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.


Rob Nicholson  Conservative


In committee (House), as of May 3, 2010
(This bill did not become law.)


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.


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 / 5:20 p.m.
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Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, to hear the government members talk, they suggest that they are doing everything they can for victims, although nobody can see the evidence of that. They can hold a press conference and say, “This is what we are doing”, and everybody will believe them because they got it into the papers. So it must be right, but the fact of the matter is that scholars everywhere are looking at the Canadian example, tracking what is happening on the arrest side, the conviction side, the detention side, and then the rehabilitation side.

If members can imagine this just for a moment, we had a justification a few minutes ago by a member of the government who said that we need to keep people in jail longer so we can give them a better education as to what makes a good citizen. Can members believe that? He said that two years is not enough, that we cannot rehabilitate a criminal in two years. Why not look at the situation that says we are doing something right because our arrest rate is going down? Our conviction rate is high but compared to every place else, everybody comes here and says, “You have a peaceful society”.

Yes, there are problems. Nobody is suggesting there are not, but all of the scholars and evidence tell us that we are moving in the right direction. The government wants to reverse that.

If it is important for people to have an opportunity for rehabilitation; that is, to accept a value of productivity in a society, of integration in a community, of the opportunity to make a contribution to a larger society, why not make the investments in those areas that are associated with an infrastructure that is already there: schools, community centres, social community affairs and events?

Something that we struck a little while ago was taking youth at risk and putting them to work with some of those journeymen and masters in their trade. That was working. No, the government wants to keep them in jail a lot longer because maybe by repeating the old mantra that if people commit sin, they shall be punished, that if they commit an error, we are going to damn them to hell, and if they contravene the conventions, which have not been put down, then we are going to banish them forever.

Rehabilitation is the ethic that the member for Abbotsford said defined a justice system. That is where we should be putting our resources. That is where we should be putting our focus and that is where the government is not going. Shame on it.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly want to pay tribute to the theatrics of the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, that is for sure. He is a great performer. We all know that and I commend him again for yet another performance in this chamber. However, I do want to take issue with this word that he used and took some liberty with, the word is “retribution”. I have heard this type of nonsense before.

I know that time is of the essence and he is just about out of time for questions and comments, so I will keep it short.

I have had the pleasure of being here for just about 17 years now. I know what people are saying up in northern British Columbia in the riding that I represent. They are saying they are sick and tired of criminals, young or old, getting away with a slap on the wrist, where punishment seems to be a bad word, where we cannot hold people accountable. I hear it all the time.

What they want is a justice system that is a justice system, that brings about justice, that holds people accountable and responsible for their actions. That is what they want. They do not call it retribution.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, they have a different word for it, for those who do not recognize those young boys and girls, those young men and women who fall by the wayside. Yes, they are going to be punished, but there is a word for what he is talking about. It is called vigilantism. It is even worse than retribution.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-4. At the outset, I want to commend the other speakers for some very interesting presentations today.

I have said before, during the questions and answers with some of the speakers, that the NDP will be supporting this bill to get it to committee. There are some provisions of it that we like and other provisions that we would be seeking some amendment to or clarification. The drafting of the bill itself is not precisely the way our critic, who is quite qualified in that area, thinks it should be.

Having said all of that, I think that this bill will not be staying at second reading for a very long time. The parties will want to get it into committee so that we can go through the process of calling the witnesses and start to examine the various provisions of the bill with the idea of making it better. There may be some amendments that the Liberal Party, for example, may want to introduce. This is all about coming together and trying to make legislation that is good for the country as a whole.

The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin made an excellent speech today explaining how the Quebec model works so well. The crime rate in Quebec is falling and is reasonably low. There is a system there that other jurisdictions should be looking at for improvements and copying. He explained that he did not feel that the federal government could really borrow the system because it was not really set up to be exported. I believe that was the way he explained it.

However, the fact of the matter is that the government has to start looking into types of systems that actually work. It seems to me that its whole approach to the criminal justice system is totally wrong. It is as if it is getting its orders from the Republican Party of the United States. It seems to look to the United States to see what Sarah Palin would think of a particular measure. We have to say that because it is adopting 25-year-old discredited strategies from the United States that have been proven not to work.

