House of Commons Hansard #13 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Points Of Order
Government Orders

6:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

What we have here is a matter of business going back to yesterday, Tuesday, February 13. I believe I was in the chair at the time the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House sought concurrence to this motion. Concurrence was denied.

Upon verification with our staff, we recognized that there had been an administrative error. In fact, notice of motion was given yesterday and should have been on the notice paper today. I would conclude that the government will be eligible to call on that motion tomorrow should it so choose. It is eligible for tomorrow.

If there are any questions, I will try to take them very quickly, but I hope I have made the matter as clear as we possibly can. I would not want anyone to be surprised if the government should choose tomorrow to exercise that option. It is eligible to it by way of an administrative error that we all regret. Those things do happen but not very often.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-7, 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

February 14th, 2001 / 6:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have some relatives who are lawyers and a lot of friends who are lawyers. I have a lot of respect for lawyers.

The speaker from the Conservative Party talks about the complexity of the bill, the onerous wording, twice the wording of the present Young Offenders Act. He talks about how that is totally unacceptable and says that it is an extremely difficult bill to grasp. I think he is saying that even judges would have problems with it.

I find this amazing. When we start drafting bills and laws, we have lawyers writing the bills, lawyers prosecuting the law, lawyers defending the law, lawyers sitting on the bench deciding what to do with the law, and lawyers interpreting the law. In this particular bill we are going to have lawyers who are going to have to intervene for young offenders under 14 to prove reverse onus. We are going to have lawyer involvement to an unbelievable degree.

I have a feeling that there is something wrong with this picture. We have built a real legal industry under this kind of legislation, which does not make a lot of sense to normal people. Any normal person could not do this. I suggest to the House that it probably took 17 lawyers from Ottawa to write this bill and it is going to take 15 Philadelphia lawyers to interpret the darn thing.

Does the member not see something wrong with that picture? Lawyers, lawyers and lawyers, and we are trying to deal with youth crime and with what to do with our young people. What the government has done with the bill is to build an excellent avenue by which lawyers will fill their pockets once again. I do not see how it is going to make any difference to what is happening with youth crime.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the complexity of the bill is necessary in order to provide the flexibility to target individual young offenders with the types of crimes they commit and the types of problems they have and give the best recourse to the community.

Police officers I have dealt with in community policing and people on youth justice committees will not have any difficulty seeing the value of having the referrals and having the ability to act under this bill.

I was somewhat amused to hear that the legal aid lawyers in New Brunswick were smiling at the prospect of providing defences under this act. The legal aid tariff in New Brunswick must be a lot higher than it is in British Columbia if this is causing anyone to smile.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Vancouver Quadra for an interesting speech. If that was his maiden speech then I welcome him to the House and congratulate him. His reputation certainly precedes him. I am sure he will make a valuable contribution, especially in justice matters.

I was very pleased to hear him raise the issue of the overrepresentation of aboriginal people and aboriginal youth in the criminal justice system. In the riding of Winnipeg Centre this is a big issue. We have a great deal of what is called the youth gang problem. For any number of socioeconomic reasons we have a lot more people involved in that than other areas do.

The hon. member also mentioned aboriginal overrepresentation in the prisons. I was just reading in a book last night that at certain points in the last 15 or 20 years, in two of the women's prisons other than Kingston the aboriginal population was at 100%. Those places were full of aboriginal people.

The hon. member mentioned the Berger report. I am sure he has read the aboriginal justice inquiry from Manitoba. Could he tell us if he is satisfied that this bill incorporates the recommendations or the better qualities of those two reports in tone or in content?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Stephen Owen Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, very briefly, dealing with the aboriginal justice report from Manitoba, I do not believe this does incorporate the recommendations in that report.

However, in terms of the difference between having a separate justice system for aboriginal people or rather a general justice system that is flexible enough to incorporate both appropriate traditional methods, whether for healing or sentencing, I believe the bill is going in the direction of the spirit of drawing on traditional practices that will strengthen our criminal justice and youth justice systems in order to incorporate what is useful, appropriate and effective in dealing with aboriginal offenders.

