moved that Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to make consequential and related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, for almost 100 years, Canada has provided separate laws and procedures applicable to youth who commit crimes. The fair and appropriate application of criminal accountability to our youth is one of the most challenging areas of justice and social policy.
The law must be adequate to hold them appropriately accountable for the offences committed, consistent with their degree of responsibility in a manner that protects the public.
Canadians look to their government to ensure that the justice system is working effectively and that the country's citizens are safe. Since we were first elected, our government has taken action to tackle crime and protect Canadians.
Our approach is balanced. It includes: prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation. But there is more to be done.
We recognize that we need to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.
I am proud to speak today in this House to Bill C-4, which will bring amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Sébastien's law will make the protection of society a primary goal of our youth criminal justice system, and it will give Canadians greater confidence that violent and repeat young offenders will be held accountable through sentences that are proportionate to the severity of their crimes.
Bill C-4 proposes amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that would make the protection of society a primary goal of the act; simplify pretrial detention rules to help ensure that, when necessary, violent and repeat young offenders are kept off the streets while awaiting trial; strengthen sentencing provisions and reduce barriers to custody for violent and repeat young offenders, where appropriate; and require the Crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious crimes, such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault.
The Crown would also be required to inform the court if it chooses not to apply for an adult sentence. We will require the courts to consider publishing the name of a violent young offender when necessary for the protection of the public.
We will require police to keep records when extrajudicial measures are used in order to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending, and ensure that all youth under 18, who are given a custodial sentence, will serve it in a youth facility.
I would like to make a couple of comments about the changes that we are proposing.
First, we would make the protection of society a primary goal of the act. As it currently stands, the objective of protecting society is not stated strongly enough in either the preamble to the YCJA or its declaration of principles. This deficiency was identified by the Hon. D. Merlin Nunn in his report entitled “Spiralling Out of Control: Lessons Learned From a Boy in Trouble”. This was a comprehensive review of the youth justice system in Nova Scotia.
Justice Nunn concluded that highlighting public safety as one of the goals or principles of the act was necessary to improve the handling of violent and repeat offenders. Highlighting this objective within the principles of the act would give the courts a necessary tool to ensure that the protection of society is taken into account in sentencing youth who commit violent and repeat offences.
Again, related to one of the recommendations of the Nunn report, we will simplify the pretrial detention rules to help ensure that, when necessary, violent and repeat young offenders are kept off the streets while awaiting trial.
The current law on pretrial detention has been viewed by some as confusing and has, on occasion, been inconsistently applied. As a result, the system is often powerless to hold violent or reckless youth in custody, even when they pose a danger to themselves and to society.
The act therefore will be amended to simplify pretrial detention rules to ensure that youth can be detained while awaiting trial if they are charged with a serious offence, and there is a substantial likelihood that the youth will commit a serious offence if released.
A serious offence will be defined as any indictable offence for which the maximum punishment is imprisonment for five years or more, including: violent offences; property offences, such as theft over $5,000 which can include car theft; and offences that could endanger the public such as public mischief, unauthorized possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm, sexual exploitation, robbery and, of course, murder.
The third provision will strengthen sentencing provisions and reduce barriers to custody where appropriate for violent and repeat young offenders.
Canadians lose confidence in the justice system when a sentence is insufficient to hold offenders accountable for their actions or to protect society. The law will be amended to broaden the sentencing principles and remove barriers to custody to ensure that violent or repeat young offenders will receive sentences that reflect the seriousness of their offences.
The government is proposing to strengthen the sentencing provisions by adding specific deterrence and denunciation to the principles of sentencing to discourage a particular offender from committing further offences.
As it stands now, deterrence and denunciation cannot be considered by a judge as part of sentencing. Adding specific deterrence and denunciation would allow the courts to impose sanctions designed to discourage the particular offender from committing further offences when the circumstances of the individual case indicate that this is necessary.
We will expand the meaning of violent offence to include offences that endanger the public. Currently, under the act, the general rule is that a young person cannot be sentenced to custody unless certain conditions are met. For example, young offenders may not be sentenced to custody unless they have committed a violent offence.
The Supreme Court of Canada in 2006 interpreted violent offence under the act as an offence where the young person causes, attempts to cause, or threatens to cause bodily harm. The definition does not capture situations in which, while no one was injured, reckless behaviour nonetheless posed a risk to others. For example, at the moment, a young offender who leads police on a high speed chase through a residential neighbourhood could be given a custodial sentence only if someone was injured as a result.
The government proposes to expand the definition of violent offence to include offences where the young person endangers the life or safety of others by creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm. This change would give the courts a necessary tool to help ensure accountability and the protection of society, when the circumstances of the offence require it.
We are proposing to reduce barriers to custodial sentences by allowing custody to be imposed on youth who have a pattern of findings of guilt or extrajudicial sanctions. The act currently allows for custodial sentences in situations where the young person has committed 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 indicating a pattern of findings of guilt under the act or its predecessor.
The current requirement for establishing a pattern of criminal activity based on findings of guilt has been criticized by some as being too restrictive when a young person may have committed other offences which have not been dealt with through the formal justice system. As a result, in cases where the offender's history indicates that a custodial sentence is necessary to protect society or to hold the offender accountable, it is sometimes impossible to demonstrate that necessity.
The proposed amendment would give the courts the necessary tools to establish a pattern of criminal activity, either through findings of guilt or through showing that the young person has a history of extrajudicial sanctions or through a combination of both. This would allow the court to take the offender's full history into account to help determine what sentence is appropriate.
The new legislation would also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious violent offences. These are offences such as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. Currently, under the act, judges may impose adult sentences on youth 14 years of age and over convicted of serious violent offences when appropriate. However, the Crown does not always apply for an adult sentence in such cases and is not required to consider doing so, even in the most serious cases.
The proposed amendments will require the Crown to consider seeking an adult sentence for youth who commit serious violent offences. The Crown will be required to inform the court if it chooses not to apply for an adult sentence. Provinces and territories will still have the discretion to set the age at which this requirement would apply. For instance, no province that sets the age at 15 or 16 would be required to change.
This brings me to the fifth provision we are proposing: requiring the courts to consider publishing the name of a violent young offender when necessary for the protection of society. Currently, under the act, the publication ban is automatically lifted where an adult sentence is imposed. However, if the Crown applies, the court can consider lifting the ban in appropriate cases where a youth sentence has been imposed for an offence for which the Crown was seeking an adult sentence.
In practice, the violent offenders who are given youth sentences are normally released into the community anonymously. The implications for public safety can be significant. For example, parents may have no way of knowing that a sex offender is in the area. The amendment would require judges to consider lifting the name publication ban for youth convicted of a violent offence and given a youth sentence when the protection of society requires it.
Finally, the other amendments we are proposing will require police to keep records when extrajudicial measures are imposed to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending. The amended act will now make it clear that no young offenders under 18 will serve their sentence in an adult institution, regardless of whether they are given an adult or youth sentence.
Our government believes that the law must uphold the rights of victims and ensure the safety of our communities. If in any way our justice system fails to do so, we must take action.
By introducing Sébastien's law, our government is taking action to strengthen the way the young offenders system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.
We are helping to ensure that these offenders will be held accountable and that the protection of society will be a primary consideration in the system as a whole.
I would like to urge fellow members of the House to support these amendments. These are all very reasonable amendments and they should have the support of all hon. members of the House.