Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)

An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

In committee (House), as of May 3, 2010
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the sentencing and general principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as its provisions relating to judicial interim release, adult and youth sentences, publication bans, and placement in youth custody facilities. It defines the terms “violent offence” and “serious offence”, amends the definition “serious violent offence” and repeals the definition “presumptive offence”. It also requires police forces to keep records of extrajudicial measures used to deal with young persons.

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.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me answer this way. It was interesting listening to the minister earlier today saying not to confuse him with the facts. We have always had youth who commit multiple crimes. I practised quite extensively in our juvenile delinquency court, as it was called back in the early seventies, and I can think of a number of my youth clients who had committed multiple crimes. This is not a new phenomenon.

What happened, and it was part of the purpose of the Nunn commission and the McMurtry report, was starting around 2005-06, we had a serious spike in violent crime among youth, mostly from 16 to 18 years of age. What the minister has refused to acknowledge twice today is that there was a spike, but up until that point, youth crime had been dropping, like all other crime. That includes violent crime and repeat offenders.

We hit a spike in 2005, 2006, 2007 and a bit of 2008, but starting in 2007, it began to decline again. That is the case now and I think we will see the same when we see the figures for 2009 and 2010. That has nothing to do with any legislation we passed. It has everything to do with our police officers and prosecutors using different methodologies both to prevent crimes and to apprehend the criminals.

This kind of legislation needs tweaking. Justice Nunn was very correct on that. However, to use isolated cases, whether it is the Sébastien case or the one my friend from B.C. just mentioned, is not the basis on which we do public policy and certainly not the basis on which we amend the Criminal Code or, as in this case, the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, my good friend, for pointing out the statistics based on the question I asked the minister, because I felt his response, and I say this respectfully, was inaccurate with the statistics.

Nevertheless, this type of legislation, or any type of legislation, is an evolving process, such as legislation for the Juvenile Delinquents Act and the Young Offenders Act. Over the years, times change and circumstances change. We as the Liberal government updated the statute and brought changes, such as adult sentencing, reverse onus, et cetera.

My colleague pointed to the Quebec model, a model that works. For crime that occurs in British Columbia, as the member said, or in Manitoba or anywhere else, crime is crime. This is the big question Canadians are asking. Why can we not standardize, especially a system that has shown results?

Finally, the minister said that the people who recognized they were a danger to themselves asked for the legislation. Do we put them behind bars or do we offer treatment? Could he please elaborate on that?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the fastest way to look at this, in terms of the differences in the provinces, is there is a great deal of discretion with the attorneys general provincially as to how youth crime is dealt with, and that will continue in this legislation. In fact, in a couple of areas, it actually increases the discretionary call by the AGs across the country.

What has happened historically is the province of Quebec has taken a much broader and holistic view of how to deal with youth crime. As opposed to the model the current Conservative government likes, which is always just penalties and punishment, Quebec has taken that into account and it uses it when appropriate.

I always use this example in terms of the difference of how the provinces have worked on this. If we look at the number of cases where there are applications by the attorneys general to their local prosecutors to raise youth up to adult courts, it is amazing. The lowest number in the country, based on population, is in Quebec. Correspondingly, the lowest number of youth crimes is also in Quebec.

The last time I looked at these figures, and these are a few years out of date, the highest level was in the western provinces, in particular Alberta. It applied for adult charges and sentences more than any other. Ontario was somewhere in between. The highest rate of youth crime is in the prairie provinces, so it is not a methodology that works.

Finally, the province of Quebec has simply committed the funds to treatment centres in the proper settings for rehabilitation for youth. I do not know the exact figures, but it is extensively higher in that province, which is not nearly as wealthy as Alberta and Ontario. We are both behind them in the amount of dollars we commit at the provincial levels to rehabilitating youth.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, people are talking about the Nunn report fairly consistently. In his report, Justice Nunn says:

—it would be irresponsible of me not to consider its role in a larger context of youth crime and improvements necessary to accomplish the desired result of lessening youth crime and rehabilitating those who become involved in criminal acts.