I hope that as we gain experience, better appreciate and help revive those traditional practices, we will appreciate across the country that they will enrich our general justice system.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, this being my first opportunity to rise on debate in this parliament, I would like to congratulate the Speaker and his colleagues on their ascension to their positions. For the first couple of weeks of this session, Mr. Speaker, I think you are probably going to have an interesting time.

I extend my gratitude to the constituents of Surrey North for sending me back here for a second term and also to my wife, Dona, and my daughter, Jodi, for their support. Especially on Valentine's Day, I would be remiss if I did not do that. I also have to extend my gratitude to our 55-pound puppy, and I use that term advisedly, who I am sure will waste no time in reclaiming my half of the bed for the next three years.

In all seriousness, it is unfortunate that I am once again speaking against the government's questionable youth justice proposals. As members know, I have spoken in this place a few times on this issue. I have sat through hours and hours of committee hearings and have been to many communities across this land. I have encouraged the government to have an open mind on the need for significant changes to the Young Offenders Act. The minister is even on record as stating that the Young Offenders Act is “easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation”.

It is unfortunate that Canadians do not have the opportunity to actually look at what the government is proposing with its youth criminal justice reforms. If they did, they would see that Bill C-7 is merely repackaging the Young Offenders Act, putting some political spin on it and selling it as a balanced and proper approach to misguided youth who manage to find themselves on the opposite side of our complicated laws.

If the truth be told, the new youth criminal justice act, Bill C-7, has all the traits of becoming an even more unpopular piece of federal legislation. Bill C-7 is virtually identical to the legislation the minister presented in the second session of the last parliament. All she has done is insert approximately 150 technical amendments to correct the mistakes, the typos and the errors in law of her previous version. In spite of approximately 150 substantive amendments from the opposition, there is absolutely no indication that the government even considered those proposals.

However, that does not surprise me. For almost five years now, the government has been going through the motions of appearing to be interested in hearing suggestions for improvement to the youth justice process. Other than a few relatively simple changes, the government has not indicated that it was even listening to all of those hundreds of requests for substantial change.

For almost five years now, we have heard that the federal government has not been meeting its financial obligations toward funding of youth justice. The government has announced that it is providing $206 million over the next three years, but that is merely to cover the initial costs of this new legislation. There has been nothing to cover the shortfall that has been going on for years.

One of the major problems with youth justice is the insufficiency of funding to cover training and rehabilitative costs. If the young people who get into trouble are not given any direction and assistance to change, is it any wonder many revert to their criminal tendencies? All we seem to do is investigate, prosecute, convict and punish these youths until they turn 18 and move on to similar activities as adults. Only in that way do many of these youths disappear from the youth crime problem.

The situation is even more abysmal with those young persons aged 10 and 11. For years now, we have been seeing 10 year olds and 11 year olds involved in criminal activity. That was seldom, if ever, seen before. We have also seen that child welfare agencies are frequently incapable of dealing with many of these cases. I will not get into all of that because it is primarily a provincial and municipal matter, but child welfare was never ever set up to deal with criminal behaviour. It was set up for the protection of children, not the protection of our communities from the children.

As well, we have seen how the resources within child welfare have been stretched to the breaking point. There is no luxury of expending additional resources to ensure that the occasional child who has found himself or herself on the wrong side of the law gets proper advice and guidance to get back onto the straight and narrow. That is why the Canadian Alliance has been trying to influence the government into expanding the youth justice process to include 10 year olds and 11 year olds.

Judges have been dealing with young offenders for years. They have seen their workloads increase because individual cases are not properly addressed in the initial instance.

We are not saying that judges have to lock up 10 and 11 year olds, but we are saying that judges need to become involved in the interests of the young offender and of the community to ensure the proper scheme is set up to bring the young person back on track. We are saying we need to involve the judges to oversee the problem. Child welfare authorities do good work in many instances but they were never set up to deal with criminal behaviour. They do not have the experience or the resources.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my private member's initiative that has once again been incorporated into the legislation. One objective I had when I first came to this place was to bring forth legislation to have those who willfully fail to honour their court undertaking to properly supervise the release of a young person into their custody treated more seriously. The minister has continued to realize the importance of the proposal.

