House of Commons Hansard #100 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

An Act To Change The Names Of Certain Electoral DistrictsPrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman

Shall clause 2 carry?

On clause 2:

An Act To Change The Names Of Certain Electoral DistrictsPrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Patrick Gagnon Liberal Bonaventure—Îles-De-La-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I propose, seconded by the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata, the following amendment:

That the name of the electoral district of Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine be changed and that the future electoral district of Bonaventure-Gaspé-Îles-de-la-Madeleine be designated under the name of Pabok.

An Act To Change The Names Of Certain Electoral DistrictsPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman

The question is on the amendment to clause 2. Is it the pleasure of the committee to adopt the said amendment?

An Act To Change The Names Of Certain Electoral DistrictsPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Amendment agreed to.)

An Act To Change The Names Of Certain Electoral DistrictsPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Is clause 2 as amended agreed to?

(Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.)

(Clauses 3 to 20 inclusive agreed to.)

(Title agreed to.)

An Act To Change The Names Of Certain Electoral DistrictsPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Chairman, on a point of order. You were going so quickly through the clauses I thought perhaps you might get to 50, which of course would be very close to your own age when your birthday comes up. But you did not and I am glad to see that.

(Bill reported, read the third time and passed.)

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

1:25 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Similkameen—Merritt, BC

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend the Young Offenders Act: to reduce the age for whom it applies down to the age of 10 from the age of 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.

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the constituents of Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt who have sent me here to bring forward their concerns regarding the Young Offenders Act. Motion No. 278 states:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should amend the Young Offenders Act: to reduce the age for whom it applies down to the age of 10 from the age of 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.

It is interesting to note the speed at which some bills can move through this House as we just saw a bill pass all stages in the House of Commons in less than 10 minutes. I hope the House will take

this motion dealing with the Young Offenders Act as seriously and move it along through all stages just as quickly.

My constituents have asked me to bring this motion to the House because of the headlines that we read in our local newspapers almost daily. I brought some examples.

From the Penticton Herald : ``Teen charged in school standoff''. A 15-year old Princeton youth brought a gun into school and had an armed standoff with police. His name cannot be released because of the Young Offenders Act.

Another headline from the Penticton Herald : ``Squatters embark on wrecking spree''. There was damage in the tens of thousands of dollars after teens trashed a partially completed condo complex. Names cannot be released because of the Young Offenders Act.

"Osoyoos demands justice". Twelve hundred Osoyoos residents want two youths tried as adults for the hijacking of a school bus. The young offenders' names cannot be released because of the Young Offenders Act.

"Classmate says suspect obsessed with gun". Young offender cannot be named because of the act.

"Crown fights to keep youth killer off streets", was another headline in our newspapers recently. A dangerous young offender convicted of murder is set to be released from jail. His name, again, cannot be released because of the Young Offenders Act.

These are just some of the headlines we are greeted with in my riding. We must not be misled by these headlines. It is important to note that most young people are on their way to being upstanding members of society and will contribute in a positive fashion to our communities.

I worked for many years in the air cadet program. I know the vast majority of our children today are good kids. It is just a few bad apples that we are speaking of today. It is important to remember that when we speak about the Young Offenders Act, we are only speaking about youth who have committed crimes. Particularly, we are speaking today about violent and dangerous young offenders.

The Liberal government has done nothing to address the problems of the Young Offenders Act but we in the Reform Party are attempting to shore up the holes. My colleague, the hon. member for Crowfoot, the Reform Party justice critic has been working diligently on changing the Young Offenders Act and he should be applauded for his efforts. I am pleased to have his support in the House today.

As a former police officer, he brings to the debate a level of experience that one must respect. He has led the Reform Party in its attempts to change the Young Offenders Act. He has led the fight to recognize victims' rights. That is what my motion is about today, victims' rights and the Young Offenders Act.

I spent the summer touring my riding as I am sure other members did in theirs. I held town hall meetings in each and every corner of my riding. I met with people everywhere. Constituents told me that they are concerned about high taxes. They are concerned about health care. They are concerned about job creation. However, the number one issue on their minds, the single issue that was brought up at every single meeting I attended is the failure of the Young Offenders Act to protect our communities.

I was at a very interesting meeting this summer hosted by Darlene Harder of the Penticton Court Watch. Darlene is a no-nonsense woman with a keen sense of justice. She called together a group of people to meet in a church, a most appropriate place I thought to have a discussion about justice issues.

