Mr. Mike Lake (Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, CPC)
moved that Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to discuss, with my colleagues from all parties, Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).
As the summary of this bill outlines, it would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to require that a police officer must, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient to refer the young person to an addictions specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations.
The second aspect of this proposed legislation is that if the young person enters into a treatment program as the result of such a referral and fails to complete the program, the outcome may be the start of judicial proceedings against that young person.
With my time today, I would like to communicate a few things. First, I would like to talk about the addictions problem we are facing in this country. Second, I want to offer some general, big picture thoughts that I have regarding the solution to this problem. Finally, I will talk about the bill itself, its logical place within the current Youth Criminal Justice Act and how it contributes as one small but significant step toward the solution.
I will first talk about the addictions problem and the significant cost it inflicts on Canadian society. To help us understand this incredibly ambiguous, cumulative societal cost, it is helpful to think of it as something more tangible, like a calculation, let us say the total number of people addicted to all types of drugs, including alcohol, multiplied by the average severity of consequences of the addiction, both to the individuals addicted and to the people indirectly impacted by the addiction.
These consequences can range from early death to drug induced mental illness, to domestic violence and family breakdown, lost productivity, increased crime rates, et cetera. The list is truly endless and complicated by the fact that most of the items on the list are somehow interrelated.
If we could calculate such a total societal cost and come up with a final quantifiable number, we would need to give it some context, perhaps post it against the net worth of something on a giant balance sheet. If we could do that, then what would be the equally ambiguous something that we post it against? It would be our very quality of life as a nation, all of the exceptional things that make Canada the greatest country in the world in which to live: our strength, our unity, our independence and our freedom.
The total societal cost of our addictions represents a major withdrawal every day from Canada's greatness in human terms. That is problematic enough, but the challenge is exacerbated by a substantial compound effect.
The Canadian addictions industry is a powerful marketing machine. Most of the entry level customers are under 18 years of age. They are introduced to entry level products to ease their fears, both natural and learned, about drugs and their effects. Once they experiment and discover that they did not spontaneously fall over dead or immediately lose 40 points off their IQ, they are open to increasing their purchases, increasing their frequency of use, upping the strength of their chosen drug or moving on to new and better products.
All of this is very productive for the industry but then the real strength of the marketing plan kicks in. Like a great new song, television show or video game, the kids cannot wait to share with their friends. Their testimonials are very strong. Usually this part of the process occurs when the kids are still very new users and the downside of drug use is not yet evident.
For some kids, as they are drawn deeper and deeper into the world of drugs, their relationship with the business side is formalized and they join a gang. There are all sorts of benefits to this: money, esteem and power, among others. Those kids who do not show such business acumen often simply become customers for life, addicted to the highs but becoming frustratingly numb to the substances and doses that used to work so-called magic. They are unable to work, at least not regular jobs, because of the increasing effects of their addictions. Instead, they turn to petty theft to pay for their habits, adding the element of crime, often for the very first time in their young lives.
Now we see the spiral of escalating drug use and crime as the addiction progresses both the need for cash and the propensity toward violence increases. As the criminal activity increases and negative relationships develop, new drugs are introduced, depression grows and the cyclone spins out of control.
This scenario is playing out in thousands and thousands of lives across our country, in big cities and small towns, in affluent communities and in the inner city. Depending on who we talk to, estimates range wildly from 40% to 80% of criminal activity in Canada being related to drugs or substance abuse.
We have a growing problem that is increasingly eroding a quality of life that has been built up over several hundred years by generation after generation of Canadians. What can we do about it? At the macro level, in the big picture, how can we attack a problem that is so developed, so entrenched, so pervasive and so overwhelming?
As with any significant challenge, our first step is to simplify our view of the problem, to break it into logical components to help us to understand it.
No model is ever a perfect representation of the original but I would suggest that it is helpful to view Canada's addiction problem in terms of four groups of people. First there is the organization consisting of the gang leaders, the producers, the dealer network and everyone who supports that network. Our goal in dealing with this group must be to cutoff Canada's supply of illegal drugs, plain and simple. This is where the tough on crime part of the national anti-drug strategy fits into the equation.
