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

An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

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

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the sentencing and general principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as its provisions relating to judicial interim release, adult and youth sentences, publication bans, and placement in youth custody facilities. It defines the terms “violent offence” and “serious offence”, amends the definition “serious violent offence” and repeals the definition “presumptive offence”. It also requires police forces to keep records of extrajudicial measures used to deal with young persons.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / noon
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is good to have this chance to continue the discussion on C-4, the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Concerns have also been raised about ending the publication ban on the names of young people charged with a crime in the apparent hope that denunciation will be a deterrent. The bill would require the courts to consider lifting the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when youth sentences would be given.

The publication ban has been important in the past. It helps ensure a situation where young people can truly be rehabilitated and put a serious mistake behind them by avoiding the publicity associated with their crime. It also prevents the shaming that is part of any criminal conviction. The publication ban was also seen as significant in that it interrupted and even subverted the ability of criminal organizations and gangs to recruit young people who were in trouble with the law. These are all crucial considerations for our youth criminal justice system.

It is also very unclear just what the bill proposes with regard to the publication ban. It seems that judges will still have discretion in this area, so the bill may not change the current situation. The government may only be pretending to do something on that issue.

The Conservatives are still chipping away at an important concept in our youth criminal justice system in the way they regularly criticize this aspect of the system. The Conservatives continue to whip up hysteria about crime. They continue to refuse to analyze youth crime statistics. Prior to 2005, violent youth crime was declining in Canada. Yes, there was a spike in 2005-06, but in 2007 it started to decline again.

Understanding these trends, rather than merely offering a knee-jerk reaction to them, would be a more responsible approach. Looking at what actually works to reduce youth crime would also be helpful.

Quebec provides a great example. Quebec is perhaps the most successful jurisdiction in Canada when it comes to reducing youth crime. It has the lowest youth crime rate. How has Quebec done that? It has stressed rehabilitation and treatment, first and foremost. It also has the lowest number of youth raised to adult court. Ensuring particular programs and process that recognize the needs and realities of youth has worked to lower youth crime. The federal government could learn much from this example.

We know that prevention works. Making education affordable, keeping youth unemployment low, ensuring excellent health care for children and youth, ending child poverty, providing high-quality child care and early childhood education, affordable recreation, putting in place accessible drug education and treatment programs, programs for those living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and programs to prevent it, all of these have shown, time and time again, to be more cost effective and a more effective way of dealing with alienation and criminal activity of children and youth.

When one looks at the research, if one bothers, there is no doubt about how effective this approach is. In particular, the situation of aboriginal youth demands more attention from the government. The correctional investigator of Canada pointed out in her recent report:

Aboriginal youth are also overrepresented among criminalized young people. Research shows that Aboriginal young people are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-Aboriginal young people....the gap between traditional correctional approaches, and Aboriginal methods of justice and reconciliation [must be addressed]. The ongoing support and involvement of elders, Aboriginal liaison officers, community representatives and Aboriginal organizations is viewed as key to closing the outcome gaps for First Nations, Métis and Inuit offenders. Advocates for Aboriginal inmates have long stressed that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organizations must be directly involved in developing and providing appropriate programs, and actively involved in the evaluation of current assessment tools used by CSC.

Finally, the correctional investigator points out that the government must “implement a security classification process that ends the overclassification of Aboriginal offenders”.

Restorative justice is another approach that must be taken. Restorative justice has been defined as a turn away from the adversarial, punishment-oriented philosophy of criminal justice toward the focus on bringing victims, offenders and the community together to repair harm, build understanding and restore relationships.

Building a justice system that seeks to restore broken relationships, rather than merely punishing those who commit offences, has shown huge promise and often startling and positive results.

In the United States, teen courts, which deal with actual criminal cases and issues, have been shown to sharply reduce recidivism. Youth who commit crimes and are judged by their peers are far less likely to reoffend. What is more, the teen court model is much more cost effective than the regular criminal justice system.

Here is how Ritchie Eppink and Scott Peterson described the U.S. experience of teen courts in an article in LawNow. They say:

American teen court programs continue to demonstrate phenomenal success, all at a miniscule cost. Peer courts not only appear to reduce repeat crime by youth, they are dynamic programs that promote volunteerism and community service, build a range of interpersonal skills in their participants, and interactively teach youth about law and justice in partnership with adults. Though letting youth co-operatively handle their own problems is a simple concept, it has turned out to be an uncommonly effective one--one that is fast becoming an integral part of youth justice in America.

In my community, the Burnaby youth restorative justice program has proven very successful. Its shoplifting program in particular has had great success in helping young people appreciate the seriousness of the crime, but in a way that ensures that the relationships it damages are restored. Here is how the program was described in a recent article in the Burnaby NewsLeader. The reporter says:

The retail theft circle program was created last June in a collaboration between RCMP detachments in Burnaby, North Vancouver and Richmond, and was based on a model used to combat graffiti in Vancouver.

Burnaby has since taken the lead with the unique program and has held four such circles with 38 youth participating, said Stephen Morton, Burnaby RCMP’s restorative justice program coordinator.

Youth caught shoplifting, generally aged 13 to 17 and first-time offenders, are referred to the voluntary program by RCMP officers. Morton said the kids involved come from a broad cross-section of society, he noted. He’s seen kids from middle-class families to single-parent families, students and dropouts.

The program’s name is reminiscent of aboriginal healing circles, and other elements are borrowed from aboriginal traditions. For example, participants sit on chairs in a circle, with no table in between to hide behind, and a “talking piece” is passed around allowing the person holding it to feel empowered to speak.

In addition to the youth, participants include police officers, loss-prevention officers and store managers. The circles are as much about those harmed by shoplifting as it is about those picked up for the crime, Morton said.

Over a two-hour period, they each speak about the impacts of shoplifting. For retailers, the losses add up and lead to increased prices on all goods, and they feel victimized. For police and mall security, such incidents take time away from more pressing emergencies such as people needing medical assistance.

As for the youth, they often speak of how a shoplifting incident has made them feel shame and how it’s affected their relationship with their parent

Some kids say they steal because they want something but don’t want to or can’t pay for it, said Morton.

“Sometimes it’s because of a peer influence. There’s a perception among their peers that it’s a victimless crime.”

What’s important to Morton is that the youth acknowledge what they’ve done and that it’s affected people.

“Sometimes you kind of see the light go off for some kids. They’re able to see how it affects the broader community.”

He’ll sometimes see the same happen with the adults in the room. “The adults can see these youth are humans, not just thieves, but members of the community.”

There are all kinds of good results from this kind of process, better citizenship on the part of the youthful offender, the victim of crime, community members and enforcement personnel all result. It is a success story that cannot be dismissed and an approach that should be expanded. Why does restorative justice remains the very poor cousin of our justice system when its benefits are so very obvious?

Bill C-4 takes our youth criminal justice system in the wrong direction. While it seems apparent that the bill will move to committee for further study and discussion, I hope the process will make its flaws absolutely clear and that it will either be abandoned or significantly changed.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, because I just travelled a fair distance to take part in this extremely important debate, I did not have the chance to listen to my colleague's whole speech, but I found the last part extremely interesting. I want to thank my colleague for talking about this issue, and I would like him to tell us about restorative justice. He had some very interesting things to say, but if he can, I would like him to talk a bit more about restorative justice in connection with this bill.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, restorative justice is a concept that has been around for a long time. In fact, it is fundamental to first nation, Inuit and Métis people in Canada. We and the rest of Canadian society have been learning largely from them. However, it is also a concept that has been proven time and time again to be a very effective way of preventing crime and restoring relationships in communities, which also goes a long way to preventing future crime and recidivism.

We know this. It has been proven over and over again, yet, we still do not put this front and centre in our approach to criminal justice issues. It is always on the corner of somebody's desk. People who work in the area of restorative justice have to fight tooth and nail for any kind of acknowledgment of their work, any kind of funding to build these important programs.

That needs to change. Instead of this being something that gets worried about once in a blue moon, we need to ensure that it is front and centre, that it is part of the everyday conversations we have in government and in the Department of Justice about how we better serve Canadians and how we improve our criminal justice system.

There are many ways to do that. Perhaps we need, as I proposed with a number of members in the House, a bill establishing a department of peace, which would have as its mandate ensuring that restorative justice measures were front and centre at the cabinet table, that there was an advocate at the cabinet table to argue for a restorative justice approach, both domestically and internationally. We need to ensure that this was not just an afterthought, that this was not just something where we said, “let's go and check that out if we have time”. We need to ensure it there from the get-go in any kind of conversation about criminal justice matters in terms of matters of restoring peace in our communities and around the world.

We need to move to this, quit putting it off and get to it right away.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, part of the member's non-support for the bill was premised on his belief that crime statistics were going in a downward trend. I know we hear from chiefs of police from time to time at the justice committee that put that premise somewhat in doubt. Because there is a difference between crime rates and reported crime rates, especially with respect to property, in which often young offenders are involved. Often there is less reporting of property offences.

Does he have any comment regarding whether he actually believes crime statistics are down or only reported crime.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any doubt about the fact that there is a problem with the reporting of crime statistics. However, the reality is violent crime has gone down as have violent crime statistics. That is an important one to know.

I also think, though, if we changed our approach to dealing with criminal justice issues, there would be better reporting. People would have more confidence in the system. If there were a restorative justice option available to people, they would report more property crimes.

In the past I was a victim of a property crime. One morning I got up to walk the dog and someone had spray-painted all down the side of my house in great giant letters, “You've almost been robbed”. It was all spelled correctly, punctuated correctly, which maybe is a credit to our educational system. However, it did make rather a big mess of the house.

When I walked the dog, a couple of blocks away the police arrested a young man. I noticed there were a series of spray paint cans lined up on the roof of the car. I suggested to the police officers that they might want to come and check out my house. He was an aboriginal young person.

We were approached to participate in a restorative justice program through the Native Friendship Centre in Vancouver, which we engaged. We were incredibly impressed by that process. We lived in a duplex at the time. The folks at the front of the duplex were corporate lawyers, and they also participated, reluctantly at first. However, they, too, were impressed with the rigour of the process, with the demands that it made on all the participants and with the goal of to ensure that both action was taken by the offender to get his life together and to give up the kind of petty crime in which he was involved. It also went to the extent to ensure that we had a positive relationship as neighbours with this young man.

If other people had that kind of positive experience of the criminal justice system, that kind of confidence that a petty property crime could have this kind of positive outlook, I think more Canadians would engage the process and we would all be better citizens and better neighbours because of it.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the government conducted some consultations with Canadians but never published a report on it. It made me want to look into it a little further.

One issue that came up in the debate last week was mentioned by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who reminded the House that about 40% to 50% of inmates in prisons across Canada suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or other alcoholic birth defects. That problem is incurable but 100% preventable.

It would seem to me that when almost half the inmates in our jails suffer from this affliction, which is preventable, that somehow the thinking of our legislation as it relates to young offenders should take into account that the rehabilitation part is not applicable to people who suffer from FASD and that there has to be another course of action to deal with them. I wonder if the member is aware of that and would care to comment.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for his work on FASD. He is one of the experts in the House and should probably answer his own question because I am sure he knows more about that particular subject than I do.

However, it is a glaring example that if we are truly serious about dealing with the rate of crime in our society, dealing with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has to be a top priority. However, it does not seem to have made it on the list in that sense.

We know that a high percentage of folks incarcerated in Canada are living with FASD, which should give us cause to say that something has gone awry. We do not put enough resources into prevention. The whole prospect of getting alcohol labelling in Canada has apparently been so fraught with difficulty that we have not managed to accomplish that even though the House on a number of occasions has spoken very clearly on that issue. That is just one small piece of the prevention issue.

We could be doing a significantly better job. It would be cost effective for us, make us safer and improve people's lives dramatically. There are all kinds of reasons for doing it and yet we see it as some kind of side issue on the corner of somebody's desk. It is time we put it front and centre and ensured that the kinds of programs that are successful will provide a benefit all across society.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:20 p.m.
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NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, some weeks ago I was at an event where representatives from the John Howard Society spoke and indicated that crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, were down, except for one group in Ontario, and that was young men aged 25 to 33. Of course, the speaker connected that to the cuts experienced in Ontario through the Mike Harris government, cuts to after-school programs, prevention programs and community supports. I would like him to comment on that, please.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:20 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, anyone who has looked at the timing of the cuts that were engaged in Ontario a few years back and what is currently happening in terms of youth crime in Ontario would see that the parallel is exact. It is very clear that those kinds of preventive programs were cut, such as recreation as a preventive program when it comes to criminal justice issues.

This is not rocket science. It has been proven time and time again here in our own country. Quebec understands it very clearly. Other jurisdictions around the world get it and yet somehow we have turned our backs on that and the negative results are showing up. It is time we reversed that and did so definitively and decisively.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who just spoke on behalf of the NDP. I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4. I left very early this morning so that I could take part in this extremely important debate that, for the Bloc Québécois, means many things with regard to youth justice. At a minimum, we feel that this bill sets the youth justice system back several decades.

We are not going to vote against this bill at this stage. We want to study it in committee, because it seems clear to us that the committee will have to work very hard so that this bill reflects the will of Canadians and especially Quebeckers who believe, as we do, that young offenders law should focus on rehabilitation.

I cannot support the bill for several reasons. For example, it would make the protection of society the guiding principle behind the law. That would take us back 30 years. Moreover, the bill would add to the situations in which the judge may order pre-trial custody; add deterrence and denunciation as sentencing criteria; allow for custodial sentences for youth with a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions; require prosecutors to justify their decision not to call for an adult sentence for serious violent offences like murder and aggravated sexual assault; allow judges to publish the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences and sentenced as youth; require police to keep records to track extrajudicial measures; and prevent minors from being held in adult detention facilities.

This last provision—preventing minors from being held in adult facilities—is the best one and the only one we feel is acceptable.

However, the bill is ill-conceived and meant to be tough on crime. The Conservatives think we need to be tough on crime, but we think that we should also be smart on crime. In other words, we have to be smart enough—though I have my doubts about some of the members opposite—to see that rehabilitation is extremely important. Rehabilitation is a fundamental factor and should be the priority when dealing with young offenders and juvenile delinquents.

There is a basic difference between young offenders and adults. We think that people under the age of 18 are not fully equipped to understand what is going on, to know how to react and what to do and, most importantly, to make well-informed decisions.

A 13-, 14-, 15- or 16-year-old who commits a series of break and enters or, worse yet, violent crimes, such as assault and sexual assault, may not be mature enough to understand that what he or she did is very serious. It is highly likely that such offenders need help.

Because I have a lot of experience working with young people, I know that 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds are not as mature as 18-, 19- and 20-year-old adults. Even though some 18-year-olds are not much more mature than 16- or 17-year-olds, I find it surprising that if the government goes ahead with this bill, it will lead to major structural changes. Protecting society will become the basic principle that informs all legislation. Protecting society is extremely important, and we think this is one of the fundamental principles to consider when it comes to sentencing.

Quebec has always made rehabilitation the priority. Our Conservative friends may not be too keen on the idea, but statistics show that when we focus on rehabilitating juvenile delinquents and young offenders, crime rates drop. The committee responsible for studying this bill can delve into that fact. That is exactly what has been happening in Quebec for the past 30 years. Significantly fewer crimes are being committed by young offenders, by juvenile delinquents.

We think that this bill is not only useless, but a step backward. There is no way we can support putting up posters with a picture of a 13-year-old “Most wanted kid in Abbotsford” on lampposts. That is ridiculous. We have to give rehabilitation a chance.

There are cases in which rehabilitation does not always work. However, in the vast majority of cases, rehabilitation does work. Why does it work? Because in Quebec, we support our youth. We asked ourselves how a young person could commit so many offences. We asked ourselves how a 13-year-old could be on his 10th, 12th or even 15th break and enter. There is likely a problem. So we provided supports for our youth. We took a look at their families, their schools, their circles of friends to see what was going on. Often, the answer was not incarceration, but instead, with close supervision, the situation turned around. In nearly 80% of the cases in Quebec, there are very few, or no cases of recidivism among young offenders.

Yes, we do see repeat offences. Some young people will not understand, but must we introduce a bill as backward-looking as Bill C-4 to punish 1% or 2% of our youth? That makes no sense.

They are saying that this will require the police to keep records of extrajudicial measures. I will give an example. A few minutes ago, my colleague said that he had been the victim of tagging. I will explain. Graffiti is illegal. Obviously, graffiti is destructive and is a crime. It can be harmful to the environment. There is no doubt that young people who do this are committing a crime.

Do they really believe that every time the police stop a youth who is tagging or scribbling graffiti that they will make a record, take the young person to the station and take notes? That is not how it works in real life. Quite often, a warning is enough. Quite often, the youth who are caught do not reoffend. It is rare that these youth reoffend. Generally speaking, these youth have parents who take care of them and who will be a substitute for the police. Obviously, some youth will not stop and will commit more serious crimes.

That said, I would like to give an example of the outright—and I have to be careful how I say this, but I will still say it—stupidity of this bill.

I will just give one example. Imagine that a young person is convicted of murder, the most serious crime. A young person who commits murder and takes someone's life has obviously committed the most serious of crimes. This law would require that youth to serve an adult sentence, generally about 15 years for manslaughter.

What happens to a 14-year-old who commits murder and is sentenced to 15 years in prison? He will spend the first four or five years in a reception centre and then he will be transferred to a penitentiary. Would anyone be able to work with this youth, knowing that he would be in a prison at the age of 18? It makes no sense.

We will probably be given explanations, and experts and constitutionalists will be consulted. We think this sentence might well be overturned by the Supreme Court, but that remains to be seen. That is not what the debate is about.

