House of Commons Hansard #201 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, later today it is the intention of the government to introduce a bill regarding the labour disruption and PSAC.

I seek the unanimous consent of the House to do the introduction now to allow an extra four hours for members to actually see the content of the bill and of course to make it in the public domain as well.

Perhaps there would be consent to go to Routine Proceedings now for only that purpose, and this would not affect Routine Proceedings later today which would be held in the customary way.

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Is there unanimous consent to proceed now to Routine Proceedings?

Business Of The House

11:05 a.m.

Some hon. members


Government Services Act, 1999Routine Proceedings

March 22nd, 1999 / 11:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria Liberalfor the President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-76, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Edmonton West Alberta


Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

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.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.


Chuck Cadman Reform Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, on a summer evening a number of years ago I was sitting in our living room when I heard the sound of sirens. Now, that is not an uncommon occurrence on a Saturday night in the town where I live. However, later on I heard that there had been a drive-by shooting in which a teenager had died. The car in which he was a passenger was stopped at a red light when another car pulled up alongside. A teenage passenger in the second car leaned out the window and fired point blank.

The next day I mentioned the incident to one of my children who had spent that night at a friend's house not too far from the shooting. He told me that he had heard the fatal gun shot. I remember thinking “Just what is our community coming to?” I also remember thinking about the parents of the victim. A few days later the suspected killer was himself killed in an act of revenge. Again, I remember thinking about the safety of our streets.

A couple of months later on another Saturday night a family friend was visiting from the Queen Charlotte Islands. After dinner, as I was sitting in my living room, our son Jesse sauntered down the hall, paused at the top of the stairs, said goodbye to his mother and our friend in the kitchen, glanced toward me, and with a “See you later, dad” bounded down the stairs and out.

Jesse was a drummer and his rock band had been asked to play at a house party. He was excited. It was their first gig. Our daughter, who is three years older, left shortly afterwards, leaving us to a quiet evening of conversation.

At 11.15, shortly after our friend had left, Jesse phoned telling me that he and his two buddies were on their way home. They were waiting for a bus. An hour later the phone rang again. My wife answered the phone. She swore. It was the hospital. They wanted us there right away. Jesse had been stabbed.

A panicked five minute drive, hospital staff avoiding eye contact as we ran through the doors, and then the words no parent should ever have to hear: “We're sorry, we tried, but there was too much damage”.

A single stab wound to the back had pierced his heart. He was 16. That was October 18, 1992, on my father's 81st birthday. Jesse would have been 23 years old tomorrow.

Jesse was the victim of a random, unprovoked attack on himself and his two friends by complete strangers. He died in the arms of his best friend at the side of the same road, about a quarter mile from the spot where the earlier shooting, the one which he had heard, had occurred a couple of months previous. His attackers were part of the same loose-knit group of thieves and thugs involved in that shooting. In fact, it later came out that his killer, also 16, idolized the shooter and saw him as a martyr.

There was an arrest within days. The police informed us that the accused, because of his age, and unless the crown could successfully argue that he be tried as an adult, would be facing three years in secure custody followed by two years in open, most likely community supervision and then free with no criminal record.

Mr. Speaker, you have no idea just how devastating the knowledge is to a family that is still reeling from the murder of a loved one that there is a philosophy in this country which holds that three years of incarceration is an appropriate sanction for intentionally taking the life of an innocent stranger in a random, unprovoked attack on the street.

Two days after we buried Jesse a six year old girl was raped and murdered in Courtenay, British Columbia. Eventually her 16 year old neighbour was charged. He also faced a mere three years of secure custody and two in open.

That was my introduction to the Canadian criminal justice system and the Young Offenders Act. I am neither a lawyer nor an academic, but after 20 months in the courts ourselves, six and half years of involvement with other families and individuals who, in the words of a dear close friend, now belong to a club that none of us wanted to join, and the same amount of time listening to Canadians at shopping malls and soccer fields, not conference rooms and lecture theatres, I think that I am reasonably qualified to speak to this issue.

In fact, it was the refusal of the justice committee to allow me to appear in open session when it was in Vancouver in 1996 which pushed me over the edge and prompted me to seek election to this place.

Last Friday in this place the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley said that following my appearance before the justice committee a number of years ago a government member commented to the effect that victims bring nothing to this debate other than sentiment. I make no apology for that. For far too long our legislators and our courts have chosen to ignore the real human impact and human cost of crime, especially youth crime and violent crime.

I once heard that a Vancouver lawyer wanted families of homicide victims barred from courtrooms because they cried too much and might influence a jury.

Mr. Speaker, as you may guess, I have looked forward to an opportunity like this for some time now. The Young Offenders Act will hopefully be assigned to the garbage heap of history before too long. It has been a failure and Canadians have had to suffer its consequences for far too long. It was never a priority of various governments over the years. Obviously it was not a priority of the present government. The minister, upon taking the job, claimed that introducing new young offender legislation was to be one of her major priorities, but how much of a priority was it when it has taken almost two years for the legislation to come before us? What do we have? We have a new name. We have new spin-doctoring from the government. We have new claims of being tougher on crime, but we really have the same old thing wrapped up in a nice new package.

For every step forward there is a step backward. Ineffective legislation does Canadians a disservice. It does our youth an even bigger disservice as they are most often the victims of youth crime. Of course youth involved in crime are dealt a very questionable hand when the citizenry become so disenchanted with the law that they take it out on the offenders by ostracizing them or refusing to help in rehabilitation.

What has the minister been doing for the past two years? In the fall of 1997 she promised Canadians that changes would be made to the Young Offenders Act in a timely fashion. She was working on it. Over the winter of 1997 and early 1998 she claimed that she was not going to deal with the legislation in a simplistic manner, but was going to deal with a complicated issue in the proper manner. Then, under great fanfare, with all the splash of press conferences, fancy overheads and colourful brochures, the minister came out with her youth justice strategy; not legislation, just proposals. She was going to get tough on young criminals and promised legislation by the fall of 1998. Of course we did not get it. The minister claimed that she needed more consultation with the provinces.

It soon became apparent that what she really had to do was to shake loose some federal dollars to pay for her proposals. One would have thought she would have had this in place upfront.

Instead of getting long overdue changes to address youth crime, Canadians had to wait for the government to pony up the bucks. This was done to some extent with the February budget. We now have legislation. I suppose the government is hoping that Canadians are so worn out from pushing and pressuring for something they will be happy with anything. I assure them that we are quite prepared to flesh out the legislation. We are quite prepared to see what can be done to finally give Canadians what they have been seeking for years, but we will not be holding our breath.

The government has shown on numerous occasions its unwillingness to listen to reason. I only need to mention the funding for hepatitis C, debt reduction, breaks for overtaxed Canadians, conditional sentencing and two tier justice whereby the government is trying to promote one form of justice for aboriginals and another for the rest of Canadians.

The youth criminal justice act fails to deliver what Canadians expect. We will propose amendments. We are in this for the long haul and we will not let the issue slide as the government would like it to do.

The minister claimed that she would deal with this complicated issue and would take the time to deal with it in a proper manner. While we can certainly agree that she has taken her time, we have to question her claim that it was complicated.

When going through the proposed legislation clause by clause we found for the most part that it was the old Young Offenders Act rewritten and presented in a different format. When particular provisions appear to have been tightened up there is almost always a corresponding opportunity for the provinces or the courts to provide exceptions and to maintain the status quo.

What actually makes it complicated for the minister is her attempt to appease all the different philosophies within her government. Some want tougher legislation. Others think everything is just fine the way it is. Still others want it to become even more lenient. Some actually believe that society is to blame for all our crime and criminals are merely those that society has failed. No wonder we have problems in the criminal justice system.

Then we have the minister claiming that she needed time to consult with the provinces. She had to understand what the various regions of Canada were seeking in the overhaul of our youth laws. Obviously the minister has little faith in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

The committee spent many months conducting hearings from coast to coast. The committee listened to the provinces. It spent almost half a million dollars to provide a comprehensive report with a number of recommendations toward significant changes to the laws. I guess that was not enough so I will accept that the minister wanted more consultation.

Was it reasonable consultation or was it merely a stall because the government was having trouble satisfying its caucus? I suspect that there was not adequate consultation. I cite comments by the Minister of Justice for Alberta. He wrote to the federal minister to complain about this very issue. He states:

Despite your assertion to the contrary, there has not been sufficient consultation with respect to the proposed replacement legislation for the Young Offenders Act.

The government failed to include the major concerns of at least some of the provinces. Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Ontario are on record as agreeing to a number of significant changes. First on their list was the reduction in age of criminal accountability in selected cases to address the serious offences committed by children under 12 and for those in this group who exhibit a pattern of offending.

Calgary Chief of Police Christine Silverberg criticized the government's changes as not going far enough with violent children under age 12. The Winnipeg police inspector in charge of youth crime, Ken Biener, stated:

—she missed the boat completely in failing to adopt the recommendation to allow 10 and 11 year olds to be arrested and face the courts.

It should be of no surprise that this was not included. Not only did the government ignore their partners in the youth justice process. It also ignored the justice committee and its reports which included a very similar recommendation.

The minister attacks the Reform Party for wanting to include 10 and 11 year olds within the youth justice process. She characterizes the proposal as barbaric. She refuses to accept that our present system is failing to properly address and help these younger members of our society. She refuses to permit these young offenders to obtain all the benefits of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Instead, she leaves them in this vacuum where they do not get the help and the support they need. She refuses to acknowledge that the provinces want reforms in this area and the police need support in their effort to deal with violent 10 and 11 year olds. She refuses to even acknowledge that members of her caucus have publicly supported the inclusion of 10 and 11 years olds in the youth justice system. She refuses to acknowledge that the Liberal majority on the justice committee of the last parliament, chaired by our late colleague Shaughnessy Cohen, supported the inclusion of 10 and 11 year olds within the legislation.

We have all seen what happens to those few Liberals who challenge the views of the party management. Fortunately for all of us Shaughnessy did not suffer that fate.

There is another example of failing to consult. These provinces had demanded an amendment to apply the victim fine surcharge to young offenders.

Like the justice committee that recommended the same thing in a victims rights report, these provinces saw the benefit of having young offenders supply some of the financing of assistance to victims of crime. However the legislation does not include automatic victim fine surcharges. It merely provides the opportunity for the provinces to bring in their own legislation.

I also note that a number of provinces were seeking a mandatory custody disposition for youths convicted of offences involving the use of weapons. Once again the government has chosen to ignore those on the frontlines of the youth justice process. There is no provision for mandatory custody for crimes involving the use of weapons. It makes me wonder whether the government just has a justice committee to use when its reports correspond to the government's own political position.

