Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend, the member for Beaches—East York.
I am speaking to members from the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit in Scarborough—Rouge Park. I want to, first and foremost, thank the Minister of Justice and his team for their hard work in bringing this bill together. I will be speaking in support of Bill C-22. There are three basic elements to it. First, it repeals mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for 14 such offences. Second, it allows for conditional sentence orders to be expanded and, third, it requires police and prosecutors to consider all other measures for simple possession of drugs, such as diversion and addiction treatment programs for those who may be charged.
I have worked extensively within the criminal justice system as a youth worker. I used to run a youth organization here in Scarborough called the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre. During my tenure there, I met with dozens of young people who had been charged both criminally and under the YCJA. My experience led me to believe that the criminal justice system has a profound impact, particularly on racialized youth, and in the case of Scarborough, particularly Black youth.
The experience goes beyond my work at the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre. It goes into my work as a lawyer when I started practising, as well as into when we developed the national anti-racism strategy in 2019. As I went across the country, community after community spoke to the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on young people, particularly Black, indigenous and racialized youth. I believe Bill C-22 addresses, in part, some of the concerns that stem from the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly since 2006 when it was brought forward by the previous Conservative government.
My experience with young people leads me to believe that they are often caught in a moment when they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They may have been with the wrong set of friends or they may have just acted stupidly. This gets them into the criminal justice system. It is an on-ramp that eventually leads to greater charges, in part because they are also being surveilled by several police services.
I want to highlight the recent case of someone I know quite well now. His name is Rohan George. He was admitted to the bar of the Law Society of Ontario just last year. He served eight years for manslaughter. He talks about his life experiences as a young person who went to St. Mother Teresa school in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge Park.
It started when he was about 14 with a stolen bottle of alcohol and a failure to attend court. This eventually escalated into something much more serious. This speaks to the failure of the criminal justice system to ensure that there are adequate supports and off-ramps for these young people. This young man served his time. He served eight years, went to law school and did thousands of hours of community service. I know him because he was working at an organization called the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre. I never knew that he had a criminal conviction and he was finishing his time.
I want to quote a line from the Law Society panel. It said, “The concept of rehabilitation is based on the capacity in human nature for someone to recognize their mistakes, to make amends, to correct the course of their lives, and to become productive and positive members of their community.” I believe that young people, particularly those from racialized communities who have been charged, are often not given the support that they need to get out of the criminal justice system.
As a member of Parliament, I have seen many cases that have come to our office where there may have been criminality that has escalated to removal from Canada because of immigration status. I believe the supports were not there when young people were around and getting into trouble for them to get off on these off-ramps.
The work I did, particularly with young Tamil men in Scarborough, has proven to me the need for community intervention and investments into the community. At that time, the work we did stemmed from the national crime prevention strategy funding of $50,000. We were able to help hundreds of young people avoid the criminal justice system. Those who did enter into it were supported to get out, often through education.
Since being an MP, I had the chance to visit institutions such as Millhaven and Beaver Creek. One does not have to spend too much time there before one realizes there is a gross misrepresentation within these institutions. It is partly because when one goes in, the officers, those who help people enter the facility, are primarily white, but once one goes into the facility it is racialized Black and indigenous people who occupy the cells. Once one talks to people, and I think as MPs we have the prerogative to speak to these individuals, one soon finds out there is an incredible story, which is the failure of the system, when one digs deeper into each and every one of those cases.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to welcome the Minister of Justice to Scarborough—Rouge Park. There are many organizations in Scarborough as well as around the GTA that do a great amount of work supporting youth. I want to recognize their work. Fernie Youth Services is an organization that provides an off-ramp right here in Scarborough—Rouge Park, as well as the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, which has been really vocal in its opposition to the impacts of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly on Black youth. TAIBU Community Health Centre, the Zero Gun Violence Movement, the Urban Rez Solutions, Urban Alliance on Race Relations are some of the organizations that were able to meet with the Minister of Justice and outline the disproportionate effects mandatory minimums and other measures have on young people within our community.
The numbers speak for themselves and I want to give members some highlights.
Between 2007 and 2008, 39% of all Black offenders and 20% of all indigenous offenders were admitted into federal custody for MMP offences. That is an astonishing number. When we look at the proportion of indigenous offenders admitted with an offence punishable by an MMP, it has increased from 14% in 2007-08 to 26%. It has essentially doubled in the decade from 2007 to 2017. Of the offenders convicted of a Controlled Drugs and Substances Act section 6 offence, 42% were Black. The proportion of Black offenders increased from 33% in 2007-08 to 43% in 2016-17.
In 1999-2000, indigenous people represented 2% of the Canadian adult population, but accounted for 17% of admissions to provincial and federal sentenced custody. In 2020, despite this population growing to 5% of the overall adult population, 30% of male inmates and 42% of female inmates were indigenous.
The numbers are quite clear and show that there is a need for this to be addressed. This is systemic racism that needs to be addressed. I believe—