House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members


Manufacturing and Forestry IndustriesRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The Chair has received notice of a request for an emergency debate.

This request has been made by the honourable member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques who may now put forward her arguments on this matter.

Manufacturing and Forestry IndustriesRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.


Louise Thibault Independent Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be as brief as possible. I thank my colleague.

Mr. Speaker, as I advised you earlier today, I am up to my old tricks and I am asking once again. Pursuant to Standing Order 52 of the House of Commons, with the backing of the majority of this House, for the leaders of the three opposition parties as well as independent members have given me their support, I rise today to ask that you agree to an emergency debate on the forestry and manufacturing crisis that has severely affected Canada for several months, particularly in Quebec, because this is an emergency.

This emergency debate is essential for three reasons. First, to discuss the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people who are affected directly and indirectly by this serious, major, devastating crisis, it is urgent. Second, to debate the very real, daily despair of the thousands of private woodlot owners who have been driven to bankruptcy and to discuss the future of one of our greatest natural resources: our forests, it is urgent. Third, the need for us as Parliamentarians to assume our role as representatives of all the people of Canada to find solutions here and now to this crisis which is causing such widespread devastation, it is urgent. Finally, today even the government recognizes that this is urgent.

My request, which expresses the wish of the majority of the members of this House, is based on recognition of an urgent need to debate this matter as soon as possible. Finally, in addition to the general interest in this matter that you recognized yourself last week, Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the normal proceedings of the House will do nothing to end this crisis. Accordingly, the members of the opposition majority are calling for immediate action to save this industry and give hope to those regions that are affected by a real and genuine crisis. This emergency debate is essential to bring that about.

Manufacturing and Forestry IndustriesRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I must begin by saying that the subject raised by the hon. member is of great interest to many members. However, I must also mention that this morning, during the time allocated to private members' business, we discussed this subject during the debate on a motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois whip.

At this time, it is my opinion that this is not an urgent matter to be debated in the House. Naturally, were the situation to become more urgent, the debate could be held in a few days. One never knows. However, today, I must refuse the request.

Alleged Impediment in the Discharge of a Member's Duties —Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

February 4th, 2008 / 3:15 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before we turn to government orders, I have a ruling to give.

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on Tuesday, January 29, by the hon. member for Mississauga South alleging that members of the opposition were impeded in carrying out their responsibilities when requesting information from public servants.

I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this matter and for providing the Chair with further comments since that time. I also want to thank the hon. member for Joliette, the hon. member for Vancouver East, and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House for their interventions when the matter was raised as well as the hon. member for Yukon and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River who later provided their views on this issue. Finally, I thank the hon. Minister of Health for rising twice in the House to provide clarification on the procedures in his department and on steps the department is taking to ameliorate its practices.

In presenting his case, the member for Mississauga South charged that officials at the Department of Health treated requests from members of the opposition differently than those from members of the governing party.

He indicated that when his staff tried to obtain information from the department on behalf of a constituent, officials asked his staff if the member requesting the information was a member of the opposition.

Later, the hon. member himself was informed by the department that in responding to members, officials were required to fill out a form and monitor the details of the member's request.

The hon. member argued that this requirement caused delays in his being given the information requested and he claimed further that the departmental official acknowledged that this same information would have been communicated immediately to constituents who called the department themselves. The hon. member concluded that this approach constituted an impediment to his performance as a member of Parliament.

The members for Joliette and Vancouver East expressed serious concern regarding this particular case, noting the impact of this kind of conduct on the ability of opposition Members to fulfill their duties without obstruction.

The member for Scarborough—Rouge River underlined that the process complained of constituted an obstruction to the work of members because it delayed access to information which an ordinary citizen could obtain more expeditiously. He argued that this situation undermined the members' capacity to serve their constituents efficiently and well.

For his part, the Minister of Health, in his original intervention, indicated that it was not the standard operating procedure of the department to ask callers to identify the affiliation of the member who requires the information.

Later, however, the minister rose to explain that the department did indeed have responding officials fill out a form which included party affiliation of the questioner.

He went on to explain that this practice aimed simply to keep the department's parliamentary affairs officials apprised of issues and the need for possible follow-up. He acknowledged that seeking to learn the party affiliation of inquiring MPs might be misconstrued and that the practice would be changed immediately.

The Chair sees two important issues in the case raised by the hon. member for Mississauga South. The first focuses on public service procedures when providing information to members of Parliament and the alleged difference in which such requests are processed depending on which side of the House the member sits.

The second issue relates to a possible obstruction of members' ability to provide services to their constituents in a timely fashion, an obstruction that can create a perception in the mind of constituents that members of Parliament are not able to serve their constituents effectively.

From the Chair's point of view, however, the question is a good deal simpler: does the manner in which public servants serve members of Parliament when dealing with constituency matters constitute a prima facie breach of privilege or contempt of the House?

In ruling on a question of privilege raised by two members alleging that a department had directed its officials not to release information on certain projects, thus infringing on their ability to serve their constituents, Mr. Speaker Bosley indicated on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of the Debates:

I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.

The 23rd edition of Erskine May on page 143 also refers to this principle:

Correspondence with constituents or official bodies, for example, and the provision of information sought by members on matters of public concern will very often, depending on the circumstances of the case, fall outside the scope of “proceedings in Parliament“ against which a claim of breach of privilege will be measured.

Furthermore, with respect to a similar question of privilege, Mr. Speaker Parent in a ruling on October 9, 1997, at page 687 of the Debates, stated:

—in order for a member to claim that his privileges have been breached or that a contempt has occurred, he or she must have been functioning as a member at the time of the alleged offence, that is, actually participating in a proceeding of Parliament. The activities of members in their constituencies do not appear to fall within the definition of a “proceeding in Parliament”.

