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House of Commons Hansard #13 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all Notices of Motions for the Production of Papers be allowed to stand.

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Motions For PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Edmonton West Alberta

Liberal

Anne McLellan LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-7, 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.

Mr. Speaker, on February 5, 2001, I introduced into the House the government's proposed youth criminal justice act. Those who have been following the issue will be well aware of the extensive groundwork that supports this initiative.

The government's commitment to reforming the youth justice system is longstanding and firm. We reiterated our intention during the last election campaign and again most recently in the Speech from the Throne.

Bill C-7 has benefited from the extensive review accorded its previous incarnations, Bill C-68 and Bill C-3. Consultations before the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs were exhaustive. As Minister of Justice, I heard from the provinces and the territories. I have met with and listened to individuals and groups who work in the youth justice system.

Bill C-7 retains the overall direction and all key elements but includes amendments from the consultation process which will reduce complexity, provide greater clarity and improve flexibility for the provinces.

We have examined all of the recommendations in great detail over the past months. We compared certain recommendations relating to the provinces' capacity to administer the youth justice system better.

I will not accept the rhetoric from the benches opposite and elsewhere that this piece of legislation is too tough or that it is not tough enough. Those who seek to reduce the discussion of youth justice to such a simplistic paradigm feed misconception.

Canadians want a system that prevents crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person's offending behaviour, that rehabilitates young people who commit offences and safely reintegrates them into the community, and ensures that a young person is subject to meaningful and appropriate consequences for his or her offending behaviour. Canadians across the country know that this is the most effective way to achieve the long term protection of society. Bill C-7 constructs a youth justice system which will do just that.

It is also abundantly clear that Canadians are committed to supporting children and youth. They are firm in their belief that as a society we must do everything we can to help young people avoid crime in the first place and to get their lives back on track if they do run afoul of the law.

I will take this opportunity to outline the approach of the proposed youth criminal justice system and why it will be a marked improvement over the current system. With 16 years of the Young Offenders Act under our belts, experience has demonstrated what measures are most effective and where the system needs to be improved.

Let me now address why we believe new youth justice legislation is necessary. Some of the key weaknesses of the YOA are, first, the YOA does not reflect a coherent youth justice philosophy. Its principles are unclear and conflicting and do not effectively guide decision makers in the youth justice system.

Unlike the YOA, the proposed youth criminal justice act provides guidance on the priority that should be given to key principles. For example, the new legislation makes clear that the nature of the system's response to a youth's offending behaviour should reflect the needs and individual circumstances of the youth. However, the needs or social welfare problems of a young person should not result in longer or more severe penalties than those which are fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence committed.

Other principles of the youth criminal justice act emphasize that the objectives of the youth system are to prevent crime, rehabilitate and reintegrate young persons into society, and ensure meaningful consequences for offences committed by young people. Pursuing and achieving these objectives is the best way to protect society.

The youth justice system must reflect the fact that young persons lack the maturity of adults. This includes an emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration and holding them accountable in a manner consistent with their reduced level of maturity. Interventions with young persons must be fair and proportionate, encourage the repair of harm done, and involve parents and others in the young person's rehabilitation and reintegration.

As we also know, the existing YOA has resulted in the highest youth incarceration rate in the western world, including our neighbours to the south, the United States. Young persons in Canada often receive harsher custodial sentences than adults receive for the same type of offence. Almost 80% of custodial sentences are for non-violent offences. Many non-violent first offenders found guilty of less serious offences such as minor theft are sentenced to custody.

The proposed youth criminal justice act is intended to reduce the unacceptably high level of youth incarceration that has occurred under the Young Offenders Act. The preamble to the new legislation states clearly that the youth justice system should reserve its most serious interventions for the most serious crimes and thereby reduce its over-reliance on incarceration.

In contrast to the YOA, the new legislation provides that custody is to be reserved primarily for violent offenders and serious repeat offenders. The new youth justice legislation recognizes that non-custodial sentences can often provide more meaningful consequences and be more effective in rehabilitating young persons.

We also believe that the Young Offenders Act has resulted in the overuse of the court for minor cases that can be better dealt with outside the court. The effect is often court delay and an inability of the courts to focus on more serious cases.

Experience in Canada and other countries has shown that measures outside the court process can provide effective and timely responses to less serious youth crime. Although the YOA permits the use of alternative measures, over 15 years of experience under the YOA indicates that it does not provide enough legislative direction regarding their use.

The proposed youth criminal justice act is intended to enable the courts to focus on serious youth crimes by increasing the use of effective and timely non-court responses to less serious offences. These extra-judicial measures provide meaningful consequences such as requiring the young person to repair the harm to the victim. They also enable early intervention with young people as well as the opportunity for the broader community to play an important role in developing community based responses to youth crime.

Some of the provisions in the new youth justice legislation that encourage the use of extra-judicial measures in appropriate less serious cases include: a presumption that extra-judicial measures should be used with first time non-violent offenders and specific authority for police and prosecutors to use a range of extra-judicial measures, informal warnings, police cautions, crown cautions and referral to community programs.

In addition, the existing YOA has resulted in disparities and unfairness in youth sentencing. Sentences under the YOA often do not reflect the seriousness of the offence. There is often significant disparity between what similarly situated youth receive for similar offences.

As I mentioned earlier, youth often receive more severe penalties than adults receive for the same type of offence. Some young persons are sentenced on the basis of their needs or social welfare problems and receive longer or more severe penalties than that which would be fair and proportionate to the seriousness of the offence committed.

To reverse the current unfairness the new law provides that the consequences imposed on a young person must not be greater than those which would be appropriate for an adult in similar circumstances. The new sentencing provisions also emphasize that every sentence must focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating the young person into the community. This requires that the needs of the young person be addressed within the timeframe stipulated by the courts.

Also, the existing Young Offenders Act fails to ensure effective reintegration of a young person after being released from custody. A weakness of the existing legislation is that a young person can be released from custody with no required supervision and support to assist that young person in making the transition back to his or her community. The new legislation includes provisions to assist the young person's reintegration into the community.

The new youth justice legislation requires that all periods of custody be followed by a period of supervision and support in the community. At the time of sentencing the judge will state in open court the portion of time that is to be served in custody and the portion to be served in the community. Breaching conditions of the community supervision could result in the young person being returned to custody.

Further, the existing Young Offenders Act process for transfer to the adult system has resulted in unfairness, complexity and unacceptable delay. The current process violates basic fairness by providing that a young person be transferred to an adult court before being found guilty of any offence. It has also resulted in wide differences among provinces in the number of transfers of young persons to the adult system.

For example, in 1998-99 Manitoba led the country in transfers, transferring 29 youths to adult court. Quebec was second, transferring 23 young persons to adult court, while Ontario transferred only six people to adult court in the same year.

The new youth justice legislation contains significant changes that address the unfairness of the current transfer process including the elimination of the transfer process. Instead, the youth court has the authority to impose an adult sentence in certain circumstances. The hearing on the appropriateness of an adult sentence will take place only after the youth has actually been found guilty. The assurance is that should a young person receive an adult sentence, it is to be presumed that if the young person is under 18 he or she will serve the adult sentence in a youth facility.

The existing Young Offenders Act also fails to make a clear distinction between serious violent offences and less serious offences. This is a basic theme that underlies many of the other problems with the YOA such as the high rate of youth incarceration and the overuse of the court for less serious offences. When a youth justice system fails to clearly differentiate between serious violent offences and less serious offences, it is not surprising that public confidence in the system is weakened.

The proposed youth justice legislation consistently makes this important distinction at key points throughout the legislation. It is reflected in the fundamental principles in the preamble and declaration of principles, the front end options, the sentencing principles, the rules on adult sentencing and the provisions regarding release from custody.

Unlike the existing Young Offenders Act, a basic policy direction of the new legislation is that serious violent offences are to be treated seriously and less serious offences are to be dealt with through less intrusive yet still meaningful consequences.

Also, the existing Young Offenders Act fails to recognize the concerns and interests of victims in an adequate way. In contrast to the existing legislation, the proposed youth justice legislation recognizes the concerns and interests of victims and clarifies the role of victims in the youth justice process.

The following are key provisions in the legislation. The principles of the act specifically provide that victims are to be treated with courtesy, compassion, and respect for their dignity and privacy. They also should be given information about the proceedings and an opportunity to participate and be heard if they so choose.

Victims have a right of access to youth court records and may be given access to other records. The victim's role in community based approaches such as conferences is encouraged. If a young person is dealt with by an extra-judicial sanction, the victim of the offence has a right to be informed of how the offence has been dealt with.

In developing new youth justice legislation it is important to recognize the limits of legislation and to have reasonable expectations about what legislation can accomplish. That is why the new youth justice legislation is only one part of the government's much broader approach to youth crime and the renewal of Canada's youth justice system.

Increased federal funding, crime prevention efforts, effective programs, innovative approaches and research are all part of the broader strategy for the fair and effective renewal of Canada's youth justice system. This legislation is the first step in the renewal of that system.

