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House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When the matter was last before the House the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga had the floor. There are 17 minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks, therefore, I call upon the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me the privilege to conclude my remarks on this very important and timely bill.

As I indicated yesterday in my opening remarks, the overwhelming majority of our youth contribute very positively to their communities and to our country. Unfortunately, a very tiny minority continues to leave a black mark that is a terrible blight on our society. My involvement and interest in bringing this much needed change to the Youth Criminal Justice Act is rooted in a desire to protect youth.

This very small minority of youth who currently do encounter conflict and eventually end up with criminal charges against them need earlier intervention. If this propensity toward criminal activity is intercepted at an earlier time with meaningful direction to custody and treatment options, I believe that many of Canada's youth will be spared from spiraling into deeper criminal activity.

Of course we need to provide meaningful options for recreation for youth to form positive relationships and other opportunities to develop life and work skills which will reduce the risk of becoming involved in crime. There are many worthy projects which provide good prevention and rehabilitation options.

One such group locally in the Waterloo region is Ray of Hope. Ray of Hope has 40 years of experience operating juvenile detention centres. Hope Harbour and Hope Manor are an open custody and a closed custody centre in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Oasis is a city core, safe drop-in centre providing a safe place with meals, showers, laundry facilities, indoor recreational space, food hampers, clothing, training, and personal support through volunteer and friendships.

Ray of Hope also operates two retail coffee shops called Morning Glory Cafés. These cafés provide training opportunities to assist youth in preparation for gainful employment and fiscal independence.

Ray of Hope goes on to state in its mission that it is reaching out to people of all ages and faiths who are marginalized in society, rendering guidance and assistance to people facing personal challenges, as those caused by but not limited to such things as criminal behaviour, addictive behaviour, social ineptness, abuse, poverty, loneliness and mental illness, through establishing and maintaining safe places such as drop-in centres, incarceration facilities for youth in conflict with the law, treatment and training centres, vocational programs, and counselling support for reintegration with family and society.

The track record of Ray of Hope is a strong one and it is programs like these that offer hope to youth who find themselves in conflict with the law or vulnerable to addictive behaviour.

Programs like this need our continued support and investment, and our government is delivering. Pro-active, prevention action will spare the unneeded waste of many valuable lives in criminal activity and in fact, may also spare grief to families who have been victimized by crime.

After being elected to represent the people of Kitchener—Conestoga, one of the early constituent calls I received was from a family member of a young man from Kitchener. He told me about 14 year old Dustin who was known among his friends and family as a comedian and an entertainer. He loved the outdoors and was gifted at drawing and athletics. Dustin possessed all the dreams, hopes and ambitions of a boy his age.

On March 13, 2006 those dreams, hopes and ambitions ended suddenly, tragically, and irrevocably when he was murdered by a young offender. The young offender was charged and later sentenced. He will be out on the street before his nineteenth birthday, a birthday Dustin will never see.

Many young offenders realize the current Youth Criminal Justice Act has very little to do with justice. They continue their criminal activities fully aware that they will also continue to enjoy their freedom.

In fact, I remember all too well the day that a young man sat in my office and told me that it was a well accepted fact among his peers that older youth took advantage of the leniency of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and actually farmed out the dangerous drug deals and the like to youth who fell under the jurisdiction of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Canadians deserve better than this. Those of us in this chamber who have been elected to represent the citizens of Canada owe it to the countless victims of crime to ensure that young offenders who commit serious crimes are held accountable to their communities and to their victims.

Meaningful consequences will hold young offenders accountable for serious crimes. We must work to instill in our youth a sense of responsibility for their delinquent actions and criminal behaviour. Along with this we need to give them better opportunity for rehabilitation so they do not reoffend.

When Dustin's relative called me, he was not looking for revenge. He was not angry. He just desperately wanted to know how we could keep what happened to Dustin from happening to others. His hope and mine is that we can protect our citizens from becoming victims of youth crime and prevent other young people from perpetrating violent crimes.

Just yesterday, I received an email from Dustin's mother. His family has already raised over $10,000 to help local programs in the Waterloo region. Clearly, their hope is that other youth can be helped through early intervention.

The government has begun that process of intervention by providing over $20 million for communities to help prevent youth crime, with a focus on gangs, guns, drugs and youth at risk. Not only has this commitment been made in our budget, but many communities in Canada have already benefited from specific investments in groups that are working on the ground in prevention and rehabilitation initiatives.

There is one key element that is missing from our current approach to youth crime and that is the matter of deterrence. We need to denounce this behaviour in order to deter these and other youths from entering a life of crime.

When youth of today understand that there are no meaningful consequences to negative actions, they continue blindly down a path of self-destructive behaviour until far too often it is too late. When one or two youths turn to violence, too often the youths around them are intimidated and have no alternative but to also turn to weapons for protection.

A firm message needs to be delivered, indicating that society will not accept this violent behaviour. If violence is denounced as quickly as it occurs and meaningful sentences are given, there will be a resultant deterrent effect.

There are two key principles in this bill. One is to change the pretrial detention provision and the other is to allow judges to impose sentences with the objective of deterring and denouncing serious offences.

Deterrence as a principle of sentencing involves a sanction with the objective of discouraging the offender and others from engaging in criminal conduct.

Denunciation refers to society's condemnation of the offence in sending a firm message that this criminal behaviour is unacceptable.

There is a tremendous need to instill a sense of responsibility in young offenders for their behaviour and to give young people better opportunities for rehabilitation.

