Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of our Reform motion. It is to stimulate new Canada thinking about where we have been with the justice system and what are the emerging expectations of the community about where we need to go. As we formulate a vision of hope for a new Canada of equality, the sense of proportion and balance in the justice system needs to be examined.
Many in my community of New Westminster-Burnaby are fearful, frustrated and angry about the operation of the justice system. In fact they make the point that we do not have a justice system at all; we merely have a legal system.
It is seen that this legal system is largely unaccountable to the community and that the community has no sense of ownership of what goes on in this seemingly convoluted system. The legal system operates on doublespeak, legalese and jargon and is characterized by a professional "we know best" attitude toward an interfering community.
There are glimpses of hope, however, such as the community policing efforts of the last few years, the block watch programs, and extensive volunteer programs such as the Burnaby RCMP victims assistance program.
This program began in January 1987 and currently involves 50 volunteers. During the seven years of service the program has been in contact with 9,250 victims or witnesses. In 1993 it handled over 1,650 files and volunteered 6,700 hours.
The primary role of the victim assistance program is to provide emotional support. It provides information and updates on police files, court information, court orientation and accompaniment, referrals to community agencies and information on legal services and criminal injuries compensation.
In Burnaby the police based team of volunteers is on call 24 hours a day to provide assistance in whatever way possible. Also in New Westminster-Burnaby and in New Westminster specifically we have a similar program which is run out of the crown counsel's office.
However, it is time that a more cross-systems approach be applied in bold terms to put the victim's and the community's general concerns before the offender's concerns. There is a relationship between the offender and the offended, whether that be another individual, a family or a community.
In reference to the community as victim, the Young Offenders Act passed by a previous Liberal government has become the single chapter of criminal law that is in most disrepute. Poll after poll reflects it and the news clipping service of the Solicitor General is full of references to community dissatisfaction. Even the Liberal red book reluctantly admits the act needs review.
It is with the Young Offenders Act that the community feels most left out. The operation of the act violates the fundamental sense of equity and balance the community expects.
The wording of the motion today and our proposals for amendments to the Young Offenders Act are directly connected.
For example, section 3(1) of the act states: "Policy application with respect to young offenders". There are nine paragraphs of definition, then a total of 70 sections limiting how the substantive part of the Criminal Code and other criminal statutes will be administered for young offenders.
Allow me to paraphrase parts of section 3(1) of the Young Offenders Act: (b) society must be afforded the necessary protection from illegal behaviour; (c) a young person who commits an offence requires supervision, discipline and control, and because of their level of maturity they also have special needs and require guidance and assistance; (e) a young person has rights and freedoms as is stated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and should therefore have special guarantees of their rights and freedoms; (g) young persons have the right to be informed as to what their rights and freedoms are.
Not once in the preamble list is there mention of the rights of the victim. The act largely drives how social services are administered. There is little to make a young offender realize there is a victim or someone who has been hurt and that it is the community to which the offender should be held accountable.
We need an additional paragraph in the Young Offenders Act preamble that reads something like this: "The community, or victims in particular, shall be given equal consideration where making dispositions for youth and victims shall be heard upon their request at sentencing and at reviews".
In almost every instance the victim or the community is barred from knowledge of what is happening or is going to happen to the offender. The system is similar to what goes on at most job interviews when the employer tells the hopeful candi-
date: "Don't call us, we will call you". All of us know the employer will only call if the candidate is needed.
In the case of a victim, the victim is forgotten after the offence has occurred. They are made to feel they did their part and should now step aside because the offender is the one who really needs the attention. Is it any wonder then that the public is so frustrated with the justice system.
A victim is usually not asking for a great deal. In most cases it is just for a bit of involvement, some dignity and more than anything else, some empathy. In response to that my riding has two volunteer programs but it is now time for recognition of victims in legislation.
In some jurisdictions an overreaching interpretation of the Young Offenders Act does not permit the young offenders court list to be displayed on the courtroom door.
In British Columbia fortunately the youth court is open to the public and exclusion orders are not very common. However, no local reporter can advise the community as to what goes on there or report when an offender is going to be released. The community as victim has the right to know who the offenders are through the media.
It seems disproportionate to the public for youth court to revolve only around the offender. For example youth workers cannot disclose what they know to a high school counsellor. Social workers in the community cannot always inform the court of everything they know about a situation.
We fall all over ourselves to protect or avoid a potential negative circumstance for the offender with secrecy. The Young Offenders Act also contains provisions to deliberately mislead the court at sentencing concerning a youth criminal record because of the time limits stipulated in the act.
Who focuses on the victim? When one carefully looks at the act it is glaring in its absence of a provision that the plight of the victim be heard at court or become real to the young offender in the process. I recently read an article in the Toronto Star . It concluded that victims of crime can be victimized twice, first by the criminal and then by the system.
Victims and witnesses have special needs and they must be treated with dignity and respect. Offenders must be held accountable for their acts. The law should reflect current values held by the majority of Canadians. The legal system should be accountable to the society it serves for its operations, methods and results.
What should be paramount in the Young Offenders Act is the protection of the community. Let me give an example of a case that took place in Alberta in 1990.
A young offender was so infatuated with his girlfriend that after she broke off the relationship he knifed her but fortunately did not kill her. As a young offender he only received eight months in custody. Apparently he told workers he still wanted to kill his former girlfriend. Exactly one year from the first incident the young offender killed the girl. In this case the victim had no chance because the rights of the young offender had to be protected.
The act has a title: the Young Offenders Act. It should truly deal with young offenders, not youthful adults. The natural sense of balance the victims want restored would envision an age application of 10 years to 15 years inclusive. This is the most significant and fundamental required change to restore credibility to the trust that is now broken within the Canadian community.