House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.


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4:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Science and Technology; the hon. member for Trinity—Spadina, Aboriginal Affairs.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, and the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, to enact the high risk child sex offender database act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

According to the legislative summary prepared for this piece of legislation, the bill would amend the provisions of the Criminal Code that deal with sexual offences committed against children and young persons by increasing the mandatory minimum penalties and maximum penalties for such offences.

Bill C-26 would also make the following changes to the law: it would increase maximum penalties for violations of prohibition orders, probation orders, and peace bonds; it would set out rules for the imposition of consecutive and concurrent sentences; it would require courts to impose consecutive sentences on offenders who commit sexual offences against more than one child; it would amend the Canada Evidence Act to ensure that spouses of the accused persons could be called as witnesses for the prosecution in child pornography cases; it would amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act to increase the reporting obligations of sex offenders who travel outside Canada; and it would enact the high risk child sex offender database act to establish a publicly accessible database containing information with respect to persons who are found guilty of sexual offences against children and who pose a high risk of committing crimes of a sexual nature.

It is quite a complicated piece of legislation. The NDP critic for justice, the member for Gatineau, and a number of my other colleagues have risen in the House to indicate that New Democrats will support getting the bill to committee at second reading. As always, we are very concerned that we need to have legislation that truly does protect our children and keep our communities safe.

As we have seen with other pieces of legislation that the Conservatives have presented, the devil is always in the details. Therefore, we think it is very important that there be a comprehensive study at committee, that we hear from witnesses with a variety of points of view, and I was very pleased to hear the member opposite indicate that the government would entertain amendments to this piece of legislation, which from our experience here in the House over the last three years, would be extremely unusual.

New Democrats are so adamant about getting the bill to committee and having a comprehensive study at committee because of these differing points of view. The legislative summary outlines the differences. We will hear that there are people who are strongly in favour and people who have some concerns. Some of these groups are not ones we would ordinarily think would raise concerns.

Under the commentary in the legislative summary it says:

The amendment proposed in Bill C-26 requiring that, in cases with multiple victims, mandatory minimum sentences must be served consecutively has prompted public debate about the “totality principle,” which states that an offender's overall sentence should not be unduly harsh. Lawyer Clayton Ruby, author of the textbook Sentencing, has said that consecutive minimum sentences do not leave room for considering the individual offender and the nature of the offence. However, Sharon Rosenfeldt, spokesperson for Victims of Violence, has stated that reliance on the totality principle allows those individuals who commit crimes against children to repeatedly reoffend.

We can see how important it is we get both perspectives on this before we go forward with a piece of legislation. They also say:

Another subject of debate concerning Bill C-26 has been the proposed creation of a publicly accessible databank containing information about those persons found guilty of sex offences against children who are deemed to be at risk of offending again. The Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec had expressed concern that such a databank will create a false sense of security, as this type of information gives the impression that the danger of a sexual assault comes from strangers, whereas the evidence suggests that the vast majority of sex offences against children are committed by those close to them. The Marie Vincent Foundation has determined that in 85% of the cases of sexual offences committed against those under 12 years of age, the offender was a person known to the victim (father, next of kin, neighbour, friend of the family, etc.).

A number of comments concerning Bill C-26 have mentioned the possibility of vigilantism rising from a publicly accessible database of sex offenders. Detective Constable Stephen Canton, the police officer in charge of the Niagara Regional Police sex offender registry, is also concerned that “[w]hen you start to identify offenders, you start to get less compliance and it pushes them underground.”

Victims' rights groups have expressed support for the changes proposed in Bill C-26, however. Gatineau Police Chief Mario Harel, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, has also said that the information-sharing provision is important, as is the ability to compel spouses to testify in child pornography cases. He welcomed Bill C-26, suggesting stiffer penalties could have a deterrent effect.

There is a wide variety of opinions that have been expressed in some of the input gathered in advance of the bill. Therefore, it is important that there is an opportunity not only for the committee to reconcile those different points of view, but also to keep in mind that the ultimate goal is truly the protection of children and communities.

Some of my New Democratic colleagues have referenced the fact that one of the things that has to happen is that we need to put in place programs that assist in preventing re-offences. I want to reference the Circles of Support and Accountability program.

This is a quote from Steven Sullivan, a former federal ombudsman for victims of crime. He said:

...the federal government recently announced it was cutting the measly $650,000 in funding Corrections Canada offers. CoSA also receives funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre; that's also set to end this fall. In total the program costs $2.2 million a year....

Like most community-based victim services, CoSA is a fairly cheap program. It has 700 volunteers across the country; they meet with offenders after their release, help them find jobs and places to live, meet with them regularly for coffee. They support offenders as they start to live normal lives, ones that don't involve new victims. They hold them accountable.

I want to talk a little about the CoSA, Circles of Support and Accountability. This is a snapshot that was provided in the Ottawa Citizen. It says:

The program pairs newly released sex offenders - known as core members - with three to five volunteers. For at least one year, the volunteers pledge to have daily contact with the core member, helping with such basic needs as finding employment and housing, attending medical appointments and shopping. They also undertake to hold him accountable if he shows signs of slipping.

It goes on to say:

In return, the sex offender pledges to honour any conditions imposed by the court, steer clear of high-risk behaviour and communicate honestly with circle members.

How are the core members selected?

Most are high-risk sex offenders, the worst of the worst. They must want to participate, and are screened and evaluated by CoSA groups before they are accepted.

Some criticism has been raised, including the comment:

Doesn't this amount to coddling people who should be shunned? Not at all, says...a member of the Ottawa CoSA's board. "What we're doing is promoting community safety by engaging with them." It's when sex offenders are isolated or marginalized that they are most likely to reoffend, he says.

