The House resumed from June 2, 2014, consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, members of Parliament will be engaging in a debate on Bill that is part of a process to codify aspects of punishment associated with sexual offences against children.
At the risk of being repetitive, I will draw from empirical evidence, namely from my personal experience at the legal aid clinic I joined in 2006 as an intern. I worked at the clinic in Sept-Îles for about two years. Since I was new to the office, I was often given the cases nobody else would touch with a ten-foot pole, if I can use that expression. These were big cases involving clients who were not always the nicest people. I was in criminal defence. I also handled mental health cases. I handled 400 cases in 2007—we had statistics at the legal aid clinic. It was a real boon to have those statistics every month, and our boss could come and talk to us about our performance. Anyway, in 2007, I handled 400 cases. As it happened, I ended up with several cases involving children, most of them young victims. Even a lawyer would find such clients difficult to like. It is hard to imagine what kind of experience would await them in a penal institution.
At the time, there were restrictions in place. There was a very strict framework that applied to crimes against the person involving victims of sexual acts—children in this case. I remember the first such case I handled. There was no way the accused could have served his sentence in the community. That was called a conditional sentence. By 2006 and 2007, there had been a codification, a change to the Criminal Code that prevented judges from sentencing people to serve time in the community. Sentencing was already getting harsher because that restriction was added.
Given the bill before us and its history, it is clear that sentences related to sexual crimes against children have gradually gotten harsher.
These offenders usually wound up in prison, depending on the severity of the alleged offences. This clientele invariably found themselves in protective custody. Protective custody simply means that they have to be separated from the general prison population because even inside the prison walls, they risk being assaulted. Word gets around among the other inmates, and those offenders are really unpopular. They are not accepted. One can imagine, then, how horrible those offenders are in the eyes of the general Canadian population. Basically, as I said, this clientele is unique, and the onus of proof is high. The cases were also unique. I had to ask for help from my articling supervisor at the time, and later from my boss, on those cases, because the crown was insistent, and more attention was given to those kinds of cases.
Considering the social stigmas associated with crimes committed against vulnerable victims, it is important to enact coercive measures that will adequately protect young people and communities. With those goals set out, it is important to apply a filter to the measures proposed by this government in order to prevent possible diversions from issues of identity for targeted political gain.
If this had never been brought to my attention, I would not be mentioning it here today. However, history has shown, as I have learned from being here for the past three years, that too often, bastions of identity and highly contentious issues are often seized upon and given lots of media attention.
It is unfortunate, but the Conservatives' trademark is “tough on crime”. There is even a copyright on it. This kind of measure, with harsher penalties, is meant to please a lobby group that has the government's ear. That is why this kind of issue and the debate around it usually become more about propaganda and electioneering. As I said earlier, this has been brought to my attention several times.
Given the specific subject matter in this case, we must ensure first and foremost that the goal behind implementing measures that are more draconian and harsher for the accused is not just to pander for votes, since this is about the people on the ground. I will come back to that.
It is the stakeholders, the paralegals, the crown prosecutors, and naturally the judges as well, who have to apply these harsher rules on the ground.
What is more, these undue measures are being imposed on them without necessarily a supporting budgetary envelope. Over the past few years, there has been a 6% increase in sexual assaults against children. It is not just the resources, including stakeholders on the ground and crown prosecutors, but also the social workers and paralegals who will have to deal with a larger clientele without necessarily getting more money to do so.
We got to this point because some people felt it was necessary to create hype around this issue, and went to great lengths to propose harsher sentences and codified measures, which, if I may say it, are nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Based on the findings concerning the dubious effectiveness of measures targeting sexual offences against children that have been brought forward since 2006, a review of the applicability and the hold of these measures on the work of judicial stakeholders must be undertaken in committee. There has to be a real study, so that we can try to see through all the hype and truly consider the impact on the people on the ground in order to understand the consequences and what the workers actually have to contend with.
I will go over how sentences and restrictions have gotten tougher since 2006.
The government is:
[Making it] illegal for anyone to provide sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence...
[Making it] illegal to use computers or other means of telecommunications to agree with or make arrangements with another person to commit a sexual offence against a child;
The sex offender registry has been strengthened; the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity has been increased from 14 to 16 years of age. Those are a few specifics. There has been a definite trend to harden the rules and strengthen coercive measures.
Despite these clear changes, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding the supplementary estimates, the said that sexual offences against children had increased by 6% over the past two years. That is a rather large increase in recent years.
This finding raises a number of questions about what the actual impact of the proposed amendments will be and whether they will be adequate, enforceable and effective. Clearly, we are about to hit a wall since the number of such offences increased despite the tougher regulations that have been put in place since 2006.
Is there a connection? A correlation? I submit that for consideration. However, this should still be examined in committee. I want to bring up these questions today so that they can be meaningfully debated and so that experts and people on the ground can be heard.
Once again, it is the people on the ground or the front-line workers who will have to deal with these cases. As a result, they need to have their say about whether the proposed measures are enforceable.
Experts who have spoken out about the need to stop the sexual abuse of children have said that our communities need more human and financial resources in order to take a less repressive approach. There is always another way. Sometimes, we have to make sure that we are not wearing blinders.
For example, and I will close on this point, the statistics from the Circle of Support and Accountability program are impressive. That is an alternative. According to one study, the rate of sexual recidivism is 70% lower among those who participate in a Circle of Support and Accountability program.
Another study shows that this type of program reduces the rate of sexual recidivism by 83%. Those are promising statistics, which show that there could be another another approach to dealing with this problem. Such an approach would also help ensure that justice is served and victims are protected.
I submit this respectfully.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the second reading of Bill the tougher penalties for child predators act. However, I must say that although I fully support this bill, I do so with sadness, because like every member of this House, I wish it were not necessary, but unfortunately it is.
We discussed earlier the statistics from Juristat, which describe the problem. Over 3,900 sexual violations against children were reported to police in 2012, which was an increase of 3% from 2011, and the same increase was seen from 2010 to 2011. There were approximately 33,000 sex offenders on the National Sex Offender Registry, of which approximately 22,000 had a conviction for a child sex offence as of October 2013.
This is very unfortunate. It is the one type of crime in Canada that continues to increase year by year.
I was told by Karyn Kennedy, the executive director of the Boost child advocacy centre in Toronto, an agency that is doing fantastic work to assist child and youth victims of sexual offences, that they cannot keep up with the demand. They opened a centre a year ago expecting to have about 1,400 cases in that year, and they had almost double that number during that period.
It is an endemic problem. It may be fuelled in part by the availability of the Internet and the ease of luring and abusing children over the Internet. Unfortunately, it is a heinous crime that is being perpetrated against the most vulnerable people in our society, and we must all take action to do whatever we can to reduce and eliminate it.
This bill reflects the ongoing efforts of the government to protect our children from sexual exploitation. My remarks today will focus on the bill's proposals to ensure that the sentences imposed for child sexual offences adequately reflect the appropriate level of denunciation and deterrence.
We know that children are far more likely to be victims of sexual crimes than are adults. It is worrisome to see that the trend is increasing. One of the factors contributing to this trend in recent years has been the Internet, which has expanded the reach of sexual predators to the globe with a click of a button.
The justice committee heard considerable evidence of the use of the Internet to lure, exploit, and sexually bully children during its study of Bill the protecting Canadians from online crime act. The proposed reforms to our Criminal Code and our new investigative powers in that bill are necessary to protect children, as are the provisions in the bill before us.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is an impressive organization that has, since 2004, received support from the federal government as part of the national strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. It delivers programs to increase the personal safety of children and reduce their risk of sexual exploitation. These programs include education and prevention, research, and the coordination of national efforts on child protection with the private sector, government, and law enforcement.
It also operates cybertip.ca, Canada's national 24/7 tip line for reporting online child sexual exploitation. As noted on its website, between September 2002 and June 2010, cybertip.ca received 39,783 reports of online child sexual exploitation, 90% of which were for child pornography offences. These numbers paint a horrifying picture that clearly demonstrates that we must do more to stop child sexual exploitation, including by online predators. The proposed amendments contained in this bill would assist in achieving this objective by ensuring that sentences handed down would properly denounce and deter all forms of child sexual exploitation.
Bill proposes to increase the mandatory minimum penalty for nine existing child sexual offences as well as increase the maximum penalties for 16 existing child sexual offences. For example, the maximum penalty for section 171.1 of the Criminal Code, making sexually explicit material available to a child for the purpose of facilitating the sexual abuse of the child, would increase from two years of imprisonment on indictment to 14 years of imprisonment, with a corresponding increase in the mandatory minimum penalty from 90 days to six months imprisonment.
The offences of making child pornography, subsection 163.1(2), and distributing child pornography, subsection 163.1(3) of the Criminal Code would be converted from hybrid offences to indictable offences, and the maximum penalties would increase from 10 to 14 years.
As well, the maximum penalties on indictment for luring a child on the Internet, section 172.1 of the code, and for an agreement or arrangement to commit a sexual offence against a child through the use of telecommunications, section 172.2 of the code, will increase from 10 to 14 years of imprisonment. These are serious crimes, and this bill will ensure that they receive serious penalties.
This bill goes further to ensure that the objective of these amendments, to impose penalties that properly reflect the seriousness of the offence, is not defeated through sentence discounts for offenders sentenced at the same time for multiple child sexual offences.
