Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity this morning to speak on this motion.
I realize in our country at the present time there is a tremendous outrage against crime. It is not the outrage against crime with which I have a problem. On the contrary, I have trouble understanding and I condemn the simplistic solutions to complex interdependent and intertwined problems that exist in our society which cause crime.
As long as we as members of Parliament and members of society say that there is a possibility for quick fixes, we cannot count on the support of the people of Canada to work with us.
The problem today is that crime is not like a common cold, it is not like a mortgage, it is not like foreign aid. It is something that is entirely different. It is something with which all of society must become involved.
I have listened to the member for Yorkton-Melville and I appreciate the point he made that prisons are not the answer for punishment for all those who have offended. This is true.
This is especially true with respect to young offenders. In prison young offenders do acquire some of the tricks of the trade that allow them to be professional criminals when they are released.
Maybe there is a way of working with young offenders that will be to the benefit of young offenders other than the standard incarceration in adult institutions. Certainly watching television and playing pool during the incarceration would not be the answer. There has to be rehabilitation but there has to be an appreciation.
I do not agree that people who offend should not be entitled to rights until they discharge their responsibilities. There we are creating a very dangerous line, a line that people in our society are not entitled to rights. Criminals, people even though incarcerated, have to be entitled to rights. We have to say that all Canadians are entitled to rights. If not then we absolutely revert to barbarism.
These rights are defined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Criminal Code. We cannot say that these rights can only be extended to some Canadians.
The member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley talked about the fact that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been a problem. There are people who have offended who got away from the punishment they deserved because the lawyer was able to rely on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is just absolutely and utterly wrong.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms takes the rights of all Canadians and enshrines them. These rights are fundamental. If we do not abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and acknowledge these rights are applicable to all Canadians then we are in fact one step closer to chaos.
We are one step closer to saying that there are certain rules that apply to one group of Canadians and not to another group of Canadians. Incarceration takes away privileges that certain Canadians will hold. There is no question about that and that is as it should be. Rights have to be fundamental. If they are not we get into the situation in which people in our society tell other people what they can have and what they cannot have, not only the courts.
The courts then lose the power to weigh a matter and decide what is going to be the punishment. If we take away these rights, then when do these rights reappear? Who is to say when these rights reappear? Who is to say that the person taking away the rights from somebody is not going to be the person who loses these rights at some later date?
We cannot destroy the fabric of the law in trying to solve the problems in our society today. That is not to say of course that there is not a great deal that needs to be done.
The resolution talks about condemning the government for its action with regard to reform of the criminal justice system. I do not think any politician can cop out and say: "Well, we inherited this from the former government". I think it has to be a consideration. To say that we should have legislation in place is somewhat unreasonable in many instances considering the fact that the House did not convene until January 17.
However, there is a great deal that is in place and ongoing at the present time. The Minister of Justice mentioned that next week on March 23 and 24 there is going to be a federal-provincial-territorial conference on justice matters that will examine all of the important details, concepts and subjects that have been brought forward in this debate today.
This is very important. It is fundamental because we live in a federal system of government in which certain responsibilities in the same sphere of activity are shared by the federal government, provincial governments and territorial government. We must get these governments working together.
In so many areas things have fallen between the chairs so that justice is not being done, not because the rules and the laws are not there, not because the determination is not there, but because we have not had the two systems of government working together. That has to be the case. It has to be the case certainly in family concerns, in violence against women and in custody matters with respect to children where there are federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions in these subject matters.
We have to be able to enforce maintenance orders to look after the children who are left by fathers and in fewer cases mothers who do not want to remain with their family.
In the red book we call for a national council on crime prevention. This is tremendously important. We have here in this interlocked system this complex problem with really two main aspects.
First, what do we do with those who are offending at the present time? Second, how do we prevent these types of offences from happening in the future? While it is unrealistic to say that certain offences will not happen in the future, if we work together and if we are prepared to look at new concepts, we have in our power the means of reducing these crimes. We have to do that.
I want to start with the recommendation in the red book which calls for a national council on crime prevention. The Minister of Justice has said he has spoken with the provincial and territorial ministers responsible. This matter will be brought up at the conference next week. The concept is taking shape. How it is going to be implemented is not an easy matter but one which is well on the way to complete definition.
