Mr. Speaker, I am going to try yet again, and perhaps with examples, to convince the Minister of Justice that she is off track with her bill, seeming in a way to want to criminalize young people in difficulty with the law.
Quite honestly, I listened very carefully to the minister's speech and equally attentively to the member of the Canadian Alliance representing the riding of Provencher.
It seems to me that everyone in the House should see very clearly that there are two faces to Canada. There are two visions completely opposed. In a matter such as that of young offenders, it is obvious.
If I understand what the member of the Canadian Alliance had to say, the bill does not go far enough. There are shortcomings and things that do not work. We should be far more severe with young people involved in crime. We should even lower the age of responsibility below the age of 12. We should make changes to try to get better control over these young people. There is the whole issue of the victim. It must be made more complex.
For the Bloc Quebecois and, quite honestly, for the vast majority of Quebecers—I know that these days the expression consensus is a bit overworked—if there is one subject of real consensus, it is the treatment of young offenders.
Regardless of political stripe in Quebec—this is even more true in the national assembly—Péquistes, members of the Action Démocratique or Liberals, the members of the national assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling on the minister to suspend consideration of Bill C-3, now C-7—and I will come back to this shortly—in order to visit the provinces, look at the issue and see what does not work.
In Quebec, in short, the Young Offenders Act is properly applied with good results. I will come back to this in a bit. After checking with the Quebec departments of justice and public security and other agencies in Quebec, the minister decided not to travel throughout the country to see what was going on in the provinces, and particularly in Quebec.
Some department officials met with the members of the coalition and the agencies that enforce the Young Offenders Act on a daily basis, but the minister did not go to Quebec to see what was going on over there and to find out why Quebec was getting such remarkable results. Why was there a consensus in Quebec? It was to tell the minister “We do not want the YOA to be amended or repealed because it is working for us. The problem, if there is one, is not with the legislation but rather with the way it is enforced in other provinces”.
The minister did not come to Quebec but the officials she sent were there to do a sales job. They were not proposing a social vision, an educational approach or a rehabilitation program but rather a product. They were simply trying to sell a product. I will come back to that later on because there are limits to what one can say and what one can try to sell to Quebecers on such an important issue.
Of course there are times in the House when we are tempted to play politics. We are in politics, not in religion. However, on this issue I have never tried to influence groups and get them to take part in our political games. They have always been free to do whatever they wanted to do and to say whatever they felt like saying. These agencies held press conferences and wrote to newspapers. I never tried to apply pressure as the Department of Justice is trying to do now and tried to do in September, October and November.
Indeed, people in the Department of Justice were not involved in the election campaign. They were out in the field and they even promised money to certain organizations. There is nothing they did not try to do to convince certain members of the coalition, certain groups that work with the Young Offenders Act on a daily basis, to support the minister's amendments.
Right now I think the minister and the people in her department have failed. Time will tell. As for me, my opinion has not changed with regard to these bills, whether it is Bill C-68, Bill C-3 or Bill C-7.
When a bill is ill-conceived from the very beginning, one can try to improve it by whatever means but it will still remain an ill-conceived bill. Such is the case with Bill C-7.
The bill proposed by the minister is based on false premises. Alliance and Liberal members saw an opportunity to play politics at the expense of young people with delinquency problems that are sometimes serious. Using certain complicitous tabloids and certain ads, they managed to make a big fuss about certain crimes of a rather vicious nature, I agree, but nevertheless extremely rare.
It goes without saying that the idea of a grandson hitting his grandmother to get a few dollars is unbearable. However beyond the specific and individual incidents covered by the media, the facts are actually very different. And this has to be said.
Juvenile crime has been in constant decline for a number of years. According to the data compiled by the Department of Justice, last year in the year 2000, the juvenile crime rate was the lowest of the past 20 years. Just since 1997, youth crimes—and these figures are taken from reports published by the Department of Justice—involving homicides have dropped by 9%.
Do not try to tell us, as the member for Provencher seems to be doing, that these figures have been fudged because the crimes were not reported. We are talking about confirmed homicides. Files were opened and police investigations were conducted. The figures show that since 1997 homicides committed by young offenders have dropped by 9%.
