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

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed the intervention by my hon. colleague across the way. I always appreciated his voice in the justice committee. It always had a logical and sound ring to it. I do not know what if anything has happened to change that since I left the justice committee.

I would like to ask him this brief question. This new act is being heralded as getting tougher on violent youth crime. This is as a result of the cry across the country from concerned people. The government has responded to that, yet it has not mandated that the courts must apply the tough measures. Throughout the bill the discretion has not been left to the legislators but to the courts. Does the member have any concern about that?

For instance, the publication of names, particularly of repeat violent offenders, is subject to the discretion of the courts. Attendance of the parents with their children in court is not mandated by this legislation. It is also at the discretion the courts.

Does my hon. colleague have any concern about the status quo remaining because the bill is not mandating these actions? In so many cases this procedure has been left to the discretion of the courts.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, the short answer is no.

I am not a great fan of fettering judicial discretion. There are certain points where parliament needs to give its guidelines in terms of minimum and maximum sentences or in terms of various other issues. In this particular instance I do not know how one could draft a piece of legislation which says that x, y or z.

When a crown attorney is faced with a youth who has committed one of the five offences, the crown attorney will give notice that he or she will be seeking an adult sentence for this particular crime. Upon conviction there will be an argument as to whether this crime warrants the imposition of an adult sentence. It is like Alice in Wonderland, first the sentence then the verdict. That is that side. We go for the verdict first then we go to the sentence.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Surrey North has clearly set out where the Reform Party is coming on this. He said:

The youth criminal justice act is nothing more than the Young Offenders Act with a facelift and a new name. We will be proposing a number of amendments in the hope significant improvements will be made to protect Canadians. It is our youth who are affected by this legislation; it is our youth that are most often the victims of crime by their peers. Our youth deserve better from this government.

The question we have to answer on behalf of Canadians in this debate is are their families safer under this renamed Young Offenders Act, the youth criminal justice act?

Canada has been saddled with inadequate young offender legislation for a number of years. Even the justice minister has characterized the Young Offenders Act as seriously flawed and easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation.

Canadians have become more and more disenchanted and concerned with youth crime, believing that our justice system is too soft. Young people themselves say to me that the majority of youth crime goes unreported. I am sure that is something which could be reflected on by all members of the House.

After years of criticism and months of political pressure the Liberal government has finally introduced its replacement for the failed Young Offenders Act. The new youth criminal justice act we are debating today repeals and replaces the Young Offenders Act and provides principles, procedures and protections for the prosecution of young persons under criminal and other federal laws.

For years the Reform Party has been fighting for better youth crime legislation. Unfortunately the Liberals' new bill falls short of the hopes and expectations of Canadians. On the surface it appears to be what Canadians want, but for every step forward they have taken a couple backward.

For example, the Liberals have changed the name of the Young Offenders Act and they have changed their sales pitch. A close study of the new legislation reveals, as I say, that for every step forward there is a hidden step backward.

In the hope of salvaging the most unsatisfactory legislation and making it work, I would like to draw attention to some of these issues. The question is what is missing from the youth criminal justice bill.

First off the youngest offenders are left out. Our opponents on the other side like to go out of their way to place all sorts of characterizations on me and our party for talking about incorporating 10 and 11 years olds in young offender legislation. They can have their characterizations.

The reality is that it is because the Liberals refuse to see the involvement or the encapsulating of 10 and 11 year olds that those young people at that very tender age are being drawn into criminal activity without any way for the justice system to involve itself. Their argument of course is to let the provinces do it; let somebody else do it; let the youth social system take care of it. In certain situations, that is inadequate.

Under the new legislation 10 and 11 year olds will not be held criminally responsible for their crimes. The government is leaving them to child welfare. How can child welfare control violent criminals who quickly learn they are immune to punishment under Canada's youth laws?

We are talking about only the tiniest fragment of the youngsters of that age. The reality is that tiny fragment of youngsters can wreak havoc on their families, on their neighbourhoods, on people around them, and particularly on youths of their own age. We want them brought into the system so that the system can handle them. They can either be rehabilitated or indeed, habilitated. Often we get mixed up between rehabilitation and habilitation. In many instances some 10 and 11 year olds that are involved in this very awful activity have never had the opportunity to learn what is right and what is wrong.

A Liberal across the floor says to hang them high. That is the kind of inane characterization I was referring to. The reality is that by not bringing these young people into the justice system, by not dealing with these youngsters at that age, they are simply outside of the system. They are preyed upon by youngsters and older teens to do their work because they are small enough to fit into places and slide under things and do this and that. It reminds me of Fagin and his hoards of little youngsters in the old musical play Oliver . This kind of do-goodism by the Liberals is leaving those people and indeed the people around them to the vagaries of what may come.

