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

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

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my Bloc Québécois colleague's question.

We are eternally hopeful that members of the government can walk and chew gum at the same time because on this issue they need to be able to do both.

We all agree that appropriate sentencing should occur. My colleague brought up an important point, that the government is not looking at crime prevention and rehabilitation.

I focused on crime prevention in my remarks. This is not esoteric. There are fact-based, scientifically-based interventions that are effective at reducing crime and save taxpayers' money. The government should work with the provinces to adopt these interventions, but it is not.

Conversely, the failure to do that would not have much effect on reducing crime, protecting our citizens, helping victims of crime, or preventing people from being victimized by criminal activities. Therein lies the tragic Achilles heel of the government. The Conservative government is simply not willing and not prepared to do that which has been proven to accomplish the goals that society wants us to achieve. The government has missed that opportunity so far.

We are hopeful that government members will work with us in committee to implement solutions that will work.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent question from my colleague.

Many of our citizens are not aware that the government is actually closing prison farms. People who are incarcerated had a chance to work on this farms to develop skills sets, to develop discipline and structure that they may not have had before. By closing these farms the government is preventing people who are incarcerated from building the skills they need. When these people get out, and they will get out as we know, it prevents them from reintegrating into society.

It is unfathomable and incomprehensible that the government would close down these farms and take away the opportunity for those who are in jail to build new skills. The government has never given any justification whatsoever as to why it is closing the farms. It needs to explain to the Canadian public and the House why it is doing this.

I want to refer to the evidence regarding what the Perry pre-school study 40-year retrospective analysis showed. The crime statistics show real differences. Compared with the control group, fewer pre-schoolers, the ones who were involved in the Perry pre-school program, have gone on to be arrested. Fewer of them have gone on to be arrested for violent crimes, drug-related crimes or property crimes. About half as many have been sentenced to prison or jail. Pre-school also seems to have affected their decisions about family life. More of the males are married. Many of them raise their own children. These men report fewer complaints about their health and are less likely to use drugs.

These are all objectives congruent with what the government wants to do. Why on earth is it standing in the way of these programs that have proven to accomplish that which the government claims it is interested in, and certainly our society and our citizens are interested in?

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in 1992 a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Health produced a report called, “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: The Preventable Tragedy”. It concluded that maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is the leading known cause of mental retardation and other alcohol-related birth defects.

As the member said in his speech, there is clear evidence that 40% to 50% of the inmates in our jails across the country, both federal and provincial, in fact suffer from what is now called FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, because it is much broader than we thought. It is incurable, but it is 100% preventable.

The bill purports that we need to deal with youth crime. Yet with the causes of this being related to the environment and the early conditions related to a child, why is it that the courts are sending people who suffer from FASD to jail where rehabilitation is not applicable in their case? How can there be rehabilitation when that is not possible?

The real question is, why do we not have the funding for programs to prevent the incidence of FASD? More important, should that occur and crimes occur, where are the programs for dealing with the lifelong tragedy of FASD?

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has been the leader in the House on FASD and on alcohol-related problems in pregnancy. He deserves many kudos for his hard work.

Some 40% to 50% of the people in jail suffer from FASD and there is nothing in the bill relating to FASD. The government has no plans to deal with half the prison population on one of the most important antecedent contributors to why they engaged in criminal activity. The average IQ of somebody with FASD is 67 to 70. Why is the government not dealing with this? It seems inconceivable it would miss half the prison population. The Conservatives have been silent on this issue all through their tenure. This cannot continue to be ignored.

While FASD cannot be treated, there are things that can be done to modify the behaviour. David Gerry and his team in Victoria have the only adult-based FASD program in British Colombia. It enables those people to manage their lives in a way that they will be productive, effective and engage in society. Those kinds of programs need to be embraced and adopted.

Again, prevention is priority number one. My colleague is absolutely right. It is inconceivable to me why the government refuses to deal with that which will work to prevent children from being born with FASD.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can wrap things up after question period, but I will start now.

Before getting to the heart of the matter, I would like to say that I had the opportunity to listen to and read the speech given by my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, and I would like to acknowledge his exceptional contribution to this debate.

