(for the Minister of Justice)
moved that bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to voice my support for Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act, during third reading debate. This is critical legislation that addresses concerns that I believe we all share.
Bill C-26 reflects the ongoing efforts by this government to combat all forms of child sexual exploitation and denounce the grave and reprehensible nature of such heinous crimes. The bill is another concrete example of our commitment to protect Canadian families, communities and, above all, to protect the most vulnerable and valuable members of our society, our children.
We know that children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, and are far more likely to be victims of sexual crimes than are adults. Our violent crime rates are trending downward in Canada. It is very worrisome that the number of child sexual offences reported to police continues to rise.
In 2013, police reported some 4,200 incidents of sexual violations against children, a 6% increase in the rate from the previous year. As noted by Statistics Canada, in its report on police reported crime released in July 2014, sexual offences against children was one of the few categories of violent crimes to increase in Canada in 2013.
I think we can all agree that these numbers are a cause for concern. Let me assure the House that the troubling reality behind those numbers is exactly what the tougher penalties for child predators act aims to address.
One of the amendments to criminal law proposed in Bill seeks to deter people from committing such horrific crimes by ensuring that offenders are liable for the harm they cause children and by improving our capacity to monitor these offenders and prevent recidivism.
More specifically, Bill proposes increasing mandatory minimum penalties and maximum penalties for many sexual offences against children.
For example, Bill will ensure that anyone who commits any hybrid offence involving sexual contact is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years less a day when the person is found guilty on summary conviction and a term of 14 years when the person is found guilty on indictment.
Bill also proposes to increase the penalties for making and distributing child pornography and to make these offences strictly indictable to better reflect their seriousness. Child pornography offences can have long-lasting and devastating impacts on victims, particularly when images and videos are posted on the Internet. Once on the web, child pornographic images can quickly be disseminated around the world and might be accessed indefinitely, with the result of re-victimizing the child victim at every click.
This bill would also ensure that committing a child sexual offence while on a conditional sentence order, parole, or statutory release would be considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes to assist in preventing future offences by convicted child sexual offenders.
Bill proposes to increase maximum penalties for violations of prohibition orders, probation orders, and peace bonds. Canadians are rightly concerned about the mobility and conduct of known child sexual predators once they are released into the community. Stricter measures are needed to ensure that supervision orders are observed and that breaches of conditions result in appropriate consequences. These conditions, which may include refraining from being in contact with a victim or staying away from a specific household or prohibitions around the use of weapons, alcohol, or drugs, are imposed to protect the children. A breach of these conditions generally means that there is an increased risk that the offender may commit further sexual offences. Therefore, Bill C-26 would increase the maximum penalties for breaches of conditions of any of these orders, from six to 18 months if preceded by summary conviction, and from two to four years if preceded by indictment.
Bill not only sends a strong signal that the protection of children is a paramount value of Canadian society but also communicates the important message that every victim matters.
The reforms in Bill C-26 would also amend the Canada Evidence Act to ensure that spouses of individuals accused of child pornographic offences would be compellable witnesses for the crown. The testimony of an accused spouse may be required to facilitate the prosecution of a child pornography offence when the pornographic material is found on a home computer, for example.
However, the amendments set out in Bill do not stop there. In order to further address the risk that sex offenders pose to children, Bill proposes amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act that would require sex offenders to notify authorities of any absences of seven days or more for any trip within Canada or abroad, as well as the dates of their travel and the locations where they will be staying.
It is important to note that child sex offenders will be expected to meet these obligations regardless of the duration of their trip.
The proposed amendments would also increase our knowledge of sexual offenders by authorizing the sharing of information on registered sexual offenders between National Sex Offender Registry officials and the Canada Border Services Agency. In particular, this would assist in preventing and addressing offenders who travel abroad to commit sexual offences against children.
Bill also proposes to create a national, publicly accessible database of high-risk child sexual offenders who have been the subject of a public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. A centralized database would help to ensure that law enforcement and the public had greater access to information about high-risk child sex offenders.
