[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, September 19, 2000
The Chair (Mr. Andy Scott (Fredericton, Lib.)): I'd like to call the meeting to order, s'il vous plâit. Welcome back. Déjà vu seems appropriate. I'm sure we all missed each other over the summer. I know the officials from the Department of Justice couldn't wait for this.
First of all, for the record, we are meeting this evening on Bill C-3, an act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts. We are meeting today for clause-by-clause consideration.
I'm reminded by my clerk that when we last dealt with this issue, we were hearing from Mr. Bellehumeur on a motion. You will forgive me, Monsieur Bellehumeur, if I don't remember exactly the wording of the motion, but I think you did have an opportunity to explain it at some length. According to the rules, then, the floor belongs to Monsieur Bellehumeur.
Just before we turn our attention to Monsieur Bellehumeur, I would like to remind everyone that we have been given an order by the House to continue this debate on clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-3, and after ten hours of debate, the clerk will advise me, and I will then be compelled to call all of the votes without further debate, as an order of the House as of today.
Mr. Paul DeVillers (Simcoe North, Lib.): Whether anybody wants it or not, you are compelled to do it.
The Chair: I think that is the definition of “compelled”. I am certain that at three in the morning I won't really want to do that.
With that understanding, we are now proceeding. Monsieur Bellehumeur, would you like to continue to discuss your motion? Perhaps you can remind us of its content.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur (Berthier—Montcalm, BQ): Mr. Chairman, I want it understood at the outset that I don't want to be arguing about procedural issues at 3 a.m.
I have the motion here before me. In any event, I voted against the government's motion that brings us here to consider Bill C-3 and imposes limits, amongst others that debate be limited to 10 hours at most. I want us to be clear on this, Mr. Chairman. Does that mean that if we debate my motion for 10 hours, the bill will be adopted at clause-by-clause without further debate or amendment?
The Chair: That's correct. Essentially, we are in the middle of clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-3, and we have been since some time in May. Consequently, the directive from the House of Commons was simply to say that we have ten more hours of this debate, as it was extended from last spring, and the clock is ticking.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Are you aware that we have not yet begun clause-by-clause consideration? We're still debating my motion.
The Chair: Your motion was contained once we began to entertain clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-3, so technically speaking we are inside that debate. If you would prefer to vote on your motion now and get on to something else, I'm sure there would be some interest.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: No, not at all. I want us to be clear on this, because at 3 a.m., we'll certainly not be thinking as clearly as we are today, assuming we are thinking clearly today.
A voice: [Editor's Note: Inaudible]
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: No, not necessarily, especially when I see the members from Quebec. I hope that at 3 a.m. this will be clearer than when the gag motion was adopted for this bill.
Having said that, Mr. Chairman...
The Chair: My last comment is my guess is that at 3 a.m. we'll be more rested than you.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Probably, but that's part of the risk you take in this job and I'm fully prepared to take it.
Mr. Chairman, I'm going to get comfortable here if you don't mind. Indeed, we're debating a motion and I'm going to read it to you so that everyone can be clear about it.
Before I begin, I'd like to extend my greetings to the new members of the Justice Committee who did not have the opportunity to hear me in May and June. It was just a rain check. You are really lucky to be able to hear my arguments from A to Z. I'm convinced that at 3 a.m., you will be in favour of my motion and of Quebec's point of view.
The motion reads as follows:
This motion continues to be fully pertinent today since, quite obviously, the government members, the members of the Liberal Party who are here from Quebec, have certainly not transmitted to the Minister of Justice the message that they were supposed to explain to her that she was on the wrong track with Bill C-3.
The motion that was adopted today is to some extent a gag on Quebec. As you know, Mr. Chairman, and as other members of the committee may not know, there is a broad consensus in Quebec: we do not want the Minister of Justice to amend the current Young Offenders Act in any way, shape, or form.
The Minister of Justice—and I hope she is not proud of herself—tabled a motion to gag Quebec and railroad this bill through in spite of its importance, which she herself emphasized. When the Minister of Justice came before us to testify, she said that this was undoubtedly the most important bill she's tabled since she took over the Justice portfolio.
I hope that the members opposite know that Bill C-3 contains over 200 clauses. One cannot call this a series of amendments to the Young Offenders Act; we should in fact say that the Young Offenders Act is repealed. An entirely new way of doing things is being introduced into the system, and that is this act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts.
In other words, everything we have done with the Young Offenders Act over the years will be thrown into the trash bin. There is an attempt here to do something new and risky, which will mean that the results will not be as positive as they are today.
Obviously, Quebec members have not explained the views of Quebeckers. I am convinced that the members from Quebec received the same types of phone calls that I did over the summer. I am certain that they heard the same representations from the Coalition pour la justice des mineurs, from youth centres, from the Institut Philippe-Pinel and from the Quebec human rights and youth rights commission. I will get back to that later. In answer to a question I put to her, the Minister quoted a paragraph from a letter that came from goodness knows where. The statements it contained completely contradicted the brief tabled before the Committee by the Quebec human rights and youth rights commission. We will be setting the record straight in the course of the evening.
Quite obviously, the Quebec members who received phone calls—I know they received calls because these groups told me they called them—did not do their job in contacting their Minister. It can be one of two things: either they did do their job and they have absolutely no clout in this government or they just did not do it. In either case, it is quite worrisome for Quebec.
In Quebec, we do not want any amendment to the Young Offenders Act. There is a consensus about that. I will get back to that consensus in the course of the evening. The resolution that was adopted by the National Assembly is still valid. It reaffirms the views of all the stakeholders who apply the Young Offenders Act directly or indirectly. They all agree that this legislation should not be amended in any way.
The Minister decided to go full speed ahead and to have this new bill passed, a bill that will treat youngsters who have committed an offence in the same way as any other criminal. The process is accelerated and a gag is imposed on the Bloc Québécois member who defends the interests of Quebec too zealously and who talks too loud when he demands what Quebec wants in this bill. This gag is imposed get him to shut his trap, as we say, whereas in the meantime, Mr. Chairman, the Minister does nothing or hesitates when she hears Quebec demand anti-gang legislation.
It is not my intention to make political hay out of such issues, but put yourselves in our place as Quebeckers. We are really ill-served by this government. Once again, where are the Quebec members? I could almost ask you who they are because we never hear from them. As a sitting member of Parliament, I have an opportunity to see them. I find it disturbing that these members did not rise to denounce the attitude of the Minister of Justice.
Just today I had a look at how this is unfolding in the House of Commons. Pierre Pettigrew is a Quebec member of Parliament, even a minister. What did he say to defend the interests of Quebec on this issue? Did he urge his colleague the Minister of Justice, who sits with him in Cabinet, to come here to answer the questions of the members of the committee and explain how the proposed amendments respond to Quebec's demands? One would expect no less since he sits next to her at the Cabinet table.
Ms. Robillard is president of Treasury Board. What did she do? I remember statements Ms. Robillard had made when she arrived in Parliament after a by-election victory. She said that the interests of Quebec were ill served by the Bloc Québécois and that she, in her great wisdom about Quebec, would defend Quebeckers, who were not properly represented.
What did Ms. Robillard say about Bill C-3 at a time when there was solid consensus in Quebec that we did not want this bill? What did Ms. Robillard say? I didn't hear her. Frankly, the people in her riding must think she wasn't there. But she was there. We've been talking about Bill C-3 for so long that even if she had missed a day, she could have caught up. These things are important.
Mr. Martin, the important Minister of Finance, is first and foremost a member from Quebec. What did he say? What is his position on Bill C-3? Did he ask the Minister to come here to testify as I've requested in my motion? Did Mr. Martin defend the interests of Quebec? Showy gestures and flashy budgets are not always enough. That is all very nice, but in concrete terms, the people who apply the Young Offenders Act on a daily basis know that right now, that legislation is well applied in Quebec. It is thanks to stakeholders who have invested hours and years to improve the approach to young offenders. But he is letting them down. Paul Martin is plainly letting these people down.
For his part, Mr. Chrétien is not the most junior of ministers. He's the Prime Minister of Canada and a member of Parliament from Quebec, the “little guy from Shawinigan”. Well, he didn't say much to show his minister that she was on the wrong track. He didn't say much to tell the Minister that she should appear before the committee in order to try to explain her amendments. This makes no sense. In Quebec, no one wants this bill. Moreover, the proposed amendments are unsatisfactory. He did not tell the Minister to come before the committee to explain what she wanted. Aren't we entitled to expect that from the Prime Minister of Canada who is also a member of Parliament from Quebec? I think so.
Martin Cauchon, the Minister of National Revenue, is a young member from a new generation, but his attitude is pretty similar to that of the old guard of Liberal MPs who sit in the Commons. They don't say much and they act as doormats. When did he rise to defend the interests of Quebec regarding Bill C-3? Never. On the contrary, when I put questions in the House he finds a way to laugh at them. He finds it funny, as do other Liberal members from Quebec. He finds it funny to see Quebec put in its place and be gagged. He finds this very comical. It's hilarious, isn't it? It's very, very funny.
Stéphane Dion, the great defender of Canadian Constitution, where is he? Where is this Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the champion of the Canadian Constitution and of good ideas? Perhaps he should have been thinking of something other than his plan A or plan B and take a look at the content of this hefty Bill C-3 and realize that no one in Quebec wants it.
We are not trying to make ourselves out to be smarter than anyone else. It's just that contrary to other provinces Quebec applies the Young Offenders Act. If any minister should know that it is Mr. Dion, because as Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs, he knows that these are things that are discussed between provinces. Well, it seems not! He was also elected in a by- election, at the same time as Mr. Robillard and Mr. Pettigrew, I believe. These were the three horsemen who were going to come and defend the interests of Quebec. In my opinion their horses must have been old nags and this issue never got to Parliament, Mr. Chairman, since none of these three members rose to defend the interests of Quebec.
Now, we turn to the back-benches, where the other members of Parliament from Quebec can be found, the Liberal backbenchers. They could have stood up and challenged this. One of them, when he was a Conservative, had a reputation for taking stands against his party. I am talking about Mr. St-Julien, the Member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik. This was the reputation he earned during his two terms as a Conservative member of Parliament in the House, because he used to be a Conservative. The Liberal Party looks as much like a rainbow coalition as the Bloc Québécois. They seem to have Conservatives, Liberals and all sorts of people in there.
During his time with the Conservatives, Mr. St-Julien acquired a reputation for opposing his party. Is it not strange that in the case of Bill C-3, he is behaving like a sheep, putting his tail between his legs and falling meekly into line? When did you see Mr. St-Julien stand up to defend Quebec's interests during the study of C-3? Never! Never! I don't know what you say to your Liberal members. I don't know what the Prime Minister says to his members of Parliament, but I almost have to congratulate him, Mr. Chairman. When did we ask for...
Ms. Judy Sgro (York West, Lib.): Mr. Chairman, I have a point of order. I'm very interested in the comments that my colleague on the other side of the table is making, but coming here for the first time, I'm very interested in knowing what are the issues he is opposed to. Is he planning to share that with us at some point this evening?
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: We have time, Mr. Chairman.
The Chair: I suspect we'll touch on most things.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Yes, yes.
Ms. Judy Sgro: I don't know how long the attention will last, though. I'd like to hear it while I'm still wide awake.
The Chair: I think, Mr. Bellehumeur, she's suggesting you get to your good stuff early.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: We are getting to that, Mr. Chairman. I would ask you to be patient. Justice is a big puzzle, and we are all small puzzles. I am putting the pieces in the right place. Once the whole puzzle is done, you will understand. I am absolutely certain that you will get the picture. Now, we have to look at the pieces of the puzzle, and I am in the process of explaining them to you. You have an opportunity to sit with all these valorous members from Quebec, a chance not everyone has. I want the people who read this evening's proceedings—and I am sure they will be read—to know who the members of Parliament from Quebec are, and what they did to defend the greater interests of Quebec. I am convinced that you will understand what I am saying. I guarantee that, sometime around midnight, we will be into the heart of the matter, and everything will become clear. Trust me. This is not the first time that I have done this. I practised for 17 and a half hours. So we are continuing where I left off the last time. Rest assured that we will reach our destination.
Ms. Judy Sgro: I think by midnight my light will be off.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Trust me, there is no problem. So I was speaking about Mr. St-Julien.
It is important to realize that Mr. St-Julien, when he was a Conservative, opposed his party on issues of major importance to Quebec. I would have liked to see him keep this reputation when he crossed the House to go to the Liberal side. I would have liked him to stand up and say that this bill makes no sense in Quebec. Later, Madam, I will list all the people in Quebec who enforce the Young Offenders Act directly or indirectly, and who have reached exactly the same conclusion as me: don't touch the Act, because you would be making a mistake. Mr. St-Julien could have used these points to argue his position and justify voting against his government on such an important matter.
Everyone knows Mr. Charbonneau, the great union leader, the great protestor. Isn't it strange that he never spoke too loudly in defence of Quebec's interests? I have not heard much from the Member for Anjou—Rivière-des-Prairies on a subject as important as the Young Offenders Act.
I'm almost embarrassed to mention the name of the next individual, because he was my bâtonnier when I was practising law. I am referring to Mr. Paradis. As a former president of the bar of Quebec, he had very little to say, and he was very quiet about it. His constituents in Brome—Mississquoi would be quite disappointed to see that a former bâtonnier didn't find anything to say to convince the Minister of Justice to change her course, to tell her that she was on the wrong track, and that she should completely rework her bill or simply allow it to die on the Order Paper, as often happens. I would give Mr. Paradis a mark of 0 for his argument to the Minister. It doesn't matter much whether the mark is out of 10 or out of 100.
Let us now talk about the Member for Laval West, Ms. Folco. It is hardly surprising that she had nothing to say about a bill such as Bill C-3, because I would have difficulty telling you what she had to say about other bills.
As for Ms. Bakopanos, the Member for Ahuntsic, she was a member of the Justice Committee. She is well aware of the importance of the Young Offenders Act in Quebec, but she said nothing. Is that so she can get trips? Is that so she can get some position within the Liberal Party? Is it for the advancement of her career? I do not know, but she said nothing to convince the Minister, first of all, to step back with her Bill C-3, or secondly... Don't look at me like that. You are frightening me, Mr. Myers. Or else, Mr. Chairman...
Mr. Lynn Myers (Waterloo—Wellington, Lib.): I have a point of order, Mr. Chairman. The honourable member knows better than to comment on people's travel habits or anything else. He purports to be a long-standing member of repute; he knows better than to do that. He should get down to whatever comments he has on the subject, as opposed to impugning the reputations of individual members. He wouldn't like it if somebody were doing it to him. I suggest with all due respect that he should stop doing it to others.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: I will continue, Mr. Chairman, by mentioning Mr. Assad, from Gatineau. Did Mr. Assad from Gatineau rise to defend the interests of Quebec during the study of Bill C-3? Unfortunately, I did not see him do so. Unfortunately, he did not convince the Minister to come and testify before the committee to explain her many amendments. I hope you are aware of that fact.
The bill has 200 clauses. From memory, because I do not have the bill before me—I had enough other material to carry this evening—I think there are approximately 200 amendments. The bill was poorly drafted from the outset, but despite these 200 amendments, the coalition and all those involved in enforcing the Act in Quebec say that the bill is not good, that it misses the mark. That makes sense. When a bill is rotten, even if we change some of the terminology, it remains rotten. There is nothing to be done.
Let us now speak about the Member for Verdun—Saint-Henri, Mr. Lavigne. Did you hear Mr. Lavigne... Your turn is coming. Did you hear Mr. Lavigne defending Bill C-3? I did not hear him do so.
The Member for Lac-Saint-Louis, a former minister in the National Assembly... You have some important people on your side. Congratulations. Mr. Lincoln is very familiar with Quebec's demands, and even knows very well some of the members of the Liberal Party who unanimously passed a motion with the other Quebec members to ask the Minister of Justice to postpone things and take the time to better study what is being done in Quebec. We are succeeding in Quebec. So do the opposite: export what we are doing in Quebec to the other provinces. Do not do the opposite. Mr. Lincoln, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, knows this very well. And what did he do? He did absolutely nothing.
What did Doctor Patry, from Pierrefonds—Dollard, do during the study of Bill C-3? I am sure that he, like me, heard people talking about the bill over the summer. I am convinced that people called him to say: “Look, this makes no sense. Convince your minister that she is on the wrong track and ask her to change her course”. But it not happen. In any case, not that I heard.
There are two new members on the back-benches who are there to defend the greater interests of Quebec. I am referring to Mr. Price, from Compton—Stanstead, and Ms. St-Jacques, from Shefford, who have recently joined the ranks of the Liberal Party. I would have liked them to stand up and say: "Look, we did not necessarily share your view when we were with the Conservatives, and we still do not. This makes no sense. You are making a mistake". But they did not. They did what all the others did.
