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

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

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


Rob Nicholson  Conservative


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


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

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


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

Strengthening Canadian Citizenship ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2014 / 11:25 p.m.
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Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise a second time to speak to this bill, and I will start by saying that this bill is yet another example of the Conservative ideology. There is no need to worry. I can back up what I am saying.

The Conservative ideology is not just the party line or the party's policies. It is also about how they act and how they view society. Since the Conservatives took power—since they got a majority—the House has passed a number of measures, and we have seen a moratorium on sponsorship for parents and grandparents and a decrease in the number of family reunifications, which appears to be a concept that the Conservatives have essentially scrapped, not to mention the punishment of vulnerable refugees.

I remember that one of the very first speeches I made in the House after I was elected was on Bill C-4, which would have enabled government officials to imprison children. The Conservative ideology is not just the party line. This bill would also put children in jail. The Conservative ideology can once again be found in this bill.

The bill does not deal at all with the issue of backlogs. Come to think of it, how did the Conservatives handle that problem? As my colleague explained, they told the 280,000 people who had been waiting to get their Canadian citizenship that they should pack up their bags and go away, then come back some other time and take their place in line.

That is how the Conservatives decided to deal with the backlog. We obviously should not expect the bill to address the problem then, since they already took care of it.

A number of people from my riding have been in my office, feeling desperate because they have been waiting for months, or even years, for their children or parents to be allowed into Canada. Some have been waiting for over two years, which, let me tell you, is very distressing for Canadians. The backlog issue is really not a priority for the Conservatives, let me assure you.

The bill would give the minister the authority to grant or revoke citizenship. A number of my colleagues have already spoken to that. In fact, the bill would create a two-tiered citizenship, something the Conservative government does not find troublesome at all.

The Conservatives spend their time driving a wedge between urban and rural Canadians or between regular and seasonal workers. We all know their style of governance. Nothing that I say will come as a surprise. Everything they do revolves around dividing people and keeping them in the dark to better govern. That is the Conservative ideology. Every time they introduce a new policy in the House they attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of Canadians.

This bill creates two classes of citizens, those who are Canadian citizens and those who are dual citizens or who may have been born abroad.

We are creating a double standard where two people guilty of the same offence may get very different sentences. One of those people could wind up in jail while the other, found guilty of having committed the same offence, would lose their Canadian citizenship and maybe even be deported. One never knows with the Conservatives.

We already have the means to punish criminals who have broken the law, means that are beyond the control of the government and the executive branch. There is no need to give the minister the power to personally decide who is guilty and who is not.

What is even more ridiculous is that they do not even abide by the courts' criteria, such as proving an accused's guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the burden of proof, or “reasonable and probable grounds to believe”. The minister gives himself the right to revoke a person's citizenship on the basis of mere suspicion, without allowing an independent court to review his decision. I must say, out of respect for people who are fighting against a dictatorship in their country, that the Conservatives' intentions are obvious. They want to give themselves all the powers and decide the fate of Canadians.

In his speech, the minister said that the Canadian citizenship was held in high regard before 1977. He even talked about World War II. He wants to bring us back to before 1977, and perhaps even to just after World War II. I knew this was a backward-thinking government, but it is beyond comprehension. They want to take us back to 1950. Now, this is another illustration of the Conservative ideology.

Things have changed since the end of World War II. This is 2014 and the government wants to take us back to before 1977, as the minister said in his speech. Revoking the Canadian citizenship is a huge step backwards on many fronts. I will talk about the constitutionality of this kind of measure, and of this kind of power, which a minister can definitely not give himself. Indeed, according to the Supreme Court of Canada, this is unconstitutional. I am aware of the Conservatives' contempt for our democratic institutions. We know how they have been treating Parliament since they got a majority. They imposed time allocation 70 times. Therefore, they may criticize our motion today, but nobody believes what they are saying.

The Supreme Court was clear about the fact that stripping a person of citizenship is unconstitutional. I would like to read an excerpt from a Supreme Court decision:

The social compact requires the citizen to obey the laws created by the democratic process. But it does not follow that failure to do so nullifies the citizen’s continued membership in the self-governing polity. Indeed, the remedy of imprisonment for a term rather than permanent exile implies our acceptance of continued membership in the social order.

Professor Macklin explained:

In other words, the Supreme Court of Canada stated quite clearly that punishing somebody by depriving them of their constitutional rights, indeed, by denying them all constitutional rights and casting them out in the name of the social contract, is not constitutional.

I clearly recall the first time I spoke in the House about this bill. The minister told me that citizenship existed long before the Supreme Court and that the court did not, in any case, have the right to contradict him. Just as an aside, I understand how disdainful the Conservatives are toward our democracy and the nation's highest institution, but it has been stated quite clearly that revoking someone's citizenship is unconstitutional.

Once again, the Conservatives are going to talk to us about the beauty of Canadian citizenship and our Canadian society, but unfortunately, they will then continue to express contempt for the highest institutions that make this country a democracy and a haven for newcomers. If the Conservatives love their society so much and are so attached to Canadian citizenship, why are they not even able to respect the human rights of Canadians and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

March 6th, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.
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Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts.

Mr. Speaker, I never get tired of talking about this subject. As hon. members know, the safe streets and communities act reintroduced nine bills that died on the order paper with the dissolution of the last Parliament. The government promised to enact these reforms within 100 days and we are delivering.

Before I turn my remarks to some of the key elements of the safe streets and communities act, I will highlight why our government has pursued these reforms and why and how this is important. It would be an understatement to say that our lives have changed substantially since the Criminal Code was first enacted in 1892. Much like other parliamentary democracies around the world, Canadian society and its values have and are continuously evolving and our justice system needs to evolve as well.

As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, it is my responsibility to maintain the integrity of the justice system. We need legislation that is responsive to what is happening on our streets and meets the expectations of Canadians in the 21st century. The proliferation of drugs and violent crime is, unfortunately, a reality in this day and age and it is our job as parliamentarians to deal with criminals, to protect society and do whatever we can to deter crime.

The truth of the matter is that no parent wants their child to be the victim of a crime. We need only ask Lynne Lacasse whose 19-year-old son was senselessly murdered at a house party in 2004. Her son matters. She appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in their studies of the safe streets and communities act. Her message was clear and it was not about vengeance. It was that the justice system needed to respond effectively and to learn from experience like that of her family so that, hopefully, other families do not suffer in the same way.

No parent wants their child to fall prey to a pedophile. In fact, parents list abduction and sexual exploitation as two of the three concerns they face with Canadian children. Any story on child pornography, whether it is about the pedophile who perpetrated the act or the one who watched it online, outrages each and every one of us. When involving a child, the consensus seems to be that sentences must be serious and lengthy.

Canadians are also concerned about the illicit drug trade. No Canadian wants to live next door to a grow op.

In British Columbia, Surrey Fire Service conducted a study and found that a home with a grow op was 24 times more likely to catch fire than a home without one. Even more troubling is that these fires are not always reported because no one actually lives in those dwellings, but there are families living right next door or across the street.

There are countless stories of Canadians who have been victimized and they are the first to lose confidence in our justice system. Many do not like to think these things happen in Canada until it happens to them or their loved ones. If we were to ask parents, I am sure they would say that the last thing they want is for their child to get involved in a life of crime or to become addicted to drugs. However, the sad reality is that it sometimes happens.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, illicit drug use costs Canadian society an estimated $8.2 billion a year. Canadian statistics show that offences involving certain types of illicit drugs, such as crystal meth, ecstasy, LSD, barbiturates and date rape drugs, rose by 168% between 1997 and 2007. As a parent, the fact that these are readily available is simply unacceptable. It is our job as parliamentarians to ensure we give the tools to law enforcement officials to prevent this and other crimes from happening.