I do not know how many times we have to say it. Ronald Reagan's days are long past and so is his explosion of the prison population, the building of private prisons, the three strikes and your out, and the mandatory minimum sentences. Those were 25 years in the making and have produced higher crime rates. How much more proof does the government need to realize that that is the wrong way to go and that we should be looking to be smart on crime?

The government wants to be tough on crime. A lot of people think it is kind of soft on crime, the way it keeps proroguing the House and starting back again with all these crime bills. It talks about being tough on crime. We say we should be smart on crime. For each and every measure that the government takes in the crime area, all we are suggesting is that it should reach out and look for systems that work elsewhere.

If Quebec has good results in certain aspects of the system, why not import those? Why not replicate those? Why not promote those at the federal and provincial levels? Why not do that? If there is a better system that gets results in European countries like Sweden, then why not look to those results?

The government talks about best practices. It looks to best practices in other areas of government. Why can it not apply the same principle when it comes to this system?

Many times we have talked about how auto theft rates in Manitoba have dropped substantially because the government mandated immobilizers in all cars. It provided them for free, gave insurance reductions and set up a system in the police department to monitor the most prolific car thieves in the province. Police officers monitor them, chase them and try to keep them off the streets. That is producing results.

That is a system we would want to encourage and replicate in other provinces across the country and in other jurisdictions. Why—

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:05 a.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, for almost 100 years, Canada has provided separate laws and procedures applicable to youth who commit crimes. The fair and appropriate application of criminal accountability to our youth is one of the most challenging areas of justice and social policy.

The law must be adequate to hold them appropriately accountable for the offences committed, consistent with their degree of responsibility in a manner that protects the public.

Canadians look to their government to ensure that the justice system is working effectively and that the country's citizens are safe. Since we were first elected, our government has taken action to tackle crime and protect Canadians.

Our approach is balanced. It includes: prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation. But there is more to be done.

We recognize that we need to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.

I am proud to speak today in this House to Bill C-4, which will bring amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Sébastien's law will make the protection of society a primary goal of our youth criminal justice system, and 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.

Bill C-4 proposes amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that would make the protection of society a primary goal of the act; simplify pretrial detention rules to help ensure that, when necessary, violent and repeat young offenders are kept off the streets while awaiting trial; strengthen sentencing provisions and reduce barriers to custody for violent and repeat young offenders, where appropriate; and require the Crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious crimes, such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault.

The Crown would also be required to inform the court if it chooses not to apply for an adult sentence. We will require the courts to consider publishing the name of a violent young offender when necessary for the protection of the public.

We will require police to keep records when extrajudicial measures are used in order to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending, and ensure that all youth under 18, who are given a custodial sentence, will serve it in a youth facility.

I would like to make a couple of comments about the changes that we are proposing.

First, we would make the protection of society a primary goal of the act. As it currently stands, the objective of protecting society is not stated strongly enough in either the preamble to the YCJA or its declaration of principles. This deficiency was identified by the Hon. D. Merlin Nunn in his report entitled “Spiralling Out of Control: Lessons Learned From a Boy in Trouble”. This was a comprehensive review of the youth justice system in Nova Scotia.

Justice Nunn concluded that highlighting public safety as one of the goals or principles of the act was necessary to improve the handling of violent and repeat offenders. Highlighting this objective within the principles of the act would give the courts a necessary tool to ensure that the protection of society is taken into account in sentencing youth who commit violent and repeat offences.

Again, related to one of the recommendations of the Nunn report, we will simplify the pretrial detention rules to help ensure that, when necessary, violent and repeat young offenders are kept off the streets while awaiting trial.

The current law on pretrial detention has been viewed by some as confusing and has, on occasion, been inconsistently applied. As a result, the system is often powerless to hold violent or reckless youth in custody, even when they pose a danger to themselves and to society.

The act therefore will be amended to simplify pretrial detention rules to ensure that youth can be detained while awaiting trial if they are charged with a serious offence, and there is a substantial likelihood that the youth will commit a serious offence if released.

A serious offence will be defined as any indictable offence for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for five years or more, including: violent offences; property offences, such as theft over $5,000 which can include car theft; and offences that could endanger the public such as public mischief, unauthorized possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm, sexual exploitation, robbery and, of course, murder.

The third provision will strengthen sentencing provisions and reduce barriers to custody where appropriate for violent and repeat young offenders.

