House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canadian Forces Superannuation Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 5, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business. The recorded division will also apply to Motion Nos. 2 through 11.

The House resumed from April 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas has 11 minutes remaining in his speech.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is good to have this chance to continue the discussion on C-4, the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Concerns have also been raised about ending the publication ban on the names of young people charged with a crime in the apparent hope that denunciation will be a deterrent. The bill would require the courts to consider lifting the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when youth sentences would be given.

The publication ban has been important in the past. It helps ensure a situation where young people can truly be rehabilitated and put a serious mistake behind them by avoiding the publicity associated with their crime. It also prevents the shaming that is part of any criminal conviction. The publication ban was also seen as significant in that it interrupted and even subverted the ability of criminal organizations and gangs to recruit young people who were in trouble with the law. These are all crucial considerations for our youth criminal justice system.

It is also very unclear just what the bill proposes with regard to the publication ban. It seems that judges will still have discretion in this area, so the bill may not change the current situation. The government may only be pretending to do something on that issue.

The Conservatives are still chipping away at an important concept in our youth criminal justice system in the way they regularly criticize this aspect of the system. The Conservatives continue to whip up hysteria about crime. They continue to refuse to analyze youth crime statistics. Prior to 2005, violent youth crime was declining in Canada. Yes, there was a spike in 2005-06, but in 2007 it started to decline again.

Understanding these trends, rather than merely offering a knee-jerk reaction to them, would be a more responsible approach. Looking at what actually works to reduce youth crime would also be helpful.

Quebec provides a great example. Quebec is perhaps the most successful jurisdiction in Canada when it comes to reducing youth crime. It has the lowest youth crime rate. How has Quebec done that? It has stressed rehabilitation and treatment, first and foremost. It also has the lowest number of youth raised to adult court. Ensuring particular programs and process that recognize the needs and realities of youth has worked to lower youth crime. The federal government could learn much from this example.

We know that prevention works. Making education affordable, keeping youth unemployment low, ensuring excellent health care for children and youth, ending child poverty, providing high-quality child care and early childhood education, affordable recreation, putting in place accessible drug education and treatment programs, programs for those living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and programs to prevent it, all of these have shown, time and time again, to be more cost effective and a more effective way of dealing with alienation and criminal activity of children and youth.

When one looks at the research, if one bothers, there is no doubt about how effective this approach is. In particular, the situation of aboriginal youth demands more attention from the government. The correctional investigator of Canada pointed out in her recent report:

Aboriginal youth are also overrepresented among criminalized young people. Research shows that Aboriginal young people are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-Aboriginal young people....the gap between traditional correctional approaches, and Aboriginal methods of justice and reconciliation [must be addressed]. The ongoing support and involvement of elders, Aboriginal liaison officers, community representatives and Aboriginal organizations is viewed as key to closing the outcome gaps for First Nations, Métis and Inuit offenders. Advocates for Aboriginal inmates have long stressed that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organizations must be directly involved in developing and providing appropriate programs, and actively involved in the evaluation of current assessment tools used by CSC.

Finally, the correctional investigator points out that the government must “implement a security classification process that ends the overclassification of Aboriginal offenders”.

Restorative justice is another approach that must be taken. Restorative justice has been defined as a turn away from the adversarial, punishment-oriented philosophy of criminal justice toward the focus on bringing victims, offenders and the community together to repair harm, build understanding and restore relationships.

Building a justice system that seeks to restore broken relationships, rather than merely punishing those who commit offences, has shown huge promise and often startling and positive results.

In the United States, teen courts, which deal with actual criminal cases and issues, have been shown to sharply reduce recidivism. Youth who commit crimes and are judged by their peers are far less likely to reoffend. What is more, the teen court model is much more cost effective than the regular criminal justice system.

Here is how Ritchie Eppink and Scott Peterson described the U.S. experience of teen courts in an article in LawNow. They say:

American teen court programs continue to demonstrate phenomenal success, all at a miniscule cost. Peer courts not only appear to reduce repeat crime by youth, they are dynamic programs that promote volunteerism and community service, build a range of interpersonal skills in their participants, and interactively teach youth about law and justice in partnership with adults. Though letting youth co-operatively handle their own problems is a simple concept, it has turned out to be an uncommonly effective one--one that is fast becoming an integral part of youth justice in America.