Dustin's family created an online petition on the subject of the current Youth Criminal Justice Act and the need for reform. That petition currently has almost 12,000 signatures on it. The message is clear. The current legislation needs to be fixed.

I would like to quote from just a few of the comments from the thousands received, comments from youth workers, from law and criminal justice majors, and from teens just like Dustin.

The first comment reads:

I am fourteen myself, and I think that anyone my age is responsible for what they do. Murderers are murderers, whether they are fourteen or forty. They know what they did, they knew it was wrong, and they chose to do it anyways. They need to be punished for what they did.

Another comment reads:

The Law today teaches youth to live life without consequences. It is an absolute insult to victims and their families.

A further comment reads:

Enough is enough. We're not a simple society anymore and these kids know right from wrong. Is there any deterrent where there is either no punishment or just a slap on the wrist? Please, law makers, it's time to give the law abiding youths their rights and stop protecting criminals.

A parent wrote:

My son is currently a victim of a young offender, and it seems as though the offender has more rights than the victim. Something has to change!

Another comment reads:

As a teen I see too many violent offences like this that are not taken seriously enough! Acts of violence are becoming too common! I want laws like this one to be changed so I can finally feel safe in my school and community.

The final comment I would like to share this morning is this one:

I am a Criminal Justice major at Nipissing University in North Bay. I have also graduated from the Correctional Worker Program at Canadore College. I have studied the YCJA at great lengths and heard both sides of why it's good to have things the way they are and why it is bad. As a parent of 4 kids I understand the need to strengthen the accountability that young persons face after committing a violent criminal act. It's my opinion that in these cases of violent offences, and in this case a fatal offence, regardless of the age of the parties responsible...they need to be held accountable for what they did. Dustin's family and society need justice for this crime. We also need to give trained professionals...the opportunity to intervene at this point in the offenders' lives. Currently, the punishment for the crimes doesn't match the act. It isn't acting as the deterrent it should, nor is it providing the justice to the families of the victims or to society as a whole. My condolences to Dustin's family.

From these comments, it can be seen that ordinary Canadians are speaking out. Youths themselves are speaking out. Victims are speaking out. These Canadians are asking us to wake up and take the necessary steps to correct a system that is failing them.

Not too long ago, I spoke with a mother in Kitchener—Conestoga who was actually hoping the judge could send her son to jail for a theft charge. Her hope was that there he would get the help he needed to overcome his serious drug addictions and he would be kept from more serious crimes. She feared his addictions would ruin his life or, worse yet, he would end up dead. But the judge said the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which focuses on finding alternatives to jail for youth, would not allow it. His crime was not serious enough and he did not have a long enough criminal record.

Did members hear that last statement? He did not have a long enough criminal record.

When he appeared again in court several months later, he was restrained in a straitjacket due to drug-induced psychosis. At that point, finally, his record was long enough to merit addiction treatment.

What are we thinking when we wait and wait and watch someone spiral into a pattern of violence until finally he has gotten in so deeply that only then do we take action? Something is desperately wrong with this picture.

As I have said, my commitment to changing the Youth Criminal Justice Act is rooted in a desire to protect youth. I am going to read for members a few quotes from an email I received from a constituent. She states:

I am writing to you again on the topic of youth violence. Two weeks ago my 16 year old son...was beaten by six guys carrying a machete and two baseball bats. He was a target, with the beating ordered by his ex-girlfriend. She had warned him that if he 'broke up with her' she would have him beaten up. He was walking with a friend and soon realized what was about to happen. He and his friend ran in different directions. My son was unarmed, had no one there to help him, no one to call for help. They terrorized him with the machete, then proceeded to hit him with the bat, kick him and punch him several times. He ended in the Emergency Ward with a fractured elbow, injured jaw, black eye, concussion and several contusions and scrapes. I urged him to talk to the police but he was told that if he contacted anyone, they would beat on his brother twice as bad. So, he fears for his brother and remains silent.

In addition to this, my other son encountered an attack just a week earlier. He was walking the path behind a local mall, heading to a friend's house while listening to his iPod. Four guys from another school jumped on him to steal his iPod. They pounded on his head repeatedly and laughed at him. He fears more violence if police are involved. (Two years earlier, my other son was beaten up for his cellphone and endured a fractured jaw). My son is a good kid. He plays on the Rugby and Football teams and participates in Track and Field. He is clean cut, respectful to his peers and teachers at school, has never smoked, done drugs etc. He likes being a healthy athlete and is often ridiculed for his ethics. Regardless, he is a good kid that didn't deserve to experience this. It robbed him of something that can't be put back and I'm not referring to the iPod.

This parent continues:

Something has to be done to urge these kids to speak out. More and more teens are turning to weapons as they can't help but feel the need to protect themselves. There are more weapons than the school cares to admit/realize.

As a parent, envisioning the beatings that took place, it causes me a great deal of pain, hurt and anger. My kids are not gang members yet my younger son feels a slight draw to join a gang. He stated that if he'd been a gang member, 'it would have all been taken care of'. Violence leading to more violence....

She continues:

I share this with you because I know you have a voice. I know you can share these stories with others that have the power to make changes.

The members of the House all have the power to make changes and it is our responsibility to do so. This power has been entrusted to us by the citizens we represent and it is a responsibility I take very seriously as the lives of our youth hang in the balance.

I would encourage each of us to consider that trust and to do everything within our power to protect Canada's youth. I would appeal to my colleagues on both sides of the House to support this important legislation for the youth at risk, for the families of the victims, and for Dustin.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's speech. There is no question that there is a nub of youth criminals who are a constant source of terror and are certainly an aggravation to the police forces, and they have to be dealt with in much sterner terms.

