Youth Criminal Justice Act

An Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Anne McLellan  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2002 / 6 p.m.
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Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight to debate the Senate amendment to Bill C-7.

The proposed amendment and the rest of Bill C-7 would provide a legislative framework that would support a fairer and more effective youth justice system for all Canadians, including our aboriginal youth. Real change however, requires more than legislation. That is why Bill C-7 is only one element of a broader initiative to renew youth justice in Canada.

The youth justice renewal initiative was launched in 1998 as a broad based approach to dealing with youth crime in Canada. From the start, it was implemented in close collaboration with the provinces and territorial ministries responsible for youth justice. It is linked to other federal, provincial and territorial strategies including the government's response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention and the National Children's Agenda. It comes with significant new federal resources.

Since the launch of the youth justice renewal initiative, new five year financial arrangements worth $950 million have been negotiated with the provinces and territories to support the implementation of Bill C-7 and the overall policy objectives of the initiative. All provinces and territories except two, Ontario and Quebec, have signed the offers made to them.

The new agreements promote and support the program and services most likely to help in the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons in conflict with the law and in reducing Canada's reliance on the formal court process and custody.

Additional financial support is also available again to provincial and territorial ministries responsible for youth justice but as well to aboriginal communities, bands and organizations, alternative measures societies, school boards, public legal education and information associations other non-governmental organizations, and community groups with a role to play in the renewal of youth justice in Canada.

The youth justice renewal fund is carefully targeted to lay the groundwork for and assist and support in the implementation of the youth criminal justice bill and the broader youth justice renewal initiative.

The capacity of aboriginal peoples to participate in and deliver community based youth justice programs is critical to repairing a flawed youth justice system, limiting the use of the formal court process for aboriginal youth and reducing their rate of custody. Through the youth justice renewal fund, funds would be available to assist aboriginal peoples and communities to build their capacity to develop, assume or expand their role in the youth justice system.

The aboriginal community capacity building component of the fund would be used by communities to, among other things, inform themselves about the youth criminal justice bill, assess their justice needs and develop their capacity to establish and deliver culturally relevant youth justice committees, extrajudicial measures and sanctions, alternatives to pre-trial detention, community reintegration initiatives and community based sentences.

To date, approximately 50 aboriginal based projects have been supported through the youth justice renewal fund including: reintegration and alternative measures programs in Barrie, Ontario; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan; and Punky Lake, British Columbia; community justice committees at the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, at Coral Harbour in Nunavut and in the Ermineskin region in Alberta; national training and information sharing conferences including the fourth national Metis youth conference in Regina, and the 2001 restorative justice conference in Winnipeg; as well as regional training and information sharing workshops in southeastern Vancouver and in first nations communities in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

There are many aboriginal and other communities across Canada eager to do more to reduce the number of their young people going into custody. In an effort to target the aboriginal community capacity building funds to those communities experiencing some of the greatest difficulty with their young people, a one day snapshot of aboriginal youth in custody was undertaken. This project, as well as providing vital information about aboriginal youth in custody, also served as a prime example of a collaborative approach to researching a problem and devising a solution through the involvement of a wide range of partners.

The study, conducted by the federal Department of Justice with the support of all provincial, territorial ministries responsible for aboriginal youth in custody, profiled aboriginal youth in custody on a single day. It indicated who these youth were, what their home communities were like, where they committed the offence leading to custody and where they would be returning upon their release.

The study provided a rough blueprint of the communities that needed support in dealing with aboriginal youth crime, thereby helping to target youth justice resources. Perhaps not surprisingly, the snapshot revealed a significant western urban problem of aboriginal youth in custody. The results of the study were shared with representatives of other federal departments with mandates relevant to youth justice matters and with provincial and territorial youth justice officials. Discussions were held on how best to respond to the study.

While the study pointed to western urban areas generally, it clearly identified Winnipeg as the city with the greatest number of aboriginal youth in custody on snapshot day. How do we respond? How do we ensure that this research does not become another shelved study?

We need to move quickly and first of all in Winnipeg. We need to bring together Winnipeg based community representatives, provincial and municipal officials, youth justice officials, federal representatives with programs in Winnipeg, aboriginal youth, police officers, arts and recreation specialists and elders to identify current programming for youth in conflict with the law, discuss gaps in programs and services, and plan how best to fill these gaps, both in the short term and the long term.

This initial Winnipeg workshop was held on November 12, 2001 in Winnipeg with over 60 participants. With a goal of marshalling current programs and services and tapping into some new money, the first step has now been taken in moving ahead collaboratively with what is being called the Cities Project for Aboriginal Youth.

Similar planning workshops will be held in several other cities over the next few months while work continues in Winnipeg. Frontline police officers are often, if not always, the first to confront young people about to be in conflict with the law. The new legislation would strengthen and promote the use of their discretion in dealing with youth. Many of Canada's police officers are using their discretion effectively, developing and bringing to bear innovative and creative ways of dealing with youth. Aboriginal police working with aboriginal youth are in the forefront.

The Minister of Justice national youth justice policing award, established in the year 2000 with the full co-operation and support of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, recognized this innovation. In both years in which the award has been given, aboriginal police working with aboriginal youth have been the winners.

In 2000 the award was presented to Constables Rick Kosowan and Willie Ducharme of Winnipeg for their work with the Ganootamaage justice system, school justice circles and gang members, as well as their successful efforts to bridge the gap between police and aboriginal cultures.

