FOR AN ADDRESS
& LABRADOR BRANCH
you for your introduction.
is a pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to you this afternoon to
discuss some current issues and initiatives of the Department of Justice.
The Canadian Bar Association and you as members play an important role in
addressing justice issues provincially, as well as nationally. We
all have a responsibility to ensure the legal system and legal community
operates in an fair and efficient manner, while providing access to all
you are aware, we have recently celebrated our first anniversary as
Government. I feel strongly
that we are headed in a positive direction. We have made real progress and
experienced some significant accomplishments in a number of areas.
constitutional responsibility for the administration of Justice in the
Province requires that we be forward looking and that, where necessary and
appropriate, we find new and innovative ways to improve all aspects of the
justice system, including the court system, in order to meet continuing
challenges. I believe we can do this. Indeed
we must. I believe that working
together in a collaborative fashion, despite present challenges, we can
ensure that our court system continues to respond to public needs. Fiscal
reality requires that we make the most of the resources we have. Clearly, we
need to find ways to move forward. To this end, I am pleased to be able to
discuss a number of initiatives which I think will allow us to achieve this.
have established a Courts Administration Advisory Board to commence a
collaborative process of strategic planning for the Courts. The Advisory
provide an opportunity to work together to ensure that the justice system is
effective, efficient and accessible. Members
of the advisory board include the Chief Justice Clyde Wells; Chief Justice
Derek Green; Chief Judge M.R. Reid; Deputy Minister of Justice John Cummings
and Assistant Deputy Minister Chris Curran. As Minister of Justice &
Attorney General, I am also a member of the advisory board. The advisory
board is not a decision-making body, but will provide a forum for
discussion, exchange of information and planning. Engaging in a cooperative
review of the provinceís court system will provide opportunity to find new
and innovative ways to utilize resources and improve efficiencies. The
approach to establishing a court advisory board is similar to a Manitoba
model which has shown great success in enhanced communication between the
courts and government.
believe that the Court Advisory Board can work here, and can help prioritize
the needs of the courts. It is
clear that reform cannot be a unilateral endeavour. It requires cooperation
between the judiciary and government. I
am committed to a collaborative process. We are willing to work with the
courts to change, if necessary, and to update and modernize the way the
courts are administered.
new ways of doing business are identified we should not be afraid to pursue
them. My hope is that this
review will expedite the process of bringing forward recommendations that
will support the development and implementation of needed improvements. A
review of this kind could yield significant improvements in the quality of
services provided to both court users and judges.
Provinces have already taken steps in this direction which have resulted in
the simplification of things
for practitioners, court staff and
for judges. For example, in New Brunswick, initiatives on the training side
have resulted in the more effective utilization of staff resources, thus
promoting efficiency and encouraging job rotation and cross-training. The
Federal Government has also taken important steps in this direction. Most
recently, it amalgamated the registries of the Tax Court of Canada with
those of the Federal Court. This was done after a review by the Auditor
General. This consolidation has promoted effective and efficient court
services, enhanced judicial independence and increased accountability for
the use of public funds. The time has now come for this Province to review
its system to determine how it can achieve similar goals.
Province needs to look at harnessing technology to improve the operation of
the court system. Electronic
filing of court documents is one such initiative that should be explored.
Video conferencing is another. I know that Chief Justice Green shares
my view that many less complex court matters could be expedited using this
conferencing has been introduced at the Provincial Court in Happy-Valley
Goose Bay this year, and has yielded positive response and results. Video
conferencing improves cost effectiveness by reducing or avoiding movement of
detained persons and witness
appearances can occur at reduced cost and with greater certainty,
particularly in remote areas like coastal Labrador communities where weather
conditions significantly impact scheduled circuits. Further, related costs
associated with appearances by police officers who have been transferred out
of their northern postings could be significantly reduced through use of
video conference at much less expense and much less related time away
from their new posting location.
long term capital infrastructure needs should also be identified. There has been much discussion recently of the need for
new courthouses for Corner Brook, St. John's
and for Clarenville. The fact that financial resources are limited at
present should not prevent us from defining future needs.
