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House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-10.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam B.C.

Conservative

James Moore ConservativeMinister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I had to rejoin the debate after hearing the speech from my hon. colleague opposite.

If the Liberal Party opposes mandatory minimums, then why did it bring in mandatory minimums in response to 9/11 in its Anti-terrorism Act?

The Liberals are not opposed to mandatory minimums. They are just opposed when Conservatives bring in mandatory minimums. The Liberals are all in favour of them and brought in mandatory minimums themselves. Why? Because the public believes in governments that respond to and get tough on crime.

The hon. member presents our crime agenda as though it is a this-or-that approach. We have and support successful programs that help those who are most in need and those who can be subject to restorative justice. We have those programs in my riding. I am proud to support them because they work.

However, with regard to career criminals they do not work. Therefore, we need a justice system that is about justice, not just about serving lawyers.

My hon. colleague also said the government is ignoring evidence. It is quite the opposite. As a matter of fact, it is Liberal attorneys general in Ontario, P.E.I. and British Columbia who are supporting our legislation because they recognize that this works. The member said the Liberal Party is against it. That is absolutely not true.

Finally, she said that we are acting blindly. It is quite the opposite. We know exactly what we are doing. We are responding to the mandate Canadians gave us. This is what Canadians elected us to do and we will get it done. It is because we are doing this that we were entrusted with a majority government and the Liberals have only 34 seats.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there was a question in that dissertation. I acknowledge that the hon. minister has the right to say whatever he feels he must say. However, the situation is one where as a country we cannot afford to spend untold billions on a crime agenda nor should we victimize the most vulnerable in our society.

Today there are people in prisons who have mental issues, who are aboriginal, et cetera. As well, there are young people in prisons who have made mistakes. They want help and need help to deal with their mistakes. They should not be incarcerated in prisons with hardened criminals. At the end of the day, when they get out they might be worse off than they were when they went in.

That is not the proper thing to do, but that is what the government is focusing on. It is taking advantage of the most vulnerable with what it is proposing in Bill C-10.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's raised some good points in her statement.

She spoke about the numbers that have been thrown about, including the figure of $13 billion for the implementation of several of the acts in the bill.

What does she think the impact will be on the Newfoundland and Labrador prison system which is already inadequate and bulging at the seams?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague and I both know of the situation in the prison in St. John's, which also houses federal prisoners. At this point, it cannot possibly house any more. There are two or three inmates sharing a cell. That is unhealthy under any circumstances.

We need to do more in the way of prevention to ensure we do not have to build megaprisons to house criminals. The way to do that is by focusing on prevention by putting the billions of dollars in funding that would be wasted on this crime agenda toward working with people in terms of prevention programs.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative speakers on the bill have negatively characterized with disdain the fact that rehabilitation was introduced into one of the principles of sentencing about 40 years ago.

I would ask the hon. member to correlate that rehabilitation principle with the facts. Where have crime rates gone over the last 40 years?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Liberal Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, since the previous governments, mainly Liberal, introduced the whole idea of dealing more effectively with crime, statistics have pointed to the fact that crime is decreasing.

Clearly, we have made the right decision to go down that path. The government is trying to fix something that is not broken.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

September 27th, 2011 / 12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act. It is a bill that is very important to residents in my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound and certainly across Canada.

The June 2011 Speech from the Throne recognized the government's fundamental duty to protect the personal safety of all Canadians. Toward this end we have committed to reintroduce law and order legislation to combat crime, including protecting children from sex offenders, eliminating house arrest and pardons for serious crimes, and protecting the most vulnerable in society, our children.

Bill C-10 supports this commitment. It is a comprehensive package of law reforms that had been proposed in nine bills before the previous Parliament, but which died with the dissolution of that Parliament for the general election.

Part 1, clauses 2 to 9, of Bill C-10 includes reforms to support victims of terrorism. These were proposed in former Bill S-7, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.

