Debates of March 22nd, 1999
House of Commons Hansard #201 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.
- Business Of The House
- Government Services Act, 1999
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
- Rocky Mountain House
- Girl Guides Of Canada
- Nunavik Rangers
- Grain Industry
- Major Lionel Guy D'Artois
- Norman Jewison
- World Water Day
- Premier Of Quebec
- Racial Discrimination
- Back To Work Legislation
- Building Contracts
- Canadian Embassy In Berlin
- Foreign Investment
- Building Contracts
- Employment Insurance
- Building Contracts
- Young Offenders Act
- The Economy
- Bill C-54
- Revenue Canada
- The Economy
- Back To Work Legislation
- Grain Industry
- Building Contracts
- Ethics Counsellor
- Research And Development
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
- Mirabel Airport
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Youth Criminal Justice Act
- Medical Use Of Marijuana
- Presence In Gallery
- Order In Council Appointments
- Government Response To Petitions
- Committees Of The House
- Business Of The House
- Questions Passed As Orders For Returns
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Government Services Act, 1999
Business Of The House
Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, later today it is the intention of the government to introduce a bill regarding the labour disruption and PSAC.
I seek the unanimous consent of the House to do the introduction now to allow an extra four hours for members to actually see the content of the bill and of course to make it in the public domain as well.
Perhaps there would be consent to go to Routine Proceedings now for only that purpose, and this would not affect Routine Proceedings later today which would be held in the customary way.
Business Of The House
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
Is there unanimous consent to proceed now to Routine Proceedings?
Business Of The House
Some hon. members
Government Services Act, 1999
Don Boudria for the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-76, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Anne McLellan Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
moved that Bill C-68, an act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure this morning to speak on second reading of the youth criminal justice act.
Canadians realize that several important aspects of the youth justice system are not working as well as they ought to, and that the system needs to be re-examined and reworked.
We know that it will take a sustained effort involving all levels of government and many other partners to tackle the complex problems of youth crime and to build the fair and effective youth justice system Canadians want and deserve.
That process is underway. Last June the solicitor general and I launched the government's national crime prevention program. Since then millions of dollars have been invested in community based crime prevention initiatives across our country dealing at the front end with the root causes of crime, with a special focus on youth at risk.
On March 11, 1999, I introduced the youth criminal justice act and I am now pleased to participate in the second reading debate. Repealing and replacing the Young Offenders Act with the youth criminal justice act is the next key step in the process of youth justice renewal.
The new legislation will signal to Canadians that a new youth justice regime is in place.
The new legislation reflects the message Canadians want from their youth justice system, that it is there first and foremost to protect society, that it foster values such as respect for others and their property, that it insist on accountability and that it provide both violent and non violent young offenders with consequences that are meaningful and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, that it be a youth justice system that is inclusive, that engages Canadians in the response to youth crime and that it does a better job of responding to the needs of victims.
We on this side of the House are not prepared to criminalize 10 and 11 year olds. That is not the way to best address their needs, a point I have made clear in the House on many occasions. We believe that in those circumstances where a formal approach is required, child welfare and the mental health systems are the preferred approaches.
The federal government is committed to working jointly with the provinces and territories to develop a co-operative approach. We also want to ensure that we have a system of youth justice that offers hope to young people, that gives young people who get in trouble with the law a chance to turn their lives around for their sake and for the sake of their families and their communities.
The youth criminal justice act includes provisions for more meaningful consequences for the most serious violent young offenders. It expands the list of offences and lowers the age at which youth would presumptively receive adult sentences.
When the legislation is passed youth 14 years and older who are convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault will receive an adult sentence unless a judge can be persuaded otherwise. The judge would need to be persuaded by the youth that a youth sentence would be adequate to hold the young person accountable given the seriousness and the circumstances of the offence and the degree of responsibility, age and maturity of the young person involved.
In addition, we are creating a fifth presumptive category for repeat violent offenders where young offenders 14 and older who demonstrate a pattern of violent behaviour would receive an adult sentence unless a judge can similarly be persuaded otherwise.
The bill contains an important change to what may be the most controversial aspect of our youth justice legislation, the publication of names. The debate on this issue essentially involves two legitimate and competing values, the need to encourage rehabilitation by avoiding the negative effect of publicity on youth versus the need for greater openness and transparency in the justice system.
The proposed legislation now before the House strikes an appropriate balance between those competing views and values. It would permit the publication of names upon conviction of all young offenders who qualify for an adult sentence. The names of 14 to 17 year olds given a youth sentence for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or repeat violent offences could also be published in certain circumstances.
The youth criminal justice act would also replace the current procedure for transfer to adult court by empowering all trial courts to grant adult sentences so that the youth retains age-appropriate procedural protections and so that justice can be provided quickly, placing less of a burden on victims and families. This will also ensure that the offender, the victim or the victim's family and the community see a clear and timely connection between the offence and its consequences.
The bill contains other important reforms to the youth justice system. In response to concerns by the law enforcement community, judges would be given more discretion to admit voluntary statements by youth as evidence at their trials. In response to the concerns of victims, victim impact statements would be introduced in youth court and victims' access to information regarding proceedings would be improved.
The bill provides for an increased sentence for adults who undertake to the court to respect bail conditions involving supervision of a young person who would otherwise remain in custody and who wilfully failed to comply with those conditions.
The bill provides that provinces may recover the costs of court appointed counsel from parents and young people who are fully capable of paying. As well, the record keeping system for youth records would be simplified and would allow for greater access by authorized people in the interests of the administration of justice and research.
The majority of young people who get into trouble with the law are non-violent and only commit one offence. Unfortunately there are too many examples in our current youth justice system of young people serving time in jail for minor offences. We incarcerate youth at a rate four times that of adults and twice that of many U.S. states. We incarcerate youth despite the fact that we knowingly run the risk that they will come out more hardened criminals and we incarcerate them knowing that alternatives to custody can do a better job of ensuring that youth learn from their mistakes.
This bill includes criteria on the use of custody so that it is used appropriately. Further, the bill includes provisions for dealing with less serious offending outside of the formal court process. Police would be asked to consider all options, including informal alternatives to the court process before laying charges. The police, key partners in this strategy, would be given more authority to use verbal warnings or cautions, to direct youth to informal police diversion programs such as family group conferences, or more formal programs requiring community service or repairing the harm done to the victim.
While every effort would be made to reduce the overreliance on incarceration, some youth will be sentenced to custody. The youth criminal justice act includes provisions that respect an obligation to ensure that all young people, particularly the most serious offenders, receive effective treatment and rehabilitation. Successfully rehabilitated youth means fewer victims, restored families, safer schools and stronger communities.
To this end, the bill includes an intensive custodial sentence for the most high risk young offenders who are repeat violent offenders or who have committed murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault. These sentences are intended for offenders with serious psychological, mental or emotional illness or disturbances. The sentence will require a plan for intensive treatment and supervision of these offenders and will require a court to make all decisions to release them under controlled reintegration programs.
The proposed legislation also makes an important reform to youth justice sentencing to foster the safe and effective reintegration of youth into their communities.
Under the new law judges would be required to impose a period of supervision in the community following custody. This would allow authorities to closely monitor and control the young offender and to ensure that he or she receives the necessary treatment and programs to return successfully to the community. The period of supervision administered by the provinces will include mandatory and optional conditions tailored to the individual youth.
The bill proposes a comprehensive, balanced and flexible legislative framework for youth justice. It was developed after extensive consultations with the provinces, the police, the bar, youth justice workers, youth themselves, victims and others.
