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House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Presence in GalleryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Perhaps I could, while I am on my feet and before the Thursday question, deal with a matter that arose following question period yesterday.

A number of members raised a point of order concerning the reference by the Minister of the Environment to the presence of certain persons in the gallery and offered advice to the Speaker on ways that I might deal with this problem.

I very much appreciate the suggestions of certain hon. members, particularly the hon. member for York West.

In any event, I do recall that when members were suspended for 30 days from asking questions, if they showed proper repentance, they were allowed back on the list if they indicated they realized their error in having made these references to people in the gallery.

I have looked at cases where members did make this kind of statement in the House.

Yesterday, the Minister of the Environment was truly repentant following his error. He stood up and said he was sorry, and claimed that the reason for his failure to comply completely with the rules was because of the fact that he was a new member. I know he was first elected to this House in 2006, having spent 13 long years watching the proceedings of this place from another spot.

I also have to say that I received various offers of assistance. Even the Minister of Justice offered to take the punishment for the Minister of the Environment and not answer questions in the House for 30 days.

Notwithstanding these generous offers and the suggestions that hon. members have made to me, I feel that the Minister of the Environment has indicated that he will not repeat this performance, and I therefore consider the matter closed.

It being Thursday, the hon. opposition House leader has a question.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

November 22nd, 2007 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the government House leader has recently departed from the practice of giving the House leaders at least two weeks notice in terms of the government's business. He is now restricting that notice to just one week.

I wonder if the government House leader could be just a little bit more forthcoming, not with his gratuitous embellishment of the content of legislation but simply and plainly indicating to the House what he intends to call in what order over the next two weeks.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, of course, it is very early in the session, so it is difficult to anticipate the legislative debate agenda.

In fact, were I to have said two weeks ago what we would be debating today, I would not have been able to anticipate what we are debating today. I certainly would not want to mislead the House, so I have restricted my comments to those of which I can have some certainty.

This week, the government has continued its efforts to tackle crime and strengthen the security of Canadians. We sent our bill to improve the security certificates process to committee. That bill is, of course, an important part of our plan to protect Canadians against threats to their safety and security.

This week, we have also introduced three important new pieces of legislation to make our streets and communities safe and secure. The first, Bill C-25, strengthens the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We started debate on this bill yesterday. We hoped it would have passed by now, but apparently the opposition has returned to its old tactics of delaying and obstructing our tough on crime agenda, and are in filibuster mode now. As a result, we will continue to debate this young offenders bill today.

The second bill, Bill C-26, imposes mandatory prison sentences for producers and traffickers of illegal drugs, particularly for those who sell drugs to children. We hope to start debating this bill very soon.

Finally, we introduced Bill C-27 to deal with the serious and complex problems resulting from identity theft.

These three bills are important elements of our action plan to make our communities safer and to fight crime.

Tomorrow we will begin report stage debate of the tackling of the violent crime act. The proposed bill will better protect youth from sexual predators and society from dangerous offenders. It gets serious with drug impaired drivers and toughens sentencing and bail for those who commit gun crimes. The bill has passed committee and we hope it will continue to swiftly move through the legislative process.

Next week's theme builds on what we have been doing this week. The theme will be getting the job done on justice and tax cuts.

We plan on completing debate on the violent crime act, at report and third reading stage, next week.

Once this bill has been passed by the House, we will continue with debate of Bill C-26 to provide for concrete measures to deal with drug traffickers.

To continue to provide the effective economic leadership that Canadians have come to expect from our government, we will begin debate on the budget implementation bill. The budget implements parts of budget 2007 and the fall fiscal and economic update. Among the tax relief items included, are the cut to the GST, reductions in personal income taxes and business taxes. We hope to call that at the earliest possible opportunity, with the consent of the other parties.

If time permits, we will call for debate this week on Bill S-2, the Canada-United States Sales Tax Convention Act, 1984. Next week, if time permits, we will call for debate on our bill to crack down on identity theft.

Next week the government will demonstrate that we are getting the job done on justice and tax cuts for Canadians. We are moving forward with important legislation that will make all communities safer and we are giving all Canadians tax cuts that will contribute to the long term prosperity of the country.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before oral question period, the hon. member for Jeanne-Le Ber had the floor to respond to questions and comments. There are two minutes remaining.

Since there are no questions, we will resume debate. The hon. member for Yukon.