This year the award was presented to Constable Max Morin who was recognized for his imaginative leadership in starting and supporting a number of innovative projects involving aboriginal youth in Ahousaht, British Columbia. It was an honour for me personally to present the award to Constable Morin last summer. Some of the projects included educational field trips, encouraging careers in law enforcement, active participation in healing circles, and discussions involving youth in conflict with the law, victims and families. Family circles, talking circles and circle sentencing were just some of the options used by Constable Morin as an alternative to the court system.

The role aboriginal peoples and their communities can play in the renewal of youth justice in Canada and how this role can be facilitated and assisted was a key feature of this initiative. As early as November 1999 Youth Justice Policy hosted a three day aboriginal youth justice information and skills exchange forum in Winnipeg for more than 180 representatives from aboriginal communities across Canada.

The forum was an opportunity to share experiences, advice and successful programming tips. Following the forum participants were invited to visit one or more of the programs they had learned about as a way of helping them determine whether a similar program might work within their own community.

Youth Justice Policy recently held a roundtable discussion on aboriginal youth and the proposed youth criminal justice bill here in Ottawa. The roundtable provided an opportunity for key professionals across the country to discuss the challenges and possible avenues associated with implementing the provisions of the new legislation in a manner that was culturally relevant and addressed the needs of aboriginal youth. This roundtable was one in a series in which Youth Justice Policy sought a discussion on the complex issues associated with youth and the criminal justice system.

Over 200 invitations were extended since the launch of Youth Justice Policy's internet based discussion forum on aboriginal youth justice issues.

This web based forum is a vehicle for sharing information and exchanging ideas on aboriginal youth justice issues. Following up on the round table discussion, the forum is open to all national and local aboriginal organizations and community groups as well as individuals working in the youth justice field.

These are just a few of the many initiatives for aboriginal youth supported by the Department of Justice through the youth justice renewal initiative.

In closing, the new youth criminal justice act and the broader youth justice renewal initiative provide us with an excellent framework to work together in addressing some profound aboriginal youth justice challenges. This new law together with the Senate amendment will give us the opportunity to build a better youth justice system, not just for aboriginal youth but for all Canadians.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2002 / 5:50 p.m.
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NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was a member of Parliament in 1984. I believe that I am the only member still in the House today who was also a member of the Standing Committee on Justice that actually drafted the Young Offenders Act.

I rise today in support of the amendment moved by my colleagues from the Bloc Quebecois and more importantly to say that I believe that the Young Offenders Act has worked well in Quebec. It has worked well precisely because the Government of Quebec has respected the fundamental principles of this legislation by providing the necessary resources to support the alternatives found within the act and to achieve the results that those who drafted the legislation wanted. That was to reduce the number of young offenders and to emphasize rehabilitation and prevention, rather than imprisonment and retribution. It was designed in fact to avoid, as many provinces do, young offenders being put in the same jails as adults.

I would have hoped that all of the other provinces could have respected the principles of the Young Offenders Act, as Quebec has done.

I regret the proposal that Quebec opt out of Bill C-7. What I would prefer instead, is that Bill C-7 be withdrawn and that the fundamental principles adopted by Quebec by supporting the Young Offenders Act be applied throughout Canada, in every province and territory. That is what I would hope for. Unfortunately, such is not the case.

Therefore, I have no objection recognizing the distinct character of Quebec society and recognizing at the same time that the current legislation has worked well in Quebec. Our objectives, those of us who drafted this legislation, have largely been met in Quebec, but not in the other provinces.

For this reason, I rise today to congratulate Quebecers and to tell them that we respect you for the way that you have embraced the principles of prevention and rehabilitation instead of vengeance and imprisonment. I wish that these principles could be respected throughout Canada. If this cannot be done through this bill, then at least Quebec should respect them.

For this reason, I will be supporting the Bloc Quebecois amendment.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Senate amendment as well as to the amendment brought forward by my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm. I am all the more pleased because Bill C-7 now before us, the youth criminal justice act, has been around for a while.

Discussions have been going on in this House since 1995. I was not there then. Today, I am pleased to close this debate. I will probably be one of the last members of the Bloc Quebecois to speak to this issue.

I want to congratulate my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm who, since 1995, has done a good job defending Quebec's position as well as the interests of young people and of all Quebecers. I salute his work.

The amendment to the Senate amendment proposed by my colleague from Berthier—Montcalm is simple. It reads as follows:

That the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-7, An Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other Acts, be not now read a second time and concurred in, since it does not in any way take into consideration the distinct character of Quebec and the Quebec model for implementation of the Young Offenders Act.

This amendment to the Senate amendment fully summarizes the position and the consensus reached by Quebec stakeholders. They did not want Quebec to be subjected to this legislation. They all wanted Quebec to have the right to opt out. Again, I am pleased, as the last speaker for the Bloc Quebecois, to name the members of the coalition: the Commission des services juridiques, the Conseil permanent de la jeunesse, the Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec, Jean Trépanier of the University of Montreal School of Criminology, the Centre communautaire juridique de Montréal, the Fondation québécoise pour les jeunes contrevenants, the Institut Philippe Pinel, the Association des directeurs de police et pompiers du Québec, the Conférence des régies régionales de la santé et des services sociaux, the Association des Centres jeunesse du Québec, the Crown Prosecutors' Office, which is under the Quebec Department of Justice, the Association des CLSC et des CHSLD du Québec, Marc Leblanc of the University of Montreal School of Psycho-Education, the Regroupement des organismes de justice alternative du Québec, the Child Welfare League of Canada, the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, the Association des avocats de la défense du Québec, the Société de criminologie du Québec, Dr. Jim Hackler, of the University of Victoria Department of sociology, Tim Quigley, a law professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Marge Reitsma-Street, an associate professor at the University of Victoria Faculty of Human and Social Development, the British Columbia Criminal Justice Association, the Innu, the Government of Quebec through a resolution unanimously passed by all the parties at the National Assembly, the Action démocratique du Québec, the Quebec Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois.

