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Evidence of meeting #9 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was c-10.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Warren Lemcke  Deputy Chief Constable, Vancouver Police Department
Jean-Marc Fournier  Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, Government of Quebec
Tom Stamatakis  President, Canadian Police Association
Annick Murphy  Chief Crown Prosecutor, Criminal Proceedings and Penal, Bureau de la Jeunesse - Montreal, Government of Quebec
Kathy Vandergrift  Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children
Caleb Chepesiuk  Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Joe Wamback  Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Crime Victim Foundation
Elizabeth Pousoulidis  President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

9:40 a.m.

President, Canadian Police Association

Tom Stamatakis

That's fair to say.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Now, this particular bill I think deals with young offenders on the basis of rehabilitation, as we must deal with it, but as I heard time and time again in aboriginal sentencing circles, from parents and from lawyers, including defence lawyers, the reality is that we need to get the youth into the system. Once we get them into the system in front of the court, the court can then deal with them.

If I can just tell you a story, I had a judge, Judge Peck, who was in the court--

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Your time is up.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

--and he used to send them the first time, when they came in front of the courts, just to scare them. And it worked.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Madame Borg.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My first question is for Minister Fournier.

Some time ago, I read an article in Le Devoir on the concerns expressed by Quebec over costs. Perhaps you have read it. Of course, I understand your position of not wanting to pick up the tab. The article reported that the Federal Minister, or his representative, had stated that Quebec had already been offered transfers and that it was now up to the province to decide what to do.

I would like to hear your comments on that.

9:40 a.m.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, Government of Quebec

Jean-Marc Fournier

Indeed, there is the initial issue of cost, which is a major issue for my Public Safety colleague.

I think that the implementation of this Bill will lead to a surge in prison sentences.

I listened to what the Canadian Police Association representative had to say. I have to say that I do not at all share the view that we will save money. However, I would say that the Government does seem firmly convinced that it can invest massively in new prison spaces because it will be making savings in other areas.

I think we can probably already agree that funds will be allocated to the provinces to cover extra prison spots, judges and prosecutors as well as assistance for the police. I will be advocating more funding for them.

In my opinion, you have to admit that the title does not fit the Bill. Rather than boosting public security, the measures it contains will create repeat offenders and more victims. We are heading towards spiralling custodial sentences and processes, not to mention extra costs.

We can back and forth over transfers. However, the net result is that we now have Bill C-10. The transfers have been allocated and I will not deny that. I appeared here myself to support the Government’s positive legislation on megatrials.

I can also assure you that we were all very pleased to resolve the issue of tax harmonization. We were very pleased. We have signed many agreements with the Federal Government. However we must not remain silent when we think something is not right. We have to speak out firmly and with conviction on behalf of those working with youth on a daily basis.

Bill C-10 changes the budget balance and turns our deep-seated convictions on their head. I am not the only one with this opinion. Many people are saying that the Bill will generate additional costs. I am telling you that the light is red. We will not pay. Just for clarity’s sake, I will say it again. We will not pick up the tab.

If the Federal Government is convinced that the Bill will lead to savings on public safety, it should allocate funds to support the provinces, especially those contending it will in fact cost more.

There are two choices. I know that our time here is almost up but my suggestion—and this is why I am here to day—would be to take a time-out to consider the studies, science and young offenders as well as the distinction between serious crimes and more minor offenses. As we said earlier, there are various categories of offenders. There are young offenders acting alone, who have turned to crime for a variety of reasons.

We are lucky because we have fantastic work places and job opportunities. Things are good here. However, there are people living in towns and villages across Canada and Quebec who have not had the opportunities and family support we have. The issue now is whether we let them get swept up into the vortex of crime or whether we try to prevent that.

In answer to your question, I would say this: Let’s step back. Let’s consider the right way to protect society, to prevent people from becoming victims of crime and to reeducate young offenders. That is what we should do. While we are at it, we should also consider how much more this Bill will cost.

The Federal Government might also even consider investing in protecting and compensating victims. I spoke to Senator Boisvenu about the fact that Quebec alone invests more in victim compensation than all the other provinces put together. Quebec would like to avoid anyone becoming a victim of crime. Quebec support victims.

The Federal Government is committed to victims and, as such, might consider playing a role. There are many strategies for investing in building a better society that ensures the long-term protection of its citizens.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

We need to adjourn.

I'd like to thank the panel for being here today. As you have found, time is very short.

