Evidence of meeting #21 for Justice and Human Rights in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was public.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Simon Fournel-Laberge  As an Individual
  • Gaylene Schellenberg  Lawyer, Legislation and Law Reform, Canadian Bar Association
  • Scott Bergman  Section Member, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association
  • William Trudell  Chair, Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers
  • Julie McAuley  Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
  • Martha Mackinnon  Executive Director, Justice for Children and Youth
  • Agnes Samler  President, Defence for Children International-Canada
  • Les Horne  Executive Director, Defence for Children International-Canada
  • Mia Dauvergne  Senior Analyst, Policing Services Program, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
  • Craig Grimes  Chief/Advisor, Courts Program, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
  • Irwin Elman  Provincial Advocate, Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (Ontario)
  • Lee Tustin  Advocate for Children and Youth, Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (Ontario)

12:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Justice for Children and Youth

Martha Mackinnon

The submission I sent says “Justice for Children and Youth's Submissions re: Bill C-4” at the top. It is the last sentence under the subtitle “Endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person” in a section entitled “Expanded Grounds for Pre-trial Detention”.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Ms. Mackinnon, I'll just have you continue with your presentation.

12:25 p.m.

Executive Director, Justice for Children and Youth

Martha Mackinnon

Thank you very much.

The first thing, substantively, that I wanted to say is that the Supreme Court of Canada has made findings about youth and their reduced moral blameworthiness and the principles of fundamental justice as they apply to youth. I would like to praise Parliament for its consideration of amending the Youth Criminal Justice Act to incorporate those findings. Those, generally speaking, relate to moral blameworthiness, the definition of “serious violent offence”, and the onus provisions where it's not presumed that kids will be treated as adults are.

But Justice for Children and Youth disagrees with the proposals to make the act harsher, because the legislation currently is working. In fact, it is the current legislation that allowed the young man who presented before you to receive the very sentence he said was beneficial. That's the current legislation that got him to where he was.

I was lucky enough to have participated in the national consultations with respect to this legislation. There was one, I believe, in every province. The consultation I attended was attended by police officers in significant numbers, crown attorneys, probation people, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, lawyers on both the crown and defence side. In those consultations, every single person said the legislation is working--every single person, after repeated questioning.

I'd also point out about the current legislation that in the case of Sébastien, the young offender received an adult sentence. It is the current legislation that was working and that achieved an appropriate sentence for that young offender.

I would echo the submissions you've heard from so many others that denunciation and deterrence do not work. They cannot work. I would encourage you to look at our written submission, which refers not just to the criminological and psychological research that's been done on this point and which is quite conclusive, but also to some quite new research done by a neuroscientist for the Department of Justice, in which he has taken MRIs of young peoples' brains, and photographically, they look different--the impulse control. Putting language in legislation cannot make their brains work differently. So it does not work.

In addition, if I tie this back to the broader general principles of the act and to what makes criminal justice seem fair to people, sentences must be proportionate. They must be proportional to the thing you've done wrong. It cannot, in my submission, be proportional to punish a young person for something some other young person might do or to punish them for what they might do in the future but haven't done. To maintain proportionality, in my view, you cannot have deterrence and denunciation as sentencing principles.

My next point is that the long-term protection of the public should not be changed. Young people, no matter what they've done, are going to spend more time out of custody than they are in custody. It is the long-term protection of the public that's essential. When they are finished with the youth criminal justice system, I want them to be contributing, positive members of society. That must be the long-term focus.

Anyone can trip on any given day. There is nothing we can do to guarantee the short-term protection of the public other than by locking everyone up in boxes and not letting them out. People, if you live in Toronto, are going to get shoved on the subway. It will be an assault. It will even be kind of deliberate. It won't be what most of us think of as a crime, but we will be on the subway and we will get assaulted. You can't eliminate that.

I would also like to point out that in a time of restraint, I think it is critical that Parliament not spend money on anything that cannot be shown to work. All of the evidence suggests that the proposed amendments will not work, and there is no evidence, to my knowledge, that says they will work. In my view, it would be irresponsible to be spending taxpayer dollars on something that may make someone feel good about thinking they're doing something, but if there is no evidence, we shouldn't be spending money on it.

To summarize, it is my submission that we don't actually need any amendments, even the ones that I like. Lawyers would be all right if you didn't do it, because we've got the Supreme Court of Canada and it has already said those things, but I think it's a good thing to amend the act to reflect those rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada, because, fortunately for the world, not everyone is a lawyer. They don't all read Supreme Court of Canada decisions, and it's important that the law be as clear as it can be within the statute itself.

If you must amend in other areas, I have some cautions. One is that I'm personally ambivalent about requiring police to record extrajudicial sanctions. On the one hand, if a police officer at a crossing or an intersection made a written note of every warning he or she gave to people to be careful of oncoming traffic, you'd be surprised, and that's a warning, right? That's a police interaction with you, and it's a warning.

