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House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was system.

Topics

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, would you be so kind as to call Notice of Motion for the Production of Papers No. P-34 in the name of the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore.

Motion No. P-34

That an Order of the House do issue for copies of all documentation, including reports, minutes of meetings, notes, e-mail, memos and correspondence since 1994 within Environment Canada pertaining to the Tulsequah Chief Mine.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the documents requested are of a voluminous character which would require an inordinate cost and length of time to prepare. I would refer you to citation 446(2)( g ) of Beauchesne's, and I would therefore ask the hon. member to withdraw his motion.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

No, Mr. Speaker, I do not accept the government's answer in that regard. I ask that Motion No. P-34 be transferred for debate in the House of Commons.

Motion transferred for debate

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all other Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Outremont Québec

Liberal

Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-7, an act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate today. I hope that, following the vote on the Senate amendment, we will finally start the implementation phase of the youth criminal justice bill and we will all be able to appreciate the merits of Bill C-7.

As I just noted, after careful study and reflection the Senate adopted one amendment to Bill C-7, the youth criminal justice act, before it passed third reading in the Senate on December 18, 2001.

The House of Commons now has an opportunity to consider and vote on this amendment which relates to the serious problem of the overrepresentation of aboriginal youth in custody. Canada generally incarcerates youth at higher rates than all other western countries and its incarceration rate for aboriginal youth is even worse. The overrepresentation of aboriginal people in custody was an issue identified in the Speech from the Throne and is one that the government is committed to address. I therefore urge members to give serious consideration to voting in favour of the amendment.

The amendment proposed by the Senate adds a sentencing principle that is essentially the same as the one in paragraph 718.2( e ) of the criminal code. The courts will be equired to take into consideration alternatives to incarceration for all young offenders, aboriginals in particular.

This amendment is in line with the current provisions of the bill, which provide that incarceration should only be imposed as a last resort and that measures should be proportionate and appropriate to the needs of young people, in particular those of young aboriginals. The amendment also reflects the content of a provision that is already included in the criminal code in the case of adults.

It is disturbing to see such a large number of young aboriginals in detention centres. While some young aboriginals do commit serious and violent offences that may justify the imposition of stiff penalties, detention is often imposed, even for less serious offences.

Some theorize that the current system uses custody as an alternative means of addressing social or medical problems and not because the seriousness of the offence requires it. If a youth comes from a dysfunctional family or problem community, some may feel that custody will give the youth needed structure and support. If a youth has a medical condition, some may believe that a secure, structured environment is warranted. Using the criminal law power to address social and medical conditions results in a young person being punished because of his or her needs. This is simply not fair. Needs should be addressed when the youth is subject to a youth justice sentence, but they should not be the reason for more intrusive or longer sentences than the offence requires.

The sentencing principles stated in the legislation correct this situation. The principle of proportionate accountability sets the limit of a measure taken under criminal law. Within that limit, every effort will be made to meet the needs of young people. Other responsible authorities, including child protection services and children's mental health services, should be involved in the whole process, on a long term basis if necessary.

The sentencing principles and the amendment proposed by the Senate also promote the imposition of community-based sentences, while reserving incarceration for those who commit the most serious offences. Studies show that the most effective sentences to change a person's behaviour are community-based, particularly when both the family and the community are involved.

The declaration of principle in the Youth Criminal Justice Act already expressly recognizes the needs of young aboriginals. This recognition will impact on how the provisions of the act will be applied to young aboriginals.

Bill C-7 provides the legislative framework to promote constructive approaches to very difficult youth crime problems. For example, the legislation permits key decision makers in the system, like police officers, judges and correctional workers, to hold conferences to support them in making decisions.

Conferences can take many forms, but they often embrace restorative justice concepts and encourage the offender to meet with the victim, family members and community members. The youth is no longer a passive observer but hears first hand how his or her behaviour has harmed others and the community. This helps to teach young people about the consequences of their behaviour. They are participants in determining how to carry out their measure of accountability for their wrong in a way that makes sense to the victim, the community and themselves. Conferencing may have a particular resonance in some aboriginal communities because it is consistent with some traditional practices.

The amendment proposed by the Senate and the new act will provide a framework that will promote a fairer justice system that will be better suited to young aboriginals' needs.

We should accept this amendment and implement Bill C-7.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the Senate amendments to Bill C-7, the youth criminal justice act. Before I do so I also want to welcome the minister to his new and demanding post. I wish him every success in the difficult decisions that he will be making over the next few months or years.

I believe it is necessary to review some of the reasons I believe the legislation will fail. Indeed Bill C-7 will fail for reasons that are well known to most members of the House, many of whom share this view.

The attorney general of Ontario recently wrote a letter to the minister articulating his numerous concerns with both the ideological issues and the practical difficulties the legislation presents, as have countless witnesses before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that examined the bill in painstaking detail.

Indeed the new youth justice legislation contains little, if anything, that will address the ineffectiveness of the Young Offenders Act. In some ways indeed it is less preferable or less desirable than the old act. It is certainly more cumbersome and certainly more administratively complex.

Furthermore, the new legislation will be extremely costly to the provinces and cumbersome to administer. One of the greatest causes of concern for me is that of funding. It is well known that when the Young Offenders Act first came into force the government of the day committed itself to a 50:50 cost sharing arrangement with the provinces. By now that percentage has dropped to at best 25%, leaving 75% of the financial responsibilities to the provinces.

The previous justice minister indicated that the federal government would throw in an additional $207 million over three years to help with the implementation of the new act. However preliminary estimates from the provinces indicate that the initial implementation cost will exceed $100 million per province. This does not even include the ongoing additional costs that will be incurred by the provinces in administering the new act.

It is abundantly clear that not only will the children suffer but the provinces will be required to increase legal aid budgets, another program where the federal Liberal government has avoided its responsibility.

Although the government may have consulted with provincial governments on the new legislation, it is debatable whether or not the federal government listened. Indeed looking at the bill it is clear that it has not listened.

A number of representatives of provincial governments who gave testimony at committee stated their concerns about Bill C-7, as no doubt they were aware their time was being spent in vain.

Furthermore, there has been a deliberate exclusion of provincial attorneys general in respect of the development of the provisions of the bill and a stubborn refusal to consider any suggestions for amending its provisions. The provinces are not even constitutionally obligated to take on the cost of the legislation, never mind to administer or to enforce it.

