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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Conservative member for his question. The Bloc Québécois truly empathizes with victims and believes that they should be given more counselling and moral support, as well as varying degrees of compensation, rather than being handed the criminal's head on a platter.

I also invite the member to come to Montreal, Quebec, to see what has been done under the Youth Protection Act. He would see that Montreal and Quebec's crime rates are the lowest in North America. That is due to a rehabilitation system that works very well and that is quite the opposite of the government's tough on crime approach. I would say that we are smart on crime.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure you can imagine just how pleased I am to actually be able to stand in the House and speak about youth issues. Far too infrequent are the occasions in this House in which we get to directly invoke and address young Canadians. Mr. Speaker, you can also imagine my concern and my distress to realize that yet again, the only time the government talks about young people, the only time it brings forth measures relating to young Canadians is to talk about locking them up and punishing them.

For me, young people deserve better. Young people are our future, and that future depends on making them into powerful, engaged, committed, active and successful citizens, not just some of them, all of them. With our ageing society, with our ageing demographics, we need to make sure that our best and our brightest come from all corners of society, even the ones who do not necessarily get the best shots, or do not have the best environment around them or the best opportunities. That is where the focus on prevention and rehabilitation, investing in youth services and youth organizations, ways to empower, to encourage and to engage our young people becomes extremely important.

What has the government done recently? It has been cutting community programs. It has been cutting youth initiatives. It has been reducing opportunities for our young people to grow, to develop, to serve, to become more.

There are two personal examples that really affected me, one small and one large.

Canada's summer jobs program in my riding was cut this year by about $8,000 from last year, based on what the government called administrative tweaks. It is not a lot of money but it does mean that four or five young people will not have opportunities this summer to serve, to work, to help community organizations. Those cuts happened right across the island of Montreal, in talking with my colleagues, and some of the cuts are much larger. This is an example of where the government just does not get it and chooses to shave off programs here and there for young people.

On the other side is a larger example. The government announced with great fanfare a few months ago that it was renewing funding for Katimavik, Canada's national youth service program, for three years. What it did not mention in its news release was that it was renewing the funding at $5 million less per year than the program had received before. Every year, thousands of young people apply to Katimavik for an opportunity to serve their country, to work hard within communities, to build a better Canada one neighbourhood at a time. At a moment in time when young people need a framework like that, need opportunities to discover their importance and their relevance in our world, the government is cutting $5 million a year.

What is it doing with that funding? With this bill, it is proposing to build more detention centres, and that does not make much sense.

The very foundations of the Canadian judicial system separate the rights and needs of youth and adults, an internationally recognized norm that this bill seeks to undermine. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by Canada, recognizes child-specific needs and rights. The best interests of the child must be ensured by the state. Our country's participation in this convention would be damaged by the government's push to further adult incarcerations for young offenders in Canada.

Recognizing a young offender as a developing individual, the important role parents and guardians play and children's rights to privacy, protection from exploitation and expression of their opinion are all necessary if we are to prevent further crimes. These are the very principles the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child embodies and they have been reflected in the current Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I find it very troubling that this government is choosing to set aside the interests of our young people, when all Canadians want a justice system that focuses on prevention and rehabilitation.

Let us look at the statistics. The reality is that despite what the Conservatives tell us, crime rates, and youth crime rates, are going down all over Canada.

Youth crime is down right across the country, but the government will say that violent crime among youth is rising slightly. That is true in some parts of the country, but the one part of the country where violent youth crime is down is the one part of the country that we have spent a lot more effort and energy into investing in prevention and rehabilitation. That is my home province of Quebec.

Quebec gets it. Quebec knows that we cannot base everything on other generations' fear of youth. We must give our youth the chance to make mistakes, and guide them to learn from their mistakes so that they can fully participate in society. That is not what this government is proposing.