It is for this reason that with Chief Justice Wells, Chief Justice
Greene, and Chief Judge Reid, I have constituted court facilities committees
for St. Johnís, Corner Brook and Clarenville to begin planning new
facilities for these communities. While government has not been able to
commit money at this stage, I believe that we should nevertheless commence
the planning process. These
committees will carryout their work using commonly accepted courthouse
planning principles, and will emphasize the importance to the community of
the symbolism of courthouse design, opportunities for sharing resources
between courts, and the important role of technology. And of course we are
not without some current successes. I
am pleased to be able to say that the beautiful new Supreme Court facility
for Labrador in Happy-Valley Goose Bay is now open.
This is a major achievement in the present environment.
current fiscal plight forces
government to make difficult choices in the allocation of scarce resources.
Despite the shortage of resources I am happy to be able to report to you
today that some significant progress has been made on a number of fronts
over the course of the last year in the department and in the administration
of justice generally in the Province. I
am pleased to be able to point to significant progress is many areas:
policing, corrections and probation, family law and support enforcement to
name but a few.
issue of police resources has been a central issue across the province. Many
communities across the province are looking for an increased police
presence. We remain committed to enhancing public safety, and have taken
steps to help address workload pressures, and the challenging policing
environment. We have been
working with police organizations and communities to identify needs and are
making progress in adding much needed resources throughout the province.
This year we have provided funding for new vehicles, equipment and training
for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, as well as support for improvements
in the RCMP radio telecommunications system. This Fall, a police officers
training program began at Memorial University, which will introduce 75 new
police officers to the RNC over the next three years. To address policing
concerns in Labrador, four new officers were introduced to the communities
of Sheshatshiu, Rigelot, and Makkovik, and we recently expanded the policing
presence in Labrador by committing to seven additional RCMP officers who
will be in place by January 2005. We
remain committed to the development of a long-term policing strategy, and
providing police officers with improved tools to protect and enforce the
safety of communities and citizens across the province.
This past year, I have met with Anne McLellan, Deputy Prime Minister of Canada and Minister of Public Safety to discuss initiatives relating to aboriginal peoples and with my federal counterpart, the Honourable Irwin Cotler, to discuss other issues of shared federal-provincial responsibility: including, legal aid and an expanded unified family court system for the Province. These are complex matters and I believe that in all three areas a solid and positive foundation for future federal-provincial initiatives has been laid.
As you may know, the relationship of aboriginal peoples to the justice system is of particular concern to the Province and we have made considerable efforts to enhance the responsiveness of the justice system to the particular needs and interests of our aboriginal population. The province currently partners with Justice Canada to deliver a number of cost-shared programs to our aboriginal population, including, for example, our participation in the Native Court Worker Program and the Aboriginal Justice Strategy. We are also involved in ongoing land claims negotiations with the Innu and in limited self-government discussions with the Micmac of Conne River. However, our ability to fully address aboriginal issues is limited by the particular economic circumstances of the Province and by the constitutional division of powers. It is clear that an effective, strategic response requires the fiscal and policy involvement of the Federal Government, if for no other reason than their constitutional obligations under section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, 1867. This is a view which I shared with both my Federal colleagues and they both expressed a willingness to explore new ways, and in some cases to reinvigorate old mechanisms, to find solutions to some of the outstanding problems.
My discussions with Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan as to the
possibility of this province concluding an agreement under the First
Nations Policing Policy is a case in point. Regrettably,
there have not been any concluded tripartite aboriginal policing
agreements over the last several years.