All these stakeholders built a broad consensus in Quebec to ask the federal government to simply exempt Quebec from this legislation. Why? Namely because of the data that have been published over the past seven or eight years, since 1995. Why has it been so hard for the Government of Canada to adopt new provisions in the House? Simply because the numbers do not support such measures.

It wanted to amend the Young Offenders Act, which was passed in this House in 1984, and has produced results. I will give some statistics.

For instance, between 1991 and 1997, the indictment rate for youth dropped by 23%. The indictment rate for violent crimes among young people has dropped by 3.2% since 1995. In 1997, the national crime rate declared by the police was down for the sixth consecutive year. Rates for nearly every violent offence went down, including sexual assault by 9%, robbery by 8%, and homicide by 9%. The rate for youth charged with criminal code offences is down by 7%, confirming the general downward trend observed since 1991. The rate of youth charged with violent crime dropped by 2% for the second consecutive year. It should also be noted that the majority, 53%, of young people who were indicted were charged with property offences and 20% with violent crimes.

Furthermore, when one compares Quebec to the other provinces with regard to the youth incarceration rate, Quebec has the lowest rate. When comparing indictment rates among provinces, again Quebec has the lowest rate.

This is also true of British Columbia, when it comes to the incarceration rate. No wonder our colleague from British Columbia supports the Bloc Quebecois in its demands to keep the current act, which focuses mainly on rehabilitation and reintegration rather than indictment.

This is the harsh reality: in 1984, when the Young Offenders Act was passed by a Conservative government, there were more members from Quebec in the House at that time than there are now under the current Liberal government. The 1984 act came into being as a result of discussions started under the Liberal government of Pierre-Elliott Trudeau, which had many more Liberal members from Quebec than the current Liberal government has today.

Naturally, there is a good reason why the Young Offenders Act of 1984, which reflected a consensus on rehabilitation and reintegration, was passed. What does the Liberal government of today intend to do with its 35 Liberal members from Quebec? It wants to go against this direction given by a Tory government in 1984, following discussions held under a Liberal government. These two governments had a far greater number of members from Quebec and, naturally, they achieved a greater consensus from Quebec in this House.

Today, we have 35 Liberal members from Quebec, a fair number of whom are ministers. They do not want to antagonize the majority, which is, of course, from Ontario.

When you look at the charge, conviction and custody sentence rates, you see that Ontario and Western Canada, except British Columbia, are the regions where the number of custody sentences and the charge rate per province are the highest.

These provinces, these societies have not chosen the direction recommended in the 1984 act, that is an approach focused on rehabilitation and reintegration. In fact, given the results, only two provinces have chosen that path: Quebec and British Columbia.

There is a reason why—ironically—in this House today, we have a Minister of Justice from Quebec proposing and discussing closure. This is ironic because, since 1995, since the very first debates, we never had a Minister of Justice from Quebec to discuss such an important situation as that of criminal justice for youth or young offenders. So, ironically, it is a Minister of Justice from Quebec who had to answer our questions today.

He had to answer our questions on the Quebec consensus. The questions our colleagues have put repeatedly to the Minister of Justice were simple. How many stakeholders, individuals or groups from Quebec appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice to support Bill C-7?

The Minister of Justice, a minister from Quebec and a member from Quebec, has never been able to answer this question to which we, in the House, all know the answer. No individual, group or coalition from Quebec appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice to support Bill C-7.

Why? Because the Quebec consensus is virtually unanimous. We say virtually, because there are at least 35 Liberal members from Quebec in the House who support Bill C-7. And, of course, the government is rushing to invoke closure today. It rushed to invoke closure when Bill C-7 was debated in the House before being sent to the Senate. Why? So that government members would not have to speak.

When a gag is imposed, the time MPs have for interventions is limited, and the opposition is restrained in the expression of its opinion, but so are the Quebec representatives of the Liberal Party, who might have had the opportunity to go and explain to their constituents why they were supporting a bill like Bill C-7 that we have before us, on which there is nowhere near anonymity. It is even denounced by all those working in the field.

It is difficult for the Quebecers and Canadians listening to us to have a proper understanding of how we can end up today with a restricted debate and acceptance of a bill that is intended to bring in a totally new law. It does away with the 1984 Young Offenders Act, and with the consensus of that time, which brought the bulk of Quebec members of this House on side.

The 1984 statute was the work of the Conservatives. It followed on to the discussions held initially under the Pierre Elliott-Trudeau Liberal regime, at a time when there were more Quebec Liberal MPs than at present. There were more Conservatives as well, as this was the time of the Mulroney government. At that time, the majority of that House, including the representatives of Quebec, made the decision to pass a piece of legislation that was focused on rehabilitation and reintegration.

In 2002, the decision was made to set that legislation aside. This evening, the Liberal MPs from Quebec will likely be voting along with the others and C-7 will get passed, against the consensus in Quebec. This is very hard for the Quebec community to accept.

Once again, I thank the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm for his tireless battle over the past eight years on amendments to the young offender legislation.

