29 September 2008

Why are Quebeckers more compassionate to their youth?

The Conservatives' tough on crime policy for teenagers is generating enthusiasm across the country. According to a Strategic Counsel survey of hotly contested ridings in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, 73 per cent of Ontarians and 67 per cent of British Columbians support lowering the age for life sentences to 14. Even 61 per cent of Liberal voters supported tougher sentences. Quebeckers, however, strongly disagreed. Fifty-nine per cent opposed the changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

For years, Quebec has emphasized prevention and restorative justice for their young people while English Canada has inclined to the siren song of punitive justice. While grass roots victims' movements outside Quebec angrily demand stronger penalties, victims' groups in Quebec tend to be more interested in bringing the interested parties, including victims and the police, together. Quebec's more humane approach to juvenile crime is supported by child-care professionals in other provinces as an example of how the system should work.

Why the diifference between the two solitudes? Is it because Quebeckers feel a stronger sense of community, and thus a stronger sense of communal responsibility for their children? Has their Catholic tradition left a stronger sense of mutual responsibility than the Protestant tradition of individualism in English Canada? Or is it simply because the more humane approach works?

Quebec incarcerates far fewer teenagers than the rest of Canada, yet its youth crime rate is the lowest in the country. In 2006, rates varied from a low of 3,765 for every 100,000 youth in Quebec to a high of 19,939 in Saskatchewan. It appears emphasizing prevention is much more successful than emphasizing jail time. As the U.S. experience has shown, the Conservative reliance on more police, more courts, and more prisons is a failure. A very expensive failure.

How unfortunate, then, that the Conservative approach is so popular. It means the streets will be less safe, the justice system will cost more, and more young men will be alienated from society. If that isn't what we want, we should take a closer look at Quebec. Compassion, it seems, pays.

1 comment:

  1. Whether the strategy for confronting crime is punitive or more progressively preventative, it will cost money. The question is, do we want to spend that money so people can sit in jail, or should we spend it on them before they get there by investing in a healthier, safer, more just society?