Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure and always an honour to rise in the House to debate issues of such substance. I commend the hon. member who brought the multifacted issue before the House for debate. It touches on a number of very important subject areas.
Many criminal justice debates that take place in the House are done on what one might describe as a visceral level. It is fair to say that issues such as child pornography, sentencing or truth in sentencing certainly conjure up very strong emotions for individuals throughout the country, particularly those who are most affected. I am speaking of victims.
It is fair to say that significant steps have been made in the past number of years to address the inadequacies and the injustices that exist with respect to the treatment of victims in our criminal justice system. I would even go so far as to praise the justice minister for having recognized this.
I would also take the opportunity to praise the late Shaughnessy Cohen for her work on the justice committee as chair and in heading up a round table discussion in Ottawa that included many stakeholders in our justice system as it pertained to victims rights.
I will speak more specifically to some of the elements of the motion before the House today. When we speak to issues such as the recent decision out of British Columbia in the case of the Queen v Shaw that talks of the ability of a person to possess child pornography, it certainly conjures up a statement made by a law professor, Victor Goldberg in Nova Scotia, at Dalhousie University, when he said that bad facts make for bad law.
Often times we tend to get caught up in an individual case and hold it out as the standard or as an example of how the law should change. Often times that is a useful exercise, but we have to be very careful because proportionality and a measured response are implicitly important in the criminal justice system.
That is not to say that I or members of the Progressive Conservative Party in any way, shape or form condone the decision that was made with respect to child pornography. The suggestion that we brought forward was that it was an instance where there should have been direct intervention from the justice minister. There should have been an immediate response.
In cases such as that one the public perception is very important. For justice to be done it must be seen to be done. This is an old legal maxim from the myths of antiquity. Having practised law, Mr. Speaker, you would understand the importance of responding quickly but proportionately.
What should have happened and what we respectfully submit should have taken place in this instance was that the justice minister had an opportunity to refer it immediately to the top court to have the Supreme Court of Canada issue a ruling on the case immediately so that there would be clarification for law enforcement agents. There would be clarification for judges, in particular in the province of British Columbia, but right across the land. There would be a renewed sense of confidence in our justice system that is so sorely lacking these days.
I want to touch briefly on the changes that have been brought forward through this new legislation, the youth criminal justice bill, which was tabled last week in the House. Again I cannot help but feel some sense of regret and a sense that it was a missed opportunity by the Minister of Justice to bring forward perhaps more meaningful legislation that would resonate across the country and restore the sense of justice.
It is fair to say that over the past number of years there has been a constant disintegration and erosion of our confidence as it pertains in particular to the way our laws apply to young people in this country.
The law itself is not all bad. The philosophy of the Young Offenders Act I think is one that we all agree with and one which we all embrace, and that is that young people do in fact have to be held to a different standard than an adult, a mature person. However, this particular legislation, rightly or wrongly, has been perceived as something that was set up to protect a young person as opposed to protecting society. At the end of the day, what justice in this country is all about is ensuring that those who choose to live within the ambit of the laws that have been formulated over the years and put in place through precedent and legislation are protected. Those laws are there to protect people who choose to live that life.
There are those who step outside those laws. They choose to do so for a reason. There are all sorts of philosophies about how criminal behaviour stems from poverty and many social ills, mental illness and others. However, at the end of the day the public has a right to be protected from those individuals, whatever the cause. They have the right to feel safe in their homes. They have the right to feel safe walking down the streets of their communities. They have the right to feel that when their children leave the house in the morning they will return home safe and sound.
What we have to do is ensure that those laws are not only properly in place but properly upheld and interpreted.
There has been much to do and much talk in recent days and months of judicial activism and the accountability level of our judges in this country. It is a very slippery slope when we begin to openly criticize our judiciary. They are entrusted with perhaps one of the most important jobs that can be performed in this country. In fact I would go so far as to say that judges, in the day to day carrying out of their duties, the individual discretion which they can exercise in a courtroom is perhaps one of the most powerful, most compelling employment situations that we see, perhaps even more so than an elected official, perhaps even more so than the Prime Minister.
It is vitally important that those judges are given the tools and the laws to enforce what they feel is appropriate in the circumstances.
The young offenders legislation I suggest was a missed opportunity to perhaps give those judges greater tools, with respect specifically to lowering the age of accountability. Members opposite have made a great deal of this situation, saying that members of the opposition are advocating a very strict hammering approach that would see young people, 10 or 11 years old, thrown in jail. That is not the suggestion and I have not heard anyone espouse that position.
We are talking about a mechanism that would put in place the ability to trigger some form of social reaction that would bring a young person into the system at the earliest possible instance. Early intervention is what it is all about, the pre-emptive strike, this approach that has been so vociferously advocated by the government and yet it is overlooking an opportunity to do this. It was from its own justice officials that this idea came forward. I believe there is a failing in that regard.
With respect to the resources that have been allotted to this initiative, this legislative change that is to occur for our young offenders, it is fair to say that there are scarce resources under the existing system of the Young Offenders Act and even with the injection of money that has been proposed this will not adequately compensate those in the social services, those in child welfare, who are going to be utilized even more so under this particular legislation.
It is once again a very tricky shell game that has been brought forward, much like we saw with the budget itself and the suggestion that greater resources were going to be put into health care. It does not compensate for the amount of money that was taken out.
The same can be said of our justice system. Over the past number of years, particularly since 1993, we have seen drastic cuts to our policing services and our social welfare services that work so closely with law enforcement and our judiciary. Mr. Clark, the leader of our party, has made this a priority. He very recently held a press conference to point out the inadequacies with respect to the funding that has been allotted in particular to our national police force, the RCMP.
We are very glad to see that the decision has been made to reopen the RCMP cadet college in Regina, but there is the obvious question: Who closed it? Who made that priority decision to stop training police officers in this country?
It comes down to political decisions and political will to change the law. There is an ever present opportunity on behalf of the government to respond with laws that are not only appropriate but which address the problems being brought to light by members of the opposition and by members of the government.
As we speak, there is a bill at the justice committee to increase the discretion of a judge to allow for consecutive sentences for the worst of all possible crimes, the most heinous crimes perpetrated in today's world, such as sexual assault and murder. This bill came from a government member, yet the resources and the effort being made by her own party are extremely discouraging when one considers the effect which the adoption and imposition of this bill could bring at the end of the day.
I am very pleased to have an opportunity to discuss these most important issues. We are in the process of bringing about, hopefully, much needed change to impaired driving legislation. This has been itemized as something of great priority in this country. The issue of drug trafficking and organized crime has also been given a keynote appearance in this debate. We hope there will be further debate on these very important issues. We in the Progressive Conservative Party embrace the opportunity to participate in this debate.