Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to say a few words about the justice system.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I am familiar with a number of bills introduced by this government and I have noticed that it is resubmitting the same bills, given the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue the previous session of this Parliament. It occurred to me that we are examining many of the same bills a second time. There are also some new bills and we always have the same comments.
This government is introducing bills that are drawing a great deal of media attention. However, as these bills are examined in committee, in this House and, eventually, in the Senate, it becomes clear that little work has been put into them.
As the father of three young girls enrolled in a French immersion program in New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province in the country, and as a resident of Moncton, the first officially bilingual city, I know how much homework my children do every evening. The fact remains, however, that these three beautiful little girls are children and I expect certain things from them.
We expect more in the way of homework from the government than from school girls in Moncton. Yet it appears that the government has done its homework much less diligently and with much less attention to detail than my three little girls do in Moncton.
All of the bills that we in the permanent justice committee have had occasion to look at seem to be lacking in homework and in scope.
When we talk about the criminal justice system, it is an organic system or an organic process. It is a sculpting of new facts and new facets of our evolving society to the Criminal Code and its ancillary acts, in this case, the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I want to start from the point that all of the acts are lacking in an overall or universal vision about criminal justice, from prevention to detention, so to speak, the whole scope, and this bill is no exception.
However, we must tell the Canadian public and members of the House that there is a Youth Criminal Justice Act. Before that there was the Young Offenders Act and prior to that the Juvenile Delinquents Act. For some time now, I believe 50 years, the Parliament of Canada and the courts interpreting Parliament's intention have recognized that there ought to be a different system for youth offenders.
It troubles me when I hear speaker after speaker, headline after headline, news release after news release and the two minute sound bites of Mike Duffy Live talk about youth criminal justice with the same language and in the same terms as adult justice.
That is not to suggest that we are sitting here as a party and as parliamentarians not concerned with public safety, not concerned with turning our youth into productive members of society. It is to say that as a statement of first principle, and I wish I had heard it from the Minister of Justice yesterday or any of the speakers who I listened to from the government side, I wish I had heard that there was a separate regime for the youth of this country for the different considerations because that is the fact.
I am concerned when I hear what members like the member for Kitchener—Conestoga said. I will get back to my student metaphor. I never taught anything but I have written a number of tests. One cannot simply write the first page of a test, the first paragraph or the first 10 questions and do well. One has to go to the finish line and get the B or B+ that all parliamentarians probably got in school or as good as one can get.
It seems, however, that the government and its members strive for the peaks of mediocrity and try to get a C or C-. However, they do start off good sometimes. The member for Kitchener—Conestoga started off talking about a head start program and prevention. If I had ever been a teacher, I would have thought that this was starting off well and that it would be a good result for that parliamentarian.
However, we then delved into crime, payback and teaching those punks something. As we know, there were two parts to the speech, the two did not go together and the member succeeded in getting a C-.
The bill does the same. Bill C-25 starts out very well. It starts out doing one thing that is very important. We give a lot of credence to the Nunn Commission report, which was commissioned as a result of a very tragic incident involving Theresa McEvoy, which happened not that far from where I live. It was not a Maritime thing. It was a national thing. The recommendations from the Nunn Commission and eminent jurist, Merlin Nunn, should be the starting point for our thoughts about what we are going to do with this separate regime for youth criminals in the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
However, we need to start with the recognition, which should be the first principle, that there is a different regime and importing holus-bolus the whole adult regime to the youth regime means that we may as well get rid of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I will get to that when I talk about the second part of the bill.
I commend the Minister of Justice and the speakers who spoke in favour of the first part of Bill C-25, clauses 2 and 3 in particular. I will not belabour it, but perhaps we should have a happy moment and say that most parties are in agreement with this bill. We have a happy moment where one of the many recommendations of the Nunn report was followed by the government.
It is a complaint of prosecutors across this country. It is a complaint from parents. It is a complaint from victims. We stand on all fours in accepting that the revolving door that is in effect for young offenders who offend while on an order to return to the court for trial or sentencing is unacceptable. It is one of the major flaws in the Youth Criminal Justice Act as promulgated, and this is progress.
As we can see, there is in the act a presumption that detention is not necessary for a young offender accused of an offence and he shall remain free. Essentially, that was the presumption. Judges across this country applied that presumption, unless they could find other reasons, such as protection of the public, the overarching principle to keep the young offender as accused in detention. This bill recognizes that if a young person is charged with a violent offence that endangered the public by creating a substantial likelihood of a recurrence, that presumption is rebutted, yet the judge still takes into account the normal principles of detention pending trial.
The second principle, and this is really the most egregious part of the Youth Criminal Justice Act without the gap, is that while a young person who is out waiting to come back to court is found guilty of failing to comply with non-custodial sentences, or this is in fact after the imposition of a plea, that person should be considered as having given up that presumption against detention. It makes perfect sense.
The other provision in the bill is that if a young person is charged with an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years and the young person has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt, then that person should lose that presumption.
That is a long way from going to adult principles for sentencing, which the second part of the act imports. The second part of the bill imports straight Criminal Code principles of sentencing with respect to denunciations and deterrence. The Minister of Justice and many speakers say that these needed to be imported because they are not there, but I beg to differ, if we look at the Youth Criminal Justice Act as it is.
Certainly in an effort to bind all parliamentarians together with a common view, there can be no one in this House who can seriously stand up and say that each parliamentarian is not in favour of more public safety, of having safe communities and of ridding our communities of crime. This has to be a common goal of every parliamentarian. What is happening is that we have a different point of view on how to get there.