These are the politics of cynicism, division and fear at their very worst. The cynicism is apparent even in the choice of the name of this bill. For me, to call it Sébastien's law is a slippery slope, not taking away anything from what Sébastien and his parents have gone through and the tremendous voice that Sébastien's parents have been in terms of standing up for victims' rights. But to call it that at the same time that victims' rights groups across the country have been coming forward and complaining, calling out and decrying the fact that the Conservative government is cutting aid to victims' programs, cutting help and support to community organizations that are helping victims deal with their crime, that is the politics of cynicism. The politics of division are all about picking among groups who are likely to vote for a party and groups who are unlikely to vote for a party and pandering to those who will.

We are encouraging the division between seniors and young people by promoting a mistrust of young people, by engaging the stereotype that youth crimes are horrible and young people need to be punished and set on the straight path. Spare the rod and spoil the child; that sort of mentality does not work.

Yes, there have been situations in which young people have committed horrible crimes, but our judicial system has largely been able to deal with those in a responsible manner. For me, the fact that we have to further politicize and attack young people is shameful.

I have been across the country. I have spoken with young people who want nothing more than to be valued by their government, listened to and empowered by their government. The fact of the matter is the government does not talk about young people except to create fear. Those are the politics of fear, to make us afraid of young people and what they represent, to make us afraid of the violent crime that young people are capable of, instead of working on bringing people together, on creating opportunity for young people to learn, to grow, to contribute. This knee-jerk reaction of the ease to lock them all up and throw away the key is why there is this tough on crime agenda on the other side of the aisle.

We need to focus on energy on being tough on crime, but the government tries to make things evil and scare people. The idea is that we need to bring people together within politics, not divide them.

I am told by my colleagues that there are possibilities of salvaging some elements of this youth crime bill in committee, which is why I look forward to hearing those discussions in committee. However, the fact of the matter is I fundamentally wish that the government had a better opinion of young Canadians and of their capacity to be not just leaders of tomorrow, but leaders of today, if we give them the tools.

Young Canadians and all Canadians deserve better.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member who just spoke. A question came up during the debate regarding expanding the scope of circumstances under which the name of a young offender would be released. Some members said that this would stigmatize the young person for a very long time and would relegate them to a life of crime. Others also said that by publishing the names we would be creating a good list of recruits for organized crime groups. These groups could easily contact them to train them within their organizations. Could the member comment on this?

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that very good question.

The idea of making it easier to publish the names of young offenders plays into this culture of fear that is being created. As things now stand, it is already possible to publish the name of young offenders, but the judge and the system are responsible for proving that this is really warranted. I think that making it easier could destroy the lives of too many young people who could perhaps move on some day.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, what was very clearly lacking from the member's intervention was any empathy for the victims of crime. The member essentially dismissed Sébastien and his family, dismissed the victims of crime in Canada, and said the sole focus should be rehabilitation. It is not surprising.

I am referring to a statement that a former solicitor general in the government of that member's father said back in 1971. Jean-Pierre Goyer, a Liberal, when solicitor general of Canada, said:

The present situation results from the fact that protection of society has received more emphasis than the rehabilitation of inmates. Consequently, we have decided from now on to stress the rehabilitation of offenders, rather than the protection of society.

When I asked the member for Eglinton—Lawrence last week whether he still supported that position from 1971, he seemed to indicate yes.

My question for the member is, does he still support the abandonment—

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that for their arguments the Conservatives have to go back 40 years.

As we look over the past 40 years, the reality is that violent youth crime has decreased. The fact of the matter is that when we talk about victims of crime, yes, we have tremendous empathy. I was very clear that I have nothing but admiration for the tremendous work Sébastien's parents have done in promoting the rights of victims and help for victims of crime.

However, the Conservatives politicize it to that extent and at the same time remove their support for victims of crime. By cutting victims of crime programs they are allowing for there to become more victims of crime. Every single study demonstrates that the more we try to use deterrents on young people by threatening longer sentences and more incarcerations, the more it does not work.

The only thing that works is investing in possibilities for them to improve, to engage and to grow as citizens.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my region of James Bay in the north, there are young people who are denied access to grade schools because the government says that building schools for children is not a priority. There were 11 suicides and 80 attempted suicides, and the government was going to shut down the children's aid services. It did not want to spend the money.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague about the priorities of a government that believes the only solution, the only thing it has offered in five years in this House, is one crime bill after another. The Conservatives hide behind the victims and say they are the only ones concerned about the victims.

