House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

The House resumed from November 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill today because alcohol is an issue which has been on my agenda as an item of consideration in terms of legislative initiatives almost since I became a member of Parliament.

The particular bill before us has to do with trying to amend the laws of Canada to provide an opportunity for those who are incarcerated but can use help to deal with their addiction and their problem with alcohol.

I support the bill 100% because when we have a social problem, education is always part of the solution. It is part of the prevent model. When we already have the problem, the other part of it is remediation. Sometimes people make mistakes in their lives and it is extremely important that people understand what problems they have, that denial has to be dealt with, and a person needs that opportunity and that support. What we do not want to have is recidivism.

People eventually get out of jail and we have a justice system which includes, as part of its operations, the rehabilitation of people. With regard to most people rehabilitation may be appropriate. I say may be appropriate because I know that there are circumstances under which rehabilitation is not applicable and not appropriate.

However, in regard to the member's bill, we are talking about those cases in which there is an incident in which individuals who are incarcerated will have the opportunity to be available, so that they can have the benefit of the kind of assistance that they may need to ensure that they understand what their problem is, why it happened, and how to cope and deal with it in the future. I support the bill 100%.

I also want to comment on those possibilities where rehabilitation is not applicable and not appropriate. That has to do with people who suffer from some sort of mental disability. More specifically, I gave a speech in the House last Friday on this, on Bill C-251. It is related to warning labels on alcoholic beverages to caution those who see the label about impending danger. It is a consumer lighthouse just sending out a “be careful message”. That is all the bill is.

It relates also to the messaging dealing with things like how alcohol can impair one's ability to operate machinery or equipment, or to drive a motor vehicle. It is extremely important that we talk about the problem when there is consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.

Recently, there have been some judicial statements with regard to the problems coming before the courts. The latest I heard, and I included it in my speech, was that almost half of the people who appear before the courts of Canada suffer from some sort of alcohol problem or alcohol related birth defect.

It is enormous when we think of the cost to the courts, the cost to the system to deal with this. This is a social problem which requires a comprehensive solution. It is not going to be good enough to lecture people about them doing something bad and that they will serve their time, the key will be thrown away and they will be there until the very end.

When people come out, they have to understand what the problem is, but rehabilitation in our system is not applicable to persons who for instance suffer from alcohol related birth defects.

As a consequence, questions also have to be asked, in addition to the issue that the member raises, about giving the kind of support to people who are in jail who understand what they did, so that they can get treatment for their addictions and problems. However, what happens to all the people who are in the same jails that are set up for rehabilitation who have a mental disability such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder? For them, rehabilitation is not applicable.

What is wrong with our system? It needs to go further and perhaps the member has an opportunity for another private member's bill he would like to champion. Our system should not assume that everyone who is incarcerated, because of alcohol misuse or abuse, is in a situation where rehabilitation is applicable. Maybe we have to start talking about the equality of our criminal justice system in terms of addressing what happens after we have the problem and whether or not the jails generically are applicable to all.

Maybe there should be special institutions where people get an opportunity to be able to cope with a permanent disability. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is 100% preventable, but it is not curable. In that regard, we are talking about prevention as well as some sort of remediation, only to the extent that one would have the kind of assistance that the person may need to cope, as well as the kind of assistance that the families need to cope.

People who know anything about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will know that the parents have a lifetime responsibility of caring for their children. Most of them never make it through school. Most of them are going to have problems in the labour force. Most of them are going to run afoul of the law, not because they did something wrong but because they did not know it was wrong.

They can be told 100 times not to do something because it is wrong and they will still do it, but it is not because they understand and just want to react and rebel. In those cases, people who have FASD do not know the difference between right and wrong, and there are many cases.

I wanted to raise that perspective here because the bill tends to address all those who are incarcerated from the standpoint that they are all the same, they are all subject to the same kinds of rehabilitation possibilities, and that we should have that.

Yes we should, for those who can be rehabilitated, but what happens to those who have no possibility of rehabilitation, those with permanent brain damage and permanent disabilities? They are likely to reoffend, not because they are bad people but because they have a mental disability.

Regarding this whole question of addressing addictions in our society, whether it be alcohol, drugs or anything else that can be harmful if misused, we need to ensure that we understand what happened, why it happened, how to prevent it, and how to remediate it.

