Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on this issue that is of pressing importance to all Canadians, including those in my excellent riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
Of all the issues we deal with, one of the most frightening for members of the public, naturally, is the issue of violent crime. It strikes fear in everybody. In these days of the 24-hour news cycle, everyone is aware of what is happening within our country from coast to coast. When bad things happen, everyone is aware of them.
It is important, although difficult, for us to try to disarticulate what we see in the media from the facts and to determine with an objective eye what is going on and what can be done to protect our citizens. As elected officials, our primary responsibility is to do what we can and must do to protect our citizens from harm.
Let us take a look. What are the most dangerous cities in Canada? In order of ranking, the first is Port Coquitlam, B.C., then Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Vancouver and Calgary; then it goes down through Surrey, Halifax, Toronto and of course many others. These are the 2007 murder statistics.
Is the murder rate going up or down? Since 1990, with one small change a couple of years ago, the homicide rate has actually been in significant decline. Canada's violent crime rate is three times less than that of our friend south of the border, yet the incarceration rate in the United States is significantly higher than in Canada. In the U.S. about 0.7% of the population is in jail. In Canada it is roughly about 0.12%, which is a big difference.
The question is: What do we do and what should work in terms of dealing with violent crime?
I would like to mention a few other things that may be of interest to members in the House.
In 2006, 2.45 million crimes were reported. Of those, 48% were property-related crimes and 12.6% were violent crimes. There were 594 murders in 2007, 12 fewer than the previous year. One-third of the murders in 2007 were stabbings and another one-third involved firearms. Of the murders involving firearms, handguns were used in two-thirds. Seventy-four youths were accused of murder. That is down by 11 from the previous year. The reason I mention these statistics is to put things in context to show the challenges we are currently facing.
There is a particular area that was not included in this data, particularly in terms of cities because the cities are small, and it relates to the north. In places like Nunavut, Iqaluit and Yellowknife, the rate of violent crime is at levels that would shock Canadians from coast to coast. Let us take a look at those levels.
The most violent regions in all of Canada that were not on the list are Iqaluit, Whitehorse and Yellowknife. In Yellowknife, the rate of aggravated assault is 350% higher than the average. In Iqaluit, the aggravated assault rate is 1,033% above the Canadian average. That is absolutely shocking. According to the RCMP, the rate of sexual assault is more than 1,270% above the average. Much of the north's violent crime wave involves sexual assault, and it defies easy explanation.
Let us take a look at something that is quite staggering. If we want to look at violent crime, let us look at what happened prior to that.
In Nunavut, one-quarter of all babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome. That is absolutely remarkable. The average person with fetal alcohol syndrome has an IQ of about 67 to 70. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of preventable brain damage at birth. This is one of the problems that exists in this area.
Another challenge in the area is suicide. In Nunavut, young women 15 to 24 years of age are 36 times more likely than other Canadian women in the same demographic to commit suicide. That is absolutely shocking. It is a situation that occurs far away in the north and receives very little attention, but it is a tragedy.
In fact, conditions exist in some of these areas, particularly in first nation communities in parts of our country, that I can tell members from personal experience are essentially equivalent to what we find in the developing world, in a third world environment. That is what we have within our borders, in Canada today in 2010.
Within the milieu of some of those communities in northern British Columbia in which I have had the privilege of working, I remember, while making a house call to a gentleman to perform a post-operative checkup, seeing a toddler of four or five years old with untreated impetigo on his face. While the child was standing there with this weeping infection on his face, his uncle was flopped over, drunk at 10 o'clock in the morning, and his father was drunk and swearing at me, as was his mother.
What kind of hope does that child have when he witnesses this kind of abuse taking place right in front of him? The child has little hope at all.
