] ... The agenda, I believe, is before the committee members. Bill is the topic of discussion.
The witnesses before us today are Ms. Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and she has with her Debra Parkes. We also have, from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Mr. Michael Woods, director general of national criminal operations for community, contract, and aboriginal policing services.
Thank you for being with us today.
I will start with the Elizabeth Fry Societies, as it shows on our agenda first. I would ask them to put their presentation forward in approximately ten minutes, and then we'll go over to Mr. Woods to make his presentation.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
And thank you very much to the committee for inviting our organization to appear and to present testimony before this committee with respect to Bill . I'm here, as you've indicated, representing the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. I'm joined by one of my board members, who is also the co-chair of our social action committee, Professor Debra Parkes. She's also a law professor at the University of Manitoba. So I'm very pleased that she was able to join us as well, and thank you very much for inviting her.
I will skip over who our organization is because it was just a few weeks ago I was here when we were speaking about Bill . But suffice it to say that our organization works with both victimized and criminalized and imprisoned women within the criminal justice system. Our agencies, our 25 members across the country, provide services that range from working with those who have been victimized to those who have ended up in the prison system. It's in this context that we offer our testimony.
Our testimony primarily focuses around a couple of areas, as you'll see from our brief. I won't repeat everything that's in our brief. I'll merely summarize to say that we do have concerns about Bill . Our main concerns have to do with the extent to which we see much of what is being presented as contrary to the principles of sentencing that exist.
One of the main ones, in terms of the primary principles of sentencing, is proportionality. When we look at this bill, we see that this fundamental principle is not adhered to. In fact, we see it promoting something other than the least restrictive approaches to dealing with individuals who come before the system, with a particular focus I think on aboriginal people. We're seeing concerns in our organization about the increasing numbers of aboriginal people, particularly women, ending up in the system.
As I think you're aware, the same day we were presenting here on , October 17, the Correctional Investigator released information that had the shocking statistic of 1,024 aboriginal people per 100,000 being jailed in this country now. Considering the importance of adhering to existing sentencing principles that very much encourage looking at all of the circumstances of offences—the circumstances of the individuals accused as well as of those who are victimized—it's very important that we look at proportional sentences that can be adjusted, at situations where mitigating circumstances must be taken into account.
When we think about women in particular in relation to this bill and about some of the areas being introduced, particularly around constructive possession of weapons, we know the number of women who will be implicated as parties in these sorts of offences. We already know they're in the system now. This bill will likely increase the amount of time they will end up in prison because they are not willing or able, for all kinds of reasons, often having to do with histories of abuse at the hands of the men who are wielding the guns, for whom they may be hiding the guns, in vehicles or in homes that they also inhabit, and therefore they may risk other issues, in terms of their own safety, should they try to interrupt or interfere with that kind of constructive possession.... There are a number of examples we could use, but rather than dwell any further on those, we're both happy to discuss them more in the question period.
One of the things we see is that sentencing in the absence of such relevant facts is extremely problematic. This is exactly why the principles of proportionality, the provisions that were placed in the Criminal Code with respect to the need to focus on least restrictive interventions or least restrictive penalties, and the need to focus particular attention on issues for aboriginal people, will be interfered with by this bill.
We also see it as inconsistent, actually, with some of the positions taken by the government in other areas. For instance, the seeming allowance of the proliferation of guns that may be occasioned by the abandoning of a gun registry, yet the development of extensive additional penalties for prohibited weapons, does not seem consistent.
It is our respectful submission, therefore, that in the actions of this committee, the public would be best served by the withdrawal of this bill and not proceeding any further with mandatory minimum sentence provisions of this nature.
I'll just make a couple of more comments, adding to what Kim has said.
As we understand it, one of the key bases on which this legislation is being put forward is to act as a deterrent. I think it's very important to keep in mind that sentencing severity, that is, having a harsher sentence—having a four-year sentence rather than a two-year one or six years rather than four years—has been shown not to deter crime, or, rather, the null hypothesis is being accepted by social scientists. It's very hard as academics, or people very steeped in research, to prove a negative, but social scientists or academics are very much coming to a view that accepts the null hypothesis with respect to deterrence due to sentencing severity. The idea that people are deterred by having harsher sentences just simply isn't borne out by the evidence. So if the government wishes to proceed in this way, I think it's very important to be clear that it's not going to produce that particular result, or at least there simply isn't the evidence to support that argument, in our view.
If members of the committee are interested, I do have an article that I could make available to anyone. I don't know if you have it before you, or if you've had Professor Tony Doob appear before you, but it's an article he's written with Cheryl Webster, called “Sentence Severity and Crime: Accepting the Null Hypothesis”. It is a meta-study of numerous studies examining whether or not deterrence can be proven.
So this is something we're quite concerned about. If it is being done in the name of deterrence, we ought to be asking some very serious questions about that. There's a burden of proof there that I think hasn't been displayed as to whether this will actually deter people.
Because of that, I think we're seeing a moving away from this approach by other jurisdictions that have taken this approach in a very concerted effort. A number of American states, as well as jurisdictions in Australia, are starting to move away from imposing mandatory minimum sentences, precisely because they come at great human and fiscal cost, as well as not delivering on the promise of deterrence.
So this is something that we think is important to keep in mind when considering this bill.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen.
I'd like to thank you for the opportunity to provide this perspective of the RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, on Bill . We recognize that achieving public safety, or a safe society, requires commitment and a continuum of action from all stakeholders. The criminal justice system, including enforcement and sentencing provisions for legislation, is one tool that can assist in achieving this.
The RCMP Public Safety and Crime Reduction Strategy is premised on a few guiding principles, specifically targeting crime, location and offender; simplicity of design and execution; coordination of partners and process; a continuum of action on prevention, enforcement and rehabilitation.
