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

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's remarks. I must point out one thing. He talks about penalties not being a deterrent, but when there are no penalties, clearly there is no deterrent. That is what youth are approaching the justice system with right now. They do not care because they know they are not going to be punished.

The member talks about the Nunn report and says we are not including the principle of “protection of the public”. The whole thing is about protection of the public. He said that a person has to be found guilty, not just charged. I do not think he has read the bill. It states:

--unless

(a) the young person is charged with a violent offence or an offence that otherwise endangered the public....

So clearly it is about public safety. Further on, the bill states:

(c) the young person is charged with an indictable offence....

That means not necessarily convicted. Further, the bill states:

--including any pending charges against the young person, that the young person will, if released from custody, commit a violent offence or an offence that otherwise endangers the public by creating a substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm to another person.

It is all about protection of the public. It is not about only when a young person is found guilty. It is about when he is charged and when he has a record and so on. It is clear. I am not sure why the member says it is not.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, with respect to the statement that there are no penalties, there are penalties. Of course there are penalties. The member may not be happy with the application of the penalties, but there are penalties. The member may not be happy with the timeliness of the application of penalties, but there are penalties.

With respect to the member's concerns about protection of the public, why not simply adopt Justice Nunn's recommendation? It states:

--the federal government amend the “Declaration of Principle” in section 3 to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act.

These are the kinds of things that judges refer to continuously when considering sentences.The member may think that these are simply superfluous words, but these are significant words that Justice Nunn, on studying patterns of criminality and studying how judges deal with these things, says are important to incorporate.

Why is it not there?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

It is there.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

It is not.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. Further questions and comments, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech makes more sense than what I have heard from the members sitting opposite him, with the exception of the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, who spoke this morning.

I would like to honour the member by asking him the same question I asked the minister. Is the member aware of the difference between the crime rates in Quebec and in the rest of Canada? Did he know before today that there is a difference? Did he understand why there is a difference?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes, in terms of comparing Criminal Code offences under the youth justice system in Quebec to the others, there is a significance difference and they are significantly lower in Quebec.

There is, however, a caveat to that particular response. The caveat is that the Quebec government, for better or for worse, chooses to deal with similar offences under civil code legislation, under welfare legislation. I could be corrected on whether I am choosing the correct word. Therefore, it is not an exact comparison between Canada and Quebec.

The other provinces choose to deal with an equivalent kind of behaviour under this legislation, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, where Quebec, on a similar fact situation, will either deal with it under this or deal with it under more welfare directed legislation.

The behaviour itself I do not think is greatly different between Quebec and the rest of Canada. The way in which Quebec deals with it, however, is somewhat different and, arguably I think, somewhat better.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has played politics for far too long, shamelessly exploiting criminal justice issues for political gain.

The Conservatives have spent years trying to mislead Canadians saying that the Liberal Party approach on crime does not and did not work. However, Statistics Canada reported earlier this year that Canada's crime rate hit a 25 year low in 2006, completely contradicting the government's misrepresentations and fearmongering. In fact, in every province and territory, crimes rates have been reduced.

We Liberals believe that crime continues to be a very important concern that we need to tackle. However, the report proves that our approach to fighting crime was effective and has made Canadian communities safer. Our effort to fight crime was focused on a three-pronged approach: crime prevention, tough sentencing and an increase in enforcement.

The government has exploited crime statistics and incidences and tabled legislation that is focused on heavy punishment to generate headlines instead of dealing with the real issues and coming up with solutions. The Conservative government would rather scare Canadians instead of offering well thought out legislation.

Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is a prime example of this. Instead of working with opposition parties to create meaningful changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Conservative government is once again trying to force through legislation so it can slap a headline sticker on it and call it done.

The fact is that this bill is flawed. It is flawed because it only partially addresses the recommendations made by the Hon. Merlin Nunn, retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and the commissioner of the Nunn Commission of inquiry.

The commission recommended that improvements be made in three core areas: youth justice administration and accountability, youth crime legislation and prevention of youth crime. The Conservative bill only talks about adding deterrence and denunciation to the sentencing principles that a court must consider when determining a sentence for a conviction under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and using pretrial detention in cases where it might be warranted.