Ms. Jennings, from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, often makes statements under Standing Order 31 in the House, but she never made any statement denouncing Bill C-3. She did not. She is following the party line, like all the other Liberal members.
The person who takes the cake is the member sitting opposite to me, Jacques Saada, a member of the committee. He is the icing on the cake. The member sits on this committee. He knows very well what Quebec wants. I am not telling him anything he does not know. I even know that some individuals have been in touch with him. People think that he is in government and that he will defend Quebec's interests. It is not that we are divided on this issue in Quebec. If there is one issue on which we are not divided, it is definitely the Young Offenders Act. Federalists, sovereignists, liberals, Péquistes, members of the ADQ, members of the Bloc: we all sing the same tune. All of us!
I have a great deal of regard for Mr. Saada and I thought that he could have convinced the Minister to come and testify before the committee and explain her amendments. I thought he would have been beside me in trying to convince the Minister that she is taking the wrong course. That did not happen.
Today we find ourselves on the eve of an election campaign, and I should be thanking all these members, because they are proof that Quebec is not defended by the old parties, and that the only people who can really defend Quebec's interests and get across the real message across here in the House of Commons are members of the Bloc Québécois. We will see to it that people find this out. We will explain it to them.
In addition, all these fine individuals were present this evening and voted for a gag order to keep Quebec quiet. That is unacceptable! Unacceptable!
I am going to give you a brief outline of the background of the bill that we have before us today, as well as the motion. You will recall that the Minister held a press conference at one point to explain that she was tabling a new bill entitled "Youth Criminal Justice Act". I still remember that, because I was sitting opposite her at the press conference. I was very surprised at what she said. She said she was amending the Act for a number of reasons, particularly because the Young Offenders Act lacked clarity. She said that the Act did not set out the main objective of the system. She said there was no specific principle underlying the Young Offenders Act at the various stages of the court procedures. There is something wrong somewhere. We were probably not looking at the same bill. Or, maybe as a result of a purely political decision, the department tried to find some arguments that could be applied to the Young Offenders Act. All those who enforce the Young Offenders Act say that the principles are not clear. That the objective is not clear. Let us take a look at the Declaration of Principle found in section 3 of the Young Offenders Act. The principles are set out clearly in that section. When I read section 3, I do not find it unclear. This is what it says, Mr. Chairman:
I would have liked the Minister to have been present this evening. I would have asked her what she does not understand about that, and what is lacking that would make it clearer. I know that you Liberals are all for clarity, but I think that paragraph 3(1)(a) is clear. I do not think it was acceptable to amend the entire Act because of this paragraph.
Let's look at paragraph a.1). This is an amendment that was made in past years. Later, I will give you some background about the Young Offenders Act. I am sure the members across will find it enlightening.
Paragraph 3a.1) says:
This is very important. I would have liked the Minister to be here tonight so that I could ask her this question.
What is unclear in this provision? Also, Mr. Chairman, if ever a provision has been interpreted by judges, no less than the Supreme Court justices, this is it. Many Supreme Court decisions have elaborated on it and reaffirmed it. This notion that youths in trouble with the law cannot be treated as adults as to their degree of responsibility and accountability has been emphasized.
I am sure that committee members around this table and even departmental officials, the clerk and all those who work here have or know children. Quite clearly, you cannot hold a child or an adolescent as responsible as an adult. So, what is unclear in this declaration of principle that would justify the Minister scuttling it?
Let's move to paragraph 3(1)(b):
What is unclear in this paragraph? Why does the Minister feel compelled to amend this act? None of this can be found in the legislation, or only in part. This is a whole. It took the courts and superior courts years to develop the case law and fashion the young offenders system into what it is today. It took years to develop the system that is applied to them and make it what it is today. This declaration of principle mattered considerably.
No, the Minister is not here as I requested. In my motion, I asked her to come before the committee to explain how her many amendments meet the position and demands of Quebec. But the Minister is not here.
This declaration of principle, which forms the basis of the Young Offenders Act, further states in paragraph 3(1)(c):
This is very important. All those who came here said so.
This is another issue that the courts have interpreted at length. They defined "special needs" very clearly, among other things.
Mr. Chairman, all the witnesses we heard said that when reading Bill C-3, they had noticed there was no mention of the needs of the child. That is why, in the many amendments tabled by the government, the word "needs" has been sprinkled here and there, like the Minister does. I congratulate her for accommodating those who requested that word, but this is not enough. It is not because you include the word "needs" in a bill that you necessarily meet the requirements, or that you have something similar to the Young Offenders Act.
I know that, especially in the department, well-meaning people have tried... I see the witnesses. I know they have met these groups, as well as members of the coalition. I know there are people from Privy Council and senators who have met people to convince them that Bill C-3 is a good piece of legislation. Despite all their efforts and influence, they have not managed to convince them to change their position one bit. Why? Because these people are practitioners, professionals and want to do the right thing. They have worked for years to ensure that the system in use today in Quebec is working and is workable with the legislative tools that the federal government gave them. They do not appreciate this idea that anything will be changed and that no guarantee is given to them about the outcome. That is understandable because it is impossible to give such guarantees.
The case law has many references to special needs. There is mention of a youth's development and maturity, a youth in trouble with the law. In many cases we are even dealing with murder. Judges look at the needs of the child so that he can reintegrate society. These youngsters need to rehabilitate themselves. Without the declaration of principle, without paragraph 3(1)(c) of the Young Offenders Act, no judge could have helped these young people to reintegrate society. All of this was done thanks to the declaration of principle, and I reiterate this again for the newcomers who haven't had the time to read the Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons that the minister is submitting to us and that she wants to push down our throats tonight, Bill C-3. Nowhere is there specific mention of the dependency, the degree of development or maturity of children, their special needs. They need counselling and assistance. Well, no mention is made of that.
Further on, what do we find in the declaration of principle, Mr. Chairman? I would have appreciated having an opportunity to question the Minister on this, so that she could show me where, in Bill C-3 or in the amendments, these features are found. I would have appreciated that she come before us to explain her many amendments, as I have requested in the motion we are debating tonight.
Sub-paragraph 3(1)(c.1) says:
Where precisely in Bill C-3 is this or anything approaching it to be found? If it had been included, the Minister would only have had to come here to bear witness to that, but not as hastily as she did the last time. We know ministers, and we have seen some tonight. The Environment minister sits down and doesn't leave. In fact, it is difficult to get him to leave. The last time she was here, the Minister of Justice seemed to have a stopwatch. I wanted her to stay 10 minutes more because we even had enough time to go and vote, but she wouldn't stay. So we have to submit motions like this to have at least a semblance of democracy here and to make sure that members have all the necessary information when they vote on this bill, so that they are not like a bunch of sheep standing up when the Prime Minister does. They have to know what this bill is about and what the Minister used to draft it.
The subparagraph meets almost all demands made by members of the House in regard to protection of society. Is there anything more dear to the Canadian Alliance? And that's good. In the Young Offenders Act, there is reference to the protection of the public. Whether in Quebec or in the West, the goals are the same. Protecting the public is important. I am one of those who work to protect society. But to do so we are not using the same means. The Quebec approach also aims at protecting society. We believe—by the way, I hope you enjoy your meal—that society is protected using the approach favoured by Quebec.
We believe that in working with young persons who commit offences, providing the means and adequate treatment, having them monitored by experts—and there are many of them in Quebec—we manage to protect society.
The Chair: As a gesture of goodwill, if you would like to gather together some nourishment to help you through this ordeal, I invite you to do so.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: If you have no objection, since I am getting to...
The Chair: We're just going to take a deep breath while you do this. We won't be suspending.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: If I may, Mr. Chairman, I will not eat right away. I will let you do so and I will go later, because I'm getting to the meat of the issue. I am sure people will be able to digest this at the same time. I would like to go on a little and, around 7:30 or eight, if there is anything left to eat, I will go. If not, I have a banana. People say a banana is as good as a steak. You have no objection to this?
The Chair: No, it's fine with me.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Thank you for your understanding, Mr. Chairman. I am sure that deep down, you understand me and that if you were given the choice, you would agree with me on the way we do things in Quebec. I know you have looked at all of this, but you can't help it.
Ah, Mr. Paul DeVillers, welcome.
Mr. Paul DeVillers: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: So I was saying that we all want to protect the public, whether in Quebec, in the West, in the Maritimes or in Central Canada, even though there are diverging views on the means to be used.
Quebec has indeed studied was is being done in the West and compared that with the way we do things at home and we are not envious of what is being done there in terms of law enforcement for young offenders. In the short term, maybe society is well protected when a young person who commits offences is jailed for two or three years and left unattended. It is also less expensive to proceed this way. But if a young person has committed a murder, he will eventually get out of jail. Take the case of a 14-year-old who commits a murder and, after a 25-year prison sentence, comes out of jail at age 39. He is still young and can still be productive. I am 37 years old and I am only slightly younger than this 39-year-old. What will he be able to do after 25 years spent in jail without any treatment or any assistance from experts, if no one has tried to find a way to have him reintegrate society and rehabilitate him? What will he be able to do if we implement this beautiful system that you want to set up in Quebec under which a youth with a long sentence who turns 18 must automatically be transferred to an adult prison?
I know that some members of this committee have visited prisons. I suggest to those who have not had an opportunity to do so to go, and they will come to the conclusion that this environment, as a school for crime, is not advisable for anyone, especially an 18-year-old. This is especially the case for federal jails, where inmates serve longer sentences. I am not convinced that when a young person leaves jail after being there for many years, we can say that we have made the right decision by not providing him with treatment and not using the Young Offenders Act. I am not at all sure about that.
In our province, we administer the legislation and provide for a follow-up and treatments to facilitate the rehabilitation of youth. Our success rate is very high and the number of repeat offenders is very low. It shows that our approach is working. Thanks to the approach advocated in Quebec, society as a whole is much better protected in the long term in our province compared with western provinces. For many years, the latter have been investing in concrete because it was more cost effective under the rules governing federal programs. I did not make up that statement. That is what the former Minister of Justice said when he appeared before the committee, along with the officials that oversee financial matters in his department, in order to introduce his estimates. The Minister admitted that provinces had more to gain from investing in concrete than investing in youth, which accounted for the difference. That is why the federal government has accumulated, as Allan Rock admitted, a debt that amounted two years ago to some $96 million vis-à-vis Quebec, where we administer the Young Offenders Act. I believe he made that statement in this very same room. Under the rules governing that program, Quebec has been penalized for administering the Act and targeting its efforts at social reintegration and rehabilitation, more than other provinces have. The federal government was more generous with those provinces that built penal institutions than with ours, that applied the Young Offenders Act in its entirety. Obviously that approach does not further the long-term protection of society.
It is also stated in paragraph 3(1)(d):
Again, under that federal legislation passed by Parliament, there are some provisions regarding the protection of society. It is clearly stated. When dealing with young offenders, if we can find a better way of protecting society and especially promoting the rehabilitation of young offenders, we can take measures other than judicial proceedings.
I don't know whether I will have time this evening, but I would like to speak to you about alternative measures programs being applied in Quebec. We are not reinventing the wheel. The Department of Justice, with the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec, implemented a program providing for specific alternative measures for young persons who commit offences. I do hope that during the course of the evening, I will have the time to deal with those alternative measures that do not exist in other parts of Canada. That is the sad part of it.
One can wonder about the real objectives of the Minister. In her legislation, provision is made for extrajudicial measures. I will come back to it later on. Provision is made for extrajudicial measures, alternative measures, etc. What guarantees does the Minister have that other provinces which never did it or did it wrong or did little about that in the past when the Young Offenders Act allowed them to do so, will do better under Bill C-3?
Did the Minister get any kind of assurance? She should say so as soon as possible. I do wish she had come here to tell us about it. That is why my motion was important in June and still is today. The Minister could surprise us and show up here later on today. We will be here until 3 a.m. She could come right now. I would have some questions to ask right away. But she prefers to hide and impose closure motions.
By the way, and perhaps you don't know it, Mr. Chairman, it is quite ironic that the member who introduced this motion, Mr. Boudria, was among those who very strongly opposed this kind of motion when he was in opposition under a Conservative government. He was really mad; he used to render is garments. He was even given a nickname that I will not repeat tonight, because it is unparliamentary language, but it suits him very well because he would scream his head off whenever closure motions were being introduced, motions like those he has put forward many times since he is Government House Leader.
It is quite ironic when you think about it. Do as I say, but not as I do. One of these days, you are going to pay for it, that is for sure.
Let us go to the next paragraph. I did spend some time dealing with the declaration of principle, but I would be surprised if everyone here knew it. If you want to understand the Young Offenders Act, you have to know that statement is the very basis of what is being done in Quebec. It is the philosophy behind the report that was written about it. I will refer to it at length because it is essential that we take a good close look at it before we make any decision.
If the Young Offenders Act did not include that declaration of principle, I would probably not be pleading with you to convince you not to change the Act, because it would not have met the expectations of Quebeckers. But that declaration of principle, properly applied and interpreted by the courts, gave some leeway to judges and everybody else who takes an interest in crime among youth. That is what enables them to use all available tools, all available programs in Quebec in order to reach their goals.
Thus, after dealing with treatments and alternative measures other than judicial proceedings, paragraph 3(1)(e) of the Young Offenders Act contains what follows. It is a very important provision.
In my opinion, there is in this Bill C-3 some infringement to an important rule regarding statements that can be made by young people. I will deal with that later on when we talk about the eligibility of young people's statements. As I said to that lady earlier, we should be in the heart of the issue around midnight. At that time, I will probably be dealing with that topic.
Therefore, paragraph 3(1)(e) reads as follows:
In Bill C-3, there is no such provision, no statement that is that clear. In the brief presented in December 1999 by the Quebec Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, it is clearly stated that the Minister's bill runs counter to some UN conventions. The brief was tabled with the committee by Mr. Norman Dauphin, the Commission's secretary; Mr. Dauphin was supported in his work by Claire Bernard and Claude Bois, both lawyers.
After giving the history of objectives and having analyzed the guiding principles of the old and the new acts, the Commission said the following in its brief:
They are even boasting about it in the UN, Mr. Chairman. That paragraph of the Young Offenders Act is apparently a matter of pride for Canada in the United Nations whenever they are debating children's rights.
Third, as everyone knows, it is clearly stated in that paragraph that:
Need I remind the committee that, under Bill C-3 that is being considered tonight, there is no such reference? I wish that the Minister were here tonight, giving evidence and answering that question. How is it that on the one hand you can boast about the benefits of the Young Offenders Act, more particularly its paragraph 3(1)(c), and on the other hand you want to repeal it? I am quite sure that she would admit making a small mistake and would undertake to correct it. She would tell me that she has in hand 200 amendments to make the necessary adjustments. But that is nothing but a piecemeal approach. It has nothing to do with paragraph 3(1)(c).
I am sure that in the department there are smart people who can see that. I do not envy the position of departmental officials who have to go along with what the Minister says, but I am convinced that you can see there is a gap between the statements that are made at the international level and what is being done in Canada. But even with that declaration of principle, the committee recommended that the principle of the best interests of the child be reflected more clearly in Canada's domestic legislation. That is not the case in this bill.
In any case, I will again refer to that Commission's brief in order to set the record straight, given the intervention of the Minister who, during question period, quoted some letter by God knows who from the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. The Commission findings in this regard are very clear and I do not think that they suggested any amendments to the Young Offenders Act. On the contrary, I will come back to that later on.
Then there is paragraph 3(1)(f). As the legislator does not make any empty statements, all elements of the declaration of principle are important. Paragraph 3(1)(f) reads as follows:
Here again, one should ask oneself what exactly is not clear in that approach. I want to remind the chair that I am referring to the Minister's press conference when she justified - tried to - resuming consideration of Bill C-3. She is the one who has referred to a lack of clarity. What is not clear in paragraph 3(1)(f) and following paragraphs? Nothing, in my opinion.
The next paragraph says:
In this regard, however, I am not overly worried, given the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Regardless of this legislation that will apply to young persons, that principle will apply to all.
Paragraph 3(1)(h) says:
That is clear as well. One cannot justify amending the Young Offenders Act by saying that this paragraph is not sufficiently clear.
So as far as clarity is concerned, the Minister is wrong. All experts in Quebec have said—indeed, I have even heard some from outside Quebec who were in agreement with this—that as far as clarity is concerned, Bill C-3 that we have in front of us, an Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts, is not any clearer. In fact, one could contend that it is even worse. In Quebec, people would say that it is a disaster. I will tell you later on about the content of the bill and about its substance, its sections, the way it is organized and how you can find your way through it.
