This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #208 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Budget Implementation Act, 1999Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

At the request of the chief government whip the division is deferred until Tuesday at the conclusion of the time provided for Government Orders.

The House resumed from March 22 consideration of the motion 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.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

April 15th, 1999 / 12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to participate in the debate on the Bill C-68. As the Chair will know, the bill carries a very illustrious title, a title that conjured up images of false hope in the past with respect to the ill-conceived Liberal firearms registration bill.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

An hon. member

You are very good at statements of the obvious.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Statements of the obvious sometimes escape the government.

I am pleased to take part in this debate for a number of reasons. There is a need for information sharing about the new bill. We have been waiting almost an eternity, 18 months, since the bill was first announced. I would be the first to acknowledge that the bill holds out some positive change, but after enduring numerous media leaks the March 11 release of the bill fell far short of much expectation that had been built up by the Liberal government. This is really a light makeover of the originally flawed bill and tinkers somewhat with the edges of the original Young Offenders Act.

After testing public opinion on this controversial legislation through these now famous media leaks and off Hill press conferences, the justice department has finally enlightened the House with the introduction of Bill C-68. As I mentioned, it has a very ironic namesake.

The public wants to know, because this bill was supposed to consider their opinions. In fact, the only opinions expressed were those of the minister and the Liberal Party.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks Canadians across the country are concerned that the new youth justice act does not progress societal attempts at dealing with youth justice in Canada. Many would argue that it is a regressive piece of legislation which hearkens back to the days of the outdated Juvenile Delinquents Act.

I am sure the Chair will recall that particular act. It took the Liberals over a year and a half of consultation to come up with a very old idea that a repeat youth offender involved in a less serious offence could be tried as an adult and then sentenced as a child. It is back to the future and back again. The Liberals have drafted a bill that does not go far enough in terms of protecting Canadians from increasingly violent youth crime in our communities.

Perhaps hon. members believe the Liberals have toughened up this bill on the back end by potentially placing more violent young offenders in adult jail and on the front end by diverting young people from the judicial system and into community based incentives like restorative justice programming or social services. If this is what will happen, it begs the question how will it be paid for with the increasing cuts that we have seen to social services and policing services. Once again the Liberal government is asking Canadians and those involved in the justice system to do more with less.

The legislation also encourages formal caution by police for young people who have been involved in less serious offences. This is fine. I am sure many hon. members and Canadians will recall that there was a time when a police officer played a different role, perhaps a more respected role in the community, and often administered this type of justice at street level.

How will we ask our police forces to take on this additional responsibility? The government has already cut Canada's police force budgets to the point that they are now barely able to functions at some levels and barely able to hold up to their current workloads. They no longer have the time to play the role of a parent and a psychologist, coming up with a well prepared and meaningful statement to warn a young person and consult with the parents. Through the implementation of this act the Liberal government is stretching police forces and police officers beyond reasonable limits, and thus the increased workload I suggest will be barely possible.

The sad result is that Canadian police forces and the public at large are seeing our police forces like the RCMP trying to fight problems such as youth crime and other complicated crime related issues with more and more cuts.

Last year alone we saw $74.1 million or 13% of the RCMP's budget slashed. We know there are further projected cuts for the coming year. This type of gouging of the RCMP and other police forces is essentially asking our police forces to deal with youth crime in a depleted fashion.

We also know there were cuts to transfer payments that then were passed on to the provinces and on to the municipalities, which result in police forces at the municipal level again facing the same serious challenges. They simply do not have the resources to face difficult and complicated problems as they relate to youth crime.

The stress, strain and emotional cost as a result on our officers and law enforcement community are not calculable in this context in terms of monetary figures. I only have to look at my home province of Nova Scotia and one community in particular, New Glasgow, where there are more officers off on stress leave than ever in the history of that police force. Dedicated officers are off work simply because they have been asked to do so much with so little and the increased frustrations they feel as a result of their commitment to serve the public.

Quite obviously there are spiralling and spin off problems of asking police to do more with less. What is missing most of all in the legislation is obvious. It is what is missing in a lot of legislation, and that is funding.

I look at the bill tabled today by the Minister of Justice with respect to victims rights and increasing the role and the significant participation of victims in the justice system. Once again I acknowledge, rightly so, that the minister has brought forward some improvement to the system. However she missed a wonderful opportunity to put in place a victims office which would provide a central point where victims could go for information and receive the needed knowledge that exists for victims who fall prey to offenders.

It is no wonder there is a degree of cynicism on the part of the opposition, and I suspect the public at large, as it relates to this bill. The cynicism is perpetrated by the federal government downloading its implementation costs to the provinces.