It involves increasing penalties for drug and gang related crime and properly training and equipping our police officers to recognize and deal with illegal drug production and distribution operations, among other things. To this end, I was pleased to see budget 2007 provide $21.6 million over two years in this important area.
The second group is the customers, the individuals who use drugs, many of whom are the kids I spoke of earlier. Some will eventually be promoted into the first group, the organization, but others will simply become lifetime addicts, victims in relation to the dealers who prey on them and feed their addiction.
Often individuals in this group will also be involved in criminal activity, although not in the same context as those in the organization group. Rather, they will steal to support their own habit or become violent when under the influence. Since my private member's bill deals with a specific subset of this group I will come back to it later.
The third group is the prospects. This group is almost entirely comprised of kids under 18 years of age. Like every good industry, the addictions industry knows it needs to cultivate future customers and so it is always looking for new ways to draw in our youth.
Recently, I had a meeting with one of my constituents, Maralyn Benay, a youth worker who is also a co-founder of a group called Parents Empowering Parents, or PEP. She told me about a new drug that is particularly being marketed to young girls. It is referred to as “strawberry quick” and is basically a pink version of crystal meth, a perfect example of the new ways that the organizers are looking to market to our kids.
I will say that I may seem young in this place but things have changed considerably in the 20 years since I was in high school.
With this third groups, the prospects, obviously the main goal is prevention. As part of the money set aside in budget 2007 for the national drug strategy, $10 million over two years were set aside specifically for a national prevention campaign aimed at youth.
The fourth group is comprised of everybody else. Some may think of us as unaffected because we are not addicts and hopefully we are beyond the period in our lives where we are susceptible to peer pressure when it comes to drugs. However, all Canadians are affected by this problem. Some have family members who have addictions issues. As a parent myself, I cannot imagine what it would be like to be a parent dealing with a child who is addicted.
Some have been victimized by someone in the second group, the users stealing to support their habit, a vandal under the influence or a drug impaired driver.
We all pay the price in terms of increased pressures on the health care system, the increased threat of crime and lost national productivity because some of our most promising minds are lost to addictions, or worse, using their talents to help fuel the addictions industry.
Where does this fourth group fit in terms of the solution? We deal with the first group, the addictions industry organization, through tough on crime legislation and cut off the drug supply. We deal with the second group, the customers, through treatment or intervention and kill the market for the industry. We educate the third group, the prospects, to eliminate the future growth of the industry. However, the fourth group, we are the ones left to drive the solution. We must treat this addiction problem with the urgency it deserves.
There are several groups of people in my constituency who are doing just that: the Mill Woods Community Patrol, a group of citizens who spend hours late on weekend evenings patrolling Mill Woods in partnership with the Edmonton city police; the RCMP officers in Beaumont who work through the DARE program to reach out to young people and educate them about the dangers of drug abuse; the folks in the various youth drop-in centres around the riding who give their valuable weekend nights to give young people a fun, safe drug free environment in which to hang out; and the aforementioned Parents Empowering Parents group that provides support, education, information and hope for families dealing with or concerned about substance abuse and addiction and whose work provided part of the impetus for this private member's bill.
I thank all of those groups and groups like them across the country for the important contribution they make to protect the quality of life of all Canadians.
I promised to come back to the second group of individuals, the customers for the addictions industry. The math behind this group is pretty straightforward. As the number of customers grows so do the organizations that profit from feeding their addictions. If we can help these customers to recognize and deal with their own addictions issues, then, in addition to helping the individual people, we starve those same criminal organizations of their business and their eventual workers.
Budget 2007 rightly provided the most dollars, $32.2 million to be exact over two years, to support this important part of the national anti-drug strategy.
Moving now to the bill itself, Bill C-423 deals with one subset of this customer group, young offenders. It is a simple bill, only one page long, and apart from some editorial cleanup, basically adds two new phrases to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I want to be very clear that the bill is in no way an endorsement of the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it stands right now. I agree wholeheartedly with our campaign pledge to strengthen the act, something that cannot properly be done comprehensively through a private member's bill.
