Mr. Speaker, when we think about the sex offender registry and sex crimes in general, all our minds turn to our own children or to children in our families. It is hard to think of crimes that are more reprehensible than those that are of a sexual nature, particularly those of a sexual nature against children.
I think every member of the House would agree that every effective tool we can put at the disposal of law enforcement officials to ensure we can stop the crimes from happening or when a crime happens, we can get to the victims as quickly as possible to pull them away from harm is action we must take.
We the know of the Stephensons, who lost their son, and all the work they did in developing Christopher's law. It has led in Ontario to some very effective legislation, legislation that is used many hundreds of times a day and searched far more than the national registry. The success of that registry underscores the failure of the national registry. When we look at the statistics, and it is hard to believe, the Ontario registry is used four times more in a day than the national registry is used in a year.
I do not think there is any disagreement from anyone in the House that the sex offender registry is in need of modernization and amendment, and I welcome that debate.
I am greatly disappointed by the approach the government has taken. We had a bipartisan co-operative approach that was adopted by committee. All committee members had agreed that this was an item of importance, that we had a mandatory review to undertake, that we needed to update the legislation and we needed to do it in a careful, thoughtful way. We brought in witnesses from all different corners and had the opportunity to hear from them at committee about the types of changes that needed to be made. There was an expectation that we would then present a report and that report would be presented this week.
Imagine our shock when the government threw this legislation down on the table, put it on the order paper, short-circuiting all the work the committee had done, all the work in a collaborative, non-partisan way to find a solution. We can imagine how the witnesses who came before committee and made presentations on those changes felt.
The result, quite frankly, is legislation that is less than perfect. It really would have benefited from the input of committee and would have benefited from taking the time to ensure it was incorporated. It begs this question. Why would the government halt a process that was under way in committee, that was on its final stages of being completed to the point where we were to go through clause by clause tomorrow? Why would the government have short-circuited that process?
The only reason anybody could come up with was because the government desperately wanted to change the channel. It was mismanaging the economy. It had a deficit and a debt that was growing wildly out of control. It was desperately mismanaging the crisis with isotopes, making error after error, and it needed a channel change. What did it rely upon? Dumping everything it possibly could on the order paper that had to do with crime and justice to make itself look “tough on crime”.
In so doing, instead of having the House consider legislation that had the benefit of witnesses and of a mandatory review and having come with bipartisan, unanimous support from committee, it has rushed something to the table that is absent in a number of areas, and that is most unfortunate.
I want to talk about a number of points in the bill and some areas where we will have to redo the work of committee to get the bill into a form where it can take the proper action that a bill of this nature deserves.
First, we have to recognize that no matter what improvements are made to the sex offender registry, it is not a panacea. We should not hold this out as the solution to crimes dealing with sexual offences. Much more work needs to be done outside of the registry to reduce the amount of victimization we see. A lot of that work has to do with both rehabilitative programs and preventive programs to ensure the crimes do not happen in the first place.
We never hear about working on prevention from the government side, working on stopping crimes happening in the first place, working on ensuring that people who are to be reintegrated into society are going to be given the skills, tools and help they need to be productive members of society and that they will not re-offend, that we bring down that rate of recidivism. However, that has not been the priority of the government, which is a real shame because it is extremely important.
Second, we need to ensure we work with all levels of government, in every possible way, to share information and best practices, to ensure we not only integrate our enforcement efforts but also that we work together to break the cycle of violence and abuse that so often is symptomatic of these types of crimes.
In the bill itself, one of the key provisions is automatic inclusion. The argument made here is that right now, because of judicial discretion, there are a great number of individuals who are not put on the sex offender registry because judges make the decision not to put them on it. In fact, the numbers are quite high. We philosophically do not have a problem with the idea of automatic inclusion. We want to have an effective registry, but this is an area to which we have to pay great attention. If we do not, we could end up filling the sex offender registry with a huge list of people, some of whom are not really dangerous offenders. When a crime occurs and police officers turn to that sex offender registry, they could have people on the list where there would almost no likelihood they would have committed that crime. That will slow down the investigation and weaken the effectiveness of the sex offender registry.
Let me give an example with one of the terms that has been included in the bill, the term of voyeurism. One could envision a situation where voyeurism is something that warrants being put on a sex offender registry, such as an individual outside a child's window, looking inside. We would say that individual should be on the sex offender registry. That is the type of activity we would want to encapsulate in this. What about individuals who are looking from one apartment window into another? Clearly they should not have done it. Clearly it is inappropriate. However, are they dangerous offenders? Are these the types of people we want to mix on this list, thus slowing down the process and the police's ability to respond?
When I asked the question of law enforcement officers in committee as to what they would do in this situation, where it was a more minor offence of voyeurism and they did not feel that the person really should be automatically included on the sex offender registry, they said they would not charge that person. I think this is going to be a real problem. If we do not word this properly and do not deal with it with the right balance, minor offences will not be prosecuted because there will be a feeling by those officers or by the crown that if they prosecute these individuals, they will to be unjustly placed on the sex offender registry.
I certainly know no one in the House would want to see that happen, to see people committing more minor offences of a sexual nature receiving no punishment, such as indiscretions in the office place, or people at a party doing something they should not have done. We would not want to be turning the other cheek because of the fact that they did not want to put these individuals on the registry. In that regard, we have to ensure the list of offences is such that we really capture those dangerous individuals who would be the most likely to commit crimes when the sex offender registry is looked at.
Third, and this was discussed at committee, we need to ensure there is room for judicial expression in extraordinary cases. In other words, the threshold has to be very high. A judge would have to explain the rationale and have to be held to a very high standard. However, if there were individuals for whom placing them on the sex offender registry would be a gross miscarriage of justice, where it would be grossly unfair and disproportionate to the crime committed, we would expect and hope the judge would have some room to move.
If we completely remove judicial discretion, we do not get rid of discretion. I again point to the fact that we are just displacing the discretion from the judge onto those who are responsible for convictions, being the crown and the police.
The bill is important and it takes in a number of the things we were talking about at committee. It allows the tool of the sex offender registry to be used in a preventative way. One of the flaws with the system as it currently stands is law enforcement officers cannot use the sex offender registry proactively. If they something happens that looks suspicious, a crime has not been committed yet but somebody is where they really should not be and is acting in a very strange way, right now they cannot turn to the sex offender registry to see if that person may represent a risk. Clearly we would want the sex offender registry to be used in a proactive fashion, to ensure that in this kind of situation, police could deploy this to stop a crime happening in the first place.
The next important point is it expands and allows accredited law enforcement agencies to share and use information. Something like the sex offender registry should not be proprietary with law enforcement officials. The RCMP should not hold onto its information, police departments should not hold onto their information and not share and not communicate. That is going to lead to all kinds of things falling through the cracks into a system that frankly is not effective.
In this case, it expands and allows the information to be shared and utilized. Where we have to be careful and where we are going to want to ensure it is crystal clear at committee, is while sharing of information takes place, it has to happen inside police departments. We do not want this information to be circulated to the public or to go into hands of someone who might want to take some vigilante type action or some sort of action independently of the police force. In examples where sex offender registry information has got into the public's hands, it has led to very bad outcomes and does not increase public safety, so we have to watch that.
Another area that is important and has been long called for is the need to ensure that if someone commits a sexual offence abroad and then comes back to Canada, that the information is recorded and is a part of the sex offender registry. We do not want someone going to a foreign jurisdiction and committing crimes, being able to return to Canada and that information not showing up on our sex offender registry. It was a big hole before. This legislation addresses that.