Many serious crimes can only receive a light youth sentence. Many serious and violent crimes must be added to the list of presumptive offences for which adult sentences may be imposed. The Liberals have included murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. But they do not include sexual assault. They do not include sexual assault with a weapon. They do not include hostage taking. They do not include aggravated assault. They do not include kidnapping.

In British Columbia we are very conscious of the issue of home invasions. Unfortunately some young offenders are involved in home invasions. Home is the place of sanctity. The place where Canadians feel comfortable is in their own homes. When their home is invaded it is a scar for them for the rest of their lives. The Liberals do not include that offence as being one that can be treated as an adult offence.

In order to continue the protection of society, to create a situation of meaningful consequences, to promote rehabilitation, habilitation and reintegration, this bill falls desperately short. Unfortunately the maximum youth sentences remain light.

Let me be very clear. I am very proud to say that the district municipality of Sparwood is in my constituency. There are three people in Sparwood, although one of them has now moved to Fort St. John after being promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant. They are Judge Waurynchuk, lawyer Glen Purdy and the sergeant. Between these three people we have ended up with a situation of diversion. Property offences by youth in that municipality have been reduced from an average of over 80 a year to only six or seven a year. It has been through a creative way of dealing with young offenders.

The vast majority of young people can be handled intelligently and well by their local community with all sorts of creative ways of driving home the seriousness of their offences and what it has meant to the people they have offended against, even in a property offence. These young people can be reintroduced into society and can become functioning parts of society. I do not say this as a matter of theory. It works. These are real numbers.

The exciting thing is that it does not just work in small communities like the district of Sparwood which has approximately 5,000 people. We have seen it work in larger communities, in communities as large as Edmonton where there has been diversion.

I will say one good thing about this bill. It recognizes the idea of diversion. Having said that, we can deal with these kinds of offences not only in a humane way but in a way which builds society and pulls society together.

There are still those who will not respond. There are still those for whom there must be a system of protecting society from them. They are by far in the minority of people who even become involved with the police but nonetheless, this bill goes light on them and that is wrong. It is not fair to them and it is absolutely not fair to their peers and it certainly is not fair to society. Even repeat and violent offenders may avoid jail terms.

Reform supports alternative measures as I just described for first time non-violent offenders, but we are dismayed that the government has not excluded repeat and violent offenders from this lesser form of punishment. We do not want violent and repeat offenders to be serving their entire sentences in communities. Sometimes it is simply not appropriate. When you have to be tough, you have to be tough. Unfortunately this government has not shown the backbone to handle that.

This bill, as a result of a lack of negotiating ability on the part of the justice minister or whatever, has not been able to bring a situation of establishing national standards with this bill. As a consequence youth offences in one jurisdiction will be handled very differently from youth offences in another jurisdiction.

The question we ask is why are victims not protected and why are violent offenders sheltered?

Here is the Reform position on youth crime. Serious offenders aged 14 and 15 and all offenders 16 and over should be tried as adults. I said serious offenders. The justice system should maintain separate young offender facilities that emphasize education, skills, training, discipline and community service. The records of young offenders should be treated similarly to the criminal records of adults. Parents of young offenders should be held financially responsible to victims where lack of reasonable parental control has proven to be a factor contributing to the offence.

Again this is something the Liberals love to jump on. They choose not to understand. I think they have some intelligence so let us try it on them for size. Let us be very clear. I will read it to them again so that they can understand the words. Parents of young offenders should be held financially responsible to victims where lack of reasonable parental control has proven to be a factor contributing to the offence.

The Liberals turn around and simplify that and ask how parents can be financially responsible for young offenders, full stop. It does not say that. It is where lack of control has proven to be a factor. That is where there has to be some responsibility. It is very clear and straightforward. The devil made me do it is not a term that actually works in this particular case.

The government has changed the name of its legislation. It has changed its sales pitch. Once the bill is carefully considered, Canadians are being shortchanged. For every step forward, there is a hidden step backward.

It may take months or years after this legislation is brought into force before we see its problems develop. In many areas there are provisions to satisfy Canadians, but the corresponding loopholes and openings for provincial initiative will bring forth criticism in individual cases. Over time Canadians will realize this legislation will have done little to quell criticism and outrage over our youth legislation.

I had occasion to have an extended discussion with a defence lawyer. He was pointing out to me as a layman going through the bill all the places where he could drive his arguments through. We know that the courts are doing everything they can to avoid getting into a situation of appeal. He was saying that this legislation is convoluted, the word I used this morning when we were talking about taxes. This legislation is so convoluted, has so much overlap, has tried to deal with so many eventualities in oblique ways and has done so much to spread around authority. He showed me all the loopholes and spent about half an hour discussing how he would argue them. This legislation has the potential to be an absolute money maker for defence lawyers.

