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 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts. To review, this bill contains numerous amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the youth justice regime, including changes to the general and sentencing principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

As our critic has indicated, Liberals will be supporting it at second reading and sending it to committee for further debate. I believe very seriously that it needs extensive debate in committee and the calling in of witnesses to look at some of the impacts. Although there are some good points in the bill, some of which I will go through, it raises some serious concerns about previous improvements that were made to the youth criminal justice system.

In the remarks by my colleague from Halifax West in the House on this bill, he summed it up about right in only around 25 words. He said:

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.

I thought that was an appropriate comment because it seems to be where the changes in this act are really leading. It is so often all about penalty with the government and never about rehabilitation.

In our ridings and all across the country, and I certainly saw a lot of this when I was solicitor general, we see young people in trouble. Is it always all their fault? Yes, they do get in trouble, but some come from seriously broken homes, some may have gotten on drugs and got in trouble, some did not have a chance in life at all. By throwing them in jail and throwing away the key, this country is losing potential.

Yes, they got in trouble, but it is not just about penalties. It is about a social safety net, daycare programs, child care programs, literacy programs, education programs and working with young people to try to prevent them from getting into trouble. Young people have tremendous economic opportunity to benefit the country and themselves and raise families and so on.

My point is that we have to be very careful that we do not get on this mantra to build more jails, put them in jail, throw away the key and forget about rehabilitation and other social programs that can make a difference in people's lives in terms of preventing crime in the first place. We have lost too many lives in this country as a result of governments not doing enough in other areas to assist people.

There are elements of this bill that appear to favour punishment more than rehabilitation. We in the Liberal Party have serious concerns about the bill, which presents sweeping changes to the youth criminal justice system itself. While we support serious consequences for people who commit serious crimes, we believe that youth must be treated differently from adults.

As my colleague from Halifax West said in his remarks, this bill goes to the heart of what the government's mentality is when it comes to justice. It is a justice system that is based more on penalties than rehabilitation.

I would ask Canadians who may pay attention to these debates that, in terms of our justice system as a whole, in terms of our country as a whole, as we compare ourselves with the United States, where do we feel safer walking on the streets? In Canada or in the United States? I think if we asked 1,000 Canadians, 998 of them would say any place in Canada.

Yet, when we look at the two justice systems, the United States incarcerates somewhere around 690 or 700 people per 100,000 and Canada incarcerates 106 or 107 per 100,000.

We incarcerate less people, but people feel safer on our streets. Yet, the government wants us to go to the U.S. system of justice. That is what it is basically trying to do, and that is just not the way to go.

In the youth criminal justice system, we need to emphasize prevention and rehabilitation rather than just penalties.

Basically, the government's approach is to throw them in jail and throw away the key. In fact, even within the prison system itself, the government is withdrawing itself from good programs that rehabilitate people--

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Why is questionable.

What the government is really doing within the prison system itself, it is closing down prison farms.

I am a farmer. There are several members here who are farmers. We all know how wonderful farmers are, working with livestock, growing crops, and how rehabilitative that is.

The government has announced it is going to close all the prison farms in Canada. It makes absolutely no sense at all. So my colleague, the critic for public safety, and I toured those farms. We were out west at the one outside of Winnipeg. We were at the Frontenac Institution, in Kingston, which has a marvellous dairy herd and a good egg operation. We were at the Pittsburgh Institution in Joyceville, which has an abattoir and a greenhouse. The greenhouse is already closed down. And we were at the Westmoreland Institution in Dalhousie, New Brunswick, which has a wonderful dairy herd and egg-laying operation.

The Conservatives have made a lot of crazy decisions as a government over there, but closing down prison farms just makes absolutely no sense at all.

We had a couple of committee hearings. The sad part about those committee hearings is that we did not get hardly any answers from CORCAN or government representatives. I will make a couple of comments about what others have said, just to fill members in on the issue. The reason I am mentioning prison farms in the context of the young offenders act is because it goes to the attitude of the current government that it is all about penalities, not about rehabilitation.

On prison farms in both New Brunswick and Ontario I have seen young offenders, well, they are below 35 years of age, so, they are fairly young people. One individual was an older gentleman, who went into the system when he was very young. He has been in that prison system for 31 years. He said that he was a bad fellow, that he did lots of crime, and that he was a bad fellow even within the prison system. The only time he really became a human being is about four years ago, when he happened to get moved to the prison farm at the Frontenac operation.