Part 2, clauses 10 to 51, proposes sentencing reforms to address child sexual exploitation, serious drug offences, and to eliminate the use of conditional sentences for serious, violent and property crimes. It incorporates reforms that were proposed in former Bills C-54, the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act and C-16, the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act.

Part 3, clauses 52 to 166, includes post-sentencing reforms to increase offender accountability, eliminate pardons for serious crimes, and revise the criteria for determining international transfers of Canadian offenders. These reforms were proposed in former Bills C-39, the Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act, C-23, the Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act, C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act and C-5, the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act.

Part 4, clauses 167 to 204, proposes reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to better protect Canadians from violent young offenders. These had been proposed in former Bill C-4, Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders).

Part 5 of Bill C-10 proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to protect foreign workers against abuse and exploitation, including sexual exploitation and human trafficking. These amendments had been proposed in former Bill C-56, the Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act.

Many of these proposed reforms were debated and studied in the previous Parliament. I welcome their reintroduction in this new Parliament.

I will focus my remaining time on Bill C-10's proposal to better protect children against sexual exploitation.

As with its predecessor Bill C-54, the objectives of Bill C-10's child sexual exploitation reforms are twofold. First, they seek to ensure that for sentencing purposes all child sexual offences are treated severely and consistently. Second, they seek to protect children by preventing the commission of these offences. Bill C-10 does this by imposing stiffer and stronger penalties.

Bill C-10 proposes numerous amendments to enhance the penalties or sentences of imprisonment that are currently imposed for sexual offences involving child victims. It imposes new or higher mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment as well as higher maximum penalties for certain offences.

Currently, the Criminal Code has an inconsistent approach regarding penalties for sexual offences involving a child victim. For instance, there are 12 child-specific sexual offences that impose a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment, yet there are other child-specific offences that do not impose a minimum penalty.

Similarly, the general sexual offences that apply to both adult and child victims alike do not impose any mandatory minimum penalty where the victim is a child.

As the grandfather of two granddaughters, one six years old and the other three years old, this means a lot to me. The bill serves to strengthen the laws that protect our children and the vulnerable. There should be no question about supporting this bill.

Mandatory minimum penalties are exception In the Criminal Code of Canada. Generally, they have been imposed because Parliament has determined that the nature of a particular offence is sufficiently serious to include a sentence of imprisonment. That sentence was devised to best reflect the facts and circumstances of the case and does not get lost between the mandatory minimum period of time to the prescribed maximum penalty. Where mandatory minimum sentences are imposed, a conditional sentence of imprisonment is never appropriate for the offence.

Given this understanding of mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment, the effect of imposing these in only some but not all sexual offences where the victim is a child suggests that some child sexual offences are more serious than others. It is ludicrous to suggest that some child victims have been less victimized than others. I cannot understand that thought process.

In my view, this contradicts a fundamental value of Canadian society, namely that all children are among our most vulnerable and that all are deserving of equal protection against all forms of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Therefore, I welcome the proposals of Bill C-10 to impose mandatory minimum sentences for seven sexual offences wherein the victim is a child and where currently mandatory minimum sentences are not imposed.

Bill C-10 also proposes to impose higher mandatory minimum sentences for nine offences that already carry a minimum sentence. These increases would ensure that the minimum sentence is not only in line with the offence in question but also is coherent with the minimum sentences imposed for other offences.

As well, Bill C-10 proposes to create two new offences to prevent the commission of a contact sexual offence against a child. Both of these offences would also impose mandatory minimum sentences.

I would also note that Bill C-10 proposes a few sentencing reforms that were not included in Bill C-54. These changes are entirely consistent with the overall sentencing objectives of former Bill C-54 and seek to better reflect the particularly heinous nature of these offences.

Finally, these changes would increase the maximum penalty and corresponding mandatory minimum sentences for four child sex offences. When proceeded on summary conviction, subsections 163.1(2), making child pornography, and 163.1(3), distribution, et cetera, of child pornography, propose to increase the maximum penalty from 18 months to 2 years less a day as well as increase the current minimum sentence from 90 days to 6 months.