I have been saying this for 17 years in this House. If we are going to be intelligent and responsible to the taxpayer, in terms of doing what is necessary to reduce violent crime, then, rather than standing in the House and saying we simply need to build more prisons and throw people in jail, why do we not be smart about it and try to prevent the crime in the first place so that victims do not have to live in trauma for the rest of their lives as a result of being victims of crime? People may adapt to the situation they have been subjected to, but many times they never really get over it. They adapt to it if they can. However, why do we not try to prevent these kinds of horrors and trauma for the people who are being victimized?
How do we do that? It is very interesting. This is not rocket science. A lot of the evidence has been gathered, and I would hope the government really takes a look at studies that have been done before and find out what works.
In Ypsilanti, Michigan, the Perry preschool program has done a 35-year retrospective analysis on early learning head start programs. It asked what we need to do to reduce violent crime and what we need to do to reduce crime in general. It found that if a child were subjected to a number of interventions, it would help. Number one was home visits by nurses from the prenatal stage all the way through to the first two years of life, every one to two weeks. The mother is able to engage with the home nurse, in terms of the questions she may have, as well as the father, enabling them to develop proper parenting for the child. Single mothers, particularly teen mothers, who are isolated are at risk. They need to be selected and engaged quickly. Nutrition is critically important, as well as teaching proper parenting.
The other thing that worked very clearly, which is interesting, is that if the children were subjected to two-and-a-half hours of preschool time per day five days a week, up to the age five, before they went into school, it had a profound impact upon the outcome for those children. This costs very little. What is the cost-benefit of this when they did the cost-benefit analysis? In the Perry preschool experience, it was a saving of seven dollars for every dollar invested.
The same thing was done in Great Britain. There are a number of excellent studies that I would encourage the government to take a look at. There was the 1996 study called “Misspent Youth”, from Great Britain; the 1998 study “Beating Crime”; and “Calling Time on Crime”.
The government could take a look at the 1999 study done by the Montreal-based International Centre for the Prevention of Crime. In the United States, Lawrence Sherman did a meta-analysis of 600 programs. He and his team evaluated 600 programs, which had already done work in crime prevention, as to what works and what does not work.
The identification of families at risk, the early home visits, getting the kids into a preschool situation for two and one-half hours a day, enabling the parents to know what proper parenting is, dealing with substance abuse by the parents and reducing violence within the household are all absolutely crucial to changing the trajectory of a child's life.
The reason I am bringing this up in the context of this bill is that we are talking about violent crime. We are talking about homicides. We have to be able to reduce violent crime, and there are some very smart things we can do that will enable us to do that.
Simply building more jails, as seductive as it is on the surface, has been proven not to work. If it were going to work, then surely the United States would have a much safer country than ours, because they incarcerate far more people and have much tougher penalties, including the death penalty.
If that course were going to work, surely that society would be safer than ours. However, the reality is that it is not. There are many more people incarcerated, there is a much higher cost to the taxpayer and, from the public's perspective, people are not safer. They are actually less safe and subjected to more violence. It is a much more dangerous society than Canada's. Therefore, why do we not take a look at what works and implement the things that do?
There are other things we can do that work. One thing we should do, as I said before, is look at prenatal care, which is extremely important. We also need to deal with substance abuse. In the House, we occasionally spend time talking about marijuana. I do not support people using it. It is much stronger now than it ever was before. The THC content of marijuana runs around 36%.
However, if we look objectively at what does the most harm in our society, we will find that by any real measure it is actually alcohol. Alcohol causes many more problems in our society than marijuana ever does. This is all just a way of saying that, instead of being fixated on certain things that may be attractive at a certain level, we should look at ways to reduce substance abuse in general, whether it is marijuana, crystal meth, narcotics, alcohol or cigarettes. All are harmful and have an effect.
I can say from personal experience in emergency rooms that, for the number of people who have come in having done horrible things to other people, far and away alcohol was a mitigating factor. Whether it was a person who drove drunk and killed someone or a drunk person who beat up his or her partner, alcohol was a primary factor in all of that.
We need to try to tear away some of the myths of what we are talking about, deal with the facts and try to implement things that work. If we want to reduce substance abuse, which I know is a common goal for everybody in the House, why do we not take a look at reducing substance abuse with things that work?
