Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise in the House today to speak on behalf of my constituents regarding the proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act, Bill C-37.
In my riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam a rally of over 5,000 Canadians took place on September 25, 1994 to publicly demand changes to this act. This rally reflects the national demand for change to a justice system that caters to the rights of the criminal, young or old, rather than the security of society. A few brief weeks ago over 2,000 more concerned Canadians near my area marched for changes to the justice system on behalf of Melanie Carpenter.
The Minister of Justice has stated that such public outcries are an emotional response to media headlines. How wrong he is. These are the responses of people who have had enough and now realize they are not alone in their hurt and anger.
Yes, there is a shocking, tangible anger against the system. The rallying cry of the Jesse Cadmans, the Graham Nivens, the Melanie Carpenters, all tragic victims of this system, has served as the catalyst for a too long silent and threatened majority. Their concerns are real and widespread. And they, the people of Canada, must be heard.
Today I wish to speak directly for my constituents. I cannot do less. In August last year with requests pouring in, my office sponsored a meeting to respond to demands to organize a public rally following the senseless and tragic death of Graham Niven. We arranged for a room to accommodate 20 and then 50 people. That night over 300 people came to volunteer to make something happen.
Led by a core dedicated committee of about a dozen committed individuals, literally hundreds of community volunteers organized and successfully ran the rally one month later. Their message echoes the concerns of Canadians across this land.
Young offenders should be held individually responsible for harm done by their acts. They should know that they face certain consequences for breaking the laws of this land. Police officers must be given back the mandate to enforce laws designed to protect our communities. Parents must be given the authority over and the responsibility for the actions of their children. It is only thus that the very real fears of youth, women, parents and seniors, all citizens, of this rising violent attitude in our streets and in our schools can be adequately addressed.
The current Young Offenders Act has a statement of principle which recognizes that young people should have a special guarantee of their rights and freedoms. This has been interpreted by the courts to mean that any treatment of a young offender requires their consent. This same misled interpretation would still apply unless specifically addressed in this new legislation. Let me share with you some real life examples.
A Richmond court worker, a frontline worker, wrote that Bill C-37 does not go far enough. He said: "Young offenders are laughing at us and rubbing our noses in a system which leaves them unaccountable for their actions". It is not uncommon to see young offenders laugh at their sentence and wink at their buddies in the public area of the courtroom. He said that it was time that we stop giving them something to be proud of and instead give them something to think about.
The system is not tough enough and this only encourages recidivism. The statistics speak for themselves in that approximately 75 per cent of 12 and 13 year olds are first time offenders. This decreases to 58 per cent of 14 and 15 year olds and falls further to 50 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds. The study declared that those youths who did reoffend usually had far more than one prior conviction. These young offenders are obviously not deterred from continuing to violate the law. The present experience with the law and the court system obviously does not serve the offender or society. Canadian families pay the price for this failure.
Share for a moment the grief of a Langley, B.C. couple whose 17-year old son was shot and killed by a 16-year old who had just been released from custody. They wrote in their letter to me: "Ours is a lifetime loss of a young man with a brilliant future. We will never forget him or the atrocity".
Diane Sowden, a mother of a 14-year old young offender in my riding, shared her frustration with the judicial system at the rally. Her daughter at the age of 13 left home because she resented a 9.30 p.m. curfew. The police informed the parents they were powerless to do anything.
The girl was assigned to two group homes and three foster homes but she refused to stay at them because they also had rules. Diane reported that there was no curfew, no order to go to school, and no order to reside with the caregivers, completely against their request as parents. The story goes on to include pimps, drugs, schoolyard solicitation for child prostitution, heroin addiction, ignored parole violations and nothing anyone could do about it.
"We wanted stricter consequences for her actions, rather than no consequences", said Diane. "We as her parents want some say in what is happening to our daughter". Presently this 14-year old girl works the streets and the Young Offenders Act will respect her right to continue down this path of self-destruction.