What was even more surprising in that famous press conference where the minister tried to justify the proposed amendments to the Young Offenders Act, is that she probably thought that she could try and justify that by referring to the high crime rate among young people. But she probably did not have enough time to look at the statistics that she had circulated to the media, because if she had done so, she would have seen that the crime rate among young persons is decreasing.
In my view, you should amend the law only when it is not working, when you recognize that the situation is out of control and that young persons are perpetrating an increasing number of crimes that are increasingly serious. If we had evidence that there were x number of crimes committed last year and that a 10% increase had been recorded since then, I would understand that the Minister would want to solve that problem and seek a solution to it. I would understand that she would want to amend the law. But the problem is of their own making. It brings to mind the pyromaniac who lights a fire in order to be able to extinguish it. It is absurd.
The Minister of Justice is quite busy and perhaps she has not had the time to acquaint herself with the statistics. However, the officials of her department who prepared this interesting document knew what they were doing when they wrote it. It says here that since 1995, the rate of indictment for violent crimes committed by young persons went down by 3.2%. These figures have not been published by evil separatists, but by the department itself. It even says here that there was an overall decrease. There was one category where there was an increase, namely in the case of property offences. That tendency has also been recorded among adults, in the same proportion. Even though this legislation is especially focussed on violent crimes, the department's own statistics show that there was a decrease. It is rather peculiar that they would want to amend the law because of that.
A little bit further down, there are as well some official statistics about a possible increase of delinquency among young persons. By examining statistics that were given to us by the Minister and that have been compiled about Quebec—in the Department of Justice, they collect statistical data in order to determine whether or not there is a problem—one is able to ascertain whether the Young Offenders Act is working or not. The conclusion that we draw from official statistics lead us to say that no, delinquency among young persons is not increasing in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. This fact is even more in evidence in Quebec. According to Statistics Canada, there was a 4% decrease in the crime rate among young persons in 1998 and a decrease was recorded for the seventh consecutive year. As far as violent crimes among young persons are concerned, in the past three years, in 1997, 1998 and 1999, there was a decrease of about 1% per year. I recognize that this 1% decrease is modest. I would like to see a 100% decrease, so that there would not be a single violent crime in Quebec, however, we know that that is not possible. But you must recognize that there was a decrease. There is no increase that could justify any amendment to the Young Offenders Act.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: why is the Minister of Justice so determined to amend the Young Offenders Act? I had found the answer to that question and it was confirmed today when I saw the leader of the Canadian Alliance appear in the Chamber. It is quite simply the conservative winds of change that motivate the Minister to act in this way. She is trying to placate this right wing, these people who find that the Young Offenders Act is not a good piece of legislation.
These proposed changes are desired by the provinces that are not enforcing the Young Offenders Act or that are not enforcing it properly.
So it is, in essence, a political game and the fundamental objective is of an electoral nature. I find that disappointing, Mr. Chairman. I would have liked the Minister to be here tonight to try and convince us, to show us some other statistics and tell us that the statistics that her department, Justice Canada, provided in March 1999 are not correct. I would have liked the Minister to give us some explanation for her position, but I cannot but conclude that the Minister is forcefully determined to change the law for purely electoral reasons. I repeat that I find that quite disappointing, coming from the Minister of Justice of Canada.
We have heard several witnesses who appeared in front of this committee and told us about their experience, about how they were doing things in Quebec, but also elsewhere in Canada. There were even some judges among the witnesses. Mr. Chairman, you will surely recall that one of these judges made a comment or raised a question and that the two other judges that were present agreed with him. The first judge said: "If I were minister, I would do this or that before bringing any amendment whatsoever to the Act". I wanted to play for time in committee, to give the Minister some time to reflect and search for answers, as the judge would have liked her to do. He wanted to give the Minister the time to visit Quebec and other provinces in order to see for herself how things were working locally.
I am referring to Judge Michel Jasmin, who is a judge at the youth division of the Quebec court. He authored an important report and is very knowledgeable about the issue. He knows what he is talking about. You will see for yourself when I begin to tell you about that study, which is fundamental. One must examine it before doing anything whatsoever in this file.
Mr. Justice Jasmin said the following when he appeared in front of us on February 22, 2000.
That is what I expected from the Minister of Justice. That is what I wanted her to do during the time that we gained for her. With my motion, I was giving her the time to do so. It would not have been very complicated for her to meet each of the provincial attorneys general and tell them: “Look, I have introduced a bill on criminal justice for young persons. It was read the first time on October 14, 1999. I have suspended it because I have embarked on a tour of Canada. Before going any further with Bill C-3, I am asking you how you are enforcing the Young Offenders Act in your jurisdiction and what youth policies you have put in place. How do you deal with young persons who have a crime problem?” There after, The Minister could have concluded thereafter that the Act was indeed enforced, but that it did not meet the needs or, more simply, as is the truth, that the provinces were not enforcing it or were enforcing it very badly. They have a very bad knowledge and understanding of the Young Offenders Act.
Also, a law cannot be enforced just like that. As you know, a law does not exist in a vacuum. You must create a structure around it, establish an infrastructure to deal with the people that are affected by the law. That is done at the level of policies and in the case of young offenders, of youth policies.
What do you do with a young person after arresting him or her? Where do you bring him? What do you tell her? What treatment does he receive, and who provides it? How long does it take to process cases through the courts? A number of questions are involved. We will go through that during the evening, when we examine the Jasmin report. In Quebec, at one point, before going any further, we stopped and wondered whether there was any way to improve the administration of the Young Offenders Act. It was already being enforced, but after the publication of the report, its administration and its efficiency have been improved upon. At some point, you have to think about what is happening. It is easy to criticize and to demand all sorts of changes in order to put these young persons between walls so that we won't hear them, but you must at least wonder whether we have a youth policy, whether we are able to treat these young persons and whether we are applying the Young Offenders Act correctly. That is the real question, Mr. Chairman.
I thought that the Minister would understand that the motion that I have introduced as well as the other motion, because it is my second motion, were giving her the time to do or to redo her homework and to consult the people who should be consulted, that is the people who are living with the Young Offenders Act, the people who have to apply it.
Mr. Chairman, I know the Young Offenders Act fairly well, as well as the people who are enforcing it, but in spite of this, I felt the need last June to visit some of these places where young offenders are dealt with. I felt the need to visit the Youth Court in Montreal to see by myself how these young persons were dealt with between the four walls of the Youth Court, how they were ushered into that court, what was the follow-up, and so on, and I made some extraordinary discoveries. Of course, it is no laughing matter. When you see a 14-year-old or even 12-year-old who has done something wrong and who finds himself or herself in that court, it is no joke, but I understood even better the special needs of these young persons. I went there in the middle of the week, it was 4:00 o'clock in the afternoon and there were about a dozen young boys and girls who were there, who had been before the court during the day or who were there because their cases were in the following day's docket. They were all there. Some of them were playing pool, others were playing cards. There were girls who were eating. For many of them, it was almost a home. It was the only place where they could count on having people listen to them. Some of them even told me that they were much better there than at home and that the reason they were there was because things had happened at home.
The Minister should have visited these places before going any further. She would have seen how it works in Quebec. Also, the procedure would have been explained to her. She would have been told how things are expedited, because the issue of delays is very important. I know that because I have children. When one of my children does something wrong, if I tell him to two days later that it was wrong, he will think that it was not too bad because daddy waited two days before telling him so. If he does something wrong and I tell him: "Come here, my boy; you have just done this and it was wrong and you are going into your room right away", he makes the connection. It is the same for young offenders.
The issues of timing and treatment of these young people are important. As soon as the youth does something wrong or commits some offence, the situation must be dealt with quickly. It needs to be possible to take that young person and say: "Well, my friend, you have done something wrong."
Over the summer, I reread large parts of this legislation. The issue of time is not mentioned anywhere. If the aim was really to improve the situation, the time issue could have been included, with the requirement that things be done quickly. That is one of the aspects that could have been improved in the Young Offenders Act. We are not saying that that Act is the seventh wonder of the world and that no changes should be made to it. There is room for improvement. One of the ways to improve the Young Offenders Act would be to put more emphasis on the issue of time. In Quebec, that has been understood as a result of the study and report by Judge Jasmin, and things are done in such a way that the young person is dealt with quickly.
If the Minister had visited that court, she could have met with the director and those that take in the young people and work in the special rooms set aside for that. She could even have met the co-ordinating judge, Judge Jasmin, who has his offices there. He would have been pleased to show her around and explain how cases are handled. He could have explained to her how much time it takes, how they save time, etc. I have no doubt that the Minister would have seen the importance of the time issue. In particular, if the Minister had undertaken similar visits out West, for example, she would have been in a position to compare what is done in Quebec and what is done in the western provinces. She would have seen how a young person committing the same offence is dealt with out West and in Quebec. I am sure that the Minister would have realized that her bill makes no sense. I am sure that she would have realized that her efforts to please voters this way are not worth it. I am sure that she would have had a complete change of heart and ended up saying: “I am not going ahead with Bill C-3 because I am convinced it is the wrong way to go.”
Mr. Chairman, in order to do that, the Minister would have had to take the time that I was offering her through my motions in order to visit all these places and especially to question each province on its youth policies, as the judge asked her to do:
That would have been important, and I was doing that in order to save time, as you have all realized.
Of course, I still want the Minister to come before the committee. There is still time. There is still enough time. You will understand that if, before appearing before the committee, she had gone to the various provinces to see what was going on there, her testimony would have been very different.
I was telling the members of the committee a little earlier that, if there is one issue in Quebec that almost everyone agrees on, whether they are federalists, sovereignists, Bloc Québécois supporters, Parti Québécois supporters, liberals or ADQ supporters, this is it. But the Minister does not seem to have understood this.
I am now going to read you a resolution that was adopted on November 30, 1999, in the Quebec National Assembly. This motion was tabled without notice by the Minister of Justice and the Member for Marquette, who is the official opposition critic in Quebec. The motion reads as follows:
Their line of thinking was the same as that of Judge Jasmin. They were basically saying: “Listen, Madam Minister, you have time. Take that time, or even suspend the process for adoption of Bill C-3 and go around to the provinces to try to assess how they are implementing the Young Offenders Act. Then you will be able to see whether your bill is good or not.”
If the Minister was here tonight, one of the questions that I would ask her is this: have you gone around to the various provinces? I do not think so, Mr. Chairman. When that motion was tabled in the National Assembly, the Minister of Justice, Ms. Goupil, made a speech. I imagine that you know what Ms. Goupil's basic position was in the National Assembly when she spoke in support of this joint motion by the party in office and the official opposition.
I will read you just one paragraph of the speech that the Minister gave on Tuesday, November 30:
I was telling you earlier that timing was important. The Minister of Justice says exactly the same thing: it is essential to act promptly: the right measures have to be used at the right time. The bill that you are proposing will slow things down. Young people will be treated as adults, there will be more judicial procedures, court appearances, hearings, and all that will have a negative impact by creating delays. All that will go against an important principle, which is that of intervening rapidly.
What do the Liberals say? Mr. Ouimet said:
We are not talking about a nasty PQ member here. This is Mr. Ouimet, a member of the Quebec Liberal Party and probably even a member of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Everyone knows that the Liberal Party of Quebec is the provincial wing of the Liberal Party of Canada. Everyone knows that. It is funny that he was not afraid to stand up in the National Assembly to denounce this bill. He says that he is of the same opinion as the Quebec Justice minister and a broad coalition that has been created to oppose Bill C-3. This is the same coalition that has been calling me and calling the Liberal members opposite. I, like Mr. Ouimet, have understood the message, but the Liberal members across have not. Why? I believe I answered that question earlier by saying that this bill was introduced strictly for election purposes in this wonderful country of Canada. What is good for the West has never been good for Quebec. Some people in the West say that what is good for Quebec has never been good for the West. The solution that we have proposed and that will surely be proposed again to Quebeckers would be so simple.
That said, Mr. Ouimet continues. What he said is important because the position that he takes cannot be called partisan. Mr. Ouimet is a Quebec member of the National Assembly for the Liberal Party. It seems to me that he could have taken a position that was closer to that of his friends in the federal Liberal Party, since they are the ones that help out when there is a general election in Quebec; similarly, Quebec Liberals help the federal Liberals when a federal election comes around.
During the debate held on Tuesday, November 30, he also said that the bill may be a response to an attitude in western Canada, where people try to "get" individuals who commit certain crimes. Our attitude in Quebec is that these young people can be rehabilitated. Mr. Ouimet said:
He is right.
Bill C-3 is close to the adult criminal justice system and relies on too many of its aspects. This is one of the comments made by many of the witnesses who appeared before us. There is an attempt to import into the youth system the features of the adult system. You have to be living somewhere other than planet earth to want that. We are well aware that the adult system does not work. Let us try a different one for young offenders.
Mr. Ouimet saw what the federal Liberals were up to. He said that it did not work and that the approach advocated in Bill C-3 was much too close to the adult criminal justice system. He said that the bill was an attempt to apply certain aspects of the adult criminal justice system to young people.
As we know, Quebec, makes frequent use of the alternative measures provided in the Young Offenders Act. Unfortunately, we are told that other Canadian provinces have not used these provisions, which would perhaps enable them to be as successful as Quebec in this regard. In other words, the sentences are imposed in Quebec. Young people leave when the authorities are convinced that they have been rehabilitated as far as possible. The philosophy of Bill C-3, on the other hand, is exactly the opposite.
Mr. Chairman, I have a Liberal ally in the National Assembly. That is exactly what I have been saying to you for several months, for several hours now. I would have liked to have the Minister here this evening to answer my questions and to tell us how her youth crime bill, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, meets Quebec's demands in this regard, and how her 200 amendments meet the concerns of the people of Quebec, including those of Mr. Ouimet, a Liberal. He said, and I quote, Mr. Chairman, because it is important that this be said and repeated:
One of the first questions I would have asked the Minister this evening would have been this: did you check what is being done in the other provinces? Did you check how the other provinces use the resources available to them under the Young Offenders Act?
I was saying earlier that it was important to know what is stated in the declaration of principle. Paragraph 3(1)(d) of this declaration states “... taking measures other than judicial proceedings under this Act should be considered”, as we saw earlier. What measures are being used in the other provinces? What measures does the Act allow them to use? What are they doing to really achieve the objective of the Young Offenders Act? I would have asked her that question, and I would have liked her to answer it. I know, though, that she did not check this. I understand that the Minister does not want to come and testify here. She would not know what to say to me. I understand that very, very well. Are there any other members of the National Assembly who have spoken about this matter? Well, in fact, there are.
All the parties present—and they were all present—spoke much along the same lines as Mr. Ouimet, whom I just mentioned. I quoted from Mr. Ouimet's comments, among others, but I could have quoted from other members of the National Assembly. Mr. Ouimet is a member of the official opposition in the National Assembly, and you know that there is no love lost between the official opposition and the government, either here in Ottawa or in the provinces. And yet, the official opposition in Quebec City agrees with the government of Quebec, with Mr. Bouchard's government, in saying to the federal government that it is on the wrong track and that it must suspend adoption of its Bill C-3, and go back to the drawing board. That is more or less the message that was sent to the federal government on November 30, 1999. Subsequently, I introduced motions to try to give the Minister time. Apparently, she did not understand.
I will have an opportunity to give you some concrete cases. Over the summer, I said that I was definitely going to start talking about Bill C-3 again at some point, and that I would give you some concrete, though fictitious cases, to show you what is really going to happen. That will be interesting a little later. What I am telling you at the moment is interesting as well, but it has more to do with technical details. I am going to speak more specifically about two fictitious cases to show you what can be done under the Young Offenders Act and what will no longer be possible once the bill has been passed. I wrote them down, because I thought of all the points. I did this for the single purpose of helping you understand the two examples properly. I will come to these examples a little later.
So, we have just seen one of the important aspects of the Young Offenders Act, the declaration of principle. We have seen what the Minister said to explain her changes to the Act. Obviously, she failed to demonstrate to us the relevance of the amendments. She also failed with respect to statistics. The statistics state very clearly that the Minister is mistaken when she seeks to justify the amendments by using statistics. It is clearly confirmed that youth crime is not on the rise; the opposite is true.
The National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution calling on the Minister to suspend the adoption of Bill C-3. The question we have to ask ourselves is this: what are the media doing and what do they think? As you know, the media are somewhat a reflection of the society in which we live. And what are the media saying?
Mr. Chairman, I could have brought in an impressive pile of newspaper articles. I limited myself to just a few. They talk about Ms. McLellan's open letter. On April 25, 2000, Ms. McLellan felt the need to pick up her pen and write a letter to try to convince Quebeckers that this was a good piece of legislation. The title of her letter is "Bill C-3: more ways to rehabilitate youth." It sounds a great deal like marketing, but that is all it is, Mr. Chairman.