Courts have, over time, developed rules to assist sentencing judges in the determination of whether sentences should be served concurrently, at the same time, or consecutively, that is, served one after the other. The general rule is that offences committed as part of the same transaction or same event should be served concurrently. For instance, an offender who sexually abuses a child and also makes a permanent record of that abuse by making child pornography should in theory be ordered to serve two sentences concurrently. Where an offender is sentenced at the same time for offences that are not committed as part of the same transaction, those sentences are normally served consecutively.
However, sometimes it happens that an offender is sentenced at the same time for sexual offences committed against different children, that is, committed as separate events. There have been a number of notorious serial child sex offenders whose crimes have come to light in much later years and were then tried together. Those offenders sometimes get a sentence discount through sentences that are imposed concurrent to each other rather than consecutively. Such an approach, in my view, sends a message, in the case of multiple victims, that not every victim counts. That is unfortunate.
Increasingly, however, sentencing courts are recognizing that consecutive sentences are warranted in certain cases of child sexual exploitation. These situations include, for example, where the offender has sexually abused a child, made child pornographic recordings of that abuse, and then disseminated those images worldwide via the Internet.
Imposing consecutive sentences in these circumstances, as some courts have already done, recognizes the reality that once such images are distributed, they will forever be available on the Internet and that the child depicted in those images will be revictimized every time the images are viewed.
For these reasons, Bill proposes to codify this growing practice by requiring courts that are sentencing an offender at the same time for child pornography and child sexual abuse to impose consecutive sentences for these offences.
The bill would also require a sentencing court to consider imposing consecutive sentences on an offender who is sentenced at the same time for sexual offences against multiple child victims; that is, the sentence imposed for child sexual offences committed against one child would be served consecutive, meaning one after the other, to the sentence imposed for sexual offences committed against another child.
Those are all important and welcome steps to ensure that all child sexual offenders are held fully accountable for their crimes. This bill will treat each victim equally and with dignity. This bill will end volume discounts for serial child sexual offenders.
This bill will also look beyond the sentence and seek to enhance community safety where the offender is released into the community under a prohibition order, under section 161; a probation order, under section 731; or a peace bond, under 810.1 of the Criminal Code.
A sentencing court must consider imposing a prohibition order on an offender convicted of a child sexual assault offence. Probation orders, under section 731, can be imposed on offenders who are sentenced to less than two years' imprisonment. Peace bonds can be imposed where there is a reasonable fear that the person will commit a child sexual offence, which is under section 810.1 of the Criminal Code.
Many experts tell us that most, if not all, child sexual offenders can never be rehabilitated, that once they have this problem, this issue, this proclivity, there is really nothing that can be done to ensure that they do not have that proclivity in the future. There are people, unfortunately, in our society who must always be under some kind of probation order or watch and must be listed on an offender registry so that Canadians can keep their children safe.
All of these orders can impose conditions restricting the offender's contact with children and use of the Internet or other digital networks with a view to preventing the offender from committing a child sexual offence.
The Criminal Code currently provides for a maximum penalty on indictment of two years' imprisonment for breaches of the supervision orders. Given that they are crucial in protecting our children from sexual offenders, including from recidivists, the bill proposes to increase the penalty for a breach of these orders to a maximum term of imprisonment on indictment of four years.
The bill also proposes to impose consistent penalties for breaches of these orders when prosecuted summarily. There have been many cases, unfortunately, of child sexual offenders who, on release and on some form of probation, then committed a second, third, or fourth subsequent offence, and that is problem we are trying to address with these provisions in Bill .
Currently, breaches of peace bonds and prohibition orders are both punished on summary conviction by a maximum fine of $5,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both, yet breaches of probation orders are punishable on summary conviction by a maximum fine of $2,000 or 18 months' imprisonment, or both.
To ensure the harmonization of the penalties for breaches of these supervision orders, the bill would provide that the maximum penalty on summary conviction for breaches would be 18 months' imprisonment or $5,000, or both.
The last element I wish to touch upon is the amendment to the proposed Canada Evidence Act. The Canada Evidence Act provides that the spouse of a person accused of most offences can neither testify for the prosecution nor be forced to testify against the spouse. However, there are exceptions to this rule for most child sexual offences, but not, unfortunately, in the case of child pornography offences.
In child pornography cases, the evidence of the accused's spouse may be required to prove the guilt of the accused. That is why the amendments proposed in this bill would make the spouse competent and compellable to testify for the prosecution in cases of child pornography.
There are a number of other provisions that I think are very important in the bill that I would like everyone listening to know about. The bill would also establish a publicly accessible database of high-risk child sexual offenders who have been the subject of a public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. It would assist in ensuring the safety of our communities.
In addition, the bill would provide for legislation to enable information-sharing, on certain registered sex offenders, between officials responsible for the National Sex Offender Registry and those with the Canada Border Services Agency so that foreign nations may be notified when these types of offenders are travelling to other jurisdictions.
Finally, Bill would require registered sex offenders to provide more information regarding their travel abroad. We want to protect not only children in Canada but children around the world, and unfortunately, there are those in our society who would leave our borders to find victims around the world. Canada will live up to its international obligation to protect children around the world by ensuring that high-risk child sexual offenders notify the Canada Border Services Agency when they intend to travel abroad.
The heinous nature of sexual crimes committed against children, especially the online sexual exploitation of children, requires all of us in this chamber to support the proposed amendments contained in the bill. I was gratified to hear a few moments ago that my friends in the NDP will be supporting the bill to go to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for study. I look forward to working with them at the justice committee to study the bill and ensure that it addresses the needs of the children we are trying to protect in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, to enact the High Risk Child Sex Offender Database Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts. I stand in support of the bill at second reading because I, and I am sure all members of the House whether on that or this side of the chamber, believe that protecting our children should be one of our top priorities.
We do a huge range of things in Parliament, but I do not take anything as seriously as the protection of children. Being a mother and a grandmother and having been a teacher for quite a few decades and worked with thousands of children, I realize the importance of child protection on a personal level. I am sure that every member of Parliament would agree that nothing is more abhorrent or as sick as the sexual assault of children. Even individuals who have not had children would, I think, consider this kind of criminal activity abhorrent and absolutely heinous.
As my esteemed colleague from Winnipeg said earlier, I am pleased by the tone of the debate in this room today, and that it is because we want to get this right. I want to get it right. I want each and every one of us to do whatever it takes to make sure that we do this in a way that would actually protect our children.
In order to do that, I am going to plead with my government colleagues not to cut off debate on this legislation, which we have seen done in this place many times. This is too important an issue to be rushed through. The government could have brought this legislation forward a long time ago but it did not. Now that it is here, let us do our job and make sure that we do everything we can to protect children.
As a member of Parliament I am pleading with my colleagues across the way to make sure that at committee we take the time to bring in witnesses, and not just a couple of witnesses. Last week on a piece of legislation I was dealing with, the official opposition was allowed only one witness and then given only five minutes to ask questions of that witness. I want to believe that everyone is genuine when it comes to tackling something as serious as child protection, specifically the sexual assault of children. With that in mind, it is really critical that when the bill gets to committee, we not only take the time to hear expert witnesses but also that we make decisions that would make things better.
All members of Parliament love photo ops. We have them in our ridings all the time when we are making announcements or when a festival occurs, or when we go to a tree lighting ceremony, like I am soon to do in Surrey. These are the kinds of photo ops we should take part in, but when it comes to the protection of our children from sexual assault, it is not something we want to be rushing through just so that we can say that we are doing something.
I do not sit on justice committee, but I have a great deal of trust in our critic and other members of the committee. I trust them to do due diligence on this issue, but in order to do that they need time. They need time to have discussions with the witnesses and to deliberate. Then they need time to put forward thoughtful amendments.
With this legislation, I hope my colleagues across the way will not say that it is their way or the highway. I hope they will give serious consideration to the amendments the New Democrats put forward, of which I am sure there will be many because my colleague, the NDP critic, is a very experienced lawyer who has a lot of expertise in this area and she takes this file very seriously. I know she will have some great suggestions.
Once again, let us ensure, as we tackle the very difficult, sensitive and heart-wrenching issue of the protection of our children from sexual offenders, that we get it right so our children are truly protected. That is the goal of all of us.
I have three grandchildren and like every other grandparent would say about their grandchildren, they are most gorgeous grandchildren on this planet. I think grandparents get the right to say that over and over again. As I watch them, I compare their lives to the way my children grew up. They have access to the Internet. My daughter is one of those moms who has all kinds of filters, and checks and balances that follow where the kids go on the Internet, but not every parent has the knowledge or time to do that.
As said, our children are exposed to so much more and no matter how much monitoring a parent does of their children's use and activity on the Internet, we know there are opportunities for those who seek to assault our children, to use the Internet in a way that probably even shocks and surprises many of us in this room who are a little more literate in these areas. I am sometimes shocked at what pops up when I am on the Internet.
There is a lot we need to do to protect our children. It is a different world. I always worry about what my grandchildren and other children are confronted with. If they have a sad moment and write something on Facebook or any other social media, what kinds of predators are waiting to pounce on that? We have heard about all the bullying that takes place on the Internet and the dire consequences of that.
Getting back to the legislation, let me make it very clear. There is no doubt that every NDP member sitting in our caucus has a zero tolerance policy on matters involving sexual offences against children. We absolutely respect the principles of jurisprudence and fundamental laws. At the same time, we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes sexual offences against children.
I do not want to keep bringing this up, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves. It was the NDP that offered to fast track parts of former Bill C-10 that dealt with sexual offences against children. We were in agreement on that component. We were willing to separate that out and have it go through, but, of course, to no avail.
