Justice Reforms “punitive” for youth

10 Jan, 2013

The federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda is ‘excessively punitive’ for youth and is a step backward for Canada’s child rights record, says a United Nations group.

The UN committee on the rights of the child has finished a 10-year review of how Canada treats its children and how well governments are implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In particular, the committee says Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act complied with international standards until changes were introduced this year.

The government’s Bill C- 10, an omnibus crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for youth and makes it easier to try them as adults, no longer conforms to the child rights convention or other international standards.

“Bill C-10 is excessively punitive for children and not sufficiently restorative in nature,” the committee wrote in a report published mid-October. “The committee also regrets there was no child rights assessment or mechanism to ensure that Bill C-10 complied with the provisions of the convention.”

The committee also repeatedly expressed its concern that aboriginal and black children are dramatically overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Aboriginal youth are more likely to be jailed than graduate from high school, the report said.

To meet the standards of the UN convention, Ottawa should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensure that no one under 18 is ever tried as an adult, the report said. Authorities should also be developing alternatives to detention, writing rules to restrain the use of force against children in detention and to separate girls from boys in jail, the United Nations committee added.

Governments should determine why so many black and aboriginal youth are involved in the criminal justice system and figure out how to reduce the disparity, the report recommended.

The committee also chastised Canada for failing to provide equal social services to aboriginal children—especially in the realm of child welfare, an issue now before Canadian courts.

It accused authorities of ‘serious and widespread discrimination” in the services they offer aboriginal children, visible minorities, immigrants and children with disabilities.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rejects the claim that his crime legislation does not comply with the child rights’ convention, said his spokeswoman, Julie DiMambro. The legislation was amended to ensure no one under the age of 18 is detained in an adult facility, she noted.

“Our legislation reflects the need to protect society from serious and violent young offenders,” DiMambro said.

“It targets the small number of violent, repeat young offenders and its measures are balanced, effective and responsible.”

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