Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to Bill C-4. We have gone down this road multiple times in the past.
It has been quite frustrating for some of us who have been around a long time in that the House tends to persist on taking a certain course of action. We need to be intelligent and use the existing data and information that we have in our country and around the world to do what our obligation is, which is to ensure that: first, we support legislation that protects innocent civilians; second, we do what is necessary to prevent criminal activity from occurring; third, we support victims and their families; and fourth, we ensure that those who commit crimes will go to jail or pay the price that the state determines and pay the price that society deems relevant to the crimes they have committed.
What I find frustrating is that we could be implementing many things if we were to deal with the facts. Unfortunately, the government tends to paint itself as a law and order party but doing it in such a way that it is not smart on crime. Rather, it takes a very narrow focus on trying to show that it is the toughest on crime.
However, the law of unintended consequences can occur down the road if solutions are implemented that do not truly address the criminal activity and we will not be able to achieve those four objectives that I mentioned at the beginning.
I think it would be wise in our stance in the beginning to support the bill at second reading so it can go to committee where we can bring in the people who have a lot of knowledge. Many people in the House have a lot of experience. Members on the government side and on our side have long been involved in the issue of youth crime.
My colleague from British Columbia talked about her deep and tragic personal circumstances, as did her husband. We hope to bring that kind of expertise to committee in order to address those solutions that will deal with this situation in a sensible and responsible fashion.
What we ought to do is look at the current statistics in terms of youth crime rates in Canada. In 2006, 6,885 youth crime rate Criminal Code offences per 100,000 people in Canada. That number declined to 6,783 in 2007 and to 6,454 in 2008. If we go back to 1991, that number was 9,126 children per 100,000, and that was the youth crime rate per 100,000 people in Canada at that time.
If we look at the homicide rates, the most extreme of offences, in Canada we have around 600 homicides per year. About 55 to 60 of those homicides are committed by youth every year, and that has been consistent. There has been an up-take recently, and much of that has been attributed to children involved in gangs, but for the most part, if we look back over the last 10 to 15 years, we see that the homicide rates by children have remained essentially static over the last 15 years.
What can we do? I had a chance to be in Vancouver a few weeks ago at the University of British Columbia faculty of medicine with Dr. Julio Montaner and others. A very interesting neuro scientist was describing the following. If we ask ourselves why people take up criminal activity, why they get involved in taking drugs or why they get involved in behaviours that are destructive to themselves and others, the scientists found the following. They looked at the brain, which has two major sections. One section involves our emotional response to activities that are thrill seeking. The other part of our brain, which is called the prefrontal cortex, keeps that part of the brain in check. It is the part of the brain that tells us that it is not a good idea to go out and shoot ourselves up with heroin, to drive a car really fast or to beat somebody up. That part of the brain is essentially the control mechanism on the other part of the brain that takes a more emotional response to issues.
With infant children, the connection between that part of the brain, the emotional response and the prefrontal cortex that checks it, is not well developed. This is why children behave in a more emotional response than a more rational response. As they get older through adolescence, connections happen, tracks develop, neurons connect between those two areas and in that process the prefrontal cortex has a more profound ability to check that emotional part of the brain.
What happens if that child is subjected to violence, sexual abuse, poor nutrition or bad parenting? It has been proven that those neurologic connections between the limbic system and parts of the brain controlling emotional response and the prefrontal cortext do not develop very well. They happen slowly and imperfectly. For children who are brought up in a loving, caring environment and subjected to good parenting, where they have proper nutrition, literacy, those connections develop very well. This means for children who are subjected early on to a bad environment of sexual abuse or violence, the connections do not develop very well, which makes those children much more liable to participate in taking of drugs, violence and criminal activity.
How can we prevent that from happening? How can we ensure that children have the proper neurologic development in those most formative years?
Let us take a look at the longest study in the world called the Perry Preschool program in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It studied a group of kids at risk and followed those children through 40 years of their life. The evidence found that by ensuring those children received good preschool programs, they were more able to complete school. There was less dependence on welfare. There were much higher rates of income. In turn, their children had better outcomes.
This is an important study because it proves that if we ensure children grow up in an environment that is loving, caring, free of being subjected to violence, sexual abuse and other horrific situations, those neurologic connections develop well. As a result of that, there is a profound impact in preventing and reducing crime and ensuring that children have the best outcomes in their lives.
These kids had better educations. They made more money. There was less dependence on welfare. Also, and this is interesting, for an investment of just $15,166, that is $17 for every $1 invested, there is a saving to taxpayers of $250,000; that is a 17:1 savings.
Why is the government not working with the provinces to do what has been proven? Why is the government not looking at the 40 year retrospective study, among a collection of other studies, a study that concludes that good early preschool programs and working with parents and children, which can be done very inexpensively, can have the most profound and positive impact on the future of those children and therefore on the future of society?
The cost to incarcerate a child is $100,000 a year. I used to work in an adult jail as a correctional officer, when I was putting myself through school and university. I also worked in both adult and juvenile jails as a physician. I have seen horrific stories. For example, as a physician, I attended to two girls who were in there early teens. They had been put on the street by their mother, who I happened to know through my alcohol and drug work in emergency. She was a known IV drug abuser. Her children were prostituting themselves so she could pay for her IV drug problem. They thought what they were doing was fun.
I read in the newspaper that one of them was found dead in a ditch. The other one I saw when I was doing my rounds in the pediatric ward. She had suffered a massive stroke caused by her drug abuse.