Darlene brought her group together to talk about what they could do to help fix the problems of youth crime in our riding. At the meeting there was a cross-section of people from the community. There were lawyers, teachers, doctors, old people and yes, there were young people. They had all gathered to express the same concern, that something needs to be done to address the fact that the Young Offenders Act seems to do more to protect the youth who commit crimes than it does the victims of violent youth crime.

As a result of the meeting of the Penticton Court Watch, Darlene Harder and her workers have put together a petition which when it is completed I will be pleased to present in this Chamber. The petition prays that the government amend the Young Offenders Act to change the age of young offenders down to 10 years from 12 years. The petition prays that the names of those convicted under the act be published and that individuals charged with repeat offences of violent crimes be automatically transferred to adult court. There are already 3,500 signatures on that petition.

I know that we are a very long way away from my beautiful riding of Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt and it is very hard for the Liberal government to hear the voices of their friends in British Columbia, but I hope it will listen today and join us in the Reform Party in supporting this motion. Every member of this House crossing every political line feels the same concerns that I am speaking about today from their constituents in their ridings. They are facing the same difficulties and the same problems of the good people of Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt with the Young Offenders Act.

A precedent setting case in Canadian case law occurred in my riding last June. The Young Offenders Act was failing to protect people in my riding so crown counsel sought to take action on their behalf.

A youth 17 years of age was convicted in the unprovoked shooting murder of a complete stranger, Edward McDermott of Keremeos in 1993. The young murderer was sentenced to three years in jail for the killing after which he would normally receive conditional release for a two-year probation period. However, in this particular case, several forensic psychiatrists said the accused was simply too dangerous to go back out onto the streets. Crown counsel in my riding applied under a never before used section of the Young Offenders Act to have the man kept in prison until the end of his term of probation. The crown won its case and this young offender will not be allowed to enter our communities.

This success story is the exception and not the rule. It is a sad comment that the crown had to go to such lengths to protect our society from someone who is protected by the Young Offenders Act. This is why we need these long overdue amendments to the Young Offenders Act.

Roy O'Shaughnessy is the clinical director of British Columbia's youth court services and youth forensic psychiatric services. He says that it should come as little surprise that the propensity for violence can extend even to the very young. He says that anti-social behaviour is a continuum which begins in its worst forms around the age of five or six, so there are a few kids starting to display aggressive violent behaviour even in preteen years. This group accounts for only about 20 per cent of adolescent offenders but commits the majority of serious crimes.

The first warning signs of this appear in the school yard among children who frequently fight, bully others and steal. As they approach their teenage years, they may already be engaged in violent criminal behaviour. What these youths also have in common is a stunning lack of empathy for their victims.

Most of these traits were clearly evident in 1993 in a case that focused the world's attention on the potential brutality of preteens. In Preston, England two 10-year old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, lured two-year old James Bulger away from his mother in a shopping centre and brutally beat him to death.

Let me refer briefly to a recent and equally infamous Canadian case that highlights the need for the reduction in age from 12 years to 10 years. This case also addresses the need for transfers to adult court, but I will be touching on that subject a little later on in my speech.

The case to which I am referring is that of Sandy Charles. In early August of this year Sandy Charles was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental illness for the murder of Johnathan Thimpsen, age seven, of La Ronge. The point of the story is not to highlight the brutality of some youth crimes but to remind members of a less publicized fact about this case. Sandy Charles had an accomplice who was eight years old. We can only refer to the accomplice as Mr. Charles claimed that M masterminded and motivated the killing.

Let me highlight one case that demonstrates how our streetsmart youth are all too well aware of how the Young Offenders Act serves as a shield to protect them.

In July of this year in a Toronto case a 13-year old girl told a hushed courtroom how an 11-year old helped two other boys, ages 13 and 15, to rape her. She testified that the older boys were about to let her go when the 11-year old insisted that they finish the job. Following the arrest of the 11-year old, he taunted police by saying: "You got me, so what are you going to do?" The reason he got off scot-free is that the Young Offenders Act does not apply to offenders of his age. This needs to be fixed.

If we support my motion today we can move to redress this obvious and glaring flaw in the Young Offenders Act.

Scott Newark, the executive director of the Canadian Police Association agrees that the age needs to be dropped from 12 to 10. Our Liberal friends across the way should listen to his advice.