Even more dangerous, we believe, is when a young person stays in a reception centre for four or five years with nothing to do, knowing he is headed for prison, and causes as many problems as possible and thinks only of trying to escape. And of course he will escape. What can workers in reception centres possibly do with this young person? Nothing. He will spend four or five years in a reception centre at the expense of taxpayers and the provinces. Yes, the provinces pay for reception centres. The federal government seems to like bringing forward such stupid legislation, but it is Quebec that pays for it.

What happens while the young man is waiting to be sent to prison when he turns 18? It is not complicated: he will commit crimes, play the tough guy, impose his own rules in reception centres, escape and reoffend. This part of the legislation is completely unacceptable. This bill is unacceptable.

I would like to give another example. In my career, I had to represent a young man who was 15 years old when he killed his father. Under this bill, that young man would be in prison. Instead, this is what happened. We started asking questions. It was not normal. No one here condones anyone killing another person, but it is even more serious when a 15-year-old boy kills his father. It is even more unacceptable. Clearly there was a problem. So we created what I would call a process around this young man to find out what happened. He was subjected to medical, psychiatric and psychological examinations. We had to find out what happened. Why did this young man commit such a crime? Why did he kill his father when he was just 15? I am sure everyone agrees that these are not the questions asked when the offender is an adult.

However, since he was only 15, we asked some serious questions. For this young man's community, in my own backyard, this was unacceptable and incomprehensible. This young man was given structure and support. Obviously, he was sent to a reception centre. He had a problem that absolutely needed to be worked through. It took a year and a half for this young man to realize the seriousness of the crime he committed. It was as though the floodgates had opened. It took six months, but after that it was easier to work with this young man. Today, he is one of the top orthopedic surgeons in Quebec. If he had not realized the seriousness of his crime, he would be in a penitentiary today.

What is a young person going to do in a penitentiary? This bill would send them to penitentiary for 10, 15, 17 or 18 years. It makes no sense. That is not what our young people need. I admit that some young people have serious behavioural problems. That is clear. At some point we have to put a stop to street gangs. Obviously we have a problem if a young person is going to school with a knife in their pocket. When a 16-year-old is walking around with a loaded 9 mm revolver in their knapsack then there is definitely a problem. There is no doubt about it. This is someone who has the makings of a criminal, as my late father would say. Nonetheless, if a sapling is properly supported it will straighten. A young person should not be sent to a place like a penitentiary or a reception centre without any opportunity for rehabilitation.

What the Conservatives are telling us is not true, because there will be no rehabilitation programs for youth at reception centres. They will not waste their time on this young person when there are 15 more after him. Perhaps something can be done for them, but in his case, in about four or five years he will probably be sent to a penitentiary to serve the rest of his time. It is stupid to believe that this is the way to solve the problem of crime.

This bill applies only to young offenders and that represents perhaps 1% or 2%. I admit that 1% or 2% is significant. I will be criticized for not thinking about the victims. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, rehabilitation in Quebec puts victims first. That goes hand in hand with rehabilitation. I have experienced it. We have worked on it. I can say that making a young person do community work because he has committed 12 break and enters and sending him to all the garages where he committed the theft to wash cars makes an impression on him. There are two possibilities: either he continues a life of crime, with the obvious consequence of increasingly stiff punishment or, like a tree, he straightens up.

I see that I do not have very much time left. That is unfortunate because, if there were unanimous consent, I could talk for another 20 minutes. I know that time is precious; however, I would have liked to have talked longer. The Bloc Québécois believes that rehabilitation must be the priority. Yes, there should also be sanctions. However, we believe and are absolutely convinced that the more opportunities we have for rehabilitation, the more we can work with youth early in their criminal careers, the lower the risk of recidivism. Quebec statistics prove that we are right. We will come back to that when the bill is studied in committee.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the member for his input. Many people will argue that Bill C-4 does not get it right, but that is just their slogan. Talking about slogans, getting tough on crime seems to be not so much a strategy as it is a slogan. I believe that what the member has been arguing is that we should be smart on crime and we have to understand that all people cannot be dealt with the same way.

We understand there are violent persons in society but young people are not born bad. They are functions of their environment. They are functions of their society.

We have responsibilities and there are certain circumstances which are mitigating in their nature. But the strategy of the government to basically put as many people away in jail for as long as possible without any modicum of relief or rehabilitation to help them to eventually reintegrate into the community means that we are letting these kids down.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on whether or not he believes it is good enough to say that we are tough on crime rather than being smart on crime.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, I could not agree more with my colleague, and I hope all of his Liberal Party colleagues will follow suit. We have always believed that for the 1% or 2% of society who go astray, there are things we can do. We can remove them from society for short or extended periods, but the Bloc Québécois believes that rehabilitation works with young offenders and that it has been proven. If it did not work, we would be the first to be calling for harsher punishments. It is not true that harsher punishments are better. I have not seen any examples to support this, and I would like to see some.

Yes, there are some failures. There will be young people who do not understand or who take more time to understand. Back home, I saw a former client who did not understand. He recently beat someone up at home. He called me up. I told him the good news and the bad news. The good news was that I had become his member of Parliament. The bad news was that he was out of luck, since he had not understood when he was younger.

So yes, there are exceptions, but in the vast majority of cases, rehabilitation works with young offenders, especially in Quebec.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I think he would agree with me that among the more distasteful exhibitions that we have seen in the House are the five solid years of a government that has no vision for dealing with the economy, no vision for dealing with the laid off workers, and no vision for standing up on global warming except when it comes to one crime bill after another. We have had a relentless stream of dumbed down attack crime bills to try to turn individuals in society against one another.

The Conservatives wrap themselves continually in supposedly representing victims. I lived for many years with people coming out of prison and I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague speak about the issues of recidivism and rehabilitation. It is of vital importance for society to find ways of balancing the need to protect, the need to put people away but the need to ensure that we have a way to reintegrate people back into society.

Of the five years of dumbed down bills that we have seen from the government, we now see that it wants to put children into prison with hardened criminals. I think it is an astounding suggestion.

Does my hon. colleague think there is any possible social good that can come from exposing children, whether they have committed a crime or not, to prison as the Tories believe?

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will say one thing. It is obvious that as long as they believe that being tough on crime means mandatory minimum sentencing, nothing will be solved. Nothing will be solved as long as they cannot understand that we have to be both tough on crime and smart on crime.

There are crimes and there are youths and children in that environment, and for us, the priority has always been the young people. Yes, the type of crime is important. There is no question about that. When a young person goes on a weekend spree and commits 12 break and enter offences, he obviously has a problem. That is clear. However, is the solution to send him to prison and throw away the key? I would say no and we on this side say no. We will see how the Conservatives react when this bill is studied in committee, but we believe that rehabilitation is the answer.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the answer to the question by the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, there was a suggestion that young people would be serving time among hardened adult criminals.

Obviously, the member opposite has read the bill. I would like him to confirm for the member and for the House that nothing in this bill would allow any individual under the age of 18 to serve his or her sentence in an adult facility. They would serve their sentence in a youth detention facility.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is what is so ironic. Both my colleagues are right.

Clearly, someone who is under 18 will not be sent to prison with adults, at least not until he is 18. That is the subtlety and the irony of this bill. Will an 18-year-old be smarter once he has spent three or four years in a reception centre and then finished serving his sentence in an adult prison? I do not think so. The government would have us believe things that are completely unrealistic and unacceptable.

We believe that young people should be treated like young people, in other words, like people who are not too bright and who have committed crimes. Society knows that they need much longer time-outs, but before we send them to an adult prison, we need to do everything we can to get them back on the straight and narrow.

But that is not what the government is going to do if this bill is passed as is. If it is passed, young offenders will be handed a heavy four-year sentence. A 17-year-old offender will spend a year in a reception centre and serve the rest of his time in an adult prison. What the members opposite are forgetting is that there is no parole for young offenders, and this bill does not provide for any. What is even more ironic is that young people could get heavier sentences than adults for the same sort of crime. That is unacceptable.

The more I look at the bill, the more I realize that it must be studied, chopped up, amended and transformed in committee to meet the needs of our young people, not tailored to get political support as the other side is trying to do.

It is very strange that when the Conservatives are low in the polls, they come back with the old tough on crime mantra and introduce more crime bills. They are planning to introduce another bill on suspended sentences. That is not the way to deal with crime in Canada. In Quebec, we believe that youth justice should focus on rehabilitation.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had planned to make a 20-minute speech, but we just crossed over the line. I have been very impressed by the debate so far. In particular, I would refer people to the speeches of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, both of whom are lawyers and have extensive background and experience in the legal field. They certainly had some very sound words of wisdom for the House with regard to young offenders and the related legislation.

There has been a rash of bills before Parliament over the last four years. Many of them continue to be recycled. When there is prorogation or an election, we have to start the process all over again. That is exactly the situation the government wants. It does not want a lot of these bills to pass. One of the big reasons is that if most of these bills passed, the legal plan would cause more people to be in jail for longer times and parole, house arrest and faint hope would be things of the past.

The Minister of Public Safety updated his numbers. If all this were to be implemented, it would cost Canadians about $10 billion to build the jails and incarcerate the number of people it is estimated would be put in jails pursuant to much of this legislation. Some of the opportunities for parole or house arrest would be closed down. It is an extraordinary number and it is not necessary. Some of the speeches that have been given have indicated why Bill C-4 may not be the right approach. It may need to be reconsidered.

I received a letter from Defence for Children International-Canada which would certainly like to see a more balanced approach. That group disclosed something that I was not aware of. The group stated in its letter of April 26, 2010:

How can a government, with all its resources for research, get its proposal for changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act so wrong? They [the government] held a series of Round Table discussions but didn't publish the findings.

It is extraordinary that a public consultation would take place but the public's views would never be disclosed. It raises some interesting questions. The minister spoke on Friday, March 19. I highlighted a couple of his statements in his speech. He stated:

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

He went on to say:

Canadians look to their government to ensure that the justice system is working effectively and that the country's citizens are safe.... Our approach is balanced. It includes: prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.

Those are good words, but what are the facts? Consistency with the degree of responsibility is the principle point I want to raise in debate. If we are talking about public safety, is this public safety before or after a crime is committed? Most of the legislation is to get tough on crime after a crime has been committed, after someone has committed an offence and after the person is in the prison system.

We are going to protect citizens' safety not from the crime but from recidivism. That is an important point. We are dealing with public safety after the public has already been hurt once. We really have to tighten the screws and keep these violent young offenders from ever hurting the public again. It is interesting to use the words “to protect public safety”, but it is a matter of when. We hear a lot about protecting victims' rights. We should not have to be worried about protecting victims' rights because we should be reducing the number of victims in the first place. This is the whole aspect of prevention.

The minister suggests that the government's approach is balanced and includes prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation. With regard to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, formerly called fetal alcohol syndrome, I asked the health minister a question in the House as to whether or not the funding was going to continue for those support programs for fetal alcohol syndrome. Ultimately, the answer came out that the funding for FASD was cut. It was cut in each of the last two years.

Why is fetal alcohol syndrome, now called fetal alcohol spectrum of disorders, relevant to this debate? It is relevant because the evidence by the federal and provincial governments, as well as in expert testimony and the speech by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca indicate that 40% to 50% of the people in Canada's jails suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol-related birth defects. Almost half of the people in Canada's jails have a mental illness.

When I was first elected in 1993, I was involved with a hospital, I was very involved in the community, and I wanted to see what the health community was doing. I had spent nine years on the hospital board. I saw that in 1992, the year before I got elected, the health committee did a study on fetal alcohol syndrome, called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Preventable Tragedy”. I did not know what it was. I did not know what caused it. I did not even know where it was coming from.

I am an educated person, experienced in the community and have done a lot of community service, and I had never heard of it before. That is where the level of involvement of the Government of Canada changed. I took it on as a project. I have been working on it for at least 10 years. I want to raise the level of information and education of Canadians and governments to be able to address the issues.

The point here is that there is an inextricable link between the social conditions in which people grow up and their experience with the law. As a matter of fact, just through looking at the budgets, the last time we had a full-blown recession, the relationship between property and violent crime and the unemployment rate actually tracked very well. We can understand that when people are under pressure for money, those things happen.

I wanted to raise this because the government has a slogan that says it is going to be tough on crime, but there is no plan that deals with crime in reality, such as with fetal alcohol syndrome. Almost half of the people who are in the jails of our country are not culpable. The minister said in the opening of his speech, “consistent with their degree of responsibility”. It is incurable but it is preventable.

People with mental illness do not know the difference between right and wrong. In all of the presentations on these criminal justice bills and particularly now with regard to the young offenders legislation, the government members still have not talked about dealing with those for whom rehabilitation is not applicable and where recidivism is high because of mental illness. These are realities in terms of our criminal justice system.

My plea to the House and to the government is to make an effort to inform Canadians and to support programs that will help to address this problem in our criminal justice system. It is not going to be solved by throwing away the key. These people need help. Their parents have to take care of them, many for the rest of their lives probably, because they are incapable of working or living independently.

This is a serious issue. Fetal alcohol syndrome is part of the discussion of criminal justice matters. I urge the government to start supporting that work.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the evidence before us in terms of crime, recidivism and crime rates, there is a huge gap between what works, what the Conservatives are suggesting, what the reality is and what the Conservatives are attempting to insinuate with the general public.

I was very interested to hear my colleague talk about the fact that the government had a consultation process and yet did not release any of the information. It is highly problematic, when we are talking about creating public policy with regard to crime and youth and taking way some of the tools that already exist for dealing with youth who have done some terrible things or are in very bad situations, that the government would suppress that information.

It seems to be a general pattern of the government to regularly suppress information that does not fit with what its little war room comes out with, what fits in 140 characters or less or what fits in a BlackBerry message it can send to its members to respond to local media. The need for public policy must be based on evidence, not just ideology.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague what he thinks about this situation.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was precisely what I was thinking when I got this letter from the Defence for Children International-Canada dated April 26, 2010. What the member describes is plausible but there is other evidence.

The government seems to rely more heavily on slogans than it does on delivery of solutions to some of the problems. It is why so many of the justice bills have not gone through the full cycle of the legislative process. They have died on the order paper for a variety of reasons, are reintroduced, sometimes in omnibus bills, sometimes not, and sometimes not even reintroduced, just like Bill C-25 in the last Parliament on young offenders. We are two years into this Parliament and now the bill finally comes up. Does that reflect the priority of the government with regard to the youth criminal justice system?

There is a very good possibility that this bill will not be dealt with at all stages simply because the summer is coming and it seems like it is a good time to call an election.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up with my colleague on the fact that there has probably never been a government that has had such a pitiful record in terms of output as the present government.

We talk about the Auditor General looking at value for dollar. Perhaps we should look at how many bills the government has brought forward and how many times it has beaten the drum, waved the flag and said that it would do something but then let the bill die and then started the whole process over again.

My colleague has been sitting on a number of committees. In terms of its record, the government has done nothing for the environment except support big oil, it has done nothing to deal with pensions and it has done nothing to deal with the unemployed. It is now five years into its term in office and it cannot even get its own dumped-down crime bills through the House because it is not interested in getting them through the House. It is only interested in running up the flag and sending out the attack ten percenters.

If he could look back on the last four or five years, has the government amounted to very much?

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very serious about Bill C-4 and the need to take into account that there are other social factors related to the incidence of crime and public safety. I am interested in prevention. With regard to fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related birth defects, it means that the government needs to start investing in programs to deal with those who have a tendency to commit crime in Canada as young offenders.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of my party to speak to Bill C-4. Amending the Youth Criminal Justice Act has consequences for all Canadians and it is, without a doubt, a bill of great interest to many.

The bill would amend not only the current sentencing under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, or the YCJA, but the fundamental principles of the system in Canada. Much of the debate in recent days has involved the merits of possible amendments to the current act and this ought to be done with an understanding of the basic guiding principles and the purpose of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The YCJA is so important it is appended to the Criminal Code and any compilation of it. It is a separate act from the Criminal Code, it should be noted, because things dealing with youth are not meant to be dealt with all within the Criminal Code. That is fundamental to the comments that I will make today.

Since the foundation of Canada’s criminal system for young offenders, amendments have been consistently made in an evolutionary manner. The current act strikes a necessary and proven balance between the interests of the young individual and those of society, and notably endeavours to have young offenders recognize the consequences of their actions.

The Young Offenders Act came into force in 1984 and marked the commencement of a progressive and effectual criminal justice system for Canada’s youth.

Today the fundamental principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act can be seen as a balance between addressing circumstances that lead to offending behaviour and reintegrating young offenders into society through rehabilitation.

Public protection would supercede prevention under this bill as proposed by the government, something utterly inexcusable. While we prohibit criminal acts in Canadian society, certainly some will offend regardless of age. This does not, however, mean we should abandon any and all efforts to prevent criminal offences in Canada. The proactive approach facilitated under the current Youth Criminal Justice Act should never be deserted for a reactionary system bent on increasing the number of incarcerated youth offenders.

I will quote from the declaration of principle in the act. It reads:

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....

Reading that, how could we disagree with the fundamental principles underlying the existing act? What the government has failed to recognize is that public safety is inherent in the act itself as it exists. As seen in the second principle as I just quoted, the long-term protection of the public is already in the act. The criminal justice system for young persons must be separate from that of adults and the act emphasizes the following: rehabilitation and integration; fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons; and their reduced level of maturity.

Also, there is enhanced procedural protection to ensure that young persons are treated fairly and that their rights, including the right of privacy, are protected. There is also indication that there would be timely intervention to reinforce the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences.

Finally, there is an element that promptness and speed with which persons responsible for enforcing this act must be done in a manner to give the young person's perception of time a reality.

Needless to say, preventive, accountable justice is central to the criminal system for young offenders, where public safety is above all understood to be the final aim.

As this House knows very well and reinforced after initial debate on this bill on protecting the public from violent young offenders, the fundamental pillars of the existing act are accountability, rehabilitation, reintegration, and respect for societal values. It is important to highlight the existing laws because they meet the needs of young people and also meet the need for public safety.