This strategic approach is about preventing crime in the first place, intervening early where people are at risk, taking rapid enforcement action and providing support and rehabilitation and resettlement services to victims and offenders.
In 2006-07 the RCMP's planning process identified the need to focus on the impact of guns, gangs, and drugs. To that end, RCMP units across Canada will be aligning initiatives to combat this menace. In doing so, we draw on research done on the impact of organized crime in remote and rural communities, the growth of youth gangs, and the nexus with vulnerable populations such as our aboriginal communities. We are working with our key partners and stakeholders at the community, provincial, territorial, and federal levels to operationalize strategies that will increase public safety through the reduction of crime.
The major impact of this legislative reform will be at the provincial and territorial level in the administration of justice. If there are more trials, police agencies across Canada will find their resources heavily taxed by the workload this will require upstream.
I am ready to answer your questions.
I have prepared a few other notes. If you would permit me to continue, I will read them.
Police in general believe that harsher penalties and mandatory minimum sentences will both deter and incapacitate the offender and thus are valuable tools in the fight against crime. Unfortunately, it may not be that straightforward. While there is some evidence that mandatory minimum sentences will deter criminals, the prolific offender--and those are the 2% or 3% who commit 80% to 85% of the crime--is less likely to be deterred. Members of this group generally are not calculators who weigh the cost and benefits of their crime. This is from Thomas Gabor and Nicole Crutcher from the University of Ottawa.
It's more obvious that when an offender is incarcerated, he's incapacitated. The threat to the community is eliminated through his lack of access to it, but he may be a greater threat upon his release. Prison allows him to learn his craft better and provides him the opportunity to increase his network. Some--gang members in particular--may see prison as a rite of passage. Of course, for some offenders who are beyond redemption, prison may be the only way to protect our communities.
Mandatory minimum sentences have an impact at the time an offender first comes into contact with the law. A longer sentence can take away the incentive to plead guilty, thus resulting in more trials. This would of course add pressure to police resources.
At first contact with police, an offender may respond more violently if he knows he's going to jail for a longer period of time. On the other hand, a stiffer penalty may offer the offender sufficient incentive to provide information to police about other criminal activity in the community. It may also provide the prosecutor greater sway in plea negotiations for a different charge.
As you can see, it's not a simple black or white situation.
As I noted earlier, the RCMP is piloting a crime reduction strategy in British Columbia, which is beginning to show results. It combines hard-hitting enforcement with a holistic approach to identifying root causes of crime. The key here is a strong commitment from key stakeholders in the community, including the departments of public safety, health, social services and housing, addiction services, probation, prosecutors, Correctional Service of Canada, the department of education, and family services--there is a whole list.
Prime Minister Harper said:
||It is equally important that we prevent criminal behaviour before it has a chance to take root. To this end, the Government will work with the provinces and territories to help communities provide hope and opportunity for our youth, and end the cycle of violence that can lead to broken communities and broken lives.
In fact, I've already seen evidence of support from the federal government in some of these programs, and it's beginning to work.
Thank you very much.
Okay. In fact, I very strongly agree with you that the resources of not only the police but all the court systems will be taxed if we go forward with legislation like this.
Ms. Parkes, from an evidentiary point of view, at this committee, I think most of us like to do evidence-based work. Can you expand not only on Professor Doob's material but on other pieces of existing material that say exactly the same things that Mr. Woods has been talking about?
There has been hard evidence scientifically posed that doesn't rely on the anecdote but has actually been proven. Can you comment on that, Kim or Debra?
In addition to the piece that Tom Gabor and Nicole Crutcher did, which our colleague referred to, there's a whole colloquium that our organization co-sponsored with the Osgoode Hall Law School.
There's an entire package of research-based and evidence-based material that talks about the human cost, the fiscal cost, the pressure to go to trial, the pressure to have more people inside, all of the pressures we've all spoken about today, and the very devastating long-term impact on our entire communities with that type of approach in continuing down that road.
Yes, I can briefly speak to that.
When the sentencing principles were introduced in 1995, at that point, there were a lot of common-law decisions that these principles had relied on, but they had never been codified in the legislation. It was a result of much research and of the Canadian Sentencing Commission recommendations.
The primary, overarching purpose of sentencing is declared to be proportionality. There has to be a just and proportionate sentence. It means taking into account all aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
There are other principles. There's the promotion of deterrence, incapacitation, the protection of society, and rehabilitation. There's the principle that we would use the least restrictive measures consistent with public safety and, specifically, that imprisonment would be a last resort. This was after much study and much evidence when looking at what was working and what was not working in the criminal justice system.
Our co-presenter commented about crime prevention strategies and other strategies that we as a society need to be doing along with the sentencing process.
Our main concern is specifically around proportionality and that we're very much moving away from that. When you say there's a mandatory sentence, at least for the sentences in which there are significant mitigating factors, it's impossible to have a proportionate sentence in every case, unless you accept the proposition that it's only ever going to be proportionate to have at least five to six years in jail, or whatever it is, no matter what the circumstances are. It's a major concern we have.
Then, of course, with the great human and fiscal costs of imprisonment, we're moving away from the principle of using imprisonment as a last resort.
I admit I am a bit surprised, if not disappointed, with the RCMP submission. I expected you to be more generous in your comments. You appear to have stayed at a level of generosity that is not very compatible with the committee’s expectations in including your name on the list of witnesses. You restricted yourself to trivial remarks, truisms and platitudes. There is nothing there that can really help us.
I would have liked you to talk about the current gun trafficking situation in Canada, street gangs, groups most at risk. Is there someone at the RCMP who has analysed the potential consequences of Bill ? Granted, you are in favour of deterrence, but I must say that no one will become deputy minister with a statement like that.
Your style is easy to understand, but be a little more specific in your comments. Can you give us figures on gun trafficking and information on gangsterism and the street gang phenomenon? Would the bill have a negative impact on at-risk groups?
