Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-25, which I think responds to a very significant need in the country and certainly responds to a demand for action from many people in my own constituency of Dartmouth--Cole Harbour.
I can indicate certainly my support in principle for the bill. I think there are some significant things in the bill that need to be changed or added to, specifically in terms of how Justice Merlin Nunn's recommendations were used or not used. I think there is enough good in the bill that we need to send it to committee for further discussion.
Crime is a huge issue for Canadians. Probably there are not that many places in the country where it is more of an issue than it is in my own community of Halifax, more specifically Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. I have had the opportunity to meet with very many constituents of mine who have come to see me specifically about the incidence of crime. Quite often it is youth crime, but not always, and perhaps it is even exaggerated a little. Nonetheless, it is a big issue with a lot of people who live in my area, just as it is for people across Canada.
I met not too long ago with the Smythe family, whose son was bullied and then beaten up very badly. They do not feel they have the protection they need as a family to deal with the circumstances that their son, through no fault of his own, found himself in. He was beaten up and is now back in school walking the same halls as the perpetrators of that crime.
I think there is a moral responsibility upon governments at all levels, federal, provincial and municipal, to make sure that people feel safe in their communities. Right now many people do not feel safe, whether the crime rate is up or down. Over the years it has come down. Nonetheless, we have a responsibility to make sure that all citizens feel safe in their communities, on their streets and particularly in their schools.
Jason McCullough is a person whose name has become well known in my community. He was murdered some years ago in the north end of Dartmouth. His murder has never been solved. The case is still open. Every year in October, there is a candlelight vigil and community members get together to remember Jason and to walk through the streets that he used to walk through as a student. They do it to remember Jason and to put on the pressure so that he is not forgotten and his case continues to get attention.
My own brother is the vice-principal of Dartmouth High School. He loves the kids. He is a great teacher and now he is a great administrator. I have talked to him and other administrators and teachers who tell me that we need to do something to make sure that repeat and violent young offenders in particular are dealt with. Nobody in these schools wants to abandon these kids for life, and they are kids, but they also think it is an absolutely unacceptable circumstance that people who continually violate are put back into a circumstance with the people whom they have already violated and may violate in the future.
The week before Parliament resumed in October, I had the occasion to call an open meeting. I have a series of community round tables in Dartmouth--Cole Harbour, usually on a specific topic. I ask people to come in. We have held them on health, education, development and a number of other things. This latter one was entitled, “What are your priorities for this Parliament?” I just asked the people in my community to come to this open forum and tell their member of Parliament what they wanted to see done in Parliament and what were their priorities. This was before the Speech from the Throne.
We talked about a number of things. Poverty came up continually. Poverty was a big issue. So was the issue of Afghanistan: what is the right thing to be doing in Afghanistan? Child care came up.
The issue that resonated most at that meeting was the issue of crime, because again, we had families come to that meeting and stand up and say that their family life has changed because they do not feel safe in the streets. Their son or daughter or someone close to them has been the victim of a crime and they feel helpless. They feel powerless.
In a lot of cases, people said that they do not exactly know the details of all the legislation in Canada, but they just have a sense that it is not working for them and they feel we have to do something about it. Specifically, people talked about the Youth Criminal Justice Act and what we can do to tighten it up.
The history of what is now the Youth Criminal Justice Act goes back to the Juvenile Delinquents Act of 1908 or something like that. The Young Offenders Act was a dramatic improvement. There is still a lot of confusion. I heard the Minister of Justice last night on CBC refer to changes he was making to the Young Offenders Act, so he misspoke, but a lot of people still think the Young Offenders Act is in force. The Youth Criminal Justice Act is the source of an awful lot of confusion.
In Justice Merlin Nunn's report, on which much of this legislation relies in the form of his recommendations, on pages 166 and 167, actually says the Youth Criminal Justice Act is a very sound piece of legislation.
In fact, it is one of the best pieces of youth justice in the world, but there are holes in it. There are gaps and those gaps relate to the issue of repeat and violent offenders. We do not need to blow up the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but it is appropriate to look at it and make sure we approach it in a reasoned way.
