Mr. Speaker, we are here today to talk about the youth criminal justice act. The question I have this afternoon is: Why do we even need the act? The answer is obvious. Youth crime has increased in the country. It is something that touches everyone including the government, and it has finally realized that there is a problem.
We have a Young Offenders Act that has been demonstrated to be clearly inadequate. Since 1993 the government has promised change. The committee on justice and legal affairs held extensive cross country hearings in 1996 and 1997. It presented its report to parliament called “Renewing Youth Justice”.
There was a change of ministers in 1997 and at that time the reform of the act was to be a priority. In 1999 the government finally introduced Bill C-68. It was reintroduced in October 1999 as Bill C-3 and it hung around until the last election. It was revived again this spring. The bill has had a longer life than some of the young people it was supposed to protect.
We expected that when it did come forward it would deal with the issues but it clearly did not. It not only demonstrates a lack of ability to deal with children's issues but it demonstrates the government's inability to address the real issues in the country. It shows the government is out of touch with its people.
The definition of arrogant is having an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities. I would add a second half to that definition. It shows a refusal to accept one's responsibility. Arrogance is shown in how the bill has been handled. It has been reintroduced for the third time with a new name. Simply calling something by a different name does not change it.
The Liberal government has refused to apply responsible amendments. It has applied some of its own technical housekeeping amendments, but it would not accept responsible amendments from other parties. They have not even been considered so Bill C-7, which was Bill C-3, which was Bill C-68, is the bill we are discussing today.
First, there is a general refusal in the bill to deal with the issues. There is a refusal to take responsibility for young offenders. The bill does not deal seriously with the youngest offenders. It still leaves children of 10 and 11 years of age to child welfare and social services. We are not suggesting that children of this age should be locked up, but it is essential that they are involved with the justice system to get the help they need.
Some of these kids need a structured solution. In the newspaper in the last few weeks there was a case involving a young person who was so out of control in his community that the community was asking someone to come in and do something.
I have worked with young people for many years and one thing I know is that they need structure. The younger they are, the more important it is to give them a direction which they do not necessarily have. The bill deprives them of that.
Second, there is a refusal in the bill to take responsibility for older offenders. In our previous Young Offenders Act, offenders aged 14 and up could be transferred to adult court for a very limited number of offences. That provision was used very rarely. Bill C-7 would allow for even more latitude in this area. Provinces could essentially opt out of this provision in whole or in part. They could change the provision so that it only applies to 15 or 16 year olds. Some kids need to be in adult court to get access to the services they require.
There is also a refusal in the bill to take responsibility for the communities. In terms of identifying young offenders, Bill C-7 would prevent a limited number of instances where young people could be named to protect their community. The list is restrictive. It does not include all violent or dangerous offenders. It would provide courts with discretion to override the identification of the offender.
We saw last night, in the government's defeat of a good amendment that was presented to it, its lack of commitment to these kids, the communities and the school systems that need to deal with young people. We saw it vote en masse to restrict the provision regarding the naming of young offenders.
I have been involved somewhat with education and with young people. Educators and other people in our schools need to know who these young people are in order to deal fairly and squarely with them.
In Bill C-7 the protection of the public is second to understanding the circumstances and the perpetrator. There is an extensive emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration. We have already seen the results of that approach in my area.
Regina has been attacked by car thieves for years. Some of these kids have been arrested dozens of times, with little or no consequences for their actions. Where is the deterrence when people can keep going back again and again to the same offences and grow into adults who have little regard for the law?
The protection of the public is not an overriding principle in the legislation. Why should the protection of our communities take second place?
The bill also refuses to take responsibility for crime seriously. People have always been concerned about the three year maximum sentence in the Young Offenders Act. We heard about that often. We heard about extreme circumstances and an extreme crime that took place, and young people were not held accountable for more than the three years maximum sentence.
Bill C-7 would actually reduce the maximum custody period from three years to two years. The maximum is three years but a supervisory period must be included. For most offences we are looking at two years of custody and one year of supervision being the maximum sentence young people can face. One of the main concerns of Canadians about young offenders is being ignored in the bill.
There is also refusal to take responsibility for provincial governments. The government would download the bill on to underfunded provincial governments. At present the cost sharing program is at about 75%, with the provinces paying 75% and the federal government paying 25%. Our position is that the federal government should be paying 50% of that cost.
It is a strange situation when the federal government has responsibility for criminal law but absolutely no obligation to fund the implementation of it. There have been long term shortfalls in financing and there has been a shortage of consultation with the provinces.
There is also a refusal to keep things simple. The bill is extremely complicated. As one member mentioned this morning, the Young Offenders Act has gone from 30 sections to 70 sections, to over 200 clauses in the current bill.
The bill sets up rules. It sets up procedures. It sets up exceptions to the same rules. The court may or may not name offenders and adult sentencing may or may not be imposed. Many of these things are left to the court's discretion. It is so complicated that there were problems in trying to define a violent act or a serious violent offence.
I have worked with kids, as I mentioned before, but the real problem is not with youth crime. It is policy that destroys families. Every one of us would recognize that the family is the foundation of society. We need strong families if we are to have stable young children.
We have many government policies that cause community and family breakdowns and family stress. We have parents who want to be at home when their kids get home from school. They want to be at home when their kids leave in the morning. However they are not able to be because of their financial situation brought about by government policies. There are families that cannot keep up in the world unless both parents work.
There are some things that need to be done to address the problem of family stress. The government needs to take a fair look at its taxation policies. At every turn people are being taxed to death. Taxes continue to increase. We hear daily about the government's huge supposed tax cuts that took place, but they just do not register with people and they do not register on their paycheques. We have property tax. We have income tax. We have fuel tax. We have sales tax. The list goes on and on. The government needs to take a look at its taxation policies and how they affect families.
Our monetary policies have a great deal to do with family stress. We see our dollar falling. We see Canada falling behind in production. We see that people must work harder and harder to break even, which continues to put pressure on the people who least need that pressure on their families. People are forced into the workplace. Some of them do want to be there. Families are under stress.
Earlier I talked about arrogance and defined it as an exaggerated sense of one's importance or abilities. The whole bill smacks of that. It seems to be a congratulatory and ineffective piece of legislation. It is unfortunate that it does not deal realistically with the problems of youth justice in a concrete way.
The problem has existed. It continues to exist and it will continue to exist. Our kids are being left at risk. The government should not be wasting our time and taxpayer money, but I am afraid that is exactly what the bill would do.