House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was moved.

Topics

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business Of The House
Routine Proceedings

September 25th, 2000 / 3:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Before we get to orders of the day, I have a notice concerning Private Members' Business. I have received notice from the hon. member for Rosemont—Petite Patrie that he is unable to move his motion during private members' hour on Tuesday, September 26, 2000.

It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence. Private members' hour will thus be cancelled and the House will continue with the business before it prior to private members' hour.

The House resumed consideration of Bill C-3, an act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts, as reported (without amendment) from the committee; and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
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3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-3, which hon. members will recall is the former Bill C-68, which was introduced in 1997, unfortunately only to die on the order paper when the last federal election was called.

I recall that when I spoke to that bill at that time I commented that the Liberal Party was reforming itself by adopting such an attitude. Bill C-3 is a complete repeat of Bill C-68 as tabled in the House. What I should perhaps say today is that the Liberals are alliancing themselves, if that is the right word.

The Liberal Party is getting chummy with the Canadian Alliance, drifting to the right, I would say, because its ship literally veered off in that direction. I think it is a fundamental error for the Liberal Party to drift so far to the right on a bill such as this.

As recently as this past weekend, I read that the hon. Minister of Public Works, that great Liberal Party organizer in Quebec, the hon. member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, was saying that one of the four fundamental pillars of the next election campaign would be compassion.

I would like to understand, and I would like to hear the minister's explanation of how they plan to show any compassion when they propose to lock up young offenders as young as 12, 13 or 14 years of age. Where is the compassion in that? Is that what compassion is? Maybe this is the Liberal version of compassion. It is not, however, the Bloc Quebecois's idea of compassion, nor that of Quebec.

I am anxious to see how my Quebec colleagues from the federal Liberal Party will vote on this. I am anxious to see them vote one by one, and to hear them explain their vote to their constituents. Some things are fundamental: there is a systematic and generalized opposition to this bill in Quebec.

The Coalition pour la justice des mineurs opposes it, among others, and it seems important to me to mention it. I will name all those who oppose the bill, and you will see that there are even people from outside Quebec who oppose it. Everyone who wants to defend minors in Quebec is on this list. Let us not be fooled. Liberal members, including members from Quebec, are getting ready pass this bill. It must be made clear that these members will vote against all the members of the coalition that I will mention here.

There are the Commission des services juridiques, the Conseil permanent de la jeunesse, the Centrale de l'enseignement du Québec, Jean Trépanier, of the Criminology Faculty of the University of Montreal, the Community Legal Center of Montreal, the Fondation québécoise pour les jeunes contrevenants, the Institut Philippe-Pinel and the Association des directeurs de police et pompiers du Québec. These people are in a good position to know what they are talking about. They are constantly in contact with this type of clientele and they say that this bill would not work and should not be passed.

Also included on this list are the Conférence des régies régionales de la santé et des services sociaux, the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, the Crown Prosecutors' Office—that is the Justice Department of Quebec—and the Association des CLSC et des CHSLD du Québec.

We must also realize that they are in daily contact with these people and understand that what exists today in Quebec is much more valuable than what the minister wants to introduce and force down the throats of all Quebecers.

Marc Leblanc of the École de psychoéducation, the Regroupement des organismes de justice alternative du Québec, The Child Welfare League of Canada, The Canadian Criminal Justice Association, the Association des avocats de la défense du Québec, the Société de criminologie du Québec, Dr. Jim Hackler of the Department of Sociology of the University of Victoria, Tim Quigley of the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Marge Reitsma-Street of the University of Victoria, and the British Columbia Criminal Justice Association are all part of the coalition that is telling the Minister of Justice today that she is headed the wrong way. Many Canadians and practically all Quebecers are opposed to this legislation. This is easy to understand because the bill before the House is strictly political.

Before examining a bill and voting on it, we, as lawmakers, must first know if such a measure is needed. There is no need for such a drastic law in Quebec. Members need only look at the statistics. Youth crime is decreasing, but there is more to it Statistics show that the further one goes east the more one notes a drop in youth crime.

In other words, the youth crime rate in Quebec is lower than in Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia. The reason is that: Quebecers consider the youth justice system more as a rehabilitation process. We have to get the young offenders back into society. This bill before the House does just the opposite. It would throw these young people in jail. And as everyone knows, prison is a school for crime.

In prison, 14 year old kids are living among older criminals for whom it is perhaps harder to get back into society because of their age. For a 40 or 50 year old man who has been a killer all his life, rehabilitation is less likely. Of course, Quebec will try to give him a chance, but the most important thing is to give young offenders the opportunity to redeem themselves. Throwing them in jail with hard core criminals would defeat the purpose. Statistics show that Quebec has a higher rehabilitation rate among young offenders because we have come to realize that these young people need support and supervision, not jail time.