However, the legislation that the government is putting forth in this bill is going to have wide ranging implications and in fact is going to make our streets less safe.

I want to ask the member a couple of questions.

First, in regard to putting low level drug dealers in prison, those low level dealers are in fact users themselves and their addictions are driving their dealing. We should be putting a lot more emphasis on the organized crime gangs that are parasitizing off people's addictions.

Second, does the member know that 60% of the people in jail have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects? The average IQ of somebody with FAS and FAE is 78. These people have enormous difficulties in learning. These kids fall through the cracks. Teachers are unable to handle them. Many of them go into a life of crime.

Lastly, I want to ask the member why his government killed the early learning program when the headstart program reduces youth crime by 60% and is the most effective preventative tool in reducing youth crime.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have not been in this House very long, but in the time I have been here I have heard the opposition member refer to this 60% reduction through early start programs. I can only assume that he is referring to the Ypsilanti study, which showed that dramatic drop in crime, but if we look at all the facts surrounding the study, it becomes very clear that it would be totally impossible for us to replicate the conditions within that study.

I am sure he is aware, as a former medical practitioner, that many of the research studies done have a certain control over the methodology within those studies. It has been shown that it would be impossible for us to replicate the kinds of small class sizes that were indicated in that study. Also, the study has not followed those kids for the long term, so to quote the 60% I think is somewhat misleading.

To go back to his point about the fact that we are just dealing with one part of criminal activity here, that we are not dealing with the guns, the gangs and the drug dealers, I want to point out that this act, Bill C-25, does not stand in isolation, nor is this part of what we are doing to the Youth Criminal Justice Act the whole package of what our government intends to do.

The minister has promised that in 2008 there would be a total comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I am looking forward to those improvements. In addition to that, just recently all of us here in this House have seen the committee pass the bill to tackle violent crime. Canadians have been asking for this for some time.

Certainly in my community I have heard from hundreds, if not thousands, of constituents who are applauding these measures to get on with the protection of our youth especially, but of all Canadian citizens, and I urge our opposition colleagues to let us get on with this and do what Canadians have been asking for, for a long time.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the legislation, as my colleague was outlining, is basically to have young people held accountable, with meaningful consequences for their actions, and the legislation adds the issues of deterrence and denunciation to the sentencing principle that the courts must consider when determining the sentence for someone under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I should also mention that certainly in my city of Toronto there have been a lot of issues in dealing with youth and youth violence. At the same time, we know as a society that this act is only one small part of the equation. There are many other issues at play. Certainly my other hon. colleagues in this House have talked about the issues of marginalized youth, racism, and youths who have lost all hope in our society, yet there are no programs or assistance there for them.

It is an incomplete package when we cannot, as a society and as legislators, deal with these very complex issues in a meaningful way. Just acting tough on crime will not reduce crime, as we have seen in many ways in the United States, for example.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague referred to the fact that this was not a complete package. Maybe he slipped into the chamber while I was part way through my speech but I was very clear in the early part of my comments that restorative justice, rehabilitation programs and prevention programs are a big part of the equation. However, even the people who work in those treatment facilities and so on will admit to us that these restorative programs and rehabilitation programs are not universally successful.

I am not suggesting nor is our government suggesting that all we do are these two measures. These are part of what we are already doing. I mentioned a number of announcements that we have made and the $22 million that we invested in prevention and rehabilitation programs.

It is very important that we do not polarize this issue and suggest that all we are doing is being tough on crime. We are not suggesting locking people up and throwing away the key. We are saying that we need to get these people intercepted at an earlier point, when the indicators are there that these people will enter further levels of crime. We need to intercept them and avoid that further step in crime.

I hope that every member in this House is committed to protecting the youth of Canada.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is a member in the House whose constituents have not raised a concern about this. I know justice is the area of most concern to my constituents and, within that, youth criminal justice is the most important part.

Before I get to my colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga, I want to point out to my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca that every low level drug dealer dreams of becoming a high level drug dealer.

I want to highlight two cases in my own riding. On Sunday, I will be officiating at a soccer game in memory of a young man named Evan who was cut down on his birthday by youth criminals. There was also a premeditated case in Sherwood Park. Youth obtained weapons, went to a young man's home, called him outside and beat him to death. The three young offenders received a one year suspended sentence, which means a curfew.

I would like my hon. friend's comment on that as a form of deterrence, treatment or anything else.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would challenge every member of this House to answer the question as to whether they have heard from numerous constituents in their ridings begging us to take meaningful steps to strengthen this act.

On the matter of house arrest or conditional sentences, I am not sure of all the legal technical jargon, but when people in my riding recognize that someone who has committed a violent act receives a sentence that does not fit the level of pain that he or she has inflicted on the victim, they cannot believe it.

I want to point out again that we are not talking about revenge. There is nothing that will bring a murdered child, a young person or an adult back. That is not the point. What we are trying to do here, as has been stated a number of times, is intercept in the lives of youth who have the markers that they are on this trajectory of criminal behaviour before they take the steps that will get them into such deep criminal activity.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of corrections for my colleague. The Ypsilanti program ran for 25 years, a very large sample size.

I have a couple of questions for the member. The low level dealer generally does have an addiction problem. If we throw that person in jail, what will happen? It will turn out to be a law of unintended consequences. The problem will be tougher at the end of it.

