Justice Minister Marian Horne often touts her work to help First Nation people who have run afoul of the courts, but there’s one thing she won’t do to advance this cause.
It’s criticize the Conservative Party of Canada.
This has become clear after a week of badgering by the NDP’s Steve Cardiff during question period in the legislature. He’s repeatedly asked Horne to take a stand on Bill C-4, an amendment to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that’s now before a parliamentary committee.
The draft law would make it easier for judges to keep violent and repeat offenders in jail. It has been condemned by child and youth advocates across the country, who worry that it will disproportionately affect children with mental health issues, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.
In the Yukon, most at-risk children are of First Nation ancestry.
The Canadian Criminal Justice Association has warned that C-4’s focus on punishment over rehabilitation may mean that “we again fail those young people who have already been failed by circumstance not of their making.”
And the Canadian Bar Association calls C-4 “a big step backward.” It warns that the bill would result in more young people spending more time behind bars.
This makes little sense, when crime rates are either stable or falling, and today’s measures to divert youth from the justice system are working, the association states.
In the territory, the bill has been denounced by Yukon’s child advocate, the Boys and Girls Club of Whitehorse, and the NDP’s Steve Cardiff, who calls it “a knee-jerk reaction by a right-wing government.”
On Monday, Horne conceded that C-4 would “likely reduce the effectiveness of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, particularly with respect to pre-trial detention and adult sentences for serious offences.”
The bill was tabled without consultation with the provinces and territories, although these jurisdictions bear the cost of delivering youth justice services, said Horne. And existing laws have succeeded in diverting children from the courts, she said.
Yet Horne also says she “supports the stated objectives of the federal government in introducing Bill C-4.”
Those goals include the very things that Horne says she objects to: protecting the public by making it easier to lock up serious and repeat offenders before trial, and sentencing youth who have committed serious, violent crimes as adults.
“Increasing incarceration rates does not work,” said Cardiff. “The Yukon government seems to know that. That’s why it overhauled the Corrections Act in 2009. That’s why they have a community wellness court, and therapeutic options, and are building a new, state-of-the-art corrections facility.”
Horne also insisted that it’s not her place to criticize a federal initiative. “This affects Yukon youth who are engaged in the justice system,” Cardiff angrily shot back. “I can’t believe it.”
The Yukon Party government has no qualms with grandstanding on federal issues when it feels so inclined. They did so when a private members bill to abolish the gun registry was before Parliament, for example.
For C-4, however, Horne says we must have “a national debate” before she weighs into the matter.
Horne also made the incorrect claim on March 14 that “In the Yukon, we do not sentence inmates to federal penitentiaries.” That’s not true.
Premier Dennis Fentie jumped in shortly afterwards to clarify: The Yukon does not operate federal prisons. “That’s an important point here,” he said.
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