Partnerships with other sectors such as education, child welfare and mental health, improvements to aboriginal communities, and appropriate implementation by provinces and territories will be equally important in achieving the goals of the youth justice legislation. The government is committed to ensuring that Canadians are well served by their youth justice system.

In conclusion I encourage all colleagues on both sides of the House to support Bill C-7 as an integral part of our initiative to ensure that all Canadians, especially young Canadians, have a fair, effective and just youth justice system.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is seldom that we have ministers before the House making presentations such as the one we heard today. I think it would be in order for us to seek unanimous consent to be able to ask questions of the minister.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Speaker

It is certainly in order to ask. Is there unanimous consent to permit a period of questions to the minister?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-7, the bill that has been introduced by the Minister of Justice to replace the Young Offenders Act. None other than the current Minister of Justice has characterized the Young Offenders Act as “easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation”.

Although the government makes much of the fact that the violent youth crime rate appears to have dropped to some small degree over the last two years, the Canadian public has not been fooled. The violent youth crime rate is still over 300% greater than it was three decades ago.

In addition, it is my experience that citizens, embittered and disillusioned with the failure of the Young Offenders Act to address their serious concerns in respect to crime, have in many cases simply stopped reporting crime. Is it any surprise then that the figures may have shown a small drop in the crime rate over the last two years?

According to this type of measurement and statistical analysis, I am only surprised that the government has not been funding more studies on how to encourage citizens to stop reporting crimes. According to this type of Liberal thought process, the crime rate would be reduced to zero if they could only figure out how to stop people from reporting crime to police.

Although the suggestion may seem ridiculous, it is a type of thought process the Liberals often employ. During the recent election, for example, when the Prime Minister announced that the 65 cent dollar was good for Canadian farmers because it created markets for their products, one farmer in my constituency told me that if that were the case maybe we should have a 10 cent dollar because it would make our economy six times as strong.

Another farmer said that it did not matter what the dollar was at if it cost $120 Canadian to get an acre of land ready and he could only get $60 Canadian when he sold the produce from that acre. Furthermore, the Prime Minister failed to consider that much of the machinery and other supplies that the farmers purchase come from the United States. A 65 cent Canadian dollar does not help with those purchases. Liberal economics are great if one could only figure out a way to ignore reality.

The same is true of Liberal criminal justice policy. How could it be that the Young Offenders Act, the object of so much study and consultation prior to its implementation, turned into such a failure? Committees across Canada considered how to replace the Juvenile Delinquents Act. Experts in the social sciences, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and ordinary citizens turned out at these committee hearings to provide input into an act that was to replace the Juvenile Delinquents Act, an act that had been on the books since approximately 1908.

As a prosecutor from Brandon, Manitoba responsible for prosecutions in the youth court in the western judicial district of Manitoba, I participated in those hearings about creating a new act. I recall making a presentation before the committee in Winnipeg, chaired I seem to recall, by the now retired former Chief Judge Harold Gyles. Although I had only recently graduated from law school, it was apparent to me that the Juvenile Delinquents Act, and indeed the proposed Young Offenders Act, was seriously flawed and that all we were doing was breeding successive generations of criminals.

Unless serious steps were taken to break this cycle, the new act which would become the Young Offenders Act would be doomed to failure.

The Young Offenders Act seemed to be on the right track but at its onset there were a number of problems already apparent. Perhaps the greatest of these had to do with the failure to make any provisions for the youth under the age of 12. The Young Offenders Act prohibits any legal proceedings against youth under the age of 12.

The theory seemed sound: refer under 12 year old children to the child welfare system to be dealt with there. The problem was that the child welfare system was not, and still is not, equipped to deal with children whose criminal conduct brought them to the attention of the authorities. In fact, what happened was the child welfare authorities did not have the appropriate resources or legal authority to deal with these children, many of them violent and seriously disturbed. This is especially true with those children that we have now come to know as children suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome.

With the bar against being able to proceed against children to bring them to youth court under the age of 12, these children who were 9, 10 and 11 years old slipped between the cracks of a child welfare system that was unable to deal with their serious problems and a Young Offenders Act that prohibited a court from offering them any help.

I do not speak of these matters simply as a matter of hearsay. I was not only involved as a prosecutor in youth court during the late 1970s, but during the first half of the 1980s. For five or six years some of my responsibilities on behalf of the attorney general of Manitoba involved acting on behalf of the director of child welfare in northern Manitoba, primarily in the Thompson area where I had the privilege of working with many fine child care workers and judges who did their best in very difficult circumstances.

One such judge was Judge Kimmelman who spent many years on circuit in the north, both as a youth court judge dealing with matters under the Young Offenders Act and as a family court judge dealing with matters under the Child Welfare Act. People like Judge Kimmelman are to be commended. However despite the very novel and inventive procedures and dispositions that they utilized, the legal tools and resources that they were provided with were simply not sufficient.

The failures of the Juvenile Delinquents Act were simply continued under the new Young Offenders Act.

Under the Young Offenders Act children are falling between the cracks of the child welfare system and the young offender system. Children under the age of 12 fail to receive help, either through the courts or through the child welfare system. For all the shortcomings of the old Juvenile Delinquents Act, it still provided for a measure of accountability for youth under the age of 12 so that they could be helped or dealt with by the courts.

The Young Offenders Act provides no such alternative with the result that by the time many seriously disturbed children reach the age of 12 anti-social and, indeed, criminal patterns and conduct have already been established. The Young Offenders Act only succeeded in breeding a younger, more anti-social lawbreaker. The time spent in youth court between ages 12 and 18 was spent honing the skills that many children first put to use when they were under age 12. By the time these youth reach 18 and sometimes much earlier, the only alternative, regrettably, is a much harsher and punitive adult system. By the misguided desire to help these children by shielding them from responsibility and accountability, we have only succeeded in ensuring a pattern of criminal behaviour.

It was not that the Young Offenders Act did not spout the appropriate rhetoric about rehabilitation, deterrence and denunciation, principles that all of us would agree are necessary for the success of any criminal justice system, it was simply that the act was substantially flawed from its inception. Furthermore, in dealing with the Young Offenders Act, and now dealing with this new bill, there is no practical commitment by the Liberal government to follow through with the implementation of the programs that are required in order to ensure that the rhetoric is carried out.

When the Young Offenders Act first came in, the government of the day committed itself to a 50:50 cost sharing arrangement with the provinces. The federal government soon abandoned its commitment to this partnership. As a consequence, the federal Liberal government has become at best a 25% financial partner offloading the lion's share of the financial and social responsibility on to the provinces that now shoulder on average 75% of the costs of running this program.

This is a strange state of affairs. One can understand, from a constitutional point of view, why the federal government has abandoned its financial commitment to medicare where it also used to be a 50% partner. However, in the case of medicare it is clear that it at least has the excuse that medicare is a provincial constitutional responsibility.

In the case of medicare, the federal government has simply involved itself in an area of provincial constitutional authority, and as my colleagues in the Bloc or others would say improperly so, by virtue of its spending power. However, in the area of youth crime this is clearly a matter of federal constitutional authority.

The provinces are involved in the programming and prosecutions under the Young Offenders Act, as they are in the prosecution of the criminal code, by virtue of their consent. I believe they provide this consent as an example of co-operative federalism, recognizing that in many cases provinces and local administration of these programs is important to their success.

Given that youth crime is a federal area of responsibility, it is curious that the federal Liberal government would announce that it is not prepared to contribute at least half of the funding for the operation of this program.

Very recently the Minister of Justice said that the federal government would not match the provincial contribution on a 50:50 basis because she said that the federal government could not afford the cost of the new programs she is implementing under her act. Instead, she indicated that the federal government would simply throw in an additional $207 million over three years to help with the implementation of the new act. Yet, even though she says that she does not have the money to carry out federal constitutional responsibilities, she expects the provinces to come up with the money for her plan.

Preliminary estimates from the province indicate that the initial implementation costs will exceed $100 million. This does not include the ongoing additional costs that will be incurred by the provinces in administering the new act. It is clear that the $207 million new dollars over three years that the federal Liberals have put on the table will barely cover the first three years of additional new costs and will do nothing to meet the ongoing costs to the provinces after these first three years.

When this funding dries up after three years, the federal Liberal government will become much less than a 25% partner in this federal program, leaving the provinces to pick up the additional costs on an ongoing basis.

In this financial context, and that is why I spent the time to develop this context, it is clear what the real reason is for the Liberal government to exercise jurisdiction in respect to children under the age of 12. By refusing to extend even the rehabilitative powers of the youth court to children under the age of 12, the federal Liberals are attempting to dump 100% of the costs on to the provinces in respect to these children. This has nothing to do with protecting children from the punitive powers of the court. It is simply a cynical device to ensure that the federal government can escape any financial responsibility for children under the age of 12.