The dairy herd is called the Pen Farm, a herd that was established at the turn of the previous century, a herd that is in the top 20% of production in Canada. When people walk into that dairy barn, they look at the herd and they see the quality of cattle. They see the care and attention that inmates are giving those cattle. They are actually making equipment to assist downer cows.

My point about this individual and what he said to me is, “I never became a real human being until I got here to this farm to work with cattle”. It has a tremendous rehabilitative impact.

Again, the Government of Canada is throwing that opportunity away. Just like what it is doing in this bill, it is throwing the opportunity away to make young people better people, to find the good qualities in them, and make them productive citizens in Canadian society again, not throw them in jail and throw away the key, where eventually when they do get out, all it has done is make better criminals of them. We need a system outside of the prison system to work with people, young people. We also need a system within the prison system to work with folks who have done crime and are paying a penalty. We need to rehabilitate them.

However, the thing that angered me most on the prison farm side of the equation was the attitude of the former minister of public safety. He is President of the Treasury Board today, but he did make it clear why facilities were to be closed. It was the opinion of the minister, and no doubt the Conservative government as well, that the funding for these facilities and the farming skills acquired “could be more adequately redirected to programs where people would actually gain employable skills”.

This is what we heard at the public safety committee with CORCAN and Correctional Service Canada about prison farms. They were saying that those farm skills are not as important anymore. One of the members of the Conservative Party tried to make the point that only 14 people came out of that system and got jobs on farms. What about all the others who went through the prison farm system? They got jobs. Not every lawyer goes into law. What they learned in that prison system on the farms was discipline, getting up on time, doing work, and managing their time. They learned farming skills, welding skills and other skills. They learned all kinds of skills that could be used in many occupations.

I am the agriculture critic and I can understand why a members over there would say they do not value farm skills because we know they do not even value farmers in this country by the lack of programs they are putting in place, but that is a subject for another day.

Just a note on the Frontenac Institution before I move back to the act itself. The Frontenac facility has been described in the agriculture media in the following way:

It ranks in the top 20 per cent of Ontario’s dairy herds for management, is quick to embrace new technologies and make them work. It won Frontenac County’s most improved herd award in 2005 with a jump of 147 points and supplies milk and eggs to Corrections Canada institutions in Ontario and Quebec. And if a recent report is to believed, it is among six prison farms in Canada which not only aren’t making money, but aren’t supplying inmates with the skills they need upon release. Its abattoir services 300 local farmers, processes 60 animals per week and supplies 150 local butcher shops.

That is a productive operation. It teaches those inmates wonderful skills, and for the Government of Canada to be closing them down makes no sense at all, but it comes back to my original point that the government does not care about rehabilitation. The government only cares about penalties and it is actually going to lose. Once those farms are gone they are gone forever.

There are many questions that have been raised by even the people in Kingston, where the government wants to close that institution down, so it can sell off the assets to pay the massive debt that it has imposed on our children and grandchildren as a government. Or is it looking to build a super jail there and go the way that the United States has gone where we will build more jails in Canada and incarcerate more people, and adopt a system that has been found in the United States not to work.

Let me come back to the bill. The major provisions of Bill C-4 are articulating that the protection of society is a primary goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, there is no problem with that; altering pretrial detention rules to make it simpler for judges to keep violent and repeat offenders in custody prior to trial; adding specific deterrence and denunciation of the sentencing principles for youth; expanding the definition of what constitutes a “violent offence”; allowing for more serious sentences for youth with a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions for so-called repeat offenders; requiring the consideration of adult sentences by provincial Crown prosecutors for youth 14 and older, or 16 and older in Quebec, who commit serious offences like murder, attempted murder aggravated sexual assault; and requiring courts to consider lifting publication bans on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences even when youth sentences are applied. Those are basically some of the areas and some of those points we agree with.

However, on the negative side, and this is unfortunate. The government has been in power four and a half years now and each day of the week that it is there it begins to wear on Canadians more and more. It is just like an old machine getting rusty, that is for sure.

It is unfortunate that what the government has shown over its four years in government is that it would rather create jail spaces than child care spaces. There is no evidence to indicate that jailing more people works as a deterrent.

