House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentences.

Topics

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, part of the member's non-support for the bill was premised on his belief that crime statistics were going in a downward trend. I know we hear from chiefs of police from time to time at the justice committee that put that premise somewhat in doubt. Because there is a difference between crime rates and reported crime rates, especially with respect to property, in which often young offenders are involved. Often there is less reporting of property offences.

Does he have any comment regarding whether he actually believes crime statistics are down or only reported crime.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any doubt about the fact that there is a problem with the reporting of crime statistics. However, the reality is violent crime has gone down as have violent crime statistics. That is an important one to know.

I also think, though, if we changed our approach to dealing with criminal justice issues, there would be better reporting. People would have more confidence in the system. If there were a restorative justice option available to people, they would report more property crimes.

In the past I was a victim of a property crime. One morning I got up to walk the dog and someone had spray-painted all down the side of my house in great giant letters, “You've almost been robbed”. It was all spelled correctly, punctuated correctly, which maybe is a credit to our educational system. However, it did make rather a big mess of the house.

When I walked the dog, a couple of blocks away the police arrested a young man. I noticed there were a series of spray paint cans lined up on the roof of the car. I suggested to the police officers that they might want to come and check out my house. He was an aboriginal young person.

We were approached to participate in a restorative justice program through the Native Friendship Centre in Vancouver, which we engaged. We were incredibly impressed by that process. We lived in a duplex at the time. The folks at the front of the duplex were corporate lawyers, and they also participated, reluctantly at first. However, they, too, were impressed with the rigour of the process, with the demands that it made on all the participants and with the goal of to ensure that both action was taken by the offender to get his life together and to give up the kind of petty crime in which he was involved. It also went to the extent to ensure that we had a positive relationship as neighbours with this young man.

If other people had that kind of positive experience of the criminal justice system, that kind of confidence that a petty property crime could have this kind of positive outlook, I think more Canadians would engage the process and we would all be better citizens and better neighbours because of it.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the government conducted some consultations with Canadians but never published a report on it. It made me want to look into it a little further.

One issue that came up in the debate last week was mentioned by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who reminded the House that about 40% to 50% of inmates in prisons across Canada suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or other alcoholic birth defects. That problem is incurable but 100% preventable.

It would seem to me that when almost half the inmates in our jails suffer from this affliction, which is preventable, that somehow the thinking of our legislation as it relates to young offenders should take into account that the rehabilitation part is not applicable to people who suffer from FASD and that there has to be another course of action to deal with them. I wonder if the member is aware of that and would care to comment.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

May 3rd, 2010 / 12:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for his work on FASD. He is one of the experts in the House and should probably answer his own question because I am sure he knows more about that particular subject than I do.

However, it is a glaring example that if we are truly serious about dealing with the rate of crime in our society, dealing with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has to be a top priority. However, it does not seem to have made it on the list in that sense.

We know that a high percentage of folks incarcerated in Canada are living with FASD, which should give us cause to say that something has gone awry. We do not put enough resources into prevention. The whole prospect of getting alcohol labelling in Canada has apparently been so fraught with difficulty that we have not managed to accomplish that even though the House on a number of occasions has spoken very clearly on that issue. That is just one small piece of the prevention issue.

We could be doing a significantly better job. It would be cost effective for us, make us safer and improve people's lives dramatically. There are all kinds of reasons for doing it and yet we see it as some kind of side issue on the corner of somebody's desk. It is time we put it front and centre and ensured that the kinds of programs that are successful will provide a benefit all across society.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, some weeks ago I was at an event where representatives from the John Howard Society spoke and indicated that crime rates, particularly violent crime rates, were down, except for one group in Ontario, and that was young men aged 25 to 33. Of course, the speaker connected that to the cuts experienced in Ontario through the Mike Harris government, cuts to after-school programs, prevention programs and community supports. I would like him to comment on that, please.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, anyone who has looked at the timing of the cuts that were engaged in Ontario a few years back and what is currently happening in terms of youth crime in Ontario would see that the parallel is exact. It is very clear that those kinds of preventive programs were cut, such as recreation as a preventive program when it comes to criminal justice issues.

This is not rocket science. It has been proven time and time again here in our own country. Quebec understands it very clearly. Other jurisdictions around the world get it and yet somehow we have turned our backs on that and the negative results are showing up. It is time we reversed that and did so definitively and decisively.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who just spoke on behalf of the NDP. I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4. I left very early this morning so that I could take part in this extremely important debate that, for the Bloc Québécois, means many things with regard to youth justice. At a minimum, we feel that this bill sets the youth justice system back several decades.

We are not going to vote against this bill at this stage. We want to study it in committee, because it seems clear to us that the committee will have to work very hard so that this bill reflects the will of Canadians and especially Quebeckers who believe, as we do, that young offenders law should focus on rehabilitation.

