House of Commons Hansard #208 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was young.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Budget Implementation Act, 1999
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

At the request of the chief government whip the division is deferred until Tuesday at the conclusion of the time provided for Government Orders.

The House resumed from March 22 consideration of the motion 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.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

April 15th, 1999 / 12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to participate in the debate on the Bill C-68. As the Chair will know, the bill carries a very illustrious title, a title that conjured up images of false hope in the past with respect to the ill-conceived Liberal firearms registration bill.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

An hon. member

You are very good at statements of the obvious.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Statements of the obvious sometimes escape the government.

I am pleased to take part in this debate for a number of reasons. There is a need for information sharing about the new bill. We have been waiting almost an eternity, 18 months, since the bill was first announced. I would be the first to acknowledge that the bill holds out some positive change, but after enduring numerous media leaks the March 11 release of the bill fell far short of much expectation that had been built up by the Liberal government. This is really a light makeover of the originally flawed bill and tinkers somewhat with the edges of the original Young Offenders Act.

After testing public opinion on this controversial legislation through these now famous media leaks and off Hill press conferences, the justice department has finally enlightened the House with the introduction of Bill C-68. As I mentioned, it has a very ironic namesake.

The public wants to know, because this bill was supposed to consider their opinions. In fact, the only opinions expressed were those of the minister and the Liberal Party.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks Canadians across the country are concerned that the new youth justice act does not progress societal attempts at dealing with youth justice in Canada. Many would argue that it is a regressive piece of legislation which hearkens back to the days of the outdated Juvenile Delinquents Act.

I am sure the Chair will recall that particular act. It took the Liberals over a year and a half of consultation to come up with a very old idea that a repeat youth offender involved in a less serious offence could be tried as an adult and then sentenced as a child. It is back to the future and back again. The Liberals have drafted a bill that does not go far enough in terms of protecting Canadians from increasingly violent youth crime in our communities.

Perhaps hon. members believe the Liberals have toughened up this bill on the back end by potentially placing more violent young offenders in adult jail and on the front end by diverting young people from the judicial system and into community based incentives like restorative justice programming or social services. If this is what will happen, it begs the question how will it be paid for with the increasing cuts that we have seen to social services and policing services. Once again the Liberal government is asking Canadians and those involved in the justice system to do more with less.

The legislation also encourages formal caution by police for young people who have been involved in less serious offences. This is fine. I am sure many hon. members and Canadians will recall that there was a time when a police officer played a different role, perhaps a more respected role in the community, and often administered this type of justice at street level.

How will we ask our police forces to take on this additional responsibility? The government has already cut Canada's police force budgets to the point that they are now barely able to functions at some levels and barely able to hold up to their current workloads. They no longer have the time to play the role of a parent and a psychologist, coming up with a well prepared and meaningful statement to warn a young person and consult with the parents. Through the implementation of this act the Liberal government is stretching police forces and police officers beyond reasonable limits, and thus the increased workload I suggest will be barely possible.

The sad result is that Canadian police forces and the public at large are seeing our police forces like the RCMP trying to fight problems such as youth crime and other complicated crime related issues with more and more cuts.

Last year alone we saw $74.1 million or 13% of the RCMP's budget slashed. We know there are further projected cuts for the coming year. This type of gouging of the RCMP and other police forces is essentially asking our police forces to deal with youth crime in a depleted fashion.

We also know there were cuts to transfer payments that then were passed on to the provinces and on to the municipalities, which result in police forces at the municipal level again facing the same serious challenges. They simply do not have the resources to face difficult and complicated problems as they relate to youth crime.

The stress, strain and emotional cost as a result on our officers and law enforcement community are not calculable in this context in terms of monetary figures. I only have to look at my home province of Nova Scotia and one community in particular, New Glasgow, where there are more officers off on stress leave than ever in the history of that police force. Dedicated officers are off work simply because they have been asked to do so much with so little and the increased frustrations they feel as a result of their commitment to serve the public.

Quite obviously there are spiralling and spin off problems of asking police to do more with less. What is missing most of all in the legislation is obvious. It is what is missing in a lot of legislation, and that is funding.

I look at the bill tabled today by the Minister of Justice with respect to victims rights and increasing the role and the significant participation of victims in the justice system. Once again I acknowledge, rightly so, that the minister has brought forward some improvement to the system. However she missed a wonderful opportunity to put in place a victims office which would provide a central point where victims could go for information and receive the needed knowledge that exists for victims who fall prey to offenders.

It is no wonder there is a degree of cynicism on the part of the opposition, and I suspect the public at large, as it relates to this bill. The cynicism is perpetrated by the federal government downloading its implementation costs to the provinces.

The Liberals are forcing provinces to abandon their own youth justice proposals and follow the federal model by dangling a 30% funding in their faces and threatening to take it back should they choose to opt out. If the Liberals had allowed for proper consultation in the first place, surely they could have come up with a deal that all the provinces would have supported with unanimity. Instead the bill resembles the sum total of many regionalized concessions that will make national enforcement of this bill virtually impossible.

There were a number of commentary articles about the bill when it first appeared. One in particular in the Ottawa Citizen commented on regionalized concessions by stating:

The bill provides considerable discretion on punishment, recognizing that provinces such as Alberta and Ontario want tougher penalties while others including Quebec traditionally rely less heavily on jail sentences.

That accentuates the point that we are looking in national legislation for a broad and uniform approach. Yet the bill has built into its very context the fact that different provinces will react differently and have the option of opting out should they choose to do so.