All of us want the acts before Parliament, in this case the Criminal Code of Canada and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, to be effective. The question really is whether these amendments will be effective. I have already said that the first one will. It will keep the communities of Canada safer. I am going on to argue that the second part of this bill will not necessarily keep communities safer.
I will also elicit many of the other recommendations from the Nunn commission report which were not seized upon by the government when they were there for the taking. Somebody has already done the work. Somebody has already reacted to an outlandish shocking of the public example of how small changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act could be efficacious to make society safer. That was the Nunn commission. He made many recommendations, yet only one of those recommendations was seized upon by the government.
It is not that there was not enough ink and paper. This is a very short bill. It is designed, I submit, to have newscasts and media stories say that we are tough on crime and that we are importing concepts of unlawful conduct and deterrence and we will get tough.
Really, the first part of the bill will do so much more to make communities safer than the second part. There are so many other recommendations in the Nunn commission report that would have made our communities immediately safer and would not have had any opposition from this side, yet the government chose not to seize upon them.
It is remarkable. It is either a hurried attempt to get another headline, or it is a deliberate attempt to draw out in a piecemeal fashion the Conservatives' law and order agenda with multiple bills, each bill a new headline, each bill one little step forward in their view toward making our communities safer. I might suggest that is almost wilful conduct preventing the distribution of the tools that the justice enforcement people need, prosecutors in particular, or it might just be sheer negligence in not knowing what they were doing.
I have to comment on some of the remarks that were made by a person whom I consider to be a dean on the issue of public safety. I virtually never agree with this dean with respect to how to get there, but I have no doubt that this dean, the member for Wild Rose, wants to get there and has made a parliamentary career out of wanting to get there. He talks incessantly against lawyers. We all have thick skins and we can take that, as the small legal community in the House of Commons knows every day it is not popular to be a lawyer. But I want to tell everyone in this House it is not always popular to be a politician too, so there we go. Being both makes me sort of a victim in a way.
Seriously, the member for Wild Rose talks about lawyers, that they talk legalese. Unfortunately, we are making laws here. If we were making pizzas, I would talk about dough, but we are making laws, so I have to talk legalese. That is the way it goes with all due respect to the member for Wild Rose.
The second point that he brings up is that there is no mention of victims. I hear that a lot from the other side. We hear it at committee. Frankly, victims are what we as parliamentarians are all about. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We respect individual rights and liberties. We respect the legal rights against false detention and the right to have counsel and all those legal rights for people accused. Those are foundation elements, but people should realize that the overall arching concern of the Charter of Rights in section 1 is to protect the public.
The funny thing is, if we look at every act of Parliament, we find that the public safety aspect is primordial, and the Youth Criminal Justice Act is no exception. It says:
WHEREAS communities, families, parents and others concerned with the development of young persons should through multi-disciplinary approaches take reasonable steps to prevent youth crime by addressing underlying causes to respond to the needs of young persons and to provide guidance, this act should be enacted.
It also says:
AND WHEREAS Canadian society should have a youth criminal justice system that commands respect, takes into account the interests of victims, fosters responsibility and ensures accountability [in our youth]--
These sentiments are already in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Judges read this act and they take from the preamble and the declaration of principles in section 3 what the act means.
In fact, it states in section 3(c), “within the limits of fair and proportionate accountability, the measures taken”--that is, the sentences or the detention aspects or the immediate ultimate measures meted out by a court--“against young persons who commit offences should (i) reinforce respect for societal values, (ii) encourage the repair of harm done to victims and the community”.
Later on in section 3(d) it says, “victims should be treated with courtesy, compassion and respect for their dignity and privacy”, and “victims should be provided with information about the proceedings and given an opportunity to participate and be heard”.
It strikes me that without putting the exact words of denunciation and deterrence in this act, we have as guiding principles for justices the protection of the public and at least a code for victims' rights when it comes to aspects of youth criminal justice.
The Nunn commission report puts out a few very easy recommendations that the government could have adopted without opposition from this side. Principally it is very important because we hear about public safety and the protection of the public and consideration for victims.
Justice Nunn, in his considerations, felt it was a bit shortsighted for the act to talk about the long term protection of the public as set out in these principles in section 3. By inference a judge would say that that does not involve the short term protection of the public.
Some of these rebuttable presumptions on detention, which will be tempered by the first part of this act, speak to that. More specifically and to be clear, so that there is no misread between the principles in section 3 and the first part of the act as amended, we will be curious to see if it would be within the scope of the bill on amendment at committee to add a new phrase in section 3, the principles. It would add to section 3 a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act, which is from the Nunn report on the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
It certainly should just say protection of the public. Perhaps for greater certainty it should say long term and short term, but if we say protection of the public, I presume that means all the time. Protection of the public is one of the principles of the act.
I believe, as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said yesterday, and he is a person who has been around these issues a lot longer than I have, the evidence he has gathered, which no doubt we will go through at committee, would lead to the conclusion that in fact the changes in the first part of Bill C-25 have in fact been put into place by judges across the country.
Therefore, all we are doing is putting into law what is actually happening in practice, or codifying the practice. That may be a good thing, but it does make me wonder whether the government read all of the Nunn commission report. Maybe in a cooperative effort when we take this matter to committee, if the scope of this bill is to make society safer, the government will be open to amendments, including that recommendation and many others from the Nunn commission to make this a better law.
I want to close by saying that although we agree with the first part of the bill, the second part of the bill might make it seem that we are importing holus-bolus the Criminal Code of Canada. If that is the case, the Minister of Justice should know that the Criminal Code already provides, in certain circumstances, for youths to be tried as adults.
If those provisions are known of, if that transition is known of, and they are importing holus-bolus these concepts, why have a Youth Criminal Justice Act at all? Let us all live under the Criminal Code. Is that where the government is going?