Ms. Val Meredith (Surrey-White Rock-South Langley)
Madam Speaker, in response to the throne speech I would like to congratulate the government on its commitment to introduce
measures to enhance community safety and crime prevention. During the election campaign my constituents considered that criminal justice reform was one of the major issues. My constituents made it quite clear that they expect this Parliament to bring greater protection to society.
I believe it is safe to say that all Canadians will not settle for anything less. Now that the government has raised the people's expectations that there will be change, this government must take action to meet their promises. Canadians must see that this government is serious about enhancing community safety. They will not be satisfied merely with new initiatives. Canadians want results.
While we welcome the government's commitment to introduce measures to combat the high level of violence against women and children, we hope the government is dedicated to a strategy based on reducing all forms of violence no matter the gender or age of the victim.
My constituency contains large numbers of retired individuals and teenagers. Members of these groups have expressed their concerns about becoming victims. They feel particularly prone to random and senseless acts of violence. While I encourage the government to proceed with its measures to combat violence against women and children, it must not lose sight of the fact that all violent crimes must be condemned and prosecuted with equal vigour.
In my maiden address to the House on Tuesday I mentioned an unfortunate growth in criminal activity was accompanying the rapid growth in my constituency. However the increase in crime seems to be far exceeding the growth in population. An example of this increase can be shown in the homicide statistics for the city of Surrey. Over the last two years there was a total of 27 homicides in Surrey. Over the previous five years there were only 24.
I will not dwell on the numbers other than to say that they are cause for concern. But numbers do not even begin to tell the story of violent crime. One of the most disturbing aspects of some of these homicides were that they were teenagers killing other teenagers.
I can tell this House it is not easy to listen to the parents of young victims of murder. Yet in my brief career as a member of Parliament I have had the occasion to meet with two parents who lost their children to violent crimes. I have to acknowledge the courage they had to come to me and talk to me about what it is that needs to be changed so that other Canadians do not have to have their children in the same situation.
Teenagers have been killed for their hats, their jackets and their running shoes. Others have been killed because their killers did not like the way they looked at them.
One father I met lost his son in one of these senseless killings in 1992. He, however, is fighting back. He and a group of his colleagues have formed the organization CRY, Crime, Responsibility, Youth. This organization has been among the most vocal groups calling for amendments to the Young Offenders Act. Despite the non-partisan philosophy of the organization CRY the recommendations of the group are quite similar to my party's position on reforming the Young Offenders Act. Changes must be made. The law has to be tightened up and violent teenage offenders have to realize they cannot hide behind the act.
The problem with the Young Offenders Act is inherent in the act itself. Most Canadians can accept the premise that a 14 year old who has shoplifted a piece of candy should not go to jail nor have a criminal record. However these same Canadians do believe there should not be such leniency for a 14 year old who shoots the store clerk while robbing the cornerstore.
Another incident that illustrates the ineffectiveness of the Young Offenders Act occurred in my riding late last year. On Halloween evening two off-duty Mounties were attacked and beaten by a gang of teenagers. In December a teenager visiting our area was stabbed at a local convenience store. One of those apprehended in the stabbing was awaiting trial for the Halloween attack on the Mounties. When this information became public I was inundated with calls from my constituents expressing their outrage at a judicial system that would allow this to happen.
I promised them that I would strive to bring changes to the law to prevent this from occurring again. I intend to keep this promise. The Young Offenders Act needs significant changes. Even the young offenders admit that the act is a joke.
The government says it will introduce measures to combat the high level of violence against women and children. However right now teenagers charged with violent attacks on women and children are being able to hide behind the Young Offenders Act. Young offenders convicted of violent attacks on women and children have received insignificant sentences because of the act. If the government is to live up to its commitment of protecting women and children, it is going to have to change the act.
I acknowledge the comments of the Minister of Justice yesterday that changes will be made. I and my colleagues look forward to working with him in making sure that those changes will indeed address the real problems.
The Young Offenders Act has certainly become a lightening rod for people's anger with the failure of the criminal justice system. However it is by no means the only piece of legislation that needs to be amended. Changes are necessary to the Criminal Code to allow for recognition of victim's rights. It is time for the victim of criminal activity to receive priority from our justice system.
Another area that must be addressed is the entire issue of parole. Supposedly severe sentences have frequently amounted to little more than slaps on the wrist because of the parole system. This has become particularly evident with the recent stories of individuals convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life, 25 years without parole. We now find that no parole for 25 years can somehow mean parole after 15.
When capital punishment was removed from the Criminal Code, Canadian police officers were assured that they would be protected. They were told there was a general deterrent effect in an automatic life sentence with no parole for 25 years for the murder of a police officer. Our police officers are now finding that those individuals who killed their fellow officers may now get out after 15 years.
As my constituency is the home to the largest RCMP detachment in the country, I would like to be able to assure these men and women that Parliament will pass whatever legislation is necessary to protect them.
Almost one year ago the Standing Committee on Justice and the Solicitor General of the 34th Parliament presented its 12th report entitled "Crime Prevention in Canada: Toward a National Strategy". The committee listed a series of recommendations dealing mainly with the development of a national crime prevention policy. The step is a positive one and perhaps long overdue.
However this is a long range plan. These crime prevention strategies may have an impact, but when? Will it be this year, next year, five years down the road, or maybe even ten years? Canadians do not want to wait. They do not want to hear about initiatives. They want results. I do not think that the crime prevention policies are going to provide the results in the short term.
In the long term we have to identify the root causes of criminal behaviour. We also have to develop effective means and measures of treating criminal behaviour. We have to continue to experiment and to try to address these issues.
Canadians are not prepared to accept the status quo until solutions are found. They want to feel safe in their communities today. They want the government to take immediate steps to accomplish this. The best way to accomplish this is by keeping violent criminals off the streets of Canada. While this may not be the most conducive means of rehabilitating criminals, we have to recognize that protecting the lives of Canadian citizens is paramount to the rehabilitation of violent criminal offenders.
My caucus colleagues and I are quite prepared to assist the government in developing policy that will provide Canadian society with protection from violent criminal activity. Canadians are expecting this protection. This government has promised it and now we have to provide it.
One area where government may not expect as much co-operation from us is its plan to restore the court challenges program.
Our party has a fundamental problem with a government that gives out scarce taxpayers' dollars to special interest groups so that they can turn around and sue the government. This program, which appears to be an infrastructure program for the legal profession, does not make sense in today's economic reality.
The government's position on justice reform has potential as long as the government attaches the right priorities. If it fails to acknowledge the priorities, the Reform Party will continue to lead the fight for society's right to be protected.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Speech From The Throne