In my community, the Burnaby youth restorative justice program has proven very successful. Its shoplifting program in particular has had great success in helping young people appreciate the seriousness of the crime, but in a way that ensures that the relationships it damages are restored. Here is how the program was described in a recent article in the Burnaby NewsLeader. The reporter says:

The retail theft circle program was created last June in a collaboration between RCMP detachments in Burnaby, North Vancouver and Richmond, and was based on a model used to combat graffiti in Vancouver.

Burnaby has since taken the lead with the unique program and has held four such circles with 38 youth participating, said Stephen Morton, Burnaby RCMP’s restorative justice program coordinator.

Youth caught shoplifting, generally aged 13 to 17 and first-time offenders, are referred to the voluntary program by RCMP officers. Morton said the kids involved come from a broad cross-section of society, he noted. He’s seen kids from middle-class families to single-parent families, students and dropouts.

The program’s name is reminiscent of aboriginal healing circles, and other elements are borrowed from aboriginal traditions. For example, participants sit on chairs in a circle, with no table in between to hide behind, and a “talking piece” is passed around allowing the person holding it to feel empowered to speak.

In addition to the youth, participants include police officers, loss-prevention officers and store managers. The circles are as much about those harmed by shoplifting as it is about those picked up for the crime, Morton said.

Over a two-hour period, they each speak about the impacts of shoplifting. For retailers, the losses add up and lead to increased prices on all goods, and they feel victimized. For police and mall security, such incidents take time away from more pressing emergencies such as people needing medical assistance.

As for the youth, they often speak of how a shoplifting incident has made them feel shame and how it’s affected their relationship with their parent

Some kids say they steal because they want something but don’t want to or can’t pay for it, said Morton.

“Sometimes it’s because of a peer influence. There’s a perception among their peers that it’s a victimless crime.”

What’s important to Morton is that the youth acknowledge what they’ve done and that it’s affected people.

“Sometimes you kind of see the light go off for some kids. They’re able to see how it affects the broader community.”

He’ll sometimes see the same happen with the adults in the room. “The adults can see these youth are humans, not just thieves, but members of the community.”

There are all kinds of good results from this kind of process, better citizenship on the part of the youthful offender, the victim of crime, community members and enforcement personnel all result. It is a success story that cannot be dismissed and an approach that should be expanded. Why does restorative justice remains the very poor cousin of our justice system when its benefits are so very obvious?

Bill C-4 takes our youth criminal justice system in the wrong direction. While it seems apparent that the bill will move to committee for further study and discussion, I hope the process will make its flaws absolutely clear and that it will either be abandoned or significantly changed.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, because I just travelled a fair distance to take part in this extremely important debate, I did not have the chance to listen to my colleague's whole speech, but I found the last part extremely interesting. I want to thank my colleague for talking about this issue, and I would like him to tell us about restorative justice. He had some very interesting things to say, but if he can, I would like him to talk a bit more about restorative justice in connection with this bill.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, restorative justice is a concept that has been around for a long time. In fact, it is fundamental to first nation, Inuit and Métis people in Canada. We and the rest of Canadian society have been learning largely from them. However, it is also a concept that has been proven time and time again to be a very effective way of preventing crime and restoring relationships in communities, which also goes a long way to preventing future crime and recidivism.

We know this. It has been proven over and over again, yet, we still do not put this front and centre in our approach to criminal justice issues. It is always on the corner of somebody's desk. People who work in the area of restorative justice have to fight tooth and nail for any kind of acknowledgment of their work, any kind of funding to build these important programs.

That needs to change. Instead of this being something that gets worried about once in a blue moon, we need to ensure that it is front and centre, that it is part of the everyday conversations we have in government and in the Department of Justice about how we better serve Canadians and how we improve our criminal justice system.