I cannot support the bill for several reasons. For example, it would make the protection of society the guiding principle behind the law. That would take us back 30 years. Moreover, the bill would add to the situations in which the judge may order pre-trial custody; add deterrence and denunciation as sentencing criteria; allow for custodial sentences for youth with a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions; require prosecutors to justify their decision not to call for an adult sentence for serious violent offences like murder and aggravated sexual assault; allow judges to publish the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences and sentenced as youth; require police to keep records to track extrajudicial measures; and prevent minors from being held in adult detention facilities.

This last provision—preventing minors from being held in adult facilities—is the best one and the only one we feel is acceptable.

However, the bill is ill-conceived and meant to be tough on crime. The Conservatives think we need to be tough on crime, but we think that we should also be smart on crime. In other words, we have to be smart enough—though I have my doubts about some of the members opposite—to see that rehabilitation is extremely important. Rehabilitation is a fundamental factor and should be the priority when dealing with young offenders and juvenile delinquents.

There is a basic difference between young offenders and adults. We think that people under the age of 18 are not fully equipped to understand what is going on, to know how to react and what to do and, most importantly, to make well-informed decisions.

A 13-, 14-, 15- or 16-year-old who commits a series of break and enters or, worse yet, violent crimes, such as assault and sexual assault, may not be mature enough to understand that what he or she did is very serious. It is highly likely that such offenders need help.

Because I have a lot of experience working with young people, I know that 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds are not as mature as 18-, 19- and 20-year-old adults. Even though some 18-year-olds are not much more mature than 16- or 17-year-olds, I find it surprising that if the government goes ahead with this bill, it will lead to major structural changes. Protecting society will become the basic principle that informs all legislation. Protecting society is extremely important, and we think this is one of the fundamental principles to consider when it comes to sentencing.

Quebec has always made rehabilitation the priority. Our Conservative friends may not be too keen on the idea, but statistics show that when we focus on rehabilitating juvenile delinquents and young offenders, crime rates drop. The committee responsible for studying this bill can delve into that fact. That is exactly what has been happening in Quebec for the past 30 years. Significantly fewer crimes are being committed by young offenders, by juvenile delinquents.

We think that this bill is not only useless, but a step backward. There is no way we can support putting up posters with a picture of a 13-year-old “Most wanted kid in Abbotsford” on lampposts. That is ridiculous. We have to give rehabilitation a chance.

There are cases in which rehabilitation does not always work. However, in the vast majority of cases, rehabilitation does work. Why does it work? Because in Quebec, we support our youth. We asked ourselves how a young person could commit so many offences. We asked ourselves how a 13-year-old could be on his 10th, 12th or even 15th break and enter. There is likely a problem. So we provided supports for our youth. We took a look at their families, their schools, their circles of friends to see what was going on. Often, the answer was not incarceration, but instead, with close supervision, the situation turned around. In nearly 80% of the cases in Quebec, there are very few, or no cases of recidivism among young offenders.

Yes, we do see repeat offences. Some young people will not understand, but must we introduce a bill as backward-looking as Bill C-4 to punish 1% or 2% of our youth? That makes no sense.

They are saying that this will require the police to keep records of extrajudicial measures. I will give an example. A few minutes ago, my colleague said that he had been the victim of tagging. I will explain. Graffiti is illegal. Obviously, graffiti is destructive and is a crime. It can be harmful to the environment. There is no doubt that young people who do this are committing a crime.

Do they really believe that every time the police stop a youth who is tagging or scribbling graffiti that they will make a record, take the young person to the station and take notes? That is not how it works in real life. Quite often, a warning is enough. Quite often, the youth who are caught do not reoffend. It is rare that these youth reoffend. Generally speaking, these youth have parents who take care of them and who will be a substitute for the police. Obviously, some youth will not stop and will commit more serious crimes.

That said, I would like to give an example of the outright—and I have to be careful how I say this, but I will still say it—stupidity of this bill.

I will just give one example. Imagine that a young person is convicted of murder, the most serious crime. A young person who commits murder and takes someone's life has obviously committed the most serious of crimes. This law would require that youth to serve an adult sentence, generally about 15 years for manslaughter.

What happens to a 14-year-old who commits murder and is sentenced to 15 years in prison? He will spend the first four or five years in a reception centre and then he will be transferred to a penitentiary. Would anyone be able to work with this youth, knowing that he would be in a prison at the age of 18? It makes no sense.

We will probably be given explanations, and experts and constitutionalists will be consulted. We think this sentence might well be overturned by the Supreme Court, but that remains to be seen. That is not what the debate is about.

Even more dangerous, we believe, is when a young person stays in a reception centre for four or five years with nothing to do, knowing he is headed for prison, and causes as many problems as possible and thinks only of trying to escape. And of course he will escape. What can workers in reception centres possibly do with this young person? Nothing. He will spend four or five years in a reception centre at the expense of taxpayers and the provinces. Yes, the provinces pay for reception centres. The federal government seems to like bringing forward such stupid legislation, but it is Quebec that pays for it.