What the Quebec representatives were asking for was simple: the system is working well, as statistics show. The 1984 Young Offenders Act is working well, so why not allow Quebec to opt out of this bill?

I would remind hon. members that, after the 1995 referendum, this House passed a resolution—the Liberal majority of course ensuring that it was passed—recognizing the distinct character of Quebec society. It must be acknowledged that, when we are able to convince the Liberal majority that Quebec is distinct in the way it applies the Young Offenders Act, the way it handles youth crime, when we have the chance to apply that distinct character here in this House, then the Quebec Liberals vote against the specific nature and distinct character of Quebec.

This is why, for Quebecers who are listening to us, the federal government does not have a good reputation in the community, whichever party is in power. Federal politicians are terribly unpopular in Quebec. It is not like Bloc Quebecois members are not trying to boost the image of federal MPs.

The hard reality is that, once again, when the federal Liberal members from Quebec have a chance to prove to their constituents that they are useful and can defend their interests, they vote for a bill like Bill C-7, which has been criticized by the majority of stakeholders in Quebec and by the Quebec national assembly. This is the situation faced by the Quebecers listening to us and watching as they eat their supper. Once again, they are witnessing what will have been a hard day for Quebec's identity in Canada.

Our approach to adolescents and to the youth justice system is not the same as elsewhere in Canada. We have much better results.

We have much better results and, for over 30 years, we have had an entire organization made up of individuals and organizations who are working and who have worked to build the present system for young offenders throughout Quebec.

That is why these stakeholders, who were working well before 1984, managed at the time to convince the Liberal government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney that the solution needed in the case of young offenders was to have independent legislation targeting rehabilitation, which will no longer be the case with this bill.

It is why the majority of stakeholders, the Coalition pour la justice des mineurs, the organizations that I mentioned earlier, this series of organizations and all those who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, all denounced the bill before us, which will be voted on this evening. It will not be possible to change or amend this legislation for several years, since we have been working to change it since 1995. We have worked on it for eight years and it will probably take another eight years before any changes are made to it.

The stakeholders in Quebec, the various groups and politicians in Quebec, will have to be happy with what will be passed today by parliament, the Government of Canada, with 35 Liberal members who have decided to toe the line, and a Minister of Justice—I repeat, this is a terrible coincidence for Quebec, a Minister of Justice from Quebec—who, on this last day of debate on Bill C-7, had to answer such important questions as “How many stakeholders from Quebec appeared before your committee to support Bill C-7?” He did not wish to answer. He preferred to play politics and tried everything he could to change the direction of the discussion, when we know very well that there is no organization, no individual in Quebec, who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to support Bill C-7.

All the stakeholders who appeared asked that Quebec be recognized as a distinct society and allowed to opt out of the legislation for the good and simple reason that things are working for us in Quebec, and the statistics prove it. I repeat, it is not for nothing that, since 1995, this parliament has been unable to reach an agreement.

Somewhere, Canada's nation building is still not working. Different societies and communities have different policies. And the Quebec community, the nation of Quebec, has a position that is very different from the rest of Canada. That is the reality. And 35 Liberal members from Quebec have not recognized that reality, and will not recognize it a little while from now. Perhaps some of them will not be here to vote and will prefer to be absent, obviously.

However, it is a hard day for Quebecers and for all the organizations and stakeholders who work for youth justice, who work with young offenders. Once again, they will have to go along with different legislative amendments or different interpretations by judges, which will change the rehabilitation-oriented approach that Quebec has been proposing for the past 30 years.

I will conclude by thanking the member for Berthier—Montcalm for his efforts over the past eight years, for so relentlessly defending the young offenders file, for so relentlessly defending the interests of Quebecers who, once again, will never have been as ill-served as they will be this afternoon in the House.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2002 / 5:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think the speech made by the member for Mississauga West is just further proof that government members confuse things and do not understand Bill C-7 that is before us.

I will give you just two examples from the member's speech. He talked about the criminal code and Bill C-7 as two pieces of legislation that should be identical. He even referred to section 718 of the criminal code to justify certain changes made to the legislation dealing with young offenders.

They are two different systems. Each time the government amended the Young Offenders Act, it was to bring it more in line with the criminal code. It is a mistake. I think the member does not understand that.

He also does not understand when he said that Bill C-7 would allow us to use various extrajudicial measures, as if this were something new. The Young Offenders Act already provides for alternative measures. It is exactly the same thing as extrajudicial measures. Maybe it was easier for the member to understand when we were talking about alternative measures instead of extrajudicial measures, but it is the same thing. Once again, this shows that the member for Mississauga West does not understand the bill on which he will be voting.

When he says that he is representing his constituents, I am sure that if he were still in Queen's Park, he would be against Bill C-7, as the majority of MLAs in Queen's Park is against it, not for the same reasons as the Bloc Quebecois and Quebec in general, but rather because it is not repressive enough.

To illustrate the fact that there really is a problem with this legislation, it does not have the support of hardliners nor does it have the support of Quebec that has been using an approach based on rehabilitation and reintegration for 30 years. What should have been done is what we proposed, namely allowing provinces to withdraw. All those provinces wanting to withdraw from Bill C-7 to continue using the Young Offenders Act should be allowed to do so.

Does the member, who sits on the government side, find it normal that the new Minister of Justice is refusing to meet with the experts and stakeholders in Quebec to gain a better understanding of what we are doing there before ramming Bill C-7 through, as he has just done by limiting debate and gagging opposition members, particularly those from Quebec who want to properly defend Quebec on this matter?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2002 / 4:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, since I do not have much time, I mostly want to congratulate the member in my comment. In the end, his stand is not that far from the stand of the Bloc Quebecois. I think that we could sit down and surely find some common ground.

