House of Commons Hansard #36 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

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

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 36
Government Orders

March 26th, 2001 / 12:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from February 14 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.

Division No. 36
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to the legislation. If the people out in the real world were listening earlier today, they would have noticed that time allocation has been forced on the House in regard to Bill C-7, a matter which is a foremost problem faced by myself, as a member of parliament, as it is I am sure for many other members in the House, since coming here in 1993. We are talking about the Young Offenders Act.

Let us just take a look at this. For well over seven years the government has been working on or promising to introduce new legislation with regard to the Young Offenders Act. For over seven years it has worked on this problem and this is the best it could come up with. It has come up with a piece of legislation that absolutely does not address many areas of concern that out there in the public when it comes to young offenders.

Not only our party but other parties in the House were involved in committee hearings that went on across Canada. We listened to different people and had witnesses come in with regard to this piece of legislation, yet the government has just about totally ignored most of these recommendations.

A government's first and foremost responsibility be to any country and to any of its citizens has to be safety and well-being. That should be the foremost responsibility of any government. This piece of legislation does not come anywhere close to addressing that. We have a habit in this country of saying that children and our young people are precious gifts, which they are. They are also our responsibility, not only in regard to their safety and well-being but their spiritual, physical and mental well-being. That is our duty, as elected representatives, to them, to parents and to the rest of our citizens: to try to protect.

When we have pieces of legislation such as this that are supposed to address the problems in our country facing young people today and when we go out and speak in schools, I listen to the young people in the schools and they tell me that the Young Offenders Act is a joke, a laugh. These are young people who themselves are concerned about going to school, concerned about gang violence, concerned about losing their own personal property through theft or concerned about intimidation by their peers, by other young people. When we ask them about the penalties that can be imposed, they look at what has happened in our court system and start to laugh.

There is nothing out there to deter these young people—and there are a few of them but not a majority of them—out there committing these types of crimes. They look upon our judicial system and how we handle them as a joke and, when we go through it all, it is a joke.

Since the Young Offenders Act was incorporated, the violent acts of crime by youth have increased 100%. That statistic alone should tell the government that there is something wrong with the legislation it has been introducing in this regard.

When we hear people saying that the young offenders legislation should start taking in people from the age of 10 and up, we should be listening to them. Instead, we turn away from them. The government has been told this by every party in the House except the Bloc, and even its own members agreed to this in committee, and yet in this piece of legislation it has refused to address this.

I am not saying that all crimes committed by young offenders should be treated in that strict a manner. When we look at diversion or extrajudicial measures, which have been brought up, we see that they have been quite successful. For those who do not know what that is, it is merely a program whereby the accused young offender admits guilt and agrees to be dealt with in an informal manner through some form of community based committee. The committee may be made up of citizens of the community, if the accused and perhaps the victim are so inclined. The committee will talk over the case. The accused gets to acknowledge the damage and decides how best to show remorse and so on. Community service may be decided on. An apology may be written. The offender may either pay the victim for the damages or work off the damages by assisting the victim in some other manner. By successfully completing the program, the accused avoids a criminal record, which is good, and hopefully the community is satisfied with having been involved and with seeing how and why certain decisions were made.

This is all good, but the legislation was supposed to be for first time non-violent offenders. Yet this piece of legislation is not limited to first time non-violent offenders. That is why it is open to abuse. There has to be concern about that. There are some positive steps in the legislation, but it is extremely unfortunate that for the small steps it has taken forward there are still large loopholes left. Therefore we in our party cannot support it.

Liberal members come to us and ask us why we cannot support it, telling us to look at the good in it, but when we look at it, it is like asking us to pay the full price for a loaf of bread that is three-quarters rotten in order to get four good slices. It is unacceptable.

Yet when amendments come forward from other parties in the House they are totally disregarded. Instead of standing here and debating it, when a person can stand and talk for 20 minutes or a half hour and really get into the root causes, we are told there is time allocation on it. Our real concerns are not addressed. We do not have time for proper debate.