If in fact the government is truly concerned that children under the age of 12 not be incarcerated, it need simply deny the judges the power to impose custodial sentences to those under the age of 12 while allowing the judges to retain the power to implement the rehabilitative measures available under the act to other children. However, the government has chosen not to do so because it is simply looking for a way to escape its financial and constitutional responsibilities.

Given the cynical attempt to escape financial responsibility, not only in respect to children under the age of 12 years but in respect to a fair division of the cost regarding children over the age of 12, I am surprised that the provinces have not simply advised the federal Liberal government that they refuse their consent to administer and prosecute this legislation and that they will no longer accept the delegation of this responsibility, financial or otherwise.

There is no constitutional obligation for any of the provinces to shoulder this responsibility. If the minister takes issue with my opinion that in a federal state one level of government cannot ask another level of government to shoulder its financial responsibilities without that government's consent, I would invite her to speak to her lawyers and indeed refer the matter to the courts on a reference.

I am only surprised that no province has indicated its intention to take this matter to its court of appeal given the lack of financial commitment to the legislation and its programs by the Liberal government. It demonstrates that while the federal Liberal government has given up on co-operative federalism and continues to implement its policies onto the provinces through government by ransom, it is to the credit of the provinces that they continue to make efforts to ensure that co-operative federalism remains alive, albeit on a life-support system.

As indicated earlier, it is not that Bill C-7 does not pay appropriate lip service to the principles required by any modern justice system. One simply needs to read the introductory preamble to the bill to see that it says all the right things. Indeed, as a judge recently stated “The bill attempts to be all things to all people”. Unfortunately, the grandiose introduction is simply a cover for another effort that is doomed to failure.

In attempting to be all things to all people, the Liberals have produced a bill that is costly, complex and cumbersome. It will serve only the interests of those who wish to profit from legal litigation involving the children of Canada. Not only will the children suffer, but also the provinces will be required to increase legal aid budgets, another program where the federal Liberals are diligently seeking to avoid their fiscal responsibility.

Although other members will no doubt wish to examine and comment on specific provisions of the bill, I also want to comment on some of these provisions, even briefly, in addition to the comments I have already made.

The first issue I wish to discuss in this context is the reluctance of the minister to provide for publication of names of young offenders who live in anonymity in the community. While all of us agree that the principles of rehabilitation and deterrence do not always require the disclosure of a young offender's identity to the public, it is clear that the very restrictive disclosure provisions often serve the interests of youthful criminal predators living in our community.

Seniors, schoolteachers and administrators, parents of vulnerable children, and the vulnerable children themselves have a legitimate and compelling interest in knowing who the dangerous youthful predators are in their community. Yet the provisions of the bill restrict to an unwarranted degree the ability to notify the public of this danger. The balance in the legislation favours the rights of the dangerous criminal over the rights of victims and potential victims.

Moving on to another point, in Manitoba, for example, we have an extensive system of alternative measures to deal with young offenders. During my time as provincial justice minister I was proud to develop and expand many of these initiatives. Provided that the type of offender who participated in these measures was carefully controlled and provided that the court always retained overall authority and jurisdiction, these measures could be extremely successful in providing appropriate support to young offenders.

For the most part these measures were implemented through the participation of police officers, probation officers and youth justice committees. However, it was apparent after many years of experience that violent repeat offenders would not be appropriate candidates for any type of extrajudicial measure.

Bill C-7 ignores the profitable experience of provinces like Manitoba with extensive extrajudicial measures. Instead, the bill ignores this experience by allowing access to alternative measures by violent offenders and minimizing the supervisory authority of the courts. While alternative measures are often appropriate, they need to be administered in an appropriate context.

It should be the court system that should direct if alternative measures are to be implemented. In any event, the court should always be involved when considering such measures in the case of violent repeat offenders so that it can be satisfied that the public will be protected.

The last provision I wish to specifically comment on is the provision that would provide for the early release of offenders from custodial institutions despite the fact that they may still present a danger to the public. While it is commendable that youth in custody are rewarded for good behaviour, the Canadian Alliance Party has grave concerns over trying to emulate the failing adult federal parole system.

Early release must be contingent upon the demonstration of good behaviour and the satisfaction of the custodial authorities that the offender has been rehabilitated before there can be any consideration of early release.

As a country and as a people, we have only a short period of time to work with these youths while they are under the jurisdiction of the act, and every effort must be made to rehabilitate where rehabilitation is still feasible. Mandatory parole should not be an option where the youth is not rehabilitated and there is still time left on a court imposed sentence.

In conclusion, our party still has grave concerns about the bill. Not only has there been a lack of consultation and, indeed, a deliberate exclusion of provincial attorneys general in respect of the development of the provisions of the bill, not only has there been a failure by the Liberal government to provide adequate funding for its legislation, there has also been a stubborn refusal to consider any suggestions for amending its provisions.

A few minutes ago, the Minister of Justice continued to defend the bill on the simplistic basis that some members say it is too tough while members of the Canadian Alliance think it is not tough enough. Therefore she reasons that the bill must be just right.

This is not a story about the three bears tasting porridge. The bill impacts on the safety and quality of life of millions of Canadians. As such, it requires greater justification from the minister than the political equivalent of Goldilocks and the three bears.

The real question that needs to be answered is not whether the legislation is too soft or too tough. The real question is whether the legislation will be effective in meeting key goals of rehabilitation, deterrence and denunciation of crime.

For the reasons that I have outlined, and for additional reasons that my colleagues in the Alliance will raise in their comments, this bill will not be effective in meeting these key and crucial goals.

In my opinion, the failure to consult provincial authorities in a meaningful way and the failure of the federal Liberals to provide appropriate funding will be the key reasons for the failure of the bill. Unless the concerns of the provinces are considered and the appropriate financial agreements are in place, the bill will quickly find its way to being characterized in the not so distant future, perhaps by the same Minister of Justice, as easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation.

While popularity is not always the hallmark of great legislation, the dangers that the bill presents will give rise to far greater concerns than whether it is popular or not. I believe these concerns will impact adversely on the safety of our citizens and, indeed, on the rehabilitation of our youthful offenders.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am going to try yet again, and perhaps with examples, to convince the Minister of Justice that she is off track with her bill, seeming in a way to want to criminalize young people in difficulty with the law.

Quite honestly, I listened very carefully to the minister's speech and equally attentively to the member of the Canadian Alliance representing the riding of Provencher.

It seems to me that everyone in the House should see very clearly that there are two faces to Canada. There are two visions completely opposed. In a matter such as that of young offenders, it is obvious.

If I understand what the member of the Canadian Alliance had to say, the bill does not go far enough. There are shortcomings and things that do not work. We should be far more severe with young people involved in crime. We should even lower the age of responsibility below the age of 12. We should make changes to try to get better control over these young people. There is the whole issue of the victim. It must be made more complex.

For the Bloc Quebecois and, quite honestly, for the vast majority of Quebecers—I know that these days the expression consensus is a bit overworked—if there is one subject of real consensus, it is the treatment of young offenders.

Regardless of political stripe in Quebec—this is even more true in the national assembly—Péquistes, members of the Action Démocratique or Liberals, the members of the national assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling on the minister to suspend consideration of Bill C-3, now C-7—and I will come back to this shortly—in order to visit the provinces, look at the issue and see what does not work.

In Quebec, in short, the Young Offenders Act is properly applied with good results. I will come back to this in a bit. After checking with the Quebec departments of justice and public security and other agencies in Quebec, the minister decided not to travel throughout the country to see what was going on in the provinces, and particularly in Quebec.

Some department officials met with the members of the coalition and the agencies that enforce the Young Offenders Act on a daily basis, but the minister did not go to Quebec to see what was going on over there and to find out why Quebec was getting such remarkable results. Why was there a consensus in Quebec? It was to tell the minister “We do not want the YOA to be amended or repealed because it is working for us. The problem, if there is one, is not with the legislation but rather with the way it is enforced in other provinces”.

The minister did not come to Quebec but the officials she sent were there to do a sales job. They were not proposing a social vision, an educational approach or a rehabilitation program but rather a product. They were simply trying to sell a product. I will come back to that later on because there are limits to what one can say and what one can try to sell to Quebecers on such an important issue.

Of course there are times in the House when we are tempted to play politics. We are in politics, not in religion. However, on this issue I have never tried to influence groups and get them to take part in our political games. They have always been free to do whatever they wanted to do and to say whatever they felt like saying. These agencies held press conferences and wrote to newspapers. I never tried to apply pressure as the Department of Justice is trying to do now and tried to do in September, October and November.

Indeed, people in the Department of Justice were not involved in the election campaign. They were out in the field and they even promised money to certain organizations. There is nothing they did not try to do to convince certain members of the coalition, certain groups that work with the Young Offenders Act on a daily basis, to support the minister's amendments.

Right now I think the minister and the people in her department have failed. Time will tell. As for me, my opinion has not changed with regard to these bills, whether it is Bill C-68, Bill C-3 or Bill C-7.

When a bill is ill-conceived from the very beginning, one can try to improve it by whatever means but it will still remain an ill-conceived bill. Such is the case with Bill C-7.

