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House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, before he tables his bill, I would like the minister to tell us whether he knew that, for years now, the youth crime rate has been 50% higher in Canada than in Quebec? Again last year, while the youth crime rate was going up in Canada, it went down by 4% in Quebec.

Did he ever ask himself whether Quebec's approach was different from those of the other provinces? If so, is he starting to see why we have always achieved better results than Canada and, indeed, the rest of North America? Has the minister asked himself this question? Does he have any answers? Does he know why this reality exists and whether the rest of Canada could benefit from Quebec's approach?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a big proponent of and a believer in everyone learning from everybody else in the country. The province of Quebec has good ideas that can and should be examined by other law enforcement agencies and those who work with young people. All of us can learn from each other.

I was very proud, for instance, to be with my colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, at an announcement in St. Catharines on Monday morning, when a group known as the Citizens Advisory Committee received a $1.7 million grant from the government to assist young people who are in trouble with the law or have the potential to get in trouble with the law. It will have a program where it can engage approximately 80 individuals at one time who can work with those individuals to try to ensure they do not get mixed up with the criminal justice system.

I look to a program like that. I congratulated the members for their fine work, which they have been doing for almost two decades now in the Niagara Peninsula.

Again, as the hon. member says, we can learn from each other, but we have to be united in our determination that bills like this have to be passed. We cannot say that, yes, a program is working somewhere and, therefore, we are not going to do anything any more. I have been coast to coast in the country and people all tell me the same thing: do something about the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I am responding to what was said in the Nunn commission report. I am responding to my colleagues who have been hearing from their constituents, who have been saying that they want to see changes. We have heard from a wide range of people. I think there is a consensus that the changes we bring about in Bill C-25 are very reasonable and should have the support of everybody in the House of Commons.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, the new legislation, which the justice minister spoke about, albeit briefly, has elicited a great response, judging by how many of my colleagues from all parties are looking to ask questions of him. Therefore, I will try to keep this brief.

The reality I have often remarked over the 14 years I have been privileged to be a member of Parliament is that too often our justice system overlooks the victims of crime. More often than not, the victims of youth crime are youth themselves, and we do not want to lose sight of that.

I was very pleased to hear my colleague, the justice minister, remark that a real impetus for bringing forward the legislation is to try to bring greater fairness and justice to the victims of crime.

Could he elaborate a bit more on that? I hear this all the time, not only in northeastern British Columbia, but as I travel across our country.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the chief government whip raised the question of the victims.

If members looked at the transcript of this Parliament and checked question period every day, they would see very few questions directed to the government from the opposition directly related to the victims and their rights.

However, I know it is a priority among government members and that is why I was very pleased earlier this year to have a press conference and announce that we would have the first federal ombudsman for the victims of crime, and why not? It was an excellent idea.

Most of us, when we came to government, we asked who was in charge, who looked after the rights of victims? Everybody else seemed to have somebody else lobbying or campaigning on behalf of their rights, but there was very little in the way of spokespeople who concentrated on the rights of victims. Therefore, it is very appropriate that the Government of Canada has initiated that new response to something very fair, which is looking after the victims of crime.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad the Minister of Justice is enthusiastic about helping fix the system. He used the word “comprehensive” in his speech. A program cannot be comprehensive if it does not deal with some of the major problems.

There are two major problems. First, people come to members of Parliament all the time about the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the justice system. Second, people with FAS and FASD commit proportionally much larger numbers of crime per capita.

What is the minister doing to help fix those problems in the system?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased to support the aboriginal justice strategy earlier this year and confirm there would be continued government financing of that program.

As Minister of Justice, when it was explained to me what we were doing in that, I liked the fact that we were getting results in this area and that it was a success. We want to build on success.

We know young people can get involved with drugs and we know this is a major problem in a number of communities. I was very pleased, therefore, when the Prime Minister announced in Winnipeg the national anti-drug strategy and said that two-thirds of the new resources would go into prevention and treatment.

Again, this is what I was talking about earlier. We want to have that comprehensive approach because we know it will work.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know the minister will be in front of the committee. I want to ask him about dollars. He bragged about the $1.7 million he gave in his area of the country. I should point out that this was over four years, not one year.

