Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-3, the youth criminal justice act. I am pleased because it matters to the people of my riding of Prince Albert. They are concerned about youth crime and about this legislation. They are concerned.
We have a federal penitentiary in the city of Prince Albert. We have at least three other provincial jails in the riding. People know about youth crime, adult crime, all kinds of crime, crime committed by people on parole who should not be on parole, the whole gamut. It affects my riding a lot, so I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak.
This bill is meant to replace the Young Offenders Act, as we all know, but that act is so bad that it has been characterized by the Minister of Justice herself as “easily the most unpopular piece of federal legislation”. This legislation, after it comes into effect, will probably get the same title. It will be right in there with the firearms legislation.
When the government announced a new youth criminal justice act, it claimed it would be a top priority. Yet it has taken five years for the government to get this legislation to second reading, let alone to committee, report stage, third reading and proclamation. If that is a priority, I do not know how the government would characterize anything less than that.
Many of the youths for whom this legislation was crafted are no longer youths. They are already into the adult system. They have had no help from this legislation at all, as if it would help. Not only has it taken five years to get here, but all of the problems the Alliance has pointed out along the way are still in there. It comes with all those glaring weaknesses. It pleads for meaningful amendment, not what the Bloc envisages, which would simply be to return to the old Young Offenders Act.
The Canadian Alliance anticipates that the time spent here on debate and on amendments at report stage and at third reading will be thoroughly wasted, as the governing Liberals appear to be deaf to any reasoned arguments to make changes. There are reasons I say this.
How have the Liberals handled this piece of legislation to date? First of all, Bill C-3 contains very little of what witnesses presented during the 1996 and 1997 justice committee hearings. After almost a full year before the committee and after a significant number of testimonies from witnesses, the committee referred the bill back to the House without a single word changed, if one can imagine that. The time and effort the members of the justice committee spent listening to the witness presentations and preparing amendments for committee were thoroughly wasted.
One of the most significant causes of failure of the Young Offenders Act and youth criminal justice to date is insufficient funding to properly deal with young offenders. There is a federal-provincial agreement to deal with that; it is 50:50. They are supposed to split the cost of youth justice, with the federal government picking up half and the provinces covering half. The federal government is responsible for criminal law through section 91 of the constitution. Section 92 gives provinces the responsibility for administration of criminal law. Rather than maintain its responsibility, the federal government has been slowly permitting its participation to erode. Recent estimates of its contribution place the amount in the range of 20% to 30%.
Those in the health field will find this a familiar story. The government will argue that it recently allotted an additional $206 million toward youth justice, but that $206 million is over how long? Three years. That is less than $70 million a year, and that amount does not cover the present shortfall in funding to the provinces and will not cover the cost of this new legislation.
When we turn to the legislation itself, we see that uniformity of youth justice right across Canada is at risk with this bill. Before the Young Offenders Act we had the Juvenile Delinquents Act. One of the major criticisms of that act was that it permitted the provinces to vary the way in which they operated within the criminal law process. If a young person commits a crime just over the provincial border, that young person may find himself in a more difficult situation or an easier situation just because of the location of the crime. That does not make sense.
Because of the complaints about and criticism of the proposed youth legislation, primarily if not solely by the Bloc, Bill C-3 permits many of the problems of the Juvenile Delinquents Act to return to this legislation.
There has been no adjustment of the age categories. Youths of 10 or 11 years old who commit crime are still not to be held responsible for their actions.
Let me make it clear that the Canadian Alliance has never advocated locking up all 10 and 11 year old offenders. What we are saying is put them in a system so that the courts can review the circumstances and decide the proper method of getting each young person who is in trouble back on the right track.
The government continues to leave young offenders to child welfare, and often the welfare authorities do not have the resources to properly deal with children in desperate straits. Some violent children cannot be controlled without more serious and professional treatment facilities.
On Saturday night in my riding I spoke with a young father who is just frustrated to death with the youth criminal justice system. He is at his wits' end. Parents cannot even force their 12 year olds to be accountable to them. If the courts do not deal with them properly and have the proper resources, if the parents do not have any authority and social services let them go, what is the result? It is a young person who has too much authority, no idea of accountability, and no one to account to for his or her actions or for even what the courts lay out as steps to get this kid back on track. It just is not right.
The Canadian Alliance and many Canadians believe a younger age would be an age where the best opportunity for rehabilitation could take place. It will not occur, however, if there is no accountability for that age group, just as this father said. This is the age group that could be helped the most if they were included in the legislation. This would be real, authentic rehabilitation, and it would place young offenders into programs that could have a positive impact on their lives.
As a side benefit, and this father also made this point, it would identify homes where children are not being given the love, support, and structure they need to develop into law-abiding citizens. In fact it was his contention that neglect is a form of abuse. They could get the help they need when they need it and where they need it. Should that not be the desire of everyone here? Our official opposition justice critic has pointed out that society is not being protected and that this piece of legislation will just change nothing.
If we take a look at crimes committed by 16 and 17 year olds, we see it is a huge problem. This age group constituted over 70,000 of the 135,157 cases heard before the courts between 1991 and 1996. That amounts to well over half the juvenile cases. Of those cases, one might expect to see a significant number raised to adult court, but actually only 385 cases were heard in adult court. Perhaps more significantly, only eight of the 163 charged with murder were transferred out of the juvenile system. Should not this government, should not any government, be making a serious effort to address the particular problem in the legislation it brings to the House of Commons?
We will give the minister a little credit. She seems to have taken note of first time non-violent offenders in this legislation, and for that we are grateful. However it is difficult to understand why she chose not to exclude repeat and violent offenders from lesser forms of punishment. Young people who appear before the courts on a regular basis, who are regular clients, need to be dealt with in a serious manner to impress upon them the fact that society does not condone their actions. This is an issue we will have to deal with. We can deal with it here and now before the bill is enacted, or we can wait for the consequences in society and then deal with it here later on.
If we look at the central message of this piece of legislation we see that preventing crime, meaningful consequences for criminal actions, rehabilitation of the offender and reintegration into society are the principles of the bill. The first principle alone could keep a person speaking all day. We could talk about why kids get in trouble with the law in the first place. It has been studied endlessly.
We read in the declaration of principles, subparagraph 3(1)(a)(i): “preventing crime by addressing the circumstances underlying a young person's offending behaviour”.
That is the crux of this piece of legislation. We are looking for accountability and responsibility for an individual's actions on society. The main point is accountability and we are not seeing it in this legislation.
What made the Young Offenders Act unpopular in the first place continues in the new bill. We can hear members muttering about that over there. The final word is that the bill will not serve those for whom we believe it was written.