The bill proposed by the minister is based on false premises. Alliance and Liberal members saw an opportunity to play politics at the expense of young people with delinquency problems that are sometimes serious. Using certain complicitous tabloids and certain ads, they managed to make a big fuss about certain crimes of a rather vicious nature, I agree, but nevertheless extremely rare.

It goes without saying that the idea of a grandson hitting his grandmother to get a few dollars is unbearable. However beyond the specific and individual incidents covered by the media, the facts are actually very different. And this has to be said.

Juvenile crime has been in constant decline for a number of years. According to the data compiled by the Department of Justice, last year in the year 2000, the juvenile crime rate was the lowest of the past 20 years. Just since 1997, youth crimes—and these figures are taken from reports published by the Department of Justice—involving homicides have dropped by 9%.

Do not try to tell us, as the member for Provencher seems to be doing, that these figures have been fudged because the crimes were not reported. We are talking about confirmed homicides. Files were opened and police investigations were conducted. The figures show that since 1997 homicides committed by young offenders have dropped by 9%.

There has also been an 8% drop in robberies and a 1% drop in sexual assaults. Some might say that a 1% drop is not much, but at least the number of these crimes has been going down over the past four or five years. As for crimes in general, the drop is around 1.2%.

What is most striking when we look at these statistics is that since 1997 the juvenile crime rate in Quebec has dropped by 23%. I agree that this is not enough but it is a significant reduction.

Quebec—and I am using the data published by the Department of Justice—has the lowest crime rate in Canada. In Quebec, the recidivism rate is the lowest in Canada. The number of cases where a file is referred to the court and young criminals are remanded in custody is also the lowest in Canada. The former minister of justice and now Minister of Health even said once that Quebec was a model for the way it implements the Young Offenders Act.

The then minister of justice even said that since Quebec was enforcing the Young Offenders Act properly, and the financial programs linked to the Young Offenders Act did not favour the approach taken by Quebec, Quebec was in fact being penalized. As a result of Quebec enforcing the act properly, the federal government now owes Quebec about $850 million in constant dollars of 1997.

The federal program linked to the act is built in such a way that it encourages erecting concrete walls, putting bars in windows and imprisoning young offenders, instead of rehabilitating them and ensuring their reintegration.

Quebec was simply implementing the policy statement in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act, which put the emphasis on the needs of young people. It said that we had to focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of young people in order to protect society in the long run. This is what we have been doing for years.

In Quebec because we abide by and enforce the law correctly and efficiently, we are being penalized in terms of the distribution of funding for the enforcement of an act that was not passed by Quebec but by the federal government.

To justify the Liberal government's approach, to justify the position adopted by the Liberal minister who is a member from western Canada, a member from Alberta, a province where the Canadian Alliance is known to be strong—bearing in mind that, based on its own statistics, her department recognized that there was no need to amend the Young Offenders Act because it was not the act, but its enforcement that was the problem—to justify those amendments, they went on a crusade a long time ago.

There is misinformation. The original premises are wrong. The wrong data are knowingly being used. Department of Justice officials, among others, have suggested in press conferences that things are worse than they really are. There is an attempt to lead people away from a clear understanding of the act, which needs to be enforced. Some figures are even being fiddled with, and I will explain what I mean.

I am very saddened to see that the Minister of Justice herself is using these figures when she knows very well that they have no value. Then there is the poll carried out by the Department of Justice. This poll was authorized by the Liberals and paid for with our taxes, and public servants did a sales job on it.

Mr. Speaker, you might tell me that I do not have as much experience as you, as I have only been a member of parliament since 1993, but I have always held federal public servants in high esteem. I have always greatly respected them for the non-partisan nature of their work.

Overall, until seeing what is going on within the Department of Justice, I was generally very satisfied with the work being done by the public servants. However, as far as justice is concerned, particularly in the area of young offenders, their work is no longer fair-minded, it is totally partisan.

As far as Yolande Viau is concerned—I am taking the time to give her name, and have no qualms about doing so, since I have laid a very formal complaint with her superior, but what she was doing was supposedly normal—when she tells us about the poll, when she says that 58% of Quebecers agree with the federal approach, she is lying. It is not honest to say that.

If the poll is examined in any sort of detail and with any sort of honesty and informed knowledge, one realizes that the department, and Ms. Viau in particular, cannot reach those conclusions. Why? Because according to the same poll only 10% of Quebecers can give at least three of the amendments to the Young Offenders Act. There cannot, therefore, be more than 10% who approve of such a law.

Closer scrutiny of the poll reveals that 10% of Quebecers are opposed to the minister's bill. Are these the same 10% who can list at least three components of the bill? Are they opposed because the more they are familiar with it, the more they oppose it? No doubt.

This, however, is an indication of the unacceptable lack of rigour in a department like the Department of Justice, particularly in connection with an issue that affects young offenders, young people in trouble with the law.

I would hope that Ms. Viau and the Minister of Justice will not use this sort of tactic again. It is my opinion that Ms. Viau is playing politics in her interpretation of these figures, that she is selling her line, some sort of commodity, in this case, a bill.

In addition, she said when she met the press “Go ask the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec about whether they are as good as all that in applying the law”. Yes, because they had financial problems, but that is a whole other matter.

If Ms. Viau had any intellectual honesty, she would have taken the brief submitted by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, when its representatives testified before the committee, and she would have seen what the commission had to say on this with respect to the Young Offenders Act.

For the benefit of Ms. Viau and the minister, I will quote from what the commission said in its brief to the committee:

By focusing the new legislation on the seriousness of the offence, the implication is, necessarily, that the present law does not significantly respond to juvenile delinquency, especially when the offence is of a greater objective gravity.

Further on, it reads:

The imbalance created by new legislation based solely on the principles of public protection and the responsibility of the young offender compromises all the work done to date with young people in difficulty.

That is the true message of the commission. I am not distorting the facts. I am just quoting from a brief the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse has submitted to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which examined the bill.

If I may briefly outline the background, this is not the first time the minister tries to impose her views through a bill such as this one.

Bill C-68 was introduced on March 11, 1999, as everybody will recall. Then we had Bill C-3, which was introduced and read for the first time on October 14, 2000. The purpose has always been the same, that is to make the Young Offenders Act tougher and to revoke a piece of legislation that is very effective in Quebec, for the sake of heeding just English speaking Canada's views.

The minister then realized her bill was severely flawed and did not make sense. She tabled 172 amendments in the House. About 60 witnesses, half of them from Quebec, appeared before the committee dealing with the bill.

Witnesses from Quebec submitted to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights at least 15 briefs. Not a single witness from Quebec supported the justice minister's position. Not a single group mentioned that the minister was right to revoke and throw away an effective piece of legislation like the one on young offenders.

Of course we had witnesses from western Canada who came to tell us that we should lower the age even more and that we should even let children in diapers have criminal records. I exaggerate but not much considering what I heard during the committee hearings. This is not the solution.

The debate went on for several months. I tried by all kinds of means, including endless speeches, to convince the minister. Many editorials and articles were written on the subject in Quebec and in English Canada. If I had the time I would like to read them. Lawyers, practitioners, experts, professors, criminologists, psychologists and all kinds of people came to tell the minister that she had it all wrong.

After the last federal election the minister introduced a brand new bill, Bill C-7. It has a new number but it is not new at all since it is a carbon copy of old Bill C-3. The 172 amendments moved by the government have simply been incorporated into the bill.

A bill that has so many flaws cannot be corrected by way of amendments. What we need to do is scrap it and draft a brand new bill. While that is being done, the minister should travel around and consult the people who work with young offenders, with young people in trouble with the law.

The minister would see that she is going the wrong way. I will surely have an opportunity later on to give specific examples. Whenever she has the chance, the minister says “The hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois never gives any specific examples”. However, I gave her several examples. Over the course of 27 hours of debates, in the speeches I made in committee, I gave several examples showing that the new bill would make it impossible to keep the approach taken in Quebec with young people in trouble with the law.

I asked questions in the House. Yes, we have time constraints and we cannot get into details but the examples I gave showed that with the changes put forward by the minister it would no longer be possible to take the educational and rehabilitative approach developed in Quebec over the last 20 years.

It is wrong to claim that there is some flexibility. Too much in the bill is automatic to give provinces a minimum of flexibility. The minister does not seem to understand or, rather, she does not want to understand that. I think this is a better explanation.

What is the approach in Quebec? Are there any members in the House who are at least aware of what it is? One might say that it is based on rehabilitation and reintegration.

In every case, the young person is given priority. Each case is considered individually. In each case, we look at what we should give the young person in question to rehabilitate him as quickly as possible. There is a reason for this, since in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act, the declaration of principle clearly states that young persons are not adults and that they must be treated accordingly. Indeed, young persons are human beings in training. They cannot be treated as if they were adults, even in very serious cases.

Yes, there are hopeless cases. Yes, there are cases where a young offender is a bum and will remain a bum.