Our government recognizes that the issue of child sexual exploitation is not one dimensional and requires a multi-pronged or holistic approach. Although the criminal law reforms proposed in Bill C-26 are a critical part of the overall response, I am pleased that our government has dedicated over $10 million since 2010 for 21 new or enhanced child advocacy centres to address the needs of child and youth victims of crime and to assist with the recovery of victims who have suffered significant trauma as a result of those heinous crimes.
The bill aims to further protect the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, from exploitation by providing measures designed to deter and denounce crimes of a sexual nature committed against them.
The sentencing amendments proposed in the bill include mandatory consecutive sentences, which would ensure that in cases of multiple crimes, including in instances where offences were committed against multiple victims, offenders would not receive what is commonly coined a “sentence discount” at the time they were sentenced.
Before describing the specifics of these amendments, allow me to provide some background with respect to the existing sentencing principles that are applicable to multiple offences. I will then focus my remarks on the proposed amendments to the sentencing regime with respect to child sexual offences.
Generally, the Criminal Code provides that a court has the discretion to order that a term of imprisonment be served consecutively to any sentence the offender is already serving or to any other sentence of imprisonment the court imposes, whether it is a result of the non-payment of a fine or not. If this provision sounds confusing, it is because it represents an amalgamation of sentencing rules that pre-date Confederation. Moreover, amendments over the years have further complicated the statement of the rules contained within the Criminal Code.
In addition to these Criminal Code rules, case law offers guidance with respect to the circumstances in which consecutive or concurrent sentences are imposed on an offender.
In general, courts will order that the sentence for two or more offences arising out of one continuous criminal act or single transaction, also referred to as the “same event or series of events” rule, will be served concurrently, or if members prefer, simultaneously. In these cases, the offender will serve the longer of the sentences imposed.
Offences or multiple convictions that arise out of a separate criminal transaction generally will garner consecutive sentences, which are served one after the other. The imposition of concurrent sentences for offences committed as part of the same event or series of events usually reflects the fact that the guilty mind of the accused is the same throughout the event or events, as opposed to offences arising out of separate criminal transactions. That said, courts will be reluctant to order that offences committed as part of the same event or series of events be served concurrently when it would allow the offender to commit subsequent offences with impunity, especially where the subsequent offence is particularly serious in nature.
For example, courts will order consecutive terms of imprisonment for an offence, the first offence, that is committed while fleeing from the police, the second offence. They will also order that an offence committed while on bail be served concurrently to the term of imprisonment for the predicate offence. The determination of whether sentences are to be served concurrently or consecutively, therefore, is a fact-specific inquiry as to whether the connection between the two offences is sufficiently close to warrant concurrent sentences.
It is important to outline the relevant sentencing principles at play, especially when discussing concurrent and consecutive sentences. The Criminal Code provides that the fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful, and safe society by imposing fit sentences that have one or more of the following objectives: denunciation, deterrence, separation of offenders from society, rehabilitation, reparation for harms done to victims, and the promotion of a sense of responsibility in offenders.
A fit sentence is one that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the degree of responsibility of the offender. The Criminal Code explicitly directs that a fit sentence must focus on the objectives of deterrence and denunciation.
The last step a court must take before deciding whether to consider that any terms of imprisonment it imposes be served consecutively or concurrently is to consider the totality principle.
Pursuant to subsection 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code, a court that imposes consecutive sentences must determine whether the combined sentence is unduly long or harsh. In other words, the totality principle requires courts to determine whether the totality of the sentence adequately reflects the overall gravity of the offender's conduct. Where the court is of the opinion that the combined sentence is unduly long or harsh, it may order that some of the offences be served concurrently instead of consecutively.
However, where the Criminal Code prescribes mandatory consecutive sentences, a court may impose shorter sentences on some or all of the individual offences in order for the combined sentence to be a fit sentence.