Why is it that the Conservatives have done nothing on issues such as children in isolated communities who are lacking basic access to schools and lacking basic access to justice because the Conservatives do not even want to hire police to represent those communities? Why are there two tiers in this country?

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the issue is very clear to me.

The government is proposing to spend millions of dollars building more prisons and youth detention centres, and investing in prison guards because it has created a culture and climate of fear as opposed to investing in schools, community centres, community activists, community organizers and people to reach out to young people and empower them. It is shameful.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to continue my presentation on this very important bill.

Bill C-4 is an amendment. The enactment amends the sentencing and general principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as provisions relating to judicial interim release, adult-youth sentences, publication bans, and the placement in youth custody facilities. It defines the term “violent offence” and “serious offence”, amends the definition of “serious violent offence”, and repeals the definition of “presumptive offence”. It also requires police forces to keep records of extra-judicial measures issued to deal with young persons.

As I indicated yesterday, we will be supporting the bill to get it to committee and we are hoping that there will be one or two amendments to the bill. We actually like some of the provisions of the bill; however, we have some concerns about some of the other parts of it, but overall and on balance, there is some merit to the bill.

On February 4, 2002, the House of Commons passed Bill C-7, the Youth Criminal Justice Act. That new law replaced the Young Offenders Act and was proclaimed on April 1, 2003. The Youth Criminal Justice Act builds on the strength of the old act and introduces significant reforms to address its weaknesses.

We can see that over time legislation does get updated in the House because of changes in society and changes in government or just because in some cases we find things that are not working well with it and we find that, by general consensus, we should improve the legislation.

The introduction of the bill followed an extensive period of review and consultation, much of which is reflected in the following reports. There was a review of the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system in Canada, and a report on the federal-provincial-territorial task force on youth. There was also a report renewing youth justice, a report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human rights, and there was a strategy for the renewal of youth and justice, which was a 1998 report.

In March 1999, Bill C-68, the first version of the Youth Criminal Justice Act was introduced and Parliament prorogued in June. The bill was reintroduced as C-3 in October 1999. The bill proceeded through second reading, the Standing Committee on Justice, and prior to third reading, the federal election was called for November 27, 2000 and the bill was delayed.

We see the same process following us through what we had to deal with in previous times where, because of elections or the prorogation of the House, we end up starting over. So it is little wonder the public gets frustrated with us when they see that it takes forever. I think they expect immediate responses and the government is at fault here too because it promises immediate responses because it governs itself by press release, media events and polling.

When something happens in the country, the Conservatives push the button and put the public relations factory into overdrive, fire up the issue, get some bill thrown out here, and then of course nothing happens with it. Then they blame the opposition, but the reality is, as we know, they only have to blame themselves.

There have been many concerns in Canada regarding the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system. As we had indicated before, and a Bloc member as well indicated yesterday, many of the concerns are based upon misconceptions about youth crime, misconceptions about the legislation and how the system operates. Some concerns have been based on the misunderstanding regarding the limits of the legislation and the unreasonable expectations about what the legislation could actually accomplish, and once again, people have the impression that somehow we will pass a law and the problem will be solved.

When we were dealing yesterday with the bill, there was talk about one of the very good parts of the bill that we like, which is the fact that the youth offenders will be kept separate. They will not be put in with adult offenders.

We recognize that while that is a good idea, and we are going to pass this bill in the House, the fact of the matter is that enforcement of the bill would actually be done by the provinces. We will be putting a financial burden on them to make certain they have the facilities to keep young offenders separate. Some of the provinces do not have the proper facilities.

While the public may think they are going to see some immediate changes following the passage of this bill, they will have to wait until the facilities are improved or built within their own jurisdictions. It could be another decade before the bill actually has its full effect.

There are a number of problems in the youth justice system. The system lacks a clear and coherent youth justice philosophy. Incarceration is overused. Canada has the highest youth incarceration rate in the western world, including the United States, which is a bit of a surprise to me. I did not think that would be the case. In spite of its huge expansion of prisons during the Ronald Reagan era, the crime rate in the United States has actually gone up. I would not have expected that to be the case.