The NDP members have also introduced private members' initiatives, which the government ultimately adopted, with a view to preventing the sexual exploitation of children and making it illegal to use a computer to perpetrate an offence against a child. That was long before my time. It was put forward by former NDP member Dawn Black, who is now retired and enjoying a political life in a different arena.
As I said, our goal is to protect our children. We also know that in order to have child protection, having legislation itself is not enough. We can pass all of the legislation we like, but unless our communities have the resources they need, that legislation is just words on paper.
I come from the city of Surrey. As many have heard, we have had some pretty tragic events and murders in our city. My city is still waiting for a commitment that was made by the federal government for additional policing, and it has not lived up to it.
One of my major concerns is that I am from a municipality that is really stretched when it comes to policing, not only to deal with an increase in petty crimes, mental health and drug related crimes, but also to deal with gangs, drug cartels and all of those things. I worry that sometimes, as parliamentarians, we pass legislation because we absolutely believe in it and think it is good, but then undermine our own legislation when we do not provide the resources that are needed by communities. This is one thing I hope the government will keep in mind as we move forward with this legislation.
I cannot remember who it was, but somebody once said to me that if harsher and longer prison sentences, and the death penalty could end crime, the U.S. would have very little crime. However, we know that is not true.
We absolutely have to take a very close look at this legislation, but we also have to take a look at it in a way that will achieve our goal. Our goal is to protect our children. I have not had the time to go through the bill in detail, but what I have discovered, with my colleagues across the way, is often the devil is in the details. That is why we need experts to speak to the potential effectiveness of the proposed changes.
I know my limitations. I am not a lawyer, so I need to rely on the justice committee and our critic, who is a very experienced lawyer, as well as the experts who are called before the committee to ensure we make this legislation right. That is our goal, and that is where we should go with this.
As other colleagues have said in the House today, on the whole, we are told that nationally the crime numbers have gone down. Every time that is said in Surrey, the people there do not believe it, because of their lived experience day in and day out. I have been at recent municipal debates where people are very offended when that is said. They have a high level of anxiety around their own safety.
What is really concerning is that despite the changes made by the government since 2006 to better protect children, and there have been about nine of them, the , at committee, stated that sexual offences against children had increased 6% over the past two years. That is a shocking number. As a parent, I looked at this and wondered how that could be? This is in spite of the fact that since 2006, the tough-on-crime agenda has been worked on or is in place
We all know, and I worked as a counsellor on a number of different issues, that along with being tough on crime, we also have to keep in mind the rights of the victims, protect them and provide them the resources they need after the crime.
I do not know about other provinces, but in my province, beautiful British Columbia, the area of child protection does not work too well. In fact, it is very disconcerting to hear the kinds of cuts that are being made in the area of social workers and other preventative measures.
Therefore, as well as having a tough on crime agenda, we also need support for the victims to help them rehabilitate after the crime. The trauma, especially when it comes to sexual assault, is great. One or two sessions with a counsellor will not to cut it for every child. Therefore, I am looking really hard for resources that would help rehabilitate our young children. I am not saying it is something a child, or any person, could get over. It would be very presumptuous of me to say that. However, without systematic and ongoing support, we will leave our children even more vulnerable. It becomes really critical that we have the resources to support the children.
At the same time, if we are going to ask our police forces to do more monitoring and many other things, then we should be looking at ensuring the RCMP and others have the necessary resources a well.
Going back to the children, every time a child is sexually assaulted, we need to look at support for the whole family. The whole family goes through the trauma, parents, siblings and everyone else in the vicinity as well, including grandparents. We have to do much more in that area.
We also need to do much more to protect our communities from repeat offenders. The tragic murder that occurred this year in my riding was a case of a repeat offender. He was on probation and was being monitored, yet in spite of all of that, a young woman in the prime of her life was killed.
We have to look at what actually works. I am not saying that we on this side of the House have the answers. What I am saying is we have to rely on experts and those who know far more than parliamentarians do about this whole issue. We have to look at how we deal with those who offend.
The NDP has put forward a valiant fight for the Circles of Support and Accountability Program.
Steve Sullivan, former federal ombudsman for the victims of crime, said this:
...the federal government recently announced it was cutting the measly $650,000 in funding that Corrections Canada provides. CoSA also receives funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre; that's also set to end this fall. In total, the program costs $2.2 million a year.
He went on to say:
Like most community-based victim services, CoSA is a fairly cheap program. It has 700 volunteers across the country; they meet with offenders after their release, help them find jobs and places to live, meet with them regularly for coffee. They support offenders as they start to live normal lives, ones that don't involve new victims. They hold them accountable.
Those services have been reduced or cut totally in some areas.
Let me finish by saying that we support sending this bill to committee. I am pleading with my colleagues across the way to give us the time that is needed to do our due diligence at committee, to be open to amendments, to be open to expert advice, and to listen to those who know more about this issue than we do so that we end up with good legislation. I am also pleading with them to fund the legislation so we can actually see its effect.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to voice my support for Bill , the tougher penalties for child predators act, during second reading debate.
In order to support the Canadian government's commitment to stand up for victims of crime, the and the introduced a bill to better address the problem of sex offences committed against children in Canada and abroad.
The bill builds on the government's concerted efforts to protect children from those who would prey on their vulnerability.
Some examples of what this government has done to better protect children from sexual predators include the Safe Streets and Communities Act in 2012, which established new mandatory minimum penalties for seven existing child offences, increased the mandatory minimum penalties for nine existing child sex offences, and increased the maximum prison sentences for four existing child sexual exploitation offences to better reflect the serious nature of these offences.
It also created two new offences to prevent anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of sexual offences against that child, which is section 171.1 of the Criminal Code, and to prohibit anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including the Internet, to agree or to make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing sexual offences against a child, which is section 172.2.
It also requires judges to consider prohibiting suspected or convicted child sex offenders from having any unsupervised contact with a young person under the age of 16 or having any unsupervised use of the Internet or other digital network.
There was also the law called “An Act Respecting the Mandatory Reporting of Internet Child Pornography by Persons Who Provide an Internet Service” in 2011, which requires those who provide Internet services to report when they are advised of an Internet address where child pornography may be available to the public.
As well, the Protecting Victims from Sex Offenders Act of 2011 required all those convicted of sexual offences abroad to report to a police service within seven days of arriving in Canada, and the Tackling Violent Crime Act of 2008 doubled the duration of peace bonds and protective orders for persons convicted of child sexual offences or suspected of committing such an offence in the future, and of course raised the age of sexual activity, known as the age of protection, to 16 years.
This last amendment is significant. It brought Canada in line with other like-minded countries to ensure a higher level of protection for children in Canada by preventing Canadian children from being targeted by foreign pedophiles, who used to view Canada as a safe haven to pursue sexual activity with 14- and 15-year-olds.
Our government has also taken broader measures to help young victims of crime. We have provided over $10 million for new or enhanced child advocacy centres, or CACs, since 2010. So far, CAC projects have been funded in 20 cities or municipalities across Canada.
Teams of professionals at these centres help young victims and witnesses cope with the trauma they have experienced and navigate the criminal justice system. We also launched www.getcybersafe.gc.ca, the Government of Canada’s public awareness website on online safety. The site contains information for parents on how to protect their children from people who go online for the purpose of exploiting, manipulating or abusing children.
We joined the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online in June 2013. The goal of the global alliance is to strengthen international efforts to fight Internet predators and child abuse images online. It focuses on identifying and helping victims, prosecuting offenders, increasing public awareness and reducing the availability of child pornography online.
There was also consultation with the public and stakeholders in order to better understand the different opinions on which rights should be recognized and protected by a federal victims bill of rights. These consultations are crucial to determining how best to enshrine victims' rights in a single federal law.
Since 2006, the government has allocated more than $120 million to meet the needs of victims of crime through programs and initiatives delivered by the Department of Justice.
This is only a sampling of the measures that this government has undertaken to strengthen the criminal justice system's protection of children from such heinous crimes, but these measures are the foundation on which Bill 's proposed reforms are built. I believe that the import of Bill C-26's reforms can only be truly appreciated in this context.
First and foremost, sentencing reforms in Bill would ensure that those who prey upon children receive the sentences they deserve.
In Canada, more than 3,900 sexual offences against children were reported to the police in 2012. That is a 6% increase over 2010. We must take action.
This bill proposes nine new measures that reflect the commitment the government made in the 2013 throne speech to re-establish Canada as a country where those who break the law are punished for their actions, where penalties match the severity of the crimes committed, and where the most vulnerable victims—children—are better protected.
The measures are as follows: requiring those convicted of contact child sexual offences against multiple children to serve their sentences consecutively, one after another; requiring those convicted of child pornography offences and contact child sexual offences to serve their sentences consecutively; increasing maximum and minimum prison sentences for certain child sexual offences; increasing penalties for violation of conditions of supervision orders; ensuring that a crime committed while on house arrest, parole, statutory release or unescorted temporary absence is an aggravating factor at sentencing; ensuring that spousal testimony is available in child pornography cases; requiring registered sex offenders to provide more information when they travel abroad; enabling information sharing on certain registered sex offenders between officials responsible for the national sex offender registry and at the Canada Border Services Agency; and establishing a publicly accessible database of high-risk child sex offenders who have been the subject of a public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction to assist in ensuring the safety of our communities.
The bill proposes to increase the mandatory minimum penalties for 9 existing child sexual offences as well as to increase the maximum penalty for 16 existing child sexual offences. The offences cover the full range of conduct engaged in by child sexual offenders.