Canadians lose confidence in the justice system when a sentence is insufficient to hold offenders accountable for their actions or to protect society. The law will be amended to broaden the sentencing principles and remove barriers to custody to ensure that violent or repeat young offenders will receive sentences that reflect the seriousness of their offences.

The government is proposing to strengthen the sentencing provisions by adding specific deterrence and denunciation to the principles of sentencing to discourage a particular offender from committing further offences.

As it stands now, deterrence and denunciation cannot be considered by a judge as part of sentencing. Adding specific deterrence and denunciation would allow the courts to impose sanctions designed to discourage the particular offender from committing further offences when the circumstances of the individual case indicate that this is necessary.

We will expand the meaning of violent offence to include offences that endanger the public. Currently, under the act, the general rule is that a young person cannot be sentenced to custody unless certain conditions are met. For example, young offenders may not be sentenced to custody unless they have committed a violent offence.

The Supreme Court of Canada in 2006 interpreted violent offence under the act as an offence where the young person causes, attempts to cause, or threatens to cause bodily harm. The definition does not capture situations in which, while no one was injured, reckless behaviour nonetheless posed a risk to others. For example, at the moment, a young offender who leads police on a high speed chase through a residential neighbourhood could be given a custodial sentence only if someone was injured as a result.

The government proposes to expand the definition of violent offence to include offences where the young person endangers the life or safety of others by creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm. This change would give the courts a necessary tool to help ensure accountability and the protection of society, when the circumstances of the offence require it.

We are proposing to reduce barriers to custodial sentences by allowing custody to be imposed on youth who have a pattern of findings of guilt or extrajudicial sanctions. The act currently allows for custodial sentences in situations where the young person has committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years, and the young person has a history indicating a pattern of findings of guilt under the act or its predecessor.

The current requirement for establishing a pattern of criminal activity based on findings of guilt has been criticized by some as being too restrictive when a young person may have committed other offences which have not been dealt with through the formal justice system. As a result, in cases where the offender's history indicates that a custodial sentence is necessary to protect society or to hold the offender accountable, it is sometimes impossible to demonstrate that necessity.

The proposed amendment would give the courts the necessary tools to establish a pattern of criminal activity, either through findings of guilt or through showing that the young person has a history of extrajudicial sanctions or through a combination of both. This would allow the court to take the offender's full history into account to help determine what sentence is appropriate.

The new legislation would also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious violent offences. These are offences such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. Currently, under the act, judges may impose adult sentences on youth 14 years of age and over convicted of serious violent offences when appropriate. However, the Crown does not always apply for an adult sentence in such cases and is not required to consider doing so, even in the most serious cases.

The proposed amendments will require the Crown to consider seeking an adult sentence for youth who commit serious violent offences. The Crown will be required to inform the court if it chooses not to apply for an adult sentence. Provinces and territories will still have the discretion to set the age at which this requirement would apply. For instance, no province that sets the age at 15 or 16 would be required to change.

This brings me to the fifth provision we are proposing: requiring the courts to consider publishing the name of a violent young offender when necessary for the protection of society. Currently, under the act, the publication ban is automatically lifted where an adult sentence is imposed. However, if the Crown applies, the court can consider lifting the ban in appropriate cases where a youth sentence has been imposed for an offence for which the Crown was seeking an adult sentence.

In practice, the violent offenders who are given youth sentences are normally released into the community anonymously. The implications for public safety can be significant. For example, parents may have no way of knowing that a sex offender is in the area. The amendment would require judges to consider lifting the name publication ban for youth convicted of a violent offence and given a youth sentence when the protection of society requires it.

Finally, the other amendments we are proposing will require police to keep records when extrajudicial measures are imposed to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending. The amended act will now make it clear that no young offenders under 18 will serve their sentence in an adult institution, regardless of whether they are given an adult or youth sentence.

Our government believes that the law must uphold the rights of victims and ensure the safety of our communities. If in any way our justice system fails to do so, we must take action.

By introducing Sébastien's law, our government is taking action to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.

We are helping to ensure that these offenders will be held accountable and that the protection of society will be a primary consideration in the system as a whole.

