Mr. Speaker, the overall crime rate in Canada has been falling since it peaked in 1991. Police reported about 2.6 million offences in 2004, resulting in a crime rate that was 12% lower than a decade earlier. However, youth perception of safety is declining.
Between 1998 and 2002, fewer young people, aged 16 to 24, considered their neighbourhoods to be a very safe place in which to live. In 2002, 72% felt their neighbourhoods were very safe from violent crime, a decrease from 1998, which was at that time 78%. By and large, the majority of young people still feel very safe, but there seems to be a small decrease.
We have seen another statistic from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, which shows an increase of about 13% in the violent crime rate among young people from 1993 to 2003.
Of those young people who feel unsafe, roughly 25% of them are boys and girls who are home alone by grade seven. Eighty per cent of mothers of school-age children are in the workforce, according to the Canadian Council on Social Development, and they worry about their kids. In fact, the average child spends 67 hours of discretionary time each week at home, more hours than they spend in school. That is the time, especially after school, when they are worried about their own safety. Young people are most likely to be bullied during this time and likely to engage in unsupervised Internet use.
In terms of adolescents being victimized or running afoul of the law, research shows this happens between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. When we talk about youth crime and youth safety, that is the time when young people sometimes get in trouble. It is between the end of the school day and when parents return home from work.
Research has also shown that this unsupervised time is the risk factor for substance abuse, gang behaviour and other problematic behaviour. Therefore, we know the time that we need to deal with, yet the bill does almost nothing. It does not talk about how we deal with prevention.
There are solutions such as dealing with anger management and bullying. The best programs that can be put in place are after school activities. Again, if young people can attend good after school activities, not only will they be safe, but their self-esteem will be enhanced and their educational success and their positive mental and physical health will be improved. Those are all the things we want for our young people.
Organizations like the Boys and Girls Club transform their after school hours from unsupervised time, where they feel unsafe, to a productive time where they can learn with structured activities.
When we talk about youth crime and safety, in the summer the New Democrats called for the extension of the Canada youth employment program to make it year round permanent program. Right now it only applies to the summer. We know this would have an impact on reducing the youth crime rate.
We have seen it over and over again. For example, the city of Toronto has an after school recreation and care program. This initiative hires young people in their own neighbourhoods. They become role models and mentors. They go to elementary and high schools to teach young people. Sometimes it is an arts program, basketball, physical programs or homework. Some of these young people could have been in trouble with the law, but they decided to turn their lives around.
These kinds of programs have a dramatic effect on safety in a community. Some may remember the summer of youth crime a few years ago. There were a lot of shootings in the city of Toronto. With different strategies, one of which is the youth employment program, the gun crimes for young people dropped 40% within one year. We know this kind of program works.
This kind of program not only provides good jobs, it provides excellent training and new opportunities to benefit the entire neighbourhood. If we look at youth crime, it is not just young people. Sometimes it is the neighbourhood or the families. The program provides young leaders with the tools and resources to reach out and support families and youth to break out of the cycle of violence, alienation and despair, which can often plague the at risk communities.
Research by Geena Brown shows that if we have these kinds of programs, fewer mothers would use emergency services, child welfare, food bank services and prescription drugs.
I want to point out how much money we could save if we could have a youth crime prevention program attached to the bill.
The latest survey I have seen shows that to keep young people in jail, even without the counselling and support that they may need while in jail, it costs society and taxpayers a bare minimum of $65,000 per year. If we add the counselling and sometimes the substance abuse help they may need, we are looking at $100,000 to $120,000 a year of taxpayer money. If we do the deterrence, the prevention kind of support we have for young people, it is much better use of funding because we know it works.
We recently looked at the figures. The justice department reported that crimes cost our society almost $50 billion a year. If we can enable groups like the Boys and Girls Club of Canada, YouCan, which teaches young people how to deal with violent situations by de-escalating and learning the skills of conflict mediation, they can take a very explosive situation, de-escalate it and young people end up supporting each other rather than resorting to violence.
We know that a lot of the young people resort to violent crimes because they feel is the only method in which they know to express themselves. It is not an excuse. They have to take responsibility, but we also have to give them the tools to learn how to de-escalate things, whether it is a bully situation or very at risk behaviour.
