Mr. Speaker, I am very glad to speak here in support of Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
I will start off by acknowledging that we are gathered here on the traditional lands of the Algonquin people.
To give members a sense of my involvement with the criminal justice system, I was a youth worker and ran a youth service agency several years ago. In fact, I came across a number of young people who had interactions with the criminal justice system. I found it quite frustrating that the young people were often looked at in silos with respect to the charges that were in front of them in their involvement with the criminal justice system.
Also, as a lawyer, I practised in this area very briefly. Over the years I have worked with a number of organizations that work with youth, especially those involved with the criminal justice system. Just last Christmas, along with the Toronto breakfast clubs and the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, I was at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre for young offenders and had a really good afternoon meeting with a number of young people who were involved in the criminal justice system and serving time.
As well, since my election as an MP, I have visited a number of institutions across Ontario, including detention centres and penitentiaries.
It is clear to me from my engagement with the criminal justice system that it is not fully working. There is a lot that we need to do to change it and to improve it. I believe Bill C-75 addresses a number of important issues. First and foremost are the issues of delay, safety in terms of our communities and, of course, the massive overrepresentation of certain groups within the system.
The reports of the Office of the Correctional Investigator are quite insightful, offering some drastic numbers that reflect what I believe are structural issues within our system. These issues often cause particular groups to be overly represented within the criminal justice system. For example, 40% of women in penitentiaries are indigenous, which is a gross overrepresentation in relation to the indigenous population in Canada.
Similarly, young black men represent roughly 8% of those serving time in penitentiaries, and indigenous men hover around 30%. We know that this representation is pronounced and disproportionate in relation to their overall numbers.
We can ask ourselves why this is so. In my current role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, in undertaking some discussions and engagements on anti-racism, it is very clear that there are underlying structural and systemic issues within our criminal justice system that have some very specific outcomes. Coupled with issues of poverty, disenfranchisement, a lack of housing and a whole host of other social determinants is a system that in many ways is deeply problematic in terms of the manner in which it treats certain groups of people.
However, Bill C-75 goes to some length to address these issues. It is probably not to the full extent that may be required, but it certainly goes a distance in addressing some of these structural issues, and I will talk about a few of them this afternoon.
Bill C-75 would change the way our system deals with the administration of justice offences. I cannot say the number of times I have worked with young people who have been charged with an offence, where oftentimes the evidence against the individuals is quite weak, but unfortunately, because of the terms of bail and the terms of release they often find themselves back in jail facing additional charges. It is deeply frustrating when we see that.
One of the immigration cases that came to my office involved a young man, 40 years old, who came to Canada when he was eight. He was involved with the child welfare system. I believe his first charge was when he was about 13, as a young offender. He was found not guilty of those charges, but within a year, he was charged and convicted of an offence of breach of condition, namely, that he did not appear in court. We are talking about a 14-year-old young man who, by all measure, had many obstacles in his life including the fact that he was separated from his parents and was growing up in the child welfare system. This young man ended up missing court and was convicted for the first time. Then I saw his record, and over and over again it was not the issues of the actual crime, but administration of justice offences that he was convicted of.
This really tells us that our system is not working. We can look across the country at many young men and women who are serving time because the way we have set up our system is one which is very punitive and restrictive. While it is essential to ensure public safety, I do think we can do this by making sure that the terms of release are proportionate and reasonable and are acceptable to all the parties. That is something which I see very often.
When I worked with young people, one of the standard terms of release that I saw in bail was non-attendance. If an incident took place at school or near a school, oftentimes a condition is that the young person does not attend that school or go near the school. How is it fair that a 15-year-old in grade 10 who is having some difficulties in life is restricted from going to that school? A change of school, a change of circumstance, would obviously extenuate the challenges a young person has in life and often will lead to a greater involvement with the criminal justice system.
I thought I would have time to speak to this in more detail. However, I will say that this bill is very important. It goes part of the way in addressing some of the systemic issues that we see in the criminal justice system and particularly with respect to the racialization of incarceration in Canada and many parts of the world, but particularly in Canada as documented by the Office of the Correctional Investigator and others who have pointed to highly polarizing numbers that speak to systemic issues within our criminal justice system.
In summary, the issues addressed in this bill are important, namely, the delay aspect and making sure the delays are limited by eliminating undue processes, as well as the overrepresentation that I discussed, and making sure that issues such as intimate partner violence are addressed. I believe that this is a very important bill that warrants the support of all of our colleagues here and across the aisle as well.