My own Department of Justice conducted a comprehensive analysis of the cost of crime in 2008. The analysis included costs to the criminal justice system, for example police, court and prosecution costs; costs to the victims, including health costs, losses to property and losses to productivity; costs to third parties; and intangible costs such as pain, suffering and loss of life. It was estimated that those costs amount to approximately $100 billion. That is astounding and unacceptable.

Since 2007, I travelled from coast to coast listening to victims, community leaders, the police and my provincial counterparts. I have heard from them how best we can improve the Criminal Code. Victims tell me they want to ensure that nobody has to suffer the same sense of loss and frustration as they have.

Police impart upon me the necessity for more robust legislative tools so they can better protect Canadians. The provinces provide important regional perspective into crime and justice issues. For that, I have been very grateful. They often come forward with recommendations and requests for changes in the Criminal Code. Likewise, Canada's police forces across the country provide helpful insight and advice on our criminal justice system. They are, of course, the front-line experts when it comes to fighting crime. This input is crucial. We have responded.

Despite what some of our opponents say, we believe in a balanced and comprehensive approach to justice. Our government wants to prevent further victimization and make sure that Canada's most serious, violent criminals are kept off our streets. Our experience shows that toughening sentences does not create new criminals. It keeps the existing ones in prison for a more appropriate period of time. We want to make sure there is not a revolving door of justice.

Parliament has seen and debated all the measures included in the safe streets and communities act. This comprehensive legislation brings together nine bills: four previously introduced by me, four previously introduced by the Minister of Public Safety and one previously introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Over the past four years, the justice committee has spent 67 days reviewing these measures. That is 139 hours of discussion, 95 hours of debate, 261 speeches and 361 witness appearances.

It should be apparent by now why we have immersed these reforms into the safe streets and communities act. The act targets organized crime by imposing tough sentences for the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, and it responds to concerns about violent young offenders. It ends house arrest for serious crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and human trafficking, and it eliminates pardons for serious crimes such as sexual offences against children. It enacts legislation for victims of terrorism. It also prevents the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable immigrants. It enacts mandatory penalties for serious drug offences and all child sexual offences, all of them.

Much has been written about our government's introduction and passage of mandatory penalties for certain crimes. There are some myths surrounding this issue. Mandatory sentences have a long history in Canada. We are not the first government to introduce them. Indeed, over the years, both Liberal and Conservative governments have imposed mandatory minimum sentences. Today, the Criminal Code contains over 40 offences which carry a minimum sentence.

Criminal organizations that rely on the drug trade do not respect current penalties. They simply see them as a cost of doing business. The safe streets and communities act contains tougher penalties which specifically target the source of the illicit drug trade, the drug traffickers. The bill does not target substance abuse victims or experimenting teenagers. There are, contrary to some reports, no changes to the laws with respect to simple possession.

The kinds of offenders that we are targeting are those involved in exploiting the addictions of others. The fact is that police and prosecutors, those who work hard to keep our country safe, have been calling for these sentences for some time. They know all too well the reality on our streets with respect to drug dealers who infiltrate communities and cause irreparable harm, especially to our youth.

The amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would impose mandatory penalties for the offences of production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, possessing for the purpose of exporting Schedule I drugs, such as heroine, cocaine and methamphetamine, and Schedule II drugs, such as marijuana.

Mandatory penalties would apply where there is an aggravating factor. This includes where the production of a drug constitutes a potential security, health or safety concern, or the offence has been committed in or near a school.

The bill includes a specific exemption to allow for the use of drug treatment courts so that those who are unfortunately addicted can get the help they need. Drug treatment courts are for adult offenders who have committed non-violent crimes that are linked to their addictions. Our national anti-drug strategy provides $3.6 million per year to six drug treatment courts across Canada. By helping offenders overcome their addictions and improve their social stability, we will help reduce crime rates in this country. It is worth clarifying that even where there is no drug treatment court, the court sentencing the offender for a drug offence can still refer the offender for treatment if an appropriate treatment program is available and approved by the attorney general of the province.

The amendments for child sexual offences in the safe streets and communities and act have two objectives. First, they aim to consistently and adequately condemn all forms of child sexual abuse through the imposition of new and higher mandatory penalties for all sexual offences where the victim is a child. Second, they aim to prevent the commission of a sexual offence against a child through the creation of two new offences that target a certain type of conduct, as well as directing the courts to impose conditions that would prevent a suspected and convicted child sex offender from engaging in conduct that would enable or facilitate their sexual offending against a child. The current approach to penalties for child sexual abuse must end. The reforms in the safe streets and communities act would do just that.

The bill deals also with conditional sentences, usually referred to as house arrest. Our legislation would ensure that serious crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and human trafficking would not result in house arrest. Conditional sentences would continue to be unavailable for any offence with a mandatory minimum penalty. In addition, a conditional sentence would never be available for offences with a maximum of 14 years or life imprisonment; or for offences with a maximum penalty of 10 years that result in bodily harm or involve the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs or involve the use of a weapon; nor for a range of other offences including kidnapping, theft over $5,000 or motor vehicle theft. Our act would ensure that serious offences, including serious property offences like arson, would also not result in house arrest. This would ensure that jail sentences for such offences are served in jail.

Part 4 of the safe streets and communities act proposes amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. These reforms would improve the ability to deal with violent and repeat young offenders, for example by highlighting the protection of the public, making it easier to detain young people charged with serious offences pending trial, ensuring that prosecutors consider seeking adult sentences for the most serious offences, prohibiting youth under 18 from serving sentences in an adult facility and requiring police to keep records of extra-judicial measures. The act continues to be a good framework to address young offenders. There is a shared view that young people should have the opportunity to be rehabilitated and have a second chance. However, there is also the concern that some youth, a small number who are out of control, are not being effectively dealt with under the current legislation. The safe streets and communities act reforms build on and preserve the solid framework of the act.

The amendments would not change the Youth Criminal Justice Act's current approach to making the principles of rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons who have committed offences the basis of our youth justice system. These reforms are not about detaining more or fewer youth. They are about facilitating appropriate and effective decision making at the pre-trial stage. This includes managing youth in the community where this is possible and ensuring that youth who should be detained can be detained. These reforms were previously proposed in the former Bill C-4 or Sébastien's law.

At the January 12 meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice, we had a good discussion of the safe streets and communities act and the need for us to continue to work together toward its implementation.

Many of these reforms have been the subject of discussions over the years. Many are well supported by provincial and territorial ministers. The proposed reforms in the safe streets and communities act would come into force in the same manner as originally proposed. There is a coming into force clause for each part of the bill. The only parts of the safe streets and communities act that would come into effect on royal assent are the amendments relating to the Criminal Records Act and acts of terrorism. The other reforms, those to the Criminal Code, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, would come into force on a day or days to be fixed by the order of the Governor in Council.

The Minister of Public Safety and I noted that we would seek the views of our provincial and territorial counterparts about the timely and effective implementation of these reforms. Clearly, as many of these amendments have been proposed for years, there is good reason to proceed expeditiously.

With the safe streets and communities act, our government would be once again sending out a message to criminals that they will be accountable for their actions and that crime will not be tolerated in this country. Our goal is to restore a sense of balance so that Canadians can continue to be confident in our justice system. The enactment of the safe streets and communities act would be another positive step for the people of this country.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

December 2nd, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Carleton—Mississippi Mills Ontario


Gordon O'Connor ConservativeMinister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be in the House today to talk about the important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are included in the safe streets and communities act.

