This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rehabilitation.

Topics

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, as members are aware, the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect in April 2003. The proposed reforms to the YCJA that are contained in Sébastien's law are being made after consultations with a broad range of stakeholders.

I have had the privilege on a number of occasions of meeting with people in my riding of Kitchener—Conestoga. They are very concerned about many of the areas of the YCJA where improvements are badly needed. They are concerned that not enough is being done to protect individuals and families in our communities.

After more than five years of experience with the YCJA, the time was right for a review. In February 2008, the Minister of Justice launched a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which began with a meeting he held with provincial and territorial attorneys general to discuss the scope of the review and to identify the issues relating to the YCJA that they considered the most important.

In May 2008 the Minister of Justice began a series of cross-country round tables, usually co-chaired by provincial and territorial ministers in order to hear from youth justice professionals and youth justice stakeholders about areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The results show that most provinces and stakeholders believe the YCJA works well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes. However, there are concerns about the small number of youth who commit serious violent offences or are repeat offenders.

As well, while the goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to reduce the number of youth in custody is seen as a laudable one, some are of the view that the act has imposed barriers, which could restrict the courts from imposing custody for youth who should receive custody. Also, they believe that while adult sentences are available for those aged 14 and over and can be used where appropriate, these are not always considered even in the most serious cases.

Concerns were expressed by some about youth who commit violent or repeat offences, who may need a more focused approach to ensure that the public is protected. For example, some were concerned about violent youth who may avoid detention through bail. The fear is that these youth could commit a violent or serious offence while they are awaiting trial.

The current law on pre-trial detention is seen by some as too complicated. These complications might also make it more likely that youth who should be kept off the street pending trial are released, only to re-offend, sometimes with lethal consequences.

The Nunn Commission of Inquiry in Nova Scotia dealt with a case where a youth who had been detained was released, stole a car and was involved in a car accident in which a person was killed. The proposed reforms would greatly simplify the judicial interim release scheme.

The new law will include a very simply test. If the youth has committed a serious offence, which will be defined as it is for adults in the Criminal Code, then this youth can be detained while awaiting trial if he or she would, if released, likely endanger the public by committing another serious offence.

This government recognizes that young people who commit serious, violent and repeat criminal offences must receive a sentence and work toward rehabilitation in a manner that is proportionate to their crime and to their responsibility for this crime.

This government believes that particular elements of the act need to be strengthened to ensure that youth who commit serious, violent or repeat offences are held accountable with sentences and other measures that are proportionate to the severity of the crime and the degree of responsibility of the offender.

Sébastien's law will make the protection of society a primary goal of our youth criminal justice system. 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.

The proposed amendments are intended to help ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable through sentences that are proportionate to the severity of their crimes and that the protection of society is given due consideration in applying the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The proposed reforms address these concerns: to make protection of society a primary goal of the legislation; to simplify the rules to keep violent and repeat young offenders off the streets while awaiting trial when necessary in order to protect society; to require the crown to consider seeking adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious crimes, murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault; to require the crown to inform the court if it chooses not to apply for an adult sentence; to enable the courts to impose more appropriate sentences on other violent and repeat offenders, as necessary in individual cases, and to use existing sanctions in a way that would discourage an individual from offending again; to use a pattern of escalating criminal activity to seek a custodial sentence for reckless behaviour that puts the lives and safety of others at risk; and, finally, to require the courts to consider publishing the name of a violent young offender when necessary for the protection of society.

Regarding the requirement to consider adult sentences for youth convicted of the most serious crimes, the provinces and territories will still have the discretion to set the age at which this requirement would apply.

Let me be clear. The amended legislation will now make it clear that no young person under 18 will serve a sentence in an adult institution regardless of whether he or she was given an adult or youth sentence. All young people under 18 will serve any custody portion of their sentence in youth facilities, separate and apart from adult offenders.

As is currently the practice, the individual could be transferred to an adult institution at age 18, if at that point his or her sentence had not been fully served.

Changes will also be made to publication provisions. In addition to retaining the current lifting of the publication ban where an adult sentence is imposed on youth, the new law would require judges to consider lifting publication bans for all convictions of violent offences where youth sentences were imposed.

Also there will be a requirement that records be kept when extra judicial measures are used by law enforcement to make it easier to find patterns of reoffending, which ties in with the amendment to the sentencing provisions in regard to extra judicial sanctions.

The proposed reforms in the bill will support and improve a fair and effective youth justice system for this country and result in a youth justice system that holds youth accountable for their criminal misconduct and promotes their rehabilitation and integration into society in order to promote the protection of the public.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened to the debate on Bill C-4. I am tempted to do two things and I hope the House will forgive me as I reflect on them.