The Liberals are forcing provinces to abandon their own youth justice proposals and follow the federal model by dangling a 30% funding in their faces and threatening to take it back should they choose to opt out. If the Liberals had allowed for proper consultation in the first place, surely they could have come up with a deal that all the provinces would have supported with unanimity. Instead the bill resembles the sum total of many regionalized concessions that will make national enforcement of this bill virtually impossible.

There were a number of commentary articles about the bill when it first appeared. One in particular in the Ottawa Citizen commented on regionalized concessions by stating:

The bill provides considerable discretion on punishment, recognizing that provinces such as Alberta and Ontario want tougher penalties while others including Quebec traditionally rely less heavily on jail sentences.

That accentuates the point that we are looking in national legislation for a broad and uniform approach. Yet the bill has built into its very context the fact that different provinces will react differently and have the option of opting out should they choose to do so.

It begs the question are we not supposed to be working toward unanimity. I know certain members of the Bloc might disagree with that statement, but surely the federal government has a responsibility to bring forward legislation which encourages all provinces to participate on a level playing field and a standard that should be upheld. When it comes to justice, these justice issues are far too important to have built-in flaws as they pertain to jurisdiction.

By doing so we have seen the parochial fence-sitters that the Liberals often are on issues of justice. Their new youth criminal justice bill tried to please everyone. Yet offering these piecemeal approaches will please no one. The public confidence will be further undermined, further fuelling the cynicism that exists about our justice system and about the effectiveness of parliament.

The Liberal government did not go far enough in lowering to the age of 14, the age at which an offender would face adult sentences for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter or aggravated sexual assault, all very serious offences at the highest end of the Criminal Code. The 14 year old age limit would also be a barrier for the justice system as it tries to seek justice against youth repeat offenders who commit other violent offences.

Why were certain offences left out of the legislation? It seems a glaring omission to me. These piecemeal changes are obviously a response to an overwhelming public reaction and public pressure to toughen up what is perceived as a very light justice system when it comes to the treatment of young offenders.

The Liberals have given the appearance that they have toughened the act, but I question whether these cosmetic alterations will actually achieve that desired result. Why did the minister refuse to act? That begs the obvious question. She refused to act on recommendations that came from her own departmental experts, in particular when it came to the lowering of the age of accountability to 10 for young offenders.

There has been a misconception about this issue from the outset. This is not somehow taking 10 or 11 year old infants and throwing them into jail. That is not the suggestion at all. What the Criminal Code would do in expanding the envelope of applicability is that it would allow social services, the youth justice system and the justice system at large to work together in making an early intervention when required. When a young person did run afoul of the law at the age of 10 or 11, it would give the police the mandate that they need to make an intervention and hopefully turn that young person around at the first possible instance.

Because the minister has chosen to ignore this opportunity against the department's advice that will not in fact happen. Once again we are told to rely on our existing social services, child protection and early intervention through child welfare. The sad reality is that the cuts to those departments in particular have been so heavy and so damaging that they simply do not have the resources again to act quickly in most cases.

If we were to hold 10 year olds accountable for their actions and get them involved in the judicial process early, there would be more programs available which would fit the government's priority of rehabilitation at the earliest possible instance.

I also have to wonder why the minister has chosen to download this bill with such bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and wording that is obviously going to be picked apart by the defence bar and which is going to be virtually impossible to enforce in some instances. Although it may be a terrific make-work program for the bar associations across the country, that is not exactly what Canadians are expecting or what they were led to believe was going to happen.

In fact, when it comes to the law enforcement community, what most police officers have said time and time again is that they are looking for a more streamlined justice system when it comes to legislation. We hear this repeatedly from officers. We heard it with regard to current offences under the Criminal Code as they pertain to impaired driving. We heard it as they pertain to matters covered by corrections and conditional release, in testimony in that regard. The department has missed an opportunity to put forward a bill which answers police concerns over this issue.

The bill has been described in many provinces as being woefully soft on offenders. I am quoting the Ontario Attorney General, Charles Harnick, who on behalf of the province of Ontario expressed his concerns and extreme disappointment.

In recent correspondence he noted the following facts. Sixteen and 17 year olds who commit adult crimes are not automatically tried as adults. Even for murder, aggravated sexual assault, manslaughter or attempted murder there is no guarantee that these youths would be sentenced as adults. Even on a third rape charge there is no guarantee that an adult sentence would attach.

Most serious violent offences still require a prosecutor to prove that an adult sentence is necessary. To prove that it is necessary the onus is on the crown. Jail sentences have, in fact, in many cases been reduced.