Through this package of amendments, this government is taking action to strengthen the ways in which the youth justice system would deal with serious repeat and violent young offenders. The package of Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments responds to issues raised during cross-country consultations led by the Minister of Justice, to key decisions of the courts, to recommendations put forward by the Nunn commission, to concerns raised by the provinces and territories, and to positions put forward by witnesses who appeared before the justice committee during its study of the proposed amendments.

The reforms reflect the widely held view that while the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about a small number of youth who commit serious repeat or violent offences, including those youth who appear to be spiraling out of control toward more dangerous and harmful behaviour.

The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would amend the act's general principles to highlight protection of the public; clarify and simplify the provisions relating to pre-trial detention; revise the sentencing provisions to include specific deterrents and denunciation of sentencing principles; broaden a range of cases for which custody would be available and require the Crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth who commit serious violent offences; require judges to consider allowing publication in appropriate cases where young persons are found guilty of violent offences; require police to keep records of any extrajudicial measures they use in response to alleged offences by young persons; define violent offences and offence in the commission of which a young person causes, attempts to cause, or threatens to cause bodily harm, and includes conduct that endangers life or safety; respond to the Supreme Court of Canada 2008 decision of R. v. D.B. by removing the presumptive offence and other inoperative provisions from the YCJA and by clarifying the test and onus requirements related to adult sentences; and require that no youth under 18 sentenced to custody would serve their sentences in an adult prison or penitentiary.

In recent weeks, we have often heard it suggested that with the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act proposed in Bill C-10, the government is moving the youth criminal justice system toward a more adult punitive system that would not sufficiently allow for the rehabilitation and reintegration of youth. However, this is simply not the case.

In fact, when the proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are viewed in the proper context, it is abundantly clear that the youth criminal justice system would remain separate and distinct from the adult system, would be based on the presumption of a diminished moral blameworthiness of youth, and would emphasize the rehabilitation of youth and their reintegration back into society.

As I have already stated, the comprehensive review and consultation process undertaken by this government found that while most provinces, territories and stakeholders believe that the current youth justice legislation works well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about the way the system responds to the small number of youth who commit serious violent offences or are serious repeat offenders who may need a more focused approach to ensure that the public is protected.

For the most part, the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in Bill C-10 would target this relatively small group of offenders by providing the courts with more tools to deal with them while leaving most of the current act as is.

Let me focus on a few of the proposed changes that some have used as the basis of their criticism that Bill C-10 would dramatically change the existing approach to youth justice.

First, during the justice committee hearings on the former Bill C-4 and on Bill C-10, some witnesses expressed the view that highlighting protection of the public in the declaration of principle found in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act would move us toward a more punitive youth justice system and away from a system that emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration.

However, the proposed amendment actually states that the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by holding young persons accountable through proportionate measures, by promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons, by supporting the prevention of crime, and by referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community to address the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour.

Clearly, the amendment recognizes that rather than being mutually exclusive objectives, rehabilitation and reintegration are key to the protection of society.

Further, Bill C-10 would add to the Youth Criminal Justice Act declaration of principles a fundamental principle of justice articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 2008 case of R. v. D.B.; namely, that the youth criminal justice system must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or culpability.

It is important to recognize that this statement of fundamental principle would apply throughout the act. I am pleased to acknowledge that this proposed amendment received widespread support among witnesses who appeared before the justice committee on the legislation.

It is also important to point out that most of the principles set out in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act would not be altered by Bill C-10. Section 3, which again applies throughout the act, would continue to emphasize the importance of rehabilitation and reintegration; fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons and their reduced level of maturity; enhanced procedural protection for youth; the importance of timely intervention; repair of harm done to victims; the involvement of parents, families and communities; respect for gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences; and the needs of aboriginal young persons and young persons with special needs.

Therefore, the proposed changes to the declaration of principles reflect a balanced approach that, together with the preservation of the existing principles, will guide those within the youth criminal justice system to respond to youth offending in a fair and effective manner.

Bill C-10 also proposes amendments to the principles of sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act by adding specific deterrence and denunciation as possible objectives for a judge to consider in sentencing young offenders. Under the current law, the courts have said that deterrence and denunciation are not included as objectives in youth sentencing. Bill C-10 proposes adding specific deterrence and denunciation as possible objectives of a youth sentence, but makes it clear that a youth sentence may, not must, have these objectives.

In addition, the proposed amendment also makes it clear that a sentence must still be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence. That means, for example, that judges would not be able to give a young offender an extra long sentence just to send a message that the unlawful behaviour was wrong.

Moreover, it is important to recognize, in proposing this addition to the principles of sentencing, the government is not amending the other sentencing principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The existing purpose and principles of sentencing, which clearly emphasize the importance of both proportionality and rehabilitation, remain intact.

In my view, the proposed amendment, taken together with the existing purpose and principles of the sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, represents a balanced approach that would give the courts more tools to respond to youth crime in an appropriate and effective way.

Another amendment that has been subject of criticism is the provision that would allow for the publication of names of young offenders who have been found guilty of a violent offence and given a youth sentence.

Let us be clear. Currently, the act allows for a judge to lift a publication ban. This is not new.

Bill C-10 would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to require a judge to consider lifting the publication ban if he or she is satisfied that the young person poses a significant risk of committing another violent offence and the lifting of the ban is necessary to protect the public against that risk. This threshold is not insignificant, and in determining whether to order the lifting of the publication ban, the court is required to consider the principles set out in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as the purpose and principles of sentencing to which I referred a moment ago. Furthermore, the onus of satisfying the court as to the appropriateness of lifting the publication ban lies with the Crown.

Therefore, once again we see that the proposed changes, together with the application of existing principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, reflect a balanced approach toward responding to youth crime.

Finally, in examining the allegations that Bill C-10 would move our youth system toward a more adult system, I think it is important to remind the House that this bill would change the Youth Criminal Justice Act to make it clear that no young persons under the age of 18 will serve their sentences in an adult prison or penitentiary, regardless of whether they are given an adult or youth sentence.

Youth justice is in the area of law that generates a great deal of debate from a wide variety of perspectives. While I certainly respect everyone's right to his or her opinion, I urge all interested parties to examine the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act being proposed in Bill C-10 in a full and proper context.

These changes represent a balanced and focused response to concerns identified through a significant consultation process. The amendments would provide additional tools to respond more effectively to a relatively small number of young offenders who commit serious, repeat or violent offences, while protecting the elements of the Youth Criminal Justice Act that have been working well.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2011 / 3:10 p.m.
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Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to conclude my remarks because this is a very important bill for Canadians, who have expressed their desire to have us pass this into law as soon as possible.

I want to address something that I heard recently with relation to complaints from some quarters, in fact the opposition primarily, that there has not been sufficient time to study Bill C-10 in its entirety. If we look at the history and examination of the charges as they relate to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, we will see how very wrong that is. As I briefly outlined a minute ago, the proposed reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are contained in part 4 of Bill C-10, being made after consultations with a broad range of stakeholders and members of the public, are in response to key court decisions, such as the Nunn commission of inquiry, an extensive parliamentary study, and indeed, input from provincial and territorial partners.

First, most of us will know that the former Bill C-4 was extensively studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights prior to the dissolution of the previous Parliament. The committee actually held 16 meetings on that bill and heard from over 60 witnesses. I do not know how anyone in this place or elsewhere can say it was not properly consulted.