That is what I said earlier when I compared it to the United States. This analysis builds on what has been provided by other experts and the Conservatives have chosen to ignore. Penalties in and of themselves are not the answer. We need systems of social programs that assist people, that help families in trouble. We also need them within the jail system itself.

This plan, along with some of the government's other so-called law and justice proposals, will lead to higher incarceration rates and increased costs for Canada's justice system without a significant improvement in Canadian safety.

I will close with a couple of quotes from others who know the system well because I believe they make the point. Rick Linden, who is a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, states:

It's designed more for the political effect than to actually have much affect on crime.

That goes right to the mantra of the government. It is all about messaging. I believe we have called it a culture of deceit in question period just the odd time. That is what it is about with the government. It is all about messaging. Do not let the facts get in the way of a good story. It is all about messaging.

There is lots more that could be said about the defaults of this bill, but I will close and turn to questions.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it seemed that I was listening to the member ad infinitum.

I thought we were talking about Bill C-4 for a while, but he strayed off to prison farms. What he does not realize is that very few people are finding work in the animal husbandry business because, as he and I both know, farmers are struggling.

My riding is home to Canada's largest federal penitentiary, and I can tell the member that a lot of good things are happening with the people who are serving time there. They are learning trades. Some of them are actually getting their ticket as sandblasters for instance. In some cases they are finding jobs before they leave prison. They are learning a trade while they are in jail. They are getting an education so that they can get a better job to provide for themselves and their families. I could go on and on.

The member for Malpeque should avail himself of the statements of Professor Martin of the University of the Fraser Valley who appeared before the justice committee. He said that sentencing does provide a deterrent.

I wonder if the member for Malpeque could tell the House when the protection of society should be given consideration when sentencing young offenders. Is he of the opinion that the protection of society should be continued?

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, in response to the last point, the protection of society is extremely important and it should be given consideration all of the time in fact.

However, there are many ways of considering that protection of society. One of them is having governments at both the federal and provincial levels work on the preventive side, providing child care and daycare, which the Conservative government took away, for instance.

The other way to protect society is to do what was suggested earlier, have rehabilitation programs in place so that people in the prison system come out rehabilitated. What the government is emulating is the system in the United States which is to build more jails and throw people into them.

The member for Northumberland—Quinte West talked about other skills. They are important. Of course those other skills are important, but what is also important is what people learn by working on the farm.

I know there is a government over there that does not care about farm policy. I believe the member said that farmers are struggling. It is no wonder they are struggling. They are struggling because last year the government spent $900 million less on farm safety programs than it did the year before. The hog industry is in trouble. The potato industry is in trouble. The beef industry is in trouble. We have a government that just does not care.

The Conservatives do not care about farmers any more than they care about the people they throw in prison. It is unacceptable and sad.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised some interesting perspectives on an approach to crime prevention and the related public safety issues.

I want to remind him of a comment by the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. His characterization was that the government is not interested in reducing crime, but rather in trying to win votes by using slogans like “We are tough on crime”.

The member is well aware of what the government has done. We have seen these bills circulating and circulating and then Parliament is prorogued and the government introduces them again at different stages. The government is not really attempting to get any of them through. There does not seem to be a commitment.

I must admit that if a slogan were to be adopted by this place, it should not be a matter of being tough on crime but rather of being smart on crime.

The member gave some examples of the experience of the United States versus Canada in terms of its incarceration rates, its level of public safety and the quality of crime prevention.

I wonder if the member would care to comment.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the question goes right to the point of the difference between the official opposition and the current Conservative government which is that we want to be smart on crime. We want to improve bills so that we have less crime, that when the people who commit crime come out of the prison system they are rehabilitated, that within the prison system itself there is the training systems and policies to work with people to make them better and more productive citizens in Canadian society.

The member is absolutely right. He mentioned that the government really is not about reducing crime, but is really about trying to win votes, something we have not heard much of here lately. Some of these bills have been introduced three or four times. It was not the official opposition that prevented them from getting through. It was the Prime Minister himself with his prorogation of Parliament. The Conservatives went to great lengths to try to blame it on the Liberal dominated Senate, but there was only one bill that was slowed down by the Liberal dominated Senate and the government tried to allege all of them were.

