[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Wednesday, June 5, 1996
The Chair: We are on the record. Today we have Ron Lees, executive director, Children's Aid Society of the District of Nipissing. We also have Dan McLellan, residential supervisor of the Near North Youth Centre, a secure custody and detention program for phase one young offenders.
Welcome. We've been out and about travelling today. As usual, I'm running a little bit behind. I know you have a presentation, so please give it, and then we'll haul off with questions.
Mr. Ron Lees (Executive Director, Children's Aid Society, District of Nipissing): Thank you for inviting us. My name is Ron Lees. I am the executive director of the Children's Aid Society of the District of Nipissing. I would also like to introduce you to my colleague Dan McLellan, who is the residential supervisor of the Near North Youth Centre, a secure custody and detention program for phase one young offenders, operated and delivered by the Children's Aid Society.
Our appearance before you, understand, is in part at least to replace a visit by the committee to programs such as ours. It is unfortunate, albeit understandable, that time and cost considerations preclude the committee actually visiting our facility and program. Had you been able to come, you could have met our youth directly and not simply relied on our interpretation of the program.
I would extend an invitation to each of you individually to visit our facility should you happen to be in North Bay in the future. Our facility is located adjacent to the North Bay Jack Garland Airport on Transport Canada property. You'd have to drive by it to go to North Bay.
Essentially we want to tell you about our agency and specifically our programs. We'll then be pleased to answer any of your questions as best we can. I will talk briefly about our organization and Dan will review our secure custody and detention program.
The Children's Aid Society in Nipissing was started in 1907. We've been on the street for a long time. The agency was incorporated in 1941. Up until the mid-1980s, the society was a single-purpose, one-dimensional social service organization. The purpose was child welfare and the delivery of basic child protection, family service, child care, and adoption services.
In 1985 the society established permanent quarters in North Bay by building its own head office facilities. This was important because it established adequate space for our operations and for potential future development and expansion. The offices are debt free and allow us to maximize program funds for service delivery, direct service.
Having space allowed us to entertain the sponsorship of other programs that the ministry needed to have delivered by a transfer payment organization. The society is now a multi- dimensional provider of services to children and families.
The following is a chronology of the programs added to the basic child welfare mandate since 1985: In 1985, child abuse treatment program; in 1986, foster care treatment program and preparation for independence program. In 1987 we assumed sponsorship of the infant development program in Nipissing and East Parry Sound. In 1988 we accepted the sponsorship of the community support team for young offenders at the request of the Minister of Community and Social Services. Community support team responsibilities included the Nipissing, Parry Sound, and Muskoka districts.
In your package I have provided a pamphlet for you on this program, which is voluntary.
In 1992 we accepted sponsorship of the secure custody and detention program at the request of the Ministry of Community and Social Services. The program opened in October 1993.
In 1994 we assumed primary sponsorship of the community action program for children, funded by Health Canada. This program is closely linked with the infant development program in our organization.
In 1996 the society purchased a fiveplex apartment unit for the use of youth in care and independent living. This allows us to provide affordable rent to youth in transition while providing independent living services.
The society developed its new mission statement in 1995 to reflect the broad spectrum of programs we currently deliver in our communities. A copy of this is included for you as well.
The board of the society and staff are committed to the delivery of programs and services that will contribute to the well-being of children, youth, and their families. We attempt to maximize the utilization of financial and property resources to direct service to people.
The issues being addressed by the committee are extensive. Our position essentially is that we're not here to recommend great changes to the act, but that the act should be administered differently. The problems that exist are ones of management of it and continuity of it and consistency of it.
Dan McLellan will provide you with information about the Near North Youth Centre and its programming.
As I said before, we'll be happy to answer any of the questions you may have as a result and to talk to you about our experience in dealing with children in general and with young offenders in particular.
Mr. Dan McLellan (Residential Supervisor, Near North Youth Centre): I was glad to hear from Richard that you've had an opportunity to visit some young offender facilities here in southern Ontario, in the southwest; namely, open custody and secure custody.
In the course of the next hour I'll be glad to answer any questions pertaining to the history of the young offenders services in this province, residential and non-residential, over the last 20 years. I'll give you a little bit of the history behind our program, and perhaps we can put it in a context specific to the Syl Apps Youth Centre and like programs that you visited this morning.
About ten years ago this province's Ministry of Community and Social Services decided that in northern Ontario there weren't adequate secure services available for phase one young offenders. So they did some research and came up with a paper that suggested that in northern Ontario the province should design, construct, and operate five young offender phase one facilities.
The first one was opened in 1991 in Thunder Bay and is operated by the Creighton Centre.
More importantly, this paper suggested that these facilities be small in size and home-like in their environment and their philosophy.
Our facility was the fifth one that was built. It started operations in October 1993. I think that compared to a lot of the larger facilities, some of the ones you visited this morning, we offer a very unique program and very unique services. Certainly the size of its population allows us to provide more individual programming for youths, assessing their needs and problems and coming up with individual plans to assist them to overcome their difficulties and smoothly plan their return to the community and their families.
So we provide a wide range of services and programs. Having worked in a larger facility like Syl Apps in the middle 1970s to the late 1970s, I found it very challenging and interesting, coming to an agency like ours which provides a secure service to up to ten boys and girls. You can really see some changes and assist young people in making changes in their lives in a small population.
So that paper, which was borne out about ten years ago for me, in practical experience, has really made a difference for the young people we've looked after. We've had over 200 kids come through our doors and I can tell you I can count on one hand 4 or 5 kids who I would suggest would perhaps be dangerous or difficult to serve or the so-called kids we read about in the newspaper.
Most of the kids we've received and I've worked with over the last two decades have been tried and convicted of property-related offences. There would be kids that would be classified at low to medium risk in terms of their risk of reoffending and acting out in their community and so on and so forth.
A lot of the kids we see, kids you've met over the course of the last day or so, are kids who have had, as you know, adjustment problems at school and need a little bit of guidance and direction and some positive modelling in their lives to teach them the right kinds of values and skills. The whole mission or purpose of our program is to encourage kids to become law-abiding people and give them opportunities to learn a sense of responsibility and skills while they're within the facility. Given that mission, we look for certain kinds of people to work with our staff, first of all those who have a genuine interest in caring for young people and are willing to model the right kinds of attitudes and behaviours these young people need to learn.
I believe over the last two and a half, close to three, years our program has been an excellent program. I've seen a lot of young people thrive. For instance, on the way down this morning, Ron and I were talking about a young person who came to us from Calgary about fifteen months ago. His family had relocated out there a couple of years ago. At the age of 14 this boy was carrying guns, involved in organized crime, selling drugs, and so on. He moved back to North Bay and was involved in a serious armed robbery.
Over the course of a year we saw some significant changes in his attitude, his behaviour. When he came in for the first three or four months he was extremely hostile and oppositional. He was age 14 going on 21. Because of the nature of the program, its philosophy and the small home-like environment we've created, we've managed to change this kid's thinking about his family, his community. In my view, his demeanour is altogether different now.
So there's one particular case where we've seen the positive impact of a small program whose aim is to rehabilitate youth as well as provide our community and our society with the necessary protection that we know the act has declared in section 3. I'd be more than glad to talk more about these types of cases and the law itself.
The Chair: Mr. Ramsay, you have ten minutes.
Mr. Ramsay (Crowfoot): Thank you, Madam Chair.
Gentlemen, I want to thank you for appearing before our committee this afternoon.
First of all, just for those who read the record, would you tell us what a phase one program is and what phase one offences are.
Mr. McLellan: Back in 1984 when the act was proclaimed, Ontario decided to implement it in what was known as a tier two system - the service delivery. That meant the Ministry of Community and Social Services was responsible for providing young offender services to those charged between the ages of 12 and 16, whereas the Ministry of Correctional Services was mandated to provide young offender services for the 16- and 17-year-old population.
Moreover, those two distinct groups were serviced and dealt with by the youth court, but in two different divisions. Family court provided dispositions and sentencing for the phase one cases, and the criminal division looked after the 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds. I believe Ontario is the lone remaining province in Canada that continues to provide young offender services in this manner. So that's what it is here in Ontario.
In terms of offences, we've dealt with kids from 13 years old to 15 years old who've been charged with a wide range of offences, with break and enter, car theft, possession of stolen property, assault - you name it - just like any case most adults have been accused of and tried for. I don't know if that answers your question.
Mr. Ramsay: Do you feel your programs have the capacity for early detection and prevention so that you will eventually reduce the number of young people who enter the criminal justice system? Do you feel you have the capacity to do that within your programs?
