That this House urge the government to respond to the evident lack of confidence that has arisen from Canadians over the Young Offenders Act, and recommend modification to the definition of "young persons" in section 2(1) of the act to mean a person to be ten years of age or more, but under 16 years of age.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a matter of national importance. Our country is hurting. The basic foundation of what we have known as peace, order and good government has been called into question by Canadians. Specifically in relation to the juvenile justice system there is anger in the land.
The community is divided and there is much fear and mistrust. Our youth, the promise for our future, are seen by many not as our hopeful legacy for tomorrow but as strangers to be feared.
Youth speak differently, they do not want to dress anything like the rest of us, they do not seem to value or give due regard to what we hold dear. It has been that way since the second world war, since the emergence of a youth subculture.
Now there is a fundamental difference. Young people are getting an unfair bad rap for our lack of courage as a community to expect and demand standards of behaviour and mete out balanced consequences when the social order is threatened by the violent young. And when some young people excessively display their youthfulness there is immediate fear and resentment from the bystander, a sense of helplessness.
There is a backdrop of community perception that there is no accounting for any behavioural excess. The right to live in peace has evaporated and the fear of violence from the few becomes transferred on to all good kids. Instead of fondly regarding our young, the image of delinquent is what too frequently comes to mind. The good many are categorized by the bad few.
Indeed there is an innate sense that the fundamental social order of the community has broken down when the average Canadian thinks of youth crime, for we have a justice system that has devolved to one of being merely a legal system that seems unresponsive and unaccountable to the community.
The Liberals gave us the Young Offenders Act. The Conservatives tinkered with it. We have now lived with its consequences for 10 years and I have heard loud and clear that voters in my riding and all across Canada do not like the YOA. They will no longer tolerate the YOA in its present form.
I do not need to remind my colleagues in this House that the buck stops here. We have brought forward our motion today on behalf of the millions of Canadians who said clearly to candidates in the last election that specifically the Young Offenders Act is not what the country wants.
This national concern involves a sense of public security and the ability of the government to fulfil its most fundamental duty to protect and defend the citizenry.
My motion before the House today says:
That this House urge the government to respond to the evident lack of confidence that has arisen from Canadians over the Young Offenders Act, and recommend modification to the definition of "young person" in section 2(1) of the act to mean a person to be ten years of age or more, but under sixteen years of age.
It is simply put but I am all too aware of the issues that are not simple. Changing one statute is not going to solve all the problems of youth crime and social conflict but we must make a start and the Young Offenders Act is itself a reasonable place to begin justice reform.
Through change we can set a climate of balance and reasonableness that appropriately understands human nature and the propensities for greed, selfishness and personal denial of accountability.
The Young Offenders Act reflects an unrealistic view of ourselves as a society and it also has rejected the wise parent model of the preceding juvenile delinquents act. There was a mistaken belief that grand schemes of top down, social do-goodism would reform human nature. When the community experienced in real terms the pragmatic results of what had been done to it by this House, the reaction of revulsion began to build.
While the Young Offenders Act formalized old informal practices, guaranteed access to legal counsel and made a more litigious process, the essence of the act sent the wrong message to the community. To verify and bolster those notions to the doubting Liberals who are loathe to admit that they were sorely wrong, Reformers are trying other measures to check perceptions of what the community appears to want.
We now have the technology to have universal suffrage on individual issues of the day. MT&T Technologies televoting service makes universal suffrage a reality. It enables all citizens to vote in an election or respond to a question of the day by using the telephone.
Voters call a special telephone number to access the teledemocracy system and enter their own personal identification number, or PIN number. After hearing the survey questions, voters press a key to vote yes or no and, then press the pound key to confirm their vote.
It provides a cost effective way to poll a large group of people on an issue. It is an ideal process to gather information, confirm proposals and it provides an additional check on attitudes beyond opinion sampling and traditional methods. The accuracy of what polling companies produce is always a problem of sample size, structure and other things. The MT&T Technologies televoting service provides the largest possible sample size even beyond what traditional paper balloting and a general election might provide.
My colleague, the member for North Vancouver, has signed a contract to experiment with this technology on the questions of the Young Offenders Act. When Reformers set aside one of their few allotted days to bring a motion of debate to this House, we are following the bottom up community accountability model that is at the heart of the Reform Party.