Now we have a Conservative dominated Senate, but the government still has not brought all the bills forward. The Conservatives are still dragging their heels. It comes back to what we talked about earlier, the culture of deceit. They want to be able to find another reason to go to the public to blame those big bad Liberals and try and message that we held them up, when really it is the Prime Minister who prevented them from getting passed and the Conservatives have not even introduced some of them.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member and he talked about anything but Bill C-4 and went off topic continually.

He talked about this government going after the votes on justice issues. After looking at his comments carefully, he is suggesting Canadians do not know anything about justice issues, that the Liberal Party does not agree with Canadians wanting safer communities. He is suggesting the Liberals know how to be smart about justice issues like two for one credit for violent offences. Canadians said absolutely not and this government changed that. Why would the member call that type of ridiculous attitude toward justice smart and say that Canadians do not know what they are doing about justice issues? Why would he disrespect Canadians in the way that he is doing? He needs to stand up for the victims, not just the offenders.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Oh my goodness, Mr. Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment is certainly off the wall today, but it goes to the Conservatives' point about messaging. They want to try and attack the Liberals rather than own up to their own responsibility that they have not dealt effectively with this issue since they came to government.

As I have said, this party on this side of the House does believe in smart policies to deal with crime. We do believe in penalties, but we also believe in pensions and the social side. The government just withdraws all the money it can from social programs whether it is with Status of Women or child care and daycare, whatever it may be. It does not assist the families who need assistance so that youth can be more productive members in society. Instead, the Conservatives go right to the penalty side.

I had better add in this point because it is an important one. Frank Addario of the Criminal Lawyers' Association said that there is no evidence that more severe punishment does anything to reduce recidivism among youth. He is an individual who should know. What the Government of Canada has to do is listen to some of those folks who work within the system and build better policies around what they say rather than its own attitudes that do not make a lot of sense.

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 1:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts.

Let me say from the outset that I have very serious concerns about this legislation. That will not come as a surprise to many people given my concerns about the approach of the Conservative government to criminal justice issues generally. I have expressed that concern on many occasions here in the House.

There is a body of opinion, some represented here in the House and more broadly in the community, that the Youth Criminal Justice Act does require some tweaking. It is not an old piece of legislation but it is a piece of legislation that does need attention. There are people who think some minor aspects of it need some attention. However, I think the bill before us goes way beyond tweaking and way beyond fixing the small problems with the act that need attention. The bill contains some very significant changes.

Here is how some of the bill's key provisions have been described.

The bill would make protection of society the primary goal of the act. The bill adds denunciation and deterrence to the sentencing provisions. That is a very significant addition. The bill would require the court to consider lifting the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when youth sentences are given. It is very important to note that the government has also changed the definition of violent offences and serious violent offences in this legislation.

The bill would require police forces to keep records of extrajudicial measures used to deal with young persons in order to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending. I will speak about that later.

The bill proposes to detain youth charged with a serious offence while he or she awaits a trial.

The bill would allow custody of young persons where they have committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions.

Finally, among other provisions, there is a provision that would require offenders under the age of 18 who are sentenced to custody to be placed in youth facilities only, even if they receive an adult sentence.

The last provision in this legislation is the one that is clearly supportable. It marks a huge turnaround for the Conservatives. It comes after they blew it in the last election when folks in Quebec in particular made it clear that they thought youth should not be doing time in adult prisons. That was a significant issue in the last federal election campaign.

I am concerned, however, that the burden of implementing this provision falls to provincial governments, and the federal government has not indicated if it will assist them to assure it is fully implemented. Without that kind of assistance, it could easily be an empty promise.

Even the best part of this bill, ensuring that youth are not sentenced and serve time in an adult prison, could very well be inoperative without a specific commitment from the government to assist provinces to implement that provision.

I do have very serious questions about other provisions in the bill.

Our justice system has always held that youth must be treated differently with respect to criminal justice issues. Children are not adults. We assume they do not have the same maturity as adults. We know they rarely appreciate the consequences of their actions when they break the law. The distinction between how we deal with adults and youth and child criminals must be maintained and not weakened. This is an important principle of our criminal justice system.

It is particularly true when we limit the rights of children in other ways. For instance, we do not allow them to participate in the democratic process in this country until they are 18.

If we are treating children as adults in the criminal justice system, we are not giving them a say in developing the rules of that system until they have become an adult. That is an indication of the unfairness of this kind of proposal.