There are many elements to it. This bill deals in part with part of the equation, but our criminal justice system has a very narrow focus. It says that if people do something wrong, they are going to jail. They will stay there, do their time and they will be subject to rehabilitation.

It is missing a significant component. Let me repeat. If the judges are telling Canadians and they are telling parliamentarians that 50% of the people who appear before the courts of Canada suffer from alcohol related birth defects or addictions to alcohol, now is the time for Parliament to act.

I encourage all hon. members to take whatever steps necessary to explore the situation, to examine what is happening in other countries around the world such as France, South Africa, the U.K., Ireland, and 20 other countries that I mentioned in my speech last Friday.

Those are the kinds of things that we have to learn. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. The evidence is there. Parliament should have a look at that evidence and Parliament should act.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in the debate at second reading on Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).

Essentially, Bill C-423 adds two new provisions to this act to flesh it out more with respect to young addicts.

Briefly, the bill introduced by the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont provides that a police officer must, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under this act against a young person alleged to have committed an offence, consider whether it would be sufficient to refer the young person to an addiction specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations.

Bill C-423 would also add a clause at the end of section 6 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act stipulating that if the young person enters into a treatment program as a result of such a referral and fails to complete the program, the outcome may be the start of judicial proceedings against that young person.

In my opinion, Bill C-423 is a welcome change from the justice bills introduced by this government since it came to power. Instead of the usual Conservative “law and order” ideology that, under the pretext of protecting public safety, would send more people to prison without reducing the root causes of crime, Bill C-423 offers valid alternatives to incarcerating minors, which is more important.

To all those who are watching us, I want to say that a strictly punishment-oriented public safety strategy will never make our societies more vibrant or our prisons less overpopulated. In my opinion, when young people become involved in the criminal justice system, it can exacerbate the problem and be very costly. These are negative results that have an impact not only on the individual involved, but on society as a whole. This situation must therefore be avoided whenever possible.

Consequently, the approach taken by Bill C-423 is commendable: the bill presupposes that prosecution is the final step in the fight against crime and is warranted only if all other valid options have been tried. This bill could reduce the number of young people in court and consequently the number of youth in our penitentiaries.

I would also like to remind all of my distinguished colleagues here in this House that prison will always be a crime school, a place where individuals harbour lingering, disgruntled resentment toward society. The decision to incarcerate an individual should be based on the seriousness of the crime committed and on how dangerous the criminal is.

That is why I have always promoted “restorative justice”, an idea supported by the Bloc Québécois that seeks to rehabilitate the offender by creating awareness of the seriousness of the crime and by repairing the damage done to the community or the people affected.

Not only does Bill C-423 attempt to keep young addicts from appearing before a court, it calls on the law enforcement community to use good judgment in order to give an offender a second chance. In a way, it emphasizes the confidence that we have in police officers and their duty to ensure a safer society.

This is an interesting element that would reinforce a positive image of police forces in public opinion. It is also in line with section 6 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which gives police officers the option to keep young offenders out of court by making it possible to choose another remedy, such as a drug treatment program.

However, I do have some concerns about this bill. With respect to the provisions in Bill C-423, we must ensure that the provinces are responsible for providing these drug treatment programs. For example, in Quebec, these programs are administered through health and social services agencies. Sufficient resources must be made available to offer the treatments called for in this bill.

I am also a little confused about how effective this bill can be within the framework of the minority government's vision for justice. I think that the intent behind Bill C-423 would be directly or indirectly affected by the new anti-drug strategy announced on October 4. I think that this approach, which is a repressive one, as usual, does not acknowledge the importance of prevention in the war on drugs.

Also, it is unfortunate that so little money, only approximately $10 million, is being allocated to measures to ensure the rehabilitation of our young people.

With that in mind, it would be nice to see this government take greater inspiration from the ideas proposed by the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont in the context of Bill C-423. His proposals should resonate even more within his caucus, which focuses too much on a repressive ideology centred on an illusion of safety that, unfortunately, did not produce the desired results for our neighbours to the south in terms of effectively reducing crime.