The bill fails to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act. It fails to amend the definition of a violent offence in section 39(1)(a) of the act to include conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person.

It fails to amend section 31(5)(a) of the act so that if the designated responsible person is relieved of his or her obligations under a responsible person undertaking, the young person's undertaking, under section 31(3)(b), nevertheless, remains in full force and effect, particularly any requirement to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, and other conditions imposed by a youth court judge.

It also fails to address the gaps in the legislation with respect to repeat violent youth offenders.

Those are very important amendments that were recommended by Justice Nunn and the Liberal Party.

We should send this bill to committee for further review to see to it that the right amendments are made to the bill and to ensure that any changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act reflect the necessary tightening of the bill.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act works for the majority of young offenders but we must amend the act to get tough on the group of young people whose activities pose a serious risk to society.

As Justice Nunn stated:

...I must make it absolutely clear and not open to question that all the witnesses I heard—police, prosecutors, defence counsel, and experts—agree with and support the aims and intent of the act. They accept it as a vast improvement over the previous legislation. All are convinced it is working well for the vast majority of young offenders, though it needs to be fine-tuned to provide effective means to handle the smaller, but regular number of repeat young offenders.

A full review of this bill and the implementation of Judge Nunn's recommendations would fulfill the legislative requirements, but our communities need more. We need a comprehensive criminal justice plan to be effective in fighting crime. We not only need tough legislation, we also need community-based policing, preventive measures and investments in increasing the strength in our police forces and prosecutors to ensure timely processing of cases.

Tony Cannavino, president of the Canadian Police Association, has stated that there is a massive shortage of uniformed officers and that across Canada there is not a police service that has near the number of staff it should have.

The Tory government made a promise almost two years ago to deliver 1,000 more RCMP officers and 2,500 more police officers on the streets but it has failed to deliver this to our communities. The Tory government made a promise almost two years ago and yet it has not delivered.

The Conservatives did not stop failing Canadians with just their broken promises. They have failed Canadians because they simply are not listening to those who serve and protect us. Canada's own association of police has stated that the fight against criminals will not be won with just more police and bigger jails. It takes social programs that prevent criminal behaviour. This means developing social programs that address the root problems in a holistic and collaborative manner.

I agree with Justice Nunn who stated:

To meet the need for collaboration in the provision of services, I recommend that a new and more effective strategy be developed to coordinate the various services to youth of the Departments of Community Services, Justice, Health, Health Promotion and Protection, and Education and other departments and their partner agencies (including police and community organizations) to enable greater collaboration in the provision of services to youth, better and more accessible services for at-risk children and youth and their families, and more efficient use of public services.

We also need more prosecutorial services to address the demand of paperwork and to process evidence. We need to support the provincial governments to increase the resources of the prosecutors and the court system such that criminals do not plea bargain and get away with their deserved sentencing. This is to ensure that the tough legislation we put in place is in fact effective.

The Conservatives, however, are more interested in slogan smearing and fearmongering rather than fulfilling their duty to Canadians.

Today, the Government of Canada is awash with surpluses but, after two federal budgets and a mini budget, the Conservatives have not allocated any new money to hire the promised officers. Pretending to be tough on crime is not the same as doing it. Promising funds and not actually allocating money in the budget is not the same as doing it.

Our law enforcement agencies want the necessary tools and funding for an increase in the workforce to make our communities safer. When will the government deliver on its promises?

Today I stand with the growing list of legislators who are calling the government's bluff and demanding that it fulfill its promises. In B.C. the attorney general and the Vancouver city mayor have publicly criticized the Conservative government's failure to deliver on promises of federal money to hire more officers.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. Sorry, but the hon. member's time expired a little while ago. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Edmonton Centre.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, again I listened with interest and I agree with a lot of things that the member said about things that need to be done. That is why in fact we are doing many of those things. I want to challenge him on a couple of things though and then I will ask a question.

He talked about StatsCanada saying the reported crime rate in Canada is down. At the same time violent crime is up and youth crime is up. That is why we are talking about Bill C-25, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, to address that situation.

We talked about adding 1,000 RCMP officers and 2,500 other officers and so on. That is great and we are doing that. We are recruiting and training very hard in the RCMP.

