Quebec justice minister derides Tory crime bill

The Quebec government is lashing out against the Harper Conservatives' approach to crime legislation.
Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier called the Tory crime bill a tough-on-democracy measure. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press) (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

The Quebec government derided the Harper Conservatives for fast-tracking crime legislation Thursday that is bitterly opposed by several provinces as costly and counter-productive.

"This isn't a tough-on-crime measure we're seeing today — it's a tough-on-democracy measure," Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier told reporters. "Quebec offered its collaboration, the federal government rejected it. Quebec provided 40 years of experience and know-how, the federal government commissioned a poll.

"Quebec proved that Bill C-10 encourages repeat offences and more victims, the federal government doesn't want to hear it."

Fournier said the Tories' decision to invoke closure and ram Bill C-10 through the House of Commons was both unexpected and inappropriate.

He said he will now study all measures available so that Quebec can maintain its own approach to crime-fighting.

Several provinces have complained that the tougher prison sentences in the bill will do more to increase provincial incarceration costs — without actually reducing crime.

The sprawling legislation adds mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes, increases maximum sentences, opens the door to adult punishment for youth convicted of violent crimes, toughens drug laws, and makes it easier for the federal government to reject the transfer of a Canadian citizen back to Canada after committing a crime abroad.

The Harper government responded to Fournier's scathing criticism in a three-page letter from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Thursday which focused on Quebec's concerns with the way young criminals would be treated.

In it, Nicholson thanked Fournier for input, recognized Quebec's "successful approach to youth justice" and assured the Quebec minister that the principles of rehabilitation and reintegration of young people would continue to be the basis of the youth justice system under the new federal bill.

Nicholson said tougher and longer sentences were "necessary to protect society from violent and dangerous offenders," and that "rehabilitation plays an important part in the sentencing process."

"Prematurely returning an offender to the environment that led to the behaviour in the first place is not in the best interests of the offender or of society," he wrote.

Nicholson also pointed out that the Harper government had modified the bill in certain areas after listening to concerns raised by Fournier in March and increased support payments to provinces.

"We will continue to fulfil our promise to Canadians to protect our families and communities by cracking down on crime," Nicholson wrote. "I am convinced that the people of Quebec would want their provincial government to pursue a similar goal."

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the NDP and the Liberals also decried the time limitation on debate of C-10.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae acknowledged that his party would also invoke closure on debate when it was in power, but not with the same frequency.

"I think, it's at least now eight time allocation motions in the House of Commons, sometimes coming as soon as two hours after the beginning of a debate," Rae told reporters after question period.

"So you know, every government around the world eventually resorts to some kind of time allocation. The issue is how do you do it? How often do you do it? And how abusive are you in your use of it?

"I think this — I think this government comes pretty close to being abusive in its use of time allocation."

Said NDP Justice critic Jack Harris: "What are the Conservatives afraid of? There are 208 clauses to review thoroughly, as well as hundreds of amendments. These Conservative antics are going to prevent us from doing our job."

Quebec has been involved in several policy skirmishes with the Harper Conservatives, especially on the subject of criminal  justice.

Quebec says it can't understand why, with some of the lowest crime rates in the country, its own lenient approach would be ignored in favour of expensive policies that have failed elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the provincial opposition, the Parti Quebecois, argued Thursday that if Quebec were independent it would be able to draft its own crime policy.

"This is a clear illustration — yet another illustration but a very, very serious illustration — of the major dysfunction that the Canadian federation can cause," said PQ justice critic Veronique Hivon.

"If we had full power over our own criminal justice policy, we wouldn't be here today."

Another provincial cabinet minister was in Ottawa pleading Thursday for the federal government to let Quebec keep data from the soon-to-be-destroyed long-gun registry.

The federal government once again rejected the province's request.