As for consultation with interested participants, the government meets with the provinces to say it has consulted but there appears to be little intention of meaningful dialogue unless those provinces share the political position of the federal government.

I have mentioned a number of failings just in getting the legislation before the House. The government does not listen to its partners in the administration of youth justice. It does not participate in adequate consultation. It does not even follow its own committee when valid recommendations are made after extensive input.

Instead the government merely goes on and does what it wants to do for purely political reasons. It ignores the priority to do what is right for Canadians, including those youth that find themselves on the wrong side of the law and those youth that are most often the victims of youth crime.

I will now move on to discuss a number of the specific issues covered by the legislation. I will deal with a few positive developments first and then move on to some of the negative aspects that raise concerns.

The minister has decided to formalize the whole matter of police discretion. This will enable the frontline troops, so to speak, to deal with minor youth indiscretions quickly and easily. The occasional scuffle over a street hockey game can be resolved through police caution or warning. It is the same with most childhood pranks. The theft of a chocolate bar from a corner store need not go to a community based committee or even to court.

The minister likes to characterize members of my party as being one dimensional and interested only in locking up offenders. She is wrong. The hon. member for Crowfoot recommended this very initiative in his minority report to the justice committee in April 1997. He included it within his private member's Bill C-210. He understood the necessity to support the police. Many officers were already doing this without legislative authority. Others were afraid to use their discretion. They were concerned that they could be subjected to criticism as they did not have the proper authority.

The government has also made quite a big thing about their interest and the need to deal with non-violent offenders differently from violent offenders. It is regrettable that many in the media have been sold on this idea as being solely a Liberal initiative. It is really nothing new. In many parts of Canada there are already programs known as diversion, restorative justice, alternative measures, community based youth justice committees, healing circles, and the list goes on. All the government has done is to create an all-encompassing term, extrajudicial measures, to cover them all.

Again the hon. member for Crowfoot proposed his two prong form of justice whereby first time non-violent offenders could proceed through a more informal process. They would simply take responsibility for their actions and obey the requirements set out by any community based committee or organization. This was proposed both in his minority report to the justice committee and in his private member's bill.

The government cannot claim credit for this proposal. Reform was not interested in claiming credit. We were only interested in doing what was needed for a proper system of justice. We have had to bring this matter to public attention merely because of government attempts to characterize the Reform Party as one dimensional.

I have been personally involved with dozens of young offenders in a diversion program in my home province for some four years now. I want to publicly acknowledge Lola Chapman for the work she has done in this area. Lola and I have worked closely with the B.C. attorney general to expand the use of these programs. I am in full support of them in the limited circumstances of first time non-violent situations.

Some have expressed surprise, given my personal experience, that I would even be interested in working with wayward youth. We all know that as youth we made mistakes and some, I dare say, may have broken some laws. All most of us needed was to be taken to task for these indiscretions. If we failed to pay attention and moved on to additional crimes or more serious offences then we deserved to be treated in a more formal process. This is the same for today's youth. This is all we are looking for from legislation.

The final area I would like to discuss from a positive aspect is the incorporation of my private member's Bill C-260 in its entirety. Once again there was a massive leak of information about the legislation before it was actually introduced. Part of the leaks had to do with my private member's proposal. However, most of the media reports have misinterpreted this part of the legislation as something new in Canadian law.

These reports indicate that parents will be held criminally responsible for the crimes of their children. Nothing could be further from the truth in both respects. What has me concerned is whether the sources of the government leaks have deliberately misinterpreted this proposal. Furthermore, the government has shown little interest in correcting these misinterpretations. After all, it is now part of its legislation.

I have had to cover the issue on a number of different types of media. I have written a number of letters to the editor to attempt to correct the record. The law has been around for a number of years. My proposal merely enhances the potential punishment. It has nothing to do with the crimes of the young person. It has solely to do with the written agreement or contract whereby the young person is released from custody while awaiting trial.

The young person is essentially released on a form of bail when a responsible adult, usually a parent, signs a legal undertaking to supervise that young person to ensure court imposed conditions are respected. Both the young person and the adult sign the agreement. Both are liable to be charged with an offence if they each wilfully fail to fulfil the agreement: the parent for wilfully failing to supervise as agreed and the young person for wilfully failing to obey the conditions. The offence has to do with the court agreement. It has nothing to do with the ordinary responsibilities of the parent.

There is only the obligation to supervise. When the person who signed the undertaking becomes aware of a breach of conditions there is an obligation to notify the authorities. There is a high threshold to meet before a case may be made that an adult has wilfully failed to supervise as required.

It should be said that the initiative for this came from my own personal experience whereby my son's killer was in breach of a court imposed curfew that night. He had also failed to appear in court some three weeks earlier; another breach of conditions. His father had signed an undertaking to supervise some months earlier.

Obviously I support the legislation in respect of judicial undertakings by responsible persons. I will be interested in seeing how this portion of the bill develops. I will be interested in seeing whether members of the government attempt to claim this initiative as their own, and I do not really care as long as it gets done.

Impressing upon both the parent and the young person the serious repercussions for violating the agreement will protect members of our communities. Hopefully the parent will think twice about signing such an agreement if there is little expectation for the young person to mend his or her ways. Hopefully the young person will think twice before breaking the conditions of release and endangering the position of the parent who wilfully fails to supervise.

I will now discuss some of the inadequacies of the legislation, and there are a number. Even though I have been provided with a significant amount of time, it will take a number of opportunities to address all of them. Fortunately we have a committee process to go through. We have amendments to propose. At some time we will be back here to make comments at third reading.

Earlier I mentioned the concern with the government's scheme of extrajudicial measures. It has taken a valuable and progressive means of addressing minor crime and once again opened it up to massive abuse. It did the same thing with adult conditional sentencing.

Conditional sentencing involves serving a sentence in the community under some form of supervision. It may involve some type of house arrest. It may involve some form of restitution to the community through providing service with charitable organizations.

There are many uses for conditional sentencing. What did the government use it for? It used it to reduce the cost of incarceration. It said the jails and the prisons were too full and were too costly. It said that criminals were really not bad people and that mere arrest and conviction were enough to teach them the error of their ways. It said that the courts would not permit violent and repeat offenders to take advantage of conditional sentencing.

However the courts permitted all kinds of violent criminals to obtain this get out of jail free ticket. Killers got conditional sentences. Violent sex offenders got conditional sentences. Pedophiles got conditional sentences. Repeat offenders got conditional sentences.

When Bill C-41 was debated in 1994 and 1995 the Reform Party argued to restrict the use of conditional sentencing to first time non-violent and non-drug offenders. We understood its value but only for a restricted purpose. The government has been consistent. It refused to listen. It maintained only it knew the best.

Recently the Minister of Justice recognized the abuse of conditional sentencing. She requested the justice committee to review the issue. She will likely then procrastinate some more and suggest that perhaps more consultation is required. In the end she will do what is political. She will take much of her direction from the Prime Minister's Office. After all, he was a justice minister in the dim past and he is undoubtedly another expert on conditional sentencing, even though it was unheard of at that time.

Getting back to youth legislation, extrajudicial measures can easily become more of a problem than conditional sentencing. Under section 4(c) of the bill they are presumed to be adequate for non-violent offences. The word presume is key. It means that extrajudicial measures will be the rule rather than the exception in cases of non-violent offences.

Let us see how non-violent is defined. It means an offence that does not cause or create a substantial risk of causing bodily harm. This definition would include sexual touching, as there is no risk of bodily harm. Pedophiles cause psychological harm to young children. This definition would include the possession of child pornography, as there is no risk of bodily harm. It would include break and enters into homes, as there would have to be a substantial risk of causing bodily harm in order to avoid this definition.

This definition would include drug offences, including trafficking. Is there a substantial risk of bodily harm for selling crack cocaine in a school? I would hate to have to convince a court that there was this risk when the evidence is limited to one sale to one student, another sale to another student and so on. How could it be proven that there is substantial risk of bodily harm when only one hit of the drug is provided at the time?

Extrajudicial measures will be available to repeat offenders. While clause 4(c) limits the provision to non-violent offenders who have not previously been found guilty of an offence, that clause applies only to where extrajudicial measures are presumed to be adequate. Clause 4(d) permits these measures to be used even if there were previous convictions. It permits these measures even if they were used for the same offender before.

This means extrajudicial measures may be used 100 times for the same offender for any number of crimes. This means extrajudicial measures may be used even though that offender may have been convicted of a previous offence. There is no further limitation. The previous offence may have been manslaughter, sexual assault or murder.

Sometimes I wonder whether this government is interested in putting anyone in prison. This government is responsible for allowing all types of violent offenders to remain in our communities threatening the safety of our citizens. It seems intent on doing the same thing with our young offenders.

Adult sentencing will be available for presumptive offences but even for those where there is an opportunity for the young person to challenge adult sentencing in each particular situation. As well, the judge may only use adult sentencing when of the opinion that a youth sentence is not adequate. Presumptive offences are limited to murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. The definition is very limited. It does not include all types of crimes in which a weapon is used. It does not include kidnapping. It does not even include sexual assault causing bodily harm. These are all seriously violent crimes but they are not sufficient for this government to include in its presumptive offences.

The adult sentence for murder is life imprisonment. For those over 18 parole eligibility is at 25 years for first degree and 10 to 25 years for second degree. For 16 and 17 year olds parole eligibility comes at 10 years for first degree and 7 years for second degree. For those under 16, parole eligibility comes at 5 to 7 years. There is no change.

I attended the trials of a 15 year old and the 19 year old who were convicted for the savage murder of a frail 79 year old widow. She is buried just a stone's throw from my son. The 15 year old masterminded the plot, he was the more violent of the two, he targeted the lady because she would be easy. He had done yard work for her so he knew that she would let them into her home. The judge sentenced the 19 year old to 15 years before parole eligibility. He then complained on the record that his hands were tied by parliament forcing him to set parole ineligibility at only seven years for the young offender, and that has not changed.

I will illustrate further how this government just does not listen. In 1994 my son's killer was handed a parole ineligibility period of ten years, the maximum allowable at the time. When Bill C-37 was before the House in the last parliament it proposed to fix parole ineligibility for second degree murder at seven years. I anticipated a loophole because he was in the process of appealing the sentence at that time. I wrote the then justice minister, the current health minister, with my concerns. No response.