In section 170, parent or guardian procuring sexual activity, the bill proposes to increase the minimum penalty from 6 months to 1 year and the maximum penalty from 5 years to 10 years where the victim is under the age of 16 years, and the minimum from 45 days to 6 months and the maximum from 2 years to 5 years respectively where the victim is 16 to 17 years old.

I hope that all hon. members will work with us to support the expeditious enactment of these much needed reforms.

In closing, as members of Parliament we all have a number of issues that come before us. In my seven years in this great place the one thing that I consistently hear from my constituents, especially those with children, young children and grandchildren, is the lack of rights for victims in this country. We worry more about the rights of criminals than victims, which is a sad case. The pendulum has swung too far one way. I am proud to be part of a government that would straighten that out.

I look forward to all hon. members in the House supporting Bill C-10.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am glad my friend from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound mentioned his two young granddaughters.

I am the father of two daughters. One is 11 years old and the other is 7 years old. I am particularly concerned about the possibility of a sexual assault occurring because of those people on the street who take advantage of our children. Would the member highlight the areas of the bill that he believes would send them a message?

Sending a message to those people who would prey on innocent children is key. It would be a deterrent for them to know there are stiff penalties in place which their snazzy defence attorneys are unable to bargain or whittle down in a courtroom because the law is tough on that.

Does the member agree? Could he speak more on that particular part of the bill?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to welcome my colleague officially into the House. I enjoy working with him.

I am glad to hear his comments about his young family. While my family has grown up, I did mention my two granddaughters. It is very obvious that the member gets it when it comes to protecting the rights of young and innocent children and that is what a lot of the bill would do.

He talks about the message that the bill sends, that if people want to mess with our young children, the vulnerable, the next generation, and in my case it is not just the next generation but it is my pride and joy, there will be a price to pay. For too long the sentences were almost laughable.

Another message that it sends very strongly to victims is that while we cannot right what was done to them, we certainly can make offenders do the time for the crime.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the comments my hon. colleague makes are interesting. However, flipping through the Quorum before us today, 97% of the articles in it question the viability of Bill C-10, condemning it, talking about how we will only add more victims of crime and increase costs. Money that should go into crime prevention will go to putting more people in jail.

The member should read Quorum. There is no support for Bill C-10 as far as the general public is concerned, yet the member continues to say he is representing more so than the rest of us in the House.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have worked with my colleague in the House and while we sit on opposite sides, I have a lot of respect for her.

I have not read Quorum yet, but I think the point she was trying to make to me was that it was unbelievable that there were still people out there who had written to our national papers, basically sticking up for criminals instead of victims. Like her, I find it very shocking.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, along the same vein, has my colleague seen an article by Newt Gingrich in The Washington Post. He cites that the Americans 30 years of tough on crime legislation has been a catastrophic failure. He cites recent empirical evidence for the state of Texas where in 2007 it decided that building more prisons rather than opting for prevention was a mistake and it has changed that now, saving $2 billion. That money has been put into drug courts, which deal with substance abuse as a medical instead of a criminal problem, and into several crime prevention measures instead of punitive measures to make its streets safer. Because of that, its crime rates have dropped by 10% in that short period of time. Is he aware of that?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have not seen that article. However, my priority here, and I think it is that of all of us in this great House, should be on doing what is right for Canada. The member talks about things we can do to deter criminals instead of locking them up.

I want to make mention of a first-ever program that the Minister of Justice put in my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound about three years ago. Equine and partner training is for young people who got involved in drugs, not because they were bad kids but because they got mixed up with the wrong people. It is a great program and I mention it as one example of the kinds of things we will continue to do.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is possibly one thing we agree on, and that is the Conservatives have branded and wrapped themselves in a cloak of crime and punishment. As a result, they are blind to the evidence, the costs and the fact that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973.