The courts are overused for minor cases that could be dealt with better outside the courts. Sentencing decisions by the courts have resulted in disparities and unfairness in youth sentencing.

The Young Offenders Act does not ensure effective reintegration of a young person into society after being released from custody. This is a very important point. We are trying to rehabilitate people. Society does not benefit from people reoffending. Putting people in jail and making better criminals out of them, so that when they get back out in the street they continue their career of crime, is not what the public wants.

We want these people in jail once and only once. Programs need to be provided to them when they are incarcerated so that when they come out, they come out with a new view on life. They have to be integrated into society. They need to have access to employment.

I would like to provide the House with an example, which I find almost impossible to believe. Six prison farms in this country are being shut down by the Conservative government. If we do anything, we should be building more prison farms in the country because it seems to me that over the years we have lost a connection with rural living, a connection with animals, and taking care of animals. A farm environment provides a perfect case of that.

I toured the Rockwood prison farm just outside of Winnipeg in Stoney Mountain during the break a couple of weeks ago. I saw the dairy herd. It is really sad that it will not be there in a few months. This farm has shown good results for over 20 years. The prisoners get up early in the morning and take care of the animals on the farm. They take ownership. They have a much better attitude than what they would have if they were just simply locked up in a prison.

The government argues that there is not a big market for farm work. It is going to train people in trades such as welding. It is a good idea to get them jobs out in society when they are released. The reality is that learning a welding trade and so on is not the same as working with animals. In some cases it would be a good idea if they could be around humane societies where they could walk dogs and stuff like that, and make some sort of connection with animals.

We are about to lose these prison farms. I realize that is another issue for another day and that day is coming soon. A motion will be coming from committee dealing with the closure of prison farms.

It seems to me that there is a lot of room for improvements in all legislation. We certainly do not want to stand in the way of making sensible improvements to laws. As I have said many times, we are looking for what actually works, where we can show results.

The former solicitor general for the province of Quebec spoke eloquently yesterday on this very bill, about how the Quebec system does work and how the crime rate in Quebec has actually decreased. It is beyond me why we would not have every province in the country and other jurisdictions, which I am sure some are, studying the Quebec model to implement aspects of that system that would work in their own jurisdictions.

To me, that is what a sensible government would do. A government that simply approaches the whole issue on the basis of ideology and says, “Because it worked in Margaret Thatcher's England or Ronald Reagan's United Sates, that is the model we have to follow because we are Conservatives. We cannot accept any Liberal, NDP or Bloc ideas because they does not fit with our overall philosophy”. That is just way out of line.

The justice system should always be an open system where we could adopt the best of a jurisdiction anywhere in the world, whatever gets results. Whatever works properly is what we really want to see in here, instead of a government basically operate this whole system on the basis of political expediency, what is good for it in the short-term, and how it can get some headlines.

I introduced some headlines yesterday that we see across the country, and I maintained that if the press in this country were responsible and started writing headlines like “Soft on crime” and “This legislation does not work”, the government would be retreating, but because it gets these cheap headlines out of these boutique bills and amendments that it introduces, it is encouraged to continue.

We would like to see the bill go to committee. I have one further point on the issue of victims. The government continues to talk about how it supports victims of crime. We in the NDP are solidly on the side of the victims as well. Three years ago, the government appointed Mr. Sullivan to be the victims' advocate and has not reappointed him. He, the government's appointee, is saying that the government has spent too much time on punishment issues, that it has spent not enough time and ignored victims. So much for the government's position of being on side with victims, of supporting and looking out for victims' rights, when its own appointee is saying that this is not true, that the government is not as solidly behind victims as it would like the public to think it is.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member laid out some history which leads to the conclusion that the government is not intent on becoming tough on crime, but, rather, to recycle bills continuously so it can continue to use the slogan. We have not seen legislation delivered in some key areas.

