House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.

Topics

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will take the representation from the House leader of the Reform Party.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Shall the remaining questions stand?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-37, an act to amend the Young Offenders Act and the Criminal Code, as reported (with amendment) from the committee; and of Motions Nos. 5, 6 and 7.

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February 10th, 1995 / 12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Warren Allmand Notre-Dame-De-Grâce, QC

Mr. Speaker, before question period I was replying to members of the Reform Party who continue to propose simplistic and unworkable solutions to the problem of crime, especially youth crime. When they say they want something meaningful and effective what they really mean and what they really want are longer, harder sentences to prison without additional resources for correction and rehabilitation.

That model does not work. It is now being tried in several of the United States and violent crime in those states is among the highest in the western world. Those states with "three strikes and you are out" laws, those states with capital punishment have among the highest murder and violent crime rates in the western world. Look at Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Mississippi. Those states are executing people in the morning while in the afternoon murders take place during the theft of an automobile.

The approach being proposed by the Reform Party does not work. To begin with there has not been a general increase in youth violent crime in recent years. To give an example let us look at homicide rates among young offenders. The highest number of homicides for youths between the ages of 12 and 17 was 68 homicides in 1975 before the Young Offenders Act, whereas the low rate was 35 homicides for youth in 1987 after the Young Offenders Act.

Second, the Young Offenders Act is not, as alleged by the Reform Party, the cause of youth crime. While the Young Offenders Act might be a federal law it is fully and totally administered by the provinces. Some provinces do much better than others.

For example, my province of Quebec dedicates a lot of resources to the Young Offenders Act and has a much better record and much greater satisfaction with the act than other provinces. In some provinces youth crime and youth recidivism is much lower than in others, with the same act right across the country.

If there is violent youth crime in Canada the cause is not the Young Offenders Act. If we want to do something meaningful about youth crime, then we must make a greater effort in prevention and rehabilitation. Yes, certain amendments are required to the Young Offenders Act and we are doing that in Bill C-37, but they alone will not solve the problem of youth crime.

Certain Reform members just said that they met with youth during the Christmas recess and that those youths want significant amendments to the Young Offenders Act. Well, during the recess I also had a meeting with youth in my constituency at Concordia University in Montreal.

Those youth understood that the real problem is principally one of prevention and correction. They also knew that this year

the Parliament of Canada was going to make a thorough review of the Young Offenders Act, a thorough review of youth correction programs, and a thorough review of the situation of youth crime in Canada.

Let us have some honesty and seriousness with respect to this debate. To suggest to Canadians that changing a few lines in the Young Offenders Act is going to solve the problem of youth crime in this country is not correct. I would like my friends in the Reform Party to acknowledge that and be honest with the situation as it really is.

I also would like answers from the parliamentary secretary on the question I asked at the beginning of my remarks.

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12:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member perhaps does not know that the parliamentary secretary has already spoken on this series of motions and he is therefore not able to speak again.

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12:25 p.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I find it amusing that a person who had the ability to bring in crime prevention programs over 20 years ago is now talking about the need for crime prevention programs to prevent this kind of youth crime.

If that is the solution and the answer, why did this individual not work that kind of a concept into the Young Offenders Act years and years ago? Why did that person who was in the position of instituting crime prevention programs not do it 20 or 25 years ago? Is it not just a little bit late now?

I would suggest that the Reform Party does not disagree that we do need to look at crime prevention and try to keep young people from committing crimes. That does not mean when they do commit crimes that we absolve them of all responsibility and let them return to the street without any kind of recourse for what they did.

Not only did I visit schools back in my constituency, but I also visited the young offender detention centres that are run by the provinces. I cannot say I was pleased with what I saw. What I heard from people working with young offenders is not only the need for accountability and all other things, but the need for government legislation that allows them to work with a federal system in identifying and sharing information on these young people so they know who will be serious problems as adults. The system does not allow for that kind of interchange of information.