This will be the case for the offences of possession of explosives for a criminal organization, the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence, terrorism offences, or criminal organization offences.
In these cases, the Criminal Code requires judges to order the term of imprisonment for these offences be served consecutively to terms of imprisonment imposed for other offences, whether they arise out of the same event or series of events or not.
The proposed amendments clarify and codify the rules regarding the imposition of consecutive and concurrent sentences, which I outlined earlier in my remarks.
The amendments would also require courts to order in certain cases consecutive sentences on offenders who commit certain sexual offences against children. This would be similar to the current requirement of consecutive sentences for offences that I mentioned earlier: terrorism, criminal organization offences, the use of a firearm.
Specifically, the bill proposes that sentences for child pornography offences be served consecutively to any sentence imposed at the same time for a contact child sexual offence.
It also proposes that in cases of multiple victims, sentences imposed at the same time for contact child sexual offences committed against one victim be served consecutively to those imposed for contact child sexual offences against any other victim.
These amendments recognize the increasing tendency of courts to direct that a sentence for possession or making of child pornography be served consecutively to a sentence for a contact child sexual offence, in recognition of the heinous nature of sexual offending against children, especially where the child pornography material is distributed via the Internet.
Furthermore, requiring child sexual offenders to serve sentences imposed for offences committed against different victims consecutively would address the so-called “volume discounts” given to child sexual offenders sentenced at the same time for multiple child sexual offences. This direction is also valid in cases of multiple child sexual offences, especially where there is more than one victim.
These proposed amendments will reinforce the continued efforts of this government to protect children against sexual offences by ensuring that these crimes are denounced, that child predators are deterred, and that every child victim counts.
In closing, I would encourage all members to support these important amendments that seek to protect our most vulnerable members of society, our young children.
Mr. Speaker, I am tempted to begin my speech in the House on Bill by pointing out the latest attempt by the member for to demonize the official opposition and the second opposition party.
Any time we examine a justice bill, whether it is Bill or any other justice bill, I look carefully at what the bill says. This bill is .
Sometimes I receive a letter from the , but not always, explaining a little about the context of his bill, which I appreciate.
In the case of Bill , the main objective is to deter criminals and denounce sexual offences against children. The next step is to examine the bill and see whether that is what the bill actually does.
When I hear the Conservatives say over and over again that we care more about offenders and criminals than we do about victims, I find that rather biased and I take offence to such comments, which add absolutely nothing to the debate.
Obviously we are talking about criminals when we are studying a bill like this. They are the main focus of the bill. Talking about them does not mean that we like them, or support them, or that we are behind them saying, “good job, do it again”, like a bunch of cheerleaders. Not at all.
However, if the government tells me that it is denouncing sexual offences against children in order to deter criminals, then I will look at the bill to see whether that is indeed what the government is doing.
It is rather sad that closure was invoked at second reading stage of such an extremely important and complex file, because we can see from the title of the bill alone that it affects a number of statutes at the same time. It introduces a specific database for offenders who are at risk of reoffending and committing more serious offences than the ones described in the current database.
As I was saying to the , who was well informed but was perhaps not the person who worked directly on this file, the House has passed many laws regarding sexual offences against children.
In fact, we have to question why, by the 's own admission, there has been a 6% increase in offences in the past two years alone. That still bothers me somewhat because if one of the main objectives of the law is to deter criminals from committing crimes and to report sexual offences against children, there may well be some flaws. I do not want members to tell me that this did not exist before. Minimum sentences did exist.
Bill does not include any new minimum sentence or any new maximum sentence. All that happened was that the length of the sentences was increased. Both minimum and maximum sentences were increased. Perhaps these types of sentences did not work. In short, we could have done the analysis, but first there was closure in the House, then we went to committee.
I must confess that I was a bit wary in the beginning. We were under the impression that the members sitting on the government benches wanted to work very quickly and take shortcuts. Nevertheless, I admit that we were finally able to call the witnesses that we wanted to hear.