The next important phase of the renewal of youth justice is directed at the implementation of the new youth justice legislation. Youth justice professionals, community members and others will need information about the new system and will need training.
We all know that the best answers to the complex problems of youth crime lie in integrated approaches. Effective youth justice involves educators, child welfare and mental health systems, voluntary organizations, victims, families, youth employers and neighbourhood groups; just about anyone who works with or cares about our children, our young people, our communities and our country.
Additional federal resources in the amount of some $206 million over the next three years have been made available to support the important challenge of renewing our system of youth justice.
The government's youth justice strategy opens the door to greater involvement by the general public and by professionals in youth crime, and I encourage Canadians to get involved.
I would ask members to support the youth criminal justice act so that we can put in place the kind of youth justice system that Canadians are seeking; one that protects society and instils the values of accountability, responsibility and respect. We owe it to Canadians, but we owe it especially to Canadian youth.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Chuck Cadman Surrey North, BC
Mr. Speaker, on a summer evening a number of years ago I was sitting in our living room when I heard the sound of sirens. Now, that is not an uncommon occurrence on a Saturday night in the town where I live. However, later on I heard that there had been a drive-by shooting in which a teenager had died. The car in which he was a passenger was stopped at a red light when another car pulled up alongside. A teenage passenger in the second car leaned out the window and fired point blank.
The next day I mentioned the incident to one of my children who had spent that night at a friend's house not too far from the shooting. He told me that he had heard the fatal gun shot. I remember thinking “Just what is our community coming to?” I also remember thinking about the parents of the victim. A few days later the suspected killer was himself killed in an act of revenge. Again, I remember thinking about the safety of our streets.
A couple of months later on another Saturday night a family friend was visiting from the Queen Charlotte Islands. After dinner, as I was sitting in my living room, our son Jesse sauntered down the hall, paused at the top of the stairs, said goodbye to his mother and our friend in the kitchen, glanced toward me, and with a “See you later, dad” bounded down the stairs and out.
Jesse was a drummer and his rock band had been asked to play at a house party. He was excited. It was their first gig. Our daughter, who is three years older, left shortly afterwards, leaving us to a quiet evening of conversation.
At 11.15, shortly after our friend had left, Jesse phoned telling me that he and his two buddies were on their way home. They were waiting for a bus. An hour later the phone rang again. My wife answered the phone. She swore. It was the hospital. They wanted us there right away. Jesse had been stabbed.
A panicked five minute drive, hospital staff avoiding eye contact as we ran through the doors, and then the words no parent should ever have to hear: “We're sorry, we tried, but there was too much damage”.
A single stab wound to the back had pierced his heart. He was 16. That was October 18, 1992, on my father's 81st birthday. Jesse would have been 23 years old tomorrow.
Jesse was the victim of a random, unprovoked attack on himself and his two friends by complete strangers. He died in the arms of his best friend at the side of the same road, about a quarter mile from the spot where the earlier shooting, the one which he had heard, had occurred a couple of months previous. His attackers were part of the same loose-knit group of thieves and thugs involved in that shooting. In fact, it later came out that his killer, also 16, idolized the shooter and saw him as a martyr.
There was an arrest within days. The police informed us that the accused, because of his age, and unless the crown could successfully argue that he be tried as an adult, would be facing three years in secure custody followed by two years in open, most likely community supervision and then free with no criminal record.
Mr. Speaker, you have no idea just how devastating the knowledge is to a family that is still reeling from the murder of a loved one that there is a philosophy in this country which holds that three years of incarceration is an appropriate sanction for intentionally taking the life of an innocent stranger in a random, unprovoked attack on the street.
Two days after we buried Jesse a six year old girl was raped and murdered in Courtenay, British Columbia. Eventually her 16 year old neighbour was charged. He also faced a mere three years of secure custody and two in open.
That was my introduction to the Canadian criminal justice system and the Young Offenders Act. I am neither a lawyer nor an academic, but after 20 months in the courts ourselves, six and half years of involvement with other families and individuals who, in the words of a dear close friend, now belong to a club that none of us wanted to join, and the same amount of time listening to Canadians at shopping malls and soccer fields, not conference rooms and lecture theatres, I think that I am reasonably qualified to speak to this issue.
In fact, it was the refusal of the justice committee to allow me to appear in open session when it was in Vancouver in 1996 which pushed me over the edge and prompted me to seek election to this place.
Last Friday in this place the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley said that following my appearance before the justice committee a number of years ago a government member commented to the effect that victims bring nothing to this debate other than sentiment. I make no apology for that. For far too long our legislators and our courts have chosen to ignore the real human impact and human cost of crime, especially youth crime and violent crime.
I once heard that a Vancouver lawyer wanted families of homicide victims barred from courtrooms because they cried too much and might influence a jury.
Mr. Speaker, as you may guess, I have looked forward to an opportunity like this for some time now. The Young Offenders Act will hopefully be assigned to the garbage heap of history before too long. It has been a failure and Canadians have had to suffer its consequences for far too long. It was never a priority of various governments over the years. Obviously it was not a priority of the present government. The minister, upon taking the job, claimed that introducing new young offender legislation was to be one of her major priorities, but how much of a priority was it when it has taken almost two years for the legislation to come before us? What do we have? We have a new name. We have new spin-doctoring from the government. We have new claims of being tougher on crime, but we really have the same old thing wrapped up in a nice new package.
For every step forward there is a step backward. Ineffective legislation does Canadians a disservice. It does our youth an even bigger disservice as they are most often the victims of youth crime. Of course youth involved in crime are dealt a very questionable hand when the citizenry become so disenchanted with the law that they take it out on the offenders by ostracizing them or refusing to help in rehabilitation.
What has the minister been doing for the past two years? In the fall of 1997 she promised Canadians that changes would be made to the Young Offenders Act in a timely fashion. She was working on it. Over the winter of 1997 and early 1998 she claimed that she was not going to deal with the legislation in a simplistic manner, but was going to deal with a complicated issue in the proper manner. Then, under great fanfare, with all the splash of press conferences, fancy overheads and colourful brochures, the minister came out with her youth justice strategy; not legislation, just proposals. She was going to get tough on young criminals and promised legislation by the fall of 1998. Of course we did not get it. The minister claimed that she needed more consultation with the provinces.
It soon became apparent that what she really had to do was to shake loose some federal dollars to pay for her proposals. One would have thought she would have had this in place upfront.
Instead of getting long overdue changes to address youth crime, Canadians had to wait for the government to pony up the bucks. This was done to some extent with the February budget. We now have legislation. I suppose the government is hoping that Canadians are so worn out from pushing and pressuring for something they will be happy with anything. I assure them that we are quite prepared to flesh out the legislation. We are quite prepared to see what can be done to finally give Canadians what they have been seeking for years, but we will not be holding our breath.
The government has shown on numerous occasions its unwillingness to listen to reason. I only need to mention the funding for hepatitis C, debt reduction, breaks for overtaxed Canadians, conditional sentencing and two tier justice whereby the government is trying to promote one form of justice for aboriginals and another for the rest of Canadians.
The youth criminal justice act fails to deliver what Canadians expect. We will propose amendments. We are in this for the long haul and we will not let the issue slide as the government would like it to do.
The minister claimed that she would deal with this complicated issue and would take the time to deal with it in a proper manner. While we can certainly agree that she has taken her time, we have to question her claim that it was complicated.