The federal government has the responsibility to implement programs and legislation that will allow communities to look after the problem of young people who are falling into criminal patterns.

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12:30 p.m.

Reform

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the Young Offenders Act came into force in April 1984 it replaced the Juvenile Delinquents Act of 1908. The old Juvenile Delinquents Act was informal and attempted to respond like a wise parent wherein dependent children had few rights.

In April 1985 the maximum age of 18 became uniform across Canada because of the new Young Offenders Act. In fact, many provinces formerly had 16 years as the upper age limit for young offenders.

The main issues that are significant for the average citizen are age limit, transfers to adult court for serious crimes and the privacy provisions.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs will be conducting a 10-year review of the entire act. The situation we are left with is "get it right next time".

The government is proceeding with Bill C-37, an act to amend the Young Offenders Act. Its main thrust is to lengthen some penalties but not to touch on areas about which the Reform Party and the majority of Canadians have been asking.

The Reform Party believes that the justice system should place the denunciation of crime and the protection of law-abiding citizens and their property ahead of other justice system objectives. The principle should apply to the Young Offenders Act and the general operation of the Criminal Code.

We believe that the criminal justice policy toward young offenders should be guided by the principles of individual responsibility and system accountability. Young offenders should be held individually responsible for the harm caused by their acts. The justice system should be held accountable for how it handles young offenders. The results that the system delivers should be measured against clearly stated objectives.

I want to provide some alternatives to the criticisms of the previous member of the Reform Party's suggestions. Here are some meaningful proposals that are not simplistic but are reasonable and considered and, most of all, are what mainstream Canada wants.

Lower the Young Offenders Act age definition of young persons to 10 to 15 years inclusive from 12 to 17 years inclusive. Any young offender who commits an indictable offence could possibly be transferred to adult court. Remove extra privacy and secrecy provisions of the Young Offenders Act and treat all YOA records, access to information and ability to publish in the same manner as for adults.

Sentencing must emphasize victim compensation, community service, skills training, education and deterrence to others. In custodial facilities, opportunities for rehabilitation must be

emphasized in a disciplined environment and medical and psychological treatment orders should not require the consent of the offender.

Above all, parents of young offenders should be held responsible for compensating victims of property crime if it can be demonstrated in court that they have not made a reasonable effort to exercise parental control.

The consensus among average Canadians is that the Young Offenders Act is too soft and that stronger, more predictable consequences are needed. Serious and repeat young offenders should be transferred to adult court. Young offenders have to be held accountable for their actions.

A recognition that crime prevention occurs best within nurturing families and early intrusive social services outside the justice system are much better than sentencing.

The public's right to know must take precedence over the rights of an offender for privacy and for general deterrence to work.

It is not a Reform plan to incarcerate all those who commit a crime, only those who commit serious crimes. We encourage community involvement with volunteers supporting alternative measures under the Young Offenders Act.

In summary, the legislative changes previously done and currently planned arise because the original Young Offenders Act was misguided concerning its age of operation. We are therefore not supporting the government's inadequate amendments to the Young Offenders Act.

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12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to make two or three comments.

I have listened to the remarks of members opposite. All of it is well-meaning. Some of it borders on the rhetorical but I understand where they are coming from. I do not find any of this a new issue. I think we can make some headway in this Parliament.

As we know, the amendments being proposed to the Young Offenders Act and the amendments we are debating today do principally three things in response to the election commitments of the government in the last election. The government has moved to expedite the transfer of 16 and 17-year-olds to adult court when they are accused of committing the more serious crimes. We have again proposed lengthening the sentence for homicides committed by young offenders. This is the third time Parliament has done this. Last, we have taken steps to deal with the sharing of information between agencies, police, educators and so on involving young offenders.