The Prime Minister is a tremendous champion of British parliamentary tradition. In England and Wales, guess what the age for young offenders is. Ten years is the age of criminal responsibility. The Liberals and their Prime Minister should follow the lead of their friends across the ocean and support Reform's motion to reduce the age from 12 to 10 here in Canada.

Let us move on to the publishing of names. The principles of the Young Offenders Act establish its intent. I must disagree with the first principle of the act that puts the interests of the accused and convicted ahead of the interests of the victims and society at large. It is that disagreement with the act which motivates my interest to have published the names of violent young offenders. I believe that publishing the names of violent young offenders will go one more step toward protecting society.

The act states in its declaration of principle that "society must, although it has the responsibility to take reasonable measures to prevent criminal conduct by young persons, be afforded the necessary protection from illegal behaviour". Many learned commentators have pointed out the tensions within these principles. Nowhere in the principles are the rights of victims mentioned. Further, the reference to protecting society is ambiguous. The act needs to be amended to fix this problem.

The principles of the Young Offenders Act allow the names of violent young offenders to not be published. I do not believe that the names of all young offenders should be published, but the names of violent and dangerous young offenders should definitely be published. In all cases the protection of society as a whole should be paramount. To that extent a young offender should

sacrifice some privacy when he or she has committed a violent and dangerous crime.

When we have violent young offenders, their privacy rights should be subordinate to the rights of society to be protected. In some cases information should be made public or at least available to the public in order that people in positions of authority, like teachers and parents, can make informed decisions to protect their charges and their children. A school principal may not know if a student has been convicted numerous times of drug trafficking. A parent may not know that his child is associating with an offender who has been convicted of a series of rapes.

The young man next door, entrusted with babysitting children, could be another Jason Gamache. Gamache was a young offender convicted of multiple sexual assaults. He began to babysit the girl next door. Gamache was a convicted repeat sex offender and by law, thanks to the Young Offenders Act, his name was never made public. Gamache lured the girl into the woods, sexually assaulted her and then murdered her. She might be alive today if his name had been allowed to be published. The parents of that little girl were not able to make an informed decision to protect their child and as a result she fell prey to a predator who this system protects.

The first penalty paid for committing a criminal offence against society ought to be full disclosure of who the person is, where they come from and what they have done. Names should be published.

Let me quote from my hon. colleague from Crowfoot who said on June 20, 1994, about publishing the names of young offenders that the names of victims and the horrific details of the crimes perpetrated on them are open to public scrutiny, but the names of the offenders remain a state secret. The young faces in Canada's courts and jails are like masks. They hide society's ugliest scars, scars that will fester unless they are exposed.

Let me speak to the issue of transferring violent young offenders to adult court. Statistics Canada reports that only 94 cases of young offenders were transferred to adult court in 1993-94. Of the 94 youths transferred to adult court, six were charged with murder. It is important to note that in the same year six youths were transferred to adult court to be tried for committing murder, 24 youths were not transferred to adult court after having committed murder. In 1993-94, of 30 youths who were charged with murder, only six, or 20 per cent, were transferred to adult court.

The Liberals amended the Young Offenders Act in 1995 affecting the transfer to adult court of young offenders. The amendments caused 16 and 17-year-olds to be presumptively transferred to adult court if they were charged with murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated assault. However, the youth or the crown may seek to transfer down to youth court. This is a faint hope clause for young offenders.

We want those youth who demonstrate a lack of interest or ability to rehabilitate themselves after having committed a crime of violence, those youth who reoffend, those youth who repeat violent crimes to be automatically transferred to adult court. That is one of the key components of this motion today.

Statistics Canada reported in early August of this year that the violent youth crime rate has continued to increase and last year it stood at twice the rate it was in 1986.

I cited earlier an expert in British Columbia. Allow me to do so again. According to Roy O'Shaughnessy, the perception that a segment of young people is becoming more brutally violent is well founded. He said: "The type of crime we are seeing now is different from what we saw 10 years ago. We are seeing more use of weapons, more gang related activity, more violent behaviour". Canadians do not have a problem believing this.

I read some of the headlines from my riding. It was not long ago that we saw a story about a school bus that was hijacked in my riding. The hijackers were young offenders carrying a gun. Thankfully, tragedy was averted and all the children were safely returned to their parents. However, this type of incident is not isolated and youth who repeatedly commit violent crimes of this kind should be automatically transferred to adult court. While the motion we are debating today deals predominately with young offenders, it proposes a means of amending it in ways to better safeguard society and more fairly treat people who commit crimes.

