House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Perhaps I could, while I am on my feet and before the Thursday question, deal with a matter that arose following question period yesterday.

A number of members raised a point of order concerning the reference by the Minister of the Environment to the presence of certain persons in the gallery and offered advice to the Speaker on ways that I might deal with this problem.

I very much appreciate the suggestions of certain hon. members, particularly the hon. member for York West.

In any event, I do recall that when members were suspended for 30 days from asking questions, if they showed proper repentance, they were allowed back on the list if they indicated they realized their error in having made these references to people in the gallery.

I have looked at cases where members did make this kind of statement in the House.

Yesterday, the Minister of the Environment was truly repentant following his error. He stood up and said he was sorry, and claimed that the reason for his failure to comply completely with the rules was because of the fact that he was a new member. I know he was first elected to this House in 2006, having spent 13 long years watching the proceedings of this place from another spot.

I also have to say that I received various offers of assistance. Even the Minister of Justice offered to take the punishment for the Minister of the Environment and not answer questions in the House for 30 days.

Notwithstanding these generous offers and the suggestions that hon. members have made to me, I feel that the Minister of the Environment has indicated that he will not repeat this performance, and I therefore consider the matter closed.

It being Thursday, the hon. opposition House leader has a question.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

November 22nd, 2007 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government House leader has recently departed from the practice of giving the House leaders at least two weeks notice in terms of the government's business. He is now restricting that notice to just one week.

I wonder if the government House leader could be just a little bit more forthcoming, not with his gratuitous embellishment of the content of legislation but simply and plainly indicating to the House what he intends to call in what order over the next two weeks.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, of course, it is very early in the session, so it is difficult to anticipate the legislative debate agenda.

In fact, were I to have said two weeks ago what we would be debating today, I would not have been able to anticipate what we are debating today. I certainly would not want to mislead the House, so I have restricted my comments to those of which I can have some certainty.

This week, the government has continued its efforts to tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians. We sent our bill to improve the security certificates process to committee. That bill is, of course, an important part of our plan to protect Canadians against threats to their safety and security.

This week, we have also introduced three important new pieces of legislation to make our streets and communities safe and secure. The first, Bill C-25, strengthens the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We started debate on this bill yesterday. We hoped it would have passed by now, but apparently the opposition has returned to its old tactics of delaying and obstructing our tough on crime agenda, and are in filibuster mode now. As a result, we will continue to debate this young offenders bill today.

The second bill, Bill C-26, imposes mandatory prison sentences for producers and traffickers of illegal drugs, particularly for those who sell drugs to children. We hope to start debating this bill very soon.

Finally, we introduced Bill C-27 to deal with the serious and complex problems resulting from identity theft.

These three bills are important elements of our action plan to make our communities safer and to fight crime.

Tomorrow we will begin report stage debate of the tackling of the violent crime act. The proposed bill will better protect youth from sexual predators and society from dangerous offenders. It gets serious with drug impaired drivers and toughens sentencing and bail for those who commit gun crimes. The bill has passed committee and we hope it will continue to swiftly move through the legislative process.

Next week's theme builds on what we have been doing this week. The theme will be getting the job done on justice and tax cuts.

We plan on completing debate on the violent crime act, at report and third reading stage, next week.

Once this bill has been passed by the House, we will continue with debate of Bill C-26 to provide for concrete measures to deal with drug traffickers.

To continue to provide the effective economic leadership that Canadians have come to expect from our government, we will begin debate on the budget implementation bill. The budget implements parts of budget 2007 and the fall fiscal and economic update. Among the tax relief items included, are the cut to the GST, reductions in personal income taxes and business taxes. We hope to call that at the earliest possible opportunity, with the consent of the other parties.

If time permits, we will call for debate this week on Bill S-2, the Canada-United States Sales Tax Convention Act, 1984. Next week, if time permits, we will call for debate on our bill to crack down on identity theft.

Next week the government will demonstrate that we are getting the job done on justice and tax cuts for Canadians. We are moving forward with important legislation that will make all communities safer and we are giving all Canadians tax cuts that will contribute to the long term prosperity of the country.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before oral question period, the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber had the floor to respond to questions and comments. There are two minutes remaining.

Since there are no questions, we will resume debate. The hon. member for Yukon.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The House leader was complaining that the bill was being held up, so I hope he can get his message to his troops. Just before question period, the Conservatives were using the time up and stalling his bill.