Once again, as I was saying earlier and as I have said during several debates on previous bills, specific realities are breeding grounds of crime and drug use. One such reality is poverty, which appears even more obvious to us now, with the holiday season just around the corner. Like my colleagues, I firmly believe that a greater sharing of riches, working toward better social integration and emphasizing rehabilitation represent essential solutions for the prevention of crime and substance abuse. Unfortunately, this government always has that unproductive tendency to ignore those approaches. It thinks it can achieve security by filling the penitentiaries.

In any case, I would like to conclude by emphasizing the noble intention of the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. In my opinion, this bill offers an important balance between rehabilitation and the vigilance needed when people refuse to take advantage of opportunities presented to them. It also respects the tenets I listed earlier regarding ways to reduce crime, giving young substance abusers a second chance by taking part in a detox program.

I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of initiatives that propose serious alternatives to incarceration, especially when it comes to minors. This is why we will support Bill C-423, so it may be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for further study.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to discuss the merits of the bill moved by my esteemed colleague, the hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. Bill C-423 is a bill that deserves the support of all parties in the House and, indeed, of every member.

I am extremely gratified to have heard the debate on this excellent bill thus far and am encouraged by the positive reception it has received on both sides of the House. This important piece of legislation has the potential to change the lives of thousands of Canadian youth. Each one of those young people represents a family, friends and a community. Early intervention may save those youth, families and communities from the heartache, pain and devastation caused by a life lost to drugs and criminal behaviour.

In a speech given earlier during debate on Bill C-25, I spoke of the many young Canadians I have had the privilege of meeting and speaking to in my time representing the constituents of Kitchener—Conestoga, young people full of promise with bright futures ahead of them. These youth represent the overwhelming majority of young people in Canada today. I have also had the occasion to meet with families of youth caught in a web of violence and crime and with the young people themselves.

What are the determinations that would cause a young person to choose one path over another? While undoubtedly there are many factors high on the list of causes, we would find drug use to be one of the chief contributing factors to subsequent violent criminal behaviour. Canada faces some serious drug problems, not the least of which is the growing number of our youth becoming involved with drugs at younger and younger ages.

In fact, in the Waterloo—Wellington region, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 2007 Ontario student drug use and health survey, 24.5% of students surveyed from grades 9 to 12 reported a drug use problem. All too often, one bad decision can lead a young person into a life of destructive behaviour.

The statistics on a drug such as crystal meth paint a chilling picture of a near instant addiction, with its subsequent devastation. I am quite certain that many of the young people who have ended up in this spiral of devastation had no idea of the future that awaited them.

In my riding, I hosted a forum on youth crime, which was attended by our Minister of the Environment, the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean. In that meeting, we heard many stories of youth and families whose lives have been affected by drug abuse. It was clear that these stories would have had different outcomes had the capacity existed for earlier intervention.

The issues are clear. More needs to be done to combat drugs and their devastating effects on Canadian society. This government has listened to Canadians and we are working actively with them to respond to that.

This government believes that the most effective way to deal with complex issues is to first identify the most important priorities and then act decisively on them in order to achieve results. Our drug strategy establishes goals and priorities that are both clear and measurable.

Budget 2007 signalled that the government would be investing in a national anti-drug strategy. The strategy was formally announced on October 4 and provides new funding of $64 million over two years. It establishes a focused approach to address issues of illicit drugs and is based on three concrete action plans: $10 million toward preventing illicit drug use; $32 million to treat illicit drug dependency; and $22 million to combat illicit drug production and distribution.

This funding builds on existing programs and initiatives that are focused to meet the government's priorities. Let me summarize the three parts of our anti-drug strategy.

Number one is prevention. Our efforts in the area of prevention focus on youth and include community based drug use prevention programs and crime prevention initiatives as well as a public awareness campaign.

Number two is enforcement. The national anti-drug strategy will also target the production of drugs in Canada, including marijuana grow ops and clandestine labs. It will target those organized criminals who exploit our youth for profit and also exploit other vulnerable citizens.

Number three is treatment. The national anti-drug strategy places significant importance on developing new treatment options and improving the availability and effectiveness of treatment programs.

Half of the funds under the strategy are earmarked for treatment so that we can offer to those who have become addicted to drugs the help they need to get their lives back on track. It is under this priority that Bill C-423 falls.

As stated, this amendment will require that a police officer, before starting judicial proceedings or taking any other measures under the act against the young person alleged to have committed an offence, must consider whether it would be sufficient to refer the young person to an addiction specialist for assessment and, if warranted, treatment recommendations.