And he went on to say:

In instances where members have claimed that they have been obstructed or harassed, not directly in their roles as elected representatives but while being involved in matters of a political or constituency related nature, Speakers have consistently ruled that this does not constitute a breach of privilege.

Let me assure the House that the Chair understands that all hon. members wish to serve their constituents as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. Indeed, in another incarnation, as the representative for Kingston and the Islands, I share that laudable objective with all of my colleagues.

However, as Speaker, I must view matters through the rather narrow prism of parliamentary privilege. In that light, it does not appear to the Chair that the hon. member has been obstructed in the performance of his parliamentary duties and therefore, I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.

That said, the hon. member for Mississauga South and other members have raised legitimate concerns regarding the efficiency of the procedures used by public servants as they relate to requests from members of Parliament. There are other avenues where members could raise these concerns, notably in the appropriate standing committees, where they might enquire about the procedures in place in various departments and agencies and make helpful recommendations for assisting them to respond more efficiently and effectively to the needs of members of Parliament seeking information to assist constituents.

I thank the hon. member for Mississauga South for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

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, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, first, I am delighted to be able to spend a few minutes addressing some concerns and viewpoints with respect to Bill C-25, a bill which seeks to make some changes pertaining to our youth criminal justice system.

Second, I want to say to the Conservatives to stop playing games and to stop making this issue into one that is a political football instead of getting down to work and making serious attempts at finding reasonable solutions based on the input of all parliamentarians.

I for one find it rather curious that the government has just now brought in a couple of small changes to our youth justice system. It has merely tinkered with it and has not made the big overhaul that the government claims to the public that it has done, and to which we apparently are already in opposition. I would suggest to the Conservatives that if they want a serious debate and if they want to craft the best legislation possible, they ought not to be suggesting that they have already introduced a massive overhaul of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and that the NDP is already in opposition and therefore we are not prepared to sit down and deal with some of the tough problems that we all know are confronting us. I find that offensive and I wish they would stop.

What we are dealing with today is a very small piece of legislation, a couple of changes, hardly that which the Conservatives promised, hardly that which we have asked for, hardly that which provincial governments have asked for. In fact, I want to reference the significant work by the Manitoba NDP government in trying to get the federal government to make some real changes that would make a difference to some of the serious situations we are dealing with.

There is nothing in this legislation that actually deals with car theft and the use of cars as a weapon by young people. Gary Doer and the Manitoba NDP government were here in Ottawa trying to persuade this government to make some changes in that regard, particularly providing stronger penalties for youth involved in serious crimes, especially those involving auto theft. The Manitoba government and Gary Doer were here calling for first degree murder charges for gang related homicides. The Manitoba government and Gary Doer were here calling for the classification of auto theft as an indictable violent offence. They also were here calling for making shooting at a building and drive-by shootings indictable offences.

Are any of those in the bill? Are any of those in any legislation around us? No, we are still dealing with a government that is creating an illusion of being tough on this issue but basically is doing very little. I would suggest that we try to make this legislation into a much more substantive piece that in fact would get at the root of the problem, that does not tinker at the edges but in fact makes a real difference.

My colleague from Windsor, our justice critic, has already made clear remarks on record suggesting what this bill is and where there are problems. He talks about the move toward deterrence, when in fact there is little recognition sometimes among young people about even the punishments that are associated with the crime at hand. He talks about the question of pretrial release and the fact that this is very seldom used today.

We know that this bill misses the main point. What we do need is some tough legislation to deal with some very serious problems. Let me say that there is no shortage of examples around the hardship that is caused in our communities by young people who have used a car as a weapon, or engaged in other violent crimes.

For the record, I want to send condolences again to three families that have been through this in a very difficult way over the past six months. They of course are no secret to members of the House and are well known in the media. They are pretty horrific cases. Rachelle Leost, who had three young kids, was actually on her way to work when she was hit by a young driver who had stolen a car. She was killed. We also want to recognize Erin Pawlowski, a 35-year-old man who was viciously beaten on his way home from work, who later died from his injuries. We do not know for sure if the offenders were young offenders, but there certainly is that possibility. Finally, Mr. James Duane died while riding his bicycle. He was hit by a stolen car driven by a young person at the corner of Burrows and McGregor in my constituency of Winnipeg North. Those are three horrific crimes that involved, we believe, young people and therefore need to be addressed in this legislation.

These incidents and others like them are by no means to suggest that we are seeing a sudden rise in youth crime. There are no statistics to support such a statement. Nor can we say, as many have tried to suggest, that areas like Winnipeg North and the inner cities and north ends of our cities are hotbeds for youth crime. The problems we are dealing with are everywhere. They are not isolated in my constituency. They are not isolated in certain populations. They happen because our society has not done all it could and governments have not all they could to stop the incidence of crime by looking at the root causes and working at early stages to try to stop these incidents from happening in the first place.

I want to reference a few of the people in my constituency who are working daily trying to deal with youth crime. They need the support of government, but they still really are not getting the acknowledgement nor the financial support from the federal government that they deserve.

In my own constituency, in Point Douglas, which is probably the poorest neighbourhood in all of Canada, there is a group of citizens who have decided to take matters into their own hands with the support of the provincial government to call for a crack free zone. They are trying to identify crack dealers and crack houses and report them and make sure that those houses are shut down. Under the Manitoba legislation, we have innovative provisions for doing just that, something that should be replicated across the country.

