Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to continue my remarks on Bill C-10, as returned from the Senate by way of amendment.
I had an opportunity on Tuesday to address a number of important points and concerns that had been raised about the consequences of Bill C-10. Today I want talk about some of the issues raised by experts who came to our committee. I will speak specifically to the concerns in relation to the consequences of this legislation on aboriginal people. We are increasingly aware of Canada's failure in that regard.
We recently passed a resolution in the House to grant equality of funding for aboriginal education. One would wonder why in the 21st century a country like Canada would have to do that. The New Democrats brought forth a motion which thankfully was unanimously accepted. However, the concerns that were raised there have also been raised in relation to the state of justice for aboriginal people in Canada.
Mr. Howard Sapers, the correctional investigator, gave a presentation to the committee on the consequences of Bill C-10.
Some of the amendments will almost certainly have disproportionate impacts on Canada’s more marginalized populations, including aboriginal peoples, visible minorities, those struggling with addictions and substance abuse problems, and the mentally ill. Indeed, nearly all of the growth in the correctional population over the past decade can be accounted for by these groups.
That is a very strong statement. As we know, in Canada the crime rate is going down. We have the lowest crime rate since 1973, in almost 40 years. At the same time, we have an increase in the prison population, most of which Mr. Sapers said is accounted for by our more marginalized populations, including aboriginal peoples, visible minorities, those with addictions and substance abuse problems, and the mentally ill. That is a very strong indictment of the failure of the Canadian system when it comes to aboriginal people.
We have astonishing statistics on the number of aboriginal people who inhabit our prison system. Canada has a population of aboriginal people somewhere around 3.75% or 4%, yet 21% of our prison population is made up of aboriginal people. If we look at the federally incarcerated population alone, 2.8% of the Canadian population accounts for 18% of the federally incarcerated population. Therefore, we have six times as many aboriginals serving federal time, when compared to the population.
Some would say that must be because they commit more crimes and they should go to jail. That is a simplistic response. The first nations groups and people who work in the north say it is a failure of the system that puts them there. The proven way to deter crime is to resolve child poverty issues, provide treatment for mental health and addictions, deal with particular disabilities such as fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, and provide preventive programs in our communities. That is the way to decrease the number of people who are subject to incarceration.
As the Canadian Bar Association, Yukon branch, said in a release in February, these programs are the ones that help. The effect of Bill C-10 would be to put more aboriginal people in jail. Instead of having the opportunity to take advantage of conditional sentences, they will be away from their communities where rehabilitation, reintegration and all of the services that Correctional Services can provide take place.
There is a big consensus, for example, in the north and the Yukon among the RCMP, the court services, crown prosecutors, defence counsel, judges and wellness court, to try to deal with the healing of people who have serious problems, to try to divert them from a prison system that cannot help them very much.
We have a disconnect between what the government says when it calls it the safe streets and communities act and what the Canadian Bar Association of the Yukon says, which is that we have some of the safest streets in the Yukon, in Canada and in the world. It is not an issue of safe streets. It is an issue of whether or not our policies would achieve the goal that was proposed.
I had a meeting yesterday with representatives of the Canadian Association of Police Boards, who are very closely associated with policing in Canada. They raised their concerns about what Bill C-10 would do to youth justice, and to young people at risk, aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our prison population and those who are mentally ill.
We have a significant problem. The research, according to a brief presented by the Canadian Association of Police Boards to the Senate quoting the correctional investigator, says that the federally incarcerated population in Canada actually declined from 1996 to 2004 by 12.5%. We would see that go up again and we know that. We would be building prisons with provisions for double bunking. This has been condemned by the Correctional Services of Canada Union, experts, international standards and the correctional investigator himself.
We have had a decline from 1996 to 2004, but at the same time, the number of first nations people in federal institutions actually increased by 21%. The number of incarcerated first nations women during that period increased by 75%.
That is how we are dealing with the problems of our aboriginal population. They have problems for very significant reasons. It is not because they are more criminal than the rest of the population, but because they are marginalized and disadvantaged in our country.
