Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by calling for calm, just as you did. I do not think that it is useful to shout insults during a debate on this subject.
I was in this House in 1999, when three ministers of justice—Anne McLellan, Allan Rock and Martin Cauchon—introduced the early amendments to what was then the Young Offenders Act, which had been in place since 1907 and is now the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I am sure that members of this House have fond memories of our colleague from Berthier, who is now putting his talent and experience to work on the bench, and who was in charge of this issue for the Bloc Québécois. At the time, we introduced some 2,700 amendments, which led to changes to the Standing Orders to limit opportunities to introduce amendments in committee at the report stage.
At the time, there was a broad coalition that included the Government of Quebec and hundreds of youth services groups that were concerned about the fact that young people aged 14 or 15 could, in some cases, be tried in adult court and sentenced as adults. That was at the heart of the reforms proposed in 1999.
At the National Assembly, youth justice stakeholders criticized elements that contradicted established practices in Quebec. Not only did the province believe in rehabilitation, its watchword for intervention practices was “the right measure at the right time”. That was our slogan. That means that when intervention is necessary, rehabilitation should be the first choice. We were supposed to abide by that slogan. Quebec's National Assembly and stakeholders in the province have never denied the fact that in some cases, under specific circumstances, pre-trial detention, incarceration and even other penalties may be necessary.
When the minister made the bill public, some of the government members were quick to draw parallels with street gangs. The Bloc Québécois is not complacent. We do not have an idyllic or unrealistic view of youth. We know that young people are involved in crime, and I will talk more about this later. We also know that sometimes tougher measures are needed. However, we must stop comparing action taken under the Youth Criminal Justice Act with the issue of street gangs.
Street gangs are a real phenomenon in all large Canadian cities. Montreal, where my constituency is, is no exception. Neither is Quebec City or other cities, such as Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax. As recent statistics show, individuals involved in street gangs, or at least the well-known leaders who might find themselves in court, are not 12- or 13-year-olds.
My colleague from sat on the justice committee with me when the Bloc Québécois introduced a motion to invite Randall Richmond, a civil servant in Quebec City with the Organized Crimes Prosecution Bureau, also known as BLACO, who has thoroughly examined this issue. He told us the average age of individuals who had recently been arrested and brought before the court. At the time, there was much talk about the Pelletier street gang in Montreal and the arrest which first established a link between street gangs and criminal organizations. The average age of these individuals was 19 years and 2 months.
That said, the Bloc Québécois is very concerned about this bill and will not support it. We will use our energy to speak out and take action to show the public that the government is on the wrong track. We have two main concerns.
First of all, in the 1999 reform, we wanted to amend this legislation, which we had criticized. We disagreed with one of the provisions, namely, the widespread use of pretrial detention.
Once again, we are not saying that pretrial detention should never be used. Section 515 of the Criminal Code already set outs circumstances in which adults must be detained before their trial. First there are the serious offences listed in section 469 of the Criminal Code: murder, attempted murder and the most serious offences. Of course, an offender is remanded for pretrial detention when it is believed that he or she may not report for their trial, that evidence could be destroyed or when the offender is not a Canadian resident.
In some situations, pretrial detention is of course necessary in order to ensure the proper functioning of the legal system and the administration of justice. This is also true for young offenders. We understand this.
I was speaking with my colleague from Pointe-aux-Trembles earlier about the consultation paper. Last night, I read the consultation paper released by the Department of Justice in June 2007, which gives an overview of the situation since the act was proclaimed in 2003. The document indicates that, before 2003, under the Young Offenders Act, police and other law enforcement agencies incarcerated young offenders before their trial in 45% of cases. When we look at the most recent statistics available, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, pretrial detention has risen to 55%. Thus, a trend that we wanted to reverse is actually increasing.
Why is widespread pretrial detention not desirable as a general rule? As we all know, this is the period before sentencing and before the trial. The presumption of innocence must therefore apply.
Yesterday I was talking to Mr. Trépanier, a leading expert in Quebec, who has studied this issue the most. He is a professor in the criminology department at the Université de Montréal. I was talking to him about statistics. He has, by the way, been contracted by various government departments to study this issue. He told me that pretrial detention is not desirable. First, because even if that detention could offer some form of support, youth will never engage seriously in treatment and rehabilitation, or measures that could help them become better citizens. Second, there is the presumption of innocence. Third, there is the whole machinery that is reluctant to invest in resources before the final status of that youth is known. It is therefore wrong to want to see this principle used more widely.