Live up to your potential a little more. You have given too dry and institutional a viewpoint.
Last year, for example, there were about 650 homicides, 255 of which were committed by firearms. We have approximately 2,000 to 3,000 firearms either stolen or reported missing annually. Many of the gangs, particularly gangs in the northwest region—Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba—are using sawed-off shotguns and .22s, most of which are being obtained through local crime, break-and-enters, and thefts. They're stealing these weapons from residents and altering them to commit the crimes. Many of the gangs are becoming increasingly violent.
Gangs have been with us for approximately ten years that we've been measuring, but in some cases, in some jurisdictions, they've been around for as long as thirty years. The trouble with measuring gangs and statistics around gangs is that there's no solid and set definition of what a gang is. We do have some definitions—I can give you one in a few moments, if you wish—but we have a variety of police departments in Canada, all of which are using different criteria for measuring what is a gang activity and what isn't a gang activity. If a member of one gang shoots someone from another gang but it's because they were both going out with the same girl, is that a gang activity or is that something else? So there's a lot of difficulty measuring those kinds of things when we're talking about gangs.
Excuse me, I have to speak English.
In terms of the constructive possession components of this bill, I'm just in the midst of reviewing some material about Janice Gamble's case, which may be a case some of you are familiar with. She's a woman who was convicted of constructive murder, until it was overturned. Similarly, she would be convicted under this bill because there was a weapon in the vehicle when an armed robbery was being committed...whether or not she was involved. If you know about such a weapon, you can be deemed to be in possession if you're also in possession of the vehicle or the house.
Just last week I was out west and I met with a woman who is in jail because of a situation in which a gun was being hidden in her home. The man who was hiding the gun was also very abusive. She knew the gun was there and she took responsibility—she's in jail now—for not having reported it. But the risk becomes higher for women in those sorts of situations because to report and risk personal violence or to not report and risk jail is increasingly what would be their lot.
My thanks to the witnesses for coming.
I want to echo Mr. Ménard's comments, Ms. Pate. The paper you presented was well researched and had some excellent points in it.
The difficulty we have when we do the analysis of this is that the material we tend to get from police forces—and I understand the problems you have in gathering it—oftentimes tends to be anecdotal or not of a rigour that would satisfy social science research. In that regard, in terms of the figures that you gave us on the members of the gangs—the 7,000 figure and 400 gangs—you've said there is no actual definition of what a gang is that's universally applied across the country. With the definition of organized crime and the way we've done the analysis of organized crime in the Criminal Code, would all of the gangs you referred to be caught by the organized crime sections of the code?
That's correct, but it's also true that most other jurisdictions have shorter sentences, particularly in the context we were talking about before. We were talking about mandatory minimum sentences also for very serious violent offences, and most of them also have mechanisms for what are often referred to as escape clauses. So if the judges see exceptional circumstances, they do not have to necessarily apply the mandatory minimum. Those kinds of exceptions are permitted, and that is something we don't have currently in our legislation for mandatory minimum sentences.
To go back to when you asked about the other areas that impact women, I didn't repeat it because when I was here for Bill , I talked about it. But the other example of where we see situations is where women are attempting to flee violence and where the men who are victimizing them may have a cache of weapons themselves and they use one of those weapons. Under current legislation as well as the proposed, they could end up with sentences exceeding that which a judge may have given them, or exceeding what many of us may believe they should get if they are in fact defending themselves and their children, as they often are.
There's been a bit in the northern territory, and it is in more recent material coming out of Australia. There they looked at the number of aboriginal people, in particular, being imprisoned. Again, the human and social cost, as well as the fiscal cost of that in terms of impacting generations of individuals, was part of it.
I think the whole issue of not first dealing with what Mr. Woods has referred to in terms of early intervention strategies.... The more resources you put back into the system, the more resources you suck out of preventative strategies that in fact benefit the community far more.
From the statistics we have in Canada, in terms of what it costs to keep people in prison, if you look at women alone, the minimum amount we see in terms of the cost to keep a woman in prison in a provincial jail is around $50,000. It goes up to over $300,000 when you look at the various forms of imprisonment applied to women serving federal sentences, all of whom would be serving federal sentences under this new bill. If you're looking at that cost per community, we have yet to find a community--when we do our public events, when we do information sessions--that doesn't want to see those resources invested in their community for anything from child care, to education, to health care, to early intervention strategies for kids who may be getting into difficulty, to mentoring approaches. The list goes on and on as to what they first want to spend their money on before they would want to spend it on longer sentences.
Thanks, folks, for being here today.
I certainly agree that when it comes to intervention there should be a continuum of action, including prevention. Prevention is something that, as a principal of a high school and a junior high school, we had going on all the time. We had all kinds of programs--kids at risk, you name it. We could identify them at a pretty early age. You could almost tell in grades 1 and 2 if there were going to be some problems escalating from this child, whatever the situation was. I think a lot of these programs are worth putting a lot of resources into, to work hard at catching them at an early age, because I think that's when you have to do it. Those kinds of activities I've never objected to.
Also, what we have going on today is a public outcry. Guns are killing people. Gangs are killing people. Do something about it. They want them off the street. Unfortunately for the Elizabeth Fry Societies, jail is the alternative. That's how you get them off the street. People are willing to build more prisons if we have to. The public is saying to address that problem, to put more resources into the courts, to put more resources into whatever, but to get this thing taken care of. It's a serious problem, and they want guns, gangs, and drugs dealt with. After all, the public are the ones that pay the bill, and they're willing to foot that kind of bill if they get a lot more protection on the streets of their cities and communities. It's not too much to ask for.
When I sit here on this committee and I sit in the House of Commons, we come up with legislation that tries to do just that: provide a safer society. Give the police the tools they need to do it. Provide the things we have. Over and over again, I keep hearing Elizabeth Fry coming in and saying that jail should never be anything but the last alternative. Well, the public outcry now is that it's the first alternative for gangs and guns. That's the outcry. There's no doubt about that.