When going through the proposed legislation clause by clause we found for the most part that it was the old Young Offenders Act rewritten and presented in a different format. When particular provisions appear to have been tightened up there is almost always a corresponding opportunity for the provinces or the courts to provide exceptions and to maintain the status quo.
What actually makes it complicated for the minister is her attempt to appease all the different philosophies within her government. Some want tougher legislation. Others think everything is just fine the way it is. Still others want it to become even more lenient. Some actually believe that society is to blame for all our crime and criminals are merely those that society has failed. No wonder we have problems in the criminal justice system.
Then we have the minister claiming that she needed time to consult with the provinces. She had to understand what the various regions of Canada were seeking in the overhaul of our youth laws. Obviously the minister has little faith in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
The committee spent many months conducting hearings from coast to coast. The committee listened to the provinces. It spent almost half a million dollars to provide a comprehensive report with a number of recommendations toward significant changes to the laws. I guess that was not enough so I will accept that the minister wanted more consultation.
Was it reasonable consultation or was it merely a stall because the government was having trouble satisfying its caucus? I suspect that there was not adequate consultation. I cite comments by the Minister of Justice for Alberta. He wrote to the federal minister to complain about this very issue. He states:
Despite your assertion to the contrary, there has not been sufficient consultation with respect to the proposed replacement legislation for the Young Offenders Act.
The government failed to include the major concerns of at least some of the provinces. Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Ontario are on record as agreeing to a number of significant changes. First on their list was the reduction in age of criminal accountability in selected cases to address the serious offences committed by children under 12 and for those in this group who exhibit a pattern of offending.
Calgary Chief of Police Christine Silverberg criticized the government's changes as not going far enough with violent children under age 12. The Winnipeg police inspector in charge of youth crime, Ken Biener, stated:
—she missed the boat completely in failing to adopt the recommendation to allow 10 and 11 year olds to be arrested and face the courts.
It should be of no surprise that this was not included. Not only did the government ignore their partners in the youth justice process. It also ignored the justice committee and its reports which included a very similar recommendation.
The minister attacks the Reform Party for wanting to include 10 and 11 year olds within the youth justice process. She characterizes the proposal as barbaric. She refuses to accept that our present system is failing to properly address and help these younger members of our society. She refuses to permit these young offenders to obtain all the benefits of rehabilitation and reintegration.
Instead, she leaves them in this vacuum where they do not get the help and the support they need. She refuses to acknowledge that the provinces want reforms in this area and the police need support in their effort to deal with violent 10 and 11 year olds. She refuses to even acknowledge that members of her caucus have publicly supported the inclusion of 10 and 11 years olds in the youth justice system. She refuses to acknowledge that the Liberal majority on the justice committee of the last parliament, chaired by our late colleague Shaughnessy Cohen, supported the inclusion of 10 and 11 year olds within the legislation.
We have all seen what happens to those few Liberals who challenge the views of the party management. Fortunately for all of us Shaughnessy did not suffer that fate.
There is another example of failing to consult. These provinces had demanded an amendment to apply the victim fine surcharge to young offenders.
Like the justice committee that recommended the same thing in a victims rights report, these provinces saw the benefit of having young offenders supply some of the financing of assistance to victims of crime. However the legislation does not include automatic victim fine surcharges. It merely provides the opportunity for the provinces to bring in their own legislation.
I also note that a number of provinces were seeking a mandatory custody disposition for youths convicted of offences involving the use of weapons. Once again the government has chosen to ignore those on the frontlines of the youth justice process. There is no provision for mandatory custody for crimes involving the use of weapons. It makes me wonder whether the government just has a justice committee to use when its reports correspond to the government's own political position.
As for consultation with interested participants, the government meets with the provinces to say it has consulted but there appears to be little intention of meaningful dialogue unless those provinces share the political position of the federal government.
I have mentioned a number of failings just in getting the legislation before the House. The government does not listen to its partners in the administration of youth justice. It does not participate in adequate consultation. It does not even follow its own committee when valid recommendations are made after extensive input.
Instead the government merely goes on and does what it wants to do for purely political reasons. It ignores the priority to do what is right for Canadians, including those youth that find themselves on the wrong side of the law and those youth that are most often the victims of youth crime.
I will now move on to discuss a number of the specific issues covered by the legislation. I will deal with a few positive developments first and then move on to some of the negative aspects that raise concerns.
The minister has decided to formalize the whole matter of police discretion. This will enable the frontline troops, so to speak, to deal with minor youth indiscretions quickly and easily. The occasional scuffle over a street hockey game can be resolved through police caution or warning. It is the same with most childhood pranks. The theft of a chocolate bar from a corner store need not go to a community based committee or even to court.
The minister likes to characterize members of my party as being one dimensional and interested only in locking up offenders. She is wrong. The hon. member for Crowfoot recommended this very initiative in his minority report to the justice committee in April 1997. He included it within his private member's Bill C-210. He understood the necessity to support the police. Many officers were already doing this without legislative authority. Others were afraid to use their discretion. They were concerned that they could be subjected to criticism as they did not have the proper authority.
The government has also made quite a big thing about their interest and the need to deal with non-violent offenders differently from violent offenders. It is regrettable that many in the media have been sold on this idea as being solely a Liberal initiative. It is really nothing new. In many parts of Canada there are already programs known as diversion, restorative justice, alternative measures, community based youth justice committees, healing circles, and the list goes on. All the government has done is to create an all-encompassing term, extrajudicial measures, to cover them all.
Again the hon. member for Crowfoot proposed his two prong form of justice whereby first time non-violent offenders could proceed through a more informal process. They would simply take responsibility for their actions and obey the requirements set out by any community based committee or organization. This was proposed both in his minority report to the justice committee and in his private member's bill.
The government cannot claim credit for this proposal. Reform was not interested in claiming credit. We were only interested in doing what was needed for a proper system of justice. We have had to bring this matter to public attention merely because of government attempts to characterize the Reform Party as one dimensional.
I have been personally involved with dozens of young offenders in a diversion program in my home province for some four years now. I want to publicly acknowledge Lola Chapman for the work she has done in this area. Lola and I have worked closely with the B.C. attorney general to expand the use of these programs. I am in full support of them in the limited circumstances of first time non-violent situations.
Some have expressed surprise, given my personal experience, that I would even be interested in working with wayward youth. We all know that as youth we made mistakes and some, I dare say, may have broken some laws. All most of us needed was to be taken to task for these indiscretions. If we failed to pay attention and moved on to additional crimes or more serious offences then we deserved to be treated in a more formal process. This is the same for today's youth. This is all we are looking for from legislation.
The final area I would like to discuss from a positive aspect is the incorporation of my private member's Bill C-260 in its entirety. Once again there was a massive leak of information about the legislation before it was actually introduced. Part of the leaks had to do with my private member's proposal. However, most of the media reports have misinterpreted this part of the legislation as something new in Canadian law.
These reports indicate that parents will be held criminally responsible for the crimes of their children. Nothing could be further from the truth in both respects. What has me concerned is whether the sources of the government leaks have deliberately misinterpreted this proposal. Furthermore, the government has shown little interest in correcting these misinterpretations. After all, it is now part of its legislation.
I have had to cover the issue on a number of different types of media. I have written a number of letters to the editor to attempt to correct the record. The law has been around for a number of years. My proposal merely enhances the potential punishment. It has nothing to do with the crimes of the young person. It has solely to do with the written agreement or contract whereby the young person is released from custody while awaiting trial.
