Gilles Duceppe is standing by his comment that the Conservatives' tough approach to youth crime would result in serving up "young flesh" to hardened criminals, despite calls to retract the comment.

Speaking at the University of Montreal on Thursday, the Bloc Québécois leader said he refused to retract the comment because he's right.

Duceppe said Harper's proposal to revamp the Youth Criminal Justice Act — including making 14-year-olds eligible for life in prison — would violate international agreements on children's rights.

On Wednesday, Duceppe said that "sending children to prison is sending them to the university of crime."

"And it's young flesh as well. Let's not hide it. We know there is that kind of problem in prison, and sending kids there is terrible."

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper had responded that Duceppe crossed the line with the "extreme, irresponsible" comments and called for a retraction.

Bloc expects gains

Later in the day, former Quebec premier Bernard Landry attended an evening cocktail rally in Duceppe's Montreal riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie.

Landry told reporters he expects the Bloc to fare well in the Oct. 14 federal election, with sovereigntists unlikely to abandon the Bloc for federalist parties.

He called Harper's parliamentary motion to recognize that the Québécois form a nation smoke and mirrors since the province still enjoys "the same status in confederation as Prince Edward Island."

Recent opinion polls have suggested a jump in support for the Bloc, possibly linked to concerns in Quebec over the possibility of a majority Conservative government.

"In Quebec, a lot of organizations — union, political and social groups — have been warning people about a Conservative majority. They have a strong influence on the general population and seem to be telling people to vote strategically," said Harris-Decima vice-president Alain Cusson.

He said the Bloc gains have been at the expense of the Tories and the New Democrats.

The Conservatives see the vote-rich province as a key battleground as they try to achieve a majority.

As of Parliament's dissolution, the Bloc held 48 of the province's 75 seats, compared to the Conservatives' 11. Liberals had 11 ridings, two were Independent, two were vacant and one was NDP.

With files from the Canadian Press