We have in that very same neighbourhood citizens working on unslumming the neighbourhood, not gentrification, but unslumming. They are working with housing groups and local organizations to repair and renovate houses, to try to get rid of those who want to abuse their privileges and make our neighbourhoods into drug zones and areas of high crime and violence.

We have just had reports in Winnipeg about another group, the ambassadors for the North End. They are a group of young people who actually patrol the streets around Selkirk Avenue and neighbouring areas to try to prevent the incidence of crime. They are getting support from the provincial government. They need to be recognized by the federal government.

We have many youth at risk programs. We have the North Point Douglas Women's Centre, the North End Women's Centre. We have the North End Community Renewal Corporation. All of these organizations believe in working together to try to get at the root causes of youth crime.

That is best said when we look at some of the people who have written about what it means to live in poverty, and not in a functional family, without access to supports or employment. Here is one example, a piece written by Rhian Brynjolson in my riding. She said this:

One very young boy recently drew me picture. In it a boy is looking in the mirror. The image in the mirror is a boy with horns and a devil's tail. “The boy is wondering if he is going to be a bad guy when he grows up”, he explained. I looked at the boy, knowing of the abusive situation he had survived, and I wondered too.

That is one example. Let me give one more. This one is written by Christine Burrows, who is actually a retired kindergarten teacher and coordinator of the Point Douglas community safety team. She talks about what it is like to be without proper supports:

Since you are not travelling around in a car, you're just hanging around your immediate neighbourhood, so you never see those signs in stores and outside factories saying “Help wanted”.

The whole idea of finding a job is difficult and daunting, so you just hang out on the street and couch-surf.

Then one day a drive-by recruitment car stops to talk to you. They don't care about your school record, there are no forms to fill in, they offer you a job, you can do the job, it doesn't mean getting up early and you can keep your hoodie on. Perfect! The pay is pretty good and it's illegal, but hey, it's not just like a few relatives haven't been in the slammer from time to time, no big deal. Besides, you won't get caught.

You are now a drug dealer's mule, you carry illegal narcotics for the man, you run stuff from one place to another, you're a success, cash in your pocket and you can wear a tough attitude.

I could go on with many more examples. I could talk about the fact that in Winnipeg, we know that many of the youth who commit crimes are actually FASD victims. They have fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, a neurological disorder for which they cannot always account for their actions. Yet we have a government that refuses to put in place proper programs for FASD, nor is it prepared to support our motion to put labels on alcohol beverage containers warning women that they should not drink during pregnancy.

All kinds of things can be done. I would urge the government to begin to look seriously at this problem, not as window dressing, and stop making victims out of our young people who really have every reason to want to contribute to our society if given half a chance.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Québécois are rather surprised by the NDP's position on Bill C-25.

If I understand correctly, some members want to ensure that the bill passes second reading. However, all the arguments presented would normally lead us to believe that the NDP will vote against it. Why? Because the very foundation of this bill goes against the principles defended by the NDP. Its foundation is one of repression. They are supporting the repression of young people and adolescents, while what seems to be working so far is guidance as a means of prevention.

For example, the United States still has the death penalty for the most serious crimes. We all know what kind of results that produces. The crime rate is three times lower in Canada and four times lower in Quebec. Why? Because the strategy established by both governments, the policy maintained, is one of prevention. In Quebec, that policy is even more energetically applied.

How can the NDP now justify its position, which favours repression over prevention?

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. Bloc colleague for his question. I would like to reply in English, since it is a very complex question.

I want to say for the member and everyone in the House, as I tried to in my speech, that what we find most reprehensible about this legislation is what is not in it and the lost opportunity to deal with what is required when it comes to youth crime. We have always said that there must be proper emphasis on prevention, protection and punishment.

The NDP is prepared to send the bill to committee because it needs to be enhanced. What is in it is very insignificant and problematic. There needs to be more reflection on what is there and changes made.

I want to specifically reference the two parts of the bill that my colleague from Windsor has already addressed. The first is the question about youth being released pretrial. My colleague has already said that in most cases, particularly heinous crimes, that kind of pretrial release does not often happen. Some judges are still involved in pretrial releases. The proposed bill will help clarify that situation and ensure there are clear provisions when a youth crime is heinous and serious enough that it requires more stringent action than is normally the case.

The other part of the bill deals with the issue of denunciation and deterrence. As my colleague from Windsor has also said, we need to try to understand whether that section of the bill would help in any way the young people who would be involved in the most serious and egregious of crimes when it comes to destruction of property and dismemberment or the deaths of individuals.

We know deterrence may not be that useful for some young people because they do not recognize the punishment or they never stop to think about the implications of their crimes. However, when we look at the most heinous of crimes, we also have to think about how we get youth to deal with what they have done and understand that there are significant punishments for those very serious crimes. We cannot ignore that end of the equation. Maybe the Bloc sees that we can but I do not think so.

The bill is not perfect. What we suggest is get it to committee, hear from witnesses to find out what the couple of limited provisions do and would mean and find ways to enhance the bill to make it more effective legislation that truly gives our legislators the kinds of tools they need to make a difference.

I mentioned some of them already. I mentioned the Manitoba government's presentation to members of Parliament, who are trying to deal particularly with the use of cars by youth as weapons. I mentioned three horrible deaths, a young mother, a young man and a working age man. They were killed in the prime of their lives because of that kind of incident. We know we have to stop it. We have to be strong on this. At least with the bill going to committee we can get somewhere—

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Chambly—Borduas.

Youth Criminal Justice ActGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am particularly glad to join in the discussion of this bill because it gives me an opportunity to highlight the rather exceptional guidance and prevention work being done by many organizations in our society and in Quebec with young people. In my own riding of Chambly—Borduas and in the city of Chambly itself, the organization known as POSA has had a remarkable impact and is doing the most exemplary work with young people.