The reality is the government has done very little with regard to preventive work. It put some money in the budget, but has not spent it since it was in power.

Could the minister tell us how much the government has allocated for prevention programs for youth in the current budget period?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, just within the national anti-drug strategy alone, it took almost $64 million of new resources, quite apart from the resources that we already allocated to assist both youth and for drug treatment programs.

Quite apart from those, of the $64 million, two-thirds of that will go to prevention and treatment, and why not? These are good ideas and we know that. I have talked many times about the enforcement and the penalty side, but that can only be one part of it. We have to build a complete program. My colleagues and I are keenly aware of that.

Every time members have seen a federal budget, every time they have seen an announcement, they will notice that we watch and ensure that treatment and prevention programs are a part of every program with which we move forward. I am very proud of that and I am very pleased to have the support of my colleagues.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak to Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I received a letter from the minister on the day that he tabled the bill at first reading. His letter stated:

A copy of the Bill and accompanying news release and backgrounder are enclosed.

The Bill amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act by adding deterrence and denunciation to the principles that a court must consider when determining a youth sentence. Deterrence refers to imposing a sanction with the purpose of discouraging the offender and others from engaging in criminal conduct. Denunciation refers to society's condemnation of the offence.

The Bill also clarifies that the presumption against the pre-trial detention of young person is rebuttable and specifies the circumstances in which the presumption does not apply. This will make it easier to detain a broader range of youth who pose a risk to public safety.

I was astonished because Nova Scotia had recently conducted a major public inquiry. That inquiry was the result of the following incident.

On October 14, 2004, Theresa McEvoy, a 52 year old mother, was killed in a car accident by a 16 year old, whose initials are A.B.

A.B., who was joyriding in a stolen car at the time of the accident, was released on October 12, 2004, despite having 38 criminal charges against him.

On June 29, 2005, Nova Scotia called a public inquiry to look at how the charges against this youth were handled and other issues related to why he was released. The Hon. D. Merlin Nunn was named commissioner of the inquiry.

On December 5, 2006, the commissioner, Justice Nunn, presented his report, which included 34 recommendations: 19 recommendations on the need to simplify the administration of justice and improve accountability, 6 others on giving the Youth Criminal Justice Act more teeth, and 9 others on youth crime prevention.

I found out about this inquiry and this report through my colleagues and not through the Conservative government.

It was my colleagues from Sydney—Victoria, Halifax West, Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Kenora, Saint Boniface, Winnipeg South Centre, Churchill, Cape Breton—Canso, Yukon, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and Scarborough—Rouge River who brought the fact and the reality of the existence of this report to my attention.

I immediately got a copy of the report and began reading it. I have to tell the House that what the government has tabled is not in any way a comprehensive response to the six recommendations that Justice Nunn made in his December 2006 report.

Let me read the actual recommendations.

Recommendation 20 states:

The Province should advocate that the federal government amend the “Declaration of Principle” in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act.

Recommendation 21 states:

--that the federal government amend the definition of “violent offence” in section 39(1)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to include conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person.

Recommendation 22 states:

--that the federal government amend section 39(1)(c) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that the requirement for a demonstrated “pattern of findings of guilt” is changed to “a pattern of offences”, or similar wording, with the goal that both a young person's prior findings of guilt and pending charges are to be considered when determining the appropriateness of pre-trial detention.

Recommendation 23, the fourth one that deals directly with the YCJA, states:

--that the federal government amend and simplify the statutory provisions relating to the pre-trial detention of young persons so that section 29 will stand on its own without interaction with other statutes or other provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Recommendation 24 states:

--that the federal government amend section 31(5)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking” the young person's undertaking made under section 31(3)(b) nevertheless remains in full force and effect, particularly any requirement to keep the peace and be of good behaviour and other conditions imposed by a youth court judge.

Finally, recommendation 25, the sixth recommendation of Justice Nunn's that goes directly to the YCJA, states:

--that the federal government amend section 31(6) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to remove the requirement of a new bail hearing for the young person before being placed in pre-trial custody if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking”.

