Mr. Speaker, thank you for the advance warning of my cutoff.
I have had an opportunity to practise criminal law in Canada for some period of time under the Criminal Code. In fact, I practised law for over 10 years in northern Alberta in a very busy criminal practice. Therefore, I speak to this matter first-hand. I want to let the previous member know that I saw the rotating door of the criminal justice system in Canada, especially in relation to youth offences, and I take exception to his statements relating to more crime. We heard some witnesses say that, but it is utterly ridiculous that if we send people to jail for more time there will be more crime. I do not think any normal Canadian would accept the premise of that member's comments.
However, I am very pleased today to talk about the important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are included in the safe streets and communities act. I think the title of this particular bill, the safe streets and communities act, is actually the purpose of the bill and exactly what the bill will accomplish once it becomes law. I am very proud to be part of that.
The proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are found in part 4 of Bill C-10, with a few exceptions. The proposals that are in the bill very much mirror the changes that were proposed in the former Bill C-4, Sebastian's law, which, of course, members are familiar with. This was introduced in the House of Commons on March 16, 2010. It was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when Parliament was dissolved just prior to the May 2011 election.
The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act reflect the concerns that I have heard clearly in committee and that I have heard for years from Canadians who have expressed concern about violent young offenders. When we think of our youth, we do not usually think of violence, but there is a certain minority of the population under the age of 18, youth, as our courts see them, who have no concern for society as a whole and who do commit very violent offences without thinking about the ramifications.
It also deals with youth who may be committing non-violent offences that, frankly, are spiralling out of control. I saw this time and time again. When we would look at a docket in Fort McMurray on a Wednesday, we would see the same names, not just for one week or two weeks but it would be a constant situation of young people who would be before the court on a continuous basis over the same issues. I do not think that is acceptable and I do not think Canadians find that acceptable because we continue to hear from them on that.
The package of Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments also respond to some other issues, particularly those issues that other Canadians and provincial Attorneys General raised with the Minister of Justice in his cross-country consultations.
I want to take a moment to compliment the minister for going door to door throughout the country, city to city, and talking to Canadians first-hand to find out exactly what they were interested in so that we, as a government, could do exactly what we are supposed to do, which is to reflect the priorities of Canadians. This bill would do exactly that.
These amendments also take into account and are responsive to key decisions of the courts, and these are courts right across Canada, provincial courts, territorial courts, superior courts of the provinces, and the Supreme Court of Canada, because, of course, the courts would reflect that, too, but it is ultimately our job as legislators to do that.
These positions also reflect what witnesses have told us. Victims groups and victims came forward and applauded this government on the bill and on specific things that we would bring about in this bill.
The reforms reflect the widely held view that, while the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about the small number of youth who commit crime. It is a small number but it does not mean it is any less serious, in fact, it is even more serious because if we have an opportunity to deter these people early on in life they can then go back into society as a whole and become good citizens and contribute to society. However, these are people who, as I mentioned before, are repeat offenders and commit serious violent offences.
The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would do several things. First, they would amend the act's general principles to highlight protection of the public. That is very important because the judges, when they look at the act themselves, they can see that one of the primary concerns, which would seem fairly trite, would be to protect the public.
Second, the amendments would clarify and simplify the provisions relating to pre-trial detention, which is very important as well but has become quite cumbersome and complicated in the past years.
The third is to revise the sentencing provisions to include specific denunciation and deterrence factors as sentencing principles. Sentencing principles means that the judge takes that into consideration in the totality of the evidence put before him or her. This would broaden the range of cases for which custody will be available as well. Again, we heard clearly from Canadians that that is what they want.
Fourth is to require judges to consider allowing publication in appropriate cases where young persons are found guilty of violent offences. If we were to read the specific statute regarding this, we would see that it is very difficult for a judge to make that decision, but it is available to the judge if he or she feels it is in the public policy to do so, with some other criteria set out in the act itself.
Fifth is to require police officers to keep records of any extrajudicial measures they use in response to alleged offences by young persons.
Sixth is to define “violent offence” as an offence in the commission of a crime in which a young person causes, attempts to cause or threatens to cause bodily harm and includes conduct that endangers life or safety. It is hard to believe that these particular factors as set out in the Criminal Code were not there before, but this adds that criteria to the sentencing provisions of the judge and the considerations for him or her.
Seventh is to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's 2008 decision R. v. D.B. by removing the presumptive offence and other inoperative provisions from the Youth Criminal Justice Act and by clarifying the test and onus requirements related to adult sentences.
Finally, eighth is to require that no youth under 18 sentenced to custody will serve his or her sentence in an adult prison or penitentiary. That is very important.