Mr. McLellan: There's no question about it. I think one of the things we know about working with young people, especially young offenders, is that they all must be treated as individuals. They all have individual needs and problems, and if we do a good job - an effective job - of assessing their needs and problems and a good job of coming up with individual plans to assist them, a lot of young people make remarkable gains. I think that's the key, as long as it is coupled with the philosophy of the child care that the program or the agency has in place.
At the core of our program is the whole notion that relationship building between the care-givers and the children is absolutely critical to their rehabilitation. If we can impress upon that young person the need to buy into our assessment of their needs and problems and our plans to assist them, we can get them to change their attitudes and their thinking, which is going to reflect in their behaviour when they're in their communities.
Mr. Ramsay: Would you say, then, that the services and the care-giving provided by your program are in fact replacing or providing what is missing in terms of care from the home?
Mr. Lees: Many times the children we get come from backgrounds where they have had pretty dysfunctional families, and in many cases it's the first time the children and the youths we receive have some continuity in their life, some consistency of care. This happens in a great many cases.
Unfortunately, by the time we get them they're in a custodial disposition, which is an expensive way to deal with these kinds of problems. Rather than trying to replace the family, we try to engage the family in what's going on in our facility so that when the child or youth leaves, some of that work can be continued.
Earlier in my little speech, I mentioned the issue of the community support team. It is a voluntary program that works outside the facility and works with the residents and their families throughout the three districts.
I should clarify that the particular program's - and there are only nine of them in the province, six in northern Ontario - reason for being was to make that connection with family and community for youth who are at high risk of penetrating our system, or who were in our system and leaving, in order to make sure they were able to stay out of care. We believe the combination of those programs is able to do a great deal of what you're suggesting about keeping kids in the community.
Mr. Ramsay: We have heard repeatedly that the signs of delinquent behaviour come early, that you see it as early as grade 3. In fact, one professor who appeared before our committee says it shows up between the ages of 18 months and 36 months.
Does your program have the capacity to intervene when those signs emerge, whether it is reported to the kindergarten or grade 1, grade 2? Would you have the capacity to intervene and provide the care that would put that child back on a status that other children are on and that would prevent them from entering the justice system through the commission of criminal offences?
Mr. Lees: I believe we have a lot of that ability in our system, in North Bay and Nipissing in particular, because of the programs I mentioned earlier. We don't have it in our young offenders program. Clearly, in child welfare there are things we can do when these kinds of things are identified. In dealing with children and families through our infant development program, which shows up to 3 years of age, 36 months of age, we are able to help parents deal with some of the problems they're facing with so-called infant children.
The more we do what we're doing - and some of these programs have come to us only in the last seven or eight years - the more I see of what's happening because of the combination of programs we have, the more I think we are having some impact on the problems you're speaking of.
Mr. Ramsay: Of course I would like to see the youth court system dry up and wither away because of lack of use. Programs such as yours are the buffer between a lack of proper parental upbringing, proper parental care, and that youth justice system.
I guess what I'm asking you is what is the percentage of those young kids that you can keep out of the system through the early detection and preventive programs? Or are you subject to waiting until these kids get into trouble and then you're asked to take intervention action?
Mr. Lees: In a number of our programs we're essentially reactive, as you say. In the infant development and community action program for children funded by Health Canada, we're proactive. It isn't geared to looking at criminal activity. I wouldn't tell you that it is. Most of the referrals in those programs come from doctors and similar people who identify problems with children at a young age, and other community people who identify different people as having some indicators that they're going to have problems. So we have that capacity, but that's a voluntary program and the person who is being referred has to buy into it and accept our service at that level.
In the child welfare system and the young offenders system we are essentially reactive in our approach to what we're doing.
Mr. Ramsay: Quebec has a very different rate of success from those of Ontario and some of the other provinces. They're doing something there that is having a far better effect in keeping the youth out of the justice system. From what I can gather, it's because they're directing more resources into the earlier detection and preventive programs.
It's been suggested that the cost-effectiveness would pay off. In other words, we'd have to spend less on a child at the front end than at the back end. Would you agree with that?
Mr. Lees: I wouldn't argue with it, for sure.
Ms Torsney (Burlington): You've raised several issues, and I apologize in that I might not be asking questions about those. You specifically mentioned issues related to management continuity and, I think, consistency, but some other issues have already been raised this week on which I'd love to have your comments. One of them is the publication of names of young offenders, whether these be serious young offenders or other young offenders.
I assume that you might have children. Would it help you to sort out who your kids play with? Would it stop some of your clients from committing crimes? I suppose the question really is, would it make your community safer?
Mr. McLellan: I'd say yes and no. For example, back in 1989 there was an escape from the York facility here in Toronto which ended tragically in and around Napanee. Four or five kids lost their lives. In a case like that I wouldn't be against the publication of the names of the young offenders who had escaped and who were perhaps potentially dangerous to the public at that particular time.
Ms Torsney: But there already is provision for that. I mean, the kids who are in your facility: should their names be published in the local newspaper when they have been convicted of a crime and sent to your place?
Mr. McLellan: I don't think so. I believe not.
Ms Torsney: Why not?
Mr. McLellan: As I said earlier, of the kids I've worked with over the last seventeen or eighteen years, you would label a very small percentage as difficult or incorrigible and perhaps going on to a life of crime. Most 14-, 15- or 16-year-old kids who end up in youth court turn out to be law-abiding citizens.
Ms Torsney: The average age of your youth then is probably -
Mr. McLellan: About 15 years old.
Ms Torsney: It's been suggested that we should drop the minimum age altogether, away from 13 or at least to 10 years old. Do you think you already have, through the facilities of Mr. Lees, a way to deal with youngsters under age 13 who are coming into conflict or who need extra services, or do you think we should be putting 9- and 10-year-olds in your facility?
Mr. Lees: No, I don't think we need to be dropping the age. A lot of things need to be done both in the child welfare system and in the young offenders system to make it more responsive to what's going on. The whole issue of children - Dan and I talked about this today - coming into a young offenders facility is that there's no connection between when the crime is committed and when they get a disposition. If somebody does something in May and they get sentenced for it next January and they've been to court ten or fifteen times in between, it doesn't have a whole lot to say about what it was all about at the time.
The same things exist in child welfare. In our agency we've had experiences where we have apprehended children and asked for a three-month order to try to make some changes in the family, and by the time it's been adjourned several times and actually heard the child's been in care nine months. We're then given a three-month order. What does that say about the effectiveness of the system? It's says a lot, I think; and I think that's where the problems lie. If we were able to respond to situations and be able to deal with them effectively through the system in a quick manner it would have more meaning for the families and the kids involved, whether it's child welfare or young offenders.
Ms Torsney: Some people have suggested we should drop the 16- and 17-year-olds out of it. I know you might not deal with them directly, Dan, but would you like to see some of these kids? What's your opinion? Should they be in Millhaven instead of a YO facility?
Mr. McLellan: No. Of the 16-year-olds we've dealt with over the years, a lot have special needs and aren't mature to the same degree as somebody who is over the age of 17. As I said a few minutes ago, there are some bad apples who are 16 and 17 and you deal with them differently, whereas most of the kids need guidance and direction and some positive modelling and they'll be okay.
The point Ron was touching on a couple of minutes ago is similar. We have a case right now of a 15-year-old boy, a second-time offender. He was charged with nineteen break-and-enters late last summer. He was just sentenced here in the beginning of May. He was released on an undertaking. He was never detained in pre-trial detention prior to sentencing. Ron and I were saying that if the courts and the public are so concerned about protection, then why wasn't this boy detained? One of the charges included $40,000 damage in a cottage. In a lot of cases common sense just isn't there.
Here the kid is, nine months later, being sentenced. In terms of sentencing principles of deterrence and retribution, that is meaningless for that boy. He says he learned his lesson a long time ago.
Ms Torsney: Do you think he has?
Mr. McLellan: We've had him for only three weeks. On the surface, he doesn't strike you as being a dangerous, malicious 15-year-old kid. Since his arrest, he's been to school every day. He's not presenting any problems at home for his mother.
So it's one of the weaknesses of the act. Ron talked about all the adjournments and so on.
Ms Torsney: It sounds as if you have some good community support. You just mentioned a case in which you actually specifically asked for a three-month sentence so that you could get in and work with the kid more extensively.
Because you're in a smaller and more isolated community than this megalopolis that we're in here, do you have more input and are you working more intensively with certain families? Do you have a better relationship in terms of asking judges to give you a kid for a year if that's what you need? Is it different in North Bay from the way it is in other parts of the province? Is it more successful?
Mr. Lees: I'd like to tell you that it is and thereby promote what we do.