There is a series of recommendations talking about the development and implementation of a public, comprehensive, collaborative and effective interdepartmental strategy to coordinate programs, interventions, services and supports to children, youth at risk and their families. All of the other recommendations were directed to the provincial government of Nova Scotia, but six of them directly called on the provincial government of Nova Scotia to advocate for and lobby the federal government for six precise changes.

Let us look at this to see what the government actually changed.

The government included, as the minister said, that the judge may now use the following criteria in determining the sentence that is appropriate for a young offender: “to denounce unlawful conduct” and “to deter the young person and other young persons from committing offences”. That is a big piece of Bill C-25.

The other piece of Bill C-25 addresses in part Justice Nunn's recommendations, but only in part. He had several recommendations regarding the pretrial detention, and the bill addresses some of those recommendations, that is, that the justice shall:

presume that detention is not necessary unless

(a) the young person is charged with a violent offence or an offence that otherwise endangers the public by creating a substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm to another person;

(b) the young person has been found guilty of failing to comply with non-custodial sentences or conditions of release, or

(c) the young person is charged with an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilty under this Act or the Young Offenders Act....

Finally, the bill states:

If the youth justice court or the justice finds that none of paragraphs 2(a) to (c) apply, the court or justice shall not detain the young person unless...satisfied that there is a substantial likelihood, having regard to all of the relevant factors including any pending charges against the young person, that the young person will, if released from custody, commit a violent offence or an offence that otherwise endangers the public by creating a substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm to another person.

That is great. That answers some of Justice Nunn's recommendations. It does not, however, answer Justice Nunn's recommendation on amending section 3, the declaration of principle, “to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act”.

It also does not address Justice Nunn's recommendation that the definition of “violent offence” found in section 39(1)(a) “include conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person”.

It does not answer and respond to Justice Nunn's recommendation that “the...government amend and simplify the statutory provisions relating to the pre-trial detention of young persons so that section 29 will stand on its own without interaction with other statutes”.

One of the main recommendations of Justice Nunn was that section 3 should be amended so that protection of the public would be a primary objective of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. For a government that beats its chest and beats the drums over and over again in its members' ridings, on the news and in its publications that it is there to get tough on crime, I cannot understand why the government chose not to amend section 3 and include protection of the public as a primary goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Is it because it is not really protection of the public that the Conservative government is interested in, but that this is more about punishment? Is that why? There is no other logical explanation.

Let me read a few quotes from the Nunn commission report. It noted:

--the [Youth Criminal Justice Act] has been highly successful in the manner in which the vast majority of youth is handled...The challenge is whether the [Youth Criminal Justice Act] in its present form is adequate to deal with that smaller number of repeat offenders that the justice system is concerned with on a regular basis.

Justice Nunn also said:

--it is important to state that not one of the parties with standing took exception to the philosophy behind the act or to the majority of its provisions. Rather, they identified a number of sections causing concern and recommended changes.

Unfortunately, the government again has chosen to cherry-pick among these recommendations. That is me talking, not Justice Nunn. I will return to the quotes:

--I can categorically state that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is legislation that provides an intelligent, modern and advanced approach to dealing with youth involved in criminal activities. Canada is now far ahead of other countries in its treatment of youth in conflict with the law....

That is on page 228, but Justice Nunn's next statement is even better:

This is not to say that there are not those who are opposed to the [Youth Criminal Justice Act], just as there were those opposed to the previous acts, the Juvenile Delinquents Act and the Young Offenders Act.

He continues, and I like this one, as he is spot on:

Many of these critics believe that jail is the answer: “There they'll learn the errors of their ways.” These critics pay little attention to contrary evidence, nor do they understand that with young persons jail for the terms they recommend does not correct or rehabilitate, but rather often turns out a person whose behaviour is much worse than it was. Others espouse the vengeful adage “adult crime--adult time”....

How many times have we heard that from Conservative members, those who were previously Canadian Alliance members and before that Reform members? Justice Nunn goes on to say:

--paying no attention to the fact that it is a youth crime and not an adult crime.