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3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The House leader was complaining that the bill was being held up, so I hope he can get his message to his troops. Just before question period, the Conservatives were using the time up and stalling his bill.

A report prepared by Justice Nunn dealt with youth criminal justice, and it was very timely. The Conservatives wanted to improve the act, so we had this very detailed, well thought out study. The minister subsequently announced, with the justice minister of Nova Scotia, that he would improve the act. In his speech, the minister said, “Nova Scotia's request for change is in large part based on the recommendations of the Nunn Commission report”.

This is the good news, but from that point on Conservatives should become very upset. Very few recommendations from the Nunn report actually ended up in the bill. The minister has a prescription to fix the act. A number of Conservatives members have said that they want to fix the act and make improvements. They have the outline to do it and then it is not followed.

The Nunn Commission had 34 recommendations on how to improve youth criminal justice, in particular six specifically are referenced to this act. At the most, the minister only deals with three of those, as a member said earlier today, tangently. One of the three only moves the words from a couple of clauses into one clause, clause 29. Therefore, it is only a wording change. It does not change anything substantive. That leaves two changes in the bill.

One of those two changes is about 20 words, which makes some increased opportunity for the crown to increase detention in pre-trial. The exact wording of that very minor change is outlined very carefully in opposition justice critic's speech, if anyone wants to see the details of that change.

That leaves one other change and it did not come from the Nunn report. It is the use of denunciation and deterrence as reasons during the sentencing.

Therefore, we have a bill that is not even a full page long, if we were to put it all on one page. It has one major concept from the Nunn report and it avoids all these things for which Conservatives have asked, and that is increased safety. They received the recommendations in the Nunn report and everyone applauded it. I think the people who wanted those changes would be very astonished.

I forgot to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, my esteemed colleague, who I know has some very important thoughts in this area as well.

What is more astonishing is what is missing. The Nunn Commission recommended to amend section 3, the declaration of principle, to add a clause indicating the protection of the public as one of the primary goals of the act. I cannot believe why the minister would be against the protection of the public. The Nunn report suggested that we put it into the principles of the act, and it is not there. What could the government possibly have against that?

In fact, I do not think the minister is against it. He said in his speech, when he introduced the bill, that the proposals before the House “provide new measures to protect communities from young offenders who pose a significant risk to public safety”. The government wants to protect communities from risks to public safety and then it does not put the recommendation into bill. Why not simply follow that most obvious suggestion from the Nunn Commission?

Some of the comments on the bill show the difference between the government and the other parties in finding solutions to lower crime in the country.

The first response from a member of the government, in questions on this bill, was the suggestion that safe integration was not the primary objective of the Conservatives. On punishment, is it longer sentences? I do not know, but I am sure that for all other members of the House, safe integration is a primary objective. What the people of Canada want first and foremost is to be safe again. I do not know why the Conservatives are speaking against that.

The second Conservative member who spoke suggested that we should not deal with poverty. I do not think there is a member of the knowledgeable community in our modern country who does not know that poverty can lead to circumstances that make crime more prevalent. Not all crimes are done for this reason. Wealthy people create crimes as well, but I think the vast majority of people know it is a determinant. It is astonishing that it would not be part of the solution.

The next thing a Conservative member said on the bill, before we broke for question period, was that sentencing was an important deterrent for the Conservatives. Yet, the changes in sentencing have been proved over and over again, by witnesses to committee, that it is not a deterrent. It has no significant statistical effect on the incidence of crime. What does have an effect, and my colleague from British Columbia spoke at length on this earlier, is the fact that a criminals will be caught with an increase, for instance, of police, et cetera. That does act as a deterrent, but not what has been added to the bill.

The fourth comment from the Conservatives was about the people who had lost faith in the justice system. This is a pattern and if I had my 20 minute slot, I would have gone through the whole pattern. It is a pattern of adding the wrong solution in bill after bill, a solution that does not work. They add something that is not a deterrent or they add more of the same.

People are upset. The system does not work and, in fact, it has not worked for 1,000 years. We put people in jail, they get out and reoffend. Most crimes are reoffending crimes. Why this has been so problematic is the agenda has had so many amendments with many rejected because it is not the answer. It is not what witnesses, people who work with victims, or people who work with criminals have found to be the answer.

Finally, we have some new answers that are working in the restorative justice. I have to compliment the people of Ottawa because this is Restorative Justice Week in the city of Ottawa. I went to a wonderful session on Tuesday night this week. The Ottawa Chief of Police said, “We would challenge anyone to show me a system that fails as much as our mainstream justice system”, which these bills are trying to promote.