The issue of automatic inclusion in the DNA databank is something we support in principle, but again, it is something we will have to look at in committee to ensure there is a proper balance in effect and that the information will be used in an intelligent, balanced fashion.
If anyone had listened to what transpired at committee, they would have heard there were some really key areas that were missed by the legislation. Perhaps it was because of its haste, just being dropped to change the channel, that this information was missed. However, police and victims rights groups have told us how important it is to ensure the vehicle information is included in the sex offender registry, such as the licence plate number, make, model, year and other identifying factors. Oftentimes it is a vehicle that would be identified first. That information should be updated regularly so if people change their vehicle, they are mandated to update that information with police departments. That was completely absent in the legislation. It was not there and I was surprised that it was missing.
There are many areas, but I will not cover them all. However, another area that is surprising is there is not really any discussion and coordination with the introduction of the bill in making the investments in things like software and technology. Data is only as good as its ability to be cross-referenced and analyzed and to show law enforcement officers exactly where they need to be and when they need to be there.
For example, to match past offences against the current situation, against the modus operandi, we need a software system that is able to take all the information and graphically represent it such that police officers can act instantaneously. We know that with crimes of this nature time is of the essence. Every second that goes by means there is more and more likelihood that someone who is abducted, for example, will not be found, or that a perpetrator will get away and never get convicted.
It is fair to say that it is right to take this legislation and move it to the next process to committee. However, it really is unfortunate, and I cannot stress this in a strong enough sense, that the government decided to short-circuit all the work of committee and to present it in the House. It would have greatly benefited from that process. Committee passed a resolution essentially saying that this undercut the ability of parliamentary committees to function, that it really showed enormous disrespect for Parliament. I cannot say that in strong enough terms.
When this happens and the next time we are asked to review a bill, I know that both witnesses and committee members will be a little hesitant to move a government item to the top. If this is the way committees are going to be respected and treated by having of our input tossed out, it is very disappointing. In fact, it is worse than being tossed out. Sometimes we are used to being ignored, but in this case it is worse than being ignored. We did not even get a chance to present something in order for it to be ignored, and that was a grave disappointment.
Certainly we are going to support sending the bill to committee. There are a number of improvements that have to be made. We are going to have to redo that work and recall all those witnesses. We will undertake that because this work is important. It is something that I know every member of the House cares deeply about and we on this side care a lot about.
Mr. Speaker, the bill we are debating here is a very important one. It is important on two counts. The sex offender registry has been in place for some time now. The legislation provided a deadline for a committee to review it before Parliament would decide whether or not to make additions or amendments. The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security was tasked with conducting that study, which it had undertaken and was about to conclude. But then came the minister with his bill, and it is clear that he did not pay any attention to the committee's suggestions, since the committee was still in the process of preparing its report.
The committee made haste, but the minister obviously has no intention of taking into account any suggestions that might be made, any of the hearings held or any of the witnesses heard by the committee. That is insulting to the committee, but it is not the end of world because, in politics, one has to be prepared to endure some very unfair insults from time to time. We have to develop thicker skins over time, while remaining sensitive to our constituents' opinions. I think that, above all, this is a discredit to the work of Parliament. The way this government works, it is as if there were no Parliament to which it had to account.
This is also an insult to voters who, when there is a matter important to them—and I believe there are many in Quebec and Canada who feel strongly about this issue—express their opinion to their MPs so that it can be taken into account. That has happened. Our members talk to us about it because they know that we sit on the committee. It allows us to make suggestions but they are to no avail because the minister has decided that he will ignore them and present his bill.
Although this is a serious matter, it does remind me of an amusing story from my career. When I was a lawyer, a judge once invited both sides to provide sentencing submissions. When we had finished making our submissions, without leaving the hearing, the judge pulled out a written decision. Fortunately, there was a court of appeal to correct the errors he had made by not taking into account my very pertinent remarks, which were taken into consideration by the court of appeal.
It is also interesting to see the minister running away. He comes here to defend his bill. At the end of the day, when there is not enough time to listen to his speech and ask him some questions, he runs away at the end, because the House is scheduled to talk about another subject at that time, but he never comes back. I understand he might be ashamed of his behaviour, although I doubt it. Maybe he is not ashamed of himself. In any case, he will never face the music.
However, it is an overly complex bill on a subject that could have been set out much more simply. It introduces some improvements, which we could probably elaborate on, but I do not want to let any secrets slip until we have finished our report. There are, still, some improvements here, such as that of adding to the list of offences for which a judge should order the offender be on a list of dangerous offenders the offence of compelling the commission of bestiality. It is a rare crime. In 27 years of practice, I am aware of only one such case and it was not one I represented. It was a case I watched being argued. It was ordered to be in camera. The room had never been so full. All the lawyers in the region had come to attend this bizarre case. It was bestiality involving a cow. The farm worker had been surprised by a girl who reported the strange tale. The individual could be heard denying it.
In any case, I think that bestiality is more a matter of mental illness than a criminal matter. It is a crime committed usually by people of lower intellect who are on the edge of mental illness. Obviously, if they go so far as forcing the commission of it, this is the offence provided for bestiality. It is indicative of depravity that should be on the offender registry. As for murder, it could be added, but murderers, as far as I know, are sentenced to heavy prison terms and are in prison for a considerable time as it is.
There is another improvement. It is typical of Conservative behaviour. The law provided it already for the most dangerous offences, but, in fact, it covers just about the whole gamut of sexual offences, especially all those involving children. That is totally understandable and also desirable in this legislation.
However, for all these offences, the judge should automatically order the individual be placed on the list of dangerous sexual offenders. This unfortunately does not happen in all cases. The judge essentially had no discretion, except in one instance, which I will explain shortly. It was found that the crown prosecutors did not use this power often enough. And so, rather than correct the problem with the crown prosecutors—and this is typical of the provisions of the Conservatives, who take no chances and settle the matter—it will now be automatic.
What will happen if the crown prosecutors—who failed to indicate, through inadvertence or some other reason, that the individual should not be included in the registry—do not so advise the judge or if the judge does not think of it? Will it be an administrative decision? We will likely get our answer on this a little later on.
I am surprised that this opportunity is not seized to ask ourselves serious questions. The funding for Crown prosecutors across Canada, and Quebec also, has been insufficient for quite some time. That is certainly an area where there is still a fiscal imbalance and where the provinces do not have enough money to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities. As we know, while criminal law falls under federal jurisdiction, the provinces are responsible for the administration of justice. The complexity of criminal law is increasing and that makes Crown prosecutors work very hard. It is therefore not surprising that some of them refrain from requesting enforcement under such circumstances.
As part of the public hearings that were held and that can be discussed here, we heard an extremely interesting presentation on the enforcement of the Ontario law. The hon. member for quite rightly indicated that it was enforced four times more often in a single day than the federal one is in an entire year. These public hearings made it clear that it is important to know that this list is for the exclusive use of law enforcement personnel and must remain confidential.
This registry is created for preventive purposes, and must not be construed as punishing and stigmatizing individuals, which would have a discouraging effect on those who make genuine efforts to get treated for their sexual perversions while serving their sentences and after. Some sexual perversions are very hard to treat. I am told that the attraction to children is all but impossible to get rid of. What can be brought under control, however, is the urge to act on that attraction. If these individuals are too stigmatized or harassed by police, they risk becoming discouraged, which in turn will compromise their efforts to benefit from the treatments received.
In Ontario, the police are made aware of that. They act on it and, when they have to deal with registered individuals who could be suspected when a child has been abducted, simply because they live nearby, they do so with a professional attitude. They are not suspected on any other grounds. If they are not the perpetrators, they are to be approached in a professional fashion.