Such an attitude is in direct conflict with modern approaches to treating criminal behaviour. Most of the adherents of these views refuse to accept that youth should be treated differently and separately from any adult system.

Nevertheless, they are entitled to the views and opinions they express. Unfortunately, in the present state of our youth criminal justice system, they are unable to make any contribution to reform, even when some reform is not only reasonable but desirable.

I would like to continue the quotes. How much time do I have left, please?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

David Tilson

None.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Oh, those members are endorsing the Nunn report. I heard some of them calling out Nunn.

That quote was from pages 228 and 229. The next quote is from page 230:

The witnesses and counsel for all parties in this inquiry have indicated full support for the aims and goals of the act while recognizing, at the same time, a need for a number of amendments to give flexibility to the courts in dealing with repeat offenders, primarily by opening a door to pre-trial custody and enlarging the gateways to custody. Such amendments would give greater credence to and public support for the act, a much-desired result.

The judge made it clear that the overwhelming majority of people who testified before him, who were witnesses before him, supported the aims of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Those aims do not include adult sentencing principles: deterrence and denunciation.

Allow me to quote Deputy Chief Christopher McNeil of the Halifax Regional Police service, who said:

The [Youth Criminal Justice Act] is premised on the belief that the vast majority of young offenders, with proper guidance and support, can overcome past criminal behaviour and develop into law-abiding citizens. This is true for the vast majority of young people. However, the YCJA is ineffective in dealing with the small percentage of young people from whom the public needs protection.

The YCJA fails to recognize that there is a small group of incorrigible young people whose activities pose a risk, and that the criminal law must provide mechanisms to protect society from their behaviour. The YCJA is highly prescriptive legislation and restrictions on the use of custody in the YCJA have been interpreted as a virtual bar to detention or custody in certain cases. These restrictions pose a risk to public safety.

He went on to talk about the need to put protection of the public in the primary goal in section 3, the declaration of principles of the act.

Why would the government not follow that recommendation? One can only believe that the government is not interested in effective policies that actually do work and will in fact protect the public, because if the government were genuine in its claim that, as the minister just stated in this House, it is “responding to what was said in the Nunn report”, it would have done so.

I am sorry. He is only responding to a small part of what was said. He is not responding to all of the recommendations dealing with the YCJA. Shame on him.

He should stand here in this House and say, “I read the Nunn report. There are six recommendations dealing with the YCJA. I am only going to deal with two of them. The other four? Maybe in the future”. He should at least show that integrity. Shame on him.

I met with the brother of Theresa McEvoy when the member for Halifax West organized a meeting, a round table. There were two other families there who also had members of their family, one was a child and the other was a sister, who were murdered.

Not one of them asked to have deterrence and denunciation put as a criteria for determining sentencing for young offenders. What they all asked for was to have protection of the public put into the declaration of principle, section 3 of the YCJA. They asked that all of Justice Nunn's recommendations dealing with the YCJA be implemented by that Conservative government. Unfortunately, that Conservative government has done what it always does: cherry-picks.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

An hon. member

It's getting it done.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is not getting it done. It cherry-picks.

The Conservative government will not provide the kind of effective justice system for our young people as it is claiming because if it were interested in that, it would have implemented all six recommendations of Justice Nunn in Bill C-25 and they are not all there. Shame on the government.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, since I have been elected to this House of Commons seven years, my constituents have been asking for the Attorney General of Canada, the Minister of Justice, to introduce legislation that would provide for new measures to protect communities from young offenders who pose a significant risk to public safety.

The hon. member across the way said in her speech that it does not list protection of society as a guiding principle.

For seven years, we stood in this House, when the Conservative Party was in opposition, and asked the Liberal government to add protection of society as a guiding principle. Its arguments back were that the rehabilitation of the offender was the guiding principle, that reintegration was the guiding principle.

What this bill would do, among a number of other things, is amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to ask the courts to consider deterrence as part of the sentencing structure.