Bill C-37 became law in December 1995. The following spring the killer had three years knocked off his parole ineligibility period not because he deserved it but because the new law was made retroactive if to the benefit of the offender. I commented publicly, saying I told you so. A few days later I received a call from a justice department lawyer asking me what happened. This is what happened. If a letterhead or a call display does not indicate a university or a professional organization, this government does not want to hear from you.

I will briefly mention the second half of the definition of presumptive offence. In practice it will have almost no applicability. To be included within the definition of a presumptive offence an offender must commit three seriously violent offences for which an adult could be sentenced to prison for more than two years. A judge must have made a determination that the offence was a serious violent offence and endorse the information accordingly, twice.

A serious violent offence is defined as an offence that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing serious bodily harm, not just bodily harm, serious bodily harm. Most courts will have difficulty in distinguishing between bodily harm and serious bodily harm.

Would members like to explain to the victim and to the public that a particularly vicious attack only caused bodily harm and not serious bodily harm? Would members like to explain to the victim and the public that there has been only one prior documented incident of the offender causing serious bodily harm? We need two.

Would any of the members opposite like to explain to a victim or the public that this offender caused bodily harm a number of times in the past but he only caused serious bodily harm once so he still does not come within the definition of a presumptive offence?

Adult sentences are also available for offences for which an adult could be sentenced to prison for more than two years and if the young person is 14 or older. The very inclusion of presumptive offences and these other types of offences leaves the courts and our youth justice system with the distinct impression that parliament is serious about the presumptive offences and much less serious about the other types.

In case the listener thinks these provisions for adult sentencing will result in similar crimes receiving similar sentences for both adults and young persons, I point out some other wrinkles.

The overriding principles of this legislation include rehabilitation and reintegration of the young person. There are no words such as deterrence and denunciation. There is to be no punishment for the sake of deterring other young persons from similar activity. There is to be no punishment for the sake of expressing society's displeasure and abhorrence of a particularly gruesome or violent crime.

All young persons must be rehabilitated and reintegrated in a short period of time. This government believes they are all curable and pose little risk to our communities when they are returned.

This whole idea of adult sentencing for those 14 and older is nothing more than a con job. There will be challenges in almost every case against their imposition. Lawyers will be fully and extensively employed. Judges will be permitted to continue in their lenient ways. After all, many of them have liberal tendencies as most of them were appointed by the Prime Minister and his predecessors. The judges have unlimited discretion to determine when to impose adult sentencing and when to impose youth sentencing. Section 72 does not limit this discretion in any way.

The provinces are also involved, as the crown has the opportunity to support youth sentencing or to fail to provide notice that an adult sentence is to be sought. Then there is the overriding principle that these young persons are to be rehabilitated. They are not to be deterred and denounced.

The whole issue of deeming of young persons is of the same nature. The government sells the idea that it will be tough and young persons receiving adult sentences are to be named. The government does not, however, say much about all the provisions that permit the court to ban the publication of names. A young person may apply for the ban. The crown has the option of not opposing the ban. The court has complete discretion to ban publication.

The act is set up so that rehabilitation and reintegration are the primary principles to be applied. There is no requirement by parliament that certain crimes automatically require the naming of offenders so that the public has the knowledge of who is a risk to its safety and security. Even those who 14 and over who commit a presumptive offence like murder or aggravated sexual assault may receive a youth sentence and may be protected by a ban on publication of their names.

Earlier I spoke about the rape and murder of a little girl by her 16 year old neighbour. At the time of the murder he was on probation for sexually molesting a young child. He was allowed to reside in a complex full of children in complete anonymity because of his age. I do not think I need say more about protecting the identity of those who pose a threat.

As I have said, when this government does change legislation it does not like to change much. It prefers to change the packaging and the sales pitch. Canadians end up with the same old thing. In some cases we end up with something far worse. With the youth criminal justice act, the jury is still out.

The government refused to lower the age to 10 for purely political reasons. The issue has been around since 1962 when the justice department recommended this change. The government ignored the recommendation then and it ignored it today. There are obvious difficulties in this legislation such as the extrajudicial measures that may be rectified through amendment. The government is once again unlikely to listen and to admit its error, but we will try.

There are other areas like adult sentencing and publication of names that have so many exceptions and provisions that there is bound to be dissatisfaction and new calls for revision from the public.

The government has an extensive promotional budget and it has significant human resources to sell Canadians on its legislation.

Unfortunately justice legislation, unlike some other forms, takes time to come home to roost. The youth criminal justice act will change nothing. As case after case slips through the cracks the weaknesses will be revealed and disenchantment will grow.

The youth criminal justice act is nothing more than the Young Offenders Act with a face lift and a new name. I have been involved in this debate for over six years and, as I said earlier, I make no apology for the sentiment or emotion I bring to it. It is unfortunate that after years of delay, years of so-called consultations and deliberations this is the best the government can do. Canadians deserve better. More important, because they are most often the victims of youth crime, our kids deserve better.

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11:55 a.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some degree of regret that I rise in this House today to speak on this bill. The debate on Bill C-68 ought never to have taken place at all, as the Minister of Justice knows full well.

It has been demonstrated on many occasions that what is not working properly is not the Young Offenders Act itself, but its application. Those who are applying it properly succeed where others fail. Nevertheless, the Liberal government is obstinately preparing to demolish the spirit of this approach.

I would like to take the time available to me to prove that the Young Offenders Act does not deserve the fate the Liberals have in store for it, in response to pressures from western Canada. The act is being used as a scapegoat by a Liberal government that prefers to take the easy way out, while it ought to be left unchanged.

The Youth Offenders Act was passed in 1982, and came into effect in 1984. This legislation did not spring up over night. It is the result of several decades of reflection. In fact, one has to go all the way back to 1857 to find the first initiative assigning special status to juvenile delinquents.

The beginnings of the first youth justice system go back to 1908, with the Juvenile Delinquency Act. This intention of this act was to put young people back on the right track, while minimalizing their responsibility, given their youth. The idea was to set up a system that would truly promote the effective reintegration of young offenders into society.

At the time, Ontario was among the first provinces to put pressure so that young offenders would benefit from a protective approach. Ironically, Queen's Park is now the most vocal in demanding more repressive measures for young offenders.

In the early seventies, Quebec took two social measures that would prove very useful under the Young Offenders Act: the creation of a legal aid program and a reform of social services. Quebec adopted its first diversion measures in 1974, when it reviewed its Youth Protection Act. The province was then ready to implement the Young Offenders Act as soon as it would come into effect, in 1984.

I must point out here the extraordinary solidarity displayed in Quebec, which, at the time, succeeded in convincing the federal government to adopt the act that we now have, that is an act based on crime prevention, on the rehabilitation of young people who commit criminal acts, and above all an act designed to ensure the long term protection of society. The Young Offenders Act as we know it reflected, and still reflects, the thrust that it was intended to have.

At the time, there was no doubt that we had to put more emphasis on diversion measures. In Quebec, that approach had been stressed long before, in the Prévost report. Going before the court should only be considered after having exhausted all other options, such as reorientation, rehabilitation, and agreements with the parents to provide special treatment.

That approach had been applied elsewhere, including in the United States, in England and in Scotland. The federal government had no choice but to set the stage for diversion measures, through the Young Offenders Act. Still, since the administration of justice comes under their jurisdiction, it was the provinces that had to set up diversion programs. Quebec did so by establishing an ambitious alternative program.

This year, 1999, we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the coming into law of the Young Offenders Act. The Minister of Justice of Canada considers that the law has done its time, that it is out of date and no longer meets our expectations. Let us be clear, the Liberal government is not getting ready to sacrifice 15 years of expertise, but rather 30 years of Quebec know-how.

The Young Offenders Act is the product of a number of serious consultations and studies. In 1992, the Government of Quebec established a task force to look into the application of the Young Offenders Act. Chaired by Michel Jasmin, deputy chief justice of the court of Quebec, Chambre de la jeunesse, the task force brought forth a voluminous report after two and a half years of in-depth consultation and study.

I consider it vital to inform the House of some of the conclusions of the Jasmin report, which remain topical and which, it would seem, are unknown to the minister.

Drafted from testimony by many jurists, criminologists, psychologists and social workers in Quebec, the report eloquently describes the approach taken in Quebec in dealing with juvenile delinquents. I will read to you a number of passages of this important report prepared by Mr. Justice Jasmin.

From the work we have done over the past two and a half years, we are satisfied that the Young Offenders Act is good legislation. We were struck by the consensus of the various sectors that deal with this area. It should be noted that Quebec has developed a tradition in dealing with young offenders.

The efforts of the pioneers, who, in the 1950s, advocated that services be human and professional, have borne fruit that at the time would have been unthinkable. The aim was to move beyond mere repression to focus interventions on the education and rehabilitation of young people. A lot has been done to reach that point.

And the judge continues, a little further on in his extremely important report:

Juvenile delinquency is a complex problem and must be approached accordingly. The legislation is a key element of any strategy, but we must look at the broader picture and examine other factors that are no less important. It is often easier to amend legislation than to change our approach to a problem.

Mr. Justice Jasmin probably already knew the current Minister of Justice. He goes on:

It may be tempting to think that tougher legislation is the answer to the problems of delinquency. Simplistic responses blind us to the full extent of complex problems and create the false impression that we are doing what is necessary to resolve them. One such simplistic response is substituting get-tough measures for educational approaches.

It is clear from examination of the bill at second reading that the minister's responses to an extremely complex problem are very simplistic.

The Jasmin report is often mentioned by those who support Quebec's approach. As a member from Quebec, I cannot ignore it. I will use this report to denounce the simplistic solutions of this government, which has caved in not once but twice to pressure from the right and from the Reform Party.

I will again point out that the Young Offenders Act is a good act. I cannot say often enough to the minister across the way that substituting get-tough measures for educational approaches is a simplistic response.

The Young Offenders Act is getting very good results. Youth crime is steadily declining. Oddly enough, the federal Minister of Justice presented very eloquent figures to this effect when she introduced her bill.

She mentioned that there had been a 23% decrease in youth crime since 1991. She even told the press that the number of crimes with violence had also decreased since 1995.

Just as we identify a tree by the fruit it produces, so should we judge the Young Offenders Act by the results it gets, and not by a misconception.

It would be irresponsible to blindly reform the youth justice system without looking at the whole picture. In protecting such vital things as life and bodily security, the Young Offenders Act plays a front line role in strengthening the community's faith in our institutions.

Parliamentarians therefore must respond quickly to the concerns of their fellow citizens by making the appropriate legislative amendments as needed.

