Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-4.
This bill amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act and makes consequential and related amendments to other acts. It also amends the sentencing and general principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
I would like to begin by saying that the Bloc Québécois would like to do a thorough, professional job of studying this bill in committee. The Bloc will therefore support an agreement in principle to study the bill and hear all witnesses to improve it.
Although the bill is not as excessive as we were led to believe it would be in January, it still contains quite a few irritants, including an ideological change in the act, which is a fairly dramatic change.
Like many experts, we condemn this philosophical change that makes public protection the main benchmark, at the expense of prevention.
The bill adds new criteria to consider in sentencing young offenders. For example, the sentence should have a deterrent effect. This means that public perception, rather than the offence itself, would condition how a young offender is punished. In short, the government is asking judges to make examples of people.
The government is amending a law that works well. What is more, many experts condemn this amendment, because the law had already been toughened. Still, because of the Bloc's efforts, the bill we have before us is much more moderate than what we are used to seeing from the Conservatives. We have to say that our work to raise awareness and fight against an even tougher bill paid off; the government listened.
The government admits that it misled us when it said there were no young offenders in adult prisons. That is an important admission. I feel it is worth mentioning, because the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles spent last summer going around saying that there were no offenders under 18 in the prisons in Quebec and Canada.
It is worthwhile going over some figures. I do not think that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles dispute the source of these figures. It is the Correctional Service of Canada.
I do not especially like quoting statistics in my remarks, but I will do so this time because I want to correct the figures cited by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, among others. I hope that after hearing these statistics, the member will offer an apology for reporting incorrect figures.
In all, 10 offenders under the age of 18 have been placed in a federal penitentiary since January 1, 2004. They were all 17 at the time. Here is the number of young people placed by year, that is from January to December 31—2004, 4; 2005, 1; 2006, 3; 2007, 1; 2008, none; 2009, 1.
I have some more statistics to help the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles clearly understand the situation. According to a reliable source, the public security department in Quebec, in all a total of 39 offenders under 18 have been put in prison in Quebec since April 1, 2003. Here are the figures by fiscal year, that is, from April 1 to March 31: 12 in 2003-04; 10 in 2004-05, 3 in 2005-06; 9 in 2006-07; 5 in 2007-08; and none in 2008-09.
The statistics are based on the age at the time of admission. We must also realize that a single individual can be admitted more than once a year. Now that this has been clarified, we can hope that the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles will get the facts straight.
The Bloc Québécois as well shares many of the concerns raised by many professional stakeholders in Quebec on the repercussions of this bill. Accordingly, the Bloc will analyze it in depth, as is its custom, when it is being studied in committee. We want to hear all those involved in order to improve whatever may be improved. The Bloc wants to get to the bottom of things and will certainly not tolerate rushing through a matter of such importance. If it is passed, the bill will change the way young people are dealt with. We must therefore take the time needed to invite as many experts to speak to the matter so as to properly debate and examine it.
I would also like to speak to the Bloc's philosophy on justice. It firmly believes that the most effective approach is still prevention. We must go after the causes of crime, delinquency and violence rather than wait for problems to occur and try to fix them after the fact. The wisest and certainly the most profitable approach, in both social and financial terms, consists in working at problems in order to avoid youth crime and incarceration. It could not be clearer. We must fight poverty, inequality and exclusion, all fertile ground for frustrations and the escape valves that violence and crime constitute.
Justice for youth is no different in this regard. Young people should benefit from a healthy environment, they should not be living in extreme poverty, they should have access to affordable education and so on. In all these areas, the Quebec nation has made good choices, which sets it apart. Education costs, for example, are among the lowest in North America. Our network of daycare centres is a model in the field, and so on.
Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is aware that young people commit crimes, for which they should be held to account, including in the courts. The government has a duty to act and to use all the tools available to it to ensure that Quebeckers and Canadians are able to live in peace and safety. But the measures brought forward have got to have a real positive impact on crime, they have got to be more than rhetoric, or fear-mongering. They have got to be more than just an imitation of the American model, which, it should be noted, has completely failed to reduce crime. The American model has produced very weak results and is now on the brink of complete breakdown. Some states are questioning that model because it has failed to reduce youth crime.
A few statistics show that one quarter of prisoners on the planet, over 7 million people, are in prison or on parole. The United States is starting to move away from that model, the “law and order” model. In July 2009, the Vera Institute of Justice determined that at least 22 American states are preparing to depart from tough-on-crime policies and the present system is at the point of human and financial breakdown.
On the other hand, the Quebec model, based on rehabilitation and reintegration, produces real results, results that can be measured using statistics showing the decline in crime.