The bill would make a significant change to the goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This bill would place protection of society as the primary goal of the act rather than accountability for the youth who are convicted, rather than the promotion of rehabilitation, and rather than support for crime prevention.

There is no doubt that in criminal justice matters the protection of society has to be a key goal, but I believe that by making it the primary goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is a step in the wrong direction.

We must never write off young people. We must do all we can to ensure their rehabilitation after they have committed a crime. We must put the restoration of their relationship with their community after a criminal conviction as they key goal of our youth criminal justice system. If we want a primary goal or a key goal, that is the goal that should be in place.

Placing the protection of society first, especially when the current Conservative government often uses protection of society as a euphemism for being tough on crime and more punitive, runs contrary to what youth criminal justice should be about.

There has been some considerable debate already about this legislation. Here is what a recent Toronto Star editorial says on this issue:

What Sébastien's Law would do, though, is change the tone of our youth criminal justice system from rehabilitation and reintegration to punishment and public shaming.

This is particularly troubling given the likelihood that the bill will do nothing to reduce crime but may, in fact, turn more juvenile offenders into hardened criminals and cost taxpayers plenty to keep them locked up.

The government says it will “make protection of society a primary goal of the legislation.”

But legal experts argue compellingly that this can't be done by tinkering with our criminal justice system. Harsher sentences, particularly for impulsive and immature young people, do not make offenders think twice about committing crimes, says criminologist and youth-justice expert Nicholas Bala.

Contrary to the government's assertions, this view is supported by evidence both here and in the United States, the poster child for tough-on-crime laws that have cost taxpayers billions without actually helping to reduce crime.

That is what the Toronto Star said in a recent editorial. It has used very strong language to say that the bill is about punishment and public shaming, and not about rehabilitation and reintegration. It is very, very troubling.

Other commentators have also been very critical of the bill. The Montreal Gazette looked at the changes to sentencing that are included in this legislation. It noted in an editorial that it had concerns about the provision that would allow the courts to take into consideration so-called extrajudicial sanctions, and here is what it said on that specific issue:

A sentencing judge would be allowed, for example, to take into account previous “extra-judicial sanctions”—warnings or referrals to community agencies—that were not subject to a court hearing and did not result in a formal criminal conviction.

By their very nature, extra-judicial measures do not involve a careful sifting of evidence, or even the opportunity for a young person to mount a proper defence. To base a prison sentence on such informal interventions is contrary to the normal course of justice. The very goal of informal sanctions is to give young people another chance. No family would go along with extra-judicial measures if there is a risk they will be used against a youngster at any time in the future. In one fell swoop an approach that has amply proven its worth could be undermined.

That is what the Montreal Gazette, in an editorial, said about the whole issue of how the government is proposing to use extrajudicial sanctions when it comes to sentencing a young person. I think again it is very, very strong language and very troubling.

Overall, the Montreal Gazette gave a big thumbs-down to the bill. In the editorial, it concluded:

The thrust of this bill, unfortunately, is to move away from rehabilitation and toward retribution.

It also said:

This legislation still appears to be driven by ideology and political showmanship, not by research or common sense.

It says that it should go back to the drawing board.

That is another editorial board of an important Canadian newspaper that has looked at this legislation and in very strong language has criticized it and said, in fact, that it should be withdrawn because of the serious problems.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity today to speak to a bill that is extremely important to all of us and to all Canadians, and that is Bill C-4 dealing with our youth justice system.

I am supposed to be pleased but I am concerned with where we are going with it. I will outline my concerns as we continue on.

Bill C-4 is just the beginning of a discussion on the youth justice system but I would also like to address the larger issue of how we deal with youth crime in Canada, its impact and the consequences of failing to address these things proactively and with a long term vision.

It is too easy to react and I think Bill C-4 will give us the opportunity to seriously look at where we are going on issues like this in Canada and what we can do to ensure the safety of all Canadians but, more important, to ensure our youth have some positive direction and positive role models.

We know the consequences when those are not there and I think we need, as a society, to deal with those issues in a much more proactive way. Having an opportunity to speak on Bill C-4 and have the bill go to committee will give us a chance to examine it and look at where we can strengthen it.