Underlying all of this is the recognition that the way to reduce crime among young offenders, and I suppose throughout the rest of society, is through crime prevention techniques. Once the crime is committed the issue is done. The crime has been committed. We all recognize that. We have commenced a national crime prevention council in the hope that we can engender the kinds of crime prevention techniques, ideas and concepts and put them into place.

Having failed hypothetically with crime prevention techniques to prevent a hypothetical young offender from committing a crime, and having arrested the young fellow, we are then faced with a societal intervention. We have decided as a Parliament, as government policy, that we will not simply take a young offender and drop him into the slammer for a couple of years.

We want an intervention that is appropriate to the circumstances so that the young offender does not commit a crime again. There are several ways to go about it. We have heard different suggestions across the floor of the House and there is plenty to read about it in the media. We want to intervene so it does not happen again. The intervention must be prompt.

I have noted even in the amendments that we propose now and in the existing structures of the Young Offenders Act there is too much potential for delay of that intervention. The secret in applying the justice system to the needs of that young offender so that the young offender will stay straight is that society intervenes promptly in an appropriate way.

Even the youth transfer provisions to the adult court involve procedures. The intervention of the state following the offence of a young offender that takes a year or six months is absolutely useless. Could we please stop and take note that if a 16 or 16 and a half year old commits a crime and we wait a year before we are able to convict and intervene we have wasted a whole year. That young offender is 17 and a half years old. He or she is almost an adult. We have blown the entire window of opportunity to intervene.

We also have to remember that the interventions are not done by the federal government. Interventions following the commission of crimes by young offenders are by provincial jurisdictions. Young offenders are dealt with by provincial procedures following conviction.

This House edicts that there will be an appropriate and a timely intervention by a provincial government. We cannot do it. We have to negotiate it. We have to have the provinces on side. This is a fairly complex undertaking in a country like this. These jurisdictions have been successfully dealt with in the past and we can continue to make progress.

It is important to remember as we consider these amendments to this act that the government is committed to reviewing the entire operation of the Young Offenders Act, even the amendments that we are dealing with today, in a review which will probably take a number of months but which will be intensive. I know that review has the commitment of all members. We intend to do a very good job of producing a report that will

indicate the directions for reform if any. I am sure there will be reform proposals. I am certain of it.

This House and the justice minister may be able to make further proposals with provincial counterparts in the weeks to follow.

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12:40 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have noticed there are really two main themes in this debate on the Young Offenders Act.

The first theme seems to be that we should deal with the root problem, the cause of youth crime. The other theme is that filling the jails is not going to be the deterrent that we should use to prevent crime, that filling the jails is not the only answer, is not the whole solution to the problem.

I would like to talk a little about these two issues. First I agree absolutely with those who have said that we must deal with the root cause of youth crime. I do not think members would find anyone who would argue with that position.

If we look at the legislation that this government and past governments over the past 20 to 30 years have passed, we find that the role of the family has been weakened by laws, including changes to the criminal justice system and the tax system. These changes have certainly done nothing to get at the root causes of crime, in fact just the opposite. The weakening of the role of the family and the increasing of the role of the state have weakened and added to developing the root cause of crime. It has allowed crime.

The other thing I would like to talk about is the issue of filling our jails as really not being a good deterrent to crime. Jail is part of the answer and jail does provide a deterrent but I too am concerned if we only look at filling the jails as deterrence to crime, including of course crime committed by young offenders.

We have to look at all possible options as deterrents. For example, we have to seriously look at boot camps and other types of set-ups where there is strong discipline. This could be used with young offenders.

Let us also look at something that was removed as an option for deterrence from the Criminal Code in 1971. I am talking about the use of corporal punishment not just with adults but with young offenders. We have to examine the possibility of bringing back corporal punishment as a very effective deterrent.

Before I was involved in politics the first time in 1975 I heard from a constituent who told me about his personal experience in the use of corporal punishment.

This gentleman was at a coffee table in a local restaurant when we were talking about how the criminal justice system had to be improved and how criminals were not being dealt with very well, not firmly enough. One person got on to the suggestion that we reinstate and use corporal punishment in our system again.