The first part of the speech was exhortation that was a repetition of what the member for Saint Boniface said during statements by members, and that was have the opposition join with the government in ensuring the bill would pass, but without getting an assurance from the Prime Minister that he would not engage in prorogation in order to eliminate all the benefits of such co-operation.

The second reflection is this. Why do we not talk about how this bill protects society? With all due respect to my hon. colleague opposite, whose sincerity I do not question, is there anything other than the administrative details about which he talked that relate to maintaining records in an efficient and proficient fashion?

Could the member help us to understand how that is significant in maintaining a culture of protection for society, other than just simply one where we keep better books? Is that his concept of a reform of the justice system designed to protect society, to get new bookcases?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, clearly my colleague did not listen to the early part of my speech. I clearly commented about the provisions in relation to pretrial detention. All of us in the chamber have heard stories about individuals who have been charged and released on bail and during that time have chosen to reoffend. In fact, Sébastien's situation is exactly that. Another person unfortunately lost his life because of another violent act. That is the one part of it.

The other part deals with the issue where extrajudicial sanctions may have been given in previous misdemeanours. People in my riding told me about a person who had appeared before a judge but was told that because there were no judicial sentences handed down earlier, the criminal record was not yet bad enough for the individual to be sentenced.

Therefore, with this legislation, it is my understanding that where extrajudicial sanctions have been given previously, that where warranted, the judge will be able to take those into account in deciding on the severity of the punishment to be given. More important than the punishment is to protect society from a person who may choose to go out and reoffend.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member is aware of Quebec's success when it comes to juvenile delinquency. Does he know that since 1985, Quebec's youth crime rate has been from two-thirds to 50% lower than the rest of Canada?

Is he aware of Quebec's particular way of dealing with young offenders? Is everyone around him aware? If he is not aware, can he be open-minded enough and benefit from this debate in order to learn about how Quebec addresses this?

If people from Quebec tell him that this legislation is getting in the way of their approach, would his government be willing to amend it so that it might produce better results in Canada and North America, and this approach could continue to be used?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, there is no question that all of us in this chamber will always celebrate any reduction in crime. When the numbers go down, we should all be grateful.

I am not questioning whether the numbers have gone down or not. I am suggesting that regardless of where the numbers are, they are still far too high. There is no one in this chamber who would suggest that because the numbers have gone down by 2%, 5% or even 20% that we should somehow reduce our efforts to further improve the public safety of all Canadian citizens.

I remind the House as well that our government has invested heavily in crime prevention programs. I have been involved in announcements in my own riding, where money has been invested in crime prevention programs to allow them to do the good work they do. My colleague earlier mentioned the pathways to education program, a great program that is having good results.

It is not a matter of one or the other. It is a matter of both. We need all these programs to work together, rehabilitation, prevention, absolutely. We cannot ignore the public safety factor. People in this chamber have a responsibility to all Canadians.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the NDP will support the bill to get it to committee, and we hope a couple of amendments will come out of committee.

My colleague made the point that the intention is to keep youth separate from adults, and the government has included this extremely valuable point in the bill. We are reasonably satisfied with this.

The only question I have about it is how that will play out over time. The provinces may not have adequate facilities in some areas. Is the government planning to compensate the provinces to help them build proper facilities? One of the reasons youth are in with adults in some instances is because the provinces do not have the facilities to keep them apart.

Does the government have any plans to compensate the provinces to allow them to have the proper facilities?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I am not in a position to comment on the specifics of what investments may be forthcoming in terms of other facilities.

I want to go back to the point that even if more facilities or more investments are needed, it is important for members of this chamber to take seriously their responsibility for the protection of the public. I am sure if that is necessary, the necessary funds will be allocated.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, paragraph 3(1) refers to the prevention that the member has mentioned a couple of times. The prevention of crime that it refers to is the recidivism. What the member has not talked about is the importance of preventing any crime from happening in the first place.

The member should also understand that the rate of criminal activity, serious crime, particularly property crime, accelerates and tracks perfectly with unemployment rates in Canada as well. A sound economy is also an important element of crime prevention.

Would the member at least acknowledge that crime prevention should not start after the first crime?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could not agree more that a good job is important for the well-being of a young person, especially in terms of feeling good about themselves, of having positive self-esteem, of being able to provide for their own needs. However, one of the best ways to do that is to encourage an investment climate where jobs are created, and not increase taxes in such a way that would actually discourage companies from expanding their businesses or making the tax burden so high that people are unable to pay for the basic necessities of life.

The other thing on the job front is the pathways to education program, which I mentioned earlier, are all initiatives that will help young people get the education they need. They may not be suited to the normal academic program that we think is the be-all and end-all. They may learn in different ways. These pathways to education programs and other alternative education programs are crucial to help those who may not follow the normal academic pattern, but are able to find great jobs in skilled trades, of which our society is in desperate need.

