I'd like to call the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to order.
I'll ask the committee members to take their seats and the witnesses to sit at the front of the table.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, October 30, 2006, Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act is the topic of discussion today.
We have a list of witnesses. The RCMP will be appearing, but they have not attended at this point. From the Toronto Police Service, we have Kim Scanlan, detective sergeant, sex crimes unit. From the Canadian Police Association, we have Tony Cannavino, president, and David Griffin, executive officer. From the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we have Doug Cryer, director, public policy, and Don Hutchinson, general legal counsel. And we have Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles, Carrie Kohan, child advocate founder of MMAP and co-founder of Project Guardian. Welcome all.
The order in which you appear on the agenda is the order in which we will call you to speak, starting with the Toronto Police Service, Kim Scanlan.
You have the floor.
Thank you. Good morning.
Thank you for this opportunity. I'm pleased to be here today to share with you some of the experiences of the Toronto Police Service, specifically the areas that I oversee, the child exploitation section and the special victims section. Both areas are responsible for investigations and arrests related to sex offences against children, including Internet-facilitated crimes and street prostitution. More importantly, the goal for both sections is to identify, rescue, and support vulnerable people, especially women and children.
It must be clear from the onset that our support of Bill , increasing the age of protection from 14 years to 16 years of age, recognizes that it is not intended to criminalize consensual sexual activities of young people. Our support for the passing of the proposed legislation is meant for the increased identification and prosecution of adults who choose to sexually exploit and prey on the vulnerabilities of 14- and 15-year-olds.
I wanted to look at how 14- and 15-year-olds are vulnerable. First of all, it's the increased use and access to the Internet. Young people live in the world of the Internet and social networking while most of their parents don't. Parents are not always aware of where their children are going online and to whom they are talking. They do not want their children talking with total strangers, but on the Internet it's virtually impossible to prevent. When polled by a Microsoft-Ipsos Reid poll that was released in January 2007, 25% of children aged 10 to 14 years said they would feel safe getting together with a person they've only met online.
Sexual predators have an in-depth knowledge of computers and technology. They spend enormous amounts of time in the pursuit of their fantasy, which is having a sexual relationship with a young person. Sexual predators network with other like-minded individuals and are well versed in successful grooming and luring techniques. These abilities lead to potential sexual abuse and exploitation.
Further evidence of the vulnerability of this age group has been provided to me from some of Canada's most experienced undercover officers. These officers, who represent several provinces, have spent years online posing as 12- and 13-year-olds, and they report to me. Canada's low age of consent is openly discussed in peer-to-peer chat rooms by sexual predators. Some of the men who have been arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography or for luring were conversant with Canadian law in relation to sexual offences. Canada has been identified as a sex tourism destination, and pedophiles have openly sought opportunities to meet and have sex with young Canadian teenagers, both boys and girls.
Undercover officers report that 100% of the time when online posing as a 13-year-old, conversations that are initiated with them move quickly to discussions about sex. This usually occurs in less than one minute. Some predators who believed they were actually talking to a 13-year-old boy or girl tried to maintain the relationship with the undercover officer for several months, just waiting for that youth to reach the current age of consent, which is 14 years.
Another area we looked at was a two-year review of the Toronto Police Service sexual assault arrest data, focusing on offenders who were arrested in the years 2005 and 2006, although the offences could have occurred at any time. The following results were noted. In total there were 1,956 records of arrest. These were persons who were arrested, and there were no duplications here. The offence dates range from 1965 to 2006. There were some historical cases that came forward. When looking at only the victims who were under the age of 18, 75% of their offenders were adults, and for all the victims of sexual assault, the largest groups were represented by 14- and 15-year-olds. I repeat, 14- and 15-year-olds were victimized at a higher rate than any other age group, and when you combine the two ages, they equalled over 10% of the total of 1,956 victims.
As we know, the reporting of sexual offences to police is very low, somewhere between 10% and 25%. If you take that number, even at 25%, for the number of victims who came forward, it means there are likely 1,500 more victims from Toronto we did not hear from, including hundreds of 14- and 15-year-olds who were likely victimized.
The passing of Bill in the courts would mean that 14- and 15-year-old victims of sexual assault would not have to contend with the issue of consent; the only question would be whether a sexual act had occurred. The responsibility for sexual exploitation would revert to the offender, and this change would make it easier for more victims to come forward.
The number of persons reported missing and last seen in Toronto was another area we looked at. In 2006 alone, there were 5,861 missing person reports, and that doesn't include any repeat runaways or other people who went missing more than once. Of that number, 14-year-olds made up over 10% of this group, and 15-year-olds made up almost 20% of this group. Both ages combined equal about 1,700 reports of missing young people who are 14 and 15 years old, just for Toronto alone.
At any given time there are hundreds of vulnerable teenagers aged 14 and 15 who run away to cities like Toronto. They fall prey to sexual predators who are eager to take advantage of them. Gang members and organized crime members recruit runaway teens to get them involved in drug trafficking and the sex trade.
Some of these youths include Canadian and foreign teenagers who are tricked or coerced and become victims of human trafficking. Most young prostitutes are well hidden, working out of bawdy houses, which are not easy for the police to locate.