I don't know whether I have already thanked the Minister, but I thank her now. I hope the people in the department will tell her that the member from Berthier-Montcalm thanks her because this letter triggered a reaction in Quebec. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Many people said that this letter was pure arrogance, and a vehicle of disinformation. The title could not be more misleading. It is not true that because of C-3, there are more ways of rehabilitating young people. It is not true. It is false. The title is inaccurate. It is dishonest.
Earlier, I have read you the clause of the declaration of principle which gives us everything we need to rehabilitate young people. The declaration of principle in the Young Offenders Act could not be clearer, and there is nothing similar in the Minister's Bill C-3. They say there will be more ways of rehabilitating young people. That is a sham. People must realize this.
Fortunately, there are other people who decided to write to the Minister to point out to her the error of her ways. I would have liked to be able to put the question to her this evening, how exactly does your bill and its many amendments, almost more numerous than the sections of the bill itself, in what way do they respond to Quebec's demands?
It says here:
Does protecting youth mean locking them up at the age of 14? Clearly we are protecting young people by giving them 25-year sentences just like adults. That must be what we mean by protection. What it amounts to is protecting the young people from themselves. It must mean locking them up in cells.
I don't think that the people who apply the Young Offenders Act and those who are familiar with this field believe that this is the kind of protection that should be provided to young people in trouble with the law.
I'll have something to say later on about the fine studies carried out by the Department of Health in Ottawa on the issue of justice and poverty-stricken youth and Aboriginals. People may not share the Minister's view that this provides greater protection for young people. And it is wrong to say that Bill C-3 makes up for the deficiencies of the Young Offenders Act, providing for a fairer and more efficient system. All the experts agree that it will be an administrative muddle. The time periods will be longer as a result of Bill C-3. I don't know what planet the Minister is living on when she makes this claim. I would have liked to have her here this evening to answer my questions. I would have asked her: what planet are you living on, Madam Minister, to make this kind of assertion?
There is also talk about the great advantages of this bill. It is claimed that "this procedure will accelerate the process", which is untrue, "and will give greater weight to the presumption of innocence." I don't know who this letter was intended for but it can't certainly be meant for those who are familiar with the legislation, who have a law degree, a licence and who practice law. The presumption of innocence is not something that was invented by the Minister. As one of my colleagues would say, the Minister cannot say that she's the one who has put the springs in grasshoppers, can she?
Fortunately... Some people are starting to get tired. Here is one of the Minister's justifications:
I think it's the least we can expect that the Minister would not provide for the publication in newspapers of the name of a young person charged with an offence but not found guilty. Thank you Madam Minister, you've come up with something quite fantastic. All the specialists we've heard from in this committee, even on the English-language side, even from Canada, from the West, say that in the matter of publication of names... I won't use the word that comes to my mind because it isn't parliamentary. In any case, there is nothing good about such a practice, it stigmatizes young people. In some cases, it can even encourage young people to get into trouble because there are teenage gangs that require their new members to get their names published in the newspaper. Here, we'd be giving them an opportunity to have their name in the newspaper at a young age if they commit a violent enough crime. How does this protect society? It doesn't give any protection at all. Once again, it is something that western Canada asked for and Madam Minister's little right ear picked up on the proposal.
Here is something important. It's a good thing we have Bill C- 3:
This is quite an advantage we find in the Act. This is the present practice for 16 and 17-years-old. The court hears all the evidence before imposing an adult sentence. What is the advantage? The title of the Minister's letter was: “Greater means for the rehabilitation of youth.” She might be a good saleswoman but the only thing she is selling here is empty words.
I don't know whether the Minister has ever actually attended a youth court. At the present time, the right to legal counsel is recognized not only by the Young Offenders Act, but also by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the UN Chart. The young person's right to a defence and to representation by legal counsel is recognized almost everywhere in the world.
What other good things do we learn from this letter?
What was she smoking when she wrote that letter? It does not make any sense.
The Youth Tribunal of the Quebec Court is a specialized tribunal. Will there be someone more specialized than a judge who has already devoted his life to youth and setting up a coherent justice system, someone like Michel Jasmin? With this Bill C-3, will we have someone who is a greater expert in the field of youth justice than Michel Jasmin?
I don't know what I have to do to make you understand that this makes no sense. This is a letter that she had published in newspapers in order to sell her bill. She realized that she had to respond to people who were challenging Bill C-3, including the Bloc Québécois, in Ottawa. She could have written something else... But maybe she did not have anything else to say. If that all she has to say, then it is frightening.
Let her backtrack and start over again. She can step back and decide to do something but she should not go ahead with a bill like this. It is enough to make you wonder whether she realizes what the Young Offenders Act is and how it is being applied. So what else does she have to say? There are so many things in this letter. It boggles the mind.
What does that mean? In the declaration of principle, the most important part of the entire Young Offenders Act, it is specified that there may be different kinds of treatment provided to young offenders and that "consideration may be given, if a decision is made to act, to substitute alternative measures for judicial proceedings." In Quebec, we do have a program of alternative measures authorized by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Services. It is very clear. There are clear indications of what may be done at that level.
Bill C-3 will not result in a greater number of alternative measures being provided in Quebec. We will still have the same alternative measures. The only thing is that it will be more difficult to apply. In cases where there is no need for alternative measures, will Bill C-3 require Quebec to apply them? We will end up loosing our freedom to act in such matters.
What guarantees do we have? The Minister may write:
What assurance does the Minister have that in western Canada, there will be more efficient measures for rehabilitation when such measures do not already exist there? What are their chances of success? Zero. If the past is an indication of the future, particularly in the field of justice, then the chances are zero. The Minister writes:
Where I come from, people say that it takes a lot of nerve to come out with this sort of remark. Bill C-3 goes against the position being taken by all the specialists in Quebec. It completely overrides the Quebec experience with young offenders. And yet here the Minister is saying in her letter that this bill is "respectful of the approach taken by Quebec over the past 15 years." It just does not hold water, Mr. Chairman.
As if that were not enough, she goes on to say:
That is incorrect. We have given the Minister many examples. This evening, I will provide other examples for the Minister. I hope that she will read them in the proceedings of this evening and will see that I have given her further examples.
She also says that the Quebec Bar agrees with these amendments. That is something we shall see soon enough. I have here the brief from the Quebec Bar. I even have a letter that I sent to the president of the Bar, I can read it to you if you wish because I think it is a very good one. I wrote it myself, it is very, very good. I sent it to the president of the Bar and I never received a reply.
Do you know why I did not receive a reply? Because I took the things that the Minister attributed to the president of the Bar and I compared them with what he said in his brief. They were not at all the same, because the Minister was speaking through her hat, once again.
I said that I can almost thank the Minister for sending this open letter because it provided an opportunity to those people who wanted to have their say. It motivated a number of members of the coalition, even people that I did not know at the time. Afterwards, I got in touch with them because the points that they made in their letters were very interesting. I am thinking, among others, of Mr. Binet of Montreal, whom I did not know. I read one day in the newspapers an open letter and I made a point of getting in touch with him to congratulate him for his understanding of Bill C-3 and to tell him to keep up his good work. If I did so, it's thanks to the Minister of Justice who provoked a reaction from all these people by publishing her open letter in the newspapers. This was on April 24.
Sometime afterwards, in La Presse of Wednesday April 26, 2000, there was a letter from Mr. Philippe J. Laurin, president of the Young Bar Association of Montreal. The title in itself is quite revealing: “Young offenders: between stubbornness and contempt; Minister McLellan has even succeeded in provoking the unanimous opposition of the National Assembly to her bill”.
He says the following:
Everyone is telling her that she is going about things the wrong way, but she has plugged her ears tightly and is charging right along. She has chosen not to listen to what is being said in Quebec.
The Minister has not fooled anyone. By now, many people have figured out what she is up to and many of them have reached the conclusion that her Bill C-3 looks in every respect like the adult system. This is very clearly set out by this author—the president of the Junior Bar Association of Montreal—which by the way, is very closely linked to the Barreau du Québec.
He spoke a bit more about the offences themselves. That's important. In fact, that is a question I could have asked the Minister had she been here, had she responded to my very important motion, asking her to postpone the clause-by-clause study of the bill in respect of criminal justice for young persons. She should appear before the committee to explain her numerous amendments and to answer our questions.
This motion is relatively well worded. It is clear. If the Minister were here this evening, I could ask her some questions. Mr. Laurin would also like to ask the Minister some questions. As members of Parliament, we are to some extent spokespeople for the people in our ridings, of course, but we are also experts in a field that is not necessary highly developed in the ridings we represent.
For example, in my riding, there are centres for youth and there are things going on, but the Pinel Institute, universities and criminologists are not working, or doing very little work, in my riding. However, I am here as the Bloc Québécois justice critic and I must act as the spokesperson for those people. I feel sort of like Mr. Laurin. If the Minister were here this evening, I would ask her the questions that Mr. Laurin would like to ask her.
Mr. Laurin says, and I quote:
Thus we can see that the approach that Minister McLellan favours is much tougher and punitive in nature, which in itself is a departure from the Young Offenders Act. There's one example. The Minister says that we did not give her any concrete examples; I have just given her a very clear example. It is a much more punitive approach than under the Young Offenders Act. Why?
Earlier, we saw the statistics. Ms. Judy wanted me to get to the heart of the matter; I'm there now. It is unfortunate that she is not here since I am providing her with a concrete example of things that we cannot do pursuant to Bill C-3 which the Minister would like us adopt at full speed given the gag order that she is shoving down our throats as far as possible. That is an example.
I am convinced, Ms. Bennett, that you understand this example very clearly and that you see that there is a difference, since I noted that you were listening attentively to the evidence. You seemed to be concerned by the situation. I am convinced that your heart isn't into speedily adopting such a bill, as we are doing tonight, especially with the objectives set forth by the Minister.
It also states:
Obviously, Mr. Chairman, we'll get back to this during the course of the evening, when I will speak of these practices. But we'll get back to it, mostly when I will take apart Bill C-3. We will hold an autopsy of Bill C-3 in order that you have before you all the pieces of the puzzle that I mentioned earlier, and I am convinced that you will then adopt it with much less enthusiasm.
Therefore, the Minister isn't fooling anyone when she talks about flexibility. We'll also come back to the issue of flexibility. Finally, I probably won't have enough time even in ten hours to deal with all of these issues. Flexibility is also an extremely important element. The Minister mentioned it at the beginning, when she sold her bill at a press conference where she claimed that the bill was the most flexible ever. According to the Minister, a bill that was any more flexible than this one would be at the Cirque du Soleil. But she didn't fool anyone. Mr. Philippe J. Laurin, president of the Junior Bar Association of Montreal, said so:
That is extremely dangerous for the Quebec approach.
That is one of the first comments that I made upon leaving the House of Commons when the Minister had tabled Bill C-3. I remember having told journalist Manon Cornellier that the issue of harmonization and sentencing was horrific. In the long run, the jurisprudence will influence what will be done in Quebec, even in terms of sentencing. The Minister said that I did not know what I was talking about, and that that was not the issue at hand and that I had misunderstood, misread the bill.
The president of the Junior Bar Association of Montreal, who is a legal practitioner, a professional in the field, writes:
That is quite clear Mr. Chairman. Very clear. A simple reading of this section should have given the Minister pause. I understand that in western Canada, they could not care less about the harmonization of sentencing, because harmonization will not go to the lowest common denominator, but rather to the highest. All you have to do is go into the halls of justice to see that nobody ever requests the shortest sentence. They always request the longest sentence.
I am still quoting from this very interesting article:
This is another example that the Minister said she did not get. It is another example of what is being done under the Young Offenders Act and that will no longer be possible under Bill C-3. It is another example that shows, beyond any doubt, that Bill C-3 is bad. It is not a good piece of legislation. It runs counter to what is being done in Quebec, and even to some international conventions. Canada is the best country in the world. We have to ask, "for whom?", when we look at some bills in detail.
He goes on to say:
If the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada were present this evening, in compliance with my motion, and if she had come to testify before the committee to explain her many amendments and answer our questions, I would have asked this question.
Given everything that has been said this evening—and this is only a fraction of what will be said by the end of the evening—what was the need for such a reform? He answered the question himself, because, like me, he does not have the luxury of having the Minister before him to ask at least a few questions of her. He does not have the opportunity to ask her questions in the House. He said:
Many examples could be mentioned. The Minister should not come and tell us that we did not give her any examples to show that her bill does not meet the expectations of Quebeckers and actually runs counter to what is being done in Quebec. She should not come and tell us that we did not give her any examples that show that it is wrong to claim, as she has, that the bill respects the approach used in Quebec over the last 15 years. It takes some nerve to say that in an open letter, when in fact the opposite is true. Everyone says so.
They did it for all the reasons that were mentioned already. But the Minister writes in a letter that her bill is respectful of Quebec's approach over the past 15 years. Who on earth advised her to write such a fanciful thing? After all, she is Canada's Justice Minister and as far as I know, Quebec is still part of Canada and Ms. McLellan is therefore still our minister. She should know what is going on in Quebec. Obviously, the fact that she wrote such a thing implied that she doesn't know what is done in Quebec.
Then, he goes on and lists several persons who said publicly that they were against the bill in Quebec; at the end, he talks about the practice in general. Once again, I would have loved to ask the Minister certain questions on that.
This goes back to what I was saying earlier. The Minister's bill provides that a 14-year old teenager who commits an act for which he could be punished as an adult if proven guilty and who receives an adult sentence, for instance a 15-year prison sentence, will be freed at the age of 29. Of course, I am generalizing, since we have to take into account the matter of parole and so on. The whole issue is very complex, but I am trying to explain it summarily to the average citizen. If you wish, I could give you more details later on.
Let us take that individual who was sent to prison during 15 years and who is finally freed at the age of 29. What will we have given this young man to help him in his rehabilitation? Given this wonderful bill, will provinces want to invest in a 14-year-old teenager, knowing that he will be supervised and guided as a young offender until he reaches the age of 18 but that he will serve the rest of his sentence in an adult prison?
In other words, this youth would serve four years in the youth system but would then serve the last 11 years of his sentence in what is called a crime university, where he would acquire what Mr. Laurin referred to as the crime culture.
Do you sincerely believe that a province will invest in a young person during four years knowing full well that this young offender will serve 11 years in a penitentiary and that during his imprisonment all sorts of tricks will be tried on him in order to brainwash him so that he is familiar with the crime culture when he leaves at 29?
If the Minister had agreed to testify, that is what I would have asked her. Do you really believe that the government helps Canadians and that society is better protected when we allow a 29-year old man to leave prison after having spent 11 years in an adult penitentiary and four years in a structure whose objectives I am not too sure of? Provinces would obviously not invest much in that youth whereas today, the present Young Offenders Act allows provinces to invest in their young offenders knowing well that those young persons will serve their whole sentence within a structure made for them. If they knew that the young offenders would leave the youth structure one day, I am not so sure that they would invest money in them. I am sure however that the provinces that are not proactive today as far as the Young Offenders Act is concerned will not be more proactive once the new bill is law. They are even given a wonderful opportunity to do nothing. But the Minister is willing to go against 15, 20 or even 30 years of positive experience in Quebec to satisfy those provinces which nevertheless will do nothing.
That is another example that the Minister claims not to have heard about. Yet, it is not the first time that I've mentioned it. Again, I don't know what she was thinking when she wrote this letter.
Earlier, I told you that I had met a lawyer through a letter published by a newspaper. Previously, the Minister had a letter published in La Presse on April 25. Well, on April 28, in Le Devoir, I made the acquaintance of Mr. René Binet, who is the president of the Association des avocats et avocates en droit de la jeunesse de Montréal. The title of this article was quite revealing: "When our neighbours tell us how to raise our children..." And that is akin to what the Minister told us in Bill C-3. She has told us how we, Quebeckers, should raise our children. Given that we are doing a better job in Quebec with our children than in other provinces, that must be avoided, and to do so, we will move to the lowest common denominator. Instead of trying to rise to the higher common denominator, we will move to the lowest common denominator. That's a lot easier. We'll go down a couple of notches. And that way, the bar will not bet set as high; and perhaps then the provinces will respect the legislation.