He gave an excellent speech yesterday on the matter before us now, Bill C-4, and I am pleased to have access to his expertise in this area. I am also glad that, as he said earlier, a number of professionals are providing a new perspective on this bill. We will probably have a chance in committee to take a more in-depth look at the different aspects we must take into account before passing such an important bill.

Today I would like to share a few thoughts that I shared yesterday and the day before with teachers and young people in the riding of Vaudreuil-Soulanges. We have been participating in a forum for the past two days. We also worked as delegates to the Millennium Summit. Homelessness and extreme poverty are issues that affect thousands of young people in Quebec. We also looked at the impact of poverty on the lives of these young people.

Although poverty is not as serious here as it is in many other countries, there are some hardships in life that could be avoided if we took better care of our young people and gave them more support. Although we all come into the world the same way, not everyone grows up in the same living conditions. We must address the problems facing our young people, and only then will we see a marked improvement in our society. We must deal with problems where they begin.

We are debating an important issue here today, one that must not become fodder for shameless propaganda.

I asked to speak to this issue because I wanted to share with the House some of the experiences recounted by some young people whose lives have not been easy. These young people want us to support their efforts and to understand why they are in their current situation. Young people are willing to talk to us about how they wound up in trouble, if we simply give them the chance. These young people's lives have been difficult.

Throughout my life, I have worked with young people and with several community groups. As I have already mentioned in the House, these groups provide crucial support to the communities they serve. Their opinions must be taken into consideration. The people who work in these community organizations are on the front lines of intervention with young people.

Long before I was elected, I worked in close cooperation with community groups to try to ensure fair and equitable sanctions for young offenders. Our society needed to develop an intervention plan centred on rehabilitation and prevention.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I began my speech before question period. However, I would like to take a moment to inform the House that during this session of Parliament, an Allied veteran had to fight a long, hard battle to be admitted to Ste. Anne's Hospital. Mr. Speaker, you have heard various comments from several members here in the House. Some of my colleagues have fought for and debated the case of Dennis George Vialls in this House. He was a soldier who fought in the second world war and was even decorated for his service. Since I have the floor, I would like to take a moment to inform the House that Mr. Vialls passed away this morning. On behalf of my colleagues in the House, I would like to express our sincere condolences to his family. Lest we forget.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for listening. I will now continue my speech.

Before question period, I was saying that people who work in community organizations are also our front line workers. It was important that as a society, we develop an intervention plan centred on rehabilitation and prevention. That is what I was saying before question period. We needed to stick to some basic principles. History has proven us right: the youth crime rate in Quebec dropped considerably and in 2002, Quebec's approach enabled it to achieve the lowest rate of juvenile crime and recidivism in Canada since 1985. That is quite a result.

For purely ideological reasons, the Conservative government is trying once again to change the essence of the Young Offenders Act. Although Bill C-4 has been watered down somewhat compared to the previous bill, the Bloc Québécois would like to take the time to thoroughly examine each of its clauses.

Despite the changes, it is important to point out that Quebec has always had a good approach to dealing with young offenders. In 2003, Quebec's Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court both struck down a provision that required teens to prove that they deserved to be sentenced as young offenders. In other words, young offenders were automatically given the strictest possible punishment. They then had to argue against such sentencing and prove that they deserved a lesser sentence. The legislation did not take into account young offenders' records.

In Quebec, we believe that tackling poverty is one good way to prevent young people from committing crimes. When they do commit crimes, sentencing in Quebec takes all of the circumstances into account. Rehabilitation is integral to our morals and values, and everyone in Quebec knows that it has a positive effect.

To properly understand our stance on Bill C-4, we have to take a closer look at what the Conservative government is proposing. The bill introduced in the House would make public perception a factor in the sentencing of young offenders to deter other young people who may be likely to commit crimes. Because of this desire to make examples of individual cases, prosecutors will have to justify any decision not to call for adult sentencing in cases involving serious crimes. This would turn things upside down by taking it for granted that young offenders should receive adult sentences regardless of their records.

In addition, Bill C-4, as written, would give judges more leeway to release the names of young offenders found guilty of violent crimes and sentenced as youths. This provision could have terrible consequences for young people whose names would appear on a public list. Once these offenders have paid their debt to society, people may still single them out and ostracize them. That kind of rejection would have an extremely negative effect on their rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is a long-term undertaking with a strong track record in Quebec.