I would not be greatly surprised if a provincial government took this matter to court in order to determine its constitutional responsibility to have anything to do with the legislation. Indeed the government could find the law back on its own lap to administer by itself because of its refusal to co-operate with the other federal partners.

While the federal Liberal government has given up on co-operative federalism and continues to implement its policies on to the provinces through government by ransom, it is to the credit of the provinces that they continue to take efforts to ensure that co-operative federalism remains alive.

While funding is one of the most serious concerns I have with the bill, many other issues of importance have been ignored by the government.

My view of the issue of notification is that school teachers and administrators, parents of vulnerable children and the vulnerable children themselves have a legitimate and compelling interest in knowing who the dangerous youthful predators are in the community. On this and many other areas of the bill the balance in the legislation favours the rights of the dangerous criminal over the rights of victims and potential victims.

I have met with representatives from the school boards. They certainly impressed upon me the need for school authorities to be informed if there are, for example, dangerous individuals attending school. They are not asking for a broad publication of the names of these offenders but simply that the school authorities need to know.

This amendment would not only provide for safer learning environments. It would also enable schools to direct necessary attention to those young persons who are in the process of attempting to rehabilitate themselves back into society.

The school boards quite rightly believe that they have an important role to play in the youth justice system, particularly in terms of alternative measures, prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration. They want to be real and effective partners with our government in the process of keeping our young people safe and secure and helping those needing real assistance.

I have also maintained an opposition to restricting the application of the legislation to children 12 years of age and over. The theory of referring children under 12 years of age to the child welfare system may at first blush seem reasonable, but through my experience as a prosecutor in Manitoba, and indeed as the minister of justice in Manitoba, I realized that the child welfare system simply was not equipped to deal with children whose criminal conduct brings them to the attention of the authorities. It does not have the appropriate resources to deal with these children, and many of them are violent and dangerous.

Under the Young Offenders Act children are falling between the cracks of the child welfare system and the young offender system. Children under the age of 12 fail to receive help either through the courts or through the child welfare system. For all the shortcomings of the old Juvenile Delinquents Act under which I prosecuted, at least it provided for a measure of accountability for youth under the age of 12 so that they could be helped or dealt with by the courts.

By the time many seriously disturbed children reach the age of 12, anti-social and indeed criminal patterns of behaviour already have been established. The Young Offenders Act only succeeded in breeding a younger, more anti-social lawbreaker.

Furthermore, by refusing to extend even the rehabilitative powers of the youth court to children under the age of 12 the federal Liberals are in fact trying to dump 100% of the costs on to the provinces in respect of these children. Every time a Liberal minister gets up and says they are doing this in order to protect children under 12, the truth is that what they are trying to do is evade any financial responsibility for those children. They are dumping those costs on to the provinces.

They are not even keeping up with their responsibilities as a partner in terms of the 50:50 financial relationship that was first in place when the Young Offenders Act came into effect. It has gone down to 25% for those children over 12, with the provinces carrying 75% of the costs of the children over 12 and 100% of the costs of the children under 12. That is the real agenda. It has nothing to do with wanting to have a more caring, compassionate and understanding system for children under 12.

The government realizes that the child welfare system is simply not a system that is flexible enough to deal with these children.

Again, all we are doing is creating younger, more anti-social criminals by the time they reach the age of 12. That is unfortunate. That is doing a disservice to the people of Canada and indeed to the children themselves.

As I have said in the past I do not believe that the government's policy has anything to do with protecting children from the punitive powers of the court. It is simply a cynical device to ensure that the federal government can escape any financial responsibility for children under the age of 12.

Another issue that I feel strongly about is the matter of extrajudicial measures. The bill would allow access to alternative measures by violent offenders and would minimize the supervisory authority of the courts. While alternative measures are often appropriate they need to be administered in an appropriate and structured context. The bill would do nothing in that respect. The court system should direct if alternative measures are to be implemented.

In any event the court should always be involved when considering such measures in the case of violent repeat offenders so that it can be satisfied that the public will be protected.

Into the context of a flawed, administratively cumbersome, expensive piece of legislation that will fail, that will not do the job for children and for the society that the minister claims it will, a new amendment has been brought here by the Senate.

To address the amendment to the youth criminal justice act I want the record to show that I am opposed to it. I will indicate the reasons. The amendment states that for sentencing purposes:

All available sanctions other than custody that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all young persons--

That means any circumstance can be considered and every sanction can be considered other than custody. There is nothing inappropriate about that. We want to see custody as a last resort, or it should at least be the appropriate response. This part of the amendment is reasonable.

However the second part of the amendment requires youth court judges to pay particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal youth at their time of sentencing, similar to subsection 718.2(e) of the criminal code. I cannot support that.

Despite the fact that Canadians pride themselves as being a nation which judges people on the basis of their actions and not on the colour of their skin, subsection 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that a court imposing a prison sentence shall take into consideration all available sanctions other than imprisonment, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

The Canadian senators have proposed that the new youth criminal justice act which is to replace the Young Offenders Act should also adopt this racial consideration into youth sentencing guidelines.

The Liberal government created this law in 1995 in an effort to reduce the high number of aboriginals in Canadian prisons. The law was upheld and declared to be constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of an aboriginal woman who stabbed her husband to death. The woman served six months for that crime. Yet the court still criticized the trial judge for not adequately considering her aboriginal ancestry when sentenced.

Proponents of this law claim that Canada's justice system is racist and biased against aboriginals and therefore we must work toward a separate justice system.

Those who make these arguments have overlooked the fact that many of the violent crimes committed by aboriginals are perpetrated against other aboriginals. This is a particularly horrific example but in 1997, three aboriginal men raped an intoxicated aboriginal woman in Yukon. They each were sentenced to only 20 months in jail instead of the three to five years each in a federal penitentiary that the crown prosecutor had recommended. The judge cited reasons of cultural considerations when handing down the lesser sentence, cultural considerations for three men who had brutally raped an aboriginal woman.

Needless to say, sexual assault, murder, robbery and other violent crimes are as traumatic to an aboriginal person as they are to any other Canadian.

If parliamentarians claim to serve the interests of the aboriginal community by ensuring that aboriginal criminals do not face the full consequences of their actions against their own people, then they are surely misguided. Overly lenient sentences for aboriginal criminals demean the life and the liberty of the aboriginal victim. That is what is not being stated here. We are saying that the aboriginal criminal deserves a break, but who do they get that break in respect of? They get that break on the back of the aboriginal victim. No one has said a word about the victim.

