Notes for an address by The Honourable David Lametti at the Canadian Bar Association - 2020 Annual General Meeting


Ottawa, Ontario
February 19, 2020

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Thank you for your kind introduction and warm welcome.

I would first like to acknowledge the Algonquin People on whose traditional lands we are gathering.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with you once again at your Annual General Meeting. The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) plays a vital role in supporting Canada’s legal community and championing Canadian laws.

The Government of Canada shares your unwavering commitment to advancing access to justice for everyone in Canada. Engagement across the federal government, with provincial and territorial partners, and with stakeholders such as the CBA, is crucial if we are to successfully promote and maintain a people-centred approach to justice.

It was just over a year ago that I spoke before this same audience, shortly following my appointment as Minister and Attorney General.

At the time, I spoke to you about the values and experiences that had motivated me to enter into politics, and that I hoped would guide my decisions as Minister.

I also spoke to you about two men who I considered my mentors: Rod Macdonald and Justice Peter Cory. These two remarkable men served as models for me. They firmly believed in the importance of ethics, of fairness, of reconciliation, and of access to our justice system.

I also talked about my personal story – as a child of working-class immigrant parents, an undergraduate in the time of Pierre Trudeau and the Charter, and a professor of law for nearly twenty years at McGill University. All these life experiences helped form my point of view on what makes up a society that is truly just and fair.

These experiences not only awakened in me a passion for the law, but they also strongly reinforced the importance for me of living in a country where all Canadians can pursue our own idea of the good life.

Recap of the Last Year

In the past year, we made important progress in support of a justice system that is fair, transparent, and compassionate.

In criminal law, through Bill C-75, we introduced reforms that will reduce delays and modernize the criminal justice system. They represent a key component of the federal strategy to transform the criminal justice system in order to make it more efficient, fair, and accessible.

We have also taken steps to strengthen transparency and accountability in the judiciary. In 2016, we put a new system for judicial appointments into place. I’m very proud of that system and the appointments that we have made.

Judicial Appointments are lifetime appointments, and I take the responsibility very seriously. Independent Judicial Advisory Committees in each province and territory evaluate all candidates and provide their recommendations. Only recommended candidates are eligible to move on to the next stage.

Once at this stage, broad consultations take place to assess the specific needs of the court, the diversity of the bench, the strength of the applications and the expertise of each candidate.

It is my responsibility to recommend the best candidate for each position, and I am proud of the high-caliber judges we have appointed.

We also have done a lot to increase the diversity of those serving as judges, so that Canadians of all backgrounds can see themselves and their perspectives reflected on the bench.

Of the more than 348 judges that we have appointed at the Superior Court level since November 2015, more than half are women. Our appointments also reflect an increase in the representation of judges who are racialized, Indigenous, and LGBTQ2, as well as those who self-identify as having a disability.

While I’m on the topic, we are always looking to widen the pool of qualified applicants and reach new networks. If you, or someone you know, is considering the bench as a next career step, the website for the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial appointments has all the information you need to submit your application and begin the process.

The CBA’s work in identifying deserving candidates for judicial positions, as well as positions on the independent judicial advisory committees, and encouraging them to put their applications forward, has helped contribute to making our appointments as strong as they have been.

I know I can count on everyone in this room, and the broader CBA family, to continue helping to get the word out.

In the area of family law, we passed Bill C-78, which among other things, ensures that our courts use a child’s best interest as their beacon in cases involving children.

While we are proud of the progress we have made over the past four years, there is always more that can be done. I would now like to speak about some of the initiatives we intend to accomplish in this new mandate.

Among the tasks that we have before us, we must work to renew the Crown’s relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

This, of course, is not something that can happen from one day to the next. But it is also something that we should not, and must not, put off. These matters have already been deferred for far too long.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there "is" such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

The implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN Declaration) is something that the Prime Minister has tasked me with in my mandate letter, and is a priority for our whole Government.

The UN Declaration will serve as a framework that supports Indigenous Peoples in the exercise of their inherent rights, including the maintenance and strengthening of their judicial systems, as well as their legal customs and traditions.

As we chart the path forward, it is critical that we change the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples from administration at a distance; to one that supports Indigenous control over their own lives and communities.

We must also take action to address the discrimination and violence that too many Indigenous peoples continue to face. Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people are affected by violence more than any other group in Canada. This is unacceptable.

The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, brought these tragic facts into stark focus. The Inquiry’s Calls for Justice raise key issues facing Canada and our criminal justice system.

We must do better. We must continue to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action; and the Calls for Justice emanating from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

We are working across government and in partnership with Indigenous peoples, to identify ways to strengthen existing policies and programs and to add new measures to increase the safety of Indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ2 people in Canada.

I hope to count on the support and cooperation of the CBA as we work towards making progress on these critical objectives.

