministers discussed concerns with the enforcement of the Criminal Code with respect to online gaming.