The public often views the police role only as one of enforcement. This government recognizes the excellent work that police do in the area of drug prevention and their broader contribution to dealing with community programs.

With the enactment of Bill C-423, police will also be encouraged to assist youth in conflict by referring those with drug problems to assessment for treatment programming.

Again, I remind the members of the House about a conversation I had with a constituent, to which I referred in an earlier speech. She was a mother who wanted her son to go to jail for a series of incidents, including a theft charge, so he could receive treatment for his drug addictions and be saved from a life of more serious crime.

The current Youth Criminal Justice Act makes no provision for someone in her son's predicament. She was told by the judge that his criminal record was not long enough for jail, so nothing was done. Several months later he found himself again before a judge, restrained in a straitjacket due to a drug-induced psychosis. At that point, finally, his record was long enough to merit addiction treatment.

This is unacceptable. Action is needed now. We have ignored these situations for far too long. Had Bill C-423 been law at that time, police would have had the ability to recommend drug treatment instead of judicial proceedings. He would have received the help he needed. This law will save lives.

The bill complements the national anti-drug strategy, which provides funding to the Department of Justice to support extrajudicial measures and treatment programs for youth in conflict with the law who have drug-related problems.

Funding is also directed to the RCMP to implement new tools to refer youth at risk to treatment programming and also to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to develop new treatment models for crystal meth use.

The government recognizes that the combined efforts of many will bring success in addressing our drug priorities. We are working with all those who are concerned about Canada's youth, both from the private and the public sectors and across different disciplines such as health, education and the justice system.

From a local perspective, in Waterloo region in my riding, organizations such as Ray of Hope, which runs youth treatment programs for youth aged 13 to 17 who are involved in addiction, are working to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable young people. Supporting Ray of Hope is a group of generous people, led by Steve Scherer of Kitchener, who have donated or pledged close to $6 million to build the Ray of Hope Youth Addiction Treatment Centre.

Police have long been a key resource in dealing with the drug problems facing our communities. We will continue to rely upon their key contribution under the national anti-drug strategy.

Bill C-423 recognizes the role that police can play in linking youth with drug and addiction problems to those who can help on the treatment front. It provides a valuable and additional tool to help youth overcome their problems and make our communities safer.

I am proud to be part of a government taking such active, real steps toward effecting positive change in the area of early intervention for youth at risk. I am proud to represent a riding where people are not only asking what can be done but are committed to making sure it gets done.

By working together, we can spare many young people and their families needless pain and trauma. By working together, we can save the lives of young Canadians.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to engage in the debate today on this important topic. When the topic of youth criminal justice comes before the House, I try, as best I can, to speak to it. I will attempt to address some of the concerns around the act and some things that I believe we as legislators can do to improve the act and, in turn, better serve the people we represent and contribute to the youth of this country.

It is important to know that when it comes to justice issues and the bills that have been brought before this House in recent weeks and months, of the 13 pieces of legislation that have come forward, we supported 10 of those pieces of legislation. We even offered to fast-track eight of them.

This particular legislation is a private member's bill that has been put forward by my colleague from Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, a colleague on the HRDC committee. In discussions with people within our caucus, we certainly believe that, although the provisions may be in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the bill underlines the importance and the responsibilities of police officers and enforcement officers to look at extrajudicial opportunities when they are dealing with young offenders.

It is important to point out that every community has its own reality when it comes to treatment for substance abuse. We all look in our own backyards. I know in my backyard in Glace Bay, the place where I grew up and continue to work, to live and to raise my kids, there is a problem with substance abuse.

Some people in the House may have seen the movie Cottonland. It addresses the terrible problem that some people in my community are facing in their battle with prescription drugs, such as OxyContin. Cottonland is a very powerful film. It notes how many good, productive, normal young people make some bad decisions at a certain point in their life and those bad decisions have grave consequences.

Tragic devastation was reaped on one particular life in the film. A young athlete, who suffered an athletic injury, went to his doctor to seek relief from the pain in his shoulder. The doctor prescribed OxyContin and told the patient to take the medication once every two days. However, as the pain continued it was once a day and soon it became twice a day. As it evolved, the OxyContin took over the young man's life and he became addicted. His entire life revolved around how he would get his next fix and how he would get the money to buy the drugs. Prior to being prescribed this drug and developing this addiction, the young man was a productive person in his community. He was very caring and giving to others and involved in life.