Does the hon. member think that there is an RCMP officer store where we can just go and buy a thousand RCMP officers off the shelf? That is not the way it works. They are highly trained. It takes at least a year to train an officer once he has been recruited. It does not happen overnight. A thousand is quite a large number. We are recruiting hard. We are training hard. We cannot just snap our fingers and produce these folks out of thin air, or does he think we can do that?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly the issue. Yes, we know it takes money to train police officers and so on but we have not seen any money. It is all empty talk in thin air.

The Conservatives promised that in their 2006 election campaign platform. There have been two budgets, the 2006 and 2007 budgets, and the mini-budget which was delivered a few weeks ago, and no money at all was allocated.

The Conservatives can say that they are doing it, but if there is no money, how can they start? That is the big frustration we all have. It is not only me. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has made that public in the newspapers. The attorney general of B.C., the hon. Mr. Oppal, as well as the mayor of Vancouver, Mr. Sullivan, went public to demand that the government fulfill its promise.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I notice the member did not finish the things he wanted to say so I would like to give him an opportunity to finish the things he did not get to say within his time.

The principle of the bill is deterrence. Increasing sentences has been proven by all the experts who came to committee not to be a deterrent but the likelihood of getting caught is a big deterrent. Of course that requires more police and investment in that area.

I would like the member to say what he did not get to say and then comment on that.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I must say that the purpose of the question and comment time is not for people to give speakers the opportunity to finish what they have to say, but I know that this can happen in a less transparent way. The member for Yukon might want to try to not be quite so transparent the next time he tries that.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

November 22nd, 2007 / 1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Chan Richmond, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's giving me this opportunity. What I was trying to say to wrap up my presentation is that the government has pretended for far too long that fighting crime is a priority when in fact the only priority for the government is to make hollow headlines.

It has missed an opportunity by failing to adequately address the gaps in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, by failing to listen to the call by legislators. Finally, the government has failed to address Canada's justice issues because it has not allocated a penny of new money, even though the government is awash with surpluses. Over the past three consecutive budgets, it has not allocated any new money to crime prevention, the hiring of new police officers or helping the provincial governments add more resources to the court system or hire more prosecutors.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to speak to this issue today in this House. I should begin by making the following comment. Even though this is my first term in this House as the member for Jeanne-Le Ber, I have the feeling that history is repeating itself. Whether the Liberals or the Conservatives are in power, the government continually takes this same wrong-headed approach to preventing crime, especially youth crime.

Even though all the studies and all the statistics tend to show that this approach does not work, the government is continuing to go in this direction. It is true that these American-style measures, inspired by George Bush, are popular with a certain segment of the population, especially in the rest of Canada. The government wants to be tougher on criminals, tougher on crime, and it believes these measures will solve every problem.

That was particularly true, in the experience of the Bloc Québécois, when it came time to adopt the amendments to the Young Offenders Act. At that time, the bill had been introduced by the Liberal government and was clearly contrary to the wishes of Quebec. A unanimous motion had been adopted in the Quebec National Assembly and all stakeholders from Quebec demanded that no one disturb their model, based on prevention of crime, that the legislation not be changed, or, at the very least, that the law should provide for exceptions so that Quebeckers could maintain a system focused on prevention rather than on repression.

In spite of all that good will and that unanimity in Quebec, the Liberal government of the day went ahead with that bill. Some provisions were challenged in the courts. However, it is clear that in no way was the problem solved.

Today, we find ourselves again facing a government that adopts this George Bush-style philosophy and takes great pleasure in repeating its famous maxim that we must get tough on crime and tough on criminals. This government presents us with another, similar bill, which will do a great deal more harm than good.

In the course of my remarks, I would like to explain why this bill is bad. It is bad because it is founded on a series of false premises. In their reasoning, the Conservatives often refer to common sense as their argument. It is obvious, they will say, that if we introduce minimum sentences there will be less crime.

In my view, we must go beyond this facile argument of the alleged evidence and common sense. I would point out that for thousands of years people thought the earth was flat. It was a matter of common sense: look straight ahead and everything is flat. However, that was not the case. When one went a little further, one could see that the earth is round. It is somewhat the same thing in this situation. Even though, at first glance, it seems comforting and easy to say that we have only to increase penalties and crime will decrease; when we go a little further and dig deeper, we find that is not the case. When we compare the approaches used in different countries around the world, and even in Quebec, we recognize that is definitely not what is happening.