The early learning head start programs work very well. They also reduce child abuse rates. Hawaii's healthy start program, which I would encourage the government to take a look at, would reduce child abuse rates by over 90%. That is absolutely staggering. The program identified families at risk, brought in mentors who were usually women who had children, engaged parents who could be at risk, worked together to teach proper parenting and proper nutrition for children and enabled children to live in a loving and caring environment, dramatically changing the trajectory of the children's lives.
We have the science to prove it. Dr. Julio Montaner, Dr. Evan Wood and others at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital have done some incredible work with neurologists from other parts of the world. In fact they can prove now that one can look at a developing child's brain and see that it is developing well if the child is subjected to a loving and caring environment, free of sexual abuse and violence, and has security. Whereas if a child is subjected to those terrible things, one can see that the neural connections in a child's brain happen slowly or do not happen adequately. As a result, the child is at a much higher risk of committing a crime later in life.
I hope this is something the government will take a look at. If it is interested in reducing crime and interventions like the early learning head start programs work, what exactly does it do in terms of crime? This is what was found. Those kinds of programs reduce maternal arrests by 69%, they reduce child abuse rates by 80% in the studies that were done to age 15 and they reduce youth crime by 66%. If there were a program that saved the taxpayer anywhere between $7 and $11 per $1 invested and reduced youth crime by 66%, surely the government would work with the provinces to implement this, because all of this entails working with the provinces.
That makes sense from a humanitarian perspective, it makes sense to reach our objectives, and it makes fiscal sense. The cost-benefit analysis has been done. The evidence is in. It requires action. The government can use a convening power and its fiscal tools to work with the provinces to be able to achieve this objective.
It staggers me, quite frankly, that the government does not do this. It would look good doing this and it would be serving the public in what it is doing. This is my way of saying that these interventions work very well.
On the issue of drug policy, if the government wants to sanction people taking illegal drugs and thinks that is going to help to make our society safer, then it is delusional. All it needs to do is look south of the border to see what has happened in terms of the Americans' war on drugs approach. In fact, a number of states have actually decided very clearly that this does not work. That is what the facts tell them. The war on drugs is a failed war. It does not work. It has never worked and it will not work. In fact, rather than thinking it does work, it actually makes society less safe. It is more costly, does more harm, increases use and makes our society less safe. These are all outcomes that we do not want to have.
What does work? We can take a look at Portugal. Portugal actually liberalized its drug laws. What did it find? It found less drug use, less cost, less harm and less violence. All of that worked very well.
I would strongly encourage the government to work with the provinces and liberalize the drug laws, because the war on drugs that we are seeing is actually a war that we see on the streets. Many of the murders that we have found in my province of British Columbia have been rooted in drug wars, organized crime gangs fighting over drug territory.
If the government wants to attack organized crime, one of the most effective ways to do that is to go after the financial underpinnings. We can take them out by going after their finances. We can go after their finances by changing the drug laws. If we change the drug laws, that is the worst news for organized crime in this country. That would be a hammer on organized crime. I strongly encourage the government, which says it wants to get tough on crime, to look at drug policy as a way to get tough on crime. If we change the drug laws, we would actually be undermining significantly organized crime gangs. We will not be increasing drug use either. Nobody wants that and it is absurd to think otherwise.
Lastly, on the police, there are a number of decisions that have come down, the McNeil decision and others, that are really harming the ability of our police to do their job. These decisions put the police on trial instead of putting the accused on trial. It makes it very difficult for our police to do their job. They do a yeoman's job across our country. Whether it is the RCMP or other police forces, they do an incredible job for us and we have a huge indebtedness to the men and women who serve us every single day.
I really implore the government to take a look at the crime prevention initiatives that work. We have more than 30 years of experience. The cost-benefit analysis is there. It will reduce crime, it will reduce harm, it will reduce violent crime, and in that we would be doing our job.