My comments pertain to the fact that, whether it's child welfare or young offenders, we really don't believe that the court system and everybody involved in it are child-centred. We go to court and everybody's agenda except the child's is on the table, in our view. Everybody's agenda is that they've got a case here. The judge says, well, we'll hear it in three weeks. One lawyer says that he'll be away at that time, or that he can't be there or something else. So it will be three weeks after that. Somebody else says that he can't be there then, and time just keeps going on.
It's not centred on that child. It's centred on the agendas of the social workers and the lawyers and everybody else who's in that courtroom.
We feel quite strongly about that, both in the child welfare system, from what we see in North Bay and Nipissing, and in our young offenders system up there. It's geared more to the adults who are surrounding it, in terms of disposing of these issues, than to the kids themselves.
Ms Torsney: The Syl Apps people mentioned that they can't even ask to have Johnny for six months because they're so removed. Do you have more success in asking them to give him to you?
Mr. McLellan: Not really. As you know, under the sentencing provisions of section 20, custody is the last alternative. Normally there isn't a lot of dialogue between the bench and the custody facilities; at least that's been my experience. The courts will rely on probation services to give an update through the PDR or through their court worker to tell the crown attorney or the judge the current status of the youth who's standing before them.
In my experience as a probation officer from years gone by, a lot of judges will make up their own minds on what they're going to do in a case prior to the submissions of the Crown and the defence. If you've read some PDRs prepared and submitted by probation services, if it's a repeat offender, most of them will recommend some sort of formal custody. The judges will make up their minds and will make judgments on what is best in terms of protection and the rehabilitation of the youth.
The sentencing patterns vary terrifically from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, we had a young native girl last year who came to a second offence. She was found guilty of breaking into her band office on a little reserve outside of Hearst, Ontario on three occasions. She was given eight months' secure custody. Last summer we had two youths who had a long history of offending behaviour who were in open custody in the Kingston area and escaped. One of the accused had a history of offending that also included a previous disposition in secure custody. They stole two vehicles, ended up in a high-speed chase, and were apprehended outside of Sudbury. They ended up getting three and four months of secure custody, respectively.
So when the time comes for sentencing, our point is, as Ron has mentioned, that it's the inconsistency, it's the way in which the act is administered.
I've always believed and said that the act itself is a good solid piece of legislation. In my eyes, the problems lie in how the players make use of it.
Ms Torsney: Have judges from your area been to your facility? How many aboriginal kids are in your facility?
Mr. McLellan: Sometimes 50% of our population is made up of aboriginal youth, and certainly we've learned a great deal from them. Their needs are very different from those of the other kids. For instance, from time to time we get the odd youngster who comes down to us from one of the reserves up in James Bay, and the social isolation and the needs these young people have are tremendous. It's sad.
Mr. Lees: I'd like to respond to what you were asking earlier about the accessibility of the judge and that sort of thing.
I don't want to mislead you. Our judge is accessible to us. She doesn't want to see us every day or every week or every month, but if we were to phone her and ask for some of her time to talk about some things, she would make an appointment for us to see her. Our head office is located half a block from the courthouse, so we can walk over. We see her in town. It is a little bit different in that sense in northern Ontario. She would make time for us.
Again, when you go to see a judge, you have to be very diplomatic. You don't tell people like that how to do their job. You raise issues that are a problem and see how you can solve them sometimes.
Certainly I wouldn't mislead you. She is accessible if we want her, and we don't misuse it.
Ms Torsney: Do you work with the aboriginal community in North Bay, with their kids specifically?
Mr. McLellan: Me or our staff?
Ms Torsney: Your staff.
Mr. McLellan: Yes. We have a unique program to service our aboriginal youth. An elder comes into the facility and teaches them about their heritage, their customs and their teachings. It's really unique.
Mr. Lees: Most of the native children or youths we've had in our facility are not necessarily from Nipissing. Some are from Parry Sound perhaps, and a number of them are from up the coast of James Bay and what we call northern Ontario.
Mr. McLellan: The other thing too is you've probably heard over the last few years here in Ontario that one of the pressing problems with our system is overcrowding. It seems to me one of the solutions to that problem is accessing the review provisions of sections 28 to 32.
I've seen very few instances over the years, since 1984 when the act came into place, where probation services or a provincial director made access of the review provisions to take into account Johnny's or Sally's progress over a long period of time. We need to make more use of the review provisions. That's what they're there for.
The Chair: Thanks, Ms Torsney.
I've been really interruptive over the last few days, but I keep hearing this about reviews. This is just a point of information that I think may help everybody. When I was practising law, especially when I was prosecuting, I did a lot of those reviews. Is it not being done in other parts of the province, or am I having faulty memory?
Mr. McLellan: In the southwest and in the north, in terms of secure custody, I haven't encountered that many - very few.
The Chair: I'm from Windsor, and I'm telling you I could do those with one hand tied behind my back, I got so used to doing them.
Mr. McLellan: That wasn't the case in London for years, and certainly it hasn't been my experience up in North Bay. I don't know why that is so, but -
The Chair: I don't know either, because it's the same facility.
Mr. McLellan: Exactly.
The Chair: There is no secure facility in Windsor, so we'd be bringing kids from Syl Apps or sometimes from up north or other places back into the community.
Mr. McLellan: As you know, I've always felt and believed that if the grounds are there, if the young people make progress, their cases should be brought back to court and heard. Then they can vary the sentence or in fact terminate it.
The Chair: Okay, thanks. I'm sorry to interrupt.
Mr. Ramsay, five minutes.
Mr. Ramsay: I would just like to come back to this whole idea of the publication of young offenders' names, of course referring to the violent offences. Around 90% of parents do a very good job of rearing their children and providing the care that keeps the children on track and away from the criminal justice system. It's just a small minority of the youths who do get into difficulty.
Those parents, the 90%, seek every advantage to protect their children, including information. If someone is involved in drug trafficking or violent offences, they use that information, if they have it, to do what they can to discourage their children from associating with those gangs or those individuals.
You're suggesting here today that you would deny the parents that advantage and grant that advantage to the rehabilitative potential it contains for the offender. There is a conflict of values here.
There is no question that when we meet with people across the country at town hall meetings and so on, they're asking for that advantage. They want every advantage, including that one, if it will help them keep their children on the straight and narrow. I recognize very clearly the benefits or the advantage to the offender in terms of rehabilitation and the lack of embarrassment or whatever that the publication of their names in the paper might have. So we have the conflict of those two groups of people.
Of course, I recognize that in most cases a justice system must be based upon the revelation of truth and not the concealment of it. I would like you to address it from that point of view. The news media has no interest and most people have no interest in knowing about the child who steals a chocolate bar, but with a child molester, a child offender, a drug user, a drug trafficker, etc., certainly parents have an interest and a concern. If that's happening within their community, they need to protect their children from that type of activity, and information is their first weapon.
Mr. McLellan: My point is that those assessments should be made on a case-by-case basis. As I said earlier, every youngster has individual needs and problems and should be assessed and dealt with accordingly.
You cite the case of a kid who was convicted of stealing a chocolate bar versus somebody who has a record of more heinous convictions. I see your point. If somebody who is 16 or 17 has a long history of offending behaviour, okay, but if they don't have a long history of offending behaviour, chances are we can rehabilitate that young person.
Similarly, there's this boy I described from Calgary. His whole demeanour has changed. One of the things that worries him is that when he goes back to school, people are going to know him and know what he did and so on and so forth, and he thinks he isn't going to get a fair shake because of that. He was 15 at the time of his offences, when he was abusing drugs and everything else. That's not to excuse what he did, because what he did wrong was serious. But he was a 15-year-old kid and now he's made gains. He's made changes in his life for the better. Hopefully he'll never victimize anybody else in that manner again.
There's a case of labelling theory. This kid goes back to school here in the fall and maybe he won't get a fair shake. I don't know. But if you publish his name in a paper, then word gets around. The kids know.
Mr. Ramsay: They don't have to publish it. A lot of the kids know anyway.
Mr. McLellan: That's right; the kids know.
The Chair: Thanks, Mr. Ramsay.
I want to thank you for your presentation. As I indicated, we're travelling, so we're on a tight schedule because we have to go to Earlscourt this afternoon and we have two other presenters. Thank you very much for taking the time to come and see us.
I noticed your invitation to visit your facility. God knows I drop in at the North Bay airport all the time.
Mr. Lees: You can literally walk across.
The Chair: Perhaps some colleagues will take you up on that and will be in touch with you, if that's the case.
Mr. Lees: It's a serious issue.