The young person is essentially released on a form of bail when a responsible adult, usually a parent, signs a legal undertaking to supervise that young person to ensure court imposed conditions are respected. Both the young person and the adult sign the agreement. Both are liable to be charged with an offence if they each wilfully fail to fulfil the agreement: the parent for wilfully failing to supervise as agreed and the young person for wilfully failing to obey the conditions. The offence has to do with the court agreement. It has nothing to do with the ordinary responsibilities of the parent.
There is only the obligation to supervise. When the person who signed the undertaking becomes aware of a breach of conditions there is an obligation to notify the authorities. There is a high threshold to meet before a case may be made that an adult has wilfully failed to supervise as required.
It should be said that the initiative for this came from my own personal experience whereby my son's killer was in breach of a court imposed curfew that night. He had also failed to appear in court some three weeks earlier; another breach of conditions. His father had signed an undertaking to supervise some months earlier.
Obviously I support the legislation in respect of judicial undertakings by responsible persons. I will be interested in seeing how this portion of the bill develops. I will be interested in seeing whether members of the government attempt to claim this initiative as their own, and I do not really care as long as it gets done.
Impressing upon both the parent and the young person the serious repercussions for violating the agreement will protect members of our communities. Hopefully the parent will think twice about signing such an agreement if there is little expectation for the young person to mend his or her ways. Hopefully the young person will think twice before breaking the conditions of release and endangering the position of the parent who wilfully fails to supervise.
I will now discuss some of the inadequacies of the legislation, and there are a number. Even though I have been provided with a significant amount of time, it will take a number of opportunities to address all of them. Fortunately we have a committee process to go through. We have amendments to propose. At some time we will be back here to make comments at third reading.
Earlier I mentioned the concern with the government's scheme of extrajudicial measures. It has taken a valuable and progressive means of addressing minor crime and once again opened it up to massive abuse. It did the same thing with adult conditional sentencing.
Conditional sentencing involves serving a sentence in the community under some form of supervision. It may involve some type of house arrest. It may involve some form of restitution to the community through providing service with charitable organizations.
There are many uses for conditional sentencing. What did the government use it for? It used it to reduce the cost of incarceration. It said the jails and the prisons were too full and were too costly. It said that criminals were really not bad people and that mere arrest and conviction were enough to teach them the error of their ways. It said that the courts would not permit violent and repeat offenders to take advantage of conditional sentencing.
However the courts permitted all kinds of violent criminals to obtain this get out of jail free ticket. Killers got conditional sentences. Violent sex offenders got conditional sentences. Pedophiles got conditional sentences. Repeat offenders got conditional sentences.
When Bill C-41 was debated in 1994 and 1995 the Reform Party argued to restrict the use of conditional sentencing to first time non-violent and non-drug offenders. We understood its value but only for a restricted purpose. The government has been consistent. It refused to listen. It maintained only it knew the best.
Recently the Minister of Justice recognized the abuse of conditional sentencing. She requested the justice committee to review the issue. She will likely then procrastinate some more and suggest that perhaps more consultation is required. In the end she will do what is political. She will take much of her direction from the Prime Minister's Office. After all, he was a justice minister in the dim past and he is undoubtedly another expert on conditional sentencing, even though it was unheard of at that time.
Getting back to youth legislation, extrajudicial measures can easily become more of a problem than conditional sentencing. Under section 4(c) of the bill they are presumed to be adequate for non-violent offences. The word presume is key. It means that extrajudicial measures will be the rule rather than the exception in cases of non-violent offences.
Let us see how non-violent is defined. It means an offence that does not cause or create a substantial risk of causing bodily harm. This definition would include sexual touching, as there is no risk of bodily harm. Pedophiles cause psychological harm to young children. This definition would include the possession of child pornography, as there is no risk of bodily harm. It would include break and enters into homes, as there would have to be a substantial risk of causing bodily harm in order to avoid this definition.
This definition would include drug offences, including trafficking. Is there a substantial risk of bodily harm for selling crack cocaine in a school? I would hate to have to convince a court that there was this risk when the evidence is limited to one sale to one student, another sale to another student and so on. How could it be proven that there is substantial risk of bodily harm when only one hit of the drug is provided at the time?
Extrajudicial measures will be available to repeat offenders. While clause 4(c) limits the provision to non-violent offenders who have not previously been found guilty of an offence, that clause applies only to where extrajudicial measures are presumed to be adequate. Clause 4(d) permits these measures to be used even if there were previous convictions. It permits these measures even if they were used for the same offender before.
This means extrajudicial measures may be used 100 times for the same offender for any number of crimes. This means extrajudicial measures may be used even though that offender may have been convicted of a previous offence. There is no further limitation. The previous offence may have been manslaughter, sexual assault or murder.
Sometimes I wonder whether this government is interested in putting anyone in prison. This government is responsible for allowing all types of violent offenders to remain in our communities threatening the safety of our citizens. It seems intent on doing the same thing with our young offenders.
Adult sentencing will be available for presumptive offences but even for those where there is an opportunity for the young person to challenge adult sentencing in each particular situation. As well, the judge may only use adult sentencing when of the opinion that a youth sentence is not adequate. Presumptive offences are limited to murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. The definition is very limited. It does not include all types of crimes in which a weapon is used. It does not include kidnapping. It does not even include sexual assault causing bodily harm. These are all seriously violent crimes but they are not sufficient for this government to include in its presumptive offences.
The adult sentence for murder is life imprisonment. For those over 18 parole eligibility is at 25 years for first degree and 10 to 25 years for second degree. For 16 and 17 year olds parole eligibility comes at 10 years for first degree and 7 years for second degree. For those under 16, parole eligibility comes at 5 to 7 years. There is no change.
I attended the trials of a 15 year old and the 19 year old who were convicted for the savage murder of a frail 79 year old widow. She is buried just a stone's throw from my son. The 15 year old masterminded the plot, he was the more violent of the two, he targeted the lady because she would be easy. He had done yard work for her so he knew that she would let them into her home. The judge sentenced the 19 year old to 15 years before parole eligibility. He then complained on the record that his hands were tied by parliament forcing him to set parole ineligibility at only seven years for the young offender, and that has not changed.
I will illustrate further how this government just does not listen. In 1994 my son's killer was handed a parole ineligibility period of ten years, the maximum allowable at the time. When Bill C-37 was before the House in the last parliament it proposed to fix parole ineligibility for second degree murder at seven years. I anticipated a loophole because he was in the process of appealing the sentence at that time. I wrote the then justice minister, the current health minister, with my concerns. No response.
Bill C-37 became law in December 1995. The following spring the killer had three years knocked off his parole ineligibility period not because he deserved it but because the new law was made retroactive if to the benefit of the offender. I commented publicly, saying I told you so. A few days later I received a call from a justice department lawyer asking me what happened. This is what happened. If a letterhead or a call display does not indicate a university or a professional organization, this government does not want to hear from you.
I will briefly mention the second half of the definition of presumptive offence. In practice it will have almost no applicability. To be included within the definition of a presumptive offence an offender must commit three seriously violent offences for which an adult could be sentenced to prison for more than two years. A judge must have made a determination that the offence was a serious violent offence and endorse the information accordingly, twice.
A serious violent offence is defined as an offence that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing serious bodily harm, not just bodily harm, serious bodily harm. Most courts will have difficulty in distinguishing between bodily harm and serious bodily harm.
Would members like to explain to the victim and to the public that a particularly vicious attack only caused bodily harm and not serious bodily harm? Would members like to explain to the victim and the public that there has been only one prior documented incident of the offender causing serious bodily harm? We need two.