He went on to say: "Our motto is 'no more victims'”.

That is an important point. The point of programs like this is to prevent offenders from re-offending, to keep our communities and children safe.

I want to turn for a moment to a publication from back in March 2013, put out by the John Howard Society. It talks about the impact of public notification and says:

When making a decision as to whether a public notification should be issued, the justice system must balance the need for community safety against the offender's right to reintegrate into society. Public notifications are used in hopes of increasing public safety. The threat of a public notification may work to deter the offender from breaching any conditions and to encourage him to participate in treatment. Public awareness may also encourage community members to be aware and to report suspicious behaviour, which may potentially reduce criminal behaviour. Also, they may increase collaboration between all areas of the justice system, like probation, corrections, law enforcement, prosecutors and victims, which may lead to more support for the offender.

It is probably not surprising that there is a caveat here. It states:

However, Public Notifications may discourage offenders from making post-release plans for treatment or from finding housing because they fear that by doing so they will simply identify the potential destination. Once the offender is released, the publicity may lead to job loss, threats, harassment, and housing instability - all which may force the offender in to hiding, which detracts from community safety and may elevate risk.

Evidence shows that programs that assist and support individuals re-integrating in to the community are much more effective than shaming in preventing reoffending. When used in conjunction with effective re-integration strategies, notifications can build community involvement, promote rehabilitation, and prevent the offender from re-offending.

However, public notifications with no community involvement do little to support the community or the offender. The public must be educated not only in what risks these individuals pose, but what can be done to prevent them from re-offending.

I believe there is probably agreement across the House that what is important is that any legislation that comes forward truly does what it purportedly aims to do, that is to protect children and keep our communities safe. It is clear that if we just do it with harsher sentences and removing supports for reintegration into community, we are not going to achieve those aims.

Again, I will support this bill going to committee at second reading. I am optimistic that the Conservatives will actually consider amendments to Bill C-26.

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4:40 p.m.


Brad Butt Conservative Mississauga—Streetsville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member made a very strong presentation this afternoon. I agree with many of the points she has made.

Before I was elected to this place, for many years I was the chair of Safe City Mississauga, a crime prevention organization. I do echo some of the member's thoughts about how we can prevent these things and how we should invest in doing so. In fact, the government has invested in a huge way in crime prevention, supporting organizations that make sure that crimes do not start in the first place.

Today we are debating Bill C-26 and its amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada aimed at ensuring that when people are found guilty of being child predators, they will face stiff sentences that match the crimes they have perpetrated.

It is great to say on one side that we should invest in justice issues and crime prevention, and that is part of it. I completely agree with that. However, I never hear from the NDP why it does not support tough sentences for terrible repeat serial offenders, such as this bill will address. Why does it not support those kinds of sentences?

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4:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that in my summary I wrapped up our position on this.

What we have consistently called for as New Democrats is a comprehensive program that looks not just at the appropriate sentences for crimes committed. As I said earlier, we absolutely support legislation and programs that keep our communities safe and that protect our children. I am a mother and a grandmother and would not support something that would put my children and grandchildren at risk.

However, what we often end up dealing with in this place is a piece of legislation that has a very narrow perspective dealing with particular sets of offences, particular crimes. What we do not do a good job of is taking a step back and looking at a comprehensive approach.

The member for Winnipeg Centre rightly pointed out the fact that we could learn a great deal from states like California and Texas, where they have had to revisit their tough-on-crime agenda. It looks at crime in a very narrow way. What Texas in particular has done is that it has recognized that not only must it have appropriate sentences but also that when people are found guilty, there is a need for rehabilitation programs inside and methods to integrate them back into the community.

I would urge the Conservatives to take that more comprehensive approach.

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4:45 p.m.


Marc Garneau Liberal Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think we can all agree that some of the most despicable crimes in our society are committed by sex offenders.

The government speaks a great deal about victims' rights being extremely important, and we agree. I would like to ask my colleague whether she has identified within this proposed bill any explicit provisions addressing victims' rights.

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4:45 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would argue that some of the cuts outlined by the former ombudsperson for victims highlight the fact that perhaps we are not serving victims well with some of these pieces of legislation. When we do things like cut programs that try to prevent offenders from re-offending, we are not actually supporting potential future victims.

Again, it does speak to the need for a more holisitic approach looking at the prevention of crime to begin with, making sure that we are addressing educational needs, poverty, housing, and drug and alcohol addiction. There are many things that we need to look at in terms of prevention.

We then need a justice system that responds appropriately and has the resources, so that police forces can investigate and so that there are not backlogs in the criminal justice system that would stop us from dealing with crime expeditiously.

We then need a prison system where people are housed appropriately so that they are kept inside when they need to be, but also have rehabilitation and drug and alcohol treatment programs within the prison system.

Then, when offenders are eventually released, we need those systems on the street to help them reintegrate so that they do not re-offend.

If we had legislation that looked at all four of those aspects, I think we would probably find much broader party support in the House for the legislation that comes forward that is purportedly tough on crime.

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4:45 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak on such a serious issue as the subject of Bill C-26.

This bill is a perfectly clear manifestation of the Conservatives' law and order ideology. It also demonstrates the Conservatives' failure to provide the law and order they talk so much about, since sexual offences against children have increased by 6% in the last two years.

We in the NDP have zero tolerance for sexual offences against children, while respecting jurisprudential principles and basic law, an area where the government too often expresses its disdain for judges by reducing their freedom of decision-making and imposing minimum sentences.

I would remind the House that we offered to speed the passage of the parts of former omnibus Bill C-10 that dealt with sexual offences against children. In those parts, the mandatory minimum sentences were more severe. However, today we are debating a bill that would increase the existing mandatory minimums and the maximum sentences for certain sexual offences against children.