The Chair: Thank you very much, and you're welcome to stay to hear the other proceedings.
Mr. Lees: Thank you.
Mr. McLellan: Thank you for having us.
The Chair: Next we have Doug Blackburn, coordinator, and Jeannette Schmid, a volunteer, from Rittenhouse, A New Vision.
Welcome. We are furiously trying to make up some time here, but we're very pleased to have you with us. I know you have a presentation to make, so if you go ahead and do that we'll have questions for you afterward. Thank you.
Mr. Doug Blackburn (Coordinator, Rittenhouse): Thank you. I'm Doug Blackburn. I'm the coordinator of Rittenhouse. Jeannette will introduce herself.
You have before you in our brief a very brief description of transformative justice. Transformative justice is a new set of approaches, although they're not new at all in many ways. The aboriginal people remind us that they were the first to have these, many moons ago, and yet they're new in that they are being reintroduced to deal with situations of crime, particularly situations of crime with young offenders, which is what we want to talk about today.
Rittenhouse is a social justice organization. It's been around some six years, doing mostly education of the public about what is currently wrong in the criminal justice system or what could be better, and promoting these transformative justice approaches with a vision of seeing them more broadly implemented as part of our way of dealing constructively with crime in Canada.
In my presentation, I'll briefly introduce transformative justice. Jeannette will talk about how transformative justice approaches are best for meeting the needs of the three main players in any situation of crime: first of all, the victims; second, the offenders; and last, the community involved. Then we'll talk about how transformative justice might be implemented within the criminal justice system and in the Young Offenders Act in particular.
Transformative justice relates to a whole group of approaches where you bring the victim and the offender together, including native healing circles, which I know you are familiar with, and others such as family group conferencing, which is one model we will talk a fair bit about today.
I'm sure you're aware that this has been done in communities here in Canada, but not in a broad sense. It has been done in a broad sense in countries like Australia and New Zealand. We draw a lot of our information from where it's been implemented in a broader sense, since that is what we would like to see happen here in Canada.
The victim and the offender come together in a structured situation where there is a trained facilitator or mediator. Through this process of the offender meeting the victim and hearing what the cost was to the victim in suffering or in other terms of costs, and of the victim meeting the offender and hearing what led up to this crime, each of these two parties meets the need they really need to have met, whether it's for safety, whether it's for a chance to rehabilitate so they don't reoffend again, or whether it's just for recognizing the wrong that was caused and being genuinely sorry for that and changing.
That's where the word ``transformative'' comes from. We believe that when there has been crime there should be an opportunity to transform from that and move on.
It has been broadly used with young offenders in New Zealand and particularly in Australia, and the success stories coming from there have been an inspiration for many communities around the world.
Ms Jeannette Schmid (Volunteer, Rittenhouse): I'm Jeannette Schmid and I'm a social worker. I've had experience with the criminal justice in South Africa and I'm a volunteer at Rittenhouse.
I'm just going to go through the victim's needs first and then through the needs of the young offender and the extent to which the needs of the community are met through transformative justice.
In terms of the victim's needs, looking first at the person who's directly affected by the crime, what tends to happen in our traditional court justice is that the victims are pretty much marginalized. They don't have a chance to directly question the offender, and it becomes very much an adversarial system that emphasizes the differences between the victim and the offender.
In the transformative justice approach what the victim has an opportunity to do is first to ask all those unanswered questions one has about an offence: what happened, why me, why at that time? They also get recognition for the severity of the trauma they have experienced. Everyone there is there because of what has happened to the victim and is acknowledging how serious that has been for the victim.
There's opportunity for reparation, with the offender at the very least making a very sincere apology and hopefully also making some kind of reparation to the victim.
The victim is also able to get a sense of safety, again something that's really important. Often victims don't feel safe, even if somebody has been incarcerated for a long period of time. By seeing the face of the offender and the offender seeing the face of the victim, by having that direct interaction and confrontation, the victim usually gets some sense of surety from the offender that this offence won't happen again; he gets that sense of security through that.
Finally, what victims really very often need is a sense of significance - that in some way this pain they've had to experience has some meaning. By being able to participate in the conference and seeing the sharing of the pain by the offender they're usually able to gain some kind of meaning through their suffering, through this process.
I should also make it clear that while we're talking about direct victims, what the family group conference also does is bring in people who are indirect victims, other people who have been affected in the community. Again, very often the adversarial court system doesn't allow for that.
I'll move on to the needs of the young offender and the extent to which these are met through the conferencing approach or through transformative justice. The most important thing is that the young person is able to be accountable for what has happened. Again, very often the young person feels victimized through our traditional formal court process. They lose sight of the impact they have had on the people they have hurt. This way they see the victim. They hear the story from the victim of what this crime has meant to the victim. They are held accountable in that way.
In Australia they have used the concept of shaming, what we call ``reintegrative shaming''. It's not a shaming that pushes you out of society. It makes you face up to what you've done, but at the same time it gives you the opportunity to return into society and be part of society again.
There's the opportunity to make reparation. Again, punishing often doesn't give the offender the opportunity to make right.
There's the opportunity to have a broader understanding of the offender and what welfare needs they might have, what social needs they might have, and how those can be responded to. What has been found through the New Zealand and Australian examples particularly is that the recidivism rates are significantly lower. People tend to comply with the agreements that are made in the conferencing process and are also far less likely to return to any sort of crime.
Mr. Ramsay was talking about the necessity of bringing the truth out. In this process, because community members are involved, the offender can't hide away from the community. It's a very open thing. They are accountable not only to the victim but to the community as well.
Our adversarial system often encourages people to plead not guilty, to cover up their crime somehow. Transformative justice encourages people to take responsibility, to say ``this is what I have done'', to tell the story from their perspective and take responsibility for it.
About the benefits to the community, for me this is the central part. We're not just focusing on victim and offender. We're actually looking at what is happening to other people who have been affected by this crime, indirectly. Because community members are involved in the process, it often empowers people. We've learned that if we have problems with other people, very often now we call in the police. We've lost the skills of settling problems with other people. We don't know how to do that any more. We don't know how to resolve tensions, how to problem-solve. This allows community members to regain that power, to learn again how to settle differences without calling in authorities.
It also allows the community really to begin to understand why crime is happening in this area where they live. I think that there are an enormous number of misperceptions around why crime happens and the incidence of crime in a particular area.
By encountering the victim and the offender, other community representatives involved in the conference develop a broader understanding of what in fact is happening.
I also believe that it's a way for the community to address their safety needs. The better their understanding of what's happening in the community, the better they can begin to address their safety needs. By dealing directly with the offender, they can find ways of helping the offender not to recommit an offence, and in the short term and in the long term this leads to the greater safety of all community members.
We spend an enormous amount of money in trying to control crime. I believe that we need to spend at least as many resources in preventing crime. For me, transformative justice offers a model wherein we are both controlling crime and dealing with the effects of an offence, but also in a way such that we're dealing with that offence and making sure that we're preventing crime in the long term by dealing with the offender individually and by empowering communities.
I'd like to hand it over to Doug for the next section.
Mr. Blackburn: From people who know the Young Offenders Act better than Jeannette and I do, who are part of our organization and have briefed us on this, we understand that there already is room within the Young Offenders Act for these transformative approaches to be used. What were mentioned are the alternative measures, that certainly these can be used.
What we would encourage this standing committee on justice and legal affairs to recommend is that they be more broadly used; indeed, that they be recommended in that case.
The other thing we believe is that to make transformative justice approaches work with young offenders... We will talk a little bit about saving money, and some people will approach it as being a way in which to save money. But there's a real danger in that. There has to be some investment in it, but if this is well thought out it's not going to be a great deal of investment.
Within the criminal justice system as it is now there is a whole base of people who are already 80% trained to work out these transformative justice approaches. They would be the probation and parole officers, who are already doing detailed assessments of each criminal case that comes before the courts. They have to visit family members and victims of the crime and get the statements and do these sorts of things.
We're told that there are something like 900 probation and parole officers in Ontario alone who are already very well trained in many of these things. It would take some additional training. For example, if family group conferencing, some variation of the version that's happening in New Zealand or Australia, was adopted to be a Canadian model of family group conferencing, then it would take just a bit of very specific extra training, some resources to be put into it. But these probation and parole officers could do that.
The probation and parole officers already have their standard training programs, such as the LSI, level of supervision inventory, training, to which this could just be added.
One of the members of the team in our network of people who are promoting transformative justice and actually working towards it becoming a reality in the broader sense in Canada is Art Lockhart. He's a teacher in the centre for justice studies on the Lakeshore Campus at Humber College. He has been trained by people from Australia. Ruth Morris, who is with our agency, has been in Australia and has visited the different programs there, and in New Zealand. Together, especially under the leadership of Art Lockhart...