Would any of the members opposite like to explain to a victim or the public that this offender caused bodily harm a number of times in the past but he only caused serious bodily harm once so he still does not come within the definition of a presumptive offence?
Adult sentences are also available for offences for which an adult could be sentenced to prison for more than two years and if the young person is 14 or older. The very inclusion of presumptive offences and these other types of offences leaves the courts and our youth justice system with the distinct impression that parliament is serious about the presumptive offences and much less serious about the other types.
In case the listener thinks these provisions for adult sentencing will result in similar crimes receiving similar sentences for both adults and young persons, I point out some other wrinkles.
The overriding principles of this legislation include rehabilitation and reintegration of the young person. There are no words such as deterrence and denunciation. There is to be no punishment for the sake of deterring other young persons from similar activity. There is to be no punishment for the sake of expressing society's displeasure and abhorrence of a particularly gruesome or violent crime.
All young persons must be rehabilitated and reintegrated in a short period of time. This government believes they are all curable and pose little risk to our communities when they are returned.
This whole idea of adult sentencing for those 14 and older is nothing more than a con job. There will be challenges in almost every case against their imposition. Lawyers will be fully and extensively employed. Judges will be permitted to continue in their lenient ways. After all, many of them have liberal tendencies as most of them were appointed by the Prime Minister and his predecessors. The judges have unlimited discretion to determine when to impose adult sentencing and when to impose youth sentencing. Section 72 does not limit this discretion in any way.
The provinces are also involved, as the crown has the opportunity to support youth sentencing or to fail to provide notice that an adult sentence is to be sought. Then there is the overriding principle that these young persons are to be rehabilitated. They are not to be deterred and denounced.
The whole issue of deeming of young persons is of the same nature. The government sells the idea that it will be tough and young persons receiving adult sentences are to be named. The government does not, however, say much about all the provisions that permit the court to ban the publication of names. A young person may apply for the ban. The crown has the option of not opposing the ban. The court has complete discretion to ban publication.
The act is set up so that rehabilitation and reintegration are the primary principles to be applied. There is no requirement by parliament that certain crimes automatically require the naming of offenders so that the public has the knowledge of who is a risk to its safety and security. Even those who 14 and over who commit a presumptive offence like murder or aggravated sexual assault may receive a youth sentence and may be protected by a ban on publication of their names.
Earlier I spoke about the rape and murder of a little girl by her 16 year old neighbour. At the time of the murder he was on probation for sexually molesting a young child. He was allowed to reside in a complex full of children in complete anonymity because of his age. I do not think I need say more about protecting the identity of those who pose a threat.
As I have said, when this government does change legislation it does not like to change much. It prefers to change the packaging and the sales pitch. Canadians end up with the same old thing. In some cases we end up with something far worse. With the youth criminal justice act, the jury is still out.
The government refused to lower the age to 10 for purely political reasons. The issue has been around since 1962 when the justice department recommended this change. The government ignored the recommendation then and it ignored it today. There are obvious difficulties in this legislation such as the extrajudicial measures that may be rectified through amendment. The government is once again unlikely to listen and to admit its error, but we will try.
There are other areas like adult sentencing and publication of names that have so many exceptions and provisions that there is bound to be dissatisfaction and new calls for revision from the public.
The government has an extensive promotional budget and it has significant human resources to sell Canadians on its legislation.
Unfortunately justice legislation, unlike some other forms, takes time to come home to roost. The youth criminal justice act will change nothing. As case after case slips through the cracks the weaknesses will be revealed and disenchantment will grow.
The youth criminal justice act is nothing more than the Young Offenders Act with a face lift and a new name. I have been involved in this debate for over six years and, as I said earlier, I make no apology for the sentiment or emotion I bring to it. It is unfortunate that after years of delay, years of so-called consultations and deliberations this is the best the government can do. Canadians deserve better. More important, because they are most often the victims of youth crime, our kids deserve better.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with some degree of regret that I rise in this House today to speak on this bill. The debate on Bill C-68 ought never to have taken place at all, as the Minister of Justice knows full well.
It has been demonstrated on many occasions that what is not working properly is not the Young Offenders Act itself, but its application. Those who are applying it properly succeed where others fail. Nevertheless, the Liberal government is obstinately preparing to demolish the spirit of this approach.
I would like to take the time available to me to prove that the Young Offenders Act does not deserve the fate the Liberals have in store for it, in response to pressures from western Canada. The act is being used as a scapegoat by a Liberal government that prefers to take the easy way out, while it ought to be left unchanged.
The Youth Offenders Act was passed in 1982, and came into effect in 1984. This legislation did not spring up over night. It is the result of several decades of reflection. In fact, one has to go all the way back to 1857 to find the first initiative assigning special status to juvenile delinquents.
The beginnings of the first youth justice system go back to 1908, with the Juvenile Delinquency Act. This intention of this act was to put young people back on the right track, while minimalizing their responsibility, given their youth. The idea was to set up a system that would truly promote the effective reintegration of young offenders into society.
At the time, Ontario was among the first provinces to put pressure so that young offenders would benefit from a protective approach. Ironically, Queen's Park is now the most vocal in demanding more repressive measures for young offenders.
In the early seventies, Quebec took two social measures that would prove very useful under the Young Offenders Act: the creation of a legal aid program and a reform of social services. Quebec adopted its first diversion measures in 1974, when it reviewed its Youth Protection Act. The province was then ready to implement the Young Offenders Act as soon as it would come into effect, in 1984.
I must point out here the extraordinary solidarity displayed in Quebec, which, at the time, succeeded in convincing the federal government to adopt the act that we now have, that is an act based on crime prevention, on the rehabilitation of young people who commit criminal acts, and above all an act designed to ensure the long term protection of society. The Young Offenders Act as we know it reflected, and still reflects, the thrust that it was intended to have.
At the time, there was no doubt that we had to put more emphasis on diversion measures. In Quebec, that approach had been stressed long before, in the Prévost report. Going before the court should only be considered after having exhausted all other options, such as reorientation, rehabilitation, and agreements with the parents to provide special treatment.
That approach had been applied elsewhere, including in the United States, in England and in Scotland. The federal government had no choice but to set the stage for diversion measures, through the Young Offenders Act. Still, since the administration of justice comes under their jurisdiction, it was the provinces that had to set up diversion programs. Quebec did so by establishing an ambitious alternative program.
This year, 1999, we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the coming into law of the Young Offenders Act. The Minister of Justice of Canada considers that the law has done its time, that it is out of date and no longer meets our expectations. Let us be clear, the Liberal government is not getting ready to sacrifice 15 years of expertise, but rather 30 years of Quebec know-how.
The Young Offenders Act is the product of a number of serious consultations and studies. In 1992, the Government of Quebec established a task force to look into the application of the Young Offenders Act. Chaired by Michel Jasmin, deputy chief justice of the court of Quebec, Chambre de la jeunesse, the task force brought forth a voluminous report after two and a half years of in-depth consultation and study.
I consider it vital to inform the House of some of the conclusions of the Jasmin report, which remain topical and which, it would seem, are unknown to the minister.
Drafted from testimony by many jurists, criminologists, psychologists and social workers in Quebec, the report eloquently describes the approach taken in Quebec in dealing with juvenile delinquents. I will read to you a number of passages of this important report prepared by Mr. Justice Jasmin.
From the work we have done over the past two and a half years, we are satisfied that the Young Offenders Act is good legislation. We were struck by the consensus of the various sectors that deal with this area. It should be noted that Quebec has developed a tradition in dealing with young offenders.