Second, prior to introducing former Bill C-4 in March 2010, the Minister of Justice undertook a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In February 2008, the Minister of Justice launched that review with a meeting he held with provincial and territorial attorneys general who, I would suggest, know much more than the opposition does in relation to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They discussed the scope of the review to encourage provincial and territorial ministers to identify the issues that they had, that they had heard from their Crown prosecutors and others relating to the youth justice system, and that they considered the most important. That is very important.

Finally, in May 2008, the Minister of Justice, as I said previously, undertook a series of cross-country round tables usually co-chaired by provincial and territorial ministers in order to hear from youth justice professionals, front line youth justice stakeholders and others around this country about areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

To say it was not properly consulted and that we did not spend enough time is simply ludicrous. We have heard from Canadians and they have clearly outlined what they wanted us to do. We have consulted with stakeholders, including the provinces, members of the government and the public and, most importantly, victims. We are listening to victims.

The Nunn commission itself convened on June 29, 2005 and heard from 47 witnesses, with over 31 days of testimony. We are listening to Canadians, reflecting the society that they want, and moving forward on keeping all Canadians safe.

Motions in AmendmentSafe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2011 / 1:50 p.m.
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Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the advance warning of my cutoff.

I have had an opportunity to practise criminal law in Canada for some period of time under the Criminal Code. In fact, I practised law for over 10 years in northern Alberta in a very busy criminal practice. Therefore, I speak to this matter first-hand. I want to let the previous member know that I saw the rotating door of the criminal justice system in Canada, especially in relation to youth offences, and I take exception to his statements relating to more crime. We heard some witnesses say that, but it is utterly ridiculous that if we send people to jail for more time there will be more crime. I do not think any normal Canadian would accept the premise of that member's comments.

However, I am very pleased today to talk about the important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are included in the safe streets and communities act. I think the title of this particular bill, the safe streets and communities act, is actually the purpose of the bill and exactly what the bill will accomplish once it becomes law. I am very proud to be part of that.

The proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are found in part 4 of Bill C-10, with a few exceptions. The proposals that are in the bill very much mirror the changes that were proposed in the former Bill C-4, Sebastian's law, which, of course, members are familiar with. This was introduced in the House of Commons on March 16, 2010. It was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when Parliament was dissolved just prior to the May 2011 election.

The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act reflect the concerns that I have heard clearly in committee and that I have heard for years from Canadians who have expressed concern about violent young offenders. When we think of our youth, we do not usually think of violence, but there is a certain minority of the population under the age of 18, youth, as our courts see them, who have no concern for society as a whole and who do commit very violent offences without thinking about the ramifications.

It also deals with youth who may be committing non-violent offences that, frankly, are spiralling out of control. I saw this time and time again. When we would look at a docket in Fort McMurray on a Wednesday, we would see the same names, not just for one week or two weeks but it would be a constant situation of young people who would be before the court on a continuous basis over the same issues. I do not think that is acceptable and I do not think Canadians find that acceptable because we continue to hear from them on that.

The package of Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments also respond to some other issues, particularly those issues that other Canadians and provincial Attorneys General raised with the Minister of Justice in his cross-country consultations.

I want to take a moment to compliment the minister for going door to door throughout the country, city to city, and talking to Canadians first-hand to find out exactly what they were interested in so that we, as a government, could do exactly what we are supposed to do, which is to reflect the priorities of Canadians. This bill would do exactly that.

These amendments also take into account and are responsive to key decisions of the courts, and these are courts right across Canada, provincial courts, territorial courts, superior courts of the provinces, and the Supreme Court of Canada, because, of course, the courts would reflect that, too, but it is ultimately our job as legislators to do that.

These positions also reflect what witnesses have told us. Victims groups and victims came forward and applauded this government on the bill and on specific things that we would bring about in this bill.

The reforms reflect the widely held view that, while the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about the small number of youth who commit crime. It is a small number but it does not mean it is any less serious, in fact, it is even more serious because if we have an opportunity to deter these people early on in life they can then go back into society as a whole and become good citizens and contribute to society. However, these are people who, as I mentioned before, are repeat offenders and commit serious violent offences.

The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would do several things. First, they would amend the act's general principles to highlight protection of the public. That is very important because the judges, when they look at the act themselves, they can see that one of the primary concerns, which would seem fairly trite, would be to protect the public.

Second, the amendments would clarify and simplify the provisions relating to pre-trial detention, which is very important as well but has become quite cumbersome and complicated in the past years.

The third is to revise the sentencing provisions to include specific denunciation and deterrence factors as sentencing principles. Sentencing principles means that the judge takes that into consideration in the totality of the evidence put before him or her. This would broaden the range of cases for which custody will be available as well. Again, we heard clearly from Canadians that that is what they want.

Fourth is to require judges to consider allowing publication in appropriate cases where young persons are found guilty of violent offences. If we were to read the specific statute regarding this, we would see that it is very difficult for a judge to make that decision, but it is available to the judge if he or she feels it is in the public policy to do so, with some other criteria set out in the act itself.

Fifth is to require police officers to keep records of any extrajudicial measures they use in response to alleged offences by young persons.

Sixth is to define “violent offence” as an offence in the commission of a crime in which a young person causes, attempts to cause or threatens to cause bodily harm and includes conduct that endangers life or safety. It is hard to believe that these particular factors as set out in the Criminal Code were not there before, but this adds that criteria to the sentencing provisions of the judge and the considerations for him or her.

Seventh is to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's 2008 decision R. v. D.B. by removing the presumptive offence and other inoperative provisions from the Youth Criminal Justice Act and by clarifying the test and onus requirements related to adult sentences.

Finally, eighth is to require that no youth under 18 sentenced to custody will serve his or her sentence in an adult prison or penitentiary. That is very important.

Motions in AmendmentSafe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

November 29th, 2011 / 12:50 p.m.
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Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today in the debate on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. I am going to limit my remarks to the changes this bill makes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. These changes were previously incorporated in Bill C-4, or what was known as Sebastian's law. Those proposals are now in part 4 of Bill C-10, clauses 167 to 204.

The former bill, Bill C-4, was first introduced on March 16, 2010, and was being reviewed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when the opposition caused Parliament to dissolve on March 26, 2011. Sixteen meetings had been held to study Bill C-4 and over 60 witnesses had already appeared before the committee.

The problems with our current youth criminal justice system were recently highlighted by the results of four months of observation by the Toronto Star of a typical Canadian youth court. I will briefly quote the conclusions reached, which state:

Changes to youth sentencing law in 2003 were supposed to fix an overreliance on custody. Instead, serious offenders are thumbing their noses at the courts because they know they will be treated lightly. Victims feel their voices are not heard. Kids who violently break the law, many from broken homes, are reoffending.

Our government invests significantly in crime prevention and rehabilitative measures and in restorative justice, but a balanced approach to criminal justice requires that we also pay due regard to protecting the public and victims of crime against violent youth offenders and repeat youth offenders. This is what Bill C-10 targets.

A number of amendments to the youth justice provisions of Bill C-10 were tabled by both NDP and Liberal members of the standing committee during clause-by-clause consideration and I will comment on some of the more significant of those.

One proposed amendment relates to protection of the public, specifically calling for the reinsertion of “long-term” ahead of the phrase “protection of the public” in the overarching principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In highlighting protection of the public in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the government has responded directly to recommendation 20 of the Nunn commission report.

