Mr. Speaker, my comments will be based on disappointment. I would even say that I am dismayed by the attitude of the Minister of Justice in the young offenders file. The Minister of Justice comes from Quebec, so he should know what we do differently in Quebec and he should know that the statements made this week are absolutely awful.
Maybe it is because of my age, but I feel he could have acted differently. Maybe I am politically naive, but I am still appalled to see that politics can bring people to make such gigantic blunders. This is not a partisan issue about Tories, Liberals, the Parti Quebecois, sovereignists, federalists or anything of the sort. It is about a system yielding good results, a system that we, Quebecers, must try to safeguard as much as possible.
Earlier, I even heard the Minister of Justice say that he was happy to table the Senate amendment, which will, to some extent, lead to Bill C-7 being enacted, because the House will undoubtedly pass the bill when it is called upon to vote.
The member for Outremont in Quebec, now Minister of Justice, has no qualms about acting in collusion with his government to dismantle a system that works well and has proven more than adequate.
If the justice minister had been in that portfolio for 10 years, if he were well acquainted with the youth justice system, if he had a great expertise in that area, I might think that perhaps we are mistaken, that perhaps the Quebec coalition for youth justice is wrong. However, he has been the Minister of Justice for 15 days only. It is impossible that he could be more qualified, more knowledgeable and better advised than some people in Quebec who have devoted their life to building a system, to developing a special approach to dealing with delinquent youth.
He had been barely appointed minister that he was stating from on high that, in the area of youth offenders, there was no distinct status for Quebec. Even worse, he added that those were myths circulated by Quebec stakeholders, by the Bloc, but also by all the politicians and the stakeholders who know the issue related to the Young Offenders Act.
I understood a little earlier, listening to his remarks, that the minister, first, does not understand the Quebec approach and, even worse, does not understand the legislation; he does not understand Bill C-7.
From on high, as the Minister of Justice, he said that this bill was a major cornerstone. In order to make us accept that we must absolutely vote on the amendment and implement Bill C-7, he said that sentences would be determined proportionally to youth needs. I noted that, because it was too much to swallow.
According to the minister, Bill C-7 is a good bill because it is going to have sentencing that is tailored to the young offender's needs. I invite him to consult clause 38, which I shall take the time to read, because it is rather long. Clause 38(2)( c ) reads as follows:
38.(2)(c) the sentence must be proportionate—
This is correct, so far.
—to the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the young person for that offence;
If the minister understood his own bill, he would never have said such a thing. What he has just said about taking the young offender's needs into consideration in determining the sentence, is done when the present Young Offender's Act is applied properly, the legislation which the minister himself, judging from his actions, wants to do away with. That is one of the aberrant statements the minister has just made.
He spoke of diversion, as if it were something new, and of extrajudicial measures. These already exist. The only thing that is new is what they are called. Now they are “extrajudicial measures” while in the present Young Offenders Act they are “alternative measures”. The bottom line is the same but the means of getting there is very different.
At present, the alternative measures are determined according to the young person's needs. Now, with Bill C-7, the severity of the offence will be looked at in order to determine the extrajudicial measures. This makes a big difference. A justice minister who comes from Quebec should understand that and should above all oppose such a change.
This would be somewhat understandable from his predecessor, the previous minister of justice, who had very little grasp of French. It is no criticism of her but this may have made it harder to communicate with the stakeholders in Quebec, to go to speak with them, to grasp the problem and how things worked there.
The current Minister of Justice is a Quebecer, and a lawyer. He certainly knows people working in the field. He should have checked things out and consulted people before going ahead as he has.
He has also touched upon, despite the brevity of his speech, the role of the family, and it will have a role with Bill C-7. The Young Offenders Act is one of the instances where parents really have a role to play, if the parents are still in the child's life.
It must be really understood that, if a youth is having problems, quite often one of these problems is his family. His father or mother has a drug problem, is involved in prostitution or is a member of the organized crime. I am not saying this is widespread, but a part of the problem is the family.
At present, with the Young Offenders Act, we are able to respond quickly and take the youth out of his environment, if that is the problem. But with Bill C-7, we are being deprived of this rapid response tool, supposedly because youths have rights. Yes, they have rights but it is rather odd that this statement should come from a minister who, with Bill C-7, categorically denies some rights recognized by the UN convention on the rights of the child. All the experts are saying that the bill is contrary to this convention, which was signed by Canada. Indeed, this is a very major argument raised by the Government of Quebec in its legal challenge to Bill C-7.
At present, the family has an important role to play. I am well acquainted with some cases where parents, for various reasons, did not anticipate what would happen, that their child, because of societal pressure, his school, his environment or his friends, would commit some offence. The parents were there and supervised their child as the law allows them to do. At present, this youth is an anonymous citizen.
