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 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, my answer is that the member opposite is right. Under the current act, young people under the age of 18 can be incarcerated if they have committed crimes that are deemed to be horrific. There is no need to amend the current act on that count.

I gave some statistics in my speech. Young people under the age of 18 have been incarcerated in our prisons in the past and still are being incarcerated today. That is no reason to amend the act and change the philosophy and the ideology behind it. It would be wrong to think that if the rules are toughened, there will be a drop in crime and more support for victims.

To support victims, we need to give them assistance. That is what my colleague from Compton—Stanstead proposes to do with her bill, and the member is going to vote against it.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the debate today on Bill C-4, a bill to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This is certainly an issue which is of concern and interest across Canada.

One thing that concerns me, though, is that when we hear the Conservatives talk about young people, most of the time it is about putting them in jail. My experience with many young people in my riding of Halifax West is very different and very positive. I think most people in this chamber would recognize that most of their experiences with youth have been positive, I hope.

For instance, I recently attended the Bedford Lions Speak Out in my riding where seven or eight high school students spoke extremely well, which made it difficult for the judges. I was not a judge but I was asked to ask questions of the students after they had made their speeches to help make it a little more challenging for them. These were young leaders in the community who offered arguments and advocated that other young people should be more involved in the community and in volunteerism. These were terrific young people.

My son is a Scout and I went with his Scout troop on a winter camping trip on one of the coldest Saturday nights of February. It has been a mild winter but it was about minus 20° that night, if I recall correctly. I spent a couple of hours on the Saturday morning with them, helping them set up and taking some pictures of them. I was glad not to have to stay too much longer because it was cold. Sure, I was concerned about my son, but he was well-equipped, very happy and enjoyed it thoroughly. There again was a group of young people doing good things.

The Scout movement is involved in setting goals. My son wants to be a chief Scout, for example, which is an important goal and there are steps one works at toward that. That is the kind of activity in which we want to see young people involved. We should want to see more encouragement of that kind of activity. They have positive role models involved, which is very important because it is so often lacking which is why young people get involved in criminal activities. This is part of the heart of the problem. We need to examine the reasons why young people sometime get into trouble. They often do not have mentors or positive role models. They often have terrible home lives because they are living in poverty. We need to examine that.

In terms of other positive examples, I recently attended the launch of the Girls Soar Physical Activity Week. We saw some terrific young people from a school in my riding. In fact, I saw a young runner from the riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, my colleague's riding, who is on the national team and is a tremendous young role model.

There are so many examples of young people doing good things, I would like to see the Conservative government thinking about them a little more and thinking about how we get more young people to be like that. We need to deal with the issues of youth crime in a way that says that part of the solution here is to recognize the causes of these crimes and what is behind these problems, and then try to address them more effectively.

People in my province have and have had a great interest in this issue for some years, particularly following, which I know my colleague from West Nova will recall, the tragic death of a well-liked teacher named Theresa McEvoy. Justice Merlin Nunn was appointed by the provincial government to do a study and he did an excellent examination into the situation that led to her death by a young offender, 16-year-old Archie Billard. It was a very sad case but Justice Nunn did an excellent job and his report was highly regarded across the province.

It is important to look at the history of this situation. Before the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Canada at one time had one of the highest rates of incarceration of young people in the world. We should consider whether that will really work and whether that is really the answer. The government wants to incarcerate more and more people and wants to have more prisons at great expense but is not willing to put the money into things that will reduce poverty, and that is the concern.

The idea of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, in many parts, was to deal appropriately with young people, to deal with people who were not violent offenders in a way that is appropriate. There is no question that, as Justice Nunn recommended, there needs to be some changes to the act.

This is very important, which is why I brought forward a bill. I had great assistance from the lawyer for the McEvoy family, Hugh Wright, a lawyer in Halifax who kindly worked hard and drafted the bill that I introduced to try to implement the recommendations of Justice Nunn.

I am pleased to see in this bill some of the elements of what I was proposing, but I do not see others. I see other elements that were not at all recommended by Justice Nunn, which concern me. I want to talk about this issue, because it seems to me that the government has chosen to cherry-pick from the Nunn report the kinds of things that suited its own ideology and reject those that did not. It is a bit like its attitude toward evidence generally, and I will talk about that some more.