The people of Taber, Alberta and those who were shopping in Toronto on Boxing Day of 2005 know all too well what the consequences are. Sadly, the families of people like Reena Virk, Jane Creba, Jason Lang and my own constituent, a young boy by the name of Jordan Manners who was shot down in the hallway of his school, know all too well the consequences if we fail to address youth crime effectively.

I mention Reena Virk, Jane Creba, Jason Lang, Shane Christmas and Jordan Manners because they are really the reason that I am speaking to Bill C-4 today. These special people are children who were victims of criminal acts perpetrated by other children. Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies any family or any society can bear is children fighting children and children killing children. It is not the Canada we want and we do not want to see that continue.

What can we do about it? How do we strengthen our laws? How do we strengthen the support systems in society so we can have a much better outcome at the end of the day in dealing with these difficult issues?

The children I mentioned were shopping and Jordan was attending school. They were just doing what children do and, because of that, they became victims and their families were shattered.

There was a day when we all felt a child-like innocence, a few years ago but I think we can all remember, a quality we all imagine is in the eyes of our children and grandchildren but, in reality, we as legislators need to make certain that there is an effective youth criminal justice system in place that can deal with the rarely seen but much darker side of childhood.

However, our response to youth crime cannot stop just there.

When Bill C-4 was first tabled on March 16, I again took the opportunity to review it carefully. I represent a riding in the greater Toronto area, a city that, like every other large city in Canada and on the planet, struggles to stem a rising tide of crime of a variety of types.

As an initial reaction to this legislation there are clearly element of the bill that appear to favour more punishment, much more so than rehabilitation. We need to ask ourselves where that balance is between the two.

While I accept that punishment is tremendously important, I would view the prevention and the rehabilitation sides of the youth criminal justice system to be every bit as important.

When I served on Toronto City Council and as the vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, I saw first-hand some of those challenges. I watched as families dealt with tragedy, as politicians grappled with legalities, as social service agencies struggled with poverty and as courts wrestled to find the right balance.

I visited the families of many young people in my riding who had been either shot or knifed to death in some uprising with a gang. I sat and cried with mothers who lost their oldest child to violence in spite of every effort they made to try to prevent that from happening. They examined everything they did while raising their youngsters and asked what they could have done differently.

Many kids are being raised by single parents who are working and trying to keep the family unit together and make sure they are role models for their children. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes they only go wrong once in their entire life, but sometimes that once is too many.

As a result of some of the work I have done as a city councillor in Toronto and sitting as vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, I also had a chance to talk to many police officers who constantly try to find that balance. I asked how they treat young people, how they either scare them enough that they will never do anything wrong again or make sure they understand that they will pay a price if they break the laws of our country, that it is not frivolous and they will pay a price emotionally, as will their families.

I developed a very practical tough-on-crime approach, but I also learned to appreciate the need for additional components that recognize the unique challenges presented when dealing with youth crime.

There was once an incident, when I was on the Police Services Board, with a young man who I had a chance to talk to in the detention centre. I asked him, “Why did you shoot that person”, and he said, “Why not?” I looked at him with shock and said, “What do you mean, 'why not'? You have killed someone; that is why you are in here. And you are trying to make me feel sorry for you”. He responded, “You don't care about me, so I don't care about you”.

What he was saying is that as a society, we do not care about them, so they do not give a darn about us either. It is hard to imagine anybody growing up with that kind of mentality, “You don't care about me and I will take your life as if it's nothing”. The reality is that is exactly how that young man felt. Ultimately, he went to jail for a very long time and I suspect he is still there.

Having all these things in mind, it would appear as though the drafters of this bill have little or no regard for the prevention and rehabilitation facets of the youth criminal justice system. Just like every other Conservative crime bill, this legislation is all about sentencing and jail time. The bill says very little about prevention, rehabilitation or working to put young offenders on the right track for life.

It would seem that Rick Linden, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, agrees with this. He says the bill is designed more for political effect than to actually have an effect on crime. That is not surprising. We have seen a lot of that in this so-called law and order and crime agenda. Conservatives say the things people want to hear, but then they do not do anything about it.

Professor Nicholas Bala, a family law and youth justice expert at Queen's University, says the same thing. Professor Bala said, “This is an example of pandering to public misperceptions about youth crime”. Clearly, pandering to the general feel out there is very easy for all of us to do politically. At some points in our lives we have probably all done it; there is no question about it. However, on issues of youth justice it is extremely important that we do the right things and make the right decisions on rehabilitation, prevention and, ultimately, whatever punishment will have to be the issue of the day.