A report prepared by Justice Nunn dealt with youth criminal justice, and it was very timely. The Conservatives wanted to improve the act, so we had this very detailed, well thought out study. The minister subsequently announced, with the justice minister of Nova Scotia, that he would improve the act. In his speech, the minister said, “Nova Scotia's request for change is in large part based on the recommendations of the Nunn Commission report”.

This is the good news, but from that point on Conservatives should become very upset. Very few recommendations from the Nunn report actually ended up in the bill. The minister has a prescription to fix the act. A number of Conservatives members have said that they want to fix the act and make improvements. They have the outline to do it and then it is not followed.

The Nunn Commission had 34 recommendations on how to improve youth criminal justice, in particular six specifically are referenced to this act. At the most, the minister only deals with three of those, as a member said earlier today, tangently. One of the three only moves the words from a couple of clauses into one clause, clause 29. Therefore, it is only a wording change. It does not change anything substantive. That leaves two changes in the bill.

One of those two changes is about 20 words, which makes some increased opportunity for the crown to increase detention in pre-trial. The exact wording of that very minor change is outlined very carefully in opposition justice critic's speech, if anyone wants to see the details of that change.

That leaves one other change and it did not come from the Nunn report. It is the use of denunciation and deterrence as reasons during the sentencing.

Therefore, we have a bill that is not even a full page long, if we were to put it all on one page. It has one major concept from the Nunn report and it avoids all these things for which Conservatives have asked, and that is increased safety. They received the recommendations in the Nunn report and everyone applauded it. I think the people who wanted those changes would be very astonished.

I forgot to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, my esteemed colleague, who I know has some very important thoughts in this area as well.

What is more astonishing is what is missing. The Nunn Commission recommended to amend section 3, the declaration of principle, to add a clause indicating the protection of the public as one of the primary goals of the act. I cannot believe why the minister would be against the protection of the public. The Nunn report suggested that we put it into the principles of the act, and it is not there. What could the government possibly have against that?

In fact, I do not think the minister is against it. He said in his speech, when he introduced the bill, that the proposals before the House “provide new measures to protect communities from young offenders who pose a significant risk to public safety”. The government wants to protect communities from risks to public safety and then it does not put the recommendation into bill. Why not simply follow that most obvious suggestion from the Nunn Commission?

Some of the comments on the bill show the difference between the government and the other parties in finding solutions to lower crime in the country.

The first response from a member of the government, in questions on this bill, was the suggestion that safe integration was not the primary objective of the Conservatives. On punishment, is it longer sentences? I do not know, but I am sure that for all other members of the House, safe integration is a primary objective. What the people of Canada want first and foremost is to be safe again. I do not know why the Conservatives are speaking against that.

The second Conservative member who spoke suggested that we should not deal with poverty. I do not think there is a member of the knowledgeable community in our modern country who does not know that poverty can lead to circumstances that make crime more prevalent. Not all crimes are done for this reason. Wealthy people create crimes as well, but I think the vast majority of people know it is a determinant. It is astonishing that it would not be part of the solution.

The next thing a Conservative member said on the bill, before we broke for question period, was that sentencing was an important deterrent for the Conservatives. Yet, the changes in sentencing have been proved over and over again, by witnesses to committee, that it is not a deterrent. It has no significant statistical effect on the incidence of crime. What does have an effect, and my colleague from British Columbia spoke at length on this earlier, is the fact that a criminals will be caught with an increase, for instance, of police, et cetera. That does act as a deterrent, but not what has been added to the bill.

The fourth comment from the Conservatives was about the people who had lost faith in the justice system. This is a pattern and if I had my 20 minute slot, I would have gone through the whole pattern. It is a pattern of adding the wrong solution in bill after bill, a solution that does not work. They add something that is not a deterrent or they add more of the same.

People are upset. The system does not work and, in fact, it has not worked for 1,000 years. We put people in jail, they get out and reoffend. Most crimes are reoffending crimes. Why this has been so problematic is the agenda has had so many amendments with many rejected because it is not the answer. It is not what witnesses, people who work with victims, or people who work with criminals have found to be the answer.

Finally, we have some new answers that are working in the restorative justice. I have to compliment the people of Ottawa because this is Restorative Justice Week in the city of Ottawa. I went to a wonderful session on Tuesday night this week. The Ottawa Chief of Police said, “We would challenge anyone to show me a system that fails as much as our mainstream justice system”, which these bills are trying to promote.

