That this House condemn the government for the deplorable state of Canada's criminal justice system, and the government's lack of concern for public safety, as demonstrated by their refusal to: ( a ) strengthen the Young Offenders Act; ( b ) abolish conditional sentencing for violent offenders; and ( c ) introduce a Victims' Bill of Rights.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford.
Today's supply day motion is aimed at strengthening Canada's criminal justice system. Canadians have lost faith in our justice system because it caters to criminals and it ignores victims.
The Liberal government has mismanaged our justice system so badly that the protection of society is not its primary purpose. The Liberal purpose for the justice system is the quick release of offenders and the protection of their rights. The justice system has become a revolving door for criminals. They go into prison knowing they will only serve a fraction of their sentences before being released, free to pursue their criminal activities.
The solicitor general, the minister in charge of prisons, said in January that he wants more low risk, non-violent offenders on the streets. Let us examine exactly what the Liberals consider to be non-violent, low risk offenders. Rapists and pedophiles have been released into many communities thanks to this Liberal government's conditional sentencing program. Conditional sentencing means offenders serve their time in the community subject to certain parole style conditions. The Liberals treat these despicable members of our society as upstanding citizens whom they consider to be low risk and not deserving of jail time.
On May 19 the Globe and Mail featured a story in which a Windsor woman was in a grocery store and ran into the man who was convicted of raping her. The man had been sentenced only a few weeks earlier and was given 18 months of house arrest. A 63-year old Kelowna man sexually assaulted his niece and received a conditional sentence. Two Montreal rapists received conditional sentences. The list goes on and on.
On December 8, 1997 the justice minister stated in this House: “We agree in principle that conditional sentencing is working well”. Working well for whom? It works great for the criminals, that is for sure. But there you have it. The Liberals are most concerned with criminal rights. The Liberal focus is on what is best for the criminals, not on what is best for society. The previous justice minister, now the discredited health minister, agreed to a victims bill of rights over two years ago and we are still waiting. Victims are still waiting and still nothing from the justice department.
The justice committee spent almost a year travelling across the country, consulting and hearing testimony on proposed reforms to the Young Offenders Act. It tabled a comprehensive report in April 1997. The Liberals have had that report for over a year but what has the minister done? Did she bring in legislation? No. Did she introduce tough new measures to deal with young thugs? No. Did she display a keen interest in taking on youth crime and defeating it? No. Instead, over a year later the justice minister released a glossy discussion paper complete with a colourful logo. She calls it a strategy paper but what it amounts to is more stalling and more delays in reforming the flawed Young Offenders Act.
I speak about the Young Offenders Act as a representative of a province that is all too familiar with the problem of youth crime. Saskatchewan has the highest rate of youth crime in the country on a per capita basis. Regina and Saskatoon are ranked first and third among Canadian cities when it comes to break and enters, most committed by teens.
Carol Wright of North Battleford was so sickened by the Young Offenders Act that she created a petition signed by 70,000 people. And what is the justice minister's response? What does the justice minister offer Ms. Wright and other residents of Saskatchewan plagued by youth crime? The minister released a pamphlet entitled “Canada's Youth Justice Renewal Strategy” which is coloured and designed like a fancy promotion piece. Typical Liberals, do nothing, just discuss, release a paper, discuss some more, study it, have a report.
How much longer do Canadians have to wait? How much longer does our safety have to be compromised before this government will act? How much longer must Canadians live in fear of walking down the streets in their own communities and in their own neighbourhoods? The minister's colourful PR package does nothing to make our streets safer or to address the concerns Canadians have about youth crime.
The minister's proposals leave too much discretion in the hands of judges. We have seen where that has led with conditional sentencing. In typical Liberal fashion it is left up to a judge to decide whether names should be published and whether a violent young offender should face an adult sentence. So-called special sentencing options will also be left to the discretion of judges.
Rather than ensuring young offenders face stiff sentences and penalties by entrenching them in legislation, the minister wants to leave everything to the whims of judges. Clearly leaving too much power in the hands of judges is not the way to proceed.
That type of open ended discretion has led to the mess we are in today where young offenders who murder and rob are given slap on the wrist sentences.
The minister states that adult sentences will be given to those who display a pattern of violent behaviour. What kind of pattern? How many offences make a pattern? None of this is explained so I assume this also would be left to the discretion of a judge.
The minister is also vague about non-violent offences. Is break and enter going to be considered non-violent? What about drug trafficking? Will these youths be sentenced to community work? Do we want burglars and drug pushers serving community sentences in our neighbourhood?
I do not want to waste the time of this House with a detailed analysis of the minister's strategy paper because it simply continues the consultations, the discussions and the debate that have raged over the Young Offenders Act for years.
Now all we get is a smoke and mirrors strategy paper from the Liberals to make it appear as though they are serious about cracking down on crime.
Let us look at what others are saying about the minister's paper. The attorney general of Ontario said: “I do not think beyond a couple of things that it really deals in a comprehensive way with the concerns that Ontarians have expressed over and over again”.
The justice minister from Alberta said: “From what I am hearing from Albertans every day, this will not fit the bill”. It will not fit the bill because this strategy is not about the protection of society. It is not about anything. It is just hot air, more talk and more debate.
Since the Young Offenders Act was introduced in 1984, the justice department has operated in a social engineering fashion and look at what it has got us. People are afraid to walk the streets at night. Violent crime by youth is at an all time high and some cities are contemplating curfews for teens.
The Liberal way is the wrong way and this new strategy paper does absolutely nothing to steer the youth justice system off the wrong path.
The guiding principle of the justice system should be the protection of society. The rights of criminals should be secondary. The maximum age for the Young Offenders Act should be lowered to 15 years for all offences and the minimum age for the Young Offenders Act should be lowered to 10 years in order to get young offenders into the system early.
We need truth in sentencing and the names of all convicted violent offenders should be made public regardless of whether they were convicted in adult or youth court.
There should be parental responsibility for their children's actions. The minister speaks of parents paying court costs but their responsibility should go beyond that in cases where it can be demonstrated that parents were negligent.
We also need to promote personal responsibility. Individuals must be responsible for their own actions. The Liberals believe that our environment is responsible for criminal behaviour. They believe individuals have no personal obligation whatsoever. Blame it on TV, blame it on alcohol, blame it on the humidity, the alignment of the stars and planets, whatever, but do not feel you are personally responsible. That is the message being delivered to criminals by this Liberal government, but that is the wrong message. Criminals must be held accountable for their actions.
The types of changes that Canadians wanted to see are not mentioned in the minister's new glossy package, but then this government has not done anything with respect to bringing our justice system into line with the views of Canadians.
They want to strengthen the Young Offenders Act. The Liberals bring forward this meaningless paper. They want truth in sentencing. The Liberals established conditional sentencing where rapists and pedophiles are released into society, into our communities.
Canadians want a victims bill of rights. The Liberals continue to champion the rights of criminals. I therefore urge all members of the House to speak in support of today's supply day motion.
To speak against it, someone must either be a Liberal or they must have an extremely warped sense of justice. I guess those are really one and the same.
This Reform motion reflects the opinion of average Canadian citizens and I know many members will want to support the objectives of this motion when they speak in favour of safer streets, safer communities and a more effective, functional criminal justice system.