I would really be interested in knowing what kind of proposal the Elizabeth Fry committee would bring forward to this committee to consider in terms of what to do about it. I haven't heard anything other than that this won't deter it and that won't deter it, but I haven't heard of anything that will--not a thing.
I've been here 13 years, and I've listened to you folks a lot of times, but show me the kind of legislation that will take care of this problem. Don't give me any nonsense about the gun registry. You know that gangs don't run to the registry and register their handguns. They just don't do that.
I'm really confused when you say not to go here because that should be the last resort, and don't do this because that won't deter that. Please, tell me, what does?
We work particularly with those who are seen as the most difficult to manage in the system, because we consider it our responsibility to work with those individuals because of the work we've chosen to do. Particularly when we talk about the women with whom we work, what we see when we do take different approaches--not just longer sentences and more brutalizing environments--is that when women who have been in jail for long periods of time are coming out, if we've been able to assist them on appeal when they come out, they don't come back into the system. I was talking to a woman this morning who's been out three years; everybody predicted she would be back in, but as a result of intensive support and supervision when she came out of prison, she hasn't gone back in.
I think there are lots of examples that we do provide. They're on the continuum; they're not a lot different from what you see at the beginning, but as we're seeing more of those resources cut, I would suggest that if you now went back into the high schools you worked in, you wouldn't see all the support services you may have seen there. So it's not a big surprise that we're seeing more and more of those kids who are most marginalized, not feeling like they fit in. Unfortunately, the places they are fitting in tend to be the places we don't want to see them and that aren't advantageous.
I'd also challenge you...when I talk to the public and I ask the simple question, “If someone commits an offence, should they go to jail?”, most people may say yes, but if you ask them how they think that will assist in their not going back there, or how they think that will assist in keeping us safer, you don't have to scratch very far to have people give much different responses. Very few people, I would suggest, are willing to spend a lot of money on more jails, particularly when they look at the results, when we're seeing the resources sucked out of other places in order to fund those systems.
The incapacitation point has come up a few times, and I've made the submissions about deterrence. Obviously protection of society through incapacitation is another of the goals of the sentencing process, but we always have to keep in mind that it's only selective incapacitation for a particular period of time, right? Unless we're prepared to go to the ultimate position, which would be to keep people in jail indefinitely for every offence because we think there's some risk that they might potentially reoffend, then we simply cannot rely on incapacitation beyond that very narrow promise it offers for that period of time. The concerns we have are around the allocation of resources and the great cost of allocating these resources without allocating, at least somewhere, a proportionate amount of resources to community reintegration for people leaving prison.
The Auditor General's report--I believe it was in 2003 or 2004--mentioned specifically the proportion of resources spent on imprisonment versus community release. It's not surprising that we see prison not working in the way we suggest it should work when there aren't the resources for supervision and support in the community when people leave a three-year sentence, a four-year sentence, or whatever.
I agree with you that there is a role for selective incapacitation in particular cases, but ultimately it doesn't deliver on the promise that the public is being given for it, and we need to always keep that in mind. Again, just to reiterate the point, when the public has more information about sentencing.... There have been numerous studies in Britain and in Canada to the effect that if you give them the one-liner that someone committed a particular offence involving a firearm and they got a one-year sentence or whatever, there's usually going to be a primary response that it's too lenient. When they have more information, even just a paragraph of facts, about that particular person and the nature of the offence, the public generally supports the range of proportionate sentences, from very low sentences in some cases, in which there are many mitigating factors and not many aggravating factors, up to more serious offences.
I'll just summarize what Ms. Parkes just said.
Your reservation, right here, collaborates that, and it's that—unlike what Mr. Thompson said—the public is not in support of mandatory sentences. Once they know the situation in fact, if you look on page 14 of 19 of your submission, it's only 17% who were in favour. So we agree with that.
If you don't want to support 83% of the population, that's fine.
My next question is for the Elizabeth Fry Society. Northern Australia got out of mandatory sentences, or backed off, because it exacerbated the problem of already having a disproportionate number of aboriginal people in prisons. Do you think that if this particular bill went through it would exacerbate the problem we have of a disproportionate number of aboriginal people in prisons in Canada? And would it be even worse than the proportions we have now, or would it just exacerbate it at least equally?
Mr. Woods, normally I agree with Mr. Ménard, and maybe it's because he's so collegial, but I disagree with his comments on your testimony. I think you're one of the best witnesses we've ever had, because we very seldom have witnesses take both sides of a case. You gave me a number of very good reasons that I wasn't aware of against this bill when you spoke about the things that can happen, the problems that can happen, with increased incarceration. So I appreciate you for going into that depth.
You also mentioned the support of Elizabeth Fry for early intervention and crime prevention, as did Mr. Thompson and Mr. Harper. I hope you'll just encourage Mr. Harper to get the departments to start approving the crime prevention projects, because, as you said, those are good, and this summer they just all went on hold. I've been fighting to get some projects approved, and they're not approving any; they're all on hold...and that would help us all. We wouldn't have to do bills like this that don't necessarily work.
I was glad to also hear you talk about the root causes and how it's important to deal with those. The head of the Toronto police said that on the front page of the paper a couple of weeks ago too, that in terms of the problems with the murders in Toronto, it was the root causes that needed to be worked on. I wonder if you could elaborate on that. I think that's a very important point, actually, and I agree with you.
We broke down some of the root causes, but perhaps I can put it in perspective by making reference again to the crime reduction strategy. The police component of the crime reduction strategy in fact is hard-hitting enforcement of the law.
We identify victims, and we work with them so that they become more able to deal with their environment and minimize their victimization. We identify criminals, and that's where the partnership comes in, in working with Corrections Canada, and probation. We focus on the specific criminals, the prolific criminals who are committing most of the crimes. We focus on them until we catch them doing something else and put them back through the system.
