Re­forms tar­get ma­jor prob­lem of mi­nor charges

Changes to Youth Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Act in­tended to keep kids out of court

Winnipeg Free Press - - TOP NEWS - KATIE MAY JUSTIN SAMANSKI-LANGILLE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES katie.may@freep­ Twit­ter: @thatkatiemay

ROPOSED re­forms to the jus­tice sys­tem aim to tackle the high num­ber of rel­a­tively mi­nor charges, which tend to in­volve youth who are in the child-wel­fare sys­tem, that have clogged crim­i­nal courts.

As a lower-pro­file part of its re­cent om­nibus bill af­fect­ing the Crim­i­nal Code, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced guide­lines for ad­min­is­tra­tionof-jus­tice of­fences, such as breach­ing court or­ders, and their penal­ties.

The leg­is­la­tion aims to curb the num­ber of young peo­ple who are charged with breaches by en­cour­ag­ing al­ter­na­tive, out-of-court mea­sures in­stead. It prom­ises to re­strict the cir­cum­stances in which youth can be sent to jail for breach­ing their con­di­tions and al­lows for po­lice, pros­e­cu­tors and judges to ex­er­cise dis­cre­tion when de­cid­ing which con­di­tions to im­pose. It also would stream­line the bail-ap­pli­ca­tion process for youth.

The pro­posed amend­ments to the Youth Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Act em­pha­size prin­ci­ples that ex­ist in Cana­dian law, in­clud­ing that chil­dren must not be jailed as a sub­sti­tute for child-pro­tec­tion place­ments or men­tal-health ser­vices. De­fence lawyer Tony Cel­litti, co-chair­man of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sec­tion of the Man­i­toba Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, said they also sig­nal that the jus­tice sys­tem must find other ways to deal with breaches.

“What has prob­a­bly been rec­og­nized, not just for youth, but also for adults across the board, is that there’s a very sub­stan­tial num­ber of mat­ters be­fore the courts where peo­ple are charged with breach­ing con­di­tions, whether it’s (while on) pro­ba­tion or bail, and of­ten

Pthose sce­nar­ios bring peo­ple back into cus­tody,” Cel­litti said. “It’s sort of a sig­nal to try to deal with, prob­a­bly, the over-in­car­cer­a­tion of peo­ple for breach­ing con­di­tions. And look­ing at the big pic­ture, we live in an era now where un­rea­son­able de­lay in mat­ters be­ing pros­e­cuted... is top-of­mind for ev­ery­one.”

Univer­sity of Man­i­toba law Prof. Lorna Turn­bull, who is study­ing the over­lap in Man­i­toba’s crim­i­nal jus­tice and child-wel­fare sys­tems, said youth are of­ten more likely to be charged with breach­ing court con­di­tions if they face other chal­lenges, such as an un­sta­ble home life. The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion should re­sult in fewer ad­min­is­tra­tionof-jus­tice charges against youth, she said.

“But the real chal­lenge will be in mak­ing sure that there are ad­e­quate ex­tra­ju­di­cial op­tions avail­able, and this is of­ten an is­sue, es­pe­cially in most of (ru­ral Man­i­toba).

So, while this is a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment, there needs to be ad­e­quate al­ter­na­tives for this to be prac­ti­cal on the ground for all youth in Man­i­toba,” Turn­bull wrote in an email.

Man­i­toba Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heather Ste­fan­son said the prov­ince is push­ing ahead with plans to fo­cus on restora­tive jus­tice, which di­verts cases from the jus­tice sys­tem and works within the community. She said the prov­ince is un­der­go­ing a “bet­ter align­ment” of restora­tive jus­tice in­vest­ments to meet the need.

“Our fo­cus will al­ways be on the best in­ter­ests of pub­lic safety for Man­i­to­bans to en­sure that those most se­ri­ous vi­o­lent of­fend­ers are in jail, where they should be. But those who need pro­grams and so on, would be more ap­pro­pri­ately used through restora­tive jus­tice ini­tia­tives and re­spon­si­ble rein­te­gra­tion,” Ste­fan­son said in an in­ter­view about the fed­eral re­forms.

“There has been a de­cline in the num­ber of youth who are in­car­cer­ated, and we want to look to do the same thing in the adult cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties as well, and that’s the pri­mary fo­cus, re­ally, of our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem mod­ern­iza­tion strat­egy.”

Man­i­toba has some of the high­est rates of youth in­car­cer­a­tion and child­wel­fare ap­pre­hen­sions in Canada. Teens in care of Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices are more likely to face ad­min­is­tra­tion-of-jus­tice charges, a re­cent Free Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed.

The pro­posed changes mean the fed­eral gov­ern­ment sees breach charges and oner­ous bail con­di­tions as a prob­lem, even while youth in­car­cer­a­tion rates are de­clin­ing over­all, said Nick Bala, a law pro­fes­sor at Queen’s Univer­sity in Kingston, Ont., who has stud­ied youth jus­tice.

Bala said although youth in­car­cer­a­tion rates have de­creased, the use of pre-trial de­ten­tion has in­creased over time, in­clud­ing for breach charges. A Statis­tics Canada study last year showed the rate of youth in pre-trial de­ten­tion has out­num­bered the rate of sen­tenced youth in cus­tody since 2007-08.

“As with adults, there are a lot of con­cerns that bail con­di­tions that are im­posed on young peo­ple at the time of re­lease are some­times quite un­re­al­is­tic and not re­lated to their of­fend­ing,” he said. “This bill re­flects a re­sponse to the in­creased con­cern about pre-trial de­ten­tion for young peo­ple.

“There are young peo­ple who need to be in cus­tody, but… we have to think very care­fully about who they are be­cause of­ten the re­sult of in­car­cer­a­tion is that they ac­tu­ally be­come fur­ther im­mersed in gang sub­cul­ture than when they went in.”

Pro­vin­cial Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heather Ste­fan­son says the prov­ince is mov­ing ahead with plans to fo­cus on restora­tive jus­tice.

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