Judith Laurier, a spokesperson for the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, said:

By lifting the publication ban, we end up in a situation where the young person may be singled out and may have problems with rehabilitation and reintegration. That is the key item [in the bill] that we really disagree with.

Are we to jeopardize the work accomplished with young offenders in order to satisfy Conservative ideology? I do not think so. We must instead give youth the opportunity to start their lives over again and regain their confidence.

The Bloc Québécois does serve a purpose in the House of Commons. Bill C-4 is a watered-down version of what the Conservative government had proposed in 2007. That is why the Bloc Québécois wants a detailed study of Bill C-4, the Conservatives' proposal to toughen legislation on minors who commit crimes.

As I was saying in my speech, giving adult sentences to young people who have been tried as minors is not the best way to prevent serious crime—it is the worst.

In Quebec, we are acting instead of reacting. Those who work with youth in Quebec believe that society must intervene in areas such as poverty, inequality and exclusion in order to prevent the youth crime rate from increasing. They must make young people aware of the consequences their actions might have.

Quebec's youth protection branch and youth centres have some serious reservations about Bill C-4. These agencies have developed programs that directly involve young offenders in their rehabilitation. When it comes to young offenders, a number of groups work together on the same case. In Quebec, each case is dealt with according to its specific characteristics.

Quebec has long understood the importance of rehabilitation. In 2002, the Montérégie regional services comprised more than 300 active groups. One of their missions was to provide specialized case management services within the framework of the Young Offenders Act. To do so, they brought together the community agencies and establishments involved in order to provide an effective program for young offenders.

Another example of this is found in the Chaudière—Appalaches region where a system has been set up in cooperation with various alternative justice agencies in order to lead young offenders to a better understanding of their actions by incorporating victim reactions into the rehabilitation centre program. These techniques have been tested and found successful in Quebec. Youth centres, social workers and lawyers all agree that the Quebec model is an example to the entire world.

We are investing in rehabilitation and social reintegration. It is better for a young offender to spend time with intervention experts than hardened criminals in prison. A young criminal can become a good citizen if he has the right services.

This week, I spoke with the police officers from my riding, from Quebec and from the Canadian Police Association who came to meet with us. They do not agree with the minister. These police officers, who work with young people in the community, believe in rehabilitation.

Quebec is following some 9,800 young people who need help and services. There are close to 70 in my own riding. Many of them have been rehabilitated and I want to thank those who have helped them. In most cases, the police will have no further contact with these youths who committed a minor offence. They will not see them again because they will not know them. These young people will have taken a better path in life.

We believe that the Conservative government is insisting on giving adult sentences to young people tried as minors. The Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill has been improved somewhat and the government deserves some credit. However, my current criticisms of the bill are that it does not give enough credit to rehabilitation and its effect on Quebec's youth and that this model will not be fully utilized in the rest of Canada.

We have explained a number of times that, if the government took into consideration the recommendations made by Quebec stakeholders, the Young Offenders Act would have much more positive and long-lasting effects on Quebec and Canadian society.

As for Sébastien's Law, which would toughen the law regarding minors, I must unfortunately say that I believe it contains major flaws.

Giving adult sentences to young offenders as a deterrent is not a good way to rehabilitate offenders. I have had proof of this from community organizations, lawyers, youth centre workers and other individuals who work with these young people in the second life they are given.

Giving the public access to the names of young people convicted of serious offences may be detrimental to their development and reintegration into the community. Quebec is held up as an example in other countries because of the way it deals with young offenders. The Bloc Québécois wants to study the bill, but we refuse to amend the legislation to conform to a right-wing Conservative ideology. Society must be proactive, not reactive, to eliminate serious youth crime. That is why Quebec's approach involves setting up programs to help eliminate poverty, exclusion and social inequality.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois knows that young people commit crimes and must answer for those crimes, including in the courts. But the measures brought forward have got to have a real positive impact on crime; they have got to be more than just rhetoric or fear-mongering.

