Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in this debate and to see you back in the Chair.
This bill is one which I think I can fairly say most members of Parliament would embrace wholeheartedly given the idea of parental responsibility, given the necessity I would state to hold parents in most instances responsible for the supervision and the proper accounting as to where their children are and how they are behaving.
The difficulty that I have with it at the outset is the possible criminal ramifications for a parent. I understand the way in which the bill is presented. The intent is to have these probation orders in force so that they are enforced, that is, the parents themselves will be brought before the court to require them to ensure that their children, within the definition of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, formerly the Young Offenders Act, will in fact comply with curfews, with other conditions of non-association, with not drinking or using drugs.
I have had experience, as has the mover of the motion, with the practicalities. I listened to his remarks and I congratulate him on his intent. He has had the experience, as he said, of the frustration that is felt on the part of the court, both the crown and the defence, social workers, victims services and the police, all those involved in the justice system who see these probational orders routinely flouted, that is, conditions that are in place as a result of criminal conviction, as a result of the court's real attempts to hold young people to account and to control their behaviour. Let us be very frank about what the sentence is supposed to do. In meting out those conditions, what the court is suggesting is that the anti-social behaviour has to be controlled.
The difficulty is one of vicarious responsibility. There are a number of offences in the Criminal Code that deal with this very issue. It is a tricky issue, to say the least. For example, there are Criminal Code provisions that require persons, once they begin to render assistance, to continue to render assistance. This type of legislation is akin to that. There is a new creation of a criminal offence by virtue of the Firearms Act, which in essence creates a criminal offence for not doing something. Without getting into all the lack of merits that we find in the gun registry, we know that this flawed piece of legislation will eventually collapse under its own weight due to mismanagement and ineffectiveness.
However, this type of legislation in essence criminalizes a parent's behaviour for not doing something, for not enforcing or supervising an order of the court. It is worrisome in that regard. The act, if it were to be passed, in a sense would make mandatory the imposition of these probation orders, be it a curfew or other conditions, for any young person found guilty of a home invasion and holds the parent or those responsible for the child responsible directly in relation to the enforcement of the curfew, upon threat, I am quick to add, of a criminal conviction. Those who are responsible for the child but are not the parents is another area that has to be examined closely, because we know that there are foster parent situations, there are agencies occasionally involved in the enforcement, and there are siblings, grandparents or others who would fit that definition as the person responsible for that child. The act would hold that person or group of persons directly responsible.
I agree that there are innumerable areas of improvement in this new Youth Criminal Justice Act. This is probably one of the most cumbersome and confusing pieces of legislation ever passed through the Parliament of Canada. It is a bit like the Income Tax Act. That is how complicated it is. When we were examining this bill at committee, of which you were a member, Madam Speaker, you might recall that there were judges who had difficulty interpreting sections of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is unfortunate, because we had a chance to get it right.
I am sure, Madam Speaker, that as parents you and other members of the House would be ill at ease to know that you could be held criminally responsible for the actions of your child. As much as you love that child and try to foster the very best environment, there are occasions, sadly, and we have seen them, where despite the best efforts of a parent, young people, for reasons that may be related to their mental health or related to their propensity to be involved in drugs or alcohol or their involvement with another group of youths who are on the wrong track, find themselves in the justice system and find themselves under a probation order. Again, despite the very best legitimate efforts of the parent, they break those conditions.
Sometimes those conditions are broken by a very short margin. I can think of an instance where a young person confined by a curfew misses a bus and does not get home under the curfew. Because it would be the parent's responsibility to see that the young person was in the strict parameters of a court order, this scenario could result in a parent being charged criminally. I am uncomfortable with that. It is not a stretch to suggest that it might play out that way.
The first clause of Bill C-204 amends the Criminal Code and subsection 2(1) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in this instance, involving break and enter and a list of offences that is outlined in the act. This clause is mainly a housekeeping amendment. It does specifically introduce a related offence into the act, which would be interpreted as adding more weight to the specific offence of home invasion, which again I am quick to embrace, but Parliament has to be extremely careful when prioritizing certain offences. In this vein we need to examine whether other offences might be considered as part of this envelope.
Second, the clause that amends subsection 42(2) is where we find the substance of the bill of the hon. member for Saanich--Gulf Islands. This clause would force the court to impose automatic probation on a young offender convicted of a crime as a condition of that probation. That is an automatic curfew. I have no difficulty with that because I believe that the offence of home invasion is so serious. I believe that the offence of home invasion often results in violent confrontations. We are going to hear in a short time from the hon. member from Surrey who, sadly, can speak from personal experience about what happened to his family in his home. This is a very real and substantive issue that is before the House.
The imposition of a curfew on a young person convicted is not necessarily a negative, by any means. In fact, it definitely would send this message of deterrence, which is one, I have found in my experience, that the government would like to stay away from. It does not like to use the word deterrent. It does not believe that this is the proper phraseology. I suggest that there is a common parlance, a common use of deterrents in courts of all levels across the country every day. The idea is that both the protection of the public and the sending of a message of general and specific deterrence are very much at the root of the bill.
The condition of probation would remain in effect for a period of at least one year, or at least until a person reaches the age of 18, to a maximum of three years. Again, this approach is a practical one. It amends the act, requiring those convicted of subsequent offences to spend a mandatory minimum of 30 days in custody. Arguably this takes away from the flexibility that currently exists for young offenders and again I suggest we would have to look at that in greater detail. It does put down firm parameters in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, where often those parameters are lacking.
The increase of a minimum of 30 days in custody for a second conviction also could be construed as a move that denotes the seriousness of this type of offence. This offence of going into a person's home is extremely detrimental and has extremely serious consequences.
However, to go back to my initial assessment, my main difficulty with the bill is the amendment that makes it mandatory for the parents reporting to a probation officer any violation of a young person's curfew. The difficulty I have is that the legislation that deals directly with the way in which the parent or guardian interacts with a child is what amounts to a disciplinary action against the parent. It seems to me to raise a question of morality.
This bill essentially is penalizing and criminalizing a type of parenting. I have great difficulty with that. It pains me to say that I could not support the bill for that reason, but unless this legislation were at least amended in such a fashion that it would make the parents' attendance at court mandatory and make it necessary for the parents to come and explain their actions or lack of actions in supervising the child, denoting where they were at the time of the offence, I cannot support the vicarious criminal liability that would flow to a parent.
I congratulate the member for bringing the matter forward. I think it is timely and important. It is an approach that is novel. I agree with the majority of the bill in substance, but that aspect of it causes me great difficulty. For that reason, until we get the bill in such a form that this clause is removed, I am afraid I cannot support the bill.