At the end of the day we need to get tough on those who are committing violent crimes. We need to strengthen the laws to help the courts to apply laws against organized crime.

Again, on the head start program, the police asked for an early learning head start program. Will the member's government support a national head start program for children which will reduce youth crime?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to stay on the topic that we are discussing today, which is deterring youth criminal activity.

We have heard from many members of this House that deterrents do not work. We know that deterrents work. They are part of everyday life. They deter us from potential negative consequences.

Every parent and grandparent in this room knows that deterrents work. My seven year old grandson knows that deterrents work. In fact, I remember very well--

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about the justice system.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I am familiar with a number of bills introduced by this government and I have noticed that it is resubmitting the same bills, given the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue the previous session of this Parliament. It occurred to me that we are examining many of the same bills a second time. There are also some new bills and we always have the same comments.

This government is introducing bills that are drawing a great deal of media attention. However, as these bills are examined in committee, in this House and, eventually, in the Senate, it becomes clear that little work has been put into them.

As the father of three young girls enrolled in a French immersion program in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province in the country, and as a resident of Moncton, the first officially bilingual city, I know how much homework my children do every evening. The fact remains, however, that these three beautiful little girls are children and I expect certain things from them.

We expect more in the way of homework from the government than from school girls in Moncton. Yet it appears that the government has done its homework much less diligently and with much less attention to detail than my three little girls do in Moncton.

All of the bills that we in the permanent justice committee have had occasion to look at seem to be lacking in homework and in scope.

When we talk about the criminal justice system, it is an organic system or an organic process. It is a sculpting of new facts and new facets of our evolving society to the Criminal Code and its ancillary acts, in this case, the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I want to start from the point that all of the acts are lacking in an overall or universal vision about criminal justice, from prevention to detention, so to speak, the whole scope, and this bill is no exception.

However, we must tell the Canadian public and members of the House that there is a Youth Criminal Justice Act. Before that there was the Young Offenders Act and prior to that the Juvenile Delinquents Act. For some time now, I believe 50 years, the Parliament of Canada and the courts interpreting Parliament's intention have recognized that there ought to be a different system for youth offenders.

It troubles me when I hear speaker after speaker, headline after headline, news release after news release and the two minute sound bites of Mike Duffy Live talk about youth criminal justice with the same language and in the same terms as adult justice.

That is not to suggest that we are sitting here as a party and as parliamentarians not concerned with public safety, not concerned with turning our youth into productive members of society. It is to say that as a statement of first principle, and I wish I had heard it from the Minister of Justice yesterday or any of the speakers who I listened to from the government side, I wish I had heard that there was a separate regime for the youth of this country for the different considerations because that is the fact.

I am concerned when I hear what members like the member for Kitchener—Conestoga said. I will get back to my student metaphor. I never taught anything but I have written a number of tests. One cannot simply write the first page of a test, the first paragraph or the first 10 questions and do well. One has to go to the finish line and get the B or B+ that all parliamentarians probably got in school or as good as one can get.

It seems, however, that the government and its members strive for the peaks of mediocrity and try to get a C or C-. However, they do start off good sometimes. The member for Kitchener—Conestoga started off talking about a head start program and prevention. If I had ever been a teacher, I would have thought that this was starting off well and that it would be a good result for that parliamentarian.

However, we then delved into crime, payback and teaching those punks something. As we know, there were two parts to the speech, the two did not go together and the member succeeded in getting a C-.

The bill does the same. Bill C-25 starts out very well. It starts out doing one thing that is very important. We give a lot of credence to the Nunn Commission report, which was commissioned as a result of a very tragic incident involving Theresa McEvoy, which happened not that far from where I live. It was not a Maritime thing. It was a national thing. The recommendations from the Nunn Commission and eminent jurist, Merlin Nunn, should be the starting point for our thoughts about what we are going to do with this separate regime for youth criminals in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

However, we need to start with the recognition, which should be the first principle, that there is a different regime and importing holus-bolus the whole adult regime to the youth regime means that we may as well get rid of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I will get to that when I talk about the second part of the bill.

I commend the Minister of Justice and the speakers who spoke in favour of the first part of Bill C-25, clauses 2 and 3 in particular. I will not belabour it, but perhaps we should have a happy moment and say that most parties are in agreement with this bill. We have a happy moment where one of the many recommendations of the Nunn report was followed by the government.

It is a complaint of prosecutors across this country. It is a complaint from parents. It is a complaint from victims. We stand on all fours in accepting that the revolving door that is in effect for young offenders who offend while on an order to return to the court for trial or sentencing is unacceptable. It is one of the major flaws in the Youth Criminal Justice Act as promulgated, and this is progress.

As we can see, there is in the act a presumption that detention is not necessary for a young offender accused of an offence and he shall remain free. Essentially, that was the presumption. Judges across this country applied that presumption, unless they could find other reasons, such as protection of the public, the overarching principle to keep the young offender as accused in detention. This bill recognizes that if a young person is charged with a violent offence that endangered the public by creating a substantial likelihood of a recurrence, that presumption is rebutted, yet the judge still takes into account the normal principles of detention pending trial.

The second principle, and this is really the most egregious part of the Youth Criminal Justice Act without the gap, is that while a young person who is out waiting to come back to court is found guilty of failing to comply with non-custodial sentences, or this is in fact after the imposition of a plea, that person should be considered as having given up that presumption against detention. It makes perfect sense.

The other provision in the bill is that if a 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 the young person has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt, then that person should lose that presumption.

