Mr. Speaker, this being my first opportunity to rise on debate in this parliament, I would like to congratulate the Speaker and his colleagues on their ascension to their positions. For the first couple of weeks of this session, Mr. Speaker, I think you are probably going to have an interesting time.
I extend my gratitude to the constituents of Surrey North for sending me back here for a second term and also to my wife, Dona, and my daughter, Jodi, for their support. Especially on Valentine's Day, I would be remiss if I did not do that. I also have to extend my gratitude to our 55-pound puppy, and I use that term advisedly, who I am sure will waste no time in reclaiming my half of the bed for the next three years.
In all seriousness, it is unfortunate that I am once again speaking against the government's questionable youth justice proposals. As members know, I have spoken in this place a few times on this issue. I have sat through hours and hours of committee hearings and have been to many communities across this land. I have encouraged the government to have an open mind on the need for significant changes to the Young Offenders Act. The minister is even on record as stating that the Young Offenders Act is “easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation”.
It is unfortunate that Canadians do not have the opportunity to actually look at what the government is proposing with its youth criminal justice reforms. If they did, they would see that Bill C-7 is merely repackaging the Young Offenders Act, putting some political spin on it and selling it as a balanced and proper approach to misguided youth who manage to find themselves on the opposite side of our complicated laws.
If the truth be told, the new youth criminal justice act, Bill C-7, has all the traits of becoming an even more unpopular piece of federal legislation. Bill C-7 is virtually identical to the legislation the minister presented in the second session of the last parliament. All she has done is insert approximately 150 technical amendments to correct the mistakes, the typos and the errors in law of her previous version. In spite of approximately 150 substantive amendments from the opposition, there is absolutely no indication that the government even considered those proposals.
However, that does not surprise me. For almost five years now, the government has been going through the motions of appearing to be interested in hearing suggestions for improvement to the youth justice process. Other than a few relatively simple changes, the government has not indicated that it was even listening to all of those hundreds of requests for substantial change.
For almost five years now, we have heard that the federal government has not been meeting its financial obligations toward funding of youth justice. The government has announced that it is providing $206 million over the next three years, but that is merely to cover the initial costs of this new legislation. There has been nothing to cover the shortfall that has been going on for years.
One of the major problems with youth justice is the insufficiency of funding to cover training and rehabilitative costs. If the young people who get into trouble are not given any direction and assistance to change, is it any wonder many revert to their criminal tendencies? All we seem to do is investigate, prosecute, convict and punish these youths until they turn 18 and move on to similar activities as adults. Only in that way do many of these youths disappear from the youth crime problem.
The situation is even more abysmal with those young persons aged 10 and 11. For years now, we have been seeing 10 year olds and 11 year olds involved in criminal activity. That was seldom, if ever, seen before. We have also seen that child welfare agencies are frequently incapable of dealing with many of these cases. I will not get into all of that because it is primarily a provincial and municipal matter, but child welfare was never ever set up to deal with criminal behaviour. It was set up for the protection of children, not the protection of our communities from the children.
As well, we have seen how the resources within child welfare have been stretched to the breaking point. There is no luxury of expending additional resources to ensure that the occasional child who has found himself or herself on the wrong side of the law gets proper advice and guidance to get back onto the straight and narrow. That is why the Canadian Alliance has been trying to influence the government into expanding the youth justice process to include 10 year olds and 11 year olds.
Judges have been dealing with young offenders for years. They have seen their workloads increase because individual cases are not properly addressed in the initial instance.
We are not saying that judges have to lock up 10 and 11 year olds, but we are saying that judges need to become involved in the interests of the young offender and of the community to ensure the proper scheme is set up to bring the young person back on track. We are saying we need to involve the judges to oversee the problem. Child welfare authorities do good work in many instances but they were never set up to deal with criminal behaviour. They do not have the experience or the resources.