The Nunn commission was a Nova Scotia public inquiry, which examined the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Theresa McEvoy, who was struck and killed by a youth driving a stolen vehicle. Justice Nunn concluded that highlighting public safety as one of the primary goals of the act was necessary to deal with this small group of repeat offenders that was spinning out of control.

We agree with the conclusion drawn by Justice Nunn that the current provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act are not sufficient to deal with this small group of dangerous and repeat offenders. It is simply wrong to suggest that by removing the adjective “long-term” from ahead of the phrase “protection of the public”, we are forbidding consideration of long-term factors. No, by removing a restrictive adjective, we are merely restoring the phrase “protection of the public” to its true meaning. In doing so, we are allowing judges to consider all factors relating to public protection, including short-term and long-term considerations.

It is also very important to note that, just as it was before Bill C-10, protection of the public will continue to be simply one principle of the act, alongside and equal to other principles, such as emphasis on rehabilitation in section 3(1)(b), fair and proportionate accountability in section 3(1)(c) and special consideration for young persons in section 3(1)(d) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Another motion to amend called for the removal of specific deterrents and denunciation from the sentencing principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. That is proposed by clause 172 of Bill C-10.

By allowing judges to consider specific deterrents and denunciation in sentencing, and I say only allowing, not requiring, we increase confidence in the youth justice system. We simply give judges the right to choose the tools they feel necessary to deal with the needs of the differing young persons who come before them.

In proposing this amendment, the government is not abandoning the current sentencing principles in the legislation. It is instead giving judges an additional tool to help deal with that small group of repeat and violent offenders where it is reasonable to consider specific deterrents, or even denunciation, for the benefit of the young person and in order to maintain the public's confidence in the administration of justice. Even this provision would be limited in its effect because the application of these provisions, specific deterrents and denunciation, would be subject to the principle that the sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of the responsibility of the offender.

Another of our proposals that was discussed quite extensively at the justice committee was the test for publication in clause 185 of Bill C-10. The opposition proposed to amend this clause to basically make this test optional rather than mandatory.

The wider circumstances under which publication bans may be lifted, proposed by clause 185, fulfills our government's commitment to Canadians to ensure that young offenders will be named when the circumstances of their offence requires it. In our view, it would be inappropriate for this provision to be optional when the very purpose of the amendment is to protect the public, and that is not optional. The government is not calling for unlimited publication, but merely equipping judges with an additional tool for circumstances that require it.

In fact, it should be noted that this provision would only make it mandatory for judges to consider, to think about, publication. They are not be required to order publication in any particular case.

The threshold for this is also significant. The judge is required to consider the purpose and principles set out in sections 3 and 38 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the judge must decide that the young person poses a significant risk of committing not just any offence but a violent offence and that the lifting of the ban is necessary to protect the public against that risk. If there is no significant risk of violence or if any other solution makes publication unnecessary, then publication remains banned. Furthermore, the onus of convincing the court of these matters remains on the prosecutor.

Our government recognizes the importance of our youth criminal justice system and as such we propose changes in Bill C-10 to address the many concerns that Canadians have expressed about the shortcomings of the current system.

Our government responded to calls for change from several provinces asking for modifications to the former Bill C-4. Manitoba, Alberta and Nova Scotia officials appeared before the commons committee in June 2010 and subsequently provided suggested amendments in relation to pretrial detention, adult sentencing and deferred custody and supervision orders.

Our government considered these submissions and made changes to the applicable provisions found in clause 169 and subclauses 174(2) and 183(1) of Bill C-10. These changes have been well-received by the provinces that proposed them and would ultimately strengthen the youth justice system.

At clause-by-clause consideration, the government also proposed changing clause 168, by replacing the verb “encourager” with the verb “favoriser” in the French version of paragraph 3(1)(a)(ii) of the act. That is a change Minister Fournier from Quebec had requested.

This government is committed to the protection of our communities and to tackling crime committed by young persons. Our view is that this can be achieved without compromising the use of measures outside the judicial process, while still preserving non-custodial sentences for the vast majority of cases where such measures are appropriate.

Part 4 of Bill C-10 would provide judges and others working in the youth justice system with tools needed to deal appropriately with the differing needs of young people who come before them, including the needs of repeat and violent offenders who have not responded well under the current system. Such changes would restore public confidence to our youth criminal justice system.

I invite all the members opposite to join us in these efforts by supporting this bill. Let us join and together take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.

November 1st, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
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Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

Kathy Vandergrift

That is correct. Under the current government policy there are statements, in response to other studies of children's rights, that when laws are proposed that affect children, a child rights assessment is done. During the review of Bill C-4 we asked for this. I followed up with individual MPs who asked for this, and as far as I know, no one has seen the child rights assessment that was done.

I'm simply saying that all members of Parliament should at least be aware of how the proposed changes fulfill or violate their obligations to protect the rights of children in Canada. Our submission is that there are serious matters in these proposed changes that do violate the convention.

November 1st, 2011 / 9:50 a.m.
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Kathy Vandergrift Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

Good morning. Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you.

The Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children is a national umbrella group that brings together organizations that work with young people and individuals to promote respect for the rights of children.

We would like to offer the following suggestions based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991.

First of all, we express support for improved protection of children from sexual exploitation in part 2.

Secondly, we suggest that you remove part 4 from the omnibus bill and take no further action on it until all members of Parliament are fully informed about the ways in which these changes fulfill or violate Canada's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We have three reasons for this recommendation.

First, the youth justice system needs to be different from the adult system, and you've heard quite a bit about that today. Changes in youth justice should be considered separately in order to ensure that high priority is given to the best interests of children at all stages of the bill's consideration.

Second, the evaluation of the current Youth Criminal Justice Act did not recommend the changes proposed in Bill C-10. It recommended a focus on improving implementation of the current law. No evidence has been presented to justify rushing these changes into effect without careful consideration of their implications.

Third, members of Parliament have not received an assessment of how the proposed changes comply with or violate their obligations to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was requested during the review of Bill C-4, but it was not delivered. Such reviews are supposed to be done on all proposed legislation that affects children, according to government documents. Members of Parliament should be aware of how this bill fits with their obligations to ensure that the rights of children are respected in Canada.

I would like to offer you our analysis. We would argue that part 4 violates articles 3, 37, 39, and 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There are additional documents from the committee that expand on this, and there are additional international standards. Also, Canada received recommendations in 2003 with regard to youth justice. They're likely to come up again when Canada is reviewed in 2012.

Article 37 of the convention requires that detention “be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time” Bill C-10 will expand the use of detention beyond any accepted notion of last resort. The proposed revisions of the definitions of serious and violent offences are over-broad and likely to result in more young people being put in detention for less serious crimes. I can go into those specific examples.

Article 40 requires that penal laws focus on “promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society”. Bill C-10 shifts the focus from rehabilitation and reintegration by adding deterrence and denunciation as principles for sentencing young people. Here I would refer to the submission by Dr. Nicholas Bala and a written submission you have received from UNICEF Canada. They provide substantial evidence that deterrence is not effective for young people.

Bill C-10 will require that young people be detained separately from adults, which complies with the convention and we're pleased to see that. But it does not require that youth detention facilities provide the kind of programing that promotes reintegration and preparation for a constructive role in society, as required by the convention.

Article 40 specifically protects the right of a child to have his or her privacy fully respected, and we would argue that Bill C-10 violates that.

Article 39 calls for early intervention for young people who come in conflict with the law and who have a history of neglect.

Finally, article 3 requires states to make the best interests of the child a top priority. That principle is not cited in Bill C-10.

