Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
I, too, am concerned about the effects of cannabis legislation on youth — in particular, Indigenous youth — because we know that in our justice system, including the police, the judges and everyone involved in the criminal justice system, there is a systemic bias. For example, a recent news report based on research from the University of Toronto shows that in Regina, for those arrested for possession of cannabis, there were nine times more Indigenous people arrested than White people. In Toronto there were three times more Black people arrested for simple possession than non-Black people. There’s definitely discrimination embedded in our system.
When you have the discretionary power, and you’re the police officer, and you get to decide, should I give a ticket or go through the youth criminal justice system, there’s the potential there for bias as well, which would then probably, I suspect, favour diverting the Indigenous youth toward the youth criminal justice system. But by the sounds of it, if you were to give that youth the $150 ticket, it would be something they simply could not afford and then they would be diverted back into the court system.
I don’t now see the ticketing option as being viable. Senator Dean has just told us that in Ontario the youth criminal justice system is a very robust system that acts very well. I’m assured by that.
This is a question that I would have liked to ask Senator Pate. We also have within the criminal justice system section 718.2(e), which is colloquially referred to as the Gladue principle, so that all offenders in the criminal justice system who are found guilty of an offence, especially Aboriginal offenders, are supposed to get extra consideration for the factors in their background that might have brought them before the courts.
For Indigenous youth, then, we should have that available for a youth who appears before the court system, especially in Ontario where you have a robust system. And, according to another news report, there are over 100 Gladue report writers in Ontario who could say this youth has come before us and, therefore, this youth should go for some kind of alternative treatment. I am reassured.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Gladue courts are evenly distributed throughout the country. In Saskatchewan, we have only one Gladue report writer. There should be more. But I think strengthening the Gladue reports and the court system’s knowledge of section 718.2(e) would alleviate some of the concerns that some of us share about the effects of this bill on Indigenous youth. Therefore, I’m not in favour of the amendment.
Hon. Sandra M. Lovelace Nicholas: Would the senator accept a question?
Senator Dyck: Yes.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I’m concerned about Indigenous children as well. The ones who can’t afford to pay the $150 fine, of course, as usual, are on social assistance; they’re not working because there are no jobs in First Nations communities.
Wouldn’t there be a program, like legal aid, for these children who cannot afford a lawyer if they’re being prosecuted?
Senator Dyck: I think you asked two questions, one about paying the fine and one about them having legal aid.
With regard to paying the fine, I’m not sure; I’m not the right person to ask that question of. I’m not sure if there are options whereby a fine can be paid by somebody else.
With regard to legal aid, it would be available, but of course it would vary according to whatever community that person was from.
Hon. Kim Pate: I have a question for Senator Dyck, if she still has time.
The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore: Yes, she does.
Senator Pate: Senator Dyck, it sounds like you were trying to explain the situation that happens under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, that in addition to the warnings and the ability for police to not lay charges and employ extrajudicial measures, there’s also a presumption, I think you may well know, that in fact the judges are supposed to look at every other option before resorting to the criminal justice system. In addition to section 718.2(e), there’s an even stronger position within the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Between the two, and combined with the international covenant that Senator Andreychuk referenced earlier, the youth criminal justice system is designed to limit the criminalization of young people. In fact, there are much stronger measures within the youth system to have young people referred to treatment, to social services and/or to the education system before the court considers applying criminal — especially carceral — sanctions. Is that not correct?
Senator Dyck: It sounds pretty correct to me. Thank you.