Mr. Speaker, finally we are reaching the last stage of bringing forth a new law in respect of young criminal offenders.
When I first came to this place in 1997, I remember the minister commenting on how youth justice was on her list of priorities and had been since the previous spring. It is now the spring of 2001, four years later. Four years for this piece of legislation is just a little much, especially when we look at the lack of the quality of this bill.
Canadians soon became disenchanted with the Young Offenders Act when it replaced the Juvenile Delinquents Act, but just wait until this youth criminal justice act begins its journey through our courts and through our justice system. It is an abysmal attempt to relegislate our youth justice law. It is complicated and will be extremely costly, as legal argument after legal argument is made over what parliament's intention was when it is passed.
The bill will unduly delay justice for young offenders, for victims of youth crime and for communities. Anyone listening to this speech will quite naturally ask why. Because this government was never interested in listening to sound arguments and suggestions for improvement. Why? Because the government had a preconceived strategy to merely go through the motions over a number of years and appear to hear from interested parties from one end of this country to the other, while having no intention of deviating from its own determination of what was right for its citizens.
I will spend just a few moments to outline the progress of this legislation.
In 1997 the justice committee completed a cross country review of the Young Offenders Act and made a number of recommendations. One of the most significant recommendations of that committee was to include 10 and 11 year olds under the youth justice legislation. Remember that Liberals controlled the committee as they made up the majority of the body. The committee heard of a number of tragic cases whereby 10 and 11 year olds were committing serious and violent crimes, and thumbing their noses at police and the justice system. These young law breakers knew that the present law would not touch them.
The committee also heard case after case whereby social welfare or children aid facilities lacked the expertise and the resources to properly assist these delinquents to get back on to the straight and narrow.
The justice committee recognized the necessity to bring 10 and 11 year olds into the more formal youth justice process for the safety and security of communities, but especially for the interest, guidance and protection of the offenders themselves. There should be a definite desire to address misbehaviour before it develops into more serious criminal activity and before it becomes too late.
Bill C-7 fails to include 10 and 11 year old offenders. Those who are in so much need for assistance and redirection will not get it. The government does not seem to be interested in helping those who desperately need it. The minister's answer seems to be that we should just leave it to present social welfare organizations even though it has been acknowledged that they are failing and have failed in that regard.
In 1997 the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island and Ontario came to an agreement on youth justice at what was known as the Prince Edward Island conference. One of the proposed amendments to the Young Offenders Act was to reduce the age of criminal accountability. As I already mentioned, this aspect was completely ignored by the government's youth legislation even though those provinces represented a significant portion of the country.
Those provinces also agreed on a number of issues, such as: first, providing for easier transfer to adult court and automatic identification of repeat and serious offenders; second, application of their victim surcharge to young offenders; third, restriction of legal aid to circumstances where youth or the guardians cannot afford to pay for legal services; and fourth, mandatory custody for offences involving the use of weapons.
Needless to say the government did not listen to these provinces. Their proposals were ignored and disregarded. This was in spite of the fact that it was the provinces that were on the ground floor, so to speak, on the whole aspect of youth justice.
In Canada the provinces have constitutional responsibility to administer our youth criminal law. The federal government merely makes the law and leaves it to the provinces to try to administer whatever mess the legislation creates. No wonder we often question why the provinces and the federal government seem to be at odds with each other over so many areas of mutual involvement.
Our constitution could not have been drafted any better for the federal government. It writes the law and then when the law causes difficulty, impossibilities, criticism and outrage, it merely points an accusing finger at the provinces and their administration of the legislation.
As we can see, the government refused to listen to its own justice committee and it refused to listen to the provinces, its partners in the youth justice process. I do not know how much influence the minister even had over her own legislation. We all hear how the Prime Minister's Office seems to dictate and direct almost everything that happens in parliament. I do know that she is ultimately responsible as this legislation has her name on it.
However, so far I have only spoken about the situation back in 1997. She still had a lot of time to rectify legislation that was so far off track. After all, she still had debate in this place to consider. The justice committee would also have had the opportunity to review the legislation and propose changes, and the House would have had the opportunity at report stage to consider further proposals.
I remember very well the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998 because it was when I first came here. For a number of months the minister kept answering questions about legislation to replace the Young Offenders Act. Upon her appointment as Minister of Justice in the early summer of 1997, she stressed that a new youth justice program was among her priorities. She also characterized the Young Offenders Act as “easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation”.
For the rest of 1997, all 1998 and into the spring of 1999, the official opposition pressured the minister to introduce her long promised legislation. We all should remember her continual claims that it would be coming to the House in a timely manner or fashion.
