Mr. Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity the hon. member's motion presents for us to discuss in the House today the important question of Canada's criminal justice system and the various issues that arise with respect to the competing values we seek to serve in the criminal courts.
Let me acknowledge at the outset that this government and this minister recognize we have no monopoly on wisdom or insight. We welcome constructive suggestions from any quarter of this House. We will pay close attention today to those suggestions and proposals that come from members of all parties as we address this issue.
Let me also make clear at the outset that I fundamentally reject two aspects of the motion the hon. member has put before the House. First there is her suggestion of inaction on the part of the government and I shall come in a few moments to the concrete and specific proposals we intend to implement. Second is her suggestion that our system has allowed the rights of the criminal to supersede the rights of the victim.
It is suggested by the hon. member there might be some prospect of catering to the criminal lobby. Her submission today is suffused with the notion that criminals are running rampant in our criminal justice system and that victims' rights are being subjugated.
What goes on in this country's criminal courts day by day, hour by hour is the prosecution of crime in accordance with the fundamental values of Canadian society. We reject torture as a manner of extracting confessions. We reject fraud as a way of putting proof before the court.
We hold in this country that in the enforcement of our laws as with everything else government does there are standards of decency, of integrity and of fairness which must prevail. In every court case, in every courthouse in this country day by day and prosecution by prosecution the issue is whether the state can prove against an accused person criminal wrongdoing in accordance with those standards of integrity and fairness.
Since the enactment of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms that process has become all the more exacting. It also reflects what the Canadian people expect of their system: that people will not be unfairly accused; that only evidence which is fairly obtained will be tendered to establish their guilt; that the appropriate test of reasonable doubt will be used in establishing whether the person is to be convicted; and that proper principles will be put into play in determining the appropriate sentence.
If one stands back and looks at that system, if one looks at this case or that, it is altogether possible and indeed relatively easy to find instances that can be used to support an argument that in a given case a certain victim was not given appropriate consideration or there is a disproportion between the sentence that was imposed and the gravity of the offence.
We must not mistake in this House a commitment to fundamental fairness and integrity in the justice system for catering to the criminal lobby. It is an unfair and inaccurate way to characterize the exercise. I reject it at the outset.
May I also express a word of caution about basing criticisms of the entire criminal justice system on reactions to our natural horror at certain specific crimes. We must not forget that 90 per cent of all reported crime in this country is non-violent and the vast majority of that is property crime. That is not to say that property crime is not serious, but I wish to put the issues here into a perspective that the facts afford.
In 1991 the homicide rate in this country was 2.82 per 100,000 of population; in the United States of America it is four times higher. The proportion of violent crime involving firearms has been decreasing over the last 10 years. In 1975 firearms were used in 42 per cent of all robberies. In 1991 it was only 27 per cent, a reflection in my respectful view of the effectiveness of gun control legislation in this country.
In 1991 there were 59,000 drug offences in this country, a 21 per cent decrease from 1981.
In the 10 years between 1982 and 1992 the Criminal Code crime rate increased an average of 1.5 per cent per year. Compared with every other civilized country that is a modest increase in all the social circumstances and with all the social change we have experienced in this country.
Any crime is too much crime, but I ask the hon. member and all members of the House to keep this discussion in the context of the facts of the Canadian experience.
Let me turn to the steps that have been taken and are being taken by this government to address the needed improvements in the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system is not good enough. There is room for improvement. We intend to take steps in good faith to improve it.
Before doing that let me touch upon the rising prominence in recent years of the role of the victim in the justice system and the sensitivity which the system shows to victims as it goes about its difficult business.
In 1988 a statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime was endorsed by the federal government and the provincial and territorial governments. This document serves as a guide for all of those governments in dealing with victims of crime.
Many provinces along with the federal government have enacted legislation to reflect those principles. The Criminal Code has a number of provisions now relating to victims' rights. There are sections dealing with the identification and prompt return of stolen property; protection of the identity of witnesses or victims in certain offences including sexual offences and extortion; the imposition of a victim fine surcharge at sentencing, which was expected to raise $11 million last year; the use of victim impact statements at the time of sentencing. These and other measures have ensured that the focus is indeed on the victim.
May I observe that when the crown attorney walks into the courtroom to present the evidence against the accused person, while the crown attorney represents the interest of the state, implicit in the presentation of the evidence and the prosecution is the interest of the victim as well.
What is it that this government will do in an effort to improve the criminal justice system in Canada? We recognize that the criminal justice system alone will not succeed in dealing with crime and its consequences in Canada. We recognize that we need both an effective criminal justice system and a broad holistic and integrated approach by all departments of government for crime prevention objectives.
I speak here not of vague promises, as the hon. member has suggested. I speak of concrete proposals for action. Let me come to them now. One aspect has to do with ensuring that the laws on the books are effective and can be enforced effectively.
Turning to the Young Offenders Act, I have already made clear that we intend to take two steps. The first step is to introduce in the short term a bill that will propose specific changes in the Young Offenders Act to make what we regard as improvements, including longer maximum sentences for serious crimes of violence and more sharing of information about offenders with community groups, school boards and others where community safety requires.
After my meeting next week with my provincial and territorial colleagues and ministers of justice I will bring forward a specific bill reflecting the approach of this government for needed changes in the act in the short term.
The second step is I will ask the House to turn the statute in its entirety over to a committee of Parliament so that a thorough review can be made of the Young Offenders Act in this, the 10th year of its life.