Art is putting together a program of training that will be starting this June. Then he will offer it. This is the first training session on doing school/community conferencing process. He will be training the facilitators for family group conferencing.
Art and another fellow coordinated the training program for probation and parole officers in Ontario. He has since moved more into the academic field and this type of consulting work. So he certainly has skills there.
I have sheets on that wherein he gives a summary of the training program that he is offering. We would like to make that available to you.
Now I'll talk a bit about costs. Money has to be invested in this for it to be effective and, if it is the way chosen for probation and parole officers to be trained, to make it work well. But that cost in comparison to the savings is minimal.
We just went through this, and this is a very rough sketch, but if each of the 900 probation and parole officers in Ontario, after the training, were able to divert one case from going to incarceration at $100,000 a year - if he were just able to save one young person from the whole prison system at $100,000 a year - that would be something in the neighbourhood of $90 million saved, just by those very rough, ballpark figures.
There is opportunity for savings. That is the point we're trying to make. And that of course is just besides the benefits of that juvenile not going through the courts and into the prison system, where they would be with the other prisoners. You know all the stories about how that is not good for their long-term rehabilitation.
I've already said the probation and parole officers are already doing this kind of assessment on each case. The other place I would like to indicate it can be done is in the process.
In the different models around the world we'll find it's sometimes used as a pre-charge measure. In Australia it's largely the police who set up the family group conferencing as a way to not have the person charged.
Or it can be a post-conviction situation, where it's gone through the courts and there's been a conviction, but the way to deal with this is to draw together a conference of the victim and the offender. Why it's called ``family'' is that often the family members are there, but also whatever support groups - school teachers, bus drivers or any important peers to the two sides - are involved in that process and it becomes a very public, constructive event.
Ms Schmid: We'd also like to share two examples with you of where this has worked.
One example is an Australian one, where a group of final-year school students had a celebration together, and as part of their evening's activities, went to a car wash and vandalized the whole place. The police officer in the area wasn't sure how to handle it all, so he brought together the families of the whole class and had the owner of the car wash as well as somebody who was about to be employed by the car wash come into Brisbane to talk to these scholars about the impact this crime had on them.
Together, as a whole group, they worked out ways in which these students could make right. It was again a very public thing, something the whole community was aware of. It became a collective, collaborative effort, and the whole community was able to go on from there at the end of the day.
Another example is one that's closer to home for me. In South Africa, in an agency I was working in, we were called into a school where we heard a young student had stolen a gun from a teacher. We live in pretty violent circumstances in South Africa, so one of the teachers had felt unsafe in the community and had brought a gun to school and hadn't secured it properly. This 16-year-old, who was in the equivalent of grade 6, had taken the gun.
We dealt with it immediately, which is also one of the advantages. One needs to cut down the time that is taken to deal with an offence. We got the parents involved and the young student was also allowed to have a friend along, somebody he chose. The teachers and the principal were involved and we tried to look at what had happened.
It emerged that this 16-year-old was way too old for his class and felt stupid. He felt the only way he could get attention was by being macho in this particular situation. That is why he'd taken the gun.
It was the first time his educational needs had ever been addressed. It was the first time the parents had understood, because they thought they were just dealing with a lazy child. They found out there were more difficulties but that they would also be getting support for this.
The school as a whole looked at their safety policies and what to do if teachers are bringing weapons to schools and how you can handle that. All in all, every single person who participated in that process felt there was a good outcome. The young person was required to do what was called community service in the school, but was also given extra attention by the guidance teacher, so a number of needs were addressed through that process. For us the richness is in the conferencing process. You're not isolating the crime; you're actually getting to the root of the problem and dealing with it holistically.
Most people are pushing for punitive measures. People are feeling anxious, they're feeling vulnerable, they feel they are being threatened by crime. South Africa is one country where there's an incredibly high incidence of crime. We've put up walls, we've gotten more dogs, we've gotten more weapons, we've gotten more prisons, and all it's done is increase the fear in the community.
We've seen that all the measures they have adopted in the U.S.A. haven't seemed to make anyone feel safer in those communities. We'd really like to challenge you to think about transformative approaches as being one way of helping people feel more secure in the community and dealing with the problem in a holistic way.
We're available for questions.
The Chair: Thank you.
Mr. Ramsay: How much time do I have, Madam Chair?
The Chair: We have until about 2:30 p.m., so I would say about 7 minutes.
Mr. Ramsay: Thank you.
Every once in a while, on a dark and dreary day that we have sometimes on this committee, at least from my perception, there's a breath of fresh air that blows in. I think that's what happened, at least for me, with regard to your presentation. It's a breath of fresh air because I think it is based upon common sense.
When we look back at how our country was developed, we find that the principles you have enunciated here today were very much at play; formality was the last resort. The formality of courts was there only for the most serious of offences that could not be dealt with properly and adequately to fulfil the needs of society, of the victim, and of the offender without going through the formal system.
In my upbringing, we saw that kind of group dynamic where the truth was never hidden; the truth was revealed. It's the healing process we need when someone commits a violent act against another. Both are injured, and until such time as the truth is revealed in terms of why the act was committed and in terms of the injury that was sustained by the victim and the victim's family, there is no basis for the healing process to occur.
It's very interesting to me to see these kinds of programs, such as sentencing circles, emanating out of our aboriginal communities. Often I think there are enormous amounts of wisdom in the aboriginal communities, based upon practical common sense.
I'm very interested in what you have said with regard to the repeat rates. You said the recidivism rates are significantly reduced. To what extent can you provide any statistical support for that statement?
Mr. Blackburn: I would be happy to research that. Unfortunately I don't have that kind of data here, but I know there are studies out on both the Australian and the New Zealand models.
We know that in New Zealand in 1989, family-approved conferencing was implemented across the board for young offenders, and there they focused on young offenders specifically. Before that they were experimenting with these types of diversionary processes from the courts. At that time, in 1989, 80% of the young offender cases went through the courts and 20% were diverted. By the time, I think five years later, we were looking at the statistics, that had totally reversed. Some 20% of all young offender cases were then going through the courts and 80% were being diverted through family group conferencing.
I might add that in New Zealand they have the policy that if the victim is not comfortable with family group conferencing, if the offender is not cooperating or not comfortable with it, it goes to the courts and the whole traditional system.
We also know - and I think part of this was for government cutback reasons - they did cut back from something like 26 institutions just for young offenders to 3 in that time. So the reduction in crime was evidenced by that.
An interesting study was done. I don't have the numbers on it, but I know they traced the group that went through the five years of family group conferencing and they compared that with the same age group that went through the normal process in the years just before. I believe there was a 29% reduction in recidivism among offenders who were caught the first time but went through family group conferencing rather than the traditional system. I would be happy to provide further numbers for the committee.
Mr. Ramsay: For the record, this system of justice, which is very similar to the sentencing circles we have heard about and hope we can look at more when we get out west, to me simply blows a hole in this whole business of disclosure. The people who ought to know about a violent offence having been committed in their community are the people within the community. I'm not interested, or at least I'm unconcerned, if something happens out in Atlantic Canada or B.C., because it doesn't impact on me except emotionally, perhaps, through my understanding of it. It is no direct personal threat. But when someone commits a violent act against another person within my community it does affect me and I become very concerned about it.
So the degree of full disclosure, where the community comes in, all interested people are involved within a sentencing circle or this kind of process, tells me nothing is concealed; all the facts, all the truth, are revealed. I think that's the basis on which true justice is determined.
You may wish to comment on that, and the extent to which we have so formalized the system that we've got away from the true sense of justice, where the rights of all individuals are considered and a process is put into play that addresses those rights and allows for a balancing of those rights as well as a healing of the feelings that occur.
Ms Schmid: It's not just that everybody knows about what's happening but that everybody is involved in finding solutions. I think that's what the most exciting thing is.
I also want to say we do have a book here with us that presents a critique of the New Zealand and American systems. If you'd like the name of that, we can offer it to you afterwards. It looks at pitfalls you have to watch out for. It also tells you why the system really works.
You just raised an issue about serious offenders. I'd like to address that.
Very often people feel the conferencing or the transformative justice approach can't apply to serious offenders. Dr. Joan Pennell in Newfoundland has used this system in dealing with families where there is violence within the family. There one always has the dilemma about the extent you make that open, the extent you make that known. With somebody else she has just recently published results from their research showing overwhelmingly that this does work in that instance.
