Madam Speaker, dealing effectively with youth crime is a priority of the government. Canadians including young people are very concerned about their safety. Violence in our nation's schools is of particular significance. I have three children attending elementary schools, and I am certainly not indifferent to the issue.
What is the answer to the problem of young people who commit crimes? Is the Young Offenders Act the problem? Does a single age change correct the problem as the motion suggests? Clearly there is a need to improve the way in which the act responds to youth crime, especially serious violent crime. As we consider changes to the law, however, it is critical we begin with a sound understanding of the law and of the nature and extent of the crime. As I stated earlier this week in the House, we must divorce perception from reality.
Many Canadians believe that the Young Offenders Act has no teeth, that there are no consequences for a young offender convicted of a criminal offence. The reality is actually quite different. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, its circumstances and the youth before the court-we must remember it is the individual before the court-the consequences may range from fines, community service orders or probation to the deprivation of liberty through incarceration for a young person. Roughly one-third of the cases before the courts receive a custodial disposition.
Transfer to adult court is also a possibility under the act. If convicted of murder in adult court after a transfer today, a youth could spend his or her life in custody. An example is useful. A 16-year-old who was convicted of murder in adult court and lives until he or she is 75 years of age could spend 59 years in jail. Yes, parole is a possibility but it is only a possibility.
People including youth do not understand that convictions in youth court means a record will remain with the youth for many years with implications for both education and employment opportunities.
At present for less serious offences the record is held for five years from the date of the conviction. For indictable offences it is a time period of five years after the completion of the sentence as long as there is no other intervening indictable offence.
Many people also believe that the hands of the police are tied when it comes to youth because of the Young Offenders Act. That belief goes hand in hand with the belief that youth have too many rights. In fact police have all the same powers regarding investigation and arrest where youth are concerned as they have for adults.
The Young Offenders Act actually strengthen police powers by making it clear that fingerprints and photographs could be taken and criminal records kept. Conviction rates in youth courts are considerably higher than those in adult court across a range of offences.
In terms of the nature of youth crime, it is critical that we keep violent youth crime in Canada in perspective. Eight-six per cent of violent crime is committed by adult Canadians. Fourteen per cent of violent crime is committed by young people under the age of 18 years. About half the youth crime that is termed violent in our national statistics is for common assault, for example a slap, a shove, a push or a punch often in the school yard. The average number of youths, though, charged with homicide under the Young Offenders Act from 1986 to 1992 was 46 annually.
In the 1970s, when the majority of provinces treated 16 and 17 year olds as adults, there were 60 cases of young people under the age of 18 years charged with homicides. In short, fewer charges of homicide have occurred under the Young Offenders Act, on average.
We must realize that many murder charges do not result in murder convictions. In 1992-93 youth court heard 40 murder cases. There were 16 convictions in youth court for murder and six cases transferred. Eighteen cases were stayed, withdrawn or dismissed.
These comments are not to minimize the importance of violent crimes. Any violence is too much violence. Neither are these comments to suggest that we cannot improve the act. We can and we must do so. We must ensure, however, that changes to the law will be meaningful ones in terms of better protecting our communities in both the short and long term and in better rehabilitating our young offenders.
No single change such as is suggested by the motion in question will improve our youth justice system. Although I am prepared to evaluate all the evidence when the justice committee reviews this legislation-and I sit as government vice-chair of the justice committee-I am not predisposed to changing the ages under this legislation.
In my riding of London West, the London Family Court Clinic has a 1993 report stating emphatically that the current ages of 12 to 17 are adequate and appropriate. Dr. Lescheid from the London Family Court Clinic advised me that in fact they could find no research or clinical support indicating that criminalizing 10-year-olds through the justice system would ensure community safety. Rather, it is the insurance of programs that can take place outside the justice system that can promote community safety.
Canada's youth justice system is at a critical juncture. While legislative change is important, it is not enough. We must improve our crime prevention efforts. We must improve the way our youth justice system operates in conjunction with child protection, health and education. We will need provincial co-operation to do so.
We must carefully study how parents could play a stronger role in preventing both their children's involvement in crime and in assisting the youth with rehabilitation after a criminal offence has come to their household. A multi-disciplinary approach rather than surface solutions will be a more responsible and responsive reaction to this issue.
We must listen carefully to the professionals in Canada who are meeting with success. We must pay attention to research findings that demonstrate to us that success can be achieved. These same professionals are also able to reveal to us patterns for youth who engage in violent crime.
While there will always be cases that could not have been predicted, a great many are predictable and many of these are preventable. We must not close our eyes to the facts of these patterns of behaviour as they reveal vital insights as to how
certain problem behaviour could be checked earlier and why such behaviour should and must be checked earlier.
The signs of unacceptably aggressive behaviour often emerges early as preschool and certainly by five, six, seven and eight years of age. The most effective way to help children who show aggressive behaviour is to respond as soon as it appears. Otherwise aggressive behaviour will become established and very resistant to change. Aggressive behaviour in childhood, if unchecked, will be more difficult to counter once the child has reached adolescence. Clearly collaboration by parents, educators and, where required, clinicians is key.
Core messages must be delivered consistently to Canada's children and adolescents. There must be a value basis to these messages which promotes racial and gender equality and fundamental respect for the integrity of all people regardless of age.
Our children and our young people are getting the wrong messages from family violence and the violence and efforts at ownership, control and abuse of authority some adults engage in. I look forward to amending the Young Offenders Act. I look forward to evaluating the legislation that our justice minister will place before us shortly.
I also look forward to the thoughtful and broad based review of our youth justice system by the parliamentary committee. I am very optimistic that one product of this review will be a cohesive plan to engage Canadians to collectively work together in the interest of our youth, in the interest of our children, which will result in safer Canadian communities.