Susan's Notes November 25 Meeting

Susan Berry’s Notes on her November 25 meeting with Terence Young

Susan was spokesperson for RODC in that protest meeting attended as well by two reporters.

First of all I wish to thank Mr. Young for meeting with me on November 25. Many Conservative MPs refused to meet the groups of protesters  across Canada who went to deliver the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) report, the petition and 10 reasons why Bill C-10 should not be passed.

Mr. Young was well prepared for our meeting, and had numerous pages of notes with which he wished to refute, point by point, the CBA 10-point critique of the process by which this bill is being passed and the substance of the Bill. He started off by telling me (and the media members present) that the Bar Association was all wrong, and he would be able to explain why. 

Mr. Young’s history lesson on criminal justice started with a 1998 Federal Government Report on youth criminal justice and the introduction of such an initiative. At this point, I admit, I cut him off and indicated that my concern was the present legislative initiative that aims to change the law on youth criminal justice. He asked if I wanted to listen to him. I said that I would like to ask him some questions about the bill. 
I had a number of questions about the Bill, but Mr. Young wanted to “stick to the script”. From about this point on, Mr. Young read a prepared text, never providing myself or the media with a copy, replete with detailed facts about the bill.

A few of the points that I recall were raised:

I asked Mr. Young repeatedly what empirical evidence the Federal Government was basing the crime bill on. To my knowledge, the only study the government has pointed to is a 2005 commission report of Retired Justice Nunn on young offenders. Justice Nunn has publicly announced he believes Bill C-10 goes too far, beyond his recommendations on how to reform the Youth Criminal Justice System.

Mr. Young advised me that there was a vast amount of research that the government had relied upon in crafting the bill. He was unable to name one study. I asked Mr. Young to provide me with the list on Monday. If the Bar Association representing 37,000 lawyers is wrong, there must be some evidence the government has to prove that it is so.

Mr. Young spent a great deal of time talking about programs that the government has or is expanding, particularly with regard to an expansion of drug treatment court available to inmates with substance abuse issues, and described the process by which offenders could thereby qualify for community diversion after one year of incarceration. I asked him if the Canadian Mental Health Association endorsed Bill C-10, since they are a body primarily involved with dealing with addictions. He did not reply except to ask if I was just going to interrupt him. 

I asked him if he thought that Canada should have a national mental health strategy prior to implementing changes to the criminal justice system that was bound to incarcerate more individuals suffering from mental illness. He replied that Canada has a national mental health strategy. 

That is factually incorrect. Canada is the only G8 country without a national health strategy. The final report from the CMHA is due to come out next year, so that a national mental health strategy can be considered in conjunction with the Health Accord renewal process scheduled for 2014.

I asked Mr. Young if the government’s goal is to reduce drug use and crime, why they would not heed the Rand Institute studies which demonstrate that the same amount of taxpayer investment can quadruple the reduction in drug consumption. 

He replied that this is why the government is expanding drug court. However, the Rand Institute recommends a non-criminal, preventative approach to treating drug use as a health issue. Mr. Young did not describe any new programs directed toward the prevention end of dealing with drugs that would be launched with Bill C-10.

I asked him about mandatory minimum sentences and if he did not think they were too harsh, particularly as they do not meet international norms for providing a judicial safety valve in sentencing. Mr. Young proceeded to list all of the offences that would have new mandatory minimum sentences. We agreed that the list contained serious offences. I asked him if he could not envision a situation in which a young person gets caught up in drugs but would be better off going right to diversion instead of jail. 

I asked him if this was an appropriate strategy for our youth, given the recent suicide of an Oakville teen in the Syl Apps Centre as well as the Ashley Smith suicide inquires. Mr. Young did not address issues of such institutional teen suicides.

I asked Mr. Young if he was concerned about the lack of appropriate diversion for people diagnosed with FASD, who are of particular concern to the criminal justice system because of their inability to form intent and process consequences. We did not discuss this in depth.

I asked him if he was concerned about the removal of the requirement that correctional workers use the minimum amount of force to maintain order in prisons, a legislative change that has those familiar with the prison system say will create an environment where human rights abuses will occur. Mr. Young did not respond to this comment, but to be fair, he was trying to read from his prepared notes to answer previous questions.

I asked Mr. Young if he was concerned about the cost of Bill C-10, which Steven Page states is $3B over 5 years. He reminded me that Steven Page is a rock star. I did goof on that one! Later in the conversation when I raised the issue of cost again and asked if he is concerned about the expected costs outlined by the Parliamentary Budget Office (whose name is Kevin Page), Mr. Young advised he is wrong, because he has been wrong before. I pointed out that his government had been wrong before (I was referring to the promise in the 2008 election that no deficit would be run because the world economy was not going into a recession. The government was a little off on that one.)

Mr. Young said that the costs would be limited to $78M over 5 years, and proceeded to give me a breakdown of the costs of dealing with crime, as the government currently sees them. At this point, he was mainly speaking to the press. Mr. Young merely asserted that the costs of Bill C-10 are budgeted for. In fact, they are not. The justification for this new spending has been that it will be worth the cost to protect victims.

Mr. Young did not answer my question as to why several provinces are refusing to foot the anticipated bill associated with Bill C-10.

Mr. Young advised that no new mega prisons are going to be built in Canada. I asked how the government would accommodate the new inmates, given the current double bunking issues. He did not reply. He talked about the monies the government has spent to refurbish an older institution.
I repeatedly asked him for evidence to support that this approach to crime and justice would work.