Those tragedies are out there. I think what the member is trying to do with this legislation is to ensure that those people who find themselves in those situations where they enter into an illegal activity or take part in a crime because of drugs, that it is considered prior to any action being taken by the police.

As the act stands now, the police are required to consider referring a youth to an addiction specialist for assessment and potential treatment recommendations before commencement of judicial proceedings. The bill further states that a youth's failure to complete this program should be taken into consideration by that officer, which would allow him or her to decide whether to start judicial proceedings.

In many cases, even under the current act, extrajudicial measures are an option for an enforcement officer. This might involve any spectrum of things, from taking no action at all to issuing the youth a warning, administering a caution or referring the youth to a program or agency within the community. We are fortunate that most communities in Canada have groups and organizations that focus on dealing with troubled young people with addictions. The goal is to provide the youth with some options in order to promote an effective and speedy response to crime.

Some of those components are already in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I see this legislation as making it mandatory for police officers to consider such measures when dealing with a youth involved in crime. I hope my colleague addresses that in his wrap up comments.

Each of us bring our own experiences to the House. Having had the opportunity in my past life to work with young people through recreation and through sports, I know that many young people find themselves in the midst of different situations. A group of them might go out one night for a few beers and collectively make an unwise decision. Canadians do not believe that these youth, by making that unwise decision, should pay an extreme price for an extended period of time. Currently within the Youth Criminal Justice Act there is flexibility. It allows law enforcement officers and the judiciary to prescribe rehabilitative action so that youth can go on to lead productive lives. Hopefully we, as Canadians, believe in our youth and try to offer them those opportunities.

I hope to see this bill go to committee where witnesses can be heard and where it can be hashed out to see whether or not it would result in what is intended. I certainly support this going to committee, as do, I think, the vast majority of members on this side of the House.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like the House to know that my hon. colleague from Cape Breton and his family have done a tremendous amount of work over the years, not only with his three sons but with literally every other kid who is in Cape Breton. I think he has run across them on either a hockey rink or a baseball field. The Glace Bay Colonels are some of the best little players on the entire North American continent.

The advantage we have as grown-ups is being able to work with kids and being able to share our experiences with them in order to guide them on the right path.

My hon. colleague from Hamilton, who was from the great province of New Brunswick originally, tells some wonderful stories about growing up. It would have been very easy in those days to make a wrong turn.

Many kids in the country grow up impoverished; have various disabilities, either mental or physical; or come from a broken home. They come from all kinds of backgrounds. It is very easy as a youth, either as an individual or collectively, as my hon. colleague said, to make the wrong choice at a particular time.

What do we then do with them? The initial outrage would be to hang them from the highest tree and make sure they pay for their mistakes. However, there also is a compassionate side to it. Forgiveness in the Bible means that one turns the other cheek. When we look at the child we see a human being and we must try to make a productive person out of the individual. I believe that is how justice must work. However, there is no question that a deterrent is needed. People need to know that if they do something wrong there is a price to pay.

Sometimes the people who do those wrongs or injustices simply may not know what they are doing or they are in a collective group with a lot of peer pressure. However, after sober second thought, in a day or two they realize they should never have done that. It does not necessarily mean that we should throw the baby out with bathwater.

I grew up in Richmond, B.C. My parents ran a group home for well over 23 years. We had over 400 kids come through our doors, sometimes for a couple of hours, sometimes for a weekend and sometimes they stayed with us for several months. The one common theme between each kid was that they all lacked love. Either their parents did not love them or society rejected them and, for whatever reason, they did not feel that they fit into the normal structure of our society.

One of the biggest problems I felt growing up surrounded by that was the lack of attention and the lack of resources paid by governments to assist these children. It was almost like a babysitting mentality. If they were off the streets and within four walls that was good enough.

Many social workers back in those days tried to do the very best they could. I remember quite clearly that my parents would be with a child 24-7, day in day out. A social worker would come in once a month, do a half hour analysis on the kid and write a report. The social workers would not spend much time with my parents because they were too rushed. They often had to go to another home to talk to another kid. There certainly were not enough of them around, even back then, 40 years ago, to actually ascertain what the kid was thinking, what the environment was and all kinds of other parameters in their lifestyle.

