Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to have a chance to make some general comments about the Department of Justice. I have one or two concerns, but I like to think I'm always one to give credit where it's due, so I'll start out with a short and not exhaustive list of all the positive things that have been accomplished by this department under Mr. Kakfwi's leadership, although perhaps some previous Justice Ministers get some credit, as he very kindly said yesterday.
First of all, I would like to say that there couldn't have been a better interim appointment of a deputy minister than Mr. Garson.
With his credentials in Canada and his impressive past experience, I'm only sorry to hear that he wishes the appointment to be interim. I respect him for that but I've had some occasion to work with him in this capacity and I think he's a very good interim arrangement, let me put it that way.
I would also like to say, Mr. Chairman, that there seems to be a lot of good things happening with this department. I'm impressed -- and we've discussed this at length -- with Mr. Kakfwi's initiatives on family violence and zero tolerance of violence. I think he's brought this issue to the fore and it is having results and will have results. I think it's a very appropriate stance for the Minister of Justice to take.
I'm also pleased that, finally, there is real work under way in family law reform and we're starting to see some legislation emerging now, and hopefully more this fall. I want to mention that I have had an opportunity to get briefed on what is planned for the approach to the long-standing issue of the need to recognize custom adoptions. While I don't want to tread on the mandate of the Standing Committee on Legislation, I do want to say at this point that everything I know about this legislation leads me to believe it is practical, workable and it respects community custom.
I think the department has done good work in putting this long-awaited proposal forward. I know it will get careful consideration by the standing committee, but I personally hope it can soon become law. This is a long-standing issue that is of concern everywhere in the territories and I think the department has proposed a practical way of dealing with the backlog and fixing up this problem in the future, in a way that respects traditional law but also allows the custom to be given the appropriate recognition by bureaus of statistics, people issuing birth certificates and the like. This is good work and I hope it can lead to early passage of the legislation.
I also want to say that I think very good things are happening with justices of the peace in the Northwest Territories. The JP task force recommendations are, I think, almost completely implemented. I think Mr. Stevens is doing a commendable job of recruiting, training and inspiring JPs throughout the Northwest Territories. There is a much better success rate of attracting aboriginal and women JPs. In my own riding, there has been a remarkable increase in the number of JPs, and the new JPs are of a high calibre and they are enthusiastic. I talked to them and they are inspired by the training sessions, and they are feeling very proud of what they are doing.
This is very important because we all know that the JPs are the soldiers in the field who can do a great deal of important, community-sensitive summary conviction work, if they're given the support. I think that support is now being given. I'm pleased to learn that their remuneration will be improved and I commend the Minister and the department for that.
I also want to say that I believe a good number of very capable people have been attracted to community justice positions throughout the regions. I'm pleased that people like Nick Sibbeston, with all his experience and concern about justice are now working for the department and looking at innovative approaches. I think that's happening in virtually all regions of the territories. They are creating a sense of optimism and excitement about the potential for new approaches.
I'm also pleased that Nora Sanders is back with the department. I think she brings a lot of skills and openness to new approaches in that area. I congratulate the Minister for luring her back, whatever was taken to do that, because it is Ontario's loss and our gain, I believe.
Without belabouring it, I would also like to say that there are good things happening with community justice in my constituency. I'm very pleased that the on the land program for young offenders at Mingotuq is up and running. I believe it is working well. There is good communication between the camp operators and the officials in the department. They are dealing with the inevitable issues that come up when new approaches are being taken, but I think they are being dealt with openly. I'm very optimistic that this is going to prove to be a good model for other regions in the territories.
My critical comments, Mr. Chairman, relate to the needs of youth. I have some concern that we should be doing more to keep our young people out of jail. I know the Minister agrees with that, but I'm not sure the department has yet realigned its resources -- and maybe I shouldn't be impatient -- to really support the kind of preventive programs that must be in place in all parts of the territories, if we are to avoid the expensive and sometimes lifelong institutional approaches to youth. Especially for those first offenders, I think more must be done to keep them from following a lifelong pattern. Other Members have spoken about that.
One concern I have is, and I would like to ask the Minister about this, I understand that in the reorganized department, young offenders' programs are now under the umbrella of the corrections division of the department. My concern is, Mr. Chairman, that community justice workers are inspiring communities to look at alternative approaches to the ways we have been dealing with youth and other people in the criminal justice system. Often communities are saying we are somewhat apprehensive about dealing with adult offenders and dealing with the heavier crimes, but if we know anything at all, we know how to look after our young people. Let us have some responsibility in this area. Let us act as an alternative to the judicial system. We can at least handle our young people. If think if communities are encouraged to take responsibility for their young people, they may realize they can probably do a darn good job with most adult offenders as well, but there has to be encouragement there.
I think that if young offenders' programs are all being run out of the corrections division of the department, there is one good aspect to that and that is there is a lot of money in that area...a staggering amount of money. So if this responsibility for young offenders' programs in corrections has a good aspect, it is that maybe we can squeeze some of that huge corrections budget and divert it into keeping young offenders out of those expensive young offenders' institutions. That is what has actually been done in Iqaluit, with the Minister's support. If it means we can get money out of the system for alternative approaches, young offenders' camps, peer mediation, counselling, alterative measures programs, et cetera, then this is good.
However, Mr. Chairman, with the greatest of respect to the people who have a tough job dealing with increasingly violent people in the corrections system, I have a concern that there still remains a bit of a bias in favour of institutions and institutional approaches within the corrections division. There is a tendency with people who are dealing with the sometimes very demanding problems of hardened criminals, to not really appreciate that most of the young people who get into trouble for the first time are exploring boundaries just as all of us did when we were young. The only problem is that now in the 1990s, even in the Northwest Territories, the exploration of boundaries -- and sometimes it is a sense of rebellion or independence -- gets them involved with problems that we never dreamed of when we were kids such as prostitution, drugs, AIDS, et cetera. These things were not present a few decades ago. So I have a concern that creative ideas are produced by the community justice workers in the field, then if the solutions proposed have to deal with youth, they are then turned over to a division of the department which is in the business of looking after warehoused people in correctional facilities. I am just concerned that this may not be the best place to have dynamic and innovative alterative solutions supported.
I want to ask the Minister if my description of the organizational arrangements are correct. Also, I would like to ask what programs are in place to support youth justice committees, alternative measures for young offenders and innovative approaches throughout the territories. I was curious to learn, because I live in Yellowknife, that there is not a functioning youth justice committee in this city, even though we all know that notwithstanding all the good things that are happening here, the high level of voluntarism, the great sporting activities, the good education system, there are a significant number of kids, even in this capital city, who have been written off by parents and schools and are living on the streets. There is quite a volume of youth court activities here and serious street problems, yet this city doesn't even have a youth justice committee, for some reason. I would like to know how that could be and how active youth justice committees are throughout the Northwest Territories. If they are not active, does the department have a strategy to encourage those committees to get in place?
The Young Offenders Act does provide that there is a whole number of alternative measures that can be put in place to help young offenders avoid a pattern that can arise when they get into institutions. That is my general concern, Mr. Chairman. It may be more appropriate to deal with it as we go line by line, but I want to say I am curious about where the responsibility for young offenders lies in the department and whether it is getting the support I am sure the Minister would want our young people to get from his department to keep them out of jail. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.