In some murder cases, the young offender does not deserve the same treatment as the one used for rehabilitating young people. However the current Young Offenders Act does allow the provinces to decide to have a young person tried in adult court. This is not hypocritical, this is clear. We know where we are going. It is true that we apply this in Quebec.

Perhaps we may contradict the minister's numbers, because according to the Department of Justice in Quebec City it is not true that 23 cases were referred last year. I am convinced that more cases are referred in Quebec than in Ontario but perhaps not 23.

Why are more cases referred in Quebec? Simply because there is a difference in treatment in Quebec. A young person who under the referral principle is tried in adult court and sentenced will not end up in the same place as a young person who is treated as such. However, in the western provinces, whether a young offender is dealt with under the law as a young person or as an adult in adult court, he will often end up in the same place and get the same treatment, that is no treatment at all.

In Quebec there is a difference. We invest in a young person who has a chance of being rehabilitated. In Quebec the repeat offender rate is the lowest in Canada because we enforce the law. We do what the law allows us to do. We apply the statement of principles that puts the emphasis on the young person's needs. This statement of principles was interpreted by the higher courts and it took about 15 years for the Supreme Court of Canada to hand down a clear ruling on what a young offender is entitled to.

It took 15 years to assess what the real needs of young people are. Everything that has been accomplished so far is being thrown out today. The intent of the law is being completely changed. From now on the young offenders' needs, the underlying principle of the Young Offenders Act, will no longer be the guiding principle in interpreting the act, in guiding youth court judges in sentencing young offenders, it will be the seriousness of the offence, as we said at the beginning.

This whole bill is focused on the seriousness of the offence. Even though there have been attempts to include all sorts of details and to use the word “need” in the bill, this in no way changes the fact that the courts will interpret it based on the principle of the seriousness of the offence. This runs counter to Quebec's approach, which is focused on the needs of the young offenders.

Moreover, in this new act the minister wants to impose on Quebec, which is all about the seriousness of the offence, there is a whole series of automatic sentences preventing those who want to hand down the appropriate sentence to young offenders from doing so. The young offenders will even have the right, not currently available to them, to avoid rehabilitation.

In many cases, if a young offender is given the choice between serving his time inside, as they say, or going to a rehab centre and working on his case, what will he choose? He will choose to serve his time. It is much easier to do two-thirds of an eight year prison sentence than to do eight months in a rehabilitation centre where one has to work with psychologists and other professionals who will ask questions and work hard to turn one into a responsible citizen who realizes what he has done.

It is much easier for a youth to do his time, read books and count the days left until his release than for him to try to find out what his problem is and why he acted the way he did.

Now that is exactly what the minister is handing to our youth on a silver platter and crown attorneys will no longer even have the opportunity to compel the young offender to go through all that.

The bill is unacceptable for several reasons. The youth justice system the minister is proposing looks increasingly like adult justice. This so-called youth criminal justice act, which will turn our youth into criminals, looks more and more like the criminal code.

If the application of the criminal code were a big success with adults, I might think that the government is trying to achieve the same results with young offenders but it is the opposite. The application of the criminal code is, in many respects, a disaster but the government wants to impose it on young offenders. Some expressions were changed but these were cosmetic changes.

Under Bill C-7, young offenders no longer face penalties. Instead, they are liable to face them. Bill C-7 now imposes sentences. The legislation no longer reprimands a young offender, it corrects his behaviour. It includes extrajudicial measures instead of extrajudicial sanctions. This is all very nice, and while it is good to include terminology that is less aggressive, the meaning of the act remains the same.

The minister says that she understood Quebec's demands, but she did not understand anything, in my opinion. We did not want changes to the wording or synonyms. We simply wanted the minister not to touch the act.

I mentioned that under the bill it is impossible to review each case based on its own merits. Certain types of crime are stereotyped and compartmentalized: this sentence applies to that crime and that sentence applies this other crime. Where is the flexibility that would allow Quebec to have its own approach?

All the experts and even lawyers agree that the bill will promote legal quibbling. Those who have been to the courthouse realize that there is no benefit in it.

It is an extremely complex bill that no one will understand. The bill took something out of the existing act, which was made for young people and also parents, since there are parents who take an active interest in what young people experiencing problems are doing. It is not just thugs who end up in court. It is not just young people without parents. A bill as complex as Bill C-7 will not be understood except by judges and lawyers who will have a field day.

The bill does not help the cause of justice for young people or the society.

I will give other examples and I hope some public servants are listening if the minister is not. With this bill Quebec will have to change its approach.

I spoke earlier about the whole philosophy underlying the bill and I want to come back to this briefly. The current Young Offenders Act talks about the needs of young persons. The basic principle of Bill C-7 is the seriousness of the offence committed by the young offender.

So far the precedents make the needs of the young offenders the first priority. The case law leans that way. It has established some models particular to Quebec on rehabilitation. The philosophy behind the bill is completely different. It deals with the seriousness of the offence and hands down harsher sentences. Like it or not, the case law would change at the same time.

The principle of uniformity of sentencing was in Bill C-3. We are no longer talking about uniformity of sentencing but rather about similar sentences in a given region. What does a region correspond to in criminal law?

Is Quebec a region? Is Ontario a region? Are the maritimes a region? In any case, when lower courts interpret what the legislator meant with regard to the seriousness of the offence, it will go to the higher courts and on to the supreme court. When these cases come back before the lower courts, the case law will impact on Quebec if Bill C-7 is fully enforced.

I also said with regard to minor offences—because things are very compartmentalized in the bill—that at present when a young person is caught shoplifting or scribbling graffiti, the police open a file. That file is immediately referred to the crown attorney. He or she examines the reports contained in the file and may determine that the source of the problem is a street gang or perhaps the young person's parents. He or she takes appropriate action immediately to get that young person away from the situation causing the problem.

With Bill C-7, as introduced by the Minister of Justice, the crown attorney will never see the file and will certainly not be able to force that young person to enter a rehabilitation program. The reason for that is that the minister's bill provides for a whole series of successive measures.

If the first offence is a minor offence, like shoplifting, the police will only give a warning. If the same young person travels to the neighbouring town and is caught shoplifting again the same day, he or she will be given another warning. Where will that be recorded? If at some point the offences become more serious, for example large graffiti involving some violence, a cautionary letter will be sent to the parents. The crown attorney will never find out.

The bill would prevent Quebec from doing the right thing at the right time. It is better to invest as soon as the first offence is committed, when it is not serious, than after three or four years of delinquency in a neighbourhood, a town or a region. If the minister's bill becomes law, the whole rehabilitative approach used in Quebec in cases involving minor offences would no longer be possible.

As for cases involving major crimes, the minister's approach is just as harmful. If young offenders are treated as adults, they will also have the same rights as adults. With the minister's new bill, a young person receiving an adult sentence of eight years in prison would get out after serving two-thirds of that sentence, whether he or she is rehabilitated or not.

The approach used in Quebec is to send these young people to a rehabilitation centre. When they get out, they are rehabilitated. Statistics show that the recidivism rate is less than 1%. Is this what the minister wants? Is the minister telling us the approach used in Quebec would be maintained with her bill? No, we would no longer be able to do that. The approach used in Quebec would no longer be possible.

Let us talk about the delays the minister's new bill would entail. We now have appearances in court and preliminary inquiries, and trials by judge and jury. Lots of things are fictitious in the bill. We are told that the youth justice court would deal with serious crime, but if one reads the bill one realizes that it is not the judges of the youth justice court who would hear these cases but judges of the superior court acting as judges of the youth justice court.

There are lots of fictitious things which the minister does not seem to grasp. In the end, the youth court would be influenced. There would be an influence on case law. There would be an influence on the Quebec approach, which has been very effective.

I will conclude. We have in the House right now Liberal members from Quebec, the Ministers responsible for International trade, Treasury Board, Finance, National Revenue, and Intergovernmental Affairs. We also have the new member for Laval East and the members for Brome-Missisquoi, Ahuntsic, and Gatineau. I hope they will stand up for Quebec and for the Quebec consensus on this bill, and I hope that they will talk some sense into the minister.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to participate in this debate in my new capacity as justice critic for the New Democratic Party. I listened intently to those who preceded me and I signal my intention to listen intently in committee and to try to learn as much as I can.

Even though I might not always agree, I would like to learn as much as I can from my colleagues on the committee who are more experienced than I. To that end I listened to the minister, to the member for Provencher, to the former minister of justice in my own province, and to my colleague from Quebec.

This is the third time the bill has been introduced in the House. It was at one point known as Bill C-68, then as Bill C-3, and now as Bill C-7. Noting that the bill has been before the House before, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor as NDP justice critic, the former member for Sydney—Victoria, Mr. Peter Mancini. Unfortunately he was not re-elected and therefore could not continue as our justice critic. He had the opportunity to put forward our party's position and he put it forward well the last time he spoke to the bill in the second reading context on October 21, 1999.