In isolated instances in New Zealand and Australia this approach has been used for murder. It depends a lot on whether the victim is willing to participate, whether the...
Somebody is looking at me: what do I mean by ``victim''? The family of the person who has been killed; if they are willing to participate in the process, if the offender is willing to participate in the process.
We also touched on the fact that one can use this approach at any stage. Even where somebody has been incarcerated and has served their sentence, to bring victims and offenders and community members at the end of that process... People have shown that even at that stage it's really helpful for everyone to finish off the effects of the crime, to close that off for everyone.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Ramsay.
Mr. Maloney, did you have any questions?
Mr. Maloney (Erie): How is this transformative justice institutionalized in these jurisdictions in New Zealand? Is it just policy? Are there guidelines set out on a formal basis? How do we get there? I think you certainly gave the police...it was the police discretionary method. Did a traditional judicial system run parallel? Do we have two systems? How does it work?
Ms Schmid: In New Zealand it's been legislated, and for certain categories of crime the first option has to be a family group conference. For other categories, for more serious offences, there has to be a family group conference, but the recommendations are taken to the court and the court then considers the recommendations. That's what happens in New Zealand.
In Wagga Wagga, Australia, where the pilot project ran, it seems that they have moved towards legislating it in that province. In South Africa, we're also looking at having it legislated as a process for young offenders.
Again, I'll say that entry points can depend on what you want. I'd say to have as many entry points as possible so that one encourages people in the community to not even approach the police if they feel they can handle the problem themselves. It's a complete diversion from the criminal justice process.
But again, at least in the Australian model, the police actually become the facilitators in the conference. The police can be the facilitators or it can be somebody else that the police call on, depending on the trust of the police in particular communities. So when it gets to the charge level, one can deal with it there. One can then use it as a diversion from actual sentencing, and then, as I said, one can use it even at the end. It depends on what one feels is right for Canada and on how you feel you can use it, but I would recommend as many access points to transformative justice as possible.
Mr. Maloney: Have these models been in existence long enough to give us accurate statistics on recidivism? Are they successful? How can you measure your success? Over what period of time have you - or they - been utilizing these models?
Ms Schmid: Both the New Zealand and the Australian models have been in existence for at least six years.
Mr. Maloney: Did you say six years?
Ms Schmid: Yes. Extensive stuff has been written about it. They've really looked at what's worked and what hasn't worked, at things like how you really need to prepare the victim to be able to participate in the process. If you don't do that, the conference is less likely to work. But one needs to make sure that one is balancing the welfare needs of the offender with the needs of the victim. There are various things that one has to look at to make sure the whole process works, but they're not difficult things to do. There is a lot of critique around this system.
I should also mention that family group conferencing is only one approach. Victim-offender mediation initially started in Kitchener-Waterloo and I think it has been going on in the region for twenty years. They have all their statistics. Dr. Joan Pennell now has the results of their pilots. There is a fair body of evidence.
Mr. Maloney: Can you supply that information and those statistics to this committee?
Mr. Blackburn: Okay.
Mr. Maloney: Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Maloney.
Ms Torsney, do you have a brief question?
Ms Torsney: Yes. I have a comment and question.
I like the concept of the community being involved to try to work on a solution, but my position is that I don't really favour the concept of the community finding out and further isolating an individual who's in trouble. And anything that can bring that community back together to work together... But how do you bite it off in a city like Toronto, for instance, or in Metropolitan Toronto? Do you work in little individual areas? How does that happen?
Mr. Blackburn: I think you find the community naturally by the nature of the crime and the nature of people affected.
In New Zealand it can range from three people sitting in a conference to two hundred people sitting in. The whole community comes in. I guess it's because of the Maori tradition.
That's not what we're thinking about. First of all, family group conferencing refers to family. We're talking about young offenders and parents or guardians. But often other people are important to those people. It may not be their parents who have a lot of influence on them. So they're welcome to draw those people in.
There isn't a set maximum. I suppose you would have to set some kind of limit. We've heard of cases where... I mentioned the bus driver, where a bus driver was very effective in rallying community support for an offender who did something really stupid. This was a case out in western Canada, one we heard about just anecdotally. It was the bus driver of this kid he could relate to, and he rallied the community to support this person in their rehabilitation.
So it becomes that person's natural community offender and the victim's natural community. That's how we define it, starting with family members.
Ms Torsney: Certainly my community was very affected by Nina de Villiers' murder. Of course she was murdered and two days later the same fellow, we believe, murdered someone in New Brunswick.
Criminals can travel quite quickly in Canada and offend in many parts of the country very quickly. I can see there would be a need for many more people in the community than just the de Villiers family to try to work these issues out, because it had a profound effect on our whole community that an 18- or 19-year-old girl was harmed. In the case of the Frenches and the Mahaffys, two whole communities would need separate processes.
Ms Schmid: I'll give another example from the South African situation. We had an area where there was a serial killer who was targeting young boys. The agency I worked for in that area got the parents together and got the school teachers together, and they worked out a whole system of kids being collected from school, being brought home. They approached the city council about cutting back grass so areas could be more visible. In that situation it was a number of people who were feeling threatened, who were feeling insecure, who got together and looked at what kinds of issues need to be looked at first, their priorities, and together problem-solved around that and became the resources for each other.
So it really depends on case to case. One should look at who the people are who could be affected in the situation.
Also, if one doesn't find a direct victim, one would find a representative of the institution that is being violated, or whatever it might be. In that way one builds community. I also think the way that community gets built up is the more you have these things happening in a particular area, the more people talk to each other about what is happening...in that way it also becomes a community and people are more ready to participate in these processes.
Ms Torsney: Why is it called Rittenhouse? What's Rittenhouse?
Mr. Blackburn: Rittenhouse is just a family name that was adopted for this agency.
Ms Torsney: Okay. I kept looking for a reference -
Mr. Blackburn: No, nothing is written.
The Chair: Strange as this may seem, we've not talked a lot about sentencing alternatives in committee, so you're reminding us clearly that this is also part of the broad scope of what we should be taking a look at. We appreciate that and we appreciate your taking the time to come to speak to us today. Thank you.
Mr. Blackburn: We have a bit of information to leave with you, and we'll get those statistics to you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We need to stretch some legs here.
The Chair: We want to welcome Margaret Stanowski from the Springboard outreach program of Toronto.
We have about 35 minutes. So we're going to ask you to make your presentation, then we'll have questions.
Ms Margaret Stanowski (Executive Director, Springboard): I'm Marg Stanowski, executive director of Springboard. I certainly want to thank you for the opportunity to appear as a witness before this committee.
Springboard is a charitable organization dedicated to making our communities safer places in which to live. Our organization provides services to more than 9,000 youths and adults each year, many of whom have been criminally involved or are at risk for criminal involvement.
Our youth programs include six young offender residences, community-service-ordered programs, youth employment counselling and training. We also have a primary crime prevention program, which endeavours to reach 12- and 13-year-old youths before they become involved in criminal behaviours. We provide service in 13 Ontario communities through a staff of 200 and a volunteer force of 400. Springboard believes that crime prevention and reduction can only truly come about in an involved community.
Crime is not a simple problem; it is a complex one. Citizens must be actively involved in the development of solutions that address the root causes of crime.
This committee has a formidable task. Its mandate and scope of study is perhaps the most comprehensive and far-reaching I've ever witnessed in the field. Most assuredly, this review could not be happening at a more strategic time in this country.
Very few acts have invoked such controversy as the Young Offenders Act. The act is deemed to be soft on crime and is even considered to have led to an increase in crime in Canada.
As this committee will appreciate, a large portion of the public is under the perception that if the act and governing laws were tougher on crime and more youth were punished for criminal behaviour, then the crime rate would decrease. Research confirms, however, that spending more on criminal justice processing through the police and the courts, for example, and sending more youths to jail for longer periods of time will not reduce subsequent reoffending.
Yet the public perception persists that harsher punishment will deter individuals from future criminal acts. The criminal justice systems reacts to crime after it has been committed and is very limited in its capacity to influence the conditions that lead to, or prevent, future delinquency.
Thus, I am very encouraged that Bill C-37 has included provisions for this committee to examine measures that will help prevent future victimization, and support thoughtful, long-term approaches to making our communities safer.
My presentation today will centre on two interrelated considerations, and it will hopefully address the challenging and complex issues before this committee.
The first one deals with public support for the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system. As I indicated earlier, public confidence in the system is perhaps at its lowest ebb. The YOA represents the controversial core of public concern. Policy analysts have continued to point out that the lack of public confidence can be partly attributed to the isolation of the community from the operation of the youth justice system.