Some offenders engage in conduct that is preparatory to a contact sexual offence. This process is sometimes referred to as “grooming”. For example, some offenders may show children sexually explicit material to normalize the sexual activity in which they wish to engage. Others may attempt to make an agreement with another adult who has control over a child to sexually abuse that child. Still others may directly contact a child through the Internet to prepare the child for sexual abuse.
I stress that all this contact is specifically prohibited by the Criminal Code, sections 171.1 to 172.2. Bill would ensure that the penalties for engaging in this conduct are commensurate with the severity of the crime. Applicable mandatory minimum penalties would be increased, and a maximum penalty of 14 years on indictment would be imposed for all these preparatory child sexual offences.
The Criminal Code also prohibits sexual contact with children through child specific sexual offences, sections 151 to 153, and general sexual offences, sections 271 to 273. Maximum penalties for child specific sexual offences as well as for the general sexual assault offences, section 271, where the victim is under 16 years, would increase from 18 months to 2 years less a day on summary conviction and from 10 years to 14 years on indictment. The maximum penalty for sexual assault with a weapon where the victim is under age 16 would increase from 14 years to life imprisonment.
Bill would also strengthen the child pornography provisions, which prohibit making, distributing, possessing, or accessing child pornography, section 163.1. First, the bill would make the offence of making and distributing child pornography strictly indictable and increase the maximum penalties from 10 years to 14 years to reflect the particularly heinous nature of these crimes. It would also increase the mandatory minimum penalties for possessing and accessing child pornography from 90 days to 6 months on summary conviction and from 6 months to a year on indictment. In addition, it would increase the maximum penalties for these offences from 18 months to 2 years less a day on summary conviction and from 5 to 10 years on indictment.
However, Bill does not stop there.
The bill would also increase penalties for breaches of supervision orders. These orders can be imposed to prevent future offending. Therefore, it is critical that penalties for breaches of such orders act as a deterrent.
Accordingly, Bill would ensure that anyone convicted of breaching a probation order, peace bond, or prohibition order would be subject to a maximum penalty of 18 months on summary conviction rather than the existing 6 months, and 4 years on indictment rather than the existing 2 years.
I have focused on the reforms Bill proposes that would increase penalties for child sexual offences, but the bill also proposes other important sentencing reforms, including to require that offenders who offend against multiple child victims, or commit child pornography offences and contact child sexual offences, serve their sentences for these offences consecutively rather than concurrently if they are sentenced for such offences at the same time. This means no more sentence discounts.
Bill would also ensure that committing an offence while subject to a conditional sentence order—that is, a sentence that was served in the community or while on parole or while on statutory release—is also considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
All of these sentencing reforms taken together would assist in strengthening the criminal laws' intricate web of protection for children.
In short, these reforms would send a message: Canada will not tolerate sexually offending against children. We must do everything we can to prevent such offending, protect children, and hold offenders to account.
I am also pleased that this bill contains some important reforms that would assist in ensuring that the evidence of an accused's spouse is available in child pornography prosecutions; that information could be shared between Canada and foreign countries concerning Canadians travelling abroad to sexually offend against children; and that the public would be informed of high-risk offenders who may offend again against our children.
I will quote Sharon Rosenfeldt, president of the Victims of Violence. She said:
We need to protect the vulnerable and make sure they have the tools to get help, heal and move forward with their lives—especially our children. We at Victims of Violence welcome the federal government’s move to strengthen laws surrounding sexual abuse, so children are protected from abuse and exploitation, victims are heard and our communities are made safer.
There is no doubt in my mind that Bill is a critical piece of legislation that would serve to protect our children and our communities and keep them safe. Accordingly, I encourage all hon. members to join me in support of Bill .
Victims, especially children, need our support.
I invite members of all parties to join me in supporting this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill as it also gives me an opportunity to talk about our justice system more generally and the approach the Conservatives have been taking since 2006, when they were elected to government for the first time with the current as their leader.
It is hard to know where to start. We have talked about mandatory minimum sentences, about how to make our streets and communities safer, and about how to address issues that our communities are facing. I would like to point out that the Conservatives' policies are a far cry from what we have known in Canada, historically speaking. This is a complete 180. It is more than a 180, it is more like a 360, but that would put us back where we started, so I will stick with 180.
Bill is a perfect example of the Conservatives' approach to criminal justice issues. I would like talk about what we do in Quebec since my riding, La Pointe-de-l'Île, is located on the Island of Montreal in Quebec. We have a long-standing, deep-rooted tradition of working with victims, in accordance with the reintegration and rehabilitation principles that have guided our criminal justice policies. These are principles that do not rate for the Conservatives, values they may not care about. I am being the devil's advocate here. Is one side more right than the other? I do not think that this debate should be about who is right and who is wrong. It should be about what works on the ground. That is what I am going to talk about in my speech.
This debate is not about adding mandatory minimum sentences, but since my colleague, the , talked about that, I feel I can talk about it too. Adding such sentences not only takes away judges' discretionary power, but also makes the system we cherish, a system based on rehabilitation rather than repression, completely ineffective. That might be something we could debate. Some experts will say that it works, and others will say that it does not. If we want to talk about a system that focuses on repression, we can look at statistics from the United States. We know that the American system is one of the most repressive in the world.
I did some research on the Internet. I found articles and speeches given in American legislatures in extremely conservative, Republican states such as Texas, South Carolina and Ohio. These states have adopted the kinds of policies that the Conservatives are trying to sell us. The Conservatives are trying to force Canadians to abandon the fundamental values and principles that we have fought so hard for in favour of an almost biblical vision—the actually mentioned the Bible—of the justice system. I would like to quote a few remarks by some extreme right-wing governors in the United States.
In one article, the following is said:
Conservatives in the United States' toughest crime-fighting jurisdiction—Texas—say the Harper government's crime strategy won't work.
The judge in question went on to say:
"You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up," says Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court. "And there will come a point in time where the public says, 'Enough!' And you'll wind up letting them out [without any support whatsoever]."
The article continues:
Adds Representative Jerry Madden—a conservative Republican who heads the Texas House Committee on Corrections, “Its a very expensive thing to build prisons and, if you build 'em, I guarantee you they will come. They'll be filled. OK? Because people will send them there.”
He was referring to the American people.
These comments are in line with a coalition of experts in Washington, D.C. who attacked the Harper government's omnibus crime package, Bill --
Mr. Speaker, I duly apologize. I am talking about the Conservative government's omnibus crime package, Bill .
The executive director of the Washington-based Justice Policy Institute has said the following:
Republican governors and state legislators in such states of Texas, South Carolina, and Ohio are repealing mandatory minimum sentences, increasing opportunities for effective community supervision, and funding drug treatment because they know it will improve public safety and reduce taxpayer costs....
When the Conservatives start talking about facts on the ground, they should listen closely to the Americans, who have already used this type of policy, a policy that unfortunately did not work. Speaking of statistics in the United States, a lawyer who heads an anti-tax, civil rights group said the following:
We've seen a double-digit decline in the last few years in Texas, both in our prison incarceration rate and, most importantly in our crime rate.
According to that lawyer, since the State of Texas adopted a rehabilitation policy, its crime rate dropped dramatically.
According to him, and the FBI, the crime rate in Texas fell by 12.8% between 2005 and 2010. He commends Canada's criminal justice system and implores the Conservatives and the government not to fall into the vicious circle of repression, which did not work in the United States.
A number of states, including Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas are currently trying to imitate the Canadian system with the goal of reducing their crime rate. I just wanted to add that.
Experts have experienced the mandatory minimum sentencing system. They tried it and they are telling us, Canadians, that it does not work. They are asking us not to follow their example because our costs will increase and our communities will not be as safe. They are asking us to keep using our current system because they have started using it and it works.
As my colleagues, including our justice critic, the hon. member for , said, we will support Bill .
Everyone here agrees that sexual offences against children are horrible and I know that we must crack down on them.
However, as the hon. member for said in her speech, the minister told us in committee that there has been a 6% increase in sexual assaults against children since his party adopted minimum sentences for these kinds of offences. This creates a dilemma. Does introducing or increasing mandatory minimum penalties really work?
According to the statistics the minister presented in committee, there has indeed been an increase of 6%. I will not draw any conclusions because we do not yet have enough information to determine the actual effectiveness of these kinds of sentences. It would be nice if the minister could appear before our committee again and present any studies that have been conducted and explain the conclusions that can be drawn from the use of these new minimum penalties.
In my view, we do not yet have enough information to determine what kind of policies we should be implementing. Furthermore, American states that did introduce a system of mandatory minimum penalties are telling us not to make the same mistake they made.
I look forward to discussing this bill with the minister and with experts, to see exactly what we should be doing to prevent sex offences against our children.
The federal government has announced that it is going to abolish the Corrections Canada program, which will save about $650,000. That is a pittance. It is a drop in the bucket compared to the billions poured into the judicial system every year. Furthermore, there is proof that the program works and that it decreases the rate of recidivism by up to 70%.
I realize that criminals must be held responsible for their actions. That is a fundamental principle. However, victims in our communities do not go to jail. They need to feel that they are supported by government programs. However, the government wants to abolish the program that makes our communities safer, as people have told us.
We cannot embrace the Conservative agenda, which consists of putting people in jail and not considering anything else. What will we do when these people are released? Will we simply leave them to their own devices?
The hon. member for told us about someone in her riding who was released from prison, was left to fend for himself and was then re-arrested by the police. What do we do with these people? They need support, not just for their own sake, but also to ensure the safety of their community and our children. It is not right to say that we will protect our children by sending people to jail. Perhaps we will protect them for a while, but children grow, get older and remain in the community.