All of these need to go together. I want to make the comment I made earlier that we cannot look at this in isolation. It has to be a total package.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois is not against reviewing the Young Offenders Act. We are in favour of Quebec's model of dealing with young offenders.

This model has been developed over more than a generation. It has been unanimously supported by all political parties that have governed Quebec since the 1960s. Whether to maintain and improve it has never been the object of partisan politics. Over the past 25 years, it has consistently given Quebec the lowest youth crime rate in North America. It focuses entirely on the future and its main goal is to ensure that, insofar as possible, the young offender grows up to become a law-abiding citizen.

This model has been possible because the federal legislation recognized that its main objective was the rehabilitation of the young offender. The Assistant Chief Justice of Quebec's Youth Court, Mr. Justice Michel Jasmin, admirably summarized the basic philosophy underlying the Quebec model with these words: “the right measure at the right time”.

Let us take two examples at opposite ends of the spectrum: homicide and shoplifting. A young man has killed his father. Drunk most of the time, the father beat his wife and children and kept them in abject poverty. One day the young man decides that this has gone on long enough, and he kills his father. At the other extreme, a young man is part of a group of thugs who rob houses. When surprised one day by an elderly woman who puts up a fight, he hits and kills her.

Can people see that the two offenders have to be treated very differently? That does not mean that the first one deserves a medal. He has committed a very serious crime and should suffer serious consequences. What he did was unwarranted, even under such extreme circumstances. He must show that he understands and is sorry for what he did and that he will never again use force to deal with an unfair situation. He will regain his freedom gradually, depending on the progress he makes in the rehabilitation program he is referred to.

In the second case, the offender may be tried as an adult and receive the maximum sentence of life in prison, after undergoing a thorough examination that looks at his record, his personality, the failure of any previous rehabilitation and the clinical psychological data that comes out of the examination, in short, a series of factors that rule out any possibility of rehabilitation.

Two homicides, two different measures.

At the other end of the criminal spectrum is shoplifting. A young man has been caught stealing a CD by a popular artist. It is his first arrest. He does not want the police to call his parents, but they do anyway. When they arrive, he is as red as a beet. Shamefaced, he swears he will never shoplift again. It is easy to see that this experience and the parents' reaction will be more than enough to dissuade the young man from reoffending. He can be diverted from formal court proceedings and let off with a warning.

But another young man is caught stealing things that can easily fenced. It is his first arrest as well, but authorities will do a more thorough investigation before deciding whether or not he will go to court. They will try to find out more about his circle of friends, his family and school or work in order to determine the best way to ensure that he does not reoffend.

Two cases of shoplifting resulting in a first arrest, two different attitudes that will lead to two radically different measures. We always try to choose the best measure for the situation.

Between these two extremes, there are thousands of cases where, in choosing the right measure at the right time, judges hand down sentences that can be very different for similar crimes committed by young people with very different prospects for rehabilitation.

These sentences may seem lenient to those who are unaware of the results of inquiries made for the pre-sentence report on youth with the best prospects for rehabilitation. Other sentences may be the most severe sanctions under the law if the inquiry reveals that they are warranted.

The approach varies with the accused. The goal is to protect society by taking steps to turn the young person away from crime and to ensure, above all and as far as possible, that he will not become an adult offender.

It goes without saying that, to determine the best measures for achieving these goals, we must also take into consideration the seriousness of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the young person, his efforts to make restitution to victims when possible and other relevant and objective factors. This approach is taken because rehabilitating the young person is the best way to protect society.

Quebec's success is not dependent on the law but on how the law is enforced. Starting with the principle that rehabilitation is the goal in all but the clearly impossible cases, Quebec has created a multi-faceted system where the quality of the people who work with the young offender is of the utmost importance. Specialist judges are available in every region where that is possible and they are supported by psychologists, criminologists and social workers who can advise them about the identity of the young person, the risk factors that have led him to commit the crimes and the best means of ensuring his social reintegration while protecting the public. There are also specialist prosecutors. We build youth centres, not prisons, that fall under the responsibility of the health and social services ministry rather than the public security ministry. Guards have been replaced by psychoeducators and specialized educators who have a university or college education.

With regard to youth crime, like other types of crime, success is determined more by how laws are enforced than by the laws themselves. I know that this is particularly frustrating for federal legislators. However, in Canada, that is the way it is. In Canada, criminal law is a federal jurisdiction and its enforcement a provincial one.

The law has to leave room for an effective system. The law must not hinder a good system that has provided and continues to provide tangible results that are far better than the results anywhere else.

