Evidence of meeting #9 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was young.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Warren Lemcke  Deputy Chief Constable, Vancouver Police Department
  • Jean-Marc Fournier  Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, Government of Quebec
  • Tom Stamatakis  President, Canadian Police Association
  • Annick Murphy  Chief Crown Prosecutor, Criminal Proceedings and Penal, Bureau de la Jeunesse - Montreal, Government of Quebec
  • Kathy Vandergrift  Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
  • Caleb Chepesiuk  Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  • Joe Wamback  Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Crime Victim Foundation
  • Elizabeth Pousoulidis  President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Do you have an opening address?

9:55 a.m.

Caleb Chepesiuk Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Hello. Thank you for the invitation to appear today and for your time. I work with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, or CSSDP. We are a national network of youth and student-led chapters that are working on substance use issues. Like you, we work out of a desire for safer and healthier communities for everyone in Canada.

I was going to try to provide a short summary of the submission we made. I think you only got one page. There should have been a few other pages. I'll try to sum up what was in the other pages and have those sent to you afterwards.

Due to the concerns as listed in our submission, CSSDP's main recommendation is that the portion of Bill C-10 that makes changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act should be removed. The evidence against this bill's being effective is staggering. The evidence that this bill will actually cause social and financial harm to society is disturbing.

If this is not possible, CSSDP has also made secondary recommendations for amendments to specific clauses in this portion. These are the clauses we feel will impact young people the most.

This proposed legislation is being justified as targeting and going after serious drug traffickers. CSSDP believes this is not the case. The clauses of the bill that are argued to target serious traffickers actually widen the net for those who will be caught up in this legislation. Instead of drug lords, this legislation will incarcerate first-time offenders and low-level drug traffickers.

The legislation forces a divide between user and dealer that does not always conveniently exist. This is not a successful or sustainable strategy. The proposed legislation has been justified as a necessary step to protect young people. CSSDP believes that for young people, this legislation will cause more damage than good. For example, the clause designed to stop trafficking at schools is so broadly worded that it casts a net over young people anywhere. This combined with the removal of judicial discretion equals an unsuccessful and unsustainable strategy. The scenario remains that sharing one pill of ecstasy can trigger a two-year federal sentence. In such a scenario, the harms caused by the legislation outweigh the harms caused by the drug itself.

It has been argued by some that this proposed legislation sends the right message about illicit substances. CSSDP does not believe this is true. Ignoring evidence and experience does not send the right message; perpetuating instead of correcting a failed approach to drugs does not send the right message.

There's nothing in the proposed legislation that will create effective barriers between currently illegal substances and young people. There's nothing in this legislation that will prevent tragedies related to substance use from happening in the future. This does not send the right message. This portion of the bill will do more to promote injustice than justice.

CSSDP believes that sending the right message to young people would be to stop this proposed legislation in order to engage in a broader discussion on drug policy reform.

To sum up the pages that you didn't see today, our fundamental concerns are that there's a sheer lack of evidence demonstrating that this legislation will have any positive effect. The removal of discretion in the sentencing process is a huge concern for us. The aggravating factors in this legislation do not actually narrow or target this legislation. Incarceration is not a successful youth drug strategy. Increasing criminal punishments for more substances is not a successful youth drug strategy. Nothing in this bill will prevent substance-use-related tragedies in the future.

With that, I thank you again for your time. Of course, there is lots of time for questions.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Wamback, you have five minutes.

10 a.m.

Joe Wamback Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Crime Victim Foundation

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.

Due to the limited time today, I'll restrict my comments to part 2 of Bill C-10, which is on sentencing.

The justice and corrections systems of Canada must serve the needs of all Canadians, not just criminals and special interest groups. To be truly effective it must be transparent and predictable, and most importantly it must be perceived as such by Canadians. Failure to achieve this simply undermines the effectiveness of those systems, and therefore decreases their ability to function.

One of my great concerns has always been the loss of faith in the justice system, especially by the young people of Canada. Lack of trust in the system and the belief that it is unjust will cripple confidence in our courts, and that has dangerous consequences, including serious under-reporting of criminal activity.

Our courts exist and function only because ordinary people, victims of crime, report the crimes committed against them and their loved ones and are willing to testify truthfully when called upon. When this does not happen, through mistrust or lack of faith, the inevitable consequences are that the system will cease to exist. The sentencing provisions outlined in Bill C-10 are a beginning to the restoration of that lost faith.