We are prepared to test in scientific terms with the real broad base data what the community mood is and verify what we have already come up with through traditional methods. If anyone wants to learn more about this process, call anytime to area code (604) 666-8378. I will repeat that number again in a moment.
In addition to the specific televote that will take place in North Vancouver in June, there will also be a more general style of phone in opinion poll at the same time available to the whole country. If the media has the social responsibility to report it, people across the country will hear the number and be able to participate.
One need not only take the Reform Party's word that the community is fed up with the Young Offenders Act. We will be checking again through the method of teledemocracy. The Young Offenders Act is the title of it and I say let it live up to its name and be amended so that it truly deals with young offenders, not youthful adults.
There are many ideas for changing the statute. I heard scores of them from criminologists, program analysis bureaucrats of provincial ministries, from police, street workers and above all, young people themselves. I am speaking from years of experience working within the juvenile justice system and I ask who runs the justice system anyway, the criminals, the lawyers, the courts, correctional authorities, probation and parole officers? That seems to be how it has operated.
There have been some partial attempts here and there to keep the community involved but the broad community must have ownership in the operations of the justice system. It should not operate solely in a delegated sense, what government does for us in what we cannot do for ourselves.
While the social order begins at the family unit and should be supported and enhanced by our institutions, schools and community organizations, at some point the buck stops.
For juvenile crime community accountability arises in the formal court proceedings. When the bottom line is too diffuse there is unnecessary hurt and injury to the innocent. The community must have the tools to publicly denounce behaviour that is unacceptable.
Canadians want action. We can move beyond just a desire for peace, order and good government to a land that is just, that cares for its victims and casualties. We must protect the weak and innocent as we deal courageously with offenders. There are many ways to teach productive conflict resolution. We must break the cycle of kids who are hurting who go on to hurt others.
I have heard a bulging briefcase full of reasons why we should not do this or that with the Young Offenders Act. I bring to this House some personal experiences. I will recount how the Young Offenders Act did not serve them when they somehow became involved as victims.
I recall Darrel who at 11 years old was lighting fires at school and in the neighbourhood. The school had some difficulties handling him. The social worker from social services had nothing to offer the parents other than a parenting course and a medical referral through their doctor for a six month wait to see a child psychiatrist.
He was too young for the Young Offenders Act. Group homes could not not accommodate a pyromaniac. The impulsive lad wanted help, he wanted controls and those who knew him were in fear of what he might do next. As a probation officer all I could do was assess and refer.
Despite the best efforts of loving parents, when subsequently showing off to friends Darrel started a fire in the elementary school in the evening. When the fire was noticed by the neighbours they saw kids running. When all was said and done, $1 million later half the school and burned down and 600 students were displaced for a year.
As he was not a child in need of care and protection social welfare had no mandate. Mental health had no mandate other than providing community family therapy as the lad was not mentally disturbed. Darrel needed the cycle of his anger and self-centredness broken by a formal court denunciation. He could have also benefited from a court ordered correctional style wilderness camp program. That did come later when he was 12. The YOA did not serve him or the community.
I remember Brent. He had always been wilful, taking things that did not belong to him. He worked his way through the YOA diversions, restitution orders, community work service hours, very short term custody and the extensive probation order conditions. He was given break after break. His juvenile file I
called one of those 10-pounders. At 17 he murdered an acquaintance with a stab to the chest.
Brent was a time bomb waiting to go off as he dared the authorities to knock the chip off his shoulder. He took a life instead. That is not the end of it. He was placed on remand in custody in the youth detention centre. His girlfriend was allowed to visit with his mother and many friends. Visiting in a youth custody centre especially for someone only on a remand before any guilty finding was fairly lax. He and his girlfriend quarrelled and he hanged himself in the shower. When they cut him down he was brain damaged. Forever now he will be supported by the province as an invalid who cannot look after himself, hardly able to say a word, barely recognizing anyone. The YOA did not serve him nor the dead victim nor the extended family members.
He planned his hell raising until he turned 18 like the bad example of his brother before him, but this time it did not work out. A different law would have made a difference. These are just two examples from my personal experience that would have turned out very differently had the YOA been constituted the way I am recommending today.