We just simply shuffled kids off as numbers. We have heard story after story throughout the years about the challenges and difficulties people have had with the Children's Aid Societies in Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes and in the west.

My youngest sister right now looks after three first nations babies. Two of them have fetal alcohol syndrome, which goes back to the bill on labelling of alcohol bottles for fetal alcohol syndrome. My sister loves those kids as if they were her own. She has only cared for them for a few weeks and one she has had for a few months but she knows eventually she must give them up. All she is asking for is that when those children are returned to their families who wish to have them, she wants to ensure the families have the opportunity and the resources to care for these children like their very own.

When the government introduces legislation to toughen up the laws and increase the penalties or jail sentences for various crimes, one of the questions I keep asking, and to which I have not received an answer yet is whether the government will transfer the needed resources to the provinces. It is the provinces that end up picking up the slack on this one. It is easy to say we are going to extend a sentence for another five years, but that costs money and who pays for it? In many cases when it comes to incarceration, policing services and social services, it falls upon the provinces or territories to pick up that slack.

As much as we support this legislation and the previous bills that have come forward and the many more that may come down the pike in the years to come, I would encourage the Conservatives to ensure that for every new piece of legislation that comes forward in terms of criminal justice, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, whatever it is, that they incorporate with those increased sentences or deterrents the fiscal capacity for the provinces and municipalities to do their jobs effectively.

It is no good just to download that responsibility. Civic authorities throughout the country are scrambling for police officers. Provinces are scrambling for child care workers, hospital workers, teachers' aides. All of that falls on the backs of the provinces and municipalities. If the federal government wants to show leadership by introducing legislation of this kind, it is incumbent upon the government to back it up with the dollars.

I am hoping when the bill gets to committee there can be a financial analysis of the bill to determine exactly how much would be required to assist the provinces and territories in moving these issues forward. Then and only then will there be true results. It is one thing to say we passed a bill in the House of Commons and the Senate, but then comes the follow-up. Where is the follow-up three, four, five years down the road? What advantages has it had? What deterrent effect has it had? What benefits has it had? Without a careful analysis of that legislation down the road, we simply would not know. The person who sponsors the bill can say, “Look what I have done”, but the reality is someone down the road will have to pick that up. We would encourage better cooperation between the federal government and the provinces and territories.

I used to live in Yukon Territory. First nations children are some of the greatest kids we could ever meet, but an awful lot of them were behind the eight ball right from conception onward. They did not have proper housing. They did not have proper education. Their parents may have suffered the abuse at residential schools and all of those things. That kind of trauma goes from generation to generation. All we do is attempt to put a band-aid on these problems.

There are first nations people from northern Quebec who were sent to Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay and Grise Fiord, so-called settlement communities in 1953 and 1955. A whole bunch of families were moved up into the bitter cold of the high Arctic. They were given a few supplies and told to have fun. They were uprooted from their communities and off they went, in order to improve our Arctic sovereignty at the time. In the mid-1990s a cash settlement was made for compensation.

I made a recent trip there. They have not yet received an apology from any government. The government has not said to the last surviving people there that the government is sorry for what was done. All they are asking for is an apology. Many first nations groups are asking for an apology for what happened before and when that happens, the healing can start. Once the healing starts, the children of the people who were affected by those traumatic events will be able to move on. If not, we will have these same concerns over and over again.

It is our generation, this Parliament, that should start the healing process. My hon. colleague who spoke earlier is a very serious Christian fellow. I went on a trip with him to Israel recently and we learned a lot. He would know that in the book of Revelation there is a passage about the healing leaves. An Inuit refugee who had been sent up there from northern Quebec said a Catholic priest once read to him the passage about the healing leaves from the book of Revelation. He looked at the Canadian flag and saw the leaf on the Canadian flag. He told me that is what Canada should be, a healing nation.

If we accept the words of that elder about the Inuit tradition, then maybe this legislation can make the laws that can heal the nation and cause a lot of these concerns to go--

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

As much as I hate to interrupt the hon. member, it is now time to give the floor to the hon. member for Red Deer.

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my privilege to stand today to speak to Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).

