Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have to address my support for Bill C-7, the youth criminal justice act. I have followed the bill with great interest during its passage through the House of Commons, the Senate and now back before us for consideration of one amendment dealing with the overrepresentation of aboriginal youth in custody.
As the House knows, the youth criminal justice act was passed by the House in May 2001. The Senate then approved the bill in December with one small amendment dealing with a very important requirement: to consider non-custodial sentences for aboriginal youth. This is the amendment now before the House.
It is important to remember that Bill C-7 and its predecessors have been before parliament for over three years. It has been the subject of extensive and prolonged scrutiny by the House of Commons and also by the Senate. Many hours of parliamentary time have been spent in reviewing the proposals. Parliament has heard from dozens of witnesses whose views have been taken into account in the amendments that have been approved by both the House and the Senate.
It is important for us to recall that several months were dedicated to parliamentary hearings on Bill C-3 which was the predecessor to Bill C-7. Many hours were spent examining that bill. In fact the House standing committee heard from close to 100 witnesses. It found the substance of many of these interventions very compelling. Some 160 amendments to the bill were actually put forward.
Unfortunately Bill C-3 died on the order paper. It was reintroduced as Bill C-7 in February 2001. I should add that it was done so with the amendments. The overall direction and all key elements were retained, designed to reduce complexity and provide greater clarity and in fact improve flexibility for the provinces.
I must say that as a member of parliament who practised law for 18 years before seeking public office, and as a mother of three children, two boys and a girl age 20, 12 and 17 respectively, I have been impressed throughout the consideration of the bill by parliament, as well as listening to my constituents and the Canadian public as a whole, with just how much support there is across Canada for the government's efforts to provide solutions to respond to this complex area of youth justice.
People are genuinely concerned that our society finds fair and effective ways of dealing with young people who are alleged or are found to have committed offences. There may be some differences of approach in certain areas but I am very encouraged by the fact that the majority of those who appeared before parliament supported the bill's main objectives.
Members of parliament and Canadians from all walks of life have shown support for a youth justice system that is based upon clearly stated principles that emphasize the key features of the type of system we want for our youth who come into conflict with the law. Bill C-7 provides for this.
It acknowledges the fact that young people lack the maturity of adults. It includes an emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration and holding young people accountable in a manner that is consistent with their reduced level of maturity. It requires that interventions with young persons be fair and proportionate, encourage the repair of harm done, and involve parents and others in a young person's rehabilitation and reintegration. In addition, interventions must respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences, and respond especially to the needs of aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements.
The bill is aimed at reducing use of the formal justice system and increasing the amount of diversion for the vast majority of youth crime. In fact experience in other countries shows that measures outside the court process can provide effective and timely responses to less serious youth crime as well as the opportunity for the broader community to play an important role in developing community based responses to youth crime.
As an aside, in my riding, community impact statements are something which my community has always called upon. In a sense, Bill C-7 addresses that with respect to young offenders.
Canadians also support a reduction in the overuse of custody in this country. It was amazing for me to learn that Canada has the highest youth incarceration rate in the western world, including the United States.
In contrast to the Young Offenders Act, the new legislation provides that custody is to be reserved primarily for violent offenders and serious repeat offenders. The youth criminal justice act recognizes that non-custodial sentences can often provide more meaningful consequences and be much more effective in rehabilitating young persons.
This bill also contains measures for the rehabilitation and reintegration of those who in fact do go into custody, putting an emphasis on assisting a young person to successfully make the transition back to the community. Young people can be reintegrated if they receive the proper support, assistance and opportunities.
The proposed youth criminal justice act will ensure a fairer and more effective system as well as address our overreliance on incarceration in this country. For those who do go into custody, it will increase their opportunity for reintegration into the community. Those appearing before parliament have reinforced that legislation alone will not change the course of youth justice and will not in itself reduce youth crime. That is why the legislation is part of a broader youth justice renewal initiative which was launched in 1999. The legislation is the centrepiece, the cornerstone of the federal government's youth justice renewal initiative.
There is more to the initiative however. The broader initiative recognizes the legislation will need to be carefully and effectively implemented. Officials and professionals implementing the new legislation will have the training and the tools they need to successfully implement it. In addition, public legal education materials will be available in easily accessible language to reach everyone involved, including youth themselves, parents, victims, schools and others.
This initiative includes significant resources to stimulate new youth justice programs consistent with the federal policy objectives and new partnerships with child welfare, schools, crime prevention workers and others for more enduring solutions to youth crime. The federal government has fostered consultations and funded projects as part of the strategy, inviting collaborative, multidisciplinary approaches to the developmental challenges facing children and our youth. Youth crime is a complex problem that cannot be effectively answered by discipline working in isolation.
The federal government has also made offers of financial support for youth justice programs under its spending power authority and consistent with the social union framework agreement. These offers are for five year financial agreements totalling more than $950 million to the provinces and territories in support of the policy objectives of the youth justice renewal initiative. This amount does not include the significant additional federal resources to support the intensive support and rehabilitative custody and supervision orders intended to provide therapy and support for the most violent and troubled youth.
Moreover, about $27 million of resources, that is, $12.7 million this fiscal year, $7.5 million in the last fiscal year and $7 million the year before that, have been made available to the provinces and territories to assist in preparing for the new legislation through training, encouraging partnerships, improving information systems, addressing implementation contingencies and preparing for reintegration planning and support.
The federal government is also firmly committed to preventing crime. The federal Department of Justice began the government's community crime prevention initiative in 1999, which includes children and youth as priorities for the $32 million available annually for community based crime prevention initiatives.
On July 5 last year, the Government of Canada announced that it will invest a further $145 million in the national strategy on community safety and crime prevention to strengthen its efforts to support community based responses to crime. This is in addition to the national children's agenda which focuses on supporting children's development, particularly for the critical ages of zero to six years.
I ask that all members of the House support Bill C-7, a bill that has been debated and looked at by both houses. We are here now to finally approve the final amendment. Let us start working together to stop youth crime.