This registry can be used to prevent crimes. It is widely used by the police when a child has been kidnapped. This helps narrow down the areas to search. I do not recall the exact statistics, but the murder of a kidnapped child who has been sexually abused happens usually within the first few hours after kidnapping. The registry is a useful tool for the police. Once a child has been kidnapped, the police can quickly consult the registry to see whether it indicates that there are sex offenders in the surrounding area. The registry is also important for certain types of crimes, for example with kidnapping, when it is not yet known whether it was for sexual or other motivations. It is perfectly normal for this information to be given.
This brings us to the practical operation of such a system, and to some reflection. Is it really important to increase the number of sexual offences required in order to be placed on the registry? When police officers check the registry after a child has been kidnapped, instead of getting 15 potential suspects, they get 400 or 500. The time they spend looking into those 500 people is time that will not be spent on perhaps more relevant searches. There are also some drawbacks to the registry being overused. We must take this into account, and clearly the Conservatives are not in the habit of doing so. It is always the hardest way, and not the most efficient.
By the way, there is only one reason to not even wait for the committee report. They are trying to make it look as though they are doing something, without truly caring whether it is effective. One of the additions is the obligation to provide DNA samples. This is very important. This is another registry we have examined. Our report is not yet released, and we have not yet seen a bill. But we know from the Auditor General that the DNA registry is not getting the funding it needs.
Of course results can be obtained in very little time in urgent cases, but in 99% of the other cases, the ones deemed not urgent, it can take over a year to get an answer back from the DNA databank. The databank gets some $2 million or $3 million in funding per year but it is so backlogged with Parliament passing two bills last year allowing the collection of DNA samples that existing labs have not yet started recording data in the bank; they cannot start because they do not have enough funding.
We were told that it takes between 18 months and two years to train a scientist well enough to testify in court about DNA evidence. It is clear that the government must put up enough money to make the databank more functional. This is yet another case of the government demanding more from expert witnesses without providing enough funding to make it happen.
There are other improvements that this 35-page bill fails to make. This issue could have been dealt with in a much shorter bill. It is confusing and incomprehensible to most ordinary people, even to those used to reading legislation. For years, I have been telling the federal government that poorly written legislation is poorly understood and then poorly applied, but it persists in its ways. Here, crown prosecutors are once again not applying the law, but in this case, it seems to me that what they are being asked to do is relatively simple.
The databanks are being overloaded. There comes a point when we have to wonder, seriously, whether it is less useful to the police as a result.
In any case, there was a need to improve this act after three years. There is no requirement to do so, as with other acts, such as the Anti-Terrorism Act. We suggested improvements, but none of them were made. In this case, it is nice to think that if we had suggested a few amendments, they might have been implemented. For example, we would like to see an improvement whereby dangerous sexual offenders' vehicle registration numbers would be added to the registry. If a child is kidnapped and the kidnapper is seen getting into a vehicle, it is important to be able to consult the bank, and with a registration number, it is possible to see whether this person is on the list of dangerous sexual offenders.
We agree with the changes in principle. The problem is that we were willing to cooperate and we did cooperate, but the minister did not take any of our suggestions into consideration. Nevertheless, we are going to make ourselves useful by making the necessary changes to the bill he introduced at the wrong time.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party on the merits, and not, of Bill .
As has been previously mentioned by other speakers, this bill amends a number of pieces of legislation, most notably the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, as well as the DNA data bank. I will touch on those two important pieces of legislation and speak a bit about how this bill both improves those pieces of legislation and where we believe there are some deficiencies that can be cured by all-party co-operation at the committee level.
I am going to start first with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, which came into force on December 15, 2004. It established a national sex offender database, which contains information on convicted sex offenders. SOIRA, as it is known, works in combination with sections 490.011 to 490.032 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
The purpose and principle of this act, as stated in subsection 2(1), “is to help police services investigate crimes of a sexual nature by requiring the registration of certain information relating to sex offenders”. Information, such as addresses and telephone numbers, offences, the aliases they may have used, identifying marks, places of employment, tattoos and when they leave their place of residence, is included in the national database. The registry works to enhance public protection by helping police identify possible suspects known to be near the offence site.
The above-noted purpose of SOIRA is to be achieved in accordance with the following principles. First, in the interest of protecting society through the effective investigation of crimes of a sexual nature, police services must have rapid access to certain information relating to sex offenders. Second, the collection and registration of accurate information on an ongoing basis is the most effective way of ensuring that such information is current and reliable. Third, the privacy interests of sex offenders and the public interest in their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens requires that this information be collected only to investigate crimes that there are reasonable grounds to suspect are of a sexual nature and where access to the information and use and disclosure of the information is restricted.
I was struck during our study of this bill, and I will speak about that in a few minutes, by the following statistics. Police officers appearing before the committee during this review explained that time is of the essence when investigating crimes of all types, but no more so than in crimes of a sexual nature, particularly in the case where a child has been kidnapped.
During her appearance, Chief Superintendent Lines presented statistics that illustrate this importance. She pointed out that in cases where children are kidnapped and murdered, 44% were dead within an hour of the kidnapping, 74% were dead within 3 hours, and 91% were dead within 24 hours.
We can see that the need to have an extremely quick ability for our police forces to access a databank of known sexual offenders is critical, particularly in the cases, as I said, where children are involved.
The national sex offender registry, which I will call “the registry”, is administered and maintained by the RCMP on a national basis. Upon conviction of a designated sexual offence that is enumerated by the act, which is a long list of offences of a sexual nature in one category, the Crown may make an application for an order. There is another category of offences under the Criminal Code that are not sexual in nature per se but that may have a sexual component, for example, break and enter. Break and enter is normally not a crime of a sexual nature, but if a person is breaking and entering for the purpose of committing a sexual assault then that second group provides a type of offence for which registration may be applied for.
Currently, the Crown may make an application upon conviction for an order requiring the sexual offender to register within the database. Such an order is to be made as soon as possible after sentence is imposed for a designated offence, or after the court renders a verdict of not criminally responsible for such an offence on account of a mental disorder. For certain designated offences, the court shall make the order when the Crown has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the act was committed with the intent to commit one of the designated sexual offences.
That said, there is an exception. When the court is presented with such an application, it is not required to make an order under this section if it is satisfied that the offender has established that if the order were made, the impact on him or her, including on his or her privacy or liberty, would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest in protecting society through the effective investigation of crimes of a sexual nature. This section of the Criminal Code also requires the court to give reasons for making or refusing an order to register.
I am going to pause there to point out a couple of important principles of the current legislation that this bill before the House would seek to change.
Currently, there is no automatic registration of offenders upon conviction. Rather, it is left to the discretion of the prosecution and the court to grant such an order.
Second, there is a reverse onus on the accused, so lest anyone think that such an order is hotly contested or difficult to achieve, when the prosecutor makes such an application, it will be automatically granted unless the accused satisfies the court, the burden of which is upon him or her, that the granting of the order would create what is called a grossly disproportionate effect on that person.
In law, and we know that we have a fair number of lawyers in this chamber, it is an unusual thing where a burden is on an accused, and it is also a very hard test to meet when the test is one of gross disproportionality.
To summarize, the way that the act works now, a prosecutor has the discretion to make an application. If such an application is made, it is routinely granted unless an accused meets a very high test of showing why that order ought not to be granted.
In terms of the duration of the orders, we will see why this is such an onerous obligation upon anybody convicted of such. The duration of a registration order is set out in section 490 of the Criminal Code. Depending on the offence for which an offender is convicted, he or she must remain registered for one of the following three periods: a minimum of 10 years for summary conviction offences; 20 years for offences where the maximum term is 10 to 14 years; and life, for offences for which the maximum term is life itself.