I am not quite so positive when it comes to the amendments. Only the government's amendments were accepted, which is always the case. I think that is unfortunate because one of our amendments was based on the very solid evidence given by a criminology expert.
She told us that the information the government wants to put in the new registry—or high risk sex offender database—that it wants to create and that is mentioned in clause 29 of Bill might be used to identify some victims. This government claims to be on the victims' side and tells us that we are the mean ones who always side with the criminals.
I presented a very simple amendment but the government decided it was too complicated and unnecessary because the notion was implied. When I studied law at the University of Ottawa I was taught that if it is clear, you spell it out. You write it and that is that. Leaving things open to interpretation is another story. All we were asking was that, “under no circumstances must the information referred to in subsection (1) be used to identify the victims”. The amendment was rejected.
This government likes to introduce all kinds of bills. Sometimes it seems as though it is lacking a plan or a person to make sure that the different bills do not contradict each other or that a bill, like Bill on cyberbullying, which amended a lot of other laws, is not affected in any way by Bill . Sometimes I wonder whether the government is losing control and losing its way.
We presented a perfectly reasonable amendment, requesting that the minister of justice be required to prepare a report specifying the number of persons whose name has been added to the database and the information specified in paragraphs 5(f) and (g), which have to do with the type of offence. This information could have been interesting to look at with respect to each of these individuals. The amendment stipulated that the minister of justice would have to table the report to each house of Parliament within the first 15 sitting days after the report has been prepared.
Once again, this seems to me like a reasonable amendment. The Conservatives will probably give me the same answer. The answer that was given by the Department of Justice and the Conservatives is that it is a public registry—as if I did not know that. The word itself says it all. Since it is a public registry, it is up to me to find the information I need. Every year, I will have to go and check the registry to find the information. If the government was interested in promoting these things and ensuring that its bills work well, this is the type of work that would normally be done. They want to complicate our lives. That is fine. That is good. We will put that in our pipe and smoke it.
However, that being said, it would have been much simpler to do this the way we are proposing. It could also have been useful for the government, since it could have found some missing information right in this report. The government may well say that the 6% increase could be due to the fact that the minimum sentences were not yet harsh enough. On this side of the House, we think that the increase is more likely related to the fact that the government does not spend much and, even worse, it is making cuts to programs that are working really well and that have been successful. That is also what experts told us in committee.
As I said before on the radio and here in the House at second reading, it is all well and good to have a registry. We already have one. The person responsible for the registry at the RCMP came and told us in committee that the RCMP is already doing this. When a dangerous person moves into a community, the RCMP informs the people living there. The RCMP does not need the government to keep the public safe. The government created this registry saying that it would formalize what the RCMP is already doing.
I will digress for a moment. When we had the minister's press conference after the 's presentation, everyone who talked about Bill made it sound as though it was the ultimate goal and that it would solve all of the world's problems. Finally, the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP answered one of my questions and said that it would affect perhaps a dozen cases a year.
That brings us back to reality. The National Sex Offender Registry already exists for such offenders. The additional “high risk” aspect pertains to about a dozen people. One thing is clear, and I am surprised that the Conservative government has not paid more attention to it. In fact, instead of talking in glowing terms about this type of measure, it should instead be worried about the fact that these high risk offenders are in our communities. That worries me a lot. I sometimes feel that this government works a lot harder on paper, with words, because that goes hand in hand with its rhetoric that makes it appear to be tough and to be doing something. However, in reality, when we look at the resources available to the RCMP and police forces to conduct investigations, that is not the case. I shudder when I hear police services say that some types of crime will have to be ignored because combatting terrorism is now the priority. Perhaps the minister was right to specify the criteria for a sentence. Yes, there is rehabilitation, deterrence and all that, but one of the government's main purposes is to protect its citizens. Putting more eggs in one basket than in another is not necessarily good management.