In this type of debate, we need to think about the other stakeholders in our society who are helping young people to find direction in their lives. Often, these are young people who have nothing to do.

I want to come back to the latest remarks of my New Democratic colleague. She said that what is of greatest concern about the bill is what is not in it. That astounds me because what should concern us most of all is what the bill actually says. There are two things the bill says. First, exemplary sentences are needed to deal with youth crime. That means from now on we will be using an approach that is currently reserved for adults. I will come back to that point. Second, pre-trial detention will be permitted. It is rather troubling that a young person, a teenager, would have to prove that he or she is not a danger to society even before a trial begins. That is rather troubling because it is a presumption that the teenager could be guilty.

In court, it often happens that a person is not found guilty of the crime that he or she has been charged with. This means that even before the trial takes place, if a person does not want to be imprisoned as a preventive measure, he or she must demonstrate to some degree that they did not commit that crime. People will say that is not how it is going to happen. The person need only demonstrate that he or she is not a danger to society. However, if a serious crime has been committed and the person was not involved in the crime, he or she will have to show that they were not involved.

Already, we are focusing on evidence that should be presented during a trial. There is something perverse in that; something that implies in some way that the presumption of innocence no longer applies at the first stage when we are dealing with young people. That is sometimes understandable when we are looking at measures that apply to adults because an adult may have a criminal background suggesting that he or she could re-offend or represent a danger to society based on previous evidence or charges brought before the courts.

This is the approach as things now stand and the NDP is aligning itself with that approach. That the New Democrats would take such a position surprises me a great deal. As for the Conservatives, not much about their take on crime surprises us. They are not very interested in prevention. Repression is the focus and if they can make the penalties tougher all around they will do so.

This approach also flies in the face of the youth crime policies that have been in place in Quebec for more than 30 years. These prevention-based policies have proven themselves. As I said earlier when I asked my colleague a question, the current system in Quebec, with its focus on prevention, has led to a significant reduction in youth crime. As a result, there are four times fewer criminal cases in Quebec than in the United States and 25% fewer than in Canada.

Canada as a whole has three times fewer criminal cases than the United States. Yet the Conservatives are copying the American model. We know the result. The heaviest U.S. penalties are still banned here, such as the death penalty, which cannot even produce such results.

What is most important? To turn these young people into criminals and set them on a course that will inevitably lead to the same situation as in the United States? That will multiply the number of criminals once these young people are adults.

Quebec is not in favour of that. Not only is the Bloc Québécois opposed to that, but in 2003, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed a motion to maintain the system in Quebec.

In addition, the measures proposed in clauses 1 and 2 of Bill C-25 are not insignificant. They run counter to a whole philosophy of Canadian law. The Supreme Court summarized the principles behind youth sentencing in this way in a 2006 judgment:

The YCJA introduced a new sentencing regime, and its wording can only support the conclusion that Parliament deliberately excluded general deterrence as a factor of youth sentencing. By virtue of section 50(1) of the YCJA, the provisions of the Criminal Code on sentencing, save certain listed exceptions, do not apply to youth sentencing.

They do apply to adult sentencing. I could go on since my point is proven many times in this Supreme Court ruling.

What is happening today is not routine or unimportant. This principle will be changed. The sentence imposed on a youth will from now on be imposed as a deterrent the same way it is for a hardened adult criminal. However, experience shows that if we take that route we will keep turning out more criminals, and hardened ones at that.

I again invite our colleagues in the House of Commons to vote with us on this bill, including at second reading, so that we do not sanction this principle here in the House of Commons. This is not theory. This is not a Conservative philosophy that should prevail here. This is not the Canadian tradition of justice, nor is it Quebec's tradition, far from it.

Our colleagues would be making a serious mistake by voting in favour of this bill, including at second reading.

We believe the amendment made to the legislation in 2001 was a mistake because it created an opening for excessive court handling of youth crime. This has considerably complicated the reintegration of young offenders.

The focus here should be on providing guidance for these young people, prevention measures, and funding for agencies like POSA, in my riding, as I was saying earlier. That is our position. That is why we will vote against this bill.

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3:50 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate my colleague from Chambly—Borduas on his very clear and truly fundamental presentation.

I take this opportunity to ask the member if he could elaborate on those organizations dedicated to helping young people in his riding, like others across Quebec. Could he tell this House whether most of the help is provided in the street, in big buildings, in schools or elsewhere? Where does it take place?

I think that a great deal of prevention has been carried out in Quebec. Quebec could be taken as a model, and inspiration could be drawn from our experience.

I would very much like our colleague to elaborate on that.

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3:50 p.m.


Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi who, by the way, is doing a great job on the whole issue of social housing.

I wanted to mention it because the issue of housing is not extraneous to crime. In fact, as has been said, faced with poverty, individuals have to deal with a whole set of factors, such as inadequate housing that is too expensive and the lack of affordable housing.

Employment insurance is part of the problem. In fact, 60% of the unemployed do not receive any employment insurance benefits. This situation leads to impoverishment and young people with nothing to do. When parents are poor, children are poor also.

My colleague is quite right. Various measures are being taken in my riding. Cities are hiring street workers; this was unprecedented in semi-urban or rural ridings. It is now part of our reality.

I was speaking earlier about the organization POSA. With limited means, these people are able to rent a small space where they create tools for youth who they find in parks and in the street, and some of whom have already committed petty crimes, as is often the case. They get them interested in, for example, the arts, trades or different aspects of life. They try to reintegrate youth by helping them to identify their interests. Every young person has an interest and help is available. They do extraordinary work. They could show us how to work with these young people.

