Madam Speaker, I am pleased this afternoon to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
We all know that the safe streets and communities act proposes a wide range of reforms to strengthen the law's response to several things: child sexual abuse and exploitation, serious drug and violent property crimes, terrorism, violent young offenders, offender accountability and management, and the protection of vulnerable foreign workers against abuse and exploitation.
As many hon. members have noted, the bill brings together in one comprehensive package reforms that were included in nine bills that were put before the previous Parliament and that died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament for the general election.
I will itemize these. These former bills are: Bill C-4, Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders); Bill C-5, Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act; Bill C-16, Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act; Bill C-23B, Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act; Bill C-39, Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act; Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act; Bill C-56, Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act; Bill C-59, Abolition of Early Parole Act; Bill S-7, Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act; and finally Bill S-10, Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act.
Many hon. members have participated in several hours of debate today and ongoing debate from the last Parliament to now. It is clear that some do not share the same views as the government about the need to address crime in our society, the need to increase public safety, the need to better balance the role of victims in the justice system and the need to make offenders more accountable.
My remarks here today need not repeat what some of my hon. colleagues have already noted about the key features of Bill C-10 and the importance of these reforms. I propose to briefly comment on the important reforms proposed in Bill C-10 as they relate to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect in April 2003. The reforms now proposed in Bill C-10, Safe Streets and Communities Act, have been shaped by consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. After five years of experience with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a review was launched by the Minister of Justice in 2008. This began with discussions with provincial and territorial attorneys general to identify the issues that they considered most important.
In May 2008, the Minister of Justice began a series of cross-country round tables, often co-chaired by provincial and territorial ministers, in order to hear from youth justice professionals, front-line youth justice stakeholders and others about areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Input from individuals and organizations was also provided through the Department of Justice website, in letters and in in-person meetings. The results showed clearly that most provinces, territories and stakeholders believe the current youth legislation works well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes. However, there were concerns about the small number of youth who commit serious, violent offences or who are repeat offenders who may need a more focused approach to ensure the public is protected.
Clearly, the message was to build upon the good foundation of the law and make much needed improvements and the reforms proposed in Bill C-10 reflect this. Although the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well for most youth, particular elements of the act need to be strengthened to ensure that youth who commit serious, violent or repeat offences are held accountable with sentences and other measures that are proportionate to the severity of the crime and the degree of the responsibility of the offender.
There have been concerns voiced from many sources and this government has responded. The reforms included in Bill C-10, previously included in Bill C-4, known as Sébastien's law, would enhance our fair and effective youth justice system and result in a system that holds youth accountable for their criminal misconduct and promotes their rehabilitation and re-integration into society in order to promote the protection of the public.
In addressing amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it is important to note that the act's preamble specifically references that Canada is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Youth Criminal Justice Act also recognizes that young persons have rights and freedoms, including those stated in the charter and the Canadian Bill of Rights. Nothing in Bill C-10 will impair these rights of young persons.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act provides for a range of responses that relate to the seriousness of the crime. These sentences also address the needs and circumstances of the youth and promote rehabilitation.
Amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will ensure that young people under 18 who are serving a custody sentence will serve it in a youth custody facility. It will no longer be possible to put young people in adult prisons or penitentiaries, where the correctional regime is more suited to adults and where young people could all too easily become vulnerable to older, more hardened criminals. It is in the interests of the protection of society that young people become rehabilitated, and this amendment is aimed to ensure that this takes place.
While a sound legislative base is an essential part of ensuring that Canada has a fair and effective youth justice system, it is also essential to address the conditions that underlie criminal behaviour if we are to achieve any long-term or meaningful solution to the problem. Conditions such as addiction, difficult childhoods, mental health, fetal alcohol syndrome, or longer-term marginalization will continue to pose challenges to solving the problems of youth offending.
Our government has implemented various programs to assist in addressing these issues. The national anti-drug strategy has a significant youth focus. On the prevention front, the government has launched a national public awareness program and campaign to discourage our youth from using illicit drugs. The government has made funding available under the youth justice fund for pilot treatment programs that will assist with the rehabilitation of youth who have drug problems and are in the justice system, and for programs that are working toward preventing youth from becoming involved with guns, gangs and drugs.
Partnering with health, education, employment and other service providers beyond the traditional system, we can all work together. For example, through the youth justice fund the Department of Justice provided funding to a pilot program called Career Path, which offers a comprehensive specialized service for youth in the justice system who are at risk or are involved in gang activities. The program offers youth educational training and employment opportunities by connecting them with an employer who will also act as a mentor to facilitate making smart choices, foster pro-social attitudes, build leadership skills and gain valuable employability skills as a viable option to gang membership.
The reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are essential and responsive and should be supported as a key part of a broader effort on the part of the government to prevent and respond to youth involved in the justice system.
I would like to bring it a little closer to home, if I may.
This is the story of Ann Tavares, of London, who suffered a huge loss in November of 2004 when Stephan Lee stabbed her son 28 times. Steven Tavares was an innocent victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His death irreparably scarred the lives of those who loved him forever. That loss is what happened.
To compound her tragedy, her son's killer was found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder and sent to an Alberta hospital the following year. He was conditionally released in May 2008 and is now living in Alberta. All of this happened without notification to the victim's family or the public at large.
Suffering such a loss might have destroyed an individual. However, this became an impetus for Ann's quest to make others aware of what happened to her son and the lack of justice for this heinous crime. She has lobbied tirelessly against the inequities of the system, a system the government is trying to fix.
Ann strongly felt that there needs to be a connection between mental illness and crime. Specifically, she felt that the insanity defence needs to be banned. She felt that to say a perpetrator is not criminally responsible is too subjective. Mental impairment is a defence that anyone can claim. If someone commits a crime, that person should be punished.
She believes mental illness should not absolve someone from the crime they committed. The punishment needs to be based on the severity of the crime, and a fixed minimum time needs to be served before they are put back into the community. However, Ann did want good to come of her tragic situation. In addition to the punishment, she felt that the perpetrator should get mental health treatment, and that to protect innocent victims like her son and the community at large, such criminals should not be released into the community until they have been certified as not a risk to others.
I would like to expand on that through the questions and answers, if I might, Madam Speaker.