Mr. Speaker, in rising to speak on Bill C-37, which amends the Young Offenders Act and the Criminal Code, I am taken back to earlier stages in my professional career as a sometime crown prosecutor and a defence lawyer. At a later stage I specialized in the teaching of Soviet law and the aspects of Soviet criminal law. I speak now of non-political crimes where that country had moved in the sentencing phase into much more of a sociological approach than a conventional criminological approach.
The bill is interesting because it comes at a time of historical transition in our society and in the world community as a whole, with the social tensions that are always present in a period of very rapid change which outstrip the ability of the social processes to accommodate to the changes.
As one who has to deal a lot with statistics, I have reservations, but it is a fact that the statistics show no substantial increase in the numbers of crimes being perpetrated in our society. It is also a fact, I think beyond doubt, that the intensity of the crimes and the violence of them are greatly augmented. This is what explains the public demand, it is certainly reflected in one of the opposition parties, for a toughening up of the criminal law, if one can use those terms.
The criminal law, not less than any other branch of public law, represents an attempt to balance the larger public interests against individual interests. Sometimes the metaphor of the pendulum has been used, but the pendulum which has swung much more in the immediate past years in favour of the rights of accused persons has swung, in the last several years certainly, much more strongly in favour of the protection of societal interests. We all reflect that.
It is reflected in the petitions presented in this House today. I note with interest that members of several different parties present petitions on this general question. All of us as members of Parliament receive letters from our constituents.
One of the very sad things in all this is that since Jeremy Bentham first formulated his plans on penal reform, on curing of the offenders, one has the terrible feeling that not as much progress has been made in that as a scientific discipline as should have been made. Therefore we come back to the issue with this bill: How has the balance been struck by the minister in approaching the demands for amendment of the existing Young Offenders Act and the Criminal Code? How has he responded to the conflicting social interests?
Listening to the debate, one was struck by the difference in the attitude of the two opposition parties. The official opposition, and I take the criticisms of the hon. member for Rosemont as reflecting this, felt that the measure was too severe, that it did not adequately reflect the social interests in protecting young offenders. With the other opposition party, I think the criticism was made that it did not go far enough.
If the minister manages to build in both those criticisms of his work, it may strike many that maybe he has found the middle way. Let us have a look and see exactly what has been done.
There is the increase in the maximum sentences for teenagers to ten years for first degree murder or a maximum of seven years in the case of second degree murder. This reflects quite clearly the public concern that young offenders can commit murder and walk away from them.
I thought that the hon. member for Rosemont suggested that this was a simplistic approach and it did not take enough account of the element of recidivism which he feels is still severe in relation to young offenders who have been imprisoned. Perhaps we can take a look at that a little later when we examine other parts of the proposed bill.
The second part of the bill is significant and concerns young offenders, 16 or 17 year olds, charged with serious personal injury offences which are defined in the revised act as murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated assault. These persons will be tried in adult court unless they can show a judge that public protection and rehabilitation can be achieved through the youth court. It changes the burden of carriage of the suit significantly from the preceding act which it now proposes to amend.
The bill does reflect the public interest in the public right to know the facts of offences. Parameters must be established in this regard.
In this House in recent days we have heard a certain cry of anguish from many members about what many feel are indecent attempts of some public media to open the books on recent sex offences and murders involving young people. Members know the cases without my citing the names.
The public interest, the public right to know demands increasingly that the courts be opened up. This process is reflected architecturally in the grand design of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Arthur Erickson's design, which is literally intended to allow people to walk in from the streets and through the courts.
Courts used to be shut up. When I was a young lawyer, they were closed. It was very hard to find your way and was panelled in dark wood. The court officials seemed to do their best to keep people out. Therefore this particular aspect is certainly there. In so far as court proceedings are a part of the general public educational process in criminal law, I think this is a step forward without any apparent disadvantages to it.
The time that 16 and 17 year old young offenders convicted of murder in adult court must serve before they can be considered for parole is extended. This is a reaction generally to a public feeling that the parole system today is not functioning as it should. It is being addressed in a more general way by other sections of the justice ministry.
Suffice it to say, for the most serious offence of all, the extension of the time to be served in the case of young offenders responds to very clear public interest. This was expressed to all members of Parliament through petition and through direct correspondence to us.
The provision for information sharing among professional people, school officials, police, and certain public groups when public safety is at risk has been criticized by some as exposing young people to public obloquy. It has been criticized by one of the opposition parties in this debate as not going far enough. There are two things to remember.
We have moved a long way from the 18th century notion that people were exposed in the docks, in the public stocks in the village square, and made to wear a letter on their chest if they were convicted of certain offences. It reflects a reaction to this but it also recognizes awareness of the relevance of the charter of rights. The charter of rights, as interpreted in the jurisprudence in our courts, is very strict in its definition of the limits of the public right to know and the protection of the privacy of individuals.
In this particular sense, it seems to me the minister has gone as far as he sensibly can go. He is a law reformer who wants his law to prevail. He does not want it to be challenged endlessly before the courts and perhaps thrown out on the basis of the rational interpretation of the court jurisprudence that all of us as professionals in the field know how to make.
Similarly, with the provisions for rehabilitation and treatment of young offenders, I was struck by the comments of the member for Rosemont, the official opposition. I think we are all ready and willing to learn from the experience of other countries and certainly from provinces within our federal system. I was struck by the thoughtful question posed by a member of my own party to the member for Rosemont.
This exchange of information is important. As far as the federal law is concerned, it represents a significant advance on provisions as they now exist.
One very interesting area is the provision the minister makes for the private law responsibility of offenders, here specifically young offenders, where property crimes or less serious offences are what is involved. The concept seems to be the restorative one that the criminal offender, the delinquent, should not merely purge an offence in terms of suffering punishment but should also assume the burden of correcting the social situation that he or she has so rudely disturbed.
If young people wantonly destroy property, we can take the Singapore approach and you can cane them in well publicized ways. Or we can ask the young people to repair the property as part of their sentence. We can ask them to accept the responsibility for what they have done which I think is an excellent approach. I hope it will be extended more widely within our criminal law.
Contrary to public impression and also public impression of some public officials, the way always exists under our law for private law actions to compel just that, the restoration of the situation to as it existed before. Actions are quite common in continental European law against the parents of young offenders or against the young offenders themselves for that matter, for whom their parents would stand in responsibility.
In any case, this is innovative. It shows the attempt the minister is making to produce a coherent law that balances the old with the new social imperatives in a period of rapid change. In making compromises, it strikes a balance that takes us beyond the social problem as it has been thought to exist.
On this basis this is a valuable step forward. We have to be especially careful when dealing with young offenders in facing the reality that long incarceration with young people encourages recidivism and may be the least effective social control of all.
Nevertheless the minister, in relation to the supreme offences, first and second degree murder, has taken the step of increasing the punishment. In other areas he has recognized the public wish to be involved but within the limitation that we will not encourage prurience by publishing televised tapes that people recorded of their victims. We will go so far as to say the public has a right to know.
We will bring in the social services people to encourage rehabilitation of young people. We will accept the notion that in the protection of the public responsible public officials in schools and elsewhere need to be given information. However that information must be done in conformity with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as interpreted by the courts and as predictably applying in cases such as the present.
On this basis, I am happy to commend Bill C-37 for adoption by this House.