In terms of the reporting obligations, if sexual offenders are in fact the subject of an order, they have to register with the police, within 15 days after such an order, a wide variety of information, such as, their address, place of work, if they are leaving their domicile for more than 15 days, identifying marks and tattoos, or aliases, and if any of those factors are changed, those must be indicated to the local police force very quickly. These orders, quite properly, are very serious. They impose serious incursions on a person's liberty for a long period of time, as they properly should.
Currently as well, it is important to note that the preamble and the purpose of the statute, as it is presently written, make it abundantly clear that the purpose of this act is to help police investigate crimes of a sexual nature. That means that prior to searching the database, police must have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that it is of a sexual nature.
We heard testimony at the committee before police officers who said that this is too rigid of a test. Particularly in the case of an abducted child, where a child has been reported missing, they may have reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed, but they may not have the basis to suspect that it is of a sexual nature.
From the New Democratic point of view, we think it is reasonable to expand that purpose, so that police can have quicker access, so that they do not have to satisfy these rigid tests and get access to the registry quickly.
In addition, the police officers said they required information on a subject's vehicle information, which is another current deficiency in the act. Presently, an offender under such an order does not have to indicate vehicle registration. We think that is an important amendment to make to the act as well because very often a sex offender in a car is spotted near a school or other areas where there might be vulnerable citizens and it is important that police know who that vehicle is registered to in order to have rapid response.
I am going to pause to talk a bit about principles. New Democrats understand and support the rights of all Canadians to be safe and secure in every aspect of Canadian society, in their homes, workplaces and communities. In particular, we want women to be free from all forms of violence and harassment. We want seniors to be free to walk our streets in safety and respect, and for our children to be safe and sound wherever they are.
We have heard Canadians speak. They want to feel and be safe, and they are absolutely right to feel this way. New Democrats have long championed the right of all to live in security. In fact, my party has always stood strongest on this issue because it has always championed the right of every citizen to be secure in every respect, not only physically but economically, socially and culturally.
We have also heard Canadians speak out on their expectation of crime policy. They want a criminal justice system that is effective, efficient and fair because our criminal justice system is an important component in the overall security package. We need laws that are well thought out and clearly drafted. We need a properly resourced police force, a judicial system that can process breaches against those laws effectively and in a timely fashion. We need policies that are based on sound principles of justice that provide justice for victims of crime and effective punishment and protection of society.
Also, and this is what sets my party apart, I would say, from every other party in the chamber, we in the NDP believe in prevention strategies. We believe in the rehabilitation of individuals to become law abiding and productive contributors to society. We believe in fairness, compassion and a belief that almost every individual who commits a breach of social rules is worthy of an attempt at redemption and the opportunity to get assistance with the issues that so often are the underlying reason for the deviant behaviour.
More importantly, we believe that all of society has a stake in these principles unless we are going to lock people up for the rest of their natural life in every case because 99.9% of convicted offenders return to society. We all have an interest in making sure that we do everything possible to keep criminals from committing more offences.
The issues before us in this bill engage these principles. In some cases, the bill satisfies them. In other ways, the bill before us diminishes these principles. That is why New Democrats are offering cautious and critical support for this bill at second reading. We will agree that there is merit in some of the goals and methods of this legislation, but we will also be looking very carefully at the details and seeking some important clarifications and possible amendments to ensure this legislation meets the principles outlined above.
I sit on the public safety and national security committee, which had been studying this bill for the previous two months. Witnesses came before the committee and testified, including police officers, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, victims groups, and criminal defence lawyers. They took their time and testified before the committee as we reviewed this bill.
I am not yet cynical enough to think that the work that a committee does in Parliament, and the respect for committee members including members opposite, is not valuable and that the testimony of the witnesses who appeared is not valuable.
While we were putting the final touches on our draft report, yet to be issued to the minister, the minister came down with this piece of legislation that amends the very legislation that we were studying. The minister did not wait or have the courtesy or respect for the work of our committee to wait for us to issue our report and give him the benefit of our recommendations. I find that disrespectful and appalling. It is disrespectful to the skilled analysts who helped us. It is disrespectful to the witnesses who appeared before our committee. It is disrespectful to every member of that committee. I have to point that out.
There was no urgency to this legislation. There was no issue of national import that required the government to act immediately on this. The review that the committee was conducting was a statutory one. The bill itself required a committee to review the statute within two years to see how the registry was working. The minister did not wait for that.
I do think there is a reason for it. The Conservatives routinely put politics before good policy making. They have a huge deficit. Over the last six months they went from saying there is no recession to saying there was a technical recession to a big recession. Six months ago there was a surplus. Then there was a $34 billion deficit. Now there is a $50 billion deficit. We have Chalk River mismanagement. Obviously, when the government gets in trouble on the national stage, it goes back to its crime agenda and introduces some hastily put together legislation to get people off the real issues facing it.
This legislation with respect to the sex offender registry does do some good things. It loosens the definition of when it could be accessed. It widens some of the information, like the vehicle registration I mentioned. It also allows police officers to notify authorities in other jurisdictions, foreign or Canadian, when an offender travels to their area, and those are laudable goals that the New Democrats will support.
However, there are issues with this legislation. First, this legislation proposes automatic registration of every offender who commits one of the enumerated offences. That takes away prosecutorial and judicial discretion because the list of offences under the Criminal Code of Canada that are captured by this legislation, most of which would have no difficulty with automatic registration, but there are a couple of offences, for instance sexual assault, that are hybrid offences. They can be proceeded with summarily or by indictment. There may be an occasion where it is not appropriate to make an order against someone convicted of that offence, and it should be up to a prosecutor and a judge to determine when that exception may apply.
This legislation makes registration automatic for all these offences. This is part of the side opposite's approach to crime, which is to remove any kind of discretion from the judicial system, not to trust prosecutors and not to trust judges to actually hear the case before them.
This legislation also introduces the concept of allowing police access to this registry for prevention purposes. I sat on the committee and heard from all the witness, and we never heard any real testimony or details about what that would look like. Currently, the legislation has an avowed purpose of helping police solve crimes. That is the purpose of it. It is not to have police prevent crimes. What does that mean? Does that mean police can search the database and go out into the community and just talk to people? There are serious privacy interests at stake, as well as the need to protect the public.
There are concerns about the bill's provisions that allow police to automatically register people convicted in foreign jurisdictions who come to Canada. The gay and lesbian and transgender community is concerned about that because there are crimes in foreign jurisdictions that are not recognized by us concerning homosexual acts that may be caught by this legislation, so we have to be careful.
I will conclude my remarks by talking quickly about the DNA registry, which is an excellent registry to which the bill also seeks to make amendments. The New Democrats support an expansion of the good work that this registry does, which works to not only help secure convictions but secure exonerations.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise in support of Bill , an act to amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Criminal Code, the National Defence Act, and the International Transfer of Offenders Act.
The legislation before us today would strengthen the national sex offender registry in order to give police the tools they need to both investigate and prevent such crimes from occurring.
Hon. members will know that victims' rights groups, local police forces from across Canada, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as ordinary Canadians have been calling for the changes before us today for several years. Some of them had noted that the present national sex offender information registry is akin to an emperor with no clothes.
Some might say that it looks very nice on the surface, but the reality is there is little there. The registry fails to adequately protect Canadians from becoming victims or from being re-victimized by offenders released back into the community.
More precisely, we have learned over the past number of years that the registry fails in several ways.