The government does not buy into the fact that all the experts say that longer sentences are not a deterrent to crime. As for the recidivism rate, we know from the experience in Canada that recidivism is lowest when people get out of jail and into a supervised lifestyle, as opposed to serving out a full sentence. House arrest is gone, parole is being phased out and provincial funding is non-existent for crime prevention programs.

I would ask the member to comment on paragraph 3(1) of the bill where it refers to supporting the prevention of crime. It states, “by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community”. The prevention the government is talking about in this bill is not preventing crimes from occurring. It is talking about preventing a crime after the crime has been committed. There seems to be a disconnect in terms of the approach to crime prevention and public safety on behalf of the government. I would like to hear the member's comments.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his insight on this issue. We in the NDP look forward to getting this bill to committee. As I said, there are parts of it we like, especially the provisions guaranteeing the separation of youth criminals from adults, but we feel that if we can get the bill to committee, then issues, such as ones the member has reflected on, will be dealt with because witnesses can be called and further study can be conducted on the wording of the bill.

Our colleague and critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has already commented that this bill is not very well drafted and that there are some drafting issues that he personally would like to address in committee. We need to make those changes in committee, which is the proper place for it. We certainly do not want the bill to proceed to its final stages and into law and then find out four or five years later that there are some serious issues on the drafting side of it.

I would say once again that we in the NDP want to get the bill to committee so it can look at all the issues, including the ones stated by the member for Mississauga South, and, hopefully, come up with better legislation than we are looking at right now.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I thank the member for his kind words about my speech. I appreciate them, and they show that he realizes that Quebec takes a special approach to dealing with young offenders, and that this approach has been yielding positive results for more than 25 years, while the youth crime rate in Canada is 50% higher.

He knows this, so can he tell me why so few people in English Canada know it? Moreover, can he explain why this knowledge has not reached the office of the Minister of Justice and why it is not being taken into account in any amendments to the legislation?

It seems that in order to protect victims, we must start by reducing the number of victims, and in order to reduce the number of victims we must take an approach that decreases the youth crime rate instead of copying the United States, where the rate is increasing.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member makes a very good point. I do not think many people in English Canada know that statistic, as he points out, that youth crime has dropped 25% in Quebec. I would think that if the public were aware of those statistics, they would be writing letters to their elected officials, and the radio stations and the newspapers would be publishing reports, demanding that the provincial governments put pressure on the federal government to do exactly what he says.

I find it amazing, too, that, although these statistics are well-known and have been mentioned by many of the speakers, the government seems to be ignoring the advice of the member. After all, the advice is here. The government does not need to hire a high priced consultant. I am sure it has enough of them already. The member knows and understands the system. He has been the solicitor general and minister of justice in Quebec and he knows what he is talking about.

For the government to simply ignore that advice just belies the fact that this is all about its public relations exercise, that public relations machine that is in overdrive most of the time on these crime bills. The government thinks nothing of introducing these bills one after the other, getting big media hits on them and then pulling the plug and calling an election or proroguing the House.

I think the government actually enjoys that because then it gets to do it all over again. I am sure the government gets a lot of pleasure out of that. However, at the end of the day, where are the results? The legislation never makes it through both parts of the House.

In a way, it is sort of like the gun legislation. The government really does not want to get rid of the gun registry. It would like that issue to hang around as long as possible because it is worth thousands of votes. If the government ever does eliminate the gun registry, there will be a lot of sad faces on the other side because the Conservatives have been riding and campaigning on that issue for so long that they honestly do not know what other issue to campaign on. They would be totally bereft of issues in an election campaign if that issue were to disappear.

The same is true here. The government is not really interested in solving the problem. It is just interested in the public relation effort that it has been able to engage in and in turning the guns on us saying that we are soft on crime when that is certainly not true at all.

I think my voters understand that we want to be smart on crime and we want to do what works. The message may take a while to get across but I think if we repeat it enough and talk about it enough times, people will finally start getting the hint.

This whole issue with the prison farms is a time bomb for the government. I have talked to people, even Conservatives, and I have not found a single Conservative voter who thinks this is a good idea. As a matter of fact, they shake their heads and ask what kind of government would close down prison farms. It just does not make sense after quite a number of years. In Rockwood, I think it has been there for 30 years. In Kingston, it was there when I was growing up. The farms have been around in Kingston forever. Why would the government shut these down?