I mentioned earlier a major coalition and all its members. But there is also another very important element that must be mentioned. Not one of the 125 members of the Quebec National Assembly supports this bill. I have here a motion I consider important which was adopted by the Quebec National Assembly on November 30, 1999:

That the National Assembly request that the federal Minister of Justice suspend the legislative process with respect to Bill C-3 in order to make a better assessment of the implementation by the provinces of the measures provided for in the Young Offenders Act and ascertain that Quebec will be able to keep its strategy based on the needs of the young, with an emphasis on crime prevention and rehabilitation.

Obviously, the basic principles in the motion are rehabilitation and prevention. These notions should prevail much more frequently in our society. We should stop investing money to deal with just the consequences of crime. With the minister's proposal, we will have to invest a lot of additional money. It is expensive to put people in prison, and even more expensive when we deal with young offenders because, with this bill, they will probably end up in prison several times during their lifetime.

Also, this does not take into account the international impact. There are United Nations conventions dealing with juvenile delinquency and the protection of children. The government is totally disregarding that, because these conventions say that within a justice system the young person must come first.

As I have been explaining for the last 10 minutes or so, we have proved that it works in Quebec. Social reintegration is possible and we rehabilitate young offenders. We do not condemn them to be criminals for the rest of their lives.

This is why, naturally, I will support all the amendments. Judging by the number of amendments on the table, it is clear that the bill is totally inadequate. We have had to move 3,000 amendments to improve it.

Let us pass all these amendments. If it is not possible, we will definitely vote against the bill at the third reading stage. It is not too late for the minister, however. It is not too late for my Quebec colleagues, the Liberal members from Quebec. They can still set an example for once and pay attention to the heartfelt cry of the people of Quebec.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, in 1993 when I first came to the House one of the first speeches I was able to deliver was on the Young Offenders Act.

In 1993 there was a cry from the public throughout Canada to do something about this act which after 10 years of being in place, having been brought into the House in 1984, had proven to be not a very effective means of dealing with young people. If a 350% increase in violent crimes means it was successful then there is something wrong with that success.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
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3:25 p.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My apologies to my worthy colleague. Our colleague is recognized as the House expert on this subject. I think it most unfortunate that we do not have a quorum here to listen to him.

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3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands has called quorum.

And the count having been taken:

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Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We have quorum.

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3:25 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, here we are in the year 2000 and nothing has changed.

When we came here in 1993 I was informed that the top priority at that time was the Young Offenders Act. In fact the previous Minister of Justice called for a meeting with me and one of my colleagues to discuss the Young Offenders Act because it was such a high priority. Yet it did not go anywhere. There were submissions from across Canada from thousands and thousands of Canadians. There were submissions from all parties in the House of Commons. There was a strong cry to do something about the Young Offenders Act, and here we are still tinkering around with this issue.

The previous justice minister did nothing. It appeared to me quite obvious after a little while that the idea that the Young Offenders Act was top priority was nothing more than smoke and mirrors and just talk, because they tinkered with it and did nothing. Then the new justice minister came in in 1997 and again it was a top priority. What did we get? A glossy print of a new thing called the youth justice system, a glossy print of tinkering around, not truly bringing any significant changes to the Young Offenders Act.

Then along comes the day we are to have a discussion on it, and we find out the act has gone through a justice committee for days and days, being filibustered most of the time, and nothing has changed in it. It has not been amended. It has not been changed at all. Now we are looking forward to voting this week on something like 3,000 amendments the Bloc has presented. The Bloc is opposed to this particular bill for certain reasons, but we are opposed to this bill for totally different reasons.

The one thing that puzzles me is the cry from the Quebec population, who through various polls have indicated that 70% to 80% of them are calling for tougher measures in the Young Offenders Act. They want something done but the Bloc is presenting the opposite. That is not very good representation.

What really amazes me is hearing the Liberals and the Bloc talk about what they are going to do with young offenders. They spend minutes and then hours talking about the criminal element, the ones who commit the crimes. They make no mention of the victims. Once again, as with all legislation regarding justice, the victims are shoved in the background. The criminals are brought to the foreground; we talk about them and what we must do.

We talk about the successful justice system we have. That is the one where Karla Homolka lets herself in and out of her cottage and dresses up in an evening gown and has a birthday party. She is able to do all the things the victims can never do. Yet that is our wonderful justice system. We must concentrate on Karla Homolka. We cannot concentrate on the families and on the victims of these people.