That is a long way from going to adult principles for sentencing, which the second part of the act imports. The second part of the bill imports straight Criminal Code principles of sentencing with respect to denunciations and deterrence. The Minister of Justice and many speakers say that these needed to be imported because they are not there, but I beg to differ, if we look at the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it is.

Certainly in an effort to bind all parliamentarians together with a common view, there can be no one in this House who can seriously stand up and say that each parliamentarian is not in favour of more public safety, of having safe communities and of ridding our communities of crime. This has to be a common goal of every parliamentarian. What is happening is that we have a different point of view on how to get there.

All of us want the acts before Parliament, in this case the Criminal Code of Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, to be effective. The question really is whether these amendments will be effective. I have already said that the first one will. It will keep the communities of Canada safer. I am going on to argue that the second part of this bill will not necessarily keep communities safer.

I will also elicit many of the other recommendations from the Nunn commission report which were not seized upon by the government when they were there for the taking. Somebody has already done the work. Somebody has already reacted to an outlandish shocking of the public example of how small changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act could be efficacious to make society safer. That was the Nunn commission. He made many recommendations, yet only one of those recommendations was seized upon by the government.

It is not that there was not enough ink and paper. This is a very short bill. It is designed, I submit, to have newscasts and media stories say that we are tough on crime and that we are importing concepts of unlawful conduct and deterrence and we will get tough.

Really, the first part of the bill will do so much more to make communities safer than the second part. There are so many other recommendations in the Nunn commission report that would have made our communities immediately safer and would not have had any opposition from this side, yet the government chose not to seize upon them.

It is remarkable. It is either a hurried attempt to get another headline, or it is a deliberate attempt to draw out in a piecemeal fashion the Conservatives' law and order agenda with multiple bills, each bill a new headline, each bill one little step forward in their view toward making our communities safer. I might suggest that is almost wilful conduct preventing the distribution of the tools that the justice enforcement people need, prosecutors in particular, or it might just be sheer negligence in not knowing what they were doing.

I have to comment on some of the remarks that were made by a person whom I consider to be a dean on the issue of public safety. I virtually never agree with this dean with respect to how to get there, but I have no doubt that this dean, the member for Wild Rose, wants to get there and has made a parliamentary career out of wanting to get there. He talks incessantly against lawyers. We all have thick skins and we can take that, as the small legal community in the House of Commons knows every day it is not popular to be a lawyer. But I want to tell everyone in this House it is not always popular to be a politician too, so there we go. Being both makes me sort of a victim in a way.

Seriously, the member for Wild Rose talks about lawyers, that they talk legalese. Unfortunately, we are making laws here. If we were making pizzas, I would talk about dough, but we are making laws, so I have to talk legalese. That is the way it goes with all due respect to the member for Wild Rose.

The second point that he brings up is that there is no mention of victims. I hear that a lot from the other side. We hear it at committee. Frankly, victims are what we as parliamentarians are all about. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We respect individual rights and liberties. We respect the legal rights against false detention and the right to have counsel and all those legal rights for people accused. Those are foundation elements, but people should realize that the overall arching concern of the Charter of Rights in section 1 is to protect the public.

The funny thing is, if we look at every act of Parliament, we find that the public safety aspect is primordial, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act is no exception. It says:

WHEREAS communities, families, parents and others concerned with the development of young persons should through multi-disciplinary approaches take reasonable steps to prevent youth crime by addressing underlying causes to respond to the needs of young persons and to provide guidance, this act should be enacted.

It also says:

AND WHEREAS Canadian society should have a youth criminal justice system that commands respect, takes into account the interests of victims, fosters responsibility and ensures accountability [in our youth]--

These sentiments are already in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Judges read this act and they take from the preamble and the declaration of principles in section 3 what the act means.

In fact, it states in section 3(c), “within the limits of fair and proportionate accountability, the measures taken”--that is, the sentences or the detention aspects or the immediate ultimate measures meted out by a court--“against young persons who commit offences should (i) reinforce respect for societal values, (ii) encourage the repair of harm done to victims and the community”.

Later on in section 3(d) it says, “victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy”, and “victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard”.

It strikes me that without putting the exact words of denunciation and deterrence in this act, we have as guiding principles for justices the protection of the public and at least a code for victims' rights when it comes to aspects of youth criminal justice.

The Nunn commission report puts out a few very easy recommendations that the government could have adopted without opposition from this side. Principally it is very important because we hear about public safety and the protection of the public and consideration for victims.

Justice Nunn, in his considerations, felt it was a bit shortsighted for the act to talk about the long term protection of the public as set out in these principles in section 3. By inference a judge would say that that does not involve the short term protection of the public.

Some of these rebuttable presumptions on detention, which will be tempered by the first part of this act, speak to that. More specifically and to be clear, so that there is no misread between the principles in section 3 and the first part of the act as amended, we will be curious to see if it would be within the scope of the bill on amendment at committee to add a new phrase in section 3, the principles. It would add to section 3 a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act, which is from the Nunn report on the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

It certainly should just say protection of the public. Perhaps for greater certainty it should say long term and short term, but if we say protection of the public, I presume that means all the time. Protection of the public is one of the principles of the act.

I believe, as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said yesterday, and he is a person who has been around these issues a lot longer than I have, the evidence he has gathered, which no doubt we will go through at committee, would lead to the conclusion that in fact the changes in the first part of Bill C-25 have in fact been put into place by judges across the country.