We know that adult sentences are subject to early release, whereas a young person sentenced to a youth facility will serve the full time. So there is a bit of a shell game going on when the Liberals try to tell us that this is going to be tougher on violent youth.

Mandatory jail time is not required for youth who are convicted of an offence using a weapon. Again this is an opportunity to send a strong deterrent message to those who choose to involve weapons in the commission of an offence.

Ontario Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services, Bob Runciman, also said this of the new bill.

What the people of Ontario have been asking for is legislation that will better protect our children and our communities, that will send a message to young people that they will be held accountable for their actions and would deter youth crime. Instead, the federal Liberal government has released a bill that has little regard for public safety and even less regard for providing meaningful consequences for criminal behaviour such as sexual assault, drug trafficking and use of a weapon.

This negative commentary is not only limited to politicians. York Regional Police Chief Julian Fantino had this to say:

Many police officers, and citizens right across Ontario, are frustrated with the Young Offenders Act because it seems primarily concerned with the rights of offenders.... It's disappointing that the federal government won't take the opportunity to right this wrong and introduce a much tougher law to serve as an effective deterrent to youth crime.

That is a very telling commentary, particularly from an experienced and decorated officer such as Fantino.

Deterrence is certainly a factor that has to be brought into consideration, not only with youth crime, but with all crime. This bill is very soft with respect to deterrence.

The youth criminal justice act's definition of a serious violent offence is so vague that it is virtually useless. The discretion that is there is there for a reason and, unlike my friends in the Reform Party, I have some faith in our judiciary to offer correct discretion on crime. However, when it comes to an issue such as this, when it comes to deterrence, there is a real concern that this bill does not allow judges to go the distance that they would.

In no case is an adult sentence automatic under this new legislation. Even in the case of first degree murder a young person could avoid an adult sentence.

The following offences are but a few that are not presumed serious enough to warrant adult sentences: armed robbery, sexual assault and drug trafficking. These are not deemed to be serious enough to carry an automatic adult sentence.

A young person can commit three serious violent offences—

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, there seems to be another debate going on at this time.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There does appear to be another debate, but I can certainly hear the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. Of course I am enjoying his remarks, as I am sure all hon. members are. His remarks may be provoking the debate.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

I know you have the ears of a hawk in that chair.

A young person can commit three serious violent offences with still no guarantee of an adult sentence attaching. That is absolutely shocking.

Repeat offenders of non-violent crimes are not assumed to receive adult sentences. That again is built-in discretion.

There is also an omission in this bill with respect to victim fine surcharges attaching to youth criminals when they have the ability to pay. It begs the question: Why would we not want to build in that level of accountability, that a young person would have to repay the person against whom they have committed the offence? There should be a built-in victim fine surcharge for those types of property offences.

Considering this soft approach, the following scenario I will put forward would be possible under this new youth criminal justice act.

A 17 year old who robs a bank, kills a customer and is found guilty of murder can still receive a youth lenient sentence. Other soft approaches embodied in this legislation would include most serious violent offences requiring proof from a prosecutor that they should be transferred.

A young person who has committed a break and enter using a gun is sentenced to a youth crime unless it can be shown that an adult sentence is justified. Furthermore, sentences such as this might involve not spending a day in jail. Sentences such as this do not send the proper message to our communities.

Ontario is not the only province that is a little upset and disappointed with this bill. The Manitoba justice minister, Vic Toews, said that essentially his dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that there is little in the package to address the mounting problem of young offenders under the age of 12. Mr. Toews also berated the federal government for its lack of consultation with the provinces.

He was also very concerned about the downloading of the cost of the administration of this. We know that currently the federal government is only picking up a meagre 30% of the administrative costs of the current act and there is no commitment to picking up further costs with respect to the administration of this act, which will of course be even more onerous than the last.

There is ample time to debate this further and we will be hearing from the minister at committee, which we anxiously await. I appreciate the indulgence of the Chair.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my friend's remarks and certainly there were a tremendous number of them with which I could agree.

However, it strikes me as passing strange that this piece of legislation—which replaces the current Young Offenders Act, which I agree with him has some tremendous deficiencies—is legislation which the former government could have brought in during the nine years it sat on the other side of the House.

I know my friend is one of the new breed of Conservatives, so they say, and certainly we do not like to revisit history. I am sure that my friend is very genuine, but I find somewhat ingenuous the concept that he would be speaking on behalf of a party that had the reins of power for nine years, when probably the most grievous problems surrounding the deficient Young Offenders Act were in place, and yet the predecessor to this government, which was his party, which was reduced to two seats, did not do anything about it.

