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 22nd, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Madam Speaker, I would begin by ensuring that we invest in housing, so that people have a safe place to live, invest in education programs, invest in early learning, work with families, and work with children all the way through school so that they know there is hope and opportunity.

Youth in my riding and throughout the city have told me at some of the forums that they have a feeling of despair, a feeling that no one cares. They would like a job. Some of the older people who work in the riding with youth in trouble say very specifically to some of the gang leaders that if they could get him or her a job somewhere that it would put that individual on the right track.

Many of these kids have never held a job in their life. One of the opportunities we have with the money and the leadership here is the summer career placement program. For many of the young people in my riding, they get their first job through this program. When they have worked for eight weeks and receive a paycheque, they really feel good about themselves. That is the kind of thing we need to do. We need to be investing in these communities. We need to provide hope and opportunity.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, as members are aware, the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect in April 2003. The proposed reforms to the YCJA that are contained in Sébastien's law are being made after consultations with a broad range of stakeholders.

I have had the privilege on a number of occasions of meeting with people in my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga. They are very concerned about many of the areas of the YCJA where improvements are badly needed. They are concerned that not enough is being done to protect individuals and families in our communities.

After more than five years of experience with the YCJA, the time was right for a review. In February 2008, the Minister of Justice launched a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which began with a meeting he held with provincial and territorial attorneys general to discuss the scope of the review and to identify the issues relating to the YCJA that they considered the most important.

In May 2008 the Minister of Justice began a series of cross-country round tables, usually co-chaired by provincial and territorial ministers in order to hear from youth justice professionals and youth justice stakeholders about areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The results show that most provinces and stakeholders believe the YCJA works well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes. However, there are concerns about the small number of youth who commit serious violent offences or are repeat offenders.

As well, while the goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to reduce the number of youth in custody is seen as a laudable one, some are of the view that the act has imposed barriers, which could restrict the courts from imposing custody for youth who should receive custody. Also, they believe that while adult sentences are available for those aged 14 and over and can be used where appropriate, these are not always considered even in the most serious cases.

Concerns were expressed by some about youth who commit violent or repeat offences, who may need a more focused approach to ensure that the public is protected. For example, some were concerned about violent youth who may avoid detention through bail. The fear is that these youth could commit a violent or serious offence while they are awaiting trial.

The current law on pre-trial detention is seen by some as too complicated. These complications might also make it more likely that youth who should be kept off the street pending trial are released, only to re-offend, sometimes with lethal consequences.

The Nunn Commission of Inquiry in Nova Scotia dealt with a case where a youth who had been detained was released, stole a car and was involved in a car accident in which a person was killed. The proposed reforms would greatly simplify the judicial interim release scheme.

The new law will include a very simply test. If the youth has committed a serious offence, which will be defined as it is for adults in the Criminal Code, then this youth can be detained while awaiting trial if he or she would, if released, likely endanger the public by committing another serious offence.

This government recognizes that young people who commit serious, violent and repeat criminal offences must receive a sentence and work toward rehabilitation in a manner that is proportionate to their crime and to their responsibility for this crime.

This government believes that particular elements of the act need to be strengthened to ensure that youth who commit serious, violent or repeat offences are held accountable with sentences and other measures that are proportionate to the severity of the crime and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

Sébastien's law will make the protection of society a primary goal of our youth criminal justice system. It will give Canadians greater confidence that violent and repeat young offenders will be held accountable through sentences that are proportionate to the severity of their crimes.

The proposed amendments are intended to help ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable through sentences that are proportionate to the severity of their crimes and that the protection of society is given due consideration in applying the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The proposed reforms address these concerns: to make protection of society a primary goal of the legislation; to simplify the rules to keep violent and repeat young offenders off the streets while awaiting trial when necessary in order to protect society; to require the crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious crimes, murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault; to require the crown to inform the court if it chooses not to apply for an adult sentence; to enable the courts to impose more appropriate sentences on other violent and repeat offenders, as necessary in individual cases, and to use existing sanctions in a way that would discourage an individual from offending again; to use a pattern of escalating criminal activity to seek a custodial sentence for reckless behaviour that puts the lives and safety of others at risk; and, finally, to require the courts to consider publishing the name of a violent young offender when necessary for the protection of society.