I toured all of Quebec and had consultations with many agencies. I met with many parents who have had problems with their teenagers and knew all about the Young Offenders Act. After reading Bill C-7, which I had sent them, they told me “Mr. Bellehumeur, it is easy to understand the Young Offenders Act, but nobody understands Bill C-7. Parents will have to rely on lawyers”.
Parents are losing to the legal professional what little role they could play under the Young Offenders Act. Do not tell me this will help the family unit. I think the Minister of Justice does not have a good grasp of the situation at all.
I had a conversation with the Minister of Justice after his appointment and I got the impression that he wanted to have consultations, because Bill C-7 has been around for a long time. I thought he wanted to consult personally, like any new minister would with a bill such as this one. I even suggested he meet with Mrs. Cécile Toutant of Institut Pinel, which deals with the most desperate cases, with the teenagers who have committed the worst crimes, crimes like murder. He would have realized that the approach used with them has a rate of success of nearly 100%.
We have to understand what goes through the mind of a young offender. We have to understand his circumstances and his case before passing judgment. With the series of automatic sentences in Bill C-7, young offenders are judged by the public even before they are tried in court. This does not help.
I also invited the minister to come and see for himself, perhaps even with the members of the justice committee, if he is reticent about coming alone, to have an official meeting with the coordinating justice of the youth division of the court of Quebec, Justice Michel Jasmin, not to name names, who does wonderful work and who offered to give the parliamentary committee a tour of the court house to show us to what extent it really is a small business operation.
Young offenders are received in the ground floor where there is a youth centre with specialists. Then he would have shown us the administrative centre and the court, to see how young people are treated, from A to Z, in order to witness the speed of the process, because time is of essence in treating a young person. He was ready to have us, as well as the Minister of Justice, pay him a visit in order to help him understand.
I also asked him to meet with Jean Trépannier, a specialist who is widely known, who is called upon by other universities across Canada to explain his approach with youth. There is Jean Trépannier, but there are also a number of other university professors, and I do not know of one that supports Bill C-7.
There are also the legal centres, defence lawyers, crown attorneys. He should also meet with the government of Quebec. He should consult, because the previous minister did not consult with the ministers either, on the drafting of Bill C-7. What he refers to as a consultation was more him saying “here is the bill, but you will not have any say in it”. That is not what can be described as a consultation.
The minister was required to consult. He cannot bring back Bill C-7, as he is doing, without consulting, without checking anything, and saying whatever he wants, because that is what he has been doing since he became Minister of Justice on the issue of young offenders. He is saying any old thing. This is so obvious that a newspaper headline today reads “The more things change...”, which would no doubt have ended “the more they stay the same”.
Just after being sworn in, the new Minister of Justice... is prepared to do anything to impose himself, even if it means making some outrageous remarks in the process.
The article then mentions some of the comments made by the minister and refutes them.
It refutes, among other things, the minister's comments on charging. Everyone surely knows, except the Minister of Justice, that fewer charges are laid in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. The article says:
In the rest of the country, 4.9% of young people are charged, compared to 2.7% in Quebec. The percentage of young people committed to custody is also lower and, more often than not, young people are registered in rehabilitation programs that allow them some freedom.
During a television program on RDI, the minister said that youth centres were jails. This is how he understands the system. It is very insulting for those who have been working in youth centres for 30 years, those who spent their professional lives building a Quebec way of doing things that has proven successful. It is very insulting and the Minister of Justice should even apologize for having said that.
The journalist makes that comment, sets the record straight and concludes by saying:
By accusing his Quebec critics of preserving myths regarding the bill, the Minister of Justice—
He comes from Quebec, but he is currently in Ottawa.
—is showing his ignorance of the system put in place in Quebec.
As we can see, it is not just the Bloc Quebecois that saw through the minister's ploy; others did too.
On several occasions during this same television broadcast, he was asked “Why are you saying that this is the right solution and that the way Quebec is enforcing it is the right way? Why is it that nobody in Quebec supports you? Why is it that nobody in Quebec agrees with the changes you want to make in the young offenders system?”
Whether they are judges, lawyers, specialists, psychologists, or social stakeholders, there is nobody who wants the minister's changes. He was unable to answer because nobody supports him. Nobody in Quebec wants these changes.
Today, we have an amendment from the Senate for the purpose of recognizing the specificity of aboriginals. The minister seems to be saying that this is the discovery of the year. The government has found the secret. As it now stands, the Young Offenders Act recognizes the specificity of aboriginals. It also recognizes the specificity of all young persons. We are talking about needs. Furthermore, aboriginals have said that they do not want Bill C-7, even with its few amendments.
Having said that, I would move an amendment to the motion before us. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:“the amendment made by the Senate to Bill C-7, An Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other Acts, be not now read a second time and concurred in, since it does not in any way take into consideration the distinct character of Quebec and the Quebec model for implementation of the Young Offenders Act.”.
With such an amendment, we should have the agreement of the federal Minister of Justice, who is a Quebecer. He is here to defend Quebec, not to defend the government and the Prime Minister.