Mr. Speaker, why is the Conservative government doing a 180° turn on justice policy?
We learned from a youth and adult justice system that was broken. Canada had an extremely high rate of youth incarceration at one point, a higher rate than the United States. We learned that a system that emphasized sentencing missed the focus needed to be placed on prevention.
We finally began moving down a better path, and now the government wants us to make a U-turn and go back down the wrong path in order for it to look like it is doing something. However, doing something and having the courage and the foresight to do the right thing are two very different things.
I have never understood why the Prime Minister, who has been called a policy wonk, would choose newspaper headlines over what is best for the country.
All Canadian commissions since 1952 have recommended abolishing mandatory minimums. One need only look to the United States to understand that mandatory minimum sentencing has failed. Mandatory minimum penalties simply do not work. They result in an increased prison population. We have to keep in mind that it costs approximately $62,000 per year to house a federal inmate. If that inmate is given a bit of counselling and support, the cost is over $100,000 per year.
It may be tempting to subscribe to a knee-jerk reaction, or a quick fix. It may even be tempting for some to place politics ahead of truth. The truth is mandatory minimums have been proven to fail. The truth is a multi-dimensional problem like this one requires a multi-dimensional solution. The truth is it takes prolonged investment and time to remedy the cause of crime.
That is why New Democrats have always said we need an overall coordinated strategy, focused on gangs, organized crime and drugs. We need an improved witness protection program. We need more resources for prosecution and enforcement, like hiring more cops on the beat, which the Conservative government has failed to do. The government has sent money to the provinces, but the provinces have not hired the police officers promised by the Conservatives in the last election.
We have also said that we need to toughen the proceeds of crime legislation. We need more prevention programs to divert youth at risk. We also have said that we need more drug treatment programs because right now there are very few in Canada. In fact, there are almost no community-based drug treatment programs that last longer than six months. If families have money, they send their young people to the United States for drug treatment. If they do not have money, then those young people have to wait years to get into treatment programs.
Young people need access to realistic and useful information and resources. Safe sex campaigns seemed to have worked somewhat. We need to tell young people how to seek support if they have an addiction, instead of showing a lot of commercials about the horrors of drugs.
The Conservative government cut the national crime prevention program by $14 million. That program delivered community-based and realistic youth education programs. It is clear the Conservative government is not focusing on prevention and education. Rather it is focusing on an enforcement approach, which has proven to fail.
Canadians deserve more than a government that plays politics and seeks the headlines. Canadians deserve a government that understands that behind the headlines there are real lives and real needs. Canadians need a government that understands community safety is the highest of civic priorities and that long-term solutions require sustained investments. This is the time for real leadership. Instead, Canadians have been given recycled ideas that have proven to fail.
A tremendous amount of research has said that it has failed. For example, the Canadian Sentencing Commission, which I talked about earlier, did research in 1987. Another one, a royal commission on revision of the Criminal Code, was done in 1952. In 1987, the commission said:
—mandatory minimum sentences, with the exception of those prescribed for murder and high treason, serve no purpose that can compensate for the disadvantages resulting from their continued existence.
Another study done in 1992 said that it simply did not work. That was by Michael Tonry. Another report in 1994 from the Department of Justice concluded that charges with minimums were often plea bargained. It said that the public was not aware of which offences were covered by minimums, that minimums resulted in lower conviction rates and that minimums increased trial rates and judges got around the minimums.
Other studies demonstrated that countries that use minimums the most were not associated with a bigger crime decline than the countries that used minimums the least. In Australia studies have demonstrated that minimums have no deterring effect. It is a fact that has been accepted by that government. There is a study by N. Morgan entitled “Mandatory Sentences in Australia: Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?”, which states it does not work.
Study after study has said that this kind of strategy has failed.
The government is selling the bill as being tough on organized crime and big-time traffickers. The reality is mandatory minimums divert law enforcement resources toward drug dealers, leaving the door open for organized crime. They divert from small dealers and the guys on the street, leaving the big folks and real criminals to organize. They are then more open for organized crime.
Why would the government not accept what experts have told us for years? Anti-social behaviour is more significantly reduced by diverting young people from the criminal justice system before they get wrapped up in a life of crime. Why is the government not listening to what police chiefs across the country have been telling it? Effective law enforcement is critical to community safety, but it has never been designed to eliminate the causes of crime.
The Prime Minister should know that good policy is premised on evidence, not popularity. Canadians deserve much more than a government that looks to score popularity points when the real issues demand attention. The government seems to be interested in popularity and not policy-making. That is not a good way to govern for Canadians.
There are fundamental problems with the legislative approach to criminal justice. We see there are three or four more bills coming, and it is the same approach. To adopt only a “Lock 'em up and throw away the key” attitude, turning our backs on young people and our future, is nonsensical. It is a bad policy that does a disservice to the very Canadians for whom the government should be working.