In fact, as regards its treatment of young offenders, British Columbia is one of the provinces that has listened the most intently to Quebec. I know quite well, since I talked with the deputy public prosecutor, who, I believe, appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, that there have many years of consultation between Quebec and British Columbia to know exactly how the law was applied and particularly to know what the Quebec model was. In British Columbia, it was recognized that there was a Quebec model, that things were done differently as regards the treatment of young offenders.

What does the member think of a Minister of Justice who is rushing to have Bill C-7 passed even before consulting or meeting with the stakeholders in the field to understand the issues and to see how the law is applied in Quebec and, I would say, even in British Columbia?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

February 4th, 2002 / 4:20 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to represent the constituents of Saanich--Gulf Islands in British Columbia. After sitting in the House for the last hour listening to the debate of members from the province of Quebec it will be nice to bring this discussion back to all of Canada.

We are talking about Bill C-7, a new youth criminal justice bill that will affect all of Canada in every province and every territory. Arguably I believe this is one of the most important things we have to do in the House. We have challenges to make our youth criminal justice act more effective and more accountable. After eight years of study it amazes me that this is the best that the government, the lawyers and the drafters at the Department of Justice can come up with.

We have an amendment put forward in the Senate that has been brought before the House. I would like to focus my comments on that for just a few minutes. Basically the Senate has suggested a change to Bill C-7 that when aboriginal youth specifically are to be sentenced the sentencing judge should take into consideration their aboriginal descent.

I do not disagree that there are absolutely massive problems within the aboriginal communities across the country. I have personally practised youth criminal law and seen many aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in our courts. I also acknowledge that a higher percentage of aboriginals is incarcerated.

What is that telling us? That is telling us that over past decades governments have failed aboriginal people. The Indian Act, which is still before parliament, is failing aboriginal communities.

We could get into a long discussion about the lack of accountability. It is completely unfair to put everybody in the same basket because there are some success stories across the country. Unfortunately they are few and far between.

I quote the current Minister of Justice from Hansard of Wednesday, January 30, at page 8491 wherein he said:

The House of Commons now has an opportunity to consider and vote on this amendment which relates to the serious problem of the overrepresentation of aboriginal youth in custody.

I have witnessed this firsthand. Instead of trying to fix the problem, instead of going to the root of the problem or the cause, an amendment is brought into the House that would base sentencing on race. That will not help aboriginal youth. That will not change anything.

When I practised law and did some criminal work in the youth courts I never met a judge whose interest was not to try to ensure that the youth did not come back before the court and to ensure that he or she got the help needed.

Yes, some punitive measures will also be considered. All those factors are considered, but should we write into statute that we will now sentence based on race? Is this the best the government can come up with, the best it can do to address the real problem that governments over past decades have failed the aboriginal community miserably?

When I have spoken in communities throughout my riding I have yet to find one non-aboriginal person who would be willing to trade his or her place in society for that of the aboriginal people who live in my riding. There is a lot of poverty.

Unfortunately the current government and past governments have failed them miserably. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars on aboriginal people. In recent years Indian affairs has budgeted somewhere between $23,000 to $25,000 for every man, woman and child of aboriginal descent. That is not reaching aboriginal people. There is no accountability within our aboriginal communities.

Again I qualify that by saying it is not fair to throw everyone into the same basket but it is a massive problem throughout our aboriginal communities. I am absolutely horrified that the best the government can do to address this problem is to put a provision into statute, into our criminal code, that if someone is of aboriginal descent he or she would get special consideration from a sentencing judge in youth court. I find that absolutely appalling.

Let me deal with the larger problem. I acknowledge that the member for Surrey North has not only faced very serious challenges of his own personally in this area but has used his experiences to try to improve the system, to try to come up with solutions that would actually make a difference.

The ultimate goal would be to help these people by ensuring that they get the tools and resources they require and by putting the ones who are committing serious crimes into some type of institution where they can get help, where they can learn to respect other people and where they will not be compelled to live a life of crime. That is the time to turn these people around.

Unfortunately after eight years of study when we actually speak to the experts who will be affected by the new youth criminal justice act we realize that we will bog down a system that is already bogged down. We will make a slow system even slower. We will create a whole lot of work for a whole lot of lawyers.

As we try to bring in a statute we try to regulate everything, all the discretionary powers which the police have now. We will bring it in so that what they have to do, what they have to go through, is all written in statute. Just to transfer a youth into adult court will be much more complex.

After eight years of study, after people across Canada have been crying out for change to the Young Offenders Act that it is not working, is this the best the government could come up with?

I emphasize that we on this side of the House have argued, and I completely agree, that we should not be putting into statute provisions of sentencing based on race. I acknowledge there is a problem, but that problem lies within the Indian Act and the lack of accountability that is there. It goes back over decades of chronic problems which have never been addressed.

When young aboriginal or non-aboriginal offenders come before a sentencing judge I submit that his or her goal should be to do whatever is necessary to make sure they do not come back before the courts.

Sometimes that might be a little bit of tough love. That does not mean, as the previous Liberal member just stated about the new youth criminal justice act, and I will look at my notes to make sure that I have that statement right, that it is not useful to sentence young persons unless they have committed major crimes. It will take them right out of the legal system. The member said that it is important to get them out of the legal system before it is too late.