Members hear in their ridings over and over again the increased concern about young people who get involved with drugs. The government is so concerned about this that it has committed to respond to these concerns with a national anti-drug strategy and a reassessment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Private member's Bill C-423 now before the House is a constructive and timely response to the problem of drug use among Canadian youth. Bill C-423 will support this effort to address the problem of substance abuse by youth through its proposal to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to allow police to refer youth charged with less serious offences to addiction specialists to determine if treatment is needed.

This measure will respond to concerns about youth who are tempted to use drugs, develop addiction problems and then engage in minor offences to pay for the drugs. How many of us in our ridings get calls from people who have been victims of young offenders who cause damage, steal, commit break and enter offences simply to get money to buy the drugs they have become addicted to? This is a common problem and one which all of us face.

The police, through section 6, have the authority to send youth, with their consent, to a program to reduce the chances of their repeating. Bill C-423 seeks to broaden this measure by giving police the power to send youth, with their consent, to a drug specialist who will recommend the necessary treatment.

The youth justice system has long had to deal with the challenge presented by troubled youth. Often young people charged with criminal offences face significant problems and find themselves marginalized in society. Their special needs do not absolve them from responsibility for criminal conduct, but it is important to ensure those needs, however severe or pressing, should not result in a greater sentence or criminal sanction than is justified by the offence committed.

As we have heard from other speakers on this bill, the whole issue of treatment is the emphasis. So often we do not emphasize it and instead talk about the penalties.

An important feature of the youth justice system itself is to address the needs through rehabilitative measures within the sentences and interventions that are proportional to the seriousness of the crime. Safeguards are in place to ensure the penalties imposed on a young offender do not result in a greater penalty because he or she has needs. It is therefore important to examine the measures set out in Bill C-423.

For example, there is a requirement in this bill that police take into account whether the youth has complied with the treatment program when considering whether to charge the youth for the original offence, to ensure they are fully consistent with the purpose and principles governing the use by police of the extrajudicial measures set out in the Young Criminal Justice Act. We need to ensure that this useful tool for police, which is aimed at helping youth who have substance abuse needs, is not subsequently subject to challenge.

Police will tell us how difficult it is for them to make arrests and take the offenders to court. They discover the court system is not able to deal with the offenders and the offenders are back out on the street the next day. We support providing police with the option of referring youth for help with the substance abuse services. This offers a more effective and meaningful response for youth with addictions and drug problems than facing criminal charges for petty crimes.

This government takes the concerns of Canadians about youth crime very seriously and is committed to strengthening the Young Offenders Act to ensure that our youth justice system is fair and effective in addressing the problems associated with youth offending. This government welcomes the efforts of the hon. member in tabling private member's Bill C-423 as one step toward strengthening the whole process.

Further, as the House knows, the federal Minister of Justice recently tabled Bill C-25, which will strengthen sentencing and pretrial detention provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This government believes that solutions to the problems of youth crime will come through comprehensive approaches to the issue. All we have to do is attend some of the trials for young offenders to see that this whole review is so necessary.

We need a sound legislative base for our youth justice system. We will continue to work collaboratively with all of our partners to address the conditions that underlie youth offending. It is important to encourage equal standards among families, parents and those who are involved in the development of our youth.

Furthermore, this government will be launching a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the youth justice system in 2008 to ensure that our youth justice system fairly and effectively holds young offenders accountable for criminal conduct.

Bill C-423 should assist the police to link youth with the substance abuse services they need. I am proud to support this bill and congratulate the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for taking concrete steps to help our youth who have become involved with drugs and are committing petty crimes.

We have many parents calling out to us for help. This bill is just one measure to try to help them with those young offenders.

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Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Williams Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to talk on the bill by the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont because it demonstrates the compassion that he has for young people in this country. It also demonstrates the position of the Conservative Party, that we believe it is important to help our young people rather than just throw the book at them any time they commit a crime.

This bill deals with the fact that when a young offender is apprehended because it is alleged that he may have committed some crime, the first thing the officer has to do is determine the mental state and attitude of the person. On that basis the officer makes a decision whether or not to start the full process of court proceedings, or whether the drug treatment programs that are currently offered would be much better.

This is a great recommendation by the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont. We have had some high profile cases in the past. I think we all remember Davis Inlet on the north shore of Labrador where young kids were into gas sniffing, glue sniffing, and everything else. They ended up at Poundmaker's Lodge in St. Albert, my constituency, for treatment.

