This summary reflects the views of all governments except Quebec, which will express its own positions in a separate press release.
PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers discussed public confidence in the justice system. Specific public concerns related to victims and their participation in the justice system, crime prevention, reform of the criminal and young offenders law, sentencing, youth justice and the appointment process for judges.
It is important that these public concerns be addressed through changes to policy and legislation and public legal education. Officials will be reporting back to ministers at their next meeting in Whitehorse, in the Fall of 1998 with options to address the concerns of the public in order to enhance confidence in the justice system.
VICTIMS OF CRIME
Ministers acknowledged and agreed that the needs of victims of crime within the Canadian justice system were a priority and supported interjurisdictional co-operation to address the issue.
There was support for ongoing consultation in order to develop a victims of crime strategy that would enable the federal government to undertake a complementary role to the primary role of the provinces and territories. This could include amendments to the Criminal Code respecting victim impact statements, increasing the federal victim fine surcharge, expanded access to publication bans for victims, and possible establishment of a federal victims' office to gather and disseminate information about best practices etc. The need to consider oral presentations by victims at National Parole Board hearings was discussed.
Ministers also agreed to consider ways to better enhance and promote the existing "1988 Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime" and provincial and territorial Ministers will continue to implement measures as appropriate within each jurisdiction to improve services to victims.
NATIONAL CRIME PREVENTION INITIATIVE
In discussing the guiding principles for the new crime prevention initiative, Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers agreed to continue their work together.
While respecting provincial and territorial responsibilities, it was agreed that the federal- provincial-territorial working group on Community Safety and Crime Prevention would continue to work to ensure the appropriate approach with each province and territory on community action that complements existing provincial community-based, policing and prevention efforts.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
The Ministers opened their discussion by noting the December 6 anniversary of the violent and senseless death of 14 women at the Montréal École Polytechnique in 1989.
The Ministers have confirmed interest in this issue and are looking forward to receiving the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group Report on the Provocation Defence. They noted the receipt of recommendations on reform of the law of self-defence from Judge Lynn Ratushny in September which formed part of her review of the cases of women convicted of homicide.
These reports will set the stage for consultations in the spring with women's organizations, the legal community and other interested groups on proposals to reform both the defence of provocation and homosexual panic defence and the defence of self- defence.
Ministers noted that criminal harassment is an ongoing problem for many victims. It was acknowledged that stalking is a very serious offence and agreed that the criminal harassment provision in section 264 of the Criminal Code has proven useful since it was passed in 1993. British Columbia proposed an increase in the maximum penalty for stalking from 5 to 10 years and the availability of dangerous offenders application. Ministers agreed to take a detailed look at the merits of the proposal and they will continue to monitor the application of the law.
In addition, Alberta has called for a reverse onus to obtain bail in spousal violence cases and the right of appeal from bail decisions in such cases. Ministers asked their Deputy Ministers to seriously review these issues at their next meeting in March and to report back to Ministers.
While important progress has been made in reducing drinking and driving crimes in the past decade, the extent of this problem and its impact on the lives of Canadians is still unacceptable. There have been innovative provincial law changes which may be complemented by changes to the federal criminal law.
Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Justice were invited to express their views to the Standing Committee of the House of Commons on Justice which will look at impaired driving in the new year.
Some Ministers expressed particular concern about the continuing problem of "hardcore" repeat impaired drivers, since recent data show that category is responsible for 75 % of the "over 80" drinking drive fatalities in 1995. Ministers agreed to share information on experiences and prevention measures and that strategies to address this will be considered by Ministers at their next meeting.
REFORM OF SECTION 745.6 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE
Three provinces (Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta) asked for the repeal of the existence of this section of the Criminal Code which allows offenders convicted of murder to apply to a judge and jury after they have served fifteen years to have their parole ineligibility period reconsidered. The federal government and some other jurisdictions believe that the section should be preserved for exceptional and deserving cases and believe that the recent amendment to the Code achieves that objective.
Ministers agreed to monitor judicial review applications and assess the impact of the recent amendments. The possibility of future amendments such as a requirement for the presiding judge to explain the effect of the section when imposing sentence on murder offenders will be explored.
It was further agreed that immediate work would focus on finding ways to ensure that the justice system is sensitive to the impact on victims' families who are involved in these proceedings many years after the conviction and sentencing of the offender.
CRIMINAL PROCEDURE REFORM
The Minister of Justice has advised that she will be taking the necessary steps to introduce the third phase of the Criminal Procedure Reform Package and to work with the provinces, territories and law enforcement agents in efforts to render the administration of justice more efficient and effective.
This reform package would streamline procedures, empower the courts to use modern technology to manage their caseloads and assist the provinces to better focus their resources on more serious offences, especially cases of physical violence.
CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
The issue of child sexual exploitation was a matter of concern to Ministers and at the urging of British Columbia the Minister of Justice agreed to draft amendments to the Criminal Code to strengthen enforcement efforts against those who buy sex from children.
British Columbia's further request to increase the age of consent to sexual activity to 16 will be carefully considered.
At their next meeting, Ministers will consider recommendations with respect to legislation, policy and enforcement practices concerning prostitution-related activities.
Saskatchewan expressed concern that this issue be accurately described as "child abuse".
HIGH RISK OFFENDERS
Ministers received a status report prepared by Manitoba and referred it to a working group of officials to identify and evaluate "high risk offenders" strategies that might be adopted in addition to those recently passed through C-55. This same committee will also review the granting of pardons for sexual offenders to ensure public safety.
NATIONAL CHILDREN'S AGENDA
The National Children's Agenda is a broad multi-sectoral strategy to improve the well- being of children.
Ministers recognized the need to work with Ministers of Social Services, Education and Health to promote the safety and security of children. They noted that this initiative initially grew out of discussions of the provincial/territorial health and social service sectors.
They also noted that Premiers at their August 1997 conference expressed their strong support for the development of a National Children's Agenda and agreed that it is a priority within the overall renewal process. The Ministers noted that the Provincial/Territorial Council on Social Policy Renewal will move forward on a national social policy agenda and will work with the federal government on a number of these priorities.
Ministers acknowledged the growing economic, legal and social problems of Aboriginal Peoples and recommitted to work together on these issues. Deputy Ministers will be meeting in March at which time they will discuss the justice recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and related Aboriginal Justice issues.
British Columbia raised the issue of the need for a comprehensive drug strategy for Canada and suggested a four pronged approach in order to facilitate discussions to deal with illicit use of drugs:
Ministers generally agreed to this approach
- discuss longer mandatory sentences for traffickers and smugglers
- deal with drug abuse and children addiction
- the use of non-potable substances as intoxicants
- provide public information and education programs for children and youth
Acknowledging the importance of the issue and the pressure it creates on the health, justice and social systems, Ministers encouraged jurisdictions, that haven't already done so, to nominate representatives to a working group of senior officials on a drug strategy and to come up with a holistic approach to the serious problem of drug abuse for consideration by Health and Justice Ministers at a proposed joint meeting.
GENDER EQUALITY IN THE CANADIAN JUSTICE SYSTEM
The Ministers have discussed and approved the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Report on Gender Equality in the Canadian Justice System, which assesses the progress made in six key areas of concern for gender equality in the justice system for the period between January 1, 1996 to March 31, 1997.
Ministers approved the report and asked that it be prepared for distribution and issued publicly before the end of March 1998.
NATIONAL REGISTRY ON PEDOPHILES AND CRIMINAL RECORDS ACT REFORM
Ministers considered proposals by British Columbia for the establishment of a national pedophile registry, to which the public could have direct access, and elimination of pardons for pedophiles.
Ministers agreed that the protection of children and other vulnerable groups from predatory sexual offenders is a key public safety issue.
Ministers also noted the importance of having accurate and timely information about pedophiles and violent offenders, available to law enforcement authorities and to the public.
Accordingly, Ministers directed a working group of senior officials studying high-risk violent offender issues to review the effectiveness of existing information mechanisms including the National Screening System established in 1995 based on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC); and to examine additional ways to strengthen our ability to protect children and other vulnerable groups, including a national registry; and, to report to Ministers at their next meeting.
Finally, Ministers agreed to consider at their next meeting the issue of restricting pardons, as part of the review of the Criminal Records Act now being conducted by the Solicitor General of Canada
YOUNG OFFENDERS ACT
I invited my colleagues around the table to provide me with their input to the reform of the Young Offenders Act with a view to considering this in relation to the federal government response to the Standing Committee report on Youth Justice, which I will table in February 1998.
Every province put its position forward - these ranged from the status quo to specific suggested amendments to the Act. The ensuing discussion was extremely constructive. Ministers want to focus particularly on dealing with young offenders engaged in serious and repeat crimes, while ensuring that issues such as alternatives for low risk offenders and flexibility in the administration of the Act also be addressed.
Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island tabled for consideration a list of proposals to amend youth justice legislation. Some provinces wished time to consider these proposals while other provinces expressed opposition or varying degrees of support for the proposed amendments. These proposals along with the work of the Task Force will serve as a basis for discussion between jurisdictions and will be considered in preparation for the government response to the Standing Committee report.
The Minister indicated her intention to table amendments to the Young Offenders Act before the summer of 1998.
Provinces and Territories agreed that the cost-sharing should be restored to the 50/50 level established with the introduction of the YOA in 1984.