Increasing the age of consent, the age of protection, to 16 years will provide some protection to younger teens who may find themselves in vulnerable situations. Efforts to gain their compliance for sex would be more difficult, and those who prey on young people would have to consider the new legal consequences.
I'd like to make a couple of recommendations that would further assist us.
We need to stress greater deterrence in terms of lengthier terms of incarceration and prohibition for those who choose to ignore our laws and prey on children.
Victims need better protection of the kind that exists for domestic violence cases in terms of speedy trials, and they need protection when giving testimony in court. Victims should not be further victimized by participating in the court process.
There needs to be funding for resources for child exploitation investigative units. Direct funding to police services that are committed to doing this work is always needed. Increased numbers of arrests and the identification and rescue of victims are directly proportional to the investment in this area.
Funding and resources are needed for community agencies to help support youth before they become victims and to provide care for them after they have become addicted or abused.
Support is needed before and after a young person meets someone who may hurt them; before and after they run away from home and end up on the streets; before and after prostitution becomes their only means of supporting themselves; before and after they develop addictions to drug and alcohol; before and after their health begins to deteriorate due to sexually transmitted diseases; before suicide seems like the best option--it brings to mind the ongoing inquest right now in Winnipeg into the case of the 14-year-old child prostitute Tracia Owen--and support is needed before they meet their untimely death.
There needs to be support for continuing education. All people must be educated on these issues: Internet safety, safe sex, communicable diseases, how to report abuse, and resources that are available.
Non-governmental agencies must be encouraged to do everything within their ability to protect our youth. Legislation should not be required to make cooperation with the police happen, but instead it should occur because it is the right thing to do.
Canada needs to be more proactive when it comes to protecting vulnerable persons, especially women and children. We have not reached our full potential and need to be doing more. Sexual exploitation in any form is unacceptable and must be stopped, using all the resources that we have available.
As the parent of two young teenagers, I feel this legislation is particularly important to me to help protect them, and as a law enforcement officer, I feel the passing of Bill , the age-of-protection legislation, is a step in the right direction and one more tool for law enforcement to use to help keep Canadian children safe.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
The Canadian Police Association welcomes the opportunity to present our submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to Bill .
The CPA is the national voice for 54,000 police personnel across Canada. Through our 170 affiliates, membership includes police personnel serving in police services from Canada's smallest towns and villages as well as those working in our largest municipal and provincial police services, the RCMP member's association, and first nations police associations.
Protection of Canada's children has been an issue of paramount concern for the CPA and our members. In this regard, the CPA has long advocated that Parliament increase the age of consent from 14 years of age to 16.
The government included a commitment to move forward with this legislation in their justice platform during the last federal election, and we are pleased to see this commitment being delivered upon. We are also pleased to see that all other parties in the House of Commons have been generally supportive of the principles contained in this bill.
Canadians also support efforts to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years. In 2002, a Pollara poll of Canadians revealed that 72% of those polled agreed with raising the age of consent from 14 to 16.
Canada lags behind most first world nations in the protection of our children through age-of-consent provisions. Countries with an age of consent of 16 or higher include Belgium, Hong Kong, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Most of the states in the United States and Australia have an age of consent of 16 or higher. Many of these countries also include “similar in age” provisions to address consensual relations between young people of similar age.
The growth of the Internet has significantly increased the availability of child pornography and it facilitates attempts by pedophiles to find new victims. Unfortunately, under existing Canadian law, Canada is viewed by some foreign sex predators as a child sex tourism destination. Law enforcement authorities report a growth in the number of pedophiles who contact young people in Canada through the Internet because of the low age of consent and who then travel here for sexual purposes.
Those who would prey on our children through the Internet or other means understand that it is not an offence in Canada for an older person who is not in a position of trust or authority to have consensual sexual relations with a child of 15 years.
Although Canadian families have the highest per capita Internet use in the world, Canada remains well behind other jurisdictions in dealing with the online sexual exploitation of children. According to the Young Canadians in a Wired World survey, 99% of youth have reported using the Internet, one in four children have had a stranger ask to meet them in person, and 15% of all young Internet users have met in person at least one individual whom they first met on the Internet. Of those, only 6% were accompanied by a parent or another adult. One in four youth have been sent pornography on the Internet by a stranger.
Police officers welcome the changes introduced in Bill C-22 as another tool to help protect our children from sexual exploitation by an older person. Bill C-22 sends a message to these predators that Canadian children are no longer open game. The bill will reinforce the way police investigate child exploitation and provide police with the needed tools to intervene when older persons seek to engage in sexual activity with children between the ages of 14 and 16.
The Canadian Police Association recommends that Parliament proceed with the swift passage of Bill C-22 to give effect to the amendments contained therein.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Mr. Chair, I imagine you are encouraged today. I believe it was in 1994 when you introduced a similar piece of legislation for the first time, and today you are chairing a committee that is looking at this legislation. I was just thinking that 1993 was the year you were elected, and kids who were born that year are turning 14. So I think this is also a significant moment in this.
To other committee members, I thank you for my perceived support of this bill.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians. The EFC affiliates consist of 40 denominations and over 75 ministry organizations, such as: the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; International Justice Mission, which many of you have met with; World Vision Canada; as well as numerous street-level ministries that work directly with victims of childhood and sexual abuse. We also have 35 post-secondary education institutions and over 1,100 churches that affiliate with us. In general, it is estimated in Canada that there are over three million Canadians who consider themselves to be evangelicals.
