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Kennedy and Honickman: It’s time to sever the roles of justice minister and attorney general

Commentary

Over the coming days, The Hub will publish mandate letters for the incoming cabinet ministers that set out a series of bold policy prescriptions that would cumulatively tilt Canadian politics towards a different and better future.

The best antidote to anger and frustration is aspiration and purpose. The campaign has demonstrated how urgently Canada’s body politic needs such a remedy. There’s no time to waste. It’s time to get to work.

Dear Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada:

We are honoured that you have agreed to serve Canadians as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

As you know, our government must have a both a short- and long-term orientation. Over the long term, we face many opportunities and challenges. We must confront significant socio-economic, geopolitical, cultural, and environmental issues. The justice system touches on all of these issues but, more importantly, is important to preserve the rule of law in our country. And without the rule of law, we cannot confront these issues.

Canadians have grown skeptical of the ability of government to put aside partisan differences or short-term political advantage and make the hard yet necessary choices to mitigate our long-term challenges and accentuate our opportunities. It is incumbent on us to prove to Canadians that their skepticism and doubt is unwarranted. We must rebuild their trust through our actions and choices. In particular, we must demonstrate that our justice system is accessible and upholds the rights and freedoms of Canadians. It is crucial that our justice system is and is seen to be independent from partisan politics and can redress arbitrary exercises of state and private power.

Our government must live up to the highest ethical standards, including openness, honesty, and accountability. We expect you to reflect these values in your work. It is critical that we honour Canadians’ trust in us and the history and dignity of the institutions and roles that we occupy.

Our immediate policy priorities flow from the best ideas and are rooted in evidence. They also share a common theme: each is designed to uphold and preserve the rule of law and thus fortify Canadians’ rights and freedoms. As the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, we would ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following key priorities:

  • Establish an efficient process to sever the roles of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. This recognizes that the latter role requires both a commitment to upholding the rule of law and a detachment from political partisanship, which are often in tension with the practical realities of being a cabinet minister.
  • In light of the foregoing, and with the future Attorney General (assuming you will continue to be Minister of Justice), establish protocols to ensure greater transparency within your Ministry. Following the old maxim that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done, these protocols would ensure that the rule of law is not only complied with in government, but is seen to be complied with.
  • Conduct a thorough review of the Criminal Code to identify provisions that can be repealed, either because they are superfluous (meaning they criminalize the same conduct already criminalized elsewhere in the Criminal Code) or are otherwise not aligned with modern Canadian values.
  • As part of this review, note all provisions that prescribe mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment, and critically assess whether they should be repealed and/or reduced. While parity in sentencing is crucial to ensure our justice system is perceived as fair and one’s fate is not dependent on the identity of a sentencing judge, lengthy terms of imprisonment are of dubious deterrent value (especially when compared to likelihood of enforcement) and cause significant financial, social, and personal cost.
  • As part of a clarification of the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to uphold the rule of law and ensure greater predictability, amend the Federal Courts Act to prescribe a default “standard of review” of correctness for administrative actors’ determinations on questions of law, which would only yield in the face of specific legislation to the contrary.
  • Investigate the efficiency, or lack thereof, of the processes of various administrative tribunals, to learn best practices and develop legislative and/or regulatory changes to facilitate efficiency while ensuring procedural fairness.
  • Work with provinces to ensure access to justice more generally, including through the appointment of additional judges to provincial superior courts and/or courts of appeal, in particular when doing so is necessary to help provinces amend the jurisdiction of courts to facilitate access to justice.
  • Introduce legislation to ensure promptness in judicial discipline decisions, with such decisions being judicially reviewable in the Federal Court of Appeal.

We know we can count on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to deliver a different and better future rooted in prosperity and opportunity for all Canadians.

Karen Restoule: The first priority for Indigenous services is to secure clean drinking water

Commentary

Over the coming days, The Hub will publish mandate letters for the incoming cabinet ministers that set out a series of bold policy prescriptions that would cumulatively tilt Canadian politics towards a different and better future.

The best antidote to anger and frustration is aspiration and purpose. The campaign has demonstrated how urgently Canada’s body politic needs such a remedy. There’s no time to waste. It’s time to get to work.

Dear Minister of Indigenous Services

Thank you for continuing to serve the Canadians as Minister of Indigenous Services.

As you know, the country continues to navigate through the most serious public health crisis of our time. The pandemic has had serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of all and revealed inequities in our society. The circumstances call for a new approach.

The time is now for our government to lay a new and clear the path forward to recovery and prosperity for Canadian families and businesses. The priorities that will pave our road forward to a brighter future: strong body, strong economy, strong mind, strong country. Ensuring vaccinations are secured for every citizen across the country will allow businesses to re-open, resulting in renewed job satisfaction thereby strengthening mental health and boosting our collective economic strength. These priorities will be essential to ensuring that we are fully equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

We are not only required to govern to meet the challenges of every day, but we must also work in a way that prepares us to overcome 20th century realities including climate change, shifting labour market, an aging demographic, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, among others. These will only be overcome if we continue by working in an open and collaborative way with all levels of government and most importantly, with the Canadian people.