We also focus on location. We identify high-risk locations, which could be as small as the front entrance of a mall, or an intersection, or a neighbourhood, and we focus there until we catch the bad guy and put him through the system. That's the hard line; that's the enforcement component, but that only cycles people through the system.
We also have to have a mechanism in place that will deal with the person at the root cause. I can give you a list of the root causes. The individual or family factors include early substance abuse; anti-social, hostile, or aggressive behaviour; social deprivation or isolation; family history of gang violence or involvement; parental neglect; issues with family structure; low academic achievement, dropout, or truancy; unemployment, under-employment, few employment prospects.
When we go to the socio-economic and community factors, we have social upheaval, poverty, income inequity, racism, and proliferation of gang culture.
There's another component as well, and that's the media. The media glorifies gang lifestyles and contributes to the adoption of linguistic codes and dress styles. You see it. It becomes popular. Your children may be wearing clothes that they see glorified in the community and in the media environment. All gang members are presented in some light, without recognizing diversity of membership, and there's a focus on violent actions of gang members. Quite frankly, the gang members in particular, who are young and often immature, revel in the focus they're getting from the media. So for all of those reasons, something has to be done at the fundamental level to deal with that.
The biggest innovation of the crime reduction strategy--and a lot of it we've done piecemeal for many years, and through a lot of partnerships we've worked together to do it--is a more focused comprehensive model. As I listed earlier, we have a lot of partners in the community who can help with the process. It has to be a committee at the community level to which the educators can direct problem children they identify before they've committed a crime and which can mitigate the circumstances of those children's environment.
If we don't intervene early, or we fail in our early intervention and things get to the courts because the child has committed an offence, now we're focusing on the location; we're focusing on the criminal; we're focusing on the victim. We get that person to court or we divert him. There has to be a structure to pick that up. What are we going to do with that--in some cases--14-year-old or 15-year-old, or that 25-year-old?
If we can start addressing some of the issues that put him in the environment in the first place--like poverty, like racism, like hopelessness--and if this committee can provide that, we're not going to catch everybody, we're not going to solve all the problems, but we may solve some of those. So we have them go through the process once and get them diverted back to an acceptable lifestyle, and we don't have to deal with them again.
That 3% who keep recycling and keep committing all the offences will continue to do that unless there's an intervention.
Okay. Pardon. Je m'excuse.
There are two major factors. I apologize if it's not clear enough in the brief from us. There is the Gladue decision that provided extra mechanisms that the Supreme Court of Canada said should be looked at and followed for aboriginal prisoners. Mandatory minimum sentences will not permit that. That's one.
Two, because of the changing demographics in this country, with increasing numbers of young aboriginal people--it's the population that is going up, particularly in the prairie provinces--to pick up on the submissions that were just made, the very important discussion of some of the precursors, such as the socio-economic status issues with people feeling disaffected, particularly young people having no ability to contribute and consider themselves part of the community, the existing racism, the ongoing issues that are plaguing many aboriginal communities in this country.... The Correctional Service of Canada has already estimated that those numbers of aboriginal young people in the system will continue to grow.
It used to be with youth justice over the past 15 or 20 years that when you entered the adult system your youth record didn't follow you. Now it does. We see that trajectory of young people progressing into the adult system much faster. It's not the 2% to 3% that Mr. Woods was talking about, but an overwhelming number of people who are there essentially for poverty-related offences.
My question is for Kim Pate or Debra Parkes.
In your report, you explain that there are offences with minimum sentences, for example, for impaired driving. As far as I know, when someone is charged and found guilty of impaired driving and the judge applies the minimum sentence to a White person, an Aboriginal person, a Black person, a heterosexual, a homosexual, there is no discrimination. What would you answer?
I would like to ask you one last question, Ms. Pate. I don’t know if you are familiar with Montreal, but I’m going to explain to you what is currently happening there. There are currently street gangs. One of your documents states that African Canadians—in this case, they are Haitians—are involved in street gangs. They control the drug trade, prostitution and gun trafficking. You just have to read the book by Ms. Mourani, a Bloc Québécois Member of Parliament, and you will understand what is currently going on in Montreal.
I am asking you this question, of course, because you say there is going to be over-representation of Haitians in prison. I understand; they are the only ones currently in gangs. Before, there were the Hells Angels and Italian Canadians. You say we are going to target poor Haitians. I understand; they are currently the only ones. Maybe later it will be Jamaicans or Chinese, I don’t know. I am trying to understand. You cite racism. You say that White people only target African Canadians, or Haitians in this case. In your opinion, that argument justifies not imposing a minimum sentence. I am trying to understand your logic.
Don’t be afraid. I’m not shouting and I’m not angry, far from it. I am simply trying to understand your argument. You raised it, not me. I am trying to follow you, because we, the members of the committee, have to make recommendations. Thank you.
If we were talking about only people who are involved in organized crime and senior members involved in organized crime, we might be having a different discussion. But what we know is that these laws won't only apply to those individuals. These laws will apply across the board. For those who do think about the penalties—and I would suggest that's not the average person I've seen in the prisons, whether it was when I worked with men, with young people, or, for the last fifteen years, with women—they will be the ones offered up. They'll be the ones in the front who will be getting these penalties. It certainly won't be the people who are funding much of what you and I and most people would be concerned about. If in fact that's the logic, I would suggest it's a flawed logic in terms of actually dealing with those people who are most problematic.
The more you focus on this sort of approach, the more you draw resources out of assisting the very individuals who might otherwise get drawn into that lifestyle because they have virtually no other options, whether they're in Montreal, Toronto, northern Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, or wherever we're talking about.