This brings me to another point. Bill C-4 would overhaul the sentencing principles for youth criminal justice to include deterrence and denunciation. So, there are a number of elements to this bill, and some of them have been canvassed widely by previous speakers.

Anything that inserts the recommendations of Justice Merlin Nunn in the Nova Scotia report consequent to the McEvoy incident, those are good recommendations. There is no question that this bill will be sent to committee and those recommendations, which have been widely accepted, will be adopted by parties at the committee and sent back here.

I started my speech talking about the need or not for a preamble. I think it is a bit of a red herring. The Youth Criminal Justice Act has a preamble that covers issues of public safety and public security. If the Youth Criminal Justice Act were not needed and not mandated by international convention and not mandated by our sense of how youth are different from adult criminal offenders, then it would not need to exist. However, it clearly needs to exist because it is in the preamble.

We might think that the Criminal Code of Canada, the larger part of the book, would have a preamble saying that the purpose of this act is to make the public secure. However, it does not have a preamble. It just has a title saying that this is a law respecting the criminal laws of Canada. The substance of the Criminal Code of Canada is within the Criminal Code of Canada. I would submit that the criminal code for dummies version that I might author some day would concentrate on section 718, the sentencing principles of the Criminal Code, that takes into account all offences and says that when a court or a judge is imposing a sentence, it should take into consideration the pillars of what we want in society.

This brings me to my next point with respect to criminal behaviour among the youth.

I find it troubling that the insertion of deterrence and denunciation is being attempted here. Why have a separate act? Why not just put it all into the Criminal Code?

My friends across the way will know that in certain presumptive offences, youth who are convicted of certain heinous crimes can be sentenced as adults. We ought to have a separate system because the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children demands that we do. Not only that, we are a progressive, enlightened republic and we understand that children are different. When youth are involved in criminal activity, if there is class of criminal offenders who we ought to have hope for it is our youth, the young men and women who are covered by the act that exists.

I fear that, and we will have this debate at committee, the introduction of a preamble, the insertion of grown-up principles of deterrence and denunciation into the act, will leave judges more and more to treat all youth offenders like adult offenders. It will blur the line between youth criminal acts and adult criminal acts. It will say to judges and to the public in general, why do we need a Youth Criminal Justice act? Why not just have a Criminal Code? I think we would then be on the way to throwing away generations of youth offenders who might be reintegrated into society and who are clearly rehabilitatable because of their age and their lack of maturity. As the act says, they do not understand the consequences of their act.

This bill will go to committee where we will study it. There are some meritorious changes in the act but there are some overwhelming philosophical consequences that will spur on great debate at committee.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly like to thank my friend, a member of the justice committee, for his thoughtful comments regarding this bill. I am glad to hear that he will support this bill at second reading so we can study it in more detail at committee.

However, as a precursor to those debates that he has indicated will occur, given that young persons are very media savvy with respect to new forms of media and certainly when an individual is subject to the youth criminal process the word of the disposition filters out through the electronic media very quickly, does he not see some role for the concepts of deterrence and denunciation in the youth court sentencing process?

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the answer, in reading the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it exists, is that it is already there. The preamble, the founding principles of the YCJA, make it clearly different from the Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code lists all the crimes and at the very end of the code, section 718 out of about 800 sections, it says how we are going deal them, and that is the pith and substance of the Criminal Code. It says that we are going to take into account rehabilitation, et cetera.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act says that we are dealing with children, that they must be saved, and we are going to respect society's desire to have public security and to make young people understand the consequences of their actions.

It is inferred in the Criminal Code that adults have to intend the consequences of their actions and by law, subjectively or objectively, are taken to know the consequences of their actions. The implication in the Youth Criminal Justice Act is that many youth do not understand the consequences of their actions, and through reintegration and the extrajudicial measures that are in the YCJA, they can be made contributing members of society without introducing the adult concepts, word for word, from the Criminal Code.

Again, it raises the debate of having two separate laws, jurisdictions or codes, and it does not sound like my friend wants to have a YCJA.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's speech on this because one of the problems we are finding with the Tories' dumb on crime approach is that they create this chimera, that provisions do not exist so they are going to somehow solve it, that there is no way that the police had any powers to deal with crystal meth, when they obviously did have the tools.

We know that they have gone out now and said that there is no way we can stop these young gangbangers and hooligans, when the Youth Criminal Justice Act has all these powers.

I would ask my hon. colleague if he thinks it is maybe a dangerous, continual undermining of Canadians' confidence in a well thought out judicial system that, as he says, can hold very dangerous youth and treat them as adults, but it also treats youth as being a separate and needed category because it is not just a national priority. It also fits with the rules of international law.

Why does he think that bill after bill that the government has been bringing forward seem to be undermining confidence in the justice system by claiming to fix problems that do not exist because they have already been dealt with in the Criminal Code?

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member. There have been allegations that the system is not working, that all acts are bad, that judges are soft, and it does not do a lot to strengthen the confidence in the system.

All members of our committee and all members of the House should know that we have very hard-working prosecutors, police forces and judges who work to make the system survive and responsive to crimes.

We are not exactly against the tinkering with the YCJA and the idea that Justice Nunn's recommendations for interim release be instituted. That is not a problem. It is fine to do some tweaking with violent offenders who are pawns in gang activity and who many know the status of their actions, but this carte blanche denunciation and deterrence, this carte blanche change of the preamble is not necessary. It is done to be divisive. It is done for politics and it is really a disservice to the sense of public safety that all of us in this House should be working toward.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:20 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-4, which would make certain changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh spoke about this bill last week. He noted that as a society we have been struggling since about 1960 with this idea of what to do with young people when they are engaged with the criminal justice system. Do we treat them as youth, which is different than adult criminals? Yes, we should, but at the same time we have to recognize that they are not adults even though they commit similar offences as adults. We have been struggling with this for a few decades.

In 2002 the House of Commons passed Bill C-7, which replaced the old YOA, the Young Offenders Act. The Youth Criminal Justice Act built on the strengths of the YOA. It introduced significant reforms to address the weaknesses. The key concept of the YCJA is that it provides a legislative framework for a more fairer and effective youth justice system.

When I was a law student at Dalhousie, I did a clinical law semester where I was expected to work with lawyers on youth criminal cases. One of the very first things that we did in our training was we reviewed the preamble and the declaration of principle to the YCJA. Our instructors thought that reviewing the preamble was the most important thing that we could do. We would always have it in the back of our minds when we were dealing with youth, when we were giving them advice, when we were negotiating with the Crown, and when we were representing them in court.

The preamble contains significant statements from Parliament about the values on which the legislation is based. It is noteworthy that the YCJA came about after extensive research and consultation. Three key reports were released leading up to the YCJA coming into effect.

These statements in the preamble can be used to help interpret the legislation. I think it is useful for us to review them. They include the following:

Society has a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and needs of young persons.

Communities and families should work in partnership with others to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, responding to the needs of young persons and providing guidance and support.

Accurate information about youth crime, the youth justice system and effective measures should be publicly available.

Young persons have rights and freedoms, including those set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The youth justice system should take account of the interests of victims and ensure accountability through meaningful consequences and rehabilitation and reintegration.

The youth justice system should reserve its most serious interventions for the most serious crimes and reduce the over-reliance on incarceration.

These points are important to remember when dealing with youth who are engaged in the criminal justice system. They are also really important for us to consider any time we try to make changes to the YCJA. We have changes before us in Bill C-4, changes that really come from a push for amendments, a push for reform after the Nunn commission of inquiry which took place in Nova Scotia.

Pretty much every Nova Scotian could tell us the story of Theresa McEvoy and how it resulted in a provincial inquiry led by Justice Merlin Nunn. It was widely reported and it really struck to the heart of Nova Scotians.

After an extensive inquiry upon the death of Theresa McEvoy, Justice Nunn handed down a report in 2006 called “Spiralling Out of Control: Lessons Learned from a Boy in Trouble”. It was about constructive ways to improve the Youth Criminal Justice Act but also to improve the youth criminal justice system. I believe there were six specific recommendations about changing the YCJA.

Justice Nunn, both in the report and in any media interview he did, would always say that the act is a good piece of legislation. It is strong and it is workable. The term he used constantly was that it needed to be tweaked. My colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe used the word “tinker”. Justice Nunn always said that if we were going to make changes it just needs to be tweaked.

Bill C-4 is an attempt at that tweaking. The NDP will be supporting this bill because there are some good tweaks. There are some good attempts at trying to fix this legislation, which I will describe in a moment.

We very much want the bill to get to committee because Bill C-4 does have its weaknesses. It is important that we make attempts to improve the bill at committee.

Justice Nunn pointed out in his report:

--that for youths adolescence is a time of testing limits and taking risks, of making mistakes and errors in judgment, of a lack of foresight and planning, and of feelings of invulnerability. These factors do not mean that a youth who commits a criminal offence should be excused or should not suffer consequences. Rather, they are factors to be taken into account when dealing with a youth.

I think that the spirit of these words were taken into account when it comes to one provision in Bill C-4, in that it makes certain and absolutely clear that no youth, no matter what crime they are accused of or convicted of and sentenced for will spend time in an adult institution.

Some provinces have already been following this principle but it is not universal across Canada. Sometimes it is because a province has a particular ideological approach to punishment of youth but more often it is simply because it does not have the resources or the facilities to incarcerate youth in a contained setting, especially when we consider rural areas of Canada.

The government has not done anything to assist provinces in actually meeting this goal. So it is my hope that the witnesses at committee will be able to shed a bit of light on what it is that the federal government must do to ensure that the provinces can meet this requirement.

However, there is no specific date concerning this provision. Therefore, there is nothing there to instruct us on when it is going to come into effect. Hopefully, we can fix this so that we do not have a bill that will actually not take effect.

A change to the YCJA, about which I am very concerned, is the provision to allow courts to lift the ban on any publication of the accused's name. There are good reasons why we have that publication ban. Admittedly, I think this could be a very dangerous change to the YCJA, but I am looking forward to hearing from witnesses to see what experts who study youth justice have to say about this provision and if they think this change is a wise idea.

My colleague and the NDP critic for justice, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has already pointed out some problem areas where it looks like the government is trying to get in stronger language for general deterrence and denunciation, which we know does not work. However, when one looks at the amendments to the act overall, there are a few places where it seems like it is trying to get this language in through the backdoor, trying to get general deterrence in through the back door. There are six recommendations in the Nunn report that deal directly with changes to the YCJA. Deterrence and denunciation are not among them.

I am quite concerned about these sections and once again, I look forward to the bill coming to committee so we can talk to youth criminal justice experts to see if this is actually effective and perhaps flesh out exactly what the Conservatives are doing with this sort of backdoor language.

In all, we are cautiously supporting Bill C-4 at second reading, so we can get the bill to committee to hear from witnesses about these proposed changes to the YCJA and to make constructive suggestions for improvement.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I share the views of my hon. colleague on the cautious optimism about this particular bill as it enters committee.

One of the issues the member brought forward, which is dear to my heart, is the idea of how to handle rehabilitation of young offenders in rural areas, and the facilities and programs that are available for that rehabilitation process.

I would like the member to discuss that further. I know she did not have a lot of time and she has a wealth of experience in this sort of thing. She did mention the rural areas. I am particularly concerned about the lack of rehabilitation. Depending on where the resources are, certainly where I am, in an area that is sparsely populated, it is of major concern.

Therefore, I ask the member to bring that up and perhaps bring more details to the House.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure about my wealth of knowledge, but it is a really serious issue.

In Nova Scotia there is really one facility for young people to go to if they need to spend time in a youth detention facility. It is pretty much in the centre of the province, but it really ends up taking many of these young people away from their homes and from their communities.

In Nova Scotia we have a restorative justice program that is contingent and relies on the community to hold young people accountable. It relies on the community to be there when the youth is released and to match their progress in the community. That can have a really detrimental effect.

We see the situation in other rural areas of Canada where youth can be put into adult facilities, which is entirely inappropriate. They are young people and they need to be treated like young people, not in adult facilities where they will learn how to be better criminals. We need them to be where they will learn how to be better citizens.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, one of her concerns with the bill is that a publication ban on the name of the offender might be lifted. I certainly agree with her that a blanket lifting of publication bans is not appropriate under the circumstances. However, I can envision certain circumstances where the name of the young person ought to be released.

I think specifically of a particularly violent offender, perhaps a sexual predator who is about to be released into the community and who perhaps attends a high school. I am curious to hear her comments as to whether she believes that in this situation the public has a right to know about the individual and his or her imminent release into the community.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, honestly, at first blush, this piece in Bill C-4 raises my hackles and makes me very worried. Right now, I do not see opportunities where this is a good idea. I am open to hearing evidence at committee that this may be an effective tool in some cases. The Youth Criminal Justice Act is also about protecting communities, so I have room for being convinced.

However, on its face, it seems very problematic to me. If it is ever used, it should be used so sparingly that we could hardly count on one hand how many times it is used. I do not see how this would be in keeping with many other principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, in particular rehabilitation and reintegration into community. However, again, I look forward to hearing witnesses at committee.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill C-4.

I would like to begin with a side comment about crime. Crime dominates the media. The trials of violent offenders and notorious fraud artists get extensive media coverage. We sometimes get the wrong impression and think that crime is on the rise, when quite the opposite is true. Statistics Canada's facts are rather clear and no one is accusing of it partisanship.

Youth courts are seeing fewer and fewer cases. In 2005-06, 56,271 cases were heard, a decrease of 2% from the previous year. While it is true that the youth crime rate increased by 3% in 2006, I must point out that that was the first increase since 2003 and for that reason, we cannot conclude that there is a strong upward trend.

Furthermore, with the exception of Quebec, where the rate dropped by 4% in 2006, all the provinces saw increases in the youth crime rate. Quebec focuses on rehabilitation. Some people will say that it is quite a coincidence, but it is no coincidence. When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most effective approach is always prevention. We must go after the underlying causes of crime.

Tackling the causes of crime and violence, rather than waiting for things to break down and then trying to fix them, is the wisest, and more importantly, the most profitable approach, in both social and economic terms. Clearly, we must first tackle poverty, inequality and exclusion, all of which provide fertile ground for frustration and its manifestations: violence and crime.

Speaking of fertile ground, I remember when I was young, during the most critical years of childhood and pre-adolescence. I lived in a poor neighbourhood where everyone was poor. People were either the poorest, less poor or just poor. There were some rich people, but they did not live in my area. In that environment there were some people my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue described as “having the makings of a criminal”. It was a social setting where that was likely. The funny thing is that there was a real divide between two streets: one street where people committed lesser crimes and the other street where people committed more serious crimes. This comes to mind because I saw people change under these circumstances. The difference came mainly from the influence, or lack of influence, of their absent parents. We also saw how the context affected the most vulnerable young people in these environments.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a party hosted by a family that had lived in that neighbourhood. It was a rather big party and many of the young people who had lived in that neighbourhood were invited. I saw that for some people, things had turned around and changed. Some people who were not there were probably still in prison or dead. Other people there had had rather turbulent lives. In talking about it, we realized that social structure and support had been missing in some places. However, other people had been more privileged and things worked out for them.

Prevention is the dominant theme when we talk about potential crimes by young offenders.

Prevention can take a number of forms at the family level. These days some significant tools are available. Let us take, for example, early childhood education centres in Quebec, the CPEs, where children receive intellectual stimulation and physical activity. Young people can make progress more easily than in the past.

With respect to prevention, members will recall that the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie already introduced a bill regarding violence on television. I strongly believe that violence on television influences the actions of our children today. Crimes are often broadcast during prime time and are seen by young people. They get a message. Often, these crimes are excessively gratuitous and seemingly have no consequences. We can see someone committing robbery, acts of violence and even shooting another person.

The people committing these crimes seem to have no emotions, or perhaps just smiles on their faces. We never see the consequences. We do not see the police showing up. We do not see the people supporting the victim. We do not see the effects that these actions have on society and on the loved ones of the victims. We do not see any consequences. It is gratuitous and the scenes of violence do not show any sign of a punishment at the end of the day.

My colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie did some fantastic work on this issue. He held consultations all over Quebec. Many groups that work with young offenders and at-risk youth have helped kids avoid getting involved in criminal activity.

Television violence also has a major impact on crime rates among young offenders. We should consider taking a closer look at this important factor because, if I am not mistaken, television networks can choose not to broadcast programs or to broadcast them at times when young viewers are much less likely to see them. That is an important aspect of prevention.

As I said earlier, peer groups, poverty, follow-up and support are important factors for at-risk youth. If young people lose interest, cannot keep up at school and feel alienated, and if authority figures do not help them develop a sense of belonging and to their peer group and to society, they may look elsewhere, start getting in trouble and eventually get involved in criminal activity.

Prevention is essential, but unfortunately, there are always going to be some people committing some crimes, whether major or minor. Once that happens, we have to work with those people to identify the root causes. We cannot deter young people just by sticking offenders in jail for as long as possible. They need structure, support and help to identify the problems and fix them.

Some kids really do seem headed for a life of crime. That is when we have to take a different approach. We should adopt Quebec's approach, which focuses on prevention and rehabilitation.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, could the member to continue with the issue of rehabilitation and other items that are necessary in youth justice? It shows the wrong direction of the government.

The reason the government's crime agenda has been failure is it has not dealt with the fact that when convicts are released into society, rather than put them in what is called the university of the jails, there have to be other treatments such as rehabilitation, anger management and education so people are released less dangerous rather than more dangerous. As he said, if prevention programs are implemented to begin with, a lot of people will not end up in jail in the first place.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, prevention means that fewer people go to prison. However, some will still go and if they are looking at four or five years in youth reception centres before going to prison, the important thing is that there is structure. There needs to be active intervention. We cannot just shove them into a corner, as my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue said. He is our party's critic on this file. He said that if these people do not get help from within the system, the first thing they will want to do is escape. However, getting them help is important, but it is something that is also very taxing on the system. It is a fact. There are constant follow-ups.

