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Quebec wants Tories to reconsider tough youth sentences

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier responds to questions over federal Bill C-10 on Tuesday.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier has proposed amendments to the Harper government's crime bill that would soften penalties for young offenders.

In a letter to his federal counterpart, Rob Nicholson, that he also sent to all provincial justice ministers, Mr. Fournier urged Ottawa to abandon the provisions for tougher sentences for young offenders proposed in Bill C-10.

If the Harper government is sincere about protecting the public, it needs to examine the long-term consequences of lengthy prison terms for youth crimes, Mr. Fournier said.

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The letter is the latest salvo in Quebec's battle against the legislation. Earlier this month, the province said it would refuse to pay for higher prison costs flowing from the bill.

Quebec has used statistics to bolster its argument that an emphasis on rehabilitation for young criminals reduces both repeat offenders and the youth crime rate. Rehabilitation rather than imprisonment protects the public, the minister said, suggesting that Ottawa include the notion of "long-term protection of the public" in the bill and allow provinces to protect the identity of young offenders.

"It is ultimately society as a whole that benefits from long-term protection. It is this notion that imposes an obligation to reflect on the way to detain, rehabilitate and reintegrate a young person so that he or she becomes a productive member of society," Mr. Fournier stated in his letter.

Quebec has long emphasized rehabilitation over punitive measures for young offenders, and Statistics Canada figures show it was the only province in 2006 where the youth crime rate dropped. The statistics, published in 2008, showed that while youth crimes increased on average by 3 per cent in the rest of Canada, they dropped by 4 per cent in Quebec.

Mr. Fournier challenged Ottawa to produce data that show punitive measures are more effective than rehabilitation.

Quebec's chief prosecutor for youth crimes, Annick Murphy, said that in 1993, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that society was better protected with the rehabilitation of young offenders.

"This is what Canada has always believed. [Bill C-10]is the first time in 100 years that Canada has taken measures such as these with respect to young offenders," Ms. Murphy said.

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Two weeks ago, Mr. Fournier argued his case before a Commons committee without success. Now he will wait to see how the Harper government reacts to his proposals.

If nothing is done, Quebec may refuse to enforce provisions of the crime bill that deal with young offenders, but Mr. Fournier said he hopes Ottawa will reconsider.

"I'm not doing this because I believe that it is useless and that it is destined to fail. This is an honest attempt because I believe that it is founded on logic … on reason … on studies, and that in the spirit of collaboration we can find common ground," Mr. Fournier said.

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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