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Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said tougher sentences for young people who commit crimes will serve as a deterrent. ((CBC))

Stephen Harper vowed Monday that a re-elected Conservative government would reduce protections under the Youth Criminal Justice Act for young people convicted of serious crimes.

Under the Conservative leader's proposal, young people 14 and over found guilty of crimes such as manslaughter, murder or aggravated assault would face tougher sentences, and no longer have their identities protected.

The act currently forbids the release of young offenders' identities, unless the accused are found guilty and handed adult sentences.

Judges would also be allowed to decide whether a young offender who is convicted again for a less serious crime should be identified.

"Of course offenders have rights," said Harper while campaigning in Ottawa for the Oct. 14 federal election. "But we believe those rights must be balanced with responsibilities, and that victims have rights too."

The Conservatives also vowed to extend the youth gang prevention fund established in early 2007 and increase its budget to $10 million a year. The fund provides communities with money to combat street gangs.

Liberals, BQ against Tory youth crime plan

Harper said the tougher sentences would act as a deterrent for would-be criminals.

"In this new legislation, the main purpose will be not only to rehabilitate young offenders, but also to protect society, and the primary goal of sentencing will be to deter others from violating the law," Harper said at an event.

The Conservative leader acknowledged that crime rates have fallen in many areas in recent years, but said violent crime by young offenders increased 30 per cent between 1991 and 2006.

Almost 40,000 youths were accused of serious and violent crimes in 2006. The crimes included nearly 160 murders or attempted murders, 2,100 sexual assaults and 4,500 robberies.

"Frankly, you cannot rehabilitate somebody unless you drive home to them the seriousness of very violent crimes," said Harper.

Liberals said the Conservative proposal won't make Canada safer and compared it to attempts in several U.S. states, where they claim slapping young people with harsher sentences failed to reduce crime rates.

"It's the wrong approach," Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said in French after unveiling his party's platform in Ottawa.

Dion said his party's platform contained a crime-reduction strategy based on the approaches of previous Liberal governments, which he said have brought the lowest crime rate in 20 years.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe also decried the Tory plan.

"This is the Republican way of the United States, more people in prison, more arms in circulation," Duceppe said Monday. "I don't want to live in that society."

Canada an 'island of stability': Harper

Harper also addressed the latest economic news from the U.S., where the government has proposed a $700-billion bailout to try to stem the credit crisis. The plan would constitute the biggest restructuring of Wall Street since the Great Depression.

The Conservative leader stressed that Canada has been an "island of stability" since it does not face a similar regulatory environment and has a stronger financial system.

"Obviously, what we're asking for is a mandate to ensure we stay an island of stability rather than becoming part of the problem by raising taxes and running deficits," said Harper.

He added that the next few years will pose "tremendous challenges" for both the new Canadian and American governments.

The U.S. administration and Congress are still hammering out details of the bailout plan, which would allow the government to buy up a mountain of bad mortgage loans weighing down financial companies since they became engulfed in a severe credit crisis over a year ago.

The U.S. administration and Congress still need to hammer out details of a $700-billion bailout plan to buy up non-performing mortgage-backed commercial paper and other toxic financial assets from ailing financing companies at a fraction of their face value.

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press