He is talking about prevention of youth crime.

I know the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has done a very good job of elaborating on the concerns with this legislation and he touched very briefly on prevention. Could he comment on any models he is aware of that do a much better job of looking at prevention?

The overall goal should be to prevent young people from ending up in the criminal justice system. We have to deal with them appropriately once they end up in that spot, but we really need to work hard to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of prevention, the model that we have to look at is the province of Quebec. It does not just provide extensive services for rehabilitation after crimes have been committed. It has a much broader program to prevent youth from getting into the gangs. That currently is the biggest problem we have. Its social safety net is, arguably, better than any in the country.

If we are to look any place in Canada, we have to look to Quebec and that has been true for at least 30-plus years, almost 40 years, since I have been monitoring this.

The approach of prevention in terms of the government, and this is true both of the Departments of Public Safety and Justice, is in the last three years it has had money budgeted for prevention work, both for youth and adults but mostly geared toward youth, and it has not spent it all. It does not know how to do it. The Conservatives are so locked into this ideology of punishment and after-the-fact response rather than preventing it. They literally do not know how to do it and they are still learning.

In a number of cases, the government has not funded the agencies that deal with youth, those agencies that had been funded under previous governments. It let the contracts run out and gave it to new people, who did not know what they were doing either. It is a real problem in terms of prevention.

The government has a model in the country. If it simply looked at Quebec and followed that model, we may see some real growth in the number of cases that do not get into our courts and the number of victims we will not have because crimes will not be committed.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague for his take on a national justice survey that was done in 2008. The findings of it are quite telling.

When asked about confidence in particular public services in Canada, respondents expressed the highest confidence in the school system and the lowest confidence in the youth justice system. Only 7.1% of respondents indicated high confidence in the youth justice system compared to 26.3% who indicated high confidence in the public school system.

Why does my colleague think there is such a low confidence in the youth justice system in Canada expressed by all Canadians in the survey?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, a simple answer to that question is simply look in the mirror. Every morning he should look in the mirror and think of all the news stories his party has put out.

We can do a survey today and Canadians will say that the crime rate is anywhere from 100% to 1,000% greater than it is. That political party has created this scene for our country.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-4.

This bill amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act and makes consequential and related amendments to other acts. It also amends the sentencing and general principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois would like to do a thorough, professional job of studying this bill in committee. The Bloc will therefore support an agreement in principle to study the bill and hear all witnesses to improve it.

Although the bill is not as excessive as we were led to believe it would be in January, it still contains quite a few irritants, including an ideological change in the act, which is a fairly dramatic change.

Like many experts, we condemn this philosophical change that makes public protection the main benchmark, at the expense of prevention.

The bill adds new criteria to consider in sentencing young offenders. For example, the sentence should have a deterrent effect. This means that public perception, rather than the offence itself, would condition how a young offender is punished. In short, the government is asking judges to make examples of people.

The government is amending a law that works well. What is more, many experts condemn this amendment, because the law had already been toughened. Still, because of the Bloc's efforts, the bill we have before us is much more moderate than what we are used to seeing from the Conservatives. We have to say that our work to raise awareness and fight against an even tougher bill paid off; the government listened.

The government admits that it misled us when it said there were no young offenders in adult prisons. That is an important admission. I feel it is worth mentioning, because the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles spent last summer going around saying that there were no offenders under 18 in the prisons in Quebec and Canada.

It is worthwhile going over some figures. I do not think that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles dispute the source of these figures. It is the Correctional Service of Canada.

I do not especially like quoting statistics in my remarks, but I will do so this time because I want to correct the figures cited by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, among others. I hope that after hearing these statistics, the member will offer an apology for reporting incorrect figures.