The Bloc fought long and hard for the Youth Criminal Justice Act that was adopted in 2002 to replace the Young Offenders Act because it favoured a more objective approach for treating young offenders.

After it was adopted, the opinion of many involved in the area of young offenders went something like this, “We used to deal with young people who committed offences and now we are dealing with offences committed by young people”.

We could talk about this at length, but we do not have enough time here. We will have more time in committee. For now, I sincerely believe that the first approach is the best. Rehabilitating young offenders is the best way to protect society in the long run. Rehabilitation has to be the priority of the youth criminal justice system.

The approach proposed in the bill before us takes us further away from Quebec's approach. Subparagraph 3(1)(a), which is a declaration of principle at the beginning of the legislation, states:

the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by

(i) holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person,

This is certainly a very important principle, but it already appears in the current legislation. It appears almost verbatim in paragraph 38(2)(c) which states:

the sentence must be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence;

This shift from paragraph 38(2)(c) to subparagraph 3(1)(a)(i) is not so innocent when we look at what is being dropped.

The current paragraph 3(1)(a), which will be replaced by the new clause, currently says:

the youth criminal justice system is intended to (i) prevent crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person’s offending behaviour, (ii) rehabilitate young persons who commit offences and reintegrate them into society, and (iii) ensure that a young person is subject to meaningful consequences for his or her offence in order to promote the long-term protection of the public;

Under the current legislation, the first two objectives are prevention and rehabilitation.

To be fair, Bill C-4 does not completely dismiss these objectives. Rather, it says that we should “promot[e] the rehabilitation and reintegration” by “referring young persons to programs or agencies in the community”.

But it makes these objectives secondary to making the sentence fit the crime. In short, rehabilitation and reintegration will now merely be encouraged, not mandated.

This is an even more significant change from the former Young Offenders Act, which enabled Quebec to create a system that resulted in the lowest rates of crime committed by young offenders in America.

We believe that any youth justice system should focus primarily on rehabilitation.

This is not a sunshine-and-lollipops system, as some Conservative bigwigs claim.

Some young people have asked judges to send them to adult court so that they can avoid the rigorous requirements of young offender rehabilitation programs.

The government is defending its proposed changes by claiming that stricter sentences will be a deterrent. That principle has had very little effect on adult crime rates. Why would it be any more effective when it comes to juvenile crime?

Since this is the government's main argument, we should debate the issue in committee. Justice Canada has already ordered an in-depth review of the deterrent effect of various sentences in Commonwealth countries. The findings will surely be enlightening. Are there any studies that focus specifically on adolescents? Such studies would definitely be relevant. If there are none, we should order them. That is probably exactly where the government and the opposition disagree. We should have a public debate where we can set partisan politics aside and let cool heads prevail.

The government's decision to name this bill Sébastien's law is both strange and indecent. Sébastien Lacasse was the young man from my riding who was attacked by a group of angry youth who beat him. One of the attackers even stabbed him, which is how he died. Most of the attackers were over 18 years old. The individual who stabbed and killed him was under 18.

He was referred to adult court and received the maximum sentence, life in prison, and his name was released. The others, who were over 18 but did not directly cause his death, received various sentences, the longest of which was four years.

The sentence that the youngest person received certainly does not justify any amendments to this legislation. Since the legislation does not at all change the sentence that the killer would have received, I do not think it has any symbolic value. This is nothing more than propaganda for purely partisan purposes. It seems to me the Conservatives are exploiting the grief of his parents and loved ones.

This only confirms that the government's main objective with this bill is not really to reduce crime, but rather to achieve electoral gains. Unfortunately, a large segment of the population believes that we need to be tougher on young offenders.

But only until they learn more.

Only until they learn more about the real way we treat young offenders on a daily basis, more about the various professionals who work with them—from a constable on a youth squad to the judge and special crown prosecutor, to the university educated psychoeducators who care for them and assess them—and most importantly, until they learn more about the results we get. These results are the envy of many countries whose representatives regularly come to study Quebec's model in order to emulate it and change their own way of addressing juvenile delinquency.

The public very rarely hears rehabilitation success stories for young offenders. But we often hear about the failures. That is the nature of things. A murder, especially committed by a young offender, is an exceptional event that will necessarily get a lot of media attention. Crimes in general make the news. There is always something, and the more serious it is, the worse it is, the more despicable it is, the more we see it on the news. And there is something about youth crime, something we cannot put our finger on, that draws interest from the media.

For the most part, rehabilitation goes unnoticed. There is nothing special about it. It is a process that can take time, and it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when rehabilitation is achieved. However, the vast majority of young offenders do not re-offend.