We have accomplished nothing giving young people so many rights that the consequences of their actions are no longer relevant. The interests of young offenders are not best served
when they cannot be required to respect the authority of law or even the authority of their parents.
Unless there is proven reason, parents should both know and have a say in their children's treatment and those children should have no choice but to face the consequence in treatment, reparation and penalty for their illegal actions.
Let me share with the House the experience of Erma and Dennis Vietorisz. Erma addressed the rally in September as a teacher and a parent who has seen the consequence of rising violence in her school and the community. She wrote me again on December 29, 1994 about an attack on her son and a friend the month before, after the rally: "There was no provocation, no argument, nor any reason for a brutal attack on these two young people. After being taken to the hospital, our son was told he had a broken jaw and had to undergo emergency surgery and spend six weeks with his jaw wired shut. His friend had six stitches to his eye. Meanwhile the attackers had gotten away without consequence. Why? Because the police said there was very little they could do to protect our son from retaliation if charges were laid. The police could not detain the attacker after they arrested him as the courts would release him back on to the street to await trial even though he was very violent in his behaviour. All the police could do to protect our son was to put a restraining order on the attacker which would only help our son if he was attacked again".
After much deliberation and consideration the parents decided not to lay charges because the judicial system could not protect him. They decided not to subject themselves to the very real possibility of more violence. The attacker had nothing to fear from a system that is powerless to restrain him from inflicting fear and violence on others.
Erma recently received a letter from Premier Harcourt of B.C. who criticized her for not giving the judicial system a chance. What mockery. On the one hand we have a brazen offender who has, and will likely continue to accumulate a history of violence. On the other we have a judicial system with a mandate from the government that puts fear into the heart of the victim and not the offender.
Bill C-37 further entrenches this deplorable pattern. According to the latest studies published in January 1995 by the forum of correctional research, youth crime is on the rise. In 1986, 179,000 youths were arrested by police and 113,000 were charged. In 1992, 211,000 and some were arrested by the police and 140,000 were charged. Violent offences have increased from 9,275 in 1986 to 20,033 in 1991. That is over a 100 per cent increase in just five years.
Take these statistics in light of the fears of victims and their families such as the Vietorisz. Take these statistics in light of the pat on the head that first, second and third offences get or the total lack of consequences or recorded incidence of crime for all those under 12 years of age in the present system. There is an epidemic out there that our justice experts refuse to recognize.
I have received over 13,000 letters and faxes and over 15,000 signatures on petitions from concerned Canadians calling for real change to the Young Offenders Act.
Like Mrs. Sandy Mahoney of Maple Ridge, B.C. whose 14-year old daughter had to move to Ontario to live with her grandmother because she was constantly beat up at school, constantly harassed by what the authority and school officials called gang members. It is very clear that young criminals are not afraid of any authority, is what she said.
Another woman, Marian Jutila from Coquitlam states: "As a community we demand you immediately follow through and begin revamping our Young Offenders Act".
Many seniors have written to me, those who fear to leave their homes and also many who fear that violence will actually break through the walls of those homes. Perhaps the most compelling was the cry at the end of one letter that concluded with a handwritten note: "You must help us".
In conclusion, let me read the words of 17-year old Jamie Lipp, a dear friend of Jessie Cadman who was killed by a young offender. Jamie spoke at the rally: "What kind of society do we live in where young people are not held accountable for their crimes? What kind of society do we live in where we must fear for our lives within a few blocks of our homes? What kind of society do we live in when there is no respect for life?"
Bill C-37 does nothing to reflect the concerns of those who have spoken up with such clarity and sincerity. I cannot in good conscience support such a bill. We need a legislative overhaul which demands accountability for the sake of society and the young offender, that teaches respect for authority and the rights and lives of others, and that reverses the trend of fear and intimidation experienced within our community.
Today I implore the Minister of Justice to listen to these Canadians. They have something to say that he must hear.