Regarding the requirement to consider adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious crimes, the provinces and territories will still have the discretion to set the age at which this requirement would apply.

Let me be clear. The amended legislation will now make it clear that no young person under 18 will serve a sentence in an adult institution regardless of whether he or she was given an adult or youth sentence. All young people under 18 will serve any custody portion of their sentence in youth facilities, separate and apart from adult offenders.

As is currently the practice, the individual could be transferred to an adult institution at age 18, if at that point his or her sentence had not been fully served.

Changes will also be made to publication provisions. In addition to retaining the current lifting of the publication ban where an adult sentence is imposed on youth, the new law would require judges to consider lifting publication bans for all convictions of violent offences where youth sentences were imposed.

Also there will be a requirement that records be kept when extra judicial measures are used by law enforcement to make it easier to find patterns of reoffending, which ties in with the amendment to the sentencing provisions in regard to extra judicial sanctions.

The proposed reforms in the bill will support and improve a fair and effective youth justice system for this country and result in a youth justice system that holds youth accountable for their criminal misconduct and promotes their rehabilitation and integration into society in order to promote the protection of the public.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to the debate on Bill C-4. I am tempted to do two things and I hope the House will forgive me as I reflect on them.

The first part of the speech was exhortation that was a repetition of what the member for Saint Boniface said during statements by members, and that was have the opposition join with the government in ensuring the bill would pass, but without getting an assurance from the Prime Minister that he would not engage in prorogation in order to eliminate all the benefits of such co-operation.

The second reflection is this. Why do we not talk about how this bill protects society? With all due respect to my hon. colleague opposite, whose sincerity I do not question, is there anything other than the administrative details about which he talked that relate to maintaining records in an efficient and proficient fashion?

Could the member help us to understand how that is significant in maintaining a culture of protection for society, other than just simply one where we keep better books? Is that his concept of a reform of the justice system designed to protect society, to get new bookcases?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, clearly my colleague did not listen to the early part of my speech. I clearly commented about the provisions in relation to pretrial detention. All of us in the chamber have heard stories about individuals who have been charged and released on bail and during that time have chosen to reoffend. In fact, Sébastien's situation is exactly that. Another person unfortunately lost his life because of another violent act. That is the one part of it.

The other part deals with the issue where extrajudicial sanctions may have been given in previous misdemeanours. People in my riding told me about a person who had appeared before a judge but was told that because there were no judicial sentences handed down earlier, the criminal record was not yet bad enough for the individual to be sentenced.

Therefore, with this legislation, it is my understanding that where extrajudicial sanctions have been given previously, that where warranted, the judge will be able to take those into account in deciding on the severity of the punishment to be given. More important than the punishment is to protect society from a person who may choose to go out and reoffend.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member is aware of Quebec's success when it comes to juvenile delinquency. Does he know that since 1985, Quebec's youth crime rate has been from two-thirds to 50% lower than the rest of Canada?

Is he aware of Quebec's particular way of dealing with young offenders? Is everyone around him aware? If he is not aware, can he be open-minded enough and benefit from this debate in order to learn about how Quebec addresses this?

If people from Quebec tell him that this legislation is getting in the way of their approach, would his government be willing to amend it so that it might produce better results in Canada and North America, and this approach could continue to be used?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, there is no question that all of us in this chamber will always celebrate any reduction in crime. When the numbers go down, we should all be grateful.

I am not questioning whether the numbers have gone down or not. I am suggesting that regardless of where the numbers are, they are still far too high. There is no one in this chamber who would suggest that because the numbers have gone down by 2%, 5% or even 20% that we should somehow reduce our efforts to further improve the public safety of all Canadian citizens.

I remind the House as well that our government has invested heavily in crime prevention programs. I have been involved in announcements in my own riding, where money has been invested in crime prevention programs to allow them to do the good work they do. My colleague earlier mentioned the pathways to education program, a great program that is having good results.

It is not a matter of one or the other. It is a matter of both. We need all these programs to work together, rehabilitation, prevention, absolutely. We cannot ignore the public safety factor. People in this chamber have a responsibility to all Canadians.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the NDP will support the bill to get it to committee, and we hope a couple of amendments will come out of committee.

My colleague made the point that the intention is to keep youth separate from adults, and the government has included this extremely valuable point in the bill. We are reasonably satisfied with this.

