Mr. Speaker, I am going to start my speech by giving a few statistics. Indigenous people make up 4% of the Canadian population, yet make up 28% of the admissions to federal correctional facilities. Black Canadians represent 3% of the general population and account for almost 10% of the prison population. There has been a 70% increase in black Canadians in federal prisons over the last 10 years. Additionally, according to Statistics Canada's 2012 Canadian community health survey, persons with mental health disorders are about four times more likely to report being arrested than Canadians who do not suffer with mental health issues.
While these statistics are shocking, we need to keep them in mind.
To say that we need to reform the criminal justice system is an understatement. That is why I am pleased to contribute to today's debate on Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which proposes substantial reforms to our criminal justice system.
Today I would like to focus my remarks on a particularly challenging issue that I addressed at the outset, and that is the overrepresentation of indigenous people and marginalized groups within our criminal justice system.
Indigenous people are over represented, both as victims of crime and offenders in the criminal justice system. The rate of victimization is twice as high for indigenous people compared to non-indigenous people. Additionally, indigenous people, people of colour, people from marginalized groups, such as those who suffer from mental health or addiction issues, are also overrepresented in the incarcerated population. The data in this regard paint a bleak picture.
The following statistics have been mentioned in this place before, but they warrant repeating to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the magnitude of this problem. The figures I mentioned at the start of my comments have been increasing over the past few years and it is forecast that by 2025, one-third of the population in provincial and territorial custody will be indigenous.
The overrepresentation statistics are even more concerning when we think about indigenous women and we talk about intersectionality. In 2016, this group accounted for 38% of female admissions in provincial and territorial custody.
Indigenous youth are also overrepresented in our criminal justice system, being five times more likely to be involved in the correctional system than non-indigenous youth.
This overrepresentation of certain groups is a systemic issue that begins with the police or courts long before incarceration, and is a result of a failure of various support systems. The criminal justice system has been left to operate as an inadequate fall-back solution.
Bill C-75 proposes a series of measures that will help address the problem of overrepresentation of indigenous persons and persons from marginalized groups within our criminal justice system, particularly through amendments to the bail regime and improved responses to administration of justice offences.
Indigenous people and people of marginalized groups are disproportionately impacted by the existing bail process. The groups are disproportionately represented in the group of accused persons being detained before trial, often because of their inability to obtain a surety, which is essentially like having a co-signer on a loan, or inability to provide a residential address.
When released, these populations are also disproportionately impacted by bail conditions, such as a curfew or alcohol consumption restrictions. Many of these bail conditions are not necessary to ensure attendance in court or to ensure the safety of the public. Indigenous people and people from marginalized groups are therefore more likely to commit administration of justice offences by breaching these stringent conditions. This cycle of injustice leads to individuals being caught in the revolving door of the criminal justice system.
Right now in Canada, as in many countries, accused people are routinely remanded in custody unnecessarily or are burdened with impractical bail conditions that are unrelated to public safety. This is one of the primary ways that indigenous and marginalized offenders are caught in the web of the criminal justice system.
Bill C-75 directs police and judges to use the principle of restraint when it comes to making decisions on interim release and bail. When a condition is breached, judges are invited to look more closely at the reason for that breach and possible ways to resolve the situation absent of laying a charge. Judges must also give particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous accused and those from other vulnerable groups, like the black community.
Our government is doing this because we know that accused who do not have access to the needed supports and services, including housing, health care, and social services, are at higher risk of breaching bail conditions. These breaches can result in bail being revoked and needless incarceration while awaiting trial.
The principle of restraint proposed in the bill will also require that police and courts impose the least onerous conditions that are appropriate to ensure an accused's attendance in court and to ensure the safety and security of victims and witnesses. The principle of restraint requires that primary consideration be given to the imposition of conditions with which the accused can reasonably comply.
All too often, an inability to comply with onerous and unfair conditions causes a downward spiral of repeated contact with the criminal justice system. This self-perpetuating cycle is difficult to escape and disproportionately affects indigenous peoples and people from marginalized groups.
The codification of the principle of restraint in Bill C-75 would eliminate, at the outset, the imposition of irrelevant, unreasonable or unnecessary conditions to help to reduce instances where persons needlessly would become further involved with the criminal justice system by committing administration of justice offences, while maintaining public safety. These changes will improve the efficiency of our justice system and will reduce the overrepresentation of people most impacted by this vicious cycle.
Bill C-75 will also require, throughout the bail process and in determining how to address breaches of bail conditions, that police and the judiciary give particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous accused and to the circumstances of accused from a marginalized group that is overrepresented in the criminal justice system and that is disadvantaged in obtaining bail. Again, I draw attention to those in the black community. This includes persons who do not have the financial resources to secure their release, do not have residential addresses, do not know anyone who can act as a surety, or those who suffer from mental health difficulties and are unable to obtain the resources they need to comply with their conditions once released.
Bill C-75 also introduces a new judicial referral hearing to which the principle of restraint and the requirement to give particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous or vulnerable accused would apply. The judicial referral hearing is a new tool for police officers faced with an accused individual who they believe has breached a condition without causing harm to a victim or property damage. Instead of being limited to laying a charge or to doing nothing, police could refer the accused to a judicial referral hearing to have his or her bail conditions reviewed by a judge without laying a new charge.
This new tool would help address overrepresentation in two ways. First, the hearing itself would provide an alternative to laying a charge for breaching bail conditions. Second, the principle of restraint and the requirement to give attention to the circumstances of indigenous or marginalized accused would apply to this hearing.
Finally, Bill C-75 would amend the plea provisions of the Criminal Code, which would have a particularly positive impact on indigenous persons and persons from marginalized groups.
Multiple complex factors can lead to guilty pleas, including an innocent accused being denied bail and wishing to avoid waiting for trials; unreasonable or unnecessary bail conditions; social vulnerabilities, including inadequate housing, addiction and mental health; and factors unique to indigenous culture or marginalized communities, including distrust of the system. These factors often interact and contribute to false guilty pleas from vulnerable individuals.
With these amendments, Bill C-75 takes important steps in addressing the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples and marginalized groups in the criminal justice system. I urge all members to support this very important bill.