Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Motion M-278, wherein the hon.
member moves that the government should amend the Young Offenders Act to reduce the age for whom it applies down to the age of 10 from 12, to allow for the publication of the names of individuals convicted under the act, and to require the immediate transfer to adult court of individuals being tried for the repeat offence of violent crimes.
I want to address each of these suggested amendments to the Young Offenders Act in turn. In my opinion this is quite a surprising motion in the sense that the mover belongs to a party which at a recent policy conference three months ago stated that the Young Offenders Act should be repealed. Now we are starting to snip around the edges of the Young Offenders Act with this motion.
I am surprised by some of the statements I heard made by the mover of this motion. In particular I am referring to Dr. O'Shaughnessy. As a member of the committee I heard Dr. O'Shaughnessy speak.
My recollection, and I think the record will show this clearly, is that Dr. O'Shaughnessy agreed that the age for young offenders should remain at 12. It is very easy to selectively refer to witnesses and experts who have a particular opinion, but at the end of the day, as decision makers and legislators, we have to decide what is best based on the evidence presented to us and not be selective and say: "Well, expert A said that it should be lowered to the age of 10 and my mind is made up and that is good enough for me. I want to lower it to the age of 10".
I am very surprised by this because it is almost an Old Testament world where it is an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth. I think as a society we have moved beyond that.
The other part of this whole concept of tinkering with the Young Offenders Act begs the question where do the provinces fit into this. If we follow the motion that was passed by the members of the Reform Party at their policy convention, we will find that it is very consistent because we do not have to worry about the provinces. Everybody who commits an act that is deemed to be criminal is dealt with in the criminal courts regardless of age.
Therefore, if one asks the question where the provinces are in all of this, the answer is, if we follow their logic, the provinces have no place in this. Everybody, regardless of age, is capable of being a criminal in the worst sense of the word.
The provinces do have a role in this. There is no question about that. The provinces have child welfare legislation. I will certainly concede that it is not a uniform code across this country. Unfortunately that is the reality, but one can certainly suggest that there ought to be a uniform code across this country in terms of child welfare legislation.
We have heard references to the fact that an 11-year old will say to the police: "You cannot touch me. There is nothing you can do about it". In fact, that is an absolute fallacy because there are actions the police can take. I have no doubt that 11-year olds will say that. Certainly as a parent, children at various ages will say various things. It is part of their development into adulthood. However, to suggest that because they fall below the age of 12 that nothing can be done is quite frankly not true.
I want to first say that this motion is premature because the issues raised in this motion are three of the issues that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs will be reporting on shortly.
As members know, the standing committee has been travelling across Canada and has heard submissions from average Canadians, expert Canadians and Canadians from all walks of life and all positions within and without the criminal justice system. To move ahead now with this motion and to accept it without the benefit of the opinion of the standing committee, which in turn has benefited from the many Canadians who have appeared before it and have taken the time and energy to make submissions to the committee, would be an absolute insult to the people and would not show the committee the consideration that its opinion should deserve.
It seems to me that the appropriate solution in the circumstances is to wait merely for a couple of months until the committee tables its report.
I agree with my colleague that these are issues that are of concern, but with all due respect they are more complex than they at first appear. The issue of how to address violent activity by young people under the age of 12 is a particular difficult one, there is no question about that. I believe there is good reason for selecting the age of 12 as the minimum age for criminal responsibility under the Young Offenders Act. It is because of the concern that many children under the age of 12 lack the knowledge and experience to fully appreciate the nature and consequences of their actions or the ability to fully participate in the proceedings against them. These two capacities are fundamental to a fair and just criminal prosecution.
This is not to say that nothing is done, which I have already referred to, when children under 12 commit a criminal offence. In many provinces the commission of criminal offences by children under the age of 12 is a ground for intervention by child welfare authorities. These persons in conjunction with the family and the community can best determine how the long term interests of both the child and the community can be met.
In many cases, unlike the criminal proceedings, there is no open trial; not a trial in the sense of the law. In fact, it is a decision made
by child welfare authorities, a decision which we would hope would be in the best interests of the child. That is how it is dealt with.
To suggest the police could do nothing with an 11-year old is absolutely true. If we also follow the logic that we should lower the age to 10, what would happen when we have a 9-year old saying the same thing? If we keep following their logic, we are going to go right down to some mystical age like one or two and we will be able to lock them up.
Similarly, the issue of allowing for the publication of names of individuals convicted under the act is also complex. I want to remind this House that recent changes to the act which came into force on December 1, 1995 under Bill C-37 provide for greater information sharing among professionals like school officials and police to ensure compliance with the youth court orders, or when the safety of others is at stake. In addition, there can be a youth court order that the identity of a young offender found guilty of an offence involving serious personal injury be disclosed to designated person when the young offender poses a risk of serious harm to others.
At the same time a number of reasons support the prohibition of publications such as preventing barriers being imposed which could stand in the way of a youth becoming more positively involved in the community, including employment and educational opportunities.
The motion would require the immediate transfer to adult court of individuals being tried for the repeat offence of violent crimes. I know and the Minister of Justice knows that the commission of serious crimes by persons of any age is a cause of grave concern to all Canadians, but the best research available suggests that focusing merely on harsher treatment is neither going to be effective in deterring most youth from committing crimes in the first instance nor in preventing their reoffending and therefore offers no protection whatsoever to the public. Flexibility in the law to address the individual circumstances of each case is extremely important.
I will address the issue of the immediate transfer to adult court. I remind the House that in respect of most serious offences committed by older youths, this issue was already addressed in the amendments that came into force on December 1, 1995.
I emphasize that amendments to the legislation alone will not solve the problem of youth crime because it is tied to poverty, unemployment, family violence, racism, illiteracy, alcoholism, drug abuse and many other factors contributing to criminal behaviour in young people and in adults.
For a number of reasons this motion is premature. It is inconsistent with its mover's party position. It would be inappropriate for the House to adopt it without waiting for the full report of the standing committee on justice. Therefore I cannot support this motion.