I don't think they have to all be written down. I think most of them are written down at the current time, but my caution is that if you mandate that they get written down, you must also mandate the destruction of those records.

If a young person is charged, goes to court, is found guilty after a trial, and gets the least reprimand, the record of that reprimand lasts for two months. Surely however long we keep police records should be less than that, because it's clearly less serious. If a record is going to be kept, I urge you to mandate its destruction and sealing as well.

Research does show that longer sentences don't work. They don't reduce recidivism. And as I've said, the current laws can already address that.

Finally, I ask the members of this committee to ask for and read the results of the consultation. I sat in rooms where every single individual was asked repeatedly whether they wanted deterrence as a sentencing principle, and uniformly they, including all the police officers, said no. I ask you to ask for and examine the costs of any proposed amendments, and I ask you to ask for and examine all the research about what works, because all of us want our children who have misstepped to be rehabilitated.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Thank you very much.

We'll move on to Ms. Samler. You have up to ten minutes.

June 3rd, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.

Agnes Samler President, Defence for Children International-Canada

Thank you.

I'm Agnes Samler, president of Defence for Children International--Canada. My colleague Les Horne is the volunteer executive director. We've both worked extensively with young offenders in Ontario and across the country and we both have been child advocates in Ontario; in fact, Les was the first child advocate in North America. Defence for Children has sections all over the world, and its purpose is to promote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and to work towards its full implementation.

I'll pass over to Les.

12:35 p.m.

Les Horne Executive Director, Defence for Children International-Canada

Thank you.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm an advocate. I'm going to start with a quotation from Michele Landsberg: “So that's our Canadian contradiction: every time we're confronted with the results of our dysfunctional 'tough on youth crime' approach, we call for more and tougher punishments.” That was 1999. It hasn't changed.

I have a story, which I will end with. During the last ten years of the last century we appeared at every inquest on a young child who had died in the care of the state. And bit by bit, we found that the way in which to change what was happening at the inquest and to let people's hands get off the evidence and stop controlling the evidence in the public was to bring along a team of young people to listen, who had the same experiences as the people who had died in custody, to give evidence to the lawyer that she could use in the inquest. Bit by bit, we found that was the way to get truth into the situation, because the whole protective wall was taken down.

The final inquest was the Meffe inquest at the end of the nineties. The outcome was that the jury asked for immediate closure of the institution, and the Toronto Youth Detention Centre closed as a consequence of that. Since then, another major detention home has opened in Ontario, and that home has already collected many indications that putting kids in jail is the last thing you would do with them--the very last thing you do with them. It's dangerous, expensive, wasteful, and those kids are our children.

When I came to Canada in 1959 I came to work with delinquents, and I was amazed. The first person I met was a little boy, 14 years old, shuffling around in irons with two huge gun-carrying guards beside him. It was Steven Truscott. Over and over again.... I opened a little place called White Oaks in Ontario, and we brought in the children who were under 12--all of them were under 12--from different parts of Ontario, who had been sentenced for up to two years. The first two who walked through the door were two little brothers from Red Lake who could barely speak English, and they were there for an indeterminate amount of time. They were there, in fact, for about three weeks, and we got them right back to a home and to a different, decent kind of existence.

It was just frightening to me at that time, and I've never ceased to be shocked since with what I see when I go and visit people in institutions. I still work with people who come out of institutions and I see the damage it has done to them, and it's all done in the culture.

You can change all the laws you want, but unless you change the culture in institutions and the culture of this province in looking at crime and criminal behaviour, you're not going to change anything. Because that culture seizes the institution and controls it. As we used to say to the guards, “You don't run this institution. You know who runs it. The inmates run it.”

I will leave it at that, except that what I object to personally, and what DCI objects to, is the vindictiveness of the legislation, in our view. The way of looking at young people who are still children, still under 18, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.... This document, for some reason, seems to have been pushed into the background in Canada, although to me it's the greatest document in the history of human rights that this world has produced. Even bringing that into play could change a whole lot of things, if it was rightly and properly done.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Thank you.

12:40 p.m.

President, Defence for Children International-Canada

Agnes Samler

Our overall concern is that this bill seems to have a law and order approach, get tough with young offenders. And we believe that the result of the bill as it stands will be that there will be more young people in custody. That truly causes us concern.

I want to talk briefly about two things. First are the principles under subclause 3(1) of the act. People have spoken about this before.

We're moving away from a focus on youth, addressing the circumstances underlying their offences and rehabilitation. We're moving to a focus on public safety, and not even long-term public safety. We're talking about public safety, and we believe this will just incarcerate more kids, and that's not what we should be doing.

We think this section fundamentally changes what the act is about. By moving it away from youth to public safety, I think we have in some ways gutted the original intent of the act. So I would suggest that this be looked at very carefully before people change it.

I've had some comments that it's really just a reordering of the intent of the principles. If you look at it clearly, it's more than that. And if it's simply reordering, maybe it should just be left alone. That might work well.