In addition to our reconciliation efforts, I am proud to say that we have also been working very hard on other issues. As you may know, with the support of the Honourable Rona Ambrose, we recently tabled Bill C-5. This bill combats the myths and stereotypes that victims of sexual assault continue to face.

The Bill strengthens the training requirements for all judges who are newly appointed judges to the provincial superior courts, thereby reducing the chance of these harmful myths and stereotypes showing up in Canadian courtrooms.

I hope that this will strengthen Canadians’ confidence in our justice system, especially for victims of sexual assault.

Our work on the law relating to medical assistance in dying has been another focus of our early efforts. As I’ve stated publicly, I plan to introduce legislation in this area in the near future. This legislation will in large part respond to the Quebec Superior Court’s decision in Truchon from last September, which found a portion of the existing regime unconstitutional and gave the Federal Government six months to respond.

When it comes to questions surrounding the end of a person’s life, we understand the importance of acting responsibly and with compassion.

We also recognize the many considerations that must inform our response, as well as the reality that the choices we make on these issues will have implications that extend beyond the individuals and families involved and will say much about the values and priorities of the society in which we live.

To help frame our future legislation, I, along with my colleagues, Ministers Hajdu and Qualtrough, have consulted practitioners, academics, and patient advocates at roundtables held in cities across the country.

We also launched an online consultation, which provided all Canadians with an opportunity to offer their views on these defining issues. Nearly 300,000 Canadians provided their input, demonstrating just how much Canadians care about this deeply personal and complex issue. This input has also provided us with a window into how the public’s views have progressed in the four years since MAID became available in Canada.

In my role as Attorney General of Canada, I tabled a request with the Superior Court of Québec for a four-month extension. Without this extension, the criteria of “reasonably foreseeable natural death” of the federal law will no longer apply in Quebec as of March 12, but remain in force in the rest of the country.

As you know, medical assistance in dying is a question that is complex and above all else, deeply personal.

Such a decision challenges our values and emotions. Those who choose medical assistance in dying are in a situation of unimaginable suffering. It is a decision that has an impact not only on that individual, but also on those close to them.

As a government, we have an important decision to make, and we must pay attention to the needs of the public.

Canada is a progressive society. How we see ourselves has evolved over past years and will continue to evolve. We will continue to question ourselves and reflect, while always respecting Canadians and their right to make their own choices.

Our work on reconciliation, MAID and judges has taken up much of our focus in the early months of this new mandate, but they are only a part of what is—by any definition—an ambitious agenda for the justice portfolio.

Much of the work that we intend to undertake over the course of this mandate will have lasting effects that reflect the progressive vision that Canadians chose last October.

Let me name just four changes that I hope that this Parliament will support:

First, an issue that is close to the hearts of many Canadians—our promise to ban conversion therapy. This practice is so demonstrably harmful and out of step with modern Canadian society, that many already consider it a vestige of the past.

Sadly, we know this is not the case, particularly for vulnerable young people, who face greater risk of depression and suicide following forcible efforts to “cure them” of their homosexuality.

I applaud the leadership of several cities, municipalities and provinces that have stepped up and taken action within their jurisdiction. I hope that I can count on your support as we work to stamp out this harmful practice.

Second, we intend to address gun crime through more effective firearms control policies, because all Canadians have the right to live in safety and security.

Third, we intend to respond to an increasingly digital world with measures to combat online hate. We recognize the corrosive effects that harmful online activity can increasingly have on individuals, on vulnerable groups, and on our society more broadly.

Finally, we will move forward with our commitment to establish an independent Criminal Case Review Commission. It is essential that effective mechanisms be in place to identify and respond to potential wrongful convictions, and address miscarriages of justice when they do occur. I look forward to working with stakeholders to accomplish this task.

Before I conclude, I want to say a word of gratitude to the CBA and its members.

The measures that I have spoken about today are ambitious – they are meant to transform the justice system and Canadian society more broadly.

That sort of work is impossible without the foundational work and perspectives of groups like the CBA. In that vein, I wish to offer my sincere thanks for the contributions that members of the CBA have made and continue to make.

Your efforts are very much appreciated, whether they take the form of:

  1. the CBA’s contributions to the work of the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters;
  2. or the ground-breaking report, Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act; or
  3. the ongoing support you provide to legal scholars and professionals.

I chose to follow a career in law because I believed in the power of the law and of the good it could do in people’s lives. The fact that a child of Italian immigrants could become Minister of Justice and that he could have the power to put in place transformative and progressive laws is proof of this.

As lawyers, those of us here today – and all members of the CBA – have the opportunity and the responsibility to continue to show all the good that the law can do, especially in a country like Canada.

I sincerely applaud your members’ efforts to promote fair justice systems, facilitate effective law reform, uphold equality in the legal profession and strengthen diversity.

I believe we are all working towards the same goals. Collaboration and maintaining strong relationships across Canada’s legal community is imperative to effectively transforming our justice system and advancing access to justice for all.

Thank you.

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