I would like to urge fellow members of the House to support these amendments. These are all very reasonable amendments and they should have the support of all hon. members of the House.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the minister's comments. Of course, I speak on behalf of the Liberal team on this side of the House when I assure him that we will do anything we can to ensure that our country, communities and families are safe.

I have one simply question. Stats continuously tell us that crime has been on a decline for a number of years. Does he have any specific statistics that he can share with us today, in terms of youth crime, violent crime or any types of crime, that we can discuss with our constituents?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, by all means. It is true and the hon. member raises a good point. Violent crime among youth is on the increase. Certainly, that is what the statistics show. Again, we always have to address the challenges and deficiencies in all our laws.

With respect to crime in general, I think we have been keeping statistics for adults and others since 1961. Certainly, it has gone up, but whether it went down last year or up, I appreciate that fewer young people are being charged under this act. They get into extrajudicial measures. They may be picked up for committing a non-violent crime. They get diverted and then somebody will always say that crime must be going down. That is not necessarily true. Just because a person has not been charged with a crime or a crime is not reported, it is not quite the same thing.

I always tell the members of the Liberal Party to not look for excuses and to not look for ways to not support what are very reasonable measures. We have to update the law. We have the royal commission report of Justice Nunn, who pointed out a number of areas within the Youth Criminal Justice Act that have to be updated. We are looking at that. We are responding to that. That was a very reasonable, focused analysis of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and we have to respond to that.

Again, with respect to other pieces of legislation such as the auto theft bill, the drug bill, and the identity theft bill that we passed, we have to capture activity that is not currently in the Criminal Code. I appreciate the fact that, yes, violent offences among young people have been on the increase, but the important part is that the law has to be updated and that is what we are doing.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister's introduction of this bill, when he noted a significant increase in the crime rate. The statistics that the Bloc Québécois has seen show an increase of 3% in 2006. But that is the first increase since 2003, and it is difficult to draw any real conclusions from that. In Quebec, the crime rate has dropped by 4%.

My question for the minister is the following. In Quebec, we have a number of prevention and rehabilitation measures for young offenders. How will this bill support the reintegration and rehabilitation of our young offenders? I sincerely believe that there must be consequences for serious crimes. Nevertheless, when a young offender commits a serious offence, the ultimate goal is to reintegrate them into society as best we can.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:15 a.m.
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Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member said that violent crime went up in 2006 but that is not enough because it did not go up in another year. I generally do not even get into those discussions. We do look at the crime rates and are always concerned about the rate of crime in this country, but the hon. member makes the case that if it goes up one year that is not good enough. I am saying that these are very reasonable measures.

With respect to diversion, we are all of the opinion that we have a better chance rehabilitating a 16-year-old offender than a 36 or 46-year-old offender. I have made the point before that 36 or 46-year-old criminals may be career criminals and they are much more difficult to rehabilitate. It is much more difficult to get them back on the right track than a 16 or 17-year-old.

The bill is very specific. It goes after repeat violent offenders, the kind of individuals who Justice Nunn identified as not only a danger to society but a danger to themselves. Some individuals have said that if they had been detained, they would have had a better chance of not recommitting the offence. That is what came out of the Nunn report.

Bill C-4 is very focused. We applaud the efforts taken for the most part at the provincial level, but there were of course efforts taken at the national level. The national anti-drug strategy is a very good example of where we are encouraging people not to get involved with the kind of activities that could wreck and ruin their life. These are good measures.

This bill is specific. It goes after those individuals who are a danger to themselves and a danger to society. It is very focused legislation and it should have the support of the Bloc.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, coming from Nova Scotia, I am all too aware of the Nunn report. Justice Nunn did a tremendous job in giving careful analysis to this important situation.

As the Nunn report has been out for several years, why has it taken the government this long to accept its recommendations and bring them forward in legislation? Instead of proroguing Parliament, it is quite possible that we could have already debated something of this nature at the committee stage where we could have brought in witnesses.

I consider the fact that our critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, is favourable to this action. We would like to get the bill to committee in order to give it a thorough analysis. We could maybe even invite Justice Nunn to committee in order to further discuss it. However, why did it take the government this long to read and accept the Nunn report?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the hon. member has had an opportunity to read the bill. This bill goes considerably beyond what was in the Nunn report. I focused on two particular areas: the publication ban and the requirement of the Crown to consider adult sentences with respect to serious offences. This is a comprehensive bill and yet, at the same time, directed toward a certain type of individual and a certain type of crime.

