Montreal

Quebec tables bill aimed at keeping vulnerable people out of the courts

Bill 32 aims to make criminal justice more effective and faster by giving prosecutors, judges and police investigators more flexibility to deal with a variety of cases, including highway code violations and financial and environmental infractions.

Bill 32 aims to make criminal justice more effective by giving key players more flexibility

The bill would introduce the possibility for people who are homeless — or who have mental health or addiction issues — to participate in a program offering an alternative to criminal prosecution, or to replace compensatory work with alternative measures. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Quebec Justice Minister Sonia Lebel says she is trying to modernize the province's justice system.

Thursday, she tabled Bill 32. It aims to make criminal justice more effective and faster by giving prosecutors, judges and police investigators more flexibility to deal with a variety of cases, including highway code violations and financial and environmental infractions.

It also aims to prevent vulnerable people from being systematically sent before the courts.

Lebel says she wants to stop the "revolving door" phenomenon, where a homeless person could be fined for loitering. This is a typical case, Lebel says: the person cannot pay the fine, and ends up in prison.

"These people did not choose to be there, and that's not why the criminal justice system was created," Lebel said.

The bill would introduce the possibility for people who are homeless — or who have mental health or addiction issues — to participate in a program offering an alternative to criminal prosecution, or to replace compensatory work with alternative measures.

Lebel says by taking into account the social situation of the accused, the goal is to favour their rehabilitation.

Shorter wait times the goal, minister says

The minister says she wants to use new technologies to reduce wait times in the justice system.

"Shorter wait times will have a direct impact on access to justice and will help restore Quebecers' confidence". 

She added that if cases go to trial more quickly, it will be less likely for a stay of proceedings under the 2016 Jordan decision, in which the Supreme Court set a ceiling of 18 months on the time between laying of charges and the beginning of a trial.

In 2018, there were 116,000 criminal cases opened in Quebec court, Lebel said. The median time to process a file from start to finish was 15 months in 2016-2017.


 

With files from Presse Canadienne