Mr. Young proceeded to explain that the changes to the system would allow judges to consider deterrence and denunciation in sentencing youth, two considerations that empirical evidence demonstrate do not lead to better outcomes for youth who become involved in the justice system.
Mr. Young asked me what I would do with violent repeat offenders. I agreed they need to be locked up. He seemed surprised by this. I agree that jail is an appropriate means to deal with dangerous people, my issue is with the removal of the ability of the judge to consider a person’s very individual circumstances and the increase of the use of prison to punish non-violent offenders.

Mr. Young mentioned the “cost of crime to the victim” which cannot be measured. Satisfying the victims of crime that justice has been done is an important objective of the criminal justice system. I did not respond to these concerns, but I would say the following about victim’s rights: victims have the right to be supported after a crime. They require specialized services and the court does that to some degree although some services could be enhanced.

But justice is in the eye of the beholder: working as a family law lawyer I know that what is determined to be just often satisfies no one. But for the safety of victims, often who are family members, I would think that the first objective of the government is to prevent victimization in the first place and then all six objectives of sentencing must be considered to prevent further victimization.  The six objectives are denunciation, deterrence, separation, rehabilitation, reparation, and assumption of responsibility.

I asked about the 6 pot plant rule: Mr. Young said no one is going to jail just for having 6 pot plants to treat their glaucoma, which is perfectly legal. We did not get into the difficulties in obtaining a licence for growing your own. He said that someone would have to have money, and or scales, and be in organized crime to do jail time with only six pot plants. I tried to ask if he thought this could apply to three university students living in an apartment together, a suggestion to which he did not reply. 

Mr. Young addressed the changes to the pardon system, claiming that pardons are simply too routine. I did not discuss that issue.

I asked Mr. Young why Canada should try an approach that California, Texas, Maryland and Mississippi had all tried and failed. Mr. Young said that the situation is entirely different in Texas -- they jail thousands more people than we do. I agreed, on account of the “tough on crime” approach that they took. He did not explain why what failed in American states will work in Canada, other than to go back to listing all the programs that the government has.

Mr. Young advised that the Bar Association was incorrect that witnesses to Parliamentary Committee were cut off after five minutes. He said that written submissions were allowed. He proceeded to provide statistics on how many hours / days of debate or Parliamentary Committee had been spent on the Bill in total, given that the nine pieces of legislation had been presented to Parliament in previous sessions. I believe he said 167 days. I mentioned that there were many pieces of legislation that had undergone review and were amended, but are now back in their original form and pointed the part of the Bar Association report addressing Offences Against Children, a one-liner stating the Bar did not have time to comment on this section.

I asked Mr. Young how he could pass such an anti-democratic Omnibus Bill, being a student of politics. He stated that this was a promise the government made, and that people would complain if they didn’t keep their promises.
I told Mr. Young the Bill should be unbundled and debated democratically. Mr. Young said that the government had a strong mandate to proceed with this bill. He has no problem with the omnibus bill. 

At several points I became frustrated with Mr. Young, who was reading off lists and lists of programs and points from his many pages of notes. I asked him who prepared the notes. He said he did. Then he corrected himself to say he did, with his staff. I asked if by that he meant the 1500 communications people the government has to do that work. He denied it. 
I got up and left the office. At that time, I was hoping to find Cathie Scott, a woman whose daughter has FASD and is up on criminal charges for drug possession and trafficking. Unfortunately, she was at the road at that point in time, but a few people were standing at the door. Mr. Young’s assistant followed me up to push me out the door. Two media members were still inside. I grabbed Janice Tobia, and went back to the room, where Mr. Young was talking about all the programs the government has, particularly wanting to give them copies of a list of programs for Native peoples. 

Janice asked Mr. Young how he could vote for this bill when he represents the people of Oakville, at which point Mr. Young ended the meeting and we all left.

I give Mr. Young a lot of credit for meeting with me. A lot of Conservative MPs avoided it. However, it is disappointing that, while I tried to explain to him that I am in support of some of the government measures and acknowledge the important role of incarceration in the Canadian judicial system, he was unable to budge in his position.

My four most important points from this discussion:

1) Mr. Young had the decency to speak with me before the bill is passed, despite having another engagement. He took a more honourable approach to this issue than many Parliamentarians.

2) Mr. Young was unable to provide any empirical evidence to indicate that this Bill will work to deal with crime in an effective, cost-efficient manner that is fair to both the victims of crime, criminal and the community at large. 

3) Mr. Young was wrong that Canada has a national mental health strategy. It does not. Such a strategy is in progress. 50% of women and 30% of men incarcerated suffer mental illness and addiction issues. Right now, people in Oakville cannot easily access the mental health supports they need to deal with depression, personality disorders, youth issues and the like. 

As someone who assists people through very traumatic times in their life (separation and divorce), I am very familiar with the time it takes to obtain mental health services and that they often become available after a crisis. A $10,000.00 investment in an enhanced early intervention system in our schools and communities can prevent a person from resorting to substance abuse and deterioration into a life of crime and the $100,000.00 cost of incarcerating that person later on. That kind of preventative approach to crime will provide a truly safer community, in which there are fewer victims. Which will give us all a true savings in both dollars and the unaccountable emotional cost of crime and punishment. 

4) Daily I say to myself “there but for the grace of god go I” when I think of those with problems that far surpass those in my own life. Mr. Young appeared unable to envision times when good people get caught doing illegal things. Many of us cannot imagine the criminal justice system becoming involved in our lives, but if it did, would we not all want the assurance that we would be treated humanely in prison and that judges could consider our circumstances and ability to reintegrate into society when sentencing us? 

Return to the Home page.

Site Meter