Mr. Speaker, I thank my NDP colleague for accommodating a hectic schedule.
I would like to comment on Bill C-7 and specifically, as the Bloc members have drawn attention to, the amendments that were made in the Senate. I will preface those comments with a comment to the member for Langley--Abbotsford.
I am always surprised when I hear members say categorically that they will not accept anything that comes from the Senate. I make no bones about the fact that I have always believed we should have an elected Senate, one which is elected by the people of Canada. There could be regional representation. The country could be broken into five regions. Everyone could be represented equally and we could have a Senate that was effective and equal.
I have certainly heard the member for Langley--Abbotsford spout the same thing, that he believes in an elected Senate as well. However, one cannot believe in an elected Senate and in empowering it and at the same time say the Senate should have no power. It does not work. It does not fit. It is not logical.
Regardless of whether members sit on the government side or on the opposition side, under our Constitution and the system that we have, we are in no position to say that our amendments to legislation are more important or better than amendments made by the Senate. We have to accept them. If we do not like that, then change the basic flaw in the way parliaments are set up.
Bill C-7, the youth criminal justice act, has returned from the Senate with amendments. The bill would repeal the former Young Offenders Act at great cost to the Canadian taxpayer. It would have real and philosophical ramifications as well as financial consequences, not to mention the effect it would have on the next generation of young Canadians across this vast nation.
As legislators, we must first realize that no bill can satisfy all. I think most people would agree.
My colleague, the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, who is the PC/DR coalition justice critic, will attest to the many faults of the Young Offenders Act. However, abandoning the whole system is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. While there may be a number of improvements in the bill, the serious problems that will face police, lawyers, judges and those who will deal with this new legislation daily far outweigh any positives.
As seriously flawed as the bill is, the amendments proposed by the Senate manage to shed light on a serious problem found not only in the bill but also within the Canadian justice system. Noting differences for difference's sake is unacceptable to most Canadians. However, when these inherent differences lead to inequality for whatever reason, the knowledge that they exist can lead to a better understanding of the problem. With this knowledge, we can focus change where change is needed most.
If one positive can come from this debate, it may be that the amendments proposed by the Senate demonstrate at least in some cases the societal differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth. Justice should be absolutely blind to race, ethnicity and gender. In a perfect world perhaps that would be true. In this case, with the evidence that has been collected and compounded and put before us, I do not think we can ignore the obvious.
Specifically, while this amendment is a good first step at recognizing the inequalities in the system, it does not go far enough in terms of explanation or direction.
Upon examining original Bill C-7, it became evident that clarity was not essential in the minds of the government. Many seasoned professionals have examined this piece of legislation and today they are no further ahead than when they started. It is convoluted and complicated. More important to many of us, it will also be costly.
The bill in essence has been seven years in the making, from Bill C-68 to Bill C-3 to Bill C-7. Expert after expert has said it is unmanageable, too long, too complicated and too expensive. It is interesting to see the legislation come back to the House with these minor, albeit significant, changes.
It has been said before that the justice committee could have heard the complaints of numerous individuals from every region of the country concerning the bill. Before the committee could even begin to consider the witness list from members of the committee, the parliamentary secretary cut off all further debate and moved to clause by clause consideration.
Surely this is not the so-called Liberal democracy that most Canadians voted for. Surely Canadians did not vote for a government to simply put an issue aside and go directly to clause by clause without hearing all the witnesses and without finishing debate. Surely there is something wrong.
In my mind, the fact that these changes were necessary at all speaks to the fundamental problems in this legislation. In its haste to cater to Liberal pollsters, the government overlooked section 718.2( e ) of the criminal code when addressing sentencing issues, leaving this legislation open to constitutional challenge. It is hard to imagine a bill so poorly crafted. While amendments from the upper chamber should alleviate a constitutional challenge on the grounds of discrimination in this regard, the bill will most certainly be challenged on other grounds. The amendment states:
All available sanctions other than custody that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all young persons, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal young persons.
I think that excludes race and ethnicity without ignoring it. That is an important part of the amendment.
Some have argued that this in and of itself is discriminatory. Yet through the application of section 718.2( e ), using the framework of analysis as set out by the court in Regina v Gladue, we can improve the situation of aboriginals in the legal system. Surely that is something we all wish to do.
As Senator Pierre Claude Nolin pointed out, the framework of the analysis outlined must include systematic and background factors which explain why aboriginal offenders often appear before the courts: poverty, level of education, drug or alcohol abuse, moving off a reserve, unemployment, domestic violence and direct or indirect discrimination. Surely this does not preclude that same type of analysis being given to all young people who will be charged under the act.
