Mr. Speaker, on normal occasions we are very pleased to speak about issues that affect our constituents but to speak about dealing with young offenders, especially young offenders with some very serious offences, is not something we prefer to do. However we do not live in a perfect world and as such, we have to deal with the issues we are faced with as parliamentarians.
I agree with the member for Vancouver East who says that we should do all these proactive things to solve the problems before they happen. But it seems in our society the old days are gone.
In Newfoundland in the old days people would say if you had three square meals a day and a roof over your head, the world was a pretty good place to live. That world of food, clothing and shelter being the only requirements for a person in society is not something which now exists.
Our society has become unbelievably complex. We need a lot of help from parliamentarians and from governments to make sure that our society is safe, that we have the basics in life which now include the requirement for a very significant social net. When one is young, when one is aged, and certainly when one is sick or disabled a lot of things are required to be put in place by governments to make sure that one has more than just food, clothing and shelter.
Education, as the member mentioned, is one of the things which is needed in a more significant and increasingly aggressive and progressive way to get at the problems before they become issues which we have to deal with.
Besides having food, clothing and shelter, citizens require safety and that governments address the fundamental things, for example, the issues of crime and youth and adult offenders which make us feel so insecure in our communities.
It is almost like insurance in reverse. We buy fire insurance to protect our homes. Most of us will never see a fire. Most of us, if we are lucky, will never see a violent offence.
There is criminal activity. We have seen some especially in St. John's West. There have been terrible incidents all across Canada. Violent young people whom we are speaking about today commit the most terrible crimes. It frightens us all. It makes us want to buy safety insurance because we have been touched by this violence.
In Newfoundland recently we have had half a dozen terrible examples of violence by young offenders against our senior citizens, some of the most defenceless people in our communities. Many times these young offenders are repeat offenders. They have been in trouble with the law in many places. When it happens to an aged person it frightens us all and makes us wonder where we are going to go.
Like all the members who have spoken on Bill C-260, I want to congratulate the member for Surrey North for bringing it to the attention of the House and to the Canadian public. Obviously we all deeply regret why the member has had to do this. I say again, when one is touched by violence there has to be a reaction to it.
I am disappointed that it took 18 months to bring the issue to the floor of the House of Commons so we could discuss an issue which plagues many Canadian communities and many Canadian families. I wonder why that has had to happen. Everyone knows the problem of young offenders, violent offenders and repeat offenders. Why could we not deal with it when the issue was first brought forward?
I remember a saying, I think it was by a president, that it would be amazing how much we could accomplish together if we did not care who got the credit. Sometimes in this place we are so involved with policy, with procedure and with positioning that we forget about the good idea. Last night we had an emergency debate. We have done that a couple of other times. If there is something that needs to be done and the Canadian public wants it, demands it and expects it, does it make any difference whether it comes from a backbencher from the Reform Party, a member of the Conservative Party or a member of the government, either backbencher or government minister? The idea is that the Canadian public wants certain things done.
I want to concur with the comments made by our justice critic, the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough who spoke when this legislation was last before the House. He said that some of the progressive advances we are talking about are not going to be seen in the government's bill, Bill C-68. Some of the better ideas are here now in Bill C-260 that we could implement.
Some of the ideas that the provinces wanted to bring in are not in Bill C-68. In many ways we think Bill C-68, the government response which will become the law of this country, is going to be regressive. It reverts to the not so good old days of the juvenile delinquency act. The idea is that repeat young offenders who are involved in offences which are less serious in nature will be tried in court as adults but then sentenced as children. Many people are left wondering why it is that it took the Liberal government 12 months of head scratching to come up with a very old idea.
The government has come up with a bill that fails to adequately protect Canadians from increasingly violent crimes committed by young people. Public opinion on the subject is so strong that it should be obvious to everybody, even the Liberal government.
While it seems it wants to project the image of a government that has toughened up the Young Offenders Act, the reality is that the patchwork legislation will do little to accomplish the objectives the minister claims to support.
Age is part of it, lowering the age to 14 when 12 or 10 is recommended. Parents, who are very proud of their young sons or daughters, are sometimes asked how old they are. For some strange reason they might say four going on forty or six going on sixty. It seems that in our progressive society where change takes place so fast some of our young offenders are ten going on forty or fifty in the way they deal with the world.
In lowering the age to 14 at which young offenders could face adult sentences for the most serious of crimes like murder, attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault, the government has failed to go as far as it should. Instead the ever present Liberal spin doctors are treating the important issue of youth justice as merely another public relations exercise, apparently indifferent to the substantive effects of the legislation the Minister of Justice has introduced.
Let me point out that even the minister's advisers in the Department of Justice recommended that the age of accountability should be lowered to 10 years. The minister chose to ignore this advice and we as Canadians are left to wonder why.
Another problem with the minister's bill is the ambiguity in the language it employs. This ambiguity will mean the implementation will depend on the interpretation of the legislation after the fact, instead of being clear and direct in the first instance. We are left with the same problem that the courts will make our laws for us. Some of the legislation as drafted is hundreds of pages long. We begin to wonder if lawyers who draft legislation do it so other lawyers will have reason to take it to court for appeals on top of appeals until eventually we get a new law many years hence.
I am not alone in identifying the serious deficiencies in the proposed youth criminal justice act. It has been criticized severely by the governments of Ontario and Alberta, both provinces in which youth justice is a particularly salient issue.
It seems clear that the governments of these provinces are much more in touch with the views and concerns of the residents than the federal government. They know that window dressing is not adequate response to a very real problem. They know that it is not enough to want to be seen to be doing something and that the kind of public posturing the federal government adopted with regard to youth justice is worthless without meaningful legislative measures to back it up.
I understand the spirit of the legislation introduced by the member for Surrey North. It is an unfortunate fact of our system that it has taken so long to get it here. It is also unfortunate for members of the House, and indeed for all Canadians who look to their governments for leadership on youth justice issues, that since the introduction of Bill C-260 the Liberals have chosen to bring forward such a weak response in Bill C-68.
I congratulate the member for bringing it to the attention of all members of parliament and the public of Canada. It is an issue that should be dealt with as quickly as possible.