So what do we do in order to protect them not just for five years, but for 10, 15, and 20 years? I would like to point out that under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a person is a child until the age of eighteen. Children are entitled to be protected by their government until they are eighteen years old. Then they become adults. Adults are also entitled to be protected by their government, but we are currently debating sexual offences against minors. Why then abolish programs that work?
I would also like to talk about the problem with the registry. This bill would give the minister the discretionary power to make regulations on who is considered a high-risk offender. We know very well that giving a minister discretionary powers without any oversight body is never a good thing, since this power can be abused. This poses a problem: what are the regulations? How will the minister make them, and will he have to report to parliamentarians?
We are not just talking about a registry here. We are also talking about enabling parliamentarians to do their job. If the minister gives himself discretionary powers without any transparency, I have some concerns.
It is also important to ask whether the minister consulted the provinces. Even though it is Parliament's role to enact criminal legislation and amend the Criminal Code, the provinces are often responsible for enforcing this legislation and administering criminal justice.
Did the minister consult the provinces? Does the minister understand what the provinces will be forced to adopt or dismantle? The provinces will have to adapt. How will the minister consult the provinces and support them in lowering the rate of sex offences against children?
We are legislating here, but the provinces are the ones that will suffer the consequences. Once again, the government is shirking its responsibility to the provinces. We often hear that prisons are full. My colleague from Gatineau just asked the parliamentary secretary a question. We are short of criminal lawyers, crown prosecutors, and judges.
The criminal justice system works as a whole. It is not just about crime and punishment. There are lawyers, social workers, victims' assistance workers, and judges. This system needs to be coherent, and if we do not ensure that the system is coherent, then we have missed the boat.
I would like to talk about another problem. Once again, by asking the minister a question about the RCMP's resources, my colleague from Gatineau was able to discover that the RCMP was having a great deal of difficulty updating criminal records. People are often outraged to learn that a criminal is being set free even though he is a repeat offender. Criminal records are not updated on a continual basis because the RCMP is having hard time staying on top of that task. How are crown prosecutors, lawyers, and judges supposed to be able to do their jobs if the RCMP does not have enough resources?
How can the government implement a predator registry if the RCMP cannot even keep offenders' criminal records up to date? That does not make sense. The police, lawyers, and judges will not be able to do their jobs.
I hope that we will pass the best bill to protect our children and ensure that people know that they can count on their government to put an end to sexual offences against children once and for all and protect their communities.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to participate in the second reading of Bill .
I will be sharing my time with the hard-working , and I want to thank her for her work on these important files. She has a huge heart. I got to know her a number of years ago, and she is one of the most compassionate people. The minister actually has a police officer background, so I can only imagine her caring and how much good work she did when she was a police officer.
I also want to thank the NDP and Liberal opposition colleagues for their commitment to support Bill , demonstrating a concern to protect the victims of sexual assault and their commitment to support our victims bill of rights. It is the right thing to do as a House, to come together on these important pieces of legislation. It is very encouraging for me and all Canadians.
Bill is another concrete initiative of our government to combat all forms of child sexual exploitation. It aims to guarantee that sentences imposed for sexual offences against children reflect the gravity and reprehensible nature of these offences.
One of the ways that this bill proposes to attain this objective is to ensure that those who have committed sexual offences against children do not receive a sentence discount for cases where there are several victims. To better understand these proposed amendments, it is important to consider how sentencing is carried out in cases involving multiple offences.
Subsection 718.3(4) of the Criminal Code contains the general principles with respect to the nature in which sentences imposed in multiple offences are served, and that is, when they should be served concurrently, which is at the same time, or consecutively. Unfortunately, that provision is an amalgamation of legislative provisions, most of which have existed since the first Canadian Criminal Code. The text itself is difficult to read.
As a result, that provision provides little guidance to the sentencing courts. This bill proposes to clarify its content. When sentencing an offender at the same time for several offences, courts have the discretion to order that the sentences be imposed and served one after another, and that is called consecutively, or at the same time, called concurrently.
Over the years, the Canadian courts have developed an approach whereby they will generally order that the sentences are served consecutively, unless the offences arise out of the same event in a series of events in which case concurrent sentences are usually imposed.
In assessing whether the offences arise out of the same event, the courts will consider, for example, whether the offences have a real or temporal connection, or whether these offences have any logical connection to one another.
This rule is not absolute, though. Courts acknowledge that in some cases the sentences imposed for offences committed as part of the same event or a series of events are such that they should be served consecutively.
An example of this approach is reflected in situations where an offender tries to evade police after committing an offence, such as an armed robbery. The general rule is that in such a situation the sentences imposed on those offences would be served concurrently. However, courts will generally impose consecutive sentences in such situations in order to reflect the reprehensible nature of an offence committed in such situations.
Courts will generally follow the same principle in situations where an offender who is on judicial interim release, otherwise known as bail, commits another offence, for example, the offender is serving an offence, is out on bail and recommits another offence.
Courts generally agree that a sentence for an offence committed while the offender is on bail should be served consecutively to the sentence for the offence for which the offender is initially on temporary release. To do otherwise would send a message that there would be no consequence for the offence committed while on bail.
This bill proposes to codify these sentencing approaches by directing the courts to consider ordering that the term of the imprisonment imposed be served consecutively to any other sentence of imprisonment, particularly when the offences do not arise from the same facts.
It is also important to note that the totality principle, which is found in paragraph 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code, requires that where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh.
Where this is the case, the principle provides courts with the discretion to impose concurrent sentences where consecutive sentences would otherwise be unwarranted. Although there is a great level of flexibility provided to the courts in determining whether it will be concurrent or consecutive sentences, the Criminal Code directs courts to order that the sentences imposed for certain serious offences be served consecutively in all cases. This is the case for the offences of possession of explosives by a criminal organization; the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence; terrorism offences, other than where the sentence of life imprisonment is imposed; and criminal organization offences.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the main purpose of this bill is to ensure that people who commit sexual offences against children receive sentences that reflect the gravity and reprehensible nature of these crimes. In addition to the proposed higher mandatory minimum penalties and higher maximum penalties for certain sexual offences against children, this bill proposes to add sentences for multiple child sexual offences to the list of mandatory consecutive sentences in order to ensure that there are fit sentences.
The proposed amendments would also direct a court to order that the sentences imposed for child pornography offences be served consecutively to sentences imposed for other contact sexual offences against a child. For example, let us consider an offender who is sentenced, at the same time, for accessing and making child pornography and for the sexual assault of a person under the age of 16. The proposed amendment would mean that the sentence for child pornography and the sentence for the sexual assault would be served consecutively.
This approach aims to recognize, in part, the courts' practice of imposing sentences that effectively recognize the heinous nature of sexual offences against children, and particularly child pornography, especially when it is distributed over the Internet and is thus made permanently accessible around the world.
The proposed amendments also target situations where there are several victims and would require that sentences imposed, at the same time, for offences involving the sexual abuse of one child be served consecutively to sentences for sexual abuse offences committed against another child. In many respects, the proposed amendments would bring greater uniformity and certainty in future sentencing practices, particularly in the context of child sexual abuse cases.
The bill proposes an approach that clearly reflects the government's commitment to ensuring that sentences for sexual offences against a child better reflect the gravity of these offences and that they make all child sexual offenders answer for the exploitation and sexual abuse they have committed. The proposed amendments would particularly end volume discounts in sentences given to offenders who have committed multiple sexual offences against a child and would ensure that each victim counted in the sentencing process.
I encourage my colleagues in this House to unanimously support this bill, without reservation. I think that is coming, and I look forward to that vote.
Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely pleased to be here to speak to Bill .
I want to take a moment before I begin to say that I know that many of us in the House are passionate about these very difficult subjects. As I was asking a question earlier of the member for , there were some unkind things said by her about whether I deserve to be in government.
I have almost 19 years of police work behind me. I intend to go back to police work. I spent four and a half years in the child abuse unit. I assisted with more autopsies of children than I ever want to remember. I have seen horrific injuries that these children, those who lived, will live with for the rest of their lives. I have worked on every single one of the crime and justice bills put forward by our Conservative government, and I am proud to say that these are measures that will continue to protect Canadians.
I believe that my voters are the ones who decide whether I belong here in government, just as her voters decide. At the point where this young MP realized that what she said was inappropriate, she did come over to me and apologize. I believe it is a measure of character, when people say something publicly they want to retract, that they actually do so. I challenged her to do so publicly so that my voters understand that what she said was not very kind and that she did not mean it, at which point she refused to do so.
I am offended by the fact that a young girl who has come to this place to help her constituents would attack other members when we are talking about a bill that we are all passionate about. I want to mention that, because I want to give her the opportunity to show her sincerity in apologizing.
Now I want to talk about the bill, which will, in fact, get the support of many members in the House, including members of the NDP, the Liberals, and some of our independent members. For that, I want to thank them sincerely, because it is probably one of the most important bills we will see passed through the House in my time here.
One of the highest priorities of our government has been made clear since we were elected in 2006, and that was to tackle crime. We all know that law-abiding Canadians expect and rightfully deserve to live in a country where they feel safe in their homes and in their communities. Canadians want to know that their children are protected from sexual offenders, whether online or in the streets of their communities and neighbourhoods.
While law-abiding Canadians believe in the importance of rehabilitation for offenders, as do I, they also believe that the punishment should fit the crime. Our government agrees. This is what has guided our strong actions since 2006.
