moved that Bill C-260, an act to amend the Young Offenders Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to initiate debate on my private member's legislation, Bill C-260.
It is a simple bill in that it consists of one minor amendment to the Young Offenders Act. I have used the words simple and minor to describe the content and the construction of the actual legislation.
The ramifications of the legislation are I believe a little different and quite important. They address an issue which Canadians have demanded be addressed for years, that the parents or guardians of young offenders be called to account when they fail to discharge their responsibility to supervise.
This amendment changes section 7.2 of the Young Offenders Act from a simple summary conviction offence to a dual procedure or hybrid offence.
Should this bill be accepted and passed, offenders of section 7.1 would become subject to either imprisonment of up to two years or the normal summary conviction penalties. As I am sure members are aware, the Minister of Justice introduced long awaited new youth justice legislation last week.
Furthermore, members may be aware that the legislative change proposed in Bill C-260 has been incorporated into the new youth criminal justice act. One must assume the Minister of Justice and her government see merit in the changes proposed.
Members may therefore be wondering why I have chosen to proceed with this amendment now. Quite simply, I do not anticipate that the new youth justice legislation will be implemented for some time yet. I have heard possibly by year's end at the earliest, but even that may be wishful thinking. I believe this amendment is important enough to be incorporated within the current youth justice legislation, the Young Offenders Act.
I will now take a moment to outline the reasons for this proposal. Section 7.1 of the Young Offenders Act permits a youth court judge or justice to allow an accused person who would otherwise be detained in custody to be placed into the care of a responsible person who undertakes in writing to be responsible for the attendance of the young person in court when required, and to ensure compliance with such other conditions as a youth court judge or justice may specify.
The young person also undertakes in writing to comply with the arrangements and to comply with any other conditions that the judge or justice may specify.
In simple terms, instead of keeping a young accused in custody, the law permits an individual, usually a parent or guardian, to undertake to properly supervise the young person until the charges are decided. This is essentially just another form of custody. It is bail.
The court wishes to ensure that both the young person and the parent or other responsible person agree to abide by the conditions of release. A signed undertaking, a contract, is agreed on.
There are of course other provisions that permit changes to the terms of the undertaking or even cancellation of the release.
A parent need only apply to the court to be relieved of their responsibility should they find that they were unable to fulfill their obligation. If that were to occur, the young person would be returned to custody unless another person were to come forward to sign a new undertaking.
The problem that occurs and the reason for introducing this legislation is that some parents or guardians enter into these undertakings and then wilfully fail to provide proper and sufficient supervision. This failure can then result in additional repercussions to the young person and may even result in additional criminal charges should the young person proceed on to other criminal offences. It is this type of situation where parents or guardians shirk their legal responsibility that the bill seeks to address.
I will provide an example. Suppose a young person gets involved with the wrong crowd and ends up with others causing some form of physical assault late one night on an innocent citizen on the streets of a community. The police are called. An arrest is made and a charge is laid. We can all probably understand why a youth court judge might be hesitant to detain this young person for this type of offence, especially if it is a first offence.
I am sure we can also understand that the same judge would wish to ensure the young person does not get into further difficulty prior to the resolution of the charges. The judge may want to order the young person to stay away from the influence of other accused. The judge may want to order that the young person refrain from being out on the streets late at night. In other words, the judge may impose a curfew.
Suppose the young person's parent then agrees to provide a written undertaking to supervise this young person to ensure conditions are fulfilled such as staying away from a listed number of individuals and being at home during a set period of night hours.
What if the parent has been part of the problem all along? What if the parent has never properly performed parental responsibility toward their young person? What if the parent signs the undertaking or so-called contract with the court and then deliberately neglects to control or supervise the young person? Is this type of situation not a serious problem within our justice system?
Canadians far and wide have long called for more responsibility and accountability on the part of parents or guardians of young offenders. In instances such as I have just described, we have cases where parents or other adults sign an undertaking with the court to be responsible and accountable. Should they not at least be held accountable to the level of a dual procedure offence?