During these times, we are reminded of our strength that is rooted deep into who we are as citizens of the North — hearty, resilient, strong. These, along with our adaptability and agility, will be key to overcoming the challenges ahead of us.

I know that I can count on you to fulfill the important responsibilities in your role as Minister, and that you will do so in a way that upholds the integrity of government ensuring that you are guided by the values of openness, efficiency, and accountability.

As the Minister of Indigenous Services, I ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following:

  • Secure clean drinking water for all Indigenous communities by eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories and supporting partnerships with regional governments to develop sustainable water systems.
  • Address the mental health crisis among Indigenous peoples as a result of intergenerational trauma by supporting the implementation of Indigenous mental health and wellness strategies, led by Indigenous communities and Indigenous mental health and wellness organizations in both rural and urban settings.
  • Tackle the rental housing and home ownership crisis within both Indigenous rural and urban communities by partnering with Indigenous communities and housing organizations to develop and implement a housing strategy.
  • End hunger and support Indigenous food sovereignty by partnering with Indigenous communities to develop a sustainability strategy that ensures access to affordable, nutrient-dense, and culturally-appropriate foods.
  • Work with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations to redesign the fiscal relationship so it ensures that Indigenous communities are afforded the same standard services (ie. water, health, housing, education, etc.) enjoyed by non-Indigenous communities and citizens across the country – and – allows for these funds to be managed and distributed by Indigenous governments.

I am counting on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to build the path to a stronger and more prosperous future for all Canadians.


Dear Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

Thank you for continuing to serve the Canadians as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations.

As you know, the country continues to navigate through the most serious public health crisis of our time. The pandemic has had serious impacts on the lives and livelihoods of all and revealed inequities in our society. The circumstances call for a new approach.

The time is now for our government to lay a new and clear the path forward to recovery and prosperity for Canadian families and businesses. The priorities that will pave our road forward to a brighter future: strong body, strong economy, strong mind, strong country. Ensuring vaccinations are secured for every citizen across the country will allow businesses to re-open, resulting in renewed job satisfaction thereby strengthening mental health and boosting our collective economic strength. These priorities will be essential to ensuring that we are fully equipped to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

We are not only required to govern to meet the challenges of every day, but we must also work in a way that prepares us to overcome 20th century realities including climate change, shifting labour market, an aging demographic, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, among others. These will only be overcome if we continue by working in an open and collaborative way with all levels of government and most importantly, with the Canadian people.

During these times, we are reminded of our strength that is rooted deep into who we are as citizens of the North – hearty, resilient, strong. These, along with our adaptability and agility, will be key to overcoming the challenges ahead of us.

I know that I can count on you to fulfill the important responsibilities in your role as Minister, and that you will do so in a way that upholds the integrity of government ensuring that you are guided by the values of openness, efficiency, and accountability.

As the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, I ask that you work with your colleagues to deliver on the following:

  • Take immediate action to reconcile past injustices perpetrated by the government of Canada against Indigenous children and families by working with Indigenous survivors, families of the children who never returned home, and communities to develop a strategy to implement the TRC Calls-to-Action #71 through #76, and provide the funding required to support this plan.
  • Support a non-partisan approach to addressing inequities experienced by Indigenous peoples and ensure government accountability for reconciling the Crown-Indigenous relationship by implementing TRC Calls-to-Action #53 through #56, which includes the establishment of the National Council for Reconciliation with the mandate to monitor, evaluate, and report annually to Parliament and the citizens of Canada on the government’s progress on reconciliation.
  • Honour Indigenous autonomy and self-government by working with Indigenous communities to develop a mechanism by which signatories to Treaties that are deemed “historic” (before 1975, roughly) can engage in negotiations with government with the goal to uphold the modern applicability of the Treaty. Explore the possibility of building on the mandate of the Specific Claims Tribunal and/or creating a new body that adopts a more culturally appropriate dispute resolution system, like New Zealand’s Waitangi Tribunal, to support these efforts.
  • Work with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Indigenous Services to redesign the fiscal relationship with those Indigenous communities who are not signatory to modern Treaties in a way that ensures Indigenous communities are afforded the same standard services (ie. water, health, housing, education, etc.) enjoyed by non-Indigenous communities and citizens across the country – and – allows for these funds to be managed and distributed by Indigenous governments.
  • Support Indigenous prosperity and independence by creating the Canadian Indigenous Opportunities Corporation to guarantee loans to Indigenous communities and groups to make investments and participate in resource and energy sector projects.

I am counting on you to fulfill these responsibilities and help to build the path to a stronger and more prosperous future for all Canadians.