However, they must first and foremost ensure that the public has the information it needs to properly grasp such a complex problem as juvenile delinquency. There is no point, however, in doing what the minister has decided to do, namely throwing the baby out with the bath water. We must take a very close look and not act impulsively with such legislation.

The federal Minister of Justice failed in her duty to inform. By advocating stricter legislation, the minister wrongly intimates that the existing legislation is deficient. It would seem to indicate a lack of leadership.

Bill C-68 shows it is easier for a Liberal government to sacrifice good legislation than to advocate the effective approach it promotes.

To properly understand the reason behind the current amendments to the Young Offenders Act, we must go back to the 35th Parliament to look at the first Liberal attempts at turning the Young Offenders Act into a scapegoat.

On April 28, 1994, the current Minister of Health and former Minister of Justice stated in the House that the move to the right responded to election commitments. He was very candid in his acknowledgement.

I scarcely need to point out that these commitments were certainly not aimed at Quebec voters. In fact, it is hardly a well-kept secret that the Liberal Party's intention was to win over the clientele of the Reform in the west.

By passing Bill C-37 at that time, the Liberal government was introducing into the Young Offenders Act a whole series of automatic provisions which would greatly affect the fragile equilibrium of the youth justice system.

By allowing 16 and 17 year olds to be automatically referred to the adult court system, this government watered down once again the specific nature of the youth justice system. At the rate things are going, soon the only connection it will have with youth will be in its title.

Continuing in the same vein, in May, 1998, the Minister of Justice introduced her youth justice renewal strategy. In particular, she announced her intention to extend the referrals to 14 and 15 year olds. All parties involved in Quebec viewed this with alarm.

The Quebec bar association had even prepared an impressive brief in which it openly deplored this measure, which it felt was likely to increase recidivism among youth, both in number and in severity. In its brief, the bar association expressed the opinion that the problem did not lie with the current Young Offenders Act, but rather with the way it was being applied.

It also criticized the reform because it was based on grounds that were both biased and disconnected from reality. Among other points it raised was the following most legitimate question, one still as timely now as it was then, “Where exactly does the government get the information that stiffer sentences were going to have any impact whatsoever on the crime rate?”

The Quebec bar association was bang on. Not only was the reform not necessary, but the solutions being put forward by the minister are misguided and risky.

Last Friday, this issue received a breath of fresh air when some fifteen organizations from Quebec publicly reaffirmed their opposition to Bill C-68. The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, the Conseil permanent de la jeunesse and the Association des chefs de police et de pompiers du Quebec, to name just a few, held a press conference at which they reaffirmed Quebec's consensus and flatly opposed the Minister of Justice's Bill C-68.

The message was and is very straightforward. They are telling the minister that they want nothing to do with her bill. They have systematically rebutted all the minister's claims that her flexible system will allow Quebec to enforce the legislation as it sees fit.

Criminologist Jean Trépanier, a recognized youth crime expert in Quebec, was scathing when it came to the minister's much-touted flexibility. At the press conference, he said: “The so-called flexibility seems to be a political trick. Quebec's judges cannot ignore sentences handed down in other courts”. Those in doubt need only read the bill.

Cécile Toutant, another very respected voice from Quebec, also took aim at certain of the bill's measures. This criminologist, who is responsible for the youth program at the Pinel institute, condemned the new measures allowing for the automatic imposition of adult sentences on 14 and 15 year olds. According to Ms. Toutant, the time served in jail has nothing to do with the protection of the public. Perhaps the minister does not know that.

Me Trépanier and Ms. Toutant are members of the Quebec bar association's subcommittee on young offenders. That subcommittee drafted, among other documents, the association's submission on the strategy to renew the youth justice system. The minister cannot ignore the advice of these experts.

Those who will have to live with the new legislation do not care about the concerns of this election-minded Liberal government. They are the ones who will have to implement the new act. The spokesperson for Quebec's youth centres association was very clear when he said, and I quote, that “if the bill is passed, we will have a real mess”.

The act will be implemented based on a very fragile discretionary power held by crown attorneys. Again, the Young Offenders Act is a good act. It is effective and it gives good results. Therefore, why change it? What are the reasons justifying such a shakeup, other than the fact that the minister is desperate to please right-wing voters and give them the repressive measures they are asking for.

Recently, western Canada, headed by the Reform Party, was demanding harsher sentences. It is getting them with this bill. Recently too, western Canada's right wing was demanding that the names of young offenders be published, and again the minister yielded to pressure.

Reformers are still not satisfied. They now want criminal justice to apply to 10 year olds. Right now, the minister says she does not want to hear about such a measure. Yet, that is what the Liberal government said in 1994, when Reformers were asking for harsher sentences. The government would not hear of such measures. What happened since? The government caved in pathetically.

This government will never succeed in maintaining a balanced approach to juvenile crime. It is much too concerned by its election ambitions in western Canada. Who can trust such a flip-flop government?

Still today, one thing is obvious in the issue of the Young Offenders Act. The Quebec people will not be able to make choices that reflect its own values until it attains sovereignty.

Every day until then, we shall rise in this House to denounce the weakness of this government. In this issue in particular, the Bloc Quebecois will not give up on its demands, with witnesses to back up its position, that the minister listen to common sense, quit playing petty politics with something as important as the future of young people who are experiencing trouble with the law, and make up her mind to withdraw her bill, because it is aimed at trying to cause the failure of the Quebec model.

It constitutes a real obstacle and a threat to the Quebec model, which was created with the help of specialists and all those involved in the field and goes back a good 30 years.

I am calling upon the minister to understand this, and to withdraw this bill as quickly as possible, because it is not good for the future of these young people involved in crime.

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12:15 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the New Democratic Party to address justice issues and in particular the new legislation that has been tabled by the minister.

I follow some eloquent speakers, who have put forward concerns. While I concur with many of the remarks of the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm, I would suggest to him that not all MPs from the west are members of the Reform Party. Indeed, it is my privilege to be part and parcel of the party that contains the progressive elements of western Canada and the progressive MPs from that part of the country. I just remind him of that. I know he is cognizant of it.

That being said, I would like to comment first about some statements that were made. I will deal with the bill and the minister's comments shortly.

For those who are listening to this debate or reading Hansard , it is important to recognize that as opposition parties it is our job not just to oppose for the sake of opposing, which is often sadly what the Reform Party does, but to examine the legislation, to offer constructive advice and alternatives, to offer genuine criticism, to also offer congratulations when sections of a bill are well done and to examine that in committee. That is the job of the opposition. Unfortunately, members of the official opposition, the Reform Party, have forgotten that.

The comments made by the member for Surrey North tended to defeat their own purpose. He criticized the government saying it was one dimensional in its approach to crime and then went on to criticize the bill in one dimensional ways.

I think some things need to be clarified, specifically with respect to the sentencing provisions. The member for Surrey North said there was nothing in the sentencing provisions that would make young people accountable, that there was only reference to rehabilitation and reintegration into society. This is an example of simplistic language in what is an extremely complex document.

The bill has many sections and deals with a fundamental issue. To clarify and illustrate the simplistic measure of the Reform Party as opposed to the complex piece of legislation which the New Democratic Party will examine thoroughly and balance, I will read that section.

“The purpose of sentencing under section 41 is to contribute to the protection of society by holding a young person accountable for an offence through the imposition of just sanctions that have meaningful consequences for the young person, that promote his or her” and then there is rehabilitation and reintegration into society. It is a complex piece of legislation, not one to be dealt with with simplistic hysteria.

Many people came before the justice committee in the preparation of this report. They are to be congratulated for their input. They included the Church Council on Justice, the Canadian Police Association and legal aid lawyers from across the country, many of whom I had the opportunity to work with before I came to parliament. It was interesting to read the comments of my colleagues in that report. I also want to commend the members of the justice department who prepared this document which as I have indicated is complex.

There are some good things in this legislation. It is important that we offer a balanced approach. In the principles, the minister recognizes that the basic premise for the legislation is the protection of society. The reason we have criminal laws is to ensure that as a society we are safe.

As the minister indicated, many people in Canadian society today do not feel safe. They feel that the law has failed them in certain criminal areas. Sometimes that is fed for political reasons. Sometimes hysteria is put forward. We hear repeatedly day after day in this House stories from the opposition about isolated incidents of heinous crimes, and they are heinous crimes. For every one young offender whose story is told for political points by the Reform Party, there are 20 young offenders who do find their way through the system and do find rehabilitation.

The protection of society and the accountability of young people for the commission of their crimes are good things. The taking of responsibility by young people has to be enunciated and this legislation does that.

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12:20 p.m.


Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I am sure the member knows and you know that it is not within the rules of this House to impugn motive. When the member speaks of what we are doing here and attaching motive to it, it is wrong.

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12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

That is a point of debate.

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12:20 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Madam Speaker, I understand the sensitivity to the truth but I will continue anyway.

I have enumerated some of the good things in the legislation. I understand how sensitive sometimes the Reform Party is to the truth.

I go on to suggest some of the good things. There is a role for victims in this legislation which is important and needs to be recognized. The publication of names for serious offences for which a young person receives adult time is an important and significant change.

That being said, some other areas of the bill will require extensive study. I have serious concerns with some areas.

First and foremost is the cost of the program and whether or not there is sufficient funding by the government to implement the changes in the act.

The act departs from the Young Offenders Act in many ways. It grants a great deal of judicial discretion and a great deal of power to the community in extrajudicial remedies.

The purpose of the legislation is to determine that only those young people who commit serious violent offences or the prescribed offences will be incarcerated, whereas the others will find a way through the system to rehabilitation or reintegration. The problem is that is not new; that is what the old Young Offenders Act set out to do.

I remember practising law with respect to young offenders when that piece of legislation was introduced. The real problem from the trenches, as we used to say at legal aid, was the resources were not there. My hon. Conservative colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough will understand this. While there was progressive legislation in place and a call for community groups to deal with young offenders, without adequate financing, those young offenders went to jail because that was all the judiciary could do with them.

My concern is that the $206 million committed by this government over three years is not enough, especially if we look at it per capita. If this money is to be distributed to the provinces on a per capita basis, it will mean very insignificant funds for the provinces with small populations, and the funds are necessary to fulfill the purposes of the act.

It is interesting to look at youth crime statistics, especially violent youth crime statistics. They are down, as the minister has said. They are down in some provinces, in Newfoundland, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. They are down in Canada as a whole. But in Saskatchewan, in my home province of Nova Scotia, and in Manitoba, violent youth crime is up. It is up from 1990 to 1997 by 23% in Saskatchewan, by 32% in Nova Scotia, and by 34% in Manitoba.