We also need to make sure, when we deal with the issues of youth justice, that we are getting out in front of the problem as well as just dealing with it when it happens. We also need to believe, as I do, in rehabilitation.
I met with a member of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, FCM, from Saskatchewan this afternoon who was telling me about a politician, who I had not heard of but other members will have in Saskatchewan, who had a criminal past and was reformed, rehabilitated and elected in the Saskatchewan Party and is part of the government today.
People can be rehabilitated. We should never suggest that people cannot be rehabilitated. That would be an absolute failure and an admission of our inability to deal with circumstance. It is not that way.
While we look at these changes, some of which I support quite strongly, we have to get out in front of the problem. We need to look at things like child care for Canadians. I have made no secret of that.
I have spoken in the House about how strongly I felt about the plan that the former government had for child care. We may disagree on the best way to deliver it, whether it is through the universal child care benefit that the government has come forward with or the plan that I believe in, but we have to accept that not all children are born with an equal opportunity for success or even an equal opportunity for a good life.
Quite often, it is those kids who fall through the holes in society and end up dealing with the criminal justice system on a repeat basis. That has to be changed.
We could invest not only in child care but in things like the Boys & Girls Club. We could build jails, but the best thing we could do for kids is to build the infrastructure they need.
My community has the Dartmouth North Boys & Girls Club, the Cole Harbour Boys & Girls Club and near where I live there is the East Dartmouth Community Centre. Here the federal, provincial and municipal governments got together and decided to put money toward it because there were a lot of kids who did not have an equal opportunity for success and a good life.
The Boys & Girls Club of East Dartmouth is led by people like John Burton and Dave who run the programs and are friends to the kids. They are both mentors to the children and provide the kind of support that gives a lot of kids, who otherwise might not have it, a chance to succeed and access to opportunity.
With regard to the infrastructure that the FCM was talking about today, again to go to my community, there are less hockey rinks in Dartmouth now than when I was growing up. A couple have closed over the last 10 years. We do not have the infrastructure we need.
Anybody here would agree that if kids have a chance to play hockey, which is prohibitively expensive, basketball or soccer and feel like they are part of a group through recreation, they have a better chance to succeed, to feel valued, to live a dignified life, and to avoid coming in contact with the criminal justice system.
I suggest investing in schools, both public schools, pre-kindergarten to grade 12, and universities. We need to invest in schools. Nova Scotia has a woeful record of investing in public schools over the past number of years. It is very low in the per capita rankings. Municipally, provincially, and federally we need to get together and decide that there is nothing more important than the children of the next generation of Canadians. We must invest in schools and give all kids an opportunity to succeed.
There are other things. I had a chance to meet, as I often do, with RCMP officers and police officers who are assigned to high schools in my community. I met with an RCMP officer recently who works in the Cole Harbour high school. He told me that one of the things that works the best with kids, and people may think he is crazy, was restorative justice.
We have a champion of restorative justice in Nova Scotia in Danny Graham who was the former leader of the Liberal Party in Nova Scotia.
When kids have the opportunity to understand what they have done and a chance to make compensation, it has a big impact on them. Quite often it has a big impact on the families of victims as well, who are very integral to the process of restorative justice.
We have this legislation today. It was alleged to have been inspired by the Nunn commission, the hon. Merlin Nunn, retired justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. His report came about as a result of the tragic incident of Theresa McEvoy, who was killed by a young offender in a car crash on October 14, 2004. Two days before his criminal act caused her death, he was released from custody, although he was facing numerous charges. That is on the front page of the Nunn commission report.
Justice Nunn talks about specific problems within the Youth Criminal Justice Act. He talks about the gaps that exist. He also talks about, as I mentioned before, some of the very good parts of the legislation that today form the Youth Criminal Justice Act. He does not want to throw it all out. He wants to refine it to adjust to those circumstances.