Canadians have been saddled with poor young offender legislation for a number of years. The Minister of Justice has promised legislation over a period of almost two years. We recognize she has only been in that chair for two years, but her predecessor was talking about young offender legislation as well. We wonder why the minister could not have done a better job when we finally witnessed the results of her endeavours. We will be proposing a number of amendments in an attempt to improve this most unsatisfactory legislation.

The government talks about a balanced approach. We have no problem with a balanced approach but it must be done right for Canadians and not just for our criminals. We see in this legislation a repeat of the question I asked of the solicitor general in question period yesterday. An example is the terrible murder case that has just been resolved by the jury in Toronto. Why does the government consistently lean in favour of the criminal? Why does the government not put the protection of society first?

Let me draw attention to clause 37(2)(d)(i) of the bill. The first five words are “be the least restrictive sentence”. In context it is “subject to paragraph (c), the sentence must be the least restrictive sentence that is capable of achieving the purposes set out in subsection (1)”.

The largest single problem in Corrections Canada today is the phrase included in the legislation covering the incarceration of convicted criminals: “be the least restrictive sentence”.

I do not understand why the government continuously puts the rights of criminals and the rights of those who would become involved in criminal activity ahead of the safety and protection of the person and the property of law-abiding Canadian citizens.

I was just leafing through and there it was: “be the least restrictive sentence”. Unfortunately this is their pattern. It is to the detriment, chagrin and denigration of society in Canada that this is the pattern of the Liberals.

In my summary I also point out that 10 and 11 year olds are still not to be held criminally responsible for their crimes. The government is leaving them to child welfare, but child welfare obviously cannot control violent children who quickly learn they are immune to punishment under Canada's youth laws. Reform does not want to lock up 10 and 11 year olds. We want them to be put into the system. We want them to have a chance to be rehabilitated before they develop more serious and habitual criminality.

The bill is a massive disappointment after the tour parliamentarians made. An all party parliamentary committee recommended that 10 and 11 year olds be included and they were not included.

It is a terrible disappointment that government members, given the opportunity to correct something that is so very wrong in society, have come up with a flawed, badly designed bill which will do nothing except give them a way of presenting a new sales pitch on how they will take care of the problem.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Devillers Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member lamented the inclusion in section 37 of the term “the least restrictive sentence possible”. Put in the context of the legislation, he should go on to say the least restrictive possible to accomplish the goals of rehabilitation, restitution and all the proper components of sentencing.

Why is it that the member finds that objectionable? If the courts are able to come up with a sentence that accomplishes the proper goals of sentencing, why we would want something more than the least restrictive? What is it the member is seeking? Is it appeasement of the popular opinion, the misconception that Canada is soft on crime? Is it revenge? Precisely what is it that the member is looking for?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am referring to the phrase which appears in the legislation that gives us the ability to incarcerate convicted criminals. In taking a look at that phrase in the legislation, the practice is that the officials are directed to the whole issue of least restrictive.

I was at the Drumheller Institution last July or August. We were looking at the fact that five criminals had walked away from the minimum security facility. I got into a discussion with the warden and with other people at that institution and asked why they made the decision they made.

I do not want to characterize their input to me other than to say I took from them that they felt compelled, because of the term least restrictive, to move people through the system far too quickly to areas where they were walking away from various institutions.

I am taking that phrase from the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. I am taking a look at the experience we have had from the use of that phrase and the way officials have responded to that phrase. I am taking a look at it in the context of this act. I cannot help but come to the conclusion that we will have the same decision, that the least restrictive decision will be made to the detriment of the safety of society, which I believe is what Canadians are looking for.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest, as I always do, to my friend's comments. I acknowledge the fact that approximately 25,000 young people are incarcerated in Canada each year.

If I can quote from the hon. member's speech, he was concerned that the handling of young offenders would differ from province to province as a result of the legislation. That might be just paraphrasing, but I think is a fair comment to make.

In the discussion we are having today and will probably have for some time, it is important that we keep as much balance among ourselves as we try to improve the legislation.

While there might be a criticism, while there might be a variety of ways of dealing with young offenders across the country, would the hon. member not agree there are provinces that have dealt with young offenders more effectively than others and that by having this flexibility it gives those provinces which have a progressive and effective way of dealing with young offenders more opportunity to continue in that way?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the comments of my colleagues are well taken. There are jurisdictions from which we can learn a lot. The province of Quebec has different societal values than other provinces. The province of British Columbia has done an excellent job by comparison with other provinces in dealing with youth. I think that maintaining a degree of flexibility is important.