We Quebeckers have to recognize that the Minister wants to tell us how we should raise our children. That we will not accept. We have never accepted it and we will never accept it. And what does Mr. Binet tell us in this open letter where he deals with the area of young offenders from a different prospective? Recently, he wrote another letter which was published in Le Devoir or in La Presse, I believe, where he made a link between poverty and the situation of young people. That is a link that must be made and that even the federal government makes in certain documents that I will refer to later on this evening. He went into a little bit more detail, but he was using Bill C-3 as a basis. And he states:
The Minister talks of flexibility. Here, a practitioner is expressing his opinion. I spoke once to Mr. Binet. And I'm digressing here because this is important. He is a specialist in the area of youth justice. He told me in confidence, but has allowed me to repeat it, that if ever Bill C-3 was adopted, quite honestly, he would not feel like learning the new legislation and that he would move into another area. He would try to move into another area because he cannot see himself applying such legislation. Note that, he told me that he was in this area because he wanted to help young people. To do so, he has a tool at his disposal called the Young Offenders Act, which allows him to help these young people. His conclusion was that Bill C-3 did not have the same objective, in his view, to deal with cases and refer to the seriousness of the offence in order to set the sentence, because that is how the bill is worded, and that is of no interest to him. You understand that he is taking a position on behalf of the Association des avocats et avocates en droit de la jeunesse de Montréal after having held a meeting to deal with this issue and deciding that they would take a position against the bill:
We will undoubtedly have an opportunity to discuss the Jasmin report today. It is a gold mine. Just this past summer, I read the Jasmin report with regard to the bill that the Minister had tabled and I was wondering whether I made a mistake about the approach. How is it that the Minister did not take this report into consideration, given that it is so well done? How is it that the Minister does not understand? How is that the Minister has the gall to say that her Bill C-3 respects the approach adopted by Quebec over the past 15 years? I see a huge difference between Bill C-3 and the Jasmin report and I'm wondering if I'm not reading it correctly. Am I not analyzing the issues correctly? Where is the problem? Am I the one who doesn't understand or who sees a difference where none exists, or is it the Minister who doesn't understand?
It is impossible for all of Quebec to be mistaken. It is impossible for all of the specialists in the area to say that the Minister is barking up the wrong tree, and for the Minister to be right. It is impossible for hundreds of stakeholders specialized in youth justice to be mistaken, since they all agree. All the stakeholders are of the opinion that the Minister's bill does not respect the Quebec approach. Furthermore, all the stakeholders feel that it is dangerous for the future of young people in Quebec to follow the federal government's approach.
Mr. Chairman, it is becoming more and more difficult to concentrate because there are more and more side conversations around the table. I would like people to listen to me. If they have meetings to hold, they should hold them elsewhere. I am here to work. I am a member of the Justice and Human Rights Committee. Bill C-3 is very important, and I have a message to deliver, but the Liberal government is trying to gag me. I would like the people across the way to listen to me. If they want to settle issues or files, they should do so elsewhere. I would like you to tell the people around the table to be quiet.
The Vice-Chair (Mr. Ivan Grose (Oshawa, Lib.)): Mr. Bellehumeur has said he's being distracted by the various other meetings that are going on around the table, and he has requested that if you have a sub-meeting you take it elsewhere.
Ms. Judy Sgro: Are we supposed to be listening? I'm sorry, the light went out about two hours ago.
The Vice-Chair (Mr. Ivan Grose): I'm simply conveying Mr. Bellehumeur's message, and I think he deserves some courtesy.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your co-operation.
Ms. Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul's, Lib.): [Inaudible—Editor]...we still feel like hostages.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: I will continue, Mr. Chairman, and I will try to remain calm because I don't think it is worth it to get excited.
As I was saying Mr. René Binet, president of the youth justice association of Montreal and specialist in the area of youth justice, states in an open letter... You know the members across the way should listen, since they have surely not read his letter.
Mr. Binet said, and this is a specialist who is speaking:
This is another specialist who is informing the Minister, since the letter is addressed to the federal Minister of Justice. It states that the approach that she would favour would stigmatize and hold up to ridicule an adolescent, which would naturally run contrary to the needs of rehabilitation, but especially to that of public safety.
It is strange that the Minister would justify the repeal of the Young Offenders Act and claim that it is with a view to public safety, while a specialist in the field, who daily applies the Young Offenders Act, who knows its ins and outs, who knows all the strength and weaknesses of the Young Offenders Act, concludes that it is in repealing the Young Offenders Act, as the Minister wants to do, that we would compromise public safety. He continues:
That is new. Do we now have to choose between the victim and the accused? I think not. I think that we should not favour one or another of these ideas, Mr. Chairman. Therefore, Mr. Binet, the specialist, states:
Mr. Binet, who is a specialist in the area, says so. But I would also tell you that even judges, when they appeared before us, said just about the same thing. There is even one judge from western Canada, if I'm not mistaken, Judge Herbert Allard, former Chief Justice of the Youth Court in Calgary, who came and told us quite appropriately, during his evidence on Bill C-3:
However, there is misinformation: misinformation, and bad perception. A judge does not have to make a choice between the accused and the victim. A good system is one which takes the interests of both into account. I mean the interest of the accused in terms of rehabilitation and social reintegration. The interest of young people in the Young Offenders Act, as we saw earlier, is referred to when we mention, in the declaration of principles of the current Young Offenders Act, the specific needs of young people faced with criminal problems, given their level of development and maturity.
That is taking advantage of the legislation to help the accused, but not to the detriment of the victim.
I find it quite funny when I hear people from western Canada talk of the rights of the victim, where the province has everything required at its disposal to help victims, as we have done in Quebec pursuant to the Loi sur l'aide et l'indemnisation des victimes d'actes criminels. We didn't wait for the federal big brother to cut us a cheque to do something for victims. We went ahead and did it. We have a piece of legislation which works well and which is called the Loi sur l'aide et l'indemnisation des victimes d'actes criminels.
If that is so, it is because it is possible under the Constitution. Therefore, on the one hand, the Young Offenders Act is being applied as it should be: youths' special needs are being attended to and funds are reinvested into their social reintegration and rehabilitation. On the other hand, the victims are not necessarily forgotten. So, in the Quebec system, there is no need to choose between the victim and the accused. If that was the case, I would be the first one to criticize the fact that the rights of the accused supersede those of the victim. In that case, the system would be flowed, and you would not find me here defending it. But the Young Offenders Act is a good act, well- balanced, and the rights of the victim as well as those of the accused are equally focussed, in order to protect society. Mr. Binet, a lawyer specialized in the area, is of the same opinion.
I would have liked the Minister to be here tonight so I could ask her questions, so I could find out what she has to say. I would have liked that. However, she has not appeared. Once again, I hope that she will take the time to read my intervention so that she finds out the four or five actions that the current Young Offenders Act allows and that her new bill renders impossible. I regret her absence. I hope she will read my intervention. I am very disappointed.
Furthermore, Mr. Binet says something that is worth a moment of reflection:
These are the words of a practising lawyer. He is no public servant, ignorant of what is going on in the courts, and he is no advisor to the Minister. He is a practioner with the experience of several thousand cases.
You will understand that the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions, with respect to young offenders, are anonymous, as is the case in those of other courts. Only the initials are used in order to protect confidentiality. However, a new provision proposed by the Minister in the bill would lead to a situation where the young offenders would be branded, their name being published in the newspaper. This is what will change as well in the future. A young person, 14 years of age, will be tried before an adult court, and his or her name will probably be referred to in case law decisions. Currently, that is not the case, thank God.
Mr. Binet carries on:
This is true. If the Minister wants to do something, she must examine the whole issue. To believe that the legislative amendment will lead to quick results and that the problem will be solved is wrong. Youth crime is extremely complex. Listen to the criminologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc., as we have in this committee, and you will conclude that the problem will not be solved by trampling rights.
If the Minister wants to do something, she should start at square one and invest in young people before they have even taken their first steps. The federal government has money it doesn't know what to do with. More of this money should be transferred to the provinces so that they, within their area of jurisdiction, can fund programs, among others for poor families, single-parent families, and the kind of family where crime is bound to occur sooner or later. That is what Quebec is doing. I will come back to this later because some extremely important things are being done in Quebec. Once again, we did not wait for a cheque from the federal government before going ahead with certain things and achieving what we are now achieving.
Mr. Binet is right when he says that there is a lot of violence on television. Once again, the Bloc Québécois has been at the leading edge. We do a lot of preventative law; we even recently tabled a bill against violence on television. It was the Member for Rosemont, Bernard Bigras, who tabled this bill. You have to start somewhere, and that may be a good starting point.
Broadcasters have to follow a code of their own making. Currently, they disregard that code. All that is needed is an enactment providing for funds. That is the only way to make them understand that they must follow their own code and must not broadcast programs with scenes of violence at any time of the day, especially during prime time, when there are children and teenagers watching those shows.
That would be a start. We could have prevention programs, do preventative law like some provinces do, including Quebec. There are things to be done, but passing a bill like the one the Minister has tabled, an Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other Acts, will not solve the problem of young offenders. According to all of the experts in Quebec and even in some of the other provinces, that will not solve anything. On the contrary, it will further complicate the system, which is not a good thing.
In concluding, he says: “Finally, we cannot ignore the complexity of this act...” That is why you will bear with me as I go back over the Minister's reasons for repealing the Young Offenders Act.
She says that the Young Offenders Act lacks clarity and that the principles set out in it are vague, inconsistent and contradictory. Some attention should perhaps be paid to a letter written by an expert involved in the daily application of the Young Offenders Act. We know what the hours of work of these people are. We know that practitioners in the area of young offenders' law do not work from 9 to 5. Lawyers who specialize and enjoy what they do spend hours at work. Their work does not make them rich. It is practically a calling for these lawyers. For all those whom I have met it is a calling. They all know the Act well because they live eat and breathe it every day. That is not the case for the Minister, I am absolutely certain of that. I am sure she has never set foot in a youth court in Quebec.
This expert was saying that we cannot ignore the complexity of this act. The administration of the Act will cost the accused more dearly, but not just the accused. The Minister admits that it is anticipated that the administration of the new act will cost some $430 million dollars more. We know just how accurate the federal government estimates are. One need only recall the costs involved in the administration of the Firearms Act, which turned out to be about five times higher than expected. It is therefore to be expected that there will be unforeseen costs for those who administer the Act, as well as additional costs for the provinces. We know that the federal government does not like to part with its money. Furthermore, two years ago, it was estimated that the federal tab with Quebec had run up to some $96 million. The former Justice Minister, Allan Rock, recognized this federal debt to Quebec, where the Act is administered. You can see why I have doubts about the actual amount the federal government will have to spend, and about the size of the cheque it will write to Quebec for the administration of this new act.
Taxpayers' money should be invested in those institutions which are the cornerstone of our society, namely the family, the schools and community and recreational organizations. Mr. Binet is a specialist who is fully versed in the Young Offenders Act and who has taken the time to study the minister's bill. His approach and his vision are perhaps different than those that we have heard up until now. He feels that the family, the schools and community and recreational organizations are interrelated and that we should focus on investments in those areas in order to take young people out of their environment such as a family experiencing serious difficulties or who are members of some undesirable gang. It's not necessarily a bad idea. If the Minister of Justice wanted to do something to improve the system, she would add something rather than subtract something from what already works, as she's currently doing. You understand of course that Mr. Binet cannot agree with the minister. His approach is in contradiction with the approach that she favours from A to Z.
Mr. Binet states:
A voice: That's near my place.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Mr. Binet is well aware of the issues facing the young offender since he studied the situation. We all recognize that poverty, school dropouts, unemployment, racism, suicide, exclusion, and the daily violence that these young people are subjected to when they watch television, are factors which lead to delinquency. If the minister had been serious about improving their fate, she would have looked at these aspects. She would have tried to see how she could help the provinces improve the life of these young people.
Later on I'll discuss a report by the federal Department of Justice which draws a link between poverty and criminality. The poorer the individuals, or the more they live in a situation of poverty, the greater the violence and the lesser the opportunities they have to find a way out.
Now, I want to caution you right off the bat. I am not saying that poverty automatically equals delinquency, or that wealth excludes delinquency. I know some very well off families where the young people have been involved in criminal activities. That it is not a given. What I mean to say is, where a young person lives in a family which can afford a good lawyer, who can afford to send him to specialists and get treatment, it is easier to climb out of a bad situation. I am not saying that in a pejorative sense. The young person can rise above it more easily because his family can afford the tools to help him. And that, quite often, happens even before that young person has a criminal record. Before having a criminal record, the young person has committed minor offences and when parents are dealing immediately with their child, usually, the activity cease. But if a young person lives in dire straits or if he or she lives in a family where there is violence, where the father hits the mother, as we have seen it happen, then obviously he will have a harder time rising above it.
Therefore, after having given a list of all the elements which can have an influence upon a young person, he states:
It's true. You have to read Bill C-3 to realize that the minister has no idea regarding the Quebec attitude regarding intervention towards young people in trouble. The minister doesn't understand that these are alternative measures, because if she did she would have not have tabled such a bill. She would have gone to the provinces to ask them whether they have any alternative measures. The Young Offenders Act states in clause 3(1)(d), after having dealt with the protection of society, that we might consider, if the judge agrees, to substitute alternative measures to judicial procedures. We didn't need Bill C-3 for that. Given the way she sets this forward in her bill, with extra-judiciary measures, I don't think that she understands what it means. Quite obviously, she does not look at it through a Quebecker's eyes.
Mr. Binet states:
Now that the government have adopted an emergency measure to ensure that Bill C-3 is to be adopted and to gag the opposition, we realize that Mr. Binet was bang on. This article was published on April 28, 2000. At that time, he never thought that the government would have the gall to adopt such a motion in order to silence Quebec's opposition to such a bill.
On April 28, Mr. Binet wrote:
He was right, several months before the fact.
It's not a big bad separatist member of Parliament sitting in Ottawa who wrote this, but a practitioner, a lawyer who has taken the time to set pen to paper and to write to the minister to tell her that she was embarking on the wrong path and that her attitude was tantamount to telling us how to raise our children. That is unacceptable to us.
And there is another open letter which follows upon the highly misleading one that the minister had decided to send to the media on April 25th, 2000. Yet again, I must just about thank the minister for her letter since it led several people whom I did not know, to come forward, which in a way strengthened the core of support around the Coalition for the Justice of Minors.
I have an article here written by Michel Venne of Le Devoir, dated May 2nd, 2000. With such a title, it seems that he would be addressing the article to Liberal members of Parliament: "C-3 or Quebec's loss of influence".
Michel Venne states:
I guess he's another big bad separatist. In the end, there are so many of them in Quebec that I wonder how it is that we didn't win the referendum the last time around.
Mr. Daniel Turp (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ): It's coming. It's coming.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Mr. Venne is a journalist, and needless to say that the press is not always favourable to the ideology defended by the Bloc Québécois. But, this journalist says very clearly that once the minister had heard all witnesses and realized that she had forgotten important aspects, she tried to adjust her sights. This bill contains approximately 200 clauses, and she tabled a series of amendments. Michel Venne says 162 amendments but I would say that it is closer to 200, because amongst them, there are technical amendments that he probably did not take into account in his calculation.
So, the minister should have seriously reconsidered. She is proposing approximately 200 amendments to a bill containing as many clauses. Rescuing a sorely lacking bill never leads to a very good law.
Mr. Daniel Turp: The least we can say is that it was poorly drafted.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: It was very poorly drafted and caused concerns to practitioners. It is understandable that those who will have to enforce its provisions would be the most concerned. It is understandable that the concerns come from Quebec. They cannot come from anywhere else because in other jurisdictions, the Young Offenders Act is practically not enforced. Therefore, the concerns were voiced by Quebec.
There is a journalist, Michel Venne, who says that Bill C-3, even amended, is still not adequate for Quebec. It won't do any good for young people and is very threatening for our way of doing things here, in Quebec.
The minister could at least have heard what Mr. Venne had to say. The minister does not listen. In that subject she gets a zero mark.
I sincerely would have liked the minister to support my motion and accept my invitation. I would have asked her questions along the lines of those in Michel Venne's article, published in Le Devoir of Tuesday May 2nd, 2000. I would have liked to have questioned the minister but, unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, she declined. Therefore, I cannot ask her those questions. Mr. Venne says and I quote:
Quite honestly, I was always uncomfortable about the fact that people 16 and 17 years of age were treated as adults when they committed violent crimes. At 16, you're not an adult; at 16, you do not have the life experience of an adult; at 16, you have special needs, which are stated in the Young Offenders Act.
I was sitting in the House of Commons when those provisions concerning the 16 and 17-years old were amended. At that time, I opposed them, as many other people did in Quebec. The minister of the day had at least given Crown attorneys a chance that discretion would be used in order to decide whether a young offender would be tried as an adult. We are talking here about the whole procedure of automatic referral to adult court. I could give you statistics concerning referrals in Quebec. I do not know if we will have time to discuss them tonight but those statistics reveal that Quebec had the minimum number of referrals.
Looking at caselaw, at the way Quebec and other provincial courts have interpreted those provisions, we have to recognize that Quebec comes out on top. Our way of doing things is general and is based on the declaration of principles contained in the Young Offenders Act. We use a series of factors and therefore we are able to find a solution.
