Mr. Speaker, it is good to have this chance to continue the discussion on C-4, the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Concerns have also been raised about ending the publication ban on the names of young people charged with a crime in the apparent hope that denunciation will be a deterrent. The bill would require the courts to consider lifting the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when youth sentences would be given.
The publication ban has been important in the past. It helps ensure a situation where young people can truly be rehabilitated and put a serious mistake behind them by avoiding the publicity associated with their crime. It also prevents the shaming that is part of any criminal conviction. The publication ban was also seen as significant in that it interrupted and even subverted the ability of criminal organizations and gangs to recruit young people who were in trouble with the law. These are all crucial considerations for our youth criminal justice system.
It is also very unclear just what the bill proposes with regard to the publication ban. It seems that judges will still have discretion in this area, so the bill may not change the current situation. The government may only be pretending to do something on that issue.
The Conservatives are still chipping away at an important concept in our youth criminal justice system in the way they regularly criticize this aspect of the system. The Conservatives continue to whip up hysteria about crime. They continue to refuse to analyze youth crime statistics. Prior to 2005, violent youth crime was declining in Canada. Yes, there was a spike in 2005-06, but in 2007 it started to decline again.
Understanding these trends, rather than merely offering a knee-jerk reaction to them, would be a more responsible approach. Looking at what actually works to reduce youth crime would also be helpful.
Quebec provides a great example. Quebec is perhaps the most successful jurisdiction in Canada when it comes to reducing youth crime. It has the lowest youth crime rate. How has Quebec done that? It has stressed rehabilitation and treatment, first and foremost. It also has the lowest number of youth raised to adult court. Ensuring particular programs and process that recognize the needs and realities of youth has worked to lower youth crime. The federal government could learn much from this example.
We know that prevention works. Making education affordable, keeping youth unemployment low, ensuring excellent health care for children and youth, ending child poverty, providing high-quality child care and early childhood education, affordable recreation, putting in place accessible drug education and treatment programs, programs for those living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and programs to prevent it, all of these have shown, time and time again, to be more cost effective and a more effective way of dealing with alienation and criminal activity of children and youth.
When one looks at the research, if one bothers, there is no doubt about how effective this approach is. In particular, the situation of aboriginal youth demands more attention from the government. The correctional investigator of Canada pointed out in her recent report:
Aboriginal youth are also overrepresented among criminalized young people. Research shows that Aboriginal young people are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-Aboriginal young people....the gap between traditional correctional approaches, and Aboriginal methods of justice and reconciliation [must be addressed]. The ongoing support and involvement of elders, Aboriginal liaison officers, community representatives and Aboriginal organizations is viewed as key to closing the outcome gaps for First Nations, Métis and Inuit offenders. Advocates for Aboriginal inmates have long stressed that Aboriginal people and Aboriginal organizations must be directly involved in developing and providing appropriate programs, and actively involved in the evaluation of current assessment tools used by CSC.
Finally, the correctional investigator points out that the government must “implement a security classification process that ends the overclassification of Aboriginal offenders”.
Restorative justice is another approach that must be taken. Restorative justice has been defined as a turn away from the adversarial, punishment-oriented philosophy of criminal justice toward the focus on bringing victims, offenders and the community together to repair harm, build understanding and restore relationships.
Building a justice system that seeks to restore broken relationships, rather than merely punishing those who commit offences, has shown huge promise and often startling and positive results.
In the United States, teen courts, which deal with actual criminal cases and issues, have been shown to sharply reduce recidivism. Youth who commit crimes and are judged by their peers are far less likely to reoffend. What is more, the teen court model is much more cost effective than the regular criminal justice system.
Here is how Ritchie Eppink and Scott Peterson described the U.S. experience of teen courts in an article in LawNow. They say:
American teen court programs continue to demonstrate phenomenal success, all at a miniscule cost. Peer courts not only appear to reduce repeat crime by youth, they are dynamic programs that promote volunteerism and community service, build a range of interpersonal skills in their participants, and interactively teach youth about law and justice in partnership with adults. Though letting youth co-operatively handle their own problems is a simple concept, it has turned out to be an uncommonly effective one--one that is fast becoming an integral part of youth justice in America.
In my community, the Burnaby youth restorative justice program has proven very successful. Its shoplifting program in particular has had great success in helping young people appreciate the seriousness of the crime, but in a way that ensures that the relationships it damages are restored. Here is how the program was described in a recent article in the Burnaby NewsLeader. The reporter says:
The retail theft circle program was created last June in a collaboration between RCMP detachments in Burnaby, North Vancouver and Richmond, and was based on a model used to combat graffiti in Vancouver.
Burnaby has since taken the lead with the unique program and has held four such circles with 38 youth participating, said Stephen Morton, Burnaby RCMP’s restorative justice program coordinator.
Youth caught shoplifting, generally aged 13 to 17 and first-time offenders, are referred to the voluntary program by RCMP officers. Morton said the kids involved come from a broad cross-section of society, he noted. He’s seen kids from middle-class families to single-parent families, students and dropouts.
The program’s name is reminiscent of aboriginal healing circles, and other elements are borrowed from aboriginal traditions. For example, participants sit on chairs in a circle, with no table in between to hide behind, and a “talking piece” is passed around allowing the person holding it to feel empowered to speak.
In addition to the youth, participants include police officers, loss-prevention officers and store managers. The circles are as much about those harmed by shoplifting as it is about those picked up for the crime, Morton said.
Over a two-hour period, they each speak about the impacts of shoplifting. For retailers, the losses add up and lead to increased prices on all goods, and they feel victimized. For police and mall security, such incidents take time away from more pressing emergencies such as people needing medical assistance.
As for the youth, they often speak of how a shoplifting incident has made them feel shame and how it’s affected their relationship with their parent
Some kids say they steal because they want something but don’t want to or can’t pay for it, said Morton.
“Sometimes it’s because of a peer influence. There’s a perception among their peers that it’s a victimless crime.”
What’s important to Morton is that the youth acknowledge what they’ve done and that it’s affected people.
“Sometimes you kind of see the light go off for some kids. They’re able to see how it affects the broader community.”
He’ll sometimes see the same happen with the adults in the room. “The adults can see these youth are humans, not just thieves, but members of the community.”
There are all kinds of good results from this kind of process, better citizenship on the part of the youthful offender, the victim of crime, community members and enforcement personnel all result. It is a success story that cannot be dismissed and an approach that should be expanded. Why does restorative justice remains the very poor cousin of our justice system when its benefits are so very obvious?
Bill C-4 takes our youth criminal justice system in the wrong direction. While it seems apparent that the bill will move to committee for further study and discussion, I hope the process will make its flaws absolutely clear and that it will either be abandoned or significantly changed.