Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this very important debate. What we are talking about is the future of our young people in our communities. From the outset I want to say that I am against this bill and that the Bloc Québécois is also against it. There need to be very specific examples. People need to realize, and I hope the members opposite will realize, that rehabilitation and reintegration exist and are working. What is more, this works much better than repression and deterrence.
In 32 years of practising criminal law, I spent a number of years working with young offenders. We saw the Young Offenders Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and all sorts of legislation to try to deal with youth crime. I can assure you that in Quebec, this works. I do not understand why it does not work elsewhere.
In the 1970s, my colleague from Hochelaga will remember, there was the hippie culture. In the 1990s, it was something else and now we have street gangs. I guess the purpose of this bill is to try to address these street gangs that very quickly recruit our young people and incite them to commit crime. We are going down the wrong path.
There are plenty of examples. I attended meetings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for several months. Experts who appeared before the committee said that cracking down on crime is working in the United States. That is not true. All kinds of evidence and statistics were provided. The Conservatives are basing their bill on false data from the United States. Cracking down has not reduced the crime rate. That is simply not true. The homicide rate in the United States has not dropped despite the fact that they put more people in jail than anyone else and even though they have the death penalty. Are the Conservatives trying to reopen the debate on the death penalty with this bill? I would not be surprised if that was what they wanted. I hope that is not the case and that they will provide some reassurance to that effect.
A basic tenet of law states that onus must not be placed on the accused when seeking interim release if doing so would violate the presumption of innocence. Therein lies the problem. That is a fundamental principle. Why reverse the onus? There are articles in the Criminal Code that cover this, and they have applied until now. Young people who committed repeat offences were not released. That is not the problem; the problem is reintegration.
I do not know what has gotten into the Conservatives. They need to understand, once and for all, that putting people in jail as often as possible and for as long as possible does not stop crime. The real causes of crime—as they themselves will say—are poverty, poor social environment and so on. It seems strange that even though they know this, they have never put forward any solutions to these problems.
When I was with clients in court, sentences were decided case by case. The judge had to explain the sentence to the individual. It is hard enough for a judge to determine an appropriate sentence for individuals over 18.
Now imagine the problem they have with those under 18. The closer a person is to 14, the harder it is.
A young, 14-year-old person, whether the Conservatives like it or not, does not think the same as someone who is 18, 20, 22 or 24. Kids should be kids. Yes, crime does exist among young people and it must be dealt with severely. I agree—I am not saying that we should all give them our blessing and trust them implicitly. They must be dealt with by the courts and sanctioned appropriately.
I would point out that, as legislators, we talked about sanctions for young offenders and not sentences. There is a significant difference. The sentence must then be explained, the sanction that is about to be given to an individual. The younger the offender, the more careful we must be, the more we must customize the sanction, and focus on rehabilitation and reintegration. This is what I want to explain to the Conservatives, given that “rehabilitation” and “reintegration” do not seem to be part of their vocabulary.
Someone who commits an offence—and that is what we are talking about—must be given the opportunity to return to society. We must explain to them and make sure they understand the risks, and take steps to ensure they do not reoffend. Among young offenders—dozens of whom I have represented—it is foolish to believe there is any reverence for crime, that they want to return to crime, that they like committing offences, that they like breaking and entering, that they like committing murder. This is all false. It is an urban legend.
Quite often, the young person is put in a certain situation. Here are some examples. The most common crimes committed by young people are breaking and entering and car theft, or using illegal substances, of course. It does not involve hard drugs, but rather using marijuana and hashish. However, when someone begins using cocaine, certain measures must definitely be taken. I am not saying that we should not intervene, but that we must do so while considering the needs of young people. And what young people need is rehabilitation and, above all, reintegration.
We have to remember that the young person must return to society and become a productive member. Bill C-25 provides for the opposite. Consequently, they will start out slowly by keeping youth in a crime school. They even want to send young people to adult jail more often. I would like my friends opposite to go and see what goes on in a penitentiary. That is no place for a young person. We have to think in terms of rehabilitation and reintegration.
My wise colleague from Hochelaga spoke of Supreme Court decisions where the justices stated:
Parliament has sought preferably to promote the long-term protection of the public by addressing the circumstances underlying the offending behaviour, by rehabilitating and reintegrating young persons into society and by holding young persons accountable through the imposition of meaningful sanctions related to the harm done.
As I have only one minute left, I will conclude by saying that with this bill we run the risk of going in the wrong direction. We run the risk of being entangled in something very difficult from which we will not be able to extricate ourselves, namely repression and sanction.
What we should be doing is talking to our young people, explaining to them, making them understand and reiterating that crime does not pay, that you must live up to your obligations and that a solution must be found when a sentence is handed down. We have to explain this to the youth so that he accepts the sentence. If he does not, he is headed straight to the school of crime known as prison.