The crown prosecutor, who was also there, said, “never seen a victim or offender happy with the existing system”. We are concerned about victims and we want to have systems like the restorative justice system and the collaborative alternate diversion family group conferencing where we finally come up with solutions that on occasion, certainly not all the time, work.

In fact, a Conservative stood and said that even the people who worked in that field said that they did not work all the time. I have to agree. The Conservatives were right with that comment. It does not work all the time, but the statistics in Ottawa show that 38% to 45% of the time it fails. The regular justice system fails 73% of the time. If there is any member of the House who would want to make Canada safer, they would obviously choose the 38% to 45% with these alternative methods for rehabilitating criminals so they do not go out and create more victims. This would make Canada safer.

This has been successful around the world with aboriginal people for centuries. Therefore, let us not continue to put in solutions that do not work. Now that there has been all this attention on justice, at least the good thing is we have heard from witnesses about things that will work. Let us start promoting those and really changing the system. Although the crime rate is going down, let us make it go down even more.

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3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thought I would just help the hon. member with some of his remarks.

He kept mentioning the Nunn commission and that only one of the recommendations has been included in Bill C-25.

For the member's information, the Nova Scotia justice minister is very supportive of our bill. Nova Scotia justice minister Cecil Clarke has called on members of this House to support Bill C-25. Our justice minister has worked closely with his provincial counterparts on provisions of this bill. I think the hon. member should keep that in mind when he talks about the Nunn commission and other commissions.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, that is exactly what I was trying to say at the beginning. Perhaps I did not say it clearly, but both the Nova Scotia justice minister and the federal Minister of Justice talked about the suggestions coming from the Nunn commission, so why did they only use one substantive idea?

I actually said there would be maybe three of the six suggestions related to the act itself that tangentially were dealt with, but certainly the major one is the principles of the safety of the public, which is important. I cannot believe there is any Conservative who would disagree with this, because the Conservatives are always talking about it, but when the judge considered the sentence, now he would have to look at public safety as well. That would make eminent logical sense. That was an important recommendation from the Nunn commission. I am sure that the justice ministers who were looking at that would certainly think it was very important to have public safety as a goal of sentencing.

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to my colleague from Yukon, who does an excellent job for his constituents in his riding. In the north, particularly in aboriginal communities, violence and youth violence are terrible parts of the social structure of too many of those communities. Drug abuse, violence and sexual abuse prey upon the children in those communities and can have broad ranging, deleterious and damaging effects in the development of those children throughout their early lives and on to adulthood.

I want to ask my colleague, who comes from Yukon, if he sees these tragedies in an upfront and personal way in the communities that he serves. What solutions does he think the government ought to be doing to deal with the plague of youth crime that is affecting too many aboriginal communities in our country?

What solutions does he think this government should adopt that could prevent these problems and enable aboriginal communities to have the social and economic assets they require on the ground to change the terrible tide that occurs to too many people in too many communities?

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3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, that was an excellent question. To a large extent aboriginal people will be as successful as everyone else, if they have the same opportunities to succeed. I found that there are the same problems with all criminals.

In fact, when the minister introduced this bill, I asked him what the government was doing. One of the major problems in the system is the overrepresentation of aboriginal people and in particular people with FAS. The government did not have a comprehensive plan.

Fortunately, the minister did say that he bowed to the constant pressure that we had put on the government to reinstate the aboriginal justice strategy only a few weeks before it was to expire. I am delighted he did that. We pushed him to do that. That strategy has been a very big success.

There have been some wonderful success stories resulting from the restorative justice programs that mentioned. Many communities in Yukon now have circles and there are wonderful success stories coming out of them. If people had not gone through this process, the statistics show that there would have been a greater chance of recidivism and thus more victims in society. There are wonderful success stories. It would be terrible if we lost this program.

The government talks about victims. Some victims were at an event on Tuesday night in Ottawa. They talked about how thankful they were that the offender had come to the circle and talked with them. They said that it helped them. The offender actually said, “No, you have helped me more”. It is a very successful system. That is the type of thing we need to do.

Aboriginal society is slightly different in the sense that it is a collective society, not simply individuals. It is very important when an offender has to actually confront the people he or she has offended in a circle, in front of the family and that social network. The elders are much more important and have more effect. It is more difficult for the offender than being incarcerated. I think the police chief said that every single person that he dealt with found it more difficult being involved with that type of restorative justice than simply being incarcerated.