Unfortunately, if the money is to be distributed on a per capita basis, the very provinces that need the funding in order to implement the good parts of this legislation will not have significant funding.

The $206 million over three years would be roughly $68 million per year to be distributed Canada wide on a per capita basis. For my province this would amount to perhaps $2 million to do many of the things the bill calls for.

It calls for the creation of community organizations to work with young people and to ensure legal aid. The bill makes it very clear that every young person is entitled to a lawyer, which is as it should be but without substantial increased funding, that will not be there and will create problems.

The costs for changes to mandatory probation and increased supervision, which is what the bill calls for, will fall primarily to the provinces. When the young person leaves the court to be under the supervision of a probation officer, the funds will not be there for that probation officer to do the job.

Like the old act, faced with no probationary services, no community groups, or special facilities to deal with young offenders, the judge will have no option but to sentence them to a custodial period. Without adequate funding, and this is a primary concern, even the good parts of the bill cannot be implemented and will require scrutiny.

The bill also fails to deal with some of the concerns of the provinces. Provinces were unanimous in requesting a return to 50:50 funding so that 50% of the funding for youth crime and the implementation of the bill would come from the federal government. That has been cut back in recent years. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have sought that kind of funding. As I have indicated, all of the provinces have.

Manitoba has requested many things, such as mandated time lines, which are not contained in the bill. Part of the problem is that under the current system the funds are not there to ensure speedy justice. Justice has to be speedy if it is to be just. Many of the concerns of the provinces have not been met.

Other areas of the bill have to be examined in committee. I can assure the people of Canada that we in the NDP and myself as its justice critic will examine those things with a critical eye to implementation.

In this legislation there is a great deal of judicial discretion in determining whether or not a young person over the age of 14 will face adult sentences for particular crimes. That will require careful examination.

I agree with providing police discretion to caution young people, but again we cannot hold the police to a high standard of behaviour if the funding is not there to ensure adequate training. We have to ensure that the police understand the conditions under which a cautioning can take effect. If we do not, we run the risk of the police overstepping their bounds and the police run the risk of not understanding where the bounds are.

We have always encouraged police discretion, but realistically and sensibly, the average cop on the beat who is concerned about being held accountable has to know what those time lines are, what he or she can or cannot do in terms of cautioning. That will require careful examination.

There are special provisions in this act for young people who are suffering from mental illness or severe problems. We do not know how that is to be financed or exactly what young people will fit into that category. The statement that mentally ill young people will find this as an alternative to adult sentencing causes me some concern. The place for mentally ill people is not in prison. We know that and we cannot change that for young people. I am sure that is not the intent of the legislation but we will guard against that kind of thing.

I appreciate that this is the Young Offenders Act, but provisions could be made to the Criminal Code to address the concerns we have. The Minister of Justice is right in one sense. There is no place in jail for 10 and 11 year old children. They should be dealt with through social services in each province because they are children.

We have asked and called for changes to the Criminal Code to punish those who recruit 10 and 11 year old children into crime, especially young people who know that a 10 or 11 year old child cannot be charged under either the old legislation or the new legislation.

As has been pointed out by the Minister of Justice, there is a parties section. Anyone who encourages another to commit an offence is a party to the offence committed. However, we think there should be a special section dealing with those who recruit 10 and 11 year olds. It is perhaps the most heinous of crimes to induce young people into a life of crime and then only be a party to that. Perhaps the penalty should be increased for those who do that. Again, that is a subject matter outside of the Young Offenders Act but an amendment to the Criminal Code could meet the concerns of many people concerned about youth gangs in their cities.

The member for Surrey North has put forward a private member's bill in good faith which has been included in the provisions of the Young Offenders Act. It is a section that will require careful examination. I appreciate that the member says this is not to make adults responsible for the crimes of their children. I believe he means that but I am concerned about the wording of the legislation.

He is also absolutely correct when he says there is currently a provision in the Criminal Code which deals with that. The difference is this change will make it a hybrid offence. This means that under the old legislation when a parent or a guardian signs an assurance saying they will be responsible for the young person while he or she is released pending trial, if the young person breaches the conditions then the person who is supervising him or her has some liability for that. Currently it is a summary offence.

My understanding of the proposed change is that it will make it a hybrid offence where the parent can either be charged indictably, which carries a more serious penalty, or summarily at the discretion of the crown. If we are not imputing the crime of the child on to the parent, one must ask why we would have differing penalties. The crime is clearly the failure to supervise. It is not failure to supervise if one robs the grocery store or commits armed robbery, it is failure to supervise, period.

That we would have differing penalties for the person who fails to supervise leads to the impression, which is why the member from Surrey said the members of the press were reporting it this way, that the parent is then responsible and faces a more serious penalty if a more heinous crime is committee. That is something we will check on balance at committee.

As I have indicated, there are many areas to this act. There are over 101 sections that need to be examined carefully. I think the member from the Bloc Quebecois who spoke prior to me is correct to some extent. The agenda has been pushed.

What we have in this new legislation, in a way to balance, is tremendous discretion. It is in part a response to find that balance. We will be checking that discretion carefully to ensure that while there is discretion the principles that guide that discretion are proper.

At the end of the day we need legislation based on sound public policy. We need neither hysteria nor platitudes. We owe it to the young people of this country, to the people who live in communities and who are concerned about crime. We owe them a piece of legislation that works, that balances and that is fair.

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12:35 p.m.


Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, I am appalled at the hon. member. He is accusing Reformers of using this issue for political purposes but he is using it in resorting to attacks on the official opposition.

At the end of his speech he said that one thing we do not need is legislation based on hysteria. I think all members and all political parties would agree with that. What we have seen continuously over the five years during which the majority of Reformers have been present in this Chamber is the unwillingness of the government to properly address this very serious issue of youth crime. The real problem is exactly that. It is not hysteria. It is not that some members raise important issues and examples of where the system is failing, failing all Canadians, not just the victims of crime but in many Canadians the youth themselves.

The hon. member agrees with the government in its reluctance to lower the age to include 10 and 11 year olds. I believe he said that the proper avenue to address crime in this age group is with social services. I point out to the hon. member that is the problem we have today. That is the problem we have with the current Young Offenders Act. These youngsters are falling through the cracks and social services cannot adequately address that. It is not just the official opposition saying that. We are hearing that from all sectors, from a lot of people involved in the field of justice as it pertains to youth crime.

Could the hon. member elaborate on how he would see those youngsters who are falling through the cracks and who are not getting the help they need? Let us be clear that we are not talking about 10 and 11 year olds going to jail. That is the charge from the other side. It has been directed at those people who have suggested and stated quite emphatically in many cases that 10 and 11 year olds need to be included in any remake of the YOA. The fact is we must include them if we are to help them.

I would like the hon. member to explain at greater length how he envisions under the new act that those 10 and 11 year olds who do flaunt the system will be dealt with adequately under social services when they have not been in the past.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond. There are ways we can ensure 10 and 11 year old children, children who are usually in grades four and five, are dealt with when they commit crimes. I say commit crimes but they are not committing crimes, they are behaving badly. The member asked how we can remedy that. The suggestion came from his own party. It was a commendable suggestion by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca who talked about a head start program.

We talk about ending child poverty in this country. Unfortunately in the race to balance books, in the race to cut deficit, in the race to the bottom we have increased child poverty in this country by 50%.

I know we say it over and over. I know members are tired of hearing it, but when we talk about increasing child poverty by 50%, the faces of that child poverty are the 10 and 11 year olds referred to by the member who asked the question.

The reality is that children who do not have adequate food, who do not have support at home for whatever reason, are children who fall between the cracks and commit crimes. That is why we need at the provincial level adequate social services such as a head start program, such as increased support for families and for single mothers, to ensure those children have both the monetary and emotional support they need.

Sometimes I am puzzled at why some people take various stands on things. That is why we have guidelines in terms of maintenance support under divorce legislation. It is a way of trying to ensure that young people have the necessary support to grow up healthy, to grow up with respect for society and to be accountable for their behaviour.

We need to improve schools. We have a crisis in education across the country. Governments are cutting back on teachers. All this is happening to some extent, especially in the poorer provinces, because the federal government has cut back money to the poorer provinces. When it comes time for education, teachers who are on the front line and understand perhaps more than anyone when children are falling through the cracks do not have adequate resources. We have kids going to school without sufficient learning tools.

There are many ways we can address the problem of 10 and 11 year old children who fall through the cracks. The way to do it is to help families through social services, not through the criminal code.

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12:40 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the member. Except for some very obvious points, I had a great deal of sympathy for what he had to say.

I understand that at the present time we incarcerate 25,000 young people a year. Given that the vast majority of these are boys, this means that in a four or five year period we incarcerate over 100,000 young people.

I understand the statistics are quite skewed. Look at Quebec and New Brunswick. I understand New Brunswick has recently closed a number of prisons. The figures are quite different there. The rate of incarceration is much lower.

I wonder if the member has any information on these two provinces and what they have been doing to keep their incarceration rates so low compared with a province such as Ontario.

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12:40 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. A great deal of what Quebec has been doing was elaborated on by the justice critic for Quebec. Interestingly enough, in his criticism of the government he says that the Young Offenders Act works if the resources are available to make it work.

I go back to my concern about this legislation. While there are some good things in the legislation dealing with extrajudicial remedies and some good things that provide for redirecting young people in a way that would move them away from a life of crime, without adequate resources that cannot be fulfilled.

I think we have a great deal to learn from Quebec in the way it has dealt with its young offenders. The hon. member who preceded me gave a history of the tremendous contribution of Quebec to the youth crime issue. It is to me a startling example of working together at the federal and provincial level and achieving the results we want.

I perhaps would disagree with the hon. member. The federal initiative was important in working with Quebec. The country benefits best when we see those two governments working hand in hand for the enhancement and betterment of the whole country and is a shining example of what all the provinces can do if we work well with the federal government.

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12:45 p.m.


Jake Hoeppner Reform Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am appalled when I hear that Reform is trying to create hysteria.

I will tell the House what hysteria is. It is when one has a son in the hospital who has been beaten to the point where they cannot recognize him, where they have to identify him by a tag. I was more fortunate than my hon. colleague from B.C. in having my son restored and brought back to health. That is hysteria. If we do not want to address it when the police in the streets tell us that their problems are getting greater and greater, then someone should have the experience of hysteria.

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12:45 p.m.