The EFC has long advocated the protection of the vulnerable, particularly children. We were interveners before the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Sharpe, contributing to the court's decision to uphold the child pornography provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada.
The EFC made submissions to the Standing Committee on Justice on Bill C-20 in October 2003 and in April 2005 when the bill was reintroduced in the 38th Parliament as Bill C-2, an act for the protection of children and other vulnerable persons. The EFC has also made presentations to the Department of Justice and the Minister of Justice on matters of child pornography, child prostitution, and the age of consent.
Our concern for the protection of children stems from the biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable. Our belief that God has created all people in His image and loves every person is the foundation of our belief in the worth of each human being. Flowing from this respect for human dignity is our desire to treat all people as persons with inherent worth and not as objects or playthings.
As Christians and members of churches, we long to see a society that avoids the early sexualization of our children. Pastors and counsellors across Canada have numerous experiences of counselling young people after early sexualization has occurred and know the damage it causes from a personal front-line perspective.
We strongly believe that sexual expression is most fully and properly experienced within the security of a lifelong marriage relationship. We will continue to promote the role of parents and their spiritual communities in sharing the values that shape youth, including understanding of their sexual identity from a Christian perspective.
At the same time, we appreciate the complexities children encounter growing up at this time in history and recognize that the close-in-age exemption expressed in the bill provides guidance to the courts regarding sexual relationships between youth.
There are some who have expressed concern about the possibility of criminalizing relationships between young people that would otherwise, in their opinion, be perfectly healthy and legitimate. In a recent Maclean's article, from its July 4, 2006, edition, a writer states that:
||...critics are concerned that adolescents' unique circumstances and varying developmental needs could be overlooked under the new legislation.
Then there's a quotation:
||“When we deal with arbitrary cut-offs, we lose the flexibility to apply the law in a much more specific and individualized kind of way,” says Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada.
Now, we must recognize that all federal and provincial age-related legislation has what some might call arbitrary cut-offs, whether it is the age to obtain a driver's licence, the legal age of consumption of alcohol, or the age at which one can purchase cigarettes. These age-related restrictions exist because as a society we recognize the responsibility to protect our children. At what age is a person mature enough to engage in activities that may have lifelong consequences? There are health and safety risks as well as questions of maturity associated with each of these activities, which is why we have age restrictions.
Statistics Canada, it is worth noting, reports that first intercourse at an early age increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Those who'd had sexual intercourse by age 13 were twice as likely to report an STD as those who had waited until they were older. With Canadian government studies reporting the increased risk of STDs and other potential damage of early sexualization of our children that has the potential of lifelong consequences, it is quite reasonable that as a society we recognize that there must be limitations on sexual activity in children and youth. This bill addresses that concern.
Hello. Bonjour. My name is Carrie Kohan. I am a child advocate who founded Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles and I am the co-founder of Project Guardian.
I've sat in front of this committee for many years now on various bills, and I'd like to thank the justice committee again for allowing me to speak to you on this matter today.
When looking at , age of consent, I feel like I'm having a déjà vu, because on October 7, 2003, four years ago, I sat in front of this justice committee on this very topic. It was , an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act. It was an omnibus bill that tied in child Internet porn, artistic merit, and the support of vulnerable witnesses. Each one of these topics was a very serious issue and probably should have been addressed individually; however, they were lumped under one large bill.
In my address, I spoke of my concern that having a lower age of consent combined with such lenient sentences or non-existent sentences for convicted pedophiles would lead to Canada becoming a pedophile haven, which it since has.
According to the recent 178-page report compiled by EPCAT in December 2006, it states that Canada has indeed become a destination for child sex tourism because of its relatively lower age of consent. If that statement doesn't sound alarms in the whole of the justice committee, I don't know what else you'll need to hear to create change and understand the desperate situation our children are being put in as a result of our previous lawmakers and their apparent lack of concern for the safety of our children.
I also believe another contributing factor has resulted in our country being recognized as a pedophile haven, and that is our lack of sentencing for convicted pedophiles. In the hearings of October 2003, I shared with the then Liberal justice committee the 1997 stats that showed that in Canada, 60% of convicted pedophiles get jail time and 40% get conditional releases or house arrest. Of the 60% who get jail time, the average time served in prison was only six to eight months. This is because in Canada we can't enforce our maximum penalties. If we do, they are often appealed and reversed to a much more lenient sentence.
It is not that all Canadian judges don't want to give the maximum sentence; in Canada, they cannot. If a judge even tries to give a maximum sentence it is likely the convicted pedophile will successfully appeal his or her sentence and win, and the children of Canada and we as a society will lose. So the judge has no choice but to base his or her decision on precedent because our legal system is based on civil law.
Let's take a look at a recent conviction in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office, on November 3, 2006, a 54-year-old West Palm Beach man named James--or Jimmy--Oliver was convicted and sentenced to 130 years for just four counts of sexual exploitation and one count of possession of child pornography. The convicted man had traded child pornography online with another man and included a video of himself performing oral sex on a prepubescent child in his care. When a police seizure was made of Oliver's home, he was also found to possess images of child pornography on his computer.