He gave the example of a young man who, at 15, I believe, killed his father. It took a year and a half for him to figure out why—a year and a half before this young man truly realized what he had done. When the crime was committed, was this young man really in a position to not commit the crime? I cannot say, but at least there was a follow-up and now, the member told us, he is an eminent surgeon.

The potential was there. If he had been shoved into a corner and then transferred to a prison, a school for crime, where people who would teach him about crime, he would not have gone to the university that he did, and he would not be an asset to society as he is today.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I guess the question we are talking about is priorities.

The government is going to spend billions to build prisons, to demonize youth, to take away the protections they have so that they can be thrown into prisons, and yet we see underspending of $180 million every year in first nations schools.

In the James Bay region that I represent, in the last two years we have had 11 suicides and 80 attempts among children and youth who feel their lives are so hopeless. In my region I have two communities without grade schools.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague, why is it that the government is spending billions to build jails, to throw young people away, to treat them as a discarded generation, when the children in communities on the James Bay coast and northern Canada are being left without the most basic supports, so that we have such outrageous levels of suicide attempts and such outrageous levels of dropout because the schools are substandard?

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, as an aside, we may need money to build prisons if there are too many real criminals—as I will refer to them—who must pay their debt to society. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that, at the same time, we must deal with the root of the problem. We must work with youth in all areas, whether it is education or development, to truly prevent all kinds of inappropriate social behaviour.

We have work to do and investments to make in all areas. Prevention is one of those areas. The framework for this bill clearly establishes that prevention is an essential component. Granted, that could cost more than the $180 million mentioned by the member. Naturally, we have to make a commitment if we truly wish to succeed.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are debating another, another, amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I say that knowing that the act used to be referred to, at one point, as the Young Offenders Act. This is probably the fifth set of changes this Parliament has dealt with since the time when Parliament accepted that the old Juvenile Delinquents Act did not really suit where we were headed as a society.

It is quite fair to accept that, from time to time, it is necessary to fine-tune our legislation. That is essentially what we do here all the time for all of our laws and our public policy. Approximately five years ago, there was an inquiry in the province of Nova Scotia dealing with young offenders. That particular inquiry produced a very credible report that suggested that components of our Youth Criminal Justice Act were not up to par and that portions of it could use some minor amendments in the public interest.

Those areas dealt with the way we handled youth who, with 20/20 hindsight, were potentially violent and seriously violent offenders and were not really controllable by the kinds of routine orders and judicial intervention available under the act. I sat on the justice committee at the time and I recall pretty much around-the-table acceptance of those suggestions. Those suggestions for reform have now found their way into this bill.

In fairness, I should say that there have been a couple of other bills before Parliament that attempted to implement the same changes. We are finally getting around to it now. For those changes dealing with the really hard-to-handle procedural problems involving young offenders, I could not imagine there would be too much dissent.

Even the judge who led the inquiry in Nova Scotia said that these should be seen as minor amendments. There is no need to make a radical overhaul of the statute, but these amendments would suit the public interest in the sense that they would protect both the public and the young offender from potential serious harms in the period that follows the police intervention until the time when the youth is sentenced. That would be the interim period while the youth is being processed, while charges are being laid and during the trial.

I do not think he pointed out any problems with the act regarding the period after conviction and sentence. But he did request that these amendments look very clearly and honestly at the problem of youth who have adopted a potentially violent modus operandi and society needs protection from that.

In this particular bill, there is a whole lot more than just those recommended changes. Members should go to the title; this is not the first time I have spoken about this. On the front page, it says, “An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act”. There is nothing the matter with that, but then clause 1 says that this act may be cited as somebody’s law, protecting the public from violent young offenders.

That is a commercial. That is an Orwellian mantra. It is a distortion. It is an adulteration of what should be there in the first section. This is a bill that is there to make a minor but important amendment, not a very complex set of amendments, to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I object to that type of title. When that kind of a title is in there, it actually ought to tell us something. The bill just might be torqued to do a little bit more than just a minor amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Anyway, we read through the bill and find it does attempt to make some significant changes.

I note that this is one of about half a dozen criminal law amendment bills, and I also ask the question: Why did the Conservatives not put all these criminal justice bills into one bill? We have done that lots of times before. We make several amendments to the Criminal Code, we put them in a bill, call it an omnibus Criminal Code amendment bill and the House deals with it. But no, the government has to do a separate bill for every category of change it can think of. That has to tell us something also.

So utterly telling is the contrast between this bill and the budget implementation bill, Bill C-9. Do members know how many bills that bill changes, how many statutes that bill amends? It seeks to amend 29 statutes in one bill, and yet when it came to making amendments to the Criminal Code, the government had to introduce a half dozen separate bills. I do not quite understand that. Maybe I am naive and maybe there is something going on here I do not see, but I will leave it to the voters to figure that one out.

When it comes to youth criminal justice, a term we should be dealing with is the concept of intervention. I have not heard that term a lot here, but it is so important, and in my view it is the most important concept. When a youth goes offside, breaks the law, and I am talking of a person who is between the low threshold and 17 years old, I prefer to regard our obligation as that of intervention. Now some Canadians would just like to treat that like a normal criminal act; we charge, we convict, we sentence, we deal with it. But we have learned in society that it is the absolute worst way to deal with young offenders. For a person in the sometimes turbulent, confused youth years, a lot of things happen.

I will admit that, when I was under 10 years old, I broke into a house, I as a little kid with some other kids. As great irony would have it, Mr. Speaker, you will not believe it, but the house I and the others broke into was the house of a Juvenile Delinquents Act judge. Is that not unbelievable? And I was the son of a policeman, to boot. At the time I really did not think I was breaking any laws. I actually did not know a lot about what I was doing. But the point is: What if they had taken all those youths who were all different ages and just put us all in jail? How would our lives have turned out? That would have been a bad story.

I refer colleagues to the Perry preschool project and the whole history of that project, which began about 1960 and went on for 25 years in the Chicago area. It measured outcomes between one group with which there was a huge intervention, in school and otherwise, and another group for which there was no intervention. The outcomes were like night and day. We have proven that intervention works and jailing does not. Even though it can be very expensive, the dollars we spend on intervention are infinitely better spent than any money we are going to have to spend later, after the fact, jailing and punishing. In addition, the youth who get through these turbulent years and make better choices rather than bad choices end up costing us zero and are productive citizens.

I am getting close to the end of my time for debate. I will pause here in the hope of being able to speak further at a later date.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his speech and his éminence grise character with respect to justice issues. I want to ask a point-blank question though. Does he think the additions to a preamble of a bill to take away from its concentration on children and move it to a concentration on public security, when those factors are already covered, are necessary? Why is it, then, that the Criminal Code does not have any preamble at all?

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 1:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, everyone knows what the Criminal Code is. It is straight, charter-based criminal justice.

Our Young Offenders Act and Youth Criminal Justice Act were designed to shape the hand of the societal intervention. The preamble we put in there is intended to show us why we are doing this, to shape the hand of the intervention so the outcome can be better than it would have been. We are looking for outcome. It is not the societal response. It is not the punishment. It is the outcome in relation to the life of the youth in question.

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May 3rd, 2010 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, if I interpreted the member's speech correctly, he said the government should have put this bill in with a bunch of other bills into an omnibus bill. I would definitely disagree with that. The government does that when it has a whole bunch of ineffective, poor bills it wants to pass all at once.

On the other hand, does this mean the member also thinks that Bill C-9 as an omnibus bill was a good idea? There were lots of things all in that one bill.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, most of us have difficulty with omnibus bills sometimes, because they do tend to have a lot of legislation buried in them. The thing about an omnibus bill is that there is a theme that brings all the pieces of proposed legislation together. In Bill C-9, the budget implementation bill, there is virtually no theme. With the potential sale of AECL and legislation about payment cards or credit cards, it is all over the map. There is no theme.

In terms of criminal law legislation, we have seen bills in the past here and in other jurisdictions that have a themed Criminal Code amendment, and I was referring to those.

My colleague makes a good point that, when we are dealing with youth criminal justice, it is a very visible separate component of our criminal justice system. We keep it separate. That is why I styled my remarks around the theme of intervention as opposed to retribution, accountability, deterrence, these types of issues.

I recall visiting a youth boot camp in the Ontario jurisdiction. It was a very successful operation that dealt with youth. It was well run and disciplined. The young men there earned points to get the chance to go home on weekends on a supervised home visit.

I did bump into one young man and I asked him where he was going after he was out of there. It was a very sad comment because he said he did not have any family so it did not matter whether he earned any points to go home on the weekend. He said he would probably go back to the pool hall.

What a sad situation that the intervention that was there, which seemed to be having some benefit, was going to come to an end. The intervention would end and that young man would go back to a pool hall in Toronto. He was not going to go back to school. He did not seem to have any appetite for that. He was about 17 years old. I was quite saddened that the intervention that was there was going to come to an end and he was going to end up back at the same place that probably got him into trouble in the first place.

I go back to my theme of quality intervention. The better the quality, the better the outcome and the better it is for our society.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
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Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues will notice that my voice is a bit hoarse; I have a terrible cold. I have water and throat lozenges in case I cough too much; I have everything I need. I hope I will not have to interrupt my speech.

The Bloc Québécois has serious misgivings about Bill C-4, an Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which would toughen prison sentences for youth. This bill is part of the Conservative government's tough on crime policy.

Protecting society is the bill's guiding principle, but I will show that this is definitely not what will be achieved in the long term. The tough on crime policy will not, in the long term, protect society. The experience of California, which has been operating under this policy for 30 years, is proof. Quebec, however, with its rehabilitation policy, has the lowest crime rates in North America.

The courts ordered the State of California to let 40,000 prisoners go, 6,000 of them this past January. Are we supposed to believe that we can promote public safety by freeing 6,000 prisoners who spent many idle years in overpopulated and underfunded prisons that produce aggressive and violent individuals? That is not what Californians think.

Tougher sentencing will not enhance public safety, and I will explain why. Repression does not work. Rehabilitation does not work either because costs are soaring and there is no money for these kinds of programs.

Quebec's juvenile justice system works because of its legal aid program, rehabilitation incentive program, offender education program, probation and, most importantly in this context, the complete overhaul of preliminary intervention approaches under the 1977 Youth Protection Act. Our system is the envy of Californians.

An in-depth statistical study entitled Did Getting Tough on Crime Pay? showed that American tough on crime policies introduced since the 1980s were driven by media manipulation and false perceptions about lenient sentencing for serious crimes. Political arguments for tougher sentencing are invariably based on exceptionally lenient sentences that create false impressions about typical or average sentences.

The opposite is true in this case. Bill C-4, which the Conservatives have dubbed Sébastien's law, does not constitute a response to Sébastien's murder at all because the murderer, who was a minor at the time, is currently in jail for life. People who commit serious crimes go to jail for a long time. This proves that the current law works and that we do not need to change it. We cannot do more than that. No law can do more than that.

Unlike California—which, for lack of funding, is keeping prisoners in spaces that are too small and overpopulated with nothing productive to do, which only feeds their violence—the governments of Quebec and Canada have thus far been spending money to keep prisoners in a healthy environment, to occupy their time productively and teach them to reintegrate into society. If we were to begin overcrowding our prisons, that situation would change, as it did in California.

Just when the Canadian Conservative government is about to make the system even tougher, former journalist Art Montague and a number of associations that work with inmates are showing how the American model, which the Conservatives are emulating, is going through a major crisis that is forcing it to move more towards the kind of system that we have here. The Quebec model, as I said earlier, with its focus on rehabilitation, has the lowest crime rate.

The crisis in California is happening on two levels, socially and economically, each echoing the other. One reinforces the other, which demonstrates not only how completely ineffective tougher sentences are when it comes to fighting crime, but also how devastating it is for the economy and the quality of correctional services. A punitive approach undermines the importance of social services such as education and rehabilitation programs for inmates, which are the key to effectively reducing crime.

Many articles in the Wall Street Journal and The Economist, serious publications that cannot be called leftist, demonstrate how 30 years of tough on crime policies have led to overcrowded prisons. The California prison system is currently at 200% of capacity, with 187,000 inmates.

This sort of overcrowding creates a serious threat to public safety. The 2007 Chino prison riot, where authorities stood by powerless while inmates took control of dormitory Z for more than 20 hours, is proof of this.

As the articles in the Wall Street Journal and The Economist show, prison overcrowding is having a disastrous effect on the state's budget, which already has an enormous deficit. More inmates require more resources, yet the state recently had to cut $1.2 billion from its prison system.

The State of California spends nearly 10% of its budget on its correctional system, but only 5.7% on universities. The reverse was true 25 years ago.

The United States has the dubious distinction of incarcerating more individuals per capita than any other documented country in the world. That was the finding of a 2008 study by the Pew Research Center.

California's high budget costs are forcing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to come up with totally crazy solutions, such as having prisons built in Mexico by Mexicans to house American inmates. The Supreme Court, though, ordered him to release 40,000 inmates.

When prisons are overcrowded, it is impossible to maintain proper health and safety services. This led the Prison Law Office to file a lawsuit against the state. A federal judge ruled in favour of the organization and ordered the state to reduce the prison population by 40,000 inmates, which would bring it down to 137% of capacity, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Just recently, on January 18, 2010, a special judicial panel decided to get around the Supreme Court deadline and order the release of 6,000 inmates.

The crisis is twofold. On the one hand, the high cost of 30 years of so-called “tough on crime” detention policy has killed more sensitive prevention and rehabilitation policies. The current punitive policy has put the prison system in an untenable situation, though, forcing authorities to empty the prisons of thousands of inmates who will reintegrate into society without proper supervision, which is raising serious concerns among local authorities and community leaders in California.

The inmates will leave prison without any training, without any job prospects and without having worked on their rehabilitation. Imagine 6,000 inmates looking for a job while also looking for a place to live. These same 6,000 inmates went to crime school for years in close quarters with nothing else to do than to become more violent and fuel their aggression and rage. Six thousand people are a threat to public safety. The president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League even called this a perfect storm for public safety. Imagine what will happen when that number goes up to 40,000, as the Supreme Court is calling for.

Various media and organizations such as Prison Fellowship, feel that the soaring costs associated with overcrowded prisons in California have other adverse effects, namely budgetary cuts that affect the system's capacity for maintaining or implementing rehabilitation and education programs. In addition to being held in increasingly inhumane conditions, inmates do not receive any help in learning how to control their violence, live in society and become law-abiding citizens.

This lack of services and follow-up, both inside and outside the prison, leaves the inmates to fend for themselves and makes them more likely to end up back in prison. Tougher sentences have a negative impact on all aspects of programs that have for more than 40 years focused on preventing crime through social rehabilitation. It comes as no surprise that the rate of recidivism there is 70%, while in Quebec it is between 10% and 20%.

For all these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will conduct a thorough analysis of the study in committee in order to hear all the players involved and improve whatever aspects of this bill that we can.

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to this discussion all day and what really concerns me about the Conservatives' agenda on crime, or their so-called agenda on crime, is that they continually bring forward bills that address key elements that are already within the justice system. However, they are creating the image for the public that these huge gaps exist.

In looking at many of their bills, we see that they do not even bother bringing them into the law. They run them up the flag pole, beat the drums, try to get the public angry against the justice system and then they let the bills die or re-introduce them.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act is a cornerstone. The Youth Criminal Justice Act already contains a wide degree of support for dealing with youth who are very dangerous offenders. However, the whole issue of rehabilitation and the need to treat youth separate from adults is a cornerstone principle of a modern justice system. The government seems to want to blur that. It wants to treat youth offenders as if they were the Hells Angels.

Why does my hon. colleague think the government is continually playing politics with issues that really require a cohesive and thoughtful response in order to make good public policy?

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

May 3rd, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's tough on crime approach is completely incomprehensible. The experience of the State of California shows that this approach is a total failure. After 30 years of tougher sentences, California has learned that this approach does not foster rehabilitation. The state has a recidivism rate of 70%.

This also shows that being tough on crime does not work. Budgets are soaring because of recidivism. The system is self-perpetuating. Requiring the state to release 40,000 inmates, including 6,0000 in January, shows that public safety has not been maintained in the long term.

The only plausible explanation for the government's insistence on adopting this unworkable approach is misguided populism. It has been proven that this approach does not work. Everything I said earlier has been documented in full. The Conservatives do not know or are unable to explain to their voters that this is a policy that just does not work. Rather than explaining that it does not work, they prefer to present this populist measure here and pretend that it does work.

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

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

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her intervention, although I disagree with her.

One thing we do not hear from the Liberals, the Bloc or the NDP when we have these kinds of debate is the word “victim”. It virtually never comes up.

The other thing that never comes up is the whole notion of protecting society. I know that went out the window back in 1971 when the Liberals put all their focus on rehabilitation and took the focus off the protection of society.

Since the member is so fundamentally opposed to this bill, which focuses on the most violent and dangerous young offenders, what does she propose our government do to protect society and ensure that in the future we do not have the number of victims of youth crime that we have had up to date?

She should perhaps visit my town of Abbotsford to see some of the impacts of youth crime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Canadians and all Canadians deserve better.

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

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

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

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

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

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

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

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

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

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

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

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

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

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

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

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

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

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

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

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

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

What does she think of this message?

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

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

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

France Bonsant Bloc Compton—Stanstead, QC

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

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

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

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

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

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

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

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

Meili Faille Bloc Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

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

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

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

April 23rd, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as a former solicitor general for Quebec, I know the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is extremely knowledgeable on all of these issues.

I was interested in the fact that the government is going to, by this bill, make certain that youth are kept separate from adults. That is great, except that, as the member pointed out, the provinces will be responsible for enforcing this act that the government will pass and a number of the provinces do not have the facilities available to house those youth offenders.