Of course, in the bill, which has just two clauses, we are looking at a reverse onus of proof. Should we not be worried about this tendency toward more widespread reliance on the reverse onus of proof?
The Bloc Québécois has accepted that this is for the toughest criminals. I am thinking, among other things, of the former Bill , which was incorporated in Bill . We are talking about dangerous offenders—not even 500 people across Canada. These are people who have committed serious crimes.
In section 753 of the Criminal Code there is a very specific definition. We have accepted it, even though it flies in the face of a principle important to the Bloc Québécois when it comes to the administration of justice, and that is not to reverse the onus of proof. We realize that in some situations, there are people who are a true threat to public safety.
In my opinion, even though three paragraphs in the first part of Bill suggest reverse onus of proof, and although they are serious, they are too general. I am anxious to see what the experts will say about this in committee.
Obviously, we are talking about a young person who is charged with an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and who has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt. However, you will agree that the list of potential offences is extremely lengthy. I have even heard some people say that in Bill , reverse onus was even more in evidence than in Bill . This first issue makes us extremely skeptical about this bill.
There is a second issue, which is the most important. Do we believe that at 13, 14 or 15, an individual can be treated as an adult? Do we believe that the life of a youth of 12, 13 14 or 15 can be the same as that of a person of 38, 39, 40 or 45? This was the logic behind the call for a criminal justice system tailored to young people. Such a system recognizes that people are entitled to make mistakes and calls for individualized treatment.
Once again, we in the Bloc Québécois are not soft on crime. We know that some young people commit crimes that are so serious that they need to be isolated from society. We agree with that. But we should be guided by a basic principle: treatments and help for young people must be available as early as possible and for as long as possible.
That is why, until this bill was introduced, this sort of obligation was not among the principles in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act. The act does not call for deterrents, which set an example for others. Such penalties tend more toward incarceration. Why does the act not call for such an approach? I cannot provide a better quote than the one I found in a judgment of the Supreme Court, which had heard two cases. As you know, the full names of individuals under the age of 18 are never given; offenders are always identified by their initials. Consequently, the Supreme Court had handed down decisions in Her Majesty v. B.W.P. and Her Majesty v. B.V.N. An aboriginal youth had killed another person. These young people had committed a serious crime. I am not denying that. The court handed down a unanimous decision, and Judge Chars, on behalf of the majority, wrote the following:
The application of general deterrence as a sentencing principle, of course, does not always result in a custodial sentence; however, it can only contribute to the increased use of incarceration, not its reduction. Hence, the exclusion of general deterrence from the new regime...
This refers, of course, to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Continuing on:
The exclusion of general deterrence from the new regime is consistent with Parliament’s express intention—“Parliament” referring to us, and I was also a member in 1999—to reduce the over-reliance of incarceration for non-violent young persons. I am not persuaded by the Crown’s argument that the words of the preamble referring to the public availability of information indicate that Parliament somehow intended by those words to include general deterrence as part of the new regime.
I do not wish to repeat all the arguments presented by the Crown, but I think it is worth noting that the Crown basically wanted to restore the principle and logic that existed in the Criminal Code, but through the back door. Anyone can consult section 718 of the Criminal Code and see that deterrence is one of the objectives pursued by judges during sentencing. There are other as well. I would also remind the House that there is a specific provision for aboriginal offenders, when it comes to sentencing.
To sum up, this government is making a very serious mistake and that is the subject of the second clause. The bill before us is such a small one, but so very important, given its devastating potential.
Clause 2 of this bill seeks to amend section 38 of the legislation in order to include, in matters of youth criminal justice, the principles of denouncing unlawful conduct and deterring the young person.
Clearly we cannot go down this path. When any sentence is handed down—in Quebec's case in the youth court component of the Quebec court—the judge naturally bears in mind that it is desirable that the individual not reoffend. However, the desire to set down, to codify, in a bill the principle of deterrence, promotes pretrial detention and assigns secondary importance to the principles of treatment, rehabilitation, assistance, significant individuals, or community involvement, in other words, a philosophy of intervention that Quebec has adopted.
This move by the government is even more surprising given that its discussion paper, which I read yesterday, provides some very conclusive figures. They indicate how far we are, despite the 2003 amendments to the Young Offenders Act, from achieving this objective.
I would also like to say that in reading the department's document, I discovered some very interesting facts. A study of police discretion examined how law enforcement officers, thus police, who are peace officers and the first to come in contact with youth, behave when arresting youth. This study revealed three reasons why the police do not release adolescents and detain them until the hearing, that is until the trial.
