moved that Bill C-68, an act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure this morning to speak on second reading of the youth criminal justice act.
Canadians realize that several important aspects of the youth justice system are not working as well as they ought to, and that the system needs to be re-examined and reworked.
We know that it will take a sustained effort involving all levels of government and many other partners to tackle the complex problems of youth crime and to build the fair and effective youth justice system Canadians want and deserve.
That process is underway. Last June the solicitor general and I launched the government's national crime prevention program. Since then millions of dollars have been invested in community based crime prevention initiatives across our country dealing at the front end with the root causes of crime, with a special focus on youth at risk.
On March 11, 1999, I introduced the youth criminal justice act and I am now pleased to participate in the second reading debate. Repealing and replacing the Young Offenders Act with the youth criminal justice act is the next key step in the process of youth justice renewal.
The new legislation will signal to Canadians that a new youth justice regime is in place.
The new legislation reflects the message Canadians want from their youth justice system, that it is there first and foremost to protect society, that it foster values such as respect for others and their property, that it insist on accountability and that it provide both violent and non violent young offenders with consequences that are meaningful and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, that it be a youth justice system that is inclusive, that engages Canadians in the response to youth crime and that it does a better job of responding to the needs of victims.
We on this side of the House are not prepared to criminalize 10 and 11 year olds. That is not the way to best address their needs, a point I have made clear in the House on many occasions. We believe that in those circumstances where a formal approach is required, child welfare and the mental health systems are the preferred approaches.
The federal government is committed to working jointly with the provinces and territories to develop a co-operative approach. We also want to ensure that we have a system of youth justice that offers hope to young people, that gives young people who get in trouble with the law a chance to turn their lives around for their sake and for the sake of their families and their communities.
The youth criminal justice act includes provisions for more meaningful consequences for the most serious violent young offenders. It expands the list of offences and lowers the age at which youth would presumptively receive adult sentences.
When the legislation is passed youth 14 years and older who are convicted of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault will receive an adult sentence unless a judge can be persuaded otherwise. The judge would need to be persuaded by the youth that a youth sentence would be adequate to hold the young person accountable given the seriousness and the circumstances of the offence and the degree of responsibility, age and maturity of the young person involved.
In addition, we are creating a fifth presumptive category for repeat violent offenders where young offenders 14 and older who demonstrate a pattern of violent behaviour would receive an adult sentence unless a judge can similarly be persuaded otherwise.
The bill contains an important change to what may be the most controversial aspect of our youth justice legislation, the publication of names. The debate on this issue essentially involves two legitimate and competing values, the need to encourage rehabilitation by avoiding the negative effect of publicity on youth versus the need for greater openness and transparency in the justice system.
The proposed legislation now before the House strikes an appropriate balance between those competing views and values. It would permit the publication of names upon conviction of all young offenders who qualify for an adult sentence. The names of 14 to 17 year olds given a youth sentence for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or repeat violent offences could also be published in certain circumstances.
The youth criminal justice act would also replace the current procedure for transfer to adult court by empowering all trial courts to grant adult sentences so that the youth retains age-appropriate procedural protections and so that justice can be provided quickly, placing less of a burden on victims and families. This will also ensure that the offender, the victim or the victim's family and the community see a clear and timely connection between the offence and its consequences.
The bill contains other important reforms to the youth justice system. In response to concerns by the law enforcement community, judges would be given more discretion to admit voluntary statements by youth as evidence at their trials. In response to the concerns of victims, victim impact statements would be introduced in youth court and victims' access to information regarding proceedings would be improved.
The bill provides for an increased sentence for adults who undertake to the court to respect bail conditions involving supervision of a young person who would otherwise remain in custody and who wilfully failed to comply with those conditions.
The bill provides that provinces may recover the costs of court appointed counsel from parents and young people who are fully capable of paying. As well, the record keeping system for youth records would be simplified and would allow for greater access by authorized people in the interests of the administration of justice and research.
The majority of young people who get into trouble with the law are non-violent and only commit one offence. Unfortunately there are too many examples in our current youth justice system of young people serving time in jail for minor offences. We incarcerate youth at a rate four times that of adults and twice that of many U.S. states. We incarcerate youth despite the fact that we knowingly run the risk that they will come out more hardened criminals and we incarcerate them knowing that alternatives to custody can do a better job of ensuring that youth learn from their mistakes.
This bill includes criteria on the use of custody so that it is used appropriately. Further, the bill includes provisions for dealing with less serious offending outside of the formal court process. Police would be asked to consider all options, including informal alternatives to the court process before laying charges. The police, key partners in this strategy, would be given more authority to use verbal warnings or cautions, to direct youth to informal police diversion programs such as family group conferences, or more formal programs requiring community service or repairing the harm done to the victim.
While every effort would be made to reduce the overreliance on incarceration, some youth will be sentenced to custody. The youth criminal justice act includes provisions that respect an obligation to ensure that all young people, particularly the most serious offenders, receive effective treatment and rehabilitation. Successfully rehabilitated youth means fewer victims, restored families, safer schools and stronger communities.
To this end, the bill includes an intensive custodial sentence for the most high risk young offenders who are repeat violent offenders or who have committed murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault. These sentences are intended for offenders with serious psychological, mental or emotional illness or disturbances. The sentence will require a plan for intensive treatment and supervision of these offenders and will require a court to make all decisions to release them under controlled reintegration programs.
The proposed legislation also makes an important reform to youth justice sentencing to foster the safe and effective reintegration of youth into their communities.
Under the new law judges would be required to impose a period of supervision in the community following custody. This would allow authorities to closely monitor and control the young offender and to ensure that he or she receives the necessary treatment and programs to return successfully to the community. The period of supervision administered by the provinces will include mandatory and optional conditions tailored to the individual youth.
The bill proposes a comprehensive, balanced and flexible legislative framework for youth justice. It was developed after extensive consultations with the provinces, the police, the bar, youth justice workers, youth themselves, victims and others.
The next important phase of the renewal of youth justice is directed at the implementation of the new youth justice legislation. Youth justice professionals, community members and others will need information about the new system and will need training.
We all know that the best answers to the complex problems of youth crime lie in integrated approaches. Effective youth justice involves educators, child welfare and mental health systems, voluntary organizations, victims, families, youth employers and neighbourhood groups; just about anyone who works with or cares about our children, our young people, our communities and our country.
Additional federal resources in the amount of some $206 million over the next three years have been made available to support the important challenge of renewing our system of youth justice.
The government's youth justice strategy opens the door to greater involvement by the general public and by professionals in youth crime, and I encourage Canadians to get involved.
I would ask members to support the youth criminal justice act so that we can put in place the kind of youth justice system that Canadians are seeking; one that protects society and instils the values of accountability, responsibility and respect. We owe it to Canadians, but we owe it especially to Canadian youth.