A Federal DPP?

Because of a newspaper article today, my attention was drawn to a feature of the federal government’s proposed Federal Accountability Act I hadn’t really noticed before. Part 3 of Bill C-2 would establish a Director of Public Prosecutions, who, the government feels, would be and be seen to be independent of political pressure in the matter of prosecution of offences. If the Attorney General wished to direct a particular prosecution, he or she would have to issue an order to the DPP in writing and publish it in the Canada Gazette.

The piece in the press today that caught my eye was in the Ottawa Citizen. Former Chief Justice Lamer said yesterday:

that in his 53-year legal career, he can only recall two cases in which there could have been a perception of politicians interfering with criminal proceedings. ”I think as a general proposition, the federal Crown has a healthy culture,” said Lamer, now a lawyer at an Ottawa law firm. ”I have not recently seen the need for a DPP.”

Lamer also said that he wasn’t opposed to the idea, merely that he didn’t see a need for it.

While I can easily understand the value of transparency as a means of keeping things on the straight and narrow, I can also see that the “straight and narrow” isn’t a clear route in some cases, or always a desirable one in a larger context. It has to do with the fact of politics and what that word has come to signify, at least in part. Much as we might like to imagine it, there is no break between “politics” and “justice” — or even “law” for that matter. Difficult choices are political choices, whether the DPP makes them or the Attorney General does, and I’m not so sure that adding a level of bureaucracy will change things much.


  1. Given that the provincial AGs are responsible for the vast bulk of prosecutions because of provincial responsibility over the administration of justice, there are very real constitutional restraints on a federal DPP – essentially drugs, immigration, tax prosecutions etc.

    But the sort of fraud and corruption cases that the FAA provisions appear to be aimed at have always been subject to the prosecutorial oversight of the provincial AGs.

    I started my career years ago as Executive Counsel to Ontario’s Deputy Attorney General, and I can state from experience that this is a function that’s taken extremely seriously by the provincial crown attorneys, and the case that this has somehow been politicized has not been made.

    Vic Toews has been Manitoba’s AG, so he knows this. But in the rush to make political points post-Gomery, this small detail seems to have escaped everyone.

    I could make a stronger case for a federal ombudsman than I could for a DPP (in the English or Nova Scotia sense). My guess is that it will settle down to be effectively an ADM Criminal Prosecutions type of role, or that it’s a sinecure without responsibilities for the next generation’s Ted Hughes.

    For the Slaw scholars, check out John Edwards’ The Attorney General, Politics, and the Public Interest, whose major conclusions still seem to me valid.