Going quickly to our recommendations, our preferred solution is to take part 4 out until you have a comprehensive child rights assessment. That assessment we are convinced will result in the following recommendations: add recognition of the principle of the best interests of the child; do not amend section 38.2 to add deterrence and denunciation; revise the definitions of serious and violent acts; and retain the current bans on publication of the names of young offenders.

Thank you.

November 1st, 2011 / 8:50 a.m.
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Jean-Marc Fournier Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, Government of Quebec

Thank you very much.

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I have the honour of appearing before this Committee to present Quebec’s position on Bill C-10. Although there are precedents, only exceptionally does the Quebec government appear before a parliamentary committee studying a piece of Federal legislation. The seriousness of the situation explains my presence here today. I am appearing on the strength of a motion tabled by the member for Joliette and passed unanimously by the Quebec legislature.

As a mark of the wide-spread support for the position I will be sharing with you, I am accompanied today by representatives of the Quebec Bar, the chief prosecutor, Criminal Prosecution Service, Ms. Murphy, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, the Canadian Paediatrics Society and the Regroupement des organismes de justice alternative du Québec. I would like to make it clear that we are not challenging the Government but rather the provisions of a Bill, which negatively impact the long-term protection of the public. May I remind you that it was in the much the same mindset that I came last June to urge the leader of the Green Party, Ms. May to expedite the study of Bill C-2 on megatrials. When something is good, we say so and when it is not we also speak out.

I would like to make it clear from the outset that we cannot agree to the removal of the concept of long-term protection of the public. By removing the reference to long term, you are opting for temporary protection of the public. It is difficult to see how this is a tough-on-crime proposal. In actual fact, the removal of this concept and the amendment of other provisions means that Bill C-10 will actually encourages repeat offenses and increases the number of victims. Many studies, including some by the Federal Government, have demonstrated that prison sentences do not reduce crime or recidivism. Quite the opposite in fact. Prison may actually serve as crime school, thus encouraging inmates to reoffend. One things is certain, an effective, long-term anti-crime strategy cannot focus soley on sending offenders to prison. At some point, offenders are released from prison and return to society. Any long-term anti-crime initiative requires special focus on their reintegration into the community. A strategy purely focused on locking up offenders for a time is nothing more than a temporary, superficial solution. It is a springboard to more crime. However, if you teach a young offender acceptable behaviour, you can stop them repeating the same mistakes. Failing to provide offenders with instruction or follow-up on how to behave in society is tantamout to encouraging them to offend again. The solutions proposed in Bill C-10 do not meet the stated goal of making the public safer. They also fail to address effective penalties for offenders or the prevention of crime and recidivism.

I would like to point out that Quebec has, on several occasions, expressed its misgivings and disagreement with regard to the initiatives put forward by the Federal Government. We even took the step of suggesting amendments in writing to Minister Nicholson on the now defunct Bill C-4. Simply put, this Bill does not contain the right provisions to ensure the long-term protection of society and victims. For decades now, Quebec has developed a unique strategy for the long-term protection of its citizens. We have done this with the involvement of the police. We have chosen to focus on reeducation, rehabilitation and social reintegration of young offenders. This involves sensitizing them to the harm they have caused their victims. In actual fact, the rehabilitation approach provides a greater role for victims than does the custodial sentence model. Indeed, young offender initiatives must consider the best interests of victims, the impact of the crime on them and ensure their rights and dignity are respected. Victims have the right to be informed of steps taken to bring young offenders to recognize the harm caused to their victims. Where possible, youth offenders are required to submit to a process of reparation. This way of dealing with young offenders works. Quebec has the lowest crime rate in Canada.

Our vision is based on Supreme Court of Canada pronouncements on the importance of dealing with young offenders differently. Our view is also based on opinion from experts, such as the Canadian Paediatrics Society. They too consider that youth must be treated differently if they are to become fully-integrated, useful members of society.

Some will argue that Bill C-10 maintains the difference in the way adults and youth are dealt with. This, in our opinion, is a mirage.

In reality, the Bill introduces even more cookie-cutter principles that should only really apply to adult offenders.

Indeed, the Supreme Court and prosecutors, who deal with youth and adult offenders on a daily basis, firmly believe that this approach to youth justice does not work.

What's more, it is likely to confirm youth offenders in a life of crime because it does not tackle the basic underlying causes of their inappropriate behaviour. It fails to ask two fundamental questions: who are they and why do they behave as they do?

By focusing on the short term and jail time, Bill C-10 provides only an illusion of protection. It overlooks the long term since it fails to consider offender release. It is like applying a bandaid to an infected wound. It is temporarily out of sight and out of mind. However, the problem inevitably reappears.

Rehabilitation is designed to tackle the root cause. The long-term protection of the public requires individualized processes that bring youth offenders face to face with their responsibilities.

In our opinion, the guiding principle of youth justice must continue to be the use of appropriate measures to fit the circumstances.

Please do not remove the concept of long-term public protection.

Please do not encourage the publication of the identities of youth offenders. It compromises the person’s chances of reintegration and society does not really benefit from knowing the offender’s identity. The Supreme Court recently pointed to the importance of this principle.

Please listen to those stakeholders, who over the past 40 years, have developed the studies, science and statistics to enable them to rehabilitate young offenders. Should you choose to reject their expertise and science, the onus is on you to support your proposals with serious studies and analysis.

Quebec is willing to partner with you in a science and statistics-based dialogue. However, we are asking you to postpone the enactment of the young-offender provisions.

The new minimum sentences are our second concern. Quebec doubts that these sentences will be a deterrent and therefore has expressed misgivings about them. Quebec would far prefer to trust prosecutors and the courts to set the most appropriate sentence.

Indeed, it is a basic principle that judges, having heard all the facts of the case presented by the defence or the prosecution, are best placed to determine a sentence in keeping with the context of the offense.

The proliferation of minimum sentences restricts the court’s ability to impose a suspended custodial sentence where circumstances warrant despite Supreme Court pronouncements on the restorative value of such an approach.

As Mr. Jean-Claude Hébert said, Bill C-10 transforms courts into an ATM for custodial sentences.

The closure gained through revenge is illusory. At some point, offenders will have served their sentence. Bill C-10 fails to provide for the release of offenders back into society. Without provision for reeducation or behaviour correction, inmates are released to offend again and to create new victims.

Once again, please do not enact these restrictive provisions that will prevent the courts from playing their proper role until you have developed studies or well-thought-out justification to support your proposals.

Our third concern relates to the financial impact of the proposed initiative.

October 25th, 2011 / 8:50 a.m.
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Professor Nicholas Bala Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, Queen's University, As an Individual

Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the committee. I'm pleased to be here. I'm a law professor at Queen's University and a father of four children. For over 30 years I've been involved in doing research around child and youth issues, both for young offenders and for children as victims, and for children as subjects of custody and access disputes.

I've been the observer of changes in Canada's legal regime, first with the Juvenile Delinquents Act, then the Young Offenders Act, and now our present legislation. I've been involved in writing about the acts. Some of my work is cited by the courts. I've been significantly involved in the education of lawyers, judges, probation officers, and police officers.

When I was preparing to come here today my 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth asked me what I hope to accomplish. I told her frankly that I was not optimistic about the committee making any changes. I think the process of the committee is somewhat rushed. I'm particularly concerned about the fact that youth and adult matters have been combined into one piece of legislation. I think there are good reasons for having young people, including in a legislative review context, dealt with separately from adults.

