Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Durham.
It is my pleasure to speak to the proposed youth crime justice act. I think all members are concerned about youth and certainly those who engage in criminal activities. Approaches may vary, but I believe that the fundamentals in the bill are sound and ones which deserve the support of all members of the House. The bill is not a panacea, but it does address the key issues that have been before the Canadian public for some time now.
After extensive consultations with the provinces and territories, with professionals and with community leaders, the government has introduced a strategy to protect the public from youth crime. As one who has advocated a scrapping of the Young Offenders Act I am pleased that the minister has taken significant steps to send out a strong message to young offenders that their actions will not be tolerated.
As a former educator I know that young people want and indeed need rules that will be enforced. The message for young people is that if they take certain actions which are not deemed appropriate by society there will be meaningful consequences for their actions.
In 1996-97 about one-third of convicted youths received sentences of custody. One-half were given probation and only one-sixth were ordered to do community service or to pay fines. Custodial sentences were given in approximately 25,000 cases of young offenders, usually for short periods of time. Over one-quarter received sentences of less than one month and about one-half of the sentences were from one to three months. Eight per cent were sentenced to more than six months.
I do not believe that sent out the right message. I do not think Canadians felt that sent out the right message. Therefore we have the introduction of the bill which I believe will address those concerns.
The goals of the bill are to prevent young people from turning to crime in the first place, to ensure both violent and non-violent youths are given meaningful consequences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes, and to effectively and safely rehabilitate young people so they will not reoffend. I believe these are the goals which all Canadians can and indeed will support. The legislation reflects accountability, respect and fairness.
The Leader of the Opposition referred to Moses and the Ten Commandments and suggested the minister was referring to the 10,000 commandments. I would suggest there are only three commandments in the bill: accountability, respect and fairness, which are values Canadians want to see enshrined in the new youth justice act.
Accepting responsibility, particularly placing the onus on the violator, is a key element of the legislation. Only a small number of youth are involved in serious and repeat criminal acts, particularly acts of violence. Statistics show 18% were involved in violent crimes. According to 1997 statistics over one-half of all violent crimes were minor non-sexual assaults and another one-quarter were more serious non-sexual assaults.
Criminal activity is an antisocial activity. Toughening the law to make it clear that such acts are unacceptable must and will be part of the message that the bill addresses.
Canadians have lost faith in the Young Offenders Act. The government has responded with a number of key initiatives which I believe will address these concerns and send out a tough message to those young people who engage in acts which are unacceptable to society. The bill reflects the protection of society. It reinforces strong social values and proportionality of sentencing. Recognition of the rights of victims is something I am particularly pleased to see enshrined in the legislation.
Canadians want a youth justice system which protects citizens and provides meaningful consequences for the actions of those who would disregard the law. Establishing tougher consequences for serious youth crime by expanding the offences for which a young person convicted of a serious violent offence can receive an adult sentence is an important change.
I support and applaud the lowering of the age of youth who could receive an adult sentence for serious violent crimes from 16 to 14. I support the publication of the names of all young offenders who receive adult sentences. Individuals who commit crimes should have their names published. It would be a warning and hopefully a deterrent to others. Meaningful consequences to unacceptable acts are critical if we are to maintain Canada as a nation with a relatively low crime rate compared to other nations such as the United States.
An important section of the bill is to establish an effective rehabilitation and reintegration process that would require all young people who have served a period of time in custody to also have a period of controlled supervision in the community. This is something Canadians have wanted and the government has responded to.
Committing a crime is not a lark. It is not something one does for fun. Having both meaningful sentences and appropriate supervision after the individual has left custody is something for which Canadians have been asking. Public protection is critical and the bill addresses that issue.
Expanding offences for which a youth is presumed to receive an adult sentence to include a pattern of convictions for serious violent offences and extending the group of offenders who are expected to receive an adult sentence to include 14 and 15 year olds will be welcomed by most Canadians.
There has been much public debate about the publishing of names of young offenders. I believe the publication provides transparency in the justice system which will further provide public confidence in our judicial system.
Ensuring that consequences for young people who commit crimes will be in proportion to the seriousness of the offence is a major change in the proposals before the House. Sentences that fit the nature of the crime, sentences that are meaningful and encourage accountability, is an important feature of the legislation.
Two elements of note are creating an intensive custody sentence for the most high risk youth who are repeat offenders, who have committed murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault and assault, and permitting victim impact statements to be introduced in youth court.
In terms of concerns and rights of victims, their concerns are recognized in the principles of the act. This is a first in federal legislation. Providing victims with the right to access youth records and to play formal and informal roles in community based measures is something I know residents in my riding of Oak Ridges welcome. They further welcome and applaud the right of victims to information on extrajudicial measures.
While the bill gets tough on youth crime it also recognizes that as a society we have a responsibility to make sure where possible we place a strong emphasis on rehabilitation in terms of the youth justice system. Throwing away the key is not the answer. At some point these individuals will be back on the street. How they are prepared to reintegrate into society is important not only for them but for society at large.
The long term protection of our citizens is best ensured by making sure that the youth are accountable for their actions and that they are supervised and supported, particularly during the period when they re-enter the mainstream of society.
I support the provision that requires every youth sentenced to a period of custody to also serving an additional period of strictly controlled and meaningful supervision in the community equal to half the period of custody. This period of supervision is subject to several mandatory conditions. The individual must keep the peace, participate in good behaviour and report to a youth worker.
Additional or optional conditions may be imposed on the offender. These include conditions to structure the individual's life such as finding or continuing employment, obeying a curfew or attending school, and conditions associated with the offending behaviour such as abstaining from drugs, alcohol and attending counselling, et cetera. If these conditions are not met then having the individual returned to custody will occur. The follow up is crucial if the program is to be successful.
Developing a reintegration plan where the individual and the youth worker develop a plan of action together will assist in successful reintegration into the community. Developing the strategy while the youth is in custody and continuing it during the period of supervision in the community help build a more successful and meaningful transition.
Developing community based programs in conjunction with a variety of organizations, individuals and parents is important. I am pleased that in the area of York region my colleagues and I are working together to establish a community crime prevention council, making sure that people are accountable and involved.
I welcome these changes and I look forward to further comments from members of the House.