The Conservatives are blind to building safe and healthy communities. They are blind to the horrendous experience of the U.S. in its war on drugs regime, which now is slowly repealed, including the repeal of mandatory minimum sentencing, as my colleague from Winnipeg Centre just pointed out, because of its catastrophic failure on people and society overall. The Conservatives are blind to the evidence in Canada and to the real impact these bills would have on the lives of people and communities overall.

Added to that, the Conservative members are blind to parliamentary democracy. With this bill and the steady stream of other bills that we have seen, they are only interested in manipulating people, creating fear and division and creating a them and us scenario. I believe, from the bottom of my heart, the omnibus bill before us today is offensive. It is politically motivated and would have enormous negative impacts.

I was involved in some of these bills previously, particularly the drug crime bill, which I will go into.

Listening to the debate, I find it astounding to hear how the Conservatives are completely divorced from the reality of what is going on. They cannot recognize that we have the lowest crime rate since 1973. They cannot comprehend or deal with the fact that federal and provincial prisons are skyrocketing and prisoners are double and even triple bunking, resulting, in part, from bills like the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was passed in the last Parliament.

I wish the Conservatives had the courage to bring forward a truth in prison costs bill because maybe then we would have a better handle on what is really going on here.

The fact is these nine bills have no relevancy together. They have been politically put together in one bill to ram them through the House in 100 days.

That defies the reality of the 2010-11 annual report that just came out from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. It shows us that almost three-quarters, or 72%, of all cases handled by federal prosecutors last year involved drug cases, about 58,000 cases. Of those cases, only about 2% were complex, meaning that the vast majority of them were actually straightforward in terms of the impact of some of these bills and the kind of law enforcement approach that the Conservative government has taken.

The Conservatives also hid the real costs of this bill and all the bills in the package from Canadians during the election. We know that the real costs will be billions of dollars both in terms of the provincial cost in prisons and the federal costs.

I have heard so many times that the Conservatives are trying to bring in the bill on mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes as a bill that will be tough on organized crime and big traffickers. We heard the Minister of Justice say that again today, as he has so many times.

The reality is that mandatory minimums do not deter organized crime. Instead, they almost exclusively affect small dealers, street level traffickers and non-violent offenders, while leaving the door wide open for organized crime to step in and fill the void created by the sweeps at the lower end. Even the Canadian Justice Department, in its report of 2002, concluded that mandatory minimum sentences were the least effective in relation to drug offences.

The Minister of Justice has never been able to offer a shred of evidence that mandatory minimums are a deterrence, that they work. He was grilled on this in committee the last time the bill went through the House. This is now the third time we have had the bill before us. The minister could not offer any evidence that mandatory minimums were effective or that they would deal with our complex drug issues. All the evidence is to the contrary. The evidence indicates that the bill would have many harmful effects, including increasing the prison population and changing Canada's drug strategy from a four pillar approach that includes enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction.

We know the Conservatives changed that strategy in 2007. Again, they are totally focused on the proposition that somehow a new bill, a new offence, a stiffer penalty, a mandatory minimum would deal with some of these complex issues.

I have a letter that has three pages of organizations and individual experts who have all studied this legislation, particularly, as it applies to mandatory minimums. They all have come to the same conclusion. There is no evidence that the legislation is warranted and would actually assist our society overall.

I would point out, again, more evidence. The auditor general, when she audited drug enforcement a few years ago when we had a special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, produced a very significant report that called for an increased emphasis on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. What became clear was something like 73% of federal funds were being spent on enforcement, 14% on treatment, 7% on research, 2.6% on prevention and 2.6% on harm reduction.

Even the auditor general, from a very neutral, independent standpoint, came to the conclusion that the so-called drug strategy was not working, that it was not effective and that it could not be shown to be transparent or actually assisting in terms of drug issues in local communities.

The drug bill, in particular, which the Conservatives tried to get through the Senate and through the House, is taking Canada in a completely wrong direction. It is a direction that is very expensive, it will have no effect on drug use itself and it will only increase the prison population, creating a new set of overpopulation that with it will come health and safety concerns and problems that then will manifest themselves within the prison system. Anybody who does not understand that, as I said at the beginning, is simply fooling themselves and is blind to the reality and the evidence that is now before us.