The Nunn report has been out for several years now, and it is curious to me that it has taken so long for the government to come forward with a response to it. We had Bill C-25 introduced in the last Parliament, but the government did nothing to move it forward. That is so often the case with so many of its so-called tough on crime bills. It talked about them a lot, but it did not actually take action to move those bills forward. It would not even introduce them sometimes for debate, which is curious and bizarre to me.

By the way, if this bill passes second reading and does go to committee, I hope that Justice Nunn will be asked to appear at committee to give his expert advice. I think he is very knowledgeable and has done a very thorough review.

There are some good things in this bill. There are numerous amendments to the act and the youth justice regime as a whole, including changes to the general sentencing principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Other amendments include changes to the definitions of terms such as “violent offence” and provisions relating to publication bans and repeat offenders.

I think it would be worthwhile for the House to hear some of the words that Justice Nunn wrote in his report on the McEvoy case, because they are important to knowing the background of this situation and what is happening in youth crime in Canada and what the response to it should be. He said:

[I]t is important to state that not one of the parties with standing took exception to the philosophy behind the act or to the majority of its provisions. Rather, they identified a number of sections causing concern and recommended changes.

He further said:

I can categorically state that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is legislation that provides an intelligent, modern, and advanced approach to dealing with youths involved in criminal activities. Canada is now far ahead of other countries in its treatment of youth in conflict with the law—

He went on to say:

This is not to say that there are not those who are opposed to the [Youth Criminal Justice Act], just as there were those opposed to the previous acts, the Juvenile Delinquents Act and the Young Offenders Act. Many of these critics believe that jail is the answer: “There they'll learn the errors of their ways.” These critics pay little attention to contrary evidence, nor do they understand that with young persons jail for the terms they recommend does not correct or rehabilitate, but rather often turns out a person whose behaviour is much worse than it was. Others espouse the vengeful adage “adult crime—adult time,” paying no attention to the fact that it is a youth crime and not an adult crime.

He continued:

Such an attitude is in direct conflict with modern approaches to treating criminal behaviour. Most of the adherents of these views refuse to accept that youth should be treated differently and separately from any adult system.

Nevertheless, they are entitled to the views and opinions they express. Unfortunately, in the present state of our youth criminal justice system, they are unable to make any contribution to reform even when some reform is not only reasonable but desirable.

He went on to say on page 230 of his report:

The witnesses and counsel for all parties in this inquiry have indicated full support for the aims and goals of the act while recognizing, at the same time, a need for a number of amendments to give flexibility to the courts in dealing with repeat offenders, primarily by opening a door to pre-trial custody and enlarging the gateways to custody.

He went on to say:

I cannot overestimate the importance of taking a balanced approach. Parts of the [Youth Criminal Justice Act] must be changed in order to create a workable and effective approach to handling repeat offenders in a manner based upon protection of the public as a primary concern, as well as providing a means to step in to halt unacceptable criminal behaviour in a timely manner. This is not an option. It is critical.

Here is the last quotation I will provide from him, from page 233 of his report:

[I] must make it absolutely clear and not open to question that all the witnesses I heard—police, prosecutors, defence counsel, and experts—agree with and support the aims and intent of the act. They accept it as a vast improvement over the previous legislation.

Thus I think it is important that as we examine this bill and examine what should be done to change the Youth Criminal Justice Act, we consider those thoughts and the need not just to change it but also to get it right. We need to be thoughtful about this. We need to provide a balanced approach and be smart on crime and on youth crime in this case.

I have serious concerns about this particular bill, which I hope will be addressed in committee, if in fact it gets to committee. These are sweeping changes to the act and some elements of the bill seem to favour punishment more than rehabilitation.

The government has done virtually nothing to ensure that youth do not get into the justice system in the first place, and that is a concern. What we have seen instead are cuts to anti-poverty programs and child care, and a lack of funding for aboriginal communities, as we would have had in the Kelowna accord, et cetera.

I also believe that youth must be treated differently from adults, and that is an important consideration. The Canadian justice system has recognized for decades that while their crimes may be similar, we need to treat youth differently from adults. The Conservative Party has never held that view.

It reminds me of the fact that children at age 14 have brains that are not fully developed; their brains are still developing and changing. I think anybody who has been a parent of a 13- or 14-year-old ought to be aware of it. Maybe some of us have forgotten that, but young people are terrific. My son is 13 and he is terrific, but there is no question that he is still growing and learning and that his thinking will change in the coming years. It is important to remember that when we think about how to deal with these situations.