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3:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to take part in the debate on Bill C-25 to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I am very mindful of the great struggle of the Bloc Québécois over many years; a struggle led by our former Justice critic, who is now a judge of the Quebec court. I would like to acknowledge the work of our colleague and friend, Michel Bellehumeur, the former member for Berthier—Montcalm.

That struggle has not been in vain. However, we are forced to recognize that it must continue, especially in the face of this Conservative government. It is a right-wing government with a tendency, in terms of the justice system, to adopt a much more punitive approach rather than an approach based on rehabilitation.

We can recall the trip made by a member on the other side of the House, at a time when the Conservative Party was known as the Reform Party. They changed the name. It is a little like Coca-Cola—New Coke, old Coke or Coke zero—in the end it is still Coca-Cola. Whether the party changed the name to Canadian Alliance, the Reform Party or, now, the Conservative Party, it is the same party with the same individuals, and it is the same right-wing ideology that prevails in that party.

When they were in opposition, the Conservatives, in their Reform Party days, went so far as to subsidize a trip by one of their colleagues to study what they call “batting” in Thailand, I think. In that country, young people who do wrong are punished with strokes administered with a bamboo rod. That is what is known as “batting”, with penalties of 50 or 100 strokes. We know those are absolutely useless approaches and that it is totally impossible to export such practices to Canada.

As my colleague for Chambly—Borduas has properly stated, you will understand that the Bloc Québécois is opposed in principle to Bill C-25. In terms of justice, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most efficient approach is, and always will be, prevention. We must attack the causes of crime. I will not repeat the remarks just made by my colleague. He described criminal activity that can be caused by poverty. However, I would add a slight qualifier to what he said.

No connection has ever been established between crime and people from a poor background. Young people from very comfortable backgrounds sometimes commit crimes. Unfortunately, a poor choice of friends, bad habits and drug dependencies can sweep young people down the wrong path. I would not want to play stepmother to my colleague from Chambly—Borduas, but I just wanted to add this nuance, that there is no direct connection, no causal relationship, between poverty and crime. It should be said, though, that poverty often provides fertile soil for the growth of the gangrene of crime among our youth.

We need, therefore, to attack the causes of delinquency and violence rather than waiting until the damage has been done and trying to repair it. The most judicious and beneficial approach, from both a social and financial point of view, is prevention.

Justice for young people is no different in this regard. Young people need to grow up in a healthy environment and not in extreme poverty; they need an affordable education system, and so forth.

Much is made of Canada’s current economic prosperity. We have been hit hard, though, by downturns in manufacturing and forestry. In general, the various governments in power over the last few years have just boasted about economic prosperity and the incredible surpluses they have racked up.

Despite all that, it is still true that 1.5 million children in Canada live below the poverty line. If there are 1.5 million children living below the poverty line, it is because their parents are poor. These children do not have multimillionaire parents. I hope we understand that. These are children from poor families. There are 1.5 million children who often do not have what they need. They have no money. There is nothing in the refrigerator, and these children go to school on empty stomachs.

Talk with people in the field of education. The principals of primary schools in certain areas where there are pockets of poverty have to keep a refrigerator in the staff room filled with string cheese, fruit, fruit juice and yogourt because young people come to school without having eaten. That is the reality. The government needs to understand this instead of just boasting that its budget surplus has reached $11.6 billion.

The Bloc Québécois is aware that there are young people who commit offences. Some people might want to accuse the Bloc Québécois of putting its head in the sand, of not recognizing that there is a crime problem among some young people. However, we know that there is a crime problem and it is completely unacceptable. It is unacceptable. On the other hand, there is a way of treating the disease and healing the wound of the gangrene festering in some of our young people.

There are acts that have been committed by young offenders and they must answer for them in the courts. The Bloc believes that the government has a duty to take action and use the tools available to it so that Quebeckers and Canadians are able to live peacefully and safely. However, the measures brought forward must have a genuinely positive impact on crime, and must be more than just words, more than mere rhetoric, more than fine high-sounding pronouncements to try to put everyone to sleep, or more than a campaign based on fear.

As well, it does not necessarily have to be a model copied from George Bush's United States. We could talk about that at length. The result is familiar to us all: the United States has a high crime rate. Despite the fact that some states apply the death penalty, the United States has a homicide rate three times higher than in Canada and four times higher than in Quebec. In the United States, they still apply the death penalty. Anyone who believes that the death penalty operates as a deterrent is mistaken. The best way of deterring crime is to tackle the sources of the problem and have treatment that will be effective in the long term for our young offenders.

The Bloc Québécois also deplores how lightly the Conservative government is taking these amendments to measures that reflect the very foundations of the justice system. By shifting the burden of proof to the accused on the question of pre-trial release from detention, Bill C-25 offends the presumption of innocence, which is a fundamental principle of law. The Bloc Québécois completely understands that pre-trial detention may be necessary for certain individuals, but in those cases the measure must be the least restrictive possible in the circumstances.

I see I have one minute left, Mr. Speaker, and so I would like to say that in the past, Quebeckers have opted for a system of individualized justice, based on a flexible judicial process, adapted to each case, with the positive results that we are familiar with in Quebec. When it comes to the youth criminal justice system, we have traditionally opted for rehabilitation and reintegration in order to rescue these young people from the vicious circle of crime.

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4:05 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, one of the important things about the bill and the challenge we have with it is perhaps the consequence of taking some of the progressive elements out of the criminal justice system that need to be worked on, such as prevention. Despite the government not bringing forward the prevention strategies, part of the Youth Criminal Justice Act has it as its core now that the content of declaration of principles include prevention of crime. It also talks about help for young people who have committed crimes to make the right decisions.