The Conservative government changed the drug strategy in 2007. As result, we have now been down this path similar to the U.S. experience. The Americans have begun to understand that even the most right-wing conservatives, as quoted by my colleague, in the U.S. recognize the massive failure of the course of incarcerating people, of relying on an enforcement approach and mandatory minimums. Surely, Canada has lessons to learn from this.

I want to say this loud and clear, and I am very glad that all my colleagues are speaking out on the bill. We feel the bill is offensive in the way it puts together nine significant bills that should be dealt with individually. In particular, there is no evidence that the drug bill will work. On the contrary, all the evidence indicates that it will be harmful and costly. It is the wrong direction for our country to take.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to rise in this debate. I listened to the member for Vancouver East's presentation on this and some of her ideas. She spoke about drug crime and some of her concerns she had with the legislation.

We also have drug crime in Winnipeg. We have abuse of certain narcotics such as heroin, for instance.

Other than the fact that she does not think the legislation within this place is the right approach, would she recommend to the citizens of Winnipeg that we perhaps create an InSite facility in downtown Winnipeg and could she comment on that?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I can only say that, to me, it is up to the people of Winnipeg to determine what they see as the solutions to the very difficult questions they are facing in their community. In Vancouver East, when we were dealing with very difficult drug overdoses, it was the local community, including the police, the board of trade, businesses, and health professionals, that determined that a safe facility for people to go to was actually part of the solution.

No one has ever suggested that such a solution be imposed anywhere else. It is up to the residents of his community to determine what those solutions are. Things that are grown locally and that come from the local experiences are the things that work best.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for an excellent presentation and I wanted to ask her a particular question.

There are nine different areas dealt with in this legislation, but nowhere does the legislation have anything to say about people with mental illnesses in prisons. We know that up to 20% of youth in prisons today have a mental illness, up to 29% of women in prisons today have a mental illness and 50% of Canadian offenders report substance abuse as a cause for their offence. Existing information tells us that most people who go to prison, especially those with mental illness, show extreme depression and hopelessness before they go into prison.

Does the member have a comment on the fact that we are actually warehousing the mentally ill in prisons today? This trend is going to increase with this kind of legislation, yet there is nothing to be done to deal with this medical problem and to find an appropriate way of dealing with it in prisons.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Vancouver Centre for her observations, which I believe are entirely correct.

I think there is an attitude from the government that if it makes people invisible by stuffing them into overcrowded facilities, somehow invisibility means that it has dealt with the problem. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Many alarming reports show us that the situation and conditions in terms of safety, health, and lack of rehabilitation in a prison system have a cumulative effect, so when these bills are passed and we just blindly increase the prison population without knowing the impacts, we are actually creating a worse problem than we had in the beginning.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question based on a real experience this past weekend, when I participated in a walk of citizens in my riding against drunk driving.

In one case I met with two families who had tragically lost their two sons just over a year ago when a drunk driver ran into them. It was a youth offender, and these people were advocating for stiffer penalties for such a crime, a crime that had caused the deaths of their 16- and 17-year-old children.

Second, I met with the mother of a son who had been brutally beaten to the point of now being severely mentally disabled. This lady came up to me and thanked me for this crime bill. Her son now has lifetime disabilities and will never work and never function, and she said it was time for the people who perpetrated this on him not to get off scot-free for doing that.

What is the member's reaction to those kinds of victims in this country?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think we all have great sympathy for people who have gone through that experience, but one of the problems that comes from the Conservatives with this debate is the implication that somehow there are not any laws in existence, that somehow we are creating laws and that without this there is mayhem.

The fact is that we already have a very tough Criminal Code. We have a judicial system that allows discretion for judges to take into account individual situations. One of the problems with these bills is that they remove that discretion, so in actual fact we are making the system less responsive and less effective.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be in the House today to talk about the important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are included in the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Since coming to power in 2006, our government has been working hard to ensure that Canadians can feel safe and secure in their communities. A key part of this ongoing work has focused on improvements to our youth criminal justice system. In particular, the government is taking action to strengthen the ways in which the system deals with serious, repeat and violent young offenders. My remarks today will focus on some of the key proposals that address those concerns.