We just had a room full of young Olympians. We look at all those beautiful faces and see how proud they are of what they have achieved.

How many other kids out there would have liked to have had those opportunities? However, because of a variety of things that happened in their lives, they do not ever get that opportunity to be able to train and participate and grow up and be a successful Olympian.

As we go back to this bill and talk about the clarity issue, I believe strongly that criminals of all ages should be punished appropriately. While I support serious consequences for people who commit serious crimes, I believe youth must be treated differently from adults. I also believe that effective prevention of youth crime begins long before the actual crime is committed and continues long after a sentence has been served.

After all, in most cases offenders acquire criminal tendencies long before they take action. Furthermore, they will be expected to reintegrate into society at some point, and unless we take steps to ensure that the root causes of their behaviours are addressed, we can be certain that youth criminals will evolve into adult criminals.

Let us take a moment and examine what is actually in Bill C-4. The legislation proposes altering the pretrial detention rules to make it simpler for judges to keep violent or repeat offenders in custody prior to trial; adding specific deterrents to the sentencing principles for youth; expanding the definition of what constitutes a violent offence; allowing for more serious sentences for youth with a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions or so-called repeat offenders; requiring the consideration of adult sentences by provincial crown prosecutors for youth 14 and older who commit serious offences, like murder, attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault; and requiring courts to consider lifting publication bans on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences even when youth sentences are applied.

Some of these things are potentially positive and are at least worth supporting so this bill can go to committee for further study.

My biggest concerns relate to what is missing from this legislation. It would seem that the government's answer to youth crime is to lock the offender up and hope the future takes care of itself. Well, we know that does not happen, because sooner or later they have to get out, and if we have not tried to rehabilitate them while they were in a detention centre or a jail, then they are going to come out worse than when they went in. People can argue with that, but there are all kinds of studies that show that.

I fear this is a shortsighted strategy that will quickly lead to increased rates of recidivism. The youth criminal justice system in Canada must protect society, punish the offender and seek to rehabilitate whenever possible.

Bill C-4 recognizes the first two elements of this criterion but does nothing to enhance or to recognize what is potentially the most important element. What is the government planning to do to address poverty and homelessness in our largest cities? What is the government planning to do to combat domestic violence and violence against women? What is the government planning to do to tackle anger and money management issues? What is it going to do to provide hope and opportunity for many of our young people who feel there is no hope and no opportunity for them?

It might seem as though I am throwing out a laundry list of things I would like to see, but in fact I believe that poverty, homelessness, despair, anger and desensitization to certain negative activities contribute to crime later in life. I go right back to “If you don't respect me, I don't respect you, so your life means nothing”, the quote I referred to from that young man I had spoken to some years back.

We know now that children who do not have support in their formative years are more likely to gravitate to other support networks. We also know that in some cases that support network becomes a gang.

We also know that children who witness repeated bouts of spousal abuse and violence can come to accept that as appropriate behaviour, a behaviour that leads to more ominous activities as the children grow.

I would never suggest that everyone living in poverty is a criminal in waiting. I actually believe that every child represents untapped potential and hope for the future.

Every child is a doctor in waiting, a lawyer in waiting or a scientist of tomorrow, and every child could be our next great leader. Because of this belief, I want to make sure we do not just focus our attention on punishing those who go astray. We need to work together to ensure all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential, even if they veer from the path briefly before they reach adulthood.

I am going to cast my vote in favour of Bill C-4, but I want to be clear that the work is just beginning. We need to get this one right. The families of Reena Virk, Jane Creba, Jason Lang and Jordan Manners and countless other Canadians have every right to expect that we get this one right and we make the changes that are necessary to ensure the safety of our society, but also make the opportunities for the many young people who need that encouragement to move forward.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is unfortunate that the previous speaker focused on what she calls the punishment aspects of the bill when clearly, if she understands it in its full context, it is focusing on protecting society. That is the real work behind the bill.

I for one am glad that we are finally having this discussion in the House. I have heard from many of my constituents who are concerned about the shortcomings of the current Youth Criminal Justice Act, and in fact I met with a number of them. I met with parents of victims and I have also met with parents of those children who have gone astray. These parents are asking us to take action and try to get some method of earlier intervention within the young person's life.