Does my colleague have some specific examples in Quebec about those types of programs?

Ontario has been successful on a series of community based programs that help youth fix the mistakes they have made by either getting retraining, or ensuring they are getting proper counselling and also even going back to school and having that type of a comprehensive program.

A number of those organizations have suffered from lack of funds. They have been able to get at issues related to gang violence or issues in the community related to their specific problems out of the way because they have had that support.

Does my hon. colleague have other ones in Quebec that need the same support?

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4:05 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In a previous life, before becoming a member, I had the opportunity to practice law, and worked in youth law in particular. In Quebec, the whole point of reception centres and social service centres is to work with young people instead of judging them and sending them to prison or to places that would help feed in to their anger and develop their criminal tendencies.

It is true that if a young person deserves to be punished, it is because he has done something wrong. If he stole a purse from a 91-year-old woman—this happened to one of my aunts—if he pushed her down and she broke her wrist, we do not just give him a little swat on the bottom and tell him not to do it again; that will not do. We must provide them with guidance and support and explain why what they did was wrong. In Quebec, with the youth centre formula, we have reception centres for boys and others for girls, where there are more secure wings for young people who have committed much more serious crimes.

The youth are supervised by social workers and live in a structured environment. They can take courses while they are still at the reception centre. When they turn 18, they have some skills as they enter the job market. There is a transition period, a short time before they turn 18, when the youth live in a group home, where they are much more autonomous. Quebec has been successful in treating its young offenders—

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4:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Trois-Rivières should know that there are two minutes left for questions and comments.

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4:05 p.m.


Paule Brunelle Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for his speech.

He is absolutely right when he talks about poverty which, unfortunately, is not declining in Canada, as the Liberals had promised us. This was an aggravating factor, and also the violence that exists in our society.

Having said that, there is no doubt that the Quebec model, which is based on rehabilitation and social reintegration, is important, at least to us. Our children are precious, and we want to keep them. We could talk at length about how we succeeded in reducing crime in Quebec, thanks to all these reintegration initiatives. I should also point out that the process begins in school, where remedial teachers take the children under their wing when the problem occurs.

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4:10 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to quickly add a comment.

My colleague has put a lot of emphasis on the Quebec model. If the Conservative government had been honest when it passed the motion to recognize Quebec as a nation, it would have recognized that Quebec has a system that is different, that is independent and that is working. One simply has to look at the statistics on youth crime. We are not at the top of the list but, rather, at the bottom of it.

If the motion proposed by the Conservatives really meant something, this government would accept the Quebec specificity, and it would recognize that the Quebec system for handling offenders is the best one that exists.

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4:10 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague, the member for Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord, on his excellent analysis of the Bloc Québécois position, the situation in Quebec, and Quebeckers' attitude and values with regard to delinquency. No one can have failed to understand that Quebeckers favour rehabilitation and prevention over deterrence, which is what this Conservative government is determined to impose on us.

Since his analysis was so thorough and since my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord did such a good job of recounting his experiences, I would like to approach the issue from the standpoint of Quebeckers' values.

First, I would like to reiterate the Bloc Québécois position. I want to explain why we are really opposed to Bill C-25 in principle.

The Bloc Québécois firmly believes that prevention is still the most effective approach to justice and always will be. We have to attack the causes of crime. Attacking the causes of delinquency and violence, rather than trying to repair the damage once it is done, is the most appropriate and, above all, most profitable approach from both a social and financial point of view.

Could this be any clearer? The first step must be to deal with poverty, inequality and exclusion, which create a fertile breeding ground for frustration and its outlets, which are violence and criminal activity.

Youth justice is no different. Young people need a healthy environment, free of extreme poverty, and they need access to affordable education. In each of these areas, Quebec has made choices that set it apart. We have only to think of tuition fees, which are among the lowest in North America, the network of day care centres, which has served as a model in this area, and so on.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois is aware that young people commit criminal acts they must answer for. It is the government's duty to take action and use the tools at its disposal to help Quebeckers and Canadians live in peace and security.

The measures that are introduced will really have to have a positive impact on crime and go beyond mere rhetoric or campaigns based on fear. They will have to be more than a weak imitation of the American model, which has had less than stellar results.

Where young people are concerned, the Quebec model, with its focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, produces real results, as my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord explained.

Bill C-25 should have, on the one hand, focused on what is already working and, on the other hand, allowed Quebec to pursue its successful approach based on rehabilitation and reintegration so that today's young people do not become marginalized in the future.

I would now like to explain another aspect of this bill that is important for Quebec. On November 27, 2007, this Parliament made an important decision, recognizing that Quebeckers form a nation. Incidentally, just last week, the last time I mentioned this in the House, two Conservative members started laughing, as though they had pulled a fast one on Quebeckers, as though they did not believe at all in the value of this recognition for Quebeckers. They thought they had tricked us, which is why they were laughing. Fortunately, those members are not here right now, so they cannot laugh.

This recognition was the result of a motion moved by the Bloc Québécois in this House a few days earlier. Thus, the Conservative government, which did not believe in it at all—as we saw again last week, in many ways, and Bill C-25 only reinforces that—set a trap for us and tricked us. It was a trap set for the Bloc Québécois. They thought we would completely fall for it.

From now on, given that the Conservatives have adopted this motion, they must be taken literally. We must ignore their laughter and believe in the motion they passed. The Conservatives must put their money where their mouth is. With Bill C-25, we do not see how they can do that, since we do not see how they are respecting the different values of Quebeckers, who form a nation.