Since that time, our government has put forward a number of important measures to protect the vulnerable and to hold offenders accountable. We have toughened sentencing and bail for things like serious gun crimes. We have strengthened the sentencing and monitoring of dangerous, high-risk offenders. We have ensured that murders connected to organized crime are treated automatically as first-degree murders. We have imposed mandatory jail time for drive-by or reckless shootings. We have also established longer periods of parole ineligibility for multiple murders. We have abolished the faint-hope clause that allowed early parole for murderers. We ended the practice of giving two-for-one credit for time served in pretrial custody. We ended the practice of granting early parole to white collar criminals and other non-violent offenders. We also removed pardon eligibility for child sex offenders.
We have also worked hard to prevent crime and to support victims. For example, we established the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to provide information on victims' rights and services for victims, to receive complaints, and to raise awareness of victims' concerns among policy-makers and in the justice system. We established the youth gang prevention fund, which provides support for successful community programs to help at-risk youth avoid involvement in gangs and criminal activity.
Our government has introduced legislation to address online criminal behaviour, including cyberbullying. While this legislation is aimed at protecting all Canadians, it is predominantly our youth who fall prey to this type of online crime.
These are just a few examples of what our government has accomplished for the good of all law-abiding Canadians. However, we know that more can be done, especially to protect our most vulnerable, our children. The bill before us today is aimed specifically at doing just that.
Before I expand on the proposed legislation, I will give a bit of background on the national sex offender registry. In 2004, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act came into force, allowing for the creation of a database containing information, such as the physical description, name, address, and place of employment of convicted sex offenders across Canada. The national sex offender registry database is administered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and used by police across Canada to help prevent and investigate crimes of a sexual nature. Indeed, I remember very well using it in my time as a police officer. The registry is a shared initiative with the provinces and territories and is accessible to police forces across the country. Inclusion in the registry is based on conviction for a range of sex offences and not determined by an offender's risk level.
In 2010, our government introduced significant legislative reforms to strengthen the national sex offender registry and the DNA data bank to better protect our children and communities from sexual offenders. These reforms included amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Criminal Code, the International Transfer of Offenders Act, and the National Defence Act.
With these amendments, there was automatic inclusion into and mandatory DNA sampling of convicted sex offenders in the national sex offender registry, and an expansion of the registry to include its use for the prevention of sexual crimes, and not just their investigation. In this regard, police were permitted to access the database for consulting, disclosing, and matching information, and for verifying compliance, and we also included vehicle plate numbers. Registration of sex offenders convicted abroad was included, and parallel amendments to ensure that the reforms apply to those convicted of sex offences through the military justice system were also added.
Those amendments, which came into force the following year, had widespread support from victims' families, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, and the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.
As of October 2013, there were approximately 36,000 sex offenders in the registry. Sadly, 24,000 of those individuals had a conviction for a child sex offence. That is why I am pleased to speak to legislative amendments that are aimed at protecting our most vulnerable from society's most heinous.
As I think about Bill , I think about many of the investigations I took part in. If only I had had the strength of the amended sex offender registry when I was in the child abuse unit, some of those crimes might have been prevented. I am so thrilled and so proud to be part of a government that saw wisdom in allowing police officers to use that sex offender registry in a preventative way.
I want to share with members some of the cases I worked on which the proposed act would help with.
One case I worked on had 28 victims, all between the ages of 12 and 17. They were mainly boys who were forced into prostitution and sexually abused for years. Those boys, even though they had to go through the court system and to testify, never felt the justice that they should have been afforded, because the offenders who were found guilty were sentenced to such short time that the kids felt they had been betrayed.
Allowing us now to take every child into consideration, to make sure that every child matters by ensuring that the sentences for offences are appropriate and consecutive, would provide victims with the confidence that my NDP members have mentioned is lacking. I know this would assure our victims that there is hope and that the work they are doing in the criminal justice system to prevent others from being offended against will be improved, and that it will be respected and appreciated.
I speak on behalf of the many police officers across the country who will appreciate these changes. I even speak on behalf of offenders, who cannot bring themselves to get the help they need outside of an institution where they would be able to get the programs necessary to prevent further offences. I speak on behalf of the mothers whose children have been offended against. I speak on behalf of my own children who watched as their mother was heavily affected by many of these cases.
I hope that all members here will live up to their commitments and vote in favour, unanimously, to pass this very important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and privilege to speak on Bill , the tougher penalties for child predators act. In particular, I do appreciate the minister's earlier comments on the necessity of mandatory minimums, because even for one child, protecting them from an offender who is behind bars is of paramount importance.
Bill is a critical component of our government's commitment to ensuring that children are protected from the most horrible forms of exploitation. Our government, and everyone in the House, is committed to holding those who perpetrate these horrendous crimes accountable for their actions and to be punished accordingly, and and above that, to ensure they are away from their victims so they cannot reoffend.
The proposed amendments would include increasing mandatory minimum penalties. That is why I think the subject is on the top of the radar screen in Parliament today and why we have continued to talk about them and their importance to keeping predators away from children and victims. Minimum penalties and maximum penalties for certain sexual offences committed against children ensure that the serious nature and effects of these offences on a child are recognized.
I note that the proposed amendments in the bill would build upon the reforms enacted by the Safe Streets and Communities Act by ensuring that all child sexual offences prosecuted by summary conviction are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to two years less a day. I think that is very good.
The bill takes direct aim at and denounces child pornography by ensuring that the most serious forms of this offence are treated more seriously. I want to talk about this because the bill proposes that the offences of making and distributing child porn would no longer by hybrid offences that only result in a maximum provincial term of imprisonment of less than two years if prosecuted as a summary conviction. It needs to be noted that under Bill , which should be passed as quickly as possible, making and distributing child porn would become straight indictable offences and would be punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty of one year imprisonment and a maximum of 14 years.
I want to pause for a moment to tell members about a very brave young man, a 10-year-old child, who wrote me a four-page letter about how he was addicted to porn. I remember that when I talked about this in an interview with the National Post, some readers said, “Oh, Mrs. Smith does not have any such child.”
In fact, I have received multiple letters and emails from across this country on this issue, but this one particular child really stood out with me because when the parents read the National Post comments section, they got very angry and phoned the paper. They got in their van, with their children and a couple of neighbours, drove all the way to Ottawa and knocked on my door here on Parliament Hill and spoke with me. They said, “This is a serious issue. It's not only our child, but it's others in school divisions all across this country that are affected.” At that point, they pointed out that the laws on child porn and its effects were very weak in this country, because what happens out in the real world is that when a child trafficker targets a victim, they often condition them with porn. That is how they teach them. They try to normalize it.
In another case, a young girl—who, actually, I just gave an award to, about four weeks ago, for her bravery—came to see me. Her grandpa, who was a pedophile, had conditioned her while the parents were at work. Grandpa was home, conditioning her with porn, because he was taking care of her. This is so disturbing. He eventually put her out on the streets and raised a lot of money by trafficking his own granddaughter. Years later, terrible things happened to her because her whole world had been turned upside down
We are talking about middle-class Canada. We are not talking about somebody who is addicted to drugs. We are not talking about somebody on the streets. We are talking about middle-class Canada.
This bill is important because it addresses and denounces child porn, and our children are our most vulnerable citizens in this country. They are the little victims who do not speak out, particularly if it is done by a relative or somebody they are supposed to respect and love. More and more cases of pornography being inflicted on our youth population are emerging here in Canada.
Bill would make child porn an indictable offence punishable by mandatory minimum penalties. If this were not the case, many predators, in the quietness of their dens and homes, would use child porn in the most despicable manner. The penalties are a vehicle at our disposal to address the unlawful conduct of predators and the harm done to victims of crime. In the case of child porn, children are the innocent victims of a horrendous crime.
No one in the House wants to see a child harmed. They are silent victims. In the adult world, we need to have things that adults understand, because the child porn that has been inflicted on children is done mainly by adults, and this legislation is a step in the right direction. The penalties, however, are not the only tools we have.
All too often the denunciatory value of a sentence is diluted because the offender gets a volume discount, and that frustrates me. Multiple offences are all packaged into one, and an offender is given one sentence for multiple offences. I know of one individual who offended 47 children. At that time, years ago, his sentence was packaged into one, but all of those 47 children were left hurt and damaged. Two of them eventually committed suicide. I do not know how many became involved with drugs or alcohol, but I have heard since that several of them have been in addiction programs. Others have been counselled and became better.
When we talk on Parliament Hill about what is important to do, we must remember that it is not about the political landscape. It is not about what each party thinks about what. We are supposed to be taking care of our most vulnerable population. Here we are talking about the children in our country.
Courts will sometimes order the sentences for offences committed against several victims to be served concurrently. We also see this type of order in the case of an offender who has committed several crimes against the same victim. That is why I support the proposals contained in this bill to clarify the rules relating to the imposition of concurrent and consecutive sentences generally. I support as well the specific proposal relating to offenders who have committed several child sexual offences over a long period. These perpetrators have gotten off scot-free for too long. This has almost become normal in some cases, almost the real world. In Canada, this is not the real world. In Canada, this is what we want to stop.
I will attempt to demystify in a practical, real-world way the current rules contained in the Criminal Code, as well as the proposed new rules.
Consecutive sentences are sentences that an offender serves one after another. On the other hand, concurrent sentences are served simultaneously, and the offender serves the longer sentence. The Criminal Code currently requires that consecutive sentences be imposed for the offences of possession of explosives by a criminal organization, the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence, terrorism offences, and criminal organization offences.
