Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Justice System Staggering under Weight of Federal Reforms: Bar Association

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Justice System Staggering under Weight of Federal Reforms: Bar Association

Article excerpt

Justice system squeezed by reforms: CBA

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VANCOUVER - Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson dodged a call Monday from the Canadian Bar Association demanding a review of federal legal-aid funding to ensure money for defence is keeping up with the pace of federal justice reforms.

Members of the association's national council maintain federal tough-on-crime legislation will mean more trials and more jail time for more accused in an already strained justice system. The council passed a resolution over the weekend urging Ottawa for the review.

But Nicholson said his government has increased funding for legal aid.

"I know that over the years that I've been justice minister we've boosted the annual amount from $81 (million) to $111 million per year. There's a total commitment of $560 million to the legal-aid system," Nicholson told hundreds of lawyers attending the association's annual conference in Vancouver.

"We've maintained our funding levels even in this time of restraint."

And he defended his government's justice reforms, saying the changes they've made help the victims of crime while targeting perpetrators.

"Ours has been a balanced approach with respect to these measures," Nicholson said in response to questions from association members.

Dan MacRury, chairman of the national council's criminal justice section, said the Conservative reforms are increasing demand on a system that was already taxed.

"It's clear that the new laws are going to put an increased demand on all the players in the criminal justice system," MacRury said in an interview.

"There really does need to be a national review of the federal commitment to funding to ensure that it's adequate to maintain fair trial rights for the accused."

The funding that has gone into justice has gone to Crown prosecutions to equip police forces and to build more jails, MacRury said.

The Harper government has estimated that 18 of the measures included in its sweeping justice reforms would cost about $631 million in total.

A report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer earlier this year found that the changes in conditional sentencing provisions alone contained in Bill C-10, which eliminates conditional sentencing and house arrest for serious and violent crimes, would cost the federal government an additional $8 million for additional parole reviews and criminal prosecutions. …

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