The only question I have about it is how that will play out over time. The provinces may not have adequate facilities in some areas. Is the government planning to compensate the provinces to help them build proper facilities? One of the reasons youth are in with adults in some instances is because the provinces do not have the facilities to keep them apart.

Does the government have any plans to compensate the provinces to allow them to have the proper facilities?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not in a position to comment on the specifics of what investments may be forthcoming in terms of other facilities.

I want to go back to the point that even if more facilities or more investments are needed, it is important for members of this chamber to take seriously their responsibility for the protection of the public. I am sure if that is necessary, the necessary funds will be allocated.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, paragraph 3(1) refers to the prevention that the member has mentioned a couple of times. The prevention of crime that it refers to is the recidivism. What the member has not talked about is the importance of preventing any crime from happening in the first place.

The member should also understand that the rate of criminal activity, serious crime, particularly property crime, accelerates and tracks perfectly with unemployment rates in Canada as well. A sound economy is also an important element of crime prevention.

Would the member at least acknowledge that crime prevention should not start after the first crime?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more that a good job is important for the well-being of a young person, especially in terms of feeling good about themselves, of having positive self-esteem, of being able to provide for their own needs. However, one of the best ways to do that is to encourage an investment climate where jobs are created, and not increase taxes in such a way that would actually discourage companies from expanding their businesses or making the tax burden so high that people are unable to pay for the basic necessities of life.

The other thing on the job front is the pathways to education program, which I mentioned earlier, are all initiatives that will help young people get the education they need. They may not be suited to the normal academic program that we think is the be-all and end-all. They may learn in different ways. These pathways to education programs and other alternative education programs are crucial to help those who may not follow the normal academic pattern, but are able to find great jobs in skilled trades, of which our society is in desperate need.

All of these need to go together. I want to make the comment I made earlier that we cannot look at this in isolation. It has to be a total package.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is not against reviewing the Young Offenders Act. We are in favour of Quebec's model of dealing with young offenders.

This model has been developed over more than a generation. It has been unanimously supported by all political parties that have governed Quebec since the 1960s. Whether to maintain and improve it has never been the object of partisan politics. Over the past 25 years, it has consistently given Quebec the lowest youth crime rate in North America. It focuses entirely on the future and its main goal is to ensure that, insofar as possible, the young offender grows up to become a law-abiding citizen.

This model has been possible because the federal legislation recognized that its main objective was the rehabilitation of the young offender. The Assistant Chief Justice of Quebec's Youth Court, Mr. Justice Michel Jasmin, admirably summarized the basic philosophy underlying the Quebec model with these words: “the right measure at the right time”.

Let us take two examples at opposite ends of the spectrum: homicide and shoplifting. A young man has killed his father. Drunk most of the time, the father beat his wife and children and kept them in abject poverty. One day the young man decides that this has gone on long enough, and he kills his father. At the other extreme, a young man is part of a group of thugs who rob houses. When surprised one day by an elderly woman who puts up a fight, he hits and kills her.

Can people see that the two offenders have to be treated very differently? That does not mean that the first one deserves a medal. He has committed a very serious crime and should suffer serious consequences. What he did was unwarranted, even under such extreme circumstances. He must show that he understands and is sorry for what he did and that he will never again use force to deal with an unfair situation. He will regain his freedom gradually, depending on the progress he makes in the rehabilitation program he is referred to.

In the second case, the offender may be tried as an adult and receive the maximum sentence of life in prison, after undergoing a thorough examination that looks at his record, his personality, the failure of any previous rehabilitation and the clinical psychological data that comes out of the examination, in short, a series of factors that rule out any possibility of rehabilitation.

Two homicides, two different measures.

At the other end of the criminal spectrum is shoplifting. A young man has been caught stealing a CD by a popular artist. It is his first arrest. He does not want the police to call his parents, but they do anyway. When they arrive, he is as red as a beet. Shamefaced, he swears he will never shoplift again. It is easy to see that this experience and the parents' reaction will be more than enough to dissuade the young man from reoffending. He can be diverted from formal court proceedings and let off with a warning.

But another young man is caught stealing things that can easily fenced. It is his first arrest as well, but authorities will do a more thorough investigation before deciding whether or not he will go to court. They will try to find out more about his circle of friends, his family and school or work in order to determine the best way to ensure that he does not reoffend.