What happens while the young man is waiting to be sent to prison when he turns 18? It is not complicated: he will commit crimes, play the tough guy, impose his own rules in reception centres, escape and reoffend. This part of the legislation is completely unacceptable. This bill is unacceptable.

I would like to give another example. In my career, I had to represent a young man who was 15 years old when he killed his father. Under this bill, that young man would be in prison. Instead, this is what happened. We started asking questions. It was not normal. No one here condones anyone killing another person, but it is even more serious when a 15-year-old boy kills his father. It is even more unacceptable. Clearly there was a problem. So we created what I would call a process around this young man to find out what happened. He was subjected to medical, psychiatric and psychological examinations. We had to find out what happened. Why did this young man commit such a crime? Why did he kill his father when he was just 15? I am sure everyone agrees that these are not the questions asked when the offender is an adult.

However, since he was only 15, we asked some serious questions. For this young man's community, in my own backyard, this was unacceptable and incomprehensible. This young man was given structure and support. Obviously, he was sent to a reception centre. He had a problem that absolutely needed to be worked through. It took a year and a half for this young man to realize the seriousness of the crime he committed. It was as though the floodgates had opened. It took six months, but after that it was easier to work with this young man. Today, he is one of the top orthopedic surgeons in Quebec. If he had not realized the seriousness of his crime, he would be in a penitentiary today.

What is a young person going to do in a penitentiary? This bill would send them to penitentiary for 10, 15, 17 or 18 years. It makes no sense. That is not what our young people need. I admit that some young people have serious behavioural problems. That is clear. At some point we have to put a stop to street gangs. Obviously we have a problem if a young person is going to school with a knife in their pocket. When a 16-year-old is walking around with a loaded 9 mm revolver in their knapsack then there is definitely a problem. There is no doubt about it. This is someone who has the makings of a criminal, as my late father would say. Nonetheless, if a sapling is properly supported it will straighten. A young person should not be sent to a place like a penitentiary or a reception centre without any opportunity for rehabilitation.

What the Conservatives are telling us is not true, because there will be no rehabilitation programs for youth at reception centres. They will not waste their time on this young person when there are 15 more after him. Perhaps something can be done for them, but in his case, in about four or five years he will probably be sent to a penitentiary to serve the rest of his time. It is stupid to believe that this is the way to solve the problem of crime.

This bill applies only to young offenders and that represents perhaps 1% or 2%. I admit that 1% or 2% is significant. I will be criticized for not thinking about the victims. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, rehabilitation in Quebec puts victims first. That goes hand in hand with rehabilitation. I have experienced it. We have worked on it. I can say that making a young person do community work because he has committed 12 break and enters and sending him to all the garages where he committed the theft to wash cars makes an impression on him. There are two possibilities: either he continues a life of crime, with the obvious consequence of increasingly stiff punishment or, like a tree, he straightens up.

I see that I do not have very much time left. That is unfortunate because, if there were unanimous consent, I could talk for another 20 minutes. I know that time is precious; however, I would have liked to have talked longer. The Bloc Québécois believes that rehabilitation must be the priority. Yes, there should also be sanctions. However, we believe and are absolutely convinced that the more opportunities we have for rehabilitation, the more we can work with youth early in their criminal careers, the lower the risk of recidivism. Quebec statistics prove that we are right. We will come back to that when the bill is studied in committee.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the member for his input. Many people will argue that Bill C-4 does not get it right, but that is just their slogan. Talking about slogans, getting tough on crime seems to be not so much a strategy as it is a slogan. I believe that what the member has been arguing is that we should be smart on crime and we have to understand that all people cannot be dealt with the same way.

We understand there are violent persons in society but young people are not born bad. They are functions of their environment. They are functions of their society.

We have responsibilities and there are certain circumstances which are mitigating in their nature. But the strategy of the government to basically put as many people away in jail for as long as possible without any modicum of relief or rehabilitation to help them to eventually reintegrate into the community means that we are letting these kids down.

I wonder if the member would care to comment on whether or not he believes it is good enough to say that we are tough on crime rather than being smart on crime.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, clearly, I could not agree more with my colleague, and I hope all of his Liberal Party colleagues will follow suit. We have always believed that for the 1% or 2% of society who go astray, there are things we can do. We can remove them from society for short or extended periods, but the Bloc Québécois believes that rehabilitation works with young offenders and that it has been proven. If it did not work, we would be the first to be calling for harsher punishments. It is not true that harsher punishments are better. I have not seen any examples to support this, and I would like to see some.

Yes, there are some failures. There will be young people who do not understand or who take more time to understand. Back home, I saw a former client who did not understand. He recently beat someone up at home. He called me up. I told him the good news and the bad news. The good news was that I had become his member of Parliament. The bad news was that he was out of luck, since he had not understood when he was younger.