In March 1999 it finally arrived as Bill C-68. It was little more than a revision of the Young Offenders Act. A significant number of experts and persons involved with the youth justice process criticized the legislation as being as bad as or worse than the Young Offenders Act. Others characterized it as being essentially the Young Offenders Act with a new name, the youth criminal justice act. In any case, the government merely brought in the legislation to put off the pressure that had been coming from all directions over just where the youth justice legislation was.
Not much was done with Bill C-68 when the House recessed for the summer of 1999. Over the summer the Prime Minister prorogued parliament and the bill died on the order paper. It should have stayed dead.
At the beginning of the second session of the 36th parliament, the justice minister again talked about youth justice legislation appearing in a timely manner. She then reintroduced her legislation as Bill C-3. It was nothing more than Bill C-68 with a new number. From its introduction in October 1999 until parliament was dissolved in October 2000, the government had clearly indicated that it was not open to suggestions. After almost a year before the justice committee, and after a significant amount of witness testimony, the Liberal dominated justice committee referred the bill to the House of Commons unchanged.
The committee did not deal with any of the submitted amendments. It received approximately 250 proposed amendments, including roughly 150 from the government itself which were primarily technical in nature. The Bloc submitted two amendments. In summary, its amendments were to keep the Young Offenders Act or exempt Quebec from the youth criminal justice act, allowing the province to continue operating under the Young Offenders Act.
The Progressive Conservatives had some very practical suggestions that would likely have received support from many members of the official opposition. The NDP proposals were not generally in accordance with our views and we likely would not have supported them.
I proposed approximately 50 substantial amendments which followed much of what had been heard through the justice committee process, as well as a number of changes to simplify what many experts deemed to be a complex piece of legislation that would become a haven for legal arguments throughout the various court levels. Youthful offenders would be subject to inordinate delays, legal aid costs would sore, as would costs for court administration, crown attorneys and police.
At report stage of Bill C-3, the opposition parties and the government resubmitted their committee amendments. In addition, the Bloc decided to filibuster the process and presented more than 3,000 proposals to send a message of its dissatisfaction with the bill. Consequently, Bill C-3 died on the order paper with the election call in October 2000.
The legislation was essentially reintroduced as Bill C-7 in this parliament. It was almost in the same format as it was when it was known as Bill C-68 in 1999. In over two years the government merely reaffirmed its intention of refusing to accept any significant change.
Just recently the minister, in response to one of my questions in the House, attempted to confuse Canadians when she suggested that she had made some 182 amendments to her youth criminal justice legislation. Yes, she made about that number of changes, but at least 90% of them were as a result of poor drafting in the first place. The government, after almost two years as a priority and after months of promises to bring forth legislation in a timely fashion, ended up rushing the law into parliament with a significant number of French translation problems and a number of inconsistencies between various clauses.
Other amendments included in Bill C-7 were as a result of the government finally recognizing some of the problems created by its legislation. Some things would just not work as set out in Bill C-68 and Bill C-3.
Other changes came about as a result of lobbying by special interest groups because they came from left field and had never been discussed or argued before the justice committee. However not one word changed as a result of the work of the justice committee or the amendments proposed by the opposition. As I said before, the government was obviously not ever in a position to consider amendments through the parliamentary review process. It was a done deal.
The whole process of parliamentary review has been in fact a sham. The opposition, the government backbenchers, the committee process are merely window dressing to assist the government in selling its program for youth justice. There has never really been an open review toward improving proposed legislation. It has already been decided that only the powers within this government know what is best for Canadians. Some might say that is indeed a shame.
I say it is essentially a fraud on the Canadian people. We are all sent here to do a job as best we can and to have our input into having legislation take into account the interests and concerns of all the various parts of the country. When we are essentially placed in a position of merely going through the motions for appearances sake, the something is drastically wrong with the process.
Some listeners may suggest I am being unduly harsh and critical of this legislation. I do so because of my concern for a proper and effective response to the universally accepted failure of the Young Offenders Act. When the country fails to properly address youth crime, we fail those young persons who get themselves on the wrong side of the law. When the process becomes so time consuming and complicated that many offenders are able to beat the system, we lead them and their peers into believing that they can get away with breaking our laws. When we fail to properly rehabilitate those young offenders, we do them no favour as it often becomes too late to subsequently bring them back on track.
It is not just the offender. What about the family of the offender who sit on the sidelines to witness that young person repeat and perhaps move on to more serious and violent crime? What about the victims of those initial and repeat crimes? It is a common fact that the most common victim of youth crime is another youth. Young people assault other young people. Young people sexually assault other young persons. The list goes on. What about the communities? When a young offender does not receive proper guidance and reformation, that person will likely reoffend against the same community against which he committed his original crime.
