Reforms to Canada's criminal justice system proposed

By Justin Ling March 29, 201829 March 2018

Reforms to Canada's criminal justice system proposed

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has introduced new measures to streamline the criminal justice system and to finally follow through on pledges to clean up the Criminal Code. Reactions, however, have already been mixed.

The centrepiece of the new legislation, Bill C-75, which is sure to spark a significant amount of debate among defence lawyers in Canada, is a set of a new rules on when preliminary inquiries can be used.

The changes would make it so that only an accused facing a crime which could carry a penalty of life in prison would have access to a preliminary inquiry. Even then, under the new rules, the inquiry judge would have the power to limit issues and witnesses introduced.

Before it was even published, the bill drew criticism. B.C. lawyer Michael McCubbin tweeted that the changes “will mean that defendants in car accident claims (who risk their insurance deductibles) have more pre-trial discovery rights than accused (who risk their liberty).” Ottawa lawyer Michael Spratt

Also sure to rankle defence counsel across the country is a plan to end peremptory challenges for juries. A government background document says these changes will “promote fairness and impartiality in the selection of jurors.” Spratt gave that change the thumbs down, as well, writing “defence lawyers use peremptory challenges 99.9 per cent of the time to increase diversity on juries.”

There will also be new rules on how bail can be imposed. The background document reads that courts and cops will “be required to consider the least restrictive means of responding to criminal charges, including breaches of release, instead of automatically detaining the accused.”

Many other provisions in the bill are old hat.

Since being appointed justice minister in 2015, Wilson-Raybould has met a number of challenges in getting legislation passed. A number of her bills have sat on the order paper, never even coming up for debate.

The government, for example, pledged to repeal Section 159 of the Criminal Code, an unconstitutional provision which criminalizes anal sex, in Bill C-32. That bill went nowhere. It came back in Bill C-39, which went nowhere. Now it is back, again, in Bill C-75.

The government, when asked by CBA National, has not been able to explain why its previous efforts to fix the Code failed.

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