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Quebec refuses to implement Harper's crime bill

Quebec Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier discusses the passage of the Harper government's omnibus crime bill at a Montreal news conference on March 13, 2012.

Paul Chiasson/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

The debate isn't over yet for the Conservative government's criminal justice legislation – at least not in Quebec.

The province announced Tuesday that it would do everything in its power to limit the clout of the legislation that passed a day earlier.

Because the provinces are responsible for applying the laws passed in Ottawa, Quebec says it will work to soften Bill C-10 where possible.

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The provincial minister said he will issue a directive to various players in the justice system to avoid applying the strictest provisions of the crime bill – particularly when it comes to youth offenders.

"It is not a plan to abolish C-10," Jean-Marc Fournier told a news conference Tuesday inside a courtroom at Montreal's youth courthouse.

"C-10 is a law, but we've also got laws in Quebec. We can make them work together."

Some provinces, including Quebec, also say Ottawa should be responsible for paying for the new jail spaces that will be required as a result of the legislation. Quebec pegs the costs at $750-million for new prisons, and at up to $80 million a year for application of the new rules.

Mr. Fournier reiterated this position on Tuesday.

"It's not for Quebec to finance the costs of an initiative from a federal government that refused to collaborate with provinces on the content of the legislation," he said. "The federal government can't hide its head in the sand and deny that some provinces will at least need to build more prisons, which takes time and money."

The new federal legislation increases sentences for drug and sex offences, reduces the use of conditional sentences like house arrest, provides harsher penalties on young offenders, makes it harder to get a pardon, gives crime victims more say in parole hearings and allows victims of terrorism to sue.

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Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson brushed off questions about Quebec's intention to minimize the impact of the omnibus crime bill within its borders. Without addressing Fournier's plan specifically, he said the provisions of the bill are meant to help people everywhere in Canada.

"The problems of people sexually exploiting children is national, it's not confined to nine provinces," Mr. Nicholson said Tuesday in Ottawa. "All provinces have problems with people who sexually exploit children and all provinces have people bringing drugs into the country."

Meanwhile, the provincial government in Quebec is taking heat from its separatist opposition for not being tough enough with the feds.

The Parti Québécois says the recent crime debate proves that, in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Canada, the province's concerns are ignored. He called the federalist Charest government too weak-kneed and timid before Ottawa to get any results.

It's a theme the PQ will certainly emphasize in the next provincial election, which could happen any time from this spring to late 2013.

"We no longer exist for them. Quebec no longer exists for Ottawa," said PQ critic Bernard Drainville.

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"The retrograde agenda of Stephen Harper's Canada has passed another step."

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