What has been proposed is a racist solution that does not address the root causes of the problem. The solution is not to statutorily recognize racism or to excuse criminal conduct on the basis of race. A separate justice system or a justice system that determines sentences on the basis of race will do nothing to solve the underlying problems that lead to a high criminal rate among many aboriginals in some parts of Canada.

Furthermore, this distinction is fundamentally unjust to the aboriginals who may be the victims of crime. This is a clear example of the rights of a criminal taking precedence over the interests and the rights of the victim.

This is a disturbing trend. This is the beginning of an institutionalized distinction between people on the basis of race. This is wrong. I was proud of Canada when it stood up against apartheid in South Africa. We could not tolerate distinctions in law based on race and here we are, self-righteous parliamentarians creating distinctions on the basis of race. This is disgusting.

I for one will not vote for a provision that creates a different class of criminal on the basis of race. I for one will not vote for a provision that demeans aboriginal victims as this provision does. There are enough provisions in the criminal code today that permit the courts to take into account all circumstances, that look at the social background and ask, did the individual have a chance? Are there other things to be done?

What about sophisticated urban aboriginals educated in a large city in Canada? There are many of them rising to take their rightful place as equals in our society. What about them? Are they allowed to escape responsibility for criminal actions on the basis of these kinds of provisions?

This is a misguided attempt to solve a problem that is much more complex. This country has never agreed in the course of my lifetime that racial statutory distinctions can be justified. How dare we go back in time and start classifying people on the basis of race? We as parliamentarians are doing it. We are asking the courts to carry out our dirty work, courts which are there to protect equality and ensure that justice is blind to social conditions or racial attributes which have no relevance to a crime.

I am proud to stand here today and say that I will not vote for this racist provision. I will continue to provide the courts with the flexibility they need to make decisions, not on the basis of who I am as a person, but on the basis of what my actions are and the personal responsibility that I bear for my actions. I do not think that the aboriginal people of this country want anything different.

This is an insult. It speaks of the old reserve system. What it says is that aboriginal people are just wards of the crown, that they are less than a Canadian citizen and that a paternalistic attitude must be taken toward them because they are of a different race.

That is wrong. The House should be the guardian of equality of all Canadians regardless of race, ethnicity, language and culture. This House needs to work to ensure that aboriginal people are entitled to the same democratic rights and freedoms as all other Canadians. If there are circumstances in a particular case that indicate mitigation by the courts is in order, the courts have that power. The courts do not need racism to propagate rights and freedoms. This is antithetical to the principles that the House and certainly the government should stand for.

This is a disappointment. Let the record show it is for those reasons that I cannot support the bill generally or this amendment in particular, an amendment which puts the rights of criminals ahead of the interests of victims and institutionalizes racism in this bill, the youth criminal justice act.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We will now proceed to the next stage; members will speak for 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments.

The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, my comments will be based on disappointment. I would even say that I am dismayed by the attitude of the Minister of Justice in the young offenders file. The Minister of Justice comes from Quebec, so he should know what we do differently in Quebec and he should know that the statements made this week are absolutely awful.

Maybe it is because of my age, but I feel he could have acted differently. Maybe I am politically naive, but I am still appalled to see that politics can bring people to make such gigantic blunders. This is not a partisan issue about Tories, Liberals, the Parti Quebecois, sovereignists, federalists or anything of the sort. It is about a system yielding good results, a system that we, Quebecers, must try to safeguard as much as possible.

Earlier, I even heard the Minister of Justice say that he was happy to table the Senate amendment, which will, to some extent, lead to Bill C-7 being enacted, because the House will undoubtedly pass the bill when it is called upon to vote.

The member for Outremont in Quebec, now Minister of Justice, has no qualms about acting in collusion with his government to dismantle a system that works well and has proven more than adequate.

If the justice minister had been in that portfolio for 10 years, if he were well acquainted with the youth justice system, if he had a great expertise in that area, I might think that perhaps we are mistaken, that perhaps the Quebec coalition for youth justice is wrong. However, he has been the Minister of Justice for 15 days only. It is impossible that he could be more qualified, more knowledgeable and better advised than some people in Quebec who have devoted their life to building a system, to developing a special approach to dealing with delinquent youth.

He had been barely appointed minister that he was stating from on high that, in the area of youth offenders, there was no distinct status for Quebec. Even worse, he added that those were myths circulated by Quebec stakeholders, by the Bloc, but also by all the politicians and the stakeholders who know the issue related to the Young Offenders Act.

I understood a little earlier, listening to his remarks, that the minister, first, does not understand the Quebec approach and, even worse, does not understand the legislation; he does not understand Bill C-7.

From on high, as the Minister of Justice, he said that this bill was a major cornerstone. In order to make us accept that we must absolutely vote on the amendment and implement Bill C-7, he said that sentences would be determined proportionally to youth needs. I noted that, because it was too much to swallow.

According to the minister, Bill C-7 is a good bill because it is going to have sentencing that is tailored to the young offender's needs. I invite him to consult clause 38, which I shall take the time to read, because it is rather long. Clause 38(2)( c ) reads as follows:

38.(2)(c) the sentence must be proportionate—

This is correct, so far.

—to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence;

If the minister understood his own bill, he would never have said such a thing. What he has just said about taking the young offender's needs into consideration in determining the sentence, is done when the present Young Offender's Act is applied properly, the legislation which the minister himself, judging from his actions, wants to do away with. That is one of the aberrant statements the minister has just made.

He spoke of diversion, as if it were something new, and of extrajudicial measures. These already exist. The only thing that is new is what they are called. Now they are “extrajudicial measures” while in the present Young Offenders Act they are “alternative measures”. The bottom line is the same but the means of getting there is very different.

At present, the alternative measures are determined according to the young person's needs. Now, with Bill C-7, the severity of the offence will be looked at in order to determine the extrajudicial measures. This makes a big difference. A justice minister who comes from Quebec should understand that and should above all oppose such a change.

This would be somewhat understandable from his predecessor, the previous minister of justice, who had very little grasp of French. It is no criticism of her but this may have made it harder to communicate with the stakeholders in Quebec, to go to speak with them, to grasp the problem and how things worked there.

The current Minister of Justice is a Quebecer, and a lawyer. He certainly knows people working in the field. He should have checked things out and consulted people before going ahead as he has.