In the past, the Conservatives and the Reformers before them have fought to reduce the barriers between youth and adult offenders. In fact, during the last election they said they wanted to put 14-year-olds into our prison system, institutions with hardened adult prisoners. Why would we put a 14-year-old in a prison, the same place as murderers, rapists and gang members, if our intention is not to make them better at crime and more hardened criminals?

There are weaknesses in this bill. Parts of it are poorly drafted. I suspect it may be the result of the fact this really comes from government ideology, as opposed to the bill being drafted by the department, because it usually produces very high quality legislation.

However, there are good provisions in it and I want to give credit where credit is due. For example, the bill would make it mandatory that no youth, regardless of their crime, would spend time in an adult institution. We need to see what the government will do to ensure that the provinces have the capacity to deal with this provision and be able to comply with it. I think we know the government recognizes that it could not get away with what it was suggesting in the last election, that is, putting young people in the same place as adult criminals. At any rate, I am pleased to see this has been modified and is an important provision in the bill.

Another example is the provision that allows courts in sentencing to lift a ban on publication of the accused or convicted person's name. I would hope this would happen rarely, not often, but I can personally see that this could be needed in exceptional cases and would be helpful in protecting the public. That is my own view.

Let me talk for a moment about some of the recommendations in particular that Justice Nunn made and how this bill responds to them. I think he made some 36 recommendations. Some of them related to the provincial justice system, the system for youth incarceration and so forth, and a certain number of them related to federal legislation. I am going to talk in particular about those that relate to the bill we are talking about today.

Recommendation 20 said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend the “Declaration of Principle” in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act.

The government has certainly made the protection of the public a major part of this act now, but it has also gone far beyond what Justice Nunn recommended. My feeling is that what the government has done in this bill is in fact a rejection of the recommendation I just read. Justice Nunn made it very clear that it was important to be balanced in how this was done and he wanted this to be just one of the principles, because the other principles were still important. The government has made it the overriding principle, and that is a concern.

In recommendation 21, he said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend the definition of “violent offence” in section 39(1)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to include conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person.

I am pleased to see that the government has done this in section 3(c) of this bill.

In recommendation 22, Justice Nunn said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend section 39(1)(c) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that the requirement for a demonstrated “pattern of findings of guilt” is changed to “a pattern of offences,” or similar wording, with the goal that both a young person’s prior findings of guilt and pending charges are to be considered when determining the appropriateness of pre-trial detention.

In this case, in clause 8 of the bill, the government has resorted to the phrase “either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt or of both”. Instead of looking at what the pattern of offences was, it has talked about them quite differently with the terms, “extrajudicial sanctions”. It will be interesting to have a discussion about what that would mean.

Does it mean that if a police officer stops a young person and reprimands them or drives them home for some reason, or whatever, that would be an extrajudicial sanction? It is not clear to me, and I am a little concerned that this particular provision might be subject to a charter challenge, because it may bring in things where there has not been due process. Obviously, we should be careful of that because we want to have laws that are actually going to work and not be overturned by courts. Most of us would prefer that we designed these laws and determined what they should be here in Parliament.

In recommendation 25, Justice Nunn said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend section 31(6) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to remove the requirement of a new bail hearing for the young person before being placed in pre-trial custody if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking.”

This is a very important recommendation at the heart of what Justice Nunn was talking about. It is not clear to me that this is in the bill. I have looked for a provision like this and have not seen it, but I hope we will have some answers from the government on that question of why we do not see an amendment to that section of the act in the bill as presented.

To me, this is at the heart of the matter because in the McEvoy case, the mother of the accused had agreed to look after and be responsible for the accused young person, but then at some point before his trial said she could not handle it any more and could not take responsibility. She wanted to be relieved of her responsibility.

There was no provision for that young person to then be held to their undertaking and be taken into custody. This is one the key things that Justice Nunn wanted to see changed. I am concerned that we do not see it in the bill. I raised this issue with the minister just before speaking here, and I hope he will be looking into it. I think he will perhaps be looking into it and at whether or not we need an amendment to the bill. I hope we will see that coming forward.