First, it simply does not register the necessary information on all convicted sex offenders.
Second, it does not allow police to use the information from the registry to notify other police services in Canada and abroad when a registered sex offender is travelling to their jurisdictions.
Third, it does not apply to Canadians returning to this country after having been convicted abroad of a sexual offence. What this means is that the police are not able to identify these individuals as they are simply not part of the registry despite having been convicted of serious sexual offences.
Fourth, it does not allow police to use the registry to help prevent sex crimes in the first place. Currently, the registry can only be used to investigate crimes after they have taken place. It is purely a reactive tool. There is no opportunity for this law enforcement tool to prevent what amounts to some of the most serious and devastating crimes imaginable.
As we have heard from the minister, Bill also proposes to eliminate a loophole in the current legislation that allowed some convicted sex offenders to avoid having their information added to the national sex offender registry.
Today, the police have no access to information on some convicted sex offenders during the investigation of a crime, either because a crown attorney has not sought an order for them to register or the presiding judge has declined to grant one.
Bill proposes to make registration of all convicted sex offenders in the future automatic, while upholding existing safeguards around access to and the use of this information.
Offenders convicted of a serious designated offence under the sex offender information registry act would also be subject to DNA sampling, further strengthening the ability of the police to investigate effectively.
It should be noted that offences such as manslaughter, which today can be registered if there is sufficient evidence that they were committed with an underlying sexual intent, would not be automatically included in the registry under the proposed changes but would remain subject to registration if the sentencing court was satisfied that there was an intent to commit a designated sexual offence.
Another way that Bill would strengthen the ability of police to investigate and prevent sex crimes is by enhancing the ability of police to share information. The legislation before us today would allow police to use information in the registry to notify other police services about a registered sex offender travelling to their area who is considered at a high risk to reoffend.
As well, Bill would allow federal and provincial correctional agencies to advise registry officials when a registered sex offender is either released or readmitted into custody.
There are Canadians who have been convicted of sex offences in other countries, and when they return to Canada they are not required to register with the national sex offender registry, leaving another serious gap in the information that police have at their disposal to investigate future sex crimes. Bill proposes to address this in two ways.
First, if an offenders are returned to Canada under the International Transfer of Offenders Act, they would be required to register in Canada as if the offence had been committed here.
Second, if someone is convicted of a sexual offence outside of Canada and returns at the end of their sentence, they would be required to notify police in the province or territory where they reside of that fact and register if they are ordered to do so. In this case, offenders would have the right to apply to the courts to determine whether the foreign conviction was a proper basis for the requirement to register.
I said at the beginning of these remarks that one of the most significant aspects of Bill is that it will allow police to use the registry in a proactive way as well as in a reactive way. In other words, the police will be able to use it to help prevent crimes as well as investigate them.
One of the top priorities of any government of course is to protect the safety and security of its citizens. I have heard time and time again that the government must tackle crime to make Canadian streets and communities safer. That is what this government is doing. We are following through with the commitment we made to Canadians in the last election to continue to get tough on crime, especially serious gun crimes and crimes against the more vulnerable members of our society.
In the last Parliament our government passed important laws cracking down on crime, including imposing mandatory prison sentences for gun crime. Recently our government introduced legislation to automatically make murders connected to organized crime first degree murder and to tackle drive-by shootings and other intentional shootings that involve the reckless disregard for the life or safety of others while further protecting police and peace officers.
It is our government's belief that crime prevention is a critical component to our efforts in getting tough on crime. It is one that our government is committed to strengthening. Strong crime prevention initiatives help to make sure that people can walk the streets without fear. They help to build safer streets and communities for everyone. They keep Canadians safe in their homes.
I believe all of us want to make sure that crime prevention extends to preventing crimes of a sexual nature that can sometimes result in irreparable trauma, pain and suffering. This is one of many things the bill before us will do. The bill strengthens Canada's national sex offender registry. It implements reforms to further protect Canadians from offenders who commit heinous sex crimes by ensuring that the police have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.
It implements changes which have the support of victims groups, police forces, provincial and territorial governments and thousands of Canadians right across the country.
I therefore urge all hon. members to work with the government to quickly pass this legislation and send a message to all Canadians that their safety and security is of prime importance.
Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary and I serve on committee together and when it comes to this particular issue, we have much in common. I firmly believe that amendments were needed in terms of this legislation. The problem is the method used and the exact substance of what has been put before Parliament.
I want to start with some history. This is the second attempt by the Conservatives to get this right. They attempted to fix the legislation by way of Bill which received royal assent on March 29, 2007 and was proclaimed on September 12, 2008. They have tried this before and they did not get it right or the legislation would not be back before Parliament in such a short period of time.
One would think that because they had to come before Parliament in such a short period of time, they would take all reasonable steps to ensure that the amendments would be proper and helpful. That would include a study by the relevant parliamentary committee, which is what took place. We studied this legislation for a number days over the last couple of months. We have a draft report and were in the process of reviewing it so that we could table it, probably within a couple of weeks, for the benefit of the minister before the providing of any legislation.
People can say whatever they want and call it disrespectful, contemptuous or use whatever phraseology, but the short of it is it is just not smart. The Conservatives have put forward legislation without the benefit of a study, the draft report of which was almost complete, without the benefit of expert testimony and all the information disclosure that came forward in that process. This just is not smart. They have done it for political points. I would like to go through what they have suggested. I would like to go through what is good about the legislation, because there are some good points, what is weak about it, and what I think needs to be improved.
The committee determined that the Ontario system is much better. There is an Ontario statute passed in 2000 which is called “Christopher's Law” and we know the history of that. In Ontario the registry is accessed over 400 times a day, where the federal regime was accessed 150 times per year. That comparison shows there is a huge difference. The federal system has truly failed in its use because of the ineffectual amendments that were put through by the Conservatives by way of Bill in 2008. And here we are again, which is fine. The legislation needs to be fixed and I support that, but let us do it in a smart manner, which is not what is occurring here.
We identified a number of problems which remained after the amendments the Conservatives passed in 2008. There was an issue in terms of mandatory inclusion. There was not an automatic inclusion in the registry of the various offenders after they were convicted. The Crown had to apply for this to take place. One of the problems with that is that a lot of Crowns, as part of a plea bargain, would negotiate to not include the name of an individual in the registry, or the Crowns would simply forget to make the request, or judges would not grant the request to include the offender in the registry. These are all problematic. I very strongly support the mandatory inclusion of these various offenders in the registry.
Let us look at what is really happening. The Conservatives like to say that the Conservative Party is the party of law and order, that the opposition parties and the Liberals do not support such an agenda.
Although the Conservatives have mandatory inclusion, they have put in all kinds of loopholes. One can seek to be exempted from the mandatory inclusion. One can appeal the mandatory inclusion. One can seek to be removed from the mandatory inclusion after a period of time. The mandatory inclusion expires automatically after various periods of time. All kinds of loopholes and exceptions are enumerated in this proposed legislation. In essence, they water down the mandatory inclusion.
That was probably the second most serious problem. Although the Conservatives will go out and eventually knock on doors and say they put mandatory inclusion into the legislation, they will not be able to legitimately say that because they put various exceptions into the legislation as well. Frankly, I do not understand why they did that. I think it is wrong.
I want to digress for a moment and talk about why this legislation needs to be a strong as possible while protecting the charter rights of people.
I did not know these statistics before the committee held its hearings, but I found them shocking and I think Canadians need to know them in order to know why we need to support a very strong system. This relates to the abduction of children. First, of all children abducted, 44% are dead within an hour of a kidnapping. Second, 74% of all children are dead within three hours of a kidnapping. Third, 91% of all children are dead within 24 hours of their being kidnapped. Those are horrible statistics.