He has also touched upon, despite the brevity of his speech, the role of the family, and it will have a role with Bill C-7. The Young Offenders Act is one of the instances where parents really have a role to play, if the parents are still in the child's life.

It must be really understood that, if a youth is having problems, quite often one of these problems is his family. His father or mother has a drug problem, is involved in prostitution or is a member of the organized crime. I am not saying this is widespread, but a part of the problem is the family.

At present, with the Young Offenders Act, we are able to respond quickly and take the youth out of his environment, if that is the problem. But with Bill C-7, we are being deprived of this rapid response tool, supposedly because youths have rights. Yes, they have rights but it is rather odd that this statement should come from a minister who, with Bill C-7, categorically denies some rights recognized by the UN convention on the rights of the child. All the experts are saying that the bill is contrary to this convention, which was signed by Canada. Indeed, this is a very major argument raised by the Government of Quebec in its legal challenge to Bill C-7.

At present, the family has an important role to play. I am well acquainted with some cases where parents, for various reasons, did not anticipate what would happen, that their child, because of societal pressure, his school, his environment or his friends, would commit some offence. The parents were there and supervised their child as the law allows them to do. At present, this youth is an anonymous citizen.

I toured all of Quebec and had consultations with many agencies. I met with many parents who have had problems with their teenagers and knew all about the Young Offenders Act. After reading Bill C-7, which I had sent them, they told me “Mr. Bellehumeur, it is easy to understand the Young Offenders Act, but nobody understands Bill C-7. Parents will have to rely on lawyers”.

Parents are losing to the legal professional what little role they could play under the Young Offenders Act. Do not tell me this will help the family unit. I think the Minister of Justice does not have a good grasp of the situation at all.

I had a conversation with the Minister of Justice after his appointment and I got the impression that he wanted to have consultations, because Bill C-7 has been around for a long time. I thought he wanted to consult personally, like any new minister would with a bill such as this one. I even suggested he meet with Mrs. Cécile Toutant of Institut Pinel, which deals with the most desperate cases, with the teenagers who have committed the worst crimes, crimes like murder. He would have realized that the approach used with them has a rate of success of nearly 100%.

We have to understand what goes through the mind of a young offender. We have to understand his circumstances and his case before passing judgment. With the series of automatic sentences in Bill C-7, young offenders are judged by the public even before they are tried in court. This does not help.

I also invited the minister to come and see for himself, perhaps even with the members of the justice committee, if he is reticent about coming alone, to have an official meeting with the coordinating justice of the youth division of the court of Quebec, Justice Michel Jasmin, not to name names, who does wonderful work and who offered to give the parliamentary committee a tour of the court house to show us to what extent it really is a small business operation.

Young offenders are received in the ground floor where there is a youth centre with specialists. Then he would have shown us the administrative centre and the court, to see how young people are treated, from A to Z, in order to witness the speed of the process, because time is of essence in treating a young person. He was ready to have us, as well as the Minister of Justice, pay him a visit in order to help him understand.

I also asked him to meet with Jean Trépannier, a specialist who is widely known, who is called upon by other universities across Canada to explain his approach with youth. There is Jean Trépannier, but there are also a number of other university professors, and I do not know of one that supports Bill C-7.

There are also the legal centres, defence lawyers, crown attorneys. He should also meet with the government of Quebec. He should consult, because the previous minister did not consult with the ministers either, on the drafting of Bill C-7. What he refers to as a consultation was more him saying “here is the bill, but you will not have any say in it”. That is not what can be described as a consultation.

The minister was required to consult. He cannot bring back Bill C-7, as he is doing, without consulting, without checking anything, and saying whatever he wants, because that is what he has been doing since he became Minister of Justice on the issue of young offenders. He is saying any old thing. This is so obvious that a newspaper headline today reads “The more things change...”, which would no doubt have ended “the more they stay the same”.

It says:

Just after being sworn in, the new Minister of Justice... is prepared to do anything to impose himself, even if it means making some outrageous remarks in the process.

The article then mentions some of the comments made by the minister and refutes them.

It refutes, among other things, the minister's comments on charging. Everyone surely knows, except the Minister of Justice, that fewer charges are laid in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. The article says:

In the rest of the country, 4.9% of young people are charged, compared to 2.7% in Quebec. The percentage of young people committed to custody is also lower and, more often than not, young people are registered in rehabilitation programs that allow them some freedom.

During a television program on RDI, the minister said that youth centres were jails. This is how he understands the system. It is very insulting for those who have been working in youth centres for 30 years, those who spent their professional lives building a Quebec way of doing things that has proven successful. It is very insulting and the Minister of Justice should even apologize for having said that.

The journalist makes that comment, sets the record straight and concludes by saying:

By accusing his Quebec critics of preserving myths regarding the bill, the Minister of Justice—

He comes from Quebec, but he is currently in Ottawa.

—is showing his ignorance of the system put in place in Quebec.

As we can see, it is not just the Bloc Quebecois that saw through the minister's ploy; others did too.

On several occasions during this same television broadcast, he was asked “Why are you saying that this is the right solution and that the way Quebec is enforcing it is the right way? Why is it that nobody in Quebec supports you? Why is it that nobody in Quebec agrees with the changes you want to make in the young offenders system?”

Whether they are judges, lawyers, specialists, psychologists, or social stakeholders, there is nobody who wants the minister's changes. He was unable to answer because nobody supports him. Nobody in Quebec wants these changes.

Today, we have an amendment from the Senate for the purpose of recognizing the specificity of aboriginals. The minister seems to be saying that this is the discovery of the year. The government has found the secret. As it now stands, the Young Offenders Act recognizes the specificity of aboriginals. It also recognizes the specificity of all young persons. We are talking about needs. Furthermore, aboriginals have said that they do not want Bill C-7, even with its few amendments.

Having said that, I would move an amendment to the motion before us. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:“the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-7, An Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other Acts, be not now read a second time and concurred in, since it does not in any way take into consideration the distinct character of Quebec and the Quebec model for implementation of the Young Offenders Act.”.

With such an amendment, we should have the agreement of the federal Minister of Justice, who is a Quebecer. He is here to defend Quebec, not to defend the government and the Prime Minister.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The amendment is in order.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague on his eloquent speech on the subject of young offenders. He has a lot of expertise in that area and I think that he has a good knowledge of the situation, having met with the people, the various coalitions and all stakeholder groups.