I could not believe my ears when I heard the Liberal member state that. I would argue the very opposite: that it might be important to get that young offender, aboriginal or non-aboriginal, into the justice system. People in youth courts are not there to throw people behind bars and then throw away the key. It is very much the opposite. I would argue that they are there to help these young people. Do these young individuals need anger management? Do they need some kind of drug counselling program? Sometimes really tough discipline would be the best thing to bring into these young people's lives.

I do not disagree that many of the people brought before the youth courts, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, have had horrific pasts. When these people come before the courts the best thing we can do is make sure that they are monitored very closely and that they are brought before the right probation officials. If they are put on long terms of probation and put on strict conditions such as curfews and other things that are enforceable and are closely monitored, there are a lot of things we could do to help them and ensure that they do not follow a life of crime.

I find it almost horrid that the other House sent back this amendment that gives special sentencing considerations to someone of aboriginal descent. Sentencing judges today take into account many factors, such as the background of the individual, the severity of the offence, whether the individual has been before the courts before, whether they want help and whether they have support. All of that is taken into consideration for aboriginal and non-aboriginal people now. Why are we bringing an amendment before this House that will, purely based on the race of an individual, give that individual special sentencing consideration? This is completely unacceptable.

The government has recognized the fact that there is a problem. The Minister of Justice has said that we have an opportunity to vote on the amendment, which relates to the serious problem of overrepresentation of aboriginal youth in custody. Again I come back to the quote of the justice minister that we have an opportunity to consider and vote on an amendment “which relates to the serious problem of the overrepresentation of aboriginal youth in custody”. This is a problem, but the Liberal government for the last ten years or so, and governments over the past decades, have had an opportunity to do something about it. This is not a problem that has just materialized overnight nor has it materialized over the last eight years since I have been in this place. This problem has been around for a long time. This government had an opportunity during the last eight years to do something about it. It had an opportunity to change the Indian Act and bring in more accountability. Nobody is arguing that should not happen. That is the root of the problem.

What has the Liberal government done? It is unbelievable. This is its solution to the miserable failings and lack of accountability within the Indian Act. If we go into aboriginal communities and listen to the aboriginal people in those communities who are most affected, they will also tell us that.

I cannot support this amendment and I do not believe my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance will support it either, although I do not know for sure. We will find out when it comes time to vote.

I urge the government to look at the real problem. We cannot just slap a band-aid on the problem of having a higher percentage of aboriginal youth in our institutions and youth detention centres. Just saying that we will give them special consideration and will put it into a statute for the sentencing judge is not the solution. We have to go to the root of the problem.

I agree that something that has been this complex over many decades will not be fixed overnight. The government has been in power for eight years. Since I arrived here in 1997 we have heard promises from the then Minister of Justice, now Minister of Health, that this was a priority, that we would see a new Young Offenders Act or a new youth criminal justice act. When we actually speak to the experts in the field they say that what has been done will bog down the system even more. It makes one wonder if the government is in touch with local communities and with the people in our youth courts.

It is critical when our young people get in trouble with the law that they are dealt with in a very swift and decisive manner so that they will not be back in the courts six or eight months later. Unfortunately when they are in the courts, the system is bogged down and they are given conditions that are not enforceable.

I know of countless cases where young offenders have been released under the supervision of a probation officer and are given conditions. The conditions are not worth the paper they are written on. They are not enforced. There are curfews, they are picked up and the police get tired of bringing them back in because they get a slap on the wrists sometimes or the conditions are not enforceable.

There are many positive things we could do to change this, starting with making it mandatory that when a young offender is placed on a curfew it is incumbent upon the parents or legal guardians to report a violation. Obviously we cannot hold the parents completely accountable if they refuse, but they should know that when there is a violation of probation conditions the parents have a legal obligation to report it to the authorities, have the offender picked up and have it acted on.

No one in the Canadian Alliance wants to put our young people in youth detention centres and throw away the key. They are some very troubled people in our society who need help more than anyone. Aboriginals and non-aboriginals need help. They need programs. Some need anger management and some need drug rehabilitation and sometimes the only place they can get those services is before the youth court, because then they will be under some sort of surveillance or guidance or under the eyes of a probation officer, and even that, as imperfect as it is, needs a lot of help.

Again I want to come back to the crux of this problem and talk about what we are talking about here today, and that is the amendment on Bill C-7 that has brought the youth criminal justice act back before the House. If this is the very best that the government can do for a problem that is so apparent to Canadians across the country, it is mind-boggling. I read the first three paragraphs of the current MInister of Justice's speech. He stated that we have an opportunity that “relates to the serious problem of overrepresentation of aboriginal youth in custody”.

The government's solution is just to give them special sentencing provisions, as opposed to trying to give them the resources and the tools needed to stop them from getting into the courts in the first place or to try to work with those people, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, when they do get into the courts.

I think it is absolutely dead wrong to start putting in provisions based purely on race. Again I acknowledge that there is a problem, but this is not the solution. We cannot just stick a band-aid over it and pray that it will go away. It will not.

I urge the government to look at the root of this problem and get serious about bringing in some effective legislation that will actually start turning these things around for aboriginal youth in our country.

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February 4th, 2002 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, is the truth only on one side or the other or both? I have a very simple question for the member for Laval East.

She has consulted many groups in Quebec. Could she name one group in Quebec that is in favour of Bill C-7?