Recommendation 23 from Justice Nunn reads:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend and simplify the statutory provisions relating to the pre-trial detention of young persons so that section 29 will stand on its own without interaction with other statutes or other provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I am pleased to see that clause 4 of the bill appears to do this, though I only received the bill yesterday and only had a good look through it last night. These things take time to digest and we would like to look further at this and have some good discussion among colleagues on it. However, I am encouraged to see that it appears to be going in the right direction.

Recommendation 24 states:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend section 31(5)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking” the young person’s undertaking made under section 31(3)(b) nevertheless remains in full force and effect, particularly any requirement to keep the peace and be of good behaviour and other conditions imposed by a youth court judge.

Again, this is one of the issues I raised with the minister and I am pleased he has agreed to look into it.

I am gravely concerned about the provisions on denunciation and deterrence that are in the bill, because they are contrary to all the evidence. The fact is that we know that a 15-year-old generally thinks he or she is invincible and is not going to get caught. So these provisions do not really work.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. I appreciated his starting off with a story about some of the good things young people are doing. I know in my own community of Nanaimo—Cowichan, a couple of weeks ago, some young people did some brilliant work on cyberbullying, where they presented some things that young people are faced with in cyberspace around bullying and they invited the audience to participate. These young people had a hand in writing the program and certainly in interacting with the audience. So, I think we need to really recognize that young people from coast to coast to coast are doing some good work.

I noted with interest that recently Statistics Canada has done a report in which it did some geocoding in a number of cities. One finding in common among the cities was that higher levels of crime occur in neighbourhoods with lower levels of income.

Of course we know that Justice Nunn's report talked about prevention. He covered a number of items in his recommendations around prevention, including increasing supports that promote the integrity of families, looking at a gap analysis of existing programs to ensure a targeted and strategic approach and looking at the education system. Although some of these do clearly fall within provincial jurisdiction, there is a role for the federal government to play in terms of targeting funding, perhaps investing in pilot projects that look at programs around youth prevention, so that we actually stop youth from getting involved in the criminal justice system down the road.

I wonder if the member could comment on the fact that over a number of crime bills introduced by the Conservative government, we simply see inadequate attention paid to prevention of crime, particularly with young people.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question because I think that has been a grave concern for those of us on this side of the House, that so much of the direction of the government is simply toward incarceration and there is not nearly enough consideration of how we deal with prevention, because prevention, as she says, is very key. That is why I was talking about the good young people we see. It is important to think about what it is that has made them that way, why it is they have turned out so well. I am talking about the importance of mentors and the kinds of activities they have been involved in. We have seen cases where kids are turned around because of being involved in certain kinds of worthwhile activities.

It is a well-known truth that one of the things that make kids feel best about themselves, and this applies to anybody, is being involved in worthwhile activities, volunteer activities and so forth. They start having a positive self-esteem. That is very important.

She talked about the Statistics Canada report and the fact that so often young people in these situations are from low-income areas. I have had a number of town hall-type meetings in my communities, with a group of people involved in some of these issues, speaking from the point of view of victims, police and a variety of people who are concerned about issues of youth crime, who deal with young offenders and so forth. In fact, I met with the chief of police last summer or the year before, who talked about the root of this, the fact that so often it is poverty that leads to crime. It is addressing those kinds of issues and addressing issues of racism in my community of Halifax that is important. In fact, in that regard, I am very pleased that recently the mayor of Halifax, my friend Peter Kelly, apologized to the former residents of Africville, in Halifax, who had been forcibly removed from their properties back in the 1960s. That was an important moment. It was an important part of healing that community.

Interestingly, that is one of the things the police chief wanted to see happen in my community. One might not expect that from the police chief, but to me it was very interesting and enlightening to see that kind of attitude from him.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I just want to get a comment from the member.

Yesterday I watched the CBC news, as most of us probably did, and was quite intrigued by this young man, K'naan, who now has the number-one song all over the world. It has been chosen as the song for the FIFA world cup. He is a remarkable young man who has actually been to prison, who came to Canada from Somalia as a teenager. He was telling the story about how he grew up around Jane and Finch, in Toronto, where some of his friends have been killed, five through suicide, five through gun violence. He says he does not know the Canada a lot of people talk about because when he came here as a poor person, as a refugee, they did not have choices of where to go for housing. They had to be located in a project. He says he did not have a choice of what schools to go to, where schools are poor and there is a lot of crime and violence. So his picture of his youth growing up was that it was a very troubling one. It seems to me that when we talk about being tough on crime, we forget about the countless young people who are placed in situations of despair, poverty and violence, with nobody there to help them out.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, in his eloquent comment the member asked a question. It was largely a rhetorical question, but it was worthwhile thinking about and worthwhile responding to, it seems to me, because I saw that piece on the news last night.