There is nothing real there. As for minimum sentences—that is what the member opposite was talking about—I am of the same mind as a former Supreme Court justice who appeared before us and said, in the context of another justice-related file, that all minimum sentences are not necessarily unconstitutional. It is simply not a tool that should be overused. First of all, and this is very important, even the witnesses who appeared in committee, whether they were victims or people who work with organizations that support victims, told us that minimum sentences were not the issue. If, for the kind of offence and the seriousness of the crime committed, we were to impose the minimum sentences that the Conservatives proposed in Bill , there is a problem somewhere. However, there could be a case that has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of stereotype we have of that kind of offence. Therein lies the problem. We heard it directly from legal experts. To say that we are against minimum sentences for this kind of offence does not mean we are defending criminals.
The fact is that, ultimately, the minimum sentence may not even be imposed by the court, because the court, as a general rule, will give more than that, and that is what we want. Look at the bill dealing with child kidnapping—it was clear from the case law that was brought before the committee that the average sentence exceeded the minimum sentence that the Conservatives wanted to impose.
Basically, this is mostly just smoke and mirrors; however, in some cases, it can lead to some strange outcomes. This is why there are constitutional challenges. With a constitutional challenge, all you need is one case that is flawed, that does not fit the minimum sentence formula, for the provision to be struck down; it will then be sent back here for us to do over again. That is one of the problems.
Obviously, the NDP supported Bill at second reading. We took our work seriously and sought the extra information we needed, even though the bill is far from perfect and is not necessarily the type of bill we would introduce. I think our analysis would be more thorough. Indeed, offenders need to be punished, but we must also ensure that the people who leave prison are not a danger to the public. Earlier, the Liberal member mentioned the circles of change program. In committee we learned that the program had a 70% to 80% success rate. Who would scoff at that? None other than the Conservative government, because it does not want to talk about that type of thing.
The government just wants to talk about things that create the impression that it is dealing with criminals. Of course, we are all against criminals.
When I return to my riding at the end of the day and talk to the people of Gatineau, because I like to connect with my community, I tell them I am proud of the work we did that week. In this case, we passed a victims bill of rights and we worked on a bill to deal with sexual predators. I would just like to add, for once in my life, that I am sure that this will be useful.
In any case, I can tell them I tried very hard in committee to have the government listen to reason, not to defend criminals, but to ensure that the bill will withstand the constitutional challenges that will test it in the coming years, that it is consistent with other bills, and that it achieves its objectives.
The government claims to be helping victims with the victims bill of rights, but they need real rights, as I said in my speech. The right to lodge a complaint cannot be hypothetical. The government brings in minimum penalties but it is cutting resources for police officers—the ones who catch criminals and bring them to justice. The justice system is crying for help, and we are in need of judges and crown prosecutors. How does this make any sense?
I weep for victims because they will never get the services they need. That will not change, even in one, two or three years. What is even sadder is that they will have been promised the world. It is even more disappointing when they are told that something will be fixed.
As for the registry, people from the RCMP have told us that they already have a hard time keeping criminal cases and criminal records up to date. The member for presented a petition earlier regarding impaired driving. I agree that we still have a long way to go. When we hear in the papers that someone was convicted for the sixth time, we have to wonder how that can be possible. However, these situations happen because nothing is written in the records of these repeat offenders, even though everyone knows that they have been to court six times and that this is not their first conviction.
Civil and criminal justice need to be consistent. There needs to be some follow-up. The bill gives the governor in council the power to make regulations by establishing the criteria for determining whether a person who is found guilty of a sexual offence against a child poses a high risk of committing a crime of a sexual nature; and, in subclause (b), by prescribing anything that is to be prescribed by this act. This means that this legislation retains some harmful legal grey areas.
This is moving too fast even for the people at the Department of Justice. I asked them what impact Bill would have. People like me who follow justice issues know that this was the bill concerning statutory instruments and how to enact regulations. We all know that a law is one thing, but that three-quarters of the obligations are set out in the regulations.