We talk about 10 year olds being brought before the courts and being run through a system to deal with the problems they have. The NDP and the Liberals scream, oh my goodness gracious, 10 year olds. I spent 32 years in the business of working with young people in a schoolhouse. Believe me, 10 and 11 year olds know right from wrong, as do a lot of 8 and 9 year olds, and maybe even younger ones.

I am a strong believer in prevention. We had excellent programs for trying to detect young people at risk. We tried to catch them early in life so we could deal with them properly and through the right channels, in the hope that we could prevent them from ever entering the crime scene. There are two fine towns in my riding, Strathmore and Airdrie, that have excellent youth justice committees. They are working hard to prevent crime and help these people, but we need legislation. When someone crosses the line and prevention methods do not work, something has to be done. What is that something to be?

I have heard the suggestion that we should listen to the United Nations, the wonderful United Nations that says we have to learn to teach people to be more sensitive, that we have to sensitize our children. Maybe we have to sensitize them to Hollywood and to TV and all the violence that goes on there. I do not know what the United Nations means by saying that we have to sensitize our children to all of these issues.

The whole problem is getting worse, not better. All the rhetoric and all the reports they talk about do not indicate at all that it is getting better, yet the government claims it is doing a wonderful job. It is not happening. It is now 2000. Since 1993 it has gotten worse. It continues to get worse. Nothing is happening.

I want to read into the record a letter that I received from Theresa McCuaig. She is the grandmother of Sylvain Leduc. Members may remember the terrible tragedy that took place in Ottawa. She says:

Along with other family members victims of horrific youth crimes, on three separate occasions we have addressed the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights concerning youth crimes. I truly wonder if anyone knows how difficult and embarrassing it is, to sit in front of a group of strangers to share our ugly stories and the grief we feel over our murdered and maimed children. Did you know that as we walk into that room, we are filled with hope that the people we are addressing will hear us and make our world right again? We do not ask for much, simply the protection of future victims and hopefully some justice for them. We sometimes cry and tremble inside as we re-live the horrors of our children's pain or death for you. We feel like we're begging for the common sense changes needed to our unjust laws. At the time, we feel soothed and are impressed that you, our government members, actually take the time to hear us. We leave the room tapping each other on the back, convinced that what we've said will really make a difference.

I've followed the committee's progress, watching its members working hard in preparing their many recommendations to the new youth justice act. I was impressed with their hard work and was appalled that the committee was given only 10 hours to debate their recommendations. Apparently no one cared to hear what we had to say. Regrettably, none of us were heard.

With all its inadequacies the new youth justice act will be debated this week. I'm told that those who have grave concerns will debate it forcefully. Regardless, I know in my heart that the act will be passed simply because those who oppose it are outnumbered.

Among we insignificant `little people' it is whispered that the bill is quickly being pushed through to make it look good for the upcoming election that will soon be announced.

In the future, I suggest you do not bother asking victims to come humiliate themselves by testifying in front of the justice committee. The resulting pain and disappointment added to our great grief are just too difficult to live with.

I feel that our testimony had about as much impact on our government as our victim impact statements have in the courtroom. None!

To the members of the justice committee who have worked so hard on this bill, I offer you my heartfelt sympathy and can appreciate your great disillusionment and disappointment.

Regards, Theresa McCuaig, Sylvain Leduc's grandmother.

The victims are not being heard. Canadians are not being heard. We have been here for seven years and it has not happened. It is time the government got off its duff and started to do something right.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
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3:35 p.m.

Reform

Lee Morrison Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I note again that the Liberals are showing their utter contempt for the House, as they usually do. I would ask for a quorum, please.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
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3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands has requested a quorum count.

And the count having been taken:

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3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We have quorum.

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3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, usually I begin my speeches by saying that I am pleased to speak on an important bill. This time, although it is an important bill, I am not at all pleased to speak to it. Why? Because this bill is an aberration.

The government is in a much greater hurry to go after 14 year olds than organized crime. How long have my colleagues from Berthier—Montcalm and Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert along with the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and all its members been fighting for more effective measures against organized crime and reinforcement of the criminal code more consistent than the reinforcement and amendments to it in 1997? They are fighting for real anti-gang legislation and, if necessary, the use of the notwithstanding clause. Well, no.

On the other side of the House they are hedging because they are not interested in going after the real criminals. Pursuing the real criminals does not necessarily bring in votes. However, pursuing young children and thereby meeting the demands of the former Reform Party, now comprised of Alliance members, is more profitable. They think they will be able to win more seats in the west in the next election with a certain right-looking vision.