So yes, there are exceptions, but in the vast majority of cases, rehabilitation works with young offenders, especially in Quebec.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague. I think he would agree with me that among the more distasteful exhibitions that we have seen in the House are the five solid years of a government that has no vision for dealing with the economy, no vision for dealing with the laid off workers, and no vision for standing up on global warming except when it comes to one crime bill after another. We have had a relentless stream of dumbed down attack crime bills to try to turn individuals in society against one another.

The Conservatives wrap themselves continually in supposedly representing victims. I lived for many years with people coming out of prison and I listened with great interest to my hon. colleague speak about the issues of recidivism and rehabilitation. It is of vital importance for society to find ways of balancing the need to protect, the need to put people away but the need to ensure that we have a way to reintegrate people back into society.

Of the five years of dumbed down bills that we have seen from the government, we now see that it wants to put children into prison with hardened criminals. I think it is an astounding suggestion.

Does my hon. colleague think there is any possible social good that can come from exposing children, whether they have committed a crime or not, to prison as the Tories believe?

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will say one thing. It is obvious that as long as they believe that being tough on crime means mandatory minimum sentencing, nothing will be solved. Nothing will be solved as long as they cannot understand that we have to be both tough on crime and smart on crime.

There are crimes and there are youths and children in that environment, and for us, the priority has always been the young people. Yes, the type of crime is important. There is no question about that. When a young person goes on a weekend spree and commits 12 break and enter offences, he obviously has a problem. That is clear. However, is the solution to send him to prison and throw away the key? I would say no and we on this side say no. We will see how the Conservatives react when this bill is studied in committee, but we believe that rehabilitation is the answer.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, in the answer to the question by the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay, there was a suggestion that young people would be serving time among hardened adult criminals.

Obviously, the member opposite has read the bill. I would like him to confirm for the member and for the House that nothing in this bill would allow any individual under the age of 18 to serve his or her sentence in an adult facility. They would serve their sentence in a youth detention facility.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is what is so ironic. Both my colleagues are right.

Clearly, someone who is under 18 will not be sent to prison with adults, at least not until he is 18. That is the subtlety and the irony of this bill. Will an 18-year-old be smarter once he has spent three or four years in a reception centre and then finished serving his sentence in an adult prison? I do not think so. The government would have us believe things that are completely unrealistic and unacceptable.

We believe that young people should be treated like young people, in other words, like people who are not too bright and who have committed crimes. Society knows that they need much longer time-outs, but before we send them to an adult prison, we need to do everything we can to get them back on the straight and narrow.

But that is not what the government is going to do if this bill is passed as is. If it is passed, young offenders will be handed a heavy four-year sentence. A 17-year-old offender will spend a year in a reception centre and serve the rest of his time in an adult prison. What the members opposite are forgetting is that there is no parole for young offenders, and this bill does not provide for any. What is even more ironic is that young people could get heavier sentences than adults for the same sort of crime. That is unacceptable.

The more I look at the bill, the more I realize that it must be studied, chopped up, amended and transformed in committee to meet the needs of our young people, not tailored to get political support as the other side is trying to do.

It is very strange that when the Conservatives are low in the polls, they come back with the old tough on crime mantra and introduce more crime bills. They are planning to introduce another bill on suspended sentences. That is not the way to deal with crime in Canada. In Quebec, we believe that youth justice should focus on rehabilitation.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Mississauga South has 10 minutes.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had planned to make a 20-minute speech, but we just crossed over the line. I have been very impressed by the debate so far. In particular, I would refer people to the speeches of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, both of whom are lawyers and have extensive background and experience in the legal field. They certainly had some very sound words of wisdom for the House with regard to young offenders and the related legislation.

There has been a rash of bills before Parliament over the last four years. Many of them continue to be recycled. When there is prorogation or an election, we have to start the process all over again. That is exactly the situation the government wants. It does not want a lot of these bills to pass. One of the big reasons is that if most of these bills passed, the legal plan would cause more people to be in jail for longer times and parole, house arrest and faint hope would be things of the past.

The Minister of Public Safety updated his numbers. If all this were to be implemented, it would cost Canadians about $10 billion to build the jails and incarcerate the number of people it is estimated would be put in jails pursuant to much of this legislation. Some of the opportunities for parole or house arrest would be closed down. It is an extraordinary number and it is not necessary. Some of the speeches that have been given have indicated why Bill C-4 may not be the right approach. It may need to be reconsidered.

I received a letter from Defence for Children International-Canada which would certainly like to see a more balanced approach. That group disclosed something that I was not aware of. The group stated in its letter of April 26, 2010:

How can a government, with all its resources for research, get its proposal for changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act so wrong? They [the government] held a series of Round Table discussions but didn't publish the findings.

It is extraordinary that a public consultation would take place but the public's views would never be disclosed. It raises some interesting questions. The minister spoke on Friday, March 19. I highlighted a couple of his statements in his speech. He stated:

The law must be adequate to hold them [young offenders] appropriately accountable for the offences committed, consistent with their degree of responsibility in a manner that protects the public.