We'll reconvene the next panel in two minutes.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

We'll call the meeting back to order. This is the second half. We have one witness who's still on her way here. She'll join us momentarily, we hope.

Just so the panel understands, the committee has decided that each member will get an opportunity for a five-minute opening, and I'll invite you to do that. I will let you know at four minutes that you have one minute left. Don't let me throw you off when I tell you there's one minute. We are under fairly tight time constraints.

If you have an opening address, go ahead, Ms. Vandergrift.

9:50 a.m.

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.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Do you have an opening address?

9:55 a.m.

Caleb Chepesiuk Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Hello. Thank you for the invitation to appear today and for your time. I work with Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, or CSSDP. We are a national network of youth and student-led chapters that are working on substance use issues. Like you, we work out of a desire for safer and healthier communities for everyone in Canada.

I was going to try to provide a short summary of the submission we made. I think you only got one page. There should have been a few other pages. I'll try to sum up what was in the other pages and have those sent to you afterwards.

Due to the concerns as listed in our submission, CSSDP's main recommendation is that the portion of Bill C-10 that makes changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act should be removed. The evidence against this bill's being effective is staggering. The evidence that this bill will actually cause social and financial harm to society is disturbing.

If this is not possible, CSSDP has also made secondary recommendations for amendments to specific clauses in this portion. These are the clauses we feel will impact young people the most.

This proposed legislation is being justified as targeting and going after serious drug traffickers. CSSDP believes this is not the case. The clauses of the bill that are argued to target serious traffickers actually widen the net for those who will be caught up in this legislation. Instead of drug lords, this legislation will incarcerate first-time offenders and low-level drug traffickers.

The legislation forces a divide between user and dealer that does not always conveniently exist. This is not a successful or sustainable strategy. The proposed legislation has been justified as a necessary step to protect young people. CSSDP believes that for young people, this legislation will cause more damage than good. For example, the clause designed to stop trafficking at schools is so broadly worded that it casts a net over young people anywhere. This combined with the removal of judicial discretion equals an unsuccessful and unsustainable strategy. The scenario remains that sharing one pill of ecstasy can trigger a two-year federal sentence. In such a scenario, the harms caused by the legislation outweigh the harms caused by the drug itself.

It has been argued by some that this proposed legislation sends the right message about illicit substances. CSSDP does not believe this is true. Ignoring evidence and experience does not send the right message; perpetuating instead of correcting a failed approach to drugs does not send the right message.

There's nothing in the proposed legislation that will create effective barriers between currently illegal substances and young people. There's nothing in this legislation that will prevent tragedies related to substance use from happening in the future. This does not send the right message. This portion of the bill will do more to promote injustice than justice.

CSSDP believes that sending the right message to young people would be to stop this proposed legislation in order to engage in a broader discussion on drug policy reform.

To sum up the pages that you didn't see today, our fundamental concerns are that there's a sheer lack of evidence demonstrating that this legislation will have any positive effect. The removal of discretion in the sentencing process is a huge concern for us. The aggravating factors in this legislation do not actually narrow or target this legislation. Incarceration is not a successful youth drug strategy. Increasing criminal punishments for more substances is not a successful youth drug strategy. Nothing in this bill will prevent substance-use-related tragedies in the future.

With that, I thank you again for your time. Of course, there is lots of time for questions.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Wamback, you have five minutes.

10 a.m.

Joe Wamback Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Crime Victim Foundation

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.

Due to the limited time today, I'll restrict my comments to part 2 of Bill C-10, which is on sentencing.

The justice and corrections systems of Canada must serve the needs of all Canadians, not just criminals and special interest groups. To be truly effective it must be transparent and predictable, and most importantly it must be perceived as such by Canadians. Failure to achieve this simply undermines the effectiveness of those systems, and therefore decreases their ability to function.

One of my great concerns has always been the loss of faith in the justice system, especially by the young people of Canada. Lack of trust in the system and the belief that it is unjust will cripple confidence in our courts, and that has dangerous consequences, including serious under-reporting of criminal activity.

Our courts exist and function only because ordinary people, victims of crime, report the crimes committed against them and their loved ones and are willing to testify truthfully when called upon. When this does not happen, through mistrust or lack of faith, the inevitable consequences are that the system will cease to exist. The sentencing provisions outlined in Bill C-10 are a beginning to the restoration of that lost faith.