We have some specific proposals. If Reform were government today we would have already acted. The motion today of course is the most fundamental. I can just imagine the reaction from the Prime Minister to what we will be saying today from this corner of the House-a shrug, a recounting that some want a little of this and some want a little of that; but we are not going to panic, just trust us, stress the positive, do not worry, be happy, this is really what the Canadians want to hear.
However, let Canada remember this day who was the justice minister when the Young Offenders Act was passed. It was the Prime Minister. What a legacy he has left us. If people want to blame someone for the juvenile justice system the blame can rightfully be laid at the cabinet door of this government.
The east-west cold war is over. The major threat to our communities now is from within, our own inaction to preserve, protect and defend.
Sadly our laws and mores have been driven by the cultural conceits that took hold during the heyday of counterculture, including a denial of personal responsibility and the fantasy that coercive power of big government can produce an uplift to the spirit, cure poverty and bigotry, legislate economic growth and stamp out any number of individual and social inadequacies.
In the 1980s the Young Offenders Act initially took up and formalized the best of what we in British Columbia had already been doing for years with diversion strategies, alternative measures, forest camps, borstals, volunteer probation programs, open custody units and local level innovation.
Then the spirit of innovation was bargained away at the last minute against the best advice just to get a deal with the divided provinces. If we did nothing else to this act than change the age of application it would go a long way to an efficacious result and assuage public concern.
The Young Offenders Act should apply to 10 to 15-year olds inclusive, not the current 12 to 17 years inclusive.
Next, provision 3.1 of the declaration of principle section should include the needs and rights of victims equally with the concerns of the offender. Section 9.7 should include provisions to have victims formally notified of court proceedings as well as the parents of a young offender. Section 16, transfers to adult court, should be possible for any youth under the act not just those 14 years and over.
The crown prosecutor should have the prerogative to proceed directly in adult court without transfer hearings against youths 14 and over where the crown believes circumstances warrant. There is no need for a long trial to decide where the real trial will be heard in such circumstances.
Section 17 should simply be repealed. The public has a right to know about young offender transfer hearings. Although youth court is usually open to the public one cannot publish or report any part of the proceedings that would identify the offender.
Under section 22 related to mental health treatment the judge should not need the permission of the offender he is sentencing to impose an order to attend a program.
Section 24, when a judge sentences to custody, should be just that, custody. The correctional authorities administer what kind of custody, assigning offenders within the range of open and closed facilities as the changing needs arise as in the adult sector. Let the jailers do the jailing and the courts do the sentencing.
Section 38 should be repealed and nothing should be substituted. When the law is broken an offender's right of privacy about their offence should not exist. Crime needs to be exposed, not hidden.
Section 44.1 should permit as well appropriate dissemination of youth records and materials also to school board authorities. Section 46 against prohibition of disclosure of identifying a youth should also be repealed. There should be no restrictions. Justice must be seen to be done as well as done.
Section 45.1 should be repealed and not replaced with any other measure. A youth court should be a criminal record and the rules dealing with those records should be one and the same as adult records.
A new measure should be added to section 50.1 and it should be that if a parent fails to reasonably exercise parental duty the court should be able to order the parent to pay a victim compensation for property loss for vandalism.
Section 56 should be repealed as the common law practice and current court rules in regular courts are more than sufficient to deal with statements made by offenders for evidence. If it is good enough for the regular court system it should be good enough for young offenders.
Finally, the operation of show-cause hearings and the interim release on bail for offenders must be tightened up to stop the revolving door. There is nothing more disheartening to citizens than to see charged offenders on the street the next day after the arrest.
There must be a surety that offending will be reported and denounced by a formal process. Both the offender and the offended must be responded to. The offender must realize and feel the impact of their criminal behaviour on victims and receive consequences commensurate to the crime.
Victims must be helped and restored as far as that is possible by both a caring community and a justice system that will defend them.
In closing, I summarize by saying I have outlined today specific proposals that are needed to bring confidence back to the juvenile justice system. Canadians want sweeping change now not another study, commission or round of extensive consultations. The minister has in his hand over 1,000 recent submissions from Canadians. We have done more than enough of that sort of thing.
If the community wants to be involved to directly share its views, call the telephone number I am about to give and learn how to use MT&T Technologies televoting service. Send this government a message. Call area code (604) 666-8378 and interact with the line to learn more about how the televoting service will be used in June. The evidence is in on what the public wants. It remains to be seen if the government has the will to respond.