Aboriginal youth are overrepresented among criminalized young people. According to the Canadian Association of Police Boards, aboriginal young people are criminalized and jailed at earlier ages and for longer periods of time than non-aboriginal young people.
The correctional investigator made a number of recommendations which have been supported by the Canadian Association of Police Boards. The correctional investigator considers that, “in light of Bill C-10, the aspect of new and increased mandatory minimum sentences and removing the discretion of judges will make aboriginal people's overrepresentation in the criminal justice system much worse”.
As an example, and members opposite who represent this area would be startled to know, aboriginal people already represent approximately 80% of inmates in institutions in the Prairies. This is from a population of less than 3% of the population of Canada. The Canadian Association of Police Boards says that Bill C-10 will further increase aboriginal representation in jail. It is astonishing.
Aboriginal youth comprise the majority of the population in jails and are overrepresented. However, Bill C-10 would have more aboriginal youth in custodial centres before trial. Our youth at risk require intervention support services to prevent ongoing criminal behaviour rather than detention.
I do not think the Canadian Association of Police Boards can be accused of somehow being in league with the criminals. The Conservatives can say what they want about us. We have broad shoulders and do not take them too seriously. I hope that the Canadian population is sensible enough to realize that is just the mouthing off of people who do not look at the evidence, do not listen to the experts and do not really seem to want to understand the effects of what they are doing.
That is what the Canadian Association of Police Boards representatives have said. They are from all over the country. Yesterday, in my office, there were representatives from Calgary, Vancouver and Cape Breton. It is a very broad body that is in touch with communities. In British Columbia, for example, all city mayors are represented through the police boards in their communities. It is not a research body. It is a group that is active and in touch with policing in our communities, cities and provinces. It is astonishing that when a group like that has something important to say about the consequences of what the government is doing, the government does not listen.
The Canadian Association of Police Boards is very worried about mental health in this country and the fact that police are being used as the front line instead of treatment. The first encounter with the system is through a police officer and not a mental health worker or some form of help. It is not that the police are there to hurt people, but for a person who needs help because of a mental health problem, the first encounter with the system ought not to be with a police officer who has a different role in society than that of a mental health worker.
The Canadian Association of Police Boards is very concerned. It quotes an article on the criminalization of mental illness that was published by the Canadian Mental Health Association. There was also a report on mental illness in Canada that talked about the prevalence of mental illness. However, the criminalization of mental illness was identified by the Canadian Mental Health Association in a report in March 2005. It said that research revealed that a person with mental illness was more likely to be arrested for a criminal offence than a non-ill person. It also talked about the factors related to that. It is estimated that the number of people with untreated mental illness in the criminal justice system ranges from 40% to 50% of those incarcerated.
Therefore, when we are talking about being tough on crime, we are talking about being tough on people who are aboriginal youth or have a mental illness. They are overwhelmingly the new population in our prisons. When I talk about mental illness, I am also talking about people with addictions who are suffering as a result.
We need a very different approach than what is being presented by the government. It has nothing to do with an attitude towards criminals. I think all of us would agree that those who commit serious crimes ought to be responsible and accountable for their behaviour. We do not want to see criminals go free, but we want a country where we respond to what needs to be done to ensure that these criminals do not reoffend.
I was telling someone the other day that I would feel safer if the person who broke into my house had something better to do than break into my house. I would feel safer knowing that if the person went to jail he or she would be out again in some period of time. I would feel less safe if that individual was not a better citizen once he or she got out of jail. I would be a lot safer if rehabilitation programs and preventive programs were in place. I would be a lot safer if there were a true response to the needs of our society so that people were not in those circumstances. It is unfortunate that no one listens to that.
I talked about the percentage of aboriginal people in our jails. I have a chart that shows that 3% of the people 18 years and older are aboriginal and 22% of the provincial and territorial sentence to custody adults are aboriginals, which is seven times as many. Twenty-five per cent of the population of Yukon is aboriginal and 75% of the inmates in provincial institutions in Yukon are aboriginal. That is deplorable. It speaks to the fact that prevention is not helping enough. We have taken a punitive approach instead, which will get worse.