The framework of analysis set out by the court includes the types of sentencing procedures and sanctions which may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular aboriginal heritage or connection. I find it surprising that this framework of analysis is not applied to all as it could be applied to all.
Setting that aside, the inclusion of this section of the code was necessary and is necessary to deal with the over-representation of aboriginal people in prison and to encourage sentencing judges to have recourse to a restorative approach to sentencing.
I reiterate, the importance of this amendment is paramount to the fundamentals laid out within this document.
I concur with hon. Senator Andreychuk who rose in support of this amendment put forth by the Liberal side of the Senate. Quoting her, “Too often in this place we do have to be prodded to raise issues concerning aboriginal youth”.
The issue has been raised. Aboriginal leaders, the administrators of our judicial system and experts alike have agreed that our adversarial model of justice oftentimes does not fit the needs not only of first nations, but of other groups within our society as well.
I would also argue it is past due that we at least tried to grapple with this issue. I am not saying this issue is over or this somehow will alleviate all of the injustices in the world, but certainly it is a start.
After first reading it is evident those considerations of rehabilitation or reintegration into society are secondary in overall terms of the provisions as laid out in this bill. They are secondary in terms of thought and in terms of financial compensation to the provinces.
There are a number of extrajudicial measures sketched into the bill, but practicality seems absent. For example, the bill says it wishes to encourage families of young persons, including extended families and the community, to become involved in the design and implementation of these measures. This looks good on paper, but are these measures practical?
How do we as legislators or for that matter, the people on the front line such as police officers, social workers, parole officers and teachers convince the community to become involved? I would think that would be an arduous job. It would be very difficult to convince people to become involved without having some type of compensation package provided by the federal government.
We could ask the front line police officers if things are getting easier or if youth crime is down. They would answer quite truthfully that so-called minor youth crimes are not being reported due to overworked police forces which are stretched too thin to deal with such crime. They have more important matters to deal with or in the vernacular, they have bigger fish to fry. If they are stretched too thin now, things for our provincial counterparts will become even more difficult.
Saskatchewan's minister of justice, Chris Axworthy, pointed out that his province will need time and resources. The minister told the Senate that at least a year would be necessary in terms of the implementation of such an act. He said:
We need to develop extensive training plans across various sectors, including police, legal workers, court staff, community based organizations delivering youth services, aboriginal court workers, educators and health providers.
He noted that in all cases new training would be necessary. The justice partners will need to unlearn the processes they have become familiar with under the old Young Offenders Act. They will need to replace this old knowledge with new knowledge of a more complex nature.
In his estimation, Saskatchewan alone will spend around $10 million just to upgrade its information services; I repeat, just to upgrade their information services. We could easily multiply that by 10. Probably in some provinces we could multiply that by a great deal more. If it costs $10 million to implement this in Saskatchewan, in provinces with larger populations it may cost twice as much.
In terms of prevention, various social programs funded by the provincial governments are used to keep young offenders out of the courts. These provincially administered programs are supposed to receive 50% of their funding from the federal government, yet under the Liberal government the provinces have seen the federal share drop to as little as 30%.
Decreased funding equals children not receiving the service they need and oftentimes rehabilitation does not occur. The provinces barely have enough money now to deal with the justice issues. This bill is certain to bankrupt the system.
I urge the new Minister of Justice to reconsider at the very least the immediate implementation of this act. Certainly the government would be much better off to send this flawed piece of legislation back to committee, allow witnesses to appear and work on this important piece of legislation in a co-operative and concentrated way.
A delay for at least one year and the justification for such a delay are compelling. As the Speaker is aware a number of witnesses who appeared before the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs called on the government to provide an adequate amount of time for the various stakeholders to reach a consensus on the administration of this most complex and extensive new legislation.
Among those testimonies certainly it should be noted was the testimony of the Canadian Police Association which outlined precisely the obstacles not only the police but other agencies that work within this system will face in terms of new responsibilities.
It should be noted that the Progressive Conservative Party submitted numerous amendments to the youth criminal justice act in its various forms over the years and the government did not listen. As a result we are left with the piecemeal mishmash of legislation that nobody is certain of how it will affect young offenders.
Perhaps we will not be able to change this piece of legislation in the House. Perhaps the amendment from the Senate will achieve its desired goal. We should just give that a moment to sink in.
We are dealing today with what at the very least is a seriously flawed, bureaucratic and impractical mess. At the very best it may cause irreparable harm to the justice system, albeit the amendment from the Senate may have improve it slightly.
However as legislators and representatives of people from coast to coast to coast in Canada we should take a very serious look at this piece of legislation. I think we will have a great deal of difficulty sending it back in any form, let alone its amended form.