Let us not forget that the challenge still remains of how to develop a co-ordinated response to youth crime while respecting the different roles played by child welfare, health, education and the youth justice system.

I thank the House for its time today. I would like to ask for the unanimous consent of the House to consider Motion No. 278 to be a votable motion.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

November 8th, 1996 / 1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House?

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

There is no unanimous consent.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphan Tremblay Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion M-278. I have just listened to the remarks of my colleague on this side of the House. He has mentioned some incidents that I, and many people in this society, find very sad. They are extremely reprehensible, I agree, and we

can see that there is a malaise in this society. But I do not agree with him on the way to resolve these problems.

I will begin my speech by summing up the member's thinking as follows: "My son, if you play with fire, I will punish you". I do not think this is the route to take. Rather, let us say: "My son, I am going to teach you that you must not play with fire and why you must not do so". What I am getting at is that legislation will have no effect on these young people. It will certainly not steer them away from criminal behaviour.

Recently, I was talking with a street worker in Alma, a city in my riding. The way she works with young people, who are sometimes in difficulty, who have completely lost hope, is not by saying to them: "Listen, if you do that, you will be punished, so you should not do that". I do not know if some members here are cut off from the real world, but young people, I would not say all of them, but many young people, get a kick out of breaking the law. We will not improve matters by bringing in tougher legislation.

I am inclined to think that the member on this side of the House wants to block out the world. Some people shut themselves up in their houses because they are afraid, the world is crazy, and they think they must bring in tougher laws to put these young people back on the straight and narrow. It is my belief that we must try to help them, rather than bring in even harsher legislation. They must be given hope.

When the member says that the public must be protected by laws that make people think twice, laws that will improve things, I have my doubts. It looks more to me like we are putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. This is not the answer. We must find the courage to treat the wound itself.

I know that sounds easy to say, but there are ways. In my view, rather than bring in tougher and tougher legislation, we must approach these young people and try to understand why they are turning to crime. The essence of my speech is more or less this: let us not just put on a bigger band-aid, particularly since young people are not familiar with the law.

Of course, there is talk of dropping the age limit of young offenders to 10 years, from 12. Come on. Even at 14, I cannot give any specific statistics, but how many people of any age are familiar with the laws of this country? When all is said and done, people do not know much about them. So imagine a 14-year old. We will not accomplish anything by throwing more severe laws at them.

It is extremely difficult, I agree, to propose concrete solutions. They are very much at the grassroots level.

I believe that street workers play a very significant role. I do not know if they can be found in every city in the country, but these individuals have the courage to approach young people who might be in trouble, to speak to them, to give them hope. In Quebec, we have help groups such as Tel-Jeunes, which allows young people to talk to someone about their troubles when they are having a rough time.

In the end, we must ask ourselves what is happening to our society and how come it is the way it is, instead of pointing our finger at young people, saying they must be punished. It is not their fault if they are the way they are, I believe there are other problems. To study all the reasons why they commit such serious offenses might lead us to an in-depth sociological debate. We must be careful.

I am certainly not saying I approve of the offenses committed by these young people, far from it, but I seriously doubt a stronger law can convince young people to behave. I seriously doubt it.

What are we talking about in this case? When a young person between 12 and 18 commits a minor crime or the kind of crime committed by most young offenders, he comes under the Young Offenders Act, which is a little different from the laws applying to adults. Younger children are, considered perhaps not careless, but easier to talk into repeating an offence.

What Reform is proposing is to reduce the minimum age from 12 to 10, which is harsher in the end.

I would also point out that Canada's crime rate is dropping. I feel we are trying to alarm the population by saying it does not make sense. Perhaps it is true that it does not make sense, but we have to see the positive side of things, such as the fact that the crime rate is going down in Canada. Is it necessary to make our laws harsher? I doubt it very much.

Local discussions involving stakeholders who see this current loss of hope among our young people will do a great deal more to revive young people's hopes. Young people do not commit crimes for the sake of it. Recently, I recently had a discussion with a criminology professor, who told me that the rise in crime is like a message sent by our young people to the rest of society. They also want their share.