Therefore, all we are doing is putting into law what is actually happening in practice, or codifying the practice. That may be a good thing, but it does make me wonder whether the government read all of the Nunn commission report. Maybe in a cooperative effort when we take this matter to committee, if the scope of this bill is to make society safer, the government will be open to amendments, including that recommendation and many others from the Nunn commission to make this a better law.

I want to close by saying that although we agree with the first part of the bill, the second part of the bill might make it seem that we are importing holus-bolus the Criminal Code of Canada. If that is the case, the Minister of Justice should know that the Criminal Code already provides, in certain circumstances, for youths to be tried as adults.

If those provisions are known of, if that transition is known of, and they are importing holus-bolus these concepts, why have a Youth Criminal Justice Act at all? Let us all live under the Criminal Code. Is that where the government is going?

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11 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my hon. colleague's statements, and I would like to remind the members of the two primary goals of this bill.

First, we do not want a young person who has committed a violent crime to be allowed back into the community while awaiting trial. This kind of thing has happened before. I am thinking of the case in Nova Scotia that someone mentioned where young people who had committed violent acts were allowed back into the community, where they committed more violent crimes. Innocent bystanders were killed or seriously injured by these youths, who were not detained while awaiting trial. That is what we are addressing. We want to make sure that judges have the power to order pretrial detention.

Second, we want judges to take two things into account when sentencing young people who have committed violent crimes.

The first is deterrence. We want to ensure that the youth understands what is going on and that other youths who might be considering committing similar acts—crimes of violence against the person—will be discouraged from doing so. We want judges to take this into account when determining a sentence.

The second is denunciation. We want the sentence to show that society disapproves of the acts committed.

We want judges to use both elements of this framework when handing down sentences in order to protect our seniors and society in general.

I am thinking of those news reports about youths committing violent acts on buses against people who were just minding their own business.

That is what we hope to accomplish with our bill.

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11 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments.

I completely approve the first part of what he said. Clearly, detention pending sentencing poses a problem. We are in favour of detention if a young offender commits a new offence after serving a sentence.

We also agree with the second part of what he said: protecting the public is crucial.

Why do the Minister of Justice and the whole Conservative team not take into account the recommendations made by Judge Nunn and amend section 3 with a view to simply protecting the public?

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11 a.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think most members of the House would agree that appropriate enforcement and punishment is very necessary, but we also know that significant work has been done which shows punishment is not enough.

The MacGuigan subcommittee stated:

Society has spent millions of dollars over the years to create and maintain the proven failure of prisons. Incarceration has failed in its two essential purposes—correcting the offender and providing permanent protection to society. The recidivist rate of up to 80 percent is evidence of both.

Could the member comment on the fact that the Conservative government has not seen fit to invest in youth, in terms of looking at closing the poverty gap, adequate housing, education programs and drug treatment centres?

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, clearly we heard today from the member for Kitchener—Conestoga that all is well, that a huge announcement has been made, that he will support the objectives of families and youth, that it will be full of intervention and that there will be a head start on every corner. I guess all our problems are solved.

Lest people did not get my thin wedge of sarcasm, the problem with the government is it does not invest the money it announces. We are still waiting for police officers. A thousand RCMP officers were promised, but we know the RCMP is a thousand people behind in its recruiting.

I agree with the member when she talks about other concepts like restorative justice, which is about ensuring a community is not divided. To reduce crime to make communities safer, a community must be willing to do the work required to solve the problem together.

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11:05 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Conservative Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite has made reference frequently to the Nunn Commission, I will ask him specifically on a matter that he skirted around, when asked by my colleague just moments ago.

As the member opposite knows, in December 2006 the Nova Scotia Nunn Commission of Inquiry expressed concern that pre-trial detention provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act were too restrictive, making it very difficult to detain young persons who pose a risk to public safety.

As the member also knows, the changes before us today, the proposed amendments to the YCJA in the area of pre-trial detention, will make it easier to detain before trial a broader range of young persons who pose a risk to public safety. This would include those who have committed an offence that creates a danger of causing serious bodily harm or who have breached previous conditions of release.

Could the member respond to that? Does he not at least agree that this then follows through with respect to the Nunn Commission and that we have now a serious amendment to take into account the suggestion from the commission with respect to detaining young persons who pose a risk to public safety?

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I want to apologize, Mr. Speaker, to the member, to the House and to the viewing public. Perhaps I was not clear when I said, three times, that we agree to the first part of the bill. The recommendations regarding detention and ensuring that the presumption against detention should be removed in three very serious cases, as outlined in the first part of Bill C-25 and as recommended by the Nunn Commission. We feel very good about those amendments and will work to ensure they pass through the committee.

However, it does not explain why the government imported all the concepts of the Criminal Code with respect to the sentencing principles. The minister seemed unsure yesterday about whether proportionality, which is the key pillar of sentencing in section 718.1 of the Criminal Code, is still a key pillar in section 38(2) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

We will see where the government goes on this. I am worried that we are turning youth criminal justice into Criminal Code governance. If that is the case, the government should be clear on it.

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11:05 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought the speech of the hon. member was excellent.

I want to ask him a very technical question about the section we agree with; that is the first part of the bill about detention. There is a presumption against detention unless it is a violent offence or failing to comply with non-custodial sentences.

The third part of the bill is about findings of guilt. In other words:

—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 guilt under this Act or the Young Offenders Act...

Yet Justice Nunn talks about not just a necessary pattern of findings of guilt, but a pattern of offences.