The crown prosecutor, who was also there, said, “never seen a victim or offender happy with the existing system”. We are concerned about victims and we want to have systems like the restorative justice system and the collaborative alternate diversion family group conferencing where we finally come up with solutions that on occasion, certainly not all the time, work.

In fact, a Conservative stood and said that even the people who worked in that field said that they did not work all the time. I have to agree. The Conservatives were right with that comment. It does not work all the time, but the statistics in Ottawa show that 38% to 45% of the time it fails. The regular justice system fails 73% of the time. If there is any member of the House who would want to make Canada safer, they would obviously choose the 38% to 45% with these alternative methods for rehabilitating criminals so they do not go out and create more victims. This would make Canada safer.

This has been successful around the world with aboriginal people for centuries. Therefore, let us not continue to put in solutions that do not work. Now that there has been all this attention on justice, at least the good thing is we have heard from witnesses about things that will work. Let us start promoting those and really changing the system. Although the crime rate is going down, let us make it go down even more.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thought I would just help the hon. member with some of his remarks.

He kept mentioning the Nunn commission and that only one of the recommendations has been included in Bill C-25.

For the member's information, the Nova Scotia justice minister is very supportive of our bill. Nova Scotia justice minister Cecil Clarke has called on members of this House to support Bill C-25. Our justice minister has worked closely with his provincial counterparts on provisions of this bill. I think the hon. member should keep that in mind when he talks about the Nunn commission and other commissions.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what I was trying to say at the beginning. Perhaps I did not say it clearly, but both the Nova Scotia justice minister and the federal Minister of Justice talked about the suggestions coming from the Nunn commission, so why did they only use one substantive idea?

I actually said there would be maybe three of the six suggestions related to the act itself that tangentially were dealt with, but certainly the major one is the principles of the safety of the public, which is important. I cannot believe there is any Conservative who would disagree with this, because the Conservatives are always talking about it, but when the judge considered the sentence, now he would have to look at public safety as well. That would make eminent logical sense. That was an important recommendation from the Nunn commission. I am sure that the justice ministers who were looking at that would certainly think it was very important to have public safety as a goal of sentencing.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague from Yukon, who does an excellent job for his constituents in his riding. In the north, particularly in aboriginal communities, violence and youth violence are terrible parts of the social structure of too many of those communities. Drug abuse, violence and sexual abuse prey upon the children in those communities and can have broad ranging, deleterious and damaging effects in the development of those children throughout their early lives and on to adulthood.

I want to ask my colleague, who comes from Yukon, if he sees these tragedies in an upfront and personal way in the communities that he serves. What solutions does he think the government ought to be doing to deal with the plague of youth crime that is affecting too many aboriginal communities in our country?

What solutions does he think this government should adopt that could prevent these problems and enable aboriginal communities to have the social and economic assets they require on the ground to change the terrible tide that occurs to too many people in too many communities?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent question. To a large extent aboriginal people will be as successful as everyone else, if they have the same opportunities to succeed. I found that there are the same problems with all criminals.

In fact, when the minister introduced this bill, I asked him what the government was doing. One of the major problems in the system is the overrepresentation of aboriginal people and in particular people with FAS. The government did not have a comprehensive plan.

Fortunately, the minister did say that he bowed to the constant pressure that we had put on the government to reinstate the aboriginal justice strategy only a few weeks before it was to expire. I am delighted he did that. We pushed him to do that. That strategy has been a very big success.

There have been some wonderful success stories resulting from the restorative justice programs that mentioned. Many communities in Yukon now have circles and there are wonderful success stories coming out of them. If people had not gone through this process, the statistics show that there would have been a greater chance of recidivism and thus more victims in society. There are wonderful success stories. It would be terrible if we lost this program.

The government talks about victims. Some victims were at an event on Tuesday night in Ottawa. They talked about how thankful they were that the offender had come to the circle and talked with them. They said that it helped them. The offender actually said, “No, you have helped me more”. It is a very successful system. That is the type of thing we need to do.

Aboriginal society is slightly different in the sense that it is a collective society, not simply individuals. It is very important when an offender has to actually confront the people he or she has offended in a circle, in front of the family and that social network. The elders are much more important and have more effect. It is more difficult for the offender than being incarcerated. I think the police chief said that every single person that he dealt with found it more difficult being involved with that type of restorative justice than simply being incarcerated.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Yukon for splitting his time with me.