There has also been an 8% drop in robberies and a 1% drop in sexual assaults. Some might say that a 1% drop is not much, but at least the number of these crimes has been going down over the past four or five years. As for crimes in general, the drop is around 1.2%.
What is most striking when we look at these statistics is that since 1997 the juvenile crime rate in Quebec has dropped by 23%. I agree that this is not enough but it is a significant reduction.
Quebec—and I am using the data published by the Department of Justice—has the lowest crime rate in Canada. In Quebec, the recidivism rate is the lowest in Canada. The number of cases where a file is referred to the court and young criminals are remanded in custody is also the lowest in Canada. The former minister of justice and now Minister of Health even said once that Quebec was a model for the way it implements the Young Offenders Act.
The then minister of justice even said that since Quebec was enforcing the Young Offenders Act properly, and the financial programs linked to the Young Offenders Act did not favour the approach taken by Quebec, Quebec was in fact being penalized. As a result of Quebec enforcing the act properly, the federal government now owes Quebec about $850 million in constant dollars of 1997.
The federal program linked to the act is built in such a way that it encourages erecting concrete walls, putting bars in windows and imprisoning young offenders, instead of rehabilitating them and ensuring their reintegration.
Quebec was simply implementing the policy statement in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act, which put the emphasis on the needs of young people. It said that we had to focus on the rehabilitation and reintegration of young people in order to protect society in the long run. This is what we have been doing for years.
In Quebec because we abide by and enforce the law correctly and efficiently, we are being penalized in terms of the distribution of funding for the enforcement of an act that was not passed by Quebec but by the federal government.
To justify the Liberal government's approach, to justify the position adopted by the Liberal minister who is a member from western Canada, a member from Alberta, a province where the Canadian Alliance is known to be strong—bearing in mind that, based on its own statistics, her department recognized that there was no need to amend the Young Offenders Act because it was not the act, but its enforcement that was the problem—to justify those amendments, they went on a crusade a long time ago.
There is misinformation. The original premises are wrong. The wrong data are knowingly being used. Department of Justice officials, among others, have suggested in press conferences that things are worse than they really are. There is an attempt to lead people away from a clear understanding of the act, which needs to be enforced. Some figures are even being fiddled with, and I will explain what I mean.
I am very saddened to see that the Minister of Justice herself is using these figures when she knows very well that they have no value. Then there is the poll carried out by the Department of Justice. This poll was authorized by the Liberals and paid for with our taxes, and public servants did a sales job on it.
Mr. Speaker, you might tell me that I do not have as much experience as you, as I have only been a member of parliament since 1993, but I have always held federal public servants in high esteem. I have always greatly respected them for the non-partisan nature of their work.
Overall, until seeing what is going on within the Department of Justice, I was generally very satisfied with the work being done by the public servants. However, as far as justice is concerned, particularly in the area of young offenders, their work is no longer fair-minded, it is totally partisan.
As far as Yolande Viau is concerned—I am taking the time to give her name, and have no qualms about doing so, since I have laid a very formal complaint with her superior, but what she was doing was supposedly normal—when she tells us about the poll, when she says that 58% of Quebecers agree with the federal approach, she is lying. It is not honest to say that.
If the poll is examined in any sort of detail and with any sort of honesty and informed knowledge, one realizes that the department, and Ms. Viau in particular, cannot reach those conclusions. Why? Because according to the same poll only 10% of Quebecers can give at least three of the amendments to the Young Offenders Act. There cannot, therefore, be more than 10% who approve of such a law.
Closer scrutiny of the poll reveals that 10% of Quebecers are opposed to the minister's bill. Are these the same 10% who can list at least three components of the bill? Are they opposed because the more they are familiar with it, the more they oppose it? No doubt.
This, however, is an indication of the unacceptable lack of rigour in a department like the Department of Justice, particularly in connection with an issue that affects young offenders, young people in trouble with the law.
I would hope that Ms. Viau and the Minister of Justice will not use this sort of tactic again. It is my opinion that Ms. Viau is playing politics in her interpretation of these figures, that she is selling her line, some sort of commodity, in this case, a bill.