The Minister of Justice, who has held that position for two weeks only—and who happens to be a Quebecer—says that he is going to explain his bill to Quebecers, to those people who had the chance to study the bill long before he did. But the bill is not his. It comes from his predecessor. All stakeholders have said, almost unanimously, that the bill was complicated and that it would not give us a system that works as well as the one we have now under the Young Offenders Act.

The minister said that he was going to demonstrate that this bill will be even more interesting. And yet, the consensus is telling him not the change the current legislation because it is working well.

I would like to ask a question of the justice critic of the Bloc Quebecois. The implementation costs of Bill C-7 will certainly run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. I would like him to tell us what we could do now with such huge sums with the Young Offenders Act.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know the exact figure but I think it is around $1 billion over five years, or something like that. The House will agree that the then minister said that she would put hundreds of millions of dollars into implementing Bill C-7.

When this amount was broken down, we realized that there was not much left for those who were going to implement the new legislation. One thing is certain and that is that the problem was examined very closely in Quebec in the 1990s. A very important report, the Jasmin report, was produced. This report concluded that the problem, if there were one in the other provinces, but also in Quebec, was not due to the legislation but to its application.

Although there were a series of social programs at the time, starting in 1990, different departments took a very different approach to young offenders. This is why, since 1990, with Quebec dollars, we have been able to build or finalize the model now used in Quebec.

If there is a problem in the other provinces it is not because of the legislation but because of how it is applied. There is nothing surprising about that because the money the federal government gives the other provinces, particularly English Canada in the past, was invested in bricks and mortar instead of in social programs.

Right now, if the new minister still has these millions available, changing the legislation is not what is going to solve the problem. The money needs to go to the provinces if there is to be a better application of the Young Offenders Act. We in Quebec are not any better than anyone else. If our results are better it is because we are investing the time and the energy and, most important of all, we are implementing the legislation properly.

If the government has any spare money for the application of the new legislation, or the Young Offenders Act, it should hand it over to the provinces in the assurance that the provinces will have a better understanding and, especially, a better perception of the Young Offenders Act because this act will give results.

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4:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois. I know he has worked hard on this issue, on this bill, and that he understands the current situation in Quebec very well.

My question to my friend arises from some of the arguments he put forward with respect to the implementation of the new bill.

I would be the first to acknowledge that his province of Quebec has done very well what this new bill seeks to do. The philosophy behind the bill is obviously to put greater emphasis on early intervention and rehabilitative efforts in the earliest possible instance when it comes to young people who are about to journey down the wrong path of criminal involvement.

The premise of his argument as to why Quebec should be given special status or its own separate justice system seems to stem from the fact that the bill is trying to enforce what his province has done very well. I would submit that what we see happening around the country is an effort by other provinces to perhaps emulate in a more significant way what Quebec has done. What is needed is leadership and resources to create these programs; the social emphasis my friend speaks of which exists in his province and which perhaps has not been followed to the tee in other English provinces.

Is it not possible under the old act for the rest of Canada to continue to work within the current confines of the Young Offenders Act, to learn from his province and to emulate to a larger degree what Quebecers are currently doing in the justice system?

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I fully understood the question.

I believe that it is wrong to say that Bill C-7 allows for early intervention. Yes, but that can be negative, given the experience in Quebec. Let me explain.

Thanks to Quebec's social system, the youth centres and the ministry of social affairs are able to intervene very quickly, with today's Young Offenders Act. We would rather deal with a young person that has a small problem than deal with a 17 year old with an extremely serious delinquency problem that cannot be turned around.

Intervention is already being done very quickly and it could not be done any quicker. Perhaps, with additional money, the net would be tighter and we could catch all of the problems, but we could not intervene any quicker.

Bill C-7 does the opposite. With its whole series of different levels of intervention, a young person could slip through more easily if the has only committed petty crimes. But petty crimes, if they are not immediately caught, become serious crimes. All of the social workers, all psychologists, all professors and criminologists say the same thing, the greater the crime, the more difficult it is to treat; that is the first thing.

Second, it is also wrong to say that Bill C-7 attempts to implement what is being done in Quebec. The Quebec model was created with the Young Offenders Act by investing money and because there was the political will to do so, by looking at what the police can do, what schools can do, what parents can do as well. We looked at all of this. Naturally, we looked at the legal aspect, enforcing the legislation. We managed to come up with our own way of doing things today, with the Young Offenders Act.

Out west, if they have not had the same success, or if they have a different way of doing things, it is not the act that needs changing; they should come to Quebec to see how it works. What works for Quebec is not all bad; others can copy it, we do not have a copyright on the system.

As Justice Jasmin said to the Standing Committee on Justice on several occasions, Quebecers are always happy to show other provinces or countries how we treat young offenders and how we have produced such good results when it comes to crime, rehabilitation and reintegration.

Europe sees Quebec as a model for the treatment of young offenders, but bringing in Bill C-7 will put an end to that.

The hon. member's response is that the shortcomings in the bill were not what prevented us from having the Quebec model, but rather shortcomings in its enforcement. WIth the hundreds of millions of dollars the minister seems to have available for implementation, they would be as capable of success as Quebec, provided the funds were invested in the right places, in the social area, as is done in Quebec.

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4:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for South Surrey--White Rock--Langley, National Security.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by sincerely congratulating the critic for the Bloc Quebecois for the fight that he has made on the bill. Formerly it was Bill C-68 and then I believe it was Bill C-3 and Bill C-7.

As members know, I do not serve on the justice committee, but from a distance I know some of the work the member has put into the legislation to try to point out to the justice committee and to other members the shortcomings of the bill before us. At the same time he has tried to point out what seems to have worked well in Quebec and the puzzlement as to why the Young Offenders Act, which was passed some time ago, has not worked as well in the rest of Canada.

We have to acknowledge what has happened. It is unfortunate that even at this eleventh hour we are not making terribly significant changes and have only one amendment before us.

The amendment simply suggests that when all other available sanctions than custody are being considered for young offenders, “particular attention should be paid to the circumstances of aboriginal young people”.

Generally the amendment fits well with the position that we have taken on the legislation in all its incarnations.

When the legislation was first in this current parliament, as well as previous ones, the NDP caucus took the position that one thing the youth criminal justice system regime should be was more responsive to the situation that young offenders actually found themselves in. We hope that the amendment before us today will provide for greater latitude in sentencing aboriginal young offenders by allowing them to receive alternative sentences that may have more to do with restorative justice and other aboriginal principles involving their communities.