The bill proposes lowering the age to 14 or 15 and applying automatic steps, as specialists call them. Many wonder what those automatic steps consist of. I suggest it is presuming that any child, 14 or 15, convicted of a violent crime deserves an adult sentence. Such an automatic reaction is dangerous. Currently, the Young Offenders Act allows discretion, a case-by-case study; a case can be examined, the accused can be examined in order to determine what his or her special needs are. There is no requirement for a whole series of criteria, such as the seriousness of the offence, and there is no need to match the sentence with those imposed in other cases involving similar offences. We will come back to the way that is defined in Bill C-3. It is very dangerous and that is the message conveyed by Michel Venne in the final analysis.
His article reads as follows:
I would even say, given what has happened this week, that it is false to say that young people are treated the same way as members of the mafia or organized crime. I would say that the minister is harsher with young offenders than with mobsters or mafiosi. It is easier for her, and perhaps less dangerous, to play cheap politics at the expense of young offenders than to make a firm commitment that she will fight organized crime efficiently.
We, members of the Bloc Québécois, had wanted a special debate on organized crime in order to put teeth in the so-called anti-gang law—which in fact does not exist—and to vote on a motion in order to force the government to deal with the issue, but we saw that the minister hesitated. Neither the minister nor the government wanted that motion to pass. On the very day of that debate, the minister had the gall to table a notice of motion gagging in fact Parliament to put an end to consideration of the bill. They wish to bulldoze all those who oppose Bill C-3 so that the government could pass it quickly.
Quebeckers understood very easily that they could not count on the Liberal government, a federalist government, and above all that they could not count on the government members from Quebec to defend them in Ottawa. At least they understood that.
Mr. Venne is of a similar mind as Mr. Binet when he writes:
You can report to the minister that we just gave her another example. She had the nerve to say that she was never given examples of cases or policies that would not conform with the provisions of the bill or that could not be improved, and that she was not given examples of things that are possible under the Young Offenders Act and that won't be any longer, should this bill, an Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons, pass.
Michel Venne just gave her another example concerning the proportionality and the seriousness of the offence. The intent is to treat the young person as an adult without taking into account his or her situation, specific needs and financial, family and social problems, although it is possible to do so presently under the Young Offenders Act. This is one of the example we can give.
He then adds:
As I was saying earlier, the Young Offenders Act allows young people to benefit from extra-judiciary measures. We don't need another piece of legislation since we already have all the tools we need to help young offenders, to identify their needs and to set them on the straight and narrow road to becoming normal citizens. I might come back to this a little bit later.
Some people may believe that I defend this Act with a bit too much passion. I do so because I really believe in what I am saying and because I really believe in Quebec's approach. I would not be speaking on the matter for hours, as I am now doing, if it was not the case.
When I worked on this issue with experts, I met people who had a very troubled past. I met somebody who is now an adult. He works as a butcher in a supermarket. This man killed his father and his mother when he was 14. He talked a bit about what had happened 20 or 25 years ago. This young person went through hell when he was living with his family. He was a victim of sexual abuse. His father used to beat up his mother. He was caught in the middle and one day, he just couldn't take it anymore. His story reminds me of the one we read in the newspaper recently: a young man who was so emotionally distraught that he couldn't even appear at his trial. That young person probably was also 14 or 15 years old.
That young man was sent to the Pinel Institute. Experts worked with him and helped him. That man, who was then 14, had therapy. He had to report to someone afterwards for several years and he is now a normal citizen. He has two children and a job. He pays his taxes. He does not depend on society anymore. His life has changed and because police records are completely confidential, his wife does not even know about his past. I would have liked him to come and testify before the committee but that is the reason he could not come.
Honestly, what the Quebec society did for that person cost a lot less in the long term that if he had been sent in prison for 25 years and had then continued his life of crime and had adopted a criminal culture as the author I was quoting was saying.
When I see what the system can produce and what experts who are dealing with this Act have been able to do with this person, I tell myself that it is impossible that, somewhere, someone to gain a few votes, is ready to jeopardize this achievement. I cannot see any other reason to do so than wanting to garner a few votes. This bill was devised in Ottawa. Those are the reasons why I am devoting so much energy to this issue.
I am convinced that some of you find me annoying. I am convinced that at the department, they are not amused to be spending their evenings here, but I have given a great deal of my time. I have reached out, more than once, to the Minister to put her on the right track, to show her the error of her ways.
As you all have guessed, I was trying to gain time with my motions and my work on this issue, so that the Minister might answer questions that have been put by judges among others. One of these questions was has the Minister canvased the provinces to find out what is their policy on youth?
In Quebec, there is a policy on youth, and I will probably get back to that during the course of the evening, when I speak on the Jasmin report. I am not sure that many provinces have taken the time to analyze and study the situation of young offenders in their jurisdictions in order to know what they need. It is so much easier. You read in the yellow papers headlines such as: 14-year- old youth kills his father and mother. The investigators on entering the house found blood everywhere. The weapon has been found. DNA testing has been done, etc. Every sordid detail is given. It is much easier to say that the Young Offenders Act does not serve its purpose. It is frightening: a 14-year-old youth has just killed his father and mother. And truly, this is serious. Truly, it is terrifying. Truly, this should not happen. I can't help but think—
As far as I am concerned, I was incredibly lucky to live in a family where we are very close, where we were well educated, raised properly. I was given values which I still hold and that I try to pass on to my children, but not everyone had these values. Not everyone had this luck. I would like to know the past of this 14- year-old youth that the papers are talking about at the present time.
I would like to give you fictitious examples of similar events, inspired by what I found when I studied this matter and met with people in the course of my work. You will see that some things are not funny. I am convinced that the Minister did not grasp the full significance of these elements. She goes for the simple solution: she is amending the Act and that is that. But simple solutions will not fix such complex problem: such solutions can only increase the misunderstanding and the mistakes.
What is going to happen? That is something that I would have liked to have asked the Minister. Had she accepted my invitation to appear before the committee, as I asked in my motion, I would have asked her: Madam Minister, if Bill C-3 does not work out, if the provinces which did not apply alternative measures, still do not apply them after the passage of Bill C-3, what are we going to do? Are we going to strengthen the new Act? What is going to happen if, for example, some provinces do not set up alternative measure programs, as Quebec has done in its Department of Health and Social Services? What is going to happen in those provinces? For example, what is going to happen in British Columbia, where we find the highest crime rate amongst youth at the present time, where, thanks to the Chinese triads and others, all records are being beaten? It is terrible. What is going to happen if, in five years, we realize that the Act in respect of criminal justice for young persons and to amend and repeal other acts, is a failure? To solve the problem, are we going to roll back from 12 to 10 the age at which the Act kicks in, as is presently being requested? I heard Alliance members saying that they would like the age to be reduced to 10. What then, will we, in the case of violent crimes, bring the age down from 14 to 12? We must ask ourselves this question.
Since the act came into force in 1984, it has been substantially modified, but the age was never raised. It was always lowered and the act became harsher. Bill C-3 is a climax. It is the most severe measure that could be taken against young offenders.
But what will happen if it doesn't work? What will happen if the act fails in Western Canada and if it's not applied in the Maritimes?
One could talk about extra-judicial measures, but this is a matter for the justice system and the bill will be applied by the provinces. If the cheque does not arrive or is not consistent with the costs to be paid in each province, what will the provinces do? Hospital spending has been cut. Alternative programs spending will certainly be cut as well.
Some reasonable people in our society would probably like to promote and protect the constitutional rights of the Hell's Angels, but they will decide, in the interest of society, to lower the age to 10; and why not five years, for that matter? My remarks could be termed as “gesture politics”, but they are not really.
Let us look at the Young Offenders Act historically. I will present you with the chronology of facts, because I think it is all forgotten. By the end of the evening, we will probably have the opportunity of presenting a historical review of the Young Offenders Act. I know you're dying to hear me present it, but I will not do so right now. Let us wait for a while.
In his well-thought out article, Michel Venne... Rarely will I congratulate a columnist, but it seems that Michel Venne did a thorough analysis before he could write such an article. Then he says and I quote:
I would have asked the minister if she were here. It was the object of my motion. Time has not run out yet. It is quarter passed nine. We still have at least six hours ahead of us. The minister could come. She has time yet.
Mr. Daniel Turp: Maybe she's watching it on TV.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: No, we're not broadcast.
Mr. Daniel Turp: On radio.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur:
It is time yet. The Liberal members opposite is still have time to say to the minister: “It doesn't make sense. I heard Bellehumeur yesterday. The bill does not make sense. You cannot lower the age because everybody is opposed. I had not read this article. I didn't know of Binet's and Venne's articles.” And you could name several opinions: the Bar Association of Montreal, the Bar Association of Quebec City, the Association des avocats en droit de la jeunesse from Montreal. “I was not informed. It doesn't make sense.” It is time yet.
I am still quoting the columnist Michel Venne:
We can keep hoping, but with the present federal government, hoping tends to be of no avail. Unfortunately, that is what happened in the case of the Young Offenders Act. The Minister turned a deaf ear, she did not propose any substantial amendment and first of all, contrary to what Michel Venne said, she refused to amend her bill so as not to lower from 16 to 14 the minimum age where young people will be treated as adults. The Minister did not do that.
Since the Minister made no amendment whatsoever, I wonder if Michel Venne would agree today to have a clause added to the bill allowing the province of Quebec to withdraw from the enforcement of Bill C-3 and to keep on implementing the Young Offenders Act as it stands now. At that time, it was a hypothetical issue. Today, it is reality. The Minister made no amendment. She refuses to listen. She used heavy artillery and guillotine to have this bill passed. I don't know if Michel Venne would agree to have such an amendment tabled today.
Since the Young Offenders Act is good for Quebec, it is good as well for everybody and every other province.
I would even be very generous in the amendment that I could present if necessary. This amendment would read as follows: a province wanting to withdraw or to avoid the implementation of Bill C-3 can do so and keep on implementing the Young Offenders Act. It would be a kind of opting out. It would be real flexibility, not the phony flexibility proposed by the Minister.
I will have other opportunities to come back to flexibility. I can give concrete examples. We will examine each and every case where the Minister talks about flexibility and I will prove it is untrue. There is no flexibility in the bill.
I go on:
I said earlier that this article was aimed at the Liberal members opposite who will soon visit the province of Quebec during the electoral campaign, telling people to vote properly, namely to vote for members who will form a government that will defend the province of Quebec in Ottawa. People will have at least a very recent and concrete example of their attitude: the Young Offenders Act.
The members for Quebec remained seated. They said nothing. They bulldozed Quebec to have this bill passed. Some of them even had the nerve to laugh, Mr. Chairman. That is not funny. It is not funny to turn a blind eye to such major claims from Quebec.
Of course, when you are from Ontario, you must rejoice in the declining influence of Quebec on Ottawa politics. This is obvious. If I were you, Ms. Bennett, I would laugh. This reduced influence would please me. But as a Quebecker, I can tell you that I don't find anything funny in it.
Once again, we are fortunate to have the Bloc Québécois to defend Quebec's real interests. This will be said. There will be people in Quebec who will come out to repeat that the only way to be heard in Ottawa is to sent representatives who will adamantly defend your interests. The goal is not to defend Jean Chrétien's interests in the ridings, or Ms. McLellan's interest and vision. The members opposite, including Mr. Saada, are smart enough to understand what I mean.
Later, on May 9, 2000, Franco Nuovo wrote an article entitled “Le péril jeune” (The Young Peril).
Mr. Daniel Turp: You should call them the Liberal Alliance.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: That's true, thank you very much.
Mr. Daniel Turp: The Liberal Alliance.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: This is very important, Mr. Chairman. It says, Mr. Chairman:
The author does not re-invent the wheel. He just paraphrases the jargon used by the legislator when the Young Offenders Act was passed. A youth is on continuing education. He's not an adult. He will progressively develop until he becomes an adult.
This is disturbing.
Mr. Chairman, if the minister were here tonight, I would ask her why she did make that shift. How come she is suddenly determined to consider young people as if they ceased to be young? I would like to hear her answer, but every time she came here, Mr. Chairman, she was in a hurry, as if she was very busy all day long. If this was the case, she would have a better knowledge of the issues.
Mr. Daniel Turp: She can take a rest after the elections, since she will be defeated.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: That's right. But she's not here. She's not here to hear me asking the real questions.
Later, Mr. Nuovo writes:
This is what I would have liked to learn from the minister.
This is what the Minister meant when she wrote, in her letter dated April 25, that the bill was respectful of the approach taken by Quebec over the past 15 years. Does she think that this is what has happened in Quebec? Did she understand that we deal with the offence, with the seriousness of the offence before giving any thought to the youth? She did not understand anything. In particular, she did not understand section 3 of the Young Offenders Act, where it states that the special needs of the young person must prevail to try to get this individual integrated into society, so that he or she can become an anonymous citizen as quickly as possible and not someone who sponges off society.
I would even add that this is a short-term vision. In the long run, society will certainly be the loser. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out; nor do you have to be a great criminologist with a BA, a Masters Degree and a PH.D. to figure that out. If we don't invest in the young person and he winds up in prison, once he gets out, after serving his sentence, he will no longer be an asset to society. Indeed, he will be a liability.
Mr. Nuovo continues, stating:
I would add to what Mr. Nuovo has to say on crime. I hope that the members opposite are somewhat aware of what is going on in the United States. Should we envy the United States and the way they deal with young offenders? Not at all. Indeed, Ms. Bennett, you are right. If you were to compare what the United States do with their young offenders and the bill that the Minister has tabled, you would see that there is not much difference.
Perhaps there are more alternatives here than there are in the United States, but what assurances do we have that the provinces will take advantage of these alternatives since they have access to them under the Young Offenders Act today but do not use them? What is our guarantee? We do not have one.
I am now going to address the Canadians since we already have the answer in Quebec. As members of the beautiful and great Canada, the most beautiful country in the world, according to our Prime Minister, do you want this country to become like the United States? I do not think so. But if we do nothing, this is what is going to happen.
The United States example is not one to follow. If there is an example to be followed, it is perhaps the example we have here, in Quebec. Clearly, the Minister has not understood it. Again today I'm prepared to give my time. Call her. Tell her that she should take the time to see what is going on in the other provinces and in Quebec. It doesn't make any sense. There is still time.
I will congratulate you if you do this. It must be late and I must be starting to get tired to say that, but I will congratulate you. I promise. If the minister were here today, I could ask her similar questions and offer my assistance, but she has not bothered to take me up on the invitation that I kindly extended to her through my motion. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada was invited to testify before this committee to explain her numerous amendments and to answer our questions.
More especially, since I am a member from Quebec defending the interests of Quebec, I would have asked her the question that springs immediately to mind, namely, Madam Minister, how are you respecting the interests and the way we do things in Quebec? How, Madam Minister, does your bill respect the approach adopted by Quebec over the past 15 years, as you said on April 25?
Another article that appeared in the very separatist newspaper La Presse—everyone knows that the owners of these newspapers are separatists—was entitled "L'albertisation du droit criminel" (The Albertisation of Criminal Law). Here is another reporter who knew how to read between the lines.
The Minister of Justice (and one of the very few Alberta Liberal members) Anne McLellan, in reforming the Young Offenders Act, draws her inspiration directly from this deep well.
And let's be clear, this is not an oil well.
You will recall that, at the very beginning, the people from the department, the officials—I am positive that you recall this—were selling us on the idea that Bill C-3 was a very flexible bill and that the provinces could use it as they saw fit. It's funny, but the Minister did not retain this aspect very long in her speeches, quite simply because this flexibility existed only in her head. The bill does not provide for any flexibility.
Later on, between now and 3 a.m., I will give you some examples of flexibility or of this so-called flexibility. I will show you beyond all reasonable doubt, because it appears that the burden of proof lies with me this evening, that there is no flexibility.
So much so that, after discussing this lack of flexibility with the Minister, I have never heard her talk about it again. I believe that I convinced her. However, since this is still being floated about, I will try to talk to you about the issue.
At first, the Barreau du Québec publicly praised this apparent flexibility. I remember the evening when I was very surprised to see the President of the Quebec Bar Association, sitting beside the Minister of Justice, applauding this new bill. I said to myself that something was not quite right and that he had not seen the same bill that I had. The problem was not that he had not seen the same bill as I had, but that he had not seen it at all. He was relying on the reassurances that the Minister of Justice had given him, namely, that the bill provided flexibility for Quebec.
Mr. Stéphane Bergeron (Verchères—Les Patriotes, BQ): We know about liberal flexibility.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Yes, we know about liberal flexibility, but it means always bending the same way. I do not know if that is the kind of flexibility you are referring to.
The Quebec Bar Association, which initially praised this apparent flexibility publicly, says the opposite in its training courses on the bill. That is absolutely true.
If I have time, I will give you a shortened version of the criminal law course entitled “Procedure and evidence” given by the Quebec Bar Association.