On October 6, 2006, the West Palm Beach federal grand jury returned a 19-count second superseding indictment, charging Oliver with seven counts of distribution of child pornography and one count of receipt of child pornography, each of which carries a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of five years, up to a maximum of 20 years.
Oliver was also charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography to a minor in order to induce or persuade that minor to engage in sexual activity with him. These convictions also carry a minimum of five to 20 years. Oliver was also charged with four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor for the purpose of creating child pornography, each of which carried a mandatory minimum term of 15 to 30 years.
Oliver was charged with four counts of permitting a minor in his custody or control to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating child pornography, again a mandatory minimum term of 15 to 30 years. Lastly, Oliver was charged with one count of possession of child pornography, carrying a statutory maximum term of 10 years. In total, Oliver got 130 years in prison.
The U.S. judge also imposed restitution in the amount of $11,142 to pay for the victim's psychological counselling and a special assessment to be paid of $500. The judge also stated that no prison term, no matter how lengthy, can undo the serious harm done to these children.
Obviously, the United States of America has a zero tolerance policy for this crime. Now compare this to Canada. Can you understand why we are considered one of the places now to come and rape children and create child pornography and distribute it from? In May 2006, a Montreal man, who must remain nameless because of our laws, assaulted his young daughter from age 24 months to 4 years of age. He posted the pictures of this crime on the Internet. He was also found to have roughly 5,000 pictures and 5,000 videos of child pornography on his computer, some of which featured very young children and infants.
By the way, this actually brings up something else that I'd like to talk about later--the police issue of sampling. That's something we have to address.
Anyway, this 32-year-old Canadian man was sentenced to a maximum sentence of 15 years in November 2005. However, he won his appeal in the Quebec Court of Appeal and had his sentence reduced from 15 years to nine years. But in Canada nine years doesn't mean nine years; it actually means anywhere from three to six years, not including time served.
When the appellate court reduced the sentence, Judge Côté cited the man's crimes were not amongst the worst sexual assaults ever committed. And they also cited his young age--not the young age of his victim, but his young age. The court also cited the fact that this man had only one other criminal conviction, for sexually assaulting another child when he was 17 years old.
Here we have two similar crimes. The convicted pedophile in Canada has a prior conviction and possesses over 1,000 pieces of child pornography and gets maybe five to six years in prison, a prison that Canadians have now nicknamed Club Fed. The other convicted pedophile, in the United States, gets 130 years for virtually the same crime, and he has no prior conviction. Where do you think pedophiles would rather commit their crime? In a country where they could potentially get 130 years in prison or a country where they can get a maximum three to six years served? And that's if they are even caught in the first place.
The previous justice committee of Canada, Solicitor General, justice minister, and prime ministers that I have met or sat before over the past eight years have effectively put Canadian children on the top hit list for pedophiles to target. The only way to correct the ineffective laws of our past governments is to create new laws that will mirror those of our neighbours, so that we will no longer be the desirable destination of choice by pedophiles.
We need to increase our age of consent to 16 years minimum. In fact, the majority of Canadians that I have spoken to, which have been many, have actually wanted the age of consent to be similar to that of the United States and other countries and be raised to the age of 18. We need to include a close-in-age clause, four to five years. We need to grandfather previous relationships of one year or more that are outside that five-year age difference--within reason, of course. We also need to be on par with other democratic countries and implement minimum sentences of five years, to a maximum of 20 years, for various child-predatory-related crimes. I would personally like to see Carrie's guardian angel law adopt a progressive timeline for this type of sentencing.
I hope this justice committee understands the urgency needed here, and I also hope that this bill and the safety of our children does not become a bargaining tool for other political parties. That would be a shameful act, demonstrating that the will of the party is not to protect the children of Canada but instead to use the bill for the party's own political benefit or gain. Whether it is within the legal means of the political party to use this bill as a tool or not, I would ask that all parties present and the members of this committee pass this bill as a selfless act and act as a united parliamentary union in support of the protection of the children of Canada from predators.
Please ask yourself how many children are being raped at this very moment across Canada because of our ridiculous laws to date and the apparent lack of protection for Canadian children. And how many pedophiles are walking away with house arrests for abusing defenceless children?
Take a look at the 178-page report. You will see that we are a national disgrace. Only you, this committee, can do something about it. Please raise the age of consent immediately--today--and unanimously bring forward new legislation to introduce minimum sentencing for pedophile-related and violent crimes, such as the four violent crimes we witnessed in Edmonton, Alberta, over this last year, against Shane Rolston, Josh Hunt, Dylan McGillis, and, most recently, 13-year-old Nina Courtepatte. We'll be hearing that sentencing tomorrow.
These were violent crimes. The murderers deserve more than bail and house arrest.
Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.
My apologies for being late this morning. I've had a streak of bad luck recently, and I hope it didn't follow me into the committee room this morning.
As stated, I work for the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre. I'm an RCMP member, but I work in the centre, which is part of Canada's national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet.
My job, day in and day out, is dealing with the sexual exploitation of children in Canada and internationally. Part of our responsibility at the centre is to remain current on the changing social and criminal environments in Canada so that our prevention and enforcement efforts are aligned and effective. One of our roles is to assist and enable police forces across Canada by developing training for investigators, recommending investigational standards, and identifying legislative and other impediments that get in the way of maintaining safe homes and safe communities.
