Mr. Speaker, I have great respect and confidence in the Minister of Justice with regard to his genuine commitment to changes to the criminal justice system in Canada, but unfortunately his agenda calls for simply the introduction of a bill in June and he is not expecting passage of the bill
until later this year or sometime next year. That is just not good enough.
I would submit that it would be totally and completely and absolutely irresponsible for members of all sides of this House to rise for the summer holidays, to go back to our homes, families and cottages without passing changes to the Young Offenders Act. That would be an abdication of our responsibility as legislators. It would be an abdication of the mandate and the trust given to us by the people of Canada six short months ago.
I would urge the minister, I would urge the government, I would urge all members in the House to expedite changes. We do not need another year or two of study. I was a member of the justice committee for eight years. When I was first elected to the House in September 1984 the Young Offenders Act was only a few months old and it was clear then that the Young Offenders Act would not work. I have been calling for changes for the last 10 years.
Here we are 10 years later and just a few weeks ago the 10th anniversary of the Young Offenders Act was celebrated. The Young Offenders Act replaced the old juvenile delinquents act. Back then the bleeding hearts claimed that the juvenile delinquents act was not working and they needed a more balanced system.
We have now a piece of federal legislation that is totally unbalanced. It is a piece of legislation that shoves aside the public interest and shoves aside security for the public. Instead it protects and invites young people to break the law, to embark upon a lifetime of criminality.
The bill which I have before Parliament today addresses three of the fundamental changes necessary to the Young Offenders Act. I will speak about those changes in a few moments.
First, I want to talk about the existing law, the Young Offenders Act, section 3, which contains eight statements of policy indicating the philosophy behind the Young Offenders Act. I want to summarize the philosophy and explain why in my view that while the intention was there, the 10 years of practice that we have had have clearly established that the principles have gone haywire.
The first principle is that young persons are said not to be as accountable for their acts as are adults but even so they must bear responsibility for their contraventions-motherhood and apple pie.
Second, society must be afforded protection from illegal behaviour although it does have a responsibility to take measures to prevent criminal conduct by youth. That was the second principle, but experience has shown that the protection of society does not even appear to register in the consideration of those involved in the system, particularly judges who have to bear some of the responsibility for some of the outrageous sentences that are handed down today.
The third statement recognizes the need for supervision, discipline and control of young offenders, but also that they have special needs and require guidance and assistance. We will not find any dispute about the need for special guidance and assistance for young people. We all recognize that there is a need for a system that will deal with young offenders. We do not want to treat 12 and 13 year olds, genuine children, like adults. We do not want to throw them in the slammer, send them down to Kingston to serve a life sentence or to serve lengthy prison terms. There has to be a balanced system. We all recognize that.
However, when we look at the experience today we recognize that the system is doing a disservice to the public and to young people because it is telling young people today that they have to carry knives. One cannot help but wonder that if there were a different psychology out there with our young people today the young person who was murdered in Hull yesterday would be alive today. Why was it necessary for the person who committed the murder to be carrying a knife? It is not uncommon for young people today to carry knives and loaded guns to school every morning. That is the atmosphere that our young people are faced with today. They carry guns and knives and other deadly weapons not simply to do harm to other people but for protection.
Mr. Speaker, when you and I were in high school, public school and university if there was a score to settle you used your fists. You would go out back and have a fist fight, a little wrestle and you would settle your scores. Today scores are settled with deadly force. Scores are settled with knives and bullets and guns. People are killed and maimed right across the country as a result of this unfortunate and tragic situation that our young people are faced with today.
The philosophy also says, the fourth consideration, that the taking of measures other than judicial proceedings should be considered where not inconsistent with the protection of society.
The fifth statement recognizes the legal and constitutional rights of youth. Therein lies one of the major problems with the Young Offenders Act. On the one hand it says we should treat young offenders as children. On the other hand it says we should afford them all the rights and privileges afforded other criminals under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That is fine and dandy, but then young people recognize that they have the right to a lawyer; let's go get legal aid. They have the right to all the protection that adults have, such as the right to remain silent and all the other rights. Young people recognize
that those rights exist and they are using them as protection from criminal responsibility.
