Mr. Speaker, for once this House cannot be said to lack consistency; it has shown great singleness of purpose. About ten days ago, the hon. member for York South-Weston, a government member, introduced Bill C-217, a public bill to lower age limits for the
purposes of the Young Offenders Act, to increase maximum penalties and allow the publication of the names of young offenders.
Today, the opposition motion moved by a Reform Party member from British Columbia calls upon the House to urge the government to respond to the evident-as far as they are concerned-lack of confidence over the Young Offenders Act by recommending a change to the definition of "young offender" in Section 2(1) of the said Act to mean a person to be ten years of age or more, but sixteen years of age or less.
Again, we are falling back on lowering the minimum age. I say it is somewhat similar to what Bill C-217 called for because, as indicated earlier in this debate, lowering the age to 16 does not change the rigour of the act. They said: "We simply lowered the age limits" but the fact of the matter is that lowering the maximum age of young offenders to 16 means that those between the ages of 16 and 18 who will be tried by adult courts will incur adult sentencing. That is where the change will hurt, in terms of sentencing.
Why? Why an approach reflecting such intolerance, an intolerance that seems to come mainly from English Canada but which unfortunately is echoed in this House? As I said earlier, by dint of being alarmists, you end up colouring facts. Some members have been crying wolf for so long that they are seeing its tail. Let us stop telling ourselves horror stories and face facts. The sad reality is that delinquency is probably here to stay. We will always need legislation to crack down on actions society considers as unacceptable but in a civilized state legislation must also seek to have a positive effect.
In the young offenders' case, we need an act that will not turn this young offender into an old one and this, for the rest of his or her life because such is the wish of an intolerant society. A modern state must search for the causes of this criminal behaviour and if possible, try to eradicate them from the young offender's heart. Could we not do this in a non-partisan way, without shaping the entire act around a senseless murder, focusing instead on striking a balance between punishment, in the form of the sentence, and rehabilitation, that is to say the young delinquent or offender's social reintegration?
To do so, we must look at the statistics, which mirror reality back to us. We must not settle for the headlines on the front page of sensationalistic papers or their legal columns. I believe that this feeling of insecurity is magnified by the information widely disseminated by the press. Reassuring statistics are seldom published. But statistics can be reassuring and indeed they are, particularly in Quebec.
According to a study by Jean Trépanier, criminology professor at the University of Montreal, only one out of six offenders is a minor. That is a far cry from the 50 per cent suggested by today's debate and the emphasis on amending the Young Offenders Act.
According to the study, juvenile crime even fell to about 8 per cent in Quebec in the last 15 years, and even in Montreal there was a substantial decline over the same period. The number of young offenders in Montreal went from 10,145 in 1979 to 6,679 last year. I will be honest with the members of this House and say that what is a problem is that the proportion of crimes against persons committed by young people, which are more visible and get more media coverage, climbed significantly during the same period.
Despite the higher figures, the number of crimes against persons committed by young people is still small in absolute terms. That is why I think that the motion presented today by the Reform Party is wrong. The perception in Quebec is quite different. What do we do differently for young offenders in Quebec so that our perception of this problem is apparently different from that of the other provinces?
In Quebec when a youth commits an offence, his case is immediately taken over by social services and not by the judicial system. We immediately and completely de-criminalize the legal process. It is important to remember this because Quebec seems to be the only place in Canada where young offenders are looked after by social services from the beginning of the legal process to the sentences handed down by the courts.
Quebec has a list of offences. When a crime is not on this list, it is up to the police to decide whether or not charges should be laid. If the offence is listed, law-enforcement authorities must refer the case to the judicial system by lodging a complaint against the young offender. The youth protection director then becomes responsible for the minor. As I told you, if I am not mistaken, only Quebec does things this way.
In Quebec, and this may surprise some people, the maximum sentence is three years plus two years on parole. Having studied the problem of young offenders, I can tell you that even in Canada the majority of juvenile crime workers recognize that Quebec does things differently. And this distinctiveness is felt in the way it treats its young offenders.
With the Young Offenders Act in effect and the whole system serving young offenders in Quebec, things are working out quite well. I think that the figures are encouraging. One only has to look at the report to be convinced-