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Minister Wilson-Raybould Addresses Students at The University of British Columbia

 Transcript

Thank you very much. Gilakas'la

Good morning, certainly it is an honor to be here, and to be here and to see so many people gathered on Musqueam territory. I would of course like to thank elder Grant for the welcome to the Coast Salish territory and specifically the Musqueam.

I feel really good today, the sun came out. I think coming to UBC or maybe it was the triathalon is happening today, but I wanted to certainly acknowledge Dr. Martha Piper for that incredible welcome and acknowledgement of what a great institution this is and celebrating the hundred years and welcoming me back here and to Gordon Christie for that kind introduction.

I am of course, again, pleased to be here and certainly acknowledge all of the leaders that are in the room, acknowledge my provincial colleague, the minister for British Columbia Suzanne Anton, and certainly wanted to acknowledge all of the students that are here and all of the memebers who live in and around Vancouver. As was said, UBC is my alma mater. I myself and my sister went to law school, we graduated in 1999. That seems like a long time ago, 16 years ago I guess is a bit of a long time ago, and before us my father he graduated from UBC law school in 1973. Last time I was at UBC was actually after I graduated. I graduated in what they call the bunker at the time. It was a concrete building where trees grew through the windows and the cement but I received a tremendous education at the university and it certainly has served me well in the work that I've done.

A lot has happened since I was last here during the campaign speaking to law students and I appreciate the opportunity to come here to speak about what our government is doing and to speak about some of my priorities in my role. Still a very relatively new role as the minister of Justice and the attorney general of Canada, of course it was a great privilege for me to be elected as the first Member of Parliament in the great new riding of Vancouver-Granville and I was equally honoured to have been asked by Prime Minister Trudeau to be the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. And the appointment that I think speaks volumes about how far we've come as a country as well as the important work that lies ahead. As I've said elsewhere this appointment is certainly for me a personal accomplishment but I view it not so much a reflection on myself as personally but rather the symbolism of what the appointment itself represents that in a nation where an Indigenous person - who not so long ago could not vote, let alone run for office, or practice as a lawyer - a person against whom the law discriminated and, to a certain degree, still does, who fought for years against the law - is now the principal lawyer in charge of administering that law and advising its government on behalf of that very nation. It takes a moment to sink in. Sometimes it's still sinking in.

So it's on this thought that I wanted to acknowledge this beautiful hall that we're in, Jack Poole Hall. I think that Mr. Poole, and I know there are people in this room that knew him better than I did, would have been delighted that I am speaking here today in my new capacity. He was a man who clearly understood the need for reconciliation, with indigenous peoples and who's efforts with the four host first nations during the 2010 Olympics was exemplary.

As Minister of Justice and Attorney General I am the steward of the Canadian justice system and while I can think of no greater honour I am also equally truck by the gravity of the responsibility and accountability entrusted to me, but also the great opportunity. Opportunities can that can only be realized through and with focus hard work and cooperation with others.

For those of you who know me, I have been an advocate for change for most of my life. My upbringing, education, professional and personal experiences have all helped shaped my worldview and the way that I work, as well as the perspective and the way that I approach my role as Minister.

In the Indigenous system in which I was raised, it is in the big-house where our laws are made and important decisions taken. In this system, there are no political parties -- rather, there is an idea of consensus. The issues are debated and while everyone may not agree with every aspect of the decision to be taken, and consensus and if necessary compromise is sought in order to achieve balance in society. It helps ensure that decisions are durable and survive the test of time. Maybe this is because we lived in small villages and people simply did not leave but I like to think it is because we value everyone's opinion and every voice counts, not just the few.

This system, truth be told, contrasts sharply with the partisan nature of the environment in which I am now a part. For me I don't think I will ever get used to the type of politics or etiquette in the House of Commons, particularly during question period. It is here where partisan politics seems to be the order of the day and certainly works against the idea of achieving consensus.

That said, I truly believe that most parliamentarians want to work together, when we work with a common purpose and vision, we can achieve amazing things.