This provision gives the impression that the Conservative government is trying to make up for its failures, but I would like the government to tell me how these new mandatory minimum and maximum sentences can succeed when they have failed in the past.

Like the other members of Parliament, I have read the statistics. The number of crimes committed has risen exponentially. As the mother of three children, I find the following figures rather frightening: in 2008, 54 people were charged with luring children by means of the Internet; in 2012 that number was 127; in 2008, 241 people were charged with sexual interference; in 2012 there were 916.

I wonder whether the problem lies with the sentences or with the services provided.

We know that our communities need more resources to combat the sexual abuse of children. The NDP has supported the program called Circles of Support and Accountability or CoSA.

The former federal ombudsman for victims of crime has revealed that funding for this program will end this fall. That is very sad because, like most community services for victims, the CoSA program is not very expensive. Its 700 volunteers across Canada meet with offenders after their release, help them find work and housing, and meet with them regularly over coffee. The former ombudsman said they were helping offenders remake their lives, avoid reoffending and take responsibility.

Harsher prison terms will probably not be enough.

I would like to raise another point I think is dicey in this bill: the creation of a publicly accessible database containing information with respect to persons who are found guilty of sexual offences against children.

A number of elements that need to be clarified come to mind when I read this bill. This database is likely to lead to a false sense of security, as it gives the impression that the threat comes only from strangers, from those sex offenders walking around in our communities and on our streets, even though the vast majority of child molesters are close to the family. The Fondation Marie-Vincent has determined that in 85% of cases of sexual abuse of children under the age of 12, the abuser is a person the child knows.

I am not saying that establishing this kind of database is a bad thing. I am saying that care must be taken and that the database should not be the only tool for making people safer. It has a role to play, of course, but it is not the main way to make our neighbourhoods safer.

There is another point that bothers me: this kind of registry has already been established in the United States, and we can see that the results are not very good. The Chicago-based Journal of Law and Economics conducted a study in 2011 that showed that the highest rates of sex crimes in the United States come from sex offenders who are listed in registries that are available to the public, simply because the offenders whose names are on these public lists have a tendency to hide and comply less with the law. They tend to live in secrecy. They will take longer to reintegrate into society and be rehabilitated. In other words, they will not be monitored as other offenders are by assistance services and they will be more likely to reoffend. I think this is something that should be examined in greater depth, and I am sure that my colleagues will try to raise all of these sensitive issues in committee.

Since 2006, the Conservative government has taken measures that it says are meant to protect children better. We have taken note of this, but considering that the numbers of sex offences against children continue to rise, the government’s repressive measures are clearly not sufficient.

We would like to see measures that will protect children in a tangible way and make our communities safer, not measures that are just intended to make the Conservatives look good in press conferences. We must also examine in depth whether certain of these measures—such as the high-risk child sex offender database, evidence from spouses of accused persons in child pornography cases and the imposition of consecutive sentences on offenders who have committed sexual offences against children—are in compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Finally, it is easy to see that the unilateral and essentially repressive approach by the Conservatives is unlikely to be enough in and of itself and that this strategy must be urgently reviewed in order to fight effectively against child sexual molestation.

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4:55 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have all wrestled with these issues in a sincere attempt to do the right thing for our children. The issue of sentencing keeps coming up, and Conservative members asked some questions of NDP members about why we do not support longer sentences all the time in every situation, as if that always makes things better.

Would my colleague care to comment on the lack of evidence proving that longer sentences make safer streets or that longer sentences will solve the problem of child sexual molestation?

The medical community agrees that pedophilia is a psychological condition and that reason and logic do not always enter into the mind of the type of predator that preys on children for sexual gratification. The sentence might be a 50-year sentence, but that person might not have the rational capability to weigh the risk of the action he or she is about to take.

Could the member point out the flaw to this notion? Could she point out the lack of evidence that longer sentences in and of themselves, without the necessary treatment, necessarily lead to safer streets or safer children?

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5 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his very pertinent question.

As I mentioned in my speech, I think that repressive measures in and of themselves have never been a solution. We must also allow these offenders to be rehabilitated and to be monitored, because repression alone will not make our communities safer. We must look into prevention and allow these people to be monitored, something that goes beyond punishment.

I will try to say this using a medical metaphor: instead of trying to put ointment on a sore and stop the oozing, it would be better to get to the root of the problem and prevent it from happening. Of course there have to be penalties. However, they must go hand in hand with prevention, reintegration and rehabilitation.

It is therefore important that the agencies providing assistance to these people have stable funding in order to help them.

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5 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the comments that the member made about penalties not being the whole answer. We agree with her that prevention and preventive programs need to be put in place. We agree those are needed, but there is another side to the issue.

The bill clearly states that there would be longer periods of incarceration. There are the mandatory minimum sentences that the government seems to love. There is the issue of programming within the prison system, which at the moment is in disarray. There is also the issue of support for organizations that assist sex offenders when they come out. The one I am thinking of is called Circles of Support and Accountability. That program has been cut. It had an over 90% success rate in ensuring that sex offenders do not reoffend when they come out.

Is that not part of the programming as well? Should the government, beyond increasing the sentencing, not also be increasing the funding and support for those programs that—

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5 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Order. The time has expired, but we will give the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert 40 seconds to respond.

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5 p.m.


Djaouida Sellah NDP Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my Liberal colleague for asking such a relevant question.

I made that point in my speech when I said that the government should be supporting community organizations that help these people turn things around instead of just punishing the guilty. I therefore already answered his question about what the NDP is advocating.

When it comes to Conservative bills, the devil is always in the details. That is why we want experts to talk about how effective these proposed changes would be.

