Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague who just spoke on behalf of the NDP. I am pleased to speak to Bill C-4. I left very early this morning so that I could take part in this extremely important debate that, for the Bloc Québécois, means many things with regard to youth justice. At a minimum, we feel that this bill sets the youth justice system back several decades.
We are not going to vote against this bill at this stage. We want to study it in committee, because it seems clear to us that the committee will have to work very hard so that this bill reflects the will of Canadians and especially Quebeckers who believe, as we do, that young offenders law should focus on rehabilitation.
I cannot support the bill for several reasons. For example, it would make the protection of society the guiding principle behind the law. That would take us back 30 years. Moreover, the bill would add to the situations in which the judge may order pre-trial custody; add deterrence and denunciation as sentencing criteria; allow for custodial sentences for youth with a pattern of extrajudicial sanctions; require prosecutors to justify their decision not to call for an adult sentence for serious violent offences like murder and aggravated sexual assault; allow judges to publish the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences and sentenced as youth; require police to keep records to track extrajudicial measures; and prevent minors from being held in adult detention facilities.
This last provision—preventing minors from being held in adult facilities—is the best one and the only one we feel is acceptable.
However, the bill is ill-conceived and meant to be tough on crime. The Conservatives think we need to be tough on crime, but we think that we should also be smart on crime. In other words, we have to be smart enough—though I have my doubts about some of the members opposite—to see that rehabilitation is extremely important. Rehabilitation is a fundamental factor and should be the priority when dealing with young offenders and juvenile delinquents.
There is a basic difference between young offenders and adults. We think that people under the age of 18 are not fully equipped to understand what is going on, to know how to react and what to do and, most importantly, to make well-informed decisions.
A 13-, 14-, 15- or 16-year-old who commits a series of break and enters or, worse yet, violent crimes, such as assault and sexual assault, may not be mature enough to understand that what he or she did is very serious. It is highly likely that such offenders need help.
Because I have a lot of experience working with young people, I know that 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds are not as mature as 18-, 19- and 20-year-old adults. Even though some 18-year-olds are not much more mature than 16- or 17-year-olds, I find it surprising that if the government goes ahead with this bill, it will lead to major structural changes. Protecting society will become the basic principle that informs all legislation. Protecting society is extremely important, and we think this is one of the fundamental principles to consider when it comes to sentencing.
Quebec has always made rehabilitation the priority. Our Conservative friends may not be too keen on the idea, but statistics show that when we focus on rehabilitating juvenile delinquents and young offenders, crime rates drop. The committee responsible for studying this bill can delve into that fact. That is exactly what has been happening in Quebec for the past 30 years. Significantly fewer crimes are being committed by young offenders, by juvenile delinquents.
We think that this bill is not only useless, but a step backward. There is no way we can support putting up posters with a picture of a 13-year-old “Most wanted kid in Abbotsford” on lampposts. That is ridiculous. We have to give rehabilitation a chance.
There are cases in which rehabilitation does not always work. However, in the vast majority of cases, rehabilitation does work. Why does it work? Because in Quebec, we support our youth. We asked ourselves how a young person could commit so many offences. We asked ourselves how a 13-year-old could be on his 10th, 12th or even 15th break and enter. There is likely a problem. So we provided supports for our youth. We took a look at their families, their schools, their circles of friends to see what was going on. Often, the answer was not incarceration, but instead, with close supervision, the situation turned around. In nearly 80% of the cases in Quebec, there are very few, or no cases of recidivism among young offenders.
Yes, we do see repeat offences. Some young people will not understand, but must we introduce a bill as backward-looking as Bill C-4 to punish 1% or 2% of our youth? That makes no sense.
They are saying that this will require the police to keep records of extrajudicial measures. I will give an example. A few minutes ago, my colleague said that he had been the victim of tagging. I will explain. Graffiti is illegal. Obviously, graffiti is destructive and is a crime. It can be harmful to the environment. There is no doubt that young people who do this are committing a crime.
Do they really believe that every time the police stop a youth who is tagging or scribbling graffiti that they will make a record, take the young person to the station and take notes? That is not how it works in real life. Quite often, a warning is enough. Quite often, the youth who are caught do not reoffend. It is rare that these youth reoffend. Generally speaking, these youth have parents who take care of them and who will be a substitute for the police. Obviously, some youth will not stop and will commit more serious crimes.
That said, I would like to give an example of the outright—and I have to be careful how I say this, but I will still say it—stupidity of this bill.