In all, 10 offenders under the age of 18 have been placed in a federal penitentiary since January 1, 2004. They were all 17 at the time. Here is the number of young people placed by year, that is from January to December 31—2004, 4; 2005, 1; 2006, 3; 2007, 1; 2008, none; 2009, 1.

I have some more statistics to help the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles clearly understand the situation. According to a reliable source, the public security department in Quebec, in all a total of 39 offenders under 18 have been put in prison in Quebec since April 1, 2003. Here are the figures by fiscal year, that is, from April 1 to March 31: 12 in 2003-04; 10 in 2004-05, 3 in 2005-06; 9 in 2006-07; 5 in 2007-08; and none in 2008-09.

The statistics are based on the age at the time of admission. We must also realize that a single individual can be admitted more than once a year. Now that this has been clarified, we can hope that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles will get the facts straight.

The Bloc Québécois as well shares many of the concerns raised by many professional stakeholders in Quebec on the repercussions of this bill. Accordingly, the Bloc will analyze it in depth, as is its custom, when it is being studied in committee. We want to hear all those involved in order to improve whatever may be improved. The Bloc wants to get to the bottom of things and will certainly not tolerate rushing through a matter of such importance. If it is passed, the bill will change the way young people are dealt with. We must therefore take the time needed to invite as many experts to speak to the matter so as to properly debate and examine it.

I would also like to speak to the Bloc's philosophy on justice. It firmly believes that the most effective approach is still prevention. We must go after the causes of crime, delinquency and violence rather than wait for problems to occur and try to fix them after the fact. The wisest and certainly the most profitable approach, in both social and financial terms, consists in working at problems in order to avoid youth crime and incarceration. It could not be clearer. We must fight poverty, inequality and exclusion, all fertile ground for frustrations and the escape valves that violence and crime constitute.

Justice for youth is no different in this regard. Young people should benefit from a healthy environment, they should not be living in extreme poverty, they should have access to affordable education and so on. In all these areas, the Quebec nation has made good choices, which sets it apart. Education costs, for example, are among the lowest in North America. Our network of daycare centres is a model in the field, and so on.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is aware that young people commit crimes, for which they should be held to account, including in the courts. The government has a duty to act and to use all the tools available to it to ensure that Quebeckers and Canadians are able to live in peace and safety. But the measures brought forward have got to have a real positive impact on crime, they have got to be more than rhetoric, or fear-mongering. They have got to be more than just an imitation of the American model, which, it should be noted, has completely failed to reduce crime. The American model has produced very weak results and is now on the brink of complete breakdown. Some states are questioning that model because it has failed to reduce youth crime.

A few statistics show that one quarter of prisoners on the planet, over 7 million people, are in prison or on parole. The United States is starting to move away from that model, the “law and order” model. In July 2009, the Vera Institute of Justice determined that at least 22 American states are preparing to depart from tough-on-crime policies and the present system is at the point of human and financial breakdown.

On the other hand, the Quebec model, based on rehabilitation and reintegration, produces real results, results that can be measured using statistics showing the decline in crime.

So we would say that what Canada wants is to copy a completely outdated model instead of drawing on the Quebec model, which is working very well.

A moment ago I listened carefully to the speech by my NDP colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He said that the government should draw on the Quebec model which has produced good results because the people of Quebec, with their various taxes, have created a health system, a social safety net, that means they can take action to prevent crime and poverty. One thing it means is that young people can be given help and support. Quebec is the province that in 2006 succeeded in reducing its crime rate by 4%, unlike the rest of Canada, where the crime rate rose.

And so I invite the government members to investigate the Quebec model, to look at its successes and its results, rather than trying to copy a completely outdated model that, on the contrary, is of such dubious worth that some American states are now questioning it and are looking for a different model.

