Lack of legal aid, overcrowded courts and victims' rights are serious issues facing Canada's justice system, but Justice Minister Peter MacKay upstaged those problems Thursday with a tirade against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
Just as a news conference was ending at a meeting of Canada's justice ministers, MacKay interrupted, saying he heard Trudeau had discussed legalizing marijuana in front of elementary schoolchildren in Brandon, Man.
"Now I could see Justin Trudeau coming before an assembly like ours, or going before a police convention, or going before a group of even college students, but to discuss this subject matter in front of children, some of them preteens, about his proposal to legalize marijuana, I find just appalling," MacKay said.
MacKay said the comments reflect poorly on Trudeau.
Jillian Austin, a reporter for the Brandon Sun newspaper, was at the Trudeau event this week and said the Liberal leader spoke to a group of teens in the gym at the Sioux Valley First Nation school. His statement on marijuana was a response to a question from a student, she said.
Austin said Trudeau started by saying marijuana was dangerous for young people because their minds are still developing, but that he believes regulating pot will make it safer for children.
Trudeau issued a statement late Thursday calling on MacKay to retract his comments.
"The students in the room applauded a politician with a message to stay off drugs, and that the current system is not doing enough to keep it out of the hands of kids," the statement said.
"That the Conservatives would put out a statement condemning the courage showed by those students is shameful."
Before MacKay criticized Trudeau, justice ministers from all provinces and territories gathered for a two-day meeting in the Yukon capital.
MacKay said they discussed a wide range of issues around justice and public safety, such as impaired driving, cyber crime, those with fetal alcohol syndrome in the justice system and funding formulas.
The minister noted the federal government is considering expanding consecutive sentencing terms to crimes other than murder.
"Certainly sexual offences, aggravated sexual assault, certain violent criminal offences that might involve weapons or aggravated circumstances and child-sex offences are other Criminal Code provisions we're looking at to potentially expand the provisions where consecutive versus concurrent sentencing would apply."
The Multiple Murders Act now allows judges to impose consecutive terms of parole ineligibility for those who commit more than one murder.
Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen said everyone at the meeting has concerns about resources, particularly in supporting a legal aid system.
"When you realize the fact that many people who appear in our criminal courts, our family courts are unrepresented, access to justice and what legal aid can do to improve the necessary representation is always an issue."
Host, Yukon Justice Minister Mike Nixon, said the ministers also have concerns about offenders in the correction system who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
-- The Canadian Press