Fournier disappointed after crime bill meeting

Quebec justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier expressed frustration Tuesday after a meeting with his federal counterpart Rob Nicholson failed to yield any changes to the Harper government's omnibus crime bill.

Quebec justice minister unable to change mind of federal counterpart Rob Nicholson

Quebec justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier speaks at a press conference following his meeting with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Quebec justice minister Jean-Marc Fournier came to Ottawa Tuesday morning to make a final plea for compromise in the sprawling federal crime bill. He left disappointed.

"I came here today and the door was closed on every issue," Fournier told reporters after the meeting.

Fournier said he had been hopeful about his meeting with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, thinking perhaps federal and provincial officials could meet to work out the right wording for the omnibus bill C-10.

"In the letter [Nicholson wrote in response to Quebec's concerns] of last Thursday I saw an openness to talk about young offenders," Fournier said, saying he had the impression the federal government could agree with Quebec on the value of rehabilitation over incarceration.

"I asked 'where are the studies you've got about the changes on young offenders?' The answer is, 'I've received personal observations,'" Fournier said. "I'm just asking to put the studies on the table."

Nicholson told reporters Tuesday that he was pleased to meet with Fournier and reminded reporters that, as he said in his letter last week, he would be taking Quebec's advice on one amendment proposing a subtle change in wording.

Nicholson said his government has accepted many amendments suggested by provinces over the years but it would be sticking to its guns on young offenders, citing its own research.

"The Nunn report and that study zeroed in on a small group of out-of-control young people who are a danger to the public as well as to themselves," Nicholson noted. "That study was very helpful in the drafting of this legislation and this bill is a result of that."

"They are doing the opposite of what they've got as studies," Fournier said. "It's not a decision of the Canadian government. It's probably more the Reform Party that is deciding here."

The feds have resisted Fournier's recent entreaties, and the legislation is on the verge of being fast-tracked through the House  of Commons. MPs on the Commons justice committee are conducting a clause-by-clause review that will conclude no later than midnight Wednesday, before C-10 returns to the House for third reading.

"There is no reason for the urgency that we've got other than ideology," Fournier said, saying his province agrees with the government in wanting less crime and fewer victims.

Fournier vowed Tuesday to fight on. "We will look at every tool we can have... to protect our society."


Should provinces have to pay for new costs incurred by the omnibus crime bill? Take our survey.

Fournier said in his testimony before the committee Nov. 1 that Quebec would not pick up the tab for any additional prison expenses incurred by passage of bill, a position echoed by several other provinces.

Among its many measures, the bill would toughen sentences for a number of crimes, including drug and sex offences.

It would also absolve the government and law enforcement of some responsibilities when dealing with young offenders and Canadians jailed abroad.

One thing Quebec wants is an opt-out clause allowing provinces to ignore a section that could make young offenders' identities public.

It also wants more emphasis on long-term protection of the public rather than short-term punitive measures.

In question period on Tuesday, Nicholson said "there's absolutely nothing in the bill C-10 that in any way compromises or prohibits the province from reaching out and helping to rehabilitate young people."

"We've listened very carefully to our provincial counterparts," Nicholson added later.

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with files from The Canadian Press