Madam Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for bringing forward this important motion to the House. I hope that he has as much success in influencing the agenda for change as he did with respect to the land mines issue.
This is a serious motion which deserves a serious and thoughtful response. The essence of the motion links rising crime among young offenders with dysfunctional family dynamics.
Do we put resources in at the front end of a child's life or do we pay for it later on through involvement in the justice system? Are the resources to go to programs to help families or do we build bigger jails? Either way, we are going to spend resources. What is the best way to spend them?
Stating the question is easy. The answer, however, is far more problematic. Unfortunately influence in society is not like physics. Every action has an opposite and equal reaction in physics, but the same cannot be said of the sociology of social programs.
In his support material the hon. member makes reference to programs in Hawaii and New Brunswick. I am not so pretentious as to dispute the efficacy of the programs or their research. However, those results may not necessarily play out in a larger, less controlled societal environment. In other words, the larger the target community, the less measurable will be the results.
There does seem to be a correlation between a drop in juvenile crime and meeting the basic needs of children. However, it is not as neat as we would like it to be. There appears to be a correlation but it is not neat.
I draw attention to an article by Cathy Campbell in Child Health , winter issue 1998, volume 20, quoting Dr. Clyde Hertzman, professor of health care and epidemiology at UBC: “Lower income children who get good early childhood education are healthier, go further in school, get better jobs and rely less on the social welfare system”.
The National Crime Prevention Council estimates that crime costs Canada $46 billion annually. If we took $1 million and invested it in prison space for career criminals this would prevent 60 crimes annually. If we took the same amount and used it to monitor 12 and 13 year old delinquents it would prevent 72 crimes a year. Further, if that $1 million were invested in incentives for young people to graduate from high school it could be estimated that we would save 258 crimes annually.
In some manner we visit this dilemma every time there is a major crime involving a juvenile which generates media attention or when there is government initiated legislation in the field. If and when the government tables its response to the justice committee's report and recommendations on young offenders this debate will be played out again.
Canada incarcerates children at the rate of four times that of the United States and 15 times that of the average European nation. So much for being a kinder and gentler version of the United States. We are world class incarcerators of juveniles.
I do not think that is something to be proud of. It certainly gives one pause to consider one's very sense of who we are as Canadians.
Canadians believe that juvenile crime is out of control, that they are at risk every time they go to the store to pick up a bag of milk or a carton of cigarettes. Yet arguably the young offenders legislation is tough enough and puts away far more children than any other civilized nation.
There is a discrepancy between what Canadians believe and what is the reality of the legislation. The hon. member proposes a long term solution which has some merit. Some members of his party could easily be described as people who feel that the government is not tough enough on crime, that the government is made up of a bunch of wimps, that the young offenders legislation is not tough enough.
The government responds, as it did through the minister of state for children and youth, by saying look at all the things it is doing. There was the Speech from the Throne, the aboriginal head start programs, the Canada prenatal nutrition program, the $850 million in the budget and a further $850 million promised for a child benefit system. The debate goes on and on.
One side firmly believes that we should toughen up all legislation affecting youth and youth crime and the other is saying we need more head start programs.
I do not find myself seriously disagreeing with the hon. member's motion. I might quibble with the wording to ensure that children are seen as part of the family and that programs should be tailored to support the family. Beyond that, I would see his motion as something that supports government initiatives and the general direction of this government. Only it urges a more coherent view on the government.
I support the thrust of this motion. However, I am concerned that there is not an easy correlation between head start programs and crime reduction. The government should continue to monitor its initiatives in light of the tests set out in this motion.