I am, however, here to help bear witness, if you wish, for those who are not able to speak for themselves, in particular for young people and also for the many professionals who work with you and who are concerned about these measures. I'm particularly concerned that they'll be both expensive and not improve the safety of society.

Finally, I'm here to help set out some markers for future assessment of this legislation. I'll talk about that in a moment.

In my view, there are some very good parts to part 4 of Bill C-10, but there are other parts that are affected really by what could be referred to as a politicization of response to youth crime or an ideological response, rather than one that is driven by either research or on-the-ground experienced professionals.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act has been in effect since 2003, and there are certainly some important changes that should be brought to the act. I think Justice Nunn did a very good job of identifying, after a lengthy inquiry in Nova Scotia, some important areas that need to be changed. I would submit to you that the present bill goes significantly beyond his recommendations, and I have therefore some concerns about it.

I think some of the changes are going to help slow down the youth justice process but will not have any effect on outcomes. There are other changes that I think will be potentially negative and may result in increased use of custody for non-violent young offenders without seeing a reduction in youth crime.

I have a brief that I know you have. It deals extensively with all the provisions. I'll be happy to answer questions.

My greatest concerns about the act, about the amendments, are the effects it will have on less serious offenders, non-violent offenders, particularly section 38, the introduction of deterrence and denunciation. While politically it may be popular to introduce these kinds of provisions, I think it is unwise. The reality is that young people who are committing offences are not considering the consequence of getting caught. They lack judgment and forethought, and inserting deterrence into the act will not change their behaviour. It will, however, change the approach of the courts. I think we have a unique opportunity with young people to attempt to rehabilitate them, to refocus their lives, often using community-based responses. It's important not to squander our resources by sending some young people unnecessarily into youth custody.

I'm also very concerned about the provisions around pre-trial detention. I would note that this is one area where actually Bill C-10 is significantly different from the previous legislation, Bill C-4. Bill C-4 provided that for young people committing violent offences, there would be greater possibilities for pre-trial detention. That provision has now been significantly expanded in this legislation. I think pre-trial detention is an enormously important concern, as I discuss in my brief and as is widely known. Young people who are placed in pre-trial detention are especially vulnerable, for example, to being recruited into youth gangs, and this may result in a spiralling increase in their offending.

Finally, I agree with my colleagues here that section 75, about allowing the publication of identifying information especially for any violent offence, is a very broad and unnecessary provision that will tend to slow down the process of the youth courts. There are certainly very real problems in our youth justice system. There's a lack of support for an engagement of victims. There's a lack of resources for prevention. There's a lack of use of restorative justice and community-based responses.

I worry, however, that this bill, in part, will increase the use of custody for less violent youth offenders, and as a result be a costly undertaking and not increase the protection of society. Certainly, this bill has some positive features, and one thing I'm pleased to see is that it retains significant discretion for youth justice judges and youth justice courts. I think as a result of the continued discretion—

October 20th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.
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Gilles Ouimet Former President, Barreau du Québec

I'll be addressing the committee in French.

On behalf of the Barreau du Québec, I would like to thank you for welcoming us. Joining me are Mr. Battista, president of our committee on criminal law, and Dominique Trahan, president of the committee on youth law. For your information, it is important to know that these two committees of the Barreau, which were involved in drafting our brief, are made up of both prosecutors and defence lawyers. The committee members represent the state, the victims and the accused alike.

I would like to remind the public that the primary mission of the Barreau du Québec is to protect the public under the law. So the Barreau does not take the side of any particular party in the criminal justice system. As part of its mission of protecting the public, the Barreau is sharing its unbiased view on the bills currently being studied in Parliament.

The Québec Bar regrets the government's choice to have an omnibus bill and, moreover, to insist on making those amendments within 100 days. Unfortunately, this decision will muddle the issues and undermine our ability to determine the real needs of Canadians. Our natural tendency to contrast diverse opinions on complex topics, such as the fair and equitable treatment of victims and offenders, only leads to oversimplifying those opinions.

In passing legislation, we should not be constantly weighing the rights of victims against the rights of the accused. Canadians expect legislators and all players in the justice system, including victims groups, to work together on passing the best possible legislation that meets the real needs of our society. In light of that, the number and length of the consultations preceding the passing of a bill should not be considered or denounced as inconveniences.

The increased use and number of mandatory minimum penalties are the figurehead of Bill C-10. The bill specifically proposes the increase in certain mandatory minimum penalties that had been passed in 2005, although the true effect of those penalties is not actually known yet. At the Québec Bar we definitely believe that mandatory minimum penalties make our criminal justice system more complex and less effective, while raising the possibility of miscarriages of justice.

One of the fundamental principles of our criminal justice system is that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. Only judicial discretion can adequately balance the various principles of sentencing and the circumstances of an offence, and can, as a result, impose a just sentence.

On the issue of minimum penalties and their effect, the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously acknowledged the following:

Even if it can be argued that harsh, unfit sentences may prove to be a powerful deterrent, and therefore still serve a valid purpose, it seems to me that sentences that are unjustly severe are more likely to inspire contempt and resentment than to foster compliance with the law.

Of all the pernicious effects of mandatory minimum penalties, the most negative and harmful aspect for our society is definitely the message that is being sent to the public about their justice system and the judges.

If Parliament considers that it is necessary to restrict courts from imposing a just sentence to such an extent, the inevitable conclusion is that we cannot trust judges to get the job done. Is it really necessary to show the devastating effect of this powerful message in a free and democratic society like ours, founded on the rule of law?

In short, it is unfortunate to see how isolated anecdotes continue to be used to justify mandatory minimum penalties. This was clearly seen in the comments made at the committee's last meeting, on October 18. The case that was discussed had to do with a judge who handed down a sentence of only 23 months to someone who had sexually assaulted a child, saying that he had spared the child's virginity. The problem is that the decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which passed a sentence of nearly four years. But no one mentioned that. That is exactly what appeal courts are supposed to do in our justice system.

As for the amendments proposed to the youth criminal justice system, the Barreau reiterates its concerns about Bill C-4, which makes up much of Bill C-10. In the letter of September 30, 2011, that Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec's Minister of Justice and Attorney General, sent to Minister Nicholson regarding this bill, he criticizes the fact that the fundamental principles of youth rehabilitation and social reintegration are pushed aside. Those are preferred principles in the Quebec model because they ensure the lasting protection of society. The Barreau shares Minister Fournier's opinion; he concluded the letter by asking that the bill not be passed without considering the needs of Quebec society.

The Barreau once again stresses the importance of maintaining the specific nature of youth criminal justice, by focusing on rehabilitation as a solution to protect the public in the long term.

October 18th, 2011 / 9:25 a.m.
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Vice-Chair, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association

Eric Gottardi

Yes, I am aware that some of these bills have been considered before, in the House and by committee. But there are significant component parts of the bill that have had no opportunity for consultation.

The bill that my colleague Professor Jackson has focused on has had little or no analysis, and it represents a fundamental sea change in policy for Canada in terms of how we as Canadians are going to deal with our offenders and of how they are treated inside our corrective institutions and of how they are better prepared to be released back into our communities.

I also recognize that bills such as Bill C-4, dealing with youth criminal justice, have had extensive consultation. Yet many of the recommendations for amendments we have not seen implemented in Bill C-10.

And the amendments that were made were added in and not specifically drawn to our attention. We had to sift through these bills to find out what had changed, only to discover that the bail regime in the Youth Criminal Justice Act is set to be completely overhauled with no reference to the bail regime that is currently in the Criminal Code. We're going to see more and more at risk youth detained before their trials.