ALBERTA, MANITOBA, P.E.I., and ONTARIO PROPOSAL
SUBJECT: YOUNG OFFENDERS ACT AMENDMENTS AGREED TO AT P.E.I. CONFERENCE
Amendments to the youth justice legislation agreed to by the four ministers at the P.E.I. conference.
The following amendments to youth justice legislation were agreed to at the P.E.I. conference:
reduce the age of criminal accountability in selected cases (at Crown discretion) to address serious offences committed by children under the age of 12 years and for those in this group who exhibit a pattern of offending;
provide for easier transfer to ordinary court to address serious and chronic offending by youths rather than a general reduction to the maximum age;
amend the Act to impose the presumption of adult court for youths 16 years of age and older who have committed serious violent offences not currently addressed in the Act, and for those demonstrating a pattern of offending;
amend the Act to require that youths transferred to adult court have the same parole eligibility requirements as do adult offenders;
amend the Act to allow, upon conviction, publication of the identity of chronic repeat offenders and those young offenders convicted of an offence involving serious violence;
amendment to permit the admission into evidence of a voluntary statement given to a person in authority at the discretion of the youth court, notwithstanding a breach of Section 56(2) Criminal Code of Canada, where the administration of justice would not be brought into disrepute;
amend the Act to provide for placement of a young offender, who has attained the age of 20 years, in a federal penitentiary where the remainder of the youth custody portion of the disposition is two years or more. Amend the Act to allow the provincial director to apply to the youth court for placement of a young person who is 16 or 17 years of age in a provincial facility for adults;
amend the Act to apply the victim surcharge to young offenders;
amend the Act to restrict court appointed counsel to circumstances where youths or their guardians cannot afford to pay for legal services. This amendment should maintain the young person's authority to direct counsel;
amend the Act to provide for mandatory custody dispositions for youths convicted of an offence involving the use of weapons.
December 5, 1997
CRIMINAL RECORDS ACT REFORM
The Ministers received a briefing from the Solicitor General of Canada, Andy Scott, on possible amendments to the Criminal Records Act to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the pardon process. The results of consultations on the issue will be released in the near future.
The federal Solicitor General gave Ministers an overview of the national and international effort under way to combat organized crime, including the anti-gang legislation. He outlined possible law amendments to enable police to better track money laundering.
Provincial Ministers complimented the federal government on the action it is taking in this area. The federal Solicitor General urged his provincial counterparts to work with him in the future to fight this problem.
CORRECTIONS POPULATION GROWTH
Ministers agreed that officials will produce for the 1998 meeting a second progress report on implementation of the Corrections Population Growth initiative originally approved in 1996.
INTEGRATED JUSTICE INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Ministers expressed their view that jurisdictions need to build on the work already completed to more fully integrate federal-provincial-territorial information systems to improve information sharing among police, court and correctional systems as a key public safety issue.
REPORT: DIVERSION PROGRAMS FOR ADULTS
The federal Solicitor General released a research report, Diversion Programs for Adults. The report reviews evaluation studies of programs that attempt to direct offenders from incarceration by providing programs and services that manage their risk in the community. The report highlights the need to conduct evaluations of these programs to identify the characteristics of those programs which most effectively divert offenders from incarceration. Successful programs can then be supported and replicated.
This report follows up on a commitment made in the Corrections Population Growth Report which was released by Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers of Justice in May, 1996. That report recommended the greater use of diversion programs and other alternatives to incarceration. It also identified the need for research in this area and stressed the importance of sharing information among jurisdictions.
DNA DATABANK LEGISLATION
Ministers expressed their support for the recently introduced DNA Databank legislation as an important investigation tool for police. The issue of funding for the Databank was discussed. The federal-Solicitor General indicated that his Department is examining this issue.
CONDITIONAL AND INTERMITTENT SENTENCING
Ministers discussed intermittent sentences. While most provincial jurisdictions feel that this type of sentence should be repealed, the Ministers agreed to have officials look at the options available and their respective operation, and that they submit their findings to Deputy Ministers for consideration at their March meeting.
The discussions surrounding conditional sentencing were positive. Some jurisdictions indicated the additional sentencing options were welcome while other comments point to some procedural areas that need immediate attention particularly in dealing with violations of such orders. British Columbia raised the issue of inappropriateness of the conditional sentence for serious violent and sexual offenders. All agreed to continue monitoring these sentencing dispositions to ensure their effective application and assess the need for amendments.
CRIME ON THE INTERNET
British Columbia raised the issue of crime on the Internet, especially as it pertains to hate propaganda and child pornography. This was deemed by Ministers to be an area that needs particular attention.
The federal government indicated that this issue would be the subject of public consultation in the near future. The federal Ministers further indicated that the subject of high-tech crime in general was an important issue that will be discussed next week at the Meeting of Ministers of Justice and of the Interior of the G-8 countries in Washington.