We have contacted the Assembly of First Nations and it is generally supportive of the amendment. However, it feels that little is likely to come of an amendment with wording that consists of a should rather than a more forceful direction. I would draw that wording to the attention of the justice critic for the Alliance who spoke about his concerns with that legislation. Obviously the Assembly of First Nations would feel that a shall would be more appropriate and that a should gives an undue degree of discretion.

The Assembly of First Nations also has concerns with the legislation in general in terms of its flexibility and discretion around sentencing. The assembly finds that when sentences are discretionary for aboriginal youth that those aboriginal youth tend to be more harshly penalized for their actions than non-aboriginal youth.

The AFN position fits in well with what we have said about the legislation in the past, that the problems of youth justice have much more to do with economic and social deficiencies than inequalities. We feel that one problem with the legislation is it makes the regime more complex and institutionalizes this flexibility and discretion. We feel these issues would be better resolved with more community policing and a closer relationship between young offenders and police officers, as well as other justice providers in their communities.

Various provincial governments, including NDP governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, have been concerned that while this legislation is more complex and changes the system for young offenders, there are not enough resources being provided to the provinces that would have to implement the legislation to make these changes truly effective. To that extent I concur and listen closely to the justice critic for the Canadian Alliance Party who obviously has firsthand knowledge in this area as a former minister of justice in the province of Manitoba.

The NDP does support the amendment without reservation. However we believe it is too flawed to support without addressing the concerns I mentioned about community policing, the new complexities of the legislation, and especially the fact that under the legislation young offenders would have to prove they should not be sent to adult court rather than the crown having to prove they should. It is a reverse onus with which we do not agree.

I do not intend to speak to the bill very long. As I said, I am not the justice critic for our caucus. However before I take my seat I want to report to the House that during our break over Christmas and the new year I held some meetings in small towns in my riding of Palliser. I was frankly surprised by the number of people who came out to talk about their concerns about justice and young offenders. These are towns in rural parts of Saskatchewan that tend to be populated by older Canadians.

As I indicated, these people are apprehensive about what is happening in their communities. They tend to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the people perpetrating the burglaries, crimes, car thefts, et cetera are not from their own small communities but from larger centres. They believe most kids either in their communities or elsewhere are law-abiding but that there are a few who are not. They say the police seem unable to apprehend them and when they do the justice system seems to break down.

By the same token there are encouraging signs that we are intervening earlier. Earlier this month I had the opportunity to visit an inner-city school in Regina, the Kitchener Community School, where there is a new head start program and early intervention. These are some of the things that will help in the years to come.

Based on the meetings I held while touring my constituency I have no doubt the Canadian public will be watching the changes brought forward in the youth justice bill very closely and with great interest.

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4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would just like a clarification, which the Table can perhaps provide me with.

We understand that this is a motion relating to an amendment originating in the Senate. When we look at the Senate's amendment, we note a difference between the French and the English versions.

I would like a clarification, because in the French text in clause 38, page 38, the replacement for line 27 reads as follows:

Toutes les sanctions applicables, à l'exception du placement sous garde qui sont justifiées dans les circonstances, doivent faire l'objet d'un examen, —

This is a kind of order, an obligation. Reference to the English text finds the expression should be, a suggestion. The form is conditional. This makes a very big difference in application. This being criminal law, there must really be great precision. I would like clarification on this, because it will affect the vote later on.

Is it the shall of the French or the should be of the English, a kind of suggestion in conditional form, that should prevail?

Points of OrderGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I believe the hon. member is correct. We will, however, check with the Senate people to see whether this is a transcription or a translation error.

We will get back to the House on this a little later.

The House resumed consideration of the motion in relation to the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-7, an Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts, and of the amendment.

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January 30th, 2002 / 4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick comment and a question. In the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg statistics have come out that say 26 motor vehicles per day are stolen. I suspect Regina has somewhat similar stats. Could the hon. member relate what he sees in Regina?

When the perpetrators are caught, either in the vehicle or through other investigative measures, it is found that the majority of them are young offenders. Many of the stolen vehicles end up wrecked or damaged, either by themselves or by running into other vehicles or people's property while in the possession of the young offenders who stole them.

Could the hon. member relate to us the situation in Saskatchewan to give us a feeling for the bigger part of the country? Does he believe the government's bill would do anything concrete to help the provinces solve the problem of juvenile theft of motor vehicles?

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake for his question.

The question regarding car theft, particularly in the city of Regina. Members who are not from Saskatchewan may know the rate is high and has remained high for some time. Not being a psychologist I do not know what would make a person, young or old, want to steal a car and drive it around for a while then deliberately drive it into a tree, a creek or something of that sort and total the vehicle. However it is happening.

I touched on community policing. This is one of the things I picked up on in my meetings. There are large areas on the prairies that are not populated where one goes some distance between communities. The feeling is that there are not enough police in those communities to apprehend people either before they commit crimes or after the fact.

The provincial governments in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan are aware of the situation. The justice critic for the hon. member's party was lamenting the fact that there are insufficient resources. A lot of this is being downloaded to the provinces to pay for the additional policing that seems to be required.

In terms of whether the legislation would work or make a difference, that remains to be seen. Based on my first hand observations Canadians will be watching extremely closely as to whether it is more effective than the legislation it is replacing.

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4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I take issue with the member for Palliser's comment that a lack of police is the issue in our part of the world which is southern Saskatchewan.

A report in a newspaper in Regina a month or so ago mentioned that most of the cars are being stolen by a small group of individuals and that some of them had stolen over 100 vehicles. It said there was one young fellow whose goal was to reach 250 vehicles before he turned 16. It sounded like he was well on his way to doing that.

Could the hon. member tell me what he would suggest we do with these people who continually flout the law, have no interest in abiding by it and do not seem to be punished by it at all?

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I do not know. I am not in the justice system. I do not know of the report the hon. member for Cypress Hills--Grasslands refers to.

When the Young Offenders Act seemed to be heated up significantly a year and a half ago I spent a day in youth court in Regina. The most impressive thing I came away with from that experience was the fact that there were so few legal aid lawyers there to deal with the cases. Cases were being continually set over and remanded for another date. Nothing seemed to get accomplished during the day I observed the youth criminal justice system.