Could the hon. member comment on that? It seems that Justice Nunn is asking for a more rigorous standard. In effect he is saying if an individual has a whole string of offences, not necessarily findings of guilt, that should be taken into consideration.

I am interested in the hon. member's comments on whether there is some significant difference between those two concepts. If so, should that be subject to potential amendment?

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11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, that is the hardest question. We do not often expect the most difficult question to come from our own side, but it was an excellent question nonetheless.

Justice Nunn made it very clear that patterns of findings of guilt might catch young offenders on a rapid crime spree and better wording might be a pattern of offences, or similar wording. However, I think this is something that can be fixed at committee. It is wholly within the scope of the bill.

We will take the member's comments to committee and work on them there.

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11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, to start, I would like to recognize some families from the Edmonton area that banded together on this important area of youth justice: the families of Dylan McGillis, Shane Rolston, Nina Courtepatte and Josh Hunt, all of whom lost their lives as a result of the actions of other youth in the last couple of years.

These families are part of a club of which none of us would ever want to be a part. Yet because of the way they have chosen to respond, it is the most important club of which they could ever be a part.

We cannot listen to the stories of parents without feeling compelled to act. Because of the tireless efforts they have made, and the efforts of other parents across the country, Canadians are paying much more attention to the issue of youth justice.

We cannot also listen to these parents without feeling compelled to ensure we say an extra “I love you” to our own kids before they go to bed at night. To these families, and on behalf of all Canadian parents, I thank them for not hiding their pain. I thank them for stepping out of their comfort zones and for using their grief, not as a weapon but as a motivation to ensure that other parents do not have to go through what they have gone through.

For almost 100 years, Canada has provided separate laws and procedures applicable to youth who commit crimes. The crimes themselves range from ill-conceived pranks to acts of incomprehensible violence. The alleged offender can be the child next door or a nearly adult gun-carrying gang member with a significant criminal record. The law must provide a wide range of responses to adequately hold them all appropriately accountable for the offences they commit. The sentences must be consistent with their degree of responsibility and, more important, in a manner that protects the public.

Since the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into force almost five years ago, there has been a steady decline in the number of young people charged with offences and winding up in custody. Some argue that the de-incarceration of youth has gone too far. Some believe that youth who pose a threat to the public have not ended up behind bars when they should and therefore more must be done to ensure that violent young offenders receive custodial sentences.

The government is committed to protecting communities and tackling crime committed by adolescents. In the October 16 Speech from the Throne, “Strong Leadership. A Better Canada”, our government vowed to strengthen the Youth Criminal Justice Act to ensure that young offenders who committed serious crimes were held accountable.

Bill C-25 begins the promised strengthening of our youth justice laws. The bill focuses on deterrence, denunciation and detention. Those familiar with sentencing principles for adults know that denunciation and deterrence are sentencing principles contained in the Criminal Code. It is important that society's degree of abhorrence for an offence be reflected in the severity of the penalty so the offender's conduct is denounced. Moreover, we want the penalty to send a message of deterrence to the offender and to others.

The quantum of the sentence should signal to the offender that he or she ought not commit further offences. This is known as specific deterrence. The penalty should also signal to others that they ought not to commit such offences. This is known as general deterrence.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act in its present form does not include deterrence or denunciation among its sentencing principles. The Supreme Court of Canada recently confirmed that those principles should not be read into the act, and this was an express choice made by parliamentarians.

Our government is now asking Parliament to reconsider and to make these important sentencing principles apply to youth as well as adults. The Minister of Justice has confirmed today in the House that attorneys general from across the country support these amendments. I believe these sentencing provisions will encourage the public to have greater confidence in the youth justice system, by allowing judges to apply fair and proportionate sentences that reflect these principles. This has been a part of the government's agenda for some time and we are pleased to support these proposed reforms to the sentencing principles.

Another area of the Youth Criminal Justice Act requiring immediate amendment are provisions relating to pre-trial detention of those youth who pose a danger to the public. The Nunn Commission and others have raised concerns about the adequacy of the existing provisions to deal with potentially dangerous youth who may not have a serious record but are “spinning out of control” and may well cause harm to someone prior to their trials.

The Minister of Justice spoke earlier today about the tragic death of Theresa McEvoy in Nova Scotia, a death that has sparked the Nova Scotia government to do something about out of control and dangerous youth. As the justice minister mentioned, Nova Scotia has been working hard to implement changes in its youth justice system based on the recommendations of the Nunn Commission. Some of those recommendations include lobbying the federal government for changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in relation to pre-trial detention provisions.

Bill C-25 is evidence that the justice minister has listened to the people of Nova Scotia and Manitoba as well. In late September the justice minister met with a delegation from Manitoba, including Manitoba justice minister Dave Chomiak, and various Manitoba police and community representatives.

The delegation brought to the minister's attention five justice issues of critical importance to the people of Manitoba. Topping the list was the issue of auto theft as Manitoba has been experiencing an explosion in joyriding and car theft by troubled and out of control teens.

The list also included toughening penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially motor vehicle theft. The justice minister has been listening to concerns expressed all across this country and has responded to them.

The amendments proposed today are only the beginning of a larger process of reform in this area that will hopefully do justice to the thoughtful advice received from important stakeholders in the youth justice system over the summer and fall. The longer term reform process will further strengthen and clarify the youth justice system.

I believe there is a shared imperative in all parts of this country to detain youth who pose a danger prior to their trials. The proposals in Bill C-25 are measured responses, which empower the courts to detain dangerous youth regardless of their alleged offence or criminal history.