As the hon. member of the Liberal Party pointed out, yes, violent crime among youth rose 12% between 1997 and 2006 and since 1991 it has climbed 30%. One of the largest increases in the youth crime rate in the past decade has been the homicide rate.

I appreciate that nobody wants to see increases with respect to violent crime among young people. However, quite apart from this fact, these are changes that must be made. In part, some of them were recommended in the Nunn report but, as members can see, we have gone beyond that. All of the measures in the bill are reasonable and the bill should have the support of all hon. members in this House and the other House as well.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:20 a.m.
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Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for the way he has outlined the provisions of the bill and for his great leadership on criminal justice issues.

I am appreciative of the way he outlined at the beginning of his speech this morning the prevention aspects, enforcement and rehabilitation. We have many groups in the Waterloo region doing great work in prevention. I have had the privilege of announcing funding for many of these initiatives. We have a great police service in the Waterloo region. I also have had the opportunity to work closely with a number of groups that are doing great rehabilitation work. It is important to highlight that balance.

I have heard from a number of parents in my area who are very concerned about the lack of provisions in the current Youth Criminal Justice Act, especially as it relates to deterrence and the protection of society. I am not hearing from parents of victims. I am hearing from parents of children who themselves have been in trouble with the law and are asking the courts for help, as the minister said, in protecting themselves. It is important that we express it in this legislation and that concern for the safety of the individual who has committed the crime is included.

Could the minister expand a wee bit on the component of the deterrence that is part of this bill, because that part has been missing for far too long?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
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Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I must thank the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga because ever since he entered Parliament he has been very consistent and supportive of the government's agenda to get tough on crime in this country, and for that I am very appreciative.

He has raised questions with respect to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and brought to my attention a particular case of a young victim in his area. I must say for the record how appreciative I am of his interest, concern and support for these measures.

He focused in on one of the important aspects of this, which is that we want an individual to be made aware of the seriousness of particular offences. He is quite correct, we are expanding the considerations to have denunciation and deterrence for such individuals because, ultimately, we want them to be rehabilitated and get back into society. However, we recognize that in some cases there is a small group of violent, sometimes repeat offenders who need to get the message that the protection of the public and themselves must be paramount.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:25 a.m.
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Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the members of the Liberal Party who were kind enough to switch with me today because I need to get back to my riding for an event this evening.

Bill C-4 is a significant attempt to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the NDP will be supporting it at second reading to send it to committee. However, having said that, we have some significant reservations about the bill in terms of the drafting of it. Frankly, I find it quite clumsy in some areas. Some amendments will be needed just to clean up the language. The other concern is that the wording seems to have two agendas, the one that is on the surface and then the one that is behind it. I will come back to that in a moment.

We need to set in context the bill. The major amendments in the bill coming into effect are not very old. They were made in 2003 when the bill was brought into effect. In my legal career, we have actually had four separate pieces of legislation dealing with youth who are in conflict with society, who have committed anywhere from fairly minor criminal offences to very serious ones, including murder.

As a society, we have been struggling since at least the 1960s to find that right balance between treating them as youth, different from adult criminals, but at the same time recognizing that they are not adults even though they may commit offences similar to adults.

That pattern goes back at least 100 years in this country, probably even a bit longer than that. The original young offenders bill, which was called the Juvenile Delinquents Act at that time, dates back to the early part of the 1900s. However, even prior to that, our criminal justice system accepted that there would be two systems: one for youth, the age being a variable one over the last 100 years; and a separate major one for adults. Our courts and our legislatures, both at the provincial and the federal levels, have recognized that for well over 100 years.

One of the concerns I have with this legislation, and perhaps this is where the hidden agenda may be, is that the government has repeatedly indicated in speeches and in its party platform that it wants to significantly alter the barrier between youth offenders and adult offenders. It became a major issue in the last election.

I want to acknowledge the role that the citizenry generally of the province of Quebec played in attacking the Conservative Party during that election on the proposals that were floated during that election of lowering the age to nothing so that any youth could be charged as an adult and sentenced as an adult. That provoked a serious negative response from the people of Quebec and I want to acknowledge the role and the leadership they provided in that regard.