What I can do is strive for improvement in the legislation and the bill works with the existing provisions of the act to take a step forward. It is also consistent with our statement during the campaign that we need to “give young people better opportunities for rehabilitation”.
The first thing the bill does, and it gets a little bit technical here, is add referral to substance abuse treatment to the list of extrajudicial measures available to police officers when dealing with a young person, particularly first time offenders accused of committing non-violent offences.
To give some context to this, the first 10 sections of the Youth Criminal Justice Act under the title and definitions, sections 3 through 12, are under a heading called “Extrajudicial Measures”. The changes I am proposing both occur in section 6 but to fully understand the bill, one needs to review the principles and objectives laid out in sections 4 and 5.
One particularly important principle set out in section 4(c) is that:
||extrajudicial measures are presumed to be adequate to hold a young person accountable for his or her offending behaviour if the young person has committed a non-violent offence and has not previously been found guilty of an offence;
Section 6(1), the section impacted by the first change proposed by the bill, currently states the following:
|| A police officer shall, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this Act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient, having regard to the principles set out in section 4, to take no further action, warn the young person, administer a caution, if a program has been established under section 7, or, with the consent of the young person, refer the young person to a program or agency in the community that may assist the young person not to commit offences.
Bill C-423 would add the following at the end:
||(ii) if appropriate, an addiction specialist to assess whether the young person is engaged in substance abuse and, if so, to recommend a treatment program.
The rationale for this change is that, given that the correlation between drug use and youth crime is very high, there is a huge gap in the legislation so long as the act does not explicitly include substance abuse treatment as an option under this section.
The second part of my bill would add a new subsection (3) at the end of section 6. It reads:
|| If a young person has been referred to an addiction specialist under subsection (1), and, as a result of that referral, has entered into a treatment program, the failure of that young person to complete the requirements of that program shall be taken into consideration by a police officer in deciding whether to start judicial proceedings against that young person.
This is an absolutely crucial piece of the bill. The young person affected has been shown some grace by the police officer. He, for the sake of illustration I will use “he”, has been given an opportunity. He probably will not recognize the opportunity until he has had a chance to clean up, to be separated from the influence of the drugs. This clause compels him to get through this initial difficult period, to accept the grace, until he is at a point where he can make a rational decision about his drug use. If he chooses not to accept this opportunity, the police officer can choose to initiate judicial proceedings.
I want to appeal to my colleagues from all parties to support this important legislation. I want to reiterate the main purpose for the bill. It is not about punishment. It is about getting our young people the help they need at a time in their lives when they may not realize they need it.
Mr. Lloyd St. Amand (Brant, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, allow me to thank the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for his initiative in introducing the bill and for his interesting speech.
For my part, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse). As mentioned by the member opposite, my speech will be rather technical in nature in order to pay proper service to the intent of the bill.
As the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont stated, the bill proposes amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act which would require a police officer, before starting judicial proceedings or taking other measures against a young person, to consider referring that young person to an addictions specialist for assessment and possible treatment recommendations. In proposing the referral of a young person to an addictions specialist, again for assessment and possible treatment, the bill is consistent with one of the goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, as was noted by the member opposite.
The goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act is to create opportunities for holding youth accountable for their crimes outside the formal justice system with the understanding and knowledge that early intervention can save valuable resources and more effectively address the root or underlying causes of youth crime.
Unquestionably, a percentage of crime committed by any age group is triggered by substance abuse difficulties. We have likely all heard examples of individuals who have developed such an addiction or craving for a particular substance that they will go literally to any lengths in order to feed their addiction. Those lengths or means will often involve criminal activity, be it theft of money in order to buy the substance to which they are addicted, the breaking and entering into a house or pharmacy where they know a substance is being kept or stored, and other such actions.
It is fundamentally in the best interests of society and certainly in the best interests of the individual that the individual's dependence on substances be remedied on a permanent basis, as ridding or curing the individual of the substance abuse problem by extension rids society of the need or desire of the individual to engage in criminal activity in order to feed his or her craving.
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, “Early detection, diagnosis and treatment results in better treatment outcomes, shorter episodes, and fewer relapses”.
