Madam Speaker, Bill C-297, an act to amend the Young Offenders Act, has been around this place for a number of years now. It was first introduced as Bill C-260 in October 1997. In fact it was my first effort as a private member.
In May last year the government attempted to kill this private member's bill through a hoist motion. Fortunately the government subsequently reconsidered to withdraw its motion. The bill was allowed to proceed to a vote where all members of the House could exercise their voting rights. On May 25, 1999 it passed second reading by a vote of 164 to 75. My friends in the Bloc, most of the NDP and some Liberals voted against the bill but the vast majority of the House voted in favour of it. As is the process, the bill was sent to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
With the prorogation of parliament it was reintroduced as Bill C-297 in November last year. According to the rules of the House it was then placed in the same position as previously and referred back to the justice committee.
On March 27 the bill was deemed to have been reported back to the House without amendment. We are now at the third and final stage of this legislation.
Madam Speaker, while I appreciate that you know the particulars of Bill C-297, I will briefly state them for the folks who may be watching the debate through the benefit of television tonight. There are some very serious misconceptions in the public, in the media and among some of my colleagues in this place about just what this bill proposes.
The bill itself is relatively simple. It merely changes a sanction section of the Young Offenders Act from a simple summary conviction offence to a dual procedure or hybrid offence. What this means is that the crown attorney has the option, and I repeat the word option, of proceeding by summary conviction or by indictable offence. Indictable offences, of course, are reserved for the most serious of circumstances. The maximum sentence in this case is two years. In other words, offenders will receive provincial and not federal time at the top end; that is, the maximum.
What is the offence that is covered by this sanction, we may ask. It has to do with section 7.2 of the Young Offenders Act that covers the offence of wilfully failing to comply with a court undertaking to supervise a young person. As we all know, some young people come into conflict with our laws. Occasionally some of these young persons are considered to be a danger to the safety and security of the rest of our society and are held in custody until their case may be resolved.
Section 7.1 of the Young Offenders Act permits a responsible adult to sign an agreement with the court to supervise the young person. The young person is then permitted to leave custody under the supervision of that adult. The young person and the adult sign a form of contract with the court, agreeing that certain conditions will be followed for the protection and security of other citizens. These conditions might include refraining from alcohol use, geographic restrictions, not associating with specified individuals, curfews and any other condition the court deems appropriate. If the adult wilfully fails, and I stress the word wilfully, to properly supervise, as promised to the court, section 7.2 holds that adult accountable.
As I stated previously, the only real criticism of this bill comes from a misunderstanding or an unwillingness of some individuals to accept that this legislation has nothing whatsoever to do with parental responsibility to their children. We are not holding parents responsible for delinquent children through this bill. The parent of the child who throws a rock through a window or gets into a schoolyard fight is not affected by this bill. We are holding responsible only those adults who deliberately and voluntarily enter into a form of contract with the court to carry out certain defined duties of supervision. These adults are to be held accountable for their wilful failure to obey that contract.
Those adults who make reasonable attempts to supervise or control their charges will not be subject to prosecution and conviction. Those adults who find they cannot control the young person can always advise the authorities and withdraw from their agreement to supervise. As I have said many times before, all the person who makes an undertaking has to do is to make a phone call to the authorities and advise of the difficulty in controlling that particular youth.
All this bill is attempting to do is to impress upon those who sign an undertaking and impress upon the young person the seriousness of the situation and to hold accountable those who wilfully fail to carry out their end of the bargain with the courts. We are only attempting to protect our citizens from additional crime and victimization by the young person who has been released into our community prior to the resolution of the initial charge or charges.
As has been stated many times by myself and others, including the Minister of Justice, this legislation has been incorporated within Bill C-3, which is essentially a re-writing of the Young Offenders Act. Some may well ask why I am pursuing Bill C-297 when the minister and cabinet through Bill C-3 have accepted the same initiative. The answer, of course, is quite simple: We can never be assured that Bill C-3 will become law.
Simply put, as of now, the Young Offenders Act is the law of the land. Bill C-297 amends the Young Offenders Act. Each and every day we do not have this change to our law results in another day in which the failing of the Young Offenders Act in respect of the criminal breach of an undertaking order is permitted to continue.
The minister recognized the problems of these undertakings when she incorporated my Bill C-297 almost word for word in her youth criminal justice legislation known as Bill C-3. All we are doing with Bill C-297 is bringing into law a portion of Bill C-3 to address the Young Offenders Act, the current law of Canada. Given the history of Bill C-3, we do not know when it will become law. Indeed, we do not even know if it will become law. If and when it does, we do not know if it will remain in its present format.
In fact, yesterday, when I asked the minister if we would have new legislation before an election call, she declined to give a direct answer.
However, we do know that Bill C-297 is acceptable to the Minister of Justice because she used it when she prepared Bill C-3. We do know that the majority of this place voted at second reading to pass the legislation and send it to the justice committee. We do know that the bill was returned to this place without amendment.
It is good law. It is one of the primary reasons I sought election to parliament. I think many members know that I have a very personal reason for proposing the legislation. If it succeeds in addressing justice in even one instance during the anticipated limited existence of the Young Offenders Act, then we as parliamentarians will have fulfilled some of our responsibilities as legislators.
I appreciate that some may question the placing of this legislation on our agenda when the government plans to address the issue with its own legislation. However, that legislation is severely stalled. It may be shelved or radically changed. It may never see the light of day. We simply do not know what will happen to it.
Bill C-297 is on the parliamentary calendar. It is a private member's initiative. I understand it has the support of a significant portion of members. It is my understanding that most, if not all, of my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance will be supporting the bill. It is my hope that many, if not all, members of the government will support the legislation as it does exactly as proposed by the Minister of Justice in Bill C-3.
The minister has incorporated my initiative into her legislation, and I thank her for her support. Members of the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party have spoken in support of the bill. I urge everyone to carefully consider its aim, its content and its consequences for victims of crime and for the support and respect of our justice system. I urge all members to support the bill.