Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to the bill today. It takes me back to the first year I campaigned for this job in 1997. When I went door to door, one of the topics at the time was the Young Offenders Act and the changes that people wanted to see.
I remember one business that I went into. The gentleman was completely distraught over the fact that he could not get any justice for the problems he had been having with young offenders. It is interesting to note that many years later Bill C-7 still does not address the issues that so many Canadians are concerned about.
I compliment my colleague from Surrey North who has made it his life's work to bring in proper youth justice in Canada. Some of the amendments he put forward would have made great additions to the bill. Every amendment we put forward would have strengthened the bill, made it more receptive to the needs of Canadians and would have made our streets safer. These were the underlying factors for putting forward our amendments to the new youth justice act. We wanted our streets to be safer so people could feel more comfortable in their homes and in their daily lives. The member for Surrey North put a lot of effort into those issue. He knows from personal experience what can happen when young offenders go wrong.
One of the things our party proposed and probably one of the most contentious was the lowering of the age range from 12 to 18 to 10 to 16. People said that we would be locking up 10 year olds but that was not what we were talking about. We were talking about helping young people in trouble, and heading in the wrong direction, to get back on track and become better citizens in order to contribute to society in a way that all Canadians should.
Our party wanted a clear definition of a violent offence. We wanted a schedule of offences so there would be no necessity to play legal word games in the courts and no need for millions of dollars to be spent in legal costs for arguments and appeals. We should have a list of what a violent offence means. We should include the offence of murder plus all the listed offences in schedule I and II of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. These are the offences Canadians want to see listed as violent offences. Those were in the amendments we brought forward.
We proposed the deletion of the term presumptive offence within the legislation. We preferred the term violent offence to determine when a young person ought to receive adult punishment. We proposed the deletion of the term serious violent offence because we felt that all violent offences were serious and that it should be left up to the courts to decide the punishment in those circumstances. However violent offences must be handled in a specific manner to protect our citizens and our communities.
We proposed an overriding principle making the legislation the protection of the public. We heard time and again that the government placed more emphasis on the interests of the offender than on the protection of citizens. The protection of our communities should not take second place to anything.
We proposed the limitation of extrajudicial measures to first time non-violent offenders and only if those extrajudicial measures were adequate to hold a young person accountable. Accountability is a part of the act that really needs to be highlighted. Young people and their parents have to be held accountable. If we did that it would put some real meaning into the legislation.
We proposed a requirement for the attorney general to inform victims of their specific rights. We felt that was important. We proposed that the principles of denunciation and deterrence be included within the legislation. A big aspect of any youth justice act should be methods of deterrence.
We proposed that an adult sentence be imposed on young persons who commit violent offences after their 14th birthday. The range of adult sentencing would still be left up to the courts, and that would include youth style punishments, but 14 and 15 year olds who commit violent offences would be held accountable for potential adult sentencing. Some people felt that proposal was fairly harsh but we were talking about serious, violent and repeat offenders. We must deal with those people in such a way that our communities will be safe and our public will be protected.
We proposed that young persons who commit violent offences be identified for the protection of the public. People wanted to know who those young offenders were and what they had done. They felt they had the right to know if somebody who was capable of a violent offence was living in their community.
We proposed that a young person who received a life sentence through adult court should receive parole eligibility between 10 and 15 years at the discretion of a judge. This was an increase from the present range of 5 to 10 years, to put a little more bite into the legislation.
We also proposed an increased maximum sentence for violent offences other than murder. Bill C-7 would bring a custody period followed by a supervisory period with supervisory time to be one-half of the custody time.
We put forward all these proposals as amendments to the legislation. They were researched and had the benefit of the firsthand knowledge of the member for Surrey North. Not one of them was accepted.
We ended up with a bill that appears to be the same as Bill C-68 and then its subsequent Bill C-3 and now Bill C-7. There is no change. There is no more bite in the bill and no more protection for Canadians than there was in the bill introduced as Bill C-68. After months of review and hearing experts from all aspects of youth justice, the only changes made include many of the technical amendments proposed by the government to correct errors in Bill C-3.
The government has not been open to change on any aspect of the legislation. There were hearings where witnesses came forward with many good ideas and with firsthand experience. People involved in the youth justice system brought forward excellent ideas that were not accepted. All the opposition parties, except the Bloc, presented substantive amendments to Bill C-3. None of them received debate in parliament. None of them appear to have been considered by the government.
The provinces will be tasked to administer this legal nightmare but the federal government does not seem to care. The government has not been open to serious discussion over the proposals in its youth justice law. There needed to be more willingness on behalf of the government to listen to Canadians, the experts and the other parties in the House of Commons to improve the law.
The government has promised $206 million over the first three years for the implementation of the bill, but it would not even come close to meeting the responsibility of providing 50% of the funding for youth justice. The government has allowed federal funding to slip to about 20%.
This does not only apply to the bill. We have seen that in other areas of government responsibility where it has historically committed funding to a certain level to help the provinces administer the laws that are created here. The funding has decreased from 50% to 20%.
The provinces have to carry that financial burden and to take that extra cost into their own budgets to administer a law that many of them are not happy with because it does not go far enough.
An initial review of Bill C-7 indicates that the government has made it even weaker likely to appease the Quebec government and the Bloc Quebecois. That was one thing we saw. It said that if the Canadian Alliance thought it was too soft and the Bloc thought it was too severe it had to go right down the middle of the road. We do not agree with that at all.
The age range of application will remain at 12 to 18. Many people thought 10 to 12 year olds that were starting to get into trouble needed some help. They needed someone there to pull them back, to help them out and to put them back on the right road. That has not happened and these young people are still out there without direction.
The restrictions on naming violent offenders have not been put into the legislation. It is up to the courts to do that. That was something of critical importance to Canadians.
After the entire process of bringing the bill forward three times this will be its last debate before it is voted on this evening. We still do not have what Canadians have asked for. A lot more could have been done with the overall philosophy that the protection of Canadians as a whole should be the meat of the bill. If the government had kept that in mind, it would have had a bill that Canadians would have appreciated and supported.