Madam Speaker, it seems that some people construe this bill as an attempt to oppress people, throw kids in jail and throw away the key. It is actually about accountability and accepting responsibility and consequences for one's actions and undertakings.
I am grateful for the opportunity to rise today to speak to the private member's bill of my hon. colleague from Surrey North, Bill C-297. Last November I was ready to speak to Bill C-3, the new youth criminal justice act, which incorporated the entire substance of Bill C-297. Unfortunately, the hon. member's words and remarks of last year have come true. He said of the government's legislation “Quite simply, I do not anticipate that the new youth justice legislation will be implemented for some time yet. I have heard possibly by year's end at the earliest, but even that may be wishful thinking”.
He also thought that this amendment was sufficiently important to be incorporated within the present Young Offenders Act. As there is much to complain about the current legislation, it seems that we are left to reform by amendment rather than come up with new legislation that will do the job. We will wait to see if Bill C-3 can get out of committee before the next election. In the meantime, I certainly wish this bill success because the government's legislation seems to be bogged down.
The hon. member for Surrey North is right. This legislation is of sufficient importance. From all accounts, it has sufficient support from most members of the House to succeed, despite the actions of the Bloc Quebecois in committee, which is filibustering the whole youth criminal justice bill. Consequently, this bill had to be brought back to the House in its present form, rather than incorporated in the new legislation that was meant to cover the entire range of youth justice.
I was going to say that it will be interesting to see if Bloc members will support this private member's bill, but according to the speeches we have just heard, obviously they are not interested in accountability and responsibility.
Bill C-297 seeks to amend section 7.2 of the Young Offenders Act by allowing a youth court judge or a justice to allow an accused young offender to be placed in the care of a responsible person. This person would undertake in writing to be responsible for the attendance of a young person in court when required and comply with other conditions that a youth court judge or justice may specify, such as curfews. The young person would also comply in writing with the arrangements and other conditions specified by the youth judge or justice. It is a form of bail. It is also a contract, with all the inherent elements of a contract, such as responsibility, terms, conditions and penalties for breaching the contract.
Bill C-297 seeks to broaden the accountability of those who have in writing agreed to provide proper supervision for the young person involved. This amendment would broaden the consequence of failure of compliance to the conditions of the contract from a simple summary conviction to a dual procedure or a hybrid offence. Failure to comply under the new amendment would be punishable by up to two years of imprisonment. It is a fairly serious punishment.
Currently, failure to supervise constitutes a summary offence punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 or six months of imprisonment, or both, which for some offenders is a very small requirement. One could argue that serious incidents seldom happen with such breaches under the current system. This may or may not be so. However, no matter if there were absolutely no incidents, such an amendment would still be necessary because the seriousness of the issue would still exist.
This is definitely not a frivolous amendment, as the Bloc would construe it. It is obvious, merely by the inclusion of this amendment in the legislation of the Minister of Justice, Bill C-3, that there is widespread support for this initiative.
It is important to note what this legislation is not. It is not the sins of the sons or daughters being visited upon the parents. This is a common misconception of the bill. No adult will vicariously suffer any penalty for the misdeeds of a youth. The circle of accountability has been broadened with this amendment, as has the circle of responsibility.
Both the adults and the courts will have agreed to take on this responsibility. With the passage of this bill the courts would have a choice of summary conviction or to proceed by way of indictment. That is a choice for the courts to make.
If those responsible for the accused decide that the responsibility would be too much for them to handle, if circumstances change during that time, or even if the young person violates the agreement, the adult has the means to change the contract or has the option to inform the authorities. In fact, I would say that the adult has the responsibility to inform the authorities.
Taking on such a responsibility as that of parents and guardians for youth charged with crimes would be a tall order, requiring a serious commitment to the task. For instance, if a youth had ADD or ADHD the parents would have to consider carefully their capacity to supervise and to comply with the agreement. Such a disorder has a huge effect on behaviour. Parents of youth with ADD or ADHD would say that it is difficult to manage at the best of times. It would be almost impossible to ask parents or guardians to be responsible for such an unpredictable situation and person.
The amendment would also bring to bear the gravity of the agreement that would well address the relationship of the youth to the parents or guardians. Rather than exacerbate the situation between the parents and the youth, this amendment would call upon the parents to acknowledge responsibility where perhaps none existed before. Rather than avoiding the situation of lack of parental supervision, which may have contributed to the charges in the first place, a positive reaction would be the clarity in the issue of responsibility brought to the attention of the parents or guardians. A clear choice would be made by the parents and a serious consequence would be the result of failure to comply with an agreement. Again, I must reinforce that this is not a forced choice, but a serious one nonetheless.
I was glad to read of the support from members of both the government and the opposition for this bill. We know that we are on the right track and that my hon. colleague is right to have this amendment in a private member's bill, given the state of Bill C-3 being bogged down in a Bloc engineered filibuster in the standing committee.
In this amendment we do not see a “throw the book at them” approach, of which we on this side are sometimes accused. We do see the bar of accountability and responsibility raised for both the courts and those who seek to enter such an agreement. The punishment for failure is greater because the stakes are higher and the cost of failure of compliance can be great. People experience and in fact my hon. colleague from Surrey North experienced the cost of failure to comply. No one knows the price of the failure of the current system better than he does.
Reading the speeches of the various members of the parties in the House I see a common refrain: Canadians want more accountability on the part of parents for the criminal actions of their children. We also hear from some quarters that society is to blame and that accountability is somehow everyone's responsible. We know that when we say everyone is responsible, that usually means no one is responsible.
We must get to the root of crime. Peer pressure, poverty and a myriad of other conditions contribute to the decision to break the law, but we also know that there are many young offenders for whom social conditions were not a factor. It is a complex issue, but let me say that it is also a decidedly simple one. Our personal actions are ours alone. We take on responsibility individually and our accountability is personal.
The bill strikes a chord at all levels: the courts, the adult population and youth. The act, by enlisting the co-operation of parents or guardians in the courts, illustrates to the young offender that even adults must act with some sense of responsibility.
This seemingly tiny bill, the purpose of which is to make a common sense amendment to the Young Offenders Act, illustrates clearly that while people may forgive, circumstances can be very unforgiving. The circumstances which resulted in the death of the son of the hon. member for Surrey North were the result of a series of wrong decisions made by individuals. He and his wife and daughter will never recover from the loss. He and his family have turned their tragedy into a positive crusade to save others from similar pain. He is to be commended for his courage in acting upon his convictions.
I call upon all hon. members of the House to put aside partisan concerns, consider not only where the bill came from, but the possible consequences to people and their families if we fail to enact the bill. I call upon all members of the House to please support this legislation.