In so doing, the Liberals are completely overlooking one thing, namely the well-being of teenagers and their ability to be rehabilitated and returned to society. The Liberals are advocating caning, not rehabilitation for these young offenders.

During oral question period, I was surprised to hear the minister say that some members have tried to distort the debate. She was referring to opposition members, particularly Bloc Quebecois members. I remind the minister that she was the first one to distort the discussion by turning a deaf ear to the consensus throughout this debate and by moving over 200 amendments without having had the courage to defend her bill and the 200 amendments that she moved in the House a few months ago.

The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm, who is doing an extraordinary job on this issue, managed to achieve a consensus among Quebec's major stakeholders in the area of young offenders' rehabilitation. He invited the minister many times to appear before the justice committee, precisely to justify the thrust that she was giving to the new young offenders legislation. But the minister declined.

Someone has been distorting the discussion since Bill C-3 was first introduced, but it is the Minister of Justice herself. She has ignored everything. Above all, and we will not let this drop, she has ignored the needs of troubled adolescents. Instead of a bill that addresses needs, there is a call for caning. Needs are no longer important to the Liberal government. The needs of a 14-year old adolescent who has lost his way are no longer important. What is important is throwing him in jail. That is important for winning western votes.

The government talks about the flexibility in the bill. I have read and reread it and listened to all the explanations of the member for Berthier—Montcalm, for whom I have tremendous respect, as well as of all those who spoke to this bill. There is no flexibility, and one of those who offered his opinion was a spokesperson for the Coalition québécoise d'opposition au nouveau projet de loi sur les jeunes contrevenants. He said, and I quote:

The provinces' supposed flexibility in enforcing the legislation is no more than a series of limited powers dependent on the crown attorneys. Nowhere in this bill is it stated that the provinces may implement their own model.

So much for flexibility. Furthermore, it is very strange that a government wants to change its young offenders legislation, which works when properly enforced. Extraordinary results can be achieved with the existing legislation, when it is properly enforced. If there is one place in Canada where the Young Offenders Act is being so enforced, it is Quebec. In Quebec, we have had the best results of all of Canada.

Since 1991, the youth crime rate has dropped 23%. Quebec has its lowest youth crime rate in 20 years. We also have the lowest indictment rate, the lowest conviction rate and the lowest custody rate.

It goes to show that when the Young Offenders Act is enforced properly, when the focus is on rehabilitation and on the needs of young offenders, it works. It works very well and we have proved it. And in those places where the act was not enforced properly, the results are totally the opposite of what we have seen in Quebec.

Let us look, for example, at the situation in Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick. It is incredible. The conviction rate and the custody rate per 100,000 inhabitants show that the Young Offenders Act was not enforced properly. Those provinces have conviction rates and custody rates that are considerably higher than the national average. Their rates are very high compared to what they are in Quebec. All the stakeholders in Quebec think this bill is useless and extremely dangerous. As far as reintegration is concerned, this bill is way off the mark.

Reference is made in this bill to publishing the identity of offenders. How can one think that publishing the names of young offenders will help them re-enter into the community? For one thing, does publication not make the illegal act committed look good in the eyes of other young people?

How can we, while claiming to want to help them and meet some of their needs and talking about social reintegration, allow young people to see their reputations tarnished by having their identity published and whatever offence they committed be glamourized, so to speak, in the eyes of their peers? It was totally unacceptable to introduce such a bill.

Moreover, most of those who condemned the Liberal government's behaviour said the bill was so complicated that, even if one were in agreement with it, it would be an extremely difficult bill to enforce.

In particular, the bar association's recent brief indicated the following—which confirms what I said earlier—on page 63:

The wording of clause 41 and the following clauses is so complex that experts had tremendous difficulty understanding those clauses. They have to be rewritten, because it must be remembered that this legislation is addressed to adolescents.

When Quebec bar association experts have difficulty interpreting what the minister means and, moreover, there is a solid consensus in Quebec to the effect that this is a bad piece of legislation, we have a problem.

The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm asked for an opting out provision, whereby a province would be able to opt out with full compensation, so that Quebec, which properly enforced the Young Offenders Act and which achieved spectacular results with the rehabilitation of young offenders, could eventually be fully exempt from these new provisions and continue to use an approach that has so far given such good results.

The minister rejected that request from the coalition, from all the major stakeholders in Quebec.

Yet, as I said, youth crime has continuously been dropping over the past 20 years, and in Quebec in particular we have achieved incredible success, with the result that our youth crime rate is now much lower than elsewhere in Canada, because we did things right.

