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I am incredibly proud of the work I accomplished as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. I accepted the role with great honour and humility knowing the responsibility that goes with it, but also the weight of the tasks ahead. In 2015, the justice system was in need of some important reforms, in particular responding to the Carter decision on medical assistance in dying and the Jordan decision on delays in the criminal justice system. In my capacity as the Minister of Justice, I was able to consider, examine, and take action on these and a number of other issues facing Canadians, and our justice system at large. Below is a summary of some of this work, as well as some ideas about what I believe we still need to do to strengthen our justice system.
My Track Record
The first issue my office had to address was medical assistance in dying. I worked closely with my colleague, the Honourable Dr. Jane Philpott to introduce Bill C-14 to implement a national framework to ensure that adults with a grievous and irremediable medical condition on a trajectory towards death have the choice of a medically-assisted death. Legislating on this incredibly sensitive and personal issue was not an easy task. We worked across Party lines and I believe that we struck the right balance for our country at that time – balanced between personal autonomy and protecting the most vulnerable. As this legislation is tested and as we learn more about its implementation, there will inevitably be further consideration by Canadians and law-makers of the current law with possible amendments being proposed. This will be an important discussion. There is no question that having a medical assistance in dying regime has been transformative for our country. I cannot tell you how many people have approached me on the street to tell me what it has meant to them and their loved ones. It is a something that will affect all of us at some time in our lives.
Another issue that we addressed early on in my mandate and that I was very pleased to take the lead on, was introducing legislation to add gender identity or expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act and the list of characteristics of identifiable groups protected from hate propaganda in the Criminal Code. I was fortunate to work with many passionate advocates and stakeholders in the LGBTQ2+ community to pass the groundbreaking Bill C-16. Everyone should have the right to express their own gender identity, and in that same way, to feel safe and be themselves.
Although not necessarily as well know as some of the other work, one of the initiatives I am most proud of as Justice Minister is how we improved the way we appoint judges with the intent to have a bench that looks more like Canada. To do this we implemented a comprehensive and new merit-based system for appointing judges. We reconstituted the independent judicial advisory committees that focus on qualifications and fit over patronage, and developed a more rigorous application procedure. Under this new system, I was proud to have appointed 203 incredibly qualified and meritorious jurists to the bench in record numbers across Canada – making a significant impact on reducing delays in our criminal justice system.
Working with many others, I also introduced and we passed reforms to our federal family laws – the first such update in 20 years. This was not something in my mandate letter, but important to me like for many of us. As with assisted dying, divorce is something that will affect pretty much all Canadians at some point in their life. With a new focus on the best interests of the child, kids across Canada will now be better protected and considered in family law matters.
I was also honoured to have ushered in the first major update to sexual assault laws in over 25 years, in particular updates to the rape shield provisions. It is important that we recognize the gendered nature of this crime and do all we can to afford its victims with the utmost dignity and respect.
In December 2018, in my capacity as Attorney General, I introduced a directive related to the prosecution of HIV non-disclosure cases to ensure that prosecutorial practices align with scientific evidence and respond to the reality of the risk of transmission when someone is receiving treatment. This is an important step in reducing the stigma faced by those living with HIV, and ensuring our justice system is based on the most recent scientific evidence.
Finally, with respect to Indigenous Peoples, and as one of my last actions in my capacity as Attorney General, I also instituted a directive on civil litigation involving Indigenous Peoples with associated training for government lawyers. This directive now guides the actions of government lawyers in lawsuits involving Indigenous peoples. With respect to Indigenous Peoples, the Department of Justice was also instrumental in developing the 10 Principles respecting the Government of Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples. Both these efforts are important steps in improving Crown-Indigenous relations and realizing reconciliation. I hope very much that their implementation will continue and I want to be back in Ottawa to ensure they will.
Over three plus years, with an incredible team of political staff and dedicated civil servants, I worked hard to transform our justice system and am proud of what we were able to accomplish. But there is still more that needs to be done to further build on a system that delivers for Canadians, while protecting public safety and respecting victims.
Still More That Needs To Be Done
We still have much work to do to address the overrepresentation and interaction of certain groups within the criminal justice system. We know that, unfortunately, Indigenous peoples, people of colour, and those suffering from mental illness and addictions are vastly overrepresented in our justice system. We know that we need to do more to realize a justice system that responds to the needs of all Canadians while delivering fairness and ensuring safety. I am committed to continuing this important work. We must move forward on justice issues in Canada now to make a difference for Canadians and the next generation.
If re-elected, I will continue to push for critical reforms to sentencing, including the abolition of most mandatory minimum sentences. This is something that I was not able to advance in the last Parliament. Mandatory minimum sentences contribute to significant delays in the criminal justice system while stripping judges of the discretion required to apply the law appropriately to the individual before them. I agree that mandatory minimums are necessary for the most serious of crimes, such as murder. However, in the vast majority of cases, I believe that judges should have the discretion to ensure that the punishment fits the crime while considering the wide range of factors that lead to criminality. We need to be smart on crime.
On this note, I will continue to advocate for increased funding for alternative measures programs and restorative justice that will support those involved in crime, including youth, to break free from a revolving-door justice system. Those suffering from mental health issues require critical supports to ensure that treatment does not fall to our criminal justice system. We cannot continue to allow these people to slip through the cracks. If elected I will continue to fight for appropriately funded programs that move upstream from the justice system and address the root causes of crime to prevent individuals from being involved in crime in the first place.
Thank you to those that reached out to me about justice issues, both when I was the Minister and afterwards. I have heard from many and it is clear there is still a great deal work to be done. As your Member of Parliament, I will continue this important work by reaching across party lines and fighting for a fairer justice system.