Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last month, in January, I attended a meeting of Ministers of Justice in Victoria, British Columbia. We were joined on the last day of that three-day meeting by Ministers of Health from a number of provinces to address issues of common interest, particularly the challenge of finding solutions for dealing with high-risk and violent offenders who we feel are likely to offend again upon being released from prison.
The agenda for the meetings was extremely ambitious, covering a wide range of areas in the reform of justice, both in the criminal law and the civil law. There were three agenda items which I want to report on, because of their significance to Members and the people of the north: firearms control, the intoxication defence and the Young Offenders Act.
Ministers discussed the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code in the area of gun control. The Ministers of Justice from Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories have identified a common position with respect to universal registration of all firearms. We are opposed to universal registration and have expressed our opposition on numerous occasions to Minister Rock. We believe it is an unwarranted intrusion into the lives of people who are not criminals, and there is no evidence that it will in fact reduce crime with firearms. The cost, we believe, cannot be justified at a time when other more worthwhile programs are being cut.
I also expressed that there will inevitably be challenges from aboriginal people on the basis that universal registration does not meet the requirements of the Sparrow decision of the Supreme Court.
The four western jurisdictions took the position that the proposed regime be introduced on a pilot basis in those jurisdictions which support universal registration. We received some support for that approach, but not from the federal government, which is determined to proceed with the proposed changes as they were. As you know, legislation was tabled in the House of Commons on the 14th of this month. The Northwest Territories, along with these other jurisdictions, will continue to press for changes to ensure that they do not infringe on the rights and the lifestyles of all northerners.
Last fall, the northern public reacted with horror at the decision of the Supreme Court in the Daviault case, where the court ruled that extreme drunkenness approaching automatism or insanity can be a defence to crimes of violence; in that case, sexual assault. The federal government promptly undertook a consultation and review to determine legislative options for dealing with this unfortunate result.
In Victoria, I informed my colleagues that we had the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, and that these assaults were often committed in a state of extreme drunkenness. The decision of the Supreme Court has left women feeling unsafe. The only option is to legislate a removal of extreme drunkenness as a defence to violent crimes. All jurisdictions supported this position, and I was also encouraged by the response of Minister Rock. I am optimistic that the federal government will take appropriate action to address the issue in the current session of Parliament.
All jurisdictions, including the Northwest Territories, feel that changes are needed to the Young Offenders Act, but we, like other jurisdictions, feel that amendments to the act should not be made until a thorough review has been conducted through the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs and the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Task Force on Young Offenders.
Unfortunately, the federal government is determined to proceed with the current amendments in Bill C-37, against our better advice, and the advice of the vast majority of intervenors in the hearings on those amendments. We have a number of concerns on the proposed amendments and have expressed those to the federal government. The NWT is represented on the federal/provincial/territorial task force which is undertaking a thorough review of the young offender system, including the act, where we continue to pursue our concerns.
The meeting that we had was lively, because the pace of legal reform these days is hectic compared to the more tranquil past. I welcome the commitment for reform, but it will inevitably bring the federal government into conflict with provincial and territorial jurisdictions if the federal government is excessively hasty in proposing changes because of the political pressures of the day. This, I believe, is the case with the proposed firearms legislation. On the other hand, we cannot move too quickly to address the effects of the drunkenness defence brought about by the Supreme Court decision. Thank you.