The sixth principle is that a young person has the right-and this is a real kicker-to the least possible interference with freedom as is consistent with public safety. It is built right into the Young Offenders Act. It says we cannot interfere with their freedom.
Seventh, young offenders have the right to be informed of their rights and freedoms in any situation where those rights and freedoms may be infringed.
Finally, parents are said to have a responsibility for the care and supervision of their children, and children are to be removed from parents only in compelling circumstances.
That is the philosophy behind the Young Offenders Act. Some of it is apple pie and motherhood, but the rest of it unfortunately has led to a system that is a contributing factor to the decay of the moral fibre and the integrity of our youth.
I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I am not calling for sending young children to jail and throwing away the keys, or whipping them and hanging them. What I am calling for is a more balanced approach. The significant majority of young people are law-abiding citizens. They do not need a law to tell them the difference between right and wrong. We are dealing with the exceptions, the small percentage of young hoods, young incorrigibles in our society, who are using the law in order to further their criminality.
We need a balanced system. Somehow the principles outlined in the Young Offenders Act have not been translated into action and the pendulum has swung in favour of the rights and protection of the youth. Public security has become a secondary consideration at best and all too often has been neglected entirely.
My bill addresses three specific areas. First, I would change the age limits provided in the Young Offenders Act. Today a young offender, a child, these people who are in need of protection and caring guidance, is defined as a young person between the ages of 12 and 17. We have the situation of a 17-year-old, one day shy of his or her 18th birthday, old enough to drive, old enough to enter into contracts in some jurisdictions, yet treated as a child and defined as a child.
Statistics show that half of the youth court case load involves 16 and 17 year olds. My bill would treat 16 and 17 year olds as adults. They would be charged and prosecuted in adult court, and in my submission that would act as a very serious deterrent to other 16 and 17 year olds from breaking the law.
As well my bill would lower the age limit to the age of 10. Some people are suggesting that there should not be any lower end to the definition of a young offender. We all know of the case in Great Britain, for example, where two 10-year-olds were convicted of murder. In Canada children under the age of 12 are used by adults to commit criminal offences. Second, some of them are committing in their own right serious offences. By lowering the age limit it allows the police to bring these children into the system so they can be dealt with and treated properly.
My bill would define children as those young people between the ages of 12 and 15. Sixteen and seventeen year olds know the difference between right and wrong, understand the nature and consequences of their acts and therefore, in my view, ought to be prosecuted in adult court. As members know, age is always a mitigating circumstance at sentencing in adult court.
The second aspect of my bill-it is something that the minister has already indicated he supports-is the increase in the maximum penalty for first degree murder from five to ten years. I applaud the minister for confirming his position in that regard not too long ago. Just a few years ago the maximum penalty was three years for first degree murder.
We had the situation in Scarborough, for example, where a young offender committed a triple murder, first degree murder, and served three years. He then was released. Now the sentence has been bumped up to five years but in my respectful submission it ought to be ten years for first degree murder.
The third aspect of my bill would allow for the publication of the details and the identity of a young offender after the second serious conviction. Right now there is a blanket prohibition on the publication of details.
The case in British Columbia-there are dozens of other similar cases-underlined the need for the public, the neighbours, the school system to know of some of the serious offences. The young person had been convicted of molesting young children. If the public knew, if the police knew, if neighbours knew, they could have taken the necessary precautions. He murdered and raped a six-year old child.
My bill would allow the young offender two chances. Once they have committed two serious offences, then the public would be entitled to know the details and the identity of the young offender. I submit that would serve as a deterrent for young offenders.
Let me end where I began. The system is in desperate need of repair. We have to move with dispatch. For those people who suggest this concern is a knee-jerk reaction to the murder in Hull or the murder here in Ottawa or the dozens of other murders and rapes and violent assaults, let me tell members that they are sadly mistaken. Their heads are in the sand and it is time that they woke up and smelled the coffee.
This is not something that happened overnight. It is a concern. The problem has been here for the last 10 years. I would urge my colleagues to expedite changing passages in the Young Offenders Act.
I would ask that at the conclusion of this debate at 12 noon today we have the unanimous consent of the House to refer the bill and its subject matter to the justice committee so that we can begin immediate deliberations with regard to this component of the criminal justice system.