With regard to institutions, Les has talked a little bit about our experience. But in large institutions we see two groups: we see victims and we see bullies. And when we talk about the victims, just read the inquests about kids in state care in Ontario. I'll speak to Ontario because it's what I know best.

James Lonnie was a young man who was 44 hours in a concrete box intended as segregation for one person. He was placed with another aggressive young man who understood that Lonnie was a rat and he headed out to get him. And Lonnie spent that time screaming and yelling for help, without getting any. In the end he was beaten to death.

We have David Meffe, who was so bullied in a detention home in Toronto that he hanged himself. At the inquest that heard that, which was not made up of bleeding hearts, these ordinary citizens were so appalled by the conditions that they said the institution should be closed. That was their first recommendation.

And I listened to the young man this morning and I could see no reason why the things he was saying, the help he got, could not have been given to him outside a lock-up. He talked about the relationship with people and so on. I'm not sure you have to lock people in custody to get that kind of assistance. We should definitely see the kinds of things people are locked up for, and we should see locking kids up as a last resort.

On the other side, you have bullies. You have kids who are smart; they get in and they affiliate themselves with the toughest group in the place. They may never have beaten up anybody or stolen their food or just had them do degrading acts. Suddenly they are in an institution where, in order to survive, that's what you do.

Martha spoke about people coming out and wanting kids to be rehabilitated in the long term, and that's the safety feature. If we're going to get there, that's what we need to do.

Les, you have that one closing statement.

12:40 p.m.

Executive Director, Defence for Children International-Canada

Les Horne

1994 was a good year. It was a good year because the Convention on the Rights of the Child was beginning to be noticed. It's a very wise document.

I was at an international conference for young people in Victoria in 1994. We had gathered groups from all over the world to talk about the convention. There was a group of Quechua from Tena in Ecuador, Maoris from New Zealand, street kids from Vancouver, and a youth leader from Belfast. It all happened in a huge auditorium at the University of Victoria. The last afternoon of the conference came, and the grand finale was to be piped onto a gigantic screen. It was a show from Charlottetown, P.E.l., performed by a professional cast who were celebrating the marvel of Canada and what it could mean to all the young people who were there. There was singing and dancing, and the message was that Canada was some sort of heaven that had been found by all these happy refugees who had escaped the horrors of their home country to live a new life in Canada.

But then we noticed that the message was not getting across. The crowd in the auditorium was shrinking. They were gathering in pockets of space. And at first the conversations sounded confused. Then the confusion turned to anger. With amazing courage, the organizers closed down the pipeline to Charlottetown and people slowly moved to the large platform. It didn't happen by arrangement; it just happened. People went up to the mike, said a few words, and stepped away. People told stories. People cried. I felt so lucky; we all did, and we all knew how lucky that was.

The anger had started because Charlottetown was trying to sell a phony promise, and we all knew that it didn't apply to everybody, but our anger had faded to amazement. We had rights because we had taken ownership of the promise. That is what actually happened, and if you want confirmation, give Senator Landon Pearson a call and ask her. She led the conference in the Lord's Prayer and a peace came down on us all, a happy peace.

That's what should come out of these hearings—a peace that could wrap our angry and hurting offenders and bring healing to them, and a peace that will ease the pain of the victims and help them to reach out and touch hands for the sake of the children who will have the opportunity to rebuild justice in a world that we will have to leave to them.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Thank you.

We'll move to questions.

Monsieur LeBlanc, let's make it five minutes, please.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Chair, I think my colleague is going to ask a question on that issue. Maybe this is a point of order. I'm looking for some guidance.

We've spoken informally on this side of the table. We're quite unhappy with the way we're rushing through these witnesses and going until 1:30. Some of us have question period meetings at one o'clock. That's not going to work. The schedule having an evening meeting and rushing into this stuff I don't think does a service to the witnesses. We're not having time to let them answer questions. The panels, in my judgment, are too big. I think there's a bit of consensus on our side with that issue.

I'm wondering, Mr. Chairman, if perhaps as the first item of business before we hear witnesses on Tuesday morning next week, you would put committee business on the agenda so we can clear some of this up. Otherwise I think we're heading for a collision around some of this stuff. It's unfair to witnesses, some of whom are travelling considerable distances.

We'd like to reorder some of this. Because of the time and witnesses today, we're not going to be able to do it before 1:30, but I'd like to deal with it as the first item off the top on Tuesday morning. I don't know if you want a motion to do that, or if we can just quickly agree to do that and then go on to questions.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

I think we can agree to do that by consensus.

Are there any problems with that? No. We'll do that.

I'll set aside 15 minutes, or do you want half an hour?

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

I think we could do it quite quickly and we could even speak informally before the meeting on Tuesday. I don't want to drag this on, but personally I don't think the way we're doing it now should continue for the next few weeks.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

We'll set aside 15 minutes at the beginning of the next meeting. We may have to cancel a witness or two who we've already scheduled.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.