One gentleman who had been saying nothing until this point said: "I am going to tell you something that I have never told anyone before. When I was a young man I committed a violent crime". We never asked what the crime was. It was not important in the discussion.

"As a result I received a prison sentence of about two years and I received the lash". This gentleman said that because he received the lash going in and going out of prison that he believed a deterrent had been provided that kept him from a life of crime. He believed that if it had not been for that corporal punishment, he would have been a lifetime criminal.

When members opposite talk about the harshness of corporal punishment in our criminal system, I would like to ask them this question. Which is more harsh? Which is more kind and gentle, using corporal punishment to prevent a life of crime or not having sufficient deterrents and having an individual become a lifelong criminal?

This gentleman who had received the lash said that he believed it kept him from a life of crime and he also believed that was far less harsh than the alternative of being a lifetime criminal and living every day, every year of his life knowing that he would go back to crime again and again.

Therefore when we are talking in this House about being kind and gentle, let us look at it from a factual and real point of view. I ask again, which is more kind and gentle?

I heard a very similar story from another gentlemen in my riding at an Elks meeting a few years later. This gentlemen had personally received the lash. He received the lash going into jail. He had a longer sentence. He said if he had his choice he would have stayed in jail for life rather than receiving that corporal punishment. This came directly from the person involved. He would have stayed in jail rather than receive the lash on his way out.

I think that says a lot about using corporal punishment as a deterrent. There are many different degrees of corporal punishment that could be used. Certainly with young offenders I think the degree of corporal punishment should be far less.

I know from personal experience throughout my life as a young person growing up that pain was a terrific deterrent. I believe that pain through corporal punishment should be seriously considered in this House as a deterrent to prevent young offenders from reoffending.

When I asked the parliamentary secretary a question in the House last year whether his government had even considered

corporal punishment as a deterrent, the parliamentary secretary stood up, looked at me in a scoffing manner-

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12:45 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

That is the Liberal look.

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12:45 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Vegreville, AB

Maybe that was the Liberal look. He said no and sat down. I believe that it is important that we discuss all options and I believe that we should look at the option of corporal punishment in our criminal justice system generally as a deterrent and in our penal system, including for young offenders.

In closing, I would like to make one more point and comment on how corporal punishment was removed from the criminal justice system. An ominbus bill I believe in 1971, a part of this omnibus bill was not debated, only spoken on by two speakers and that removed corporal punishment as a deterrent in our criminal justice system.

As a result of this bill under a Liberal government back then corporal punishment was removed without debate, without the consideration it deserved. I believe that now we should have the debate in this House and among Canadians to see if other Canadians feel the same as people of my constituency. This issue has been brought up again and again. Then maybe we will see that there will be or is a place in our penal system, including under the Young Offenders Act, for corporal punishment. Let us find out. Let us have an open debate.

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12:45 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a short comment.

I listened with interest as the member for Scarborough-Rouge River talked about crime prevention. I think this relates quite specifically to Bill C-37 which we are discussing today.

I will make my point very brief. He talked about crime prevention and the need to focus on crime prevention more than the punishment of crime. He considered that important.

I would ask this House to consider whether the Young Offenders Act as it currently stands, even in light of the amendments in Bill C-37, encourages crime simply because the criminal element over 18 years of age is able to coerce young people to carry out criminal acts because of the lack of harsh offences and consequences that are not enforced under the Young Offenders Act.

What Canadians and even young people are telling us, those who represent them, is tighten up the Young Offenders Act so that these older criminals, the criminal element, are not harassing, coercing and bribing young people to do the dirty work for them because there will not be serious consequences as a result. That is crime prevention, that is what we should be dealing with and that is not in this bill. It is not in the red book and it is not in anything I have seen from the Liberal government to this point.

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12:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:50 p.m.

An hon. member

Question.