Since the start of the study of Bill C-10, one aspect in particular has struck me -- the fact that many people have expressed opposition to the proposed legislation without really understanding what it is about. More often than not, C-10 has been criticized on the basis of erroneous information. Although the provisions of Bill C-10 pertaining to the Youth Criminal Justice Act have drawn the most attention, the proposed legislation actually has an impact on numerous aspects of the Criminal Code.
Bill C-10 proposes measures to:
- better protect children and youth from sexual predators;
- increase penalties for drug activity related to organized crime;
- end house arrest for serious crimes;
- eliminate pardon for serious crimes;
- introduce additional key criteria to be considered when deciding whether Canadian offenders should be transferred back to Canada;
- increase offender accountability and provide assistance to victims of crime;
- support victims of terrorism;
- protect vulnerable foreign nationals against abuse and exploitation; and
- protect society from violent young offenders.
Since the provisions pertaining to young offenders seem to be arousing the greatest opposition, I'll attempt to set the record straight.
The most vocal criticism of Bill C-10 has been that the proposed legislation will incarcerate minors with hardened criminals. For those intent on demonizing Bill C-10, that is clearly the argument with the greatest impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, let's make it clear that no adolescent under 18 years can be held in a detention centre for adults. In fact, section 186 of Bill C-10 clearly states that "no young person who is under the age of 18 years is to serve any portion of the imprisonment in a provincial correctional facility for adults or a penitentiary."
What the bill proposes is that, in certain cases involving a young person who has committed a serious offence such as first-degree murder, attempt to commit murder, or aggravated sexual assault, an accused person who is under the age of 18 years but older than 16 years (in Quebec) could be tried in an adult court if the trial judge finds that the accused meets the criteria for such treatment.
While it is true that a young offender who has committed a very serious offence would be handed a longer sentence than that which the Youth Court is currently authorized to impose; however, under no circumstances would a young offender end up in a detention centre for adults. In passing, we're talking about three per cent of the court cases involving minors.
Rehabilitation vs. coercion vs. prevention
Another criticism heard in Quebec is that the province is placing greater emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation than on coercion. This is what section 168 of Bill C-10 says in this regard:
168. (1) Paragraph 3(1) (a) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(a) the youth criminal justice system is intended to protect the public by
(i) holding young persons accountable through measures that are proportionate
to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young
(ii) promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons who have
committed offences; and,
(iii) supporting the prevention of crime by referring young persons to programs or
agencies in the community to address the circumstances underlying their offending
There are three key elements: holding young people accountable for their actions, promoting rehabilitation, and supporting the prevention of crime. I personally have no problem with these three concepts. In fact, that's how I raise my own children. When my son does something wrong, he must face the consequences of his actions. We take steps to correct the inappropriate behaviour and foster an environment that will prevent the recurrence of that behaviour.
Lifting the ban on disclosure of identity
The other main criticism I've heard concerning the part of Bill C-10 that deals with the youth criminal justice system is that judges will henceforth be allowed to lift the publication ban on the identity of convicted minors. Here again, a correction is in order. Section 75 of the existing Youth Criminal Justice Act already stipulates that a judge may, if he or she considers it appropriate in the circumstances (e.g., if public safety is a consideration), allow information regarding the young person found guilty of having committed an offence to be disclosed. What Bill C-10 adds in this regard is simply to identify the parameters of the judge's authority and shift the burden of proof to the Crown to convince the judge that lifting the ban would be appropriate and justified (section 185 of Bill C-10).
That's it for this first part. Next time, I'll talk about other provisions of Bill C-10, including minimum sentences.