What has changed? Is this the all new Conservative Party? Why did the Progressive Conservatives not do something about it? I know when I was being asked to run by people in my constituency I was surprised at the time at the antipathy which existed toward the Young Offenders Act. It was number one on the hit parade of the people who were approaching me and telling me I had to go to Ottawa to do something about it.

I note that in spite of the fact that the Liberals have held that side of the House since the election of 1993, it has taken from 1993 to 1999 for the second justice minister to finally come forward with this legislation. However, I wonder why his party did not get around to doing it before?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and I respect the work that he does within the justice committee. However, I cannot help but sense the frustration in his voice, knowing that his party will never be in power to make such changes.

I also know, as the hon. member sits in criticism of the previous Progressive Conservative administration, that he was very much a supporter of that party at one time and an active member of the Progressive Conservative Party. We are certainly hoping that he will be back to support us. When he talks about missed opportunities, I guess the Reform Party is living it, while we are looking to the future and rebuilding this party. We look forward to having an opportunity to sit on the government side, as we have in the past. With such a long and stoic history, the Progressive Conservative Party will be given an opportunity to make some of the changes which we are suggesting.

I look forward to an opportunity to accomplish those things on the government side and I hope that the hon. member will be joining the Progressive Conservative Party soon so he can partake in those changes.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. Clearly my colleague should know that I was not an active member of the Progressive Conservative Party. Unfortunately, at the time I actually believed in 1984, going back that far, that the Progressive Conservatives were going to do something. They did nothing, except add phenomenally to Canada's debt load, thereby crushing all of the social programs. While people were upset about things like the Young Offenders Act, his party, in its old, tired, traditional way, was just grinding along and not doing anything about it.

We clearly have a situation which is kind of Tweedledum and “Tweedledumber” between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Is the reason that his party went from a large majority to only two seats that his party was not listening, that it was out of touch and that it remains out of touch?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, we can all partake in a revisionist view of what happened and what led to the demise of this party or that party, but I would also remind the hon. member that it is easier to teach a new dog new tricks. We in this party are looking for new ideas, new invigoration. He suggested that we call it the New Progressive Conservative Party. That is not a bad idea because what we are doing is trying to learn from mistakes of the past.

One of the biggest mistakes was made by those members of the Reform Party who completely abandoned the party. Rather than try to make some positive suggestions within the existing context of what we were doing, they chose to storm out of the party like angry children. They went off in a huff. It might take 10 or 15 years to heal.

However, we are going to work past that. We are looking at the positive things that we can do in this party, one of which is certainly to concentrate on positive changes to our criminal justice system which has always been a very important feature of the Progressive Conservative Party and will continue to be so for years to come.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I think we are a little off the topic of Bill C-68, which in this parliament of course is the Young Offenders Act. In the previous parliament it was the gun control act. It seems to me rather unfortunate, on behalf of Canadian voters, who sometimes have quite a challenge keeping track of what is happening in this place, to have Bill C-68 refer to two such disparate bills.

I would like to say something to the hon. member from the Progressive Party who just spoke. I really think that instead of arguing with each other we need to start recognizing that we have a serious problem on that side of the House. We have budgetary matters and things that are completely out of control, and spin doctoring to try to communicate to Canadians something quite different from the facts.

We have a justice system which is limping along. It has been five or six years since the Liberals took office in 1993. The reason for this is that the previous Conservative government did not do its job well. That is the reality. As a matter of fact, the Reform Party and perhaps the Bloc were simply what happened when there was a vacuum on behalf of what Canadian people really wanted. They were not getting it from the government.

I wish we could work together and give Canadians the option they so desperately need. We finally have the bill before us but it is inadequate. After five years of dilly dallying in matters of justice it is time to give Canadians what they demand, expect and deserve.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to continue the debate on this side of the House. I would far rather concentrate my efforts on the Liberal government.

There is a score of examples that everyone can point to of what one government did and another government neglected to do. I agree we are talking about criminal justice. Particularly we are talking about the Young Offenders Act which we all agree was not working for Canadians. It is was not working in their best interest. It is sad that it took six years for the government to do something about it. I find that to be a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of the government.

There are other examples of the current government having recognized good policies like free trade and GST. Let us forget about what it said before. We know what it did afterward and those policies are still here.

We can point to good things and we can point to a lot of bad things on the part of previous administrations. Let us go back to Sir John A. Macdonald if we are to start blaming people for what happened.

This is an evolutionary process. At least let us have the good sense to try to improve upon legislation that requires improvement or introduce new legislation when it is needed. That is where the government has been falling down. It is running out of ideas to borrow from the previous government.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was thinking of seeking unanimous consent to let the debate continue on the other side of the House.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.