It is simplistic in the extreme to conclude that harsher punishments automatically result in a decrease in criminal activity, particularly when it comes to individuals with substance abuse problems. We do not need for the purposes of this bill to examine the rate of crime in Canada relative to other jurisdictions except to make the point that Canada is by and large one of the very safest countries in which to live.
The trite suggestion from some quarters that our principles of sentencing or punishment or criminal justice generally should follow the example of the United States for instance has no basis in fact or in logic.
The fundamental purpose of criminal justice is to protect society and not only on a transient or immediate basis. Society is best protected ultimately when the root causes of anti-social or criminal behaviour are eradicated. Certainly, we can and must do all that we responsibly can to eliminate substance addictions.
Automatically processing an individual through the justice system is no guarantee that the individual will as a result be motivated to alter his behaviour. In fact, an individual may well be more motivated to accept the necessary treatment if he is aware that his refusal to accept such treatment may result in a criminal charge or charges being laid against him.
The principles and objectives of the Youth Criminal Justice Act are reflected properly in the bill under discussion. These principles and objectives include a principle that the youth criminal justice system must reflect the fact that young persons by and large lack the maturity of adults.
The youth system is different from the adult system in many respects. Measures of accountability are consistent with a young person's reduced level of maturity. Procedural protections are enhanced. Rehabilitation and reintegration are given special emphasis. Most important for our purposes, the importance of timely intervention is recognized.
Overall the youth criminal justice system is intended to prevent crime by addressing the circumstances which underlie a young person's offending behaviour. It is further intended to rehabilitate young persons who commit offences and to reintegrate them into society. Certainly it is designed to ensure that a young person is subject to meaningful consequences for his or her offence in order to promote the long term protection of the public at large.
There are procedural principles, so to speak, within the Youth Criminal Justice Act and Bill C-423 is a proper reflection of those procedural principles.
For example, section 4 of the act creates a presumption that non-violent young offenders should not be charged with a criminal offence. It stresses that police officers considering extrajudicial measures should examine the nature and seriousness of the offence, the youth's prior record, if any, his or her attitude, the views of the victim, the likelihood of recidivism and protection of the public.
As with so many components of our criminal justice system, both for young persons and for adults, there is always considerable discretion given to the arresting officer, to staff sergeants, to crown attorneys, justices of the peace, judges and virtually anyone involved in the system. This is not to suggest that the system is too discretionary or too subjective, but it is simply stating a reality.
The bill requires that a police officer, before starting judicial proceedings against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient, bearing in mind the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, to take appropriate steps, to take no further action, to warn the young person, to administer a caution, or to refer the young person to a program or agency in the community.
Simply put, there is absolutely nothing obligating a police officer to always pursue the path of not laying a charge. The only obligation on the officer is to consider whether or not laying a charge would be most consistent with the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
There are some who will undoubtedly suggest that Bill C-423 is not required, that the thrust of the bill is already covered by section 6 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act which already obligates a police officer to consider whether it would be sufficient to consider referring a young person to a program or agency in the community that may assist the person not to commit offences. It could realistically be argued that an addictions specialist is already covered by the phrasing of “program or agency in the community that may assist the young person not to commit offences”.
At a minimum, this bill is consistent with the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and is consistent with section 6 which deals with measures outside of formal judicial proceedings.
Although it may be suggested that the bill is superfluous and that its measures are already by implication covered by the act, my leaning at this point is to vote in favour of sending the bill to the justice committee for further scrutiny.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me thank the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for bringing forward Bill C-423 because he has obviously put a lot of thought into the bill and there are some interesting provisions in it. I have been listening to the debate and I heard his remarks. He has been thoughtful and reflective about why this bill is coming forward and what he intends to do.
From the NDP's point of view, we will be supporting the bill in principle. We think it should go to committee and certainly, the principle of diversion and ensuring that young people have other options than just going through the judicial system is something that is important and actually needs to be emphasized.
Looking at this bill, which would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it would require a police officer, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measure, to consider whether it would be sufficient to refer that young person to an addiction specialist and treatment. This is something that we think is useful to do.