The first reason is law enforcement, that is to establish the identity of the offenders and to ensure they appear, as I stated earlier. Once again, according to the code, there are situations where releasing an individual is not an option. The second reason—and I find this surprising— is that detention is for the good of the youth. The study gives the example of a police officer who arrests a homeless prostitute or other homeless individuals who do not give the impression that they will find shelter. According to this study, the police officer's usual practice is to hold them for trial. The third reason is to use detention as a means of repression.
The document states that two of these three types of reasons are illegal. Under the reform of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it is prohibited to detain an individual for these reasons.
So the government has reinforced an undesirable practice. It has supported police officers or law enforcement agencies who tend not to release youth. Yet according to the Quebec code, it is much better to remand young people to youth centres so they can receive institutional support. The bill provides for the possibility of not necessarily releasing them to their parents, but to responsible adults.
Since my time will soon expire, I would like to tell the government how disappointed I am; it would have been much better to address other problems. For several months the Bloc Québécois has been calling for a review of the parole system and accelerated parole review. We would have helped the government if it had been interested. Instead, it is ideologically driven to please its voters and it encourages and promotes prejudices that are not supported by statistics or reality.
Again, the Bloc Québécois will do everything it can to ensure that this ill-advised bill never receives royal assent.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the House on Bill which has two, two and a half or three amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, depending on how we read it and interpret it.
This is another attempt, a very feeble one on the part of this legislature, to assess the usefulness of the criminal justice system we have developed with regard to youth crime and how best to deal with that within a legislated structure.
When I first saw the bill the other day, I must admit I was a bit taken aback because of all the chest thumping and macho speeches that we had heard from the Conservative government and its members on getting tough on crime. Then the bill came out with only a few sections, and quite frankly, a good deal of which is probably not necessary beyond a very limited scope.
In terms of trying to put that in context, we have to appreciate where we are at.
The thrust of the government has been to get tough on crime at least in both its ideology and its verbiage in response to a bit of a hysteria that it to a great extent has created. Again, we need to put this in context.
The reality is that for the better part of about 150 years, and certainly 125 years, the common law jurisdiction based on the English common law and the criminal law that grew out of that has always treated youth differently, although how we define them has varied from decade to decade. We stopped treating all crime by all age groups and by all citizens differently back around that time. This included bringing into our criminal justice system a recognition that youth, because of their youth, did not have the same capacity to make decisions as adults did. We do the same with people of limited intelligence or suffering serious mental health problems and who do not have the capacity to make conscious decisions at the same maturity level as adults do.
That has been an underpinning of our criminal justice system now for at least 125 years and probably close to 150 years. It has ebbed and flowed over that period of time.
When I first started practising, we had the Juvenile Delinquents Act, which was amended and changed into the Young Offenders Act, youth in conflict with the law, and now the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The principle that we treat youth crime differently than adult crime has remained throughout all that legislation.
I think it can be argued accurately that when we passed the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 1999-2000, we somewhat expanded those principles and again looked at what was the best way to deal with youth crime. The emphasis clearly at that time, without any doubt, was they would be treated differently than adults, that the courts would have as their overarching philosophy that youth were to be looked at in terms of whatever we could do to rehabilitate, to treat and to bring them back into line so they would be exemplary citizens.
There is in my mind, again a serious attempt in the verbiage we get from the Conservative Party to undermine that principle, that we should in fact begin to treat youth as no different than adults when it comes to crime. Other than ideology, we could argue it is being driven by the spike in youth crime.
I do not think any member in the House, who has studied the rate of crime in the country, would deny that we have seen an increase in youth crime, particularly in the last three or four years, but in a very specific area. Unfortunately, that area is one of serious violent crime involving the use of guns almost always in a gang setting. This means the gun was acquired and used in circumstances that benefited by the fact that the individual was part of a youth gang or a street gang.
The statistics come out in May or June of each year. The initial reports I am getting back at this point is we may in fact be seeing a slight drop in serious violent crime committed by youth. I am not sure what the position of the Conservatives will be at that point if that in fact occurs.
Anyone who has studied the pattern of crime knows that we periodically have a spike. It is quite clear that legislation does nothing to deal with this spike. That is it does not make it go down. It does not allow it to increase. It does not have that kind of effect.