It is difficult to talk about those who are rehabilitated. First of all, in all civilized countries, we protect their identities. Sometimes, well-known or well-liked public figures will reveal that they were arrested in their youth, and will speak about their rehabilitation, which helped them become the person they are today. However, these cases are not well known, while failures are widely publicized.

Recidivism has a face. If it is not the face of the offender, it is the face of the victim. Rehabilitation is anonymous.

In our media-crazed world, we hear a lot of talk about repeat offenders but rarely do we hear about those who are rehabilitated , which actually represent the large majority of those convicted. Repeat offenders are known to police but those who are rehabilitated are not, since they are obviously not arrested again.

The general public is misinformed about how youth crime is dealt with. It sees only the failures. I am not criticizing journalists. Again, it is the nature of living in a media-crazed world. Unfortunately, in this case, the medium is the message. It is the exceptional things that make news.

Every so often, journalists decide to take an in-depth look at the issue. And generally, their opinion on youth crime and how to reduce it becomes more nuanced. When informed, the public generally comes to the same conclusion.

We need to admit, from the outset, that we will never completely eliminate youth crime. There will always be failures. These failures will be rare, so the media will be sure to publicize them. We cannot be deterred from looking for the best ways to rehabilitate offenders. Not only is it important on a human level, but it is also the best way to ensure society's short- and long-term protection.

I often hear the governing party say that we need to get tough on crime. And the Conservatives always seem to say it with an air of triumph, as if they were winning a trophy or crushing an enemy. It takes a hard line approach because it believes that it will get votes that way. But it was also in the House that I heard the best line on this topic. It came from the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, in one of his first speeches, before he became the leader of his party.

As I recall, he said that the idea is not to be tough on crime or soft on crime; the idea is to be smart on crime. If there is one area where it is important to be smart, it is the area of youth crime, even though being smart is not necessarily very popular right now.

On September 18, 2009, the former Conservative leader, the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, said to the big Conservative family as it celebrated the 25th anniversary of his coming to power, “Just because something is popular, that does not make it right.” He was quoted in Le Devoir on September 19, 2009. Former statesmen often like to pass on their wisdom.

This sentence seems especially relevant as we look at the changes the government wants to make to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I very much get the feeling that the government is proposing these changes because they are popular. The tough on crime approach was a big hit in the United States and got many Republican representatives and senators elected.

As a result, nearly one quarter of the world's inmates are in American jails today. The incarceration rate in the United States is seven times the rate in Canada. Is it a safer country? Certainly not. Proportionally, if we look at the most serious crimes, homicides, there are three times more homicides in the United States than in Canada and four and a half times more than in Quebec. The Vera Institute of Justice, an American organization, determined that at least 22 U.S. states were prepared to give up the tough on crime approach. This also applies to the treatment of young offenders, which was based on the same principles.

Being tough on crime may be a good way to win votes, but it is an expensive, counterproductive approach that leads to a dead end. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, produces not only people who contribute to society, but huge financial and social savings for every young person who goes straight. When we see how much more violent crime there is in the United States than in Canada, we may be tempted to think that some of these offenders went through the American youth justice system.

Why follow the U.S. model when we have a system here that produces much better results? The rest of Canada should be following Quebec's lead instead of preventing it from continuing to use its system.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank the hon. member for participating in this debate and bringing the experience he has in this House. He always brings an enlightened view to important legislation.

The member made an allegation that the government was not trying to reduce crime but rather to win votes, if I quoted him correctly. That certainly does lead to a sloganeering approach to the justice system, let us get tough on crime, but he is correct in identifying that being smart on crime makes more sense from a legislative standpoint.

As a layperson, I have come to find, from members like him and from some of my committee work, that sentencing does not appear to be an effective deterrent to crime, that recidivism rates are lower for those who get early release or house arrest, that provincial governments do not get the resources they need to properly police or to provide for the facilities, and that longer sentences are more expensive to the system, therefore taking resources away from some of the other important social supports that people need to keep away from a life of crime.

I wonder if the member would care to share with the House some further thoughts about being smart on crime.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I could go on for hours about that. Indeed, I spent more time editing my speech than I spent writing it in the first place.

I was called to the bar in 1966. Right after that, I went to work for the crown prosecutor in Montreal. Then I worked for the federal government, and then I was in private practice. I have been president of the Quebec bar, public safety minister and justice minister.

Before becoming a lawyer, I knew nothing about crime. Intellectual honesty was very important to me. I found that people broke laws—driving under the influence or committing murder, for example. I began to study the matter, and I learned a few things that anyone can learn.

There are a lot of books about crime, and Statistics Canada produces statistics comparing Canada to other countries. It is well known that long sentences are ineffective. The rate of incarceration in the United States is seven times higher than in Canada, yet the United States has the highest rate of violent crime. Other western nations, such as France and England, also have incarceration rates seven times lower than those in the United States.

