Exclusive with Canada’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson
The essential backbone that keeps modern civilizations “civil” is the implementation and continued enforcement of the laws governing a country or territory. It could easily be argued that without a proper legal and justice system, mankind would revert back to the chaotic lawlessness and archaic mannerisms of days gone by.
Adding to our ever-changing world is the fact technology is constantly evolving, bringing with it both good and nefarious schemes. New technology means innovative ways to track down the bad guys, but it also can be used for bad reasons as well.
The man in charge of our national legal and justice system and who sets the agenda and brings forth legal legislation to protect Canadians is Attorney General and Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson.
Nicholson, who turned 60 on April 29, has been a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls, Ont. and has the most political experience of any minister in the Harper Conservative government. Prior to moving to the federal spectrum, Nicholson had practiced law and was previously involved in municipal politics. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1984 at the age of 32 while serving in the Mulroney government. Over the years, Nicholson has served in an assortment of positions including Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and Minister for Science and Small Businesses. He was appointed Chief Opposition Whip in January 2005 when the Liberals formed the government.
In early 2006, Nicholson was appointed Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In January of the following year, he was named Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the all-important dual role he holds to this day.
Nicholson has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. and a law degree from the University of Windsor. He was called to the bar in 1979 and is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He was appointed federal Queen’s Counsel in 1992. Nicholson is married to wife Arlene; they have two adult sons and a daughter.
As the head lawmaker in the country leading the Federal Department of Justice, Nicholson has a lot on his plate. While the mandate is to improve and enforce all laws and ensure that justice prevails, it was during a recent exclusive interview with The Canadian Business Journal where it became quite evident that he feels the need for added concentration must be focused on crimes involving child victims. Furthermore, he remains staunchly committed to funding for Child Advocacy centres across the nation. These agencies bring together police, child welfare agencies, victim services, health authorities and mental health professionals to serve young victims of crime.
“Our Government is committed to providing victims – especially children – with the services and support that they need,” Minister Nicholson tells us. “Children are even more vulnerable to the trauma of crime and this funding will go a long way to ensure a stronger and more effective voice for young victims in our community.”
Such services seek to minimize the trauma faced by child victims of abuse or witnesses to serious crime. The centres have teams of professionals who work in a child-friendly setting to help a child or youth victim or witness navigate the criminal justice system.
The government has committed $5.25 million commitment over five years that was announced October 7, 2010, and is made available through the Victims Fund of the Department of Justice Canada.
In 2007, the government announced the Federal Victims Strategy and committed $52 million over four years to respond to the needs of victims of crime. In Budget 2011, the government renewed the Federal Victims Strategy at a funding level of $13 million per year. On April 23, 2012, in Ottawa, Nicholson announced additional funding of $7 million over five years from Budget 2012, $5 million of which will be directed to the creation and enhancement of Child Advocacy Centres across Canada.
“We’ve certainly been making progress and we did get quite a few pieces of legislation passed in the two minority Parliaments. It wasn’t easy but we did get a number of them. It was tough on the sentencing and bail provisions for serious gun crimes and we abolished the feint hope clause. We cracked down on street racing and drug-impaired driving.
We did quite a bit for victims. I remember getting involved with creating the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime so that there was somebody in Ottawa whose job was solely to worry about the issues that affect victims in this country.
Raising the Age of Protection for Children
One important piece of legislation for Nicholson was raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 and thus enabling law enforcement agencies a better opportunity to protect children.
“I remember being down in Toronto speaking with law enforcement agents and they were telling me that some 40-year-old man had arrived from Texas and hooked up with a 14-year-old girl he met on the Internet and it wasn’t covered by Canadian law,” Nicholson reveals. “Moving the age of consent up to 16 to better protect children from adult sexual predators is certainly something I was proud to be associated with.
I did get my Bill C-10 – which focuses on people who traffic in drugs; people who bring drugs into this country; people who export drugs; people into the grow-op business for the purposes of trafficking. The bill covers all the offenses in the Criminal Code with respect to the abuse of children. We even created a couple of new offenses where for instance two adults are conspiring or discussing with each other on the Internet or elsewhere about setting up a child to sexually exploit the child – that is now a crime in Canada, we just got that Bill passed.
The other part – if somebody gives sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of grooming that child, we’ve got that covered in Bill C-10.
There are also other pieces of legislation being spearheaded by Nicholson.