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5:05 p.m.


François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am not entirely pleased to be rising in the House today. It is not because of you, Mr. Speaker. It is always nice to discuss bills in your presence. However, I have a keen interest in this bill. Why? Because it deals with one of the most despicable kinds of crime, namely sexual abuse, and even worse, sexual abuse involving children.

To ensure that the people at home, who are civic-minded enough to watch CPAC, can follow my speech, I would like to specify that I am speaking to Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, to enact the High Risk Child Sex Offender Database Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

We are currently at second reading stage of this bill. It was introduced by the government and will be supported by the NDP. I believe the Liberals will also be supporting it. It seems pretty clear, then, that this bill will be supported by an overwhelming majority of members in the House at second reading. Again for the people at home, this means that the bill will be sent to committee, where it can be analyzed, and hopefully, perhaps even improved, if there is any good faith on the part of the governing party, which has a majority.

Before I talk about all kinds of considerations, I want to be very clear: the NDP has zero tolerance for sex offences, and especially for sex offences involving minors. I want to be crystal clear on that, as we have been somewhat frustrated in the past regarding the level of debate on these issues on the part of our colleagues across the aisle.

I will give a brief overview of a few of the points in Bill C-26, just to make sure we all understand what we are dealing with here. The bill increases existing mandatory minimum penalties and the maximum penalties for sexual offences against children. It also increases maximum penalties for violations of prohibition orders, probation orders and peace bonds.

Obviously, the main point of this bill is to increase sentences. Now I am going to take a critical look at the bill. Again, it is very important. I am the father of young children, including a 5-year-old little girl. I want all Canadians and my colleagues opposite to understand that if anyone were to hurt my little girl, I would turn into an angry bear, as any father in the country would. Nonetheless, we live in a society governed by the rule of law, and even faced with this obligation to legislate on sentencing for sexual offences against children, we must be able to have an intelligent debate.

A question comes to mind right away when we talk about increasing sentences. The debate has been public for a few days. I wonder what the repercussions will be for our provincial partners, who will end up with larger prison populations. Across Canada, provincial prisons have seen increases of 10%, 12% or 15% in the number of prisoners, and that is because of all the increased minimum sentences imposed by the current government.

Never mind determining which minimum sentences were logical and justified and which ones were not. As a matter of principle, we think that the provincial partners should not be left to deal with the problems caused by federal legislation. That is a problem in and of itself. At third reading—the stage that makes the bill—even if everyone agrees, this type of problem will one day have to be taken into consideration by this Parliament, and above all by the party that is in power, at least for another 10 months or so.

I noted another point in Bill C-26. It seeks to ensure that a court that imposes a sentence must take into consideration evidence that the offence in question was committed while the offender was subject to a conditional sentence order or released on parole, statutory release or unescorted temporary absence.

Too many cases of potential reoffenders have been documented fairly regularly in television reports. These were people who had served fairly long sentences and failed to meet requirements such as staying away from children’s playgrounds. That is an example of a fundamental aspect of the bill. We have to think about it and see if we can improve the situation.

Bill C-26 is based almost totally on a repressive approach. Unfortunately, that is not enough. We also have to ask ourselves how we can contribute to the much broader aspect of prevention, which is essential and an absolute priority.

The Minister of Justice himself admitted that there has been an increase, estimated at 6% over the last two years, in sex offences specifically against children. If I rely on the figures, and if I correctly understand the proportions, that means that dozens of families—parents, fathers, mothers and children—have had their lives affected and terribly damaged by the behaviour of a pedophile predator.

Suppose an individual has abused a six-year-old girl. Admittedly, being able to tell the girl’s mother that he will go to prison not for seven years, but for nine, because of the changes made by the government, may be a form of consolation. However, the only true consolation that should exist in such a horrific scenario is to be able to tell the parents that the person was going to act out against their child, but the resources put in place prevented him from acting out and their child was not abused. That is the only scenario in which we should invest a maximum of resources as a priority, because that is the only scenario for the population of Canada as a whole. I hope I am making myself understood.

I am therefore not opposed to every form of minimum sentence. In some cases, if competent people believe that harsher sentences are required, then I agree. The only thing that counts, however, is to take early action and have a maximum of resources available in the field so that we can tell parents that the worst thing that could happen to their child did not occur. When the worst has happened, it is not a true consolation to families experiencing such trauma to tell them that now that the worst has happened, the offender will spend 12 months longer in prison than if he had been sentenced two years ago.

This leads me to discuss the near-failure of the policies of the last six years, which have followed a tough-on-crime approach in greatly increasing sentences. We are therefore facing two problems: there is nonetheless an increase in the number of children being abused and in the number of people serving long prison sentences, and our provincial partners are going to be short of funding to manage it all.

In committee, our colleagues across the aisle will have to convince us that the path we are on will not add to our social problems, but help decrease such problems. For example, legislative measures have been used in the past six years to increase surveillance. However, we cannot discuss surveillance unless we can ensure that the RCMP and other police forces have the resources they need to do their work.

The government should not take $650,000 away from Correctional Service Canada as it has done, because CSC has been getting results, although they are imperfect. However, these situations are completely imperfect, involving criminals and sick people who commit the most awful acts. Still, if the resources provided make it possible to prevent just five offenders from reoffending, that is a step forward. I do not sympathize with those who reoffend. As a father I have trouble feeling sympathy for someone who committed a revolting act 15, 20 or 30 years ago, even if he has served his time.

No, I am thinking of the victims. If five offenders do not reoffend, there are five fewer victims.

Minimum sentences are not the only thing for us to consider in this debate. We must also think about the essential resources needed to decrease the number of victims.

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November 20th, 2014 / 5:15 p.m.


Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think it would be a little naive for the Conservatives to imagine that criminals are more or less normal people who do a cost-benefit analysis of their actions and consider the severity of the sentence they could face.

Obviously, when a human being gets to the point of committing such monstrous acts, he certainly is not thinking about the consequences. We could put him in prison for 100 years and he would still be just as crazy at the end of the sentence. It will change absolutely nothing.

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5:15 p.m.


François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker I thank my colleague for his question.

Certainly, we have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law in our society, even though both the law and the society may be imperfect.

We cannot take all the people who commit serious, terrible crimes and send them to Mars for 150 years. That will not work.

Two of my colleagues opposite rose to ask, with indignation in their voices, why the NDP was against minimum sentences for child abusers. If my colleagues on the other side of the House could demonstrate, with facts from criminologists, sociologists and the like, that every time the minimum sentence is raised by 12 months, the number of victims decreases by 20%, I would be standing on my desk—not just on my chair—demanding that it be increased by seven years. At seven times 20% there would be no more victims and I would be very happy.

The problem is that things do not work that way, in a black and white fantasy world. More intelligence is required.

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5:15 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to come back to my colleague's remarks.

The U.S. has a great deal of experience with mandatory minimum sentences. This concept was invented and perfected in the U.S., particularly in Texas and California.

However, in the past four or five years, a senator and a congressman have finally concluded that there is no proof or analysis to justify this shift towards harsher and harsher minimum prison sentences.

Can my colleague help us understand why the government continues to push for a concept that even the Republican Party in the United States has given up on?

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5:15 p.m.


François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, with my Liberal colleague today, I am reliving one of the biggest problems I have when I am in my riding: people with a completely reasonable point of view on a situation simply cannot understand where the Conservatives are going, and they want me to help them understand. I cannot explain this to my dear colleagues, because I do not understand myself.

I am well aware of the trend in some of the southern American states, which have made extensive use of cumulative minimum penalties, in spite of any kind of case law. That trend has been around a lot longer than this government, so they now have a little distance from which they can look at the results. The results are simply not there.

Reasonable people are asking why the Conservatives are taking a path that has failed time and time again in other jurisdictions. Like my colleague, I see that it makes no sense.

As for trying to explain it, perhaps I could one day, if ever I have a Conservative brain. However, I hope my colleague is patient, because that will probably never happen.

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5:20 p.m.


Tyrone Benskin NDP Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to the discussion on Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, to enact the high risk child sex offender database act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I would first say, as many of my colleagues have stated in their interventions, that I will be supporting the bill going to second reading for specific reasons.

We believe that at its root, Bill C-26 is an important bill, and we have a zero-tolerance perspective on sexual violence, sexual crimes, particularly those crimes involving children. We want to see the bill go to committee in faith that during the committee hearings, the discussions around certain aspects of the bill will be fulsome and productive.

However, yet again, we see another foray into the world of mandatory minimum sentences. As my colleagues were discussing, the issue of mandatory sentences is a troubling issue, and we have ample evidence from our neighbours to the south and here in Canada that mandatory minimum sentences do not produce the results that my colleagues from across the way expect of them.

My colleague asked earlier whether there was any evidence that an individual who was going to commit such a crime sat down and thought about the mandatory minimum sentence such that, “If I do this, I am going to prison for x amount of time”. That would be a rational discussion for an irrational person.

There is ample evidence showing that mandatory minimum sentences do not produce results. However, more important is the issue of the legislative branch intruding into the jurisdiction of the courts. I have brought this up before. Here one of my colleagues brought up the question of why the NDP is so opposed to harsher sentences.

I do not think there is anyone in the House, on this side or the other, who does not agree with appropriate sentences for heinous crimes. However, there is a difference between allowing for harsher sentences in legislation and dictating to the courts that they must, without any judgment by judges, impose these sentences. This is where we have difficulty with the bill before us.

I hope that we can sit down in committee and explore how we can have appropriate sentences prescribed and available while still allowing the judges to use their discretion and abilities, the reasons they sit on the bench, to impose those sentences.

The bill's going to committee would also allow us to explore the potential of unintended consequences.

In the parliamentary summary, one of the commentaries brought forward about the creation of the database is the concern. It says:

A number of comments concerning Bill C-26 have mentioned the possibility of vigilantism rising from a publicly accessible database of sex offenders. Detective Constable Stephen Canton, the police officer in charge of the Niagara Regional Police sex offender registry, is also concerned that “[w]hen you start to identify offenders, you start to get less compliance and it pushes them underground.”

Ultimately, we want to see a bill enacted into law that does what it needs to do, without the sense of going after a mosquito with a bazooka. We need to ensure that we do it right, and this is the work of the committees. We need to ensure that we do not create situations with unintended consequences, such as the one I just read. That would put us in a situation where otherwise law-abiding citizens, through a mob mentality and their own loss and pain, find themselves in a position where they have information that allows them to exact vengeance in an effort to get rid of their own pain. We do not want to this to happen.

We want to ensure that people are protected from those who may repeat. We want to ensure that people are aware of high-risk offenders, in particular, those people who have for one reason or another continuously been allowed back onto the streets and who run the risk of reoffending for whatever reason. We need to protect our communities in that way. In enacting this bill, we need to ensure it would do that.

One of the other aspects that I would like to touch on is the amendment that would allow for spouses to testify against one another. Again, this is something I hope the committee will explore, because of unintended circumstances. We do not want to find non-offending spouses in a position where they might be held accountable for the actions of their partners. We want to ensure that their rights as individuals are protected and secured, and that they are not swept up in the net of the actions of their partners.