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3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Yukon for splitting his time with me.

Youth violence and youth crime issues have sometimes been fraught with the lack of facts, are driven by emotion, which is more than understandable, and are certainly driven by fear. Those who have been victimized by youth criminals know full well the pain and suffering they endure and sometimes find it, understandably, very difficult when the system does not come to their aid as it should. Over the last decade or so a lot has changed for victims but more needs to be done.

The government has introduced a bill that supposedly is going to make our streets safer. At least that is supposedly the goal. What if the interventions of the government made our streets less safe? What if it was introducing interventions that would increase the level of criminality, not prevent youth crime and not deal with youth crime in a way that would improve the safety of the general public?

Dr. Laurence Steinberg, a child psychologist at Temple University, suggests that family friendly policies and programs to promote parental effectiveness, parental education and prenatal care are very important. He also argues that additional benefits to families are derived from programs addressing mental health, substance abuse recovery and the reduction of poverty. I will explain why I mention this in the introduction of my speech.

I have been a corrections officer in the past. I have worked as a physician in adult jails and youth jails. I have seen a number of communities where youth crime is prevalent. It strikes me that we have to do things to address those who have committed crimes and also to protect the general public, which is absolutely the first order of business of any government. It is also the government's responsibility to introduce policies which will make our country safer, but some of the policies the government is introducing are going to make our streets less safe.

For example, the government wants to introduce policies that will put low level drug dealers in jail. Who are those drug dealers? The low level drug dealers are addicts themselves. If we throw those individuals in jail, all we will do is harden their criminal behaviour and drive them toward worse criminal behaviour when they get out.

The low level drug dealer needs to deal with his or her underlying problem, which is addiction. That is why the government needs to work with the provinces to adopt policies that address the plague of addiction and substance abuse that affects youth and adults alike. What is needed are solutions that are based on fact and science, not based on ideology.

If we look at our policies in terms of the youth criminal population, a good percentage of those individuals suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. That occurs when a woman drinks alcohol when she is pregnant, particularly during the first two trimesters, and it affects the development of the child's brain to such an extent that the average IQ of a child is in the seventies and behavioural problems occur. A number of those children commit crimes. Many of them fall prey to addictions and that puts them into the realm of our judicial system.

What if we were to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects? I am not talking about putting up posters in communities. I am talking about substantive solutions that would address the problem at its heart. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of brain damage in our country and it is preventable. There is a community in my riding where it is estimated that 70% of the people who live there have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. Imagine that.

Sixty per cent of the people in jail are determined to have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects. If this is such a problem, why is the government not introducing policies that will actually work to prevent that? Why is the government not working with its provincial counterparts to introduce policies that would prevent youth crime? Why is it not implementing a national head start program that works to prevent youth crime?

If I were to say that there is a program that results in a 60% reduction in youth crime, that saves the taxpayer $7 for every $1 invested, would people not think it was a good solution? I would think any responsible government would embrace that policy.

Why did the government kill the national early learning program when the facts support that an early learning program, which enables children to have at least one responsible adult in their lives and where they can have adequate parenting, proper nutrition and proper access to love and care, ensures that a child's brain develops normally, particularly in the early years?

By keeping kids in school longer, they become less dependent on social programs, have better outcomes in education and have better integration into society. All of those things reduce youth crime. Why does the government not take the initiative to work with the provinces where it has willing partners to implement those solutions, such as an early learning headstart program, for every citizen in this country? That works.

Whether it is in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where it has had a 25 year retrospective analysis, or it is in a place like Hawaii with its healthy start program that produced a 99% reduction in child abuse rates, those programs, with a minimal amount of money and by working with parents and their children, have a profound positive effect on the outcomes of those children.

The provinces have another obstacle in terms of the implementation of the justice system. The provinces, which are the managers of our justice system, have backlogs. Right now, there is a huge prison population who have been remanded in jail while awaiting their day in court. We know that justice delayed is justice denied. Why does the Minister of Justice not work with his provincial counterparts to ensure they have the resources to ensure justice is seen to be working?

The government can also work with the provinces to ensure that administration takes place. The police officers have a terrible time, as do Crown prosecutors, to ensure youth criminals are able to have their day in court and that justice occurs in a fair but expeditious fashion.