The efforts of the pioneers, who, in the 1950s, advocated that services be human and professional, have borne fruit that at the time would have been unthinkable. The aim was to move beyond mere repression to focus interventions on the education and rehabilitation of young people. A lot has been done to reach that point.
And the judge continues, a little further on in his extremely important report:
Juvenile delinquency is a complex problem and must be approached accordingly. The legislation is a key element of any strategy, but we must look at the broader picture and examine other factors that are no less important. It is often easier to amend legislation than to change our approach to a problem.
Mr. Justice Jasmin probably already knew the current Minister of Justice. He goes on:
It may be tempting to think that tougher legislation is the answer to the problems of delinquency. Simplistic responses blind us to the full extent of complex problems and create the false impression that we are doing what is necessary to resolve them. One such simplistic response is substituting get-tough measures for educational approaches.
It is clear from examination of the bill at second reading that the minister's responses to an extremely complex problem are very simplistic.
The Jasmin report is often mentioned by those who support Quebec's approach. As a member from Quebec, I cannot ignore it. I will use this report to denounce the simplistic solutions of this government, which has caved in not once but twice to pressure from the right and from the Reform Party.
I will again point out that the Young Offenders Act is a good act. I cannot say often enough to the minister across the way that substituting get-tough measures for educational approaches is a simplistic response.
The Young Offenders Act is getting very good results. Youth crime is steadily declining. Oddly enough, the federal Minister of Justice presented very eloquent figures to this effect when she introduced her bill.
She mentioned that there had been a 23% decrease in youth crime since 1991. She even told the press that the number of crimes with violence had also decreased since 1995.
Just as we identify a tree by the fruit it produces, so should we judge the Young Offenders Act by the results it gets, and not by a misconception.
It would be irresponsible to blindly reform the youth justice system without looking at the whole picture. In protecting such vital things as life and bodily security, the Young Offenders Act plays a front line role in strengthening the community's faith in our institutions.
Parliamentarians therefore must respond quickly to the concerns of their fellow citizens by making the appropriate legislative amendments as needed.
However, they must first and foremost ensure that the public has the information it needs to properly grasp such a complex problem as juvenile delinquency. There is no point, however, in doing what the minister has decided to do, namely throwing the baby out with the bath water. We must take a very close look and not act impulsively with such legislation.
The federal Minister of Justice failed in her duty to inform. By advocating stricter legislation, the minister wrongly intimates that the existing legislation is deficient. It would seem to indicate a lack of leadership.
Bill C-68 shows it is easier for a Liberal government to sacrifice good legislation than to advocate the effective approach it promotes.
To properly understand the reason behind the current amendments to the Young Offenders Act, we must go back to the 35th Parliament to look at the first Liberal attempts at turning the Young Offenders Act into a scapegoat.
On April 28, 1994, the current Minister of Health and former Minister of Justice stated in the House that the move to the right responded to election commitments. He was very candid in his acknowledgement.
I scarcely need to point out that these commitments were certainly not aimed at Quebec voters. In fact, it is hardly a well-kept secret that the Liberal Party's intention was to win over the clientele of the Reform in the west.
By passing Bill C-37 at that time, the Liberal government was introducing into the Young Offenders Act a whole series of automatic provisions which would greatly affect the fragile equilibrium of the youth justice system.
By allowing 16 and 17 year olds to be automatically referred to the adult court system, this government watered down once again the specific nature of the youth justice system. At the rate things are going, soon the only connection it will have with youth will be in its title.
Continuing in the same vein, in May, 1998, the Minister of Justice introduced her youth justice renewal strategy. In particular, she announced her intention to extend the referrals to 14 and 15 year olds. All parties involved in Quebec viewed this with alarm.
The Quebec bar association had even prepared an impressive brief in which it openly deplored this measure, which it felt was likely to increase recidivism among youth, both in number and in severity. In its brief, the bar association expressed the opinion that the problem did not lie with the current Young Offenders Act, but rather with the way it was being applied.
It also criticized the reform because it was based on grounds that were both biased and disconnected from reality. Among other points it raised was the following most legitimate question, one still as timely now as it was then, “Where exactly does the government get the information that stiffer sentences were going to have any impact whatsoever on the crime rate?”
The Quebec bar association was bang on. Not only was the reform not necessary, but the solutions being put forward by the minister are misguided and risky.
Last Friday, this issue received a breath of fresh air when some fifteen organizations from Quebec publicly reaffirmed their opposition to Bill C-68. The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, the Conseil permanent de la jeunesse and the Association des chefs de police et de pompiers du Quebec, to name just a few, held a press conference at which they reaffirmed Quebec's consensus and flatly opposed the Minister of Justice's Bill C-68.
The message was and is very straightforward. They are telling the minister that they want nothing to do with her bill. They have systematically rebutted all the minister's claims that her flexible system will allow Quebec to enforce the legislation as it sees fit.
Criminologist Jean Trépanier, a recognized youth crime expert in Quebec, was scathing when it came to the minister's much-touted flexibility. At the press conference, he said: “The so-called flexibility seems to be a political trick. Quebec's judges cannot ignore sentences handed down in other courts”. Those in doubt need only read the bill.
Cécile Toutant, another very respected voice from Quebec, also took aim at certain of the bill's measures. This criminologist, who is responsible for the youth program at the Pinel institute, condemned the new measures allowing for the automatic imposition of adult sentences on 14 and 15 year olds. According to Ms. Toutant, the time served in jail has nothing to do with the protection of the public. Perhaps the minister does not know that.
Me Trépanier and Ms. Toutant are members of the Quebec bar association's subcommittee on young offenders. That subcommittee drafted, among other documents, the association's submission on the strategy to renew the youth justice system. The minister cannot ignore the advice of these experts.
Those who will have to live with the new legislation do not care about the concerns of this election-minded Liberal government. They are the ones who will have to implement the new act. The spokesperson for Quebec's youth centres association was very clear when he said, and I quote, that “if the bill is passed, we will have a real mess”.
The act will be implemented based on a very fragile discretionary power held by crown attorneys. Again, the Young Offenders Act is a good act. It is effective and it gives good results. Therefore, why change it? What are the reasons justifying such a shakeup, other than the fact that the minister is desperate to please right-wing voters and give them the repressive measures they are asking for.
Recently, western Canada, headed by the Reform Party, was demanding harsher sentences. It is getting them with this bill. Recently too, western Canada's right wing was demanding that the names of young offenders be published, and again the minister yielded to pressure.
Reformers are still not satisfied. They now want criminal justice to apply to 10 year olds. Right now, the minister says she does not want to hear about such a measure. Yet, that is what the Liberal government said in 1994, when Reformers were asking for harsher sentences. The government would not hear of such measures. What happened since? The government caved in pathetically.
This government will never succeed in maintaining a balanced approach to juvenile crime. It is much too concerned by its election ambitions in western Canada. Who can trust such a flip-flop government?
Still today, one thing is obvious in the issue of the Young Offenders Act. The Quebec people will not be able to make choices that reflect its own values until it attains sovereignty.
Every day until then, we shall rise in this House to denounce the weakness of this government. In this issue in particular, the Bloc Quebecois will not give up on its demands, with witnesses to back up its position, that the minister listen to common sense, quit playing petty politics with something as important as the future of young people who are experiencing trouble with the law, and make up her mind to withdraw her bill, because it is aimed at trying to cause the failure of the Quebec model.
It constitutes a real obstacle and a threat to the Quebec model, which was created with the help of specialists and all those involved in the field and goes back a good 30 years.