I want to put on the record that we do have some reservations. I am the drug policy spokesperson for the NDP. I probably am in that position because it is an issue that I deal with very frequently in my riding where we have a crisis of HIV-AIDS among injection drug users. We have a very high rate of conversion to HIV-AIDS. We have a crisis among injection drug users.
One of the things that really bothers me, and I want to point this out to the member because there is a bit of a philosophical difference, is that we always use the lens or the tool of the judicial system to deal with these interventions.
For example, in Vancouver we have had the drug court and that has been widely accepted by a lot of people. I actually do not support the drug court because why do we actually wait until someone is at the point of making the decision that they are going to go to jail or to treatment. Why would we make the intervention so late? Why would we wait until they have been charged and at the point of maybe being convicted to provide that as an alternative. It becomes almost a coercive kind of thing.
I do have to say to the member that while in principle this can work, I do have some reservations about it because it is using the criminal justice model to make the intervention. We need to be aware that primarily, when we are dealing with substance use, particularly for young people, we are dealing with a health issue. We should be focusing our intervention, our public policies, the treatment, the community development and the prevention from that point of view.
My question would be this. Why would we wait until that point that an officer then has to make that decision and say is it better that this young person go to a treatment program, which obviously it would? At that point I would say yes, that is the preferable course of action, but why would we wait until that point?
When I look at the Conservatives' drug policy or what we expect it to be and I have looked at the 2007 budget, it appears to us that basically they dropped harm reduction. I know there is a lot of concern out in the community about where the Conservatives' drug strategy is going to go.
The member needs to understand that the deep concern that people have is this reliance on the justice system as opposed to recognizing that we need an intervention that is a health based intervention. We need prevention programs.
It seems to me in terms of where the dollars go, and again there are concerns about the fact that prevention and treatment have been completely inadequately funded in this country, why again would we wait until we get to that point of it becoming a criminal justice issue and making that intervention?
I heard the member speak about the DARE program. I have the same problem with the DARE program. Why would we have police officers going into schools attempting to educate young people about drug use? Would we have officers going to schools for sex education? I do not think so. The only reason we do it is because drugs are illegal. They are deemed to be harmful and illegal in our society.
I have to tell the member, I deal with this issue so much. I have honestly come to the conclusion that some of these prohibitionist policies themselves have become more harmful than anything else in terms of criminalizing young people, criminalizing adults, criminalizing users, and sort of waiting until we get to this point where it becomes a justice issue.
So, while on the one hand I do appreciate what the member is doing, and we will support it in principle, I do want to put on the table this other viewpoint. It worries me, frankly, where it is that the Conservatives are going overall, not with just this bill but when we package them all up.
We understand that there are going to be a number of new bills coming forward regarding the Conservative drug strategy and I can tell members I am really worried about where it is heading because it becomes this sort of political agenda.
To me it is the oldest game in the book to play this sort of politics of fear because people are concerned about drug use. Parents are terribly concerned about what happens to young people. However, I think if we talk to most parents, they do not want their kids becoming criminals. They want to see an early intervention in the schools in a way that is realistic, in a way that is honest.
I can tell members that when we make it kind of a law and order message, even in the schools, where the kids are told, and I have heard cops say this, “If you smoke marijuana, you're going to become a cocaine addict”, they know it is not true. That is like saying that everybody who drives a car is going to kill somebody.
There are some different approaches and I actually hope the member would be open to some dialogue and some responses around this because it is genuinely given here tonight in this debate.
This bill in and of itself at that point where a young person is faced with a criminal charge or treatment, I would agree, it is a better choice to get them to treatment. But let us back up. Let us really back it up to where we need to do the work. That is why I have a lot of concerns about things like the DARE program and drug courts. We need early intervention. We need it on the street.
I see the drug users in the downtown east side of my riding. They actually need what we call low threshold interventions where the bar is not so high that they are not going to fail because unfortunately a lot of the programs that we have are based on that.
The same is true for young people. Even the treatment regimes that we have in this country, if we talk to drug users, they will tell us that they are often not very accessible. Again, the rules can become so stringent that people are almost sort of designed for failure before they even can get in the program or get through the program.