In the end, those countries where legislation is based on prevention will have the lowest rates of criminal activity while those that emphasize repression will have higher rates of crime.

To begin, what exactly is criminal activity? This is one of the Conservative government's false premises and the Conservatives know that very well.

When they say that crime is going up in Canada, that our cities are less safe and that we are living in a more violent world, they know that is not true. The figures from Statistics Canada show that this is not so. The Conservatives are absolutely misleading the public. Instead of doing their job and explaining why we should take measures focused on prevention, they go ahead with that tack.

Since the early 1990s, the crime rate has generally been going down practically across the board for all types of offences. Obviously, when we look at the figures provided by Statistics Canada, there are variations from one year to another. That is true for any statistic. For different years, there are different results, but the general trend since the early 1990s is a drop in crime.

In the meantime, the media give too much attention to certain crimes, let us say the most sensational. Some scandals are so despicable they truly shock us. The 24-hour news media reports these stories more frequently. The way this is handled by the media might leave us under the impression that crime is going up, but that is just an impression. We can say with confidence that our world is much safer now than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

I meet with people in my riding who say, “Thierry, I saw this crime or that murder in the news. It is just awful. Things are bad”. That person might be from the Saint-Henri area, for example. Today in Saint-Henri, a woman can walk alone, cross through a park and never have any problem. She does not have to be afraid of going for a walk. With all due respect, that may not have been the case 30 or 40 years ago.

Our communities everywhere are becoming safer. Is that any reason to be complacent? Of course not. The Bloc Québécois has some proposals for things we should work on.

However, the fact is that the prevention-based system produces results. We can see this even in Canada, where the crime rate has gone down since the 1990s, as I mentioned earlier. The trend is there. Last year, the crime rate went up slightly in every province except Quebec, where the legislation focuses the most on prevention, especially where young offenders are concerned. We see the same thing when we compare ourselves to the United States or any other country. This correlation is very strong.

The second big myth that will have to be dispelled is that tougher laws are effective. This is completely false, as we can see if we take the simple example of homicides. In a number of U.S. states, homicides carry the death penalty. I respectfully submit to the House that I cannot see how, in a modern society, there could be a more serious penalty than death. According to the theory of punishment, there is no greater deterrent than the death penalty. Yet the results do not bear this out.

The crime rates, for murder or homicide, in the United States are three times the rates in Canada, which has lighter sentences. In Quebec, the rates are four times lower than in the United States. We can debate and discuss that and try to find a lot of psychological reasons to explain it, but it is a fact. Stiffer sentences have not been successful in the United States or anywhere in the world where they have been brought in.

One of the fundamental reasons for this is that people who intend to commit crimes will not be deterred by the potential length of the sentence or the fact of a minimum sentence, but by the fear of being caught.

In any event, regarding the minimum sentences we are talking about, a subject dear to Conservative hearts, who in this House knows what minimum sentences apply to various crimes? For example, is there a minimum sentence that applies to theft of a vehicle over $5,000? Who in this House knows the answer? No one knows. We could do this for most sentences in this House. I see some doubting looks: people are asking themselves where I am going with this.

I am convinced that in this House, even we, as legislators, do not know by heart what sentence applies to a particular crime, what crimes call for a minimum sentence, and what that minimum sentence is. We do not know. Now imagine the young offenders on our streets. They have no idea about what the minimum sentences are. Do we really think that before they commit a crime they are going to go and consult the Criminal Code, and say to themselves that because there is a minimum sentence of seven years for a particular crime, they will not commit it, and instead they will choose to commit a crime with a minimum sentence of three years? Come on! It is absurd to think that. In reality, what truly deters criminals is the fear of getting caught.

There are people who commit crimes, for example murders, homicides. There are people who commit crimes of passion, because the sparks fly, as they say. In a moment of madness and agitation, they get into a fight and they kill someone. There is not much that can be done. They are not even thinking about the consequences of their actions. There are people who premeditate a crime and plan it so they will not get caught. It is of no importance whether the crime they are preparing to commit is punishable by 5 years or 10 years or 15 years in prison, because they are convinced they will not get caught.