We have to focus on timely intervention with criminals, not on sentence length. The same applies to our children. We have to intervene quickly when crimes are committed. There have to be consequences. Incarceration is the worst possible punishment; we must use it in moderation.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for his speech on Bill C-4.

He provided us with a lot of information on Quebec's system, which, statistics show, is better than the rest of Canada's.

Could the hon. member tell me what the Conservative government could do to bring the statistics in the rest of Canada to the same level as those in Quebec?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question. The government probably cannot do it. That is the problem with a federation. I am not saying that as a sovereignist. That is just the nature of a federation.

It falls to the federal government to establish the criminal law, but it is up to the provinces to apply those laws. It is the way in which these laws are applied that has the greatest impact on youth crime. Prevention and rehabilitation used to be the primary objectives of the law and everything else was secondary. Unfortunately, now the opposite is true. Now the primary focus is on making the sentence proportional to the seriousness of the offence. The young person needs to be healed and rehabilitation is one type of healing.

The Conservative government could start by not adopting a bill that will prevent us from continuing to do what we do best. Our system works so much better than that of our neighbours to the south. However, the government always favours the U.S. model.

There truly are two solitudes in Canada. English Canada does not know about Quebec's success in this area. Rehabilitation by professionals is the reason for our success.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, as a former solicitor general for Quebec, I know the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is extremely knowledgeable on all of these issues.

I was interested in the fact that the government is going to, by this bill, make certain that youth are kept separate from adults. That is great, except that, as the member pointed out, the provinces will be responsible for enforcing this act that the government will pass and a number of the provinces do not have the facilities available to house those youth offenders.

If the provinces follow the act, it might be another decade before they get the proper facilities built where they can keep the youth separate and, if they do not have the facilities, what will they do? Will they put them in with the adults?

Could the member expand on that as to the validity of the government passing legislation when it knows full well that the provinces will not be able to implement it at any time soon in some cases, and whether the federal government should be responsible for providing some moneys to the provinces to make certain that the intentions of the bill are able to be carried out by the provinces?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, it would be a good thing if there were youth centres elsewhere. The government is prepared to spend more money to build more prisons to jail more young people. That is a colossal mistake. It should give the provinces more money to hire more qualified professionals who would oversee the rehabilitation of young people and even the rehabilitation of the most difficult cases.

It is difficult to take a youth out of his environment when he has grown up in a family that lives off the avails of crime and when he has joined a gang. It costs a lot. That is how Quebec came out on the losing end in the 1980s. The federal government gave money to the provinces. Ontario used it to build prisons. Quebec received less money because it focused on staffing and it could not use the money for buildings. However, it is a very important long-term investment. For $100,000 per year, the cost of incarcerating one inmate, we can hire at least two or three professionals and be much more effective. The rest of Canada should realize that there is a system nearby that works and they should use it as a model. When I defended the Quebec system in 1998, people from the Maritimes came to see me to learn about it.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Michael Chong

The hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel has time for a short question.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I wish to congratulate my colleague for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is an expert on this subject.

My question is simple. In Quebec, our ancestors left us a society that struck a balance between incarceration and rehabilitation. Today, why are the Conservatives absolutely bent on steering us to the right? Can my colleague explain this right-wing approach to incarceration?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a matter of ignorance. They are not familiar with the success Quebec has had. When they want a model, they choose a simplistic model. If my dog does something bad, I just give him a little tap. That is not how it works with adults, and certainly not with young offenders.

The Conservatives want to be tough on crime. They are now telling us—like the Minister of Justice has said—to listen to voters, who will tell us what to do and what measures to take. But the people are not experts on young offenders. There are some situations in life when we must turn to the experts. When our car breaks down, we do not take it to our uncle the plumber. We take it to a mechanic.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the most important responsibility of members of Parliament is the duty to protect the citizens of the communities they represent.

I have the honour of representing the great city of Abbotsford here in Parliament. The residents of my riding understand, perhaps better than most Canadians, the impact that violent crime, especially youth-related crime, can have on their sense of safety and security.

Despite a declining overall crime rate, drug-related violence in my community was up steeply last year. Much of it involved youth. If members went to my community and read the newspapers for the last two to three years, they would notice that week after week, there were stories about gang violence and drug-related violence. They would read about young teenagers being murdered because of their involvement in the drug trade, young kids who had a great future in this great country of ours, and those lives were snuffed out.

Since we were first elected, our Conservative government has been relentless in taking action to tackle violent crime and to protect Canadians. Our approach has been a balanced one. It includes prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.

