Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words on second reading of the bill. I have been listening carefully to comments by both the Official Opposition and the Reform Party in respect of the bill. I want to make a few preliminary remarks in that regard.
First, quite frankly the position of the Bloc Quebecois startles me. I was here in the last Parliament when the Conservative government introduced certain amendments to the Young Offenders Act. At that time the vast majority of members of Parliament from the province of Quebec were from the Conservative Party. They supported the bill. They supported the so-called strengthening of the Young Offenders Act at that time. They spoke as Quebecers, specifically stating that the people of Quebec wanted the Young Offenders Act strengthened, that there were problems with young offenders not only in Quebec but throughout Canada, and that it was necessary in order to make certain amendments.
Unless I am not hearing things clearly, it would seem as if there has been a startling transformation in the opinions of the people of the province of Quebec as represented by the Bloc Quebecois. I find that a bit hard to believe. I am very interested in knowing where they are coming from. I find they are literally coming out of left field. They are not representing the people of the province of Quebec as I understood the concerns of the people of the province of Quebec for five years prior to the last election. Maybe things have changed but I honestly do not believe so. I have to discount much of what the Bloc Quebecois is saying with respect to the bill.
Until I start hearing some realistic comment and I start hearing some acknowledgement that the Young Offenders Act applies exactly the same way throughout the country or does not apply exactly the same way throughout the country rather than hearing that those in Quebec do this and that as if there were a different Young Offenders Act in the province of Quebec, that is absolutely untrue because the Young Offenders Act applies from coast to coast to coast.
With that said let me turn then to the bill and to the approach we in the Liberal Party have decided to take with respect to young offenders. We do not pretend that the act is perfect. We never have. It was clearly stated in the red book and in our campaign that we acknowledged the people of Canada were not happy, if nothing else, with the perception of how the Young Offenders Act was working. It may have been working extremely well. I am not one who believes it was but it may have been.
However that is not the important point. The important point is that it was perceived and still is perceived by the people of Canada not to be working to the best effect that it could. We decided as part of our campaign strategy that we would agree to do something about the Young Offenders Act.
As soon as the Minister of Justice took office he began holding meetings with his colleagues in the Liberal Party to develop a strategy. The strategy that was developed was mentioned by my hon. friend, the last speaker. It was very clearly a two-stage process.
Stage one is to deal with the immediate concerns that we feel were brought to us by the people of Canada, namely, violent offenders, young offenders. Stage two is to conduct a complete, extensive section by section review of the act, taking as much time as is necessary, examining it in parliamentary committee, listening to the views and concerns of the Bloc Quebecois, of the Reform Party, of the Liberal government and anybody else who feels like coming in. For example, the the NDP might want to come in and make a contribution.
When we take that second step process, we will then be able to examine and consider with the benefit of expert testimony and opinion the various points that have been made throughout this debate including, for example, lowering the age to whatever age it might be. Should it be 10? Should it be eight? Should it be seven as it was under the juvenile delinquents act? Why was it raised from seven to twelve? I do not know. Should it be moved down to 10? Should it be moved down to seven? These are the kinds of questions that are going to take some time to discuss.
In the meantime we have something in front of us, Bill C-37. I really only want to spend the few minutes that I have on three sections. I would ask colleagues on the other side whether they agree or disagree with the preambles found in section 1 of this act which I am going to read in their entirety as they would amend paragraph 3(1)(a) of the Young Offenders Act.
(a) crime prevention is essential to the long-term protection of society-
Who would argue that?
-and requires addressing the underlying causes of crime by young persons and developing multi-disciplinary approaches to identifying and effectively responding to children and young persons at risk of committing offending behaviour in the future;
All that says is that we have a problem. Let us see if we can figure out how to deal with it before the young offender offends.
(a.1) while young persons should not in all instances be held accountable in the same manner or suffer the same consequences for their behaviour as adults, young persons who commit offences should nonetheless bear responsibility for their contraventions.
With great respect, I doubt very much if there are too many Canadians who would disagree first, that people should bear responsibility for their contraventions and second, that children are not adults. In my view children should not be treated in exactly the same way as adults.
Therefore the debate then becomes this. What is a child? Under what circumstances is the behaviour so egregious that it is necessary to take that child and say: "Okay, you are not a child. For the purposes of what you have done, you will be treated as an adult". Those circumstances are few and far between.