So we would say that what Canada wants is to copy a completely outdated model instead of drawing on the Quebec model, which is working very well.
A moment ago I listened carefully to the speech by my NDP colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He said that the government should draw on the Quebec model which has produced good results because the people of Quebec, with their various taxes, have created a health system, a social safety net, that means they can take action to prevent crime and poverty. One thing it means is that young people can be given help and support. Quebec is the province that in 2006 succeeded in reducing its crime rate by 4%, unlike the rest of Canada, where the crime rate rose.
And so I invite the government members to investigate the Quebec model, to look at its successes and its results, rather than trying to copy a completely outdated model that, on the contrary, is of such dubious worth that some American states are now questioning it and are looking for a different model.
Quebec has a good system because we have experts who provide us with sound advice and who have worked, year in and year out, to build a model that works well. These experts are telling us that the Government of Canada is completely off track. The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, a Quebec organization that provides services to young offenders and troubled youth, and the provincial directors also believe in the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders, which have been successful in Quebec. Numerous experts from other countries come to Quebec to observe, learn about and watch our system, so they can then emulate it. I do not say it often enough, but I am saying it now: our results are very telling and very inspiring.
The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec says that it, too, cares about the victims, but that the government is really on the wrong track when it states that protection of society will be improved by implementing more coercive measures because the current legislation deals with these situations and ensures the protection of society. As we saw in the statistics that I quoted earlier, there are youth under the age of 18 in prison, but such a sentence is rarely handed out by judges. They do so if the crime was very serious. It is rare that they decide that a youth should be in prison and should serve the entire sentence.
The bill refers to Sébastien's situation, which illustrates the reach of the current legislation. The young offender concerned was handed an adult sentence upon the recommendation of the provincial director of the Quebec court, youth division. The youth who murdered Sébastien is currently serving his sentence in an adult prison. This example perfectly illustrates that the current law contains a legislative tool that is used in Quebec when this type of circumstance with a youth arises.
Clearly, the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec will want to testify before the committee to share its 30 years of expertise and explain the very serious repercussions this bill would have if it were passed as is.
I would like to give some background on this bill. The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which replaced the Young Offenders Act, received royal assent in February 2002 and officially took effect on April 1, 2003.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act was quite imperfect and was challenged by the Government of Quebec. But in spite of that, in spite of history, the government is still pushing ahead with Bill C-4. We know that the National Assembly of Quebec will also be opposed to this bill as it currently stands.
For years, Quebec's justice minister has been calling on the federal government to exempt Quebec and allow it to implement its own youth intervention model.
The Government of Quebec has shown its opposition to the federal government for a dozen years now. The strong consensus in Quebec is that rehabilitation and prevention are the answer and that Quebec must develop ways of preventing young people from committing acts of physical or sexual violence or serious crimes. Quebec is working hard to put such measures in place. This is the system that Quebeckers have developed to prevent these crimes as much as possible.
I said earlier that I would give some statistics about the decrease in crime. Crime dominates the media: the trials of violent offenders and notorious fraud artists get extensive media coverage. The public often forms an opinion from sensational stories in the papers or on radio or television. We sometimes get the wrong impression and think that crime is on the rise, but that is not entirely true.
I think we can count on Statistics Canada to provide Canadian statistics. I am not accusing Statistics Canada of partisanship, because its statistics are rather clear.
Youth courts are seeing fewer and fewer cases. In 2005-06, 56,271 cases were heard, a decrease of 2% from the previous year. While it is true that the youth crime rate increased 3% in 2006, I must point out that that was the first increase since 2003. We cannot conclude that there is a strong upward trend. However, in 2006 in Quebec—as I mentioned earlier—the crime rate dropped by 4%. All the provinces saw increases in the youth crime rate, except Quebec, which saw a decrease in its crime rate thanks to its focus on rehabilitation and reintegration.
I do not think that is a coincidence. It proves that our model is inspiring and that it should inspire the current Conservative government. Instead of putting up a smokescreen, the government should be able to look at the big picture and recognize that there is a model that is working in Canada and that they can use. As my NDP colleague said so well, why focus on outdated measures, on intervention methods that do not work with young people and that are modelled after the United States, when here, the Quebec nation has a proven, effective system that is intelligent and respectful?
The Association des centres jeunesse du Québec and some specialized lawyers say that the current legislation did not need to be changed. They urge Parliament to be cautious. We are not talking about a few changes to sections of the act here. These are fundamental changes to the ideology and philosophy behind the legislation. This could very negatively impact young people in Quebec and Canada.