Mr. Speaker, I was about to use a few choice words that are popular in Quebec. However, I will carry on. I will take a deep breath, because it is very difficult to concentrate when we are constantly being interrupted. I will now deal with the core of this issue.
We realized very quickly that there was a consensus in Quebec. Even though I had already toured Quebec, even though I had already met people from English Canada, following the refusal of the Minister of Justice to hear witnesses from Quebec on Bill C-7 which is a response to Quebec, I decided to do another tour of Quebec.
I was accompanied, as everyone knows, by Marc Beaupré, the actor who played Kevin in a televised series. His life and professional experiences differ from mine, but he delivered an excellent message and did a very good job. I am taking this opportunity today to thank him for depoliticizing the whole debate. He comes from Lanaudière and has not only depoliticised the whole debate, but has raised perceptions in Quebec. I think he has improved perceptions there of our treatment of young offenders.
On top of that, I went to hear these witnesses, people the minister refused to hear. I met them on site: at youth court, in centres for young people, in rehabilitation centres, in group homes for young people and in social groups. The minister would have done well to listen to them, because their message was clear.
They do not want, for all sorts of reasons, to have Bill C-7, which will be passed here in the House in a few hours perhaps, applied in Quebec. What they want is to continue to apply the Young Offenders Act as it stands and to try to apply it better, if that is possible.
I was surprised to learn that it could cost an additional $200 million to $250 million a year to implement Bill C-7, the bill no one in Canada wants, except perhaps the Alliance. Over five years, the federal government will invest and pour $1 billion into this system of criminal justice for young persons.
If the Liberal government opposite has $1 billion for young people it does not know what to do with, instead of paying for the luxury of new legislation, it should take the money and give it to the provinces, as they are asking it to do.
In committee, representatives from five Canadian provinces came to tell us that, if asked to choose between a complex, incomprehensible and unenforceable piece of legislation such as Bill C-7 and cash, to use their term, they would prefer the cash. Why? In order to pattern themselves as closely as possible on the Quebec approach, which is based on rehabilitation, stepping in at the right time and treating youth fairly, which produces concrete results, results we have all seen. Department of Justice statistics document these results. Given a choice between new legislation and cash, they want the cash.
I am certain that if we invested $1 billion on improving enforcement of the Young Offenders Act, the results would point more in the direction of continuing with that legislation. Very good results would also be obtained in the other Canadian provinces, as they are in Quebec. What is needed for the legislation to be enforced properly is money, not new legislation. The problem lies in the perception of the Young Offenders Act, not in the act itself.
The federal government puts out publicity on almost anything going: Canadian defence, Canada Post, the protection of small birds, fish, just name it. Why?
Why does the federal government not publicize the real costs of properly enforcing the Young Offenders Act? There has been success in some cases, and in many cases in Quebec. I have personally met people who, at the age of 15 or 16, committed a murder. Today, they are anonymous members of the public. For all sorts of reasons to do with families, gangs or drugs, they committed a reprehensible act, but at least we saved them and they are now anonymous citizens.
What good will the minister's wonderful legislation do, if a 14 or 15 year old youth gets a life sentence? As we know, under the current system, that youth would serve 25 years. In 25 years from now, that 15 year old youth will be 40. He will still be in the prime of life, but he will have spent half of his life in a school for crime, an adult prison. What will he do?
In adult prisons, there is no treatment such as the one provided to young people in youth centres. He will serve his time, as they say in the penitentiary jargon. What good will it do to society that that youth get out at 40? The protection of society might be ensured for 25 years, but that is pushing the problem forward.
Today, under the Young Offenders Act, that youth may be sentenced to six years of detention at worst, but those are six years of firm treatment, six years with specialists, because there are several working on any given case. Afterwards, he will be monitored over a 10 year period, until they are sure he has been rehabilitated or is on his way to be so. During 16 years, that youth will be monitored.
Eventually, he might end up paying taxes like us. He might have children. He might get integrated in the society in which he lives. He will not be branded as some would like him to be, with his name published, his picture in the papers and a life sentence for a 14 or 15 year old youth.
I can already hear people say “But this would make it possible for a province to prevent 14 and 15 year olds from getting an adult sentence”. This is true, but do members realize that a young person will still have to stand trial in an adult court, with adult rules?
It is only after the trial, whether he is found guilty or not, that the order comes into play. Despite the order, the crown prosecutor might still ask, for all kinds of reasons, that this young person be given an adult sentence. There would be a trial, with a very complex series of judicial measures before that, such as the adult court.
Would this be a service to both the population and the 14 year old to have him tried as an adult, to treat him as an adult? Would we solve his situation or his case? Would society feel more secure if this young person were tried as an adult? There are all kinds of legal fictions in this bill. Government frontbenchers say, one by one, that a youth justice court judge will hear these cases, that they will no longer be referred to an adult court.
This is true verbally, but when we take a look at clause 3 of the bill, we realize this is not the case. The government thinks we have not read the bill. To say this demonstrates a lack of intellectual rigour, because this is not the case.
The bill does provide that a youth justice court judge will be responsible, but in fact it will be a superior court judge who, for such trial, will be deemed to be a youth justice court judge. I know very well that in several judicial divisions of Quebec and Canada, youth courts do not have the necessary facilities to hold trials by judge and jury.
Everything is provided for in the bill. Such cases will be tried before adult court, but for the purpose of the proceeding, this court will be “deemed to be a youth justice court”, and the judge will be “deemed to be a youth justice court judge”. This is going very far. It is tantamount to being tried before adult court. Furthermore, the age limit will be lowered from 16 to 14. A young person aged 14 could be tried as an adult.
People across the way tell us that the bill does not affect Quebec's approach. On what planet do they live? During my 12 to 14 day tour, among the many people I met, there was not one who supported the bill. Everybody wishes to keep the Young Offenders Act.