Obviously, the Minister of Justice, when he introduced these amendments, also announced that in 2008 there would be a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It would be done to address the other concerns and criticisms regarding the Youth Criminal Justice Act that the Liberal government put in place. At that point in time, the Youth Criminal Justice Act would be five years old.

Would this member tell this House today that she, at the time of that review in 2008, next year, will be a strong advocate for the protection of society being the guiding principle of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to depart from the old Liberal way of reintegration back into society as being the guiding principle? Would she assure the House today that she would support those measures in the upcoming review in 2008?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was here when the debates were going on to replace the Young Offenders Act with the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I participated in those debates. I do not recall one member sitting across that side asking for protection of the public to be part of the primary goals.

What I will say--

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Shame on you, Marlene.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I said I do not recall. I do not recall that. I would like to see the transcript.

However, I would like to say that our party has called for a full implementation of Justice Nunn's recommendations that are directly related to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Therefore, that includes adding protection of the public in section 3 of the act, declaration of principle, as one of the primary goals of the act. That is one.

Second, we are also calling on the government to not wait until the end of 2008 to conduct the review. The government can begin the review today if it wishes. We are calling on this government to begin the review of YCJA immediately. Do not wait a year. Do not wait six months. Begin it immediately.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech and I do not exactly understand her definition of safety to the public.

I have a difficult time debating with lawyers at the best of times because I am not one. They seem to use legal jargon to a great extent and I just cannot comprehend a lot of it. Mr. Speaker, I am sure you could share that with me with your background.

I quite often hear about reports from a person by the name of Nunn and other reports from the member and other members of her party, usually concerning the legal aspects. I wonder if the Liberals have ever taken a serious look at some of the reports that come in from victims of crime.

I remember the late Chuck Cadman, a member of my party, who passed away recently. He was here because of his son who was murdered by young offenders, which was a terrible tragedy. I remember how hard he worked, the great suggestions that he brought forward, and the reports he presented from the victims' points of view and not the legal quarters. It was ignored. I have a hard time understanding that.

I also have a hard time understanding when the Liberals talk about prevention. There is no one who wants to see crime prevented more than me. It may not come across that way and I will have to do a little better job of communicating that maybe, but I do not understand it when members say we should get to the cause of crime.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest causes of crime are drugs and alcohol, particularly alcohol. How does alcohol get into the hands of young people under the age of 18? It is against the law. When is the last time we have heard of anybody being arrested or charged for providing liquor to a minor? When is the last time we saw police break up a block party or a house party that was full of booze and people under the age of 18?

When it is mentioned in committee or to witnesses that it is a major cause and ask what we are going to do about it, the Liberals do not want to go there. They want to talk about poverty being a major cause. I guess they do not realize that rich kids get into trouble as well. There are excuses for avoiding the real causes of crime and our penitentiaries are full of adults for the very same reasons.

They do not want to hear it and I do not understand. They do not want to hear any real, solid points of view from the general public, from the victims on down. They like to hear the points of view of the legal beagles and they need to change their attitude.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the issue of the Nunn commission report was raised by the member's own colleague, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. When he made his speech in the House on second reading, he raised the issue of the Nunn commission report. That is the first thing. I suggest if the member for Wild Rose has some issues, he might want to raise them with his own colleague, that is if he is allowed to talk in caucus.

The hon. member raised the issue of whether I as a member of Parliament or even before I was a member of Parliament have ever had any dealings with victims. The answer is yes, I have. I have had dealings with victims and families of victims through the years, both on a personal level and on a professional level. So yes, I do know what many of the issues for victims and families of victims are.

It was in part because of my advocacy and that of many of my colleagues here that the previous Liberal government brought in measures and moneys to help victims. We created a secretariat within the Department of Public Safety, gave moneys to Correctional Service Canada, and changed the Criminal Code amendments so that victim impact statements could be made. There were changes and improvements made. We can always continue to improve. Always. The member's own government can continue to improve.

Possibly the member for Wild Rose was not in his seat when I spoke about why the Nunn commission report came out. It came out of the death of Theresa McEvoy, 52 years old. It came out as a result of her death. Her death can be mirrored across this country. She is not the only one.