We need to look at the system. We need to look at intervention such as that raised by the justice critic for the Bloc Quebecois. We need to look at the way we go about finding out what is happening to people whose goal is to steal 250 cars if that in fact is the case. Is anyone sitting down with them? Is anyone putting them face to face with victims to explain the hurt and damage that has gone on? Is anyone trying to involve them in community development and community work to repay society for the damage they have caused?

We will have to see whether the new bill works or not. I am skeptical but we will wait and see.

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4:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am always pleased to rise in the Chamber on behalf of the constituents of Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, my colleagues in the Conservative coalition and to simply be able to address the House, particularly on such an important bill as this.

The debate today centres around an amendment to the new youth criminal justice act that will replace the Young Offenders Act. Arguably one of the most important tasks that we could undertake in this place is to put in place a more effective and more accountable system of criminal justice for youth.

The act in its entirety will replace the Young Offenders Act at great cost to the country in terms of delay, in terms of implementation and certainly in terms of cost to young people. The country will quickly come to understand that the bill is virtually unenforceable in its complexity and in its costs associated with setting up these new programs.

Throughout the deliberations at committee, where we heard from numerous witnesses from all aspects of the youth criminal justice system, one of the statements that was most telling, and which has stayed with me to this very day, came from a very senior judge who had spent a great portion of his life on the bench dealing with the enforcement of the Young Offenders Act. He told members of the committee that he had read the bill no less than five times and was not able to comprehend fully what the bill was seeking to achieve.

I can only equate that level of complexity with the Income Tax Act in terms of new provisions, convoluted references and cross sections.

I have many friends in the practice of law, many of them practising criminal law specifically and spending a great deal of time in youth court which preoccupies, unfortunately, a great deal of the time that is set aside for hearings. They have indicated to me that, as lawyers, they are happy about the new legislation because of the new appeals and the new work that will result for the legal community. I say that in seriousness, with no degree of sarcasm. The bill would be a make work program for lawyers.

I want to take a moment to congratulate the new Minister of Justice. I am quick to note that he has inherited the bill as did his predecessor. The new minister, sadly, seems to have adopted the approach that we will fast track the bill, get it through parliament as quickly as possible and then wash our hands of it.

That is very unfortunate because although the amendment, which I will speak to in more detail in a moment, is very much an attempt to improve upon what I would call a bad bill, it does not address the overwhelming need to look at the convoluted, costly, cumbersome nature of the legislation that is being thrust upon the provinces.

My grandfather had an expression that aptly sums up what is happening with the amendment. It is an attempt to improve a bad situation. He used to say that we can sometimes come across a good stick of hardwood in a manure pile. This is an amendment that will improve upon a bill but the bill itself is so flawed in its entirety that it is difficult to even recognize the merit of what will occur.

As legislators we have to be very adamant about recognizing that no bill will satisfy everyone. As a former crown attorney who worked with the current Young Offenders Act and has some working knowledge of the previous Juvenile Delinquents Act, I never thought I would come to the conclusion that the old Young Offenders Act would be better than anything that we could come up with in a serious, studied and informed way.

Upon arriving in Ottawa after being elected in 1997, I was convinced that through the work of the justice committee, through the input of the entire forces of the Department of Justice and all of the minions and lawyers who work in that department, surely we could come up with something better than the Young Offenders Act.

Well, much to my dismay, we have produced, after eight years of study under this Liberal administration, a bill that is terribly wrong and cumbersome.

The bill was intended to simplify and streamline a system so that young people, in particular, their parents and those who are tasked with the enforcement of youth criminal justice would be able to work in a more suitable and responsive fashion, in a way that would be quick to adapt to the changing times and the way in which young people find themselves facing tough decisions which lead to their involvement in the criminal justice system.

I would be quick to embrace the philosophy of the bill. The intent clearly is to somehow codify a system that would allow for early intervention which would allow for the proverbial pre-emptive strike in dealing with young people when they make those decisions that challenge the law. Yet, sadly, what we have done is put layers on top of layers and have created a system that will result in numerous delays and new court challenges.

This new approach that was supposed to achieve so much will have the polar opposite effect. It will result in these delays which follow that old legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. This system will not allow young people, and their parents in particular, to grasp what is happening.

Many who work in the system would certainly agree that accountability and responsibility are paramount to any youth justice system. What this does is separate that nexus of accountability.

When a person finds himself or herself charged with a criminal offence, he or she meets first with a lawyer, if possible. My friend from Palliser has identified a very important problem: the lack of resources for legal aid, for crown attorneys to deal with the volume of cases, for police, for social workers and even for judges. The system has ballooned. It has expanded.

This new, complex, convoluted system adds to that voluminous bureaucracy that is building like mould around our justice system and expanding like a snowball going downhill. We need to strip away, like old shingles, some of the buildup that has occurred over the years in the justice system and allow people to understand in a more fundamental way how the system works. Further to that, people need to have access to the system. They do not need to be given more sterile delays in the system.

Because of the lack of lawyers and the systemic delay that results from these new procedures, months, if not years, can go by from the time the charge is made to the time of conviction or acquittal. The system to transfer youth to adult court is more complex than it is to conduct a trial and secure a conviction or an acquittal, as the case may be. We seem to be in reverse when we look at the cause and effect of Bill C-7.

While there may be a number of improvements, when we spoke to police, as I mentioned, lawyers, judges and legislators from the provincial side, the negatives far outweigh the positives. I want to talk for a moment about the new responsibilities that will fall on police, on the law enforcement community.

What police are currently doing in exercising discretion under our current system is making judgment calls in the field. Very often, rather than charge a young person, they may decide to reprimand on the spot, to take them home, to enter into discussions with parents and to essentially do what police are supposed to do: exercise that proper discretion.

What we are doing here is trying to somehow codify this system of discretion, telling police that they can now issue warnings, that they can now issue cautions and that these have to be written up in a certain way. We are superimposing these responsibilities in an artificial way, telling police that they must be counsellors and caseworkers, and that they must document all of this, do the paperwork and spend less time out on the street and more time being administrators and paper shufflers.

This imposition, on top of the current responsibilities of law enforcement and the demands upon the men and women who are currently carrying out that important task, is, I suggest again, a great deal of delay and a great deal of unnecessary, unsubstantiated work that is currently outside the realm of police in terms of where they should be concentrating their efforts.