Quebec has a good system because we have experts who provide us with sound advice and who have worked, year in and year out, to build a model that works well. These experts are telling us that the Government of Canada is completely off track. The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, a Quebec organization that provides services to young offenders and troubled youth, and the provincial directors also believe in the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders, which have been successful in Quebec. Numerous experts from other countries come to Quebec to observe, learn about and watch our system, so they can then emulate it. I do not say it often enough, but I am saying it now: our results are very telling and very inspiring.

The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec says that it, too, cares about the victims, but that the government is really on the wrong track when it states that protection of society will be improved by implementing more coercive measures because the current legislation deals with these situations and ensures the protection of society. As we saw in the statistics that I quoted earlier, there are youth under the age of 18 in prison, but such a sentence is rarely handed out by judges. They do so if the crime was very serious. It is rare that they decide that a youth should be in prison and should serve the entire sentence.

The bill refers to Sébastien's situation, which illustrates the reach of the current legislation. The young offender concerned was handed an adult sentence upon the recommendation of the provincial director of the Quebec court, youth division. The youth who murdered Sébastien is currently serving his sentence in an adult prison. This example perfectly illustrates that the current law contains a legislative tool that is used in Quebec when this type of circumstance with a youth arises.

Clearly, the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec will want to testify before the committee to share its 30 years of expertise and explain the very serious repercussions this bill would have if it were passed as is.

I would like to give some background on this bill. The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaced the Young Offenders Act, received royal assent in February 2002 and officially took effect on April 1, 2003.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was quite imperfect and was challenged by the Government of Quebec. But in spite of that, in spite of history, the government is still pushing ahead with Bill C-4. We know that the National Assembly of Quebec will also be opposed to this bill as it currently stands.

For years, Quebec's justice minister has been calling on the federal government to exempt Quebec and allow it to implement its own youth intervention model.

The Government of Quebec has shown its opposition to the federal government for a dozen years now. The strong consensus in Quebec is that rehabilitation and prevention are the answer and that Quebec must develop ways of preventing young people from committing acts of physical or sexual violence or serious crimes. Quebec is working hard to put such measures in place. This is the system that Quebeckers have developed to prevent these crimes as much as possible.

I said earlier that I would give some statistics about the decrease in crime. Crime dominates the media: the trials of violent offenders and notorious fraud artists get extensive media coverage. The public often forms an opinion from sensational stories in the papers or on radio or television. We sometimes get the wrong impression and think that crime is on the rise, but that is not entirely true.

I think we can count on Statistics Canada to provide Canadian statistics. I am not accusing Statistics Canada of partisanship, because its statistics are rather clear.

Youth courts are seeing fewer and fewer cases. In 2005-06, 56,271 cases were heard, a decrease of 2% from the previous year. While it is true that the youth crime rate increased 3% in 2006, I must point out that that was the first increase since 2003. We cannot conclude that there is a strong upward trend. However, in 2006 in Quebec—as I mentioned earlier—the crime rate dropped by 4%. All the provinces saw increases in the youth crime rate, except Quebec, which saw a decrease in its crime rate thanks to its focus on rehabilitation and reintegration.

I do not think that is a coincidence. It proves that our model is inspiring and that it should inspire the current Conservative government. Instead of putting up a smokescreen, the government should be able to look at the big picture and recognize that there is a model that is working in Canada and that they can use. As my NDP colleague said so well, why focus on outdated measures, on intervention methods that do not work with young people and that are modelled after the United States, when here, the Quebec nation has a proven, effective system that is intelligent and respectful?

The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec and some specialized lawyers say that the current legislation did not need to be changed. They urge Parliament to be cautious. We are not talking about a few changes to sections of the act here. These are fundamental changes to the ideology and philosophy behind the legislation. This could very negatively impact young people in Quebec and Canada.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy we are finally having this discussion because many of my constituents are concerned about the current shortcomings in the Youth Criminal Justice Act . I have met with a number of parents on this issue, both parents of victims and parents of children who are in trouble with the law, and their theme is consistent. They all said that we need earlier action, earlier intervention.