YouCan has had a lot of successful initiatives and many other organizations in the community have had some very good initiatives.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act contains the whole notion that when a young person commits a crime, rather than going to jail, we should find some way to give them alternative sentencing, such as working in the communities so they can reform themselves. Unfortunately, the funding has not followed that principle. A lot of neighbourhoods, organizations and municipalities said that it was a good principle, but when judges told young people, who were facing court time, that they had to take some kind of alternative programming, no programs were available in the communities. The community agencies do not have the funding to provide the alternative programs to train these young people.
Therefore, while we have had good principles in the past, we have not had the kind of funding we need to provide the community support, which is critically important.
The National Crime Prevention Centre, a major body for national crime prevention, funds pilot projects, sometimes for one year, sometimes for three years, but it does not provide permanent funding. Many of the organizations that are doing a lot of work with young people to prevent them from committing crime or after sentencing ensuring they learn the skills so they will not reoffend are saying that they need permanent funding. They know what works. The centre has seen the program work and yet after two or three years the funding dries up and a lot of young people and the communities themselves end up being in trouble.
Other areas that would really help to reduce youth crime are in supporting local initiatives. We have to assist municipalities to build, expand and support drop-in centres, whether it is social infrastructure like basketball courts, community centres or libraries. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has told us there is a social infrastructure deficit.
For example, the city of Toronto is looking at closing swimming pools because there is not enough funding to support them. Again, more and more young people, after school or even during school hours, will be unable to learn skills. Unfortunately, some of these young people will end up getting into the wrong crowd or joining a gang. Then they get into trouble, and that is unfortunate.
We know young people sometimes are get in trouble. Why? Because the rate of depression and anxiety among young people in Canada is growing. The rate of suicide is 15% among 15 to 20 year olds, which is the third worst record among OECD countries. When we look at young people, whether they are in jail or not, or in their community and whether they are young offenders or not, we see a clear link because we do not invest in communities. These young people are feeling more and more depressed. We also see obesity and even suicide.
With Canada being a rich country, how could we possibly have the third worst record of young people committing suicide? They must feel dramatically hopeless to do that.
I know I have talked about deterrence, but the bill does not go into the whole notion of how we deal with youth crime prevention. At the end of the day, that is what will work.
Another aspect the bill does not deal with, which is a key one, is witness protection. Some young people would like to tell authorities what is happening in their circle. They would like to tell them that they may know who is doing what in a community in terms of crime. However, some of them feel tremendously unprotected. If we do not beef up witness protection program, many young people will continue to feel they will be targeted or will be at risk and therefore not speak out. A strong witness protection program is very much needed.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police recently told the Standing Committee on Public Safety that while witness protection programs are extremely important for law enforcement, they are often too expensive for the local police force. They are unaffordable for the local police departments.
We need a comprehensive youth crime prevention plan that would include youth employment, after school activities, investing in local communities, investing in witness protection programs. Then we could really talk about deterrence and prevention. The bill that is in front of us sets out these sentencing principles. It is fine to have these principles, but there is no community infrastructure or capacity to support these principles such as deterrence.
We know that jailing young people is not a deterrent. While in jail they learn to become hardened criminals. Who is in jail with them? Criminals who have been around for a long time. It is a form of university, I guess, post-secondary education. The youth go to jail and while there, learn how to become hardened criminals. Putting them in jail alone does not work. Not only is it expensive, but it sometimes is counterproductive.
Unfortunately, the key element of prevention is missing in this bill. I know of a lot of young people who started out their lives wrong, in that they made a mistake, got to know the wrong people and got in trouble. Because they are young, energetic and enthusiastic many of them are still hopeful. They have not given up hope. If we reach out to them at the right time and actually believe in them, then they can turn their lives around.
This weekend I was at an organization called Sketch. It teaches homeless youth how to express themselves through the arts, visual arts, painting, sculpture, music, theatre. Some of those young people, because they live on the streets, have had quite a bit of contact with police. Some of them have been in trouble before. This is the 10th anniversary of Sketch. Many of those young people come from broken families. They suffered abuse, sometimes physical, other times sexual. They ran away. That is why they are out on the streets. When they live on the streets they get into some crimes that sometimes they regret.
Organizations such as Sketch deal with those young people holistically to get them to express themselves through the arts and in that way, they heal themselves. They come together and form a very strong community. They support each other. They talk to each other about why they should not continue that cycle of violence, how they can get back to school, find housing and turn their lives around.
There is much we can do for young people. Unfortunately, this bill does not necessarily address all we can do to invest in young people.