The police are extremely worried about having the ability now to use this information for a very important judicial exercise which is called a bail hearing. I pointed out to the minister, as well as to members of the justice committee, that under this new system of cautions and sanctions that the police can use, they will no longer be able to use the information they have gathered for the purpose of a bail hearing.

The purpose of a bail hearing, as the Speaker would know and other members are aware, is the ability that the system has to take young people out of society and incarcerate them if there is a judicial finding that they are about to commit a criminal offence or they are a risk of fleeing the jurisdiction. However it is very much integral to the system to be able to intervene quickly.

Under this new system, which is just perverse to me, they are told to gather information and then advised that they cannot use it in a bail hearing. It is absolutely unjustifiable that we would allow that system to remain.

There are a number of serious flaws in the bill but the amendment that has been proposed by the Senate does manage to shed light on a very serious problem that can be found not only in the youth system but the Canadian justice system at large.

Noting differences for differences' sake is unacceptable. What we see here is a recognition of the inherent differences that do exist, sadly, on native reserves in this country. My colleague from the NDP has alluded to the social and economic differences and that the consequences those have on young people are very acute. I have two reserves within my federal constituency at Pictou, Afton and Antigonish county. I think that around this country this is very much to our shame, and one of the inequities throughout our entire country with which we are still wrestling. It stands to reason that we are trying to in some way to recognize a problem. This is not tantamount to the solution, it is simply a reminder to those in the judiciary that this has to be taken note of.

If there is one positive that can come from this debate it may be that the amendment proposed by the Senate demonstrates that the societal differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth are recognized. Justice should be blind to race, ethnicity and gender. In a perfect world we would not need the leviathan, but this is not a perfect world and those societal inequities remain and are evident today.

Clause 38 of the youth criminal justice act deems to lay out the purpose and principles of sentencing under clause 42. It states:

The purpose of sentencing...is to contribute to the protection of society by holding a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person and promote his or her rehabilitation and reintegration into society....

Yet in the bill sent to the Senate, a fundamental truth about our system was not addressed. It is currently the case in the adult system. Therefore to be consistent--and my friend from the Alliance party might say we are being consistently inconsistent, but I would submit that we have to be consistent between the youth and the adult system--we have to have similar protection under this new youth criminal act.

Statistics and studies have consistently shown that there are a disproportionate number of aboriginal youth incarcerated in our system. In keeping with the purpose and principle, the bill might ask what constitutes just sanctions. Specifically, while the amendment is a good first attempt at recognizing the inequities in the system, I submit that it does not go through sufficient explanation and direction.

As we examine the original Bill C-7, it becomes evident that clarity was not essential in the minds of the government when the bill was passed on to the Senate. Seasoned professionals have examined the legislation and today they are no further ahead than when they started. Several friends and colleagues have spent approximately three years examining the bill and are still at a loss on the overall effect it will have on our justice system.

The bill has, in essence, been more than that. It has been almost eight years in the making and it has gone through several incarnations, Bill C-68, which alludes to a whole other type of bill that we are aware of, Bill C-3 and now Bill C-7.

It is interesting to note that there were 160 amendments, demonstrating the flawed nature of the bill. It is too long, too complicated and too expensive. It is interesting to see it come back with rather minor yet albeit significant changes.

The justice committee could have heard more input on this particular issue, if there was any doubt left in the minds of some members of the House. However, the committee was not given that opportunity. It was brought directly back to parliament, again demonstrating the government's angst and anxiety over the bill and its attempt to get it through quickly.

In my mind, these changes were necessary and yet it speaks to the fundamental problems of a piece of legislation when in our haste to cater to pollsters the government overlooks such an important section as 718.2(e). There are many people in the country, including Joe Wamback from Ontario, who have expressed their desire to revisit the bill. Provincial attorneys general, those who work in the criminal justice system every day, have requested that the government at least revisit the implementation of the bill and give the provinces an opportunity to brace themselves financially, if nothing else, for the costs associated with its implementation. Yet this new minister appears to be charging ahead.

While the amendments of the upper Chamber should alleviate a constitutional challenge on the grounds of discrimination, the bill will most certainly be challenged on other grounds leading to incredible delays and backlogs in a system that is already on the verge of collapse.

The amendment states that all available sanctions other than custody that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considerable for all young persons with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal young persons. What could be more straightforward than that? Deliberate, informed debate on such a subject should and could continue. Broadening the spectrum for judges to enable to take this issue into account is a good in and of itself.

In response to comments made by the Canadian Alliance critic, I would reiterate that we take victims as we find them. I do not believe that there is a race or ethnicity issue associated with the particular clause. It is consistent with current criminal code provisions. It is not about specializing the interests of the accused or the victim. It is simply putting into legislation a recognition that the situation which aboriginal people find themselves in today is worthy of note in coming to a conclusion as to what the appropriate sentence is that is meted out by the sentencing judge.

Some have argued that this is in and of itself discriminatory to have a clause like this in the criminal code at all. Yet in our justice system we have to recognize that the courts have made an important pronouncement and it was alluded to. Queen v Gladue set out quite clearly that we can improve upon the situation of aboriginals in our legal system by this recognition of their circumstances. It is one of simple consultation and it allows judges to recognize what is inherent in the country today.

As Senator Pierre Claude Nolin of the other place pointed out, the framework of analysis outlined in section 718.2(e) must include systemic and background factors which explain why aboriginal offenders often appear before the courts. They include: poverty, level of education, drug or alcohol abuse, leaving the reserve and facing systemic prejudice, unemployment, domestic violence and direct or indirect discrimination.

The framework of analysis set out by the courts includes the type of sentencing procedures and sanctions which may be appropriate in the circumstances for the offender because of his or her particular aboriginal heritage or connection.

The inclusion of this clause in the code was necessary to deal with the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in prison and to encourage sentencing judges to have recourse to a restorative justice approach which is consistent with the theme and the philosophy of the bill.

I reiterate that the importance of the amendment is paramount to the fundamentals laid out within the entire document and I concur with hon. Senator Andreychuk who rose in support of the amendment put forth by a Liberal senator on the other side. She said:

Too often in this place do we have to be prodded to raise issues concerning Aboriginal youth

I and the PC/DR coalition support wholeheartedly the amendment, however we take great issue with the problems found in the entire bill. We oppose the implementation and adaptation of the new youth criminal justice bill and will continue to do so for reasons that have been enunciated at length by others and myself.