Two cases of shoplifting resulting in a first arrest, two different attitudes that will lead to two radically different measures. We always try to choose the best measure for the situation.

Between these two extremes, there are thousands of cases where, in choosing the right measure at the right time, judges hand down sentences that can be very different for similar crimes committed by young people with very different prospects for rehabilitation.

These sentences may seem lenient to those who are unaware of the results of inquiries made for the pre-sentence report on youth with the best prospects for rehabilitation. Other sentences may be the most severe sanctions under the law if the inquiry reveals that they are warranted.

The approach varies with the accused. The goal is to protect society by taking steps to turn the young person away from crime and to ensure, above all and as far as possible, that he will not become an adult offender.

It goes without saying that, to determine the best measures for achieving these goals, we must also take into consideration the seriousness of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the young person, his efforts to make restitution to victims when possible and other relevant and objective factors. This approach is taken because rehabilitating the young person is the best way to protect society.

Quebec's success is not dependent on the law but on how the law is enforced. Starting with the principle that rehabilitation is the goal in all but the clearly impossible cases, Quebec has created a multi-faceted system where the quality of the people who work with the young offender is of the utmost importance. Specialist judges are available in every region where that is possible and they are supported by psychologists, criminologists and social workers who can advise them about the identity of the young person, the risk factors that have led him to commit the crimes and the best means of ensuring his social reintegration while protecting the public. There are also specialist prosecutors. We build youth centres, not prisons, that fall under the responsibility of the health and social services ministry rather than the public security ministry. Guards have been replaced by psychoeducators and specialized educators who have a university or college education.

With regard to youth crime, like other types of crime, success is determined more by how laws are enforced than by the laws themselves. I know that this is particularly frustrating for federal legislators. However, in Canada, that is the way it is. In Canada, criminal law is a federal jurisdiction and its enforcement a provincial one.

The law has to leave room for an effective system. The law must not hinder a good system that has provided and continues to provide tangible results that are far better than the results anywhere else.

The Bloc fought long and hard for the Youth Criminal Justice Act that was adopted in 2002 to replace the Young Offenders Act because it favoured a more objective approach for treating young offenders.

After it was adopted, the opinion of many involved in the area of young offenders went something like this, “We used to deal with young people who committed offences and now we are dealing with offences committed by young people”.

We could talk about this at length, but we do not have enough time here. We will have more time in committee. For now, I sincerely believe that the first approach is the best. Rehabilitating young offenders is the best way to protect society in the long run. Rehabilitation has to be the priority of the youth criminal justice system.

The approach proposed in the bill before us takes us further away from Quebec's approach. Subparagraph 3(1)(a), which is a declaration of principle at the beginning of the legislation, states:

the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by

(i) holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person,

This is certainly a very important principle, but it already appears in the current legislation. It appears almost verbatim in paragraph 38(2)(c) which states:

the sentence must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence;

This shift from paragraph 38(2)(c) to subparagraph 3(1)(a)(i) is not so innocent when we look at what is being dropped.

The current paragraph 3(1)(a), which will be replaced by the new clause, currently says:

the youth criminal justice system is intended to (i) prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s offending behaviour, (ii) rehabilitate young persons who commit offences and reintegrate them into society, and (iii) ensure that a young person is subject to meaningful consequences for his or her offence in order to promote the long-term protection of the public;

Under the current legislation, the first two objectives are prevention and rehabilitation.

To be fair, Bill C-4 does not completely dismiss these objectives. Rather, it says that we should “promot[e] the rehabilitation and reintegration” by “referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community”.

But it makes these objectives secondary to making the sentence fit the crime. In short, rehabilitation and reintegration will now merely be encouraged, not mandated.

This is an even more significant change from the former Young Offenders Act, which enabled Quebec to create a system that resulted in the lowest rates of crime committed by young offenders in America.

We believe that any youth justice system should focus primarily on rehabilitation.

This is not a sunshine-and-lollipops system, as some Conservative bigwigs claim.

Some young people have asked judges to send them to adult court so that they can avoid the rigorous requirements of young offender rehabilitation programs.