I don't live in the sanitized world of academics or statistics. I live in the real world. I've experienced victimization. I see the results of criminal activity on innocent Canadian families. It is our responsibility to protect the most treasured of Canadian values: the right to life, safety, and security. We must ensure healthy, safe communities where law-abiding families can grow and prosper without intimidation and without fear, and restore the belief that criminals will be held accountable for their crimes.

Over the last 12 years I have met with victims, their families, police officers, and justice system personnel. They have consistently expressed their frustration with the current legislation that has no minimum guidelines for dealing with repeat offenders or serious sanctions for violent criminals, and what is commonly referred to as “revolving door” justice.

My hopes are that the sentencing provisions of Bill C-10 will provide the tools, guidance, and predictability to assist our courts in making decisions for the safety of all Canadians while maintaining our values and principles. Sentencing is not just about the crime, the convicted criminal, or the courts. It is about ordinary Canadians, survivors and victims of violent crime.

Sentencing must reflect the severity of the crime and it must demonstrate deterrence and denunciation. Most importantly, it must clearly demonstrate to Canadians that the lives of victims also have value. Minimal sentencing and house arrest for violence, child pornography, drug dealing, and sexual predators currently sends a loud and clear message to Canadians. The current message is that their lives and the lives and futures of their children are valueless, or certainly of less value that their victimizers'.

I have seen too many innocent families suffer secondary re-victimization from discounted sentences or house arrests that end up with their victimizers back on the street continuing to harm others.

Bill C-10 is not about punishing kids found with a joint or someone who makes an innocent mistake. It is about organized crime, predators, and drug manufacturers and distributors who are destroying innocent lives and the quality of life in Canada for their own personal gain.

The major problem with our existing Criminal Code sentencing system is that there isn't one. There are very broad guiding principles, but there are no benchmarks in the Canadian Criminal Code and little statistically valid information available for lawyers and judges, resulting in uncertainties and disparities that are now becoming the national norm. Crime must have consequence, and that consequence must be predictable.

Many, including the parents of young offenders, express frustration when their children receive little or no consequence for breaking the law, effectively teaching them that a criminal lifestyle is acceptable in Canada. Years ago we used to call prisons “penitentiaries”, meaning penance or punishment. Now we call them “correctional institutes”, where we rehabilitate or attempt to correct criminal behaviour. Yet house arrest for criminal behaviour negates that initiative. Leading world experts in criminal behaviour or psychology whom I have spoken to tell me that it takes an average of three years of clinical intervention to change criminal behaviour. Early release or house arrest will not achieve any success if our true objective is rehabilitation.

We recognize that increased costs may be inevitable as a result of the sentencing, but that increased cost is insignificant compared to the losses suffered by victims and their communities. We fully expect the “consequence predictability” of sentencing will assist in crime reduction and in increased rehabilitation efforts. We owe this much to our children.

Lastly, we recognize that victims of crime do not play a participatory role in the Canadian justice system. At the very least, let their voices be heard here today.

Thank you.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Wamback.

Ms. Pousoulidis, welcome. You have an opportunity to make a five-minute opening address. I will let you know when you have a minute left.

10:05 a.m.

Elizabeth Pousoulidis President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Excellent. Thank you very much, and thank you for inviting me.

My name is Elizabeth Pousoulidis, and I am the president of AFPAD, which stands for the Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared, and that means murdered or criminally disappeared.

It is very hard for us, the victims, to come and speak about our experiences, but it is very important for us to speak. If we don't, nothing will change for us.

Today I sit here as president of AFPAD. I also sit here as a very proud Quebecker and Canadian. We support fully Bill C-10. The reason we support Bill C-10 is that before somebody kills somebody, before there's a murder, there are signs of criminal activity. There is a criminal “binder”, I remember the judge calling it, that is very thick. Before victims, people like me, lose somebody, there is a chance for the murderers to not cause that pain and to not become murderers.

What I see in Bill C-10, and why I'm very happy to see it, is that finally Canada will be tougher on crime. Whoever thinks that being caught with drugs or whoever thinks that a crime that they consider minor does not affect murders and criminal disappearances is wrong. Just check the stats of all murderers and how many times they've come in and out of the justice system.

I commend my country, Canada, for respecting human lives. A lot of times when somebody is murdered, we forget about them. It's all about the criminal, whether it's the justice system or whether it's victims' rights, etc.

My province of Quebec supports this Bill C-10 law at 77%, from the latest information from a poll by le Journal de Montréal. Our province of Quebec is fully aware of what Bill C-10 is. I've talked to many of the members of my association, but also other people who come to our events, and understand why Canada's being tougher on crime.

