House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was quebec.

Last in Parliament March 2011, as Bloc MP for Vaudreuil—Soulanges (Québec)

Lost her last election, in 2011, with 26% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 29th, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his comments that so vividly illustrate the reality for refugees coming to Canada. In my speech I focused on the issue of vulnerability and I think my colleague understood what I was saying and illustrated my point very well. He also illustrated the burden of red tape. Things can be done at the departmental level right away to simplify matters.

Can my colleague tell me whether, in his role as an MP, he has ever dealt with refugee claims? He is from an urban centre and I believe that he has witnessed some of the problems that exist with the current system. Does he have any reservations about the way the cases he has seen in his office have been handled?

Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 29th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I think that the current bill could—if parliamentarians so desire—include worthwhile amendments that would address its shortcomings.

Again, I want to emphasize the initial decisions. If we ensure that the board members are adequately trained, have access to accurate information and have the right skills for the job, we will improve the quality of the decisions.

However, there is an element in this bill that still bothers me, and that is using civil servants to accomplish certain tasks. Not that I feel they are incompetent, but in parliaments such as England and elsewhere, statistics have proven that this type of amendment is ineffective.

I think that we need to study the system thoroughly and trust our partners, the people who work in this field, to propose the most effective and desirable reform.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 29th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I understand what my colleague is saying.

Both the current procedures for considering humanitarian grounds and the pre-removal risk assessment are very inadequate mechanisms. It takes nearly 200 days for this type of decision to be made, and only approximately 2% of cases are accepted. The system puts the emphasis on refusal and excludes many motives that the general public, were we to ask them, would consider valid.

That is my point. Work needs to be done so that decisions can be made as quickly as possible and so that we can avoid going down that path.

It is my understanding that the minister is open to amendments. I hope that this type of amendment will be proposed so that we can make this bill an excellent one.

Balanced Refugee Reform Act April 29th, 2010

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to the Conservative government bill that will have a major impact on the refugee determination mechanism. Bill C-11 amends the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Federal Courts Act.

This issue is close to my heart, because as part of my main responsibilities in the House, I have criticized the immigration ministers one by one for the injustices that asylum seekers and refugee claimants from other countries suffer in Canada. Still today, many people come to our offices and ask us to help them. There is a great deal to be done, and this is a long-awaited reform of the refugee determination system. The current act provides for the appeal division, and we have repeatedly introduced legislation in the House to force Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the IRB to implement the refugee appeal division.

The bill introduced by the government does make some improvements. But some provisions of the bill raise questions about whether the government will achieve the goal of the reform, which is to put in place an improved refugee determination system and to deal with the case backlog.

We also wonder whether the government will put the required resources in the right place to avoid backlogs. It did not do so in the past, so why would it do so now? The refugee determination system has been extensively studied for years. Six years ago, in 2004, the Bloc Québécois condemned the lack of decision-makers and the fact that the government was slow to fill IRB vacancies. Despite the will of this Parliament, as expressed in the 2001 legislation, neither the Liberal nor the Conservative government has fully implemented the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. What is more, many organizations are leery of the government's intentions, because they have been fooled before and they do not want to fall for the same thing again. I hope the government is not trying to fool its partners by including provisions on the refugee appeal division in the bill. We expect the division to be put in place as soon as possible.

The minister does not need this new bill to implement the refugee appeal division. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act already makes provision for it. Why should we believe the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism when all the ministers who have come before him have used the most vulnerable people, those who are looking for protection from Canada, to justify their inaction?

I can think of many examples of vulnerable people who have suffered because they were forced to abide by decisions that made no sense. As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, I am responsible for, among other things, studying reports from the Auditor General of Canada, Sheila Fraser. She has been very critical of senior IRB officials and what they have been up to over the past nine years. Never in the history of the IRB have there been such long waiting lists. The backlog is unbelievable.

The Auditor General of Canada has warned the government about the repercussions of this ballooning backlog several times. Nothing has been done about it yet. Despite warnings and opinions from experts in the field of determining refugee status, the government has hamstrung the IRB in order to justify bringing in reforms with major shortcomings and ineffective measures.

Who let the backlog swell from 20,000 cases to over 60,000? Who delayed the appointment of IRB members and kept staffing levels extremely low with a shortage of, on average, 50 board members? I am sure everyone will agree that letting things get this bad is unacceptable.

