Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my privilege to stand today to speak to Bill C-423, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act (treatment for substance abuse).
Members hear in their ridings over and over again the increased concern about young people who get involved with drugs. The government is so concerned about this that it has committed to respond to these concerns with a national anti-drug strategy and a reassessment of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Private member's Bill C-423 now before the House is a constructive and timely response to the problem of drug use among Canadian youth. Bill C-423 will support this effort to address the problem of substance abuse by youth through its proposal to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to allow police to refer youth charged with less serious offences to addiction specialists to determine if treatment is needed.
This measure will respond to concerns about youth who are tempted to use drugs, develop addiction problems and then engage in minor offences to pay for the drugs. How many of us in our ridings get calls from people who have been victims of young offenders who cause damage, steal, commit break and enter offences simply to get money to buy the drugs they have become addicted to? This is a common problem and one which all of us face.
The police, through section 6, have the authority to send youth, with their consent, to a program to reduce the chances of their repeating. Bill C-423 seeks to broaden this measure by giving police the power to send youth, with their consent, to a drug specialist who will recommend the necessary treatment.
The youth justice system has long had to deal with the challenge presented by troubled youth. Often young people charged with criminal offences face significant problems and find themselves marginalized in society. Their special needs do not absolve them from responsibility for criminal conduct, but it is important to ensure those needs, however severe or pressing, should not result in a greater sentence or criminal sanction than is justified by the offence committed.
As we have heard from other speakers on this bill, the whole issue of treatment is the emphasis. So often we do not emphasize it and instead talk about the penalties.
An important feature of the youth justice system itself is to address the needs through rehabilitative measures within the sentences and interventions that are proportional to the seriousness of the crime. Safeguards are in place to ensure the penalties imposed on a young offender do not result in a greater penalty because he or she has needs. It is therefore important to examine the measures set out in Bill C-423.
For example, there is a requirement in this bill that police take into account whether the youth has complied with the treatment program when considering whether to charge the youth for the original offence, to ensure they are fully consistent with the purpose and principles governing the use by police of the extrajudicial measures set out in the Young Criminal Justice Act. We need to ensure that this useful tool for police, which is aimed at helping youth who have substance abuse needs, is not subsequently subject to challenge.
Police will tell us how difficult it is for them to make arrests and take the offenders to court. They discover the court system is not able to deal with the offenders and the offenders are back out on the street the next day. We support providing police with the option of referring youth for help with the substance abuse services. This offers a more effective and meaningful response for youth with addictions and drug problems than facing criminal charges for petty crimes.
This government takes the concerns of Canadians about youth crime very seriously and is committed to strengthening the Young Offenders Act to ensure that our youth justice system is fair and effective in addressing the problems associated with youth offending. This government welcomes the efforts of the hon. member in tabling private member's Bill C-423 as one step toward strengthening the whole process.
Further, as the House knows, the federal Minister of Justice recently tabled Bill C-25, which will strengthen sentencing and pretrial detention provisions under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. This government believes that solutions to the problems of youth crime will come through comprehensive approaches to the issue. All we have to do is attend some of the trials for young offenders to see that this whole review is so necessary.
We need a sound legislative base for our youth justice system. We will continue to work collaboratively with all of our partners to address the conditions that underlie youth offending. It is important to encourage equal standards among families, parents and those who are involved in the development of our youth.
Furthermore, this government will be launching a comprehensive review of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the youth justice system in 2008 to ensure that our youth justice system fairly and effectively holds young offenders accountable for criminal conduct.
Bill C-423 should assist the police to link youth with the substance abuse services they need. I am proud to support this bill and congratulate the member for Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont for taking concrete steps to help our youth who have become involved with drugs and are committing petty crimes.
We have many parents calling out to us for help. This bill is just one measure to try to help them with those young offenders.