As Canadians definitely want politicians of all stripes to work together with less partisanship, not just in parliament but between and among different levels of government. This is something that has been made very clear to me during the 11 week election campaign and this is why the first minister's meeting here in Vancouver this week I believe was so significant. Not just because the first ministers reached consensus on moving forward on studying carbon pricing mechanisms but rather because of the fact that they met at all. The first time a prime minister has met with first ministers in over 7 years.

The clear message being that we cannot build Canada unless we work together, a message that is broadened when we hear and consider multiple voices.

This idea lies at the core of our Prime Minister's vision and what our government wants to accomplish, as well as my own personal vision - namely as Canadians we must continue to embrace and build on the incredible diversity that is Canada. And in doing so will make us stronger economically, but more importantly socially, as a beacon of hope in an otherwise divided and troubled world. I know we can do even better as a country. And how can we do better? Since forming government, our team is self-diverse has begun to re-examine what we do, why we do it and how we measure success. We are identifying what is working, what is not working, and how we can change for the better. Not simply change, for change sake.

For a start, we are broadening the concept of success beyond economic wealth to include physical and social well-being, equality and fairness. And in measuring this we are looking to ensure that all Canadians share in this success. This is very important.

If a strong economy disproportionately benefits the few, you cannot say that this is a just society. Moreover, you also sow the seeds of discontent. A strong economy must always be seen as a means to an end, and not the end in itself. The end being a higher quality of life for all.

In terms of specific priorities and meeting a vision for a more inclusive Canada, my priorities and those of our government have been shared publically through the posting of ministers' mandate letters from the Prime Minister, the first in Canada's history that federal ministers' mandate letters have been made public. This is an act that reflects our government's general approach to relationships with Canadians as with other levels of government and within government, that being more open and transparent.

To aid in these efforts, my office is also looking to be more at ways to be more open and transparent, as well as effective efficient. And to me these concepts are inseparable. In fact, it is very clear to me that Canadians want to be more engaged in how their nation is governed and discuss substantive policy issues with decision-makers on the very matters that concern and issues affect them. I believe that working with Canadians to better inform Cabinet and to better inform parliament enriches us all and better policy is achieved. So, all across government, both externally and internally we have started to consult and to listen more. And people should not confuse time needed for consultation and reflection with inaction or indecisiveness, quite the contrary. This is what governing in the modern era demands. People can participate in many different ways. Also with access to more information they can see how decisions are arrived at and judge for themselves are the decisions that are being made reflect one's values. They can also consider what they would have done in the same situation and with the same information.

So, in my mandate letter I am tasked to ensure that all decisions made by our government and proposed legislation are compliant with and guided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our commitments and our values as Canadians. In Canada, as we know, the primary legal expression of our respect for diversity is through the Charter where regardless of faith, gender, sexual orientation, or race all people are able to see themselves reflected in their constitution. Knowing that you work hard, and abide by the rule of law, you will have every opportunity to succeed, confident in the knowledge that your institutions of good governance will protect and support you. In many ways I see my role as being the ambassador of the charter.

In my mandate letter where it also directs me to review Canada's litigation strategy. And as part of this review I have already either discontinued appeals or am reconsidering the crown's position in others. We have taken action on several cases, including our government's duty to provide health care to refugees, the right to wear the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, collective bargaining with public sector unions, abandoning the appeal of the decision to grant Omar Khadr's bail and the decision not to appeal the Canadian Human Right's tribunal decision respecting discrimination in indigenous child welfare.

I am also mandated to undertake a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, including sentencing reform of the past ten years. No small task. Our society has clearly evolved in recent decades. The issues facing Canada now differ greatly from the issues we faced five or ten years ago. As a result we need to find new and better approaches to address these emerging issues effectively.