If the provinces follow the act, it might be another decade before they get the proper facilities built where they can keep the youth separate and, if they do not have the facilities, what will they do? Will they put them in with the adults?

Could the member expand on that as to the validity of the government passing legislation when it knows full well that the provinces will not be able to implement it at any time soon in some cases, and whether the federal government should be responsible for providing some moneys to the provinces to make certain that the intentions of the bill are able to be carried out by the provinces?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, it would be a good thing if there were youth centres elsewhere. The government is prepared to spend more money to build more prisons to jail more young people. That is a colossal mistake. It should give the provinces more money to hire more qualified professionals who would oversee the rehabilitation of young people and even the rehabilitation of the most difficult cases.

It is difficult to take a youth out of his environment when he has grown up in a family that lives off the avails of crime and when he has joined a gang. It costs a lot. That is how Quebec came out on the losing end in the 1980s. The federal government gave money to the provinces. Ontario used it to build prisons. Quebec received less money because it focused on staffing and it could not use the money for buildings. However, it is a very important long-term investment. For $100,000 per year, the cost of incarcerating one inmate, we can hire at least two or three professionals and be much more effective. The rest of Canada should realize that there is a system nearby that works and they should use it as a model. When I defended the Quebec system in 1998, people from the Maritimes came to see me to learn about it.

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April 22nd, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I wish to congratulate my colleague for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is an expert on this subject.

My question is simple. In Quebec, our ancestors left us a society that struck a balance between incarceration and rehabilitation. Today, why are the Conservatives absolutely bent on steering us to the right? Can my colleague explain this right-wing approach to incarceration?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a matter of ignorance. They are not familiar with the success Quebec has had. When they want a model, they choose a simplistic model. If my dog does something bad, I just give him a little tap. That is not how it works with adults, and certainly not with young offenders.

The Conservatives want to be tough on crime. They are now telling us—like the Minister of Justice has said—to listen to voters, who will tell us what to do and what measures to take. But the people are not experts on young offenders. There are some situations in life when we must turn to the experts. When our car breaks down, we do not take it to our uncle the plumber. We take it to a mechanic.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the most important responsibility of members of Parliament is the duty to protect the citizens of the communities they represent.

I have the honour of representing the great city of Abbotsford here in Parliament. The residents of my riding understand, perhaps better than most Canadians, the impact that violent crime, especially youth-related crime, can have on their sense of safety and security.

Despite a declining overall crime rate, drug-related violence in my community was up steeply last year. Much of it involved youth. If members went to my community and read the newspapers for the last two to three years, they would notice that week after week, there were stories about gang violence and drug-related violence. They would read about young teenagers being murdered because of their involvement in the drug trade, young kids who had a great future in this great country of ours, and those lives were snuffed out.

Since we were first elected, our Conservative government has been relentless in taking action to tackle violent crime and to protect Canadians. Our approach has been a balanced one. It includes prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.

Today the bill before us is a new law which takes action against youth-related violent crime, especially where such crime is committed by prolific young offenders. The bill, which we have called Sébastien's law, is an amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Our government recognizes that young people who commit serious, violent and repeat criminal offences must receive sentences that are proportionate to their crimes, even as those very individuals work toward their own rehabilitation and reintegration into society. In short, violent young offenders need to take personal responsibility for their violent crimes.

What our government's bill also highlights is that our laws must make the protection of society a primary goal of sentencing, something which has been sorely lacking in the past. Law-abiding citizens have a right to expect that their lawmakers will protect them against the most violent young offenders.

As I have talked with Canadians, I have realized that a large number of them have lost faith in the youth justice system. They complain that the prison sentences given to violent and repeat young offenders are generally too light to make any difference in rehabilitating these offenders and holding them accountable for their actions. Canadians have also lost faith in a system which does not have the legislative tools to keep the public safe. Our government is changing that.

Exactly what is it that this bill does? With Sébastien's law, our Conservative government is introducing nine key changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The first change will add deterrence and denunciation as principles which the judge will have to take into account when sentencing serious, violent and repeat young offenders. Right now a judge cannot use deterrence and denunciation in making a decision about sentencing, even though many Canadians believe that serious, violent young offenders must get a clear message that doing the crime means doing the time.

The second change is that the amended act would allow detention and jail before trial if a youth is charged with a serious offence and if that youth is likely to commit another serious offence if released. Up until now, pretrial custody rules have been confusing and quite frankly, inconsistently applied.

The third change is that the amended act would define the term “serious offence” as an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of five years or more. This will not only include violent offences but also property offences, such as theft over $5,000, and offences that pose a danger to the public, such as possession of a firearm, sexual exploitation, robbery and murder. Right now there is no definition of “serious offence” in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The fourth change will mean that the term “violent offence” will be expanded to include offences where a young person endangers the life or safety of another person by creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm.

In the past, the legal definition of “violent offence” was left up to the courts to interpret. The courts' interpretation, although it included actual or threatened bodily harm, said nothing about endangering someone's life or safety. We are changing that.

For our fifth change, we are making it easier to put violent young offenders behind bars by allowing the judge to take into account a previous history or perhaps pattern of guilty behaviour, even if there is no actual formal record of that criminal behaviour. Currently, the law is too narrow and allows youth who may have broken the law many times before but were dealt with outside of the justice system to escape personal accountability for their actions.

The sixth change will require a prosecutor to consider seeking an adult sentence for young offenders who are 14 years of age and older where they commit serious violent offences. This provision will vary from province to province. Prosecutors will also have to inform the court if they do not apply for the adult sentence. Right now, adult sentences are available for those 14 years of age and over and can be used where appropriate, but prosecutors do not always apply for them, even in the most serious cases.

The seventh key change is that we are giving judges the power to make the names of young offenders public whenever they are convicted of a violent offence, even when a youth sentence is imposed. This is something many Canadians have asked for, including the residents of Abbotsford. Although there are presently no publication bans on young offenders who receive adult sentences, those who receive youth sentences for violent crimes rarely, if ever, have their names published.

The eighth key change will see the act amended to make it clear that no young person under 18 will serve his or her sentence in an adult institution, regardless of whether the young person was given an adult or youth sentence. This is consistent with our government's desire to ensure that young offenders serve their sentences in an environment more conducive to genuine rehabilitation.

For the ninth and last change, Sébastien's law, as we have called it, will require police to keep records of the use of extrajudicial measures, such as warnings, to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending. Right now, there is no requirement for the police to keep such records.

Our government believes that the law should place the highest priority on victims. This week we are celebrating and honouring National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, when we make the statement that victims have been forgotten for far too long. Our Conservative government is taking notice. We have implemented many new initiatives that address the needs of victims, including establishing a national awareness day. We have also established the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

We have enhanced the funding for victims. In fact, even in this year's budget, we added another $6.6 million to provide services to victims. Indeed, it is our goal to significantly reduce the number of Canadians who are victimized by violent youth crime. We cannot do that without having a tool chest that has the legislative tools to address youth crime, especially when it is violent.

The amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that our Conservative government has proposed make significant progress in keeping Canadians safe. These changes will hold violent young offenders more accountable for their actions and will better protect Canadians. After all, that is the very least Canadians should expect of their elected representatives. It is the very least the residents of my community of Abbotsford should expect of their representative right here in Ottawa.

Since 2006, our Conservative government has been relentless in trying to find new ways of addressing crime, addressing the needs of victims and ensuring that rehabilitation is available in our federal prison institutions. I am pleased to support this legislation. It is something that is long overdue. Someone asked me the other day why it was taking so long. I had to remind him that we just came out of 13 years of a Liberal government and it did not take crime seriously.

This Conservative government, under our Prime Minister and our Minister of Justice, takes crime very seriously. Ultimately, we want a safer society. I want a safer Abbotsford. When we do that, all Canadians win.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I did not get a lot of new information from the member about the bill or about the foundations of the bill.

All of the evidence indicates that sentencing is not a deterrent. Recidivism in fact is lower when there are early release programs, such as house arrest, to which the government is opposed. Crime rates are lower when there are proper supports for the police and in the provincial jurisdictions programs for crime prevention before the first crime happens.

The member seems to have repeated the platitudes of the government that the Conservatives are just tough on crime, a slogan without a foundation. Throwing more people into jail for longer periods of time will make them even less able to be rehabilitated or reintegrated into society and will not end the cycle of crime and recidivism. The Conservatives simply want to win votes. Why is it that the member has not given one example of where the bill improves the situation to reduce crime or prevent it before it happens?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his intervention, although I profoundly disagree with it. His view and his ideology comes from the far left. It is totally discredited.

If we followed the hon. member's line of argument, we should get rid of all jails; nobody should be going to jail because deterrence does not work.

He obviously did not listen to my speech, because I emphasized protection of society, which is something the Liberal Party forgot some 40 years ago when its solicitor general said that the Liberals were essentially abandoning protection of society and focusing all their efforts on rehabilitation. That is the wrong way to go.

Our government is finally providing a balanced approach to crime, making sure rehabilitation is there, making sure prevention is there, making sure enforcement is there. Above all, we should listen to the victims and focus on protection of society. Canadians are asking for that, and they deserve nothing less.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, does the member not think that a system with a lower delinquency rate protects victims better than a system with a higher rate?

In 2008, the delinquency rate in Quebec was 50% lower than the rate in Canada. Before he came to the House, was the member familiar with the system that was developed in Quebec?

If he learned more about this system by sitting in on meetings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he would see that he should not reject a system that sees fewer victims.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc for his work at the justice committee. We have worked together for well over a year on that committee and, although we sometimes profoundly disagree on the issues, he is a very valuable member of that committee. He does remind us regularly of what is happening in Quebec but I also regularly remind him of what is happening in other parts of the country where citizens are demanding that we take some concrete steps to ensure we protect society.

Members will have noticed that our Conservative crime agenda is not a shotgun approach. We are not following a U.S. system that has failed in many respects. Our approach is a very focused, targeted approach where we are looking at the most prolific, violent, repeat offenders, not only adults but some very dangerous young offenders who need to be incarcerated for longer periods of time. The longer they are in custody, the greater their opportunity is to find the help they need. Some of them have serious addiction problems, some come from a background of having learning disabilities and some have mental health issues. They need to get that help.

It is no secret that our federal system of corrections is actually much more effective in dealing with rehabilitation. The reason for that is that in our provincial systems the maximum sentence is two years, which is usually not enough time to actually move an offender toward rehabilitation.

However, there is always a grain of truth in what Bloc members say. They are saying that we need to focus on rehabilitation. Yes, it is good to have fewer offenders going into prison if we can protect society at the same time, but there is that small number of offenders who pose a very serious risk to their communities. So far I have not seen the Bloc members propose anything that will move us in that direction.

I will go back to what I said and what the focus of my speech was. The protection of society must be the prevailing value when we deal with criminal justice. If we fail in that, we fail in everything else. It is a public trust that has been placed on our shoulders as elected representatives to ensure that our communities, streets, neighbourhoods, families and friends are safe.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have heard a new tranche in the Conservatives' approach to tough on crime. The fact that they want these massive extensions in sentencing is because they need time with the prisoners for rehabilitation programs, those programs which they cut, the literacy programs, the farm programs and the other ones.

As someone has said, we should be as concerned about who comes out of prison as we are about those who go in. It is fact that in almost all cases they eventually come out.

The member talked about reforming the system and bringing justice to Canadians. As New Democrats, we put forward a proposal that would allow for full public oversight of the RCMP, a federal government jurisdiction. I am wondering if he would be in agreement with this.

The chiefs of police, the head of the RCMP and the complaints commissioner have all come forward and said that they need a public oversight model for Canada. Certainly the families that have had interactions in which loved ones have been hurt or killed in custody and there has been controversy, I am thinking of Linda Bush and Mr. Dziekanski, have also made the call and the plea to the government to take a courageous leadership role and do what members of the RCMP are asking for, which is to stop the rules that say they must investigate themselves. That is what all members I speak to request.

The member is obviously someone who has spent a great deal of time on the issue of crime, punishment and whatnot in Canada. I wonder if he has given this topic any thought and if he can definitely say, one way or the other, whether he is in favour of true public oversight, as they have in Ontario.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am sure our government is considering that.

What really surprises me is that the member has not actually read the bill that is before us. It has nothing to do with RCMP oversight. This is about how we amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to ensure our communities are safer?

Since the member has allowed me an opportunity to speak, I want to say that not only have we focused on the protection of society, but I have reviewed the main estimates that arise out of budgets every year. If we check what money the government has been put into crime prevention, which is very important as we try to address these challenges in our communities, we have increased that funding by some $25 million just in the last two years.

If we go back many years, we will see how the former Liberal governments completely abandoned crime prevention. This is one of the key areas that our government is focusing in on. We are also focusing in on rehabilitation but we are not forgetting the protection of society because ultimately I am concerned about my family and children. I am concerned about the kind of society in which they are growing up. I am concerned that they may some day need bars on their windows and walls around their houses.

My sister lives in South Africa where crime is rampant and very little, if anything, has been done to focus in on the protection of society. My sister actually lives in a compound with bars on her windows and barbed wire and glass shards on the walls to ensure thieves and robbers do not enter her premises. That is not the society Canadians want. It is not the society we have now but we have serious challenges, especially with violent youth crime.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to engage in this debate, especially since I have heard a couple of my colleagues from the government side expound with what they would call a particular eloquence on the method as well as the principle of what makes this society work. I have noticed that they focused on the words “protection“ and “prevention”.

If it is true that what we must have is protection of society, and without pandering to everybody's greatest fears and paranoia, I think we would need to look at what other professionals and stakeholders in the field say about these proposed legislative items and, in fact, about this one in particular.

Mr. Speaker, before I go on to their references, I know that you are an esteemed scholar of the law as well. I hope you will not feel offended if I make reference to people other than yourself as experts for reference here.

It pains me to hear some of my colleagues from the government side who normally speak in a fashion that might be reasonable, and I refer in particular to my colleague from Abbotsford who is a valued colleague on a committee where he is sorely missed, but when he engages in the kind of partisan tripe to colour the weaknesses of this bill so that it can be more acceptable, I think only about what some of the stakeholders in the private sector would say with respect to his observations.

I think for a moment about Rick Linden, a criminology professor at the University of Manitoba, whose observation is that this bill is designed more for political effect than actually to have much of an effect on crime. I guess he probably drew that conclusion after having studied the bill and after anticipating what my hon. colleague would have said earlier on.

In fact, that is replicated and repeated by Professor Nicholas Bala, a family law and youth justice expert at Queen's University, who says that this bill is a classic example of pandering to public misperceptions about youth crime.

Can members imagine that the hon. member opposite would say that what Canadian society is in greatest need of is protection against the actions of youth criminals?

We may be in need of protection but the way in which that member and his government have decided to focus on one particular element of our society and to vilify it and to put it in a position where it is now the greatest danger to the safety of Canadian society is nothing short of shameless.

Frank Addario, of the Criminal Lawyers' Association, reminds everyone that there is no evidence that more severe punishment does anything to reduce recidivism among youth.

That does not mean that we should not have punishment. However, if the government is going to propose amendments to an act that was introduced by prior governments, then it has an obligation to demonstrate that things are not working. Instead, the government has given us perceptions and anecdotes of what the public, from its perspective, thinks is required under this legislation.

However, I do think there are some issues that need improvement and I am sure the committee will address many of these issues. Not all things are bad in the legislation. As I read through it, I thought we might be able to support a few items, especially with respect to the fact that we will improve the way the system is administered.

However, here are the weaknesses that I thought the government would have addressed. I was absolutely shocked that the member who just spoke, my colleague from Abbotsford, said that the way to protect Canadians was to put an addition $25 million into the protection of Canadians.

Do members know what that translates into? Just so that everybody is not confused about what it means, it means, at the very most, we would be able to hire another 250 front line officers in order to do what must be done, which is to enforce the legislation, no matter which it is, whether it is weak or strong.

This legislation would have no value unless an enforcement officer, through his or her vigilance and his or her work, could ensure that the outcome desired by legislators is actually effected on the street. In the last election, the government promised 1,000 front-line officers but instead we have 250. The government is so boldfaced as to suggest today that the $25 million is somehow going to protect Canadians better than under any other administration.

For four years the Conservatives have been standing in this place, holding public announcements and photo ops, saying they are the party of justice, they are tough on crime. But they say not to hold them to that. The Conservatives are not going to provide the officers we need to ensure the legislation that is in place is observed. They are not going to provide us with the resources we need in this society to make sure there is a harmonious interaction among people in different age groups and different socio-economic environments and those who fall prey to individuals and groups that have no interest in public welfare.

The government has not put any resources into that, but it claims it is going to protect, perhaps with legislation, which is actually a piece of paper that everybody is going to throw away. If we do not have the officers to support it, the enforcement capacity, and if we do not invest in the justice system so that we can have prosecutors and judges deal with these issues when they come before them, then justice is delayed, justice is denied, there is no justice at all.

If we are really truly going to accept the government's view that the main ethic that drives the Government of Canada, that government is supposed to define us all to ourselves and to the rest of the world, then I ask it to please live up to its commitment to provide us with the protection that is required, the observance that is demanded of the legislation that defines us. That is not happening. That is not going to happen at all.

The Conservatives stand in this place and say this is all the fault of the Liberals who preceded them. How many years ago? It was four years ago. For four years the Conservatives have done absolutely nothing except fall down on the promises they make.

If we are going to have as a society a group of individuals, a collective, who are functioning in a productive fashion, who are respectful and accepting of each other's differences and each other's ambitions and future aspirations, then we need to establish a public ethic to which everybody has buy-in.

The other item is that, when we talk about protection and prevention, we have to talk not only about investing in enforcement officers, not only about investing in the justice system and its apparatus. We need to make an investment in society where it counts.