We have a duty as parliamentarians, regardless of the party we belong to, to do everything possible to prevent those deaths. To me, that means there needs to be an effective system in place, whatever it may be, to ensure that when anybody is abducted, and in this example it is children, the police have whatever is necessary to find those children. This legislation, as proposed, does not do that.
What the Conservatives have done in terms of this legislation is address one of the glaring errors, and I think it was the number one error. The registry could only be used for the investigation of crimes that had been committed. It is a worthy goal and is absolutely necessary, but it is not good enough. The federal registry could not be used to help in crime prevention, which is what the Ontario system allows the police to do.
In terms of prevention, if somebody is kidnapped or there are any suspicious circumstances, in Ontario the registry can be used to investigate and attempt to prevent crimes. If there are stalkers or suspicious people around schools, if somebody has been abducted, the system can be used. That does not apply in the federal model. This particular change is very worthy, and we should support that 100%.
Other problems were identified. The first one was the mandatory inclusion. The second was prevention as opposed to just investigation. There are others. The automatic expiry of the orders was identified as a problem. If somebody has been convicted of a serious offence, I do not know why there would be an automatic expiry. These particular amendments continue that, and in fact provide additional ways in which someone could get out of the system. I think that is incorrect.
There are other problems. Unbelievably, the offenders are not required to provide information such as a car licence plate number. If somebody is abducted, the police do not have the ability under the federal model to ascertain the licence plate number of the car the offender is driving. This is unbelievable, but that problem was left in the system when the Conservatives put through the amendments in 2008. It has not been fixed. That is a serious error. There is nothing in this proposed legislation that changes that.
I find that shocking and that is one reason why the government should have waited for the report from the committee. That should have been in there. It needs to be changed and I believe my colleagues on the committee, regardless of the party they are from, would support that.
Another problem identified was foreign convictions and Canadians coming back to Canada. The government has sought to fix it, but not in a strong enough manner. I will go through that in a moment when I look at the various proposed changes in the legislation.
To summarize so far, the legislation is needed in a very strong manner. It needs to be amended to fix the problems left by the Conservatives in 2008. Those problems were identified in committee. The Conservative minister would have had the opportunity to read the report if he had only waited a couple of weeks. I find it shocking that Parliament and the committee, in particular, was disrespected.
Taxpayers need to know this. The committee spent a lot of time, called witnesses, paid for witnesses, asked them questions and none of that work was considered by the minister before the bill was introduced. Canadians have to understand that is wrong and it shows a tendency to dictate down and not respect the work of Parliament, which is dangerous.
In terms of this legislation, I have already indicated that prevention was a glaring omission, which is a very worthy change.
In terms of foreign criminals, there is a problem in that although they will be required to register, it specifically says that this only applies to persons who come to Canada after the legislation is passed. If serious sex offenders are already in Canada or they come here after the legislation passed, either way they are a risk to society and our obligation is to protect Canadians. Those people should be required to register and it truly has nothing to do with when they arrive in Canada.
In terms of automatic registration, when people are reviewing this statute and deciding whether it should be supported, they need to look at all the exceptions, and there are a number of them, which are all shocking. For example, in clause 9 there is termination order. There is an exemption order under clause 12. There are appeal provisions. There are many different loopholes. There is a litany of what offenders can do to get out of the system, which is not what the committee discovered we needed to do.
The committee found one of the problems was the automatic expiry of the registrations. Nothing has changed. If we look at paragraph 490.02904(3), we will see that all these automatic expiries are there. There could be exemption orders under the paragraph 490.02905(2). In essence, there is exception and loophole upon exception and loophole for these offenders to try to get out of the registration system. This is not what the committee would support in its report, which is almost done.
There is form 52, “Order to Comply with Sex Offender Information Registration Act”. Even in that form it says under section 7, “You have the right to apply to a court to terminate this order, and the right to appeal any decision of that court”. It advises people, as soon as they are told to register, that they can try to get out of it immediately. There are also mandatory provisions for the court.
Under 490.02905(2) the court “shall” make an exemption order. It is not even discretionary. It requires a court to take somebody out of the system based on those various criteria.
The Conservatives say that they have fixed this problem and now there is automatic inclusion, but that is just not true.
The first thing I did when I read Bill was look to see whether there were any licence plate requirements in it or that type of detailed information. I read it twice because I thought I could not have missed it, that it was sure to be in there somewhere. This was one of the most glaring errors identified by the committee.
This is such a serious error on the part of the minister that it has to be spoken of and we have to fix it. We cannot let this second round of amendments go through without changing this. There can be no exception to that. This must be changed. One of the key findings of why the Ontario system, Christopher's law, worked so well was because it had that ability.
Another large problem is funding. Perhaps I missed it, but I have not heard the minister say anything about the funding of this system. We can change whatever we want by way of legislation, but if we do not have the money to do it, what is the point?
The Ontario system funds its registry. It provides $4 million a year to ensure it is effective, which is why it gets so many daily hits. The federal system, which is operated by the RCMP, gets $400,000 to $600,000 per year for all of Canada. Think about that discrepancy: $4 million in Ontario, but $400,000 to $600,000 for the entire system. That needs to be changed and we need some commitment from the minister on how this will be adequately funded to ensure it works.
One of the other problems is faulty technology. The Ontario system has software that is highly developed. The information can be put in, such as the modus operandi of the offender, so the police can use the system very effectively and quickly for the best possible law enforcement mechanisms. There is nothing in this legislation about upgrading to better software or doing anything to fix the problem, which is one of the major concerns of the federal system.
In terms of warrants, there was evidence at the committee of what happened in Ontario if sex offenders failed to comply. If they do not register, if they do not advise of a change of address or licence plate, if they go on vacation or move and they do not provide the information, Ontario does something about it. I would like to see changes to the legislation to specifically authorize police officers to issue warrants if there is any breach of the information requirements, so we keep track of these offenders for the benefit and the protection of our citizens and for the investigation part of it as well.
There are two other problems.
First, there is no method under the current federal system of registration for people who are incarcerated or if they are deceased. In essence, this hurts the efforts of police officers because they simply do not know if somebody should be still questioned or if there is still somebody who could possibly be a suspect. This needs to be changed as well.
Finally, I have spoken a lot about what needs to be done to protect Canadians, but I also want to speak, on a final point, about what we need to do to protect the persons who have been convicted.
Hopefully most of these people will receive the proper rehabilitation. They will come back into society and hopefully lead good lives and do not repeat their mistakes. That is the goal of our criminal justice system. For those people, we have to offer protections to them as well. Section 17 of the current legislation provides penalties for the unauthorized use of this information. We need to strengthen those so anybody who uses this information for any improper purpose and not for the protection of Canadians is punished severely. That is my attempt to protect these people as well.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on Bill , protecting victims from sex offenders.
We all know that one of the most grievous, heinous, most despicable and appalling crimes that can be inflicted on another is to commit sexual violence against them.
Too often, many of these victims are children. Everyone in the public and all of us here in the House have to wonder about some of the penalties meted out to individuals who have been convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Particularly in cases where there are repeat offences, where the offence is obviously grievous and exceptionally harmful to children, one stands in utter dismay at some of the extremely slight penalties that the offender often gets.
Often it is not the first offence for many of these people who are convicted of assaulting a child. In fact, there is often a long history of repeat offences before that person is actually convicted.
For the victim, for the child, it can leave long-lasting, indelible, profound and harmful effects on the individual. We often see it in adults. With those who have been sexually abused, we often find an array of internal trauma that has not been dealt with, that has been buried because of the shame the person feels.