A term that has come up here in this discussion is “incapacitation”. It's interesting to see how the lexicon evolves, because the average person speaking to me about this would say, “Well, if the guy's a real bad criminal, I want to get him off the street.” That's essentially incapacitation. That's not deterrence, because we've had a whole mixed bag of information on deterrence, to the point where it's not clear to me that heavy sentencing is a deterrent.
So we have this incapacitation thing, and it would be nice if we could just identify them, like back in the days of Oliver Twist or Les Misérables, when you could just say, “Those are the bad people. Those are the criminals and everybody else is a good person.” You could focus on incapacitating all of those bad people.
But criminals have a way of popping up in the strangest places these days, including in Parliament. I had a colleague who was convicted about forty or fifty years ago for the offence of armed robbery. Mr. Thompson had a colleague convicted of a very serious sexual offence. And you have the odd criminal who manages to find his or her way into a police force and into a church. So society isn't quite that simple.
Judges have to do sentencing, and you have young people and old people. I'm sure that if you had a 90-year-old who managed to get himself into difficulty somewhere with a firearm, a judge would be really happy sentencing that individual to a mandatory minimum.
I must say that local police have come to me and said, “Gee, I'd just like to put some of these guys away. Put him away for a period of time and you know he's off the street.” It's usually a “he”. Is there any evidence about this whole concept of incapacitation and what it might save in terms of crime? Has anyone tried, either from the point of view of the Elizabeth Fry Society or that of the RCMP, this incapacitation function? Would it work for us, realizing that you can't incapacitate somebody forever and that they do come back out on the street? Has anybody ever costed that?
Not that I know of. It perhaps has been done somewhere.
My personal experience is that incapacitation does work. When the person is in jail, they can't commit other offences. If you can identify, as you say, the most prolific offenders and keep them in jail the longest, then you're going to have a significant impact on crime. But the key is identifying the prolific offender. If you have others in jail who are not prolific offenders, the impact on crime is much less noticeable and much less effective. Incapacitation, to get your best bang for your buck, has to be focused on the prolific offender, but it does work.
Thank you for asking the question. It's been a while since I worked in the community with the police, but I did volunteer with the police, and I at one time worked at the RCMP as well.
One of the initiatives that I think you may have been alluding to is focusing on those individuals who are seen as causing the greatest difficulty. I remember when I was working with the Calgary Police Service in particular, there was a group that had developed looking at youth participation. They estimated that of the young people who were then being jailed, they needed less than--I believe it was--5% of the beds that were then available to imprison young people. To actually achieve the results, they needed to move those individuals out; decarcerate the rest; and have community services and better support services in place for those young people. There may be some of that material left from the old SHOCAP, as it was called, the serious habitual offender comprehensive action program. You may want to look at some of that, out of Calgary. I think they were working in conjunction with other groups. As well, the National Crime Prevention Council did some research on this, building on the RAND study that was done in the United States, of a similar nature on the long-term costs of imprisonment over crime prevention and other supports.
I suggest you also look at some of the material we talk about in our brief, regarding the impact we're seeing of the cuts to those other areas, and the long-term impact we're seeing with people who have mental health issues ending up in the prisons. Not only are the issues you've raised coming up, but we're actually seeing people getting into the prison system and not being able to get out.
Someone who swears and yells because of a mental health condition may be seen as problematic in a prison setting, and so ends up being held in the most secure setting, often accumulating charges. We have people who come in on very short sentences and end up accumulating charges in the prison itself. A young aboriginal woman whom we're dealing with right now came in on a three-year sentence and is now serving 22½ years. That's not a risk to the public. There's nobody out in the community who would be concerned. But yes, there's been a risk to herself, to other prisoners, and to some of the staff she's working with. Yet almost everybody agrees that most of those individuals shouldn't be in there in the first place, and that they are there because of the cuts to all those other services.
I'd encourage you to look at some decarceration models of specific groups. Jerry Miller who was then--I can't remember if he was the minister now or deputy minister for juvenile corrections in the state of Massachusetts, but he basically decarcerated all the young men in that state when he was in charge of corrections. He wrote a book called Last One over the Wall. He was brought up here for a while to do some work on youth justice issues. What he said was that the piece that they didn't do right when they decarcerated those kids was to not actually have those resources flow with those kids into the community, because essentially the only kids who went back into the system were those who had no supports in the community to start with.
Just for the benefit of the committee, the mandatory minimum sentences that exist at present are for the following: attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, and extortion. Those are presently offences, in which a firearm is used, that will have a mandatory minimum of four years.
Thank you to our witnesses for being here today. I've appreciated hearing your testimony.
I took note of the suggestion regarding community impact statements. I think all of us, as members of Parliament, do hear from our communities when a significant crime takes place; I know I do. When something happens, when perhaps a number of people are victimized by violent crime or property theft, there is a definite impact on the community. But the community, and in many cases even the victims, are sometimes left out of the equation, so I did take note of that.
As well, a lot of the discussion has been on prevention and resources. All of that, I think we all agree, is very important. I certainly agree with that. We're providing funding for 2,500 new municipal police officers and 1,000 new personnel with the RCMP. That's part of the story, and it is government's responsibility. We certainly have taken it on to provide, at the front-end level, the enforcement. But this bill deals with what happens after someone has committed the offence.
We could all sit around and agree that we have to work with youth at risk, that we have to provide more police resources. I agree with those things. But when the conversation goes down that road, I think we might lose focus when it comes to the bill we have in front of us. The bill has very specific penalties for specific offences. I would categorize these as very serious offences, many of them, including some of the use offences with firearms.
I'd like to hear from the RCMP on this. We're hearing this argument that maybe there is no such thing as deterrence, that it doesn't matter what the penalty is, you're never going to deter anyone. Personally, I would categorically reject that argument. I know just from common sense, from things we hear from offenders, and from other testimony we've heard that there is a deterrent effect if you know you're going to get a slap on the wrist versus a more serious penalty.