That committee can hear the views of Canadians. It can listen to victims' groups, police officers, offenders, criminologists, sociologists and others who will speak of their experience over the last decade with the act. In my belief they will demonstrate that the act substantially has been a success and that in principle it is the right approach. I am certain improvements are needed but I am equally certain this process will result in a confirmation of the enlightened approach which the Young Offenders Act contemplates.
This government will also undertake to introduce changes in the Criminal Code with respect to sentencing. This will be done to restate the broad and comprehensive purposes of sentencing, to put the focus on intermediate sanctions, to stress restitution and non-custodial sentences and to deal as well with the issue of dangerous offenders.
We will deal with part 24 of the Criminal Code to ensure we are dealing as effectively as we can with those persons who are provided for in that part. We will deal with high risk offenders, those persons who may come to the end of their term of incarceration but who may not be safe to release back into society.
Another specific proposal this government will put before the House will deal with pimps and the serious problem in many Canadian cities of heartless individuals who exploit the bodies of children for commercial gain.
We will address the issue of violence against women. The fact is that domestic violence in this country and particularly violence against women is a national scourge. Statistics released just this morning confirm its seriousness and its extent. We will take steps in this House through legislation to deal with that matter, including more stringent provisions with respect to peace bonds which are often used in such cases, steps to remove the abuser from the home, and funds for shelters for spouses who are victims of abuse.
We shall deal as well with gun control to make it more effective, including measures to counter illegal importation.
Let me turn briefly to the second part of the government's approach to the criminal justice system. That is to recognize that the justice ministry alone cannot resolve the problem of crime and its consequences in Canadian society.
The Prime Minister has asked me to co-ordinate the efforts of nine ministries of the federal government to deal with the issue of violence in Canadian society generally. I have met with my eight colleagues to begin that work. I met with the Secretary of State for the Status of Women, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Indian and Northern Development, the Minister of Canadian Heritage. Each of us in our own way has a part of governmental jurisdiction or responsibility that deals with violence in Canadian society.
Surely this comprehensive and integrated approach is exactly what the all party Horner committee recommended when it called upon government to develop a holistic strategy for dealing with crime.
The strategy should recognize the causes of crime. It should recognize the role of poverty, of racial intolerance and the role of family breakdown and of domestic violence itself. There is also the role of the parent who no longer accepts responsibility in providing standards for children. It must also recognize that sometimes whether a child has a hot meal has as much to do with crime prevention as putting a police officer on the beat.
It must also recognize that the work being done by my colleague, the Minister of Human Resources Development, in modernizing and making more effective the social programs of this country has just as much to do with crime prevention as the criminal justice system.
I travelled across this country and discussed this matter with chiefs of police, school board trustees, civic officials, worried parents and troubled teenagers, victims groups. I discussed it with parents of murdered children, community groups and the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies.
I have come to the conclusion that there is in Canada an enormous energy of enthusiasm at the local and community level toward crime prevention and addressing the underlying causes of the kind of behaviour we are talking about in this House today.
As I spoke to those individuals in Moncton and Fredericton, here in Ottawa, in my own riding of Etobicoke, in Edmonton and Vancouver, I found that among the police departments and community groups and the parents there is an energy waiting to be tapped. Local initiatives are now being taken, many of which are very successful.
In Edmonton, for example, the strategy for community policing and making Edmonton a safer city has over the last 18 months resulted in a 26 per cent reduction in the crime rate, an extraordinary result. Imagine the savings in terms of government dollars let alone human suffering with a drop of 26 per cent in the crime rate. If we could replicate that experience nationally, there would be no need for a debate such as we have in this House today.
That must be our goal. This government is committed to creating a national crime prevention strategy. We will establish a national crime prevention council. Through that process we will bring together, we will harness and focus the energy and the commitment of which I spoke which is evident in so many communities across Canada.
We will recognize formally and effectively that if we are to do something about crime instead of simply talking about it, the answer lies not in simply putting more police on the streets and more guns in their hands nor in harsher sentences and more prisons. If that was the answer the United States of America would today be nirvana. That is not the answer.
Certainly we must deal effectively through criminal law with criminal conduct. That is why we are going to have the changes to which I referred earlier in the code and in statutes. Equally and at the same time we must mobilize an offensive toward crime prevention in this country that will truly produce results.
The National Crime Prevention Council will bring together those groups, those individuals, those interests, victims groups included, from across this country to a central place which will serve as a focus of leadership in this effort, a repository of information, an inventory of what is being done in various places across Canada, a source of advice for neighbourhoods, communities and cities that want to take action, and also a mechanism for innovative and constructive thinking as to what we can do in Canada to bring down the crime rate and address the causes of crime.
Today in my response to this motion I reject absolutely the premises upon which it is based. First of all, this government does not propose inaction-quite the contrary. We will in the months to come be putting specific proposals before this House in respect of legislative change and we will be actively pursuing the objectives of which I spoke across the country for crime prevention.
I reject as well the contention that criminals' rights supersede those of the victims. The system as it is at present is sensitive to victims' rights. That is shown in a variety of ways.
There is room for improvement and, as I said at the outset, we are happy to have the constructive suggestions of members in all parts of this House. I look forward to the debate which this motion has begun today. I shall listen with interest to the points made by members of the House and I assure the House that this government is going to move quickly to implement the agenda of which I spoke.