Our justice system comes under supreme scrutiny when parents or others undertake to the court to supervise a young person who is considered to be a danger or a risk to the community, only to then permit that young person to go unsupervised. Those who voluntarily agree to supervise and then wilfully fail to do so must be held accountable.

I will present a scenario to give listeners a chance to understand some of the concerns presented by the legislation. Let us take the case of a 14 year old youth who commits a sexual assault at knifepoint and whose victim is wounded or disfigured. The youth may face a presumptive offence under the legislation. As such, he may face an adult sentencing process as he has committed what appears to be one of the few offences listed as a presumptive, and he was 14 at the time of the crime.

However in the legislation there are few, if any, clear determinations. We would first have to determine whether the province in which the crime occurred had used its power under section 61 of the legislation to change the age of application of the presumptive offence. If it had been raised to 15 or 16, the young person would not necessarily receive adult sentencing. In effect, he would have been lucky because he committed the crime in the right province.

As well, the attorney general can under section 65 advise the court that it is not seeking an adult sentence, even in a case such as this. Furthermore the attorney general must provide notice to the court and to the young person before the commencement of trial that the adult sentence is being sought. Otherwise none would be considered.

If the young person is found guilty of the offence, section 62 states that an adult sentence shall be imposed if, and this is a mighty big if, the young person essentially agrees to accept the adult sentence or if the youth court justice is of the opinion that a youth sentence would not be adequate to hold the young person accountable.

When the court reviews that situation, either on its own or when the young person challenges the use of an adult sentence, the court must balance the proposed sentence with the contribution to the protection of society by having meaningful consequences with the interest of promotion of the young person's rehabilitation and reintegration into society, whatever that means.

As I read it, the court uses adult sentencing only as a last resort. It must first of all be satisfied that a youth sentence is insufficient. Then the youth court judge must balance the interests of the protection of society with the interests of the young person to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community.

As we can see with my example, the young attacker would receive an adult sentence only as a last resort. The court must seriously consider whether incarceration will affect the young person's rehabilitation and reintegration. Perhaps the court could decide that some form of intensive support and supervision program would suffice, with no incarceration. This is just one of the youth sentences available.

Similarly, we can use the example of the young person sexually assaulting with a knife. Even though I have explained how difficult and improbable it may be for him to receive an adult sentence with incarceration, let us suppose that an adult sentence was imposed. We must remember that in our example there was wounding and disfigurement of the victim.

Will he be identified when he returns to the community, or will the community be completely unaware of the danger of a repeat or of a more serious offence?

If the young person received the adult sentence he may be identified pursuant to subsection 110(2)(a). I ask the House to notice that I still say may. Under subsection 75(3), the court may order a ban on publication of even this type of serious crime if the young person makes application for the ban and if the judge considers it important, taking into account the importance of rehabilitating the young person in the public interest.

Let us suppose we change the scenario to a less serious offence. Let us suppose the young offender does not actually use the knife; it has used it only as a threat. The offender will not likely face an aggravated sexual assault charge. There would be no presumptive offence. We then enter a whole new ball game, a ball game in which the law is written even more favourably in the interests of the offender and not of the victim or of protection of communities.

Unfortunately I do not have time to go through all the legal arguments, considerations and decisions by the attorney general. As has been said, the lawyers must be rubbing their hands with glee.

I hope I have provided listeners with just some of the concerns over the problems and complexity of the legislation. As I have stated, lawyers will be busy tying up the courts and the youth justice process as they debate the provisions.

A more serious question is: How can we expect our youth and other citizens to know what the law entails when it is written with so many exceptions and so much legal mumbo-jumbo?

As I stated at the start, when the legislation plays itself out Canadians will soon again become disenchanted and disappointed with the youth justice system. Surely we have a duty and a responsibility to do much better.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

When the House resumes debate on the matter the Canadian Alliance Party will have a 10 minute slot left, at which point the hon. member for Wild Rose will have the floor.

It being 6.30 p.m. this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6.30 p.m.)