It is surprising that I did, because I spent most of the evening reading the bill and thinking about what I might say today on this topic. It was inspiring to see that young person who had come from that kind of background.

It is worthwhile to think about and for all us to learn about the kind of Canada that these people are experiencing, that a person like that is experiencing, in a very poor area of Toronto. There are other communities like that, other parts of large cities across this country. There are rural communities where there is desperate poverty. It is important we address that, especially in aboriginal communities.

It is important that we understand the contribution that that all makes to this situation. It is important that we respond to it not just through legislation but with programs that can support people and build a better Canada.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the Nunn commission had 36 recommendations, and I know the member is very familiar with the commission and its recommendations on this bill.

In his opinion, does this bill reflect the 36 recommendations accurately? Does it capture the spirit and the content of the recommendations? How many of the recommendations does my colleague think actually appear in the bill? Does the bill accurately reflect the recommendations it actually deals with?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I did say there were 36 recommendations. In fact, I went through the recommendations and I read the ones that related to the federal legislation. I would suggest to my colleague that he might perhaps want to go over my speech in Hansard to see the details of that.

As I said, this bill does some of those things, but there are others it does not do. I am not a satisfied person. I am not convinced that, as it stands, it meets that balance my colleague talked about. I am concerned about it, and I would like to hear other thoughts on that matter.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, this morning the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who the House has great respect for in matters of the criminal justice system, had a concern with respect to the bill in that judges might have to use some moral approaches with respect to setting probation.

The member talked about the difference between the patterns of conviction, which are being changed as judges base their recommendations on findings of guilt, something very specific but something else that has different connotations. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh indicated that is sort of a moral dilemma that judges may have.

Would the member like to comment with respect to whether that is something the committee should look at, because it seems to me that judges should not have that kind of dilemma etched out for them. I am sure they are capable of dealing with moral dilemmas, but I am not sure that is what the bill implies.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, this may be one of the areas that, if the bill goes to committee, ought to be examined.

I mentioned my concerns about some of the poor drafting of the legislation, that it probably did not come from the department but rather from the Conservative Party. This is an element of that and I appreciate my hon. colleague raising it.

I hope that if the bill does get that far it will be examined more and, in the meantime, examined here in debate.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to a very important bill. As we know, our government listens to Canadians, and in particular to the families of victims of crime. That is why we have introduced the bill known as Sébastien’s Law, in memory of Sébastien Lacasse who was tragically murdered by a gang of young people. By giving the law that name, we honour the work done by all victims and their families, and by all those who have worked very hard for many years so that this bill could finally see the light of day. I salute their initiative and their courage.

As the throne speech reminded us, our government is taking measures to tackle crime and protect Canadians. Our approach is a balanced one. It provides for prevention, rehabilitation and law enforcement. It is important that there be a concerted and integrated effort to improve the safety of our communities.

But we have to do more. We have to improve the way the justice system deals with violent and repeat young offenders. We have to give Canadians greater assurance that violent and repeat young offenders will be held accountable and will be given sentences proportionate to the seriousness of their crimes.

At present, the system does not allow violent and repeat young offenders to be held in detention while awaiting trial, even if they present a danger to society. This legislation would simplify the rules so that it will be possible to keep these offenders off our streets, where it is necessary, to protect society.

We want to improve certain provisions so there is no longer confusion and the rules of pre-trial detention are applied consistently and uniformly.

Similarly, a young person who is 14 years old or older may commit one of the most serious violent crimes, like a murder or a serious sexual assault. But far too often, the sentence imposed is much shorter than what Canadians expect for this type of crime. That is why we have introduced these measures. We have to protect the families of victims of crime.

Our bill requires that the Crown consider the possibility of seeking an adult sentence for young persons convicted of the most serious crimes: murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. The Crown would also be required to inform the court when it decided not to seek an adult sentence in those cases.

It is important to note that the provinces and territories will always have discretion to set the age at which this requirement will apply. In Quebec, the line is drawn at age 16 or over. That will not change, unless the provincial government decides otherwise. Quebec, like any other province, will continue to be able to administer the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it sees fit. Quebec does a very good job when it comes to youth criminal justice, and I am proud of it.