This bill is said to protect our communities. Like most laws, it would be in place to respond after the fact, after the crime has been committed. In that context, we have to ask whether the bill would act to protect communities. We have to ensure that the resources are there for our communities to prevent crimes of this nature and to prevent the repeat of crimes of this nature.

As I said in the beginning, I will be supporting this bill at second reading, with the full faith and confidence that my colleagues across the way will be open to discussion and whatever amendments arise from that discussion.

Tougher Penalties for Child Predators ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber will have five minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes consideration of this bill.

The House resumed from June 5 consideration of the motion that Bill C-583, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to debate Bill C-583. This is a bill I believe strongly in, and I would like to thank my colleague opposite, the member for Yukon, for introducing it. I would also like to acknowledge and thank my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, for his work on this bill and for his leadership in our caucus on this issue. I would hope that all parties and all members in this house can come together in support of this bill, recognizing the place fetal alcohol spectrum disorder has in Canada and in our justice system.

As the member of Parliament for Labrador, and our party's critic in northern Canada, I have seen the sad effects of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which causes a number of disabilities, including fetal alcohol syndrome, partial fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, and alcohol-related birth defects.

Many Canadians may not be aware that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affects our Inuit and aboriginal populations to a much higher extent than the rest of Canadians. As an Inuit woman, and with a large aboriginal community in Labrador, we have been working to recognize those who have been born with this disorder while also working with organizations to prevent prenatal alcohol exposure.

I have been receiving calls and emails from constituents about this issue, especially from those doing important work at the Labrador Correctional Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. They understand the need for our justice system to include the fact that many individuals in the court system suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

This past September, on International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day, the FASD Newfoundland and Labrador Network continued to raise this issue, as it does every day of the year, in my home province. I would like to thank them for their dedication. They know better than anyone that children affected with FASD have significant challenges in school and especially with other functions they are expected to participate in. The challenges due to brain damage resulting from FASD have certainly wreaked havoc. The lack of support for these children then leads to mental health issues and addictions and makes it difficult for them to hold down steady jobs.

One of the biggest issues is a lack of screening in many parts of the country or a national standard so that our health care and education systems are aware of persons who suffer from FASD and can take appropriate measures to offer special assistance. We cannot let Canadians fall through the cracks and go on to become societal outcasts.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder affects 2% to 5% of the provincial population, or between 10,000 and 25,000 people. Because of the higher magnitude with which the aboriginal population suffers from this disorder, I know that Labrador is more deeply affected by FASD than other areas of our province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In northern Canada, much more needs to be done to understand and prevent the disorder. In Nunavut, Labrador, Nunavik, and the lnuvialuit regions, we must work with the high-risk communities to make immediate change and help prevent more children from being born with FASD.

The Labrador Inuit Health Commission, which works with the Nunatsiavut government in Labrador, has done good work raising awareness about prevention and in educating local communities about this disorder by holding workshops and other information sessions, distributing posters, holding open houses, going into schools, and using other community outreach methods. It has done and continues to do tremendous work.

The health commission is working hard as well to address FASD, and it deserves to be commended for all the work it is doing, not only in our province but also across the country. The Nunatsiavut government has taken steps to ensure that schools in towns such as Hopedale and Nain can identify sufferers of FASD and offer a more tailored education experience to meet the needs of the students.

This bill would amend section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada by adding the following:

“fetal alcohol spectrum disorder” or “FASD” refers to any neurodevelopmental disorder that is associated with prenatal alcohol exposure, and that is characterized by permanent organic brain injury and central nervous system damage that result in a pattern of permanent birth defects, the symptoms of which may include....

This is very important because these items are the fundamental piece of the bill, and the issue that we continue to deal with. The amendment continues to say that the symptoms:

...may include

(a) impaired mental functioning,

(b) poor executive functioning,

(c) memory problems,

(d) impaired judgment,

(e) inability to control impulse behaviour,

(f) impaired ability to understand the consequences of one’s actions, and

(g) impaired ability to internally modify behaviour control;....

As this list indicates, this is a very serious disorder that causes some very serious symptoms. This bill would help to recognize this when people who are before the courts suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Clearly, our judgments must take these symptoms into account when sentencing individuals for their actions. It is no surprise that sufferers of FASD have difficult challenges during all stages of the criminal justice system.

I will elaborate on the above points briefly and how they face challenges while dealing with the courts.

As my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, has pointed out, poor memory and memory loss when a person is unable to recall prior events or parts of events is a huge issue. If individuals legitimately cannot recall how events have unfolded through no fault of their own, these individuals may end up incriminating themselves in court or during interrogation, as they become vulnerable to accepting events as they are presented to them.

An impairment in mental functioning, judgment, and reasoning leads people with FASD to sometimes make the wrong choices and end up running into conflicts within our legal system. This must be taken into account when a crime is committed by someone suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. These and other symptoms of FASD outline just how delicate a situation can be when dealing with a person who is suffering from this disorder while going through our criminal justice system.

When I talk to people who work in the correctional system in ridings like mine, I hear from them about their regularly seeing clients who suffer from FASD. They understand how this disease impacts these people's judgment, memory, and understanding of events around them. Many times they have expressed their concerns to me about these individuals who are experiencing FASD and going through the legal system. I could talk extensively on FASD in particular, simply because I deal with this issue on a daily basis within my own riding. I know the delicacy of this issue. I know how important it is to understand it from a public perspective, but also to provide education about it in our communities so that we can work harder to try to prevent this disease that, as we know, is preventable.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick


Robert Goguen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate with respect to Bill C-583, an act to amend the Criminal Code (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder).

I welcome the opportunity to listen to the debate and engage in the discussion on the implications that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, has on the criminal justice system.

