Mr. Speaker, it seems that my audience has changed but I will still follow up on the introduction I made earlier to try to convince the government—and I do not know if that is possible—that it is going down the wrong path in continually copying American methods. The methods it is using in this bill are once again based on automatic responses whereas, in dealing with crime, we must do the exact opposite. The issue of delinquency as a whole must be dealt with through an individualized approach to sentencing. It is not a simple issue.
I also noticed something that we see constantly from the current government. Every time it wants to increase sentences or impose minimums, it tells us about the worst cases. Well, it must be understood that when certain sentences are imposed automatically, they apply not only to the worst cases but also to the less serious ones.
Then, when we are given examples of sentences that seem totally unjustified, I do not remember one instance where it was mentioned that even one of these sentences was overturned by the Court of Appeal or that it was even appealed. It must be clearly understood that there are thousands of judges in Canada and that thousands of sentences are handed down every day. In such a system, errors are inevitable and we do have a mechanism that enables us to correct those errors. Under this mechanism, a large number of factors are taken into consideration when imposing a sentence. It seems to me that, if the government wants to change the law, it should demonstrate that the sentences imposed by the appeal courts are not appropriate.
With this bill, the Conservative government is telling us that it entertains the illusion that this piece of legislation will help us achieve the objective—a very ambitious one—and I quote, “of protecting innocent Canadians from future harm”. I am willing to bet my shirt that the government will not succeed. Crime will always exist. What we need to do is look for models that will give us a better way of dealing with crime.
Also, and this is something we have been criticized for in the past—I notice that my audience has changed—we have been asked why opposition to stricter sentences proposed by the government always seems to come from Quebec? That is simply because, in Quebec, we have tried alternative approaches and found out that they work. Quebec's violent crime rate is lower than the Canadian average. The homicide rate in Quebec is also lower than the Canadian average.
As a matter of fact, Quebec did not draw inspiration only from the United States. Probably because of language differences, it tends to look at models offered by various countries, including European and Scandinavian models. These countries still believe in criminology, in the sense that they regard crime as a complex issue. Similarly, general psychology is a complex science with methods of measurement different from those used in exact sciences, physical sciences and even chemistry. Nevertheless, some truths become obvious over time, including the fact that the fear of going to jail is not much of a disincentive for criminals. In fact, I would say that the fear of going to jail is only useful in keeping law-abiding people from straying from the straight and narrow.
I realize that a society where those who break the rules face no punishment whatsoever is likely to experience some slackening. In fact, that happens in societies where the police has no control on crime. But essentially, offenders think differently from people like ouselves, who would figure it is not worth their while to commit a crime because of the risk of a harsher sentence, and tell themselves, “Why take that risk just to get that?”. No, their reasoning is different. These are generally people with a short term outlook on things; they do not think that far ahead.
The department itself, before drafting these bills, asked researchers to establish a list of studies on imprisonment.
They had noticed that it did not reduce crime, and they established a link between longer jail sentences and a slight increase in recidivism. This shows that such an approach is not only useless, it makes things worse. Is this not precisely what we are observing in the United States? Are we really prepared to spend seven times more on incarceration measures to tackle crime, when we know that crime will always exist, but that it is possible to reduce it? Incidentally, it has diminished in Canada.
Before this bill was introduced, my colleague and homonym from Hochelaga, asked the Library of Parliament to prepare a paper on studies dealing with crime. Here are some brief excerpts:
After decades of relatively steady increases, Canada's overall crime rate began to drop significantly in the early 1990s. From 1991 to 2004, crimes reported by police forces dropped by a little over 22%, or by an average of 1.6% per year...The drop in crime was particularly sharp in the 1990s. From 1991 to 2000 alone, the rate dropped by nearly 26%, or an average of a little over 2% per year...The downward trend in the overall crime rate was followed by a period of stability between 2000 and 2002, then a notable increase of 6% in 2003, largely due to the increase in crimes against property. The slight decrease of 1% posted in 2004 appears to indicate a return to the downward trend that started early in the decade.
I often do the test, and I am convinced that I am teaching something new to most people when I say this. Why? Because, when it comes to crime, most people trust daily newspapers. But the fact is that newspapers only report exceptional cases. They do not write about ordinary crime cases.