Mr. Wamback mentioned a lot of families, and we know many of them. A lot of phone calls come in to us because they have nowhere else to turn. These are parents, mothers, who do not know what to do with their children when they know they've taken the wrong road, and unfortunately they go in and out of prison. It's up to the parents to tolerate that, and it's up to the parents to make sure their kids are safe. By “safe”, it means that they don't commit further crimes.

The comments I hear from members of my association and from others are that if their child had been caught before, or if when they were caught they had spent some time in jail, or if they had spent some of that time to rehabilitate, if they had been given that opportunity, then maybe the child would be alive today.

When we talk about the costs of this law, I beg you to talk to any victims about the costs they suffer when somebody in their family has been murdered. We are talking about costs not only to the victims but also, at the end of the line, the taxpayers. If I don't work, I don't pay taxes. So we need to also look at that aspect of costs when we discuss how much this is going to cost our system, our government.

I am a victim myself. I saw my mother bury her child. None of us could work, but all of us were forced to go to work due to financial burdens. All of us have wounds that will never close, and it is our responsibility, no matter how hard it is, to support and to speak about this law.

I commend the government. I thank you very much. This does make me feel a tad safer as a Canadian.

Thank you.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you very much.

I will just remind the committee that we need a couple of minutes at the very end for some committee business.

Mr. Harris.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you for your presentations this morning. We have very strong views on both sides of this issue. One thing we seek to do here is find the evidence to base our decisions on--at least on this side of the table.

Mr. Chepesiuk, you didn't present your brief, so I'm a little concerned that we don't understand some of the issues and problems. You said you have a recommendation that the definition of trafficking be changed, but what kinds of activities that happen that would be brought in by “trafficking” you think should not be?

I'm asking you to give me some examples of the kinds of behaviours that occur that you think will be caught up in this legislation and ought not to be.

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Caleb Chepesiuk

Thank you.

Trafficking under the law, as it has been presented to the committee, can be defined as not only selling but also as giving, sharing, or passing a joint—that's been mentioned a few times, I know. These are all things that would be caught up in Bill C-10 through these provisions.

We recommend, if this legislation is to go through, that the mandatory minimums be triggered by selling where there's a financial transaction. For young people, substances are most often distributed through peer networks, which means their friends and the people they associate with in their classes. It's not always a dealer, or the scary guy at the playground, or these caricatures we've come to develop through historical references.

That is concerning for us, because the aggravating factors of this bill widen it by saying it's anywhere where youth frequent. Well, if you frequent at a party and one pill is shared, or if there's a small amount that can be defined as trafficking, then this triggers the mandatory sentence.

This isn't to downplay the seriousness of that. This is to take a critical look at whether mandatory incarceration is a successful strategy to deal with that, and we believe no.

Does that address the question?

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Yes, thank you.

Ms. Vandergrift, I thank you for your presentation and for pointing out the concerns with respect to the international obligations of Canada.

Are you suggesting that a proper analysis has not been done, and no attempt has been made to compare the legislation to Canada's obligations under the convention? Is your point that the convention has not been looked at and compared with these provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act in part 4 to make sure that Canada is meeting its obligations?

You mentioned one or two parts. Could you confirm that and perhaps elaborate?

November 1st, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

Kathy Vandergrift

That is correct. Under the current government policy there are statements, in response to other studies of children's rights, that when laws are proposed that affect children, a child rights assessment is done. During the review of Bill C-4 we asked for this. I followed up with individual MPs who asked for this, and as far as I know, no one has seen the child rights assessment that was done.

I'm simply saying that all members of Parliament should at least be aware of how the proposed changes fulfill or violate their obligations to protect the rights of children in Canada. Our submission is that there are serious matters in these proposed changes that do violate the convention.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

We just had a very impassioned plea from the Minister of Justice of Quebec concerning the provisions under Bill C-10, particularly those with respect to youth justice.

One of the concerns, and he has proposed, that there is a great deal of evidence that shows there's a relationship between young people being incarcerated and the potential for this bill to increase the number of criminals, increase the amount of recidivism, and increase the number of crimes and victims as a result of that.

Are you aware of studies that might support or counter that?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Please give a very brief response.

10:15 a.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

Kathy Vandergrift

Okay.

The evidence is clear, and the experience under the current Young Offenders Act with use of alternate measures besides incarceration has been very positive. We have seen some of those detention rates go down.

I sympathize with the concerns about young people, but all our members who work with young people tell us the problem is that we don't have enough good programs of the range we need to deal with the kind of young people we're dealing with. I think that's where the focus needs to be.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Rathgeber.