I remember these two little girls as lovely young children who probably had a whole hopeful life ahead of them. However, because of their environment they were stuck in, through no fault of their own, one ended up dead and the other had a massive stroke. That is the fate of too many children in our society.
These are entirely preventable problems. Therefore, why is the government not do something about it? Why does it not look at the Perry Preschool program? Why does it not work with the provinces and implement those solutions, which are proven to work to reduce crime, to save lives, to save money? The government should be doing that.
This brings me to drug policy. Why does the government not do what is necessary to deal with drug problems? Many of the youth criminal acts are attached to drug addictions. Many of the break and enters and the assaults are carried out by people addicted to drugs.
What I find disappointing is the government, instead of embracing things that work, takes these initiatives to court. For example, there is the Insite program in Vancouver, the needle injection program. It has been proven by Dr. Julio Montaner, Dr. Thomas Kerr, and others to save money, to save lives and to reduce diseases. Why does the government not support that?
Instead, the government has taken that proven medical initiative to court, to block people and to prevent them from having a program that will save their lives. What kind of a government does that? It is utterly immoral, unconscionable and unjustifiable.
Furthermore, why is not it look at the NAOMI project, the North American Opiate Management Initiative? St. Paul's Hospital looked at 350 of the toughest, most difficult to reach IV narcotic abusers and randomized them into three groups. One group was given heroin IV, one group Dilaudid, which is another narcotic, and the final group an oral narcotic, methadone. Because it gave those people the drugs under medical supervision, it severed the tie between the addicts and their criminal activities to get the money they needed to pay for their drugs.
Why does the government not support communities to have access to NAOMI projects across the country? That would be the worst news for the real parasites in this equation, the organized crime gangs, which are the only ones profiteering off the status quo. It would undermine the financial underpinnings of organized crime. It would enable these hard to reach individuals to get into our medical community, which would help them get off drugs, get back with their families, get back to work and get their lives back together. We would save money and reduce costs in any number of ways. That would be smart judicial initiatives by working the justice system, the health care system and the provinces.
Do we hear anything like that from the government? No. There is deafening silence. It is absolutely inconceivable to me why the government does not adopt those things that have been proven. NAOMI and Insite were not something pulled out of someone's ear. These are scientific-based, rigorously peer reviewed assessments of an initiative and an experiment by St. Paul's, in Vancouver, with some of the toughest, most difficult and hard to reach communities.
Then there is fetal alcohol syndrome. I have some news for the government. Posters will not do it. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in babies. It is estimated that 40% to 50% of the people in jail have FASD. This is a silent scourge in our country.
Why does the government not work with people like David Gerry in Victoria, who has an adult FASD clinic, and others to support something that not only treats but, more important, prevents? We have to get women in their prenatal stage to ensure they will not be in an environment where they drink. They need to understand that this is catastrophic to a child.
The other thing the government should look at is communities at risk. Tamba Dhar, who is a friend of mine, runs a program called Sage Youth. Tamba is a wonderful woman. She is an immigrant to our country who did well and decided that she wanted to give back to Canada, so she developed a program called Sage Youth in Toronto. She has worked, on a shoestring budget, with higher-risk refugees in Canada to ensure that those children have a mentor and that they have essentially an early program. The kids are subjected to a proper, caring environment where their basic needs are met. She has done this through the prism of literacy.
We know that literacy and enabling kids to read or be read to is one of the most profound and positive impacts children will have in their lives. The federal government could work with the provinces to encourage parents to bring their kids to the library once a week and let them roam for an hour or two. It costs nothing and it is a remarkable, simple and easy way to get kids engaged in reading. On average, kids spend 40 hours a week in in front of computers, playing computer games or watching television.
That has a profound impact not only on the development of children's brains in a negative way, but it also contributes to the epidemic of childhood obesity, which will have a massive effect on cardiovascular problems in our country. In fact, quite shockingly, the youngest generation of children today, for the first time in the history of Canada, will be the first generation that is expected to have a shorter life span than their parents. Imagine that?
Those problems will be, for the most part, cardiovascular problems, which are preventable early on. We need to get the kids up, out and active, playing games, free play and also engaged in literacy by bringing the parents and teachers together, particularly in schools. Imagine if the feds were to work with the provinces to encourage parents to come to the schools for one hour a week, so the teacher could work with both of the parents and their children. They could have one hour courses on literacy, the importance of play, appropriate nutrition. These things will have a profound impact if we bring parents and children together. The common unit for that is in the schools. Yet we hear nothing from the government on this.
The government likes to talk about being supportive of the police. Why then does it not do what the police has asked? The gun registry is a case in point. We all know that law-abiding long gun owners are not the problem. They are law-abiding citizens through and through. However, what we have heard very clearly from police officers is that they need the gun registry for their protection. How on earth does the government justify to itself and to our society that it will remove something police officers feel they need for their protection? Above all, that is an overriding responsibility of ours. Our police officers do the bidding of governments and the state to protect us. It is our moral duty to do what can to ensure their protection.
Bill C-4 is an opportunity for the government to build on what the Liberal government did in 2003. It made some profound and positive changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, we need to move forward on that. We need to adopt those solutions that will ensure that criminals spend their time behind bars and away from our citizenry. They will also have the chance to rehabilitate and deal with their problems.
The government has an opportunity to adopt those solutions that can truly prevent crime and save money. If the government fails to do this, it is abrogating its responsibility to society, it is not using its intelligence and is simply trying to use its legislation as a way to paint a very shallow political picture to the public, instead of doing that what is important for the public good.