The government is defending its proposed changes by claiming that stricter sentences will be a deterrent. That principle has had very little effect on adult crime rates. Why would it be any more effective when it comes to juvenile crime?

Since this is the government's main argument, we should debate the issue in committee. Justice Canada has already ordered an in-depth review of the deterrent effect of various sentences in Commonwealth countries. The findings will surely be enlightening. Are there any studies that focus specifically on adolescents? Such studies would definitely be relevant. If there are none, we should order them. That is probably exactly where the government and the opposition disagree. We should have a public debate where we can set partisan politics aside and let cool heads prevail.

The government's decision to name this bill Sébastien's law is both strange and indecent. Sébastien Lacasse was the young man from my riding who was attacked by a group of angry youth who beat him. One of the attackers even stabbed him, which is how he died. Most of the attackers were over 18 years old. The individual who stabbed and killed him was under 18.

He was referred to adult court and received the maximum sentence, life in prison, and his name was released. The others, who were over 18 but did not directly cause his death, received various sentences, the longest of which was four years.

The sentence that the youngest person received certainly does not justify any amendments to this legislation. Since the legislation does not at all change the sentence that the killer would have received, I do not think it has any symbolic value. This is nothing more than propaganda for purely partisan purposes. It seems to me the Conservatives are exploiting the grief of his parents and loved ones.

This only confirms that the government's main objective with this bill is not really to reduce crime, but rather to achieve electoral gains. Unfortunately, a large segment of the population believes that we need to be tougher on young offenders.

But only until they learn more.

Only until they learn more about the real way we treat young offenders on a daily basis, more about the various professionals who work with them—from a constable on a youth squad to the judge and special crown prosecutor, to the university educated psychoeducators who care for them and assess them—and most importantly, until they learn more about the results we get. These results are the envy of many countries whose representatives regularly come to study Quebec's model in order to emulate it and change their own way of addressing juvenile delinquency.

The public very rarely hears rehabilitation success stories for young offenders. But we often hear about the failures. That is the nature of things. A murder, especially committed by a young offender, is an exceptional event that will necessarily get a lot of media attention. Crimes in general make the news. There is always something, and the more serious it is, the worse it is, the more despicable it is, the more we see it on the news. And there is something about youth crime, something we cannot put our finger on, that draws interest from the media.

For the most part, rehabilitation goes unnoticed. There is nothing special about it. It is a process that can take time, and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when rehabilitation is achieved. However, the vast majority of young offenders do not re-offend.

It is difficult to talk about those who are rehabilitated. First of all, in all civilized countries, we protect their identities. Sometimes, well-known or well-liked public figures will reveal that they were arrested in their youth, and will speak about their rehabilitation, which helped them become the person they are today. However, these cases are not well known, while failures are widely publicized.

Recidivism has a face. If it is not the face of the offender, it is the face of the victim. Rehabilitation is anonymous.

In our media-crazed world, we hear a lot of talk about repeat offenders but rarely do we hear about those who are rehabilitated , which actually represent the large majority of those convicted. Repeat offenders are known to police but those who are rehabilitated are not, since they are obviously not arrested again.

The general public is misinformed about how youth crime is dealt with. It sees only the failures. I am not criticizing journalists. Again, it is the nature of living in a media-crazed world. Unfortunately, in this case, the medium is the message. It is the exceptional things that make news.

Every so often, journalists decide to take an in-depth look at the issue. And generally, their opinion on youth crime and how to reduce it becomes more nuanced. When informed, the public generally comes to the same conclusion.

We need to admit, from the outset, that we will never completely eliminate youth crime. There will always be failures. These failures will be rare, so the media will be sure to publicize them. We cannot be deterred from looking for the best ways to rehabilitate offenders. Not only is it important on a human level, but it is also the best way to ensure society's short- and long-term protection.

I often hear the governing party say that we need to get tough on crime. And the Conservatives always seem to say it with an air of triumph, as if they were winning a trophy or crushing an enemy. It takes a hard line approach because it believes that it will get votes that way. But it was also in the House that I heard the best line on this topic. It came from the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, in one of his first speeches, before he became the leader of his party.

As I recall, he said that the idea is not to be tough on crime or soft on crime; the idea is to be smart on crime. If there is one area where it is important to be smart, it is the area of youth crime, even though being smart is not necessarily very popular right now.

