Madam Speaker, I am honoured to have this opportunity to respond to the throne speech, but first let me take this opportunity to thank the voters of Surrey North for showing their confidence in me.
Being new to this place I do not really know whether to be optimistic or cynical. Like most Canadians, I continue to have hope that each new Parliament will be an improvement but fear that we will again be disappointed when our government proceeds for political reasons rather than for the best interest for Canadians.
As an example, it did not take the previous minister of justice long to advance his gun control legislation, even though he did not bother to determine whether and how registration would discourage the criminal misuse of firearms. He stated repeatedly that he had consulted and that he had the support of Canadians. Perhaps he consulted with his leader's imaginary homeless friends because our aboriginal peoples consistently claim that they were not consulted, even though their treaty rights would be significantly affected.
Consultation with the various provincial authorities is also in question, as four provinces and two territories are presently before the courts challenging our federal government on this legislation.
In this week's throne speech the government talked of partnerships. It now states that the federal government cannot act alone. It is indeed unfortunate that the previous government did not understand this concept.
Then we have victim rights. On April 29, 1996, after encouragement and pressure from the Reform Party, the former minister of justice stated in this House: “Although steps have been made toward progress in recent years, they have been imperfect. There remains a great deal to be done”.
He promised to address this deficiency in our laws. It may come as a surprise but this hon. member either would not or could not carry through on his promise. We must assume one of two things. Either it was not a priority on his personal political agenda or he was overruled. Regardless, Canadians are still waiting.
It was with great disappointment that I noticed the almost complete absence of any substance toward rectifying the inadequacies of our criminal justice system in the throne speech. It is hoped that this government's priorities on justice have been inadvertently forgotten. Otherwise Canadians will also be greatly disappointed.
We now have a fresh new Minister of Justice. Once again Canadians anticipate the introduction and passage of much needed legislation. Hopefully she will be able to fulfil her promises regarding violent young offenders and victims of crime. Hopefully she will be interested in the pursuit of what is right for Canadians rather than what is right for the Liberal Party.
In the past Parliament many of the members opposite were most interested in passing legislation to provide alternative methods of sentencing. For example, Bill C-41 permitted conditional sentencing which, while useful in some cases, is applicable to even those who violently offend within our communities. Bill C-53 extended temporary absence provisions and Bill C-37 actually reduced the parole ineligibility for young offenders convicted of second degree murder in adult court.
But what did the government do for victims, those who have not deliberately decided to offend society's rules but just happen to be in the wrong place and the wrong time?
I have made my home in British Columbia since 1971. It is where my wife and I met 29 years ago, where we raised our family, where we work and where we pay our taxes.
Although my hometown of North Bay is not far from here, each time I fly here I pass directly over the place of my youth. Last week I was able to pick out the beaches where I swam, the wharf where I fished and the streets where I walked, played and cycled. I could not help but to think about that young man growing up and the twists and turns his life would take over the next 40 years which would put him in a jet plane flying to a seat in this House of Commons.
My life was not that much different from the lives of most Canadians of my generation. Violent crime was something we read or heard about, tragic events that happened to others. That all changed on October 18, 1992 when our 16-year old son went to a party and never came home. He was murdered on his way home in a random, unprovoked knife attack by a complete stranger, a young offender who was violating a court ordered curfew stemming from prior charges.
The next week in Courtenay, B.C. a six-year old girl was sexually assaulted and murdered by a sixteen-year old neighbour who was on probation for molesting a young child one year earlier. The anonymity provisions of the Young Offenders Act precluded neighbours from knowing the threat he posed.
Two weeks later in my community two women were butchered by a man who, because he said he was stoned on cocaine, received 10 years for manslaughter. He applied for parole last March. The grass is barely green on the graves of his victims, one of whom was pregnant while the other left three young children. The youngest, at the tender age of four years witnessed his mother's killing. Barely three months had passed before a Surrey doctor facing a hearing for sexual impropriety had the young complainant murdered. The hit man was free on bail after shooting a man in the face six months earlier.
Our family spent nearly two years before the courts. We have come to know many families of victims of violent crime and have followed many of their cases. It did not take very long to realize that our system of justice is seriously out of kilter. Shortly after our son's murder we founded an organization to support victims and to work for justice reform through public education.
Time is not sufficient to detail our efforts but suffice to say that it was the way in which I was treated by the justice committee of the previous Parliament during its hearings on the youth justice system which propelled me into this arena. It was painfully clear that the previous government was not prepared to listen to the views of ordinary Canadians.
I have come to the House of Commons with the support of my constituents. Along with representing their interests in this institution, they have given me a specific mandate to achieve better recognition for innocent victims of crime and reform of the criminal justice system.
For too long society has dealt with justice as merely a jurisdiction between the state and the offender, the philosophy that an offence against the laws of our land is an offence against the state. Little regard is given to the specific damage done to individual law-abiding citizens. This must change, not merely because it may be politically advantageous but because it is right, because it is fair and because it is what real justice is all about.
I am serving notice that I fully intend to be particularly vigilant on this issue. I realize that my task will be difficult as politicians of the past have been known to talk a good game, promising advancements in flowery complicated legal wording. But legislation to do any real good for our communities must have substance. It must be made more accessible, more equitable and more sympathetic toward victims of crime.
I am hopeful that the present Minister of Justice will set her fellow Canadians at ease by being a breath of fresh air and being a saviour not of the rights of our criminals but of the rights of our innocent victims. I am also hopeful that this new minister will be much more successful in her consultations and negotiations with the provinces. A great deal of victims legislation will have to be co-ordinated with those provinces, which have the task of administering our criminal law.
Funding for these services to victims will be of utmost interest and it is hoped this minister will use her persuasive powers to encourage the government to adequately provide those resources. She has promised a policy of co-operation with the provinces. She has assured us that victims of crime will be accorded better treatment within our justice system. It is noted that she promised victims better treatment but at the same time denies them and the majority of Canadians their demand to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code. Obviously we will have to work to convince her in that regard.
I personally attended Clifford Olson's 745 hearing. There are few words available with which to describe it. Mockery and travesty come to mind. Those who crafted section 745 and those who support it should hang their heads in shame.
The Reform Party has been the most active in recognizing victims' rights. It is one of the primary reasons why I chose to run in the recent election for Reform. I have been most fortunate to be chosen by my colleagues to watchdog this issue. The government has put on notice that we intend to aggressively pursue righting this wrong in a justice system that, for too long, has ignored and failed to adequately consider the rights and interests of victims.
Victims of crime desire no special rights for themselves, only due consideration. Victims rights are about balance and fairness, nothing more and nothing less.