In the animal world, those who are hungry are prepared to attack the stronger ones to get their share of the food. What is happening throughout the world is a bit alarming. Young people are losing hope and these extremes push them to commit criminal acts. Again, I do not approve such acts. However, instead of resorting to punishment, we should hold out our hand to them and lead them toward much more constructive solutions.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

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.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Reform Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for bringing this motion forward at this time. As the member who just spoke indicated, some members of the standing committee have just finished a cross-country tour to examine various aspects of the Young Offenders Act under the direction of the justice minister. He asked us to look at lowering the age from 12 to 10, and from 17 to 15. He asked us to look at the whole business of disclosure.

This motion is not a votable motion because my colleagues from the Liberal Party voted against that. It gives us an opportunity, at least those of us who have spent the last month or so travelling across this country listening to experts and others expressing their views on these issues that the justice minister asked us to examine, to examine what we have heard in light of the possibility of some of these amendments. The people who are going to finally decide on these issues of course will be the electorate in the next election. If we are going to make recommendations for changes, I have always looked for balance in the presentations that appeared before the committee, and sometimes they were balanced and sometimes they were not. Some members or witnesses were totally concerned with the rehabilitation of the members and they did not believe that the disclosure of names would aid and abet the rehabilitation of those individuals.

They would not take into consideration the other side of the equation which was of course the safety of the public in the case of a sexual offender or on those rare occasions when it might be necessary and in the best interest of the public to disclose the name of the repeat violent offender or the sexual offender so that not only would groups in society have that information to defend themselves and their children from the actions or potential actions of those individuals but also there are groups and individuals in society who may want to come forward and offer assistance and help to those individuals. Without that knowledge they would not be able to do so.

There is one point I would like to touch on in my examination of this motion, the area of reducing the age from 12 to 10.

The Canadian Police Association supports lowering the age of criminal responsibility in recognition of the fact based on experience that there are offenders under 12 years of age who currently slip through the system and go on to be full fledged youth criminals because the justice system cannot deal with them.

As mentioned by my colleague, in the spring of this year an 11-year old Toronto boy with accomplices aged 10, 13 and 15 abducted and raped a 13-year old girl. This young offender was well known to the police because they had picked him up on more

than one occasion in the past. This juvenile individual taunted police with the fact that they could not charge him.

If the Liberal justice minister and his government believe that 10 and 11-year olds should be held accountable for their criminal actions and if they had heeded our well founded advice and amended the YOA under Bill C-37 to include 10 and 11-year olds, there may have been one less rape victim in the city of Toronto. One less person may not have been so brutally traumatised as this 13-year old girl.

The Liberals may have ignored us and our recommendation to lower the age to 10 and 11-year olds but they cannot ignore the experts. They cannot ignore the Canadian Police Association and they cannot ignore Professor Nicholas Bala, associate dean of the faculty of law at Queen's University. On May 9 Professor Bala testified before the justice committee. Contained in his comments were a number of statistics which I would like to reiterate.

He stated: "I summarized the work of a 1992 StatsCanada survey of 27 police forces in Canada. The data indicated that offending behaviour by children under 12 is a significant problem, although it is a relatively small part of Canada's total crime picture. The study indicates that children under 12 committed about 1.2 per cent of all crimes compared to 20.8 per cent by young persons and 78 per cent by adults".

During his deliberations Professor Bala referred the justice committee to a paper he wrote on behalf of the Department of Justice. This Queen's law professor's paper was not circulated to members of the committee and I have yet to ask the committee why the paper was not made available. I question whether or not this paper was to meet the same fate as Terrance Wade's report which was also commissioned by the Department of Justice. Wade's incriminating paper regarding the handgun registration system was not made public, nor was it easily attainable until some members including myself inadvertently received a copy.

Fortunately I have obtained a copy of Professor Bala's paper entitled "Responding to Criminal Behaviour of Children Under Twelve: An Analysis of Canadian Law in Practice". This report provides some additional statistics which Professor Bala did not reveal to the committee during his appearance before the committee.

The report states: "While some of the reports of the offender behaviour involved children as young as four or five, the police reports indicate that almost two-thirds of the offences by children under twelve involve 10 and 11-year olds. Males accounted for 89 per cent of the children involved. While most of the crimes were property related, one major offence of concern is arson. About 13 per cent of all arson cases involve children aged 12. About 6 per cent of the offences by children under 12 involve violence, for a total of 275 victims. Only 4 per cent of the victims of these assaults were family members of the offender; 2 per cent were close friends; 12 per cent were strangers and 82 per cent were acquaintances; 74 per cent of the assaults involved physical force; 8 per cent involved knives; 7 per cent involved clubs; 10 per cent other instruments and 1 per cent guns".

