Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Vancouver Quadra.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-7, the youth criminal justice act. Before I begin, I would like to congratulate my colleagues in the Quebec caucus for the great work they did in suggesting amendments to Bill C-3. It must be pointed out that thanks to their efforts and the valuable input from stakeholders we are able to introduce a bill which offers a balance between the need to protect society and the needs of adolescents, who will be responsible for the society of tomorrow.
I have looked at Bill C-7 using the eye's of a lawyer, one who has had experience in Young Offenders Act cases, and I find that it respects the rights of young people more and leaves more leeway for the frontline workers, including the police and community organizations involved in crime prevention in the regions.
The preamble of the bill sets out society's responsibility to address the developmental challenges and the needs of young persons and to guide them to adulthood. It also provides the need to prevent youth crime by addressing its underlying causes.
I was staggered to hear the Bloc Quebecois critic say that it was preferable to have an adolescent's record handled by the crown prosecutor. He said “Mr. Speaker, currently, when an adolescent commits a minor offence, the matter is referred to the crown prosecutor, who determines whether the young person needs help. If so, the Quebec system rehabilitates him immediately”.
Why would a crown prosecutor be in a better position to decide the future of a young person than a neighbourhood police officer or a community agency long involved in the field? Why the outcry when clause 6 proposes letting the police decide whether “to take no further action, warn the young person, administer a caution,—or, with the consent of the young person, refer the young person to a program or agency in the community that may assist the young person not to commit offences”.
What is the problem with wanting the young person to be treated in his community instead of sending him to detention when he commits a minor offence?
For the sceptics, I add that clause 7 of the bill gives the attorney general or any other minister the authority to establish a program authorizing the police to administer cautions to young persons instead of starting judicial proceedings.
In my riding of Laval East, the Centre Défi-jeunesse in Saint-François is set in a middle income community where the social structure is 91% focused on the family. Young people aged 13 to 18 represent 10% of the population and are especially hard hit since they have to deal with issues like welfare and single parent families or are trying to make it on their own on a low income.
The Centre Défi-jeunesse Saint-François was established in 1992, eight years ago already, to extend a helping hand to young people with emotional, social and relationship problems linked to their family, social or criminal situation or to their substance abuse.
The organization can rely on well-known supporters like the Saint-François police department, the CLSC des Milles-Îles, the Fleur Soleil school and the merchants of the Promenades de Saint-François shopping centre located nearby.
The organization recently launched a project called Défi sans violence, spearheaded by community police officers and nurses from the CLSC. They were able to reach 400 young people. It is because our government believes in prevention that it has provided almost $32 million to crime prevention programs, including more than $4 million in Quebec.
The Centre Défi-jeunesse just received $50,000 for its project called Rassembler les deux mondes. It would be able to send a facilitator to Iqualuit, the capital of Nunavut, to give workshops on violence and crime prevention in collaboration with organizations working in the field.
Others projects will be coming soon. I spoke to the director, Mrs. Talbot, who told me that thanks to that experience, young people have learned to work with police officers and now the rapport between the two groups is nothing short of extraordinary.
Under Bill C-7, it would no longer be possible to place in custody a first time young offender who commits a minor offence. Why should we absolutely incarcerate a young person who commits a minor offence? Do people realize what it means to have an open file in a youth court? Do they realize what it means for parents who have to parade before the court when there are other solutions? If this is what is currently going on in Quebec, let us debate the issue.
I know crown attorneys who work at the youth court. I would rather trust the police officer walking the beat in a neighbourhood because, in my opinion, he certainly has a better idea of what is going on than the crown attorney in his ivory tower at the courthouse, if only because the latter is often overburdened following all kinds of budget cuts.
I also think that we can better rehabilitate young offenders by putting them, as provided under clause 6, in the hands of stakeholders or experts in the community who know criminal gangs and street gangs in that area.
In this morning's edition of Le Devoir , the following title is eloquent:
Baril passes harsh judgment on youth services.
The article mentions that:
...the youth protection system is overjudicialized and suffers from continuous breaks in the delivery of services.
The picture is not rosy in the youth assistance network. Rehabilitation centres are constantly clogged up. The administrative component takes precedence over the clinical component and the legal component, takes precedence over social law.
In October, Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse condemned the repressive nature of the living conditions imposed on young people in youth centres. Such is the situation of Quebec's network.
I would like our friends opposite to reflect on Quebec minister Gilles Baril's view on an approach that judicializes young people too quickly.
I would like the members opposite to think before they argue in favour of the status quo, giving as their reason that Quebec has a low crime rate. It is too simplistic to claim that because Quebec's crime rate is very low, the system is working well in Quebec. Some caution is in order.
Who is telling us that this reduction in violent crimes by young people in Quebec is not due to the work of our neighbourhood police, our community crime prevention organizations and our stakeholders, such as the Centre de défi-jeunesse de Saint-François, which has been working for eight years in the area of youth crime prevention?
What we must realize, and this is fundamental, is that the most prevalent crime among young people is theft. In the case of violent crimes, simple assault, the less serious kind, tops the list.
Who is telling us that we cannot attribute this drop in violence to the zero tolerance policy enforced by our police officers in Quebec, to the schools and to other stakeholders?
This is what the Bar said in its brief on Bill C-3. It never said that crime was down because of the intervention of crown attorneys and the incarceration of young first time offenders.
What minister Baril revealed to Quebec was not just the reality of the situation, but I would add that the reality is worse still. If members were to take a stroll through the youth courts, they would see that the system is not working at all.
Members should ask young people how many times they have had to appear in court, how many times their case has been rescheduled because of the backlog, how many times they have had to miss school and their parents have had to miss work to appear before the youth court only to be told to come back another day.
In conclusion, I think—