First, the proposed amendments ensure that protection of society remains a key goal of the youth criminal justice system.

While the principles of the youth criminal justice system currently identify the long-term protection of the public as an objective of the act, the bill before us would make it clear that the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by holding young offenders accountable, by promoting their rehabilitation and reintegration into society, and by preventing crime by addressing the circumstances underlying their offending behaviour.

A youth justice system that fails to protect society fails Canadians. Canadians have the right to be protected from crime, including youth crime, and the Government of Canada is committed to achieving that goal.

During our committee hearings on the former Bill C-4, some witnesses expressed the view that this change to the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act would move us toward a more punitive youth justice system and away from a system that emphasizes rehabilitation and reintegration.

In fact, if members look at the full statement of principles in the amendment, it is clear that this is simply not the case. Indeed, the proposed amendment specifically states that rehabilitation, reintegration and crime prevention are key to the protection of society.

Furthermore, the bill also proposes amending the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act by adding a fundamental principle of justice already articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada, namely that the youth criminal justice system must be based on the principle of diminished moral blameworthiness or diminished culpability.

Therefore, the proposed changes to the principles reflect a balanced approach that, together with the preservation of the existing principles, will guide those working within the youth criminal justice system to respond to youth in a more effective manner.

The proposed amendments also make important changes to the principles of sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The amendments add specific deterrence and denunciation as principles to guide a judge in sentencing young offenders. Right now, deterrence and denunciation are not even included as objectives in youth sentencing decisions, even though many Canadians believe that young offenders' sentences should be designed to deter further offending and to send a message to that particular young offender before the court that criminal behaviour is simply not acceptable.

However, the proposed amendment would also make it very clear that a sentence must still be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and to the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence. That means, for example, that judges will not be able to give a young offender an extra-long sentence just to send a message to other youth that the unlawful behaviour was wrong.

Once again, in my view these changes, taken together with the existing principles of sentencing in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, represent a balanced approach that will allow courts to respond to youth crime in an appropriate and effective way.

The package of reforms also includes several significant changes to the definition sections of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The amended act would define “serious offence” as any indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty in the Criminal Code or in another act of Parliament of five years or more.

This definition includes both property offences, such as auto theft and theft over $5,000, and violent offences, such as common assault, sexual assault and robbery.

Right now there is no definition of “serious offence” in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This new definition will have important implications for pretrial detention, and I will touch on them in a few moments.

The amendments also expand the meaning of “violent offence” under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The current scope of “violent offence” under the act was interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada as including offences in which a young offender causes or attempts to cause or threatens to cause bodily harm, but not to include other offences that endanger someone's life or safety. An example is dangerous driving.

The proposed definition includes offences in which a young person actually endangers the life or safety of another person by creating the substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm. This new definition would have application in a number of areas, including the imposition of custodial sentences and the lifting of publication bans.

The proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act modify the restrictions on the use of custody as a youth sentencing measure. Apart from exceptional cases, currently a court cannot impose a custodial sentence on a young offender unless that young offender has committed a violent offence, failed to comply with previous non-custodial sentences, or committed an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years, and also has a history that demonstrates a pattern of findings of guilt.

The proposed amendment pertains to the third circumstance, namely to cases in which a young offender has committed a non-violent indictable offence for which an adult is liable to more than two years in prison. The amendment would simply allow and give discretion to a judge to impose a custodial sentence in such a case if the youth's history demonstrated a pattern of findings of guilt or of extrajudicial sanctions or both.

This means that custody could be an option for a young offender who has been found guilty of a non-violent offence and who has in the past engaged in criminal behaviour for which the youth has admitted responsibility, but which was dealt with through extrajudicial sanctions. This simply allows the court to take the youth's full history into account to help determine the appropriate sentence.