Referring to a paper released by the Department of Justice in 1994, Professor Bala said the paper raised: "Some disturbing questions about sexual offending by children under the age of 12. Based on police records, about 20 per cent of all sex offences were committed by youth under 18. Of these, about 10 per cent were committed by children under the age of 12. Many of the acts committed by this youngest age group were such highly intrusive acts as oral sex and vaginal penetration".

This is information provided in the study commission by the justice department and paid for by the taxpayer, a report that was not circulated to members of the committee.

On page 5 of the report Bala concludes: "Present legal responses are not totally adequate and serious consideration should be given to lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 10, with restrictions to ensure that a criminal response is used in an appropriate and restrained fashion".

Professor Bala told the committee that his paper is: "Probably one of the most exhaustive, recent treatments of the issues by an academic in this country. It traces the history, the variation in provincial offence rates and responses and some of the problems that are there and comes up with the ultimate conclusion".

Professor Bala cited the findings of Dr. Peterson-Badaili and Dr. Rona Abramovitch. Dr. Peterson-Badaili gave 144 students in grades 5 to 8, roughly ages 10 to 14 a series of questions about hypothetical criminal offences committed by children and adolescents. She found that all of the children were: "Reasonably accurate at identifying specifically what the transgression was. These results suggest that at least when the offence is relatively straightforward, children are capable of understanding what constitutes a criminal action. This is an important point since comprehension of wrongdoing is a prerequisite to criminal responsibility. It is already acknowledged in our juvenile laws that it does not make sense to hold a child responsible for an action that he or she did not know was wrong".

The work of the Canadian psychologist, Thomas Dalby, Alan Leschied and Susan Wilson was also referred to by Bala.

I see that I am running out of time. The report is there for all members of the House to read. It recommends, based on findings and exhaustive investigation into this particular area, that the age of criminality should be reduced from 12 to 10. I hope that when the committee looks at its final report and considers this particular

area that the justice minister asked us to examine, it will consider Professor Bala's testimony and his report together.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Liberal

Shaughnessy Cohen Liberal Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to join in the debate because it gives me an opportunity to respond to yet another Reform simple minded, facile, quick fix proposal.

Reform Party members have already made up their minds about the Young Offenders Act. The thought that they want to amend it now certainly rings hollow. The Reform fresh start pamphlet says under the category of safe streets that Reformers promise to eliminate the Young Offenders Act and replace it with laws making juvenile offenders accountable for their actions. If they want to eliminate it, I have no idea why they want to amend it at this time. Inconsistency, I suppose, is not something that they have any trouble dealing with because they are inconsistent in many ways.

They claim that the people of Canada are obsessed by youth crime. They use inflammatory rhetoric and, quite frankly, misleading information or misinformation to support that claim and to fire up the public who listen to them without realizing that they do not have the statistics, the numbers or the research to back up what they say.

What is interesting to me is that the member for Crowfoot, who is the only member of the Reform Party who travels with the justice committee which I chair, has said from the very beginning that he thinks the age should be lowered. He thinks we should change the publication terms of the act. He is still saying the same thing after five weeks of touring the country and listening to people on all sides of the issue. Members of his party are still saying the same thing they were saying during the last election campaign. They have not listened to Canadians.

In an absolutely unbelievable act yesterday, those members moved to try to prevent the justice committee from completing its deliberations by hearing from Canadians across the country. I am happy to announce to all of Canada today that their little, cynical act did not work. I can announce that the justice committee, on November 22, will spend a day with 40 experts and ordinary citizens from across the country trying to reconcile the different views on the issue of youth justice.

Members of the Reform Party tried to prevent us from hearing from Canadians. They tried to prevent us, at the same time, because the hearings will be televised, from sharing this massive information and discussion with all of Canada. They tried to prevent us from doing that. They tried to stifle debate. However, we caught them and we stopped them. Fortunately for Canadians, we will have an excellent chance to review all of these issues.

Members of the Reform Party have tried to pre-empt debate today by bringing this motion, knowing that it is their intention to eliminate the act altogether. But I have it figured out. They know they will never form a government, so they will never get a chance to eliminate the act in any event.

