Judicial Appointment Process—Court Delays
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Opposition): Thank you, madam minister.
Your government was elected in 2015. After you formed the government all positions on the judicial advisory committees were abolished and are still vacant over one year later. Last July 8, the Jordan decision hit the justice system like a bombshell. A multitude of proceedings were stayed which, in turn, caused thousands of criminals to go free or to get back on the street soon due to a serious shortage of judges.
On October 26, the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs wrote to everyone in the pool of candidates for judgeships, including the candidates deemed suitable for appointment and those who had applied and were waiting for a response.
The letter is titled "Personal and Confidential." She wrote in her letter:
In other words, whether you have already assets by a judicial advisory committee or comments have already been provided to the Minister of Justice if you are a provincial court judge, or if you have filled out a personal history form as a proposed candidate, you must reapply under the new process if you are still interested in the judicial appointment.
This means that instead of filling the 43 vacancies and thus minimizing the disastrous consequence of the Jordan decision, you made the problem worse and caused irreparable damage by discarding hundreds of applications of judges who have already been or were in the process of being recommended.
So, minister, do you realize that because of this ideological orientation, you are not solving the problem, but just making it worse? Minister, why did you discard the pool of candidates?
Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, P.C., M.P., Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada: I wanted to thank all honourable senators for having me here today, and I thank you for your questions.
Perhaps I can speak to the judicial advisory committees and the new appointments process that I was very pleased to institute, and then speak about the court delays, which I imagine will be a subject of conversation today.
With respect to the judicial advisory committees, I was very happy earlier this fall to introduce a new appointments process for superior court justices across the country. With the intent to ensure that we do as much as we can to diversify the judiciary, to ensure that we have high-quality, high-calibre candidates who put their names forward and to amend the application process to understand more of the background of those who wish to sit on our country's courts.
Included within that process in terms of the appointments, we reconstituted the judicial advisory committees to ensure that they also reflected the diversity of our country and to ensure that I would be able to appoint three members of the judicial advisory committees that would be drawn from the public at large, the first time ever that we had a public application process for members to sit on the judicial advisory committees.
I note something that the honourable senator mentioned. I am pleased to have appointed 41 highly qualified justices who reflect the diversity of our country since becoming the minister. I am going to continue to work diligently with my judicial affairs adviser and certainly with the judicial advisory committees, some of which are reconstituted already, and I look forward to making more appointments to our superior courts toward the end of January, early February.
For the honourable senators' note, vacancies across the country for judges are now well below 40 per cent. Does that mean there isn't a need to ensure that we continue to appoint judges? Absolutely we do, and I am very optimistic that the process we've instituted will ensure the diversity and high calibre of what we expect in the country. Certainly the lack of judges is one aspect that contributes to delays, but it's just one aspect.
In my mandate letter, the Prime Minister asked me to do a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, including sentencing reform. I am committed to ensuring that we look for and identify where we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system, working in partnership with my colleagues, the Attorneys General in the provinces and territories, which we have been doing on an ongoing basis, to look at bill reform, where there can be administrative efficiencies, and to continue to work together in that regard to resolve all of the issues because the administration of justice is a shared responsibility. We will look at all the ways we can improve and prevent the delays we've been seeing.