So I'll now turn to two issues that are dominating headlines: the legalization of marijuana, and medical assistance in dying. As you are probably aware, our government has committed to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana in a careful and orderly way. And, in accordance with our approach to inclusivity, we will take the time necessary to get this right. In the coming months, our government will be establishing a provincial- federal task force that will hear from experts in the field and recommend a made-in-Canada approach. I will be working with my parliamentary secretary, Mr. Bill Blair, supported by the ministers of health and public safety to design a system of strict regulation with strong sanctions that keep marijuana out of the hands of children and the profits out of the hands of criminals.

Next, medical assistance in dying. Another highly complex social and legal issue. One that we must address in a timely manner due to the imposed time frame of the court. Much has changed since Sue Rodriguez's case in the mid 1990's, the Supreme Court of Canada has spoken in the Kay Carter and the Gloria Taylor case. And while there will never be full agreement on these issues or the issues involved, we must strive to achieve consensus on the response that we will present to Parliament in the coming months. While we did get a four-month extension from the court imposed deadline, we must - and are - working diligently to have a solution in place by June 6th.

Despite the time crunch we have made good progress. Last year both federal and provincial external panels of experts gathered evidence and listened to the views of a broad range of Canadians and international experts. Late last month, the Special Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying, released its recommendations. This is a Parliamentary committee made up of Members of Parliament and Senators that heard over 60 stakeholders, witnesses, and received submissions from thousands of Canadians. Now, the minister of health and I are working with our caucus, our officials, and our Parliamentary colleagues to design an effective solution.

There are so many questions that need to be answered: What type of regime would best serve Canadians? How do we protect the autonomy of Canadians to make decisions about their bodies, while also safeguarding the most vulnerable among us? How can we ensure access from coast to coast to coast, while also protecting the conscience rights of medical practitioners? What kind of partnership can be forged with the provinces and territories, as well as with other stakeholders?

Clearly the best way to answer these questions is through careful and open collaboration among people with differing views. By looking at those best places to help us work through these issues by making relevant information readily available to Canadians and reporting on progress. We can create the environment that will position us to best achieve the best possible solution for Canada on this incredibly sensitive issue.

Moving to another issue briefly, one which I am asked about quite regularly: how are we going to find the right balance between security and personal freedoms. This, of course, was a hot issue during the last election and continues to be as we consider then Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act. This is very much on our government's radar. Currently, I am working with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale, to review the problematic parts of the Bill C-51, while providing the proper oversight and accountability. We will hold meaningful consultations on our national security framework where the objective is to ensure the safety of Canadians, while protecting our rights and freedoms, to find the right balance.

So perhaps, however, the most challenging area of public policy our government seeks to address - but also necessary and long overdue - is reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Building the nation-to-nation relationship lies at the heart of a strong Canada and a task all Ministers, in our respective ministeries and mandate letters, have been given. We need to find long-term solutions to decades-old problems as we deconstruct the colonial legacy and develop, in full partnership with indigenous peoples, a new framework for reconciliation based on recognition. With our government there is now the political will and direction to make this a reality.

Moving forward, one of the biggest legal questions we need to unpack is how do we implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in particular the concept of free, prior and informed consent. This declaration recognizes that Indigenous peoples have both individual and collective rights. It was in face drafted with the participation of many of the rights holders themselves, some of who are in this room. Participation and real decision making is at the heart of the declaration's concept of free, prior and informed consent - that Indigenous peoples must be able to participate in making decisions about matters that affect their own lives.

There are many facets to the question, differing perspectives and a number of options. All require a new relationship. Rooted in section 35, and reflected our unique Constitutional requirements and our evolving federalism as shaped by the courts.

This work will not be easy, not from any side or perspective. But anything worthwhile rarely is easy. The work will need to survive long beyond the life of one government and will require a high degree of non-partisan consensus. While my good friend and colleague Minister Bennett has the primary role to play in this work of reconciliation, it is clearly an important role for all Departments, and particularly my own. For example, Canada is currently a party to more than 45,000 lawsuits, of which over 10 percent directly address Indigenous issues, many of these are here in British Columbia. These cases touch on all levels of government and numerous areas of jurisdiction, be it land management, child welfare, or the environment. These cases pose important questions about how we see ourselves as a society and a constitutional democracy. The crown's position in these cases does affect the pace at which reconciliation can occur.