They must therefore recognize the fundamental rights of Quebeckers, the fundamental rights of a nation, which can be expressed as different values. Bill C-25 clearly reveals the values of the Conservative Party, which include repression, law and order, and prison for the bad guys.

However, Quebec's values of rehabilitation and prevention cannot be seen in it.

Perhaps when I talk about the nation, it may seem to have little to do with Bill C-25. On the contrary. It is at the very heart of this bill.

I want to say a few words about how Quebec addresses crime, although my colleague from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord made an excellent presentation on this.

As I was just saying, the Conservative government's directions, ideas and mentality are different. It has a different way of finding solutions to problems in our society. In Quebec, we found our way a long time ago. We take care of young offenders. We take better care of their needs and their difficulties. We try to rehabilitate them and—if I may say so—turn them into responsible adults whenever possible. Statistics show that in most cases it is possible.

In Quebec, we try above all to find solutions to the underlying problems that cause these youth to commit small, medium and large offences. I have to say that in Quebec, we are succeeding and we have the statistics to back that claim. In Quebec, the youth rehabilitation program works very well. Now we have this Conservative government barging in and wanting to send youth to prison to punish and deter them. We know full well that criminals, even adult criminals, do not know what prison sentence they will get for the crime they plan to commit. They do not know beforehand or during the crime. Increasing prison sentences or creating harsher sentences usually does not deter young offenders from committing an offence.

Quebec should have been exempt from this reform. We should have had the possibility of keeping our intervention strategy, which is based on the needs of youth and focuses on prevention and rehabilitation.

The Conservative government does not have the same values as Quebeckers. Quebeckers are a nation, and the government has recognized that. We have our own values, and this government, this Parliament, must recognize that when it comes to anything, big or small, and especially when it comes to bills. Everyone here in Parliament must now walk the walk. We know that the Conservative government has a hidden right-wing agenda that it is trying to sneak in bit by bit, usually behind our backs.

This bill to criminalize young people, kids as young as 12, is further proof of that. I am not even talking about bilingualism. The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, the Conservative member for Quebec, said it herself. Her government is not protecting the interests of Quebeckers or their language; her government is protecting bilingualism. This government can therefore not protect Quebec's interests because Quebec's interest is its language, French, Quebec's common public language. The Conservatives have no intention of promoting French, but they do intend to promote bilingualism. They do not even respect Quebec's bill 101 in their institutions or in the services they provide to citizens. They do not respect Quebeckers' language.

The Conservative government does not have the same values with respect to the death penalty either. Contrary to what it has done in the past, Canada failed to support an international institution's resolution opposing the death penalty, thereby sending a clear message to specialists around the world that the government had altered Canada's fundamental position on the death penalty. This government is changing Canada's and Quebec's basic values. It denies this right up until it presents us with a fait accompli. Quebec wants nothing to do with the death penalty. Quebec wants nothing to do with the Conservatives' hidden agenda.

Bill C-25 is another Conservative government bill that does not reflect Quebeckers' values, but instead reflects the Conservatives' right-wing ideology. The government is far from walking the walk when it comes to the Quebec nation. For Quebec, this bill is a step back. Quebec has some excellent solutions, an excellent rehabilitation program for teenagers. The Conservative government is trying to spoil everything.

This is yet another good reason for the Quebec nation to decide to have its own country and take care of its own children in ways that respect Quebec's values.

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4:20 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-25. I know that other members of the NDP have spoken today and there will be others speaking as well. We have a number of concerns about this bill.

I have been sitting here listening to the debate and thinking about this issue. One of the problems with Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is that it is another example of the Conservative government bringing in legislation with really very little reflection and thought about its impact.

This is part of an overall drive to create this core issue that Conservatives believe they have around crime and justice, to create a “them” and an “us”, and to play on people's fear about crime, which obviously is very strong in most communities. When we actually go through the bill and see what it seeks to accomplish, there is no evidence that what it proposes is actually going to build safer communities.

Having said that, I note that there is one aspect of the bill that the NDP does support. It has to do with pretrial discretion of the judge. We agree because it is now practice in the judiciary that judges often do take into account whether there has been a previous serious offence and whether the young person poses a risk and therefore should not be released. In the law, technically speaking, there is a presumption that the youth in pretrial would be released. We do agree that there should be discretion within the system to allow judges to make a determination for those young individuals who do pose a serious threat to society. Judges should have the tools and the availability to make sure that such individuals are not released.

However, beyond that, this bill is very problematic. It concerns us a lot. Certainly we believe that if it goes to committee we should take a serious look at it. In fact, we probably should be cutting out large sections of the bill. The two particularly problematic areas have to do with the introduction of adult sentencing principles that have to do with denunciation and the question of deterrence.

We need to recognize that throughout our history there has always been a difference in the way the judicial system treats adults and juveniles, young people. It is based on the understanding that sometimes young people, for whatever reason, out of impulse, ignorance or anger, commit crimes that they do not necessarily think about. These crimes are not necessarily premeditated and there is this idea that sentencing based on denunciation or deterrence is not necessarily going to work. So in 1999 and 2000, when the Youth Criminal Justice Act first came in, the act was based on the idea that a different model needed to be created. That was a good thing. We generally supported that.

The bill today is taking us yet another step closer, because of the Conservatives' agenda, to where those lines become indistinguishable and where how we treat young people in the justice system would become more blurred in terms of how we treat adult situations. I think that is a very serious problem.

We should not proceed with this bill in a mad dash just because it happens to be another bill that the Conservatives have brought forward and just because it happens to meet their political agenda. I actually find it very offensive that so much of the legislation we have debated around the crime issue has been based on this political agenda rather than on evidence based information about what works in a criminal justice system.