All manner of loopholes exist that enable defence attorneys to block the ability of the justice being seen to go through from beginning to end and that is a big problem. It is frustrating for the police, for the courts and for the victims. It is frustrating for all concerned, except perhaps those who are involved in the defence and those who have committed the crime.

Intelligent solutions have been offered by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, by the Canadian Police Association and by victims groups that the government should be listening to, rather than pulling solutions out of its ear that are not based on fact and not based on experience but are rooted in ideology.

Not all of the interventions are bad. Keeping those who have committed violent offences and who have been shown to break their probation rules in jail is good because it has been proven that they committed those acts and that they flagrantly abuse the law as they see fit.

However, the government has a role. It has an obligation and a responsibility to ensure that it is implementing solutions with the provinces that work.

In my riding, in my area of Victoria, we have an enormous problem of youth crime and, in terms of homelessness, that is largely driven by drugs. The government should be doing two things.

We have good laws right now that address organized crime but they can be and should be strengthened. The government should be putting out a policy that deals with organized crime.

Right now, organized criminal activity that occurs across the border is fuelling the introduction of guns, drugs and other contraband, including contraband cigarettes, into Canada and yet the government has stuck its head in the sand and does not want to see it. It is happening all along the St. Lawrence and has become a huge problem for those communities along the St. Lawrence, including many aboriginal communities. However, no one speaks for those people who live in those communities. The government has stuck its head in the sand and those people are actually the victims of the government's neglect of their plight.

The other thing the government should have is an effective drug policy. It should also be supporting the Insite safe and supervised injection program in Vancouver, allowing it to be used in other communities in the country, and the NAOMI project, which is a narcotics substitution project that has been proven to get addicts out of jail, back into the system and to move on with their lives.

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3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear my colleague begin his speech by referring to the fact that the most important role of government is to protect its citizens. I commend him for saying that but I think he went downhill from there.

He used to be on the opposition side of the House when the Liberals were in government and for years he railed against the Liberals for their inaction on crime. I had a chance to review some of his comments many years ago. And then something happened, although I do not know exactly what, but he crossed the floor and joined the governing Liberals of the day.

He spent a few years there and, over those years, violent crime got worse. In fact, Statistics Canada recently reported that not only did violent crimes in general get worse, but youth crimes went up by 3% and the number of youth accused of murder in 2006 was the highest in 40 years.

Given the fact that the Liberal policy of 13 long years failed, why will he not now give an opportunity to a new Conservative government to implement the kinds of criminal law policies that Canadians demand?

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3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's facts are dead wrong on a number of counts.

He is correct in the sense that last year there was a blip and an increase in violent crime, but if he would be good enough to look at the statistics that he claims he looked at, he ought to look at the fact that basically from the late 1980s there has been a steady decline in crime, including gun crime, across the country and it has been in a steady decline for more than 14 years.

He is correct about there being a blip last year, but there is also a regional blip, particularly in Toronto, which means that we need to be looking for solutions to the problems in Toronto. The community and the mayor have come up with a number of solutions.

However, I want him to look into his heart and ask himself a question. His government is going to introduce a series of policies that will incarcerate more people. Some of those people, particularly that nub of small population that are inveterate criminals and are causing a problem, should be in jail and there should be a way to ensure that the police do not have go through this rotating door all the time.

He needs to ask himself whether his government should be implementing policies to deal with substance abuse and drug abuse, to have an early childhood education program for children, to have psych therapy for children and to have detox and treatment programs. Those are the things that work.

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3:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to this debate because I think it is very important to have these discussions.

I would like to offer my own interpretation of what we are looking at because for a number of years my wife and I worked with homeless people in downtown Toronto and we would take in people coming from the prison system to live with and to work with on rehabilitation. We found, of course, that the vast majority of criminals were not the evil ones that they are sometimes portrayed as, but are actually mostly the stupid ones. The reasons for which they get involved in crimes are so abominably stupid most of the times that it is surprising they did not get caught before they started.

However, what we found time and again with recidivism were issues of addiction and poverty and that once they fell into that system the abuse and humiliation, which is what they would talk about in prison, damaged them so much that they were coming out much worse than when they went in. It became harder and harder to help someone, especially young offenders who had been in two or three times, because of the abuse they were suffering in prison.

Does the hon. member have any suggestions about this facet of the criminal population, the ones who are first getting in there and how we can actually keep them from ending up as worse citizens at the end of the day?