“I’ve got one on self-defence and citizen’s arrest, which is moving through Parliament.”
It’s been a very busy portfolio for Nicholson, but he’s always received 100 per cent support from his boss.
“The Prime Minister is very supportive of these efforts,” Nicholson confirms. “Every initiative to protect victims and law-abiding Canadians has his complete support and so it has certainly made my role a lot easier to know that the Prime Minister and the Government are completely behind what we’re doing.”
Being tasked with implementing laws of the land covers a wide range of sectors. But when asked if there was one type of crime that most bothers him, Nicholson was quick to respond.
“It’s all reprehensible; it’s all abhorrent; but certainly people who get into the business of sexually exploiting children or the child pornography business” was his answer to the question.
“I remember meeting with the Internet service providers of Canada about three years ago now and they indicated to me that they realized and understood that they had a moral responsibility to turn over any information that they had with respect to child porn and I told them politely that I appreciated it but I believe they have more than a moral responsibility – they also have a legal responsibility and that is one of the Bills that I was very proud to be associated with that requires Internet service providers, when brought to their attention, they are now under a legal obligation to turn that over to the appropriate authorities. These are updates to our criminal law that have to be made and I feel strongly about. ”
Funding for Child Advocacy
Funding for child advocacy is something is something Nicholson feels very strongly about.
“We have been leaders in this area,” he says. “It brings together those who need to assist a child who has been victimized and/or sexually abused and bring the support to the child as opposed to the child having to go to all the different places that are necessary for successful prosecution and what’s necessary to get that child help.”
In this child-friendly atmosphere, these centres are very important and Nicholson has been very pleased that two years ago the federal government got into the business of assisting them.
“There’s a wide range of groups and associations assisting them but I really felt strongly that the federal government should be involved with this as well and so $2 million was put into the federal budget a couple of years ago and we’re into the business again because we had an increase in the last budget as well, approximately $5 million over the next five years. It’s important for us to show this is the kind of initiative we want to support because supporting children who have been victimized have to be the priority of everyone.”
Nicholson cannot comment on specific cases that may or may not be before the courts or appeals but makes it clear the government is on the side of the victims.
“Our heart goes out to every child who becomes a victim and we are constantly looking at the criminal laws of this country to make sure they are up-to-date and are as responsive as possible. We have made tremendous progress in updating Canada’s laws to better protect and reflect society’s horror for the abuse of children and we continue to do so.”
A most recent example of that is Bill C-10 that was just recently passed. The Bill zeroes in on those individuals who would sexually exploit children or those who get into the child pornography business.
On the topic of continuing new innovative technologies to help authorities fight crime, Nicholson could obviously not provide specific examples of initiatives still being worked on, noting he cannot make an announcement prior to the announcement, he did say his office will continue down the same path it’s been on, with great success to this point.
“On a regular basis we come forward with support or new pieces of legislation and I don’t anticipate any change in that procedure,” Nicholson states.
Search Tool for Missing Children
Nicholson and Lianna McDonald, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, have also recently announced the launch of a new search tool for missing children, called the MissingKidsAlert.
“Our government takes the safety of our citizens very seriously, particularly the most vulnerable members of our society – our children,” Nicholson reiterated. “We commend the work done by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to find missing children, support their families and contribute to research on missing and sexually exploited children.”
MissingKidsAlert is a service developed by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, serving as a crucial public notice to all citizens. It is designed to assist police and other law enforcement in locating missing children by allowing people to receive missing child alerts quickly through such high-tech electronic platforms as Twitter, Facebook email and fax.
The government has also thrown its support behind Bill C-09, a private members bill; The Concealment of Identity Act, sponsored by Richards of Wildrose in Alberta targets those who conceal their identity during uprisings or riots, such as we’ve seen in places such as Vancouver and Montreal.
“We hope it does deter anyone from participating in a riot or any type of unlawful assembly, but this Bill sends out the message that if you’re also concealing your identity and you’re participating in a riot there will be serious consequences for that,” Nicholson remarks. “It’s a private member’s bill I had no problem supporting nor did any member of the Government when it was brought forward.”
Renewal of Legal Aid and Aboriginal Justice
Towards the end of April, Nicholson announced that federal funding for the Legal Aid Program and the Aboriginal Justice Strategy would continue at current levels.
