Mr. Speaker, indeed, I began my speech before question period. However, I would like to take a moment to inform the House that during this session of Parliament, an Allied veteran had to fight a long, hard battle to be admitted to Ste. Anne's Hospital. Mr. Speaker, you have heard various comments from several members here in the House. Some of my colleagues have fought for and debated the case of Dennis George Vialls in this House. He was a soldier who fought in the second world war and was even decorated for his service. Since I have the floor, I would like to take a moment to inform the House that Mr. Vialls passed away this morning. On behalf of my colleagues in the House, I would like to express our sincere condolences to his family. Lest we forget.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for listening. I will now continue my speech.
Before question period, I was saying that people who work in community organizations are also our front line workers. It was important that as a society, we develop an intervention plan centred on rehabilitation and prevention. That is what I was saying before question period. We needed to stick to some basic principles. History has proven us right: the youth crime rate in Quebec dropped considerably and in 2002, Quebec's approach enabled it to achieve the lowest rate of juvenile crime and recidivism in Canada since 1985. That is quite a result.
For purely ideological reasons, the Conservative government is trying once again to change the essence of the Young Offenders Act. Although Bill C-4 has been watered down somewhat compared to the previous bill, the Bloc Québécois would like to take the time to thoroughly examine each of its clauses.
Despite the changes, it is important to point out that Quebec has always had a good approach to dealing with young offenders. In 2003, Quebec's Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court both struck down a provision that required teens to prove that they deserved to be sentenced as young offenders. In other words, young offenders were automatically given the strictest possible punishment. They then had to argue against such sentencing and prove that they deserved a lesser sentence. The legislation did not take into account young offenders' records.
In Quebec, we believe that tackling poverty is one good way to prevent young people from committing crimes. When they do commit crimes, sentencing in Quebec takes all of the circumstances into account. Rehabilitation is integral to our morals and values, and everyone in Quebec knows that it has a positive effect.
To properly understand our stance on Bill C-4, we have to take a closer look at what the Conservative government is proposing. The bill introduced in the House would make public perception a factor in the sentencing of young offenders to deter other young people who may be likely to commit crimes. Because of this desire to make examples of individual cases, prosecutors will have to justify any decision not to call for adult sentencing in cases involving serious crimes. This would turn things upside down by taking it for granted that young offenders should receive adult sentences regardless of their records.
In addition, Bill C-4, as written, would give judges more leeway to release the names of young offenders found guilty of violent crimes and sentenced as youths. This provision could have terrible consequences for young people whose names would appear on a public list. Once these offenders have paid their debt to society, people may still single them out and ostracize them. That kind of rejection would have an extremely negative effect on their rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation is a long-term undertaking with a strong track record in Quebec.
Judith Laurier, a spokesperson for the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, said:
By lifting the publication ban, we end up in a situation where the young person may be singled out and may have problems with rehabilitation and reintegration. That is the key item [in the bill] that we really disagree with.
Are we to jeopardize the work accomplished with young offenders in order to satisfy Conservative ideology? I do not think so. We must instead give youth the opportunity to start their lives over again and regain their confidence.
The Bloc Québécois does serve a purpose in the House of Commons. Bill C-4 is a watered-down version of what the Conservative government had proposed in 2007. That is why the Bloc Québécois wants a detailed study of Bill C-4, the Conservatives' proposal to toughen legislation on minors who commit crimes.
As I was saying in my speech, giving adult sentences to young people who have been tried as minors is not the best way to prevent serious crime—it is the worst.
In Quebec, we are acting instead of reacting. Those who work with youth in Quebec believe that society must intervene in areas such as poverty, inequality and exclusion in order to prevent the youth crime rate from increasing. They must make young people aware of the consequences their actions might have.
Quebec's youth protection branch and youth centres have some serious reservations about Bill C-4. These agencies have developed programs that directly involve young offenders in their rehabilitation. When it comes to young offenders, a number of groups work together on the same case. In Quebec, each case is dealt with according to its specific characteristics.
Quebec has long understood the importance of rehabilitation. In 2002, the Montérégie regional services comprised more than 300 active groups. One of their missions was to provide specialized case management services within the framework of the Young Offenders Act. To do so, they brought together the community agencies and establishments involved in order to provide an effective program for young offenders.
Another example of this is found in the Chaudière—Appalaches region where a system has been set up in cooperation with various alternative justice agencies in order to lead young offenders to a better understanding of their actions by incorporating victim reactions into the rehabilitation centre program. These techniques have been tested and found successful in Quebec. Youth centres, social workers and lawyers all agree that the Quebec model is an example to the entire world.
We are investing in rehabilitation and social reintegration. It is better for a young offender to spend time with intervention experts than hardened criminals in prison. A young criminal can become a good citizen if he has the right services.
This week, I spoke with the police officers from my riding, from Quebec and from the Canadian Police Association who came to meet with us. They do not agree with the minister. These police officers, who work with young people in the community, believe in rehabilitation.
Quebec is following some 9,800 young people who need help and services. There are close to 70 in my own riding. Many of them have been rehabilitated and I want to thank those who have helped them. In most cases, the police will have no further contact with these youths who committed a minor offence. They will not see them again because they will not know them. These young people will have taken a better path in life.
We believe that the Conservative government is insisting on giving adult sentences to young people tried as minors. The Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill has been improved somewhat and the government deserves some credit. However, my current criticisms of the bill are that it does not give enough credit to rehabilitation and its effect on Quebec's youth and that this model will not be fully utilized in the rest of Canada.
We have explained a number of times that, if the government took into consideration the recommendations made by Quebec stakeholders, the Young Offenders Act would have much more positive and long-lasting effects on Quebec and Canadian society.
As for Sébastien's Law, which would toughen the law regarding minors, I must unfortunately say that I believe it contains major flaws.
Giving adult sentences to young offenders as a deterrent is not a good way to rehabilitate offenders. I have had proof of this from community organizations, lawyers, youth centre workers and other individuals who work with these young people in the second life they are given.
Giving the public access to the names of young people convicted of serious offences may be detrimental to their development and reintegration into the community. Quebec is held up as an example in other countries because of the way it deals with young offenders. The Bloc Québécois wants to study the bill, but we refuse to amend the legislation to conform to a right-wing Conservative ideology. Society must be proactive, not reactive, to eliminate serious youth crime. That is why Quebec's approach involves setting up programs to help eliminate poverty, exclusion and social inequality.
Obviously, the Bloc Québécois knows that young people commit crimes and must answer for those crimes, including in the courts. But the measures brought forward have got to have a real positive impact on crime; they have got to be more than just rhetoric or fear-mongering.
Our youth criminal justice system must be different and distinct from the adult system. The purpose of the youth system should be to reinforce young offenders' respect for social values. Organizations like Quebec's youth protection branch and youth centres have succeeded in creating effective intervention programs in cooperation with various community stakeholders. Quebec has adopted a model based on social reintegration and rehabilitation, and we believe in that model.