I don't live in the sanitized world of academics or statistics. I live in the real world. I've experienced victimization. I see the results of criminal activity on innocent Canadian families. It is our responsibility to protect the most treasured of Canadian values: the right to life, safety, and security. We must ensure healthy, safe communities where law-abiding families can grow and prosper without intimidation and without fear, and restore the belief that criminals will be held accountable for their crimes.

Over the last 12 years I have met with victims, their families, police officers, and justice system personnel. They have consistently expressed their frustration with the current legislation that has no minimum guidelines for dealing with repeat offenders or serious sanctions for violent criminals, and what is commonly referred to as “revolving door” justice.

My hopes are that the sentencing provisions of Bill C-10 will provide the tools, guidance, and predictability to assist our courts in making decisions for the safety of all Canadians while maintaining our values and principles. Sentencing is not just about the crime, the convicted criminal, or the courts. It is about ordinary Canadians, survivors and victims of violent crime.

Sentencing must reflect the severity of the crime and it must demonstrate deterrence and denunciation. Most importantly, it must clearly demonstrate to Canadians that the lives of victims also have value. Minimal sentencing and house arrest for violence, child pornography, drug dealing, and sexual predators currently sends a loud and clear message to Canadians. The current message is that their lives and the lives and futures of their children are valueless, or certainly of less value that their victimizers'.

I have seen too many innocent families suffer secondary re-victimization from discounted sentences or house arrests that end up with their victimizers back on the street continuing to harm others.

Bill C-10 is not about punishing kids found with a joint or someone who makes an innocent mistake. It is about organized crime, predators, and drug manufacturers and distributors who are destroying innocent lives and the quality of life in Canada for their own personal gain.

The major problem with our existing Criminal Code sentencing system is that there isn't one. There are very broad guiding principles, but there are no benchmarks in the Canadian Criminal Code and little statistically valid information available for lawyers and judges, resulting in uncertainties and disparities that are now becoming the national norm. Crime must have consequence, and that consequence must be predictable.

Many, including the parents of young offenders, express frustration when their children receive little or no consequence for breaking the law, effectively teaching them that a criminal lifestyle is acceptable in Canada. Years ago we used to call prisons “penitentiaries”, meaning penance or punishment. Now we call them “correctional institutes”, where we rehabilitate or attempt to correct criminal behaviour. Yet house arrest for criminal behaviour negates that initiative. Leading world experts in criminal behaviour or psychology whom I have spoken to tell me that it takes an average of three years of clinical intervention to change criminal behaviour. Early release or house arrest will not achieve any success if our true objective is rehabilitation.

We recognize that increased costs may be inevitable as a result of the sentencing, but that increased cost is insignificant compared to the losses suffered by victims and their communities. We fully expect the “consequence predictability” of sentencing will assist in crime reduction and in increased rehabilitation efforts. We owe this much to our children.

Lastly, we recognize that victims of crime do not play a participatory role in the Canadian justice system. At the very least, let their voices be heard here today.

Thank you.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Wamback.

Ms. Pousoulidis, welcome. You have an opportunity to make a five-minute opening address. I will let you know when you have a minute left.

10:05 a.m.

Elizabeth Pousoulidis President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Excellent. Thank you very much, and thank you for inviting me.

My name is Elizabeth Pousoulidis, and I am the president of AFPAD, which stands for the Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared, and that means murdered or criminally disappeared.

It is very hard for us, the victims, to come and speak about our experiences, but it is very important for us to speak. If we don't, nothing will change for us.

Today I sit here as president of AFPAD. I also sit here as a very proud Quebecker and Canadian. We support fully Bill C-10. The reason we support Bill C-10 is that before somebody kills somebody, before there's a murder, there are signs of criminal activity. There is a criminal “binder”, I remember the judge calling it, that is very thick. Before victims, people like me, lose somebody, there is a chance for the murderers to not cause that pain and to not become murderers.

What I see in Bill C-10, and why I'm very happy to see it, is that finally Canada will be tougher on crime. Whoever thinks that being caught with drugs or whoever thinks that a crime that they consider minor does not affect murders and criminal disappearances is wrong. Just check the stats of all murderers and how many times they've come in and out of the justice system.

I commend my country, Canada, for respecting human lives. A lot of times when somebody is murdered, we forget about them. It's all about the criminal, whether it's the justice system or whether it's victims' rights, etc.