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3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend obviously knows where he comes from with his experience in this.

There is a small subpopulation of individuals who are inveterate criminals, who are mentally competent and who are actually sociopathic or psychopathic. They need to be in jail to protect the public at large. There is no question about that. The police are very frustrated with them and there needs to be a way to get them in jail and a way that works better.

However, for the population the member talked about, we need a drug policy that works. We need a prevention solution that works, which is the head start program for kids. We need adequate detox, adequate treatment facilities, the early learning program for children and psych therapy because many of these people have dual--

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Laval.

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3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon to speak to Bill C-25. I have heard this bill being discussed all day by various colleagues who have different positions.

However, I think that there is room in the debate on this bill for the individual, the grandmother, the mother, the person looking at the situation from a different point of view than the legal experts.

It is true that if we were legal experts, we would look at this pragmatically without too much thought for the consequences of our decisions. The consequences do not affect us. They will affect the people this bill will target in the future: our young people. There are 308 members in this House, and I believe that many among us have children, grandchildren and teenagers. But the difference between our children and the children this bill would put in prison for committing serious crimes, is that we are probably in a position to offer them services to get help.

When we talk about juvenile delinquents, we are often talking about young people who come from disadvantaged, impoverished backgrounds. Unfortunately, we are also often talking about youth who come from aboriginal communities, and for good reason. When you do not have any dreams to pursue when you wake up in the morning, when you have no way to realize your ambitions, you may well rebel as an adolescent and wind up doing something to finally make a name for yourself. But sometimes, people do strange things for recognition.

I am not trying to say that I am in favour of what our young people do and the violence they often engage in. In my opinion, everyone in this House had a difficult adolescence. If we did not, it was probably because we were luckier or more privileged or because our parents were able to protect us and gave us as much affection, love and discipline as they could.

But this is not the whole reason young people rebel. Rebellion is part of adolescence, part of the transition to adulthood. When adolescents rebel, they sometimes do reprehensible things that they are not necessarily aware of. Even though they want to become adults, adolescents are still children. Even though in their own minds they already have adult thoughts and tastes, emotionally they are often still children and need someone to guide them and help them find their way.

Often, young people step out of line because they are far more spontaneous than when they become adults. Even here, in this House, adults often step out of line because they are spontaneous and spontaneously decide to rebel against a colleague, a policy or ideologies they do not appreciate. But we are adults, and we should always behave like pragmatic adults and keep our feelings in check.

This, however, is not the reality. Imagine being an adolescent who is having problems, who has little in the way of resources, who has no money and wants to be like everyone else, like those who have money and wear designer clothes, those who go to the movies and to concerts, which, these days, can cost $65, $150 or even $200 a ticket. Although I do not condone the actions of these adolescents, I can certainly understand why they are sometimes tempted to do something reprehensible in order to achieve their ends.

Should we immediately give them sentences that, in reality, rival adult sentences? Does anyone believe that this is what will get them back on track and make them into serious adults? I do not believe that putting children in prison will produce better citizens. I do not believe that establishing harsher sentences for our young people will produce better citizens.

I do not believe that prison, any more than prayer, can transform a person. It has long been said: “pray and you will be healed”. The same is true when it comes to prison: it just does not happen. All too often, the very opposite is what happens—and I am not referring to prayer, but to prison. Quite often, rather than making someone more socially responsible, prison teaches them the tricks that only lead them deeper into the spiral of crime.

Prisons are full of hardened criminals, such as murderers. Often, people in prison have no concept of right and wrong. Is that really what we want for our children?

When I wake up in the morning and I hear on television that a bunch of teenagers had a fight and one of them died, or that an elderly person was assaulted and beaten, or that some teenagers stole some weapons and shot at other teenagers, that scares me. It would scare anyone. But will that fear make me want to put all children in prison? That would not make sense. It does not make sense to make a law so restrictive that it prevents us from giving these children a chance to become full members of society again.

There have been so many studies on the subject. We have a good record in Quebec. We are constantly working to give our children back a sense of fairness, of justice, of belonging to society, as well as an understanding that being part of society means having both rights and responsibilities. If we spent a little more time educating children about that, if we ourselves, as responsible adults, made a stronger commitment to teaching our children about rights and responsibilities, then perhaps fewer of our children would choose the wrong path.

Today, the government is trying to persuade us that there is no hope for our children. I refuse to accept that. I refuse to believe that our children are intrinsically bad.