Courts can look at all relevant factors when assessing that detention is needed, including outstanding charges that might indicate a youth is spinning out of control and posing a danger. These proposals address the concerns raised through Nova Scotia's Nunn commission and will lead to safer communities.

Canadians know all too well that people at risk can adopt a criminal lifestyle and engage in the violence and drug use that go along with that lifestyle more often than not. They want young people who commit violent crimes and threaten communities to be given sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes.

These communities want us to do something to prevent young people from committing these violent crimes.

It is more than evident from this government's crime agenda that we on this side of the House take the safety of Canadians extremely seriously. We fully recognize that it is important to be vigilant in safeguarding the fairness and effectiveness of our justice system, but it is equally important, if not more important, to ensure that the fundamental principle of our justice system is the protection of society.

I applaud the justice minister's announcement that this government will launch a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2008. I understand that the review is specifically being done to address concerns and criticisms regarding various provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to ensure that our youth criminal justice system fairly and effectively holds young offenders accountable for criminal conduct.

I urge my fellow parliamentarians to support Bill C-25, which proposes amendments to the pre-trial detention provisions and adds deterrence and denunciation as sentencing principles under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

In my opinion, these amendments will strengthen our youth justice system, allay public concerns that dangerous youth are not being dealt with appropriately, and result in safer communities.

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11:20 a.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the hon. member was quoting favourably from the Nunn commission report, but he seems to want to pick and choose. This is a fairly innocuous bill, the first section of which is generally agreed on by pretty well everyone and the second of which will have a little more controversy.

What I want to know from the hon. member is why his government, which prides itself on getting it done, does not actually take the comprehensive approach by Justice Nunn and incorporate the recommendations into a bill.

Recommendation 20 states:

--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.

Why does this bill not have that in it?

Recommendation 21 states:

--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.

Why is that not here? It was suggested that there be a change from “patterns of findings of guilt” to “patterns of offences”. Again, why is that not here for the issue of appropriateness of pre-trial detention?

There were other recommendations with respect to responsible persons and all that sort of stuff.

Why not simply take Justice Nunn's recommendations, incorporate them into the bill, and put them before the House instead of this cheesy exercise of dropping one little section at a time? One has to start to think that there is some sort of public relations exercise going on, which is far more important in the eyes of the government than actually doing the job properly.

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11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows and as I mentioned in my speech, the justice minister has indicated that there will be a further review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2008.

In response to the comments of the previous speaker who talked about the fact that he liked the stuff at the beginning of the bill, but that he did not like the second part of the bill, I would speak to the fact that this bill is referring to young offenders who have committed serious and violent crimes. They are dangerous to society.

I find his comments unacceptable. He talks about cheesy. I would say what is cheesy is the Liberal attempt, since the election of 2006, to consistently delay and obstruct virtually every piece of crime legislation that comes before the House.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

November 22nd, 2007 / 11:20 a.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Brian Pallister ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for his speech and for his efforts in the French language as well. He deserves our encouragement.

I must take exception, while I have the chance, to the reference made by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood and using the phrase “doing the job properly”. The previous government had 13 years to do the job properly. It stood quietly by while circumstances got worse in respect of juvenile violent crime.

Do the members of this House assume that this is an urban problem exclusively? I represent chiefly a rural riding. My largest community has about 13,000 people. A couple of weeks ago I concluded a 50 town tour of my riding where we gathered and listened to the concerns of constituents across the length and breadth of the riding.

The reality is that the number one issue that concerned the people of that rural part of the country was crime. It is almost unbelievable the degree to which crime has changed the fabric of rural communities, not only in my riding but from talking with other members representing rural ridings in their ridings as well.

People really felt that the number one attribute of their riding was safety and who rarely locked their doors do now. They are buying security systems and many of them are telling me that they are living in fear.

We had events this past summer, including a couple of murders. One was gang related and was one not. We had the case of a 13-year-old female driver who with a couple of friends stole a vehicle and drove into the centre of Portage la Prairie on a Sunday morning. The driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a family going to church. There were four people seriously injured, of course in the non-offending vehicle. These are the kinds of things that are happening. These are serious crimes and they should have serious consequences.

I want the member to address the issue of deterrents. I am curious as to why this was removed from the sentencing provisions years ago under the Liberals. Would the member address that particular issue as to how important he sees the restating of a judge's parameters on sentencing?

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11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I concur with the hon. member who spoke about talking with the people in his riding. Crime is the number one issue in my riding when we knock on doors. Crime is the number one issue that people talk about.

In my correspondence the number one issue brought forward is related to justice issues of many different kinds. Youth crime is specifically singled out on a regular basis.

I want to speak about deterrents for a second. One thing I do want to point out is that the vast majority of our youth are fantastic kids who are not committing crimes. We are talking about a small proportion of the youth who are causing problems. I would point out that the majority of the victims of these youths are kids themselves. They are our own kids and our own families.

In terms of deterrents and in terms of consequences, I would say it is vitally important that we start to take the term consequences seriously. The connotation does not necessarily need to be a negative one. Kids quickly learn as they are growing up that without consequences they have no boundaries or boundaries mean nothing. Without the boundaries they do not have order. Quite honestly, it leads to chaos in the lives of some of these kids.

We have talked a little bit about preventative measures and some questions have come up. I think one of the most important preventative measures that we can undertake is to establish a culture of responsibility among our youth, that violent crime of any kind is absolutely unacceptable. Solid criminal justice policy in this area is crucial in fostering that culture.