He went on to say:

Canadians look to their government to ensure that the justice system is working effectively and that the country's citizens are safe.... Our approach is balanced. It includes: prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.

Those are good words, but what are the facts? Consistency with the degree of responsibility is the principle point I want to raise in debate. If we are talking about public safety, is this public safety before or after a crime is committed? Most of the legislation is to get tough on crime after a crime has been committed, after someone has committed an offence and after the person is in the prison system.

We are going to protect citizens' safety not from the crime but from recidivism. That is an important point. We are dealing with public safety after the public has already been hurt once. We really have to tighten the screws and keep these violent young offenders from ever hurting the public again. It is interesting to use the words “to protect public safety”, but it is a matter of when. We hear a lot about protecting victims' rights. We should not have to be worried about protecting victims' rights because we should be reducing the number of victims in the first place. This is the whole aspect of prevention.

The minister suggests that the government's approach is balanced and includes prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation. With regard to fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, formerly called fetal alcohol syndrome, I asked the health minister a question in the House as to whether or not the funding was going to continue for those support programs for fetal alcohol syndrome. Ultimately, the answer came out that the funding for FASD was cut. It was cut in each of the last two years.

Why is fetal alcohol syndrome, now called fetal alcohol spectrum of disorders, relevant to this debate? It is relevant because the evidence by the federal and provincial governments, as well as in expert testimony and the speech by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca indicate that 40% to 50% of the people in Canada's jails suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome or other alcohol-related birth defects. Almost half of the people in Canada's jails have a mental illness.

When I was first elected in 1993, I was involved with a hospital, I was very involved in the community, and I wanted to see what the health community was doing. I had spent nine years on the hospital board. I saw that in 1992, the year before I got elected, the health committee did a study on fetal alcohol syndrome, called “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Preventable Tragedy”. I did not know what it was. I did not know what caused it. I did not even know where it was coming from.

I am an educated person, experienced in the community and have done a lot of community service, and I had never heard of it before. That is where the level of involvement of the Government of Canada changed. I took it on as a project. I have been working on it for at least 10 years. I want to raise the level of information and education of Canadians and governments to be able to address the issues.

The point here is that there is an inextricable link between the social conditions in which people grow up and their experience with the law. As a matter of fact, just through looking at the budgets, the last time we had a full-blown recession, the relationship between property and violent crime and the unemployment rate actually tracked very well. We can understand that when people are under pressure for money, those things happen.

I wanted to raise this because the government has a slogan that says it is going to be tough on crime, but there is no plan that deals with crime in reality, such as with fetal alcohol syndrome. Almost half of the people who are in the jails of our country are not culpable. The minister said in the opening of his speech, “consistent with their degree of responsibility”. It is incurable but it is preventable.

People with mental illness do not know the difference between right and wrong. In all of the presentations on these criminal justice bills and particularly now with regard to the young offenders legislation, the government members still have not talked about dealing with those for whom rehabilitation is not applicable and where recidivism is high because of mental illness. These are realities in terms of our criminal justice system.

My plea to the House and to the government is to make an effort to inform Canadians and to support programs that will help to address this problem in our criminal justice system. It is not going to be solved by throwing away the key. These people need help. Their parents have to take care of them, many for the rest of their lives probably, because they are incapable of working or living independently.

This is a serious issue. Fetal alcohol syndrome is part of the discussion of criminal justice matters. I urge the government to start supporting that work.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the evidence before us in terms of crime, recidivism and crime rates, there is a huge gap between what works, what the Conservatives are suggesting, what the reality is and what the Conservatives are attempting to insinuate with the general public.

I was very interested to hear my colleague talk about the fact that the government had a consultation process and yet did not release any of the information. It is highly problematic, when we are talking about creating public policy with regard to crime and youth and taking way some of the tools that already exist for dealing with youth who have done some terrible things or are in very bad situations, that the government would suppress that information.

It seems to be a general pattern of the government to regularly suppress information that does not fit with what its little war room comes out with, what fits in 140 characters or less or what fits in a BlackBerry message it can send to its members to respond to local media. The need for public policy must be based on evidence, not just ideology.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague what he thinks about this situation.

Sébastien's Law (protecting the public from violent young offenders)Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was precisely what I was thinking when I got this letter from the Defence for Children International-Canada dated April 26, 2010. What the member describes is plausible but there is other evidence.

The government seems to rely more heavily on slogans than it does on delivery of solutions to some of the problems. It is why so many of the justice bills have not gone through the full cycle of the legislative process. They have died on the order paper for a variety of reasons, are reintroduced, sometimes in omnibus bills, sometimes not, and sometimes not even reintroduced, just like Bill C-25 in the last Parliament on young offenders. We are two years into this Parliament and now the bill finally comes up. Does that reflect the priority of the government with regard to the youth criminal justice system?

There is a very good possibility that this bill will not be dealt with at all stages simply because the summer is coming and it seems like it is a good time to call an election.