Peter Mancini NDP Sydney—Victoria, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comment of the hon. member. What I am suggesting is this. We need to hear that kind of evidence in this body. It is important for us to hear what happens in a balanced way. When we talk about victims of crime we need to recognize that all of society is victimized when crime occurs.

What we tend to hear about is the person who is hurt. That is legitimate. What we do not hear about is that many times young offenders are victims; victims of sexual abuse, a history of violent abuse, a history of mental abuse, a history of being ignored by the system, of growing up in aboriginal communities where, many times, there are no support services. When those stories are told I would expect a balanced approach. That is what I am saying.

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12:45 p.m.

Calgary Southwest Alberta


Preston Manning ReformLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, for over 10 years Reform members have been calling for reforms to the Young Offenders Act, a statute which the justice minister herself characterized as the most unpopular piece of federal legislation.

The leadership in advocating these Young Offenders Act reforms has been provided in particular by the hon. member for Crowfoot, the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, the hon. member for Surrey North, the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford and many others of my colleagues. I want to thank each of them for the sincerity of their efforts and for their dedication, some of which has come to fruition in portions of this bill.

Our interest in this bill stems from two sources: first, the concerns of the public with respect to youth crime and the inadequacy of the Liberal approach to dealing with it and, second, from our interest and concern for young people themselves.

I frequently visit high schools where I have open question and answer periods with young people. I notice that of all the federal laws, the one that is best known—young people know about it, how it works and how it does not work—is the Young Offenders Act.

Usually in my encounters with young people I ask them at the end of the discussion to take a straw vote on would they prefer to tighten up the Young Offenders Act, strengthen its provisions, would they prefer to leave it as it is, or would they prefer to loosen it. In the assemblies that I have been at I have probably asked this 30 or 40 times over the last three or four years. Invariably the voting is always the same. About 60% to 70% of our young people say strengthen the Young Offenders Act, tighten it up, and adults better believe and better understand that we young people are the greatest single category of victims of youth crime.

I was interested that in the minister's remarks this morning commenting on the bill there was not a single reference to consultation with young people on their ideas, their fears and their concerns. Yet I suggest that they have a big stake in this bill and it is not simply as the perpetrators of youth crime.

The Young Offenders Act reforms which the public has called for and which we have advocated have been numerous in detail, but the most substantive may be grouped under eight headings: one, clarification of the purposes of the act; two, strengthening parental responsibility; three, recognition of victims' rights and the provision of support services for victims; four, stronger differentiation between violent repeat offenders and non-violent first time offenders; five, strengthening sentencing provisions; six, publication of the names of young offenders; seven, changes to the age of application of the Young Offenders Act; and eight, provisions for rehabilitation and prevention.

After six years of dithering the government has finally brought forward proposed changes to the Young Offenders Act which are found in the bill before us.

My intention today is first to briefly compare the changes in the bill with those demanded by the public and the official opposition; second, to identify those measures which we support and give credit where credit is due; and third, to identify those areas where we feel the government's response has been inadequate or misguided and to urge constructive alternatives and amendments.

I want to begin with the purpose of the act. I was disappointed this morning in the minister's remarks as she devoted no time at all to that subject.

Hon. members will know that this official opposition attaches great importance to ensuring that parliament clearly states its intent in any bill that we consider or that we adopt, because if we do not, and the government is often sloppy in this area, we simply hand jurisdiction by default over to the courts, and that has been done far too many times.

With respect to the bill before us, it is particularly important to clearly state the intent because there has been a lot of confusion on this in the past. The old Juvenile Deliquents Act made it clear that its primary purpose was the welfare of society, whereas the Young Offenders Act introduced by the Trudeau government focused more on the welfare of the young offender.

I ask, what is the primary intent of this parliament in passing this statute? Is it first and foremost the protection of the public, or is it the rehabilitation of young offenders? If we give the typical Liberal answer, which is that when one comes to a fork in the road one should take it, in other words both, then the question is which objective prevails if those two objectives come into conflict.

I believe that one of the commendable features of the bill is that it states in the preamble that the protection of society from youth crime is the principal objective of the bill. I think that is progress.

In clause 3.1 it also states that the principal goal of the youth criminal justice system is to protect the public; a protection to be pursued through the prevention of youth crime, through the punishment of convicted offenders and through efforts to rehabilitate.

This clarification of the intent of the Young Offenders Act with greater emphasis on the protection of society is a change that Reformers have long advocated and we are pleased to see progress in that direction in the bill.

I should note in passing that some of the reforms we have advocated, like clarifying the intent of the Young Offenders Act to establish the paramountcy of protection of the public, have frequently been dismissed by the government, and by the minister in particular, as simplistic. In doing so the minister implies that complex problems always require even more complex and complicated solutions and that simplicity is always suspect by definition.

I would remind the minister that there are really two kinds of simplicity. There is “simple stupid”, a simplicity rooted in ignorance or lack of experience, which certainly should be avoided in seeking solutions to public problems. There is also such a thing as “simple wise”, a simplicity that is rooted in common sense or in experience and perceptions which allow us to reduce complexity to its essential element.

Newton's definition of the laws of motion and Einstein's reduction of the theory of special relativity to E = MC2 were simplifications, but they were not “simple stupid”, they were “simple wise”.

Clear, simple definitions of the intent of parliament in passing a statute are greatly preferred over the convoluted statements of multiple objectives such as the minister and her bureaucrats are wont to spout.

We need to remind ourselves that the law of Moses, which will be remembered and studied long after the laws of this administration are forgotten, consisted of 10 commandments, not 10,000 commandments, and it is not necessarily a sign of advancement or sophistication when a forklift is required to deliver the laws to the population.

Allow me to turn to another Young Offenders Act reform which this party has long advocated, and that is increased emphasis on parental responsibility for the actions of young offenders. While this bill does not go as far as Reformers would like with respect to affirming parental responsibility, it contains at least two steps in the right direction.

First, I refer to the requirement for compulsory attendance of a parent at court, if that is considered by the judge to be in the interests of the young person. Second, I refer to the increased penalties provided for a parent who signs a court undertaking to supervise a young person upon release and who wilfully fails to fulfill that obligation.

It is appropriate to remind the minister and the House that this latter provision on penalties for parents who wilfully fail to supervise a young offender released into their custody is in this bill primarily as a result of the work of the member for Surrey North who originally proposed this measure in a private member's bill. In question period when the justice minister is asked, as she frequently is, why she did not include such and such a measure in the bill, or why she failed to see such and such a consequence of her decisions, if members check Hansard , her most frequent response is to say that the questioner does not understand, as if all knowledge on issues like youth crime lies with the minister and her bureaucrats, and ordinary MPs or ordinary members of the public lack the understanding to question the minister or comment intelligently on such sophisticated matters.

Last week in question period when the minister implied that the member for Surrey North did not understand the issue of youth crime, she made a mistake so grave that it deserves public notice and rebuke. Members will know that the primary reason the member for Surrey North ran for parliament, and he explained this this morning, was to work for amendments to the Young Offenders Act to hold parents or guardians more accountable when supervising accused young offenders who are released from custody pursuant to a court order or signed contract.

The member for Surrey North experienced the terrible tragedy of having his 16 year old son Jesse murdered by a young offender who was released into society on precisely one of these court orders signed by a parent. That parent promised to supervise the young offender and promised to ensure that certain conditions would be respected. One of those conditions was that the young offender was to have a curfew from dusk to dawn. The parent in that particular case did not supervise his child and the son of the hon. member was knifed to death at night when that young offender should not have been on the streets. I for one do not ever want to hear the Minister of Justice say again to the member for Surrey North that he does not understand. He has an understanding of the youth crime issue at the heart level and at the gut level as well as the head level that no amount of book learning or memo reading could ever give the minister.

I turn to the victims of youth crime. Victims of youth crime have become so frustrated by the government's lack of concern for them and their families that some, like the member for Surrey North, have had to run for parliament to raise their concerns directly. Let us look at Bill C-68 from the standpoint of victims' rights and the provision of support for victims.

The bill before us contains several provisions that represent a step in the right direction. For example, clause 52 permits the provinces to order that a surcharge be levied on any fines payable by young persons, the funds to be used to provide assistance to victims of offences. Where the province has not made this type of order, a youth justice court may order a victim fine surcharge in an amount not exceeding 15% of the fine to provide assistance to victims of offences.

Clause 113 permits a youth justice court, a review board or any court to keep a record of proceedings of young persons. Clause 118 permits victims access to the clause 113 records. Clause 39 states that the pre-sentence report is to include the results of an interview with the victim. If applicable and reasonably possible, clause 12 permits the victim to obtain information on how the young person has been dealt with through extrajudicial measures.

These provisions all represent steps in the right direction. However, hon. members on both sides of the House will notice that they fall far short of the demand of the official opposition, supported by this House, for a full blown victims' bill of rights applicable to victims of offences committed both under the Young Offenders Act and under the Criminal Code. We will therefore continue to press for a full blown victims' rights provision along the lines of that proposed by the member for Langley—Abbotsford.

This minister, like her predecessor, still appears to assign a low priority to victims' rights in relation to the rights granted to persons accused or convicted of crimes, which reminds me of a story.

It is the story of the good samaritan with a Liberal twist. It seems that a certain man went down Wellington Street one night. He was attacked by a gang. He was beaten, robbed and left half dead by the side of the street. Shortly after, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health happened to be going down the same street. They were on their way to a discussion of child poverty at the Rideau Club over wine and cheese when they saw this poor victim lying on the street. As they hurriedly stepped over the victim to continue on their way they were heard to say to one another “You know, we really need to do something to help the people who beat and robbed this fellow”.

Like most Liberal policy statements, their words reflect a half truth. It is true that the people who beat and rob others need not only to be apprehended and restrained but treated and rehabilitated. I suggest it is even more true that the victims of their crimes, who do not need to be hunted down because they are right there in front of us, also need to be helped and often more urgently so.

Unfortunately the provisions of this bill for providing real help to victims are woefully inadequate, and that is a regrettable deficiency.

I turn to three other subjects of great concern to the public and on which we consider the provisions of this bill inadequate. I refer to the provisions pertaining to the differentiation of violent offenders from non-violent offenders, for sentencing of young offenders and for publishing or prohibiting the publication of the names of young offenders.

My colleagues have already done this and will continue to do this. We will comment in greater detail on all these provisions but I will summarize our concerns in this way. It is the position of the official opposition that a disproportionate number of non-violent offenders are locked up, limiting space and resources needed for violent offenders and increasing rather than reducing the probability that these young people will be drawn into a life of crime rather than being protected and liberated from criminal influences.