I refuse to believe that the bad in children who are 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 is so entrenched that they are beyond redemption. I refuse to believe that.

I wonder how many people here have thought about that. I wonder whether the Minister of Justice has children; if he has adolescents. I wonder if he always follows the rules. Does he always drive his car at 100 km an hour? Does he always make a complete stop? Does he ever have a drink before getting in his car? I wonder. We are entitled to wonder. When we legislate for children, we have to be as pure as the driven snow and I do not think that is the case for any one of us here. I am not; and I am not a murderer either.

We are talking here about changing laws for the future, for a long time. When legislation is passed, it is not just for a year or two. It does not come and go like political parties falling in and out of favour. That is not how it works. Unfortunately, when a law is entered in our books, it is there for a long time, unless we change it by eliminating parts of it. It is still very hard work. And even if we do this hard work, because we have had second thoughts, does not guarantee results with our children who are growing up right now.

Our children need parents with financial security. They need parents who are not experiencing a work shortage or a gap in employment insurance benefits if they are without work, or a lack of affordable housing.

I went to Prince Albert this summer. I met some people there from Edmonton who told me that in the middle of their city is a tent-city to shelter Edmontonians who can no longer afford rent. I have not heard anyone talk about that in this House. The Conservatives are unable to find solutions to poverty, the lack of affordable housing and other problems in Quebec or Canada that prevent our children from attending the schools of our choice or from participating in the activities of their choice because people can no longer afford it.

When people lose their jobs at 55 years of age, they very likely have children, adolescents, who are left without a lot of choice. The Conservatives cannot do anything in that regard, but they want legislation to ensure that these children, who will never have as much as other people, will be imprisoned if they do something wrong. They want to pass a law to do that. Children are allowed to have guns in Alberta and Saskatchewan in particular. They are allowed to play with very dangerous things, and now the Conservatives want to pass a law so that they can be imprisoned after they use their guns on someone.

What lack of thought. What are we coming to? It is socially reckless. What are we doing for the generations to come?

I do not think that this is the way to solve the problems of our young people. We should put the money where it is needed. We should ensure that parents have the wherewithal to feed their children. We should ensure that they have what it takes to nourish their minds, their bodies and their interests and that they can buy books to nourish their dreams. We should do that first, and then I am sure we would have a lot fewer delinquents. I am sure that if we give our children what they need to grow up proudly, there will be no need for these prisons.

We know that some children are sexually assaulted. This also helps to create habitual criminals. What are we doing, though, to protect our children from sexual assault? What are we doing to protect the children who are out on the streets right now? What are we doing to provide them with homes? There are very few places where they can go when they lose their way or run away from home. What are we doing for them? Rather than sending them to prison, why not try to work with them? Why not try to give them a chance? That is what we are doing in Quebec, and it is having real results.

In the United States, on the other hand, they are just creating habitual criminals. The earlier a child goes to prison, the greater the chance that he will become a habitual criminal. We know that in Quebec. Why can people not understand that in the rest of Canada? Why? What is the problem? Is it between the ears? Why can they not understand that children have a right to be free? Children need to be taught, though, that freedom entails both rights and responsibilities. We should teach them that instead of putting them in prison.

All day long, I have heard our friends—I do not even want to use that word any more—our Conservative opponents, let me say, talking about the importance of putting children in prison. Usually, I would qualify the Conservatives as adversaries, but they are not even adversaries; they are simply bad guys.

Among the Conservatives you will find people who are against abortion. They want the babies of women who have been raped to come into the world so they can become children without dreams, criminals that we put in prison. Is that the kind of future we want to give them? Is that the justice, the policy we want to introduce? The kind of policies that we need are the ones that will eliminate poverty, that will allow for the enrichment and empowerment of our children, policies that will enable everyone to profit from the fruits of this money that is constantly collected. It is in the order of $14 billion, $11 billion and $27 billion.

We send money to Saudi Arabia and we send them recommendations. That is what they told us, at noon today, concerning a woman who had received a sentence of 200 lashes. What treatment will our children receive in the places where we want to imprison them? Are we going to wash our hands of them too? After all, what is important is to get rid of them, right? What is important is to close the door so that we do not see what is going on. Is that really what is important?

