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.