My concern is that in six years the government has not taken the opportunity to pull the attorneys general from all of the provinces together and come up with legislation that would reflect a better way. There is too broad a scope still involved.

I would fault the government for not having been able to get a stronger consensus of opinion. I am concerned about the fact that because of that we will end up, particularly in the area of serious criminal offences, with disparate responses to those offences on a jurisdiction by jurisdiction basis.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gilles Bernier Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, the people of of Tobique—Mactaquac, New Brunswick, are sick and tired of violent crimes. Since 1993 we have seen the Liberal government downloading services to the provinces with no resources. It seems to me the government through Bill C-68 is expecting police forces, social services and provinces to do more.

I have a great deal of respect for the Reform member. Does he expect the same government to provide funding for the new Young Offenders Act?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of my colleague. He points out that although the government is boasting about the fact it is putting $200 million toward this area, I believe the justice minister said the reason she was so long delayed in coming forward with this criminal legislation was that she was having something of a budget debate with the finance minister. She got her $200 million and therefore felt that she was able to go ahead with the legislation.

I agree totally with the member on the issue that the government has been squeezing off, squeezing off and squeezing off the fiscal resources and the ability of the provinces to able to come forward with any intelligent kind of program, this program being part of it.

I am also very much aware of the constriction of resources to the RCMP, for example. It is only through goodwill from the top to the bottom, and I say that without any equivocation, from Commissioner Murray to the constable on the beat, that we still have a national police force that is actually in working order. It is only their goodwill that is keeping our streets safe.

The government continuously cuts off the resources to them. It will continue to cut off resources to be able to do a proper enactment of this legislation and will continue to cut off the resources to be able to take proper care of Corrections Canada and the National Parole Board.

In all these issues the government keeps on strangling and handcuffing our ability to be able to come forward with proper, correct and humane ways of dealing with criminal justice or criminal acts in Canada.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Lynn Myers Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member opposite and I wanted to say as a former chairman of the Waterloo Regional Police that Bill C-68 is a very balanced and effective piece of legislation. I think we should be very proud of what it is attempting to accomplish and indeed will accomplish.

It is interesting to hear the member from the Reform Party and his colleagues speak about the kinds of things that they do, always with an extremist kind of view, fear mongering and trying to stir up the pot. They have no monopoly on criminal justice issues. We in the government have done the right thing with this piece of legislation.

Why would you not spend a dollar now to save seven later for youth rehabilitation?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

Members should address their questions and answers to the Chair.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the member must have wax in his ears because that is exactly what I was saying. That is precisely what I was saying.

We want the government to spend money in the areas that will be effective in being able to take care of criminal activities in Canada, and indeed it is not. That is exactly what I just finished saying.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It is just about 2 p.m. so we will proceed to Statements by Members.

Khalsa
Statements By Members

April 15th, 1999 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will now ask my colleagues to tune in to their Punjabi translation channel as I say:

The Khalsa (pure) is of the God.

The victory is of the God.

Happy 300th birthday of Khalsa, the Sikh religion. Sikhs in my riding of Etobicoke North and Sikhs all across Canada are celebrating the tricentennial of their religion this week with a variety of celebrations and festivals. I look forward myself to attending the World Sikh Organization's gala celebration this Saturday in Etobicoke.

At this special time I would like to acknowledge the outstanding contribution the Sikh community has made to Canada. Because Canada is a country that celebrates and honours diversity, the contribution that Sikh Canadians have made to Canada is well recognized and appreciated. The social, economic and cultural contributions made by Sikhs have strengthened the fabric of our country. Happy Vaisakhi .

The Khalsa (pure) is of the God.

The victory is of the God.

Aboriginal Affairs
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, not a week goes by without grassroots aboriginals banding together to fight for accountability.

Last week in Nova Scotia a Micmac group announced that it was planning to take its message to every reserve in Atlantic Canada by late summer. Its message is clear to pressure chiefs and band councils to be more open, honest and accountable as well as to demand copies of their band's audited financial statements. This group has found no conflict of interest guidelines, accountability requirements and no means to deal with corrupt officials.

This week in the Vancouver Sun a group of aboriginal women spoke out against the department's policy of transferring the administration of social programs as preliminary steps to self-government. They say it is so mismanaged and misdirected that it threatens the democratic rights and freedoms of native Indians. The $6.4 billion a year is simply not trickling down to rank and file natives on and off reserve. Fraud, nepotism, intimidation and theft are the orders of the day.

When will the minister finally listen to the grassroots? It will not be long before the demands of accountability and the refusal of self-government are rampant across the nation.