I really do want to get this point across, that we need to have a different perspective. We need to have a health perspective and we need to recognize that the use of the judicial system, the use of the police in terms of education and the use of enforcement has been shown to be quite a failure.
We only have to look south of the border to see what has happened in the United States, the massive incarceration of young people, particularly African Americans. I think something like 50% of all incarcerations or more are now related to drug use. This so-called war on drugs is a completely failed model. I know that the member is not precisely advocating that, but because it is still focusing on the justice system, it becomes part of that sort of perspective and view.
I hope that my comments have been helpful. They are presented in that way in order to offer some feedback and some different perspectives to this bill. Nevertheless, we will support it in principle to send it to committee. Then I hope at committee, if it ever does come up for debate, we can hear from some witnesses and actually look at some ways to improve this bill. Certainly, I would be very interested to do that from the point of view of the NDP.
Mr. Rick Dykstra (St. Catharines, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured tonight to speak to the bill moved by the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, a fine colleague who is doing outstanding work. This bill is just another representation of that fine effort.
Given the increasing number of our youth who are involved with drugs and this government's commitment to a national anti-drug strategy that focuses on prevention and treatment as well as broader enforcement issues, Bill C-423 is both important and timely.
The bill would amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to allow police to refer youth charged with less serious offences to addiction specialists to determine if treatment is needed.
Too many young people get lured into drugs, succumb to addiction, and then commit minor offences to pay for their drugs. The member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont is proposing a constructive response to the plight of these troubled youth. Their plight has long been a challenge for the youth justice system.
Many of those young people charged with criminal offences are marginalized in society and face significant problems, such as homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction, or physical or sexual abuse. The fact that some young offenders have special needs does not absolve them from responsibility for criminal conduct.
At the same time, those needs should not result in a greater sentence than is justified by the offence the youth has committed. If a longer intervention under criminal law were imposed based on needs rather than deeds, the state would be punishing the needy and not the culpable.
The limits of criminal law indicate that many are implicated when a youth commits a crime. The preamble of the Youth Criminal Justice Act recognizes that. It states:
|| WHEREAS members of society share a responsibility to address the developmental challenges and the needs of young persons and to guide them into adulthood;
This legislation also encourages communities, families, parents, and others interested in the development of adolescents to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes, responding to the needs of young persons, enforcing disciplinary measures, and providing good guidance and support.
When the youth justice system itself addresses needs through rehabilitation, safeguards are in place to ensure that interventions and penalties are proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and a young person does not incur a greater penalty because he or she has needs.
When the youth justice system recognizes that a youth has such needs, provisions exist which allow for referrals to particular child welfare agencies. For example, section 35 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provides that “a youth justice court may, at any stage of proceedings against a young person, refer the young person to a child welfare agency for assessment”.
This is independent of the criminal proceedings against the young offender. Whether services are provided or not is an issue for the child welfare agency and the young person.
The member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont proposes a similar referral power for the police. The police have, through section 6, the ability to refer a youth to a program in order to reduce the chances of recidivism.
Bill C-423 would aim to broaden the application of this measure to include the referral of a youth, with his or her consent, to a drug addiction specialist to ensure that he or she is in fact a drug addict and to recommend the proper treatment for his or her addiction.
This bill also suggests that police must consider the fact that the young person has respected the terms of his or her treatment when they are deciding whether or not to pursue criminal charges.
We should question whether the threat of the criminal law could or should be used to encourage treatment in these circumstances and whether the measure respects proportionality requirements of the criminal law.
However, providing police with the express option of referring youth with suspected addictions or substance abuse problems to an addiction specialist should be supported.
Drug use among young Canadians is increasing and there is a strong correlation between drug use and other criminal activity.
An express referral option for the police might encourage a more constructive response for youth with addictions and drug problems than would otherwise be caused by simply applying criminal charges. It is important, however, that the referral of young offenders are accompanied by appropriate safeguards.