If the young person merely breaches a condition of release then the parent may face a summary conviction procedure for their failure to comply with the undertaking to supervise. If the breach of the release condition leads to the commission of a serious offence by the young person, that same parent might be subject to an indictable proceeding. Like all hybrid offences, the crown has the option. Of course the judge, as always, has the final decision on the appropriate punishment should the charge be proven.
Some individuals opposed to these proposed changes to the legislation might argue that we may not want to exacerbate the situation between a young offender and their parent. If the young offender breaks the conditions of release and the parent is found to have wilfully failed to uphold the promise to properly supervise, that parent may end up facing more severe repercussions through this change to a dual procedure offence.
Some may worry that relations between the youth and the parent may become further strained. To this I say that if the parent wilfully participates in ignoring a court imposed condition, then the parent should be held accountable as it is obvious that the parent is a major part of the problem in the first place.
A parent, by definition, should be setting a proper example for the child. An improper example is certainly being set when an adult signs a court order, ignores the consequences and wilfully supports the young offender with inappropriate and illegal activity. Of course the parent should be made to account for this failure.
My amendment to the law is merely one step to broaden this accountability. It may be a large step toward protecting citizens and communities once we impress on delinquent parents how serious we consider their failures to control their children placed in their custody at their own request until the original criminal charges are heard.
I would be remiss if I did not inform my colleagues that this relatively unknown section of the Young Offenders Act is of particular relevance to my family and me.
I think that by now some are aware that back in 1992 my son, Jesse, was murdered by a young offender late one night. Jesse was 16 years old at the time. He and two friends were heading home after getting off a bus near home. They were attacked at random by six strangers, without provocation. A young offender, who was free in the community on a section 7.1 undertaking, knifed him in the back. One of the conditions of release into his father's custody was a dusk to dawn curfew.
Obviously the young offender was not complying with that condition on that night. He had also failed to appear in court some three weeks earlier, another failure to comply.
In my opinion, the parent who signed that undertaking to supervise wilfully failed in his responsibility before the court and my son paid the price. That young offender was convicted of the crime and is serving a life sentence in a penitentiary.
The House will note that I stated that it was in my opinion that the adult offended section 7.2, as it has never been determined in court. That is the injustice of this case. I do not know if the situation would have ended up any differently, but the failure of the adult to properly supervise and control that young offender certainly did not help Jesse. It may well have failed to help that particular young offender as well. Who knows, perhaps compliance with the undertaking to supervise might have been enough to keep that young person at home that night.
All I know is that particular adult promised the court he would properly supervise the youth. He promised that the youth would attend court. He promised that the youth would abide by a curfew condition. He failed to fulfil those promises and a young life was snuffed out at 16.
Some have said that this amendment seeks to blame parents for the crimes committed by their children. That is utterly ridiculous. The young person is solely accountable for their own criminal activity. For the purpose of this legislation the parent is guilty of the offence of failing to comply with an undertaking. Even if the young person does not go on to commit another offence beyond a breach, the parent is still accountable for the failure to comply with their own promise to supervise. They have broken a contract.
Others suggest that some parents are unable to control their children. If that is the case, then they simply have no business entering into such an undertaking. I do not suggest for one minute that a parent or guardian should be expected to chase their son or daughter down the street or physically drag them into the house at two o'clock in the morning should they decide to breach their curfew. What I do expect, however, is for that parent to pick up the phone and notify the police of the breach. By doing that the parent has acted in a responsible manner. The parent who merely shuts the door and goes to bed is clearly demonstrating a wilful failure to comply with their undertaking to supervise.
I believe that members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs understood the significance of this bill, so they made it votable. As I said at the outset, although the content of Bill C-260 is contained in the new youth criminal justice act, I seek to amend the current Young Offenders Act, as the new legislation is still a long way off.
I fervently request and seek the support of my colleagues in this place for this initiative. I do so for all concerned. It is in the interest of the safety of our citizens and our communities. It is in the interest of our youth who are most often the victim of young offender crimes. It is in the interest of young offenders who are afforded the opportunity to return to our communities while they await resolution of their initial charges.
My amendment is simple. It is solely to make adults more accountable and responsible to properly supervise when they promise to do so before the courts. Is that really too much to ask?