Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the opposition motion put forward by the member for Fraser Valley West, the victims' bill of rights.
Crime and victimization are complex and challenging social problems. The government believes dealing with these issues requires a thoughtful, informed and long term approach, one that deals with the early causes of crime.
A two-month old baby is left to cry when he needs comfort so that he will not be spoiled. A three-year old girl hears her dad abuse her mom one more time. A pregnant woman has another drink. What do these situations have to do with crime prevention and community safety? As isolated incidents maybe not a lot, but when they represent patterns for these children, the outcome may have an impact on crime and victimization.
Under the safe homes, safe streets initiative, the government formed the Canadian National Crime Prevention Council, an independent council of 25 volunteers from across the country. Its main focus is on the needs of children and youth and its commitment is to crime prevention through social development.
Thanks to the council's work we are discovering some of the links, links between what happens to children from the prenatal stage to six years old and what becomes of them as adolescents and later as adults in our communities. The child victim often becomes the criminal offender. The reasons for this are varied and complex.
We know quite a bit about the childhood experiences of persistent offenders. We want to apply this knowledge to help children and families when they need it most. Poverty can bring with it a host of threats to children, including poor health, high family stress and difficulty forming warm, secure attachments to caregivers.
Risks to a fetus, including fetal alcohol syndrome and low birth weight, may affect a baby's brain development which can lead to hyperactivity, emotional problems and then to school failure, a risk factor in itself of delinquent behaviour. When parents do not get along and are unresponsive or overly authoritarian, children are also at risk. Socially competent children need emotionally available parents.
The community and the broader society in which our children grow can make a tremendous difference, not only in terms of financial support but also by encouraging resilience in high risk children. Resilient children who succeed despite having the odds stacked against them share certain traits. Many of these protective traits result from family and social influences.
Optimism for example has its roots in infancy, in a child being able to count on life feeling good. Competence, another such trait, depends on the support, encouragement and opportunities provided by interested adults. If a parent cannot provide the support, then another relative, a family friend or member of the community can step in and fill the gap.
Although much of this knowledge may seem like common sense, it must not be ignored when we develop policies and programs in response to crime and victimization. The lessons of early prevention are often pushed aside in the rush for harsher penalties for young offenders. There is even a demand by some for more of those charged with non-violent crimes to be imprisoned. This response may reflect our empathy for victims but it does not get at the underlying factors which lead to crime.
What do parents, families and communities need to nurture children in loving, supportive environments? If a child or teen breaks the law, what is the best way to intervene, to repair the harm done to the victim and to prevent a second crime? A victims bill of rights would not protect a child from abuse, provide him with a hot breakfast or a sympathetic ear. The way to prevent Canadians from becoming victims in the first place is to nurture, value and protect our children. For it is the neglected, abused and mistreated child who is most likely to find himself or herself involved in criminal activity later in life, a pattern that can be broken before it is too late.
The National Crime Prevention Council has been working in this vein on a prevention guide book for Canadians. The guide book will explain how crime and victimization can be traced back to childhood and how we can prevent crime from happening in the first place. I am sure that members of the House join me in looking forward to the launch of the guide book at the June Atlantic crime prevention conference in P.E.I. Early prevention is the key.
I am pleased to advise the House and the member for Fraser Valley West that I will support this motion. It is a step in the right direction. However, we must focus on the formative years of our children to ensure they do not reach a state where they are heavily involved in crime.