I would like to begin by thanking the member for Yukon for bringing this very important but complex issue forward to attention of the House of Commons. The impact of FASD is a significant issue in his jurisdiction, as it is elsewhere in Canada. I would like to commend him on his leadership in attempting to address the complex issue of FASD and the criminal justice system.

FASD is an umbrella term used to describe permanent brain damage caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. Although alcohol is not the only substance that can have an impact on a developing fetus, alcohol is the only substance that appears to affect both the physical structure of the brain and the brain's function.

As is the case with many other forms of mental disability, the vast majority of people who live with FASD do not demonstrate any physical characteristics. For this reason, FASD is often referred to an as invisible disability.

Many individuals with FASD suffer from cognitive impairments, such as impaired judgment, poor memory, and impulsiveness. They may also have difficulty linking events with their consequences, which makes it difficult for them to learn from their mistakes.

These impairments are sometimes referred to as primary characteristics of FASD, as they are the characteristics with which a child is born. They are associated with the structural and functional changes in the brain.

Individuals with FASD can also develop what are referred to as secondary characteristics. These refer to the disabilities that may develop as a result of a failure to appropriately and adequately address the primary characteristics. They are more behavioural in nature, and can include mental health concerns, employment problems, disrupted school experience, addiction issues, and trouble with the law.

The brain abnormalities associated with FASD are different for every person with this disability. There can be a significant disparity in the level of impairment among young persons diagnosed with FASD.

Owing to both the primary and secondary characteristics of FASD, individuals with FASD may be at an increased risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, there is scant research on the exact prevalence of FASD in the criminal justice system.

Owing to the presence of individuals with FASD in the criminal justice system and the particular challenges that arise from their involvement in the system, there have been many calls for changes to legislation to specifically address the issue of FASD.

An FASD prevalence study is currently under way in Yukon to evaluate the prevalence of FASD in adult individuals who are incarcerated or on probation in Yukon. This could help to better understand this very complex problem.

The Yukon study will contribute to the understanding of how many people in the corrections system face challenges linked to FASD, mental health disorders, and substance abuse problems. I understand that the Department of Justice Canada has contributed to the development of this study. I look forward to learning about the results in 2016. I think it will provide a valuable contribution to the way forward on this challenging issue.

The Government of Canada has been actively engaged in many programs promoting access to justice for marginalized individuals for many years, including those with FASD. One example I would like to draw to members' attention is the aboriginal justice strategy. This is a federally led program that is cost-shared with the provinces and territories. It has operated since 1991 to support innovative community-based justice programs that help to address the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in the justice system.

The aboriginal justice strategy provides cost-effective alternatives to mainstream justice processing by ensuring accountability for low-level, non-violent offences according to the same principles used in non-aboriginal cases. The strategy provides funding to approximately 275 community-based justice programs that reach over 800 aboriginal communities in all jurisdictions. Many programs provide services specifically related to FASD, and all 275 programs indicate that those exhibiting FASD characteristics are among the clientele using their services.

In addition to the aboriginal justice strategy, the government also funds the aboriginal courtwork program, which works to ensure that aboriginal people in contact with the criminal justice system, whether as accused persons, witnesses, victims, or family members, have fair access to equitable and culturally sensitive treatment throughout the court process.

Each year, over 52,000 aboriginal Canadians in over 435 communities benefit from the access to aboriginal court work services. These services increase the efficiency of the court system, especially in remote communities, and promote outcomes that support healthy, safe families and communities.

By highlighting these programs and projects, I do not wish to give the impression that FASD is an issue that only affects aboriginal Canadians. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that rates of FASD are higher in aboriginal communities for a variety of historical, cultural and other reasons. Therefore, much of the government's response to date on this issue has focused on aboriginal people, but there is wide recognition that FASD has a broader impact.

This broad impact is recognized by Bill C-583, which would apply to all individuals with FASD. The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to do three things: it would define FASD in the Criminal Code; it would empower the courts to order FASD assessments for the purpose of bail and sentencing; and it would deem FASD to be a mitigating factor on sentencing if certain conditions were met.

I am sure all members can agree with the general intent of this bill. The goal of providing special treatment to individuals who suffer from a particular type of permanent brain damage, which may impact their level of criminal responsibility, is commendable.

When I read the bill, however, I found it raised a number of important questions that ought to be considered. For example, some people will ask why there is a need to address only FASD and not any other mental disability or mental disorder. Is FASD the only disability that has an impact on an individual's degree of responsibility for the purposes of the criminal law?

I also wonder whether the provinces and territories currently have the capacity to undertake assessments that would be ordered as a result of this bill. The bill would require medical assessments by various experts in the justice system.

Finally, given that courts can already take evidence of FASD into account for the purpose of sentencing but are not obliged to consider it for every case, we must fully analyze the impact of explicitly adding this to the Criminal Code.

In closing, while we support the intention of the bill to find alternative ways to address FASD in the criminal justice system, I believe we need to review and reassess the available options. I believe a study of the subject matter by the appropriate committee could be beneficial to all.

Again, I would like to recognize the efforts of the member for Yukon for raising this important and challenging issue, and I look forward to hearing from other members on the potential impacts of this bill.

I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “Bill C-583, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), be not now read a second time, but that the order for second reading be discharged, the bill be withdrawn, and the subject-matter thereof be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and that the committee report back to the House within four months of the adoption of this order”.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

It is my duty to inform hon. members that pursuant to Standing Order 93(3) no amendment may be proposed to a private member's motion or to the motion for second reading of a private member's bill unless the sponsor of the item indicates his or her consent.

Therefore, I ask the hon. member for Yukon if he consents to this amendment being moved.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

I do consent, Mr. Speaker.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, the opportunity I have to discuss the consideration of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder within the criminal justice system will allow me to describe the impact of this syndrome on the daily lives of many Manicouagan residents.