The government wants claimants to have their interview within a week and their hearing within 60 days. The current system is paralyzed. It has reached the point where it can no longer function because the lawyers who represent clients before the IRB have no way of knowing when they will get a hearing. This proposal would add pressure to the system and would be very difficult to carry out. Interviews typically last four or five hours. Is a week enough time to collect all of the information needed for the hearing?

Currently, the information collected is often incomplete and not always useful to the decision-making process. It is not easy to make speedy decisions about who deserves protection as a refugee. That is why we need a mechanism to evaluate claims based on merit.

We must continue to invest in the quality of the initial decisions.

If a hearing is held when the applicant is not ready or the evidence not available, more bad decisions will be made and they will have to be overturned on appeal. It is better to take the time needed to make the right decision the first time.

Once again, the government is rushing through a bill without widely consulting the main players in the field. I maintain that a bill like this deserves thorough study, given the immediate repercussions on the way the refugee system operates.

We have been waiting for implementation of the refugee appeal division since 2001. Access to an appeal on the merits of a decision is needed in order to correct mistakes that inevitably occur at the first level.

In 2004, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration unanimously adopted a Bloc Québécois motion requiring the federal government to immediately establish the appeal division. On a number of occasions, bills have been debated in Parliament to force the implementation of the refugee appeal division. However, we have reservations about excluding applicants from countries that have been designated as safe by the minister.

In the government's view, its proposals would reduce waiting times, which would benefit the people who really need Canada's protection. The government is publicly arguing that many people fraudulently attempt to enter or remain in Canada by various means. Also, according to this same government, these procedures are costly for taxpayers.

I challenge anyone in Parliament to confirm that the government's proposed model will be less costly and to submit studies to that effect. Which measure will deal with costs in Bill C-11? I have found nothing in the bill dealing with cost.

As for eliminating fraudulent claims, does the bill have effective measures to reduce their number? It has none. There is no provision to prevent these types of claims being received and recorded.

Inevitably, in its reform, the federal government is attempting to implement measures that have been hurriedly thrown together. I appreciate the minister's comments and I hope that we will be able to present an excellent bill.

They are speaking publicly about the concept of safe countries of origin. It is worrisome that the bill does not specify anywhere what is meant by the word “safe”. It is up to the minister to designate the safe countries of origin. Each refugee claim must be examined individually. How can the minister meet that requirement if he agrees to include measures for the processing of claims that discriminate based on their country of origin?

Refugee claimants from countries that are deemed safe face the risk that the government will decide that their claim is unlikely to be justified, since the country they come from has been deemed safe.

Nothing changes for claimants from countries that are deemed safe. They will have no right to appeal their case before the refugee appeal division and will be forced to take their cases before the Federal Court, as they must do now. No new evidence can be presented to support a reversal of the first level decision.

I invite all parliamentarians to have another look at the testimony given by senior officials from the Department of Justice regarding the staffing and performance of the Federal Court. They appeared before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration and said there were no problems in that regard, as long as no new evidence, apart from procedural errors, can be presented.

I am deeply concerned about the basic principles of this reform. I am convinced that the proposed measures will not produce the desired results and that they will only lead to new problems in the end, unless the members of the House agree to a number of amendments.

Refugee claims must be processed in a timely manner. However, this must not be done to the detriment of the most vulnerable claimants. The challenge ahead is formidable: a decision must be made as soon as possible regarding the refugee determination process.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) April 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the question of mental health is another major issue. It is not that I do not want to answer this question, but I would like the member to raise this point in committee when this bill is being studied. Mental health is also an important issue.

In terms of their stories and appropriate intervention strategies, each case is looked at individually and different professionals do everything they can to rehabilitate the young person through an agreement or by taking action. If that is not possible, we could hear from professionals in this area. I would like to hear testimony from professionals about the strategies and other options that exist.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) April 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that my colleague is asking that question. The young people at the forum talked to me about this. They said that if the bill allowed young people's names to be published, they would be exposed and could then be recruited by criminal gangs or people with malicious intentions.