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February 4th, 2002 / 4:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague will understand that in Quebec, we have looked at new approaches. We have gone a bit further. We have developed many solutions, many alternatives.

The member will also recognize that in Quebec, a juvenile court judge rules according to two laws: the Youth Protection Act and the Young Offenders Act. Therefore, those who work with youth in Quebec have to deal with two groups of people, those who have been referred to them because they need protection, coming from a broken family or something like that, and those who are young offenders.

We have indeed developed community alternatives, perhaps more than other provinces have done. But there is still much to do. That is why Bill C-7 is trying to put forward an improvement, a standardization of what is being done in Canada, so that youngsters in British Columbia have the same opportunities and the right to the same alternative measures as those in Quebec.

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February 4th, 2002 / 4:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, frankly it is difficult to remain calm when one hears a member from Quebec saying such things and adding that she is proud to use strong arm tactics against Quebec on an issue like the Young Offenders Act. It is unbelievable that she has the gall to say all those absurdities.

According to the hon. member, there is no coalition for justice for minors. According to her, the centres jeunesse are supporting Bill C-7 introduced by the federal government. I would point out to the member that there are at this time at least 42 groups from Quebec who are part of the coalition for justice for minors. This is practically every organization dealing with young offenders. There are judges, stakeholders, defence councils, deputy public prosecutors, psychologists from the Institut Pinel, academics. No one in Quebec wants this bill.

Worse, despite its 160 amendments, which, according to the government, answers all questions, there is still opposition in Quebec and no one wants this bill.

Another absurdity is that the member seems to be unaware that Quebec is the province with the least custodial sentences. As regards the Centres jeunesse, it is nonsense to say that they are jails. The Centres jeunesse do an excellent job and, thanks to them, we have a good rate of success in Quebec. The hon. member should apologize.

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February 4th, 2002 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

The principles are contradictory and not uniform. The Young Offenders Act is outdated.

Bill C-7 has the great advantage of ensuring that no longer will young people appear before an adult court. The youth court will have exclusive jurisdiction. Let us quit grandstanding and think of the young people of Quebec, who have rights, including the right to freedom and the right to be confident that their rights will be protected in our society.

I see that the game of the Bloc opposition has finally been revealed. Even our senators voted in favour of the bill. They passed it and are proposing a single amendment. Let us congratulate them as well and move forward with Bill C-7 because Quebec society is in great need of it.

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February 4th, 2002 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

They told me that when young people commit an offence, we should be able to make them immediately realize the seriousness of their acts”. When they arrest young people who scribble graffiti, they should make the offenders buy products to clean up their scribblings immediately.

These alternative measures, these extrajudicial measures, as they are called in the bill, are important. It is important to have some flexibility and this is what this bill provides.

Victims want to be involved. The new legislation includes a whole chapter that ensures that victims can participate, meet the young offenders, know what is happening and try to help them. The goal is always the same. Young people are our future. They are the ones who will see to it that tomorrow's society is a good society. We must help them and protect them. We must get adults involved. We must get the victims involved. We must not strip society of its responsibilities.

The Bloc Quebecois has been trying to tell us—and I have actual quotes from some members of that opposition party—that this is terrible, that from now on under Bill C-7 a young offender will not be arrested for a minor offence. For the Bloc Quebecois, putting a young person in a youth centre is a form of therapy.

What we are saying is that depriving a young person of his freedom must be a necessary measure. A young person is subject of the law just like an adult. What happens in a youth centre? I read the report of Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse. It mentions cases of young people who are forgotten in youth centres, young people who are there under the youth protection act with other young offenders and delinquents.

The system is not perfect. Despite the goodwill of those working with young people in Quebec, there is a danger of oversights and young people being forgotten.

I visited the Laval youth centre. It has locked cells where young people are forced to live in situations which deprive them of their freedom.

If we can find solutions, get community organizations to participate involve the greatest possible number of members of our community, let us do it. Are we helping our society by saying that this bill is repressive? It is not repressive. It takes into account a situation that already exists in Quebec and which is relatively successful. We must do something to ensure that young people are treated the same everywhere in Canada. We must be able to take what Quebec has done well and apply it elsewhere. The other provinces must be able to benefit from Quebec's success in implementing so-called extrajudicial or diversionary measures.

The existing Young Offenders Act is outmoded. It has no declaration of principle.

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February 4th, 2002 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, the opposition does not want to hear the truth. We cannot deprive young people of their freedom and send them to a youth detention centre if they are not a threat to themselves and to society.

Youth detention centres are not the ultimate solution for youth. These centres should not take the place of the parents and the family. We should not take away all of society's responsibilities. In the last year, many articles have exposed the situation that prevails in many youth centres in Quebec.

It is therefore very important that the bill we are debating today deals with the excessive referral of youths to the courts. A lot of this is based on the premise that we do not help youths by hauling them into juvenile court if they are not a threat to themselves and to society and if there is no major offence.

As for the young offenders and the criminal justice system, the new bill contains five main principles.

There is the age at which a young offender is liable to an adult sentence. The new act will not change anything. It is set at 14 years of age. What is said is that provinces will have the power to keep the age limit at 14. Quebec will be allowed to use this provision to maintain the limit at 14 years of age.

There is also the place where the youths will serve their sentence. The new act provides that the youths will serve their sentence in a correctional facility for youth.

As for the court, youths will not appear before the adult courts anymore. Everything will be done before the juvenile court.

Let us talk about the frequency of detention. There are two kinds of offences: minor offences and major offences. Once again, why should we send a youth before the juvenile court for a minor offence?