This will bring together departments whose activities can relate to the prevention of crime. For example, Canada Mortgage and Housing with respect to housing, which is a factor in crime; the Department of Health which is a factor in crime; the Solicitor General-these departments will come together and work together through this council under the leadership of the Minister of Justice.
What will they do? They will be able to look at all legislation. We look at the legislation and we want the best for all Canadians. Through this council legislation will be looked at to find out how crime can be prevented more effectively. How can this legislation deal with possible crime in the future? This is an aspect that is so important.
Also on this council will be agencies from the aboriginal society, from the provincial society, from all of the working groups that are dealing with crime prevention.
Through the council we will look at how we can prevent crime, with the input of these groups, which will enable us to work down into society itself through the provincial and munici-
pal levels and determine how on each of these levels the work of the national council can be broadened and improved to become more effective.
At the municipal level, for instance, how can community policing more effectively deal with crime. How can we have police stations or depots in more areas of the community, where officers can patrol the community on foot, and where people can relate to the officers of a particular police station and go to them for advice?
On the provincial level as well, how can we work through education. Right now the situation is that education is the right of every young Canadian, regardless of how obstructive or how destructive a student may be. Is that going to continue to be the case? Can we have an educational system, for instance, where we can at an earlier age try to identify the children at risk? We have to be able to identify children at risk at an earlier age. They are together in our educational system, certainly today that is not the role of the teacher. But should it be? Should it be an aspect of education? Should we have special classes that deal with children at risk? Should we be able to say that this is a common problem of society and not just the problem of the parents?
Perhaps the parent is a single mother who is working as hard as she possibly can to keep a roof over the head of herself and her children. She wants to do more but she cannot and still provide for that child. Is it not then that society must step in to try to help? We cannot just throw money at people in need, at low income people with children at risk. There has to be community involvement. We have to start identifying where we can best make this involvement, where we can best have this input.
When we did our study on crime prevention last year, a psychiatrist appeared before us. He was asked at what age could we have the best impact on children and how they conduct themselves as they grow up. The psychiatrist said that from the day a child is born to that child's third birthday is the time when we can have the biggest impact on how that child will turn out through his or her youth and adulthood. This is a very important consideration.
A teacher came to me two years ago from the Toronto area who wanted the age of the Young Offender's Act lowered because in his school where he was principal a 10-year old and an 11-year old both turned up at school with handguns. No one would take responsibility. No agency would get involved and finally the principal sent the two children home with the handguns. Later on that afternoon he received a call from somebody in the children's neighbourhood blasting the principal for daring to send two children into the neighbourhood with handguns. As far as that person was concerned it was fine to have them in school with handguns but it was not fine to have them in the neighbourhood with handguns.
Something is sadly lacking. We have to find out where we are going in this regard. We are not only talking about victims although victims are tremendously important and we have to be more mindful of their rights. They are in the law. We have always considered victims to be part of the law that we dispense in this country.
Perhaps we can do more with compensation for the wrong that was done to a victim. We have to consider it more in terms of compensation rather than incarceration. We cannot have both. One cannot have someone paying what in the opinion of the court is a full penalty and then come out of incarceration and have for a good part of his or her life thereafter to pay a large sum of money to the victim. It does not give the person who committed the wrong any incentive to change his or her ways if he is constantly being reminded and torn by his or her mistake.
The victim suffers a tremendous harm, there is no question about it. This harm has to be compensated as best as possible. Part of this compensation to the victim however is that we have that person coming out of incarceration able to live in society.
With young offenders no matter what crime they have committed, they are going to be coming out of incarceration. If they come out of incarceration more confused, more jaundiced toward society than when they went into incarceration, then we have failed. We have paid $60,000 a year for the right to fail.
This is a very complex situation but we have to be able to address the wrongs that are done today. We have to be able to anticipate and guard against future wrongs and reduce our crime rate. The two working together have to mesh but they both have to be aspects of what we are trying to do.
The government is beginning well with the co-operation of all members of the House of Commons and with the open dialogue which the Minister of Justice has encouraged. I think all members would agree he is open to discussion, and of his own volition has initiated dialogue on gun control, and will be doing this with other subject matters as well.
I look forward, as I know the Minister of Justice does, to working with all members in dealing with this very complex and important situation.