Youth violence and youth crime issues have sometimes been fraught with the lack of facts, are driven by emotion, which is more than understandable, and are certainly driven by fear. Those who have been victimized by youth criminals know full well the pain and suffering they endure and sometimes find it, understandably, very difficult when the system does not come to their aid as it should. Over the last decade or so a lot has changed for victims but more needs to be done.

The government has introduced a bill that supposedly is going to make our streets safer. At least that is supposedly the goal. What if the interventions of the government made our streets less safe? What if it was introducing interventions that would increase the level of criminality, not prevent youth crime and not deal with youth crime in a way that would improve the safety of the general public?

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a child psychologist at Temple University, suggests that family friendly policies and programs to promote parental effectiveness, parental education and prenatal care are very important. He also argues that additional benefits to families are derived from programs addressing mental health, substance abuse recovery and the reduction of poverty. I will explain why I mention this in the introduction of my speech.

I have been a corrections officer in the past. I have worked as a physician in adult jails and youth jails. I have seen a number of communities where youth crime is prevalent. It strikes me that we have to do things to address those who have committed crimes and also to protect the general public, which is absolutely the first order of business of any government. It is also the government's responsibility to introduce policies which will make our country safer, but some of the policies the government is introducing are going to make our streets less safe.

For example, the government wants to introduce policies that will put low level drug dealers in jail. Who are those drug dealers? The low level drug dealers are addicts themselves. If we throw those individuals in jail, all we will do is harden their criminal behaviour and drive them toward worse criminal behaviour when they get out.

The low level drug dealer needs to deal with his or her underlying problem, which is addiction. That is why the government needs to work with the provinces to adopt policies that address the plague of addiction and substance abuse that affects youth and adults alike. What is needed are solutions that are based on fact and science, not based on ideology.

If we look at our policies in terms of the youth criminal population, a good percentage of those individuals suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. That occurs when a woman drinks alcohol when she is pregnant, particularly during the first two trimesters, and it affects the development of the child's brain to such an extent that the average IQ of a child is in the seventies and behavioural problems occur. A number of those children commit crimes. Many of them fall prey to addictions and that puts them into the realm of our judicial system.

What if we were to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects? I am not talking about putting up posters in communities. I am talking about substantive solutions that would address the problem at its heart. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of brain damage in our country and it is preventable. There is a community in my riding where it is estimated that 70% of the people who live there have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. Imagine that.

Sixty per cent of the people in jail are determined to have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. If this is such a problem, why is the government not introducing policies that will actually work to prevent that? Why is the government not working with its provincial counterparts to introduce policies that would prevent youth crime? Why is it not implementing a national head start program that works to prevent youth crime?

If I were to say that there is a program that results in a 60% reduction in youth crime, that saves the taxpayer $7 for every $1 invested, would people not think it was a good solution? I would think any responsible government would embrace that policy.

Why did the government kill the national early learning program when the facts support that an early learning program, which enables children to have at least one responsible adult in their lives and where they can have adequate parenting, proper nutrition and proper access to love and care, ensures that a child's brain develops normally, particularly in the early years?

By keeping kids in school longer, they become less dependent on social programs, have better outcomes in education and have better integration into society. All of those things reduce youth crime. Why does the government not take the initiative to work with the provinces where it has willing partners to implement those solutions, such as an early learning headstart program, for every citizen in this country? That works.

Whether it is in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where it has had a 25 year retrospective analysis, or it is in a place like Hawaii with its healthy start program that produced a 99% reduction in child abuse rates, those programs, with a minimal amount of money and by working with parents and their children, have a profound positive effect on the outcomes of those children.

The provinces have another obstacle in terms of the implementation of the justice system. The provinces, which are the managers of our justice system, have backlogs. Right now, there is a huge prison population who have been remanded in jail while awaiting their day in court. We know that justice delayed is justice denied. Why does the Minister of Justice not work with his provincial counterparts to ensure they have the resources to ensure justice is seen to be working?

The government can also work with the provinces to ensure that administration takes place. The police officers have a terrible time, as do Crown prosecutors, to ensure youth criminals are able to have their day in court and that justice occurs in a fair but expeditious fashion.

All manner of loopholes exist that enable defence attorneys to block the ability of the justice being seen to go through from beginning to end and that is a big problem. It is frustrating for the police, for the courts and for the victims. It is frustrating for all concerned, except perhaps those who are involved in the defence and those who have committed the crime.

Intelligent solutions have been offered by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, by the Canadian Police Association and by victims groups that the government should be listening to, rather than pulling solutions out of its ear that are not based on fact and not based on experience but are rooted in ideology.