One of the results of this has been significantly reduced federal funding for policing in this province: it is little known that currently the provincial government pays 70 % of the cost of the RCMP policing in the province while the Federal Government pays only 30%. Compare this with 52% federal government and 48 % provincial government for agreements under the First Nations Policing Policy. The resultant savings, if an agreement could be realized, would allow us to undertake, among other things, significant new initiatives for both the Inuit and the Innu in Labrador. I am pleased to be able to report that Minister McLennan indicated a willingness enter into a Tripartite Agreement and that this has resulted in positive momentum towards the possible conclusion of the Provinces first such agreement.
the meeting with Minister Cotler, we discussed possible new initiatives in
the area of Legal Aid and expansion of the Province's
Unified Family Court system. With
regards to Legal Aid we stressed the necessity of sustaining funding for
new initiatives, and to provide meaningful access to the Courts to, those
who suffer from mental illness. We
also encouraged the Minister to explore new ways of providing funding for
civil legal aid. The existing
arrangement, which sees funds allocated to civil legal aid come to the
Provinces through the CST Transfer Fund, is simply not working.
It needs to be replaced by a separate sharing arrangement, like the
one for criminal legal aid, and of course the federal cost share should at
least match that of the province. Currently,
the Province contributes 61% to the cost of Legal Aid in this Province
while the Federal government contributes only 39%.
This is a startling reversal of the original arrangement which saw
the federal Government contribute 90% and the Province 10%. This federal
reduction in funding is completely unacceptable, causes hardship on
impecunious litigants, and impedes access to the Courts A small but
immediate result of the visit was the reinstatement of funding for the Family
Justice Services Project in Central Newfoundland which the Feds had
Federal financial support announced this year has helped address unmet legal aid needs through new and innovative programming. Initiatives included: an Aboriginal Justice Program in Happy Valley-Goose Bay which will study and develop improved access to legal services by Aboriginal persons, particularly those living in remote and rural communities and help to address the legal aid needs of Aboriginal persons within the context of their unique history, culture and language. A Mental Health Project which will study, analyze and experiment with various models to determine an effective process to assist people with mental health problems, both in the early stages of the criminal justice system, at court and at release. As well, Bilingual Project to assist with trials in French language, and improve legal services to French-speaking citizens and visitors. This funding supports our strategy to provide fair access to legal services throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, but is only a start. Expanding current services will provide greater access to legal aid across the province. This is something that we must continue to explore.
regard to the proposed Unified Family Court expansion,
we indicated to the federal Minister that we are anxious to
participate in this initiative, assuming adequate federal funding.
We explained to the federal Minister that the provision of family
law services in Newfoundland and Labrador is currently not uniform across
the province. Indeed it has
been described as a patchwork quilt@.
The ideal situation would be to have judges who are specialists in
family law working together with professional staff in an environment that
is non-threatening to litigants and secure to all participants across the
Province. This is the objective I want to reach and I believe it
is attainable through cooperative efforts with the Federal Government.
I cannot say more than this at present but more information on this
initiative should be available in the near future.
Fall session of the House of Assembly opened this week, and the department
along with Government have a number of important legislative matters
during the Fall session. First of all, Lobbyists Registration will be
introduced which will raise
the bar for open and accountable government, and help clarify what is
appropriate conduct for lobbyists as they bring information forward to
government. Citizens can and should have input into the public
decision-making process, to make better, stronger public policy. There
are also a number of legislative amendments which will include: amendments
to the Law Society Act which will bring the provincial Law Society more
in-line with other Canadian jurisdictions. Amendments will provide for
professional incorporation, rules to be made by benchers governing the
admission of students and the enrolment of members, and respecting the
disposition of unclaimed trust money. The Human Rights Code will also be
amended to exclude Innu and Inuit benefits agreements from the application
of the Code. The
Province, Canada and Labrador Inuit Association have concluded the
negotiation of a comprehensive land claim and self-government agreement
with the Inuit of Labrador (the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada)
which is now undergoing ratification by the provincial and federal
governments. This agreement
will allow greater Inuit participation in and control over the
administration of justice in, and the delivery of justice services to, the
coastal communities of Labrador, thus ensuring greater cultural
sensitivity and responsiveness to the specific needs of the Inuit.
I have indicated, this government is committed to working cooperatively to
improve operational issues. We are cognizant that there is much to be
done. We have made progress, and will continue to make improvements that
will enhance efficiency, accountability and judicial independence.
I know I can count on the support of the Canadian Bar Association as a collaborative partner as we move forward with this important work.
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