Quebec’s Justice Minister left a meeting in disappointment and anger after his federal counterpart again rejected his demands for changes to Ottawa’s crime bill on Tuesday, saying: “I don’t recognize myself in this Canada.”
Jean-Marc Fournier said his province and the federal government have two visions of justice after Rob Nicholson refused during a meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday to change provisions of Bill C-10 that deal with young offenders.
Mr. Fournier said Quebec’s values of leniency and rehabilitation for young offenders were being shunted aside in favour of tougher sentences.
“I don’t recognize myself in this Canada. This is not a government of Canada. It is a government of the Reform Party,” the fuming Quebec minister told reporters after meeting Mr. Nicholson in Ottawa. Quebec had viewed the invitation to meet as a sign of openness, but the Quebec minister on Tuesday called it a “manoeuvre” to buy time.
“I came here today and the door was closed,” he said.
Mr. Fournier worked for the federal Liberals before returning to Quebec politics recently.
In the National Assembly, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois demanded to know what Premier Jean Charest will do to counter the Harper government’s crime bill, which is expected to be adopted next month.
Mr. Charest reminded Ottawa that Quebec speaks with one voice on the issue, and that while the federal government may define the Criminal Code, the provinces enforce it.
“We will continue to defend our position, which reflects our values, while reminding the federal government that on a constitutional level and with respect to shared jurisdictions, we are responsible for the administration of justice,” Mr. Charest said.
This leaves open the possibility that Quebec could refuse to enforce some provisions of the crime bill in the same way that it refused to charge abortion clinics under the criminal code in the 1980s.
Ottawa’s refusal to budge precipitated calls of even more radical acts of defiance. On Wednesday, the PQ will table a motion calling on Quebec to adopt its own criminal code, even though it could be viewed as unconstitutional. The opposition was granted an emergency debate on Tuesday in which the Harper government was accused of promoting its tough-on-crime bill based on prejudices rather than scientific analysis.
“Some say we should be tough on crime and others criticize us for being soft on crime. I say we should be smart on crime,” PQ MNA Bernard Drainville said during the debate, arguing that sentencing young offenders to long jail terms would only turn them into hardened criminals.
Mr. Fournier has repeatedly said the proposed legislation would diminish Quebec's rehabilitative approach to young offenders. He also wants Ottawa to allow the province to bow out of a measure in the bill that would allow young offenders’ names to be published in some circumstances.
Several provinces, including Quebec, have said they would not pay for the additional costs they will incur because of the bill, which they say will keep more people in prison longer.
Mr. Nicholson said the government has increased the amount of money it provides to the provinces for justice each year.
This was the second time Mr. Fournier has travelled to Ottawa to discuss the bill. The province has also clashed with the federal government in recent weeks over scrapping the gun registry, sending Public Security Minister Robert Dutil to a parliamentary committee last week in a bid to persuade Ottawa not to destroy the data contained in the registry because it wants to create a provincial version.
Quebec now must consider taking the federal government to court to stop the destruction of the registry data.