Let us take a look at clause 2 regarding definitions. A non-violent offence means an offence that does not cause or create a substantial risk of causing bodily harm. Non-violence would appear to include: drug offences such as trafficking; theft, including car theft; break and enter; perhaps even sexual touching; possession of child pornography; and fraud, just to name a few.

This is a very important definition because for these types of offences offenders will likely avoid custody. In fact it is also presumed that extrajudicial measures are sufficient and they will not even gain a criminal record.

We have to wonder what is going on here. Presumptive offences include only five offences: first degree murder, second degree murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, and aggravated assault. That includes serious violent offences for which an adult can be sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years, if at the time of the offence committed by the young person there have been at least two previous judicial proceedings where the judge has made a judicial determination that offences were serious violent offences.

When we look at that we realize that the list does not include violent crimes in which a firearm has been used or sexual assault with a firearm or even a knife. These can be quite traumatic to the victim, yet they are not included. Why?

We leave these pieces of legislation open to interpretation and we all know what happens when we allow the courts to start interpreting what we are supposed to be doing here. We run into a bigger mess than we already have.

Although there are some good parts to the legislation, much more has to be done before it would be a viable piece of legislation.

Division No. 36
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, as we have been saying all along, the Bloc Quebecois is totally against the bill introduced by the justice minister.

We cannot agree to the rigid model she is proposing, because her bill goes against the values shared by all the people in Quebec and everyone working with children at risk. The government is ignoring years of efforts to implement programs to help young people facing violence in their daily lives. We are not about to backtrack on this.

The government is looking backwards by taking unnecessarily repressive measures without proposing acceptable alternatives to its strong action. To supervise and to punish seems to be the underlying principle of the bill but what about preventing and addressing the problems of our youth? The question remains unanswered.

Despite what the justice minister says, what makes a bill good or bad has nothing to do with the government being reelected but rather with the bill being in touch with reality. The minister is ignoring Quebec's experience in this area. By turning young people into criminals, she is rejecting the Quebec model and its proven success based on rehabilitating young offenders. In doing that, she is compromising an effective approach in favour of considerations on which there is no consensus.

Why is the minister being so hard on our young people who need to be supported and guided rather than punished? Why does she want to send our young people to crime school, which is what prison is? Why deprive them of any hope? Does she want to ruin their chances of getting back on the right track? Does she want to take away their future? These are the goals pursued by the Minister of Justice.

How can a government get swept up in such a piece of legislation, the severity of which is totally pointless? According to recent statistics showing a drop in violent crimes in Canada, such an attitude on the part of the minister, which she insists on keeping despite all opposition, is absolutely unjustified.

Our young people should have a chance to tackle life with more confidence, with proper guidance and supervision, but the government wants to do the opposite.

The bill opens the door to consequences that the government has yet to measure. Young people, gobbled up by this repressive system, will find themselves with their backs to the wall, with no choice but to try to survive in the prison environment. Can we believe that the measures contained in the bill would really have a deterrent effect? Does the minister truly hope to do society a great service by treating this way young people in trouble?

They are being pushed too far. They are left to fend for themselves. What other result can we expect but to turn these young people into future criminals? We must denounce the bill, which was drafted mainly to satisfy a visceral need for revenge which, in the long run, will do more harm than good to our justice system and, more to the point, to our young people.

We have repeatedly denounced all this during the many discussions and debates we have had regarding the bill. Despite our repeated representations, despite the statistics on youth crime—Quebec has the lowest youth crime rate in Canada—despite negative comments from people in the field, despite the success of the Quebec model, the government keeps on turning a deaf ear.

The justice minister, confined in her ivory tower, has chosen to attack the bill's opponents instead of showing its possible benefits, which everyone is still trying to detect. The warning issued to the minister by the Bloc Quebecois failed to make her see the light, so strong is her determination to legislate at all cost in this field. We remain convinced that this legislation ignores Quebec's expertise in the matter and destroys everything that has been accomplished over the years.

