Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind the last speaker that I consider one victim of crime just as important as the next victim of crime, regardless of who they are.
I am pleased to speak to the Reform Party supply day motion, which can be referred to as justice day. There has been precious little in the way of justice coming from the government. I will be speaking primarily in the area of young offenders.
The young offenders legislation is a prime example of misplaced priorities by this government. In June of 1997, almost two years ago, the Minister of Justice made amending the Young Offenders Act one of her top priorities. She is on record as acknowledging that the Young Offenders Act is easily the most unpopular piece of legislation.
One would think that recognition of this sort would impress upon the government the importance of bringing forth proper legislation without delay. But did this government appreciate the demands of Canadians? No, it did not.
We all have vivid memories of the minister's continued promises, week by week and month by month, that legislation was coming. She continued to promise that it would come in a timely manner, that she was dealing with it in a timely fashion, that the legislation was complicated and should not be brought forward with a simplistic answer just to appease the citizens of this country. It was painfully obvious that the minister was just making excuses for not having the legislation ready.
We have seen how disorganized the government has been with the new youth criminal justice legislation. We have seen how the government pretends to listen to Canadians but then proceeds in the same manner as it always has. We have seen how the government continues to believe that it knows best about what Canadians should have.
I will not be dealing very extensively with the legislation introduced last week by the Minister of Justice. I anticipate that we will have sufficient opportunity to debate the failings of that legislation, hopefully in the near future. Today we are talking about the failures of this government in a whole host of justice issues.
I would like to provide a little history to the long overdue amendments to our young offenders legislation.
In 1996 the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted an extensive review of the Young Offenders Act. Nearly $500,000 was spent. Meetings were held right across the country. The provinces had ample opportunity for input. The message as to what changes were necessary was absolutely clear.
The standing committee submitted an extensive report with a number of recommendations. The Bloc submitted a dissenting report. My hon. colleague from Crowfoot attempted to submit an extensive report in dissent. Instead of receiving his report and studying it to determine whether there was anything left out or anything of value from another perspective, this government played a purely political game and refused to accept his report. It said that it was too long.
The member for Crowfoot participated in the committee hearings as much as anyone. He handled almost the entire workload on the young offenders legislation for the Reform Party. He took the effort to properly critique the legislation and propose practical and positive changes for the benefit of all Canadians, but the government refused to accept his contribution. Only in Canada.
The hon. member for Crowfoot is a very determined individual. He did not give up. He instead introduced private member's Bill C-210 in which he proposed formalizing the power of police officers to use discretion in resolving minor incidents without laying charges. He personally knew about this problem in the legislation as he is a former police officer. He listened to what the witnesses had to say in this regard. He proposed that the legislation differentiate between non-violent and violent crimes.
He understood the value of dealing with first time non-violent young offenders in a more informal manner. He understood that there is neither necessity nor practicality in sending these minor offenders to court and possibly to jail.
He was not playing the political game; he was doing what was right on behalf of Canadians. Of course, he had the full support of the Reform Party with his initiative. However, the government refused to listen to him. It refused to even allow him to submit his report. Unfortunately, his private member's bill was never drawn for debate.
In my previous comments I mentioned that the minister continually promised to bring forth the youth legislation in a timely fashion. She spoke of having to consult with her provincial counterparts. They had ample opportunity to present their views and concerns to the justice committee. They clearly indicated their interest.
One example was in the area of funding. It was made known that the federal government was shortchanging the provinces in the area of funding for youth justice. The funding formula was to be on the basis of 50% federal dollars and 50% from the provinces. Things were getting so bad that Manitoba was threatening to withdraw from the administration of youth justice because its costs were too high and because the federal government was not holding up its end of the bargain. Remember, this was back in 1997.
Did the minister even attempt to restore funding for youth justice in the 1998 budget? No, she did not. Were funds available in that budget? Of course they were. We will remember that the government spent $2.5 billion on the millennium scholarship fund in that budget. The whole $2.5 billion was written off as an expense, even though the funds were not to be spent until future years. It was just a way for the government to claim that it had a balanced budget and that there was no surplus for other things. It just shows the misplaced priorities of the government. It just shows how the minister was unable or unwilling to deal with youth justice legislation on a priority basis. The wheels of justice were grinding slowly.
The government was not even on track. I believe the government was hoping the controversy over the Young Offenders Act would go away. It is to the credit of Canadians that they did not let this happen. They kept up the pressure for change, but the procrastination continued and the excuses for delays continued. The minister kept promising that the legislation would be introduced last fall, but then she realized that she did not have the necessary funding. She had to wait until the February budget. She said that her delays were because the legislation was so complex, that it would not be a simplistic approach.
Last week Canadians finally saw the long awaited legislation. What did they get? They got a new name for the young offenders legislation. It is now to be called the youth criminal justice act. What else did they get? They got legislation that promises to introduce a different system of justice from province to province to province. They got a system whereby very violent young offenders will continue to be protected from identification in many situations. They got a system whereby these violent young offenders will continue to be returned to our communities, where citizens will be unaware of their background and the potential danger some of them may pose. They got a system whereby violent and repeat young offenders will be subject to what the government calls extra-judicial measures, but what is in effect nothing more than conditional sentencing.
The government continues to believe that it and only it knows what is best for Canadians. The justice committee of the last parliament, a committee dominated by Liberals, a committee chaired by our late colleague Shaughnessy Cohen, on the testimony of its own expert witness, recommended that 10 and 11 year old violent offenders be subject to criminal proceedings, and the government refused to listen.
Instead, government members portray members on this side of the House as being monsters who would jail children. The minister claims that child welfare and mental illness programs will look after these unfortunate children. She refuses to acknowledge that those programs are already failing.
These young people are not properly dealt with. They are merely accommodated, when in fact they require immediate assistance to reform and rehabilitate before they venture into more violent and dangerous activities.
The government does these 10 and 11 year olds a serious disservice by merely ignoring them and hoping that other less practical measures can handle the problem. It is just more offloading on to the provinces.
As I have stated, the government is not to be admired when it comes to its handling of the youth justice platform. It has delayed, broken promises and made excuses. It has refused to listen to Canadians and to fellow members of parliament. It has let the provinces down. It does not have an enviable record.
In the upcoming debates on the new legislation we will see many further instances of the failures of the government in the area of youth justice.