A lot of illegal things were going on in Davis Inlet at that time, but the country's compassion was to help the young people. They were taken to Poundmaker's Lodge and we did everything we could to try to rehabilitate them rather than throw them into criminal proceedings.

That concept is replicated many times in this country, although it may not get national headlines. A young person is arrested for having fallen into criminal behaviour because of his participation in drugs. If that young person says that he would like to start treatment and demonstrates that he is willing to follow through on the treatment and completes the recommended course by the professionals and experts and he cleans himself up, why would we want to give him a criminal record that would dog him for years and years?

Young people are a great asset. Some of them fall by the wayside and some of them can pick themselves up and get back on track. We should not be throwing the book at them. We should be helping them because our justice system is all about rehabilitation and protection of society. If we can rehabilitate that person and make him a contributing member of society rather than a criminal for the rest of his life, surely that is one of the greatest investments we can make.

I am pleased to say that I am going to recommend that we all support the bill proposed by my good colleague from Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont.

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Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont now has the floor for his right of reply.

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Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, I know there were questions from some members of the opposition asking for some clarification. I am sure if they look at the first two 15 minute speeches I gave, they will find the answers.

I want to spend my short amount of time thanking some people.

First, I want to thank my colleagues from all parties. Members from all parties, despite the fact they had political things to get off their chests when they spoke, articulated their parties support for the bill.

I also thank the House of Commons legal department and the Library of Parliament. They helped me with the drafting of the bill. When we discuss this kind of thing, it is important to ensure we get it right the first time. I thank the people who worked hard to do that and who went back and forth with me as we worked through what we were trying to accomplish here.

I also thank ordinary Canadians who dedicate their lives every day to helping kids and adults with addictions issues. It is a very significant issue in our country. I thanked some of them when I first had a chance to speak to the bill, such as Maralyn Benay from Parents Empowering Parents, Patricia Bencz from the Our House addictions treatment centre and folks who spent a lot of time to help people with addictions issues.

I also want to take a moment to thank the RCMP and other police forces. The Edmonton city police deal with this issue and the results and consequences of addictions issues every day. I have done a couple of ride-alongs with Edmonton city police officers and they have been incredibly helpful in helping me understand the cycle of addictions and crime and how much of their work centres around dealing with the consequences of addictions issues.

I also want to take a moment to express my appreciation to my nine foster brothers and foster sister. I do not say it nearly enough, but they provide me with a lot of inspiration for a lot of what I do here in the House, and I will name them: Andrew, Randy, Kelly, Jeff, Matt, Jonathan, Howie, Danny, Jeremy and Amanda. They are very important people in my life. They came from some very tough circumstances into my parent's house, when they were early teens for the most part. They are an amazing inspiration. I did not realize how important they were in my life until I grew older and dealt with some of the things we dealt with here.

I particularly want to thank my parents, Mark and Bonnie, and my brother Dan. In 1986 I was 16 years old and my parents made the decision to reach out to some kids who had come from some of the toughest circumstances one could imagine. As a 16 year old, that was a pretty life-changing event, bringing people into our house, growing our family of four into five, six, seven, eight, nine and eventually fourteen people. It made for some pretty fun Christmases and some pretty good ball hockey games in the street.

Because my parents had a heart for kids at risk and kids coming from those circumstances, they decided to do something significant to try to address it and to try to help these kids out.

When my father passed away in 2003, it really hit home for me how important it was to these kids. Some of the kids are in their young twenties, or even like us, and may not have been around for a little while. They had gone off to do their own thing. However, when he passed away, all of a sudden these kids came back for the funeral. We had a chance to catch up, to talk and to see where they were at. I think it was then when I started to really realize the impact my parents' decision had on the lives of these kids. I definitely want to thank my parents and my brother for the decisions they made.

I want to reiterate that the purpose of the bill is to get help for kids at a time when they might not realize they need the help. That is the crux of the bill, to reach out to these kids. I look forward to having the opportunity to work with the members of the justice committee as we try to move forward and make the bill come into law.

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Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 12:02 p.m., the time provided for the debate has expired. The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Youth Criminal Justice Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Accordingly, the bill is referred to the standing committee on Justice and Humand Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)