The other point I want to make about the way we have treated youth crime historically in this country is that it has in fact varied quite dramatically across the provinces. Here, I want to acknowledge again that Quebec has been the most successful province, the most successful jurisdiction, in dealing with youth crime. It has the lowest rates of youth crime in the country. It has the most developed and sophisticated system in the country to deal with youth who are in conflict with the law and actively engaged in anti-social behaviour. Quebec does this better than anybody does in Canada, and I want to acknowledge that.

With regard to this particular bill, we need to set it in the context of it being really a direct outcropping, not so much of the ideology coming from the Conservatives, but of the push from the Nunn Commission of Inquiry in Nova Scotia and the McMurtry report on victim compensation in Ontario.

Justice Nunn, who was appointed to that special inquiry, certainly had the most detailed recommendations. He and his commission had seven specific recommendations that the government is claiming it has responded to.

I want to be very clear that Justice Nunn, both in the report and in any number of interviews he did afterwards, was very clear that the act, as is, is a good piece of legislation. It is a workable piece of legislation. The term he used constantly was that it needed to be tweaked. On the surface that is what it appears the government is doing here, but in a number of areas Bill C-4 has weaknesses. I want to address a few of those.

Before I do that, I again want to point out that we will be supporting this bill because it has at least two provisions in it that are badly needed.

One is that it makes it absolutely mandatory that no youth, no matter what crime they are accused of or convicted of and sentenced for, will spend time in an adult institution. That is a principle the province of Quebec has followed quite diligently. Other provinces have not, sometimes because of an ideological approach to punishment of youth, but more often because they simply do not have the facilities to incarcerate youth in a contained setting, especially in the rural and frontier areas of this country. The government has done nothing to assist the provinces in developing those institutional settings.

When the bill gets to committee, as I fully expect it will, this will be an issue that we will be raising with the Department of Justice and perhaps with the Correctional Service about what they are going to do to help the provinces meet the requirements of the statute not to incarcerate any youth in an adult prison. I do not believe they have done any planning for this.

As is so often the case with the government, especially with its crime bills, this bill provides no specific date when it will come into effect. I am afraid that what we are going to see because of this particular provision is the provinces sitting back, which happened in one of the prior incarnations of legislation on youth crime. I know that in the province of Ontario specifically we went almost a decade without being in compliance with the statute and that we were not providing the necessary facilities, even though we were the wealthiest province in the country at the time.

Hence, I am afraid we are going to have a piece of legislation passed in this House mandating that youth not be incarcerated in adult prisons and a number of the provinces will have no ability to comply with that. It is an issue that will need to be explored at committee. It is a good policy, a good paragraph in the legislation, but we must have the provinces in a position to be able to carry it out.

The other point I want to make, and I have to say that we have had some division over this in my caucus, is that there is a provision in the bill that will allow the courts who are sentencing individuals, particularly for serious offences, to lift the historically solid ban on any publication of the name of the accused or convicted person. That is one provision that we would expect to be used rarely.

While I am concerned about the criteria the government has built in as to when the judge would be able to do that, we can see this provision as necessary in exceptional cases, for the protection of society. I am thinking in particular of an accused person who has been convicted and sentenced as an adult, who has very severe psychological health problems and is not likely to be rehabilitated and who is, in the extreme, even a serial killer. That person should be identified to society, both in terms of the police knowing the individual and society more generally. Those will be rare cases. We may not even get one a year. However, I believe that for the protection of society, it is important that we analyze that, set proper criteria in place, and allow that discretion for our judges.

With regard to the negative parts of the bill where I see some hidden agenda items, I think it is necessary to go back to the last Parliament. Pretty late in that Parliament, in spite of all the other crime bills the government was introducing, some of which were silly quite frankly, and in spite of the fact it had been in power at that point for over three years and the Nunn report had come out, the government finally got around to drafting Bill C-25 and presenting it to the House. It was late in the 39th Parliament and that bill just sat and nothing happened to it. The bill included a provision that the Conservatives claimed was a denunciation, but it also had a very clear provision for general deterrence as a sentencing principle. That flies in the face of the hundred-plus years of our history in this jurisdiction of Canada, and generally in western democracies, of treating youth separately, recognizing that because of their lack of maturity, general deterrence does not work with them, generally speaking. It specifically is of no value when we are dealing with youth. That has been accepted in many courts and in all jurisdictions in the western democracies. However, what the Conservatives were trying to do was to introduce in that bill, very clearly, right up front, a general deterrence principle.

