Leading children’s advocates criticize Bill C10

When the 2002 Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) was passed, Canada had proportionately more youth imprisoned than any other Western country. It was hoped that this new Act would reduce this high level in favour of alternatives to prison. Most experts would agree that the experience with this Act has been positive, and reports produced by Justice Canada come to a similar conclusion.

In a 2011 editorial on Bill C10 in The Toronto Star, Roy McMurtry and Anthony Doob paid tribute to the YCJA, saying that it “reflects the reality of what we know about youth crime and the ability of the youth courts to reduce offending. Its provisions reflect scepticism concerning the value of bringing youth into youth court and placing them in custody if they can be held accountable outside of court or in the community.” While recognizing the need for some youths to go to prison, they point out, among other things, that “being sent to prison —especially for the first time—increases the likelihood of reoffending compared to being held accountable in the community.”

Given all the praise for YCJA, it is ironic and sad that provisions in Bill C10 would lead to substantially more young people being imprisoned. Perhaps the most thorough review of the impact of the Bill on young people can be found in the submission by the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. It notes, “In 2007 the Senate unanimously adopted the results of a three year study on children’s rights and pledged to follow up that report so that Canada would fulfill its obligations under (international) Convention on the Rights of the Child”. The submission highlights concerns such as

  • adding deterrence and denunciation as sentencing principles thereby diluting the focus on rehabilitation;
  • the obligation to consider adult sentences for all violent offenses; and
  • publication of the names of young offenders.

The submission concludes, “Public safety is enhanced, not sacrificed, by complying with the Convention … complying with the Convention will allow resources to be directed to programs that prevent young people from engagement in criminal activity rather than expensive detention centers that have not been effective for crime prevention.”

The Canadian Bar Association in its submission on Bill C10 asserted, “More young Canadians will spend months in custodial centres before trial, thanks to Bill C10. Experience has shown that at-risk youth learn or reinforce criminal behavior in custodial centres; only when diverted to community options are they more likely to be reformed.”

In its 2010 KidsNCrime report, the Vancouver Board of Trade concluded that “ … diverting children and youth from a life of crime achieves outstanding positive results … Timing is critical, however, because efforts to influence development are far more effective in early life than in later years.”

In March 2011, the Canadian Council of Child & Youth Advocates wrote in its March 7, 2011 news release about its submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, “We see no evidence that shows the proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will decrease crime or increase safety of the Canadian public”. Interestingly, it went on to claim that its views were in agreement with the federal government’s national stakeholder consultative process, which had concluded that there was little support for changes to YCJA at that time.

It is also significant that the Quebec National Assembly in passing a unanimous resolution calling for the withdrawal of Bill C10 underlined its concern that the Bill would send more young people to adult prisons rather than treating them as minors with social problems.

John Edwards