There are many ways to do that. Perhaps we need, as I proposed with a number of members in the House, a bill establishing a department of peace, which would have as its mandate ensuring that restorative justice measures were front and centre at the cabinet table, that there was an advocate at the cabinet table to argue for a restorative justice approach, both domestically and internationally. We need to ensure that this was not just an afterthought, that this was not just something where we said, “let's go and check that out if we have time”. We need to ensure it there from the get-go in any kind of conversation about criminal justice matters in terms of matters of restoring peace in our communities and around the world.

We need to move to this, quit putting it off and get to it right away.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, part of the member's non-support for the bill was premised on his belief that crime statistics were going in a downward trend. I know we hear from chiefs of police from time to time at the justice committee that put that premise somewhat in doubt. Because there is a difference between crime rates and reported crime rates, especially with respect to property, in which often young offenders are involved. Often there is less reporting of property offences.

Does he have any comment regarding whether he actually believes crime statistics are down or only reported crime.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any doubt about the fact that there is a problem with the reporting of crime statistics. However, the reality is violent crime has gone down as have violent crime statistics. That is an important one to know.

I also think, though, if we changed our approach to dealing with criminal justice issues, there would be better reporting. People would have more confidence in the system. If there were a restorative justice option available to people, they would report more property crimes.

In the past I was a victim of a property crime. One morning I got up to walk the dog and someone had spray-painted all down the side of my house in great giant letters, “You've almost been robbed”. It was all spelled correctly, punctuated correctly, which maybe is a credit to our educational system. However, it did make rather a big mess of the house.

When I walked the dog, a couple of blocks away the police arrested a young man. I noticed there were a series of spray paint cans lined up on the roof of the car. I suggested to the police officers that they might want to come and check out my house. He was an aboriginal young person.

We were approached to participate in a restorative justice program through the Native Friendship Centre in Vancouver, which we engaged. We were incredibly impressed by that process. We lived in a duplex at the time. The folks at the front of the duplex were corporate lawyers, and they also participated, reluctantly at first. However, they, too, were impressed with the rigour of the process, with the demands that it made on all the participants and with the goal of to ensure that both action was taken by the offender to get his life together and to give up the kind of petty crime in which he was involved. It also went to the extent to ensure that we had a positive relationship as neighbours with this young man.

If other people had that kind of positive experience of the criminal justice system, that kind of confidence that a petty property crime could have this kind of positive outlook, I think more Canadians would engage the process and we would all be better citizens and better neighbours because of it.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the government conducted some consultations with Canadians but never published a report on it. It made me want to look into it a little further.

One issue that came up in the debate last week was mentioned by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who reminded the House that about 40% to 50% of inmates in prisons across Canada suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or other alcoholic birth defects. That problem is incurable but 100% preventable.

It would seem to me that when almost half the inmates in our jails suffer from this affliction, which is preventable, that somehow the thinking of our legislation as it relates to young offenders should take into account that the rehabilitation part is not applicable to people who suffer from FASD and that there has to be another course of action to deal with them. I wonder if the member is aware of that and would care to comment.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for his work on FASD. He is one of the experts in the House and should probably answer his own question because I am sure he knows more about that particular subject than I do.

However, it is a glaring example that if we are truly serious about dealing with the rate of crime in our society, dealing with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has to be a top priority. However, it does not seem to have made it on the list in that sense.

We know that a high percentage of folks incarcerated in Canada are living with FASD, which should give us cause to say that something has gone awry. We do not put enough resources into prevention. The whole prospect of getting alcohol labelling in Canada has apparently been so fraught with difficulty that we have not managed to accomplish that even though the House on a number of occasions has spoken very clearly on that issue. That is just one small piece of the prevention issue.

We could be doing a significantly better job. It would be cost effective for us, make us safer and improve people's lives dramatically. There are all kinds of reasons for doing it and yet we see it as some kind of side issue on the corner of somebody's desk. It is time we put it front and centre and ensured that the kinds of programs that are successful will provide a benefit all across society.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, some weeks ago I was at an event where representatives from the John Howard Society spoke and indicated that crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, were down, except for one group in Ontario, and that was young men aged 25 to 33. Of course, the speaker connected that to the cuts experienced in Ontario through the Mike Harris government, cuts to after-school programs, prevention programs and community supports. I would like him to comment on that, please.