Does the member believe that earlier intervention and meaningful deterrence could have a very positive effect on our long-term rehabilitation efforts? Does she agree that it is easier to rehabilitate a 16-year-old than a 56-year-old?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I am comfortable answering that question because I am a mother of three teenagers. Deterrence does not work for young people. Anyone who properly understands the development of an adolescent knows that deterrence is not as effective on them as it is on adults. I say that as a mother and a member of Parliament, but experts agree. Lawyers and the Association des centres jeunesses du Québec agree. We do not believe that deterrence will make a difference and stop young people from committing crime. We think there needs to be investment in prevention and in our social safety net. We need to make sure our young people do not commit crime. In my opinion, deterrence is not an important criterion and will not reduce the crime rate in young people.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I was impressed with the member's comments about not following the United States' model. We certainly know enough about its model to know that it is not working so well after a number of years.

However, I am intrigued by her comments about the Quebec model and how it works. She mentioned that there are other countries sending representatives to Quebec to study its model. Could she tell us what the specific details are that make the Quebec model different from others in Canada and around the world? Have any countries actually implemented any of the ideas that they have attained as a result of their consultations and study with Quebec?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

I am a social worker by training and I have done social intervention. Quebec's health care and social services systems allow for very early intervention, which in turn allows us to identify young people who have the potential to develop delinquent behaviour.

A thorough response to my NDP colleague's question would be too long, so I will focus on one point in particular. Restorative justice organizations take charge of young people who commit minor offences from an early age. If a young person commits a crime, non-profit organizations—which exist all over Quebec—immediately provide the individual with the support and assistance needed to realize the seriousness of their actions. The individual must perform community service and take part in individual therapy in order to realize the seriousness of their actions and understand why they were socially unacceptable.

This is like saving these young individuals from the beginning. If at 12 or 13, a young person commits an offence but receives adequate support, realizes that such actions are unacceptable and understands the consequences, their path can be redirected so they do not commit more serious offences in the future.

In Quebec, these community organizations are funded by the Quebec government, the Quebec nation, out of taxpayers' money. Other countries have even followed our example. They do not follow the example of any one particular organization, but rather a social system that offers a safety net, one that offers support and that invests considerably in prevention. Of course, this system is not perfect, but it is effective enough to produce results in terms of lower youth crime rates.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague for the excellent speech she delivered to show the Bloc Québécois' position on the bill that was introduced.

She made reference to the Quebec model, which for years has been focusing on rehabilitating young people who commit crime. We have often heard, especially from the Conservatives, that people who are in favour of rehabilitation care very little about the victims and have no compassion for the victims or their families. The Quebec model has proven that rehabilitation reduces crime. Every stakeholder must understand that.

I would like the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry to tell us whether rehabilitation reduces crime. Is having everyone working on reducing crime not the best compassion we could have for the victims and their families? I think it is the best form of compassion.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, who was once a teacher for troubled youth. He knows what he is talking about because he has experience with young people.

His question makes me wonder. Recently the member for Compton—Stanstead, from the Bloc Québécois, introduced a bill that, among other things, seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow victims of crime to take 52 weeks of leave in order to mourn and get help.

It is either hypocrisy or ideology, but either way I am disgusted to see that the Conservatives will vote against the bill introduced by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead that seeks to offer help to victims of crime. The Conservatives then turn around and lecture us about doing nothing to help the victims.

The government suggests that if we do not agree, then we are wrong. I am sorry, but on this subject that is so close to our hearts, I know that Quebec is right. Quebeckers can count on us. We are fighting to defend our model and to convince this government to adopt it.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest and I listened earlier when the Minister of Justice talked about the importance of prevention and rehabilitation and about the protection of society. I also listen to statistics, and whether the crime rate is going up or down, there are times when we have people who are not remediable to either rehabilitation or prevention. We have horrific circumstances, horrific crimes.

Would the member not agree that in those cases we need to have the proper legislation to ensure the protection of society?