Accordingly, as part of my mandate to review our litigation strategy, I have instructed my officials to seek additional time on a number of key Indigenous cases so the Crown can reassess its position.

Move beyond litigation, it is also critical that we do not simply make adjustments to the broken Indian Act system of federal administration. Instead, we must look holistically at the actions that have led us to this point and based on recognition develop new mechanisms to support Indigenous groups when they are ready, willing and able to self-governing.

While we cannot change history, we can learn from it, move forward, and lay the foundation for a better future. We must ensure that Indigenous peoples are able to realize their full potential, to contribute fully to their communities, to the economy, and to society as a whole.

For me, one of the best ways to understand this change and to support this transition is to honestly confront and fully resolve the ongoing national tragedy of the murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

Many of the women are certainly victims of crime, but the issues extend well beyond our criminal justice system. For too long, Indigenous women and girls have been - and remain - one of the most vulnerable groups in society. And surely a critical measure of a just society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.

Our government has now held pre-inquiry meetings across Canada with survivors, family members and loved ones of victims, as well as with representatives from provincial and territorial governments.

The work is now informing the design and scope of the inquiry, as well as the actions that follow, and those that we can continue to do right now. What I can tell you is that the inquiry must provide a measure of justice to the families and honour the lives of the murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. Further, it will examine the systemic barriers that exist within our institutions while looking at the root causes and why the situation exists the first place.

As we move toward the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the 35th anniversary of the Charter, there can be no better way to celebrate the spirit of these important milestones than by reconciling with Indigenous peoples and working to complete the unfinished business of Confederation. We can and will redefine the relationship in a fundamental way. Indeed, the way we address Indigenous issues in this country, I am sure, will be one of the lasting legacies of our government.

Finally, and relatedly, I want to turn to the criminal justice reforms that we are trying to achieve. As I mentioned earlier, these will be part of an overall re-examination of the criminal justice system, which must be based on evidence and principle.

In this context, there are three areas that we need to examine.

The first is that our current criminal justice system disproportionately affects the most vulnerable segments of our population. For example, and as we all probably read in Maclean's, we know that Indigenous peoples interact with the criminal justice system in shockingly high numbers.

Indigenous people are far more likely than other Canadians to be arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated. Last year, Indigenous peoples comprised more than 20 percent of the federal inmate population, despite the fact that they make up only 4 percent of Canada's population.

And the numbers keep getting worse. The number of Indigenous people behind bars has increased by 17 percent in the last five years - up 112 percent for women. According to the last figures available, more than 36 percent of adult women sentenced to custody in this country, were Indigenous. Clearly, the number is nine times too high.

As a former Crown prosecutor, the story is all too familiar. A young person-all too often an Indigenous male-commits a non-violent property crime, comes into contact with the justice system and never leaves. He gets caught in a vicious cycle of court appearances, court orders, breaches of court orders and returns to custody. So the young person is spending more time behind bars than in his community, and has little hope of breaking the cycle.

To be clear, an examination of our criminal justice system must not focus solely on how we treat Indigenous peoples. The truth is that many offenders have some combination of mental illness and addiction; up to 80 percent of all federal offenders have past or present substance-abuse issues. Some studies indicate that two-thirds of all crimes are committed while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

So let's imagine a Canada in which the justice system better aligns with the needs of all Canadians. What if an offender's first interaction with the criminal justice system did not become the first in a series? What if it triggered mechanisms designed to address the factors that inspired the criminal behavior in the first place? What if we intentionally and deliberately built off-ramps to the system so that an individual's first interaction with the justice system gave them avenues to pursue to ensure that it was also their last?

Clearly, we need innovative solutions, and minister there are innovative solutions. One of these is to consider greater use of restorative justice measures, and other alternative measures to incarceration, where appropriate, such as sentencing circles. These measures seek to make both the victim and the offender active participants in the journey for justice. It emphasizes repairing the relationship between the victim and the offender. Victims have a powerful voice and this process allows them to heal, while still focusing on the offender taking important accountability for their actions.