It is unfortunate that the bill has not gone ahead. As with various other projects of the Liberal government, a combination of government delay, lack of will and an opposition resistance that has its own merits, has meant that the government has not been able to act. We collectively have been unable to act to possibly improve the Young Offenders Act which we all know to be deficient.

We now have some 15 years of experience with the Young Offenders Act and it has not lived up to expectations. I am one of the few people in the House who was here when it was debated and brought in as a replacement for the former juvenile delinquents act. There was great expectation at that time that the Young Offenders Act would be a great improvement on the older legislation which I think went back to the turn of the century, if I remember correctly.

The fact that the Young Offenders Act has not worked out the way many people thought it would and the fact that we now have before us a new bill should perhaps give us pause and make us all a bit humble when we realize that the act did not work. Youth crime, even though it may have gone down in some respects in the past few years, is certainly up overall when we consider what the statistics would have looked like when the Young Offenders Act was brought in or prior to that.

If acts of parliament alone were enough the problem would have been solved by now, but we still have problems. The minister, by her own description, has tried to strike a balance between those who want her to be tougher and those who want her to seek more and better alternatives to incarceration, particularly with respect to young non-violent offenders in the first and hopefully last stages of their encounter with the criminal justice system.

In the coming days and weeks as we debate it further in the House and as we get into committee, I think the debate will be on whether it is true that the minister has struck an appropriate balance or whether she is, as the criticism has been levelled at her, trying to be all things to all people without really coming up with an effective piece of legislation. I will certainly be trying to make my own judgment in that respect in the context of our overall opposition to the bill, to which I will speak shortly.

The minister has said she has tried to make the bill more flexible, particularly in respect to the amendments that have been introduced since the last time it was before the House. I understand there has been some attempt to try and satisfy some of the concerns raised by the Bloc Quebecois as to the ability of the youth criminal justice system in Quebec to continue to do what it is doing now, which by all accounts is a comparatively successful attempt to deal with youth crime.

Some people have said, and I have no reason to doubt them, that Quebec is one of the few provinces that has been able to do with the Young Offenders Act what was intended when it was first brought in. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly the case if we look at rates of youth crime and the approach the province of Quebec is taking.

To give credit where credit is due, it is fair to say that Quebec is doing something right. It may not be reproducible in an uncritical way in every province because Quebec, after all, is a distinct society. It may be that things which are possible in Quebec are not as possible in other provinces, but certainly it would seem to me that we have much to learn from the approach taken in Quebec.

If the bill is not flexible enough at this point, if it can be demonstrated that it is so inflexible as to render impossible the ability of Quebec to keep doing the things it is doing right, then surely that is a criticism the minister should take seriously.

One of the inadequacies identified in the current Young Offenders Act has been what my predecessor referred to when he was speaking in the House as an absence of discretion. I will quote from Mr. Mancini who said on October 21, 1999:

We know, and again I can give some evidence of my own, that in many cases what happened with the old Young Offenders Act is that there was an absence of discretion, that police officers, school teachers and people who routinely came in contact with young people ended up referring matters to the courts, even if they were the most simple matters where some cautioning or some exercise of discretion may well have dealt with the matters.

I have seen in the courts young people coming in charged with damage to property because they got into an argument with a schoolmate over a school locker or where young people end up in court on trespassing charges because they walked across a neighbour's lawn. There is no need to clog the courts up with these kinds of offences when we have serious matters that have to go before the courts.

I think that is a particularly insightful criticism of the Young Offenders Act. I think it points to the heart of the matter when it comes to finding the right spirit in dealing with young people.

I am reminded, as I often am with justice matters, of a person in my family, my grandfather, Alex Taylor, who was the chief of police in Transcona for many years, and before that a constable. Subsequent to being the chief of police, he became a justice of the peace. Although he has been gone for 40 years, I still run into people on the doorstep who say “your grandfather gave me a boot in the rear end once when I needed it”, or “your grandfather took me home once when he could have taken me to jail” or “your grandfather put me in jail for the night when I needed a lesson”. This was long before there was a charter.

All these things demonstrate to me a certain amount of discretion, mercy and exercise of judgment when it comes to young people that sometimes can only be exercised by people who know the community, or who know the family or who know that young person.

In that context, I make the argument for more and better community policing. Our young people should be policed by people who know them and who know their communities. They should not be policed in the impersonal way that they are now so often policed in our larger cities where police do not work in the communities they live in or where they are transferred all over the place and nobody knows anybody anymore.

It seems to me that this absence of discretion is a key element of what is wrong with the Young Offenders Act. However, there was another absence, and this is one that I like to also dwell on. There was an absence not just of discretion, but of resources to deal with the process that was set up by the Young Offenders Act. We see that same mistake repeated in the new youth criminal justice bill. This is one of our fundamental concerns.

As has been said by members who spoke earlier, the act is quite complex, cumbersome and lays new responsibilities down for the provinces. It introduces new layers at the same time it does a good thing by introducing discretion. It does not introduce the resources to make the exercise of that discretion happen in a way which would be both constructive and speedy.

One thing we all know, and I think all the literature agrees on, is that when it comes to young people, it is important that there be as short a time as possible between the action and the consequences. What the minister has done is create a process by virtue of the increased complexity of the process and the lack of resources committed to making that complexity work, if that is possible. By doing this, the minister may well have created a situation where the length of time between action and consequence has been stretched out even further. It would seem that this is indeed one of the key criticisms that will be brought to bear on this legislation.

The complexity was alluded to by the Alliance critic but probably not as explicitly as I would have expressed it. That might have to do with the fact that the Alliance critic is a lawyer. He alluded to the fact that this was going to be a field day for the litigious. I think what meant was that this could well be the biggest job creation program for lawyers that we have seen in a long time. However, it is not the first job creation program for lawyers that I have seen go through this place.

For example and as I understand it, the reverse onus provisions change the existing situation whereby the state now has to argue for youth between the ages of 14 and 17 to be brought before adult court. Under this new law it will be the youths themselves who will have to say why they should not be advanced. This is debatable in itself.

Leaving that aside for a moment, who is going to make these arguments on behalf of these 14 to 17 years olds? Are they going to make the arguments themselves? These arguments are going to have to be made either by the lawyers who their parents hire or, given the fact that a great percentage of the youths who get into such trouble do not have parents who can afford lawyers, it is going to mean a whole new dimension of legal aid and costs which have been put on the provinces without the added resources.

What we see is a pattern of downloading costs onto the provinces which is quite unacceptable. Unfortunately, it is part of pattern that we have seen not just in justice but in other areas, for instance medicare. The federal government wants to set the rules, but it allows its participation financially in the administration of those rules to constantly erode. At the moment the federal government is only participating to the tune of about 25%. That is high compared to health care which is 9% to 13%, depending on whose figures we believe.

There are other things that I could have spoken about, but time flies while having fun talking about the Young Offenders Act.

One of the things the bill does not do and I am glad that it does not do, and I want to put this on the record, is it does not deal with children under 12 in the context of the bill. That is a position taken by the federal NDP, which we continue to support. It does not mean there should not be a strategy for dealing with children under 12. One of the things that the Manitoba NDP government is looking at very seriously is how to deal with young offenders 10 and 11 years old, both in the context of what they do themselves and also what they are led to do by others who are using their young age to their advantage.

It was mentioned earlier that one of the virtues of the old piece of legislation, the Juvenile Delinquents Act, was that it dealt with children under the age of 12. We need to find, subsequent to this bill, a way for the federal and provincial levels to co-operate in facing up to the fact that we have a problem, in more cases than we would care to admit perhaps, with children at that very young level. We need co-ordinated federal-provincial strategy for dealing with that. It should be, at least as I see it at the moment, outside the ambit of the way we deal with 12 to 18 year olds.

I want to say that we support the release of names in some circumstances, but we believe that in this respect there should still be a role for judges in exercising discretion as to when and in what circumstances names should be released. The reason we have judges is to make these kinds of judgments. It is consistent with our overall argument that there ought to be more discretion built into the system not just for judges but also for police officers.

The rest of my speech will address the fact that not only do we need to be, in an appropriate sense, tough on crime, we also need to be tough on the causes of crime. Had I another 20 minutes, I would certainly go into all the social and economic measures which I think would help to support families and to create and reinforce the kind of values in our society that would go a long way in preventing young offenders from offending in the first place.

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5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I want to make sure people are in their usual seats, if they want to seek the floor. Is the member for Wild Rose in his usual seat?

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

That's what is says here.

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5:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Well, he is then in his proper seat. I just cannot seem to keep track of all the real estate movement that goes on in this place from time to time.

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5:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, but I have always managed to sit where I am supposed to.

I appreciate the comments from the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona. It is too bad that he did not have more time to speak on the causes. I am going to give him an opportunity to do so.

I know in his region in Winnipeg that a very serious problem is developing regarding gangs, particularly youth gangs. There is one particular gang that comes to mind. I think it is called The Deuce. What I know about these gangs is a number of adults are actually exploiting these children to benefit their own processes of drug dealing, prostitution or whatever it may be.