I want to make the point that we do not know why we have these spikes. We saw one in the adult murder rate in Canada in 2005. Then we saw it drop back a bit in 2006. We do know that the adult murder rate has dropped quite dramatically over the last 20 to 25 years based on a per capita rate of incidence.
Because of a number of the enforcement steps that have been taken in some of our major cities, and I think of Toronto as being somewhat the model of this simply because of the number of efforts that have been undertaken there by the police services and Chief Blair in particular, I expect we probably will see a similar reduction across the country, minor and then hopefully more dramatic over the next few years.
Whether we do or not, it is quite clear in my mind that we do not motivate ourselves to change the criminal justice system, and I am referring specifically to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which has had the effect of lowering the crime rate among our youth since it came into effect.
In terms of dealing with those spikes, we deal with them by way of enforcement and maybe other social programs, which are badly needed in the country, particularly for youth, and which are not properly funded by the government. In some cases they are not being funded at all. That is the methodology we have to use and not amendments to the legislation, if in fact it is functioning.
As an aside, I want to acknowledge the work being done in the province of Quebec. Before the Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect, Quebec had led the country in moving into a number of programs of a restorative justice nature; that is taking the accused person and the victim out of what is basically an inhumane system and treating them in a much more humane way.
It is interesting that just this past week I, the member for and the member from the Liberal Party, the member for attended a session at city hall in Ottawa on restorative justice.
Just this past week I, the member for and the member from the Liberal Party, the member for , attended a session at Ottawa city hall on restorative justice.The new chief of police, Chief White, is a very strong proponent of restorative justice. During his address, he told us he had been a strong proponent for 22 years in various communities where he served, first as an RCMP officer and then as chief of police in other communities before he came to Ottawa.
He made his point of the inhumanity of our criminal justice system, particularly for youth and for their victims. He kept emphasizing the importance of restorative justice, of not using penalty, of not seeing a court system that is not humane, as the best methodology for dealing with this. He has a master's degree in criminology and has some done some major research on this. One of the points he made was that the use of restorative justice had the effect of reducing the recidivism rate by very substantial numbers and with youth, almost cutting it in half. That can be done across most crimes, if not all of them.
When we hear people stand in the House and before the media and parrot really what are U.S. methodologies and proclaim that it is the be all and the end all, it flies in the face of the reality that penalties and severe sentences do not work. They increase the rate of recidivism. Looking at alternative forms of dispensing justice works much better.
The province of Quebec started into this process earlier than any other province and more effectively than any other province. In spite of the fact that the Youth Justice Act incorporated a number of those concepts used already in Quebec, Bloc members opposed it. They felt the legislation, and I think they were somewhat accurate as we heard from my colleague from the Bloc earlier, would impede some of the progress they had made in fighting youth crime, and fighting it successfully.
In any event, although they opposed it, they continued their programs as best they could and much more successfully than the rest of Canada. The rest of Canada has been playing catch-up. I think over 30 years ago, I was involved in a diversion program that was not authorized by any law. It was poorly funded, but it was successful in spite of the lack of support from government at the time.
Although there were projects like that scattered across the country, the overall approach, the umbrella approach that the province of Quebec adopted early, has had a very beneficial effect. In fact, to this day, the youth crime rate and adult crime rate for serious crime in Quebec is lower on average than it is in the rest of the country.
Let me come back to Bill . With the first part of the bill, I have to take some issue with my Bloc colleague when he says that the government is introducing a reverse onus with regard to pre-trial custody for youth who have been charged with a crime. I do not interpret the sections that way. In fact, this part of the bill is simply codifying what we are seeing across the country. I expect the bill will go to committee and when we hear evidence, this will be the message that will come from practising lawyers, Crown attorneys and defence bar across the country. It will not do anything to change the practice in our youth courts across the country. All it will do is confirm what our judges have been evolving over the last decade.
One might ask why we would bother doing it or why would we support doing it. My answer would be that we always have. A few judges may say that they will not do it because it is not in the legislation and that they will meet the criteria that they have. By putting it into the law, for those few judges who may not be following the pattern that I see all the other judges following, it will make it necessary for them to do that and they will feel comfortable and authorized to do that.
Basically, it simply says that if the young offender is faced with this criteria having been met, then we are not likely to release him or her from pretrial custody.
There is a presumption in the act that stays in the act, in spite of these amendments, that says, generally speaking, there is a presumption that a youth would be released pending his or her trial on the charges that he or she is confronted with. The judge would then take that into account and, if the judge felt comfortable, the youth would be released but, if the judge did not, the judge could keep the youth in custody and the judge had the authorization to do that.
