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.