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Judges need discipline reform
By Anita Balakrishnan
Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau indicated in a letter to Canadian Justice Minister David Lametti that he expects to hire more Crown lawyers and judges but also has high expectations for the conduct of the bench.
Trudeau on Friday released ministerial mandate letters to Cabinet members, including expectations for the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
“I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities,” wrote Trudeau, with bullet points that included: “Develop proposals for reform of Canada’s system of judicial governance and discipline” and “reduce delays across the court system, including providing resources to hire new Crown prosecutors and new judges.”
Among the priorities outlined by Trudeau were reforming the way judges are disciplined and mandatory training for judges on “sexual assault law, including myths and stereotypes about victims and effects of trauma on victims’ memory; and on unconscious bias and cultural competency.”
Another mandate was to “provide free legal advice and support to survivors of sexual assault and intimate partner violence.”
The letter also foreshadowed Parliament would get more explicit training on the independence of the office of the attorney general. Lametti was also instructed in the letter to “adopt all of the recommendations put forward by the Honourable Anne McLellan in her recent review of the roles and structure of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.”
McLellan’s report came in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and examined whether the offices of attorney general and justice minister should be separated. In August, McLellan said there was no perfect structure but recommended strengthening the ministerial oaths and training programs to emphasize the rule of law.
“As Minister of Justice, you will see that the administration of public affairs is in accordance with the law,” wrote Trudeau in the mandate letter. “As Attorney General of Canada, you will uphold the Constitution, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary and of the prosecutorial function.”
Other directives impacting the justice sector were:
- Make drug treatment courts the default option for first-time non-violent offenders charged only with simple possession
- Establish new elder abuse-related offences and penalties in the Criminal Code
- Amend the Criminal Code to ban conversion therapy
- Establish a program to put courts alongside other social services
- Reduce organized crime, gang activity, and money laundering through new policies and legislation
- Respond “immediately” to the recent court ruling regarding the medical assistance in dying framework
- Firearms policy commitments
- Make sure Supreme Court of Canada justices are functionally bilingual
- Establish an independent Criminal Case Review Commission to make it easier and faster for potentially wrongfully convicted people to have their applications reviewed
Additional areas of focus in the letter were on digital privacy, mitigating hate speech and harassment, preventing terrorism and supporting Indigenous peoples.
The letter included a laundry list of “new online rights” under Cabinet’s mandate:
- data portability
- the ability to withdraw, remove and erase basic personal data from a platform
- A national advertising registry
- ability to withdraw consent for the sharing or sale of data
- the ability to review and challenge the amount of personal data that a company or government has collected
- proactive data security requirements
- informing people of data breaches “with appropriate compensation”
- freedom from online discrimination and harassment
Trudeau’s letter called for legal remedies for victims of hate speech, as well as a partnership with the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to deal with cyberbullying.
It also tasked Lametti with countering “the rise of ideologically motivated violent extremism and terrorist organizations” and helping with “the creation of the Director of Terrorism Prosecutions.”
Trudeau also called for the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the end of 2020, building the National Action Plan on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and “continuing progress” on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls for Action.
“Many of our most important commitments require partnership with provincial, territorial and municipal governments and Indigenous partners, communities and governments,” said Trudeau in the letter.