We also see changes in the Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments that will remove the high standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” that was put in place to ensure that young offenders are not subjected, improperly and contrary to the constitutional imperatives found by the Supreme Court of Canada, to an adult sentence and to publication of their names, with the stigmatization and labelization that happens thereby.

We had to sift through to find those changes so that we could come to try to make comment to this committee. We have tried to do this in our 100-page written material, which I commend to all of you and hope you will take the time to review carefully.

October 18th, 2011 / 9:20 a.m.
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Kyle Seeback Conservative Brampton West, ON

I want to address a comment that was made by Mr. Gottardi, who said that there has been little previous review and that this is undemocratic.

Mr. Gottardi, were you aware that former Bill C-4, Bill C-5, Bill C-16, Bill C-39, Bill C-23B, Bill C-54, Bill S-7, Bill S-10, and Bill C-56, which are the primary components of this legislation, had 49 days of debate in the House of Commons, 200 speakers, 45 committee meetings, and 123 hours of committee study with 295 witnesses who appeared?

Can you square that circle for me, to say how there has been very little study of this legislation?

October 6th, 2011 / 9:30 a.m.
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Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to both of the ministers. You're both very articulate in explaining the provisions of these acts, and I want to thank you for that.

I had the privilege of serving on this committee in the last Parliament. I stand to be corrected, but if memory serves me, I think our committee spent something in the range of 18 meetings simply studying what was then Bill C-4 regarding young offenders. We heard from quite a number of witnesses over a great many hours of testimony. I was sometimes amazed at the things that witnesses who came in believed about this bill. For example, they seemed to think that we were taking out of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provisions regarding rehabilitation and reintegration and addressing circumstances underlying behaviour. Yet if you look at what we were doing and are still doing, I think all of those things are retained.

My question is for Minister Nicholson. Some of the criticisms were that the bill was focused more on punishing all young offenders rather than rehabilitating them. But my understanding is that Bill C-4 was responding and targeting and focusing on the 5% or so of young offenders who were violent and repeat young offenders and who really posed a threat to public safety. It was those people, that very small number of young and violent offenders, who were being targeted and focused on by Bill C-4, and the balance, the rehabilitation and so on, remained.

Minister Nicholson, does the new Bill C-10 maintain this same approach with respect to young offenders?

October 6th, 2011 / 8:45 a.m.
See context


The Honourable Rob Nicholson Conservative Rob Nicholson

Thank you very much. I'm pleased to be here with Catherine Kane, from the Department of Justice, who I think you know very well from all the different pieces of legislation we've had.

I'm pleased to address the members of the committee, as they begin their review of Bill C-10, Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act fulfills our government's commitment to quickly reintroduce legislation to combat crime and stand up for victims and law-abiding Canadians. As you know, Canadians gave us a strong mandate to bring forward measures that will better protect society and ensure criminals are held accountable for their actions.

Bill C-10 combines nine bills that were not passed in the previous Parliament. All of them have been debated in the House of Commons and/or the Senate.

I am pleased today to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Vic Toews, the Minister of Safety, to outline the important measures contained in this bill. I will speak to parts 2 and 4 of the bill. Minister Toews will speak to parts 1 and 3 of the bill.

As I previously stated, while the text of Bill C-10 is certainly longer than most, the fact remains that these reforms have been debated, studied, and in some cases passed by at least one chamber. I encourage all members of the committee to consult the parliamentary record that exists for all of the previous bills.

I'll take a few moments to highlight a number of the measures.

Part 2 of the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes former Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act. As you may know, it proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to impose mandatory penalties for the offences of production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, or possession for the purpose of exporting a schedule I drug, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and schedule II drugs such as marijuana.

As you may be aware, this is the fourth time the bill has been introduced. They've been passed by both chambers, but obviously never by both in the same session. This bill is in exactly the same form it was in at the dissolution of the last Parliament.

Part 2 also includes reforms previously proposed by the former Bill C-16, the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. The reforms would explicitly state that a conditional sentence is never available for offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years or life; offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years that result in bodily harm, involve the import and/or export, trafficking, and production of drugs, or involve the use of a weapon; or the listed property and violent offences punishable by 10 years and prosecuted by indictment, such as criminal harassment, trafficking in persons, and theft over $5,000.

This is the third time these reforms have been introduced by our government. On each prior occasion, they received second reading approval in principle and scope.

I note there have been a few technical changes made to the list of excluded offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years. These include changes to include the recently enacted new offence of motor vehicle theft and to coordinate the proposed imposition of a mandatory sentence of imprisonment in section 172.1, the luring of a child, with the conditional sentences amendments.

The last component of part 2 is on the reforms previously proposed by Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act. These reforms seek to consistently and adequately condemn all forms of child sexual abuse through the imposition of new and higher mandatory penalties. They also seek to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children through the creation of two new offences. We also seek to require the courts to consider imposing conditions to prevent suspected or convicted child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that could facilitate or further a sexual offence against a child.

Bill C-54 had been passed by the House of Commons with all-party support. It was at debate on third reading in the Senate when the opposition parties unfortunately decided to force an election. I was very disappointed that this important bill then died on the order paper.

We've made some changes since that time, as you will see, to increase maximum penalties with a corresponding increase in mandatory minimum sentences to better reflect the nature of the offences, including making or distributing child pornography or a parent or guardian procuring his or her child for unlawful sexual activity.

These changes are consistent with the government's objectives for the former Bill C-54. As well, the two new sexual offences proposed by this part would be added to schedule 1 of the Criminal Records Act to ensure that persons convicted of either offence are subject to the same period of ineligibility for a record suspension, currently referred to as a pardon, as they are for other child sexual offences.

Finally, part IV of the bill proposes to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to strengthen the way the system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.

These measures include highlighting protection of the public as a principle, making it easier to detain youth charged with serious offences pending trial, ensuring that prosecutors consider seeking adult sentences for the most serious offences, requiring police to keep records of extra judicial measures, and requiring courts to lift the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when a youth sentence is given. These reforms were previously proposed in Bill C-4 , Sebastien's Law.

The former Bill C-4 was extensively studied by the House of Commons standing committee through 16 meetings at the dissolution of the previous Parliament. The bill includes changes to address concerns that have been highlighted by the provinces regarding pretrial adult sentencing and deferred custody provisions in the bill. For example, changes to the pretrial detention provisions respond to the provinces' request for more flexibility to detain youth who are spiralling out of control and pose a risk to the public--by committing a serious offence if released--even if they have not been charged initially with a serious offence. The test for pretrial detention would now be self-contained in the act, without requiring reference to the Criminal Code, which is currently the case.

Other technical changes include removing the proposed test for adult sentences and deferred custody and supervision orders and returning to the current law's approach. For example, the former bill referred to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which some provinces found more difficult to meet. That has been removed. The bill continues the current approach of leaving it up to the courts to determine the appropriate standard of proof.

Under Bill C-10, deferred custody and supervision orders will not be available if the youth has been found guilty of an offence involving or attempting to cause serious bodily harm.

In closing, most of Bill C-10's reforms have been debated and studied, and some have even passed. The few new elements I've outlined are consistent with the objectives of the former bills, as originally introduced, or make some needed technical changes. I urge the committee to work with the government to support the timely enactment of the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

We are taking action to protect families, stand up for victims, and hold individuals accountable. Canadians can count on our government's commitment to fulfill its promise to pass this comprehensive bill within the first 100 sitting days of this Parliament.

Thank you very much.

I would ask Minister Toews now to deliver his remarks.