When we look at the statistics, we know the culprits, those who are actually committing the offences, are often people who are close to home or in the home. If we look at the individuals, particularly children, who have been victimized, we find they often know the person who has assaulted them. That makes it an even more complex and horrific situation for the family members who are also affected by this most grievous of issues.
We support the bill. We support it because it goes to proving the purpose of a registry that was put forth some years ago by the then Liberal government in an effort to assist the police in dealing with sex offenders. The bill was put forth in 2004 by the Liberal government and proclaimed into law. It was the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. It was established to be able to create the national data base of convicted sex offenders.
In fairness, the government of the day tried its best to put together a registry that would meet the needs of the public and the police. We found over time, with the very earnest and professional expertise of our police officers across the country, that the registry did not work to the extent we had hoped.
There were a number of errors that prevented justice from being done and particular crimes from being prevented.
I will go through a few of the key points on the bill. The bill amends the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, which I mentioned was put out in 2004, and the National Defence Act, which is separate but deals with the same issues, to enhance police investigation of crimes of a sexual nature and to allow police services to use the national data base proactively to prevent crimes of a sexual nature.
This is a key point, to use it proactively. The current data base only enables police officers to access the data base after the fact. It does not enable them to look at the data base and rule out or rule in people of interest to prevent a crime from happening. This is an important and positive change in this bill.
The legislation also provides that sex offenders who are subject to a mandatory requirement to comply with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act are also subject to a mandatory requirement to provide a sample for forensic DNA analysis.
We are also a little perplexed that the government has a parliamentary committee looking at this issue right now. The committee has almost completed its study and will recommend constructive solutions. The government could have crafted a bill around those solutions, but chose not to. That is an unfortunate omission on its part. I am sure that the committee's findings, through this House, will be brought up by my colleagues. We will offer solutions to strengthen this act in the service of our citizens and to prevent these heinous crimes being committed.
The national sex offender registry is a national registration system for sex offenders. It has a number of parameters for what is put into the database: name, date of birth, address, identifying marks, et cetera, and nothing will change with respect to that.
We have about 20,000 sex offenders in Canada. Unfortunately, in the current situation, many of them fall through the cracks. Some sex offenders are not in the database. Quebec has the largest number of sex offenders who are not on the registry. The members from the Bloc Québécois, MPs from Quebec and other political parties will find that of interest. It binds us together to try to deal with it.
Other provinces have hundreds of individuals who are not on the current registry. It creates a huge and gaping hole, which needs to be filled, to ensure that these people are all on the same list.
There are 20 Criminal Code offences in the bill. There are some concerns that offences of a lesser nature should not be in this, but I am sure that debate will take place in the coming weeks.
With regard to the number of offenders and their rate of recidivism, a group did a study of 4,700 offenders, and it found that less than 25% actually reoffend. Of that, a smaller percentage who reoffended received treatment.
I have to add a caveat to that, because we know a lot of offenders are difficult to find. Convictions often happen after a series of offences have taken place. We have to look at the data, because clearly it behooves us to make sure we are not misled.
We have also spoken about a few gaps in terms of dealing with sexual predators who travel abroad. This is a very serious problem. There have been cases in Thailand, which is the centre for the sex trade in the world, and an area to which pedophiles gravitate.
Right now, Canadian police officers are forbidden to tell the Thai authorities when a sex offender travels to their country. This issue has to be dealt with, and maybe one of the venues would be through Interpol. We could work with Interpol more closely to share information about sex offenders. We could connect with other countries around the world so that sex offenders can be monitored when they leave our borders to travel to other countries. Then the countries they travel to would be aware when a sex offender comes into their midst. Similarly, we need to know when sex offenders travel to our country. This is very important information in terms of public knowledge.
There are a number of individuals who commit sexual offences abroad but spend no time in prison. In fact, they do not come to the attention of authorities at all. Sexual predators have gone into various countries in the world, countries with weaker judicial systems than ours, and prey on children. That is going on today. It is not a small problem. It is a huge problem, and it occurs in many countries in the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia. However, it is also occurring in other areas, for example, in West Africa, in Central America and South America.
It is known that sexual predators go to the northern part of Colombia because they will not be found or convicted for the offences they commit against the most vulnerable individuals in society: children.
The other issue is caring for victims. We would like to see a much better system for caring for victims who have been subject to sexual abuse.
I have an indelible image in my mind of a time when I was doing a clinic in a juvenile jail where there were two young teenage girls who had been picked up for prostitution. When I asked them how they got involved, they told me they had been pimped by their mother. I happen to know the mother as well, because I had seen her in the emergency department on a number of occasions and in a jail when I was running an adult clinic.
Those teenage girls had been pimped by their mother to pay for her drug addiction. They were too young to make any effective decision on their own and no one was there to prevent a horrific situation.
One of those girls wound up murdered, and because her mother introduced her to IV drugs, the other one had a massive stroke, which left half her body paralyzed. I saw her one day when I was doing rounds in the hospital on the pediatric ward. That was their fate, and it is not uncommon.
If we listen to the tragic and horrific stories of many who live on the street, we will hear too often that many of them had been sexually abused as children. While being abused as a child does not exonerate someone from any charges as a result of a crime they may commit, many of those people were also sexually assaulted as children.
Being sexually assaulted as a child begets sexual assault later on in too many cases. It is not an excuse; it is an observation, but it is an important observation. If we are trying to prevent some of the most horrific crimes we can imagine, does it not behoove us to do what we can to prevent somebody from being sexually abused in the first place?
Bill deals with the ability of police officers to get information on people of interest, thereby hopefully preventing something from happening down the road.
We also need to look at something a bit simpler. Hawaii's healthy start program deals with families at risk. Middle-aged women who have had their children are used as mentors to guide moms and dads and families at risk. The results were truly extraordinary. There was a 99% drop in child abuse in the families who were privy to the mentorship program. Imagine that.
We know that if child abuse can be reduced, the incidence of adult abusers will be lowered as well. That is something we need to embrace. Some of us have been speaking about this for a very long time in the House, more than 15 years in fact.
While this is a provincial responsibility, it would be a stroke of leadership on the part of the federal government to work with willing provinces to adopt such a program. My colleague from Toronto worked with the provinces to develop an early learning national daycare program for kids. It could be very useful to introduce this other aspect where needed.
I also want to talk about first nations communities. The trauma that is taking place right now on first nations communities is a national blight. Some reserves are extraordinary. They have wonderful leadership and great social outcomes. The reality is that the incidence of child abuse, sexual abuse, and violence is much higher in aboriginal communities than in non-aboriginal communities.
This goes for first nations on and off reserve, the off-reserve community being one that is often ignored. If we look at the jail population, those who are incarcerated, we find that the population of first nations individuals in that environment is actually disproportionate to their numbers in Canada.
While the Department of Indian Affairs has chronically used a lot of money to try to address these issues, we have not seen the outcomes that we should have. The reason for that in large part is the fact that the Indian Act in many ways acts as a rock around the neck of first nations communities. In fact, while we are going to have a change in the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, many of those individuals who are running to be the national chief of the AFN are speaking very publicly about the need for a new relationship between the people of Canada and first nations communities across our land.
What we cannot do is stick with the status quo, because it creates a milieu that in many ways breeds a dysfunctional environment. Whether someone is aboriginal or non-aboriginal, in that environment, I think anybody would actually be suffering from many of the same maladies we see today. The fact that we somehow treat first nations people as people apart and treat them differently is in some ways respectful of the place that they are in, in the history of our country, but also the negative side of that is that they have been treated as second-class citizens, in my view, because they have to do things that we as non-aboriginal people do not have to do. Those obstacles significantly impede their ability to be masters of their destiny.