Mr. Jacques Saada (Brossard—La Prairie, Liberal): Around 4:30 a.m., we will... [Editor's note: Inaudible]
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Around 4:30 a.m.? No problem.
There is a whole chapter on the Young Offenders Act aimed especially at future lawyers dealing with these types of cases. The whole issue of special needs and other aspects are very well documented. If I had one piece of advice to give you, it would be to buy this and read it, since it is not expensive and is very well explained. It could not be clearer. It is used to teach lawyers so that they can pass the...
A voice: We will send a copy to the Minister.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: I am not sure if it is in English, though.
The Quebec Bar Association, once it had a look at Bill C-3 and realized that it went against what was being taught in its training courses, and that there was therefore a problem, gradually went back on its decision and even submitted a brief on Bill C-3, which we have received. It contains clear examples of the aberrations in the bill. It shows that certain principles are not being respected. It says that the bill does not focus on young people's needs, that it emphasizes the seriousness of the offence, which goes against the whole approach developed by Quebec over the past few years, and it talks about the presumption of adult sentencing, which Quebec objects to. The brief also states that it is unacceptable to stigmatize young people by publishing their names. It also criticizes the harmonizing of sentences. We can safely say today that the Quebec Bar Association does not support Bill C-3.
However, at the time that the article was written, it was not 100% clear. The author, who was a journalist, looked at all that, saw what was said at the time and concluded that this bill was introduced because there is a strong right-wing wind blowing and an effort is under way to bring criminal law more in line with Alberta's approach and positions.
If that is the case, I have no problem with the idea of living with a 100% Quebec Criminal Code tomorrow morning. If tomorrow morning jurisdiction for the Criminal Code was transferred to the Government of Quebec, I would be the first to jump for joy. Similarly, the Criminal Code could be transferred to Alberta and that province could do what it wants. It could put police officers in the kindergartens to arrest children who steal candies from other children's lockers or lunch boxes. It can do as it likes with young people. Transfer jurisdiction from the Criminal Code to the provinces, and the problem will be resolved. But that is not the situation at present. You will understand that we cannot agree with the position of the Minister, who wants to remake the Criminal Code in the Alberta mould.
On Wednesday, May 17, 2000, an extremely important study session was held on coverage given by the media to the Young Offenders Act. On that occasion, the Premier of Quebec decided to take pen in hand to write to his counterpart in Ottawa, the Prime Minister of Canada, to tell him that he was on the wrong track and that he was jeopardizing the whole approach toward young people that Quebec had been developing for at least 30 years.
One does need to go back 30 years. This approach was not developed in 15 years, but over the past 30 years, first with the Social Aid Act and the Juvenile Delinquent Act. The Vocational Training Act also contained certain provisions, then there was the Youth Protection Act. It was in 1908 that people first realized something had to be done and that expertise had to be developed to deal with young people in trouble with the law. This did not happen just recently.
But well before the first legislation dealing with young offenders, the Juvenile Delinquent Act in Quebec, the approach used was to try to reintegrate these young people into society. It cannot even be said that this has been going on for only 15 years. The whole infrastructure surrounding young people in trouble in Quebec has been in place for at least 30 years.
The Premier of Quebec wrote to the Prime Minister of Canada and told him: "You are a Quebecker, and you know how things are done in Quebec. Do not go ahead with Bill C-3". Need I tell you how the Prime Minister of Canada responded to the Premier of Quebec? "Bouchard tries to sway Chrétien on young offenders issue... who refuses." Naturally. Naturally at the request of the Quebec Liberal Party, the response by the Liberal government in Ottawa, which brought in a certain Bill C-3 as part of its election campaign preparation, was ready ahead of time.
The conclusion is fairly obvious: what is good for Alberta will be applied to everyone and what is good for Quebec is no good. We will do away with all that and start over again. As you can understand, that kind of straitjacket does not fit comfortably. It is no wonder that people feel there is a problem.
At the same time, the PQ and the Quebec Liberals agree on the basic principles of the Young Offenders Act, but only Quebec City, naturally. I will skip over this because I have already talked about the resolution that was adopted unanimously in the House of Commons calling on the government to suspend implementation and adoption of Bill C-3, and to go look at what was being done elsewhere so as to be able to compare with what was being done in Quebec, the aim being to convince the Minister of Justice that she was on the wrong track.
All sorts of articles were published that day. In La Presse, there was a story about two young people who had run afoul of the law but who are doing fine now. I will name them because their names are in the article: Julien Robitaille and Jocelyn Prud'homme. That story appeared in La Presse on May 17th.
People often say that the newspapers carry only negative stories, but I congratulate La Presse because, on Wednesday, May 17th, it published the story of two people who had been in trouble with the law when they were young and who, a few years later, had straightened out their lives. I can tell you that they seem like two fine young people, two young men integrated into society, ready to help others, etc.
In Julien's case, he saw a film on young offenders, made for the youth detention centres, I believe, and he saw that it was possible to get out of trouble if he really wanted to. Of course, he had drug problems. He went through a drug treatment program. He survived that. He saw that when he wasn't high on drugs, life could offer other kinds of trips when he had goals to reach for. He saw that life was good even if you were an ordinary guy and straight.
This young man is now 21 and working in a community group that actually helps young people to get out of trouble. He is no longer a burden on society. He has a job. He pays his taxes and, better yet, he wants to give back to society what he has received, the investment that was made for his rehabilitation and re-integration into society.
The other example is Jocelyn Prud'homme. He also took drugs, starting with a few joints, then hard drugs, especially cocaine. He had apparently become a nuisance, whether he was high or not. He was spaced out and smoked joints everywhere he went. He would cause trouble when he was straight, so he would go back to taking drugs. He did some bad things. He did all sorts of things. He was put in a group home and even in several foster families, but it didn't work.
At one point, he realized the situation he was in. With the assistance he was given, his own commitment and his discussions with social workers and other people, he now has a job. I think he is working in the computer field. He was a drop-out; now he has dropped back in. All that was possible because of the Young Offenders Act, which makes it possible to act on the basis of young people's needs. The young person's needs were assessed and enough resources were invested so that he could re-integrate properly into society. This is a good news story and I congratulate La Presse for publishing it.
People often say that things are working well in Quebec because the Young Offenders Act is being used properly, but they wonder if there isn't more to it than that. In fact, it is an approach that works. The act is not flawed. Where things are not working, the legislation is not to blame. It is the approach in the other provinces that is to blame. All kinds of things are possible.
Although we have good results in Quebec, we are not satisfied. I said earlier that as long as criminal behaviour among young people has not been completely eliminated, we will not be satisfied. The ultimate goal in Quebec, as is the case elsewhere, I hope, is to have no more youth crime. We can dream of that, but it is difficult to achieve, especially when there is no legislation to deal with gangs such as bikers gangs who show young people how to commit offences, etc. That does not help.
In Quebec, however, in spite of our successes, it was decided in June 2000 to address criminal behaviour starting in very early childhood. There are no plans to put babies and children in jail. The idea is to invest in fighting criminal behaviour in early childhood because, in the long term, when these children are 10, 12, 14 or 16, they will not commit crimes and will not have to be dealt with under the Young Offenders Act.
Do not be surprised to see that the statistics in Quebec are lower than elsewhere concerning the number of young people who end up before the courts. It is simply because there is an infrastructure in place for the implementation of the Young Offenders Act, which means that we are able to deal with these young people. But for this to happen—and I am going to get nasty because these things make me mad—we need legislation that allows this. Those who apply these programs are concerned about Bill C-3, which is under consideration here.
This article indicates that in Quebec a significant amount of money is going to be invested to help up to 3,000 young families with severe economic and social problems, because they have read the same report that I have on criminal behaviour and poverty. The view is that it is important to invest in young people as soon as they are born so that they do not end up in trouble with the law.
The author claims that, although this costs a lot of money, in the long run, money will be saved. Up to $2,000 per child will be invested over a six-year period. Thus, we figure that the first six years of life are of paramount importance, and we are prepared to invest up to $2,000 annually per person, during the first six years of their lives, in order to turn them into citizens who will feel that they are a part of society. The article claims that, in the long term, this will always result in a savings.
According to a leading international expert in this field, Dr. Tremblay, a maladjusted teenager costs society a great deal more, and furthermore can often not be reformed. The Health Department found that it spends $800 million on young offenders and that a teenager with major problems costs the State between $50,000 and $100,000 annually, not taking into account the fact that, as delinquents grow older, they become more dangerous and cost the State more money.
They calculated that it was preferable to invest up to $120,000 during the first six years of a child's life, rather than to invest up to $100,000 per year in a juvenile delinquent. The figures say it all. However, for these young people on whom we have spent money, there must be a law in the eventuality there is de delinquency problem later on. Currently, the Young Offenders Act allows us to continue doing what we have been doing. But I am not certain, and neither are the experts, that we would be able to under Bill C-3.
Another very interesting article appeared on Wednesday, June 7. I will just say a few words about it. It appears that Quebec parents are less violent than American parents with their children. This came out of a study that was done. If parents are less violent, a child experiences less violence and will be less liable to use violence later on. This also helps explain the reasoning behind Quebec's approach.
Another highly interesting article was published in La Presse on Thursday, June 8. It was written by Robin Philpot, who is the author of a book entitled Oka—dernier alibi du Canada anglais, which touched on the violence in Aboriginal communities. I do not understand why Aboriginal people have not protested more, because Bill C-3 would have a fairly major impact on them. Robin Philpot says it very well, and I quote:
It is a relief to hear this. We are accused of doing all manner of things to the Aboriginal people of Quebec, but Robin Philpot, who seems to be very close to them, maintains that there is really a difference between what Quebec does for Aboriginal people and what Canada does for them, among other things, with regard to the incarceration rate. It is like black and white. Listen carefully to what he has to say:
Does that not make you stop and think? In effect, statistics show that the Quebec incarceration rate for Aboriginal people is proportionately lower than for other Quebeckers, while in the other provinces, Aboriginal people are incarcerated up to 10 times more frequently than other citizens. This is the case in Saskatchewan.
If we adopt legislation that is even more repressive, who do you think will pay the price? It is Aboriginal people. Was the intention to target them? Was Anne McLellan thinking of Aboriginal people when she drafted this bill? I would have liked to have asked the minister this question, Mr. Chairman, if she had come. It is now 10 o'clock. There are still a few hours left. The minister could still appear before the committee. I would ask her this question because this is of interest to me. I would like to know whether this bill was targeted at Aboriginal people among others.
The next article appeared in Le Devoir on June 12, 2000: "Bill C-3 on young offenders: A big stick in a compassionate society". It was written by Jean Trépanier, that everyone here knows, I believe. I will spare you the reading of all the passages in his article, since he appeared before us and everyone is well aware of his expertise and what he thinks of Bill C-3.
I invite you to read this article if you have not had the time to read his brief, because the article takes up some of the arguments. However, he goes into greater detail on two points: first, the automatic measures that are found in the bill and, second, the obligation to keep track of the duration of temporary detention. If a system for adults is applied to young offenders, the duration of detention and conditional release will also have to be calculated, as though one were dealing with adults, in the end.
However, I would like to read you one paragraph, because I would have liked to have heard the minister comment on it. He speaks of a terribly complicated law. This is something of a response to the minister who, when she tabled her bill, said that the Young Offenders Act was unclear. To quote her exact words:
All in all, it was a defective law and it had to be changed, she said.
A specialist in the field who has spent a good part of his life following youth crime issues and who has studied the history of the law and the amendments made to it over the years, has reached the conclusion that it is a terribly complicated law.
If the minister were here this evening, I would ask her how the Criminal Code defines “region”. I know what administrative regions are, but the idea of regional harmonization under the Criminal Code is a new concept which is unknown to me. So, I would have liked the minister to explain to me what regional harmonization is. Is Montreal a region? Is Quebec a region? Is Atlantic Canada a region? Is Western Canada a region? Is the Lanaudière area a region? The minister wanted to make this change to improve her bill. I think she clearly shot herself in the foot on that one.
The author goes on to say:
I began speaking about the declaration of principle. I said it was a fairly important piece of the puzzle. In this declaration of principle, fathers and mothers have obligations, but they also have a say in how their children should be dealt with under the Young Offenders Act. I don't know if this is going to be possible if Bill C-3 is passed. Furthermore, the bill is so complex that experts will have to be called upon to decipher it. How can you expect the average citizen to make head or tail of this kind of bill?
The bill goes so far as to make parents liable for the actions of their children, it will be possible to take parents to court, they will be made to pay and so on. What's more, the bill is so complex that the parents won't understand a thing.
When the minister came before the committee, I asked her if she could explain a certain section of the bill which is utterly unintelligible and she was not able to answer. The provision in question is section 42.
Let me show you how well this bill is drafted. Everyone will understand. I'm referring to additional youth sentences, as referred to in section 42 of the bill. I will read it for you, Mr. Chairman. You'll see that the government really tried to make it simple. I don't know who drafted section 42, but please congratulate him on my behalf. The section is very, very clear. You'll see:
I am sure that everyone who is present understood. But you must excuse me, for I did not understand a thing, I must be more simple-minded than the rest. The meaning of that section is completely foreign to me and it's not the only one. This is very, very complex stuff.
In one of my first law classes, Mr. Chairman, I learned that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Perhaps we should begin by trying to understand the law. How do you expect people to understand this piece of legislation which criminalizes young people, given that it is drafted in such impenetrable jargon, where there are numerous references to other sections and to other statutes? It's impossible to understand.
Even experts like Jean Trépanier, a criminologist and criminology professor at the Université de Montréal, have said that this is a complex piece of legislation. In his view, only experts and lawyers will understand it and it will ultimately disenfranchise further those whom justice is supposed to serve even. Believe me, when our clients appear before a judge, they already feel bewildered by the legal system.
Before trial, I often had to explain, over and over again, the ins and outs of a fairly understandable law or provision contained in Quebec's Civil Code. But my client had a hard time understanding how important my words were because of nervousness and for other reasons. Similarly, an attorney representing a young person in criminal court will have to, depending on the circumstances, explain the section relating to additional youth sentences. Counsel will have to try to explain this provision to his young client, male or female, but will not be able to get the message across. I guess this is what they mean when they talk about improving the Young Offenders Act. This must be what the minister referred to when she said this bill was drafted in keeping with the approach which was developed in Quebec over the last 15 years. I have no idea where she got that idea from.
Another public letter was written by Mr. Claude Filion, the Chairman of the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. He said that this was a useless bill which would make it harder to help reintegrate young offenders into society, but that did not seem to sway the Minister of Justice.
Mr. Chairman, I could have brought many other newspaper articles to show you that all of Quebec is firmly opposed to this bill. However, one thing is sure, and it's something the members opposite have understood: it's that Quebec is speaking with one voice and that their mission is to obliterate any opposition to this bill. That's why the minister's lack of imagination led her to ask her house leader to impose a gag order on this important debate. She could not even be bothered to come before the committee to respond to my questions. She did not even have the decency to give satisfactory answers to questions raised by some judges. She never even went to Quebec to see for herself how the system worked. And now she has decided to put the bill on the agenda and to pass it in a hurry without holding consultations.
The Minister of Justice is speaking out of both sides of her mouth. She is contradicting herself because today, during question period, she said that she did not want to involve herself in the drafting of anti-gang legislation without having consulted the provinces first. However, everyone is telling her to consult the provinces regarding the Young Offenders Act before she brings about any amendments. But she has not done so. She's going ahead with it. What's worse, she will not find out how other provinces are dealing with young offenders before introducing her own amendments.
Earlier on, Mr. Chairman, I said that when the Liberals opposite adopt this bill, they will have to remember who it addresses. I mentioned Aboriginals and the poor. I did not make that up. I got it from the Government of Canada, from the National Council on Welfare, which published a report on justice and the poor on May 15, 2000. The council states that the justice system in Canada discriminates against the poor.
I hope you realize that when you take a more hard-line approach with criminal legislation, and this is even more true when it deals with young people, you are inevitably launching a head-on attack on families facing financial difficulties.
At home, my mother always said that misery loves company. Since some people in this room seem to be a bit sceptical, I am going to take some time and read a few excerpts from this report by the National Council of Welfare.
I can repeat that if people are still sceptical. A separatist did not say that; it came from the National Council of Welfare.
In short, if sentences are made tougher as planned, there will inevitably be more low-income people who will be dragged into the criminal justice system.
The report also says:
That last point is quite important. I am going to repeat it because it is so revealing. It comes from the Government of Canada. There are some things in this little world that I have trouble understanding. It says this:
That is precisely was is being done with the Young Offenders Act. Its amendments are being used as a political weapon. It is rather strange that a report from the Government of Canada, from the National Council of Welfare, is calling on politicians and the government to stop using crime as a political weapon. I have heard it all. Obviously, the information has not made it to the Office of the Minister of Justice. She must limit her reading to issues affecting youth crime, just about the bad side. There are some success stories, but she doesn't seem to be aware of them.