We have consequently advocated a stronger differentiation, both in law and in treatment, between violent and non-violent youth offenders and between first time and repeat offenders. It was the justice committee and the Reform Party which strongly recommended extrajudicial measures, measures other than judicial proceedings, to deal particularly with first time non-violent offenders.

The legislation before us in section 2 defines a non-violent offence as an offence that does not cause or create a substantial risk of causing bodily harm and defines a violent offence as one that does cause or create a substantial risk of causing bodily harm. In part 1 the legislation goes on to provide for extrajudicial measures for application to first time non-violent offenders. All this is well and good and is welcomed by the official opposition, regardless of who gets the credit for these provisions.

Unfortunately, however, there is a weakness in this section which if not corrected will bring the whole concept of extrajudicial treatment into disrepute, just as the minister's approach to conditional sentencing has brought that concept into disrepute.

Our interpretation of clauses 4(c) and 4(d) is that these extrajudicial measures could also be applied and will also be applied to repeat offenders and even violent offenders at the discretion of the court. This is a weakness on which my colleagues will comment further and to which we will propose corrective amendments.

In keeping with the principle of more strongly differentiating between the treatment of first time non-violent youth offenders and violent repeat offenders, the official opposition has consistently called for tough sentencing in adult court of repeat violent young offenders.

In the bill before us the list of presumptive offences for which an adult sentence may be imposed is severely restricted. The list includes murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault but it does not include sexual assault with a weapon, hostage taking, aggravated assault, kidnapping and a host of other serious violent offences. This too is a weakness in the bill and my colleagues will propose corrective amendments.

The official opposition and many victims groups have also taken the position that the public has a right to know the names of young offenders whose activities are a threat to others, including other young people, and that the public has a right to know if a violent young offender has been released into the community.

Section 109 of this bill covers the publication of the names of young offenders. It generally permits the publication of the names of most violent young offenders 14 and over. Violent young persons under 14 would appear, however, to have their names protected from publication. In general, it is our conclusion that the act contains too many provisions and too many loopholes to prevent the publication of names of violent offenders who constitute a risk to the people of their community.

Again, my colleagues will elaborate on these deficiencies. These are the deficiencies of half measures. When the government approaches a problem it never provides a whole solution, always half measures. This bill is riddled with half measures in respect of differentiation, sentencing and name publication. That is why we say it needs a lot of corrective amendments.

I now turn to the age of application. The age of application of the Young Offenders Act is provided for in Bill C-68. The official opposition believes the government has made another serious mistake here by rejecting proposals for lowering the maximum age from 17 to 15 and lowering the minimum age from 12 to 10. Sixteen and seventeen year olds are legally allowed to drive cars, to get married and to live on their own. They are able to distinguish right from wrong and should be treated as adults under criminal law, particularly in the case of repeated violent offences.

The official opposition and the public take particular exception to the government's fallacious contention that people who want to lower the age of application of the Young Offenders Act are hard hearted barbarians who would put 10 year olds in jail. Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to Statistics Canada about 5% of all youth crime is committed by children under 12. These children, more than any other category of youth offenders, are usually victims of crime themselves, often recruited into criminal activity, particularly in the case of break and entry for the purposes of theft, by older teens or adults who know that if these under 12 children are apprehended they cannot be dealt with effectively by the police or courts under the current law.

The whole purpose of lowering the age of application to 10 years is not to put 10 year olds in jail but to keep them out of jail when they are 16, 18 and 21 by giving them access to the rehabilitative measures and services which this act purportedly provides to first time offenders.

It is ironic that if the minister really had the faith she professes to have in the effectiveness of the rehabilitative provisions of this bill, the provisions for extrajudicial measures, for warnings, for cautions, for referrals, for youth justice committees, for community support, why would she deny access to those rehabilitative provisions to the most vulnerable and malleable of young offenders?

This brings me to what I consider to be the most important of the eight categories of the Young Offenders Act and criminal justice reforms that Reformers have advocated, the provision for rehabilitation and prevention. I have already emphasized the interest shown by my colleagues on the justice committee in developing and ensuring the success of extrajudicial measures for dealing with young offenders, in particular the non-violent first time offender who at least in theory is the best candidate for rehabilitative and preventive measures if these are available and properly funded.

My colleague, the member for Surrey North, has been personally involved for a number of years in diversion and alternative programs whereby the community and the young offender sit down, sometimes with the victim, to determine how best to address the wrongs that have been done and to provide the healing of both victim and offender, which is at the heart of rehabilitation. I appreciated his experience and the remarks he made this morning on this subject and I commend those remarks to the minister and other members of the House.

Let me confine my remarks to prevention. It is on this aspect of the treatment of young offenders where there is the most profound difference between the government and members of the official opposition. The official opposition believes that the most effective approach to crime prevention, particularly youth crime prevention, is to strengthen families. By this I mean families broadly defined to include extended families, single parent families, traditional families, the situations in which the vast majority of our children are born and in which they are raised for better or for worse.

It is because of this fundamental belief that the strong family is the key to healthy, properly educated, law abiding, secure, adventurous and happy future generations that we advocate tax relief for families, tax fairness for families, respect for families, respect for their rights to make decisions that affect the welfare of family members and acceptance by families of responsibility for their decisions. We would like to see the justice minister, the health minister and the human resources minister, all ministers with social responsibility, band together and become the strongest lobby within the government for strengthening families.

Instead what do we see? When it comes to issues like crime prevention, youth crime prevention, illness prevention or unemployment prevention, the ministers of the Liberal government put their faith not in families but in government programs operated for the most part by well meaning but impersonal and inefficient bureaucracies. When bureaucracy fails their instinct is to appoint a super bureaucrat or an ombudsman to adjudicate among the bureaucrats.

This predisposition to trust bureaucracies to deal with our most delicate and serious social problems was graphically illustrated last week in question period when the justice minister was asked what should be done for these 10 and 11 year olds recruited into crime by teens and adults and if her department was going to ignore it. Her answer, which she repeated several times then and again this morning, was turn them over to the provincial welfare system.

Is the minister not aware that the public has absolutely no faith in that answer at all? Has the minister not read about or been briefed on the abuse and neglect of children by both provincial and private child welfare systems across the country? For example, the situation in B.C. of the torture and death of a young child at the hands of his mother, both of whom were under the care of the ministry of social services, sparked a whole special inquiry by Justice Thomas Gove and resulted in demands for a complete rethinking of the entire child welfare system in that province.

Has the minister not read the briefs or seen the reports on the situation in Manitoba where the number of child deaths in 1998 in situations where child welfare agencies have responsibility has prompted a complete review of the child welfare system there?

Has she not read the statistics on the situation in Quebec where more than 100 Quebec children under five die every year in violent, unusual or undetermined circumstances and where the child welfare system itself acknowledges having great difficulty in either getting to the causes or providing protection? Is the minister not aware that right here in the province of Ontario the starvation death of a five week old infant while under the care of the Children's Aid Society has prompted the review of child abuse and neglect cases in all 55 children's aid societies across the province?

Is the minister not aware that the appointment of a children's czar or a super bureaucrat or an ombudsman to adjudicate among the bureaucrats is not the answer to the prevention of social ills? Is the minister not aware it is time to challenge the whole notion, which is embedded in the administration and has been there ever since the second world war, that bureaucracies can care for people, in particular vulnerable people like the old, the sick, the poor and the young?

Why are bureaucracies not the best instruments for delivering frontline care? There are two huge reasons. First, bureaucratic structures with their layers and layers of organizational boxes divide up responsibility for the consequences of their actions so finely that no one is accountable for the final result. Thus we can have a revolving door parole system that simply does not work, that everyone knows does not work, and yet no one accepts any responsibility for it, for changing it and, worse, no one accepts any responsibility for the outcome of the defective system, not even the minister.

Thus there can be a bureaucratic system for guaranteeing the security of the blood system. When people die of hepatitis C contracted from tainted blood obtained from that system, no one is responsible. It is the same story.

The second reason bureaucracies are untrustworthy in caring for people stems from the way they handle information.

Bureaucracies are information systems that transmit information on particular cases involving people upward to policy decision makers and downward from those decision makers to frontline workers. Unfortunately bureaucratic information systems can only transmit certain types of information. The information they can transmit most reliably is hard data consisting of objective facts and figures. The information they cannot transmit effectively is information about values, beliefs, emotions and feelings which happen to be precisely the type of information one needs to make policy on or to deal directly with vulnerable people, in particular the sick, the old, the poor and the young.

This is not to say there is no place for the big public service social bureaucracies, but their place should be to serve and support frontline caregivers and not to smother or substitute for them. By frontline caregivers, many of whose actions can contribute to the prevention of crime, I mean all those overworked social workers, probation officers, court workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and day care workers.

Above all I include in the frontline caregivers overworked, under supported and under recognized parents. Of all the frontline caregivers it is these parents that the official opposition considers to have the most crucial role with respect to the care and nurture of children into productive and law-abiding citizens.

If the government and the justice minister have any appreciation of the need for a more progressive, decentralized, family oriented approach to the prevention of youth crime, it should have been evident in the budget and the other social policies of the government but it is not.

For example, when the government takes $2,000, $3,000 and $4,000 in taxes per year away from poor families with children and then gives them back a few hundred dollars through tax credits, it is contributing to, not alleviating, the poverty and family stress that breed social problems including crime.

If the justice minister had any appreciation of this alternative family centred approach to crime prevention, it would be evident in the section of the bill providing for consequential and conditional amendments to other legislation. However the only conditional and consequential amendments in the bill are some amendments to the Criminal Code and a few other criminal statutes. There are no consequential amendments or adjustments to social legislation or tax legislation which is where we get at this family centred approach to prevention of crime.

Because we see hardly a trace of this more progressive, decentralized family oriented approach to prevention of youth crime in the bill, we consider its approach to rehabilitation and prevention completely inadequate and completely out of date.

My concluding summary therefore is that eight great categories of reforms the public has demanded, which we have been advocating for years and against which we measure the content of the bill, have been presented. With respect to clarifying the purposes of the act and strengthening parental responsibility we support the measures contained in the bill.

With respect to recognition of victims rights and provisions for victims support, the bill contains a few steps in the right direction but falls far short of what we wanted to see in a full blown victims bill of rights. With respect to the bill's provisions for differentiating between violent and non-violent offenders, its provisions for sentencing of young offenders, and its provisions for publishing the names of young offenders, we find major deficiencies in all these provisions which my colleagues will endeavour to correct through amendments.

