Should violent young offenders be named in public?
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, March 16, 2010 7:52PM EDT
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson introduced amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act Tuesday that will give courts greater leeway when dealing with violent and repeat young offenders.
The amendments will simplify rules that keep violent and repeat young offenders in jail while they await trial, and enable the courts to try and sentence a youth for "reckless behaviour" that risks others' lives.
Judges would also be required to consider adult sentences for youth convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault, and also require judges to consider publishing a young offender's name when it may be in the interest of public safety.
Nicholson said Tuesday that younger offenders are already named when they are tried and sentenced in adult court, but the new rules would apply to youths convicted of the most violent crimes.
"What we're saying though is an individual who is a violent offender and represents a threat to society, that the judge can consider lifting (the publication ban)," Nicholson told CTV's Power Play. "So you don't have a situation where you have a violent sexual offender who is 17 years old living next door and you know nothing about that individual."
When asked about whether the amendments would lead to more incarcerated youths, Nicholson said they largely apply to a "small group of out-of-control violent offenders, and they are by no means representative of young people who get involved and get into trouble with the law."
Eric Gottardi of the Canadian Bar Association said the proposed changes overshoot the mark and may compromise the rehabilitation of young offenders, who have the greatest prospects of turning their lives around.
"The minister is right in the sense that the amendments focus on the most violent offenders, but for the most violent offenders those people are going to be transferred to adult court, they may have adult sentences and at that point they wouldn't have the protection of a publication ban anyway," Gottardi told Power Play.
"So from our perspective ... this is just not necessary and it really could work against the long-term protection of society if you're going to undermine the rehabilitative prospects of these young people."
Nicholson pointed out that the provinces will still have the authority to decide at what age adult sentences can be meted out to youths convicted of the most serious crimes. The amendments also ensure that offenders under age 18 are placed in youth facilities, even if they are sentenced as adults.
The opposition parties criticized the amendments, which they said focus more on retribution than on rehabilitation.
"Our view is the proposals that the government unveiled today do change the basic assumption that youth criminal justice should be about rehabilitation and reintegration and shift it towards a regime that would seek to punish and make an example out of young people," said Liberal justice critic Dominic LeBlanc.
"The evidence indicates that's not effective."
The amendments have been named "Sebastien's Law" in memory of Sebastien Lacasse, a 19-year-old from Quebec who was stabbed to death by a group of youths at a house party in 2004.
A 17-year-old pleaded guilty and received an adult sentence in the case.