The proposed amendment will require the police to take into account whether the youth has complied with a treatment program when considering whether to charge the youth for the original offence. This component of the bill should be amended as it would render the proposed amendments vulnerable to accusations that they were inappropriately attempting to coerce treatment through the criminal law. It would be a shame to see such a generally positive reform jeopardized by this aspect of the bill.
Bill C-423, with some positive adjustments, would assist the police in connecting troubled youth with the substance abuse services they need. I am proud to stand here today and say that will support Bill C-423, with the amendments needed to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place.
I congratulate the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for taking concrete steps to help young people who have become involved with drugs and are committing crimes.
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton—North Delta, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in support of Bill C-423, a very important bill that seeks to address the serious problem of drug addiction among Canadian youth. This is a good bill. The amendments proposed to the Youth Criminal Justice Act in affirm our belief that the best way to fight the use of illegal drugs is the treatment of addiction.
In my riding of Newton—North Delta all one has to do is speak to some of the police officers who do such great work with youth to understand the seriousness of this problem, police officers like Staff Sergeant Barry Hickman, my community's selection for Police Officer of the Year. He works with social services and community groups to get the message out there.
The message is that dangerous drugs like crystal meth, crack and cocaine have devastating effects on our young people and our communities, but it is a problem that requires a real infrastructure for recovery. It is a terrible disease that affects too many Canadians, so it is crucial that our laws reflect our goals of treatment. Simply jailing young people does not make the situation any better. This is why I am glad to see that the bill supports the best practices of youth justice.
We know that the courts and police officers should focus on the recovery of young Canadians. We know that there are real solutions through this approach. The bill makes it clear that police should consider how best to help young Canadians in the criminal justice system.
Recovery and treatment programs have proven to be far more effective than any other form of drug use prevention. Treatment is the real intention behind the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and this bill is drafted in that spirit. It uses clear language and will be a great help to police officers.
The bill also reflects the compassionate and caring values of Canadian society, values that really mean something to my constituents of Newton—North Delta. One way we can measure ourselves is to examine how we treat our weakest members of the society. Young, wonderful people addicted to drugs should have every opportunity to get off the drugs and lead productive, healthy and safe lives.
It is obvious that the most effective way to fight the drug problem is the treatment of drug addiction. I have brought some statistics to add detail to this debate.
According to study by Rydell and Everingham, domestic enforcement costs four times as much as treatment. Treatment is 15 times better in a cost benefit analysis than the next most effective funding option. This is exactly what the Youth Criminal Justice Act was designed to do, to help youthful offenders break out of their habits.
To be clear, the act states in its preamble that:
||—communities, families, parents and others concerned with the development of young persons should, through multi-disciplinary approaches, take reasonable steps to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes...
The act describes this approach in further detail in section 3, where it states that the following principles are the intent of the act: the youth criminal justice system is intended to address underlying circumstances of offending behaviour; rehabilitate and ensure meaningful consequences; emphasize rehabilitation and reintegration and timely intervention; and reinforce respect for social values, encourage repair for harm done, respect special needs and family need, and respect the demographic uniqueness of the youth.
Unlike adult criminal law, which places more emphasis on the protection of society and the deterrence of the crime, the act takes special care to attempt to intervene in the destructive behaviour of youth.
Any bill that proposes to clearly outline how the police should seek to aid young offenders to overcome an addiction is in keeping with the spirit of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and should be supported.
I have spoken about treatment as the most cost effective way of fighting addiction, and I have spoken about the purpose of the act being the same as the purpose of the bill currently under discussion.
As well, it is important to note the importance of extrajudicial measures described in the youth criminal justice system. These measures are understood in the content of the act, but Bill C-423 seeks to clarify and emphasize the importance of extrajudicial measures for police officers. These measures can be an important part of recovery and the fight against drugs.
The importance of extrajudicial measures in the act is clear in section 4, which says that “extrajudicial measures are often the most appropriate and effective way to address youth crime” and “these measures allow for effective and timely interventions focused on correcting offender behaviour”.
This points to what is best about the bill. We are really talking about Canadian values. As Canadians we are very careful about the country we leave to our children. Our forward thinking and progressive social policies are our foundation. We are, in fact, a very caring society.