These measures are proven effective. In 2011 a Department of Justice report that found that Indigenous people who completed a community-based alternative to mainstream justice were significantly less likely to re-offend than those who did not take the program.

Another innovative way to break the cycle may be through specialized courts, including First Nations Courts, community courts, and drug treatment courts.

Community courts use case management to help offenders make long-term behavioural changes. Here in Vancouver, the Downtown Community Court hears a wide variety of cases, except for those most serious, and tailors the sentence to the offender and the offence.

Courts like the Drug Treatment Courts, also here in Vancouver, integrate justice, health and social service agencies in an attempt to modify the offender's behaviour. A study of this court showed that the risk of re-offending among participants was reduced by more than fifty percent.

Restorative justice measures like restorative justice programs and specialized courts are more collaborative and inclusive, more culturally relevant and more likely to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Moreover, because they look at solving the problem that caused the behaviour in the first place, rather than just punishment, they can give offenders a way out of the system, where appropriate.

The second area to closely examine is what we define as a criminal offence. While remaining vigilant about those truly serious offences, to ensure that resources are dedicated to the right things. Our system continues to be bogged down by cases involving relatively minor non-violent conduct and administration-of-justice offences, often committed by a group of prolific offenders whose criminal conduct is driven by particular factors such as addictions or health and social problems. How the criminal justice system responds to this conduct requires careful consideration.

This work could include looking at how we treat as criminal or, for example, how we respond from a sentencing perspective. It also should look at the important role discretion plays in the criminal justice system.

Currently, the justice system devotes most of its resources to administration-of-justice offences, such as the failure to appear in court or breach of parole. In 2009, these cases accounted for 21 percent of all cases and cost taxpayers an estimated $729 million. And most involve chronic offenders caught up in the vicious cycle I spoke about earlier. Clearly this is not a good situation.

Only through careful examination of what we classify as a criminal offence can we recalibrate our efforts and resources of the justice system to address serious crimes. This could have the greatest impact and produce the greatest results for Canadians in reforming our justice system.

And the third and final area to reflect on is the rate at which the world is changing. The criminal justice system must keep pace with this change in order to meet the needs of our society.

For example, technology has created new opportunities for criminals. Statistics suggest that cybercrime is increasing in Canada. Between 2011 and 2013, the RCMP saw the reported incidents of cybercrime increase by more than 40 percent. And, incredibly, 1.75 million Canadians reported that they had been cyber-bullied, but only seven percent of victims reported the incident to police.

Issues like cybercrime, cyber-fraud, online crimes against children and minors, and the protection of online privacy have never before been more prevalent. Our justice system must address these new issues and be able to react quickly while remaining true to Canadian values.

Before I close, let me say this. Our constantly evolving society is underpinned by our justice system. The common and civil law must continue to reflect our values and they must keep pace with our society as it advances, so too must the laws enacted by parliament and other law making bodies. We must have a living system of multi-level governance and cooperative federalism, alongside an independent judiciary.

Canada's continued success absolutely depends on including multiple voices in the conversation we have about the type of country we want, increasingly involving those who may not have been part of the conversation before. I am convinced that their involvement will lead to richer outcomes - informed outcomes, informed by a diversity of perspectives. This is how we must forge solutions and build a stronger Canada.

As I said, I am truly honoured to be the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada at this incredibly important period in our history, and I look forward to giving back to our country through public service. In terms of public service, and I, looking at Mr. Basrin, our regional director general of British Columbia, I am grateful to the thousands of public servants in my department. Their work not only supports me in my role, but also more importantly it also protects the integrity of the justice system, which protects our way of life.

I have great aspirations for this country. I know that this country has not met its full potential and is still a work in progress. And while I am seized with the urgency to act quickly and to deliver meaningful results for Canadians today, we must ensure that we get it right. Working together we can, and will, make a difference.

Gilakas'la. Thank you for having me here today.