Not all of the interventions are bad. Keeping those who have committed violent offences and who have been shown to break their probation rules in jail is good because it has been proven that they committed those acts and that they flagrantly abuse the law as they see fit.

However, the government has a role. It has an obligation and a responsibility to ensure that it is implementing solutions with the provinces that work.

In my riding, in my area of Victoria, we have an enormous problem of youth crime and, in terms of homelessness, that is largely driven by drugs. The government should be doing two things.

We have good laws right now that address organized crime but they can be and should be strengthened. The government should be putting out a policy that deals with organized crime.

Right now, organized criminal activity that occurs across the border is fuelling the introduction of guns, drugs and other contraband, including contraband cigarettes, into Canada and yet the government has stuck its head in the sand and does not want to see it. It is happening all along the St. Lawrence and has become a huge problem for those communities along the St. Lawrence, including many aboriginal communities. However, no one speaks for those people who live in those communities. The government has stuck its head in the sand and those people are actually the victims of the government's neglect of their plight.

The other thing the government should have is an effective drug policy. It should also be supporting the Insite safe and supervised injection program in Vancouver, allowing it to be used in other communities in the country, and the NAOMI project, which is a narcotics substitution project that has been proven to get addicts out of jail, back into the system and to move on with their lives.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear my colleague begin his speech by referring to the fact that the most important role of government is to protect its citizens. I commend him for saying that but I think he went downhill from there.

He used to be on the opposition side of the House when the Liberals were in government and for years he railed against the Liberals for their inaction on crime. I had a chance to review some of his comments many years ago. And then something happened, although I do not know exactly what, but he crossed the floor and joined the governing Liberals of the day.

He spent a few years there and, over those years, violent crime got worse. In fact, Statistics Canada recently reported that not only did violent crimes in general get worse, but youth crimes went up by 3% and the number of youth accused of murder in 2006 was the highest in 40 years.

Given the fact that the Liberal policy of 13 long years failed, why will he not now give an opportunity to a new Conservative government to implement the kinds of criminal law policies that Canadians demand?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's facts are dead wrong on a number of counts.

He is correct in the sense that last year there was a blip and an increase in violent crime, but if he would be good enough to look at the statistics that he claims he looked at, he ought to look at the fact that basically from the late 1980s there has been a steady decline in crime, including gun crime, across the country and it has been in a steady decline for more than 14 years.

He is correct about there being a blip last year, but there is also a regional blip, particularly in Toronto, which means that we need to be looking for solutions to the problems in Toronto. The community and the mayor have come up with a number of solutions.

However, I want him to look into his heart and ask himself a question. His government is going to introduce a series of policies that will incarcerate more people. Some of those people, particularly that nub of small population that are inveterate criminals and are causing a problem, should be in jail and there should be a way to ensure that the police do not have go through this rotating door all the time.

He needs to ask himself whether his government should be implementing policies to deal with substance abuse and drug abuse, to have an early childhood education program for children, to have psych therapy for children and to have detox and treatment programs. Those are the things that work.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to this debate because I think it is very important to have these discussions.

I would like to offer my own interpretation of what we are looking at because for a number of years my wife and I worked with homeless people in downtown Toronto and we would take in people coming from the prison system to live with and to work with on rehabilitation. We found, of course, that the vast majority of criminals were not the evil ones that they are sometimes portrayed as, but are actually mostly the stupid ones. The reasons for which they get involved in crimes are so abominably stupid most of the times that it is surprising they did not get caught before they started.

However, what we found time and again with recidivism were issues of addiction and poverty and that once they fell into that system the abuse and humiliation, which is what they would talk about in prison, damaged them so much that they were coming out much worse than when they went in. It became harder and harder to help someone, especially young offenders who had been in two or three times, because of the abuse they were suffering in prison.

Does the hon. member have any suggestions about this facet of the criminal population, the ones who are first getting in there and how we can actually keep them from ending up as worse citizens at the end of the day?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend obviously knows where he comes from with his experience in this.

There is a small subpopulation of individuals who are inveterate criminals, who are mentally competent and who are actually sociopathic or psychopathic. They need to be in jail to protect the public at large. There is no question about that. The police are very frustrated with them and there needs to be a way to get them in jail and a way that works better.

However, for the population the member talked about, we need a drug policy that works. We need a prevention solution that works, which is the head start program for kids. We need adequate detox, adequate treatment facilities, the early learning program for children and psych therapy because many of these people have dual--