Our youth criminal justice system must be different and distinct from the adult system. The purpose of the youth system should be to reinforce young offenders' respect for social values. Organizations like Quebec's youth protection branch and youth centres have succeeded in creating effective intervention programs in cooperation with various community stakeholders. Quebec has adopted a model based on social reintegration and rehabilitation, and we believe in that model.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, near the end of her intervention, I think the member made a plea to the House to consider other priorities, which are related in terms of crime prevention such as the reduction of poverty and the linkages between poverty and crime. The last time that we had a recession if we were to look at the charts tracking unemployment and property crime, they tracked almost perfectly. So that should tell the government that there are many approaches to crime prevention.

Unfortunately, when the bill talks about prevention, it talks about prevention with programs after the young offender has committed an offence. It appears that a bill such as this cannot really go forward with that kind of an approach to crime prevention without having other legislation directed at crime prevention, which is a more efficient dollar spent. I wonder if the member would like to comment.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I just spent a day as a delegate at the Millennium Summit, where we spoke about poverty. Before question period, I mentioned that I had participated in a one-day forum on homelessness with youth from my riding.

What the member has brought up is rather important. I do not have the statistics here in front of me. However, every time the economy slows down or we experience difficulties, people have lost their jobs as a result. I do not have the statistics here, but I am sure that it has serious repercussions, which explains the increase in crime.

However, if we took a look at the stories of the young people who commit theft and petty crimes, we would see that there are reasons to explain why they ended up in that situation.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government could start by recognizing the positive effects rehabilitation can have on young people. It should also listen to what police officers in Quebec have to say about this issue. It should listen to lawyers and people who work with young offenders to hear what they have to say, and it should respect the opinion of professionals in Quebec.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague what she thinks about calling this Sébastien's Law, since Sébastien Lacasse's murderer was tried in adult court. He received the maximum sentence, life in prison. It is difficult to imagine a more serious sentence. I think this shows that the current legislation works well and that, even though it favours rehabilitation in some cases, it is capable of producing appropriate sentences.

What does she think of this message?

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

I loved my colleague's comments. I think he is touched that before question period I acknowledged the excellent and eloquent speech he made yesterday on this topic. I urge those watching at home to read my colleague's speech.

I asked myself the same question. What was the government's real intent in naming this bill, since the current legislation works well? I think in committee we could suggest that the name be changed, because it has nothing to do with the government's intent.

As my colleague said, the murderer of Sébastien Lacasse, one of my colleague's constituents, received the harshest sentence, and was recognized and tried in court as an adult. Nothing in this bill, as it stands, would have applied.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has been talking about social reintegration. I think that this bill makes it is easier to imprison young offenders than to help them. Would releasing the names of these young men not make it easier for organized crime groups to recruit them, in the knowledge that they tried to change but have a criminal record?

Does she think that if these names are published, the mafia or other organized crime groups will be more inclined to recruit these young people?

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that my colleague is asking that question. The young people at the forum talked to me about this. They said that if the bill allowed young people's names to be published, they would be exposed and could then be recruited by criminal gangs or people with malicious intentions.

These youths have come a long way. I believe that the professionals who have worked with them have given them a second life. I spoke about a second life earlier. These young people have a right to be rehabilitated, to be reintegrated into society and to succeed. I wish them a brighter future. I will stand with them and support them on the path to this future.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier there was a speech by one of the members, which referred to some statistic that about 40% to 50% of the inmates in the prisons across Canada suffer from what is now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or alcohol-related birth defects.

If that is indeed the case, and this is an incurable but preventable affliction, there should be something in the legislation dealing with youth criminal justice issues to address those individuals for whom rehabilitation is not possible because of brain damage. There should be that other option of the courts and provincial jurisdictions to provide supports to those families and those individuals as to how to cope and to deal with permanent brain damage.

I wonder if the member is aware of any interventions or initiatives in Quebec in this regard.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question of mental health is another major issue. It is not that I do not want to answer this question, but I would like the member to raise this point in committee when this bill is being studied. Mental health is also an important issue.

In terms of their stories and appropriate intervention strategies, each case is looked at individually and different professionals do everything they can to rehabilitate the young person through an agreement or by taking action. If that is not possible, we could hear from professionals in this area. I would like to hear testimony from professionals about the strategies and other options that exist.