The Government of Canada is committed to keeping Canadians safe and making the criminal justice system more accessible, efficient and effective.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are 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, the Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, introduced an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make related amendments to other Acts (COVID-19 response and other measures). The legislation was informed by discussions with provincial and territorial counterparts, and would help address challenges faced throughout the criminal justice system caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has revealed the need for changes to help modernize our criminal justice system now and for the future.
The Bill proposes a number of targeted and permanent changes to the Criminal Code that would give courts 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 both during the pandemic and moving forward. More specifically, the Bill would make changes in the following areas:
- remote appearances for accused individuals: clarify the law by providing a mechanism to allow accused persons 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 jury candidates 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 jury candidates in the jury selection process
- judicial case management for unrepresented individuals: allow judicial case management rules to be developed to support unrepresented accused individuals, as opposed to only represented accused individuals
- 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 of accused persons 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 eight 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).
These proposed changes would 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 permanent 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. These provisions would also ensure that remote appearances remain an option that could be used only in appropriate circumstances, and that in-person hearings would remain the norm.
“Canadians expect that their courts will deal with criminal matters in a timely fashion so that the rights of the accused are respected and victims see justice being done. The legislative changes introduced today will address challenges faced by Canada’s criminal justice system by allowing it to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Honourable David Lametti, P.C., Q.C., M.P.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
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 informed 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.