Notes for an address by
The Honourable David Lametti
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
National Arts Centre
February 11, 2019
Check against delivery
(Acknowledgments of Raymond Adlington, CBA President, others, as appropriate…)
Thank you so much for your kind introduction and warm welcome.
I would like to acknowledge the Algonquin People on whose traditional lands we are gathering today.
Before I begin, I want to thank you for the opportunity to join you here today. The Canadian Bar Association plays such an important role in supporting Canada’s legal community and driving the change that is needed in our profession to meet the needs of our society.
Indeed, I have a personal debt of gratitude to the Canadian Bar Association because in 1991 you named me as your Viscount Bennett Fellow and that is one of the ways in which I could afford to do doctoral studies at Oxford University.
I want to salute the work of Stephen Hansen over the years. I know he’s not with us today but thank you to Stephen for all the work that he put into that committee and thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me, in this great country, to be able to pursue a legal education. That allowed me then, I hope, to make a positive contribution both as a university professor, academic and lawyer and now as an elected official and Minister of Justice.
I’d like to take a moment to tell you a bit about who I am, what I believe in, and what the Government has done and will continue to do in the areas now under my responsibility.
It is an honour to serve as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada – a position I take on with both humility and pride.
I was born and raised in Port Colborne, Ontario. I am the son of immigrants who came to Canada after the Second World War. My parents, as is evident from my last name, came from Italy. Their story was one of generational sacrifice: they sacrificed so that their children could have better lives than theirs.
Their example of hard work, the importance of education, values of inclusion and kindness, instilled in me the belief that there was no contradiction between being a good person and being a successful one.
I left home to go to the University of Toronto. I remember the long hours at the library and the knee injuries on the football field that leave me less than nimble today, but as I look back now I realize that one of the most defining periods came for me in 1982 when Pierre Trudeau and his Liberal government patriated the constitution. I remember watching the ceremony on Parliament Hill and thinking that our country had accomplished a great thing and was moving into a new era.
We all come to the law in our own way. For me, I realized as an undergraduate that I wanted to be a lawyer. After I finished at U of T, I made the trip down the 401 to the law school at McGill.
It was through McGill and, as a clerk at the Supreme Court immediately after, that I met two of my life’s mentors: Rod MacDonald, who was president of the Law Commission of Canada and Dean of the McGill law school, and Justice Peter Cory, for whom I served as a clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Both of these outstanding men were role models to me. They firmly believed in the importance of ethics and fairness in our justice system.
The combination of all of these experiences did more than just foster a passion for the law; they reinforced the importance for me of living in a country where we as Canadians can pursue our own version of the good life in all the many forms that takes.
I am someone who entered into politics in 2015 because I believe in the core Canadian values that are reflected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our independent courts. I believe now, as I did then, that you cannot take anything for granted. There are forces in the world that would seek to undermine values we hold dear, and as Canadians we must actively work to ensure that these values continue to thrive.
Over the past four years, those are precisely the kinds of values and principles that Justin Trudeau and the Government have fought for. We have provided progressive, forward-looking Government that has not been afraid to embrace transformational change. The accomplishments of the Department of Justice, under the leadership of the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, are a case in point.
We passed legislation to create a legal framework for medical assistance in dying, in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter. This issue is complex, emotional and deeply personal. Our legislation struck a balance between giving autonomy to those who seek medically assisted dying, and protecting the vulnerable.
As well, the Government passed legislation to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis. The sky did not fall. Legalization embodies an acceptance of Canada as it is now. If there is any one initiative that defines transformational change, cannabis legalization is it.
Hand-in-hand with legalization was legislation to modernize Canada’s impaired driving laws. Those changes were the most significant since the late-1960s. They will make our roads safer and save lives.
We updated the law of sexual assault for the first time in a generation in keeping with our commitment to ensure survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence are treated with compassion and respect. Those changes clarify and strengthen the law related to consent, admissibility of evidence and legal representation for a survivor who brings forward a complaint.