In this role, we at the national centre are constantly in contact with community members, border officers, social and medical workers, and police investigators across Canada who are responsible for the investigation of Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation. Based on that consultation and my own personal experience as a police officer, l can tell you that raising the age of protection for sexual activity has frequently been identified as a desirable legislative amendment. Based on our collective experience, we believe the current age of protection of 14 is of significant detriment to our efforts to protect children 14 and 15 years old from sexual exploitation. And it is always preferable to prevent crime rather than to investigate it after the damage has occurred.
We believe the amendment being considered today will greatly assist in the prevention, deterrence, and, when necessary, the investigation of adults who sexually exploit Canadian children.
We also support that the proposed bill ensures that consensual activity between young people is not criminalized. This law recognizes that youth will explore sexual development and can legally do so with similar-aged peers. The bill properly leaves the question of sex between teens as a moral issue and not a legal one.
This bill is specifically designed to protect young teens from being targeted by adults who seek out 14- and 15-year-olds as an age group, who have sometimes physically matured but are still developing their emotional maturity. That children are still developing this emotional maturity at that age is recognized in a number of ways by protective laws that already exist. Children aged 14 are not allowed to view movies with restricted adult content. They're not allowed to drive, to get credit, to drink alcohol, to serve in the military, or to sign a legal document. However, under the current law, they can consent to have sexual activity with someone many times their age. So with the exception of sexual activity, teens under 16 years of age are presently prohibited from many activities that involve avoidable risk.
We know there are adults who pay very close attention to what the age of protection is. We go to websites and chat rooms that promote sex between adults and children and that list the age of consent for countries across the world. Of course, Canada stands out there. In one website, they define the age of consent as “the age at which you can touch your special friend without either of you getting into trouble”.
To add to this, the Internet has created a portal for sexual offenders to make contact with our children in what used to be the safety of their own homes and schools. Our experience is that there is an abundance of adults online, at any given time, trying to make contact with a child for a sexual purpose.
During a recent training course we ran on Internet luring, which of course is a huge issue, 20 police officers went online in public chat rooms for one hour. Of those officers posing as children, nine received live webcam video images of masturbation, and over a dozen luring attempts were documented. Many of these officers were approached by adults wishing sex within seconds of going online.
Luring is rampant because of the anonymity of the Internet, which provides offenders from anywhere in the world the opportunity to solicit numerous children at the same time without leaving their own homes, that is, until they make contact and have set up meets. Age, sex, and location are always the first questions asked, allowing offenders to identify viable targets.
Because the age of consent is 14, we often see 13-year-olds being targeted. Offenders will invest months grooming 13-year-olds, waiting for them to turn 14, when they can legally have sex with them. The Internet is such a fertile ground to meet teens, as they are using it more and more for social networking, and that networking, or that use of the computer, is often unsupervised. Parents don't know what is happening, and I'm sure you've probably heard today that a recent survey showed that 25% of children have indicated they will actually meet someone they've met online without telling anyone.
Of course, you've already heard as well that not only is domestic luring on the rise, but Canada is also being touted as a sex tourism destination. Our investigators have been on websites where pedophiles from other countries go goo-goo over Canadian pedophiles who have this law that allows them to have sex with 14- and 15-year-olds. In recent cases in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and right here in Ottawa, Europeans and Americans have come to Canada for the sole purpose of having sex with a child who is 14 or 15 years old because it's illegal in their countries.
Canada's age of protection is one of the lowest in the western industrialized nations. The United Kingdom, the U.S., and Australia are noted for their aggressive efforts to combat Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation, and their age of protection is no less than 16. Canada has demonstrated a very strong commitment to fighting these types of crimes, so this age of protection bill will bring us more in line with these progressive countries.
A case last week that happened in Quebec highlights the problem with the current age of consent or age of protection. A 15-year-old girl met a 50-year-old man on the Internet. He groomed her and had consensual sex with her. Her parents found out. They turned to the police for help and were angered by the fact that we could do nothing. No criminal charges were possible. We weren't even able to get a warrant to look on his computer to see if he was grooming any other children, because that's simply allowed here.
The bill will also provide more consistency in the law. In a recent case in Alberta, an adult male took a 16-year-old girl to a hotel room, took sexually exploitive photographs of her, and he was quite rightly charged with the production of child pornography. However, had he just taken a 14- or 15-year-old girl in there and had sex with her without photographing it, there would have been nothing we could have done.
In my experience, both dealing with people in a consultative manner and as a policeman on the street, I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that I've been called by parents who are outraged that a much older person is having a relationship with their 14- or 15-year-old child. They are of the mistaken belief that young teens are already protected from anyone who is more than five years their senior. Our experience has been that Canadians believe it is illegal already for a 50-year-old male to have a sexual relationship with a 14- or 15-year-old teen. I don't mean to pick on 50-year-old males.
In conversation with the public and in our dealings with parents and victims, they are often horrified to learn that once you're 14, you're free game. This bill more accurately reflects the age of protection that we believe Canadians will accept and in fact already believe exists. This amendment will impact on the workload of police agencies because we will be able to do something about this problem now, but it will have an even greater, positive impact on our children and our families, so it is very worth it.
