Madam Speaker, there can be no doubt that many Canadians are concerned about youth crime and more specifically about how the Young Offenders Act deals with youth who commit these crimes. Recent horrifying events in Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and elsewhere have understandably increased the national attention focused on this issue.
I wish to state clearly that individual events even if there are a number of them do not necessarily amount to an epidemic. The vast majority of Canada's young people are ambitious and hard working young citizens who respect their fellow Canadians. The vast majority are maturing into productive and law-abiding members of our society. We do a disservice to all young people if we cast them in the same light as the minority who turn to crime.
Over the last few years youth crime in Canada in fact has not increased in a significant way statistically. Adults, not youth, still commit most of the crimes in Canada. In addition, it should be remembered that most of the crimes committed by youth are non-violent. They are crimes against property, not against people. Nevertheless it is true that some youths do indeed commit crimes. It undoubtedly is an issue that is important to the fabric of our society and it must be addressed squarely by this government.
Last fall a major national public consultation paper was released by the Department of Justice on the Young Offenders Act. This paper was distributed to about 40,000 groups and individuals in Canada. It asked for their opinions on several issues relating to the act.
These issues included: whether the minimum age under the act ought to be lowered; whether the maximum age under the act ought to be lowered; and whether there ought to be more transfers of youth to adult court. The issues also included: whether the identities of young offenders ought to be published and if so, at what stage of the proceedings; whether judges ought to be encouraged to sentence only violent young offenders to
custody; and whether the Young Offenders Act ought to allow greater flexibility for youths to get access to treatment.
Finally, the consultation paper included a series of questions on what changes ought to be made at the community level and elsewhere in our society to prevent youth crime. It also asked what additional steps ought to be taken to ensure that young offenders are rehabilitated and therefore do not become reoffenders and go on to a life of adult crime.
I have taken some care to explain the content of the consultation paper in order to make the following points. This paper directly sought the opinions of Canadians on most if not all of the key and pressing issues that currently relate to the Young Offenders Act, including the subject of today's motion which is whether to change the upper and lower age brackets in the act.
It is encouraging to note that over 1,000 people took the time and trouble to send in written responses to the consultation paper, all of which were read and are being considered. It is also encouraging that the majority of respondents were thoughtful and many offered interesting and helpful suggestions for change.
At the same time there is no doubt that the responses indicate that Canadians who responded are concerned about the Young Offenders Act in general, about how well and evenly it is enforced and about whether it is effective against youth crime.
More specifically, they are concerned about the age brackets in the act, publication of names of young offenders, transfers to adult court, length and types of sentences, treatment and rehabilitation and about how to prevent youth crime.
This government has already made it clear that it intends to address the issues relating to the Young Offenders Act. In fact, it was just over a year ago in April 1993 that the crime and justice package was released. Therein it stated that this government's proposed changes in the act include increased sentence lengths for young offenders convicted of murder to ensure full treatment, improved access to rehabilitation programs for young offenders, and increased release of information on the identity of young offenders.
Not all the changes that may be needed can be made quickly and easily. The issues surrounding the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system are difficult and important. Furthermore the responses to the public consultation process on the act indicated clearly that regrettably on several issues there is no consensus among Canadians on what changes should be made to the Young Offenders Act.
Nevertheless I know my colleague, the hon. Minister of Justice, agrees that the amendments to the Young Offenders Act that are most pressing and can successfully be made at this time must be made as soon as possible, indeed before the House rises for the summer.
Accordingly, I gather that the Minister of Justice intends to present this House with a bill in the near future. It will be obvious to members that this will leave some issues relating to the Young Offenders Act unresolved. To deal with these issues the Minister of Justice has already stated publicly that he intends to initiate a broad and all encompassing review of the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system.
It is expected that this review will be undertaken by a parliamentary committee and that the review process will include consultations with interested groups and individuals from across Canada. In this way Canadians will be able to tell Parliament what form they ultimately wish the Young Offenders Act and the youth justice system to take.
I believe that this is of crucial importance because in the final analysis it is those who feel well served and protected by the act, those who will be dealt with by the Young Offenders Act and those who will help them who must be satisfied with it and with the youth justice system.
In closing, I cannot stress enough that we must create a Young Offenders Act and youth justice system supported by Canadians. Otherwise we will fail in our attempt to address the social problem of youth crime which is a blot on our society. We cannot afford to abandon this small minority of our young people who for whatever reasons commit crime. If we do abandon them we can be sure that the cost to society will in the end be far greater than the cost of helping them while they are still young.