The government has backed off that in this bill. It has dropped that, I think, in part because of what happened in the last election in the province of Quebec. The government has maintained specific deterrents, that is, individual deterrents. I am not sure even those will survive a challenge in our courts. The Supreme Court of Canada, as recently as a few months ago and in a series of its decisions, made it very clear that the sentencing principles to be applied to youth who are in conflict with the law must take into account exclusively that they are youth, that courts cannot use principles of sentencing applicable in the adult setting. The Conservatives have recognized that and have limited the bill to specific deterrents, at least on the surface in one of the clauses.

However, when one looks at the amendments to the act overall, there are a number of other places where it would appear they are trying to get general deterrence in, if I could put it this way, through the back door. There is some really clumsy wording for what a judge does in determining whether a person should be tried as an adult, accepting of course the application from the Crown, and separate criteria as to whether they should be sentenced as an adult.

There is also wording in there that does not appear any place else in any youth justice act that we have had in the past, that does not appear in any parts of the Criminal Code, either currently or, as far as I know, historically. But it basically introduces moral culpability, and this may come out of a court decision that I think they may be taking out of context. It is introducing morality and asking the judges, in effect, to interpret that and to apply it on a day-to-day, case-by-case basis.

Knowing a lot of judges and judges who work extensively in the youth criminal justice system, I think this is going to pose a major problem of interpretation. I am not sure the legislation worded in this way will survive a challenge, because it is so vague. That is always a principle when looking at criminal law, including sentencing guidelines. Therefore, it is a major problem confronting us in dealing with this bill.

I want to address one other issue that came out of the Nunn Commission report and recommendations. The Nunn Commission arose as a result of a specific case in Nova Scotia. Justice Nunn was quite concerned about a limitation in the discretionary powers judges had around the issue of protection of society when sentencing an individual.

I do not want to sound trite here because it is a serious concern and one of the times when Commissioner Nunn said that tweaking was needed, but what the government has done here is not tweaking. I think it is just nothing: it is smoke and mirrors. Under the existing law the protection of society is a set of criteria for what a judge can take into account, and at the bottom of the full text of the paragraph in the bill, it talks about the protection of society. However, all I see the government doing here is moving that paragraph from the bottom to the top.

In the press releases and minister's press conferences, where he trots out one of the victim's family members, using them for photo-ops, he is forecasting and extolling the virtues of the bill, saying that it in fact addresses this issue. I have to say that I do not see that. This simply seem to be window dressing. The government has combined moving that clause from the bottom to the top with some new wording that I believe, if anything, when interpreted by our judges across the country, will further limit their discretion in taking into account the protection of society.

It is an example of what I said earlier about the bill, that is both clumsy and, in some cases, poorly drafted. I think there is some ideology behind this coming from the government rather than the officials in the Department of Justice, because this is not a bill of the quality I usually see coming from the Department of Justice. The department is usually quite good in drafting, if not excellent, but there are some problems here.

There are also a number of places where the government replaces sections. It takes sections out and repeals them and replaces them with others. From my reading of the bill, and this is another reason we will be looking at it very closely at committee, the government has in fact left gaps, and we are going to end up with the judiciary and prosecutors in this country not being able to prosecute and/or move to sentencing of adults, because the government has left gaps in the drafting of the bill. So we will be looking at that at committee.

To conclude, we are going to support the bill going to committee. We have serious reservations about parts of it and strong support for other parts. We will do what we can at committee to strengthen the bill and provide greater protection for people who are victims of youth crime.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.
See context


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear the member indicate that the NDP will be supporting the bill going to committee. I note from the tenor of his speech that there seems to be quite a degree of reluctance.

The member speaks of a hundred years of separating youth from adults in sentencing, but regrettably it is clear that across the country many youth have been flouting the law with impunity.

The short title of the bill, “Sébastien's Law”, indicates one such very egregious offence. In Vancouver, in my region of British Columbia, we have one youth in the area who has been responsible for more than 1,000 auto thefts and who is repeatedly back on the streets.

Does the member not feel these egregious offences need to be subject to more serious consequences for the protection of society?