I have worked in first nations communities, in some of the worst and toughest in our country. I have flown up into the northern parts of British Columbia. I have done house calls in rooms that 10 people are in, to treat grandmothers and grandfathers who are sleeping on urine-stained mattresses in hermetically sealed homes that we would never live in, where it is boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, where children are sleeping on a pillowcase with a tiny threadbare blanket around them.
When I saw that, that is one of the reasons I entered politics, because it is fundamentally, completely unacceptable that these circumstances are allowed to exist in our country today. Who speaks for them? Who is going to go and enable that child to have a future that any individual in this country deserves to have? That is the quintessential question. There are solutions out there and many dynamic first nations leaders who are willing and able to provide those solutions, but we have to listen and work with them to implement the solutions to give those children a chance.
In my riding on Vancouver Island, in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I have the Pacheedaht First Nation, and on that reserve there are horrific conditions. There have been suicides, children committing suicide, suicide pacts, sexual abuse, violence and substance abuse. As hard as one tries to break through that, the community is never quite able to get the resources or the relationship that is required by the Department of Indian Affairs to deal with their plight.
In closing, I would impress that it is absolutely crucial, a matter of fundamental humanitarianism, that we work with these communities and embrace the solutions that will give these children, this generation, more hope and a better future than their parents had.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this proposed legislation.
I will state at the outset that I am in support of it going to committee for consideration and hopefully improvement. While this legislation has some of the bones that we need to improve the sex offender information registry, it is sadly lacking in some other areas.
The first thing I want to comment on is the process by which the minister and the government brought this piece of legislation into the House today. As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I must express my outrage at the fact that the committee is undergoing a statutory review of the legislation. It began that review after a decision was made in February to do so.
It has spent a considerable amount of time listening to witnesses and deliberating. It is in the final stages of creating its report and even as it is being written, the minister presents legislation in the House for consideration. This is an affront to all parliamentarians because it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that due process is always followed.
This is a hefty revision to the act. This has obviously been in the works for several weeks, if not months, and the committee was in the final stages of coming up with important suggestions on how we can change the legislation. Much of it is being done by the government's amendments but much of it is not being done.
The first thing I want to say is that it is unfair to committee members on the government side and on the opposition side to not have taken into account the legislative review that is being undertaken right now.
In that review, the committee has heard that the current sex offender information registry is sadly lacking and that it is not helping police. In fact, police officers have told us on a number of occasions that it has not helped them at this point solve any crime. Not a victim has been helped and no offence has been stopped by the sex offender registry as it is now in place.
A decision has already been reached in committee that this bill needs to be changed. We need to address several things severely lacking in the bill. At the same time, I want to put on the table that this bill is not, as it is being presented today, going to solve all those problems. Hopefully, our work in committee can begin to address that.
I look forward to the motion from the committee that will be brought forward to the House for its consideration on the fact that the government is not paying attention to parliamentary committees and, in effect, not listening to people through their elected representatives. That question aside, I want to bring up some issues that I hope will be addressed in committee that will make this legislation more effective.
I will begin by saying that, absolutely, when offenders are found guilty, they do surrender some of their rights. It is also important to say they do not surrender all of their rights. Even though offenders have committed tremendously horrible crimes, they still deserve to be protected by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I will be watching very closely to ensure that certain rights are still guaranteed even for the worst offenders among us. We speak up for them even though they make up the most unpopular group in our country. People need to stand up for human rights at all times.
The legislation seems, in my mind, to be lacking in several ways. First, police officers have called for a fuller understanding of what should be in the actual registry. There is technical information, but in the registry we need more information that will help both profiling and understanding for police officers to go after a potential criminal and to solve a crime when time is of the essence.
With many of the crimes that are happening, minutes and hours are at stake between the life and death of a victim. That means we have to give police officers every opportunity to find and apprehend a person who is potentially committing a crime at that moment. They need to be given every opportunity. That means that vehicle information, licence plate numbers and descriptions of vehicles need to be part of this registry.
That is something the committee is already in the stages of recommending. It is already beginning to look at that. There are a number of recommendations from witnesses who say it is critical for police officers to have vehicle information. They need to know what cars, trucks or vans these people are driving so they will not be hindered in their investigations.
It is also important to have information about the modus operandi, the way a previous criminal has actually committed an offence, so that police officers can look at patterns. They can look at how someone has done something in the past to predict whether not someone will do this in the future. If police officers are seeing a certain pattern invoked, they will be able to look at the sex offender registry and draw up the information to help them in their own investigation. This is absolutely critical because we are talking about minutes and hours that could save a person's life. The registry still does not seem to have a fullness in its quality of information that will actually help police officers.
I think what also has to be clear is that, in this process, we still do not have a full national registry that is effective. As the member for was pointing out, there is no commitment from the government to put the kinds of resources into the police activity, investigative activity and ongoing activity, that will ensure that police officers have the resources to do that. For instance, in this legislation, there is an automatic taking of DNA samples. This will not be left up to the discretion of any judge. That means that the DNA database, which is also under statutory review, will be further burdened by more work with no promise of resources.
The most critical tool in many of these crimes is having a DNA match that can help the police and then later help in the criminal proceedings to ensure that we actually get a conviction. That DNA is being used more and more, but our DNA database, the registry and the RCMP offices that do that do not have adequate resources to undertake the work that they are currently doing. This will impose more work on them, so there needs to be a commitment from the government that goes hand in hand with this legislation to provide resources to the DNA database.
We have also been discovering from witnesses at committee that the work that has gone on to keep the registry up to date across the country is very uneven. The number of visits that police officers would pay to a house to check whether or not the person is still residing there, whether or not that person's physical appearance has changed and whether or not that person has been involved in a non-sexual crime are the kinds of things that are not being adequately followed up by police officers because they do not have the resources to do it.
Some jurisdictions maintain their annual or more-than-annual visits to ensure that the sex offender registry is up to date. Other jurisdictions have not seen people for months or years. They have lost contact with the people, so the sex offender registry information is no longer helpful. It is simply not going to work. Again, that is part of the resourcing that needs to go hand in hand with this legislation.
The police have also been asking for us to have the facility for geomapping and the ability to pinpoint where criminals are living in a way that allows police to move quickly in a situation. I am aware that the hon. member for was talking about the fact that many of these crimes are actually committed by family members. That is a different set of circumstances. However, for crimes that involve abduction, kidnapping or predatory activities, police officers have to have the ability to ensure that they have every possible tool to get to the crime scene quickly when there is a missing person.
Our children are our most precious resource. We have to do everything we can do to ensure that they have the police in their hands, with the ability to find them, protect them and take care of them. It is where time is of the essence.
I want to close with where I started on this topic: the rights of offenders. I know it is an uncomfortable subject for most people in the House because we have to ensure that even though we are possibly taking discretion away from judges in these cases, we must still protect privacy. I am glad that the legislation seems to imagine that this is still not a publicly accessible registry but for the use of police officers only.
It is incumbent upon police officers to maintain that privacy, secure the information that they are carrying around with them, and take every possible chance to ensure that even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes have their human rights protected. It is uncomfortable for us to talk about it, but we must surely be part of that discussion.
The reason we need to be part of that is not only for their rights, but because we know that offenders tend to reoffend when they are under stress, when they are feeling further victimized. If we want to actually prevent this kind of crime from happening, we have to ensure that we are approaching it with fairness, with a preservation of human rights and civil rights, and that offenders are part of our community as well.