With respect to the failure of the bill to effectively change the age of application of the Young Offenders Act, we think the government's approach is a big mistake. With respect to the most important dimension of treatment of young offenders, namely the importance of prevention and the crucial role of the family with respect to youth crime prevention, we find the approach of the government, the justice minister, the department and the bill to be both inadequate and misdirected.

For these reasons the official opposition opposes the legislation in its current form and urges other members of the House to do likewise.

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1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

We will proceed to the 30 minute slot which I understand is being divided on the government side with questions and comments.

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1:20 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

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.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to enter the debate on Bill C-68, the changes to our youth criminal justice system.

I come to this debate with some new-found experience. I left the House on Thursday and entered my home around 12.00 a.m. to discover it had been broken into and violated. Windows had been smashed. I lost about $20,000 of personal assets. It is the second time this has happened. Obviously I cannot accuse young offenders of doing this because I am not certain who it was. They may well have been graduates of the young offenders school. Therefore, I speak with some experience today.

The first constituent to come into my office on Friday sat down and pounded on the table. He had sold some cattle and had some money in his house. He believed that young offenders had broken into his house and had stolen his money.

On the train coming back here last night another constituent told me that someone had stolen his car on the same night my house had been broken into. He is a local high school teacher. His car was found at the high school.

I come to this debate today saying there is definitely a problem. I can now say that I am a victim of this type of crime. However, I do not believe that incarceration and penalizing by a harsh system is the answer. Canada has one of the highest incarceration rates for young offenders in all the western world. That is not the answer. A very informative trip to Millhaven penitentiary convinced me of the total waste of human assets in our prison system. People are wasting their days away at the taxpayers' expense.

In studying the whole youth justice system, one thing which seems to be missing is some kind of retribution. The retribution process is one which recognizes that somebody has committed a crime against another person. We live in a very plastic society. We turn on the television set and see crimes committed. We do not believe there are any human beings behind the crimes. We believe that people's property can be stolen, or they can be maimed and there really is no downside.

I have been very impressed with some of the programs our minister has sponsored in my riding to increase the awareness that the people who commit crime have done so against other people. An aggressive program in south Oshawa involves the street crime unit, the crown prosecutor and others. We have had some positive results. Youth crime has declined in these areas.

One commonality is it seems that communities are acting in a holistic fashion to deal with the problems of crime. One issue which also seems to be in there is that younger people for example go to the supermarket and talk to the person who is running the store or talk to families or other people who have been violated. They see that real people are involved in the process and it is not just some statistic.

I listened attentively to the Leader of the Official Opposition. His simple answer was that to empower families would solve all of our youth justice problems.

I have taken the time to sit down with some families that have been affected in that their children have committed youth crimes. There was a period during which they felt they had lost control of one of their children while the other children were fine. These things often are not predictable. Parents understand that personalities can be very different.

Everyone of these people came from very caring families. They all said that the intervention of the state at a certain period of time was useful. It takes the custody situation out of the family unit. Somebody else is responsible for curfews, et cetera, and creates a positive attitude of rehabilitation.

I know of many dysfunctional families. There are limitations as to what we can do to empower families. It is a fair and respectable thought process to take care of each other within our family units, but the reality is that is not where society is today.

Whether we should go back to that regime is another point of view. Even if it were possible to go back to that kind of a society is questionable as we enter into a more global society. People are moving. Families are scattered all across the country. People do not live in the same little areas they grew up in, the flip side of which I suppose is that people are pursuing more interesting careers.

The bill tries to segregate violent and non-violent crimes. Basically it takes two courses of action. The Leader of the Opposition talked about the fork in the road, but we are talking about treating crimes differently depending on what the commission of the crime is.

I think we would all stand back and say that this legislation attempts to be tougher on acts of violent crimes against people by allowing younger violators to be tried in adult court, the publishing of their names, et cetera. The second area is non-violent crimes, the type that affected me and would be dealt with differently. I fully respect that. I would rather have these young people out working in the community, earning money and paying people back as a consequence of their actions rather than having them sit in a penal institution wasting their days away.

We are talking about preventative measures and more community based measures in order to solve the issue of youth crime. When the person is reintroduced into the community they realize they are part of a family, a family of communities. Within that structure they have a responsibility for their actions. It is for those things that are in this bill that I am very supportive of the minister and her legislative process. We all have a tendency to wish there were simple solutions.

I have said to a lot of my constituents, “Do you not think that if changing a couple of lines in the Young Offenders Act would do away with youth crime in this country we would not have done it long ago?” The reality is that it is a societal issue.

Members of the Reform Party think there is a cause and effect, that before they commit a crime they study the Young Offenders Act and the sentencing provisions and then commit the act. People tell us all the time that there is no thought process put in place before the crime is committed, even with adult crimes. There is no consequence of people saying “Should I or should I not carry a gun”. They are not brilliant people. They are probably some of the lower educated people for a variety of reasons and do not think that way.

Simply changing an act here in Ottawa is not going to change the problems of youth crime in our communities. It has to be done through assistance to communities and through preventative action programs such as the ones in the bill. Communities must also become more aware of how they can enhance their communities to make them safe and ensure that young people will not follow a course of violence and crime.

I am very supportive of the legislation, especially the preventative measures. And I hope I do not have another incident like the one last week.

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1:40 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the new name of the riding is Haliburton—Victoria—Brock. It reflects the fact that there is only one Haliburton. There are three Victorias and many Brocks. The name change reflects that.

I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-68. I have not gotten over the last C-68 we had in here. I did not think I would ever want to get up and speak on anything that had anything to do with C-68.

In this case however, the people of Haliburton—Victoria—Brock had a direct say in the drafting of this bill. I was able to have some input into this bill and indirectly to the solicitor general's bill which we debated in Minden on October 4. That allowed for the Criminal Records Act to be changed so that people's names could be entered into a register, for example sexual predators and pedophiles in particular.

I listened to the member for Calgary Southwest, the Leader of the Opposition. He has a rather simplistic approach. He talks first about punishment and asks how society will be protected. He tries to transpose the idea into people's minds that the more people are punished, the more they will be rehabilitated. I find that kind of offensive.

To my credit, and sometimes I think to my detriment, I was a member of the society that looked after parole. As an officer in that role I came in contact with many police officers. I conducted a number of parole hearings just as the Young Offenders Act changes were coming in a few years ago. I saw repeat and repeat offenders at age 18 being brought back into the system as young offenders. They were teaching crime to young offenders who maybe would only have come into the system once and then would have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. Had they been taught values for the first time, they would have had a better chance in society.

That was a simplistic approach by the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Calgary Southwest. The member for Calgary Northeast wanted to study caning. He thought that caning people would somehow cure people from committing crimes. I do not know whether he was going to study the stroke or the intensity. He never did tell me what it was that turned his crank to want to do that. It seems Calgary has this thing about beating everybody into submission.

I have some examples as a parole officer. People 14 years old who have been beaten, hung by their heels, put down all their lives need help. They do not need another beating. Another beating will do totally nothing for them, except turn them further and further away from what they need to be rehabilitated in order to be constructive, contributing members of society.

That is what this bill tends to look at. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the government can be blamed, everyone can be blamed, but blaming the system for someone murdering someone else is part of the problem. It is not all of the problem.

The fact that we will punish people who sign someone out of an institution and say they will take care of them is a good step. I do not think that should be taken lightly. A person who commits a crime and intends to commit another crime will not to be stopped by having their mother sign them out of the institution. If they are going to reoffend, they will reoffend.

We have to find a way to reach that person, to teach them values, to show them perhaps for the first time values. In studying some of the personal things, some of the parts of the Young Offenders Act that I was involved in, as a parent I went to court seven times. Two judges did not last through the proceedings. We came to our third judge before finally they talked about sentencing. Was it to be closed custody or open custody for the person who offended was what I was a witness for.

Look at the court system, which I tend to have the highest respect for even though I am not a lawyer. Being a real estate agent we just made all their money for them. I hear my lawyer friends getting upset about that. The fact is it is a good part of their practice. When they are able to delay and delay and to wait until the witness does not show up of whom they have a question to ask and the case is dismissed, I find that part has to be taken into account and has to be treated very seriously in the criminal justice system. It is something where police officers are continually asked to appear in court to be witnesses, which takes up valuable time they need to chase criminals. Instead of that they end up in court and in a situation where they are off the street. Many times they are dealing with people who have been through system many times. They know how the system works better than police officers, better than lawyers, better than judges and certainly better than the prosecutors.

Bill C-68 is not perfect. Anyone who thinks perfect law will be passed here which changes society will be disappointed. Everything has to be tested in the court system. When we test a law in the court system it is done by the experience of working it through, by having it exposed to the many people who become involved in that system to see how the legislation works.

Going back to my friend, the hon. solicitor general, when he brought in the publishing of the names of pedophiles, I think that was a very positive step in our criminal justice system. It allows institutions, boys and girls clubs, people who coach hockey, people who are involved in the youth system, to do background checks on people to find out if they have previous experience. Even if they have been pardoned it will show up in the system as they go from province to province. Changing their name is another problem that exists in the system. People change their names. They have a clean slate and they have been pardoned under another name. That legislation is good because it comes from the problems of community groups and how they want to interact with the youth justice system and with the criminal justice system.

Allowing an adult sentence for a youth of 14 who is convicted of an offence can result in a sentence of two years less a day. If a person is convicted provincially they can serve up to two years less a day for that crime. It puts an onus on people. If we take a person and put them into a value home, a value environment, a place where sometimes for the first time they would have some values, I think that is an important part of this bill.

Getting back to the simplistic approach by the members for Calgary Southwest and Calgary Northeast who have a punishment philosophy, let us take a look at the problem. If I were to write a parole paper and I put broken home, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, abused as a child, a grade eight education, a dropout, I would have about 90% of that catchment area that I work in.

What is missing? Is it punishment? Most of them fight their way into gangs. They do not get brought in because they have not been beaten or because they are going to beat someone. A lot of gangs are there. Peer pressure draws people into them. Taking them out and beating them for being beaten is not something that will instil any values in them.

We are talking about poor, underprivileged, abused people. The rest of the people who are caught in this will see the results of their actions. When they are taken away from that peer group they will interact with people because they know the difference between good and bad and evil.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Forgive the intrusion. Did the hon. member indicate that he was to be sharing his time?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


John O'Reilly Liberal Victoria—Haliburton, ON

No, I did not.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Haliburton—Victoria—Brock has an additional 10 minutes.