I do not have any problem with that and would support the government's approach on it. Again, I do not think it will change very much but it will help in a few cases.
The second part of the bill, though, is much more problematic. I believe this part of the bill was driven by a Supreme Court of Canada decision that came down about a year and a half or two years ago where a lower court judge had tried to introduce the concept of deterrence when he was sentencing an individual. That went through the appeals court and then to the Supreme Court of Canada which said that it was not in the Youth Criminal Justice Act as a criteria to be taken into account. It stated that since it was rehabilitation and treatment and that it was moving the youth back into society as quickly and effectively as possible, deterrence was not a principle to be applied.
What the government is trying to do is to bring that into the legislation by way of amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I want to make two points. The deterrence is both, with regard to the individual, what we call specific deterrence and also general deterrence.
We know, I suppose from studies all over the world and from criminologists, sociologists, psychiatrists and psychologists, that a great deal of youth crime is as a result of youth not being mature enough to make proper decisions and acting so often on impulse. When I say “acting so often on impulse”, almost invariably acting on impulse which results in them committing a crime, and sometimes a serious violent crime.
Deterrence, faced with that psychological reality, is of absolutely no use. Deterrence only works if one meets two criteria. One criteria is being aware of the penalty, and the vast majority of youth are not.
I was doing a seminar this summer at one of our drop-in centres for youth in the city of Windsor. We had a round table discussion with youth aged 15 to 18. I was amazed how overwhelmingly ignorant most of these youth were, and I mean that in the classic definition of the word ignorant, in not having any knowledge of the law. They were making all sorts of assumptions. Some thought the penalties were very severe and others thought there were no penalties at all. I think that group was a very accurate reflection of the individuals who form our youth in this country.
When we take that we can say that they have no any knowledge of it so they will not even stop to think about the deterrent factor because they do not even know what it is. Secondly, they will not stop to think at all because they are acting on impulse. It is not a conscious decision they are making in the vast majority of cases. Therefore, deterrence has no impact.
What we, as a party, are proposing to do with this and with the denunciation, which, quite frankly, I have no sense at all as to why the government would put that in, is to support this at second reading and when it gets to committee we will be looking to alter that part of the bill to take into account some valid changes in the sentencing principles but not these two.
Mr. Speaker, it is of particular significance to me that I have the privilege of joining this debate on the government's proposed amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Over the past two years I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of youth within the riding of Kitchener—Conestoga and many other parts of Canada, including right here in Ottawa. I have been impressed with the character and integrity of the young Canadians I have met.
The overwhelming majority of youth in Canada today are contributing so much to the high quality of life that we enjoy. Many of them are excelling in their studies and achieving extremely high marks in their academic pursuits. At the same time, many of these same youth are participating in sports, both for their school teams and on community based hockey, baseball or soccer teams. Still others volunteer hundreds of hours helping out with children's programs, seniors' activities, camping trips for those with disabilities and many other worthwhile projects.
The past two years have provided me with some of the most positive experiences of my life as I have had the honour of representing the people of Kitchener—Conestoga. I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of schools where I have met energetic youth who are eager to learn, eager to serve, and eager not only to talk about how they can improve our world, but actually take concrete action to accomplish those ideas for improvement.
I have attended sports and music events, cultural and heritage events, and in every case there are solid upstanding young people who are engaged in positive community building. Many of them are serving sacrificially, volunteering time and money to help disadvantaged kids or isolated seniors, shovelling sidewalks for residents unable to keep up with the maintenance demands of owning their own homes.
I have had the chance to formally recognize and honour hundreds of these young people by presenting them with certificates or congratulatory notes for their accomplishments. I will gladly use every possible opportunity to applaud these great Canadian youth. They deserve the thanks of every Canadian for the difference they make for all of us.
As I have indicated, the overwhelming majority of our youth contribute very positively to their communities and to our country. Unfortunately, a very tiny minority continues to leave a black mark that is a terrible blight on our society.
My involvement and interest in bringing this much needed change to the Youth Criminal Justice Act is rooted in a desire to protect youth. This very small minority of youth who currently encounter conflict and eventually end up being charged with criminal offences need earlier intervention. If the propensity toward criminal activity is intercepted at an earlier time with meaningful direction to custody and treatment options, I believe that many of Canada's youth would be spared from spiralling into deeper criminal activity.
Mr. Speaker, it is very unfortunate that my time is up.