Justice Nunn's recommendations as to the Youth Criminal Justice Act have been endorsed not just by the Government of Nova Scotia. The Government of Manitoba, for instance, and the premier of Manitoba asked this government to implement all six of Judge Nunn's recommendations. Other attorneys general and victims groups have asked that as well and the government has not done what they have asked. Unfortunately, this government has again cherry-picked. It is most unfortunate.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time for questions and comments has now expired.

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Seasonal Workers; the hon. member for Madawaska—Restigouche, Employment Insurance; the hon. member for West Nova, Airbus.

Message from the SenateGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing the House that the Senate has passed a bill, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by calling for calm, just as you did. I do not think that it is useful to shout insults during a debate on this subject.

I was in this House in 1999, when three ministers of justice—Anne McLellan, Allan Rock and Martin Cauchon—introduced the early amendments to what was then the Young Offenders Act, which had been in place since 1907 and is now the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I am sure that members of this House have fond memories of our colleague from Berthier, who is now putting his talent and experience to work on the bench, and who was in charge of this issue for the Bloc Québécois. At the time, we introduced some 2,700 amendments, which led to changes to the Standing Orders to limit opportunities to introduce amendments in committee at the report stage.

At the time, there was a broad coalition that included the Government of Quebec and hundreds of youth services groups that were concerned about the fact that young people aged 14 or 15 could, in some cases, be tried in adult court and sentenced as adults. That was at the heart of the reforms proposed in 1999.

At the National Assembly, youth justice stakeholders criticized elements that contradicted established practices in Quebec. Not only did the province believe in rehabilitation, its watchword for intervention practices was “the right measure at the right time”. That was our slogan. That means that when intervention is necessary, rehabilitation should be the first choice. We were supposed to abide by that slogan. Quebec's National Assembly and stakeholders in the province have never denied the fact that in some cases, under specific circumstances, pre-trial detention, incarceration and even other penalties may be necessary.

When the minister made the bill public, some of the government members were quick to draw parallels with street gangs. The Bloc Québécois is not complacent. We do not have an idyllic or unrealistic view of youth. We know that young people are involved in crime, and I will talk more about this later. We also know that sometimes tougher measures are needed. However, we must stop comparing action taken under the Youth Criminal Justice Act with the issue of street gangs.

Street gangs are a real phenomenon in all large Canadian cities. Montreal, where my constituency is, is no exception. Neither is Quebec City or other cities, such as Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax. As recent statistics show, individuals involved in street gangs, or at least the well-known leaders who might find themselves in court, are not 12- or 13-year-olds.

My colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine sat on the justice committee with me when the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion to invite Randall Richmond, a civil servant in Quebec City with the Organized Crimes Prosecution Bureau, also known as BLACO, who has thoroughly examined this issue. He told us the average age of individuals who had recently been arrested and brought before the court. At the time, there was much talk about the Pelletier street gang in Montreal and the arrest which first established a link between street gangs and criminal organizations. The average age of these individuals was 19 years and 2 months.

That said, the Bloc Québécois is very concerned about this bill and will not support it. We will use our energy to speak out and take action to show the public that the government is on the wrong track. We have two main concerns.

First of all, in the 1999 reform, we wanted to amend this legislation, which we had criticized. We disagreed with one of the provisions, namely, the widespread use of pretrial detention.

Once again, we are not saying that pretrial detention should never be used. Section 515 of the Criminal Code already set outs circumstances in which adults must be detained before their trial. First there are the serious offences listed in section 469 of the Criminal Code: murder, attempted murder and the most serious offences. Of course, an offender is remanded for pretrial detention when it is believed that he or she may not report for their trial, that evidence could be destroyed or when the offender is not a Canadian resident.

In some situations, pretrial detention is of course necessary in order to ensure the proper functioning of the legal system and the administration of justice. This is also true for young offenders. We understand this.

I was speaking with my colleague from Pointe-aux-Trembles earlier about the consultation paper. Last night, I read the consultation paper released by the Department of Justice in June 2007, which gives an overview of the situation since the act was proclaimed in 2003. The document indicates that, before 2003, under the Young Offenders Act, police and other law enforcement agencies incarcerated young offenders before their trial in 45% of cases. When we look at the most recent statistics available, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, pretrial detention has risen to 55%. Thus, a trend that we wanted to reverse is actually increasing.