No wonder citizens and communities do not feel safe and secure these days. We have all heard the horror stories of the failure of the Young Offenders Act. I am afraid we will hear the same stories when this youth criminal justice act works its way through the system.
The government has had almost four years to bring in an efficient and effective bill to address the youth justice problem. It has had the opportunity to hear from experts and professionals from right across the country. It has had the opportunity to hear from the provinces to address their concerns. It could have done a much better job than Bill C-7.
I fully appreciate that many members and Canadians have not had the opportunity to spend the time on this legislation as I have. I have been the official opposition justice critic responsible to watchdog this particular piece of legislation. As well, I have been a member of the justice committee since the bill first saw the light of day back in 1999.
I would like to cover a few aspects of my concerns. The minister likes to play lawyer games and provide half truths and worse about this bill. It is her job to sell the legislation after all. She needs the support and she is forced to sing the song to get it.
First, the bill formerly recognizes a process of what has been described as diversion or alternative programming. The process has been around for a number of years, and I have worked with it myself for over five years now. It is essentially an informal process of dealing with the young person who becomes sidetracked and breaks our criminal law. Specified members of the community, the offender and perhaps the victim get together and decide how to best recognize the damage done and how best to have that offender address the misconduct and the misbehaviour. The offender accepts blame, faced agreed upon consequences and moves on with his or her live hopefully having learned the error of his or her ways. The program has a good success rate, when limited in scope.
The problem with Bill C-7 is that this procedure is not restrictive. It is open for repeat offenders and is available for violent offenders. Being an informal system, there will be little, if any, accounting to ensure that the offender has learned the error of his or her ways if the system permits offence after offence without a more formal and serious reaction by society to the criminal behaviour.
The minister said that it would be up to the provinces to police or administer. We proposed to limit this scheme to no-violent first time offenders, essentially a one time opportunity to avoid a criminal record and get back on track. The minister refused to consider this proposal and has merely dumped the problem on to the provinces.
The problem of extrajudicial measures is very similar to the government's introduction of conditional sentencing a few years back. Conditional sentencing was brought in for adults to permit less serious offenders to serve their sentences at home. However, in that case as well, the government did not limit the use of that form of more lenient sentencing. We have seen our courts provide home sentencing to violent, serious and repeat offenders. Victims and communities are outraged.
The minister has finally recognized that there is a problem and that it should now be studied. Are we to end up with the same problem with youth extrajudicial measures when it is allowed for violent and repeat youth offenders? I thoroughly support diversion and alternative measures but their use must be restricted, otherwise its whole use will come into disrepute. Once again, however, the government will not listen.
There is also major concern over the legislation and its presumptive offence scheme. For some reason the government has severely restricted the list of offences for which a young person is liable for automatic adult sentencing and identification. The minister has been saying that there is provision for naming those who receive adult sentences. What she has not said is that there is also provision for those young persons to apply to have their identity protected.
There is also major concern over the lack of sufficient resources for our youth justice process. For years now the federal government has been delinquent in paying its share of the 50/50 cost of youth justice with the provinces. The minister has been trumpeting the fact that the government has allotted $206 million over three years toward the initiation costs of the new youth criminal justice act. Nowhere has she acknowledged the already significant shortfall on the shared financial obligation toward youth justice.
Two hundred and six million dollars sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but it is over three years and it is for all the provinces. The provinces are already raising the red flag that there has been no real cost analysis of the increased demands of the changes proposed by the legislation.
Obviously in the past this government has not been too concerned about ensuring that young offenders receive sufficient and proper supervision and rehabilitation. The government's cheating on the 50/50 formula is evidence of that. It is no wonder there is so much skepticism about whether the $206 million will be adequate to address the additional demands of this law. We are going into the new initiative with no idea of its cost. Only the Liberal government operates in this fashion.
Then there is the opting out clause, clause 61, whereby the provinces can create a different criminal law from province to province. Under this clause, an offence as serious as murder would be treated differently depending on the province in which it is committed.
The government is not too keen to hear criticism of the legislation. It is bringing in closure on debate of the bill. Whenever it gets into trouble it does that. How many Canadians realize that the legislation would reduce sentences for the most serious offenders? The bill would mandate a supervisory or probationary period after custody. That period would be half the custody period. Therefore, instead of serving a maximum sentence of three years in custody, as was done under the Young Offenders Act, the most serious offenders would only need to serve two years in custody and would be able to serve another year at home under some form of supervision.