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1 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow up with my colleague on the fact that there has probably never been a government that has had such a pitiful record in terms of output as the present government.

We talk about the Auditor General looking at value for dollar. Perhaps we should look at how many bills the government has brought forward and how many times it has beaten the drum, waved the flag and said that it would do something but then let the bill die and then started the whole process over again.

My colleague has been sitting on a number of committees. In terms of its record, the government has done nothing for the environment except support big oil, it has done nothing to deal with pensions and it has done nothing to deal with the unemployed. It is now five years into its term in office and it cannot even get its own dumped-down crime bills through the House because it is not interested in getting them through the House. It is only interested in running up the flag and sending out the attack ten percenters.

If he could look back on the last four or five years, has the government amounted to very much?

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very serious about Bill C-4 and the need to take into account that there are other social factors related to the incidence of crime and public safety. I am interested in prevention. With regard to fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related birth defects, it means that the government needs to start investing in programs to deal with those who have a tendency to commit crime in Canada as young offenders.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of my party to speak to Bill C-4. Amending the Youth Criminal Justice Act has consequences for all Canadians and it is, without a doubt, a bill of great interest to many.

The bill would amend not only the current sentencing under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, or the YCJA, but the fundamental principles of the system in Canada. Much of the debate in recent days has involved the merits of possible amendments to the current act and this ought to be done with an understanding of the basic guiding principles and the purpose of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The YCJA is so important it is appended to the Criminal Code and any compilation of it. It is a separate act from the Criminal Code, it should be noted, because things dealing with youth are not meant to be dealt with all within the Criminal Code. That is fundamental to the comments that I will make today.

Since the foundation of Canada’s criminal system for young offenders, amendments have been consistently made in an evolutionary manner. The current act strikes a necessary and proven balance between the interests of the young individual and those of society, and notably endeavours to have young offenders recognize the consequences of their actions.

The Young Offenders Act came into force in 1984 and marked the commencement of a progressive and effectual criminal justice system for Canada’s youth.

Today the fundamental principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act can be seen as a balance between addressing circumstances that lead to offending behaviour and reintegrating young offenders into society through rehabilitation.

Public protection would supercede prevention under this bill as proposed by the government, something utterly inexcusable. While we prohibit criminal acts in Canadian society, certainly some will offend regardless of age. This does not, however, mean we should abandon any and all efforts to prevent criminal offences in Canada. The proactive approach facilitated under the current Youth Criminal Justice Act should never be deserted for a reactionary system bent on increasing the number of incarcerated youth offenders.

I will quote from the declaration of principle in the act. It reads:

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....

Reading that, how could we disagree with the fundamental principles underlying the existing act? What the government has failed to recognize is that public safety is inherent in the act itself as it exists. As seen in the second principle as I just quoted, the long-term protection of the public is already in the act. The criminal justice system for young persons must be separate from that of adults and the act emphasizes the following: rehabilitation and integration; fair and proportionate accountability that is consistent with the greater dependency of young persons; and their reduced level of maturity.

Also, there is enhanced procedural protection to ensure that young persons are treated fairly and that their rights, including the right of privacy, are protected. There is also indication that there would be timely intervention to reinforce the link between the offending behaviour and its consequences.

Finally, there is an element that promptness and speed with which persons responsible for enforcing this act must be done in a manner to give the young person's perception of time a reality.

Needless to say, preventive, accountable justice is central to the criminal system for young offenders, where public safety is above all understood to be the final aim.

As this House knows very well and reinforced after initial debate on this bill on protecting the public from violent young offenders, the fundamental pillars of the existing act are accountability, rehabilitation, reintegration, and respect for societal values. It is important to highlight the existing laws because they meet the needs of young people and also meet the need for public safety.

This brings me to another point. Bill C-4 would overhaul the sentencing principles for youth criminal justice to include deterrence and denunciation. So, there are a number of elements to this bill, and some of them have been canvassed widely by previous speakers.

Anything that inserts the recommendations of Justice Merlin Nunn in the Nova Scotia report consequent to the McEvoy incident, those are good recommendations. There is no question that this bill will be sent to committee and those recommendations, which have been widely accepted, will be adopted by parties at the committee and sent back here.

I started my speech talking about the need or not for a preamble. I think it is a bit of a red herring. The Youth Criminal Justice Act has a preamble that covers issues of public safety and public security. If the Youth Criminal Justice Act were not needed and not mandated by international convention and not mandated by our sense of how youth are different from adult criminal offenders, then it would not need to exist. However, it clearly needs to exist because it is in the preamble.

We might think that the Criminal Code of Canada, the larger part of the book, would have a preamble saying that the purpose of this act is to make the public secure. However, it does not have a preamble. It just has a title saying that this is a law respecting the criminal laws of Canada. The substance of the Criminal Code of Canada is within the Criminal Code of Canada. I would submit that the criminal code for dummies version that I might author some day would concentrate on section 718, the sentencing principles of the Criminal Code, that takes into account all offences and says that when a court or a judge is imposing a sentence, it should take into consideration the pillars of what we want in society.

