Government of Canada introduces legislation to improve the operation of the criminal justice system and address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic
February 8, 2022 – Ottawa – Department of Justice Canada
The Government of Canada is committed to keeping Canadians safe and making the criminal justice system more accessible, efficient and effective. This includes supporting the increased use of technology in courts across Canada.
The effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt throughout the criminal justice system, and particularly in the operation of criminal courts. The pandemic has both created and amplified challenges and limitations within the criminal justice system. Canada’s criminal courts have been adapting and modernizing to address the challenges they face, but many remain unable to operate at their pre-pandemic capacity.
Today, Senator Gold introduced proposed changes to the Criminal Code, the Identification of Criminals Act and other federal legislation to help address the challenges faced by criminal courts caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and modernize our criminal justice system now and for the future. These proposed changes are substantially the same as the ones introduced by former Bill C-23 in February 2021 by the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
The Bill proposes a number of targeted changes to the Criminal Code that would give courts increased flexibility in how they hold criminal proceedings and issue orders. These changes would not compromise public safety, or participants’ rights and freedoms, and would support greater access to justice moving forward, including for those living in remote communities.
The Bill would make changes in the following areas:
- remote appearances for accused individuals: clarify and expand the law by providing clear mechanisms to allow accused persons or offenders to appear remotely by videoconference or audioconference in most criminal proceedings, with consent, at the discretion of the court and with other appropriate safeguards
- remote participation for jury selection proceedings: allow videoconference participation by prospective jurors in the jury selection process under certain circumstances, with the consent of the parties, at the discretion of the court and with other appropriate safeguards
- use of technology for jury selection: allow for the enhanced use of technology to draw the names of prospective jurors in the jury selection process
- judicial case management rules for unrepresented persons: allow courts to make judicial case management rules that permit court personnel to deal, out of court, with administrative matters relating to proceedings with unrepresented accused persons
- telewarrant process: revise the existing telewarrant process to allow peace officers to remotely apply for a wider range of investigative orders
- fingerprinting process: allow fingerprinting under the Identification of Criminals Act to occur at a later date, particularly where previous attempts at fingerprinting were not possible due to exceptional circumstances, such as those posed by COVID-19
The Bill would also make minor technical changes to the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act that were identified during the implementation of former Bill C-75 (delays in the criminal justice system, 2019).
While in-person appearances would remain the norm, the proposed changes would clarify the availability of remote appearances in appropriate circumstances.
These proposed changes aim to ensure that both victims and accused receive fair and timely justice by allowing the system to function in a safer, more effective, efficient and flexible manner. They would also help the criminal justice system manage the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the backlog of cases. These changes are intended to help reduce the risks of further delays incurred during the pandemic and provide for increased efficiency both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the long term.
“Canadians expect that their courts will deal with criminal matters in a timely fashion. As we have seen across many institutions, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the operations of the criminal justice system. Our criminal courts have adapted admirably to the realities of the pandemic, but we have seen that some issues require law reform. The legislation introduced today will help our courts deal with the negative impacts of the pandemic, including case backlogs, and will support greater access to justice for all Canadians by facilitating an increased use of technology in the criminal justice system. These proposed changes will bring positive change to our system, now and in the future.”
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Former Bill C-75 introduced measures to reduce delays and modernize the criminal justice system. This legislation received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019 and included key components to transform the criminal justice system to make it more efficient, effective, fair and accessible for everyone.
Since March 2020, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has engaged significantly with provincial and territorial ministers on the impact of the pandemic on the criminal courts.
In addition, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada has been kept apprised of the challenges faced by courts across Canada in his role as co-chair of the Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19. The Committee was established in May 2020 to provide leadership and national-level guidance on court operations during the pandemic and in its aftermath.
For more information, media may contact:
Office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Department of Justice Canada
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