How much has the government put forward to ensure we have the kinds of programs in place that young people, primarily young boys, need? It appears that what we are doing with this legislation is taking, as a first order of business, the vilification of every male child in this country. I say “child” because when we refer to “young men” we are talking about those who are over the age of 18 and therefore subject to the same observations, penalties and programs that are available to all adults. But we are thinking about children, primarily those under 14 if I read the legislation correctly.

My hon. colleague from Abbotsford thinks there is a menace out there. It is called a child. He thinks those who are entering their teens pose a great threat. They are called young men.

One of the ways we prevent difficulties in society is by making an investment before the problem takes place. We give those young men primarily, but young women as well, an opportunity to have a productive intervention in society, to find their place. That does not necessarily mean we have to tell them that if they do not follow a straight line then all hell will rain upon them.

They do not have to worry about that because we have no active volcanoes here and we have no policemen out there to get them. If by chance we do catch them, they will never get to court because we are not going to have any funding for judges. If we have funding for judges, we are not going to have enough money for prosecutors and others, so they will not have to worry about it.

Think about legislation that delivers that kind of message. The government wants to go out there and trumpet the fact that it is tough on crime, not tough on the individuals, not prepared to take a look at those men and women who are going to be part and parcel of the creation of a society that we are going to call our own. Where in the legislation will we find material evidence that the Conservative Government of Canada is actually concerned about the environment in which a young boy or a young girl is being raised, that it is concerned about the values that define the community in which those young people grow?

Where will we find the evidence in this legislation that purports to focus on prevention? Will we find the evidence that the Government of Canada is actually interested in building the infrastructure that allows those young people to grow as productive and involved citizens of our country?

We had the good fortune today, Mr. Speaker, thanks to your good graces, to host a group of young men and women who, through their own self-sacrifice and the investment of their parents, their community and some cases government, dedicated themselves to an achievement of participation, first of all, and then successful performance in the last Olympics. We had them here. We should have gloried not just in the medals they won but in the fact that they succeeded. They allowed each and every one of us, legislators from all around the country as my colleagues from the Bloc say, to be able to point to all of the infrastructure for social building, for community building, for nation building that worked and is seen as an example through the achievements they shared with us.

Where do we see that in this legislation? It is ironic that, after we see some successful young men and women whom we honoured today and who showed us the privilege of honouring our successes through their efforts, instead we say young people are a menace in the making and we are going to put in place so much structure, so much rhetoric, that they will be frightened into doing what is acceptable. But nowhere do we define “acceptable”. Nowhere do we give an indication of what those public ethics, those public values, those familial-linked community achievements, are that are desirable from a national perspective.

Taking a look through the bill, we ask: What will be required of this government to make some of this stick? If the objective of the government is incarceration and extended incarceration for each and every one of these individuals it is going to incarcerate, notwithstanding the fact that the trend line is in the reverse direction in terms of what young people are doing in our society, we are going to hear from the Conservatives that we are going to make it easier to incarcerate and extend and we are going to put the money forward for that. We are going to build more jails.

Just think about this. In a society where people are looking for houses, we are going to build more jails. In a time when people are looking for affordable housing, we are going to spend at least $100,000 per cell in order to incarcerate and to extend the incarceration of people we want to vilify because we have not put enough money in prevention, in education or in building an infrastructure where we can take our young men and women, our children, and turn them into functioning adults who will make this country proud.

No. We would rather, through this legislation and the government opposite, think in terms of ourselves as holding a great big baseball bat in our hand and saying to people that if they step out of line, this thing is going to come crashing down.

We should think about this. The government is going to spend $100,000 per cell. It wants to increase the incarceration rate by at least 30%. That means we are going to be looking at members of Parliament coming before the House to approve or disapprove of the government building more cells over the next few years, which will be in excess of $3 billion.

Members opposite are chuckling. They are surprised that people have actually done their homework. It is not something they are accustomed to. They are reading talking points from the PMO all the time. They really have not taken a look at what is going to happen as a consequence of the bill.

I welcome the fact that they are paying attention. We were talking about education, so listen closely.

As well, we build a cell and we have to have someone invigilate that cell. In other words, we have to have jail guards. That is an additional $100,000 per year for every one of those.

When we take a look at the numbers we are going to need in terms of building these cells and building a structure for maintaining them, think how much cheaper it is for the Government of Canada to build an infrastructure of prevention. That is not something anyone is talking about.

The Conservatives are much more comfortable with the idea that says if one wants to feel angry about the way things are happening today, vote Conservative. If one wants to focus on retribution, vote for the Conservatives.

However if people want to think in terms of having a positive vision of the world, trying to rehabilitate, trying to ensure we bring productive individuals before us, they can vote for someone else; Liberal, I think, if they are smart.

Think about the message the government is sending out there to everyone. It prefers to send an extremely negative message and, to make it worse, it is so perverse that there are no funds to realize the very lowly ambitions of the bill. There is no money.

If one wants to protect society, how much money? Recently the Conservatives talked about having to protect society in the aviation industry. They have to protect them at airports. They have to do this; they have to do that. Bang, there is another $1.5 billion tax for them to do that. They spent $11 million buying 44 body scanners about which an expert in the committee this morning said, “What a waste of money. Cancel the contract”. That $11 million for those 44 body scanners to protect air travellers was not enough. They had to slap on another $1.5 billion.

Mr. Speaker, I know that on occasion you enjoy a good meal and the French have a saying that says, l'appétit vient en mangeant, the appetite comes with the eating.

It seems that the Conservative government, whenever it has an opportunity to waste some money on something that is of little value, can turn around and develop an appetite for raising more taxes to do something that is of equally less value.

That is what the bill represents. It represents an opportunity that is wasted. Instead of talking about how we can reach out to those young people who will replace us, and we will all be replaced by those young people, instead of vilifying them, it should reach out and provide the kinds of programs they need.

The Conservative government talked about prevention programs. It cancelled almost all of them.

In my own province of Ontario, where we had some $8 million, in the GTA $11 million, to provide programs for assistance to students and young people at risk, the government cancelled that. On an annual basis, it said, “We do not need that; if they are bad they will suffer”. Immediately the government has focused on punishment, identifying bad guys but not going out there to catch them. If it does catch them, it says, “Throw them in jail”. “But we don't have jails”. “That's the fault of another government; we're going to build them”. “Where are we going to get the money?” “We don't know”.

That is the problem with the government. It does not know what it is doing. The youth are suffering as a result and this bill will put responsibility for failure on the shoulders of others. We deserve better.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, it just goes to show that when the member for Eglinton—Lawrence wings it, things do not go well. In fact, he should check his earpiece because when I referred to $64 million, it was just for prevention. Our main estimates show that we actually put $64 million just into prevention, not protection. Protection was another $140 million on top of that, so he may want to do his research.

I want to go back almost 40 years, since the member for Eglinton—Lawrence went back that far. He talked about his own Liberal government going back some 40 years. Here is a quotation from the Liberal solicitor general back in 1971 who said:

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

That was the Liberal government back in 1971. Successive Liberal governments have followed that approach to justice and that is why we are in the mess we are in today.

After the speech from the member for Eglinton—Lawrence, Canadians now know why they elected a Conservative government to protect them.

My question to the member is this. The solicitor general, Jean-Pierre Goyer, back in 1971 said, “--we have decided from now on to stress the rehabilitation of offenders, rather than the protection of society”. Does the member for Eglinton—Lawrence still support that statement, and if so, why would he be so negligent?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a wonderful place. We now have people, a research department in the Prime Minister's office, actually going about finding out what happened in history 40 years ago and who it was that initiated some of the legislation that has defined our country over the course of the last 40 years.

I want to compliment those young men and women who are actually doing something worthwhile; that is, going back in time and asking what it was that society wanted to be over the course of 40 years. I am sure that the member opposite was just a young boy when that legislation came forward, when members were talking about rehabilitation as a different concept for how we deal with problems and dysfunctionality in society.

Rather than focus on rehabilitation, the member now wants us to go back to the pre-1971 situation. Do members believe that the Government of Canada would come forward with an amendment to a justice system when things seem to be going in the right direction, and says, “No, no, we have to go back 40 years when times were better”. The Liberal government in 1971, in that day and age with the circumstances of the day, said that a progressive society is noted by its willingness to shape and rehabilitate those who contravene the conventions of the day.

Today, the Conservatives want us to go back to a point where punishment, retribution, would be the order of the day. Shame on them.

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly always enjoy the member's presentations on these bills. He certainly puts a lot of energy and life into his speeches.

It is interesting to note that Mr. Sullivan was a government appointee three years ago, a victims' rights position appointed by the government. His position ran out just in the last week and he is not being re-appointed by the government.

He said some interesting things about the government. He said that the government is not dealing correctly with victims' rights issues. He said that the Conservatives are paying too much attention to the punishment side of the equation and ignoring the victims.

This is coming from a person, Mr. Sullivan, who was appointed by this government three years ago to deal with victims and promote their causes with and within this government. While he admits the Conservatives have done some good things, he has criticized them for basically not putting enough focus, enough emphasis, on the rights of victims, something they talk about constantly but they are not doing, and putting too much emphasis on punishment.

I would like to ask the member whether he agrees with that assessment by Mr. Sullivan and why he thinks that is developing at this point? Why are the Conservatives giving up on victims' rights?

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

April 22nd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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Liberal

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.

Conservative

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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Liberal

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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NDP

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

Conservative

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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Liberal

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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Conservative

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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Bloc

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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Conservative

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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NDP

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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Conservative

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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Conservative

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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Conservative

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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NDP

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.
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Conservative

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?

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

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

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me answer this way. It was interesting listening to the minister earlier today saying not to confuse him with the facts. We have always had youth who commit multiple crimes. I practised quite extensively in our juvenile delinquency court, as it was called back in the early seventies, and I can think of a number of my youth clients who had committed multiple crimes. This is not a new phenomenon.

What happened, and it was part of the purpose of the Nunn commission and the McMurtry report, was starting around 2005-06, we had a serious spike in violent crime among youth, mostly from 16 to 18 years of age. What the minister has refused to acknowledge twice today is that there was a spike, but up until that point, youth crime had been dropping, like all other crime. That includes violent crime and repeat offenders.

We hit a spike in 2005, 2006, 2007 and a bit of 2008, but starting in 2007, it began to decline again. That is the case now and I think we will see the same when we see the figures for 2009 and 2010. That has nothing to do with any legislation we passed. It has everything to do with our police officers and prosecutors using different methodologies both to prevent crimes and to apprehend the criminals.

This kind of legislation needs tweaking. Justice Nunn was very correct on that. However, to use isolated cases, whether it is the Sébastien case or the one my friend from B.C. just mentioned, is not the basis on which we do public policy and certainly not the basis on which we amend the Criminal Code or, as in this case, the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, my good friend, for pointing out the statistics based on the question I asked the minister, because I felt his response, and I say this respectfully, was inaccurate with the statistics.

Nevertheless, this type of legislation, or any type of legislation, is an evolving process, such as legislation for the Juvenile Delinquents Act and the Young Offenders Act. Over the years, times change and circumstances change. We as the Liberal government updated the statute and brought changes, such as adult sentencing, reverse onus, et cetera.

My colleague pointed to the Quebec model, a model that works. For crime that occurs in British Columbia, as the member said, or in Manitoba or anywhere else, crime is crime. This is the big question Canadians are asking. Why can we not standardize, especially a system that has shown results?

Finally, the minister said that the people who recognized they were a danger to themselves asked for the legislation. Do we put them behind bars or do we offer treatment? Could he please elaborate on that?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the fastest way to look at this, in terms of the differences in the provinces, is there is a great deal of discretion with the attorneys general provincially as to how youth crime is dealt with, and that will continue in this legislation. In fact, in a couple of areas, it actually increases the discretionary call by the AGs across the country.

What has happened historically is the province of Quebec has taken a much broader and holistic view of how to deal with youth crime. As opposed to the model the current Conservative government likes, which is always just penalties and punishment, Quebec has taken that into account and it uses it when appropriate.

I always use this example in terms of the difference of how the provinces have worked on this. If we look at the number of cases where there are applications by the attorneys general to their local prosecutors to raise youth up to adult courts, it is amazing. The lowest number in the country, based on population, is in Quebec. Correspondingly, the lowest number of youth crimes is also in Quebec.

The last time I looked at these figures, and these are a few years out of date, the highest level was in the western provinces, in particular Alberta. It applied for adult charges and sentences more than any other. Ontario was somewhere in between. The highest rate of youth crime is in the prairie provinces, so it is not a methodology that works.

Finally, the province of Quebec has simply committed the funds to treatment centres in the proper settings for rehabilitation for youth. I do not know the exact figures, but it is extensively higher in that province, which is not nearly as wealthy as Alberta and Ontario. We are both behind them in the amount of dollars we commit at the provincial levels to rehabilitating youth.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, people are talking about the Nunn report fairly consistently. In his report, Justice Nunn says:

—it would be irresponsible of me not to consider its role in a larger context of youth crime and improvements necessary to accomplish the desired result of lessening youth crime and rehabilitating those who become involved in criminal acts.

He is talking about prevention of youth crime.

I know the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has done a very good job of elaborating on the concerns with this legislation and he touched very briefly on prevention. Could he comment on any models he is aware of that do a much better job of looking at prevention?

The overall goal should be to prevent young people from ending up in the criminal justice system. We have to deal with them appropriately once they end up in that spot, but we really need to work hard to prevent them from getting there in the first place.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:50 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, in terms of prevention, the model that we have to look at is the province of Quebec. It does not just provide extensive services for rehabilitation after crimes have been committed. It has a much broader program to prevent youth from getting into the gangs. That currently is the biggest problem we have. Its social safety net is, arguably, better than any in the country.

If we are to look any place in Canada, we have to look to Quebec and that has been true for at least 30-plus years, almost 40 years, since I have been monitoring this.

The approach of prevention in terms of the government, and this is true both of the Departments of Public Safety and Justice, is in the last three years it has had money budgeted for prevention work, both for youth and adults but mostly geared toward youth, and it has not spent it all. It does not know how to do it. The Conservatives are so locked into this ideology of punishment and after-the-fact response rather than preventing it. They literally do not know how to do it and they are still learning.

In a number of cases, the government has not funded the agencies that deal with youth, those agencies that had been funded under previous governments. It let the contracts run out and gave it to new people, who did not know what they were doing either. It is a real problem in terms of prevention.

The government has a model in the country. If it simply looked at Quebec and followed that model, we may see some real growth in the number of cases that do not get into our courts and the number of victims we will not have because crimes will not be committed.

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March 19th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague for his take on a national justice survey that was done in 2008. The findings of it are quite telling.

When asked about confidence in particular public services in Canada, respondents expressed the highest confidence in the school system and the lowest confidence in the youth justice system. Only 7.1% of respondents indicated high confidence in the youth justice system compared to 26.3% who indicated high confidence in the public school system.

Why does my colleague think there is such a low confidence in the youth justice system in Canada expressed by all Canadians in the survey?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, a simple answer to that question is simply look in the mirror. Every morning he should look in the mirror and think of all the news stories his party has put out.

We can do a survey today and Canadians will say that the crime rate is anywhere from 100% to 1,000% greater than it is. That political party has created this scene for our country.

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March 19th, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-4.

This bill amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act and makes consequential and related amendments to other acts. It also amends the sentencing and general principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois would like to do a thorough, professional job of studying this bill in committee. The Bloc will therefore support an agreement in principle to study the bill and hear all witnesses to improve it.

Although the bill is not as excessive as we were led to believe it would be in January, it still contains quite a few irritants, including an ideological change in the act, which is a fairly dramatic change.

Like many experts, we condemn this philosophical change that makes public protection the main benchmark, at the expense of prevention.

The bill adds new criteria to consider in sentencing young offenders. For example, the sentence should have a deterrent effect. This means that public perception, rather than the offence itself, would condition how a young offender is punished. In short, the government is asking judges to make examples of people.

The government is amending a law that works well. What is more, many experts condemn this amendment, because the law had already been toughened. Still, because of the Bloc's efforts, the bill we have before us is much more moderate than what we are used to seeing from the Conservatives. We have to say that our work to raise awareness and fight against an even tougher bill paid off; the government listened.

The government admits that it misled us when it said there were no young offenders in adult prisons. That is an important admission. I feel it is worth mentioning, because the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles spent last summer going around saying that there were no offenders under 18 in the prisons in Quebec and Canada.

It is worthwhile going over some figures. I do not think that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles dispute the source of these figures. It is the Correctional Service of Canada.

I do not especially like quoting statistics in my remarks, but I will do so this time because I want to correct the figures cited by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, among others. I hope that after hearing these statistics, the member will offer an apology for reporting incorrect figures.

In all, 10 offenders under the age of 18 have been placed in a federal penitentiary since January 1, 2004. They were all 17 at the time. Here is the number of young people placed by year, that is from January to December 31—2004, 4; 2005, 1; 2006, 3; 2007, 1; 2008, none; 2009, 1.

I have some more statistics to help the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles clearly understand the situation. According to a reliable source, the public security department in Quebec, in all a total of 39 offenders under 18 have been put in prison in Quebec since April 1, 2003. Here are the figures by fiscal year, that is, from April 1 to March 31: 12 in 2003-04; 10 in 2004-05, 3 in 2005-06; 9 in 2006-07; 5 in 2007-08; and none in 2008-09.

The statistics are based on the age at the time of admission. We must also realize that a single individual can be admitted more than once a year. Now that this has been clarified, we can hope that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles will get the facts straight.

The Bloc Québécois as well shares many of the concerns raised by many professional stakeholders in Quebec on the repercussions of this bill. Accordingly, the Bloc will analyze it in depth, as is its custom, when it is being studied in committee. We want to hear all those involved in order to improve whatever may be improved. The Bloc wants to get to the bottom of things and will certainly not tolerate rushing through a matter of such importance. If it is passed, the bill will change the way young people are dealt with. We must therefore take the time needed to invite as many experts to speak to the matter so as to properly debate and examine it.