We know aboriginals and people of colour are overrepresented in Canadian jails. The United States started a war on drugs in 1972. Research has told us that there was a 500% increase in the prison population. This is the same period when the population in the U.S. grew by only 28%. It disproportionately affected minorities.
In 1998, 90% of people in prison for drugs in New York were serving minimums and blacks and Latinos, who only comprise 25% of the population, constituted 83% of the prison population. How sad is that.
In the U.S. federal system, blacks make up 12% to 13% of the population, and 38% of those were arrested for drugs offences, 59% of those were convicted and 74% of those imprisoned for drug offences were black Americans. The overpopulation of blacks in prisons is also a Canadian problem.
We have seen studies by Wortley and Tanovich. We have seen the 1995 report on the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, which talks about the overrepresentation of blacks in Canadian prisons.
The bill would disproportionately impact on aboriginal offenders. We see that in another 2001 study by Jamie Cameron, entitled “Aboriginal Peoples and Mandatory Sentencing”. The data has shown that aboriginal and people of colour are overrepresented in Canadian jails.
The bill would affect people who are visible street level users and small scale sellers. It sends a message to our young people, particularly young people of colour, that the government prefers to invest in their incarceration rather than their education. No doubt, with all these bill, there is a likelihood of more jails being built across the country.
Incarceration has been linked to an increase in the likelihood of future offending. Not only are we putting more people in jail, which by itself is not a huge problem, we are causing them to offend more and therefore more of them will go back to jail. It repeats that cycle of violence and drug offences.
Studies have concluded that individuals sentenced to jail have higher recidivism rates and were more likely to re-offend than individuals who were not in prison but were punished for their crime. It looks like more prisons are exactly what the government plans to build.
We need meaningful consequences for offenders held accountable for their crimes, but if we run away from the solutions that address the cause of crime and therefore reduce crime, we leave Canada in a worse off situation. Offenders can and should be held accountable and the government can help prevent crime in the first place, but unfortunately Bill C-15 shows the government is not doing that.
One of the major problems with these kinds of laws is that instead of using the law to provide protection to those people to whom life has dealt an unfair hand, we are using it to punish them more and to have them become scapegoats for our desire to pretend we are being tough on drugs.
In the United States the war on drugs has not worked. While the Liberals talk about the importance of supporting and investing in young people, they are following the lead of the Conservative Prime Minister and turning their backs on the young people of Canada, which is sad.
Young people deserve a lot more. We are coming into the summer season. Instead of debating a bill like this one, we should be massively investing in youth employment programs. During economic downturns, young people are the first to get laid off.
Their unemployment rate goes up fairly dramatically when there is an economic downturn. That is why the Canada summer youth program should be increased dramatically. The funding should not be kept the same year after year. There should be an increase. The $100 million that is being spent on the program right now requires more investment, and it should not be only in the summer; it should be year-round.
Why should it be year-round? The reason is that after the summer, these young people are well trained by non-profit organizations, and they are laid off. Yes, some of them go back to school, but others do not. The ones who go back to school still need to find part-time work.
However, there is no federal government program that hires young people after school. If they are in school, there is no program to hire them after school so that they could work for a non-profit organization, so they could work in a neighbourhood community centre or neighbourhood recreation centre, so they can become role models in their communities, so they can stand up to the drug pushers and say, “There is a better way. Instead of joining a gang, let us join the swim team or the basketball team. Let us come together and learn about how to dance or do graphic arts on a computer”. There is so much young people can teach their younger brothers and sisters. They need that kind of support in the community. They need to have mentors, especially in at-risk neighbourhoods, and they have to have the kind of membership that these high-achieving young people can provide.
Some of them have to work because they come from families that require it. Instead of having them just work in Wal-Marts and McDonald's, we should provide them with opportunities to be hired in after-school programs so that they can teach younger brothers and sisters skills and become role models.
Instead, in Canada we do not have such a program. The only youth employment program is really directed to those who are out of school or out of work, whereas the people who are leaders in the community do not have a stable program that is long-term. The Boys and Girls Club of Canada, for example, has been asking the government to please fund it for the administrative costs and the core program. It wants stable funding year after year. Whether it is the Kiwanis Club, the Boys and Girls Club, the John Howard Society, or the Rotary Club, they have been saying that we need to hire young people part time throughout the school year, not just in the summer, so that these young people can lead others out of being trapped in a cycle of violence and trapped in neighbourhoods where some of them have serious drug problems.
We know that young people want to follow a leader. We know that the best allies to fight drug crimes are the young people themselves, their peers, so we need to go to the young people to tell them that they are our solution and that they are our allies in the fight against crime. Instead we are sending more and more young people to jail. We are building more jails and spending more money on jails, and at the end of the day we will just increase the number of young people committing crimes.