I would be remiss if I did not mention my private member's initiative that has once again been incorporated into the legislation. One objective I had when I first came to this place was to bring forth legislation to have those who willfully fail to honour their court undertaking to properly supervise the release of a young person into their custody treated more seriously. The minister has continued to realize the importance of the proposal.
Our justice system comes under supreme scrutiny when parents or others undertake to the court to supervise a young person who is considered to be a danger or a risk to the community, only to then permit that young person to go unsupervised. Those who voluntarily agree to supervise and then wilfully fail to do so must be held accountable.
I will present a scenario to give listeners a chance to understand some of the concerns presented by the legislation. Let us take the case of a 14 year old youth who commits a sexual assault at knifepoint and whose victim is wounded or disfigured. The youth may face a presumptive offence under the legislation. As such, he may face an adult sentencing process as he has committed what appears to be one of the few offences listed as a presumptive, and he was 14 at the time of the crime.
However in the legislation there are few, if any, clear determinations. We would first have to determine whether the province in which the crime occurred had used its power under section 61 of the legislation to change the age of application of the presumptive offence. If it had been raised to 15 or 16, the young person would not necessarily receive adult sentencing. In effect, he would have been lucky because he committed the crime in the right province.
As well, the attorney general can under section 65 advise the court that it is not seeking an adult sentence, even in a case such as this. Furthermore the attorney general must provide notice to the court and to the young person before the commencement of trial that the adult sentence is being sought. Otherwise none would be considered.
If the young person is found guilty of the offence, section 62 states that an adult sentence shall be imposed if, and this is a mighty big if, the young person essentially agrees to accept the adult sentence or if the youth court justice is of the opinion that a youth sentence would not be adequate to hold the young person accountable.
When the court reviews that situation, either on its own or when the young person challenges the use of an adult sentence, the court must balance the proposed sentence with the contribution to the protection of society by having meaningful consequences with the interest of promotion of the young person's rehabilitation and reintegration into society, whatever that means.
As I read it, the court uses adult sentencing only as a last resort. It must first of all be satisfied that a youth sentence is insufficient. Then the youth court judge must balance the interests of the protection of society with the interests of the young person to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community.
As we can see with my example, the young attacker would receive an adult sentence only as a last resort. The court must seriously consider whether incarceration will affect the young person's rehabilitation and reintegration. Perhaps the court could decide that some form of intensive support and supervision program would suffice, with no incarceration. This is just one of the youth sentences available.
Similarly, we can use the example of the young person sexually assaulting with a knife. Even though I have explained how difficult and improbable it may be for him to receive an adult sentence with incarceration, let us suppose that an adult sentence was imposed. We must remember that in our example there was wounding and disfigurement of the victim.
Will he be identified when he returns to the community, or will the community be completely unaware of the danger of a repeat or of a more serious offence?
If the young person received the adult sentence he may be identified pursuant to subsection 110(2)(a). I ask the House to notice that I still say may. Under subsection 75(3), the court may order a ban on publication of even this type of serious crime if the young person makes application for the ban and if the judge considers it important, taking into account the importance of rehabilitating the young person in the public interest.
Let us suppose we change the scenario to a less serious offence. Let us suppose the young offender does not actually use the knife; it has used it only as a threat. The offender will not likely face an aggravated sexual assault charge. There would be no presumptive offence. We then enter a whole new ball game, a ball game in which the law is written even more favourably in the interests of the offender and not of the victim or of protection of communities.
Unfortunately I do not have time to go through all the legal arguments, considerations and decisions by the attorney general. As has been said, the lawyers must be rubbing their hands with glee.
I hope I have provided listeners with just some of the concerns over the problems and complexity of the legislation. As I have stated, lawyers will be busy tying up the courts and the youth justice process as they debate the provisions.
A more serious question is: How can we expect our youth and other citizens to know what the law entails when it is written with so many exceptions and so much legal mumbo-jumbo?
As I stated at the start, when the legislation plays itself out Canadians will soon again become disenchanted and disappointed with the youth justice system. Surely we have a duty and a responsibility to do much better.