I would also like to speak to the Bloc's philosophy on justice. It firmly believes that the most effective approach is still prevention. We must go after the causes of crime, delinquency and violence rather than wait for problems to occur and try to fix them after the fact. The wisest and certainly the most profitable approach, in both social and financial terms, consists in working at problems in order to avoid youth crime and incarceration. It could not be clearer. We must fight poverty, inequality and exclusion, all fertile ground for frustrations and the escape valves that violence and crime constitute.

Justice for youth is no different in this regard. Young people should benefit from a healthy environment, they should not be living in extreme poverty, they should have access to affordable education and so on. In all these areas, the Quebec nation has made good choices, which sets it apart. Education costs, for example, are among the lowest in North America. Our network of daycare centres is a model in the field, and so on.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is aware that young people commit crimes, for which they should be held to account, including in the courts. The government has a duty to act and to use all the tools available to it to ensure that Quebeckers and Canadians are able to live in peace and safety. But the measures brought forward have got to have a real positive impact on crime, they have got to be more than rhetoric, or fear-mongering. They have got to be more than just an imitation of the American model, which, it should be noted, has completely failed to reduce crime. The American model has produced very weak results and is now on the brink of complete breakdown. Some states are questioning that model because it has failed to reduce youth crime.

A few statistics show that one quarter of prisoners on the planet, over 7 million people, are in prison or on parole. The United States is starting to move away from that model, the “law and order” model. In July 2009, the Vera Institute of Justice determined that at least 22 American states are preparing to depart from tough-on-crime policies and the present system is at the point of human and financial breakdown.

On the other hand, the Quebec model, based on rehabilitation and reintegration, produces real results, results that can be measured using statistics showing the decline in crime.

So we would say that what Canada wants is to copy a completely outdated model instead of drawing on the Quebec model, which is working very well.

A moment ago I listened carefully to the speech by my NDP colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He said that the government should draw on the Quebec model which has produced good results because the people of Quebec, with their various taxes, have created a health system, a social safety net, that means they can take action to prevent crime and poverty. One thing it means is that young people can be given help and support. Quebec is the province that in 2006 succeeded in reducing its crime rate by 4%, unlike the rest of Canada, where the crime rate rose.

And so I invite the government members to investigate the Quebec model, to look at its successes and its results, rather than trying to copy a completely outdated model that, on the contrary, is of such dubious worth that some American states are now questioning it and are looking for a different model.

Quebec has a good system because we have experts who provide us with sound advice and who have worked, year in and year out, to build a model that works well. These experts are telling us that the Government of Canada is completely off track. The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, a Quebec organization that provides services to young offenders and troubled youth, and the provincial directors also believe in the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders, which have been successful in Quebec. Numerous experts from other countries come to Quebec to observe, learn about and watch our system, so they can then emulate it. I do not say it often enough, but I am saying it now: our results are very telling and very inspiring.

The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec says that it, too, cares about the victims, but that the government is really on the wrong track when it states that protection of society will be improved by implementing more coercive measures because the current legislation deals with these situations and ensures the protection of society. As we saw in the statistics that I quoted earlier, there are youth under the age of 18 in prison, but such a sentence is rarely handed out by judges. They do so if the crime was very serious. It is rare that they decide that a youth should be in prison and should serve the entire sentence.

The bill refers to Sébastien's situation, which illustrates the reach of the current legislation. The young offender concerned was handed an adult sentence upon the recommendation of the provincial director of the Quebec court, youth division. The youth who murdered Sébastien is currently serving his sentence in an adult prison. This example perfectly illustrates that the current law contains a legislative tool that is used in Quebec when this type of circumstance with a youth arises.

Clearly, the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec will want to testify before the committee to share its 30 years of expertise and explain the very serious repercussions this bill would have if it were passed as is.

I would like to give some background on this bill. The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaced the Young Offenders Act, received royal assent in February 2002 and officially took effect on April 1, 2003.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act was quite imperfect and was challenged by the Government of Quebec. But in spite of that, in spite of history, the government is still pushing ahead with Bill C-4. We know that the National Assembly of Quebec will also be opposed to this bill as it currently stands.

For years, Quebec's justice minister has been calling on the federal government to exempt Quebec and allow it to implement its own youth intervention model.

The Government of Quebec has shown its opposition to the federal government for a dozen years now. The strong consensus in Quebec is that rehabilitation and prevention are the answer and that Quebec must develop ways of preventing young people from committing acts of physical or sexual violence or serious crimes. Quebec is working hard to put such measures in place. This is the system that Quebeckers have developed to prevent these crimes as much as possible.

I said earlier that I would give some statistics about the decrease in crime. Crime dominates the media: the trials of violent offenders and notorious fraud artists get extensive media coverage. The public often forms an opinion from sensational stories in the papers or on radio or television. We sometimes get the wrong impression and think that crime is on the rise, but that is not entirely true.

I think we can count on Statistics Canada to provide Canadian statistics. I am not accusing Statistics Canada of partisanship, because its statistics are rather clear.

Youth courts are seeing fewer and fewer cases. In 2005-06, 56,271 cases were heard, a decrease of 2% from the previous year. While it is true that the youth crime rate increased 3% in 2006, I must point out that that was the first increase since 2003. We cannot conclude that there is a strong upward trend. However, in 2006 in Quebec—as I mentioned earlier—the crime rate dropped by 4%. All the provinces saw increases in the youth crime rate, except Quebec, which saw a decrease in its crime rate thanks to its focus on rehabilitation and reintegration.

I do not think that is a coincidence. It proves that our model is inspiring and that it should inspire the current Conservative government. Instead of putting up a smokescreen, the government should be able to look at the big picture and recognize that there is a model that is working in Canada and that they can use. As my NDP colleague said so well, why focus on outdated measures, on intervention methods that do not work with young people and that are modelled after the United States, when here, the Quebec nation has a proven, effective system that is intelligent and respectful?

The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec and some specialized lawyers say that the current legislation did not need to be changed. They urge Parliament to be cautious. We are not talking about a few changes to sections of the act here. These are fundamental changes to the ideology and philosophy behind the legislation. This could very negatively impact young people in Quebec and Canada.

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March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I am happy we are finally having this discussion because many of my constituents are concerned about the current shortcomings in the Youth Criminal Justice Act . I have met with a number of parents on this issue, both parents of victims and parents of children who are in trouble with the law, and their theme is consistent. They all said that we need earlier action, earlier intervention.

Does the member believe that earlier intervention and meaningful deterrence could have a very positive effect on our long-term rehabilitation efforts? Does she agree that it is easier to rehabilitate a 16-year-old than a 56-year-old?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I am comfortable answering that question because I am a mother of three teenagers. Deterrence does not work for young people. Anyone who properly understands the development of an adolescent knows that deterrence is not as effective on them as it is on adults. I say that as a mother and a member of Parliament, but experts agree. Lawyers and the Association des centres jeunesses du Québec agree. We do not believe that deterrence will make a difference and stop young people from committing crime. We think there needs to be investment in prevention and in our social safety net. We need to make sure our young people do not commit crime. In my opinion, deterrence is not an important criterion and will not reduce the crime rate in young people.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I was impressed with the member's comments about not following the United States' model. We certainly know enough about its model to know that it is not working so well after a number of years.

However, I am intrigued by her comments about the Quebec model and how it works. She mentioned that there are other countries sending representatives to Quebec to study its model. Could she tell us what the specific details are that make the Quebec model different from others in Canada and around the world? Have any countries actually implemented any of the ideas that they have attained as a result of their consultations and study with Quebec?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 12:35 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

I am a social worker by training and I have done social intervention. Quebec's health care and social services systems allow for very early intervention, which in turn allows us to identify young people who have the potential to develop delinquent behaviour.

A thorough response to my NDP colleague's question would be too long, so I will focus on one point in particular. Restorative justice organizations take charge of young people who commit minor offences from an early age. If a young person commits a crime, non-profit organizations—which exist all over Quebec—immediately provide the individual with the support and assistance needed to realize the seriousness of their actions. The individual must perform community service and take part in individual therapy in order to realize the seriousness of their actions and understand why they were socially unacceptable.

This is like saving these young individuals from the beginning. If at 12 or 13, a young person commits an offence but receives adequate support, realizes that such actions are unacceptable and understands the consequences, their path can be redirected so they do not commit more serious offences in the future.

In Quebec, these community organizations are funded by the Quebec government, the Quebec nation, out of taxpayers' money. Other countries have even followed our example. They do not follow the example of any one particular organization, but rather a social system that offers a safety net, one that offers support and that invests considerably in prevention. Of course, this system is not perfect, but it is effective enough to produce results in terms of lower youth crime rates.

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March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Madam Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague for the excellent speech she delivered to show the Bloc Québécois' position on the bill that was introduced.

She made reference to the Quebec model, which for years has been focusing on rehabilitating young people who commit crime. We have often heard, especially from the Conservatives, that people who are in favour of rehabilitation care very little about the victims and have no compassion for the victims or their families. The Quebec model has proven that rehabilitation reduces crime. Every stakeholder must understand that.

I would like the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry to tell us whether rehabilitation reduces crime. Is having everyone working on reducing crime not the best compassion we could have for the victims and their families? I think it is the best form of compassion.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, who was once a teacher for troubled youth. He knows what he is talking about because he has experience with young people.

His question makes me wonder. Recently the member for Compton—Stanstead, from the Bloc Québécois, introduced a bill that, among other things, seeks to amend the Employment Insurance Act to allow victims of crime to take 52 weeks of leave in order to mourn and get help.

It is either hypocrisy or ideology, but either way I am disgusted to see that the Conservatives will vote against the bill introduced by my colleague from Compton—Stanstead that seeks to offer help to victims of crime. The Conservatives then turn around and lecture us about doing nothing to help the victims.

The government suggests that if we do not agree, then we are wrong. I am sorry, but on this subject that is so close to our hearts, I know that Quebec is right. Quebeckers can count on us. We are fighting to defend our model and to convince this government to adopt it.

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March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest and I listened earlier when the Minister of Justice talked about the importance of prevention and rehabilitation and about the protection of society. I also listen to statistics, and whether the crime rate is going up or down, there are times when we have people who are not remediable to either rehabilitation or prevention. We have horrific circumstances, horrific crimes.

Would the member not agree that in those cases we need to have the proper legislation to ensure the protection of society?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 12:40 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, my answer is that the member opposite is right. Under the current act, young people under the age of 18 can be incarcerated if they have committed crimes that are deemed to be horrific. There is no need to amend the current act on that count.

I gave some statistics in my speech. Young people under the age of 18 have been incarcerated in our prisons in the past and still are being incarcerated today. That is no reason to amend the act and change the philosophy and the ideology behind it. It would be wrong to think that if the rules are toughened, there will be a drop in crime and more support for victims.

To support victims, we need to give them assistance. That is what my colleague from Compton—Stanstead proposes to do with her bill, and the member is going to vote against it.

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March 19th, 2010 / 12:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the debate today on Bill C-4, a bill to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This is certainly an issue which is of concern and interest across Canada.

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. My experience with many young people in my riding of Halifax West is very different and very positive. I think most people in this chamber would recognize that most of their experiences with youth have been positive, I hope.

For instance, I recently attended the Bedford Lions Speak Out in my riding where seven or eight high school students spoke extremely well, which made it difficult for the judges. I was not a judge but I was asked to ask questions of the students after they had made their speeches to help make it a little more challenging for them. These were young leaders in the community who offered arguments and advocated that other young people should be more involved in the community and in volunteerism. These were terrific young people.

My son is a Scout and I went with his Scout troop on a winter camping trip on one of the coldest Saturday nights of February. It has been a mild winter but it was about minus 20° that night, if I recall correctly. I spent a couple of hours on the Saturday morning with them, helping them set up and taking some pictures of them. I was glad not to have to stay too much longer because it was cold. Sure, I was concerned about my son, but he was well-equipped, very happy and enjoyed it thoroughly. There again was a group of young people doing good things.

The Scout movement is involved in setting goals. My son wants to be a chief Scout, for example, which is an important goal and there are steps one works at toward that. That is the kind of activity in which we want to see young people involved. We should want to see more encouragement of that kind of activity. They have positive role models involved, which is very important because it is so often lacking which is why young people get involved in criminal activities. This is part of the heart of the problem. We need to examine the reasons why young people sometime get into trouble. They often do not have mentors or positive role models. They often have terrible home lives because they are living in poverty. We need to examine that.

In terms of other positive examples, I recently attended the launch of the Girls Soar Physical Activity Week. We saw some terrific young people from a school in my riding. In fact, I saw a young runner from the riding of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, my colleague's riding, who is on the national team and is a tremendous young role model.

There are so many examples of young people doing good things, I would like to see the Conservative government thinking about them a little more and thinking about how we get more young people to be like that. We need to deal with the issues of youth crime in a way that says that part of the solution here is to recognize the causes of these crimes and what is behind these problems, and then try to address them more effectively.

People in my province have and have had a great interest in this issue for some years, particularly following, which I know my colleague from West Nova will recall, the tragic death of a well-liked teacher named Theresa McEvoy. Justice Merlin Nunn was appointed by the provincial government to do a study and he did an excellent examination into the situation that led to her death by a young offender, 16-year-old Archie Billard. It was a very sad case but Justice Nunn did an excellent job and his report was highly regarded across the province.

It is important to look at the history of this situation. Before the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Canada at one time had one of the highest rates of incarceration of young people in the world. We should consider whether that will really work and whether that is really the answer. The government wants to incarcerate more and more people and wants to have more prisons at great expense but is not willing to put the money into things that will reduce poverty, and that is the concern.

The idea of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, in many parts, was to deal appropriately with young people, to deal with people who were not violent offenders in a way that is appropriate. There is no question that, as Justice Nunn recommended, there needs to be some changes to the act.

This is very important, which is why I brought forward a bill. I had great assistance from the lawyer for the McEvoy family, Hugh Wright, a lawyer in Halifax who kindly worked hard and drafted the bill that I introduced to try to implement the recommendations of Justice Nunn.

I am pleased to see in this bill some of the elements of what I was proposing, but I do not see others. I see other elements that were not at all recommended by Justice Nunn, which concern me. I want to talk about this issue, because it seems to me that the government has chosen to cherry-pick from the Nunn report the kinds of things that suited its own ideology and reject those that did not. It is a bit like its attitude toward evidence generally, and I will talk about that some more.

The Nunn report has been out for several years now, and it is curious to me that it has taken so long for the government to come forward with a response to it. We had Bill C-25 introduced in the last Parliament, but the government did nothing to move it forward. That is so often the case with so many of its so-called tough on crime bills. It talked about them a lot, but it did not actually take action to move those bills forward. It would not even introduce them sometimes for debate, which is curious and bizarre to me.

By the way, if this bill passes second reading and does go to committee, I hope that Justice Nunn will be asked to appear at committee to give his expert advice. I think he is very knowledgeable and has done a very thorough review.

There are some good things in this bill. There are numerous amendments to the act and the youth justice regime as a whole, including changes to the general sentencing principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Other amendments include changes to the definitions of terms such as “violent offence” and provisions relating to publication bans and repeat offenders.

I think it would be worthwhile for the House to hear some of the words that Justice Nunn wrote in his report on the McEvoy case, because they are important to knowing the background of this situation and what is happening in youth crime in Canada and what the response to it should be. He said:

[I]t is important to state that not one of the parties with standing took exception to the philosophy behind the act or to the majority of its provisions. Rather, they identified a number of sections causing concern and recommended changes.

He further said:

I can categorically state that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is legislation that provides an intelligent, modern, and advanced approach to dealing with youths involved in criminal activities. Canada is now far ahead of other countries in its treatment of youth in conflict with the law—

He went on to say:

This is not to say that there are not those who are opposed to the [Youth Criminal Justice Act], just as there were those opposed to the previous acts, the Juvenile Delinquents Act and the Young Offenders Act. Many of these critics believe that jail is the answer: “There they'll learn the errors of their ways.” These critics pay little attention to contrary evidence, nor do they understand that with young persons jail for the terms they recommend does not correct or rehabilitate, but rather often turns out a person whose behaviour is much worse than it was. Others espouse the vengeful adage “adult crime—adult time,” paying no attention to the fact that it is a youth crime and not an adult crime.

He continued:

Such an attitude is in direct conflict with modern approaches to treating criminal behaviour. Most of the adherents of these views refuse to accept that youth should be treated differently and separately from any adult system.

Nevertheless, they are entitled to the views and opinions they express. Unfortunately, in the present state of our youth criminal justice system, they are unable to make any contribution to reform even when some reform is not only reasonable but desirable.

He went on to say on page 230 of his report:

The witnesses and counsel for all parties in this inquiry have indicated full support for the aims and goals of the act while recognizing, at the same time, a need for a number of amendments to give flexibility to the courts in dealing with repeat offenders, primarily by opening a door to pre-trial custody and enlarging the gateways to custody.

He went on to say:

I cannot overestimate the importance of taking a balanced approach. Parts of the [Youth Criminal Justice Act] must be changed in order to create a workable and effective approach to handling repeat offenders in a manner based upon protection of the public as a primary concern, as well as providing a means to step in to halt unacceptable criminal behaviour in a timely manner. This is not an option. It is critical.

Here is the last quotation I will provide from him, from page 233 of his report:

[I] must make it absolutely clear and not open to question that all the witnesses I heard—police, prosecutors, defence counsel, and experts—agree with and support the aims and intent of the act. They accept it as a vast improvement over the previous legislation.

Thus I think it is important that as we examine this bill and examine what should be done to change the Youth Criminal Justice Act, we consider those thoughts and the need not just to change it but also to get it right. We need to be thoughtful about this. We need to provide a balanced approach and be smart on crime and on youth crime in this case.

I have serious concerns about this particular bill, which I hope will be addressed in committee, if in fact it gets to committee. These are sweeping changes to the act and some elements of the bill seem to favour punishment more than rehabilitation.

