Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be on the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights, and I know that our committee did good work in reviewing this proposed legislation.
I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-75 and will spend my time today outlining proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, YCJA, in particular. These changes would focus on administration of justice offences and how they are dealt with in the youth criminal justice system.
As members may know, the YCJA came into force in 2003 and has significantly reduced the overall use of the formal court system and custody of youth. However, despite the overall success of the YCJA in achieving its goals, the treatment of young persons in administration of justice offences has remained an area of concern.
While the YCJA clearly encourages alternatives to charging for less serious offences, approximately 85% of youth accused of administration of justice offences are subject to formal charges, with many of these cases leading to custody. This is despite provisions in the YCJA that require consideration of all reasonable alternatives to custody in the circumstances. These high rates of charging and custody for administration of justice offences contribute to delays in the system and the overrepresentation of vulnerable youth, particularly indigenous youth, in that system for conduct that would not in and of itself be criminal.
The aim of the proposed youth reforms in Bill C-75 is to strengthen aspects of the currently used justice framework so that fewer young persons are prosecuted and incarcerated for administration of justice offences. In this regard, the bill would amend the YCJA to do several things. First, it would further encourage the use of alternatives to charges, such as extrajudicial measures and judicial reviews, in response to administration of justice offences. Second, it would ensure that the conditions imposed on youth at the bail stage or at sentencing are necessary to address the offending behaviour of the youth concerned, and which are required for criminal justice purposes. Third, it would further restrict the use of custodial sentences for administration of justice offences.
Bill C-75 would provide that extrajudicial measures, in other words, informal measures, such as police warnings or referrals to community-based programs, are adequate to hold a young person accountable for breaches of conditions or failure to appear at the bail stage and for breaches of community-based youth offences. An exception to this presumption, however, would arise in circumstances where the young person either has a history of breaches or where the breach caused harm or a risk of harm to the safety of the public.
In some cases, extrajudicial measures may not considered an adequate response to the breach. For such cases, the bill establishes the circumstances in which a judicial referral hearing, as set out in Bill C-75's proposed Criminal Code amendments, or the existing provision for reviewing community service set out in the YCJA would be used.
These alternatives would be the preferred approach when appropriate, and the use of formal charges for administration of justice offences would be discouraged, except as a last resort.
I would now like to talk about the use of conditions as part of the youth criminal justice system.
Many people believe that the problems with administration of justice offences are rooted in the myriad of conditions imposed on youth. The concern is that, in many cases, the conditions set the youth up for failure, leading to new charges and perpetuating the youth's involvement in crime.
Dr. Jane Sprott, a professor at Ryerson University, who has focused her research over the past decade on the YCJA and issues surrounding bail and the use of bail relief conditions, in her testimony before our committee, stated:
there are numerous broad-ranging conditions placed on youths, and many times those conditions appear to be crafted with broad social welfare aims that go far beyond the purpose of release conditions....
The use of these broad welfare or treatment-based conditions is problematic for a variety of reasons...so however well intended...they're unlikely to achieve their desired goals and can actually do more harm in a variety of ways, one of which is setting the youth up for failing to comply.
The youth justice proposals in Bill C-75 would require greater scrutiny at the front end to ensure that any conditions imposed were reasonable in the circumstances and necessary for a valid criminal law purpose, such as ensuring the young person's attendance in court or protecting the safety of the public.
Furthermore, conditions could not be imposed on a young person unless he or she would reasonably be able to comply with those said conditions. Finally, the bill would prohibit the imposition of conditions or the detention of young persons as a substitute for appropriate child protection, mental health or other social measures.
As I mentioned, the use of custody in relation to administration of justice offences committed by young persons remains an area of concern due to the fact that 35% of these cases are resulting in custody. Bill C-75 would modify the criteria for youth custody by providing that custody could not be imposed on the basis of prior failure to comply with non-custodial sentences, unless the prior failures resulted in actual findings of guilt. In other words, evidence alone of prior failures would not be sufficient.
In addition, the bill would provide that if a youth justice court was imposing a sentence for a breach at the bail stage or for a failure to comply with a community-based sentence, custody could not be imposed unless the young person caused harm, or a risk of harm, to the safety of the public in committing the offence currently before the court. These changes would make it less likely for administration of justice offences to lead to custody for youth.
In closing, it is a pleasure to be a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and I can assure my hon. colleagues that we did a comprehensive study of Bill C-75. While I know that there were legitimate disagreements between members of the committee, there were also a number of amendments made that were unanimously adopted that strengthened the bill.
I thank the many witnesses who gave their time and expertise to assist the committee through testimony and written submissions.
I am confident that these reforms I have touched on today would contribute to a more efficient youth criminal justice system and a better justice system overall. They would free up court time so the more serious criminal matters, both on the youth side and the adult side, could be dealt with in a timely fashion and in line with the parameters set out in the Jordan decision. That is why I support passage of the bill and urge all my hon. colleagues to do so as well.