It begs the question are we not supposed to be working toward unanimity. I know certain members of the Bloc might disagree with that statement, but surely the federal government has a responsibility to bring forward legislation which encourages all provinces to participate on a level playing field and a standard that should be upheld. When it comes to justice, these justice issues are far too important to have built-in flaws as they pertain to jurisdiction.

By doing so we have seen the parochial fence-sitters that the Liberals often are on issues of justice. Their new youth criminal justice bill tried to please everyone. Yet offering these piecemeal approaches will please no one. The public confidence will be further undermined, further fuelling the cynicism that exists about our justice system and about the effectiveness of parliament.

The Liberal government did not go far enough in lowering to the age of 14, the age at which an offender would face adult sentences for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault, all very serious offences at the highest end of the Criminal Code. The 14 year old age limit would also be a barrier for the justice system as it tries to seek justice against youth repeat offenders who commit other violent offences.

Why were certain offences left out of the legislation? It seems a glaring omission to me. These piecemeal changes are obviously a response to an overwhelming public reaction and public pressure to toughen up what is perceived as a very light justice system when it comes to the treatment of young offenders.

The Liberals have given the appearance that they have toughened the act, but I question whether these cosmetic alterations will actually achieve that desired result. Why did the minister refuse to act? That begs the obvious question. She refused to act on recommendations that came from her own departmental experts, in particular when it came to the lowering of the age of accountability to 10 for young offenders.

There has been a misconception about this issue from the outset. This is not somehow taking 10 or 11 year old infants and throwing them into jail. That is not the suggestion at all. What the Criminal Code would do in expanding the envelope of applicability is that it would allow social services, the youth justice system and the justice system at large to work together in making an early intervention when required. When a young person did run afoul of the law at the age of 10 or 11, it would give the police the mandate that they need to make an intervention and hopefully turn that young person around at the first possible instance.

Because the minister has chosen to ignore this opportunity against the department's advice that will not in fact happen. Once again we are told to rely on our existing social services, child protection and early intervention through child welfare. The sad reality is that the cuts to those departments in particular have been so heavy and so damaging that they simply do not have the resources again to act quickly in most cases.

If we were to hold 10 year olds accountable for their actions and get them involved in the judicial process early, there would be more programs available which would fit the government's priority of rehabilitation at the earliest possible instance.

I also have to wonder why the minister has chosen to download this bill with such bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and wording that is obviously going to be picked apart by the defence bar and which is going to be virtually impossible to enforce in some instances. Although it may be a terrific make-work program for the bar associations across the country, that is not exactly what Canadians are expecting or what they were led to believe was going to happen.

In fact, when it comes to the law enforcement community, what most police officers have said time and time again is that they are looking for a more streamlined justice system when it comes to legislation. We hear this repeatedly from officers. We heard it with regard to current offences under the Criminal Code as they pertain to impaired driving. We heard it as they pertain to matters covered by corrections and conditional release, in testimony in that regard. The department has missed an opportunity to put forward a bill which answers police concerns over this issue.

The bill has been described in many provinces as being woefully soft on offenders. I am quoting the Ontario Attorney General, Charles Harnick, who on behalf of the province of Ontario expressed his concerns and extreme disappointment.

In recent correspondence he noted the following facts. Sixteen and 17 year olds who commit adult crimes are not automatically tried as adults. Even for murder, aggravated sexual assault, manslaughter or attempted murder there is no guarantee that these youths would be sentenced as adults. Even on a third rape charge there is no guarantee that an adult sentence would attach.

Most serious violent offences still require a prosecutor to prove that an adult sentence is necessary. To prove that it is necessary the onus is on the crown. Jail sentences have, in fact, in many cases been reduced.

We know that adult sentences are subject to early release, whereas a young person sentenced to a youth facility will serve the full time. So there is a bit of a shell game going on when the Liberals try to tell us that this is going to be tougher on violent youth.

Mandatory jail time is not required for youth who are convicted of an offence using a weapon. Again this is an opportunity to send a strong deterrent message to those who choose to involve weapons in the commission of an offence.

Ontario Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services, Bob Runciman, also said this of the new bill.

What the people of Ontario have been asking for is legislation that will better protect our children and our communities, that will send a message to young people that they will be held accountable for their actions and would deter youth crime. Instead, the federal Liberal government has released a bill that has little regard for public safety and even less regard for providing meaningful consequences for criminal behaviour such as sexual assault, drug trafficking and use of a weapon.

This negative commentary is not only limited to politicians. York Regional Police Chief Julian Fantino had this to say:

Many police officers, and citizens right across Ontario, are frustrated with the Young Offenders Act because it seems primarily concerned with the rights of offenders.... It's disappointing that the federal government won't take the opportunity to right this wrong and introduce a much tougher law to serve as an effective deterrent to youth crime.

That is a very telling commentary, particularly from an experienced and decorated officer such as Fantino.

Deterrence is certainly a factor that has to be brought into consideration, not only with youth crime, but with all crime. This bill is very soft with respect to deterrence.

The youth criminal justice act's definition of a serious violent offence is so vague that it is virtually useless. The discretion that is there is there for a reason and, unlike my friends in the Reform Party, I have some faith in our judiciary to offer correct discretion on crime. However, when it comes to an issue such as this, when it comes to deterrence, there is a real concern that this bill does not allow judges to go the distance that they would.

In no case is an adult sentence automatic under this new legislation. Even in the case of first degree murder a young person could avoid an adult sentence.

The following offences are but a few that are not presumed serious enough to warrant adult sentences: armed robbery, sexual assault and drug trafficking. These are not deemed to be serious enough to carry an automatic adult sentence.

A young person can commit three serious violent offences—

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
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12:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, there seems to be another debate going on at this time.