Why is widespread pretrial detention not desirable as a general rule? As we all know, this is the period before sentencing and before the trial. The presumption of innocence must therefore apply.

Yesterday I was talking to Mr. Trépanier, a leading expert in Quebec, who has studied this issue the most. He is a professor in the criminology department at the Université de Montréal. I was talking to him about statistics. He has, by the way, been contracted by various government departments to study this issue. He told me that pretrial detention is not desirable. First, because even if that detention could offer some form of support, youth will never engage seriously in treatment and rehabilitation, or measures that could help them become better citizens. Second, there is the presumption of innocence. Third, there is the whole machinery that is reluctant to invest in resources before the final status of that youth is known. It is therefore wrong to want to see this principle used more widely.

Of course, in the bill, which has just two clauses, we are looking at a reverse onus of proof. Should we not be worried about this tendency toward more widespread reliance on the reverse onus of proof?

The Bloc Québécois has accepted that this is for the toughest criminals. I am thinking, among other things, of the former Bill C-27, which was incorporated in Bill C-2. We are talking about dangerous offenders—not even 500 people across Canada. These are people who have committed serious crimes.

In section 753 of the Criminal Code there is a very specific definition. We have accepted it, even though it flies in the face of a principle important to the Bloc Québécois when it comes to the administration of justice, and that is not to reverse the onus of proof. We realize that in some situations, there are people who are a true threat to public safety.

In my opinion, even though three paragraphs in the first part of Bill C-25 suggest reverse onus of proof, and although they are serious, they are too general. I am anxious to see what the experts will say about this in committee.

Obviously, we are talking about a young person who is charged with an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and who has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt. However, you will agree that the list of potential offences is extremely lengthy. I have even heard some people say that in Bill C-25, reverse onus was even more in evidence than in Bill C-27. This first issue makes us extremely skeptical about this bill.

There is a second issue, which is the most important. Do we believe that at 13, 14 or 15, an individual can be treated as an adult? Do we believe that the life of a youth of 12, 13 14 or 15 can be the same as that of a person of 38, 39, 40 or 45? This was the logic behind the call for a criminal justice system tailored to young people. Such a system recognizes that people are entitled to make mistakes and calls for individualized treatment.

Once again, we in the Bloc Québécois are not soft on crime. We know that some young people commit crimes that are so serious that they need to be isolated from society. We agree with that. But we should be guided by a basic principle: treatments and help for young people must be available as early as possible and for as long as possible.

That is why, until this bill was introduced, this sort of obligation was not among the principles in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act. The act does not call for deterrents, which set an example for others. Such penalties tend more toward incarceration. Why does the act not call for such an approach? I cannot provide a better quote than the one I found in a judgment of the Supreme Court, which had heard two cases. As you know, the full names of individuals under the age of 18 are never given; offenders are always identified by their initials. Consequently, the Supreme Court had handed down decisions in Her Majesty v. B.W.P. and Her Majesty v. B.V.N. An aboriginal youth had killed another person. These young people had committed a serious crime. I am not denying that. The court handed down a unanimous decision, and Judge Chars, on behalf of the majority, wrote the following:

The application of general deterrence as a sentencing principle, of course, does not always result in a custodial sentence; however, it can only contribute to the increased use of incarceration, not its reduction. Hence, the exclusion of general deterrence from the new regime...

This refers, of course, to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Continuing on:

The exclusion of general deterrence from the new regime is consistent with Parliament’s express intention—“Parliament” referring to us, and I was also a member in 1999—to reduce the over-reliance of incarceration for non-violent young persons. I am not persuaded by the Crown’s argument that the words of the preamble referring to the public availability of information indicate that Parliament somehow intended by those words to include general deterrence as part of the new regime.

