Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to the legislation. If the people out in the real world were listening earlier today, they would have noticed that time allocation has been forced on the House in regard to Bill C-7, a matter which is a foremost problem faced by myself, as a member of parliament, as it is I am sure for many other members in the House, since coming here in 1993. We are talking about the Young Offenders Act.
Let us just take a look at this. For well over seven years the government has been working on or promising to introduce new legislation with regard to the Young Offenders Act. For over seven years it has worked on this problem and this is the best it could come up with. It has come up with a piece of legislation that absolutely does not address many areas of concern that out there in the public when it comes to young offenders.
Not only our party but other parties in the House were involved in committee hearings that went on across Canada. We listened to different people and had witnesses come in with regard to this piece of legislation, yet the government has just about totally ignored most of these recommendations.
A government's first and foremost responsibility be to any country and to any of its citizens has to be safety and well-being. That should be the foremost responsibility of any government. This piece of legislation does not come anywhere close to addressing that. We have a habit in this country of saying that children and our young people are precious gifts, which they are. They are also our responsibility, not only in regard to their safety and well-being but their spiritual, physical and mental well-being. That is our duty, as elected representatives, to them, to parents and to the rest of our citizens: to try to protect.
When we have pieces of legislation such as this that are supposed to address the problems in our country facing young people today and when we go out and speak in schools, I listen to the young people in the schools and they tell me that the Young Offenders Act is a joke, a laugh. These are young people who themselves are concerned about going to school, concerned about gang violence, concerned about losing their own personal property through theft or concerned about intimidation by their peers, by other young people. When we ask them about the penalties that can be imposed, they look at what has happened in our court system and start to laugh.
There is nothing out there to deter these young people—and there are a few of them but not a majority of them—out there committing these types of crimes. They look upon our judicial system and how we handle them as a joke and, when we go through it all, it is a joke.
Since the Young Offenders Act was incorporated, the violent acts of crime by youth have increased 100%. That statistic alone should tell the government that there is something wrong with the legislation it has been introducing in this regard.
When we hear people saying that the young offenders legislation should start taking in people from the age of 10 and up, we should be listening to them. Instead, we turn away from them. The government has been told this by every party in the House except the Bloc, and even its own members agreed to this in committee, and yet in this piece of legislation it has refused to address this.
I am not saying that all crimes committed by young offenders should be treated in that strict a manner. When we look at diversion or extrajudicial measures, which have been brought up, we see that they have been quite successful. For those who do not know what that is, it is merely a program whereby the accused young offender admits guilt and agrees to be dealt with in an informal manner through some form of community based committee. The committee may be made up of citizens of the community, if the accused and perhaps the victim are so inclined. The committee will talk over the case. The accused gets to acknowledge the damage and decides how best to show remorse and so on. Community service may be decided on. An apology may be written. The offender may either pay the victim for the damages or work off the damages by assisting the victim in some other manner. By successfully completing the program, the accused avoids a criminal record, which is good, and hopefully the community is satisfied with having been involved and with seeing how and why certain decisions were made.
This is all good, but the legislation was supposed to be for first time non-violent offenders. Yet this piece of legislation is not limited to first time non-violent offenders. That is why it is open to abuse. There has to be concern about that. There are some positive steps in the legislation, but it is extremely unfortunate that for the small steps it has taken forward there are still large loopholes left. Therefore we in our party cannot support it.
Liberal members come to us and ask us why we cannot support it, telling us to look at the good in it, but when we look at it, it is like asking us to pay the full price for a loaf of bread that is three-quarters rotten in order to get four good slices. It is unacceptable.
Yet when amendments come forward from other parties in the House they are totally disregarded. Instead of standing here and debating it, when a person can stand and talk for 20 minutes or a half hour and really get into the root causes, we are told there is time allocation on it. Our real concerns are not addressed. We do not have time for proper debate.
Let us take a look at clause 2 regarding definitions. A non-violent offence means an offence that does not cause or create a substantial risk of causing bodily harm. Non-violence would appear to include: drug offences such as trafficking; theft, including car theft; break and enter; perhaps even sexual touching; possession of child pornography; and fraud, just to name a few.
This is a very important definition because for these types of offences offenders will likely avoid custody. In fact it is also presumed that extrajudicial measures are sufficient and they will not even gain a criminal record.
We have to wonder what is going on here. Presumptive offences include only five offences: first degree murder, second degree murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, and aggravated assault. That includes serious violent offences for which an adult can be sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years, if at the time of the offence committed by the young person there have been at least two previous judicial proceedings where the judge has made a judicial determination that offences were serious violent offences.
When we look at that we realize that the list does not include violent crimes in which a firearm has been used or sexual assault with a firearm or even a knife. These can be quite traumatic to the victim, yet they are not included. Why?
We leave these pieces of legislation open to interpretation and we all know what happens when we allow the courts to start interpreting what we are supposed to be doing here. We run into a bigger mess than we already have.
Although there are some good parts to the legislation, much more has to be done before it would be a viable piece of legislation.