This is the type of issue that can be very bad for the government because its own voters will think there is something wrong with a government that would do something like that.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill C-4. We have gone down this road multiple times in the past.

It has been quite frustrating for some of us who have been around a long time in that the House tends to persist on taking a certain course of action. We need to be intelligent and use the existing data and information that we have in our country and around the world to do what our obligation is, which is to ensure that: first, we support legislation that protects innocent civilians; second, we do what is necessary to prevent criminal activity from occurring; third, we support victims and their families; and fourth, we ensure that those who commit crimes will go to jail or pay the price that the state determines and pay the price that society deems relevant to the crimes they have committed.

What I find frustrating is that we could be implementing many things if we were to deal with the facts. Unfortunately, the government tends to paint itself as a law and order party but doing it in such a way that it is not smart on crime. Rather, it takes a very narrow focus on trying to show that it is the toughest on crime.

However, the law of unintended consequences can occur down the road if solutions are implemented that do not truly address the criminal activity and we will not be able to achieve those four objectives that I mentioned at the beginning.

I think it would be wise in our stance in the beginning to support the bill at second reading so it can go to committee where we can bring in the people who have a lot of knowledge. Many people in the House have a lot of experience. Members on the government side and on our side have long been involved in the issue of youth crime.

My colleague from British Columbia talked about her deep and tragic personal circumstances, as did her husband. We hope to bring that kind of expertise to committee in order to address those solutions that will deal with this situation in a sensible and responsible fashion.

What we ought to do is look at the current statistics in terms of youth crime rates in Canada. In 2006, 6,885 youth crime rate Criminal Code offences per 100,000 people in Canada. That number declined to 6,783 in 2007 and to 6,454 in 2008. If we go back to 1991, that number was 9,126 children per 100,000, and that was the youth crime rate per 100,000 people in Canada at that time.

If we look at the homicide rates, the most extreme of offences, in Canada we have around 600 homicides per year. About 55 to 60 of those homicides are committed by youth every year, and that has been consistent. There has been an up-take recently, and much of that has been attributed to children involved in gangs, but for the most part, if we look back over the last 10 to 15 years, we see that the homicide rates by children have remained essentially static over the last 15 years.

What can we do? I had a chance to be in Vancouver a few weeks ago at the University of British Columbia faculty of medicine with Dr. Julio Montaner and others. A very interesting neuro scientist was describing the following. If we ask ourselves why people take up criminal activity, why they get involved in taking drugs or why they get involved in behaviours that are destructive to themselves and others, the scientists found the following. They looked at the brain, which has two major sections. One section involves our emotional response to activities that are thrill seeking. The other part of our brain, which is called the prefrontal cortex, keeps that part of the brain in check. It is the part of the brain that tells us that it is not a good idea to go out and shoot ourselves up with heroin, to drive a car really fast or to beat somebody up. That part of the brain is essentially the control mechanism on the other part of the brain that takes a more emotional response to issues.

With infant children, the connection between that part of the brain, the emotional response and the prefrontal cortex that checks it, is not well developed. This is why children behave in a more emotional response than a more rational response. As they get older through adolescence, connections happen, tracks develop, neurons connect between those two areas and in that process the prefrontal cortex has a more profound ability to check that emotional part of the brain.

What happens if that child is subjected to violence, sexual abuse, poor nutrition or bad parenting? It has been proven that those neurologic connections between the limbic system and parts of the brain controlling emotional response and the prefrontal cortext do not develop very well. They happen slowly and imperfectly. For children who are brought up in a loving, caring environment and subjected to good parenting, where they have proper nutrition, literacy, those connections develop very well. This means for children who are subjected early on to a bad environment of sexual abuse or violence, the connections do not develop very well, which makes those children much more liable to participate in taking of drugs, violence and criminal activity.

How can we prevent that from happening? How can we ensure that children have the proper neurologic development in those most formative years?

