Mr. Speaker, you are obviously well aware of how equally frustrating and gratifying the work of parliamentarians can be. The frustration comes when we work tirelessly on something very important to us, but when the results, for one reason or another, are slow in coming or, sometimes, never materialize. The gratification comes when these same efforts, no matter how long it takes, produce results that improve the quality of life of our constituents. For the past several years, the Bloc Quebecois has been intensely experiencing both emotions with regard to the young offenders issue, a subject directly affected by Bill C-416, which we are debating today.
When the federal government decided to go forward with Bill C-7, the Bloc did not waste any time in advising the federal government of the inherent dangers of such legislation for Quebec. Once again, I want to salute the untiring efforts of our former colleague, the former member for Berthier—Montcalm, the hon. Michel Bellehumeur, a Court of Quebec judge.
Quebec's system of dealing with young offenders is recognized as the most effective in the country. Since 1991, the crime rate among young Quebeckers has dropped by 23%. Everyone involved in the system in Quebec agrees that our approach, oriented toward reintegration rather than repression, should not be modified by any federal legislation.
Nevertheless, as we know, there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. Unfortunately, that too often describes the federal government which, once again has chosen to ignore our party's objections and reject the consensus from Quebec. Despite all our efforts, the Minister of Justice has decided to proceed with utter disregard for our recommendations. That is, in short, why we are so frustrated with this issue.
We had to wait two years before receiving any gratification or recognition for our considerable efforts. Recently the Quebec court of Appeal agreed with the Government of Quebec in a unanimous opinion concluding that certain provisions of the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, formerly the Young Offenders Act, are contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Last week, the federal Minister of Justice decided not to appeal this decision, thus recognizing that he must amend his legislation, as the Bloc Quebecois suggested two years ago. It is easy to imagine the time, energy and money that we could have saved if this government had had the wisdom to recognize the relevance of our arguments. And to think that some people still question the relevance of the Bloc Quebecois.
While we were celebrating this victory, another political party in this House, the Canadian Alliance—the official opposition, to top it off—demanded that the government appeal this judgment. According to them, the decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal weakens the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Far be it from me to speak ironically—it is not my style. Still, their position on this issue confirms that they are not yet ready to make inroads into Quebec. I can predict in advance that the next electoral struggle in Quebec will be between the Bloc and the Liberal party.
It is therefore not surprising that we are here today debating a private member's bill, C-416, which is one again trying to tighten up the young offenders system. This time the Canadian Alliance is deliberately targeting aboriginals by trying to amend both the Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The purpose is to deliberately deny the particular conditions in which a number of aboriginal youth live. Let us see specifically what Bill C-416 proposes to amend.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act states the following at subsection 3(1)( c )(iv):
within the limits of fair and proportionate accountability, the measures taken against young persons who commit offences should
respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences and respond to the needs of aboriginal young persons and of young persons with special requirements;
Now, in Bill C-416, this would read as follows:
(iv) respect gender, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences;
You heard right: the specific needs of aboriginal youth are deliberately excluded from the factors the judge will take into consideration. Yet the bill does recognize that certain differences do have to be taken into consideration, but those differentiating aboriginal youth do not seem to be important enough.
Could we have an explanation as to what that political party has against the aboriginal community and the recognition of the specific nature of certain nations in this country? Hard to explain, and even harder to understand.
How can a party with its main base in the west of this country ignore the particular living conditions, often very precarious ones, of the native communities? According to the 1996 census, over half of the aboriginal people in Canada live in the western provinces and territories. Why then act as if they knew nothing about the living conditions of aboriginal people and how radically different they are from those of non-aboriginal people?
The census I referred to also reported that the average annual income of Canadians over the age of 15 years was $25,196, while for aboriginal people it was $14,283. I need hardly point out that such poverty generates violence and despair. It would, therefore, be normal for a judge to be required to take this into consideration when reaching a sentencing decision.
Another example shows the distress frequently facing young aboriginals, starting at a very early age. I am referring here to the haunting images of young Innu from Davis Inlet sniffing gas. The federal government had to implement a special assistance program to remedy this serious dependency that hinted at much greater problems, such their lack of hope, poverty, social isolation and its effects.
In a legal sense, the amendment contained in Bill C-416 has no logical justification, particularly under the case law developed under paragraph 718.2( e ) of the Criminal Code. In the R. v Gladue decision , later confirmed by the R. v Wells  decision, the court determined that this section does not alter the fundamental duty of the sentencing judge to impose a sentence that suits both the offence and the offender, but that the sentence must include a consideration for the community context of the aboriginal offender.
The judge is obliged to consider the unique systemic or background circumstances or aboriginal heritage. Furthermore, in section 36 of the R. v Wells decision, Justice Iacobucci stated and I quote:
—that sentencing judges should pay particular attention to the fact that the circumstances of aboriginal offenders are unique in comparison with those of non-aboriginal offenders.
In conclusion, it is important to clearly understand that the sections in question do not give preferential treatment to aboriginals as the Canadian Alliance is claiming, but rather propose an individualized treatment for each specific case, which must not be taken out of context. If this continues to be applied in a mandatory fashion when it comes to ethnic, cultural, linguistic and gender differences, why should there be a double standard when it comes to young aboriginals.
As the Bloc Quebecois has been saying from the start, there has to be an individualized approach, based on reintegration rather than repression. Obviously, we will not support Bill C-416, and we will be voting against it when the time comes.