This brings me to my next point with respect to criminal behaviour among the youth.

I find it troubling that the insertion of deterrence and denunciation is being attempted here. Why have a separate act? Why not just put it all into the Criminal Code?

My friends across the way will know that in certain presumptive offences, youth who are convicted of certain heinous crimes can be sentenced as adults. We ought to have a separate system because the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children demands that we do. Not only that, we are a progressive, enlightened republic and we understand that children are different. When youth are involved in criminal activity, if there is class of criminal offenders who we ought to have hope for it is our youth, the young men and women who are covered by the act that exists.

I fear that, and we will have this debate at committee, the introduction of a preamble, the insertion of grown-up principles of deterrence and denunciation into the act, will leave judges more and more to treat all youth offenders like adult offenders. It will blur the line between youth criminal acts and adult criminal acts. It will say to judges and to the public in general, why do we need a Youth Criminal Justice act? Why not just have a Criminal Code? I think we would then be on the way to throwing away generations of youth offenders who might be reintegrated into society and who are clearly rehabilitatable because of their age and their lack of maturity. As the act says, they do not understand the consequences of their act.

This bill will go to committee where we will study it. There are some meritorious changes in the act but there are some overwhelming philosophical consequences that will spur on great debate at committee.

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1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would certainly like to thank my friend, a member of the justice committee, for his thoughtful comments regarding this bill. I am glad to hear that he will support this bill at second reading so we can study it in more detail at committee.

However, as a precursor to those debates that he has indicated will occur, given that young persons are very media savvy with respect to new forms of media and certainly when an individual is subject to the youth criminal process the word of the disposition filters out through the electronic media very quickly, does he not see some role for the concepts of deterrence and denunciation in the youth court sentencing process?

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the answer, in reading the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it exists, is that it is already there. The preamble, the founding principles of the YCJA, make it clearly different from the Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code lists all the crimes and at the very end of the code, section 718 out of about 800 sections, it says how we are going deal them, and that is the pith and substance of the Criminal Code. It says that we are going to take into account rehabilitation, et cetera.

The Youth Criminal Justice Act says that we are dealing with children, that they must be saved, and we are going to respect society's desire to have public security and to make young people understand the consequences of their actions.

It is inferred in the Criminal Code that adults have to intend the consequences of their actions and by law, subjectively or objectively, are taken to know the consequences of their actions. The implication in the Youth Criminal Justice Act is that many youth do not understand the consequences of their actions, and through reintegration and the extrajudicial measures that are in the YCJA, they can be made contributing members of society without introducing the adult concepts, word for word, from the Criminal Code.

Again, it raises the debate of having two separate laws, jurisdictions or codes, and it does not sound like my friend wants to have a YCJA.

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1:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's speech on this because one of the problems we are finding with the Tories' dumb on crime approach is that they create this chimera, that provisions do not exist so they are going to somehow solve it, that there is no way that the police had any powers to deal with crystal meth, when they obviously did have the tools.

We know that they have gone out now and said that there is no way we can stop these young gangbangers and hooligans, when the Youth Criminal Justice Act has all these powers.

I would ask my hon. colleague if he thinks it is maybe a dangerous, continual undermining of Canadians' confidence in a well thought out judicial system that, as he says, can hold very dangerous youth and treat them as adults, but it also treats youth as being a separate and needed category because it is not just a national priority. It also fits with the rules of international law.

Why does he think that bill after bill that the government has been bringing forward seem to be undermining confidence in the justice system by claiming to fix problems that do not exist because they have already been dealt with in the Criminal Code?

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1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member. There have been allegations that the system is not working, that all acts are bad, that judges are soft, and it does not do a lot to strengthen the confidence in the system.

All members of our committee and all members of the House should know that we have very hard-working prosecutors, police forces and judges who work to make the system survive and responsive to crimes.

We are not exactly against the tinkering with the YCJA and the idea that Justice Nunn's recommendations for interim release be instituted. That is not a problem. It is fine to do some tweaking with violent offenders who are pawns in gang activity and who many know the status of their actions, but this carte blanche denunciation and deterrence, this carte blanche change of the preamble is not necessary. It is done to be divisive. It is done for politics and it is really a disservice to the sense of public safety that all of us in this House should be working toward.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-4, which would make certain changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh spoke about this bill last week. He noted that as a society we have been struggling since about 1960 with this idea of what to do with young people when they are engaged with the criminal justice system. Do we treat them as youth, which is different than adult criminals? Yes, we should, but at the same time we have to recognize that they are not adults even though they commit similar offences as adults. We have been struggling with this for a few decades.

In 2002 the House of Commons passed Bill C-7, which replaced the old YOA, the Young Offenders Act. The Youth Criminal Justice Act built on the strengths of the YOA. It introduced significant reforms to address the weaknesses. The key concept of the YCJA is that it provides a legislative framework for a more fairer and effective youth justice system.