I would have liked the minister to have been here this evening, Mr. Chairman, not only to ask her some questions, but also to give her some specific examples of the good work that is being done in places like Quebec, among others, because the Young Offenders Act is being administered properly.
The beauty of this report, Mr. Chairman, is that the National Council of Welfare applaud Quebec's approach to dealing with young people. The Minister should read this report. I quote:
That is what Quebec is doing. The Minister should take that into account before deciding to change it. In the very beginning, I read the declaration of principle. That may seem a bit innocuous, as I started the evening with some things which resulted in one member of parliament not understanding what I was getting at, but as you can see the declaration of principle has been a common theme all evening and will continue to be ever-present. But the Minister saw fit to axe the declaration of principle. She saw fit to gut it completely, then to sprinkle little bits and pieces that don't mean anything all around or to put the bulk of the declaration of principle in a preamble.
My next lecture could be on preambles. You will see that the preamble is not worth more than the paper on which it is written, that a preamble cannot be compare to a declaration of principle that is in the body of an act, in a section of the act. I am sure that the departmental officials were fully aware of that. It's a screen. It's the minister's good little conscience that is obvious in the preamble, but it does not necessarily help interpret the act.
I'm going to read one last excerpt before moving on to something else, since time is going by very quickly this evening:
Even a federal organization is telling the federal government and the Minister to stop implementing repressive legislation, to put an end to that. Obviously, the Minister has not read the report, which is also interesting because it contains several indications as to the conclusions it reaches.
When people say that poverty and crime can go hand in hand, that does not necessarily mean that the link between them is automatic. As I said earlier on, people from wealthy families also commit crimes. It is not an automatic response. It's that a person raised in a poor family has less of a chance of moving on. And everyone agrees with that. I see the people from the department agree. It is a fact. Perhaps some on the other side don't believe it, but it is a fact. Indicators of child and youth development based on family income exist. And again, they're provided by the Canadian Council on Social Development.
To those who do not appear to believe me, and to those who appear sceptical, I would say that a series of variables related to family income—family income under $20,000 and family income over $80,000. They noted that, in families with an income under $20,000, crime rates were higher. Why is that?
Parents who have been traumatized as children make up 15.3% of low-income families, compared to 7.6% of higher-income families. Families with incomes under $20,000 comprise over four times as many parents experiencing chronic stress. Twenty-nine percent of children in those families change schools frequently. There is not much stability.
Twenty-six point two percent of low-income families live in problem neighbourhoods, while 23.9% live in actually hostile neighbourhoods. Some 40% of people are victims of indirect aggression, compared to 20% of families with an income of $80,000 and over. The incidence of emotional problems is twice as high, the incidence of delinquent behaviour is three times as high, the incidence of health problems is twice as high, behavioural and development delay—take a good look at these numbers—is 35.9%, in comparison with 7.9% among higher-income families. Those figures are all from the Canadian Council on Social Development.
However, the relationship between income and crime rate is not necessarily direct: all families that appear in the first column will not necessarily have a problem with crime. However, I would like to point out that, if you pass this legislation, it will also be applied to people who have income problems, because they could be associated with crime. If that is what you wish, there is nothing we can say. However, that is not Quebec's goal.
Another view by the federal government can be found in the 1999-2000 annual report by the Privacy Commissioner. I would address this to the representative of the Justice Department, who as I can see is still in the room. I presume that these officials read the report, which mentions new bills, including the Youth Criminal Justice Act, or Bill C-3, which is being considered here.
The Privacy Commissioner states:
These comments did not give rise to more criticism or argument than necessary from the Bloc Québécois and other parties, but I wanted to highlight them tonight, since they were made by the Privacy Commissioner to demonstrate that the bill includes a number of amendments which are cause for concern. Even the Privacy Commissioner is worried about them.
I will continue, Mr. Chairman. I have promised to present you with a case study, though it will be a hypothetical one. I think I will present it as a story, describing what could happen with the new legislation in comparison with what would happen with the current legislation. Mr. Chairman, I am convinced that you will understand the huge difference between the bill before us today, and the current legislation.
We can call the first case Claudine's. Claudine is experiencing circumstances resulting from things I have learned, but which are not applicable to any specific case. Everything I will be telling you is hypothetical. The Claudine case contains elements drawn here and there to make up a standard case which shows how the Young Offenders Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, if it were passed, would have different results.
After responding to an incident call, in an apartment police officers discover the body of a woman about 30 years old, who has been stabbed a number of times. There is every indication of a violent altercation. The murder weapon is not found, and the perpetrators have tried to conceal the crime by deliberately setting a fire. Everyone in the neighbourhood is afraid, and investigators' suspicions initial fall on the victim's spouse, who had a record of domestic violence. He denies everything and provides a sound alibi.
The investigation proves difficult, requiring in-depth scientific tests. A number of days after the incident, investigators report to the Attorney General's prosecutor. They have just arrested a 15-year-old girl, the only daughter of the victim. Claudine's arms and hands still bear injuries inflicted during the assault. The DNA sample obtained from Claudine with a warrant matches samples found at the crime scene and on the victim's clothes.
Claudine is arrested at her father's. She lives with him. Investigators find what appears to be the murder weapon. During her interrogation at the police station, Claudine demonstrates aggression and clearly lies about her comings and goings on the day of the crime. Her record shows two charges of assault with injury, at the school.
Claudine is put on probation, and is prohibited from owning a weapon and taking drugs. A charge of first-degree murder is laid against her, and she is remanded in custody until trial.
It should be noted that, at this stage of the process, the Attorney General's prosecutor has access only to information provided by the police. Except for the two convictions, he knows nothing about Claudine's history, nor is he aware of reasons that might have made her kill her mother.
I am listing a long series of facts. Anyone who thinks that this case is complex will know that it contains a lot less detail than would be found in most instances. If you really want to understand what can happen if the Youth Criminal Justice Act were adopted, you have to use cases like this to illustrate possible results. I see that people across the way have been taking notes in order to answer questions later. I am sure it will be very easy and highly productive.
Now let us see what will happen to Claudine if Bill C-3, the reform put forward by Minister Anne McLellan, is adopted.
In cases of murder, the new bill provides for adult sentencing as of age 14, unless the young person, after being found guilty, manages to convince the Court that she should be given a juvenile sentence. Therefore, though she is only 15 years old, Claudine could find herself sentenced to life imprisonment.
Under the proposed legislation, the Attorney General has the discretion to decide whether a juvenile sentence or an adult sentence will be applied in any given case. However, he cannot exercise that discretion because Claudine represents a serious risk to public safety, since the offence involved is very serious and her attitude towards investigators is aggressive. We saw that she was aggressive and told lies. She also has a criminal record, as many young people do.
Since she is subject to being sentenced as an adult, the judicial proceedings are the same as they would be for an adult. Claudine has the option of asking for a preliminary inquiry and a trial before judge and jury, and this is what her lawyer will advise her to do so that she has as many options as possible during the proceedings. Her case is in no way different from that of an adult, because she being treated as an adult.
A year and a half later, as is usually the case, although that timeframe would be even shorter than the average, at her trial before judge and jury, the evidence against is so overwhelming that she does not even testify. After deliberating, the jury arrive at a guilty verdict, and the Court then asks that the young person be assessed. The psychological, criminal record and pre-sentencing reports all point to a troubled and surprising history.
Her story, however, is quite simple, when she was 12, her mother's new live-in partner started to show an interest in her, he would give her presents, tell her that he loved her, and, gradually, the mother and daughter relationship became shrouded in ambiguity and hostility, since they had become sexual rivals without knowing it. In order to draw the young girl to him, the boyfriend offered her jewels, then drugs, and sexual contact was initiated under what she considered to be the auspices of love.
Claudine then started having problems at school, and her violent behaviour towards other young people at school was caused by the troubling sexual relationship she was involved in. Her friends would laugh at her. When she was visiting with her mother, they would often quarrel, and when Claudine told her mother, out of spite, that her boyfriend was also her lover a violent altercation took place, which resulted in the mother's death. The only reason Claudine resorted to silence and aggressive behaviour throughout the judicial proceedings was that she wanted to keep her sexual relationship a secret.
When he learned about this, her lawyer decided to appeal the guilty verdict. A new trial will take place on a reduced charge, and the Attorney General's prosecutor will not object to the young person being sentenced as such. Thus, the federal reform would result in a cumbersome judicial process which would last close to three years. Claudine would only be sentenced when she reached the age of 18, whereas under the present process, in accordance with the Young Offenders Act, she would already have been released and would be working or in school.
Let us compare that with the present system. Under the present system, there would not have been this three-year delay before the young person would have been sentenced. Neither would there have been these complex judicial proceedings with a preliminary inquiry, summons and trial before a jury at the Superior Court level, and with all the attendant publicity.
Under the existing legislation, the assessment reports on the young person would be asked for at the first stage of the proceedings, and there is no doubt that, having been informed of the young girl's history, the Crown, or rather the Attorney General's prosecutor, would have signalled his intention not to ask for her to be sentenced as an adult.
Moreover, the young person would have been more likely to plead guilty, so that there wouldn't have been a trial, and after a three-year time span, she would probably be nearing completion of her time in custody. Finally, she would have had access to help and support measures intended to facilitate her rehabilitation long before reaching the age of majority. Charges of sexual interference with a child would also have been laid long before that against the mother's boyfriend.
One can easily see the significance of this example, which clearly shows that it is only in cases where the Crown is advised of the real circumstances of the young offender that the Crown's discretion can really be exercised, so that the young person is not treated as an adult. Clearly, the Minister's proposed bill is unworkable. Young people will end up being tried simply for the sake of having a trial, we will have to wait until all of the evidence has been presented, until the young person has been found guilty, and until a thorough analysis has been done to determine why and how the offence was committed and what the young person has gone through, for the Crown Attorney, the Attorney General, to have all of the information. Only then will the Crown really be able to exercise its discretion, but the trial will have already taken place, and, most important of all, all of this will have taken a great deal of time.
I have come up with this example to show you how time can be an important factor. Time does indeed have major significance because the girl in the fictitious example I gave you, three and a half years after the start of proceedings against her, could on reaching the age of majority become just an ordinary citizen, she could be rehabilitated and once again be a member of the community. But, in future, the complexity of the new legislation and the fact that the young person will be treated as an adult for the purposes of the judicial system will mean a loss of time and money. Once all the information is obtained, after having gotten all of that information, there might be a decision to appeal, as is provided for in the legislation, if it passed as it stands. An appeal will be launched to ask that something be done retroactively that could have been done three years earlier. In the meantime, the young person will have been incarcerated without any treatment whatsoever for three and a half years, nothing will have been done to help her.
I would have liked to have the Minister present to hear this example, so that she could tell me that this is not what is going to happen. However, I know very well that that is indeed what is going happen, because I asked some Crown Attorneys and people who worked on drafting the bill to confirm my example. That is exactly what is going to happen.
I mentioned that I had two cases to tell you about. Would you like to hear about the second one right now? Let us then talk about Justin. These are not people that I know. They are simply figments of my imagination. Hopefully, however, you will realize that that is what is going to happen in similar cases.
Justin had a difficult childhood. He is from a single-parent family, the second of four children raised by a single mother. His real environment is the streets and his real family is his gang. He has already shown at his young age that he has a talent for stealing and for all kinds of money-making schemes.
Let us see how he would fare under the new federal legislation. At age 12, he is twice arrested by the police, the first time for shoplifting in a shopping centre, and the second time, for public mischief in a park located in a neighbouring municipality. Each time, he is given a warning by the municipal police force involved, as provided for in Bill C-3. The package of reform proposals does indeed favour warnings for first-time offences of a minor nature, without providing for any alternative measures.
The reform package is such that, unless you are dealing with a serious offence, the young person would have committed several other offences before those alternative measures could come into play. So, the young person would have to go through two stages. The first being a warning or a caution, and the second being alternative measures, before being sent to trial. It is worth nothing that prior warnings given to the young person are not admissible in Court.
At age 13, he is once again arrested along with two accomplices for three instances of break and entry into storage sheds and for mischief. There again, the reform package clearly indicates that extra judicial measures are to be favoured. His case is referred to the Attorney General's prosecutor, and then sent on to the Director of Youth Probation, without any in-depth assessment being made because the offences are not that serious. Justin gets away with sending a letter of apology to his victims, as provided for in Bill C-3.
At age 14, he is once again arrested for three instances of break and entry into homes this time. His case is again referred to the Director of Youth Probation, but it is sent back to the Attorney General's prosecutor because of the young person's defiant and aggressive attitude. The judicial system then becomes involved, but since it is the first time he has had to appear in Court, he is sentenced to probation for one week, followed by a one-year period where he is not required to report, as usually done in similar cases.
At age 15, he is once again arrested as part of the breaking up of a drug ring. He's accused of drug trafficking in the streets and in the elementary schools of the area. Under the reform, the tribunal cannot impose a custody sentence, although according to the requested decision report, Justin is heavily involved in juvenile crime, is hanging out with a gang well-known to the police officers and there isn't any parental control. He gets probation with a two-year follow-up.
No sooner does he leave the tribunal than he resumes drug trafficking which enables him to buy his daily supply of narcotics. As he is a good manipulator, he shows up on the day scheduled by his probation officer who does not suspect any of his illegal activities.
At age 16, a charge of assault is brought against him. He does not hesitate to resort to violence in order to collect drug debts. Only then can the tribunal resort to a custody measure.
That is a very common pattern in juvenile crime. I am sure that if the Department officials have examined some files they will agree that this is a typical pattern.
Let's compare that to what is being done today under the existing Young Offenders Act. This is another example amongst many others that the Minister could have heard this evening and which contradicts what she says in her letter.
Let's compare with the existing system. I hope you will remember Justin. As shown in that example, the federal Minister's reform only puts off till later the rehabilitation problems of the teenager. Rehabilitation therapy cannot be started until he reaches 16 whereas such a program could have been undertaken much earlier.
The federal reform's flaw lies in the fact that it establishes a system of cascading measures where one cannot take a measure appropriate for the youth until there are repeat offences and the commission of a violent act. Only committal to custody can keep him off the streets and away from the criminal environment and give him the time he needs to think his behaviour over. The more one waits to adopt such a measure, the smaller his chance of rehabilitation.
The federal reform does not allow the right measure to be taken at the right time, before the situation becomes uncontrollable. That principle which is well-known by parents is the fundamental key to a youth's rehabilitation. When the tribunal imposes a sentence, it should have discretionary power to impose the appropriate measure. It is preferable to impose a period of at least two-month of custody at age 14 rather than a period of one year of custody at 16.
The federal Minister refuses to grant such a discretionary power to the tribunals claiming that youth custody rate is too high in Canada. It is the case in several provinces but not in Quebec where the custody rate is the lowest, because our tribunals know how to apply this measure at the right time when it is required.
The bill as it is written is not good in a case like Justin's, because at the present time, as soon as Justin commits a first offence, after an assessment of his case, he can be put in custody whereas with the new system of repeat offending and warnings, it will not be possible. It is not only because he is being put in custody relatively early that we do not agree with this bill but also the fact that the timing is wrong. You are not giving those who apply the law the freedom to do so as they deem appropriate.
In the case I have just described, Justin will receive his first custodial sentence at age 16; he will get probably a year, perhaps more, when we could have intervened earlier, when he was 13 or even 12. It all depends on what he did. We could have placed him in custody, take him out of his family, which was the problem. His family had no control over him. Also, he had to be taken out of his street gang, which was up to mischief all day long. By taking him out of that environment, by taking him out of his family and by getting him off the street, something could have been done. We could have tried to address his special needs and help his reintegration into society. Bill C-3 will not allow that. This is another example that should have been brought to the attention of the Minister. She should have cooperated better to try to understand what she is doing with such a bill. She should have seen that, in reality...
The Chair: I didn't mean to interrupt your flow there, but I have heard rumours that someone might be prepared to adjourn this evening. You're exactly halfway through the ten hours of your eloquent dissertation, so it might be a nice time to turn a page.
I would be prepared to entertain such a motion if I saw it.
Mr. Paul DeVillers: So moved.
Mr. Jacques Saada: They all walk out at the same time.
Mr. Michel Bellehumeur: Mr. Chairman, I have no objection to us adjourning now as long as I can continue at our next meeting. I understand that I will have five hours left and I intend to use them all.
The Chair: It's understood that when we resume tomorrow at 3:30 at a location in the West Block to be determined, you will in fact have the floor, Monsieur Bellehumeur. I'm sure all of us won't sleep tonight, anticipating what new information you might provide.
Thank you very much. We are adjourned.