If this amendment is passed, the NCECC and its police partners and community partners will work to raise public awareness that the age of protection in Canada has been raised and that Canada is not a sex tourism destination.
I had no idea this morning that I would be sitting in on a debate as though I were an elected representative in the House of Commons. Thank God, I've tried to avoid that as much as possible. You never can tell what the future may hold, but let's just say that that is not the part I find most interesting in the work of Parliament, although sometimes, when I hear the debates I would like to get involved.
We have been doing this for years now. Perhaps you noticed that our presentation this morning was quite brief. It was intentional on our part, because we knew that there would be representatives from other associations which were going to point in every way possible to the necessity and the urgency of adopting this bill. You frequently hear from us and we get the impression that we are the ones driving all of the issues. Although I'm not surprised, I must say that I am pleased to have heard from representatives of various associations and police forces.
As to what may have happened in the past, I repeated on several occasions... Some may at times think that I am a prophet of doom, predicting bad things to come, pessimistically predicting the future. Look, there is an opportunity here to do something now. Regarding what happened in the past, I continue to hope that one day, it will end. We need strong legislation to protect our youth. Our youth are our future. Yet, they're being exploited. I cannot fathom the idea that Canada would be considered a haven for sexual predators. I would go even further than that. Every time I grant an interview, it drives me crazy: the Criminal Code refers to sexual offenders. Offenders! These are sexual predators. In the Code they are called offenders. This has got to stop. At some point we're going to have to stop saying that we don't want to imitate the Americans, the United States. I couldn't care less about that comparison. I'm talking about our youth, young Canadians whom we have a duty to protect. It is time to act. It seems to me that there is a consensus here. I do not want to get involved in your discussion as to how long, how many months, how many years this issue has been dragging on. I simply hope that there will be consensus within this committee to pass the bill swiftly.
We are also dealing with the age of consent and harsh minimum sentences. We must send a message to those who think that if they come here they can avoid the type of punishment they would get in other countries, that Canada may even be a country where they could serve their time in the community. Ms. Kohan was very explicit on this point: the Americans would be locked up for years. Yet, they come to shopping malls in Canada to recruit. There are limits!
I often hear comments about people going to the Dominican Republic for sex tourism. It is weird, but now, in other countries, people are talking about Canada in those terms. When people talk about sex tourism, Canada is now on the list of destinations. This has to got to stop.
I'm not going to ask anyone to comment on this. I'm going to use my time to say I've only been here almost three years and the display I saw.... I'll exclude Mr. Murphy because he wasn't here, but Ms. Jennings was here all along. I've never seen a display like that. The height of hypocrisy. And again, I'm not asking any of you to comment on this, but when I hear the testimony that you presented today, I don't see how anybody could be against raising the age of consent from 14 to 16. I don't see how anyone could be.
We know from the past that it wasn't done. It's not time to do it now; it's past time to do it. It should have been done years ago. So for anybody to suggest that other members ever supported raising the age of consent, it's entirely untrue.
There's more to this puzzle than just raising the age of consent. I recognize that. The story, Ms. Kohan, that you mentioned about the individuals...we hear those.
There was something Mr. Comartin said about how he expects us all to understand the minds of pedophiles and so on. No. The anecdotal evidence is legitimate. We were all here, as parliamentarians, in Ottawa when, in Ottawa, someone came up here from Texas, where the age of consent is 16, based on a relationship that was developed over the Internet, to have sex with a 14-year-old. His parents were just as shocked as the rest of us when the police said, there's nothing we can do. We can't charge this person for that act because that act was consensual. It's not illegal.
On the issue of Internet luring, we had the opportunity in this Parliament on our Bill .... If there's ever an offence for which I think someone should not receive house arrest, it's Internet luring, because that's where people access the Internet; it's from their homes. If they're in prison, it's controlled. If they're out on the street, then they're going to get access again to a computer. We had within our grasp, in this Parliament, with Bill C-9, the ability to have eliminated the possibility of conditional sentences for Internet luring. I'd like some comment on that, specifically on Internet luring.
I'm going to hit on a few things, and then you can comment.
Some of the evidence that we're hearing today about how fast someone.... It's like sticking a hook in a pool full of fish, almost, with these folks who are preying on kids; they're just out there on the Internet waiting for a 13-year-old to log in.
I met with a police officer from my home town. It was interesting. It's a small police force, the Rothesay Regional Police Force. There are only 20-some members, but they do have one person now who's dedicated to combatting child exploitation on the Internet. He told me that if he got online for a minute or two and put himself down as a 13-year-old girl, which he does all the time, then within minutes someone would be trying to webcam with him. I'd like your comment on that.
Also, we hear the anecdotal evidence, and some of you have alluded to it. It's completely unacceptable that Canada, because of our age of consent, would ever be seen as a child sex tourism destination. Do you have any more comments on that, on people coming to Canada to prey on our kids? I'll tell you, after the testimony we heard from you today, there are going to be people coming here to this committee to suggest perhaps that we're going too far and we shouldn't raise the age of consent.