In an effort to respond to the incidence of crime in this country, there has been over the last decade an unprecedented increase in justice spending on police, courts and jails. There has been a steady movement of criminal justice away from the community and into the hands of professionals who work for the state to further law, order and correctional mandates.
Yet clearly the spending has not decreased the crime rate. Both citizens and other institutions, such as education and children's mental health and welfare, are in essence encouraged to abdicate their roles and responsibilities to crime reduction. They are not viewed as part of a community continuum for justice.
This leaves the justice system to deal with the social complexities of crime. Several studies have confirmed that when citizens understand the realities and limitations facing the justice system in responding to crime, they become more supportive of alternatives and affordable approaches to crime reduction and prevention.
Educating and involving the public in the responsible design and delivery of justice programs becomes the point of entry for increasing public confidence. Section 69 of the Young Offenders Act provides for this mechanism through the formation of youth justice committees. Yet there has been limited support to implement such provisions.
Building a balanced and focused volunteer force requires financial investment and public will. Facilitating the involvement of citizens, non-correctional agencies and institutions, and community justice and safety will not produce short-term results or quick fixes to our crime problem. But it will promote participation and tolerance for the development of sustainable and affordable solutions to the determinants of delinquency - poverty, illiteracy, mental illness and abuse, to name a few - and will most assuredly affect longer-term safety.
My second point considers how Canada is choosing to invest limited resources to increase community safety. Contrary to public opinion, the Young Offenders Act has been a lot tougher on offenders than its predecessor, the Juvenile Delinquents Act. More youths are being charged with criminal offences, despite a relatively stable rate of reported crime. More youths are custodially detained while awaiting trial and more youths are being incarcerated, even though about 80% of youth crime is non-violent in nature.
The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics recently reported that since 1990-91 the number of youths in custody has risen gradually each year by 20% overall. The conclusion one can draw is that Canada is following the lead of the United States in that we are choosing incarceration as a primary strategy to promote community safety. With less than 1% of all youth crime involving serious violent offences, which include murder and sexual assault, how can we responsibly and fiscally justify spending $100,000 a year to incarcerate or to consider incarceration for 99% of the youths, who do not committee this type of offence?
Perhaps the question can be better understood if we ask ourselves this question. If we have$2 million and want to enhance safety, do we choose to incarcerate twenty non-violent youths at a price tag of about $100,000 a year, or do we invest in intervention programs that will respond to six or seven twelve-year-olds who have been clearly identified as our prospective offenders?
The logic being exercised by our lawmakers is mystifying. Custody and punishment have not been proven to deter crime, but they do appeal to the public's perception that we are tough on young offenders. Can we afford to continue to invest in costly and ineffectual safety strategies, particularly for non-violent offenders, that do little to reduce subsequent reoffending?
I'm encouraged that Bill C-37 will now require the court to consider alternatives to custody for non-violent offenders with a view to preserving costly criminal justice resources for the offenders who pose the most serious risk to safety. Yet decreasing our present dependence on custody will not happen quickly.
Public opinion continues to view non-custodial alternatives as being soft and not holding the offender accountable for his or her criminal acts, even though research confirms that when well delivered, community alternatives that address dynamic criminogenic risk factors such as substance abuse, associates or illiteracy are 50% more effective in reducing recidivism than a custodial sentence.
Funding for well-run community programs needs to be priorized and considered as a viable purchase and investment in public safety. I recognize the fiscal realities facing this country. There is no new money, let alone sufficient resources to sustain the existing justice system. The investment in community programs and education can only be supported by tapping or decreasing spending for non-violent youth custody.
Although the Bill C-37 legislation is necessitating judicial consideration of alternatives to custody, there is little evidence of a public will to support this direction, let alone the existence or availability of viable community programs to substantiate judicial decision-making. Efforts to educate and balance public opinion on the existing and complex realities of crime represents the fundamental crux for responsibly reforming the youth justice system. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Mr. Ramsay: I wish to thank you for your presentation today.
It seems there is a growing volume of evidence suggesting that programs such as yours and other programs we've come in contact with are designed to replace or at least fulfil the need and care requirements of children that they're not receiving from their families. Put in another way, it seems that the youth crime rate, whether it's rising or remaining steady or deteriorating to some degree, is an indicator of the failure of the family in our society.
Inasmuch as we can strengthen the family, we may be able to reduce the youth crime rate. Programs such as yours and other programs we've heard about today are really designed to intervene where the failure of the family has become evident in the conduct of their children.
I see you're nodding your head as I speak. If that is true, then does your program look at strengthening the family or does it just intervene on behalf of the family with the youth at risk?
Ms Stanowski: Our role in this area, which is primarily occurring through the elementary school system, is to assist in identifying those individuals and those families. Half of my family have been teachers over the years, so I have knowledge of this. My experience is that those kids and families are readily identifiable by the school system.
Yet what do you do with the problem? I think our role has been trying to get the school systems to identify those problems and often broker the problem to appropriate community agencies. Unfortunately, if it is done often on an adversarial basis as it relates to identification, particularly identification of abuse, it may have reached a point of difficulty in terms of appropriate intervention.
What we really try to do is to encourage the school system by intervening, attending school sessions, and bringing other youth with us. That's been our most successful effort to get kids to identify that they are at risk and they know it, that they have problem family environments. How can those kids reach out and get some help?
That's been our role as a support system. The difficulty, as I'm sure you've heard from many of your witnesses, is that the support system, that infrastructure for really capturing these problems, has been greatly eroded. The systems, such as mental health, children's aid, and many others, often aren't involved strategically and aren't considered to really respond to some of those social factors that clearly lead to crime. They are seen as independent and unrelated entities in terms of the issues of crime prevention.
I'm very encouraged, though, by efforts to look at the role of education in supporting systems. I know the provincial government in Ontario is looking at investing about $6 million in parental intervention support systems for those families who clearly are at risk.
Yet I don't feel there's a comprehensive national strategy. I think we've seen some work come through the National Crime Prevention Council. But I don't think it's tangible enough to support dollar investment. Prevention is so intangible.
Mr. Ramsay: It is a very important matter for the state to overrule the authority of parents regarding their children. This is a very serious matter. Traditionally, it appears that in most of the country the only time the state can overrule the authority of the parent is when a criminal offence has been committed. Now, this is not all-encompassing.
In other words, if my child is showing signs in school that there is a family need or a child need not being filled by the child's parents, what right and what authority does the state presently have within its programs to intercede? That intervention must have authority and power recognized by the parent to at least gain the cooperation of the parent and, if not gain the cooperation of the parent, to act instead of the parent.
Under the old Juvenile Delinquents Act, whenever a child committed a criminal offence - this only involved criminal offences - the state had the power to intervene. In other words, the state had the power to intervene in the traditional authority of the family and do something by way of law.
When there was a change from the Juvenile Delinquents Act to the Young Offenders Act, juvenile court judges lost many of their treatment options and were left primarily with sentencing options.
I used to enforce the Juvenile Delinquents Act, and the concern for the child was always uppermost. The parents were always called to appear. I can't remember a case I was ever involved in where the parents did not appear with the child.
There was the concern of the parents, the concern of the victim, and the concern of the state for the welfare of the child. So there was this grouping of concerns to bring about a change in behaviour that would satisfy the victim, satisfy the state and gain the support and cooperation of the family.
Do you think we have lost this by formalizing the process through the Young Offenders Act?
Ms Stanowski: Well, I believe there the authority would be provincially based under child welfare legislation. Again, each province is then entrusted to respond to issues for those under the age of 12. There has certainly been much discussion on this topic. If you are at a social gathering and you raise this topic you won't get out alive, particularly if you support the retention of the existing age limits for the Young Offenders Act.
I guess the issue really comes back to some of the fundamental principles of the Young Offenders Act in terms of a correctional responsibility for youth under the age of 12. Child welfare legislation is deemed appropriate to provide intervention on ``a non-correctional basis''. Again, it comes back to this. I think we're talking about allocation of those resources for child welfare organizations such as Children's Aid to responsibly address this.
Mr. Ramsay: May I ask you a direct question?
Ms Stanowski: Sure.
Mr. Ramsay: The police had a lengthy history on the criminal activities of the 11-year-old who was alleged to have raped a 13-year-old girl. They had quite a thick file on him. Why is it there was no intervention? Intervention could not occur through the criminal justice system because of the minimum age requirement under the YOA. Why was there not proper intervention by other agencies supposedly designed to deal with this kind of thing? Why was this young child allowed to go forward until such time as he committed this heinous, violent act?