I am calling upon the minister to understand this, and to withdraw this bill as quickly as possible, because it is not good for the future of these young people involved in crime.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the New Democratic Party to address justice issues and in particular the new legislation that has been tabled by the minister.
I follow some eloquent speakers, who have put forward concerns. While I concur with many of the remarks of the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm, I would suggest to him that not all MPs from the west are members of the Reform Party. Indeed, it is my privilege to be part and parcel of the party that contains the progressive elements of western Canada and the progressive MPs from that part of the country. I just remind him of that. I know he is cognizant of it.
That being said, I would like to comment first about some statements that were made. I will deal with the bill and the minister's comments shortly.
For those who are listening to this debate or reading Hansard , it is important to recognize that as opposition parties it is our job not just to oppose for the sake of opposing, which is often sadly what the Reform Party does, but to examine the legislation, to offer constructive advice and alternatives, to offer genuine criticism, to also offer congratulations when sections of a bill are well done and to examine that in committee. That is the job of the opposition. Unfortunately, members of the official opposition, the Reform Party, have forgotten that.
The comments made by the member for Surrey North tended to defeat their own purpose. He criticized the government saying it was one dimensional in its approach to crime and then went on to criticize the bill in one dimensional ways.
I think some things need to be clarified, specifically with respect to the sentencing provisions. The member for Surrey North said there was nothing in the sentencing provisions that would make young people accountable, that there was only reference to rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This is an example of simplistic language in what is an extremely complex document.
The bill has many sections and deals with a fundamental issue. To clarify and illustrate the simplistic measure of the Reform Party as opposed to the complex piece of legislation which the New Democratic Party will examine thoroughly and balance, I will read that section.
“The purpose of sentencing under section 41 is to contribute to the protection of society by holding a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person, that promote his or her” and then there is rehabilitation and reintegration into society. It is a complex piece of legislation, not one to be dealt with with simplistic hysteria.
Many people came before the justice committee in the preparation of this report. They are to be congratulated for their input. They included the Church Council on Justice, the Canadian Police Association and legal aid lawyers from across the country, many of whom I had the opportunity to work with before I came to parliament. It was interesting to read the comments of my colleagues in that report. I also want to commend the members of the justice department who prepared this document which as I have indicated is complex.
There are some good things in this legislation. It is important that we offer a balanced approach. In the principles, the minister recognizes that the basic premise for the legislation is the protection of society. The reason we have criminal laws is to ensure that as a society we are safe.
As the minister indicated, many people in Canadian society today do not feel safe. They feel that the law has failed them in certain criminal areas. Sometimes that is fed for political reasons. Sometimes hysteria is put forward. We hear repeatedly day after day in this House stories from the opposition about isolated incidents of heinous crimes, and they are heinous crimes. For every one young offender whose story is told for political points by the Reform Party, there are 20 young offenders who do find their way through the system and do find rehabilitation.
The protection of society and the accountability of young people for the commission of their crimes are good things. The taking of responsibility by young people has to be enunciated and this legislation does that.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
I am sure the member knows and you know that it is not within the rules of this House to impugn motive. When the member speaks of what we are doing here and attaching motive to it, it is wrong.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)
That is a point of debate.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS
Madam Speaker, I understand the sensitivity to the truth but I will continue anyway.
I have enumerated some of the good things in the legislation. I understand how sensitive sometimes the Reform Party is to the truth.
I go on to suggest some of the good things. There is a role for victims in this legislation which is important and needs to be recognized. The publication of names for serious offences for which a young person receives adult time is an important and significant change.
That being said, some other areas of the bill will require extensive study. I have serious concerns with some areas.
First and foremost is the cost of the program and whether or not there is sufficient funding by the government to implement the changes in the act.
The act departs from the Young Offenders Act in many ways. It grants a great deal of judicial discretion and a great deal of power to the community in extrajudicial remedies.
The purpose of the legislation is to determine that only those young people who commit serious violent offences or the prescribed offences will be incarcerated, whereas the others will find a way through the system to rehabilitation or reintegration. The problem is that is not new; that is what the old Young Offenders Act set out to do.
I remember practising law with respect to young offenders when that piece of legislation was introduced. The real problem from the trenches, as we used to say at legal aid, was the resources were not there. My hon. Conservative colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough will understand this. While there was progressive legislation in place and a call for community groups to deal with young offenders, without adequate financing, those young offenders went to jail because that was all the judiciary could do with them.
My concern is that the $206 million committed by this government over three years is not enough, especially if we look at it per capita. If this money is to be distributed to the provinces on a per capita basis, it will mean very insignificant funds for the provinces with small populations, and the funds are necessary to fulfill the purposes of the act.
It is interesting to look at youth crime statistics, especially violent youth crime statistics. They are down, as the minister has said. They are down in some provinces, in Newfoundland, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. They are down in Canada as a whole. But in Saskatchewan, in my home province of Nova Scotia, and in Manitoba, violent youth crime is up. It is up from 1990 to 1997 by 23% in Saskatchewan, by 32% in Nova Scotia, and by 34% in Manitoba.
Unfortunately, if the money is to be distributed on a per capita basis, the very provinces that need the funding in order to implement the good parts of this legislation will not have significant funding.
The $206 million over three years would be roughly $68 million per year to be distributed Canada wide on a per capita basis. For my province this would amount to perhaps $2 million to do many of the things the bill calls for.
It calls for the creation of community organizations to work with young people and to ensure legal aid. The bill makes it very clear that every young person is entitled to a lawyer, which is as it should be but without substantial increased funding, that will not be there and will create problems.
The costs for changes to mandatory probation and increased supervision, which is what the bill calls for, will fall primarily to the provinces. When the young person leaves the court to be under the supervision of a probation officer, the funds will not be there for that probation officer to do the job.
Like the old act, faced with no probationary services, no community groups, or special facilities to deal with young offenders, the judge will have no option but to sentence them to a custodial period. Without adequate funding, and this is a primary concern, even the good parts of the bill cannot be implemented and will require scrutiny.
The bill also fails to deal with some of the concerns of the provinces. Provinces were unanimous in requesting a return to 50:50 funding so that 50% of the funding for youth crime and the implementation of the bill would come from the federal government. That has been cut back in recent years. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have sought that kind of funding. As I have indicated, all of the provinces have.
Manitoba has requested many things, such as mandated time lines, which are not contained in the bill. Part of the problem is that under the current system the funds are not there to ensure speedy justice. Justice has to be speedy if it is to be just. Many of the concerns of the provinces have not been met.
Other areas of the bill have to be examined in committee. I can assure the people of Canada that we in the NDP and myself as its justice critic will examine those things with a critical eye to implementation.
In this legislation there is a great deal of judicial discretion in determining whether or not a young person over the age of 14 will face adult sentences for particular crimes. That will require careful examination.
I agree with providing police discretion to caution young people, but again we cannot hold the police to a high standard of behaviour if the funding is not there to ensure adequate training. We have to ensure that the police understand the conditions under which a cautioning can take effect. If we do not, we run the risk of the police overstepping their bounds and the police run the risk of not understanding where the bounds are.
We have always encouraged police discretion, but realistically and sensibly, the average cop on the beat who is concerned about being held accountable has to know what those time lines are, what he or she can or cannot do in terms of cautioning. That will require careful examination.
There are special provisions in this act for young people who are suffering from mental illness or severe problems. We do not know how that is to be financed or exactly what young people will fit into that category. The statement that mentally ill young people will find this as an alternative to adult sentencing causes me some concern. The place for mentally ill people is not in prison. We know that and we cannot change that for young people. I am sure that is not the intent of the legislation but we will guard against that kind of thing.