On September 18, 2009, the former Conservative leader, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, said to the big Conservative family as it celebrated the 25th anniversary of his coming to power, “Just because something is popular, that does not make it right.” He was quoted in Le Devoir on September 19, 2009. Former statesmen often like to pass on their wisdom.

This sentence seems especially relevant as we look at the changes the government wants to make to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I very much get the feeling that the government is proposing these changes because they are popular. The tough on crime approach was a big hit in the United States and got many Republican representatives and senators elected.

As a result, nearly one quarter of the world's inmates are in American jails today. The incarceration rate in the United States is seven times the rate in Canada. Is it a safer country? Certainly not. Proportionally, if we look at the most serious crimes, homicides, there are three times more homicides in the United States than in Canada and four and a half times more than in Quebec. The Vera Institute of Justice, an American organization, determined that at least 22 U.S. states were prepared to give up the tough on crime approach. This also applies to the treatment of young offenders, which was based on the same principles.

Being tough on crime may be a good way to win votes, but it is an expensive, counterproductive approach that leads to a dead end. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, produces not only people who contribute to society, but huge financial and social savings for every young person who goes straight. When we see how much more violent crime there is in the United States than in Canada, we may be tempted to think that some of these offenders went through the American youth justice system.

Why follow the U.S. model when we have a system here that produces much better results? The rest of Canada should be following Quebec's lead instead of preventing it from continuing to use its system.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank the hon. member for participating in this debate and bringing the experience he has in this House. He always brings an enlightened view to important legislation.

The member made an allegation that the government was not trying to reduce crime but rather to win votes, if I quoted him correctly. That certainly does lead to a sloganeering approach to the justice system, let us get tough on crime, but he is correct in identifying that being smart on crime makes more sense from a legislative standpoint.

As a layperson, I have come to find, from members like him and from some of my committee work, that sentencing does not appear to be an effective deterrent to crime, that recidivism rates are lower for those who get early release or house arrest, that provincial governments do not get the resources they need to properly police or to provide for the facilities, and that longer sentences are more expensive to the system, therefore taking resources away from some of the other important social supports that people need to keep away from a life of crime.

I wonder if the member would care to share with the House some further thoughts about being smart on crime.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I could go on for hours about that. Indeed, I spent more time editing my speech than I spent writing it in the first place.

I was called to the bar in 1966. Right after that, I went to work for the crown prosecutor in Montreal. Then I worked for the federal government, and then I was in private practice. I have been president of the Quebec bar, public safety minister and justice minister.

Before becoming a lawyer, I knew nothing about crime. Intellectual honesty was very important to me. I found that people broke laws—driving under the influence or committing murder, for example. I began to study the matter, and I learned a few things that anyone can learn.

There are a lot of books about crime, and Statistics Canada produces statistics comparing Canada to other countries. It is well known that long sentences are ineffective. The rate of incarceration in the United States is seven times higher than in Canada, yet the United States has the highest rate of violent crime. Other western nations, such as France and England, also have incarceration rates seven times lower than those in the United States.

We have to focus on timely intervention with criminals, not on sentence length. The same applies to our children. We have to intervene quickly when crimes are committed. There have to be consequences. Incarceration is the worst possible punishment; we must use it in moderation.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his speech on Bill C-4.

He provided us with a lot of information on Quebec's system, which, statistics show, is better than the rest of Canada's.

Could the hon. member tell me what the Conservative government could do to bring the statistics in the rest of Canada to the same level as those in Quebec?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. The government probably cannot do it. That is the problem with a federation. I am not saying that as a sovereignist. That is just the nature of a federation.

It falls to the federal government to establish the criminal law, but it is up to the provinces to apply those laws. It is the way in which these laws are applied that has the greatest impact on youth crime. Prevention and rehabilitation used to be the primary objectives of the law and everything else was secondary. Unfortunately, now the opposite is true. Now the primary focus is on making the sentence proportional to the seriousness of the offence. The young person needs to be healed and rehabilitation is one type of healing.

The Conservative government could start by not adopting a bill that will prevent us from continuing to do what we do best. Our system works so much better than that of our neighbours to the south. However, the government always favours the U.S. model.

There truly are two solitudes in Canada. English Canada does not know about Quebec's success in this area. Rehabilitation by professionals is the reason for our success.