The bill also creates a requirement that records be kept when extrajudicial measures are used by law enforcement, which will make it easier to find patterns of repeated reoffending that the police and others may take into account in deciding on appropriate interventions, such as whether to use another extrajudicial measure or proceed through the courts.

Changes to the publication provisions in the Youth Criminal Justice Act are also contained in this package of reforms. Currently the identity of a young offender is protected, and identifying information can be published only in limited circumstances; for example, the publication ban is automatically lifted if a youth receives an adult sentence. The publication ban could also be lifted by the judge in cases in which a youth has received a youth sentence for an offence that falls within a very narrow category of the most serious violent offences.

The new law requires judges simply to consider lifting publication bans whenever a youth sentence is imposed on a youth found guilty of a violent offence. The publication ban could be lifted, but only if the judge finds that the young person poses a significant risk of committing another violent offence and only if the lifting of the ban is necessary to protect the public. It will always be up to the prosecution to convince the judge that lifting the ban is necessary.

As the title of the bill indicates, the amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act contained in the safe streets and communities act would make violent and repeat young offenders more accountable for their actions and better protect Canadians. This is what Canadians expect of their youth justice system, and it is an important priority for our government.

I ask all members of the House to join together with me and the government to focus on the concerns common to all Canadians.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, what worries me most about my colleague's speech is that he fails to take note of or at least recognize or acknowledge that we have 30 years of empirical evidence to draw from as testimony to the predictable consequences and outcomes of the course of action that the government is taking.

I am making reference to the tough on crime initiative of the United States, which American legislators are now saying has been a catastrophic failure and not only a catastrophic failure but it is bankrupting the 50 states. They have been building prisons and stacking up prisoners like cordwood for the last 30 years, to the point where they had to privatize the prison system, bringing in Halliburton to provide jails and to feed the prisoners, and bankrupting states. The streets are no safer.

Is my colleague aware of the recent trend in the United States that has stopped building more prisons, stopped mandatory minimum sentences, and is putting the money that is saved into crime prevention, especially in the context of drug rehabilitation and in dealing with the mentally ill rather than locking them up, giving them treatment? Prevention rather than punishment is the trend.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend for his comments. I hope he was listening closely to my remarks.

The member will see in them an acknowledgement by me that in fact rehabilitation, reintegration and prevention are important measures. I know, because I have spoken to our justice minister, that those are also important measures to our government. In fact, our justice minister often remarks to me that we are the only party that actually has a balanced program which does take those things into account.

With regard to the American experience, I really hope that my friend has an opportunity to study our legislation because he will see it is entirely dissimilar to what the Americans have been doing for the last 30 years. Our legislation is targeted, focused only on the worst cases, the worst offences, and with nowhere near the kinds of consequences, in terms of three strikes and you are out, and lengthy imprisonments that the Americans have experienced.

He will see that what we are doing is really quite dissimilar from what the Americans have done.

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1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Tremblay NDP Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government claims to want to provide good public administration, but despite all the bad experiences in the world, it insists on maintaining a partisan vision of its public administration. The government does not seem to realize that sending more people to prison in a questionable manner, while cutting preventive and alternative methods, inevitably comes with significant prison costs.

Can the hon. member for Kitchener Centre tell us whether he is in favour of increasing prison costs for the provinces?

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to take issue with a comment made by my friend, although I will say:

I want to thank him very much for his question.

What he said, as I heard it, was that this legislation proposes to put young offenders or people in custody on doubtful grounds. I can only hope, once again, that the member opposite who posed that question actually takes a minute to look at the legislation. He will see that there is no such thing in this legislation. There is so no such thing as putting people in prison on doubtful grounds. In fact, in many cases all we are simply doing is giving judges the discretion to exercise that option.

I am happy to say that in total, since 2006, our government has succeeded in passing 19 criminal justice reform bills. They have all been solid and, in my opinion, essential in tweaking and improving our criminal justice system.