We respected the spirit of the Young Offenders Act, whose purpose is not to marginalize young offenders for the rest of their lives by dragging them before adult courts without any consideration and without taking their needs into account. Rather, we looked at the alternative and tried, whenever possible, and most of the time it is possible, to rehabilitate young offenders and return them to society.

When I spoke about unanimity in Quebec, I should have mentioned that the supreme court also voiced the opinion that the Young Offenders Act should not be seen as the counterpart of adult criminal laws. Even Mr. Justice Antonio Lamer made this point, and emphasized that the Young Offenders Act took into account the very specific needs of adolescents and that it was not necessary for a new law to be the mirror image of the criminal laws for adult offenders.

There is a coalition in Quebec, which has made representations to the minister, with the assistance of the member for Berthier—Montcalm, using shock arguments, arguments set out in the documents of the Minister of Justice, which show beyond a shadow of a doubt that, if the Young Offenders Act is properly enforced, no rod is necessary. We do not need a new act. The one we have is fine. It needs to be properly enforced, but it should not be used for electioneering, as the minister is now doing.

We hope that the House will approve our amendments, that the minister will listen to reason or that the government will ensure that this bill dies on the Order Paper before a federal election is called.

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3:50 p.m.

Reform

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, again we are in the House talking about the Young Offenders Act.

When we first arrived here in 1993, I remember the hon. member for Wild Rose mentioning that one of the big reasons we came here was to see what the government was doing in regard to young offenders. It seems to go on forever.

We can throw blame and shift it around all we want. I just listened to the member from Quebec state that all we believe in is the whipping post. He said that Quebec instituted legislation that that works really well. Well, according to 77% of Quebecers, particularly those who have been victims of the Young Offenders Act, they want the act toughened up a whole bunch. I would bet, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it is at least 77% in the rest of Canada.

We have heard the government, time after time, stand in the House and say that its number one priority is for the safety and well-being of law-abiding citizens but time after time it has failed the law-abiding citizens. The Young Offenders Act is just the tip of an example of what is going on.

There are many reasons for this. One of the significant causes for the failure of the Young Offenders Act and youth criminal justice is the lack of significant funding to properly deal with young offenders. There is a federal-provincial agreement to split the costs 50:50 for youth justice. Under the Constitution Act, 1867 the federal government is responsible for the criminal law through section 91. Through section 92 the provinces are responsible for the administration of the criminal law. Much like this government's shenanigans with health care, it has been playing games with young offenders funding. Rather than maintaining its 50% responsibility, the federal government has been slowly allowing its participation to erode to the extent that recent estimates of its contribution places it closer to 20% to 30%.

The government will argue that it recently allotted an additional $206 million toward youth justice. However, as is typical of the government, particularly the present finance minister, figures are always used to make larger numbers. Let us take a look. The $206 million is over three years. That is less than $70 million a year. Those funds do not cover the present shortfall in funding to the provinces and they will not cover the additional cost of this new piece of legislation. Again the government comes out with numbers that do not match reality.

We have a government, as we have had governments before, saying “We will be the parent. We will look after your children”. How it did this was by forcing both parents out to work. When that happened the children had nobody at home to look after them when they came home from school. The name that was used for them, and I think is still used, was “latchkey kids”. Where have our young people been learning while their parents were working? Was it in the parks? Yes, they have learned very well how to shoot dope, how to pull break and enters and, in some cases, assault, and they have learned how to rob. When the parents decided to crack down and put some law and order and discipline into their lives the government stepped down on the parents. The government has has taken the rights of parents through something called the charter of rights for children.

There is an old saying “You reap what you sow”. This is what we get. We have young offenders now who know they will get away with just about anything. They will serve soft time if they serve time at all. The most they will probably get is probation and, in many cases, not abide by it. I say this because I have talked to students at various schools.

Young people in grades 7, 8 and 9 have said to me “Mr. Stinson, we are afraid to go to school, afraid to go out at night and afraid to hang around with our friends because of the gangs that intimidate us. They take our clothes when we go to school and our lunches because they know nothing will happen to them”. There will be no severe penalty and probably no penalty at all. We have case after case of repeat young offenders going into different communities. Why? Because the public is not allowed to know their names. They are protected. Our neighbours do not even know what their children are up to.

The hon. member for Wild Rose quoted letters from victims who classified themselves as insignificant little people. When they came as witnesses before the committee they felt abused by their own politicians.

Members have to wonder exactly what we were put in this place to do when we have people going out of committee feeling that way. Something has to be done. We have tried study after study. We have listened to what I like to call the bleeding hearts of Canada tell us that soft love works and yet violent offences by youth are up 365%. Same on the government members who sit on the other side and say that their programs work when we have a 365% increase in violent offences by young offenders.