Peter McKnight’s November 5 article in the Vancouver Sun, “Ottawa seems determined to gut youth act,” adds an element of concern regarding the Conservative government’s omnibus crime bill. The Youth Criminal Justice Act was passed in 2002 when Canada had the highest rate of youth imprisonment in the Western world. The YCJA was designed specifically to remedy this problem, to decrease our reliance on costly and ineffective imprisonment and provide alternatives to jail. Since the Act was passed, youth imprisonment and youth crime rates have dropped significantly.
Now, the federal government’s proposed amendments to the YCJA contained in Bill C-10 are directed toward getting more youths in jail and keeping them there. The YCJA provided for a lot of alternatives to jail, extra judicial measures that keep kids out of court but require them to accept responsibility for their behavior and to make amends through such efforts as engaging in community service or educational programs.
An important aspect of extra judicial measures is their informality, as such measures are typically imposed and accepted in the absence of legal advice or a judicial finding of guilt. If Bill C-10 is passed, this informality, as well as extra judicial measures, will likely become a thing of the past. The amendments require judges to consider past use of extra judicial measures as well as the existence of past findings of guilt.
The many alternatives to prison currently offered by the YCJA are better situated to address the reasons youth come into conflict with the law and thereby reduce their chances of reoffending. And the cost-effectiveness of such measures is apparent, since for one year it costs $20,000 to supervise one youth in the community, compared with $215,000 to house one youth in custody.
On a related note: Early November, Maclean’s and CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel, hosted a round-table discussion on the subject “Stephen Harper’s Canada. How do you like it so far?” CPAC’s Peter Van Dusen moderated the event. Mr. Van Dusen began by stating that the majority Conservative government has been in office for six months now and has been clearly advancing on the agenda they believe they were elected on, such as getting rid of the long gun registry, scrapping the wheat board monopoly, and tabling anti-crime legislation.
Among the attendees was Montreal Liberal MP and House Leader Marc Garneau. Mr. Garneau expressed concerns about the omnibus crime bill, stating that it will not lower crime rate and will do nothing for victims. He feels the government is ignoring the evidence with respect to crime rates going down and the lessons learned, which our American neighbours are passing on to us, that the crime bill is a deeply flawed policy approach.
Another attendee, NDP finance critic Peggy Nash, feels that, “on what Canadians say are their priorities – jobs, the economy, securing their retirement income, and making life more affordable – the Conservatives have not delivered.” She also feels that this government is becoming divorced from the concerns of the average person, having spent billions on mega-prisons and increasingly shutting down debate on important issues.