I do not wish to repeat all the arguments presented by the Crown, but I think it is worth noting that the Crown basically wanted to restore the principle and logic that existed in the Criminal Code, but through the back door. Anyone can consult section 718 of the Criminal Code and see that deterrence is one of the objectives pursued by judges during sentencing. There are other as well. I would also remind the House that there is a specific provision for aboriginal offenders, when it comes to sentencing.

To sum up, this government is making a very serious mistake and that is the subject of the second clause. The bill before us is such a small one, but so very important, given its devastating potential.

Clause 2 of this bill seeks to amend section 38 of the legislation in order to include, in matters of youth criminal justice, the principles of denouncing unlawful conduct and deterring the young person.

Clearly we cannot go down this path. When any sentence is handed down—in Quebec's case in the youth court component of the Quebec court—the judge naturally bears in mind that it is desirable that the individual not reoffend. However, the desire to set down, to codify, in a bill the principle of deterrence, promotes pretrial detention and assigns secondary importance to the principles of treatment, rehabilitation, assistance, significant individuals, or community involvement, in other words, a philosophy of intervention that Quebec has adopted.

This move by the government is even more surprising given that its discussion paper, which I read yesterday, provides some very conclusive figures. They indicate how far we are, despite the 2003 amendments to the Young Offenders Act, from achieving this objective.

I would also like to say that in reading the department's document, I discovered some very interesting facts. A study of police discretion examined how law enforcement officers, thus police, who are peace officers and the first to come in contact with youth, behave when arresting youth. This study revealed three reasons why the police do not release adolescents and detain them until the hearing, that is until the trial.

The first reason is law enforcement, that is to establish the identity of the offenders and to ensure they appear, as I stated earlier. Once again, according to the code, there are situations where releasing an individual is not an option. The second reason—and I find this surprising— is that detention is for the good of the youth. The study gives the example of a police officer who arrests a homeless prostitute or other homeless individuals who do not give the impression that they will find shelter. According to this study, the police officer's usual practice is to hold them for trial. The third reason is to use detention as a means of repression.

The document states that two of these three types of reasons are illegal. Under the reform of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it is prohibited to detain an individual for these reasons.

So the government has reinforced an undesirable practice. It has supported police officers or law enforcement agencies who tend not to release youth. Yet according to the Quebec code, it is much better to remand young people to youth centres so they can receive institutional support. The bill provides for the possibility of not necessarily releasing them to their parents, but to responsible adults.

Since my time will soon expire, I would like to tell the government how disappointed I am; it would have been much better to address other problems. For several months the Bloc Québécois has been calling for a review of the parole system and accelerated parole review. We would have helped the government if it had been interested. Instead, it is ideologically driven to please its voters and it encourages and promotes prejudices that are not supported by statistics or reality.

Again, the Bloc Québécois will do everything it can to ensure that this ill-advised bill never receives royal assent.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of respect for the Bloc Québécois member's opinions and his experience in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and in this House. As I understand it, he and the Bloc are completely opposed to clause 2 of the bill, which would add deterrence and denunciation to the principles to be considered in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I understand his position on the issue.

I want to ask a more specific question. As we all know, the principles of deterrence and denunciation are in the Criminal Code. Section 718 of the Criminal Code includes a number of other principles. Section 718.1 sets out the crucial principle of sentencing proportionality.

I asked the minister if this bill included a principle of proportionality. He said that it did. Does the Bloc Québécois member think that the bill before us includes a principle of sentencing proportionality?

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

I absolutely agree with his comments. The Criminal Code does set out a number of principles, the most important being the principle of proportionality. There is no trace of this principle in this bill. On the contrary, the bill promotes denunciation and deterrence. Once again, why is this not desirable?

It is significant that from 1907 to date, including the 1999 reform, we have never made the principle of deterrence part of the youth justice system when we have studied it. Deterrence is not the prime objective. Once again, this does not mean that a judge—in the case of Quebec, we are talking about a judge of the Court of Québec’s Youth Division—will not ensure that the offender receives treatment so as not to reoffend. Preventing the offender from reoffending is always the goal of the judiciary and the stakeholders. However, we do not believe that deterrence should be part of this bill, because it will only lead to increased incarceration.