Mr. Speaker, usually I begin my speeches by saying that I am pleased to speak on an important bill. This time, although it is an important bill, I am not at all pleased to speak to it. Why? Because this bill is an aberration.
The government is in a much greater hurry to go after 14 year olds than organized crime. How long have my colleagues from Berthier—Montcalm and Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert along with the leader of the Bloc Quebecois and all its members been fighting for more effective measures against organized crime and reinforcement of the criminal code more consistent than the reinforcement and amendments to it in 1997? They are fighting for real anti-gang legislation and, if necessary, the use of the notwithstanding clause. Well, no.
On the other side of the House they are hedging because they are not interested in going after the real criminals. Pursuing the real criminals does not necessarily bring in votes. However, pursuing young children and thereby meeting the demands of the former Reform Party, now comprised of Alliance members, is more profitable. They think they will be able to win more seats in the west in the next election with a certain right-looking vision.
In so doing, the Liberals are completely overlooking one thing, namely the well-being of teenagers and their ability to be rehabilitated and returned to society. The Liberals are advocating caning, not rehabilitation for these young offenders.
During oral question period, I was surprised to hear the minister say that some members have tried to distort the debate. She was referring to opposition members, particularly Bloc Quebecois members. I remind the minister that she was the first one to distort the discussion by turning a deaf ear to the consensus throughout this debate and by moving over 200 amendments without having had the courage to defend her bill and the 200 amendments that she moved in the House a few months ago.
The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm, who is doing an extraordinary job on this issue, managed to achieve a consensus among Quebec's major stakeholders in the area of young offenders' rehabilitation. He invited the minister many times to appear before the justice committee, precisely to justify the thrust that she was giving to the new young offenders legislation. But the minister declined.
Someone has been distorting the discussion since Bill C-3 was first introduced, but it is the Minister of Justice herself. She has ignored everything. Above all, and we will not let this drop, she has ignored the needs of troubled adolescents. Instead of a bill that addresses needs, there is a call for caning. Needs are no longer important to the Liberal government. The needs of a 14-year old adolescent who has lost his way are no longer important. What is important is throwing him in jail. That is important for winning western votes.
The government talks about the flexibility in the bill. I have read and reread it and listened to all the explanations of the member for Berthier—Montcalm, for whom I have tremendous respect, as well as of all those who spoke to this bill. There is no flexibility, and one of those who offered his opinion was a spokesperson for the Coalition québécoise d'opposition au nouveau projet de loi sur les jeunes contrevenants. He said, and I quote:
The provinces' supposed flexibility in enforcing the legislation is no more than a series of limited powers dependent on the crown attorneys. Nowhere in this bill is it stated that the provinces may implement their own model.
So much for flexibility. Furthermore, it is very strange that a government wants to change its young offenders legislation, which works when properly enforced. Extraordinary results can be achieved with the existing legislation, when it is properly enforced. If there is one place in Canada where the Young Offenders Act is being so enforced, it is Quebec. In Quebec, we have had the best results of all of Canada.
Since 1991, the youth crime rate has dropped 23%. Quebec has its lowest youth crime rate in 20 years. We also have the lowest indictment rate, the lowest conviction rate and the lowest custody rate.
It goes to show that when the Young Offenders Act is enforced properly, when the focus is on rehabilitation and on the needs of young offenders, it works. It works very well and we have proved it. And in those places where the act was not enforced properly, the results are totally the opposite of what we have seen in Quebec.
Let us look, for example, at the situation in Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick. It is incredible. The conviction rate and the custody rate per 100,000 inhabitants show that the Young Offenders Act was not enforced properly. Those provinces have conviction rates and custody rates that are considerably higher than the national average. Their rates are very high compared to what they are in Quebec. All the stakeholders in Quebec think this bill is useless and extremely dangerous. As far as reintegration is concerned, this bill is way off the mark.
Reference is made in this bill to publishing the identity of offenders. How can one think that publishing the names of young offenders will help them re-enter into the community? For one thing, does publication not make the illegal act committed look good in the eyes of other young people?
How can we, while claiming to want to help them and meet some of their needs and talking about social reintegration, allow young people to see their reputations tarnished by having their identity published and whatever offence they committed be glamourized, so to speak, in the eyes of their peers? It was totally unacceptable to introduce such a bill.
Moreover, most of those who condemned the Liberal government's behaviour said the bill was so complicated that, even if one were in agreement with it, it would be an extremely difficult bill to enforce.
In particular, the bar association's recent brief indicated the following—which confirms what I said earlier—on page 63:
The wording of clause 41 and the following clauses is so complex that experts had tremendous difficulty understanding those clauses. They have to be rewritten, because it must be remembered that this legislation is addressed to adolescents.
When Quebec bar association experts have difficulty interpreting what the minister means and, moreover, there is a solid consensus in Quebec to the effect that this is a bad piece of legislation, we have a problem.
The hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm asked for an opting out provision, whereby a province would be able to opt out with full compensation, so that Quebec, which properly enforced the Young Offenders Act and which achieved spectacular results with the rehabilitation of young offenders, could eventually be fully exempt from these new provisions and continue to use an approach that has so far given such good results.
The minister rejected that request from the coalition, from all the major stakeholders in Quebec.
Yet, as I said, youth crime has continuously been dropping over the past 20 years, and in Quebec in particular we have achieved incredible success, with the result that our youth crime rate is now much lower than elsewhere in Canada, because we did things right.
We respected the spirit of the Young Offenders Act, whose purpose is not to marginalize young offenders for the rest of their lives by dragging them before adult courts without any consideration and without taking their needs into account. Rather, we looked at the alternative and tried, whenever possible, and most of the time it is possible, to rehabilitate young offenders and return them to society.
When I spoke about unanimity in Quebec, I should have mentioned that the supreme court also voiced the opinion that the Young Offenders Act should not be seen as the counterpart of adult criminal laws. Even Mr. Justice Antonio Lamer made this point, and emphasized that the Young Offenders Act took into account the very specific needs of adolescents and that it was not necessary for a new law to be the mirror image of the criminal laws for adult offenders.
There is a coalition in Quebec, which has made representations to the minister, with the assistance of the member for Berthier—Montcalm, using shock arguments, arguments set out in the documents of the Minister of Justice, which show beyond a shadow of a doubt that, if the Young Offenders Act is properly enforced, no rod is necessary. We do not need a new act. The one we have is fine. It needs to be properly enforced, but it should not be used for electioneering, as the minister is now doing.
We hope that the House will approve our amendments, that the minister will listen to reason or that the government will ensure that this bill dies on the Order Paper before a federal election is called.