That is what the Criminal Code currently requires. For other offences, the Criminal Code provides courts with the discretion to impose consecutive sentences. However, it does not provide clear guidance as to when consecutive sentences are preferred, except to say that their combined effects should not be unduly long or harsh.
Over the years the courts have developed a general approach of ordering multiple sentences to be served consecutively unless the offences arise out of the same event or series of events, in which case concurrent sentences are imposed. The same event or series of events rule, referred to as the continuing criminal transaction rule, requires that there be a close nexus between the offences committed in order to justify the imposition of concurrent sentences. This is so because the moral blameworthiness of the offender relates to the overall criminal conduct, which may include the commission of several offences.
The determination of whether offences are committed as part of the same event or series of events is a fact-specific determination made by the sentencing court. In some instances, the nature of a particular offence calls for the imposition of consecutive sentences. For example, courts will generally order an offence committed while fleeing from a peace officer to be served consecutively to any other offence that is part of the same event or series of events, which is a common phrasing used in the courts. Similarly, the courts will often direct that an offence committed while on bail be served consecutively to the predicate events.
The proposed amendments are aimed at clarifying the existing rules in the Criminal Code and codifying the practices developed by the courts that I have just mentioned. For instance, Bill proposes to require a sentencing court to consider imposing consecutive sentences when an offender is sentenced at the same time for multiple offences that do not arise out of the same event or series of events, including offences committed while the defendant was on bail or was fleeing from a peace officer.
This bill would also clarify the existing language by directing sentencing courts to consider imposing consecutive sentences when the offender is being sentenced for one offence but is already subject to a term of imprisonment for another offence.
What we see out there in the real world is that parents and families are sometimes frustrated and dismayed at how the court system works and at the lack of clarity within the court system. What is so great about Bill is it clarifies a lot of things that were not clarified before.
The amendments would also clarify the term of imprisonment. It includes one that results from a failure to pay a fine or something like that, but there are also clarifications of other procedures that the court carries out as well on a regular basis.
All in all, when we look at Bill , we see a clear denunciation of sexual crimes against children. This bill would ensure that each victim counts in the sentencing process. There is nothing as damaging to a young child who has been sexually violated than for the pain, agony, and injustice that the child has gone through not to be recognized. Pornography and the like on the Internet have been rampant in this country, and up until now everybody in this country has said that it is unfortunate and they do not like it, but it is a fact of life. Our government has gone beyond that and is trying to ensure that each child and each individual is recognized and that the punishment fits the crime.
It has also done something else that is very important. I referred to it earlier in one of the questions. Lately I have had many adult women come to talk to me about how they were sexually exploited. They have never talked about it. They never said anything.
The family of an 84-year-old grandmother called me to the hospital to talk to her not too long ago because she wanted to tell me that she was trafficked. She wanted to tell me what happened to her and she wanted to tell me that nobody really cared about it. She wanted to tell me that she was so glad that now people were talking at it, and before she died, she wanted to talk about what happened to her.
Four weeks ago, at a big event on human trafficking, another grandmother, who was 64 years old, told me that when she was a child, her father's best friend sexually attacked her on numerous occasions. She said she told her father, but he was a friend of the family and her father was convinced that she was lying. Her parents never took her to a doctor. They never examined the man, who was a financial partner with her dad. She said that has always torn at her heart and that she has been very angry about it. We talked at length about the fact that in Canada, child offences are now being recognized.
These have been the silent victims. The value of Bill is to give a voice to the silent victims and to take the fear away from them.
A little while ago in Montreal, there was a trafficked victim who went through a second trial and testified against her perpetrators. She has now been taken out of Montreal, but the perpetrators are being brought to justice. One comment she made to me was that nobody seemed to care when her boyfriend became involved in her life when she was 15 and a half years old and separated her from her parents and then trafficked her from the U.S. to Canada. She said, “No one seemed to care.” The relationship between the young girl and her mom had become so bad that the last thing she said to her mom was, “I am leaving this house and I'm never going to see you again.” That was after she came into the house with liquor on her breath at 2 a.m. and the mother just lost it because this had happened frequently.
This was an offence by an older man against a child. He was a boyfriend who wanted to separate her from her parents, and he did. For over seven years she was trafficked in Canada. She served, on average, 40 men a night, and she made money for her trafficker.
She was very deliberately rescued. She thought she was going to die, so she stole things from a store so that the guard would notice her, and she was arrested. I have to give a shout-out to Dominic Monchamp, the head of the vice squad in Montreal, who listened to her story. He rescued her and did many things to help her.
In this country I am proud to support Bill . I am proud that members opposite are supporting Bill C-26.
It is time to stop the long speeches. It is time to listen to the public in Canada. It is time to listen to the victims and get the bill through committee.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the esteemed member for .
For a first speech on a bill this fall, there are some subjects that are particularly sensitive and affect us as individuals, regardless of political affiliation. We often work in a collegial manner, but just now, a few hours or barely a few minutes ago, I heard some unfortunate comments. That primarily shows that we are dealing with sensitive subjects and that it is easy to misinterpret such comments. I have friends in every party and we are able to discuss and accept our differences and our opinions. That is how things should always be in the House.
First of all, I am going to look at some technical aspects and also talk about some associated aspects and social implications of the bill. Unlike some of my colleagues, I am not qualified to speak to speak in detail about the legal aspects of the bill, and I would not be so presumptuous as to give the kind of speeches that they do. However, I would like to primarily address the social aspects and the repercussions of such issues as delinquency, especially assaults against minors. I will also talk about the technical aspect.
The bill before us will amend the Criminal Code in order to increase mandatory minimum penalties and maximum penalties for certain sexual offences against children. It will increase maximum penalties for violations of prohibition orders, probation orders and peace bonds. It will clarify and codify the rules regarding the imposition of consecutive and concurrent sentences. It will require courts to impose, in certain cases, consecutive sentences on offenders who commit sexual offences against children. It will ensure that a court that imposes a sentence must take into consideration evidence that the offence in question was committed while the offender was subject to a conditional sentence order or released on parole.
The bill will also amend the Canada Evidence Act to ensure that spouses of the accused are competent and compellable witnesses for the prosecution in child pornography cases. I would like to point out that it is difficult to get family members to testify in some areas. The necessary consent is rarely given. I am therefore wondering how a mechanism can be put in place to implement that amendment.
The bill will also amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act to increase offenders' responsibilities when they travel abroad. The bill enacts the high risk child sex offender database act, which would create a publicly accessible database. This database would contain information, previously made available to the public by police departments or any other public authority, on individuals who were convicted of sex crimes involving children and who pose a high risk of committing sex crimes.
In the past, we have heard stories of neighbours banding together to serve their own brand of justice. That is rather disturbing, but it is sometimes the result of a lack of resources or a lack of solutions to certain problems. We will see how this will be enforced.
Of course, this bill will make consequential amendments to other acts. We see this all the time from the Conservatives—all we see are quasi-omnibus bills.
As I was saying, the short title of this bill, the tougher penalties for child predators act, does nothing to simplify such a sensitive topic and especially not the process this bill is going through.
Recently, the Conservatives have been enacting bills and implementing various provisions, but not allocating any resources. As a result, the provinces and territories are left to cope with the collateral damage and the financial consequences. The Conservatives introduce measures but they are not supported by budgets. That is despicable. As I said, measures like these have significant social repercussions if there is no budget for the reintegration of offenders and especially for victims. I am no expert, but I would say that some offenders can be rehabilitated, while others cannot. However, as I said, I am no expert on the subject.
This bill would implement nine important measures. It would require offenders who are convicted of sexual offences and who receive separate sentences to serve them consecutively, and it would require offenders who are convicted of child pornography offences and sexual offences to serve their sentences consecutively.
The government is also increasing minimum and maximum prison sentences for certain sexual offences involving children. We have often heard about people writing in blogs or on social media that so-and-so was convicted of assault, that the sentence was not long enough or that it was unfair. Then the offender is back on the street, in the same neighbourhood. I hope that the provisions in this bill will ensure that these unfortunate situations are not repeated. There is a ripple effect when a bill is implemented. There are consequences that impact society and the communities.
The bill would also ensure that committing an offence while subject to a conditional sentence order, or while on parole, on statutory release or on an unescorted temporary absence is also considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
The government also says that it is important to render a spouse compellable. I said earlier that it is often quite difficult to do that, whether in cases of child pornography or other offences that the spouse, children, parents or friends witnessed. It all depends on the context and their particular lives.
The Conservative government has been destroying our social fabric for years now. We were talking about food banks recently. Some regions are left to fend for themselves. When the social fabric is destroyed and we leave people to their own devices, without hope, all sorts of things can happen in our society. Serious things can happen and people do not know how to react.
Let us look at the principle of sentencing in section 718 of Part XXIII of the Criminal Code. The objectives are to denounce unlawful conduct, deter the offender from committing offences, separate offenders from society where necessary by increasing sentences, but most of all—and I want to emphasize this point—assist in rehabilitating offenders. We talked about this before. Some members have made speeches on this. We have to assist in reintegrating offenders. When we make tougher laws in a country like ours, or in any other industrialized, modern country—earlier, members cited examples from elsewhere in the world—it is important to think about the consequences. We must focus not on the type but rather on the root of the problem. What is the root of the problem? It is isolation, drugs, alcohol, child pornography—which has become quite easy to access with today's social media—and family breakdowns, because the deterioration of the social fabric means that both parents have to work. Sometimes they have to take on two jobs. The children are left at home where they can access whatever they want on the Internet.