As much as everyone sounds very positive now, it won't be the same tune when we have a different panel of witnesses, I can assure you of that. We are going to hear evidence from people who say we shouldn't raise the age of consent, and I would like to know what you say to them.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am relatively new to this. I am, however, a father of three young girls. I was in civic politics for 12 years, so I understand community mores. I understand police forces. We had a municipal force and then we had the RCMP. I lived all that, and I've never heard a police officer, especially one representing a group, use the phrase “We don't have the support of our courts”. I'm going to follow up with that privately through correspondence.
I understand that there was a res gestae here, and an emotional angle and a context, but be assured, Mr. Griffin, I want to follow up with that and not waste time, as we seem to have done a little bit here--wasted a little bit of time on the politics and the emotion. It's an emotional issue; I understand that.
As I understand it, this bill comes here for the first time with a close-in-age exemption of five years. I may be wrong about that, and I'll stand to be corrected, but it makes it very easy, from my point of view, to support. I think we should just bring a consensual motion, forget the rest of the testimony, and pass the bill. That's what I think we should do, and I might bring a motion to that effect, Mr. Chairman.
On some of the facts, Mr. Comartin, who I think was.... I mean, I'll fight the NDP any time, but I think he was unfairly attacked for saying that it would be nice to have some facts. I understand that there's a dark hole there for which you can't get the statistics.
I think it is important to mention that saying that Canada is behind all of the other industrialized countries on this issue is not really true because France, Italy and Germany, for example, which are western industrialized countries, have similar rules and a similar age of consent. We are now about average and we are turning in the direction of the United States and of Australia. That is good, but it is good to state the truth.
I understand that we're right in the middle. I understand that the Criminal Code was enacted at the age of 12 and things change. This is where we are.
I'd frankly like to know this, especially from the police investigating witnesses. The context of this seems to be that we're facing increased danger. I don't doubt that.
As long as my little girls are on Club Penguin, I'm okay. I understand that. I don't have shares in Club Penguin, but I should. I think they take something from my credit card every month.
The point is that it's the Internet and it's computers. What more could we do legislatively for future work to clamp down on it, whether it's a telecommunications thing or resources?
I heard you speak on resources. I know all about resources for the police. I've lived through that too, with the budget, fighting with the RCMP to get more men on the street.
What could we do to crack down on the real source of this, which is the Internet?
I'll start with the RCMP.
My compliments to you. The force was incredibly successful recently on an international scale in this regard.
First, I would like to thank you for your presentations. It was truly very interesting, especially since the issue has been examined from various angles, including information. I see here many professionals, starting with Mr. Hanger, who has already presented all of that, Ms. Kohan, who appears to know the justice committee well, and Mr. Comartin, who knows a lot about the subject.
Personally, I was only recently elected. I am a bit like Mr. Frizzel, who said he has been impressed, for a year, by the scope of this problem. As a new member of Parliament, I don't have all of that baggage and I am not familiar with all of the disputes between the parties or all of the negotiations. I have not reached that level.
I am a mother. I have a 14-year-old son. For a number of years, I have been a member of the Quebec Bar, so I am a lawyer. I never imagined that the problem described this morning was so far-reaching. I hear a lot of talk about the Internet. People didn't talk about the ways in which girls were exploited before the Internet came into being.
As for the Internet, as the mother of a 14-year-old boy, it raises questions in my mind. I had never discussed this with the committee, but this morning, these issues concern me personally, as well as in my capacity as a representative of many constituents and fellow countrymen. How can we protect our children? My 14-year-old son asked me for a new computer for his birthday. Everything I am hearing leads me to wonder whether there are plans to provide any training on this. The question now is how to catch the predators, but we know that we can only catch a very small number of them.
What I said yesterday by way of preamble to the justice minister could be summed up as follows: it's all well and good to criminalize, to raise the age and all of that, but what matters is educating our children. What steps are we taking? You can try to change the whole judicial system, but what is being done to protect them?
Many young people can surf the Internet far more easily than I will ever be able to. The police should inform them and educate them, shouldn't they? Do you have any programs like that? It's all well and good to hunt down predators, but we have to educate young people and explain to them what exploitation is, so that they don't fall into the trap.
The fact is that the pedophile will be behind bars forever and never have any effect on another child again. That is the purpose of it.
We don't have that kind of situation here. It's a revolving door, where pedophiles come into the system.... We don't have resources that support the police, for instance, sampling.... You know, with child pornography, if it's not a criminal act then you have to discuss whether it is a criminal offence. It's ridiculous that we don't support the police system the way we should. We don't have the resources for them, and we don't look at this seriously.
I've heard from many members here that you are fairly new to this crime and that you had no idea of the epidemic level we're at. Sergeant Paul Gillespie, who was Kim's predecessor, would come here and actually show samples of child pornography. It was on a voluntary basis, and a lot of ministers and members would not show up.
I would like to ask you, the justice committee, to actually have Kim give a presentation and show you what we're dealing with. How can we make an educated decision without knowing what we're actually dealing with? And yes, they're horrific pictures.
When I started 10 years ago, we didn't have cybertips. People would send me child porn on the Internet and say this is what their daughter found online and what can they do about it. I can tell you that 10 years later I can still hear the little girl's cry. I can still hear her pleading for her life. You have to see what it is we're actually dealing with in order to make an educated decision. So I would ask that you do that.