Can you comment a bit on the use of gangs of young people to commit offences--i.e., property offences, break-and-enter, theft of an automobile--for the very reason that they know that the young offender will not face as serious a consequence as an older person will? Does that happen? And if so, is it partly because there's less of a deterrence?
It does happen. Adults will use young offenders because young offenders will not be punished as severely as the adults.
The issue of deterrence is complex. The deterrent factor primarily is getting caught, not so much the sentence itself. Some research shows that the average person is afraid of being caught by the police, so in fact more police in the community will have a positive impact on the level of crime. Many people don't even know what the sentence is that's associated with a particular crime; it's just the getting caught part.
One positive thing to be said about mandatory minimum sentences is that you will be heightening the awareness of punishment in the community during this discussion. You'll be talking about more serious sentences, and that will filter out to the community in general.
I agree with you, I think that is a message that has to be sent. We saw this in Toronto specifically, where there was gang-related gun violence. That's what this bill primarily focuses on, the gangs who use guns and the individuals who use guns to commit offences. We saw that there were repeat offenders. We saw that people were continually victimizing in some communities. So that's where I think this community impact statement might be valuable.
At the time, all political parties--including the Liberals and NDP, but not the Bloc--were calling for tougher mandatory minimum penalties. That sometimes gets left out of their questioning, that in fact they were calling for penalties that were actually more severe than what's in this bill. But I'll leave it at that; I won't focus on it.
You mentioned the 3% who continue to reoffend. I want your thoughts on how this bill, with its escalating penalties, might address this. For the first offence, the mandatory minimum is lower than for a second and third and subsequent. There's an escalating penalty, unlike what has been proposed by others.
Can you comment a bit on that, on the escalation, and maybe even comment a bit on that 3%? What is it like to deal with them? What goes through their heads, so to speak?
I was speaking to a police officer in a major city who said their police force undertook a major initiative focused on one community that was having severe gang problems. They knew who the offenders were. In this sweep, when they locked those gang members up, the homicide rate in that area, which was measurable, went completely flat. They were having serious gang and gun violence there and it dropped.
So that's a part of what this bill does. If you offend, if you use a gun to assault someone, if you use a firearm in the commission of a gang-related offence, you're going to jail. If you do it again, you're going to jail for a longer time; and if you do it again, you're going to jail for an even longer time. If someone doesn't get that message the second, third, or fourth time--with respect to what Elizabeth Fry is doing and so on--they're just not getting the other messages, whether they're resource-based or so on.
We have to send a message at some point that we value human lives that could be caught in the crossfire, we value people's property, and we value a safe society. If someone is going to repeatedly use a firearm to commit a criminal offence, at some point the protection of society comes into play. That's why this bill is incremental. It doesn't come down hard the first time; it's the second time, and the third time is worse.
Do you think so? I think it's confluence of interest, because he's a great fellow and I think we made a great decision--so there.
I know you have experience in aspects involving communities. I heard some of what you said--it was very reasoned, and I've read your one-page summary--on whether the general deterrents will get out in the community. I think in Moncton--Riverview--Dieppe they might get out there.
However, I also understood you to say that the deterrent is not so much Mr. Lee's point about the garden variety criminal's knowledge of the permutations of the Criminal Code and what the penalty might be, but just the general idea of getting caught, which goes to resources. I understand that.
Mr. Moore rightly points out that the code has had mandatory minimums for some time. I know you don't speak for the whole force, but do you think the mandatory minimums proposed here, escalated as they are, will reduce crime in general? That's the first question.
The second point I put out as a bit of a red herring. It has been raised by opposing members often enough to bring it out and ask a person who's used to dealing with communities. If anybody says statistics show that crime rates are on the decrease, there's this red herring thrown out that it's because people aren't reporting crime. In the old days, certain council members might have said it was because they had fewer members of the police going on surveillance and deterrent or detection services, and therefore they didn't catch criminals as often. You know that criticism.
So on those two questions, given your experience in a community policing situation with problem-oriented policing and all that sort of thing, what would you say?
The proposed legislation will have a positive impact on crime rates in terms of incapacitation. You're putting more people in jail, and if you're lucky enough to hit the prolific offenders, then the people committing the most crime will be behind bars and not committing crimes while they're there.
There are two problems. I'm thoroughly convinced that it doesn't deter them from committing the offence. More importantly, what happens to the community when they come back out?
The honourable member from New Brunswick--Kennebecasis Valley, I think--did some policing there.
Mr. Rob Moore: Yes.
C/Supt Michael Woods: It's progressively more serious sentencing, but each time the cycle of sentencing ends, they have to come out and re-victimize someone before they hit the next cycle, the next sentence.
So, yes, there will be a positive impact on crime because of the incapacitation, but if you're not dealing with the root causes of that behaviour, then you're going to have that person cycle through and continue to victimize the community when they're not in jail.
In terms of the crime rates, generally they are going down for a variety of reasons. Partly it's the fact that most crimes are committed by young men. The baby boomer years have seen those young men—the big spike and the parabola—move on into their 40s, 50s, and 60s. There's not the same number of young men available to commit crimes, so you're going to see a reduction.
As well, police across Canada—and you should be proud that we have a tremendously high calibre of police forces across the country—have been working with crime prevention programs and models for a number of years, and they are having some impact. There is a reduction in crime because of this.
I don't think it's a valid statement that people are fed up and just aren't reporting crimes. Crimes are being reported based on what is happening.
Obviously this takes some discretion away from the judge. Experience with judges over my career has been varied. Like any other group of people in the community, you have some you agree with very strongly and others you don't agree with so much, in terms of their judgments.
However, particularly in small communities they know, judges have very good opportunities to respond to crimes through judgments in ways that would best help the communities.
Certain minimum sentencing does work, particularly for certain offences. In fact, firearms offences belong to the type of offence impacted by minimum sentencing, but you have to look at the degree of impact and the alternatives.