FASD affects approximately 1% of Canada’s population. Research shows that the incidence of FASB is significantly higher among aboriginal people and in rural, remote and northern communities.

Whenever I tour the riding, I travel to some places that are on the 52nd parallel and even a little further north. I think my riding goes up to the 54th parallel. In any case, I travel to very remote communities. Unlike some of my colleagues on the other side of the House and in other parties, rather than visiting social clubs, social groups or chambers of commerce first, I visit educational institutions and primary schools, first and foremost.

I talk to the staff, and when I visit remote communities, especially aboriginal communities, I always ask about the incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome. It is quite well documented that this syndrome occurs very frequently in the aboriginal population and in remote areas. The statistics I gave you just now, Mr. Speaker, are clear evidence of this.

A few months ago now, when I went to Pakuashipi, I had a discussion with one of the social workers, and I think in fact I even discussed the issue with the school principal. I asked him about identifying and monitoring young people with fetal alcohol syndrome or behavioural issues linked to fetal alcohol syndrome.

I was told that it was quite difficult to make a diagnosis in remote areas. This is why children must often move to Montreal or Quebec City, where they are better equipped. There are experts in development and education who are able to make a diagnosis and detect early signs of the syndrome.

I was told that while the teaching staff in remote communities are qualified to identify signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, before a diagnosis can be made, the student must have reached quite an advanced stage of development and education. In most cases, the case must be referred to a specialist in an urban area, such as Quebec City or Montreal.

However, the instrument before us today addresses the situation as experienced by adults who must deal with the criminal justice system. These are adults over the age of 18, of course, who have not necessarily ever been diagnosed. This is the point on which my argument is based: they were not diagnosed at an early age.

Technological advances have helped in detecting signs of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. This was also brought to my attention. Until recently, detection was rather complicated. That is why in 2014, young people are being more closely monitored than adults or young people were in the 1970s. That is why in 2014, the criminal justice system sometimes has to deal with adults who simply do not have any diagnosis on file. There may be some mention here and there in a medical file. Nonetheless, generally speaking, the 1% of the population that has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is highly represented in criminal cases, at 60% or 80%. The numbers elude me, but these people make up a high percentage of the prison population and of those brought before the criminal justice system.

That is the reasoning I will present during my arguments, namely to take into account this characteristic, as well as the diagnosis at an advanced age in criminal cases. These elements were included in my motion and in the instrument being brought to our attention today.

The instrument submitted to us for consideration seeks to establish a procedure for assessing individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who, it is suspected, suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. As I indicated, here we are talking about undiagnosed adults.

I want to make sure it is understood that I am making the case that the instrument before us is first and foremost about sentencing submissions. At the risk of repeating myself, I am aware that the vast majority of Canadians do not have in-depth knowledge of the justice system. That is why I want to talk about sentencing submissions.

When an individual has moved through criminal proceedings and is convicted of the offence in question, his lawyer and the crown prosecutor are to meet at a subsequent stage. It is usually when the guilty verdict is handed down to the individual that sentencing submissions are set for a later date. This always depends on the severity of the crime committed. However, with respect to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, my understanding is—and I do not think I am erring in law here—that submissions would take place at the sentencing submissions stage. Consequently, the lawyer of the individual who stands accused would submit that it is highly likely that his client has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The crown prosecutor would be allowed to present arguments and elements that would be taken into consideration by the judge.

Here is my conclusion: I think that this will be debated in committee. Those responsible, the justice critics, will have a field day. What I was saying was that there is a potential for backlogs, or at least hold ups and delays in the courts, particularly if experts have to weigh in on the likelihood that an adult has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I have been told that it is far more difficult to make an accurate diagnosis once a person reaches adulthood. For adults with possible behavioural problems related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, it is much more difficult to identify the impact and occurrences in everyday life. That could pose a problem.

For example, I handled mental health cases and criminal cases. I often submitted applications under subsection 672.11 of the Criminal Code. That is legal jargon. It is about criminal responsibility at the time of the action or criminal responsibility in cases of mental disorder. That is an additional factor. When lawyers submit applications under section 672.11, clients usually go to the Philippe Pinel Institute in Montreal where the experts do their expert thing, so to speak, for two to three weeks. Then they come back. In Sept-Îles, when my clients appeared in the judicial district of Mingan, there were undue delays lasting two or three weeks. Local expertise was not necessarily able to meet the needs.

Will a similar process be set in motion when there are sentencing submissions? That is what happens when these elements are brought forward. I do not know. That is my information, and it will have to be debated in committee by the people responsible for this file. This is not within the scope of the present discussion, but the process could get bogged down.

Prevention and intervention are key to improving the situation. Advances in screening methods used by pediatric health care and education professionals have made it possible to identify cases of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the early stages of child development. As I mentioned, it is preferable to do this at a very early age.

In closing, I would like to quote comments made at a justice conference held in the Yukon in 2008:

Given the stringent criteria associated with defences of “not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder” [subsection 672.11, as I mentioned] and “unfit to stand trial” [also subsection 672.11], which are defined in the Criminal Code, most individuals with FASD [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder] would not meet this threshold ... Instead, they are considered to be fully responsible individuals and the judge sometimes considers their disability to be a mitigating or aggravating factor.

I would like to emphasize the phrase “the judge sometimes considers”. At present, this is at the judge's discretion and is not codified. The remarks made at the Yukon conference in 2008 indicate that the judges already apply this principle and that it is already taken into account, more or less informally, because it is not codified.

Consequently, the instrument currently before us would simply formalize a practice already being implemented.

We have already seen this in the past and it is nothing new.

I submit this respectfully.