In addition, she said when she met the press “Go ask the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec about whether they are as good as all that in applying the law”. Yes, because they had financial problems, but that is a whole other matter.
If Ms. Viau had any intellectual honesty, she would have taken the brief submitted by the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, when its representatives testified before the committee, and she would have seen what the commission had to say on this with respect to the Young Offenders Act.
For the benefit of Ms. Viau and the minister, I will quote from what the commission said in its brief to the committee:
By focusing the new legislation on the seriousness of the offence, the implication is, necessarily, that the present law does not significantly respond to juvenile delinquency, especially when the offence is of a greater objective gravity.
Further on, it reads:
The imbalance created by new legislation based solely on the principles of public protection and the responsibility of the young offender compromises all the work done to date with young people in difficulty.
That is the true message of the commission. I am not distorting the facts. I am just quoting from a brief the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse has submitted to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which examined the bill.
If I may briefly outline the background, this is not the first time the minister tries to impose her views through a bill such as this one.
Bill C-68 was introduced on March 11, 1999, as everybody will recall. Then we had Bill C-3, which was introduced and read for the first time on October 14, 2000. The purpose has always been the same, that is to make the Young Offenders Act tougher and to revoke a piece of legislation that is very effective in Quebec, for the sake of heeding just English speaking Canada's views.
The minister then realized her bill was severely flawed and did not make sense. She tabled 172 amendments in the House. About 60 witnesses, half of them from Quebec, appeared before the committee dealing with the bill.
Witnesses from Quebec submitted to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights at least 15 briefs. Not a single witness from Quebec supported the justice minister's position. Not a single group mentioned that the minister was right to revoke and throw away an effective piece of legislation like the one on young offenders.
Of course we had witnesses from western Canada who came to tell us that we should lower the age even more and that we should even let children in diapers have criminal records. I exaggerate but not much considering what I heard during the committee hearings. This is not the solution.
The debate went on for several months. I tried by all kinds of means, including endless speeches, to convince the minister. Many editorials and articles were written on the subject in Quebec and in English Canada. If I had the time I would like to read them. Lawyers, practitioners, experts, professors, criminologists, psychologists and all kinds of people came to tell the minister that she had it all wrong.
After the last federal election the minister introduced a brand new bill, Bill C-7. It has a new number but it is not new at all since it is a carbon copy of old Bill C-3. The 172 amendments moved by the government have simply been incorporated into the bill.
A bill that has so many flaws cannot be corrected by way of amendments. What we need to do is scrap it and draft a brand new bill. While that is being done, the minister should travel around and consult the people who work with young offenders, with young people in trouble with the law.
The minister would see that she is going the wrong way. I will surely have an opportunity later on to give specific examples. Whenever she has the chance, the minister says “The hon. member from the Bloc Quebecois never gives any specific examples”. However, I gave her several examples. Over the course of 27 hours of debates, in the speeches I made in committee, I gave several examples showing that the new bill would make it impossible to keep the approach taken in Quebec with young people in trouble with the law.
I asked questions in the House. Yes, we have time constraints and we cannot get into details but the examples I gave showed that with the changes put forward by the minister it would no longer be possible to take the educational and rehabilitative approach developed in Quebec over the last 20 years.
It is wrong to claim that there is some flexibility. Too much in the bill is automatic to give provinces a minimum of flexibility. The minister does not seem to understand or, rather, she does not want to understand that. I think this is a better explanation.
What is the approach in Quebec? Are there any members in the House who are at least aware of what it is? One might say that it is based on rehabilitation and reintegration.
In every case, the young person is given priority. Each case is considered individually. In each case, we look at what we should give the young person in question to rehabilitate him as quickly as possible. There is a reason for this, since in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act, the declaration of principle clearly states that young persons are not adults and that they must be treated accordingly. Indeed, young persons are human beings in training. They cannot be treated as if they were adults, even in very serious cases.
Yes, there are hopeless cases. Yes, there are cases where a young offender is a bum and will remain a bum.