“Our government is committed to keeping our streets and communities safe,” Nicholson says. “This funding helps make the justice system more effective, fair, and accessible, and ensures value for taxpayers’ dollars. Our Government is continuing to support the provision of criminal legal aid for economically disadvantaged persons charged with serious criminal offences and to help Aboriginal communities develop community-based justice processes.”
He went on to say that federal funding aids the provinces and territories in administering criminal legal aid for economically disadvantaged adults and youth to the tune of just under $112 million annual and legal aid in public security and anti-terrorism cases accounting for about $2 million per annum. Funding of $11.5 million for immigration and refugee legal aid and $1.65 million for court-ordered counsel in federal prosecutions has been renewed for two years through 2014.
The one-year renewal of the Aboriginal Justice Strategy will provide $12.5 million to urban, rural and northern Aboriginal communities for community-based justice programs.
Criminal legal aid is fundamental to a cost-effective, well-functioning criminal justice system in Canada. It protects Canadians’ rights, helps support the Government’s ability to combat crime and hold criminals fully accountable for their actions.
The Aboriginal Justice Strategy is a federally-led, national program that has operated for 20 years. The Strategy has been shown to play an important and effective role in helping to achieve safer and healthier communities and reducing crime in Aboriginal communities by holding offenders accountable and enabling Aboriginal communities to take greater responsibility for the administration of justice services.
In addition, funding totalling $43.6 million annually to support initiatives such as the Access to Justice Service Agreements, the Aboriginal Courtwork Program, the Supporting Families Initiative, the Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision Program, and the Access to Justice in Both Official Languages Support Fund will continue at current levels.
Citizens’ Arrest and Self-Defence Act
Nicholson also noted that the Citizen’s Arrest and Self-Defence Act will clarify the law on citizen’s arrest and streamline the laws on self-defence.
“The Criminal Code currently allows Canadians to defend themselves and their property,” Nicholson states. “Canadians are, however, very limited in their ability to make a citizen’s arrest. A citizen’s arrest is only permitted if an individual is caught actively engaged in a criminal offence on or in relation to their property.
This Act will build on the existing legislation, allowing a law-abiding citizen to make a citizen’s arrest within a reasonable time after an offence is committed. It will also simplify the self-defence and defence of property provisions in the Criminal Code.”
It has long been Nicholson’s belief that Canadians want and deserve to feel safe in their homes and communities, and this means being able to appropriately defend oneself or one’s property in emergency situations.
Not Criminally Responsible
Nicholson also spoke about the law that applies to persons found Not Criminally Responsible:
“Canadians have expressed concerns with respect to the risks that may be posed by persons who are found to be Not Criminally Responsible,” he said. “They are worried that those who have committed very serious and violent acts and who represent a threat to the community may be released onto our streets.”
“Our government believes that public safety must always come first,” he continued. “We are working to obtain support from the provinces and territories to ensure that the protection of society is the paramount consideration for review panels looking at these cases. I have also instructed my officials to examine the applicable law and identify any necessary changes.”
“Our government will continue to work in the interest of victims and law-abiding Canadians so that our streets and communities are safe places for people to live, raise their families and do business.”
Bicentennial of War of 1812
With the famous War of 1812 having taken place in his own territory of Niagara, Nicholson has spent a lot of time and shown great interest in keeping alive the historical significance of that point in Canadian history.
“I make the case that there is no more important date in Canadian history than what took place between 1812 and 1814 because that decided once and for all that Canada would be separate from the United States,” Nicholson notes.
The colonies at that time weren’t in a position or would not have been able to guess exactly how to determine how their future might develop but it was never seriously challenged again after 1814 that we would part of the United States.
“It was never a realistic possibility after that in my opinion so it’s of huge historical importance to Canada,” he states. “I have been among those who’ve been very supportive of the Government of Canada’s efforts with respect to that war.”
“You will notice if you go to any of the major landmarks in the Niagara area, they’ve all received federal money, usually in the millions of dollars so it doesn’t matter if you go to Fort George, Old Fort Erie, Lundy’s Lane or Queenston Heights you will see that there has been major injections of federal money.”
“I remember saying this about four or five years ago. It’s a little bit like the Olympics – you can’t start building the facilities in the year of the Olympics. You have to do it in advance and so I’ve been very pleased with the amount of support that we’ve received for infrastructure – and yes, I have been making announcements with respect to funding for different groups and organizations; that will continue.”