As I mentioned earlier, there are significant alternatives being worked with presently.
My first question will be to Mr. Woods, and then I'll have a follow-up question for Ms. Pate and Ms. Parkes.
The first question is, what role do you believe minimum sentences play with victims? Is there a positive aspect? When we're looking at trying to view the justice system through the window of the victim, is there adequate protection for their concerns about sentences that meet the crime?
Further, in terms of deterrence, which we've paid some attention to, do you believe there is an understanding of the sentencing amongst the criminal population? Are they cognizant of sentences that have stiffer penalties, and does this actually come into play when they're contemplating an activity that is not in sync with the community?
When I was reviewing some material for my presentation today, I came across one article on interviews with armed robbers in Australia. The robbers told the interviewer they had indeed been aware of the varying penalties associated with carrying a firearm. Interestingly enough, it hadn't had an impact on their behaviour, and they said it wouldn't have an impact on their behaviour in the future. So the robber who had carried a gun to commit an armed robbery, and who went to jail fully aware of the increased penalty because of the fact that he carried a gun, intended to carry a gun the next time he committed a robbery.
Again, we're talking about the prolific offender, the 2% or 3% who are anti-social, and who have a variety of reasons for why they are anti-social, versus the other 98% or 97%. Now, some of those people in the 97th percentile may commit crimes and the deterrent impact of the sentencing that you're proposing would probably have an impact on them, because they're not at the same level of anti-social behaviour as the 2% or 3%. So there would be some deterrence in the rest of the crowd—not so much in the 2% or 3%. As I said earlier, the incapacitation component speaks for itself.
As far as the victim's feelings, voice, and preferences are concerned, I think that shortly after being victimized there would be a sense of revenge, a sense of wanting to see this person punished. My thought, though, is that over a longer period of time, particularly if there were a positive intervention for the victim, as our crime reduction strategy would have, you would see a greater understanding and perhaps less of a desire to see that punishment or revenge.
I'm speaking on my own behalf now. This is not an RCMP position; this is my position.
No, we're on record taking a position against mandatory minimum sentences generally, because of some of the issues we've already raised.
To pull back to some of the discussion around the table a little while ago and to some of the examples we talked about in our brief, at this time when we're seeing crime rates and rates of imprisonment generally in other areas going down, we're actually seeing the rates of imprisonment of women going up. It's not because there's a crime wave. It's not because there are increased numbers of women committing offences per se, but we are seeing it linked very much to the cuts to social services, the cuts to health care, the cuts to other support services that have been taking place across this country.
When we look at the system's statistics in terms of who's coming back and the related issue of repeat offences, less than 5% of the individuals in prison are coming back for new offences. The stats from the National Parole Board on those who have been released and have come back for committing violent offences show they are less than half of 1%.
Even though the rates of imprisonment of women are greater, when we're talking about the issue of whether or not mandatory sentences would have any impact, I think it just falls away completely when you realize that the majority of women are not there because of anything more than.... I mean, they're there and they take responsibility; many of them plead guilty to the offences they're there for, but the judges take into account the circumstances now of why they're there, unless it's—
Mr. Woods, you made a comment during your presentation, or during the question time, and in fact the Elizabeth Fry Society made similar comments, that--and I'll paraphrase it--criminals, if jailed, become more accomplished criminals as a result of being inside the system. That's quite a significant statement to make, when you.... It doesn't say much about our jail system, I would have to suggest. Maybe that's what we should be concentrating on, exactly what is going on inside the jails. Is it because you feel the criminals are running the jails? Why would you make that statement as clearly and defined as you did?
Also the comments you made on your first intervention...that would be great.
We have to recognize that for all these crimes, everyone who goes to jail comes out, except for the couple of dozen lifetime offenders. Both witnesses have made very good points; society is more at risk if people come out having had less than the best treatment and are more dangerous than when they went in.
The options and what happens to them and the time of treatment.... We had the stats person in, who suggested that on conditional sentences alone or with probation, it takes an average of 700 days of working with a person to make sure they come out safer, and in strict prison sentences they're there for only 47 days.
In making society safer, it seems obvious to me, but I'd like to ask the Elizabeth Fry Society.... And keep in mind, in all these crime bills we're dealing with, there's no reduction of the maximums. The courts, the judges, can sentence people to the maximum. They can keep the dangerous offender in for life, so there's no reduction of any of those. The judges still can do...all those serious crimes.
I'd like to ask everyone if, in your experience working with prisoners, you found helpful the discretion the judges now have. Are there times when it's good that the judge has broader discretion? Most of these bills we're dealing with are limiting that discretion, limiting the choices.
Absolutely, we do take the position--it's in our brief--that interference with judicial discretion is one of the major problems with this bill, in particular because it doesn't allow the factors to be taken into account. There are always a variety of factors, including mitigating factors, such as a person who has a defence of duress. They don't meet the defence of duress or self-defence, but they're very close to it in terms of the defence. So on sentencing, that can be taken into account, that this is a less serious robbery, at least that the person's involvement, the woman who was the accomplice along with the man who was.... She was under some duress but doesn't meet the full defence. That can be taken into account in sentencing. When you do this, you take that away entirely. You don't have a proportionate sentence, in our view.
A quick point, and then I have a question.
In terms of a comment that comes from me quite often about not reporting crime, I know a lot of victims who I've met and talked with who would rather not report it for fear of further repercussions, because of the lack of help from the court system. There's quite a few of them.
Also, I have a son and daughter whose house was broken into, jewellery, furniture, all stolen, and there was never an investigation of the crime. It was reported, but there was never an investigation, no attempt to find them. It was simply because there wasn't enough manpower in that rural area to get to that kind of crime. I want to point out that this is why that's being said by me so much.
But in the prisons, the gangs are very operative. Is this correct?