Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to speak at second reading of Bill C-68, an act respecting criminal justice for young persons.
The legislation responds to some recommendations put forward by Reform and the justice committee. However, Bill C-68 falls short in several key areas and will need significant revisions to meet the needs of our youth and the demands of many Canadians.
Over a year ago Reform proposed a three-pronged approach to deal with the complexities of youth crime. This approach included early detection and intervention as an effective means of crime prevention; community based resolutions and sentences for non-violent offenders; and lowering the minimum age to 10, with the maximum age of 15, plus publishing the names of all violent offenders. Reform also proposed that distinctions be made between non-violent and violent offenders, diverting less serious offenders away from formal court proceedings and incarceration, while ensuring that all violent offenders are put into custody.
This side of the House has been very active in fighting for changes to be made to the Young Offenders Act to make it more effective because violent crime by young offenders has more than doubled since 1986. Clearly, the present system is not working.
During the last parliament I saw firsthand how the Young Offenders Act failed a seriously disturbed sexual offender and, more seriously, how it failed a young girl and her family. Seven years ago in Courtenay, B.C., which was part of my riding at that time, six year old Dawn Shaw was brutally raped and murdered. Her killer was 15 year old Jason Gamache, a repeat sexual offender who had been convicted previously of two sexual assaults on four year old children, one girl and one boy. Jason was convicted in Nanaimo in 1991 and moved to Courtenay with his mother to attend court ordered sex offender therapy through the John Howard Society.
His probation order clearly stated that he was to have no contact with children under 12 years of age. Yet Gamache's neighbours, the local authorities and even the Courtenay RCMP were not aware of Gamache's criminal record of sexual assault because of the privacy sections of the Young Offenders Act. The only people who knew of Jason's criminal background were his mother, the John Howard Society and his probation officer.
On October 24, 1992 Jason was playing hide and seek with Dawn and other children. He carried her on his shoulders into the woods, raped her and then stomped her to death. The footprint etched in the dirt on Dawn's face clearly matched that of Jason's and was one of the clues that identified him as the murderer.
This little girl's murder was a tragedy that should never have been allowed to happen. At the time of the murder Jason Gamache was on probation. He was being supervised by the corrections branch and was receiving sex offender therapy. Yet, despite his probation order, Jason was allowed to live right next door to an elementary school in a low income housing complex filled with children. This should never have been allowed to happen. Clearly, there was no effort to enforce his probation order. Where is the accountability?
Dawn Shaw's parents had the right to know that the boy next door, the boy who was babysitting their children, was a repeat sexual offender. Yet, when Dawn Shaw was reported missing, Gamache aided in the search for her and spent hours babysitting her siblings.
Clearly, the criminal justice system failed Dawn Shaw and her family. It is time that the government put the benefit and welfare of children before the rights of criminals like Jason Gamache.
In the last parliament I tabled over 4,000 signatures on petitions in memory of Dawn, demanding changes to the Young Offenders Act. Yet this bill before the House fails to address this serious concern.
Although Bill C-68 proposes to allow the publication of names of young offenders, this provision is seriously limited. The bill does not allow for the publication of names of youths who are charged. Names can only be published if young criminals are convicted and given an adult sentence, as well as 14 to 17 year olds who receive a youth sentence for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault or repeat serious violent offences. Repeat sexual offenders like Jason Gamache would still be protected under this new bill and that must be addressed while this bill is before this House.
Dawn Shaw's life could have been saved with the elimination of this section of the act and the establishment of a young offenders registry, including repeat sexual offenders. Such a registry would have provided Dawn Shaw's parents with a warning, at least a chance. Young offenders legislation must include the publication of all repeat sexual offenders' names. The rights of innocent children must be protected ahead of those of the violent offenders. In order to do that the records of young people who commit serious crimes should be treated the same as adults in all respects.
The RCMP in my riding told me that, regardless of age, if there is a dangerous offender in the neighbourhood, people want to know. Parents must know if the person associating with their child is a convicted rapist like Jason Gamache.
Canadians also want a young offenders act that broadens the number of offences where young offenders can be charged as adults. Yet Bill C-68 severely restricts the offences where an adult sentence can be imposed. The list includes murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. It does not include sexual assault with a weapon, hostage-taking, aggravated assault, kidnapping and a host of other serious violent offences.
Additionally, for these offences the judge must first consider the least restrictive sentence and only impose adult sentencing as a last resort. For youth sentencing purposes maximum sentencing has not changed in this new bill. It is still ten years for murder with six in custody and four under supervision in the community, seven years for second degree murder with four in custody and three under supervision, three years for any offence having an adult sentence of life imprisonment, and two years in custody and one under supervision for all others. That has not changed.
Violent crimes committed by 14 to 17 year olds are no less violent than those committed by adults. 1996 statistics show that youths are charged in 10% of all homicides and 12% of cases of attempted murder. However, just 13% of convicted violent young offenders are put in jail. Clearly, young people who commit adult crimes should do adult time.
Jason Gamache, who killed Dawn Shaw when he was 15, was given a life sentence but would have been eligible for parole this December. If 16 and 17 year olds are old enough to get their driver's licences and old enough to get married, they are also old enough to be held responsible for their actions.
In addition, Bill C-68 has not changed the rules for public access. Proceedings under this act permit the court to exclude any or all members of the public from the courtroom. Reform's blue book policy supports public access to court proceedings in cases involving 14 and 15 year old offenders and in cases where the public's right to know supersedes the need to protect the youth's identity. This is a change Canadians support and want to see in the legislation.
Canadians, the Reform Party and an all party justice committee, with the exception of the Bloc, called for the lowering of the age to cover youths 10 to 15 years old. Yet Bill C-68 fails to change the age of application. The act does not apply to young offenders 10 and 11 years old and continues to treat 16 and 17 year olds as young offenders. Because of this, 10 and 11 year olds will not benefit from the rehabilitative aspects of the act.
Another concern is that the legislation allows the provinces to opt out of its provisions. Youths may escape facing adult sentencing, depending on the policies of each province and each court. Provinces could choose whether to seek adult sentencing, the publication of names and access to records. Canadians do not wish violent young offenders to receive different treatment, depending on the provinces they come from.
Canadians believe the Young Offenders Act should hold parents of young offenders financially responsible. This is in the act and we welcome it. This is one of the concerns that the RCMP in my riding were hoping to see addressed in the new legislation.
In conclusion, I cannot give my support to the legislation as it stands. There are too many holes. It is my hope the government will listen to Canadians and make the necessary revisions to give Canadians the justice and protection they deserve.