Let us take a look at the longest study in the world called the Perry Preschool program in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It studied a group of kids at risk and followed those children through 40 years of their life. The evidence found that by ensuring those children received good preschool programs, they were more able to complete school. There was less dependence on welfare. There were much higher rates of income. In turn, their children had better outcomes.

This is an important study because it proves that if we ensure children grow up in an environment that is loving, caring, free of being subjected to violence, sexual abuse and other horrific situations, those neurologic connections develop well. As a result of that, there is a profound impact in preventing and reducing crime and ensuring that children have the best outcomes in their lives.

These kids had better educations. They made more money. There was less dependence on welfare. Also, and this is interesting, for an investment of just $15,166, that is $17 for every $1 invested, there is a saving to taxpayers of $250,000; that is a 17:1 savings.

Why is the government not working with the provinces to do what has been proven? Why is the government not looking at the 40 year retrospective study, among a collection of other studies, a study that concludes that good early preschool programs and working with parents and children, which can be done very inexpensively, can have the most profound and positive impact on the future of those children and therefore on the future of society?

The cost to incarcerate a child is $100,000 a year. I used to work in an adult jail as a correctional officer, when I was putting myself through school and university. I also worked in both adult and juvenile jails as a physician. I have seen horrific stories. For example, as a physician, I attended to two girls who were in there early teens. They had been put on the street by their mother, who I happened to know through my alcohol and drug work in emergency. She was a known IV drug abuser. Her children were prostituting themselves so she could pay for her IV drug problem. They thought what they were doing was fun.

I read in the newspaper that one of them was found dead in a ditch. The other one I saw when I was doing my rounds in the pediatric ward. She had suffered a massive stroke caused by her drug abuse.

I remember these two little girls as lovely young children who probably had a whole hopeful life ahead of them. However, because of their environment they were stuck in, through no fault of their own, one ended up dead and the other had a massive stroke. That is the fate of too many children in our society.

These are entirely preventable problems. Therefore, why is the government not do something about it? Why does it not look at the Perry Preschool program? Why does it not work with the provinces and implement those solutions, which are proven to work to reduce crime, to save lives, to save money? The government should be doing that.

This brings me to drug policy. Why does the government not do what is necessary to deal with drug problems? Many of the youth criminal acts are attached to drug addictions. Many of the break and enters and the assaults are carried out by people addicted to drugs.

What I find disappointing is the government, instead of embracing things that work, takes these initiatives to court. For example, there is the Insite program in Vancouver, the needle injection program. It has been proven by Dr. Julio Montaner, Dr. Thomas Kerr, and others to save money, to save lives and to reduce diseases. Why does the government not support that?

Instead, the government has taken that proven medical initiative to court, to block people and to prevent them from having a program that will save their lives. What kind of a government does that? It is utterly immoral, unconscionable and unjustifiable.

Furthermore, why is not it look at the NAOMI project, the North American Opiate Management Initiative? St. Paul's Hospital looked at 350 of the toughest, most difficult to reach IV narcotic abusers and randomized them into three groups. One group was given heroin IV, one group Dilaudid, which is another narcotic, and the final group an oral narcotic, methadone. Because it gave those people the drugs under medical supervision, it severed the tie between the addicts and their criminal activities to get the money they needed to pay for their drugs.

Why does the government not support communities to have access to NAOMI projects across the country? That would be the worst news for the real parasites in this equation, the organized crime gangs, which are the only ones profiteering off the status quo. It would undermine the financial underpinnings of organized crime. It would enable these hard to reach individuals to get into our medical community, which would help them get off drugs, get back with their families, get back to work and get their lives back together. We would save money and reduce costs in any number of ways. That would be smart judicial initiatives by working the justice system, the health care system and the provinces.

Do we hear anything like that from the government? No. There is deafening silence. It is absolutely inconceivable to me why the government does not adopt those things that have been proven. NAOMI and Insite were not something pulled out of someone's ear. These are scientific-based, rigorously peer reviewed assessments of an initiative and an experiment by St. Paul's, in Vancouver, with some of the toughest, most difficult and hard to reach communities.