I believe one way we an measure our success is to look at how we treat our society's weakest members. Despite the strong performance of our economy and our strong competitive workforce, we still face the challenges of poverty, drug addiction and crime. Some of the most vulnerable Canadians are young people born into poverty, violence and addiction.
The Canadian approach to youth criminal justice therefore considers the circumstances of those young people who break the law. The goal of criminal law, with respect to these minors, is to consider how to best address their situation. A bill that instructs police to consider treatment is a well-considered change to improve upon the intent of good Canadian law.
We must try to protect and help the most vulnerable Canadians. The bill seeks to do precisely that.
I am convinced this is a good bill and I am happy to support it. As I said, it places the emphasis on treatment, which is the best way to spend our money fighting drugs.
The bill also emphasizes the recovery of offenders, which is the expressed intent of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The proposed amendment therefore is in keeping with the original intent of the act and it improves upon the clarity of the language of the act. Hopefully, it will be instructive for police officers when considering treatment as an extrajudicial measure. Most important, the bill reflects the Canadian value of care for the youth. It is a good proposal that puts the interests of at risk youth in the minds of officers who encounter them.
For all these reasons, I will be voting in favour of Bill C-423. I congratulate the member from Alberta for putting this bill forward.
Mr. Colin Carrie (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak to the second reading of Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse). I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, for his excellent work on this bill.
Bill C-423 is consistent with this government's national anti-drug strategy. Canada faces some serious drug problems. Chief among them is the growing number of our youth becoming involved with drugs at younger and younger ages.
Many communities across Canada have indicated that youth drug use is a priority concern. For several communities, the lure of highly addictive drugs like crystal meth is a real challenge for their youth. We have heard these concerns and we have been working to respond to them.
Combating drugs is a complicated problem that needs a targeted approach. This government knows that the best way to tackle complex issues is to establish the most important priorities and act decisively on them in order to achieve results. Unlike those of previous governments, our drug strategy, as with all the strategies and programs we implement, will establish clear, measurable goals and priorities.
Budget 2007 signalled that this government will be investing in a national anti-drug strategy. The strategy provides new funding of $64 million for a focused approach to address illicit drug issues based on three concrete action plans: first, preventing illicit drug use, with $10 million over two years; second, treating illicit drug dependency, with $32 million over two years; and third, combating illicit drug production and distribution, with $22 million over two years.
I would like to talk about prevention, because we all know that the best treatment is prevention. Our efforts in the area of prevention will focus on youth and include community based drug use and crime prevention initiatives as well as a public awareness campaign.
Next is enforcement. The national anti-drug strategy will also target the production of drugs in Canada, including marijuana grow ops and clandestine labs. It will target those organized criminals who exploit for profit our youth and other vulnerable citizens.
Of course, there is treatment. I have a background as a health care provider and I can say that all successful programs include treatment. The public often views the police role as one of enforcement only. This government recognizes the broader contribution of police in dealing with community problems. Police do excellent work in the area of drug prevention. With the introduction of Bill C-423, police will also be encouraged to assist youth in conflict by referring those with drug problems to treatment programming.
This bill is consistent with the budget resources under the NADS, which provides funding to the Department of Justice to support extrajudicial diversion and treatment programs for youth offenders with drug related problems at the various stages of the criminal justice system, to the RCMP to implement new tools to refer youth at risk to treatment programming, and to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop new treatment models for crystal methamphetamine use.
It is all about working together. This government recognizes that success in addressing Canada's drug issues will require the combined efforts of many, from both the private and the public sectors, and across different disciplines like health, education and the justice system.
Police have always played an integral role in dealing with the drug problems facing our communities. They will continue to be relied upon under the national anti-drug strategy.
Bill C-423 recognizes the role that police can play on the treatment front and provides one more tool to help youth overcome their problems and make our communities safer.
By working together, we can effect positive change across Canada.
I will end by saying that kids are our most important resource and their future is in our hands. I hope everyone will support this wonderful bill, Bill C-423.
Once again, I would like to thank the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for all his good work on the bill.