When I was a law student at Dalhousie, I did a clinical law semester where I was expected to work with lawyers on youth criminal cases. One of the very first things that we did in our training was we reviewed the preamble and the declaration of principle to the YCJA. Our instructors thought that reviewing the preamble was the most important thing that we could do. We would always have it in the back of our minds when we were dealing with youth, when we were giving them advice, when we were negotiating with the Crown, and when we were representing them in court.

The preamble contains significant statements from Parliament about the values on which the legislation is based. It is noteworthy that the YCJA came about after extensive research and consultation. Three key reports were released leading up to the YCJA coming into effect.

These statements in the preamble can be used to help interpret the legislation. I think it is useful for us to review them. They include the following:

Society has a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and needs of young persons.

Communities and families should work in partnership with others to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, responding to the needs of young persons and providing guidance and support.

Accurate information about youth crime, the youth justice system and effective measures should be publicly available.

Young persons have rights and freedoms, including those set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The youth justice system should take account of the interests of victims and ensure accountability through meaningful consequences and rehabilitation and reintegration.

The youth justice system should reserve its most serious interventions for the most serious crimes and reduce the over-reliance on incarceration.

These points are important to remember when dealing with youth who are engaged in the criminal justice system. They are also really important for us to consider any time we try to make changes to the YCJA. We have changes before us in Bill C-4, changes that really come from a push for amendments, a push for reform after the Nunn commission of inquiry which took place in Nova Scotia.

Pretty much every Nova Scotian could tell us the story of Theresa McEvoy and how it resulted in a provincial inquiry led by Justice Merlin Nunn. It was widely reported and it really struck to the heart of Nova Scotians.

After an extensive inquiry upon the death of Theresa McEvoy, Justice Nunn handed down a report in 2006 called “Spiralling Out of Control: Lessons Learned from a Boy in Trouble”. It was about constructive ways to improve the Youth Criminal Justice Act but also to improve the youth criminal justice system. I believe there were six specific recommendations about changing the YCJA.

Justice Nunn, both in the report and in any media interview he did, would always say that the act is a good piece of legislation. It is strong and it is workable. The term he used constantly was that it needed to be tweaked. My colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe used the word “tinker”. Justice Nunn always said that if we were going to make changes it just needs to be tweaked.

Bill C-4 is an attempt at that tweaking. The NDP will be supporting this bill because there are some good tweaks. There are some good attempts at trying to fix this legislation, which I will describe in a moment.

We very much want the bill to get to committee because Bill C-4 does have its weaknesses. It is important that we make attempts to improve the bill at committee.

Justice Nunn pointed out in his report:

--that for youths adolescence is a time of testing limits and taking risks, of making mistakes and errors in judgment, of a lack of foresight and planning, and of feelings of invulnerability. These factors do not mean that a youth who commits a criminal offence should be excused or should not suffer consequences. Rather, they are factors to be taken into account when dealing with a youth.

I think that the spirit of these words were taken into account when it comes to one provision in Bill C-4, in that it makes certain and absolutely clear that no youth, no matter what crime they are accused of or convicted of and sentenced for will spend time in an adult institution.

Some provinces have already been following this principle but it is not universal across Canada. Sometimes it is because a province has a particular ideological approach to punishment of youth but more often it is simply because it does not have the resources or the facilities to incarcerate youth in a contained setting, especially when we consider rural areas of Canada.

The government has not done anything to assist provinces in actually meeting this goal. So it is my hope that the witnesses at committee will be able to shed a bit of light on what it is that the federal government must do to ensure that the provinces can meet this requirement.

However, there is no specific date concerning this provision. Therefore, there is nothing there to instruct us on when it is going to come into effect. Hopefully, we can fix this so that we do not have a bill that will actually not take effect.

A change to the YCJA, about which I am very concerned, is the provision to allow courts to lift the ban on any publication of the accused's name. There are good reasons why we have that publication ban. Admittedly, I think this could be a very dangerous change to the YCJA, but I am looking forward to hearing from witnesses to see what experts who study youth justice have to say about this provision and if they think this change is a wise idea.

My colleague and the NDP critic for justice, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has already pointed out some problem areas where it looks like the government is trying to get in stronger language for general deterrence and denunciation, which we know does not work. However, when one looks at the amendments to the act overall, there are a few places where it seems like it is trying to get this language in through the backdoor, trying to get general deterrence in through the back door. There are six recommendations in the Nunn report that deal directly with changes to the YCJA. Deterrence and denunciation are not among them.

I am quite concerned about these sections and once again, I look forward to the bill coming to committee so we can talk to youth criminal justice experts to see if this is actually effective and perhaps flesh out exactly what the Conservatives are doing with this sort of backdoor language.

In all, we are cautiously supporting Bill C-4 at second reading, so we can get the bill to committee to hear from witnesses about these proposed changes to the YCJA and to make constructive suggestions for improvement.