Today the bill before us is a new law which takes action against youth-related violent crime, especially where such crime is committed by prolific young offenders. The bill, which we have called Sébastien's law, is an amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Our government recognizes that young people who commit serious, violent and repeat criminal offences must receive sentences that are proportionate to their crimes, even as those very individuals work toward their own rehabilitation and reintegration into society. In short, violent young offenders need to take personal responsibility for their violent crimes.

What our government's bill also highlights is that our laws must make the protection of society a primary goal of sentencing, something which has been sorely lacking in the past. Law-abiding citizens have a right to expect that their lawmakers will protect them against the most violent young offenders.

As I have talked with Canadians, I have realized that a large number of them have lost faith in the youth justice system. They complain that the prison sentences given to violent and repeat young offenders are generally too light to make any difference in rehabilitating these offenders and holding them accountable for their actions. Canadians have also lost faith in a system which does not have the legislative tools to keep the public safe. Our government is changing that.

Exactly what is it that this bill does? With Sébastien's law, our Conservative government is introducing nine key changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The first change will add deterrence and denunciation as principles which the judge will have to take into account when sentencing serious, violent and repeat young offenders. Right now a judge cannot use deterrence and denunciation in making a decision about sentencing, even though many Canadians believe that serious, violent young offenders must get a clear message that doing the crime means doing the time.

The second change is that the amended act would allow detention and jail before trial if a youth is charged with a serious offence and if that youth is likely to commit another serious offence if released. Up until now, pretrial custody rules have been confusing and quite frankly, inconsistently applied.

The third change is that the amended act would define the term “serious offence” as an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of five years or more. This will not only include violent offences but also property offences, such as theft over $5,000, and offences that pose a danger to the public, such as possession of a firearm, sexual exploitation, robbery and murder. Right now there is no definition of “serious offence” in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The fourth change will mean that the term “violent offence” will be expanded to include offences where a young person endangers the life or safety of another person by creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm.

In the past, the legal definition of “violent offence” was left up to the courts to interpret. The courts' interpretation, although it included actual or threatened bodily harm, said nothing about endangering someone's life or safety. We are changing that.

For our fifth change, we are making it easier to put violent young offenders behind bars by allowing the judge to take into account a previous history or perhaps pattern of guilty behaviour, even if there is no actual formal record of that criminal behaviour. Currently, the law is too narrow and allows youth who may have broken the law many times before but were dealt with outside of the justice system to escape personal accountability for their actions.

The sixth change will require a prosecutor to consider seeking an adult sentence for young offenders who are 14 years of age and older where they commit serious violent offences. This provision will vary from province to province. Prosecutors will also have to inform the court if they do not apply for the adult sentence. Right now, adult sentences are available for those 14 years of age and over and can be used where appropriate, but prosecutors do not always apply for them, even in the most serious cases.

The seventh key change is that we are giving judges the power to make the names of young offenders public whenever they are convicted of a violent offence, even when a youth sentence is imposed. This is something many Canadians have asked for, including the residents of Abbotsford. Although there are presently no publication bans on young offenders who receive adult sentences, those who receive youth sentences for violent crimes rarely, if ever, have their names published.

The eighth key change will see the act amended to make it clear that no young person under 18 will serve his or her sentence in an adult institution, regardless of whether the young person was given an adult or youth sentence. This is consistent with our government's desire to ensure that young offenders serve their sentences in an environment more conducive to genuine rehabilitation.

For the ninth and last change, Sébastien's law, as we have called it, will require police to keep records of the use of extrajudicial measures, such as warnings, to make it easier to identify patterns of reoffending. Right now, there is no requirement for the police to keep such records.

Our government believes that the law should place the highest priority on victims. This week we are celebrating and honouring National Victims of Crime Awareness Week, when we make the statement that victims have been forgotten for far too long. Our Conservative government is taking notice. We have implemented many new initiatives that address the needs of victims, including establishing a national awareness day. We have also established the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime.

We have enhanced the funding for victims. In fact, even in this year's budget, we added another $6.6 million to provide services to victims. Indeed, it is our goal to significantly reduce the number of Canadians who are victimized by violent youth crime. We cannot do that without having a tool chest that has the legislative tools to address youth crime, especially when it is violent.

The amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that our Conservative government has proposed make significant progress in keeping Canadians safe. These changes will hold violent young offenders more accountable for their actions and will better protect Canadians. After all, that is the very least Canadians should expect of their elected representatives. It is the very least the residents of my community of Abbotsford should expect of their representative right here in Ottawa.

Since 2006, our Conservative government has been relentless in trying to find new ways of addressing crime, addressing the needs of victims and ensuring that rehabilitation is available in our federal prison institutions. I am pleased to support this legislation. It is something that is long overdue. Someone asked me the other day why it was taking so long. I had to remind him that we just came out of 13 years of a Liberal government and it did not take crime seriously.