Then there is fetal alcohol syndrome. I have some news for the government. Posters will not do it. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in babies. It is estimated that 40% to 50% of the people in jail have FASD. This is a silent scourge in our country.

Why does the government not work with people like David Gerry in Victoria, who has an adult FASD clinic, and others to support something that not only treats but, more important, prevents? We have to get women in their prenatal stage to ensure they will not be in an environment where they drink. They need to understand that this is catastrophic to a child.

The other thing the government should look at is communities at risk. Tamba Dhar, who is a friend of mine, runs a program called Sage Youth. Tamba is a wonderful woman. She is an immigrant to our country who did well and decided that she wanted to give back to Canada, so she developed a program called Sage Youth in Toronto. She has worked, on a shoestring budget, with higher-risk refugees in Canada to ensure that those children have a mentor and that they have essentially an early program. The kids are subjected to a proper, caring environment where their basic needs are met. She has done this through the prism of literacy.

We know that literacy and enabling kids to read or be read to is one of the most profound and positive impacts children will have in their lives. The federal government could work with the provinces to encourage parents to bring their kids to the library once a week and let them roam for an hour or two. It costs nothing and it is a remarkable, simple and easy way to get kids engaged in reading. On average, kids spend 40 hours a week in in front of computers, playing computer games or watching television.

That has a profound impact not only on the development of children's brains in a negative way, but it also contributes to the epidemic of childhood obesity, which will have a massive effect on cardiovascular problems in our country. In fact, quite shockingly, the youngest generation of children today, for the first time in the history of Canada, will be the first generation that is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents. Imagine that?

Those problems will be, for the most part, cardiovascular problems, which are preventable early on. We need to get the kids up, out and active, playing games, free play and also engaged in literacy by bringing the parents and teachers together, particularly in schools. Imagine if the feds were to work with the provinces to encourage parents to come to the schools for one hour a week, so the teacher could work with both of the parents and their children. They could have one hour courses on literacy, the importance of play, appropriate nutrition. These things will have a profound impact if we bring parents and children together. The common unit for that is in the schools. Yet we hear nothing from the government on this.

The government likes to talk about being supportive of the police. Why then does it not do what the police has asked? The gun registry is a case in point. We all know that law-abiding long gun owners are not the problem. They are law-abiding citizens through and through. However, what we have heard very clearly from police officers is that they need the gun registry for their protection. How on earth does the government justify to itself and to our society that it will remove something police officers feel they need for their protection? Above all, that is an overriding responsibility of ours. Our police officers do the bidding of governments and the state to protect us. It is our moral duty to do what can to ensure their protection.

Bill C-4 is an opportunity for the government to build on what the Liberal government did in 2003. It made some profound and positive changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, we need to move forward on that. We need to adopt those solutions that will ensure that criminals spend their time behind bars and away from our citizenry. They will also have the chance to rehabilitate and deal with their problems.

The government has an opportunity to adopt those solutions that can truly prevent crime and save money. If the government fails to do this, it is abrogating its responsibility to society, it is not using its intelligence and is simply trying to use its legislation as a way to paint a very shallow political picture to the public, instead of doing that what is important for the public good.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is really nice to see that there are professionals in the House, that they can look at this bill from different points of view and still come up with the same solutions.

The last member spoke a lot about social reintegration. Paragraph 3(1)(a) of the act passed by the Liberal government in 2003 states that the primary goal is rehabilitation and reintegration. It also talks about prevention.

Did he realize, while studying the bill, that this paragraph is being taken out and replaced by another provision that is already in the act?

This is already taken into consideration when imposing a sentence, but there must be a pre-sentencing evaluation. The goal of rehabilitation and reintegration is being replaced by the principle that a sentence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, which is already in the act in paragraph 38(1)(c).

First we take away a judge's latitude, and then we decide which punishment fits the crime. Only after that will the young offender himself be taken into consideration. Social reintegration is no longer an explicit goal; the government simply wants to promote it.

Does he, along with his party, realize that we must fight this provision, which completely alters the basic philosophy of the current treatment of young offenders? The current philosophy produces results: youth crime is decreasing, not only in Quebec, but also across Canada.