Unfortunately, that is what seems to be important. They are completely uninterested in the results that such a policy could produce. They could not care less. They have not given it five minutes' thought. They are populist; they do like so many others. For our part, we do not want to lower ourselves to that. The government responds to pressure rather than doing what it should. It is easier. It is easier to build prisons than to commit money to combat poverty.

Needless to say, I will be voting against this bill. I hope that my colleagues in the opposition will vote against it as well. As for the rest of my colleagues, I do not expect anything from them.

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4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I see several members rising for questions and comments. I will try to do a minute for each question and answer to accommodate more members.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

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4 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I cannot resist saying that this is just right out of Days of our Lives. Does the hon. member really think that we are going to go down the streets rounding up children, throwing them in jail and giving them 200 lashes each because they are naughty? For crying out loud, this is absolutely outrageous.

Let me ask the member a simple question. Does she think that a curfew for a year is a just penalty for someone who gets three friends together, goes home, gets baseball bats and golf clubs and then knocks on another juvenile's door and, in a premeditated way, beats him to death? Is curfew for a year a just penalty?

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4 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, as usual, my colleague demonstrates that he does not listen when we speak. I did not say that he should give our children 200 lashes.

On the question of imposing a curfew on children for a year, in Quebec we have proved that we can adapt the punishment to the crime committed and that sending them right to prison is not going to straighten them out. While these children did something that is not right, we also have to see the root of the problem. It is not enough to say that a crime was committed, particularly when it is committed by children. It is not enough to say that a crime was committed when we do not know what the root of the problem is. We must absolutely ensure that we know why the crime was committed.

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4 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's speech. I found it very powerful because more and more now we are talking about the criminalization and the demonization of our young people. It is, I think, a profound change in our society.

I was a school trustee. I saw schools putting in CCTV cameras to spy on our young people because they are up to something. I have seen schools where they have taken out the meeting places where young people spend time together because if those young people are spending time together they are causing trouble. There is a sense that young people are a threat to be watched all the time.

Where is the question about how these young people are our citizens? These are the people we adults should be working with instead of just always blaming them, stopping them on the streets and making sure they have no place to hang out. This is what we are seeing and not just with the Conservative Party. That party is a manifestation of a much larger problem.

When Sun Media has a story about a little old lady mugged by a punk, we will notice that there are members in the House who have a spring in their step and a whistle as they sing. It seems to make their day that they can come here and say that they have another example of evil youth. I would like to ask the member what she thinks about this continual demonization of young people.

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

What is happening is in fact very unhealthy and it makes me very afraid. It makes me very afraid because we are seeing a very intense right-wing wave that has got hold of some people’s minds.

And yet we know that Dr. Lipsey has done meta-analyses over several years on the subject of rehabilitating offenders. He tells us that for adolescents, rehabilitation is much more effective than imprisonment. This is someone who is recognized worldwide. Why not put our faith in people who have done studies for years rather than putting our faith in what we feel, as an individual or a minister or an MP? Why not put our faith in what has been done by qualified people who do nothing but this, rather than wanting to imprison our children for a few votes in a few provinces?

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Raymond Gravel Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased to hear the speech by my colleague from Laval. She is a woman with heart who speaks from her heart and I found it very interesting. I have two little questions to ask her, but I do not know whether she will be able to answer them both.

First, she drew a parallel between prayer and prison. I would like her to expand on what she meant. Second, I would also like to know the statistics. We are told that the crime rate is falling, but at the same time we are toughening up the laws. I do not know what the statistics are in this regard. Is there a difference between Quebec and the rest of Canada? I think that the rehabilitation rate is much higher in Quebec than elsewhere and that the policy is perhaps different. I would like her to expand on this.

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4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want thank my colleague for his question.

I made reference to prayer because I know our colleagues truly believe in it. In fact, I think they believe in prison as much as they do in prayer. I believe in the power of prayer. They say, pray and you shall be healed, but that is not what I believe. Pray, do something and then you will heal. We do not heal automatically. This is not a time of miracles, especially not since this government came to power. In talking about prayer, reference is often made to the Conservatives, who are very right leaning and often use prayer to resolve their problems.

However, as far as rehabilitating our offenders is concerned, we have such a high success rate in Quebec because we use the right tools and we believe in these young people and we believe that by working with them we can help them do something good.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I quite often listen to members like this one and the member from the NDP, who seems to think that everybody is demonizing young people these days. I keep hearing the message from that member's party that if we cleaned up poverty, we would clean up crime. Do rich kids in Quebec not commit crimes?