I think we should look at the Nunn report. I have most of it here. It is quite a significant document. I suspect that most members of the House have had a chance to look at it. He says on page 169 in his summary of approach to recommendations:
It would be foolhardy to suggest that we can prevent all youth crime. However, we can prevent a great deal by reducing the causes, and we can control others by instituting programs and systems to cut down on further criminal activity by those already in the system.
I think that paragraph summarizes what Justice Nunn was about. When this report came back I think last December, it was highly acclaimed. It was significantly thought out. It brought in a whole variety of viewpoints. It talked about some very specific Nova Scotia problems in criminal justice, even down to fax machines that were not working, that things such as that can actually have an impact on criminal justice. The report talks about some of the improvements that can be made.
I recall the Minister of Justice being in Halifax I think before Parliament came back. He credited Justice Nunn with having put forward a good report and indicated he was going to move on that. The Minister of Justice is a person I take at his word and I think his intentions are entirely appropriate.
I do think that we are missing out a little bit on the front end. I also think we are missing out on the rehabilitation side. The summary of the bill, as members will know, is that it makes two specific amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
It adds deterrents and denunciation to the sentencing principles that a court must consider when determining a sentence for someone convicted under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It facilitates the use of pre-trial detention in cases where a youth has committed a violent crime, has breached their current conditions of release, or has been charged with an indictable offence for which an adult would be liable to imprisonment for a term of more than two years, and has a history that indicates a pattern of findings of guilt.
We believe that using the Nunn report as an inspiration for federal legislation makes perfect sense. We also think that the report of Justice Nunn brought in a good balance. We think some of that balance is missing. We think perhaps we can do some work on it at committee. I certainly want to support in principle the legislation. I would also want to point out some of the recommendations in this rather lengthy Nunn commission report that were not followed.
--that the federal government amend section 42(2)(m) of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act to remove the time limits on the sentencing option for a court to require a young person to attend a non-residential community program--
--that the federal government amend the “Declaration of Principle” in section 3 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to add a clause indicating that protection of the public is one of the primary goals of the act.
--that the federal government amend the definition of “violent offence”...of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to include conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the life or safety of another person.
--that the federal government amend and simplify the statutory provisions relating to the pre-trial detention of young persons so that section 29 will stand on its own without interaction with other statutes or other provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
--that the federal government amend section 31(5)(a) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act so that if the designated “responsible person” is relieved of his or her obligations under a “responsible person undertaking” the young person’s undertaking made under section 31(3)(b)--
--that the federal government amend section 31(6) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act to remove the requirement of a new bail hearing for the young person before being placed in pre-trial custody--
There have been varying opinions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act changes as in Bill C-25. There are some people who do not like it and I understand some of their concerns.
From Nova Scotia, Cecil Clarke, the minister of justice, who today is dealing with another circumstance which is the very sad death by taser in Nova Scotia yesterday, he has endorsed the legislation. Most provincial and territorial ministers of justice express support, certainly in principle, in some cases absolutely for the legislation.
We think that there is a lot of merit in Bill C-25. My concern is that this is a lengthy report and there is a lot of very important stuff in this that could be caught. I am not suggesting that the legislation needs to look quite like this, but the principle of the bill is not something that I think can be picked or chosen over. It has to be looked at, if we support this bill then I think we support it entirely. We do not have to have every single provision but there are very significant provisions that are not reflected in the legislation.
In closing, we need to act, as members of Parliament, on the concerns of our constituents. I fully and completely believe that there are aspects of the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are not currently providing security to families and individuals who live in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
I feel, as a member of Parliament, that it is my duty to do what I can to make sure that the Youth Criminal Justice Act is tightened up, so that it does not lose the very good intention of the act which is obviously that children need to be dealt with separately. But the children in our schools and in our streets who are doing everything that they can under the law of the land and with the best intention, it is simply not right to allow them to continue to be offended against by young offenders who have a history of offending.
I will support the bill going to committee. I hope that at committee strong members of the justice committee, certainly our strong members from the Liberal side, will be able to effect some change which will make the bill better when it comes back to the House for final consideration. But I will support this and I will vote for this to go to committee.