I appreciate that this is the Young Offenders Act, but provisions could be made to the Criminal Code to address the concerns we have. The Minister of Justice is right in one sense. There is no place in jail for 10 and 11 year old children. They should be dealt with through social services in each province because they are children.
We have asked and called for changes to the Criminal Code to punish those who recruit 10 and 11 year old children into crime, especially young people who know that a 10 or 11 year old child cannot be charged under either the old legislation or the new legislation.
As has been pointed out by the Minister of Justice, there is a parties section. Anyone who encourages another to commit an offence is a party to the offence committed. However, we think there should be a special section dealing with those who recruit 10 and 11 year olds. It is perhaps the most heinous of crimes to induce young people into a life of crime and then only be a party to that. Perhaps the penalty should be increased for those who do that. Again, that is a subject matter outside of the Young Offenders Act but an amendment to the Criminal Code could meet the concerns of many people concerned about youth gangs in their cities.
The member for Surrey North has put forward a private member's bill in good faith which has been included in the provisions of the Young Offenders Act. It is a section that will require careful examination. I appreciate that the member says this is not to make adults responsible for the crimes of their children. I believe he means that but I am concerned about the wording of the legislation.
He is also absolutely correct when he says there is currently a provision in the Criminal Code which deals with that. The difference is this change will make it a hybrid offence. This means that under the old legislation when a parent or a guardian signs an assurance saying they will be responsible for the young person while he or she is released pending trial, if the young person breaches the conditions then the person who is supervising him or her has some liability for that. Currently it is a summary offence.
My understanding of the proposed change is that it will make it a hybrid offence where the parent can either be charged indictably, which carries a more serious penalty, or summarily at the discretion of the crown. If we are not imputing the crime of the child on to the parent, one must ask why we would have differing penalties. The crime is clearly the failure to supervise. It is not failure to supervise if one robs the grocery store or commits armed robbery, it is failure to supervise, period.
That we would have differing penalties for the person who fails to supervise leads to the impression, which is why the member from Surrey said the members of the press were reporting it this way, that the parent is then responsible and faces a more serious penalty if a more heinous crime is committee. That is something we will check on balance at committee.
As I have indicated, there are many areas to this act. There are over 101 sections that need to be examined carefully. I think the member from the Bloc Quebecois who spoke prior to me is correct to some extent. The agenda has been pushed.
What we have in this new legislation, in a way to balance, is tremendous discretion. It is in part a response to find that balance. We will be checking that discretion carefully to ensure that while there is discretion the principles that guide that discretion are proper.
At the end of the day we need legislation based on sound public policy. We need neither hysteria nor platitudes. We owe it to the young people of this country, to the people who live in communities and who are concerned about crime. We owe them a piece of legislation that works, that balances and that is fair.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC
Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, I am appalled at the hon. member. He is accusing Reformers of using this issue for political purposes but he is using it in resorting to attacks on the official opposition.
At the end of his speech he said that one thing we do not need is legislation based on hysteria. I think all members and all political parties would agree with that. What we have seen continuously over the five years during which the majority of Reformers have been present in this Chamber is the unwillingness of the government to properly address this very serious issue of youth crime. The real problem is exactly that. It is not hysteria. It is not that some members raise important issues and examples of where the system is failing, failing all Canadians, not just the victims of crime but in many Canadians the youth themselves.
The hon. member agrees with the government in its reluctance to lower the age to include 10 and 11 year olds. I believe he said that the proper avenue to address crime in this age group is with social services. I point out to the hon. member that is the problem we have today. That is the problem we have with the current Young Offenders Act. These youngsters are falling through the cracks and social services cannot adequately address that. It is not just the official opposition saying that. We are hearing that from all sectors, from a lot of people involved in the field of justice as it pertains to youth crime.
Could the hon. member elaborate on how he would see those youngsters who are falling through the cracks and who are not getting the help they need? Let us be clear that we are not talking about 10 and 11 year olds going to jail. That is the charge from the other side. It has been directed at those people who have suggested and stated quite emphatically in many cases that 10 and 11 year olds need to be included in any remake of the YOA. The fact is we must include them if we are to help them.
I would like the hon. member to explain at greater length how he envisions under the new act that those 10 and 11 year olds who do flaunt the system will be dealt with adequately under social services when they have not been in the past.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond. There are ways we can ensure 10 and 11 year old children, children who are usually in grades four and five, are dealt with when they commit crimes. I say commit crimes but they are not committing crimes, they are behaving badly. The member asked how we can remedy that. The suggestion came from his own party. It was a commendable suggestion by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who talked about a head start program.
We talk about ending child poverty in this country. Unfortunately in the race to balance books, in the race to cut deficit, in the race to the bottom we have increased child poverty in this country by 50%.
I know we say it over and over. I know members are tired of hearing it, but when we talk about increasing child poverty by 50%, the faces of that child poverty are the 10 and 11 year olds referred to by the member who asked the question.
The reality is that children who do not have adequate food, who do not have support at home for whatever reason, are children who fall between the cracks and commit crimes. That is why we need at the provincial level adequate social services such as a head start program, such as increased support for families and for single mothers, to ensure those children have both the monetary and emotional support they need.
Sometimes I am puzzled at why some people take various stands on things. That is why we have guidelines in terms of maintenance support under divorce legislation. It is a way of trying to ensure that young people have the necessary support to grow up healthy, to grow up with respect for society and to be accountable for their behaviour.
We need to improve schools. We have a crisis in education across the country. Governments are cutting back on teachers. All this is happening to some extent, especially in the poorer provinces, because the federal government has cut back money to the poorer provinces. When it comes time for education, teachers who are on the front line and understand perhaps more than anyone when children are falling through the cracks do not have adequate resources. We have kids going to school without sufficient learning tools.
There are many ways we can address the problem of 10 and 11 year old children who fall through the cracks. The way to do it is to help families through social services, not through the criminal code.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member. Except for some very obvious points, I had a great deal of sympathy for what he had to say.
I understand that at the present time we incarcerate 25,000 young people a year. Given that the vast majority of these are boys, this means that in a four or five year period we incarcerate over 100,000 young people.
I understand the statistics are quite skewed. Look at Quebec and New Brunswick. I understand New Brunswick has recently closed a number of prisons. The figures are quite different there. The rate of incarceration is much lower.
I wonder if the member has any information on these two provinces and what they have been doing to keep their incarceration rates so low compared with a province such as Ontario.
Youth Criminal Justice Act
Peter Mancini Sydney—Victoria, NS
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. A great deal of what Quebec has been doing was elaborated on by the justice critic for Quebec. Interestingly enough, in his criticism of the government he says that the Young Offenders Act works if the resources are available to make it work.
I go back to my concern about this legislation. While there are some good things in the legislation dealing with extrajudicial remedies and some good things that provide for redirecting young people in a way that would move them away from a life of crime, without adequate resources that cannot be fulfilled.
I think we have a great deal to learn from Quebec in the way it has dealt with its young offenders. The hon. member who preceded me gave a history of the tremendous contribution of Quebec to the youth crime issue. It is to me a startling example of working together at the federal and provincial level and achieving the results we want.
I perhaps would disagree with the hon. member. The federal initiative was important in working with Quebec. The country benefits best when we see those two governments working hand in hand for the enhancement and betterment of the whole country and is a shining example of what all the provinces can do if we work well with the federal government.