To be clear, in Quebec, it will not be possible for any young offender under the age of 16 to be given an adult sentence. Allow me to repeat that: in Quebec, it will not be possible for any young offender under the age of 16 to be given an adult sentence. As well, this legislation will also ensure that young offenders under the age of 18 will not serve their sentence in an adult prison, even if they are serving an adult sentence.

Young offenders under the age of 18 sentenced to detention will serve their sentence in a facility for young people only. As is the practice at the moment, the offender may be transferred to an adult facility at the age of 18 if he has not served his full sentence by that time. In other instances, often in the case of violent and repeat young offenders, the courts lack the tools they need to impose appropriate sentences.

With these measures, we want to give them the tools to continue to do their job. For example, a young offender may be a repeat offender and flout the law or display a total lack of empathy for his victims. These legislative measures would establish the principles for the imposition of sentences that would enable the courts to discourage this individual from committing a new crime, when the circumstances indicate that this is necessary.

We want to make sure that a repeat offender will understand that his actions will not be tolerated in our society and that we will not accept this sort of behaviour. We want these offenders to serve their sentence and be rehabilitated to go on to become law abiding citizens.

In other serious cases, such as violent gang attacks, repeated car theft and home invasions, a young offender may have a growing criminal history. In order to protect our families and our communities, a sentence of detention may be required. However, under the current rules, it is not possible to identify past criminal behaviour if the young offender's criminal activity was handled outside the official judicial system. This bill would give the courts the tools they need to identify increased criminal behaviour and to use this behaviour to ask for a sentence of detention, as required.

At the moment, a young offender can lead the police in a high speed chase at 130 kilometres an hour in a neighbourhood where there are children playing, thus putting people's lives and safety at risk. However, if no one is really hurt, the courts cannot impose an appropriate sentence for an attitude that is so careless, reckless and extreme.

This bill would permit detention in such cases, as needed. In other cases, a youth found guilty of a violent crime may be released anonymously. For example, parents may be totally unaware that a dangerous sex offender is living near them or in a nearby neighbourhood. This bill would have the courts consider releasing the name of the violent young offender in certain circumstances, if it is necessary to protect society.

Another proposed change aims to make protecting society a prime objective of the legislation. At the moment, the aim of protecting society is not prominent enough in the act, as was noted by Justice D. Merlin Nunn of Nova Scotia. He concluded that public safety had to be made more prominent as one of the objectives or prime principles of the legislation in order to improve the way the system handles violent and repeat young offenders.

Giving this objective greater prominence among the principles of the legislation will give the courts the tools they need to ensure public protection is taken into account in sentencing young offenders who have committed violent or repeat offences.

In closing, the amendments will require police to keep records of any extrajudicial measure that we used in order to make it easier to detect reoffending patterns.

These measures could usually include warnings or referrals to other agencies when an adolescent is charged. A record of these informal measures will keep police and the courts better informed regarding previous incidents. They will thus be able to take the appropriate measures if they have to deal with subsequent offences.

By helping to keep the youngest offenders responsible for their actions and by increasing public protection, the proposed amendments will strengthen the Canadian youth criminal justice system and meet the concerns of Canadians in this regard.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, we know that there is a high incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal alcohol effects among youth and adults in jails. What is the government's position on working with the provinces to reduce the incidence of FAS/FAE, which is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in children?

If the government really wanted to reduce youth crime, the most effective way to do that would be to implement a national head start program for kids. We need to improve children's access to proper nutrition very early on in their lives. We need to educate parents on proper parenting. We need to encourage literacy. We need to ensure that children are not subjected to violence and sexual abuse. Those things would lead to better brain development in children.

I ask the parliamentary secretary, what is his government going to do in those areas?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague. It is quite obvious that, as a doctor, the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome is very important to him.

We agree that it is an important matter. Fetal alcohol syndrome must be battled on several fronts. In some provinces, labels on bottles of alcoholic beverages contain a warning about the risks of drinking during pregnancy. That is one approach to the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome.

As for youth, I believe my colleague read the bill we introduced. We are primarily targeting violent or repeat youth offenders. The bill mainly applies to this group, but in truly extraordinary cases, also to youth who commit the irreparable—murder, attempted murder, sexual assault and other such crimes.