My colleague mentioned that we need to focus more on prevention and rehabilitation, and I could not agree more that these are important things to focus on. Prevention and rehabilitation are important parts of our overall justice initiatives. In that light, does the member agree that it would be easier to rehabilitate a 16-year-old than a 56-year-old or a 46-year-old?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, the difference is quite significant. Part of the reason I am so supportive of an early learning program is, if we start investing at zero in these children, starting to make them feel good about themselves, making sure they get an education and the advice and the holistic approach many of us are talking about, that guides the children so when they are 15 years old, they are not out there creating crimes. But if we treat a 15-year-old like a 56-year-old, we are going to end up forever paying $100,000-plus a year. So we need a different treatment, and I know my colleague probably feels the same way. The question for all of us as a society is: How do we deal with those 15-year-olds who have committed crimes? If they are serious crimes, they have to have some serious help in order that they do not end up in jail when they are 56 as well.

The question for all of us as legislators is: What kind of help do they need and what do we do that best befits the crime but best protects society and also opens the door so that young person gets rehabilitated in a positive way?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, first of all, I appreciated my colleague's speech.

One small concern which I would raise, more as a comment than a question, is that often when we talk about the Young Offenders Act and reform of how to deal with folks who end up in trouble with the law at a young age, we refer to those who are raised by single parents as a category, and it is often a mistake to make too much of a connection.

We know that the circumstances in which young persons grow up are very determinant of what happens if they end up in trouble with the law. But too often in this place, and I am not accusing my colleague of doing this, we say thus equals thus. That if they were raised by a single mom, therefore we know the scenario. It is something that I would caution all members because it is so often not the reality. Single parents are out there raising their kids as best they can, often on very limited means because of the social safety net that has been torn apart, and this goes to my question for my colleague.

There is almost no discussion of prevention. The best way to treat a crime is to prevent the crime from happening in the first place, so that there is no victim and there is no punishment allotted because it did not happen. This government in particular seems to cast aspersions on the idea of a social safety net and would rather have a tough on crime agenda, where spending $100,000 a person in maximum security is a great solution as opposed to $10,000 on prevention

My colleague across the way talked about reforming someone at age 16. We have to talk about age six. We have to talk about early childhood learning, education and programs that set people on the right path from the beginning. Waiting until they are 16 and have run-ins with the cops is sometimes too late.

If a government is only fixated on the moment when a crime takes place and not so much on all the events that led up to that moment, the enticement from the gangs, the lack of opportunities, after school programs, lunch programs and whatnot, is that not an irresponsible way to conduct a government, to conduct any just society, to simply fixate only at the end on the crime and what punishment ought to be meted out?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, the easy way is to lock them up and throw away the key. That is the easy thing to do, but sooner or later, either the person is going to get out or we are going to continue to pay the $100,000-plus a year to maintain someone in jail.

It goes back to early learning and investing right from the beginning, giving families the support that they need, whether or not these are single moms or whoever it is. It is having a child raised in a positive atmosphere, whether that means having day programs for our children, giving support for moms, or making sure that people have a decent place to live. That is a really big issue. When youngsters grow up in poverty, they just do not see a way out.

Often when I have a forum in my riding of young people, they will say, “I am not going to go anywhere in society. I have no one to help me get through. I got myself kicked out of school”, so we help get them back in school but they need a lot more help.

There is a program called pathways to education that I am working to get into my particular riding, which has more than a few challenges. I believe that investing in those kinds of programs so that a young person has that entire holistic approach from zero on will prevent a 15-year-old or anyone else from getting into crime way before we have to turn around and penalize them.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
See context

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the member for York West for her intervention on this subject.

Sometimes we blame youth crime on poverty. We blame it sometimes on a lack of education. Sometimes we blame it on single parents. Sometimes we blame it on a lack of jobs.

I know some teenagers who were brought up in well-to-do families with two parents who were well educated, and it turned out that they are still criminals, so we cannot use that as an example for a blanket statement and blame it on these kids.

We also say that sometimes incarceration is the way to go with these young criminals. If that were true, Texas would be the safest place in the world, but it is not.

I would like the member's opinion on what the government could do to help prevent youth crime.