02/29/2012 05:25 EST | Updated 04/30/2012 05:12 EDT

Quebec Senators United Against C-10

We remember when a Canadian prime minister spoke of building "a just society." There is no such talk from the federal government today. Instead, we have a government obsessed with punishment, retribution, and prison time. But we will not reduce crime in the long run by putting more people in jail and giving them even longer sentences.

The crime rate in Canada is at its lowest level since 1973. Our justice system has been working. Our sentencing system has found a balance between punishment, deterrence, and the rehabilitation of offenders -- and the evidence is clear: it has worked to reduce crime.

But evidence such as statistics, expert opinions, and hard facts about what has been working and what hasn't in the past decades have been pushed aside by the Conservatives. Driven by ideology over facts, they are pressing forward with Bill C-10, "The Safe Streets and Communities Act," which will increase the number of mandatory minimum sentences and make the Youth Criminal Justice Act even more repressive.

Let us be clear: Bill C-10 won't prevent crime, and in fact may lead to more crime and less public safety.

The overwhelming majority of studies show that prison does not lower recidivism rates among criminals -- in fact, the longer one spends in prison, the higher the likelihood of re-offending. We know that prison can serve as a school of crime -- where young people find protection in gangs when they never were a gang member before, and where first-time offenders can turn into hardened criminals.

Studies conclude we should reserve incarceration for the sole purpose of punishing and selectively incapacitating those who pose the greatest risk to society. Indeed, rehabilitation programs are more effective in reducing repeat offenders.

Here in Quebec, we have an original approach to youth crime that works. In 2010, the severity of youth crime in Quebec was the lowest in Canada, proof that we are not "soft" on crime but rather that we are smart and "tough" on its root causes. But now the Harper government wants to ignore the evidence and change our approach.

The government's obsessive desire to impose adult sentences on young offenders goes against the expert opinion of Canada's legal and medical communities. They are clear that it is crucial to consider a young offender's personal situation when they are facing criminal charges.

Moreover, this will be costly for taxpayers. The Harper government has refused to provide a full costing of its so-called "tough on crime" agenda. The estimates we have seen from other sources put the cost in the billions of dollars -- the Institut de Recherche et d'Informations Socio-économiques (IRIS) recently estimated the cost at some $19 billion. Conservatives are hypocritically asking Canadians to tighten their belts while at the same time they are going on a spending spree with taxpayer's money.

Liberal Senators will be proposing amendments to this Bill, but given the Conservatives' majority in the Senate, there is little chance that they will be adopted.

This is regrettable because as Justice Minister Fournier has said, Bill C-10 is not tough on crime, but rather tough on democracy. With this legislation, the Harper government is showing once again that its attachment to democratic principles is not very strong.

This post was co-authored by the following senators: Hon. Roméo Dallaire, Hon. Dennis Dawson, Hon. Pierre De Bané, P.C., Hon. Céline Hervieux-Payette, P.C., Hon. Serge Joyal, P.C., Hon. Paul Massicotte¸ and Hon. Charlie Watt.