These youths have come a long way. I believe that the professionals who have worked with them have given them a second life. I spoke about a second life earlier. These young people have a right to be rehabilitated, to be reintegrated into society and to succeed. I wish them a brighter future. I will stand with them and support them on the path to this future.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) April 23rd, 2010

I loved my colleague's comments. I think he is touched that before question period I acknowledged the excellent and eloquent speech he made yesterday on this topic. I urge those watching at home to read my colleague's speech.

I asked myself the same question. What was the government's real intent in naming this bill, since the current legislation works well? I think in committee we could suggest that the name be changed, because it has nothing to do with the government's intent.

As my colleague said, the murderer of Sébastien Lacasse, one of my colleague's constituents, received the harshest sentence, and was recognized and tried in court as an adult. Nothing in this bill, as it stands, would have applied.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) April 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, the government could start by recognizing the positive effects rehabilitation can have on young people. It should also listen to what police officers in Quebec have to say about this issue. It should listen to lawyers and people who work with young offenders to hear what they have to say, and it should respect the opinion of professionals in Quebec.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) April 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, I just spent a day as a delegate at the Millennium Summit, where we spoke about poverty. Before question period, I mentioned that I had participated in a one-day forum on homelessness with youth from my riding.

What the member has brought up is rather important. I do not have the statistics here in front of me. However, every time the economy slows down or we experience difficulties, people have lost their jobs as a result. I do not have the statistics here, but I am sure that it has serious repercussions, which explains the increase in crime.

However, if we took a look at the stories of the young people who commit theft and petty crimes, we would see that there are reasons to explain why they ended up in that situation.

Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) April 23rd, 2010

Mr. Speaker, indeed, I began my speech before question period. However, I would like to take a moment to inform the House that during this session of Parliament, an Allied veteran had to fight a long, hard battle to be admitted to Ste. Anne's Hospital. Mr. Speaker, you have heard various comments from several members here in the House. Some of my colleagues have fought for and debated the case of Dennis George Vialls in this House. He was a soldier who fought in the second world war and was even decorated for his service. Since I have the floor, I would like to take a moment to inform the House that Mr. Vialls passed away this morning. On behalf of my colleagues in the House, I would like to express our sincere condolences to his family. Lest we forget.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for listening. I will now continue my speech.

Before question period, I was saying that people who work in community organizations are also our front line workers. It was important that as a society, we develop an intervention plan centred on rehabilitation and prevention. That is what I was saying before question period. We needed to stick to some basic principles. History has proven us right: the youth crime rate in Quebec dropped considerably and in 2002, Quebec's approach enabled it to achieve the lowest rate of juvenile crime and recidivism in Canada since 1985. That is quite a result.

For purely ideological reasons, the Conservative government is trying once again to change the essence of the Young Offenders Act. Although Bill C-4 has been watered down somewhat compared to the previous bill, the Bloc Québécois would like to take the time to thoroughly examine each of its clauses.

Despite the changes, it is important to point out that Quebec has always had a good approach to dealing with young offenders. In 2003, Quebec's Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court both struck down a provision that required teens to prove that they deserved to be sentenced as young offenders. In other words, young offenders were automatically given the strictest possible punishment. They then had to argue against such sentencing and prove that they deserved a lesser sentence. The legislation did not take into account young offenders' records.

In Quebec, we believe that tackling poverty is one good way to prevent young people from committing crimes. When they do commit crimes, sentencing in Quebec takes all of the circumstances into account. Rehabilitation is integral to our morals and values, and everyone in Quebec knows that it has a positive effect.

To properly understand our stance on Bill C-4, we have to take a closer look at what the Conservative government is proposing. The bill introduced in the House would make public perception a factor in the sentencing of young offenders to deter other young people who may be likely to commit crimes. Because of this desire to make examples of individual cases, prosecutors will have to justify any decision not to call for adult sentencing in cases involving serious crimes. This would turn things upside down by taking it for granted that young offenders should receive adult sentences regardless of their records.

In addition, Bill C-4, as written, would give judges more leeway to release the names of young offenders found guilty of violent crimes and sentenced as youths. This provision could have terrible consequences for young people whose names would appear on a public list. Once these offenders have paid their debt to society, people may still single them out and ostracize them. That kind of rejection would have an extremely negative effect on their rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation is a long-term undertaking with a strong track record in Quebec.

