Embedded in this post is a Justice Department report created following 2008 cross-country provincial/territorial/stakeholder roundtable discussions on Canada’s youth crime law, Youth Criminal Justice Act, on the eve of the law’s fifth anniversary. The consultation found that opinion on the government’s tough-on-youth-crime drive was divided, to say the least. The last (2010) youth-justice reform bill, C-4 (summary), died on the order paper with last month’s election call. However, expect a similar bill to be reintroduced if the Conservatives are re-elected. But like the recently-lapsed bill it’s doubtful new Tory legislation will reflect much of the advice given at the roundtable talks.
A J-school story based on this document can be found after the jump. It was written before Parliament was dissolved for the May election.
OTTAWA-A major review of Canada’s youth justice system which consulted provincial governments, youth-crime experts and police forces across the country has found near-universal opposition to the Conservative government’s push to allow tougher sentences for young offenders.
A report summarizing roundtable discussions held in 2008 between the Justice Department and dozens of participants linked to the youth justice system says there was “no support” for the idea that judges should use the legal concept of deterrence in sentencing young offenders, with “less than 1%” of those involved in the talks backing the proposed change.
A copy of the report was obtained through Access to Information.
Judges cannot currently factor in deterrence – which uses more punitive sentences to stop an offender from committing additional crimes – when determining sentences under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
But government legislation currently before Parliament would amend the law to let judges use deterrence. Bill C-4 is similar to a failed 2007 bill that sought to bring the adult-court sentencing principle to the youth system.
The government insists tougher sentences will bring down the youth crime rate.
Commenting on the earlier legislation, roundtable participants warned deterrence would send a stern message to young offenders and further strain the youth justice system.
Using deterrence “tells kids they are disposable – we are sending you away and we don’t care,” one unidentified participant is quoted saying in the report.
Participants warned the amendment would lead to “harsher sentences which will take valuable resources from community programs,” and that deterrence “violates the principle of proportionality.”
Under the current law judges must pass sentences in proportion to the seriousness of the crime and the responsibility of the young offender.
The report says academics told the consultations “there is no evidence in the last 40 years that it (deterrence) works for adults so why would it work for young people.”
The hearings heard that the existing law is “as good as it is going to get.” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson attended many of the discussions.
Critics argue the sharp contrast between the report and Bill C-4 shows the consultations were ignored by the government.
Kathy Vandergrift, chairwoman of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, which represents youth groups, says she received a letter from Nicholson saying Bill C-4 already reflects the roundtable’s input – a claim her coalition rejects.
Ideology, not facts, is behind the bill’s amendments, she says.
“We would like to see changes to the law made based on clear evidence about good practice in youth justice. And we don’t think that’s what’s happening at the moment.”
Vandergrift says the Tory legislation will lock more Canadian teenagers away in juvenile facilities instead of dealing with underlying factors behind youth crime, such as inadequate mental health services.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said the government drafted the current bill with advice from several sources, including court decisions and a Nova Scotia youth-crime commission.
Carole Saindon said in an email the consultations “are an important part, but only one part, of the input that was received and taken into account in developing Bill C-4, and must be seen in that broader context.”
In committee testimony last December, Nicholson made it clear the bill was written by the government, and not outside experts.
“Ultimately… the responsibility falls on those who are in government and who have a look at this to demonstrate leadership.”
Other amendments in the bill would expand the types of crime punishable by detention.
The youth justice law’s publication ban would also be loosened, resulting in more young criminals being publicly identified.
The justice committee begins a clause-by-clause review of the bill later this month.