Personally, I am really sick of seeing pimps, who are pimping young girls even under 15 years of age, getting a slap on the wrist when they are picked up by the police and taken to court. I am also tired of drug dealers who are distributing to these young people and getting another slap on the wrist. They are exploiting our youth to unbelievable proportions.

I would like the hon. member to comment on that particular aspect. I know it is a serious problem in most of our major cities.

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5:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that although the Chair may regard him that way, I have never regarded the hon. member for Wild Rose as a piece of real estate.

I acknowledge the concern that the hon. member has raised. It is a very real concern to the people of Winnipeg, and as he indicated, to people in other cities.

In Winnipeg we certainly have a problem with youth gangs. However, it is not just with youth gangs. Sometimes it is a mistake to assume that all these gangs are people who would fall within the age group of the Young Offenders Act. There are an awful lot of older adults involved in these gangs as well. These adults use young people to their advantage, people who are old enough to be covered by the act and people who are younger.

I said earlier, that the Manitoba NDP government is concerned with trying to find ways to deal with that issue. That is also why earlier in a previous parliament, I brought in a private member's bill dealing with anti-gang legislation. It seems to me that this is one of the things that we have to address. We of course know that our colleagues from Quebec are very concerned about that because of their own experience. It would seem to me that one of the things the government should look at is bringing in anti-gang legislation of some kind that would give it a better handle and a better instrument with which to deal with these problems.

Finally, I would like to say a bit of what I think about the conditions that sometimes lead to crime. We need to recognize the links between social conditions and crime, while at the same time creating a renewed sense of individual responsibility for one's actions. A deficient upbringing of one kind or another may be an explanation but in the end it is no excuse for morally reprehensible actions.

It is true that unemployment, inner city decay, drug addiction, child abuse, child poverty and an ever widening gap between the most and least prosperous in society create certain negative factors. However, it is also true that some of the most frightening and senseless acts of violence are committed by people who are not socially or environmentally deprived.

A very real problem is that too many Canadians are growing up in a moral vacuum, where the very notion of right and wrong seems to be called into question. This morally deprived environment, I believe, is partly the product of the violence and the shamelessness of modern TV programming and media advertising, but that is only part of the problem.

Our entire culture has become one which emphasizes the bottom line and self-interest over everything, so it is not that some of these kids who offend do not have values. They do. They have picked up the vulgar, materialistic and individualistic morals of the marketplace that they are bombarded with and they are applying them to every aspect of their lives. It is something we should all be concerned about.

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5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Canadian Alliance Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the member for Winnipeg—Transcona in regard to the statistics he is referring to. In particular, I heard in his speech and also in other speeches that the province of Quebec has a very low rate of youth offences and youth crime.

I know from my 30 years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that I filled out statistics in the very forms that we are talking about here. I know that those statistics can be quite easily manipulated by the criteria and by the number of diversion programs where youths are pushed away from the statistics forms prior to them actually being recorded as having offended against the criminal code or some other issue. I would like the member to comment on that.

Also, I think the relationship in regard to youth crime being so low in Quebec is not accurate, because Quebec has a massive problem with organized crime. Organized crime is right down into the individual public schools and the junior highs and high schools in Quebec.

I do not have the statistics for this, but in my opinion youth crime is being grossly understated in the province of Quebec. I have given the reasons why I say that: because of the criteria that are given to the police to record the statistics and because of the fact that there is a massive organized crime problem in Quebec. In my experience, organized criminals start out as youth and move into assisting those who are at the middle levels of organized crime.

As a result, we have to be cautious in accepting that the programs and the diversion methods in the province of Quebec are those that should be applied to the whole country.

I would ask the member to comment on the points I have raised if in fact that is what he is advocating

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5:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was simply reporting what I understand to be a consensus in terms of the analysis of what has happened in Quebec.

I certainly would not quarrel with the member and his contention that Quebec has an organized crime problem. Everyone acknowledges that, and so does the Bloc, but whether that in some way counters the other observation that is often made about Quebec, which is that in terms of its youth criminal justice system it has been doing something right, I do not necessarily see the connection. If the member has a study on that to show me, I would be willing to look at it, but at this point I would certainly tend to stand by what I had to say.

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5:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by congratulating my colleague for Winnipeg—Transcona and fellow House leader on his first speech on a justice bill as a new member of the justice committee.

I would certainly agree with your earlier assessment, Mr. Speaker. He has never been accused of being short in either stature or loquaciousness.

This is a very important piece of legislation that is before the House. It is a bill that has reappeared in a very similar fashion to that form which it took in the last parliament. This bill, I would suggest, is of such importance that I am hoping that both through the process that we are currently embarking on in the Chamber and in committee we will have ample opportunity to bring forward meaningful amendments.

All previous speakers have alluded as well to their party's position and their hope and desire that we will have an opportunity to improve upon this legislation.

I want to say right at the outset that the philosophy behind this bill and the attempt to focus and to front-end load efforts at early intervention and at preventative measures for youth who are embarking upon a potential life in crime, who are heading down the road of involvement in the criminal justice system, is the correct approach. To that end, the bill does try to steer the current justice system in that direction. The failings, however, become very obvious when one starts to examine the text of the bill itself.

First there is the simple physical appearance of the bill. It appears voluminous when compared to the existing legislation. It is in fact almost double the size of the current Young Offenders Act. The current Young Offenders Act has been much maligned and criticized in its 17 years. It is now maturing and is almost an adult now, under the old definition.

This particular bill in its current form is so complex, so convoluted and cumbersome that were it to be enacted in its current form, the delays, the interpretations, the legal jargon and the manipulations that would result would be astronomical.

As committee members during the previous parliament, we heard numerous opinions on how the bill would work in its practical application. We heard learned judges say they did not understand it. Judges with years of experience in interpreting the current act read the legislation and said they could not understand how it would work in application. That is frightening when the bill appears on the precipice of going into operation.

There are a number of other specific elements of the bill that I would like to address in my remarks, but I do also want to acknowledge the attempted changes put in place by the government and the Department of Justice. They do speak specifically to one of the issues that was identified, most obviously by the Bloc Quebecois. The changes speak to the issue of how justice is being administered currently in the province of Quebec.

I am very pleased with the present situation in the area of justice in Quebec. The situation in Quebec is clear. Quebec is ahead of the other provinces as far as its approach to justice is concerned.

It is a model as to how the past system can be worked in a very positive fashion because of the emphasis the province of Quebec puts on this proactive and forward looking attempt at identifying youth at risk early in the process.

Again, this is the failing of the bill, for the simple reason that unlike the way the current legislation is being administered in Quebec, this bill will create a false sense of security. The bill, while raising expectations that the emphasis will be there, does not provide the support. The bill does not put in place resources to allow this expectation to be fulfilled while downloading—the word used by my colleague from the NDP—the expectation that youth workers, police, judges, probation officers, all those involved in the administration at the front lines of justice, will be asked to intervene in a child's life at an early stage, which they are currently doing.

However, they will not be given that backup. They will not be provided with the resources, the time, the effort or the programs needed to administer the bill. That is almost worse. It is almost worse to raise expectations and then not provide the resources. That is the major failing of the bill itself, coupled with the complexity.

My friend and others in the Chamber have mentioned the discretion that is involved in the administration of this new legislation. There is nothing wrong with having a healthy degree of discretion, but the bill itself in many instances takes away the discretion and creates a new level of process, a new level of sentencing, for example, wherein the concept of early release, statutory release, which is one of the major failings of the current adult system, is now being interjected into our youth court system.

We in the previous parliament also looked at removing mandatory release from the current adult system, so it is ironic that the Department of Justice in its wisdom has come back and presented before the House a bill that puts in place a system that is highly questionable and arguably puts Canadians in danger. The department is putting this into the youth system.

It also puts in place a very interesting and, I would suggest, flawed process of identifying violent versus non-violent offences. There will be a sort of informal hearing to determine whether the case is going to be tried as a violent or non-violent offence. I would suggest that again this is a misplaced use of discretion.

There is also another interesting element of discretion, whereby police officers are going to be encouraged to use their discretion on the street in exercising justice, which they do every day. They are going to be encouraged to on occasion administer a couple of boots in the rear end, as was referenced in a story by the member from Winnipeg—Transcona about his grandfather, I believe, to a young person who may be involved in what we will call a minor mischief offence such as vandalism, we will say. I have a friend back in Nova Scotia, a defence lawyer from Antigonish named Hector MacIsaac, who calls this the Matt Dillon style of justice that police often administer, in their wisdom and with measured and tempered discretion.

The problem with this system is that, first, there is no tracking of the number of times a young person may be brought home, marched into a parent's living room and counselled by the officer.

Second, there is also no ability for the officers to do this under the current restraints that they are experiencing. We are now asking police officers to take the time to be youth workers, counsellors, in some cases surrogate parents, and to sit down and explain to the young person that this is unacceptable and potentially criminal behaviour. It is not that a lot of police officers are not currently trying to do this, but again it raises the bar of expectations and yet there is no delivery under this act to provide the backup and the resources.

