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.