Judges need to ensure that people who come in contact with the law are focused on accountability, that they recognize that they deserve to be penalized for what they have done and that the system wants to see them become productive members of society.
In some parts of the country we have a strong culture of restorative and Yukon is one part. Other provinces have developed an active working of restorative justice where the individual who commits a crime is expected to, if possible with the victim, acknowledge and be aware of the effect of the crime on the victim. The individual needs to recognize the fact that the victim lost something as a result of the crime. The individual needs to recognize that he or she has a role to play in ensuring that the damage done is ameliorated. Members on the other side talk about victims all the time but they do not talk about that. I think victims respond to that. They want justice.
There are extreme cases but we cannot make one law for everything based on extreme cases. There are extreme cases where there obviously is no possibility of any restorative justice or reconciliation. The most we can hope for is acceptance and peace when someone has lost a loved one through an egregious murder or something as senseless as a drive-by killing. These crimes make no sense at all and are very hard to understand. We sympathize with victims in those circumstances.
We want to ensure that those who commit crimes that involve the loss of life, the loss of someone's loved one, a deliberate, premeditated murder pay a severe penalty. We have had horrendous examples of serial killers in Canada but that, thankfully, is not the norm. We can see by the crime statistics that it certainly is not the norm. In fact, it is likely that more violent crimes were committed in the past than are committed today. We need to ensure that proper justice is done for individuals in those cases.
We also need to recognize that our system is moving toward incarcerating people who are stuck with addictions, who are suffering from mental health issues, aboriginals who may be suffering from a disability related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or youth at risk who need better education.
If we look at one issue alone, the aboriginal population in Canada is seriously undereducated. We can make up all kinds of reasons for that but one of them is consistent, persistent underfunding of aboriginal education in Canada by the Government of Canada.
There were a lot of people, young people in particular, getting involved in the Shannen's dream movement. What did she want? She wanted a safe and comfy school. This was a 14 year-old asking if she was not entitled to that because she was aboriginal. Unfortunately, that has been the reality for far too many aboriginal students in Canada.
Where does that leave them when do not have a proper school to go to? They drop out of school and, therefore, do not get an education. They have no opportunities. They end up being what the justice system calls youth at risk and they end up in jail. We just went through some of the statistics. They are then in jail with other young people, which may be far away from their community. They have gone down the wrong road. What are we doing? Are we recognizing that we have a serious problem that needs a different solution?
The Government of Quebec came to Ottawa and showed what it had done over the last 40 years. It has emphasized rehabilitation. The justice minister, Jean-Marc Fournier, spoke with great passion when he looked around the room and said that when he was talking about the Youth Criminal Justice Act he was not dealing with people who had the same opportunities as our sons and daughters. He said that he was dealing with people who were dealing with situations.
He did not talk about aboriginal Canadians very much, but about people who had a very different situation than the children of the people in that room. The room contained members of Parliament, staff of the House of Commons and reporters who were looking on, all of whom were in a better position to provide for their children in terms of a safe, warm home, proper education, extracurricular activities, opportunities for parents to keep an eye on them and to help them if they go astray, and to provide guidance to them. Those were not the people he was dealing with in the youth criminal justice system. He was dealing with people who did not have those opportunities or advantages.
He said that the Quebec justice system tries to save them from a life of crime and that it does that by taking an approach that it has taken for 40 years. He said that Quebec has consistently shown over the last number of decades to have the lowest rate of recidivism in all of Canada for its youth criminal justice system. No one questioned that, not even government members on the committee.
The minister talked about ending the revolving door of going in and out. That is what recidivism is. Recidivism is when people get out of prison and then go back in. The minister's idea is to close the door when they are inside so there will not be any revolving door. What will that do? It will lengthen the incarceration for young people and, when they get out, because they will get out, they will not be rehabilitated. They will not have the opportunity to be better citizens.
If we look at what has happened in Quebec, there is a model that could have been ceased upon by the government and tried. We will not guarantee success but let us try to replicate that in Alberta, in Yukon, in British Columbia, in Manitoba and in the Northwest Territories.