Mr. Speaker, Bill C-209 brought forward by the member for Fraser Valley outlines the member's concerns about the serious increase in and problems with joyriding and car theft. No one would question the concerns and the seriousness we have seen in Canada with the growing problem of car thefts which the bill seeks to address.
Between 1990 and 1994 the number of car thefts increased by over 40,000 and the number of vehicles stolen per 1,000 registrations increased by 50%. It is generally known in the community that most car thefts are used for joyriding, in fact something like three-quarters.
There is a concern in the community that dangerous behaviour associated with joyriding makes it a threat to the safety of not only the police but the public and often tragically the joyriders themselves. Probably most of us are aware of various instances and circumstances that have taken place in our local communities and neighbourhoods which involve joyriding and often result in serious injury or even death.
In addressing this bill, which is non-votable and being debated for the record, there is also widespread agreement that we really need to examine new ways of dealing with crimes by young offenders.
In the NDP we believe very strongly—and there is a growing sense in the community—that we need to promote a renewed sense of social responsibility. Our focus must be on finding ways of making young offenders aware of the consequences of their actions. That is important but most important is that the information and studies that have been done show the most critical actions we can take and the most effective things we can engage in are crime prevention and addressing the underlying issues which drive young people to antisocial behaviour and criminal activities.
Unless we can understand the issues and provide the resources and tools to local communities to address underlying issues of antisocial behaviour and crime, the NDP believes that we will not make much progress.
There are different opinions on how we have to build a sense of responsibility among young offenders. Certainly for the member from the Fraser Valley the idea of minimum penalties for joyriding requiring parents to pay for their children's actions is seen as the way to go.
The bill before the House sets out a minimum penalty of a $1,000 fine or six months in prison. It also stipulates that parents or guardians could be required to pay the fines or other penalties incurred by their children if it was felt somehow that their neglect of parenting duties resulted in the child committing the offence.
The problem with this approach is that there is little or no evidence to show that increasing penalties will actually work and will actually deal with the issue of joyriding or many of the other issues facing us in terms of increasing crime among young people.
To talk about the position of the Reform Party and how it has approached this issue and issues it has raised around crime and punishment, commenting in the Alberta Report on the problem of car theft in the city of Regina, the member for Calgary Northeast suggested that without incarceration young punks have nothing to fear.
That member ignored that Saskatchewan already incarcerates a higher proportion of youth than most provinces and has now recognized that it has not reduced crime. Simply criminalizing young people, throwing them in jail and increasing fines, has not dealt with the issue most people would recognize as a problem.
Fortunately for the city of Regina, the Government of Saskatchewan has recognized the limitations of the approach of the Reform Party and what it is advocating. It is looking at more effective ways as one province, and certainly in my province of British Columbia, of dealing with the situation of young offenders.
It is also very questionable whether simply holding parents responsible for the actions of their children will actually impact young people and make them consider the consequences of their own actions. There are cases where better parenting may have prevented the child from committing an offence. However, the more important point is that if the relationship between the parent and the child is so bad that the courts feel the parents have failed, it is not clear at all and there is no evidence to suggest that penalizing the parent will improve the situation.
It is important to point out that according to the National Crime Prevention Council, 97% of young people in custody have suffered abuse at the hands of a trusted authority figure. That is a very startling figure. It should lead us to be very suspicious of superficial approaches put forward by the Reform Party. It should lead us to understand that these approaches have failed.
When looking at the bill we must ask ourselves how we will address the problem by having parents pay their children's fines. Holding parents responsible, even in a limited sense, for the crimes of their children sends out a wrong message.
When dealing with young people who have committed crimes, the goal should be to persuade them to take responsibility for their actions and to prevent these actions from taking place in the first place. Holding responsible someone other than the person who committed the crime seems to us to be a step removed from the objective.
The main problem with the bill is that we cannot deal with issues like joyriding in isolation. We must address the social and economic conditions that cause these acts of antisocial behaviour, criminal acts in the first place. We must also find more effective socially responsible ways to deal with young offenders.
Criminal activity by our young people does not happen in a vacuum. While it is important to state that each individual, whether a young person of 18 years of age or an adult, is responsible for his or her actions, we must recognize that there are societal factors at work which often push young people toward criminal activity. If young people grow up in poor circumstances and in an environment that shows little respect for the rights and needs of children, we should not be surprised that children grow up not respecting society's rules.
One approach that is having some impact in terms of dealing with young offenders rather than jail sentences or penalties is to deal with restorative justice. The objective is to bring about understanding and recognition of the damage that has been done to a victim or to a community at large.
In a program in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, local businesses allow young offenders to pay their fines by working at the local businesses. There is an attempt to bring about better understanding of the crime that has taken place. While some have criticized restorative justice or diversion programs as letting people off scot-free, the fact is the results are positive. At the Maple Ridge program only 6% of the participants reoffended in the following year.
We believe in the NDP that we need to understand the risk factors that increase the chances of a young person being victimized or engaging in antisocial behaviour. We need to ensure early prevention for high risk youth. We need to ensure we are investing in education. We need to ensure families have good support in the community. We need to ensure families have good paying jobs and that there are family friendly workplaces.
Our concern with the bill is that the approach of the Reform Party is to further criminalize young people. This is no answer. It is an answer that may pander to the concerns of the community and may offer a very superficial response, but it does not deal with the underlying issues at work in terms of young people at risk.
We do not agree with the bill and suggest that it is a short-sighted measured to deal with what is a very serious problem.