The implementation of this new legislation would create more problems than it would solve. We would have to start again from square one and rebuild from a basis whose future efficiency is doubtful. What the Minister is proposing is nothing short of a radical change in philosophy. Nothing justifies tightening up the current act, which has a proven track record and, I repeat, has produced the expected results.

The minister has failed to take into account the criticisms, the objections and, more important, the arguments presented to her. She has come up with a bill nearly identical to the one she introduced in the last parliament.

A few changes here and there—in the French version, the term “infliger” in relation to sentences becomes “imposer”, a fundamental nuance if there was ever one—some of the wording may be slightly different, a few scattered sentences, this is the kind of frivolous changes the minister has the nerve to call improvements.

I cannot see any significant change, any change of direction, any notable redesign, which means that the minister has not seen fit to rethink her bill in the light of everything that has been said or written on the matter. Her bill is based on a lack of maturity and the denial of principles dear to a majority of citizens.

Canada's reputation for tolerance, compassion and good judgement will not survive this new image that the minister is trying to give her government.

Is that the way that the government wants to go? Does it want to erode its reputation on the international scene by choosing a repressive approach over a preventive one?

The Bloc Quebecois refuses to go down this path of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and would rather rely on the law as it is applied in Quebec which, together with adequate resources and programs, is the best tool to solve the problems that the minister's bill claims to be resolving.

No, we will not go for this because, in its current form and in light of the actions taken, the system is achieving the desired results. These actions are not dependent on interest groups, but on needs this bill is not addressing.

Why does the minister not accept the arguments of all the stakeholders concerned? Does she not take their expertise into consideration? If she insists on going about it the wrong way, she will have to shoulder the blame for destroying something that is working well. She will have only herself to blame.

Finally, I want to underline that the Bloc is still vigorously opposed to a bill that does not respect the public consensus in Quebec. The minister must not let the bill be used to promote the hateful agenda of a small number of people. I would advise her to re-examine her position and to think a little longer about the impacts of the bill on Quebec.

I will conclude by saying that, since it does not seem that the minister will let herself be guided by reason but by futile impulses, there is no doubt that she will go ahead as she has said she will in the last few days. She should at least consider giving Quebec an exemption allowing it to continue with the act as it is right now. I doubt that the minister will have enough goodwill and good faith to satisfy this demand, considering what she recently said on the Bloc and which all my colleagues and I still remember.

Since nobody has succeeded in bringing the hon. members to take a moment to think about what they are doing with this bill, I will end on a quotation by Montesquieu, hoping that he will. “Any punishment that is not absolutely necessary is tyranny”.

I would myself add that any legislation that is not absolutely necessary is unacceptable.

Division No. 36
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, the statements of the member are totally irresponsible.

Is she against the fact under the bill young offenders would no longer be brought before adult courts?

Division No. 36
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, progress cannot be made by making disparaging remarks and attacking members of parliament.

What the Bloc Quebecois has been asking for, and what I also want, is for the current legislation, which is working very well, to continue to apply in Quebec. That is what my remarks boil down to.

Division No. 36
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Laval East, QC

Mr. Speaker, how can the member believe that this government would pass legislation that goes against the interests of young Canadians? Can she assure the House right now that she has read Bill C-7 in its entirety before making the remarks we just heard?

Division No. 36
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do read the bills before making any comments about them. I can even tell the House that I attended the hearings of the Standing Committee on Justice, where several witnesses, experts and lawyers, told me how incomprehensible this bill is. They told me that even lawyers who read their fair share of such legal documents all agree that people in the legal profession would have a tough time understanding this piece of legislation. Can you imagine how tough then it is for people who are not really used to this kind of legalese—which could be the case of the member opposite—to understand this bill? As far as I am concerned, I stand behind what I have said.