Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to address the Senate amendments to Bill C-7, the youth criminal justice act. Before I do so I also want to welcome the minister to his new and demanding post. I wish him every success in the difficult decisions that he will be making over the next few months or years.
I believe it is necessary to review some of the reasons I believe the legislation will fail. Indeed Bill C-7 will fail for reasons that are well known to most members of the House, many of whom share this view.
The attorney general of Ontario recently wrote a letter to the minister articulating his numerous concerns with both the ideological issues and the practical difficulties the legislation presents, as have countless witnesses before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that examined the bill in painstaking detail.
Indeed the new youth justice legislation contains little, if anything, that will address the ineffectiveness of the Young Offenders Act. In some ways indeed it is less preferable or less desirable than the old act. It is certainly more cumbersome and certainly more administratively complex.
Furthermore, the new legislation will be extremely costly to the provinces and cumbersome to administer. One of the greatest causes of concern for me is that of funding. It is well known that when the Young Offenders Act first came into force the government of the day committed itself to a 50:50 cost sharing arrangement with the provinces. By now that percentage has dropped to at best 25%, leaving 75% of the financial responsibilities to the provinces.
The previous justice minister indicated that the federal government would throw in an additional $207 million over three years to help with the implementation of the new act. However preliminary estimates from the provinces indicate that the initial implementation cost will exceed $100 million per province. This does not even include the ongoing additional costs that will be incurred by the provinces in administering the new act.
It is abundantly clear that not only will the children suffer but the provinces will be required to increase legal aid budgets, another program where the federal Liberal government has avoided its responsibility.
Although the government may have consulted with provincial governments on the new legislation, it is debatable whether or not the federal government listened. Indeed looking at the bill it is clear that it has not listened.
A number of representatives of provincial governments who gave testimony at committee stated their concerns about Bill C-7, as no doubt they were aware their time was being spent in vain.
Furthermore, there has been a deliberate exclusion of provincial attorneys general in respect of the development of the provisions of the bill and a stubborn refusal to consider any suggestions for amending its provisions. The provinces are not even constitutionally obligated to take on the cost of the legislation, never mind to administer or to enforce it.
I would not be greatly surprised if a provincial government took this matter to court in order to determine its constitutional responsibility to have anything to do with the legislation. Indeed the government could find the law back on its own lap to administer by itself because of its refusal to co-operate with the other federal partners.
While the federal Liberal government has given up on co-operative federalism and continues to implement its policies on to the provinces through government by ransom, it is to the credit of the provinces that they continue to take efforts to ensure that co-operative federalism remains alive.
While funding is one of the most serious concerns I have with the bill, many other issues of importance have been ignored by the government.
My view of the issue of notification is that school teachers and administrators, parents of vulnerable children and the vulnerable children themselves have a legitimate and compelling interest in knowing who the dangerous youthful predators are in the community. On this and many other areas of the bill the balance in the legislation favours the rights of the dangerous criminal over the rights of victims and potential victims.
I have met with representatives from the school boards. They certainly impressed upon me the need for school authorities to be informed if there are, for example, dangerous individuals attending school. They are not asking for a broad publication of the names of these offenders but simply that the school authorities need to know.
This amendment would not only provide for safer learning environments. It would also enable schools to direct necessary attention to those young persons who are in the process of attempting to rehabilitate themselves back into society.
The school boards quite rightly believe that they have an important role to play in the youth justice system, particularly in terms of alternative measures, prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration. They want to be real and effective partners with our government in the process of keeping our young people safe and secure and helping those needing real assistance.
I have also maintained an opposition to restricting the application of the legislation to children 12 years of age and over. The theory of referring children under 12 years of age to the child welfare system may at first blush seem reasonable, but through my experience as a prosecutor in Manitoba, and indeed as the minister of justice in Manitoba, I realized that the child welfare system simply was not equipped to deal with children whose criminal conduct brings them to the attention of the authorities. It does not have the appropriate resources to deal with these children, and many of them are violent and dangerous.
Under the Young Offenders Act children are falling between the cracks of the child welfare system and the young offender system. Children under the age of 12 fail to receive help either through the courts or through the child welfare system. For all the shortcomings of the old Juvenile Delinquents Act under which I prosecuted, at least it provided for a measure of accountability for youth under the age of 12 so that they could be helped or dealt with by the courts.
By the time many seriously disturbed children reach the age of 12, anti-social and indeed criminal patterns of behaviour already have been established. The Young Offenders Act only succeeded in breeding a younger, more anti-social lawbreaker.
Furthermore, by refusing to extend even the rehabilitative powers of the youth court to children under the age of 12 the federal Liberals are in fact trying to dump 100% of the costs on to the provinces in respect of these children. Every time a Liberal minister gets up and says they are doing this in order to protect children under 12, the truth is that what they are trying to do is evade any financial responsibility for those children. They are dumping those costs on to the provinces.
They are not even keeping up with their responsibilities as a partner in terms of the 50:50 financial relationship that was first in place when the Young Offenders Act came into effect. It has gone down to 25% for those children over 12, with the provinces carrying 75% of the costs of the children over 12 and 100% of the costs of the children under 12. That is the real agenda. It has nothing to do with wanting to have a more caring, compassionate and understanding system for children under 12.
The government realizes that the child welfare system is simply not a system that is flexible enough to deal with these children.
Again, all we are doing is creating younger, more anti-social criminals by the time they reach the age of 12. That is unfortunate. That is doing a disservice to the people of Canada and indeed to the children themselves.
As I have said in the past I do not believe that the government's policy has anything to do with protecting children from the punitive powers of the court. It is simply a cynical device to ensure that the federal government can escape any financial responsibility for children under the age of 12.