The current system does not have any of these new, innovative and proactive provisions. It is being funded at less than 50% in many provinces right now, much less than the 50% which was the original intent of the Young Offenders Act. The original intention of parliament was that the federal government would pick up at least 50% of the administrative costs of youth justice. That is not happening, and in some provinces funding is abysmally low.

The consistency element of the act is also something that is extremely important. I agree that there has been an attempt by the minister in this current act to accommodate provinces like Quebec that want to have discretion. I know in that an ideal world the Bloc would like to be able to opt out completely, not only out of this bill but many other bills. However, having that type of discretion, where the sentencing range could be extraordinary if this were to be permitted, is extremely troublesome, I suggest, particularly in the context of youth. Consistency is extremely important for youth in the administration of justice. Consistency and a firm approach at times when they are needed are very important in sending that message to a young person.

Deterrence and denunciation are two words that are constantly left out of the discussion around this bill, yet they appear daily in courts throughout the land. Denouncing and deterring young people from repeating the behaviour, along with sending a message to like-minded youth, should very much be the intent of the bill. It is not verboten in any way, shape or form to have a message of specific or general deterrence. It is accepted practice. It is accepted practice in the adult courts and in the language that is currently used in youth courts.

One of the other important contexts to keep in mind here is the delay that is involved in the administering of justice. Young people need to be held accountable in close proximity for the behaviour that is the subject of the criminal charges. Currently we see lengthy delays between the time of charge, arraignment and trial. The new legislation will expand that delay exponentially. It is accepted among practitioners, those on the frontlines, those who will be administering the bill, that this will create new loopholes. It was referred to as a make work program for lawyers.

I have a lot of friends in the legal community who are smiling with glee. They are counting their billable hours in anticipation of the legislation coming into effect. It will allow delays. There is an old saying that delay is the deadliest form of denial. It is particularly acute and exaggerated with a young person.

The consequences, if there are to be some after due process, must come in close proximity to the actions. To make an impression in a young person's mind, it is particularly important that delay be avoided when possible. That is not to say that cases should be rushed, but the streamlining and common sense approach in legislation like this is critical. It is critical for public confidence and for those administrators, whether they be lawyers, most importantly judges, police or probation officers, that the bill be understandable and that the public be able to decipher the legislation. That certainly is not achieved in the bill.

It reminds me in the broader context that perhaps we should have a separate committee in this place that would look at somehow making all legislation more understandable to those who would be most affected by it. That again is a major failing of the legislation.

Its complexity has been compared to the revenue act. One person said it was tougher than Chinese arithmetic. The bill has many cross-references and new sections. There are all sorts of ways to manoeuvre through the bill which will create endless delays and in many ways thwart the course of justice.

Statistics are often referred to in the debate about youth crime being up or youth crime being down. The most important verification of what is happening on the street is to talk to the police, the court workers and those on the frontlines who are administering the law. They will tell us that violent crime is up.

Violent crime, particularly that committed by young women, is on the rise. The use of weapons in violent crimes is increasing. That is a disturbing trend that is not directly addressed by the legislation. He concept of somehow defining violent versus non-violent versus serious violent offences blurs the entire issue, so much so that in one of the sections so-called simple assault is not deemed a violent offence. That is perverse.

Statistics Canada also highlights another weakness in the system. Based on August 2000 statistics, almost half of convicted youth in 1998-99 were merely placed on probation. Three-quarters of custodial sentences were for three months or less and 90% were for six months or less. Two per cent of convicted offenders got more than a year. Only .1% of youth crimes made it to adult court through the transfer provisions.

This puts it in a different context because much of the debate will get blurred in the rhetoric of whether it is a tougher or weaker bill. The statistics bear out that we are not currently throwing young people in jail at an alarming rate. That is not the intention of the legislation.

There has to be injected in all of this an element of accountability and protection of the public. These are two fundamental cornerstones of any justice system, particularly youth justice.

The element of accountability has often been lost. Currently the perception held by young people, and many who view the young offender system as not protecting them, is that it protects young people who are being brought into the system, as opposed to victims and those who have suffered at the hands of a young person who transgressed the law.

Repeat offences are a big problem when it comes to youth. I have seen many instances where it takes five, six, or seven court appearances before a young person is given a custodial sentence. In fact, 48% of those convicted had at least one previous conviction. There is very often a trend of escalating behaviour that leads to a life of crime. It demonstrates the point that early intervention and perhaps an attempt at restorative justice or alternative measures should be pursued, highlighting the need for resources.

Frontline victims groups and police officers are upset that the definition of common assault, as I have alluded to earlier, is not considered to be violent. There is another element in terms of who is covered by the act. There is a lot of distortion about the position of the Progressive Conservative Party and others who have taken a similar stance, that those under the age of 12 should be included in such a way that they could benefit from the provisions aimed at extricating a young person from a life of crime.

I certainly believe there is merit in having earlier intervention and the ability to avail a young person of programs aimed at drug dependency and at violent behaviour. Young people are often victims and in homes where they have been subjected to terrible abuses.

Why should we not have a transfer provision that takes children at the age of 10 or 11 and puts them into a system where they could avail themselves of those programs; not to hammer them, not to throw them in jail with other young people where we know they are often able to learn from older youth about more sophisticated crime, but to get them into programs?

That discretion is there on the part of a judge. It is not intended to take young people and put them in an adult court system. We can currently take a youth and put him or her into an adult system. Why should we not be able to take children who have involved themselves in serious behaviour and put them into the youth system?

There are recent examples. An 11 year old boy in Edmonton walked into a bank in broad daylight and proceeded to rob it. Instances were reported of 12 and 13 year old girls in Calgary who beat an elderly woman in her own home. The 12 and 13 year olds were charged with robbery. Nothing could be done to the 11 year old.

Children under 12 and older youths are expected to be dealt with through provincially administered programs which are supposed to be receiving funding from the government. That funding level has not been met.

The front end preventive measures are very much a positive element of the bill. Other important changes could be made that will send the message of deterrence. They should be included in the bill and in the language of the text. The positive changes in this area of law and law enforcement are extremely important.

We are committed to working with all parties and all members of the committee to try to improve the youth court system; to try to build safer communities, which this entire process is supposed to be aimed at; and to try to give law enforcement agents, those who are to administer the law and the stakeholders the resources they need. We will be submitting those amendments at the committee stage where we will be speaking to them there.

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5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his fine delivery. A common trend has developed across Canada which is generally called bullying by an older student or a bigger student on the playground or on the way from home. Often this is assault, but when I follow through on such cases the particular individual is never charged with assault.

At the present time the school, the staff and the principal are restricted in what they can and cannot do. This phenomenon is growing. It is a national phenomenon that we need to stop. I would like my learned friend to comment on that, because it does lead to more offences later on.

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5:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my friend from Souris—Moose Mountain for the question. The issue that he speaks to, assaults taking place on school grounds, is something that I have seen and is one that, sadly, I think we have all heard of. What often happens is that a judge, as part of the sentence, will put in a probation order that the young person who has engaged in the bullying behaviour must attend school, where he has been, in many cases, inciting problems and engaging in assaults against other people.

I am also concerned about the issue of swarming. I would very much like to see a specific section in our current criminal code that addresses swarming. This is extremely dangerous behaviour, where a gang mentality takes over. Young people lose their anonymity and light into an unsuspecting victim and assault them in a serious way. We have seen, in British Columbia, the sad case of Rena Virk. There are other examples where young people engage in these extremely horrific assaults of swarming. Jonathan Wamback is another tragic example. We would very much like to see the insertion of a specific code section that identifies this and has a specific, perhaps mandatory, minimum sentence that would be imposed for those who engage in swarming.

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5:40 p.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario

Liberal

John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is critical of the period of supervision following a custodial sentence. Does he not feel that this is eminently more superior than the present system where, at the end of an individual's period of custody, the door is open and out he walks? Does he not feel that a period of supervision will assist the aims of rehabilitation and reintegration, especially when that period is not statutory and is set by the sentencing judge?

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5:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary may have misinterpreted my position. I completely agree that supervision after release is fine. There is the ability of a judge to currently impose a period of incarceration and probation. It has to be considered as part of the entire sentence that is being meted out.

Certainly the issue of being released cold into the community is part of this broader issue of statutory release. However, that is one of the failings. We are setting young people up if we inject this current system that exists in the adult system into the youth court system.

I do agree that the probationary period, the supervision that occurs, is perhaps equally important in order to see that there is no recidivism, no sliding back into the criminal behaviour. That is why the following conditions are so important: must not associate; must refrain from the use of or possession of drugs and alcohol; must attend counselling; and must stay away from certain people, including the victim. That is why those conditions are there. They are part of the whole rehabilitative process.

That is absolutely consistent with the Conservative Party's policy on this. We in no way, shape or form back away from the importance of rehabilitation and the importance of long term supervision for young people, if and when necessary.