Judith Laurier, a spokesperson for the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec, said:

By lifting the publication ban, we end up in a situation where the young person may be singled out and may have problems with rehabilitation and reintegration. That is the key item [in the bill] that we really disagree with.

Are we to jeopardize the work accomplished with young offenders in order to satisfy Conservative ideology? I do not think so. We must instead give youth the opportunity to start their lives over again and regain their confidence.

The Bloc Québécois does serve a purpose in the House of Commons. Bill C-4 is a watered-down version of what the Conservative government had proposed in 2007. That is why the Bloc Québécois wants a detailed study of Bill C-4, the Conservatives' proposal to toughen legislation on minors who commit crimes.

As I was saying in my speech, giving adult sentences to young people who have been tried as minors is not the best way to prevent serious crime—it is the worst.

In Quebec, we are acting instead of reacting. Those who work with youth in Quebec believe that society must intervene in areas such as poverty, inequality and exclusion in order to prevent the youth crime rate from increasing. They must make young people aware of the consequences their actions might have.

Quebec's youth protection branch and youth centres have some serious reservations about Bill C-4. These agencies have developed programs that directly involve young offenders in their rehabilitation. When it comes to young offenders, a number of groups work together on the same case. In Quebec, each case is dealt with according to its specific characteristics.

Quebec has long understood the importance of rehabilitation. In 2002, the Montérégie regional services comprised more than 300 active groups. One of their missions was to provide specialized case management services within the framework of the Young Offenders Act. To do so, they brought together the community agencies and establishments involved in order to provide an effective program for young offenders.

Another example of this is found in the Chaudière—Appalaches region where a system has been set up in cooperation with various alternative justice agencies in order to lead young offenders to a better understanding of their actions by incorporating victim reactions into the rehabilitation centre program. These techniques have been tested and found successful in Quebec. Youth centres, social workers and lawyers all agree that the Quebec model is an example to the entire world.

We are investing in rehabilitation and social reintegration. It is better for a young offender to spend time with intervention experts than hardened criminals in prison. A young criminal can become a good citizen if he has the right services.

This week, I spoke with the police officers from my riding, from Quebec and from the Canadian Police Association who came to meet with us. They do not agree with the minister. These police officers, who work with young people in the community, believe in rehabilitation.

Quebec is following some 9,800 young people who need help and services. There are close to 70 in my own riding. Many of them have been rehabilitated and I want to thank those who have helped them. In most cases, the police will have no further contact with these youths who committed a minor offence. They will not see them again because they will not know them. These young people will have taken a better path in life.

We believe that the Conservative government is insisting on giving adult sentences to young people tried as minors. The Bloc Québécois agrees that the bill has been improved somewhat and the government deserves some credit. However, my current criticisms of the bill are that it does not give enough credit to rehabilitation and its effect on Quebec's youth and that this model will not be fully utilized in the rest of Canada.

We have explained a number of times that, if the government took into consideration the recommendations made by Quebec stakeholders, the Young Offenders Act would have much more positive and long-lasting effects on Quebec and Canadian society.

As for Sébastien's Law, which would toughen the law regarding minors, I must unfortunately say that I believe it contains major flaws.

Giving adult sentences to young offenders as a deterrent is not a good way to rehabilitate offenders. I have had proof of this from community organizations, lawyers, youth centre workers and other individuals who work with these young people in the second life they are given.

Giving the public access to the names of young people convicted of serious offences may be detrimental to their development and reintegration into the community. Quebec is held up as an example in other countries because of the way it deals with young offenders. The Bloc Québécois wants to study the bill, but we refuse to amend the legislation to conform to a right-wing Conservative ideology. Society must be proactive, not reactive, to eliminate serious youth crime. That is why Quebec's approach involves setting up programs to help eliminate poverty, exclusion and social inequality.

Obviously, the Bloc Québécois knows that young people commit crimes and must answer for those crimes, including in the courts. But the measures brought forward have got to have a real positive impact on crime; they have got to be more than just rhetoric or fear-mongering.

Our youth criminal justice system must be different and distinct from the adult system. The purpose of the youth system should be to reinforce young offenders' respect for social values. Organizations like Quebec's youth protection branch and youth centres have succeeded in creating effective intervention programs in cooperation with various community stakeholders. Quebec has adopted a model based on social reintegration and rehabilitation, and we believe in that model.