In some murder cases, the young offender does not deserve the same treatment as the one used for rehabilitating young people. However the current Young Offenders Act does allow the provinces to decide to have a young person tried in adult court. This is not hypocritical, this is clear. We know where we are going. It is true that we apply this in Quebec.
Perhaps we may contradict the minister's numbers, because according to the Department of Justice in Quebec City it is not true that 23 cases were referred last year. I am convinced that more cases are referred in Quebec than in Ontario but perhaps not 23.
Why are more cases referred in Quebec? Simply because there is a difference in treatment in Quebec. A young person who under the referral principle is tried in adult court and sentenced will not end up in the same place as a young person who is treated as such. However, in the western provinces, whether a young offender is dealt with under the law as a young person or as an adult in adult court, he will often end up in the same place and get the same treatment, that is no treatment at all.
In Quebec there is a difference. We invest in a young person who has a chance of being rehabilitated. In Quebec the repeat offender rate is the lowest in Canada because we enforce the law. We do what the law allows us to do. We apply the statement of principles that puts the emphasis on the young person's needs. This statement of principles was interpreted by the higher courts and it took about 15 years for the Supreme Court of Canada to hand down a clear ruling on what a young offender is entitled to.
It took 15 years to assess what the real needs of young people are. Everything that has been accomplished so far is being thrown out today. The intent of the law is being completely changed. From now on the young offenders' needs, the underlying principle of the Young Offenders Act, will no longer be the guiding principle in interpreting the act, in guiding youth court judges in sentencing young offenders, it will be the seriousness of the offence, as we said at the beginning.
This whole bill is focused on the seriousness of the offence. Even though there have been attempts to include all sorts of details and to use the word “need” in the bill, this in no way changes the fact that the courts will interpret it based on the principle of the seriousness of the offence. This runs counter to Quebec's approach, which is focused on the needs of the young offenders.
Moreover, in this new act the minister wants to impose on Quebec, which is all about the seriousness of the offence, there is a whole series of automatic sentences preventing those who want to hand down the appropriate sentence to young offenders from doing so. The young offenders will even have the right, not currently available to them, to avoid rehabilitation.
In many cases, if a young offender is given the choice between serving his time inside, as they say, or going to a rehab centre and working on his case, what will he choose? He will choose to serve his time. It is much easier to do two-thirds of an eight year prison sentence than to do eight months in a rehabilitation centre where one has to work with psychologists and other professionals who will ask questions and work hard to turn one into a responsible citizen who realizes what he has done.
It is much easier for a youth to do his time, read books and count the days left until his release than for him to try to find out what his problem is and why he acted the way he did.
Now that is exactly what the minister is handing to our youth on a silver platter and crown attorneys will no longer even have the opportunity to compel the young offender to go through all that.
The bill is unacceptable for several reasons. The youth justice system the minister is proposing looks increasingly like adult justice. This so-called youth criminal justice act, which will turn our youth into criminals, looks more and more like the criminal code.
If the application of the criminal code were a big success with adults, I might think that the government is trying to achieve the same results with young offenders but it is the opposite. The application of the criminal code is, in many respects, a disaster but the government wants to impose it on young offenders. Some expressions were changed but these were cosmetic changes.
Under Bill C-7, young offenders no longer face penalties. Instead, they are liable to face them. Bill C-7 now imposes sentences. The legislation no longer reprimands a young offender, it corrects his behaviour. It includes extrajudicial measures instead of extrajudicial sanctions. This is all very nice, and while it is good to include terminology that is less aggressive, the meaning of the act remains the same.
The minister says that she understood Quebec's demands, but she did not understand anything, in my opinion. We did not want changes to the wording or synonyms. We simply wanted the minister not to touch the act.
I mentioned that under the bill it is impossible to review each case based on its own merits. Certain types of crime are stereotyped and compartmentalized: this sentence applies to that crime and that sentence applies this other crime. Where is the flexibility that would allow Quebec to have its own approach?
All the experts and even lawyers agree that the bill will promote legal quibbling. Those who have been to the courthouse realize that there is no benefit in it.