The government has done virtually nothing to ensure that youth do not get into the justice system in the first place, and that is a concern. What we have seen instead are cuts to anti-poverty programs and child care, and a lack of funding for aboriginal communities, as we would have had in the Kelowna accord, et cetera.

I also believe that youth must be treated differently from adults, and that is an important consideration. The Canadian justice system has recognized for decades that while their crimes may be similar, we need to treat youth differently from adults. The Conservative Party has never held that view.

It reminds me of the fact that children at age 14 have brains that are not fully developed; their brains are still developing and changing. I think anybody who has been a parent of a 13- or 14-year-old ought to be aware of it. Maybe some of us have forgotten that, but young people are terrific. My son is 13 and he is terrific, but there is no question that he is still growing and learning and that his thinking will change in the coming years. It is important to remember that when we think about how to deal with these situations.

In the past, the Conservatives and the Reformers before them have fought to reduce the barriers between youth and adult offenders. In fact, during the last election they said they wanted to put 14-year-olds into our prison system, institutions with hardened adult prisoners. Why would we put a 14-year-old in a prison, the same place as murderers, rapists and gang members, if our intention is not to make them better at crime and more hardened criminals?

There are weaknesses in this bill. Parts of it are poorly drafted. I suspect it may be the result of the fact this really comes from government ideology, as opposed to the bill being drafted by the department, because it usually produces very high quality legislation.

However, there are good provisions in it and I want to give credit where credit is due. For example, the bill would make it mandatory that no youth, regardless of their crime, would spend time in an adult institution. We need to see what the government will do to ensure that the provinces have the capacity to deal with this provision and be able to comply with it. I think we know the government recognizes that it could not get away with what it was suggesting in the last election, that is, putting young people in the same place as adult criminals. At any rate, I am pleased to see this has been modified and is an important provision in the bill.

Another example is the provision that allows courts in sentencing to lift a ban on publication of the accused or convicted person's name. I would hope this would happen rarely, not often, but I can personally see that this could be needed in exceptional cases and would be helpful in protecting the public. That is my own view.

Let me talk for a moment about some of the recommendations in particular that Justice Nunn made and how this bill responds to them. I think he made some 36 recommendations. Some of them related to the provincial justice system, the system for youth incarceration and so forth, and a certain number of them related to federal legislation. I am going to talk in particular about those that relate to the bill we are talking about today.

Recommendation 20 said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend the “Declaration of Principle” in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act.

The government has certainly made the protection of the public a major part of this act now, but it has also gone far beyond what Justice Nunn recommended. My feeling is that what the government has done in this bill is in fact a rejection of the recommendation I just read. Justice Nunn made it very clear that it was important to be balanced in how this was done and he wanted this to be just one of the principles, because the other principles were still important. The government has made it the overriding principle, and that is a concern.

In recommendation 21, he said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend the definition of “violent offence” in section 39(1)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to include conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person.

I am pleased to see that the government has done this in section 3(c) of this bill.

In recommendation 22, Justice Nunn said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend section 39(1)(c) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that the requirement for a demonstrated “pattern of findings of guilt” is changed to “a pattern of offences,” or similar wording, with the goal that both a young person’s prior findings of guilt and pending charges are to be considered when determining the appropriateness of pre-trial detention.

In this case, in clause 8 of the bill, the government has resorted to the phrase “either extrajudicial sanctions or of findings of guilt or of both”. Instead of looking at what the pattern of offences was, it has talked about them quite differently with the terms, “extrajudicial sanctions”. It will be interesting to have a discussion about what that would mean.

Does it mean that if a police officer stops a young person and reprimands them or drives them home for some reason, or whatever, that would be an extrajudicial sanction? It is not clear to me, and I am a little concerned that this particular provision might be subject to a charter challenge, because it may bring in things where there has not been due process. Obviously, we should be careful of that because we want to have laws that are actually going to work and not be overturned by courts. Most of us would prefer that we designed these laws and determined what they should be here in Parliament.

In recommendation 25, Justice Nunn said:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend section 31(6) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to remove the requirement of a new bail hearing for the young person before being placed in pre-trial custody if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking.”

This is a very important recommendation at the heart of what Justice Nunn was talking about. It is not clear to me that this is in the bill. I have looked for a provision like this and have not seen it, but I hope we will have some answers from the government on that question of why we do not see an amendment to that section of the act in the bill as presented.

To me, this is at the heart of the matter because in the McEvoy case, the mother of the accused had agreed to look after and be responsible for the accused young person, but then at some point before his trial said she could not handle it any more and could not take responsibility. She wanted to be relieved of her responsibility.

There was no provision for that young person to then be held to their undertaking and be taken into custody. This is one the key things that Justice Nunn wanted to see changed. I am concerned that we do not see it in the bill. I raised this issue with the minister just before speaking here, and I hope he will be looking into it. I think he will perhaps be looking into it and at whether or not we need an amendment to the bill. I hope we will see that coming forward.

Recommendation 23 from Justice Nunn reads:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend and simplify the statutory provisions relating to the pre-trial detention of young persons so that section 29 will stand on its own without interaction with other statutes or other provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I am pleased to see that clause 4 of the bill appears to do this, though I only received the bill yesterday and only had a good look through it last night. These things take time to digest and we would like to look further at this and have some good discussion among colleagues on it. However, I am encouraged to see that it appears to be going in the right direction.

Recommendation 24 states:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend section 31(5)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking” the young person’s undertaking made under section 31(3)(b) nevertheless remains in full force and effect, particularly any requirement to keep the peace and be of good behaviour and other conditions imposed by a youth court judge.

Again, this is one of the issues I raised with the minister and I am pleased he has agreed to look into it.

I am gravely concerned about the provisions on denunciation and deterrence that are in the bill, because they are contrary to all the evidence. The fact is that we know that a 15-year-old generally thinks he or she is invincible and is not going to get caught. So these provisions do not really work.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. I appreciated his starting off with a story about some of the good things young people are doing. I know in my own community of Nanaimo—Cowichan, a couple of weeks ago, some young people did some brilliant work on cyberbullying, where they presented some things that young people are faced with in cyberspace around bullying and they invited the audience to participate. These young people had a hand in writing the program and certainly in interacting with the audience. So, I think we need to really recognize that young people from coast to coast to coast are doing some good work.

I noted with interest that recently Statistics Canada has done a report in which it did some geocoding in a number of cities. One finding in common among the cities was that higher levels of crime occur in neighbourhoods with lower levels of income.

Of course we know that Justice Nunn's report talked about prevention. He covered a number of items in his recommendations around prevention, including increasing supports that promote the integrity of families, looking at a gap analysis of existing programs to ensure a targeted and strategic approach and looking at the education system. Although some of these do clearly fall within provincial jurisdiction, there is a role for the federal government to play in terms of targeting funding, perhaps investing in pilot projects that look at programs around youth prevention, so that we actually stop youth from getting involved in the criminal justice system down the road.

I wonder if the member could comment on the fact that over a number of crime bills introduced by the Conservative government, we simply see inadequate attention paid to prevention of crime, particularly with young people.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question because I think that has been a grave concern for those of us on this side of the House, that so much of the direction of the government is simply toward incarceration and there is not nearly enough consideration of how we deal with prevention, because prevention, as she says, is very key. That is why I was talking about the good young people we see. It is important to think about what it is that has made them that way, why it is they have turned out so well. I am talking about the importance of mentors and the kinds of activities they have been involved in. We have seen cases where kids are turned around because of being involved in certain kinds of worthwhile activities.

It is a well-known truth that one of the things that make kids feel best about themselves, and this applies to anybody, is being involved in worthwhile activities, volunteer activities and so forth. They start having a positive self-esteem. That is very important.

She talked about the Statistics Canada report and the fact that so often young people in these situations are from low-income areas. I have had a number of town hall-type meetings in my communities, with a group of people involved in some of these issues, speaking from the point of view of victims, police and a variety of people who are concerned about issues of youth crime, who deal with young offenders and so forth. In fact, I met with the chief of police last summer or the year before, who talked about the root of this, the fact that so often it is poverty that leads to crime. It is addressing those kinds of issues and addressing issues of racism in my community of Halifax that is important. In fact, in that regard, I am very pleased that recently the mayor of Halifax, my friend Peter Kelly, apologized to the former residents of Africville, in Halifax, who had been forcibly removed from their properties back in the 1960s. That was an important moment. It was an important part of healing that community.

Interestingly, that is one of the things the police chief wanted to see happen in my community. One might not expect that from the police chief, but to me it was very interesting and enlightening to see that kind of attitude from him.

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March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I just want to get a comment from the member.

Yesterday I watched the CBC news, as most of us probably did, and was quite intrigued by this young man, K'naan, who now has the number-one song all over the world. It has been chosen as the song for the FIFA world cup. He is a remarkable young man who has actually been to prison, who came to Canada from Somalia as a teenager. He was telling the story about how he grew up around Jane and Finch, in Toronto, where some of his friends have been killed, five through suicide, five through gun violence. He says he does not know the Canada a lot of people talk about because when he came here as a poor person, as a refugee, they did not have choices of where to go for housing. They had to be located in a project. He says he did not have a choice of what schools to go to, where schools are poor and there is a lot of crime and violence. So his picture of his youth growing up was that it was a very troubling one. It seems to me that when we talk about being tough on crime, we forget about the countless young people who are placed in situations of despair, poverty and violence, with nobody there to help them out.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, in his eloquent comment the member asked a question. It was largely a rhetorical question, but it was worthwhile thinking about and worthwhile responding to, it seems to me, because I saw that piece on the news last night.

It is surprising that I did, because I spent most of the evening reading the bill and thinking about what I might say today on this topic. It was inspiring to see that young person who had come from that kind of background.

It is worthwhile to think about and for all us to learn about the kind of Canada that these people are experiencing, that a person like that is experiencing, in a very poor area of Toronto. There are other communities like that, other parts of large cities across this country. There are rural communities where there is desperate poverty. It is important we address that, especially in aboriginal communities.

It is important that we understand the contribution that that all makes to this situation. It is important that we respond to it not just through legislation but with programs that can support people and build a better Canada.

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March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the Nunn commission had 36 recommendations, and I know the member is very familiar with the commission and its recommendations on this bill.

In his opinion, does this bill reflect the 36 recommendations accurately? Does it capture the spirit and the content of the recommendations? How many of the recommendations does my colleague think actually appear in the bill? Does the bill accurately reflect the recommendations it actually deals with?

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March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I did say there were 36 recommendations. In fact, I went through the recommendations and I read the ones that related to the federal legislation. I would suggest to my colleague that he might perhaps want to go over my speech in Hansard to see the details of that.

As I said, this bill does some of those things, but there are others it does not do. I am not a satisfied person. I am not convinced that, as it stands, it meets that balance my colleague talked about. I am concerned about it, and I would like to hear other thoughts on that matter.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, this morning the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who the House has great respect for in matters of the criminal justice system, had a concern with respect to the bill in that judges might have to use some moral approaches with respect to setting probation.

The member talked about the difference between the patterns of conviction, which are being changed as judges base their recommendations on findings of guilt, something very specific but something else that has different connotations. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh indicated that is sort of a moral dilemma that judges may have.

Would the member like to comment with respect to whether that is something the committee should look at, because it seems to me that judges should not have that kind of dilemma etched out for them. I am sure they are capable of dealing with moral dilemmas, but I am not sure that is what the bill implies.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, this may be one of the areas that, if the bill goes to committee, ought to be examined.

I mentioned my concerns about some of the poor drafting of the legislation, that it probably did not come from the department but rather from the Conservative Party. This is an element of that and I appreciate my hon. colleague raising it.

I hope that if the bill does get that far it will be examined more and, in the meantime, examined here in debate.

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March 19th, 2010 / 1:15 p.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to a very important bill. As we know, our government listens to Canadians, and in particular to the families of victims of crime. That is why we have introduced the bill known as Sébastien’s Law, in memory of Sébastien Lacasse who was tragically murdered by a gang of young people. By giving the law that name, we honour the work done by all victims and their families, and by all those who have worked very hard for many years so that this bill could finally see the light of day. I salute their initiative and their courage.

As the throne speech reminded us, our government is taking measures to tackle crime and protect Canadians. Our approach is a balanced one. It provides for prevention, rehabilitation and law enforcement. It is important that there be a concerted and integrated effort to improve the safety of our communities.

But we have to do more. We have to improve the way the justice system deals with violent and repeat young offenders. We have to give Canadians greater assurance that violent and repeat young offenders will be held accountable and will be given sentences proportionate to the seriousness of their crimes.

At present, the system does not allow violent and repeat young offenders to be held in detention while awaiting trial, even if they present a danger to society. This legislation would simplify the rules so that it will be possible to keep these offenders off our streets, where it is necessary, to protect society.

We want to improve certain provisions so there is no longer confusion and the rules of pre-trial detention are applied consistently and uniformly.

Similarly, a young person who is 14 years old or older may commit one of the most serious violent crimes, like a murder or a serious sexual assault. But far too often, the sentence imposed is much shorter than what Canadians expect for this type of crime. That is why we have introduced these measures. We have to protect the families of victims of crime.

Our bill requires that the Crown consider the possibility of seeking an adult sentence for young persons convicted of the most serious crimes: murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. The Crown would also be required to inform the court when it decided not to seek an adult sentence in those cases.

It is important to note that the provinces and territories will always have discretion to set the age at which this requirement will apply. In Quebec, the line is drawn at age 16 or over. That will not change, unless the provincial government decides otherwise. Quebec, like any other province, will continue to be able to administer the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it sees fit. Quebec does a very good job when it comes to youth criminal justice, and I am proud of it.

To be clear, in Quebec, it will not be possible for any young offender under the age of 16 to be given an adult sentence. Allow me to repeat that: in Quebec, it will not be possible for any young offender under the age of 16 to be given an adult sentence. As well, this legislation will also ensure that young offenders under the age of 18 will not serve their sentence in an adult prison, even if they are serving an adult sentence.

Young offenders under the age of 18 sentenced to detention will serve their sentence in a facility for young people only. As is the practice at the moment, the offender may be transferred to an adult facility at the age of 18 if he has not served his full sentence by that time. In other instances, often in the case of violent and repeat young offenders, the courts lack the tools they need to impose appropriate sentences.

With these measures, we want to give them the tools to continue to do their job. For example, a young offender may be a repeat offender and flout the law or display a total lack of empathy for his victims. These legislative measures would establish the principles for the imposition of sentences that would enable the courts to discourage this individual from committing a new crime, when the circumstances indicate that this is necessary.

We want to make sure that a repeat offender will understand that his actions will not be tolerated in our society and that we will not accept this sort of behaviour. We want these offenders to serve their sentence and be rehabilitated to go on to become law abiding citizens.

In other serious cases, such as violent gang attacks, repeated car theft and home invasions, a young offender may have a growing criminal history. In order to protect our families and our communities, a sentence of detention may be required. However, under the current rules, it is not possible to identify past criminal behaviour if the young offender's criminal activity was handled outside the official judicial system. This bill would give the courts the tools they need to identify increased criminal behaviour and to use this behaviour to ask for a sentence of detention, as required.

At the moment, a young offender can lead the police in a high speed chase at 130 kilometres an hour in a neighbourhood where there are children playing, thus putting people's lives and safety at risk. However, if no one is really hurt, the courts cannot impose an appropriate sentence for an attitude that is so careless, reckless and extreme.

This bill would permit detention in such cases, as needed. In other cases, a youth found guilty of a violent crime may be released anonymously. For example, parents may be totally unaware that a dangerous sex offender is living near them or in a nearby neighbourhood. This bill would have the courts consider releasing the name of the violent young offender in certain circumstances, if it is necessary to protect society.

Another proposed change aims to make protecting society a prime objective of the legislation. At the moment, the aim of protecting society is not prominent enough in the act, as was noted by Justice D. Merlin Nunn of Nova Scotia. He concluded that public safety had to be made more prominent as one of the objectives or prime principles of the legislation in order to improve the way the system handles violent and repeat young offenders.

Giving this objective greater prominence among the principles of the legislation will give the courts the tools they need to ensure public protection is taken into account in sentencing young offenders who have committed violent or repeat offences.

In closing, the amendments will require police to keep records of any extrajudicial measure that we used in order to make it easier to detect reoffending patterns.

These measures could usually include warnings or referrals to other agencies when an adolescent is charged. A record of these informal measures will keep police and the courts better informed regarding previous incidents. They will thus be able to take the appropriate measures if they have to deal with subsequent offences.

By helping to keep the youngest offenders responsible for their actions and by increasing public protection, the proposed amendments will strengthen the Canadian youth criminal justice system and meet the concerns of Canadians in this regard.

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, we know that there is a high incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal alcohol effects among youth and adults in jails. What is the government's position on working with the provinces to reduce the incidence of FAS/FAE, which is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in children?

If the government really wanted to reduce youth crime, the most effective way to do that would be to implement a national head start program for kids. We need to improve children's access to proper nutrition very early on in their lives. We need to educate parents on proper parenting. We need to encourage literacy. We need to ensure that children are not subjected to violence and sexual abuse. Those things would lead to better brain development in children.

I ask the parliamentary secretary, what is his government going to do in those areas?

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

March 19th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague. It is quite obvious that, as a doctor, the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome is very important to him.

We agree that it is an important matter. Fetal alcohol syndrome must be battled on several fronts. In some provinces, labels on bottles of alcoholic beverages contain a warning about the risks of drinking during pregnancy. That is one approach to the prevention of fetal alcohol syndrome.

As for youth, I believe my colleague read the bill we introduced. We are primarily targeting violent or repeat youth offenders. The bill mainly applies to this group, but in truly extraordinary cases, also to youth who commit the irreparable—murder, attempted murder, sexual assault and other such crimes.