OTTAWA — The federal government wants tougher rules to deal with violent or repeat young offenders, including adult sentences and stricter bail conditions.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will introduce amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act when Parliament resumes in March. He said it’s a fine-tuning of the youth justice system.
Violent or repeat offenders sometimes end up with sentences much shorter than people expect, he said.
His changes would allow courts to consider adult sentences for the worst crimes, such as murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. Judges would also get greater power to keep young criminals locked up before trial.
”The courts are many times powerless to keep violent or repeat young offenders in custody while they’re awaiting trial even when they pose a danger to society,” he said.
”We want to clear that up and we want to require the courts to consider adult sentences for those convicted of the most serious crimes.”
The tougher sentences are not mandatory and are left to the discretion of the courts.
While the legislation will deal with offenders 14 years and older, it will allow the provinces to set their own age thresholds. Quebec, for instance, sets 16 as the minimum age for adult sentences.
Nicholson also wants to give the courts discretion to publish the names of young offenders who are released, but who might pose a threat to the public.
”Currently, in some cases, a youth convicted of a serious, violent offence can be released into the community anonymously,” he said. ”In such cases, we need to give the courts greater discretion to publish the names of young offenders when the protection of society requires it.”
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said his party will study the proposals before deciding whether to support them.
He said, though, he doubts the government is really concerned about cracking down on crime, having shut down Parliament until March.
”I have to note, they can’t be too serious about this crime-and-justice agenda if they shut it down and wait months before they get implemented,“ Ignatieff said.
”They had this crime agenda before they shut down Parliament. It was super-important. They sat there and bullied the Senate for months and months, played their usual games. And then we discover in fact it matters so little they were prepared to basically abandon them and have them restart.“
Nicholson said he’s had trouble getting some of his legislation through the Senate, but he’s optimistic that expected changes to the upper chamber will smooth passage this time.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to name five new senators before Parliament resumes, giving the Tories greater control, especially in committees.