This Conservative government, under our Prime Minister and our Minister of Justice, takes crime very seriously. Ultimately, we want a safer society. I want a safer Abbotsford. When we do that, all Canadians win.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must admit I did not get a lot of new information from the member about the bill or about the foundations of the bill.

All of the evidence indicates that sentencing is not a deterrent. Recidivism in fact is lower when there are early release programs, such as house arrest, to which the government is opposed. Crime rates are lower when there are proper supports for the police and in the provincial jurisdictions programs for crime prevention before the first crime happens.

The member seems to have repeated the platitudes of the government that the Conservatives are just tough on crime, a slogan without a foundation. Throwing more people into jail for longer periods of time will make them even less able to be rehabilitated or reintegrated into society and will not end the cycle of crime and recidivism. The Conservatives simply want to win votes. Why is it that the member has not given one example of where the bill improves the situation to reduce crime or prevent it before it happens?

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his intervention, although I profoundly disagree with it. His view and his ideology comes from the far left. It is totally discredited.

If we followed the hon. member's line of argument, we should get rid of all jails; nobody should be going to jail because deterrence does not work.

He obviously did not listen to my speech, because I emphasized protection of society, which is something the Liberal Party forgot some 40 years ago when its solicitor general said that the Liberals were essentially abandoning protection of society and focusing all their efforts on rehabilitation. That is the wrong way to go.

Our government is finally providing a balanced approach to crime, making sure rehabilitation is there, making sure prevention is there, making sure enforcement is there. Above all, we should listen to the victims and focus on protection of society. Canadians are asking for that, and they deserve nothing less.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, does the member not think that a system with a lower delinquency rate protects victims better than a system with a higher rate?

In 2008, the delinquency rate in Quebec was 50% lower than the rate in Canada. Before he came to the House, was the member familiar with the system that was developed in Quebec?

If he learned more about this system by sitting in on meetings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he would see that he should not reject a system that sees fewer victims.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc for his work at the justice committee. We have worked together for well over a year on that committee and, although we sometimes profoundly disagree on the issues, he is a very valuable member of that committee. He does remind us regularly of what is happening in Quebec but I also regularly remind him of what is happening in other parts of the country where citizens are demanding that we take some concrete steps to ensure we protect society.

Members will have noticed that our Conservative crime agenda is not a shotgun approach. We are not following a U.S. system that has failed in many respects. Our approach is a very focused, targeted approach where we are looking at the most prolific, violent, repeat offenders, not only adults but some very dangerous young offenders who need to be incarcerated for longer periods of time. The longer they are in custody, the greater their opportunity is to find the help they need. Some of them have serious addiction problems, some come from a background of having learning disabilities and some have mental health issues. They need to get that help.

It is no secret that our federal system of corrections is actually much more effective in dealing with rehabilitation. The reason for that is that in our provincial systems the maximum sentence is two years, which is usually not enough time to actually move an offender toward rehabilitation.

However, there is always a grain of truth in what Bloc members say. They are saying that we need to focus on rehabilitation. Yes, it is good to have fewer offenders going into prison if we can protect society at the same time, but there is that small number of offenders who pose a very serious risk to their communities. So far I have not seen the Bloc members propose anything that will move us in that direction.

I will go back to what I said and what the focus of my speech was. The protection of society must be the prevailing value when we deal with criminal justice. If we fail in that, we fail in everything else. It is a public trust that has been placed on our shoulders as elected representatives to ensure that our communities, streets, neighbourhoods, families and friends are safe.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders)Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have heard a new tranche in the Conservatives' approach to tough on crime. The fact that they want these massive extensions in sentencing is because they need time with the prisoners for rehabilitation programs, those programs which they cut, the literacy programs, the farm programs and the other ones.

As someone has said, we should be as concerned about who comes out of prison as we are about those who go in. It is fact that in almost all cases they eventually come out.

The member talked about reforming the system and bringing justice to Canadians. As New Democrats, we put forward a proposal that would allow for full public oversight of the RCMP, a federal government jurisdiction. I am wondering if he would be in agreement with this.

The chiefs of police, the head of the RCMP and the complaints commissioner have all come forward and said that they need a public oversight model for Canada. Certainly the families that have had interactions in which loved ones have been hurt or killed in custody and there has been controversy, I am thinking of Linda Bush and Mr. Dziekanski, have also made the call and the plea to the government to take a courageous leadership role and do what members of the RCMP are asking for, which is to stop the rules that say they must investigate themselves. That is what all members I speak to request.

The member is obviously someone who has spent a great deal of time on the issue of crime, punishment and whatnot in Canada. I wonder if he has given this topic any thought and if he can definitely say, one way or the other, whether he is in favour of true public oversight, as they have in Ontario.