Hon. Art Eggleton:
Honourable senators, isn’t this something? We’ve got the Conservative caucus telling us that we’re too tough on crime in this bill. Anybody who was here in the last Parliament will know what I mean. I must tell you that I certainly share the view that we want to protect our youth as much as we possibly can.
Ticketing is something that is part of this regime. I don’t think anyone should get any criminal record, whatever age they are, out of possession. I think it’s a health and a safety issue, and they should not be getting a criminal record. So the ticketing makes sense for the adults. I understand that, and the ticketing provision is in here.
But when it comes to children under the age of 18, a different regime is proposed here, and it’s the youth criminal justice system. I hate the word “criminal” in it, but that’s what it’s called.
When I first saw that, I said, “Oh, no, that’s not the right way.” But then I got looking further into what that act and what that system involves, how it is, in fact, implemented, and we had officials come to our committee and they talked about what it does.
First of all, courts generally don’t prosecute minor marijuana offences charged for people under the age of 18, noting that these cases are often dealt with through diversion programs designed to steer them out of the court system. That’s where these extrajudicial measures come into effect.
They’re non-court responses to less serious responses by youth. They require the police officers to consider the use of extrajudicial measures before deciding to charge a young person. Police and prosecutors are specifically authorized to use various types of extrajudicial measures like taking no further action, giving informal warnings, sending a letter to the parents or bringing the parents in for an interview.
Now, I asked Senator Boisvenu that question, and he said, “What about the records that survive all of that process?” As a general rule, the Youth Criminal Justice Act protects the privacy of young persons who are accused or found guilty of a crime by keeping their identity and other personal information confidential. The protection of privacy is achieved by prohibiting the publication of information that would identify a young person’s involvement in the criminal justice system and restricting access to their youth records.
On top of that, to give us even more comfort, Senator Seidman, a member of the Conservative caucus too, moved an amendment at the committee, which we agreed to. Even though we had heard all this information from the officials, even though we knew this process was a key part of the bill, she moved that for greater certainty, nothing in this bill will be construed as limiting the provision of the extrajudicial measures — which I read — provided for under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. That was passed by the committee. It is now part of the bill because the committee’s report has been adopted by this chamber. I think that’s the appropriate response to this.
When you get into ticketing, what if somebody who is 14, 15 or 16 years of age gets a $150 ticket and they can’t pay it?
It concerns me, and I think it should concern all of us, that there is an uneven system here in terms of who gets charged, both adults and youth. It’s disproportionately people of racialized minorities. It’s disproportionately Indigenous people and people living in poverty.
A $150 fine is not going to be easy. What happens if they don’t pay the fine? What punishment comes to them then? It could end up worse than what these extrajudicial measures would be.
I’m sorry, I don’t support the amendment, but I am prepared to give what is in the bill now my support on the understanding that it is going to create much greater decriminalization for all people in possession, but particularly for young people. I believe that that will be the case, so I will not be supporting the amendment of Senator Boisvenu.
Hon. Vernon White: Just so I understand this, because to be fair, I haven’t spent much time on this section, the extrajudicial sanction, if the young person refuses to participate in such a sanction, under the legislation today it means they actually could end up back in front of a court.
If I understand it properly, I thought the ticketing suggestion was to give an alternative to an extrajudicial sanction, not to replace it. The alternative could be that if the young person doesn’t accept responsibility or refuses the extrajudicial measure, they actually find themselves back in front of a youth court.
The question is: Is that your intent? It’s like “Jeopardy.” Was that your intent or had you not looked at that section 7?
Senator Eggleton: I suppose that’s quite possible. Given the kind of measures that are involved in extrajudicial sanctions, which are essentially warnings — you’ve been a bad boy or girl and we’re going to tell your parents and send them a letter or something like that — I don’t know why they would want to fight that and end up in a court in front of a judge. But still, as I also pointed out, rarely do such charges appear in front of the court. Of course, the courts are guided by the legislation, guided by the very measure that Senator Seidman put into the committee’s discussion and was adopted; that is, that nothing in this bill is to be construed as limiting the operation of the extrajudicial measures.
I think that’s a better outcome for youth than getting into a ticketing regime they may not be able to afford. The ticketing regime is more for the adults, and I think that’s the best way to have it. I don’t want anyone, as I said, to go to jail or get a criminal record of any kind for possession of cannabis.
Senator White: May I ask another question? I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. I’m trying to get the point, though, that if the young person denies responsibility — so in other words, the young person is picked up by the police with a small quantity of marijuana and denies it’s their marijuana — extrajudicial is not available to the police. What is the alternative at that point?
My suggestion is the alternative, if it is a ticket under this legislation, is that they will be dealt with under this legislation. If they do not, they’ll be dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, so it will be in front a court.
I want to make sure we’re on the same page. To put it in the form of a question: Don’t you agree?
Senator Eggleton: The way the act is written and the way it is, in fact, administered is to protect youth. It’s to prevent them from getting a criminal record or having that tag that can destroy their lives. The system is geared towards that, and if the person wants to fight it and ends up in front of a judge, then the judge will have to make that decision.
There are three discretion levels that occur throughout this system. One is for the police officer; the second is with the Crown prosecutor; and, third, the judge. I think there is every opportunity to protect young people, and particularly with this amendment with which, for greater certainty, we ask them to use these measures.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: There is 40 seconds left, Senator Pate.
Hon. Kim Pate: There seems to be some confusion between Senator White and yourself. Isn’t it true that the Youth Criminal Justice Act allows for a warning and referrals and cautions and not just extrajudicial measures? They’re not one and the same.
Isn’t it also true that one of the reasons most youth court judges don’t usually impose fines is because it is usually the parents who are left to pay the bill? In fact, most would use precautionary measures, other referrals and extrajudicial sanctions — if the offence was seen as a more serious offence. In fact, they would more likely use the less serious mechanisms rather than a fine.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: I’m sorry, your time is up.