For the first time in decades, we made significant updates to family laws to ensure they are squarely focused on promoting the best interests of the child. Bill C-78 was approved by the House of Commons last week and it will soon be the subject of debate in the Senate. I will do everything in my power to support the adoption of this bill. I feel the same way about C-75, our bold reforms to the criminal justice system designed to address court delays. This important legislation is also before the Senate, and I am looking forward to seeing it debated and passed.
There are other legislative changes that speak to our values.
We believe that Canadians should be free to be who they are. That inspired the Government to pass ground-breaking legislation that adds gender identity and expression as a prohibited ground for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This same legislation also added gender identity and expression to thelist of distinguishing characteristics of an “identifiable group” protected by the hate speech provisions of the Criminal Code.
And as a Montréaler by way of Ontario, I wanted to highlight one initiative which matters a great deal to me.
Our Government restored the Court Challenges Program, that had been cancelled[j1] .
We are not just working to transform and modernize our laws, we now have a process for appointing judges that is transparent, inclusive and accountable to Canadians.
At the superior court level, more than 250 judges have been appointed across Canada since November, 2015. And these experienced jurists represent the diversity that strengthens Canada. Of these judges, 55 percent are women, eight are Indigenous, 22 are members of visible minority communities, 12 self-identified as LGBTQ2S (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit) and three self-identified with disabilities.
These appointments underline our Government’s commitment to reshape the bench to better reflect Canada as it is today.
Canada as it is today is a great country. But for Indigenous Peoples, Canada as it is today needs work. A lot of it.
The Government is committed to fundamentally transforming its relationship with Indigenous Peoples.
Justice Canada, under the leadership of Minister Wilson-Raybould, has taken important steps to contribute to renewed Crown-Indigenous relationships based on rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. These include releasing the Principles Respecting the Government of Canada’s Relationship with Indigenous Peoples and the Attorney General’s Directive on Civil Litigation Involving Indigenous Peoples.
It is a source of national shame that Indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, both as victims and offenders.
The statistics are appalling. The rate of violent victimization among Indigenous people in Canada is more than double that of non-Indigenous people.
The overall rate of violent victimization among Indigenous women is close to triple that of non-Indigenous women.
These figures, and the tragic reality they illustrate, are unacceptable and must change.
In practical terms, for my part that means continuing to work with our Indigenous partners on bail reform which is addressed in C-75, the administration of justice and restorative justice measures to ensure our system is fair.
These are critical steps in transforming how Indigenous Peoples experience the criminal justice system.
There has been a great deal of commentary recently about the role of the Attorney General, one of the two roles I perform as a member of cabinet in addition to Minister of Justice.
I am not going to comment on any issues currently in the news, but I do want to say this.
It is important to remember that while the Attorney General sits at a certain distance from his cabinet colleagues, in Canada, unlike in other countries, he does not work in isolation from them or the important experiences or considerations those colleagues bring to the table. These discussions can improve the quality of decision making.
But there is a line that cannot be crossed: telling the Attorney General what a decision ought to be. That would be interference.
At the end of the day, I abide by the longstanding principle, that when acting as Attorney General, I will apply my judicial mind to a decision, and not my political mind.
I am fortunate to work with a professional and dedicated team of public servants who share our passion for the law and meaningful policies.
And we are all fortunate to live in a country where respect for the law and recognition of its role in democracy is so engrained. I will strive to reflect the values we all embrace – inclusion, honesty, hard work, accountability, and generosity of spirit.
I also pledge to work in partnership with important stakeholders like the CBA. Your proud legal traditions are a source of inspiration.
I applaud your members for your efforts to promote fair justice systems, facilitate effective law reform, uphold equality in the legal profession and eliminate discrimination.
Our agendas are clearly complementary. Collaborating with Canada’s legal community, I am confident that we can continue the necessary transformation of our justice system. In so doing, we will increase Canadian’s confidence in it and, most important, ensure that it serves them well.
Thank you. Meegwetch