Another issue that I feel strongly about is the matter of extrajudicial measures. The bill would allow access to alternative measures by violent offenders and would minimize the supervisory authority of the courts. While alternative measures are often appropriate they need to be administered in an appropriate and structured context. The bill would do nothing in that respect. The court system should direct if alternative measures are to be implemented.
In any event the court should always be involved when considering such measures in the case of violent repeat offenders so that it can be satisfied that the public will be protected.
Into the context of a flawed, administratively cumbersome, expensive piece of legislation that will fail, that will not do the job for children and for the society that the minister claims it will, a new amendment has been brought here by the Senate.
To address the amendment to the youth criminal justice act I want the record to show that I am opposed to it. I will indicate the reasons. The amendment states that for sentencing purposes:
All available sanctions other than custody that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all young persons--
That means any circumstance can be considered and every sanction can be considered other than custody. There is nothing inappropriate about that. We want to see custody as a last resort, or it should at least be the appropriate response. This part of the amendment is reasonable.
However the second part of the amendment requires youth court judges to pay particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal youth at their time of sentencing, similar to subsection 718.2(e) of the criminal code. I cannot support that.
Despite the fact that Canadians pride themselves as being a nation which judges people on the basis of their actions and not on the colour of their skin, subsection 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code of Canada states that a court imposing a prison sentence shall take into consideration all available sanctions other than imprisonment, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.
The Canadian senators have proposed that the new youth criminal justice act which is to replace the Young Offenders Act should also adopt this racial consideration into youth sentencing guidelines.
The Liberal government created this law in 1995 in an effort to reduce the high number of aboriginals in Canadian prisons. The law was upheld and declared to be constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of an aboriginal woman who stabbed her husband to death. The woman served six months for that crime. Yet the court still criticized the trial judge for not adequately considering her aboriginal ancestry when sentenced.
Proponents of this law claim that Canada's justice system is racist and biased against aboriginals and therefore we must work toward a separate justice system.
Those who make these arguments have overlooked the fact that many of the violent crimes committed by aboriginals are perpetrated against other aboriginals. This is a particularly horrific example but in 1997, three aboriginal men raped an intoxicated aboriginal woman in Yukon. They each were sentenced to only 20 months in jail instead of the three to five years each in a federal penitentiary that the crown prosecutor had recommended. The judge cited reasons of cultural considerations when handing down the lesser sentence, cultural considerations for three men who had brutally raped an aboriginal woman.
Needless to say, sexual assault, murder, robbery and other violent crimes are as traumatic to an aboriginal person as they are to any other Canadian.
If parliamentarians claim to serve the interests of the aboriginal community by ensuring that aboriginal criminals do not face the full consequences of their actions against their own people, then they are surely misguided. Overly lenient sentences for aboriginal criminals demean the life and the liberty of the aboriginal victim. That is what is not being stated here. We are saying that the aboriginal criminal deserves a break, but who do they get that break in respect of? They get that break on the back of the aboriginal victim. No one has said a word about the victim.
What has been proposed is a racist solution that does not address the root causes of the problem. The solution is not to statutorily recognize racism or to excuse criminal conduct on the basis of race. A separate justice system or a justice system that determines sentences on the basis of race will do nothing to solve the underlying problems that lead to a high criminal rate among many aboriginals in some parts of Canada.
Furthermore, this distinction is fundamentally unjust to the aboriginals who may be the victims of crime. This is a clear example of the rights of a criminal taking precedence over the interests and the rights of the victim.
This is a disturbing trend. This is the beginning of an institutionalized distinction between people on the basis of race. This is wrong. I was proud of Canada when it stood up against apartheid in South Africa. We could not tolerate distinctions in law based on race and here we are, self-righteous parliamentarians creating distinctions on the basis of race. This is disgusting.
I for one will not vote for a provision that creates a different class of criminal on the basis of race. I for one will not vote for a provision that demeans aboriginal victims as this provision does. There are enough provisions in the criminal code today that permit the courts to take into account all circumstances, that look at the social background and ask, did the individual have a chance? Are there other things to be done?
What about sophisticated urban aboriginals educated in a large city in Canada? There are many of them rising to take their rightful place as equals in our society. What about them? Are they allowed to escape responsibility for criminal actions on the basis of these kinds of provisions?
This is a misguided attempt to solve a problem that is much more complex. This country has never agreed in the course of my lifetime that racial statutory distinctions can be justified. How dare we go back in time and start classifying people on the basis of race? We as parliamentarians are doing it. We are asking the courts to carry out our dirty work, courts which are there to protect equality and ensure that justice is blind to social conditions or racial attributes which have no relevance to a crime.
I am proud to stand here today and say that I will not vote for this racist provision. I will continue to provide the courts with the flexibility they need to make decisions, not on the basis of who I am as a person, but on the basis of what my actions are and the personal responsibility that I bear for my actions. I do not think that the aboriginal people of this country want anything different.
This is an insult. It speaks of the old reserve system. What it says is that aboriginal people are just wards of the crown, that they are less than a Canadian citizen and that a paternalistic attitude must be taken toward them because they are of a different race.
That is wrong. The House should be the guardian of equality of all Canadians regardless of race, ethnicity, language and culture. This House needs to work to ensure that aboriginal people are entitled to the same democratic rights and freedoms as all other Canadians. If there are circumstances in a particular case that indicate mitigation by the courts is in order, the courts have that power. The courts do not need racism to propagate rights and freedoms. This is antithetical to the principles that the House and certainly the government should stand for.
This is a disappointment. Let the record show it is for those reasons that I cannot support the bill generally or this amendment in particular, an amendment which puts the rights of criminals ahead of the interests of victims and institutionalizes racism in this bill, the youth criminal justice act.