The first speaker from the Reform Party talked about and quoted an eminent psychiatrist from Vancouver, Dr. Roy O'Shaughnessy. Dr. O'Shaughnessy also said what the member for Crowfoot and the mover of this motion have conveniently not included. Dr. O'Shaughnessy commented on the age of 12 years as being the cut-off age in the Young Offenders Act. As a developmental psychiatrist with an expertise in child development, when I told him that age 12 was a fairly arbitrary selection that was a compromise among the different provincial views, he said to me: "Oh, is that not funny? I thought it was chosen because in terms of child development it is the perfect age. It is the average age at which one could attribute some form of culpability". It is funny that the member for Crowfoot did not quote that.

The mover of the motion said that Liberals have done nothing with respect to the Young Offenders Act and, by inference, with respect to youth justice. Let me quote Sean Durkan who is a columnist with the Sun chain of newspapers. In the Ottawa Sun in July 1994 Mr. Durkan said the following: ``Jean Chrétien's red book brigade has introduced more tough law and order legislation in a little under nine months in office than the Tories did during nine years in power''.

Under our red book commitment we said this: "Every person has a right to personal security and a Liberal government will move to protect that right, with particular attention being paid to those who today, by virtue of gender, sex, religion, age or sexual orientation, are more likely to be targets of violent crime".

We then introduced Bill C-41, which was given royal assent in July of 1995 to provide that in sentencing a judge must consider those characteristics.

Did the Reform Party join us in trying to make the streets of Canada safer, in trying to make the homes of Canada safer? No, instead it focused on the words sexual orientation in that bill. Its members voted against it.

We promised in the red book to strengthen gun control: "A Liberal government will, among other measures, counter the illegal importation of banned and restricted firearms into Canada and prohibit anyone convicted of an indictable drug related offence, a stalking offence or any violent offence from owning or possessing a gun". We had massive public backing for this, including the active support of the Canadian Police Association. Did the Reform Party support it? No.

We promised to reform the Young Offenders Act to increase sentence length for violent crimes, to ensure that treatment and rehabilitation services are available to all convicted young offenders and we promised to review the act. Bill C-37 amended the Young Offenders Act. Are Reformers commenting on that? No.

Nor are they admitting that it created longer sentences in youth court for young people where first or second degree murder applied; that it transferred 16 and 17-year olds charged more easily to adult court; that it provided better rehabilitation for lesser crimes; that it improved measures for information sharing, which they are talking about today. Did they admit that? No.

This motion is somewhat disingenuous. It is inconsistent with their party policies. It is inconsistent with their participation in the justice committee review of the Young Offenders Act, another promise that we are keeping, and it is inconsistent with anyone who is concerned about family values and about safer streets. Why do they not just play ball?

I will tell members why. It is just politics as usual with the Reformers. They do not care about anything but getting re-elected.

We are very busy in the Commons justice committee trying to make the streets safer for Canadians and trying to deal honestly, openly and fairly with young people who go astray in our society.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Liberal Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been moved to say a few words in the last two and a half minutes of debate.

I too have been a principal, a teacher and a superintendent. I taught both elementary and secondary school. I find that the characterization that my colleagues from Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt and Crowfoot have put on young people in the last hour is totally without foundation with respect to the majority of those young people.

I found them almost completely and totally honest, ready to learn, ready to admit, ready to be compassionate people. I also met some who, because of upbringing or lack of love in their own life, perhaps nutrition, perhaps the experiences they had suffered which were not of their own doing, were confused and, hence, reacted violently sometimes to the due discipline which we tried to bring out. However, to suggest that we are somehow going to cure this problem by punishing them even more severely totally escapes me.

My colleague from Windsor-St. Clair used the word inconsistent. I find it most inconsistent. My colleague from Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt mentioned a meeting in a church, which came up with the suggestion, it seemed to me, that we should ignore the teachings of Christ, we should ignore our forgiveness of sins, we should ignore allowing the little children to come unto us, we should ignore doing unto others and asking us to forgive our trespasses by making perfectly sure we made it clear that we branded everybody under 12 who committed a violent, sexual or otherwise untoward crime for the rest of their lives.

We had enough of that this week when we saw an eminent Canadian damned for something he did at 19, like wearing a swastika. If we are going to continue to run our country, our government or make our laws on the basis of what happened 50 years ago, 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago, we are never going to reach the promised land.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

Order. The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped from the Order Paper.

Young Offenders ActPrivate Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Milliken)

It being 2.30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday, November 18, 1996 at11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2.30 p.m.)