I don't know why we seem to be second-guessing this particular piece of legislation, as much as it appears that we are. The House has already adopted the bill, in principle. So our committee exercise here is really just trying to ascertain whether the actual provisions of the bill are ready for prime time, and I don't see room for a lot of disagreement.
This committee table has seen lots of child pornography over the years, as disgusting as it was, but it has been here more than once, going back 10 to 20 years, and we passed very robust child pornography laws. We passed them. In fact, the Supreme Court rolled one of them back partially. So this has been ongoing.
I haven't heard a homicide detective who said he or she really enjoyed the fruits of their labours. They don't like the work environment. It's tough sometimes in law enforcement. That's just the way life is. The same thing is true with child exploitation. In fact, we can pass all the laws we want, including this one, but we're still going to need enforcement. We have very robust homicide laws. We still need enforcement, investigation, prosecution, conviction, sentencing.
So the same is going to be true, even though we pass this law. It doesn't mean there isn't going to be another incident of child exploitation.
We passed an Internet luring law here five years ago. I don't know why there's a sense that there's no legislation out there. Mr. Frizzell suggested that we're into this whole new world. Parliament has responded and we passed that five years ago. I don't know what the statistical outflow of that is, but the law's been passed. Now we're into the enforcement phase.
I want to ask a question of Ms. Scanlan. I'm looking at some Justice statistics. The public record could benefit from the response. It has to do with enforcement prosecution of the existing child sexual exploitation...section 153. The records from Juristat, from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, show that 62% of the charges brought by police and prosecutors under section 153, over the last 10 years, have been withdrawn or stayed--62%. Sorry, in the most recent year it was 62%, but it's varied from 51% to 62%.
I'm curious at the very high level of withdrawal of charges in that envelope. It's very high. Usually when you think of a case going to trial, you think of three-quarters of them going through--80%--not having 62% withdrawn. Are you familiar in your work with that level of charge withdrawal or stays by prosecutors, and if you are, what would be the reason for such a high level of truncated enforcement?
I want to thank each and every one of you for the words that you have brought to the table today, but I want to thank you for more than just the words, because I know the passion that's in your hearts regarding this issue. You really want something done. That's obvious, and I appreciate that kind of passion.
I have been at the centre with Paul Gillespie and some of the fellows in Toronto. I know what a horrendous task that is. Ms. Scanlan, please pass on my sincere gratitude to each and every one of them. I can't believe how they manage to hold up under such difficult conditions.
I've been around a long time. Before the Internet and before all this, we had this problem with this age of consent. As a principal of a school, I had an opportunity to get involved in several incidents of that type. You couldn't do anything because they were 14 and 15 and they consented. But what I want to point out is that most of the time when it happened, almost inclusively they ended in tragedy. I can think of five specific cases in which three ended in suicide; one ended with a tragic beating by the older partner, resulting in irreparable brain damage from this so-called agreement; and one ended up with two children before she reached the age of 17, and she was left stranded.
I know how severe it is. I know they are sought now in new ways with the Internet. I realize that. I could get into some of these things. The chairman and I have been here since 1993. I know personally that he went after every justice minister under a majority government, under Mr. Chrétien, to please do something about this. We hit every one of them. It never happened.
On September 28, 2005, was brought forward by the member from Lethbridge and did exactly this. When the vote was taken, 99 voted yes and 167 voted no. I could have fallen out of my chair, because there's not a doubt in my mind that there is not one person sitting here who wants to do something about protecting these kids. I know they want to.
I respect Mr. Comartin and his background and his ability that he brings in regard to pedophiles. I don't know anything about that. I wouldn't even want to compete with Mr. Comartin on that. And I don't really care about stats. You know, if this happens to one, that's one too dadgum many, and that's my stat.
All I'm asking is if anybody on this panel has any opinion on what is stopping this kind of legislation from seeing the light of day. I've been here for 13 years and it hasn't happened. What's stopping it, when I know how people feel?
I would suggest to you that, in my opinion, courts are making decisions that say laws that are made are not constitutional. The laws don't meet the charter test. If that's the case, we have to do something about it, because it's hindering protecting our children. That's my opinion. Could you give me yours?
Certainly it's great to get the testimony today from five very respected groups. I heard one reference saying we only have anecdotal evidence. From what we're hearing from constituents in our ridings, and given the fact that we have five groups all saying essentially the same thing, I would suggest that this bill badly needs to be passed. There is much more than circumstantial evidence that we need change. The stories we read in the newspapers about the horrific incidents, in my opinion, are profound motivation and profound evidence of why we need to fix this bill.
I thought one thing you said, Ms. Kohan, was very eloquent. You mentioned the revolving door and you mentioned the term “pedophile haven”. That led me to think of two questions that I'd like to pose in general.
One, how strategic do you think those who attempt to violate children are? If someone is living in a state bordering Canada, a state where they have a higher age of consent, do you think that person would actually target Canadian cities that are close to the border? Is there that strategic sense to criminals?
And two, with the fundamental goal that all parliamentarians have of obviously wanting to protect children, do you feel the steps we are taking in this Parliament—whether it's the removal of house arrest for some crimes, the will to put minimum sentences in, or now this current legislation—are headed in the right general direction?
Could you comment on those two points, Ms. Kohan first, and then Mr. Cannavino?