Mr. Speaker, I cannot really say that it is a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to debate this bill. It is never a pleasure to talk about subjects as sad and serious as this one. Still, there are times when, as parliamentarians, we have to talk about difficult subjects. As a father, I definitely find this to be a very difficult subject. I cannot imagine the psychological impact that such acts have on children. They are scarred for life. In aboriginal communities in particular, the after-effects are related to abuse that occurred in residential schools. Studies have clearly shown that our ability to live in the world as adults is directly related to the way we were treated as children and to the presence or absence of various types of abuse.
Today is Universal Children's Day. When we look at the statistics, it is clear that all around the world, children are not doing so well. The other day I was watching a program about slavery and forced labour among children. Unfortunately, this phenomenon still exists in many parts of the world, particularly in countries like India and China where children are the victims of physical abuse, chained to their work sites and used as sex slaves. It is a scourge. The United Nations has identified this as a major challenge. This tough challenge must be addressed.
When I was a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, I tried to have the issue of protecting children around the world taken into consideration in the context of trade agreements. I tried to stress the importance of reciprocity when it comes to defending children's rights in that context. For instance, it is important not to use products made by children in these forced labour situations.
As a society, we need to ask ourselves some questions about how we treat the weakest among us. I think, and no doubt most of my colleagues would agree with me, that we can judge a society on how it treats its most vulnerable members. I cannot think of a more vulnerable group than children. We often focus on the fact that parents are the ones who raise children, and that is true. I am doing it myself. However, we need to recognize that society in general has a responsibility to each child. The socio-economic context must promote the growth and development of every soul that comes into this world.
I commend the government for wanting to talk about the issue of sexual abuse of children and wanting to legislate in that regard. Obviously, I do not at all disagree that we need to examine and assess our laws. We also need to change them when we see that they are not protecting our children. However, we may disagree on how and when to do so and what sort of resources are needed to do so.
I want to let the interpreters know that I will be switching languages, so that they can continue to do the job they do so well.
I note that in 2012 the Conservatives, as part of the federal victims strategy, announced $251,000 in funding over two years for programs to protect children. Budget 2012 includes $7 million over five years to fund new or enhanced existing child advocacy centres, as well as limited funding for victim services organizations. The government should earmark resources for the RCMP registry and budgets to support victims, however.
We have noticed that evidence indicates that circles of support and accountabilities are impressive with regard to diminishing recidivism. For example, one study found a 70% reduction in sexual recidivism for those who participated in circles of support and accountability compared to those who did not. Another study found an 83% reduction. These are high numbers, so obviously this is a tool that should be privileged by the government and there should be resources put into that tool.
The real, serious issue is that we want to reduce cases of abuse and, unfortunately, over the past two years there has been an increase. We would have to look at the research as to why there has been an increase of 6%. Is it because the cases are better documented or are there cases that are occurring in greater frequency? Is it mostly on the Internet? However, it does not seem that the Conservative government's approach is having a fundamental impact on those numbers.
Therefore, like any good legislators, we have to ask ourselves why. That means we need to do research and we need to rely on our researchers and scientists who understand this issue from all sorts of angles to come forward to share approaches and ensure we take the correct strategies.
The is not introducing new minimum and maximum mandatory sentences, but is rather increasing the minimums and maximums. I am not too sure why and how that makes sense, and what kind of impact that would have on these terrible crimes.
I also wonder why the government waited eight years before introducing provisions to force courts to impose, in certain cases, consecutive sentences on offenders who committed sexual offences against children. That is in spite of the fact that the cases referred to, for example, at government press conferences on the issue, go back to before the Conservatives took power in 2006. Why the hesitation there? It would be interesting to hear why that took so long. That is a relevant issue as well.
Since the RCMP already has trouble updating the registry of previous convictions due to a lack of resources, why does the government think the RCMP will be able to do additional work without additional resources? Of any of the issues and any of the types of crimes I can think of, certainly additional work on these types of crimes should come with additional resources. There does not seem to be a commitment on behalf of the government to do that.
It is clear that our communities need greater resources to counter the sexual abuse of children, so I wonder whether the government will come forward with new money to support concrete measures.
Finally, it is clear that we will support this bill so it goes to committee. This is a difficult conversation to have for our nation, but it is a crucial conversation to have. I hope the whole process will be done with rigour so we can hear from witnesses who know the issue, who know what can reduce cases of abuse and who know what resources we truly need to tackle this crucial problem.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate because it is of extreme importance to all of us. The previous member just said how important it is and I would agree with him, although there will be some areas, I suspect, where we may not be in so much agreement.
Today I will focus my remarks on offender accountability, a key part of Bill , the tougher penalties for child predators act. Indeed, our government has always placed considerable focus on improving our criminal justice system in order to shift more accountability onto offenders. The fact is that most offenders will eventually be returned to the community after incarceration. As such, our correctional system is set up to provide offenders with proper treatment and support, as required, to help them work through rehabilitation and eventual reintegration into the community.
The Correctional Service of Canada has a comprehensive program in place that helps guide offenders toward the right pathway to address the needs that led to criminal behaviour, including programs that address substance abuse, violent behaviour, sexual offences and mental health issues, among many others. Ultimately, the bulk of responsibility for successful rehabilitation and reintegration must rest with the offender.
Our government has made a number of changes to respond to the concerns of victims. In particular, in 2012, the Safe Streets and Communities Act put in place a number of measures that focus on offender accountability by expressly requiring in legislation that every offender has a correctional plan. We have created an environment in which offender accountability is placed at the forefront.
From the moment offenders enter the federal correction system, it is made clear that they must follow a well-defined correctional plan that includes expectations for behaviour, as well as objectives for the program participation and for meeting court-ordered obligations such as restitution to victims or child support. This is done in collaboration with offenders, so they take part in building that program.
Before I go any further, I would like to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
We have also modernized the current disciplinary system, creating new disciplinary offences for disrespectful and intimidating behaviour either toward staff or inmates. Once outside the institution, offenders are also expected to continue on the right path.
Peace officers can now arrest, without warrant, an offender who they believe to be in breach of a condition related to the offender's conditional release and offenders who receive a new custodial sentence automatically have their parole or statutory release suspended. We have recently taken further steps to assist in offender rehabilitation by supporting amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act regarding vexatious complaints. We now have a process in place that promotes offender accountability by encouraging inmates to resolve problems through appropriate means rather than burdening the complaint and grievance system with frivolous complaints.
We have introduced the drug-free prisons act, which would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to provide the Parole Board of Canada with additional legislative tools to ensure that parole applicants who failed drug tests would be denied parole. Addressing offender behaviour while individuals are incarcerated is critical.
We have also reinstated the accountability of offenders act, legislation that, if passed, will require offenders to pay off any debts they owe to society before receiving any monetary award resulting from legal action against the crown. Just as important is making it clear that offenders must continue to address their needs and make proper choices once they are released from penitentiary.
The parole system is set up to help offenders do just this, using the appropriate checks and balances and oversight of offenders, depending on their criminal history and risk to society. While we have taken action to strengthen the conditional release system, some gaps remain that need to be addressed. It is critical, particularly when we consider the risk to our children, that we ensure a child sex offender cannot find a loophole in the law that gives him or her an opportunity to commit another such devastating crime.
That brings me to the legislation at hand.
A key tool we have to ensure police are aware of the location and other information on convicted sexual offenders is the national sex offender registry. Administered by the RCMP and accessible by police forces across the country, the registry contains vital information about convicted sex offenders, such as name and address, where they work, their physical description, and absences from their residence for seven days or more.
A number of amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act came into force in 2011 to ensure that the registry is a proactive law enforcement tool that contains the names of all registered sex offenders.
While it is an important law enforcement tool, there are some gaps found within the act that need to be addressed. Specifically, the rules surrounding travel notification must be tightened as they relate to international travel of registered sex offenders who have committed a sexual offence against a child.
As we have heard, Bill would accomplish this in a number of ways. It would require offenders who have been convicted of child sex offences to report trips of any duration outside of Canada, as well as to provide information about the exact dates of travel and where they plan to stay while abroad. All other registered sex offenders would be required to report all addresses or locations in which they expect to stay, as well as expected dates of departure and return for trips of seven days or more within or outside Canada.
It would allow for information-sharing between the Canada Border Services Agency and officials with the national sex offender registry. This would add a safeguard measure at our borders to ensure offenders are following notification procedures and registration requirements. Further, it could help make investigations of crimes of a sexual nature possible.
The bill would also create a new stand-alone legislation that would create a national database that would be accessible to the general public. That database would contain information about high-risk child sex offenders who have been the subject of public notification in a province or territory.
There are also several amendments proposed to the Criminal Code that would increase penalties for child sex offenders and, particularly relevant to our push for more offender accountability, they would ensure that any crime committed while an offender is on parole, on unescorted temporary absence, on statutory release, or under a conditional sentence order would be considered an aggravating factor in the determination of a sentence for a new crime.
All told, these proposed measures would create a much stronger system that would place another level of accountability on convicted sex offenders; a system in which offenders would live with the knowledge that border services officers would be alerted to high-risk child sex offenders who travel abroad; a system in which high-risk child sex offenders know that any public notifications released about them in a specific province would now be available to the general public right across the country.
All of these measures would serve to emphasize to offenders the importance of following all conditions and making the right decision in order to remain in the community.
They would also build in another layer of safety and security for citizens who worry about registered sex offenders living and working in their communities and travelling throughout the country, as well as abroad.
I am proud to support these efforts and I ask all members in this House to join with me in giving the legislation a swift passage.