I will just give one example. Imagine that a young person is convicted of murder, the most serious crime. A young person who commits murder and takes someone's life has obviously committed the most serious of crimes. This law would require that youth to serve an adult sentence, generally about 15 years for manslaughter.
What happens to a 14-year-old who commits murder and is sentenced to 15 years in prison? He will spend the first four or five years in a reception centre and then he will be transferred to a penitentiary. Would anyone be able to work with this youth, knowing that he would be in a prison at the age of 18? It makes no sense.
We will probably be given explanations, and experts and constitutionalists will be consulted. We think this sentence might well be overturned by the Supreme Court, but that remains to be seen. That is not what the debate is about.
Even more dangerous, we believe, is when a young person stays in a reception centre for four or five years with nothing to do, knowing he is headed for prison, and causes as many problems as possible and thinks only of trying to escape. And of course he will escape. What can workers in reception centres possibly do with this young person? Nothing. He will spend four or five years in a reception centre at the expense of taxpayers and the provinces. Yes, the provinces pay for reception centres. The federal government seems to like bringing forward such stupid legislation, but it is Quebec that pays for it.
What happens while the young man is waiting to be sent to prison when he turns 18? It is not complicated: he will commit crimes, play the tough guy, impose his own rules in reception centres, escape and reoffend. This part of the legislation is completely unacceptable. This bill is unacceptable.
I would like to give another example. In my career, I had to represent a young man who was 15 years old when he killed his father. Under this bill, that young man would be in prison. Instead, this is what happened. We started asking questions. It was not normal. No one here condones anyone killing another person, but it is even more serious when a 15-year-old boy kills his father. It is even more unacceptable. Clearly there was a problem. So we created what I would call a process around this young man to find out what happened. He was subjected to medical, psychiatric and psychological examinations. We had to find out what happened. Why did this young man commit such a crime? Why did he kill his father when he was just 15? I am sure everyone agrees that these are not the questions asked when the offender is an adult.
However, since he was only 15, we asked some serious questions. For this young man's community, in my own backyard, this was unacceptable and incomprehensible. This young man was given structure and support. Obviously, he was sent to a reception centre. He had a problem that absolutely needed to be worked through. It took a year and a half for this young man to realize the seriousness of the crime he committed. It was as though the floodgates had opened. It took six months, but after that it was easier to work with this young man. Today, he is one of the top orthopedic surgeons in Quebec. If he had not realized the seriousness of his crime, he would be in a penitentiary today.
What is a young person going to do in a penitentiary? This bill would send them to penitentiary for 10, 15, 17 or 18 years. It makes no sense. That is not what our young people need. I admit that some young people have serious behavioural problems. That is clear. At some point we have to put a stop to street gangs. Obviously we have a problem if a young person is going to school with a knife in their pocket. When a 16-year-old is walking around with a loaded 9 mm revolver in their knapsack then there is definitely a problem. There is no doubt about it. This is someone who has the makings of a criminal, as my late father would say. Nonetheless, if a sapling is properly supported it will straighten. A young person should not be sent to a place like a penitentiary or a reception centre without any opportunity for rehabilitation.
What the Conservatives are telling us is not true, because there will be no rehabilitation programs for youth at reception centres. They will not waste their time on this young person when there are 15 more after him. Perhaps something can be done for them, but in his case, in about four or five years he will probably be sent to a penitentiary to serve the rest of his time. It is stupid to believe that this is the way to solve the problem of crime.
This bill applies only to young offenders and that represents perhaps 1% or 2%. I admit that 1% or 2% is significant. I will be criticized for not thinking about the victims. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, rehabilitation in Quebec puts victims first. That goes hand in hand with rehabilitation. I have experienced it. We have worked on it. I can say that making a young person do community work because he has committed 12 break and enters and sending him to all the garages where he committed the theft to wash cars makes an impression on him. There are two possibilities: either he continues a life of crime, with the obvious consequence of increasingly stiff punishment or, like a tree, he straightens up.
I see that I do not have very much time left. That is unfortunate because, if there were unanimous consent, I could talk for another 20 minutes. I know that time is precious; however, I would have liked to have talked longer. The Bloc Québécois believes that rehabilitation must be the priority. Yes, there should also be sanctions. However, we believe and are absolutely convinced that the more opportunities we have for rehabilitation, the more we can work with youth early in their criminal careers, the lower the risk of recidivism. Quebec statistics prove that we are right. We will come back to that when the bill is studied in committee.