The minister often relies on the fact that the Bloc criticizes the legislation as too harsh and the Canadian Alliance criticizes it as too soft. She says that she has a balanced approach that is between the two alternatives.
With all due respect, if the bill is hopelessly flawed—and I would use stronger terms but that might be unparliamentary—then it is expected that the opposition parties will disagree with it from different angles. The minister's response is a copout. She has failed in her duty to develop proper and effective legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I know you are aware that about eight and a half years ago my son Jesse was murdered as he walked home with two friends from a party on a Saturday night. He was murdered in what was determined to be a random, unprovoked attack on the street by six total strangers. He was knocked to the ground unconscious, beaten, pummelled with a shopping cart and stabbed once in the back as he lay on the road. A 16 year old was charged and eventually convicted. I can therefore say that I have experienced the youth justice system from an entirely different perspective than most members in this place.
My family and I spent 20 months in the courts. We experienced the youth justice process. We heard the excuses. We went through a transfer hearing. We heard counsellors come in and say that the offender did not need to be transferred to adult court because all he needed was to finish high school and receive alcohol counselling.
In the ensuing years I have come to know many families of victims of young offenders.
Less than a week after my son was murdered there was a case in Courtenay, British Columbia, where a young girl, six years old, was murdered by her neighbour. He was 15 at the time and was on probation for sexually assaulting three young children a year earlier. The reason that happened was that under his probation conditions no one was monitoring him and he was allowed to play with young children. The police did not even know about him and his neighbours certainly did not know about him.
That opened my eyes to the whole issue of anonymity for young offenders. I have been a firm believer ever since that people must be aware when they have sex offenders in the community, even if they are young offenders.
There is also the case of Mr. Graham Niven, a 31 year old man murdered on the street by a 15 and an 18 year old. The last thing Mr. Niven did in his life was help out a 14 year old by giving him the last of the change in his pocket to take a taxi home. A few minutes later he was dead at the hands of a 15 year old.
I went to court with that family and had to sit through the snickering, laughing and high fives that went on continuously between the accused and his friends. That is the attitude some of these young people have with our court system.
As a sideline, that offence occurred in Coquitlam. The mayor at the time was Mr. Lou Sekora, a former member of this place. I recall like yesterday the hoopla that Mr. Sekora raised. He said he would come to Ottawa and change the Young Offenders Act. However after a photo op with the former justice minister and a bit of press for about a week we never again heard from Mr. Sekora on the issue, even when he came to this place as a member. It was more Liberal lip service.
Another case is that of Mrs. Jeanne Richter, a 79 year old widow beaten to death by a 15 and a 19 year old. Young girls in the courtroom who were friends of the accused were partying, winking, smiling and laughing as if it were something that happens every day. Again, that is the attitude.
I do not suggest for one minute that this is a reflection of all young people. It is a very small minority. Unfortunately the government, through this legislation and philosophy, chooses to treat these young people the same way it would treat a 12 year old shoplifter. That is wrong.
Yesterday during report stage debate I heard some of my colleagues in the Bloc speak of an actor who spent time in a youth facility studying for a part in a particular project and decrying the treatment of young offenders in prisons. Things could be done to improve the lot of young offenders who are incarcerated. I certainly do not argue with that. However I think the actor might like to spend time with me and my family, even eight and a half years later. Within the last month two of my son's best friends have seen the birth of their first children. He should see how we deal with that.
There is a family in Alberta mourning the loss of a 16 year old son just last week. Maybe the actor would like to spend a week with them and see it from their perspective.
After my son's murder I made a commitment to try to effect change. I have spoken at schools for the past eight years. I have spoken with young people, parent groups and legislators. I appeared before the justice committee a couple of times before I came to this place. I have done so to increase awareness and to make young people understand what they are doing, what they are getting into. I think it gets through to most of them.
As I said before, I work with a diversion program because I believe it is more important to prevent crime in the first place. However that does not mean that those who choose to persist in criminal behaviour or commit serious or multiple repeat offences should be treated with leniency. As long as the philosophy persists that killers and rapists should be treated in the same manner as shoplifters, Canadians will never accept the process.
I will close my comments by saying that this is definitely not the last we will hear of the youth criminal justice act. We will be back time and time again to debate its failures and propose changes. Instead of trying to get it right the first time the government seems more intent on getting it passed as is and leaving it to others to rectify. Unfortunately the bill is such a mess that it will not and cannot be remedied piecemeal after it passes this place. The bill is doomed to failure and as parliamentarians we are failing Canadians by allowing it to become law.