Certainly if something serious happens—like in the collection of crimes always presented by the member for Wild Rose—such a crime would make the headlines of the daily newspaper. For 30 years I have been watching the opinion polls on crime levels. Crime is going down and people still have the impression it is rising. Crime can be measured, because the police receive complaints from complainants, which they note. They compile them. That is how we get an overview.
I said earlier that Quebec had a completely different attitude from the rest of Canada. So it is not surprising that its representatives in this House present different solutions.
In Quebec, the number of violent crimes is lower than the Canadian average. Quebec has had remarkable success with young offenders, thanks to an individualized approach.
In spite of this success, Quebec was forced a few years ago to adopt the new Canadian policy, a policy that forces judges to follow a path with absurd outcomes.
I remember a judge who told me about a young man who was arrested on the side of the street for trafficking a small amount of drugs with a double agent. It was discovered that he had a cell phone, a car and an apartment, and that he was dressed, if not tastefully, fairly expensively. He had already committed a minor offence, but he had complied with all the conditions of his sentence.
If that had occurred before the reform, I would have said to myself that, since this young man is clearly evolving, it is time for me to intervene and send him to an institution for young offenders for a little while. But I cannot do that because the guidelines tell me that there was not any violence, he fulfilled the conditions of his sentence, the drug offence was minor, and so on. So things were going in the opposite direction.
Quebec, which incarcerated half as many young offenders as Canada, had a crime rate corresponding to half that in the rest of Canada. I would have thought that, in the same country, two different communities that apply different means might observe each other, take a page from each other's best practices and seek to adopt them. But this is not what happened. The preference was to look towards the south.
Could this be because consultation is done in English only and some people are so impressed by news from the south that they want to impose a hard and fast model and not rely on the good judgment of judges? And yet in Quebec, where these measures have been put into practice, there has been a decline not only in youth crime but also in adult crime.
That is why Quebec still objects to this. We are trying to persuade the rest of Canada that the American system, which incarcerates seven times as many people as we do, and where the risk of getting killed is three times higher than in Canada, is not the right way to do things. Better that we should look, as Quebec does, to foreign models such as those in Europe and, in particular, in Scandinavia.
There is another thing. People always think that prison is the solution to crime. Here again, what I see is that some people are so impressed by the economic success of the United States that they envy that country and try to imitate it. Let us do that in other areas, but this is not the area to do it in.
For example, Japan is another country whose economic success is impressive. Are we aware that Japan incarcerates three times fewer people than Canada? That comes to 21 times fewer than the United States. Japan also has the lowest crime rate in the world.
I am not saying that we can reproduce the unique social context that exists in Japan here, but this is one more demonstration that systematically and blindly locking people up is not the right solution. The real solution for fighting crime lies in individualizing sentences. When a crime has been committed, we must first assess the seriousness of the crime, and then look at the circumstances in which it was committed, the motivation behind it, whether the person was led into committing the crime and whether there is a possibility that he or she can be rehabilitated. Sometimes we will arrive at totally different solutions.
In my law practice, I once got someone a suspended sentence for three counts of trafficking in heroin, in a case in which the principal offender got 12 years in prison. I guarantee not only that the suspended sentence was justified, but also that it had a successful outcome for that individual, if I recall correctly. That person has been completely rehabilitated. She wrote to me at Christmas for years, to send me photographs of her little family. I was very moved to learn, when I met her by chance 15 years later in a restaurant where she was with her children, that she had given her eldest daughter the same name as my eldest daughter, Sophie.
Knee-jerk reactions are not a solution, particularly when there are serious offences that cover all sorts of situations.
I acknowledge that kidnapping is a serious crime. Abducting a child is indeed serious. Kidnapping a child for ransom is different, however, from a father taking his child from the mother who has custody when he believes that she is not fit to care for the child and the child wants to go with him. Of course it is a serious matter to break the law. The crime of kidnapping covers extremely different situations, however, as we can see.
The same is true for sexual touching. There are different kinds of sexual touching. Certainly, violent sexual touching is unacceptable, because it is much more serious. Once again, this is a crime that can be committed in more serious and less serious ways. The proposal is to treat them all the same way, and it is that knee-jerk reaction that we oppose, because we have achieved better results in Quebec by taking an individualized approach to sentencing.