Thank you very much.
The first thing, substantively, that I wanted to say is that the Supreme Court of Canada has made findings about youth and their reduced moral blameworthiness and the principles of fundamental justice as they apply to youth. I would like to praise Parliament for its consideration of amending the Youth Criminal Justice Act to incorporate those findings. Those, generally speaking, relate to moral blameworthiness, the definition of “serious violent offence”, and the onus provisions where it's not presumed that kids will be treated as adults are.
But Justice for Children and Youth disagrees with the proposals to make the act harsher, because the legislation currently is working. In fact, it is the current legislation that allowed the young man who presented before you to receive the very sentence he said was beneficial. That's the current legislation that got him to where he was.
I was lucky enough to have participated in the national consultations with respect to this legislation. There was one, I believe, in every province. The consultation I attended was attended by police officers in significant numbers, crown attorneys, probation people, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, lawyers on both the crown and defence side. In those consultations, every single person said the legislation is working--every single person, after repeated questioning.
I'd also point out about the current legislation that in the case of Sébastien, the young offender received an adult sentence. It is the current legislation that was working and that achieved an appropriate sentence for that young offender.
I would echo the submissions you've heard from so many others that denunciation and deterrence do not work. They cannot work. I would encourage you to look at our written submission, which refers not just to the criminological and psychological research that's been done on this point and which is quite conclusive, but also to some quite new research done by a neuroscientist for the Department of Justice, in which he has taken MRIs of young peoples' brains, and photographically, they look different--the impulse control. Putting language in legislation cannot make their brains work differently. So it does not work.
In addition, if I tie this back to the broader general principles of the act and to what makes criminal justice seem fair to people, sentences must be proportionate. They must be proportional to the thing you've done wrong. It cannot, in my submission, be proportional to punish a young person for something some other young person might do or to punish them for what they might do in the future but haven't done. To maintain proportionality, in my view, you cannot have deterrence and denunciation as sentencing principles.
My next point is that the long-term protection of the public should not be changed. Young people, no matter what they've done, are going to spend more time out of custody than they are in custody. It is the long-term protection of the public that's essential. When they are finished with the youth criminal justice system, I want them to be contributing, positive members of society. That must be the long-term focus.
Anyone can trip on any given day. There is nothing we can do to guarantee the short-term protection of the public other than by locking everyone up in boxes and not letting them out. People, if you live in Toronto, are going to get shoved on the subway. It will be an assault. It will even be kind of deliberate. It won't be what most of us think of as a crime, but we will be on the subway and we will get assaulted. You can't eliminate that.
I would also like to point out that in a time of restraint, I think it is critical that Parliament not spend money on anything that cannot be shown to work. All of the evidence suggests that the proposed amendments will not work, and there is no evidence, to my knowledge, that says they will work. In my view, it would be irresponsible to be spending taxpayer dollars on something that may make someone feel good about thinking they're doing something, but if there is no evidence, we shouldn't be spending money on it.
To summarize, it is my submission that we don't actually need any amendments, even the ones that I like. Lawyers would be all right if you didn't do it, because we've got the Supreme Court of Canada and it has already said those things, but I think it's a good thing to amend the act to reflect those rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada, because, fortunately for the world, not everyone is a lawyer. They don't all read Supreme Court of Canada decisions, and it's important that the law be as clear as it can be within the statute itself.
If you must amend in other areas, I have some cautions. One is that I'm personally ambivalent about requiring police to record extrajudicial sanctions. On the one hand, if a police officer at a crossing or an intersection made a written note of every warning he or she gave to people to be careful of oncoming traffic, you'd be surprised, and that's a warning, right? That's a police interaction with you, and it's a warning.
I don't think they have to all be written down. I think most of them are written down at the current time, but my caution is that if you mandate that they get written down, you must also mandate the destruction of those records.
If a young person is charged, goes to court, is found guilty after a trial, and gets the least reprimand, the record of that reprimand lasts for two months. Surely however long we keep police records should be less than that, because it's clearly less serious. If a record is going to be kept, I urge you to mandate its destruction and sealing as well.
Research does show that longer sentences don't work. They don't reduce recidivism. And as I've said, the current laws can already address that.
Finally, I ask the members of this committee to ask for and read the results of the consultation. I sat in rooms where every single individual was asked repeatedly whether they wanted deterrence as a sentencing principle, and uniformly they, including all the police officers, said no. I ask you to ask for and examine the costs of any proposed amendments, and I ask you to ask for and examine all the research about what works, because all of us want our children who have misstepped to be rehabilitated.