Currently, if a police officer stops a young person who has just committed an offence, he has no choice. He is required to report the offence to a crown attorney who will decide on whether or not to maintain the charge. What this bill proposes is establishing a very clear distinction between minor offences and young people who are not dangerous, and serious crimes which require that the youth who commit them be rehabilitated. We also need to enhance the protection of society.

When it comes to minor offences, we would like to divert them from the courts. This means that we will allow the police and community organizations to take care of these young people instead of sending them to youth court. The police and other stakeholders will have more flexibility to apply what are known as extrajudicial measures, which have been used in Quebec for many years. These measures are not specified in the Young Offenders Act, but are contained in the new bill.

These extrajudicial measures exist in Laval and throughout Quebec and may need to be applied on a more regular basis throughout Canada. This is a bill that will help young people because it will keep them out of the courts.

For example, when I was touring the Centre jeunesse de Laval, I was able to observe a whole series of measures that are currently being applied. These measures are being applied and they will continue to be applied with Bill C-7.

For example, Bill C-7 will create community youth justice committees. Citizens from the community will sit on these justice committees. They will be able to advise community organizations with respect to the treatment of young people who have committed petty crimes.

I defy the Bloc Quebecois opposition members to prove me wrong. The wording of the bill is very clear. The objective of the new system is to ensure that custody and detention will only be used for repeat offenders or for those who commit serious or violent crimes.

Youth having been kept in custody or in a youth detention centre, even those having committed designated crimes and offences, will be subject to a mandatory supervisory period in the community. This is contained in the new bill. This is not found in the Young Offenders Act.

Some improvements are necessary in Quebec. This is a bill that modernizes the system and takes into account the convention on the rights of the child. It seeks to avoid having young people find themselves before the youth court too often, because then the consequences of their acts come too late.

I met police officers in Laval.

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February 4th, 2002 / 3:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to a bill that I consider very important. Since my election I have been sitting on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and have had the opportunity to thoroughly examine what is proposed in Bill C-7.

Today I wonder if I live on another planet. I hear my colleague from the Bloc and my colleague from the New Democratic Party, who do not seem to understand at all the fundamental aspects of this bill.

I congratulate my colleague, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, for his recent speeches on this issue and also the former minister of justice for the work she has done. What she proposed is a modern bill that is in keeping with international conventions signed by Canada throughout the world, particularly concerning the protection of the rights of children.

The bill goes back some years. In 1985 the present Young Offenders Act, which applies to young people who commit crimes in Canada, was passed.

In 1997 there was a proposal that the youth justice system be changed and a bill was introduced, Bill C-68, which was subsequently amended by Bill C-3.

In September 2000, more than 160 amendments were moved with respect to the bill, and after my election, when I became a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I had before me Bill C-7, a modernized piece of legislation that satisfied all the criticisms.

We must not delude ourselves; within our Liberal delegation there are some members who are concerned about the future of Canada's young people. They have proposed amendments, There have been numerous discussions to improve the system proposed for our young offenders.

Today, therefore, I am very pleased and proud to see that this government is proposing a rehabilitation based system for young offenders. Those who claim otherwise have, unfortunately, not read the bill.

I have had the opportunity to meet with the directors of the youth centre in my riding of Laval East, the Centre Jeunesse de Laval, and I can tell hon. members that the Bloc Quebecois opposition is greatly exaggerating when it states that all Quebec stakeholders are opposed to the bill.

As a government, we cannot of course please all the pressure groups. We have to make decisions. Had the bill been based on the proposals of the Quebec bar association, we would be accused of playing along with the lawyers and faulted for that. In this bill, the government chose from among the proposals that came from all sides.

I can only regret the opportunism of some members in the opposition, in the Bloc Quebecois, who have been very skilled at voicing criticisms connected with the existence of a so-called Quebec coalition.

As far as that so-called coalition is concerned, I have had the opportunity to look into just how serious a list this is. I can state in this House—

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February 4th, 2002 / 3:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski-Neigette-Et-La Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, which is fundamental. It can be raised about many areas.

What is wrong with this government? It is unable to understand the problems faced by fishermen in the maritimes, the problem Quebecers have with Bill C-7 and the problems farmers have in Saskatchewan. Every time there is a problem in one of the provinces of Canada, we are stonewalled by a stubborn government blinded by its arrogance, which continues to get its way saying that there is no opposition in Canada.

Canadians are about to wake up and there will be opposition at the next election. If needed, there will be a maritime block, a western block, an Ontario block, and together we will form a block to save this country before we leave.

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February 4th, 2002 / 3:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, the questions and comments will certainly allow my colleague to continue what I found to be a most eloquent speech, particularly the last remarks she made about sovereignty, with which I totally agree. We can see what Canada is doing to its sovereignty. This is not the kind of sovereignty we want in Quebec. We want true sovereignty.

I would like my colleague to talk about these international conventions. We must always look at what is in the best interest of the child, instead of the interest of society. I think the picture that is being painted for us is not true. It is false to say that we must protect society by handing down harsher sentences to children.

Quebec has proven that rehabilitation and reintegration are the way to making our young people better. Our province has been enforcing the Young Offenders Act for some time. It took us 30 years to achieve such a low youth crime rate. It is one of the lowest in North America, one of the lowest if not the lowest in Canada.

Would it not be appropriate to respect what has been done, as requested by Quebec? The national assembly requested unanimously that Quebec be allowed to opt out of Bill C-7 and to continue using the Young Offenders Act.