They are delineated in section 8 of the bill dealing with section 16 of the Young Offenders Act. Those are very clearly set out. If a young person is alleged to have committed first degree murder or second degree murder, the taking of a life, it is something that is sufficient to take them out of the realm of being dealt with as a child.
Second, attempting to commit murder, a very serious offence; manslaughter, technically one step below murder; aggravated sexual assault or aggravated assault, these are all violent crimes. They are the kinds of crimes which make people say that enough is enough, young people are not going to be allowed to do that and then be given the opportunity to be treated as if they had walked into a local Beckers store and stolen a chocolate bar because the two offences are entirely different.
While society might tolerate a 13-year old who goes in and steals a chocolate bar, a pen, some books or a girlie magazine or whatever it may be, they are not prepared to tolerate that kind of behaviour if someone takes a life. The bill says in those circumstances, if you are 16 or 17, you are going to be tried in adult court unless you can demonstrate why you should not be. Anytime a line is drawn, any line, some will say the age is too high and others will say the age is too low, but the fact is that lines have to be drawn. In this case it seems to me that 16 and 17 years of age is reasonable. You can drive a car at that age so if you are charged with committing a murder at that age, presumably you have the wherewithal to be able to be tried in adult court.
Now what about the perceptions of Canadians? I happen to have a petition signed by hundreds of people from the metropolitan Toronto area. I want to tell my friends in the Bloc that I absolutely refuse to believe that the people of metropolitan Toronto are any different from the people of Quebec, Montreal, Chicoutimi, or any other place when personal safety is at risk.
The petitioners believe what this petition states. Whether the stats are exact is irrelevant. That is what they believe and this is what they have signed: "Violent crime in Canada has increased by over 40 per cent since 1984. Youths age 12 to 17 although representing only 8 per cent of the population account for 23 per cent of all persons charged with criminal code offences". As I said, it is not relevant whether or not the figures are accurate to
the exact percentage. What is more relevant is that people believe them to be true.
The petition goes on: "Canadians from coast to coast are calling for changes to the Young Offenders Act and for heavier penalties for all those convicted of"-and I underscore this-"violent crime". That is the key. We do not want to lock these poor ki
So the petitioners have asked that the Criminal Code of Canada and the Young Offenders Act be amended to provide for heavier penalties. Indeed what they see is the Liberal Party doing just that.
We know the act is abused. In my riding there is a particular street where every night on any night of the week drug transactions are taking place. Most times children under the age of 12 are used to run the drugs or to carry the bags from the customer to the vendor. In exchange they get a nice gold bracelet or gold chain or some sort of bauble. The perpetrators, the scum of the earth who deal with drugs, use and abuse these children because they know there is no way the law can reach them. Believe me, many of these kids know exactly what they are doing regardless of their age.
In preparing for the debate on the Young Offenders Act I spoke with my 11-year old daughter. I asked her a few questions about right and wrong in general, what she thought was right and what she thought was wrong and what her views were of the news. There is no doubt in my mind that she is a person who at age 11 knows precisely that if you kill somebody you are doing something wrong. She knows that if you take something that belongs to someone else you are doing something wrong. I have no doubt that is the case.
I am very sympathetic to lowering the age, but I am prepared to wait to hear the evidence in committee. I am prepared to hear the departmental officials tell me why it was that in 1917 people were deemed capable of answering for their actions at the age of seven, whereas in 1984 it was felt that people could only be responsible enough to deal with their actions at the age of 12 and over.
There may be reasons. There may be psychological studies, tests or any number of pieces of evidence to demonstrate a reason for the age of 12. Frankly, I rather suspect it is what I was talking about earlier. It was simply a question of drawing a line. If the line was drawn at 10 years there would be those who would say seven. If the line was drawn at 14 years, there would be those who would say 10 or 12. I guess for whatever reason, in 1984 our counterparts in Parliament chose the age of 12. I assume we will hear the reason in committee.
I underscore that we have a two-step process. Step one deals with the immediate violent criminals in the young offenders system. Step two will be a section by section examination of the act with recommendations to the justice minister and the cabinet. I have no doubt that everybody will have an opportunity for their input.