My province of Quebec supports this Bill C-10 law at 77%, from the latest information from a poll by le Journal de Montréal. Our province of Quebec is fully aware of what Bill C-10 is. I've talked to many of the members of my association, but also other people who come to our events, and understand why Canada's being tougher on crime.

Mr. Wamback mentioned a lot of families, and we know many of them. A lot of phone calls come in to us because they have nowhere else to turn. These are parents, mothers, who do not know what to do with their children when they know they've taken the wrong road, and unfortunately they go in and out of prison. It's up to the parents to tolerate that, and it's up to the parents to make sure their kids are safe. By “safe”, it means that they don't commit further crimes.

The comments I hear from members of my association and from others are that if their child had been caught before, or if when they were caught they had spent some time in jail, or if they had spent some of that time to rehabilitate, if they had been given that opportunity, then maybe the child would be alive today.

When we talk about the costs of this law, I beg you to talk to any victims about the costs they suffer when somebody in their family has been murdered. We are talking about costs not only to the victims but also, at the end of the line, the taxpayers. If I don't work, I don't pay taxes. So we need to also look at that aspect of costs when we discuss how much this is going to cost our system, our government.

I am a victim myself. I saw my mother bury her child. None of us could work, but all of us were forced to go to work due to financial burdens. All of us have wounds that will never close, and it is our responsibility, no matter how hard it is, to support and to speak about this law.

I commend the government. I thank you very much. This does make me feel a tad safer as a Canadian.

Thank you.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you very much.

I will just remind the committee that we need a couple of minutes at the very end for some committee business.

Mr. Harris.

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you for your presentations this morning. We have very strong views on both sides of this issue. One thing we seek to do here is find the evidence to base our decisions on--at least on this side of the table.

Mr. Chepesiuk, you didn't present your brief, so I'm a little concerned that we don't understand some of the issues and problems. You said you have a recommendation that the definition of trafficking be changed, but what kinds of activities that happen that would be brought in by “trafficking” you think should not be?

I'm asking you to give me some examples of the kinds of behaviours that occur that you think will be caught up in this legislation and ought not to be.

10:10 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Caleb Chepesiuk

Thank you.

Trafficking under the law, as it has been presented to the committee, can be defined as not only selling but also as giving, sharing, or passing a joint—that's been mentioned a few times, I know. These are all things that would be caught up in Bill C-10 through these provisions.

We recommend, if this legislation is to go through, that the mandatory minimums be triggered by selling where there's a financial transaction. For young people, substances are most often distributed through peer networks, which means their friends and the people they associate with in their classes. It's not always a dealer, or the scary guy at the playground, or these caricatures we've come to develop through historical references.

That is concerning for us, because the aggravating factors of this bill widen it by saying it's anywhere where youth frequent. Well, if you frequent at a party and one pill is shared, or if there's a small amount that can be defined as trafficking, then this triggers the mandatory sentence.

This isn't to downplay the seriousness of that. This is to take a critical look at whether mandatory incarceration is a successful strategy to deal with that, and we believe no.

Does that address the question?

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Yes, thank you.

Ms. Vandergrift, I thank you for your presentation and for pointing out the concerns with respect to the international obligations of Canada.

Are you suggesting that a proper analysis has not been done, and no attempt has been made to compare the legislation to Canada's obligations under the convention? Is your point that the convention has not been looked at and compared with these provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act in part 4 to make sure that Canada is meeting its obligations?

You mentioned one or two parts. Could you confirm that and perhaps elaborate?

November 1st, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.

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.

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

We just had a very impassioned plea from the Minister of Justice of Quebec concerning the provisions under Bill C-10, particularly those with respect to youth justice.

One of the concerns, and he has proposed, that there is a great deal of evidence that shows there's a relationship between young people being incarcerated and the potential for this bill to increase the number of criminals, increase the amount of recidivism, and increase the number of crimes and victims as a result of that.

Are you aware of studies that might support or counter that?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Please give a very brief response.

10:15 a.m.

Chair, Board of Directors, Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children

Kathy Vandergrift

Okay.

The evidence is clear, and the experience under the current Young Offenders Act with use of alternate measures besides incarceration has been very positive. We have seen some of those detention rates go down.

I sympathize with the concerns about young people, but all our members who work with young people tell us the problem is that we don't have enough good programs of the range we need to deal with the kind of young people we're dealing with. I think that's where the focus needs to be.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Rathgeber.