I have been listening to our colleagues from the Bloc, who have been telling us something about the way it works in Quebec. In my own community in east Vancouver, we have issues around crime and safety, like other inner city urban communities, and we often use Quebec as an example of a different approach based on rehabilitation, on taking the young offenders with the goal of returning them to society. In fact, that should be so for all people where possible, but particularly for young people. I think we have a lot to learn from Quebec about the system it has used, yet this bill would actually undermine that and take us in a completely different direction.

I was reading an article the other day and was horrified to learn that the Conservative member for Kitchener—Conestoga sent out a householder claiming that the rate of violent youth crime had increased 22%. In actual fact, according to Statistics Canada, violent youth crime had fallen by 2%. This is not a huge decrease but at least it is a decrease.

However, that information is being put out there. My concern is that it is like the oldest game in the book. We know that people are worried about crime, even though crime overall has gone down. We know that people want to see effective strategies. It is so easy to keep throwing more laws at the problem and to say that we need tougher enforcement, that we are going to have tougher regimes and that is going to solve the problem.

Let us look at justice department studies, however, and at what happens in the United States. In fact, after debate on this bill is concluded we will be moving on to another bill, the minimum mandatory sentencing for drug crimes, a very severe bill in terms of its approach. It seems to me that we are not looking at the evidence that is so starkly there, the overwhelming evidence that we have in our own country in terms of what does and does not work and what we actually see in other jurisdictions.

We do not often refer to countries beyond the United States. Different models are used in Europe and have much more focus on rehabilitation and a sense of restorative justice. In east Vancouver, we had a number of incidents in the Commercial Drive area. People were very worried about youth at risk who were on the streets. Various incidents had taken place. People had been assaulted. I think it was easy to have that initial response of saying that we should just have a get tough approach and get those kids off the street, that those kids should be in jail.

However, we held a community forum. We invited local residents and some of the community organizations. We invited young people and the businesses. We had a very thoughtful discussion about what we needed to do in our own community and what was our response. Certainly relying on the Criminal Code and on police resources was a part of that discussion and that response, but beyond that, there was a lot of reflection about how we needed to develop programs at the very local level, right at the grassroots level, to deal with problems at the street level.

For example, we started a whole series of meetings about restorative justice. I have a very high aboriginal community population in my riding. This is something that has been really well thought out in that there are some programs, not enough but some, whereby people are taking a very different kind of approach rather than having this knee-jerk reaction to crime. That is what I feel we need to do. Unfortunately, that is what this bill does not do.

That is why in the NDP, although we agree with some parts of the bill and are willing to see it go to committee, we have very serious concerns about this idea that we will move juveniles closer and closer to the criminal system and that somehow we are going to fool people that it is going to fix the problem, that this is going to work. I feel that is a big mistake.

We all have a responsibility to speak truthfully about these issues, even when politically it may appear on the surface to respond in the way that people want us to. There are those lines that we tend to come out with, such as the lines about more enforcement, more officers and getting tough on crime.

If we emphasize more crime prevention and building healthy communities, whether it is through training, better health care, housing, and certainly more opportunities for young people, then I think we would be minimizing at the beginning the number of young people who end up in situation where they become at risk and where they may become young offenders. It seems crazy to me that we load everything up at the other end, the end that is the most expensive and the end that has the least amount of impact.

I have concerns about this bill. Obviously we will see what happens in committee. The NDP will support some of its elements and we will address our concerns.

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4:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Richmond Hill, Afghanistan; the hon. member for Mississauga South, Privacy.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Yukon.

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4:30 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I was delighted to hear the member talk about restorative justice and those items. Virtually everyone who has spoken today has given ideas to the government as to how it can rescue its failed crime agenda. Obviously that agenda has not been successful. There are a lot of things wrong with it. There have been a lot of good suggestions made by members. I noticed that the member was not finished, so I would invite her to talk more about prevention and the root causes of crime.

There was a wonderful show on CBC in the morning, I think last week, about how the prison system is failing prisoners in the federal system, prisoners who need education and anger management, the things that would protect victims. We have to stand up for victims of crime. The things that could be done to help them are not being done. That was an example.

In Ottawa there was an open house, like the one the member talked about, for restorative justice week. People talked about how restorative justice failed and how crimes were repeated 38% to 45% of the time. However, the regular criminal system failed 73% of the time, so restorative justice is actually a success. As the member knows, the Conservatives tried to pass a bill to get rid of a lot of the restorative justice alternatives.

I would ask her to comment on how we can improve the justice system, help victims of crime and make Canada safer.

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4:30 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member for Yukon has some experience in these matters. He mentioned the situation in Ottawa. I know that the new Ottawa chief of police is very strong on restorative justice and has a whole history with it. It is wonderful to see a major entity like the Ottawa police taking this very seriously under its chief.

In terms of the ideas I put forward, one of my main concerns is that a lot of these programs manage on very limited funds. They have to beg and borrow to keep going. They are actually very successful. To me, the ingredients we need to look at are that programs have to be locally based and come out of the local community and they have to involve different stakeholders. A program may involve young people who may be at risk and the offenders themselves, of course, and their victims, but I think it has to encompass a broader dialogue within the community.

We started to do it in east Vancouver and were doing it with really no resources. It was only what we could do through my office with a number of really good organizations that were contributing their time voluntarily. We had really good discussion and dialogue.

I know that certainly within the aboriginal community there is a much stronger emphasis on returning to traditional practices of dealing with issues and concerns in the community. Then they are dealing with their peers, so the sense of understanding the wrong that has been done and the impact it had is something that--

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4:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Trois-Rivières.