It is an extremely complex bill that no one will understand. The bill took something out of the existing act, which was made for young people and also parents, since there are parents who take an active interest in what young people experiencing problems are doing. It is not just thugs who end up in court. It is not just young people without parents. A bill as complex as Bill C-7 will not be understood except by judges and lawyers who will have a field day.
The bill does not help the cause of justice for young people or the society.
I will give other examples and I hope some public servants are listening if the minister is not. With this bill Quebec will have to change its approach.
I spoke earlier about the whole philosophy underlying the bill and I want to come back to this briefly. The current Young Offenders Act talks about the needs of young persons. The basic principle of Bill C-7 is the seriousness of the offence committed by the young offender.
So far the precedents make the needs of the young offenders the first priority. The case law leans that way. It has established some models particular to Quebec on rehabilitation. The philosophy behind the bill is completely different. It deals with the seriousness of the offence and hands down harsher sentences. Like it or not, the case law would change at the same time.
The principle of uniformity of sentencing was in Bill C-3. We are no longer talking about uniformity of sentencing but rather about similar sentences in a given region. What does a region correspond to in criminal law?
Is Quebec a region? Is Ontario a region? Are the maritimes a region? In any case, when lower courts interpret what the legislator meant with regard to the seriousness of the offence, it will go to the higher courts and on to the supreme court. When these cases come back before the lower courts, the case law will impact on Quebec if Bill C-7 is fully enforced.
I also said with regard to minor offences—because things are very compartmentalized in the bill—that at present when a young person is caught shoplifting or scribbling graffiti, the police open a file. That file is immediately referred to the crown attorney. He or she examines the reports contained in the file and may determine that the source of the problem is a street gang or perhaps the young person's parents. He or she takes appropriate action immediately to get that young person away from the situation causing the problem.
With Bill C-7, as introduced by the Minister of Justice, the crown attorney will never see the file and will certainly not be able to force that young person to enter a rehabilitation program. The reason for that is that the minister's bill provides for a whole series of successive measures.
If the first offence is a minor offence, like shoplifting, the police will only give a warning. If the same young person travels to the neighbouring town and is caught shoplifting again the same day, he or she will be given another warning. Where will that be recorded? If at some point the offences become more serious, for example large graffiti involving some violence, a cautionary letter will be sent to the parents. The crown attorney will never find out.
The bill would prevent Quebec from doing the right thing at the right time. It is better to invest as soon as the first offence is committed, when it is not serious, than after three or four years of delinquency in a neighbourhood, a town or a region. If the minister's bill becomes law, the whole rehabilitative approach used in Quebec in cases involving minor offences would no longer be possible.
As for cases involving major crimes, the minister's approach is just as harmful. If young offenders are treated as adults, they will also have the same rights as adults. With the minister's new bill, a young person receiving an adult sentence of eight years in prison would get out after serving two-thirds of that sentence, whether he or she is rehabilitated or not.
The approach used in Quebec is to send these young people to a rehabilitation centre. When they get out, they are rehabilitated. Statistics show that the recidivism rate is less than 1%. Is this what the minister wants? Is the minister telling us the approach used in Quebec would be maintained with her bill? No, we would no longer be able to do that. The approach used in Quebec would no longer be possible.
Let us talk about the delays the minister's new bill would entail. We now have appearances in court and preliminary inquiries, and trials by judge and jury. Lots of things are fictitious in the bill. We are told that the youth justice court would deal with serious crime, but if one reads the bill one realizes that it is not the judges of the youth justice court who would hear these cases but judges of the superior court acting as judges of the youth justice court.
There are lots of fictitious things which the minister does not seem to grasp. In the end, the youth court would be influenced. There would be an influence on case law. There would be an influence on the Quebec approach, which has been very effective.
I will conclude. We have in the House right now Liberal members from Quebec, the Ministers responsible for International trade, Treasury Board, Finance, National Revenue, and Intergovernmental Affairs. We also have the new member for Laval East and the members for Brome-Missisquoi, Ahuntsic, and Gatineau. I hope they will stand up for Quebec and for the Quebec consensus on this bill, and I hope that they will talk some sense into the minister.