And that is why, instead of devoting resources to longer and longer prison terms, we should be allocating that money to our public safety systems, police services, the RCMP and the entire crime prevention apparatus and trying to spot potential criminals, to try to catch criminals before they commit crimes.

The Conservatives often talk to us about families that are victims of criminals. They ask us what we are doing for them. Personally, I want to work to ensure that there are fewer and fewer families who are victims of crime. For a family that has seen one of its members killed, the fact that the minimum sentence is 7 or 10 or 15 or 20 or 30 or 200 years does not change anything. We must work from the perspective of prevention, and the best way to do that is to provide the resources to catch criminals.

There is something else we have to work on. That is parole. The Bloc Québécois has some proposals to make on that subject. Parole must be granted on merit. There should be no automatic release on parole. Each case has to be studied, and when it is appropriate, when there are good reasons to believe that a person is rehabilitated, then he or she will be released on parole. If the person is not rehabilitated, then he or she should remain incarcerated.

The bill before us now, like a number of the government's bills, includes measures to impose automatic sentencing. The government is telling judges that a certain crime calls for a certain minimum sentence and that they have to presume guilt. The government wants to make judges' decisions for them. Yet when it comes to parole, the government is leaving existing automatic measures in place and is ignoring this much bigger issue. After a criminal has been convicted and sentenced and has served time, the system should take into account whether that person is really ready for release. That is what really matters here. Telling someone that he or she will be sentenced to 10 or 15 years in prison regardless of the circumstances is not the best thing for our society.

I have talked a lot about crime prevention and the justice system in general, but when it comes to the youth criminal justice bill before us now, we must not forget that prison is crime school, and that is the truth. Send a juvenile delinquent—a kid who has done a few bad things or who has criminal or slightly anti-social tendencies—to prison, and he will come out a hardened criminal. Had other, more appropriate options been available, that young person might have had a chance at rehabilitation and might have become the kind of person who contributes to society and respects the law.

What happens when judges are told to apply a given rule automatically and hand down a set sentence? What happens when judges are given no room to manoeuvre so they can hand down an appropriate sentence? They are forced to send youths to prison even though it is not really necessary. The bill under consideration would reverse the onus for pretrial, presentencing detention for youth.

Imagine. This is an attack on the principle of presumption of innocence. The judges are told that unless the young person is able to prove he is not in danger of committing certain crimes, they must automatically send him to prison. It will be up to him to prove that he is not dangerous. The presumption of innocence will be reversed, even if we do not know whether or not he is guilty. But people are sometimes acquitted at trial. With this measure, young people could very well be imprisoned and end up being found not guilty. They would have been imprisoned for nothing.

Imagine the damage that could do to a vulnerable young person who may already be experiencing difficulties. He will be jailed in a school of crime, and he is subjected to that when he may not even be guilty of a crime. I must stress that this could be much more harmful than helpful.

Members may have noticed that I did not go into detail about this bill. A number of people in this House will do so. There has been much talk about it in the Bloc Québécois. Nevertheless, I would like to talk about the downside of this American-style approach. This is essentially a George W. Bush policy we are seeing today. It is a tough-on-crime policy, and that is how we will treat criminals.

At the same time, it is completely hypocritical, because they refuse to review the parole system or give our police services the money they need to catch criminals. Above all, they refuse to build a more just society where there is more emphasis on helping others. Since a good number of crimes are born out of poverty and human suffering, we would have a much greater chance of lowering crime if we tried to do something about that suffering.

To top it all off, the ultimate hypocrisy of the Conservatives, in trying to get tough on crime, is that they want to put more guns in circulation and they want to make life easier for those who wish to obtain and use firearms by dismantling the gun registry, even though everyone is telling them that it is the wrong thing to do. The police, lawyers and social workers are telling them that but, in spite of everything, they want to go ahead. Their policy in general is to simplify life for those who want to obtain firearms and to impose minimum sentences on those who commit crimes in the hope that they will not act up.

It is not the right thing to do. This government's crime prevention policy is bad. In fact, it does not have a crime prevention policy. It has a crime punishment policy that kicks in when the crime comes to light. This is not the way to go for Canada or for Quebec.