Madam Speaker, I am pleased to support private member's Motion No. 261 by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. I congratulate him on bringing this matter forward.
The underlying concern it represents for our children, particularly the ages encompassed by the bill from time of birth until age 8, is a concern that will receive support from people across the country. I think it will receive support in the hearts of every member in the House.
When we did the 10 year review of the Young Offenders Act we travelled across the country and listened to witnesses, both expert and professional, as well as lay people who had an interest in the whole area of the development of youth, of preventing youth crime and wrestling with the question regarding what to do with the very small percentage of violent young offenders who do create a threat to the lives and safety of members of our society.
During that hearing experts told us that aberrant and over aggressive behaviour could be spotted as early as grades one, two and three in the schools by teachers.
I want to assure my Bloc colleagues that when we arrived in Quebec, we found that Quebec had programs far ahead of some of the other provinces. To set their minds more at ease, in the Young Offenders Act meetings that we are holding across western Canada today, as I stand and speak I make mention of the fact that there are programs in Quebec that ought to be looked at and perhaps emulated by other provinces if they have a real concern about dealing with the early detection and preventive programs.
This is the three level approach that my party has taken to the whole area of the Young Offenders Act. The two areas, of course, lie within the jurisdiction of the provinces. The first is the early detection and prevention where resources are placed in the programs where a teacher, for example, seeing a child having difficulties can refer that child to a program of the provincial government where the child as well as the parents can receive the help they need to keep that young child on track.
We think this is a very worthwhile program, very much along the lines of the head start program that my colleague from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is referring to in this motion. There are aspects of this ongoing in Canada already. My colleague from across the way earlier mentioned the head start programs in some of the aboriginal communities in Canada.
What we want to do through this motion is create a greater awareness of the need to help the children and the benefit, not only from a societal point of view but from the economic point of view, as my colleague who just finished speaking touched on, we think is extremely important.
We also looked at programs such as the Sparwood program and the Maple Ridge program in B.C., two excellent programs where young children who get into difficulty for the first or second time with the law are diverted from the court system into these community justice systems.
We met last week with Lola Chapman who heads the Maple Ridge program. She gave us some astounding figures that gave me and my colleagues great hope and encouragement that we can keep more of our young children out of the criminal justice system while at the same time catching them at a time when rehab efforts will have the greatest impact on them.
Let me give an example. The figures she gave us started three years ago. At that time in her area there was a juvenile court sitting once a week and approximately 45 to 60 young offenders passed before the court during one day. That is now down to an average of eight per day. That is a very commendable achievement on the part of those very concerned and dedicated volunteers who support the program and work with the young people who are referred to them rather than taking them into the court system. The police and now the crown are able to refer them to this program that has been running for approximately three years.
Miss Chapman spoke about the success rate and I asked her to define what success meant. She said they consider a success to include any young offender who has not repeated within at least a year's time. She also said their success rate was 94%. That is very commendable. The Sparwood program is a little different but still has the same high success rate of over 90% in dealing with young people who have brushed with the law for the first time and who have never returned to difficulties. This is very commendable.
When we look from the federal point of view of how to reduce the number of people entering the youth justice system and what we should really be doing with the Young Offenders Act we are encouraged by these two programs. This is the early detection and preventive program, the best of which I have seen so far in Quebec, and also the diversion program. This program is involved when young people get into difficulties for the first or second time and they are diverted away from court. They have concerned people who will stick with them 7 days a week, 24 hours a day to help and guide them.
In those cases involving restitution in 100% of the cases restitution has been paid and that again is another astonishing figure. It shows the degree of accountability and responsibility that we need to engender in our young people so that when they become adults they have that sense of responsibility with them.
When we look at this whole area of the youth justice system and what we should be doing with the Young Offenders Act, we could introduce and have every community set up its own unique program similar to what the Sparwood and Maple Ridge programs have set up. I understand they are spreading across the provinces and it is into Alberta now.
We could reduce that very small percentage of violent young offenders who threaten the lives and safety of members of society. As the federal government and as federal politicians we have to wrestle with that problem. What do we do with that very small percentage of violent young offenders who threaten the lives and safety of members of our society?
We must not shrink from the use of incarceration. At the same time we must ensure that our educational programs and other rehab programs in the institutions are sound and are getting through to our young people so that the possibility of rehabilitation is very real.
We visited closed custody and open custody facilities. We did not see very much to encourage us with regard to the rehab programs. In most cases they are voluntary and are not compulsory. Young offenders can sit and watch TV or play cards if they do not want to engage in the programs.
This motion brings an awareness. If that awareness is followed through it will strengthen the early detection and prevention programs at the point where it is so badly needed.
I only have another minute or so but I want to refer to the Sydney mines project outside Sydney, Nova Scotia which we visited. It involves children who have fallen through the cracks, who have had to leave school, have bumped into the law and so on. They are doing a magnificent job in getting those young children up to speed in educational areas. They are getting them on track and are moving forward. There have been enormous successes.
We must divert our resources from the back end to the front end so that we do not have a continually expanding criminal justice system which simply eats away at more dollars and does not attack the real cause of crime.
If poverty is a cause of crime which in many cases it is, then we should look at the high taxation levels which have left one family in every five living in poverty.