This is only one case I'm aware of. But I use it as an example. It's not the only case I'm aware of. I'm aware of many. I use it as an example because it is one of the most serious offences that have been committed by a person under the age of 12. Where was the authority and where were the resources when the need was first identified after the second or third or fourth criminal offence committed by this 11-year-old? Where were they?
Ms Stanowski: I think you are essentially dealing with the fundamental core of our problem. As a society we are looking at appropriate intervention. We are hopeful. Again, this is a tragedy.
This is a very limited example, I think, of crime committed by youth under 12. Yet when we examine where that youth was at the age of 7 or 4, I ask myself the same question. That child is, in most instances, readily identified as a problem. As you say, how can we, through child welfare legislation mandate, require and appropriately resource community-based and non-correctional alternatives?
Mr. Ramsay: Could I ask just before I get shut down -
The Chair: That is the end of the time.
Mr. Ramsay: Well, I still have a minute left on my clock.
The Chair: Well, it's 10 minutes and 41 seconds on mine.
Mr. Ramsay: All right.
The Chair: Mr. Maloney.
Mr. Ramsay: You've got a fast clock, Madam Chair.
The Chair: That is not all there is about me that is fast.
Mr. Maloney: As we explore this area, maybe Mr. Ramsay's concerns will come out.
On the age, you have an extended career in corrections under the Juvenile Delinquents Act and the Young Offenders Act.
Ms Stanowski: Yes.
Mr. Maloney: On the age situation, do you have any comments on whether we should lower the age, leave it the way it is, or have some compromise in between at both levels for 16- and 17-year-olds or for those 12 and under? You've worked under both systems.
Ms Stanowski: Yes. I have also worked in the federal system as a parole officer and as superintendent of a correctional centre. So I dealt with 16-year-olds when I was supervising them as a federal parole officer. I think I mentioned this to you informally.
Again, what we have more recently are very isolated and limited examples of youth under the age of 12 committing these crimes. These are tragedies. I think when we consider basing laws on very isolated and unfortunate tragedies, we lose sight of some of the basic fundamental principles of the Young Offenders Act.
Indeed, this morning I read in The Globe and Mail that they were suggesting there should be some flexibility for those rare examples of an 11-year-old who could be considered criminally responsible. I think you've heard from Tony Doob on the subject. The issue of the capacity to form this criminal intent is very much a question right now.
I think the research and your other expert can speak more about the psychological capacity of that youth to form a criminal act. Our position as an organization is to ask whether the correctional system is the authority to provide the intervention. Is this something we want to commit ourselves to? Do we want to punish that youth in a manner similar to the way we would treat an adult in terms of the forming of criminal intent?
So it's a very complex debate right now. What I think you're suggesting is some degree of flexibility to consider rare instances wherein those youths could be brought into the youth system and not dealt with by the province under existing child welfare legislation.
So again, I feel that the act, in principle, has appropriately identified 12 as an age to ``substantiate a correctional intervention'', not to suggest - Mr. Ramsay's point - that we don't alternatively have to look at our provincial legislation that would provide a meaningful response and intervention. Kids can't learn that they can get away with a serious criminal offence. I think how they learn that lesson is something we're going to have to really study and consider.
Mr. Maloney: We're also looking at the issue of confidentiality, at whether the names of these individuals should be released to the general public. Do you have any comment on that?
Ms Stanowski: Again, I've attended several CAVEAT forums and worked closely with people from that group. We share differing opinions. I have worked with hundreds of sex offenders who have been released into the community, whether it was a statutory release or a decision by the parole board. My experience has been that publishing the name and the face creates hysteria within the community. The community may not know what to with that information.
Are we saying we want our kids to know that ex-offender lives next door and we don't want our child to go down that street because they may run into that ex-offender? Or are we just driving the offender more into a fishbowl environment whereby he will go underground...in somebody's backyard, unbeknownst?
Again, the issue is a very controversial one in terms of giving the community a sense of intervention in a justice issue like this where police and other authorities clearly have an enforcement responsibility.
In terms of the reaction to an offender being released, the hysteria concerns me. I know that in Ontario we've witnessed several examples of that. It has just enraged the community and has necessitated...
Again, the reality is that 95% of sentences in Canada come to an end. That's what we're dealing with today. We're looking at legislation in the adult area to expand it at the front end, so that these people can be identified and can be appropriately maintained in custody if there isn't a viable alternative.
Our organization couldn't support knowingly releasing somebody who would represent a risk. I think legislation is examining that right now. Yet, if you examine what I'm dealing with every day, the realities of my job, I get calls from Children's Aid, youth groups, youths' families and mothers who are asking how I can help them. They ask me if I have a bed for their young offender or their child who's showing pedophile tendencies. I say to them that there are no resources.
If I said, let me open up a dedicated residential program for sexual offenders for these 14-year-olds who have clearly identified pedophile tendencies, I'd be told to take a hike, and that would be the polite response.
There is a dual responsibility. We are identifying these youthful sex offenders earlier, yet there is very limited support for any intervention in the community. Do we want them to become those sensational sex offenders, those murderers, those phenomena cases? And yet, as a community person who is, I think, entrusted to assist in community safety, I recognize that there has to be support to intervene with programs that will prove effective, rather than locking that kid up month after month. At the end of his sentence when he comes out he's supposed to be cured. The problem occurred in the community. It can't be cured in jail.
Mr. Maloney: Another issue that comes up from time to time is the responsibility of parents. Do you think it's a good thing or bad thing? If you think it's good, how would you envisage its operation?
Ms Stanowski: It's a very good question. At a panel with CAVEAT, a senior police officer from Montreal and I talked about how to get parents more involved. Should we invoke the previous section of the JDA that said that civilly parents could be held accountable for property damage that their kids were charged with or convicted of?
What they came up with in Montreal - and I think I could get you some more information - is a program. When a kid from age 12 to 17 is charged, the Montreal police, under this section, write to the parents. Even though they're not mandated to attend a parental counselling session, they tell them, we want you there, you should be there, you're encouraged to attend; the family is needing counselling in terms of the problems your child has been involved in. They've had a success rate of 85% to 90% attendance.
This is voluntary attendance, and I think that's where sometimes we miss the boat. We feel as if we have to legislate parental responsibility, whereas there are ways in which we can facilitate a more meaningful voluntary participation in their role in being responsible parents.
There are areas I think you heard about before in terms of a New Zealand model, in terms of the aboriginal sentencing circle model. We are supportive of models that will facilitate the involvement of young offender parents, of those victims who will come to the table and support mechanisms to look at the resolution of those problems in a manner that doesn't become so adversarial and correctionally based or bound.
That's where I get concerned. Legislation cannot necessarily force parents to be held accountable. Perhaps the civil issue of recovering...and yet we've got a bigger issue with legal aid.
I've been appointed to the legal aid plan of Ontario, and we're dealing with a real dilemma there. Under subsection 11(4) of the Young Offenders Act we've got options for the judge to state if a kid comes unrepresented that they will get free legal aid, even though his parents have the money whereby to pay. Fundamentally, that's not right.
Again, should we look at legislation that would, where appropriate, have the parents pay for the legal defence of their child? That's the type of legislation that I'd support at this stage more than any criminal charging of the parent for a criminal act, notwithstanding civil issues related to damages.
Mr. Maloney: This is a general comment. You're probably generally in support of this young offenders act. Are there areas in which you feel we have problems that we should be addressing?
Ms Stanowski: Very much so.
I think you've heard from several people on the implementation, and I won't bore you with the details. We are looking at alternative measures. It's not been utilized. It's been inconsistently enforced. You see some provinces being far ahead. We're looking at kids sometimes having to make three appearances in court in order to be diverted for community services.
Fundamentally, I think that this committee are all considering the principles of preserving very costly court resources for the more serious offenders. Why cannot we invoke existing mechanisms, such as alternative measures, in a more thoughtful and consistent manner?
The second one I think I related clearly to is that we're looking at legislation for the alternatives to incarceration: minimal support for this, minimal investment in their existence and continuance.
Thirdly, I think we're looking at youth justice committees or councils that could be a fundamental way to get citizens... I think you've heard groups like this talk about, and I think you mentioned, legislation that would facilitate the involvement in the design and the delivery of youth correctional programs, rather than assumptions that the system will solve the problem. We've got to get communities and citizens involved in order to say they have a role in developing solutions.
There are those three areas: under Bill C-37, alternatives to incarceration for non-violent youth; section 69; and certainly creative alternative measures opportunities, diversion if you will, to deal with the 80% of the youth who are non-violent.
The Chair: Thank you, Ms Stanowski, for your presentation.
Colleagues, this completes the hearing section for today. The meeting is adjourned.
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