When the government tells us that the Governor in Council, namely cabinet, will be establishing the criteria, that tells us who is going to be making the decisions and that we will not know exactly when and how those decisions will be made. I asked them whether Bill would apply since we are talking about delegation and regulation by reference. That means that we would not even have a separate list of criteria. The answer that I got from the expert at the Department of Justice was that he did not know and that he would check.
That means that the government is not making connections between its various bills. I got an answer today, just a few hours before I rose in the House for the debate, and I was told that, yes, Bill S-2 would apply.
There are ramifications, and I get the impression that we will be forced to revisit many of these bills. However, as it now stands, Bill is unfortunately a lot of talk, just like the Canadian victims bill of rights. As one of the victims, Mr. Gilhooly, so aptly stated, even if the bill were passed as it stands, it would not change what he experienced in any way.
Once again, the government is misleading victims by giving them the impression that it is tough on crime and imposing law and order, but in the end, the law will not be enforced.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill , the tougher penalties for child predators act.
Protecting children from predators is a Liberal priority, as I am sure it is a priority of everyone in the House. For that reason, we will support the bill, though in many respects we view it as a missed opportunity from a policy perspective. I want to be clear. Sexual violence is traumatic and devastating at any age, but even more so for children.
The attempt of criminal sentencing to in some way quantify the impact of sexual violence is a failure from the outset. As with all violent crime, no criminal sentence or civil remedy can undo the wrong that has occurred, though we would hope that healing is possible for every victim.
However, the law can only deliver an imperfect measure of justice. No, consecutive sentence, increased maximum penalty, no order for damages can undo the actions that society would justly have offenders repay.
The hearts of everyone in the House, including my colleagues on the justice committee, go out to the victims of childhood sexual offences. The testimony of victims we heard at committee was gut-wrenching and, frankly, at times difficult to listen to.
I want to say for the record that I was particularly struck by the testimony of Mr. Greg Gilhooly, a victim of the terrible crimes of Graham James. Mr. Sheldon Kennedy also appeared by teleconference, but unfortunately we experienced some technical difficulties into his testimony. In any case, I would like to commend both of them for assisting the committee with its work, along with Mr. Alain Fortier and Mr. Frank Tremblay of Victimes d'agressions sexuelles au masculi. Their bravery in going on the public record for the benefit of Canadian society is truly admirable and most appreciated.
As to the purpose of Bill , Liberals support the policy objectives of reducing sexual offences against children, denouncing such heinous acts when they occur and separating offenders from society where necessary. However, from the Liberal perspective, the bill should have focused more on reducing crimes in the first place, rather than on punishing offenders once a child had been victimized.
In our committee over the past year we have talked a lot about victims, and rightly so, but we should put more focus on having fewer victims to talk about. Reducing rates of child sexual crime will require making meaningful fiscal commitments instead of these repeated changes to the Criminal Code.
Liberals believe it is crucial for criminal justice policy to be evidence-based. That belief is at the core of our support for the charter, which requires our courts to weigh a law's intended purposes against its actual effects in real life. Unfortunately, the bill is largely a missed opportunity when it comes to reducing sexual offences against children.
As we heard at committee, the data shows that a reduction in the incidence of these crimes would require investing in rehabilitation programs. Instead, we heard that the Conservatives had cut programs that successfully achieved reductions.
In addition, some provisions in Bill that reduce judicial discretion are problematic, though not fatal to our support for the bill. I will explain these conclusions in a minute. However, I would like to go over the provisions of Bill for the benefit of the House.
Bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code to increase mandatory minimum and maximum penalties for certain sexual offences against children, including sexual assaults and offences related to child pornography.
Bill would also increase the maximum penalties for violations of various court orders, including probation orders, peace bonds and so forth. In addition, it would amend the Canada Evidence Act to ensure that the spouses of the accused would be competent and compellable witnesses for the prosecution in child pornography cases.
The bill would also amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act to increase the reporting obligations of sex offenders who travelled outside of Canada.
Finally, Bill would enact the high risk child sex offender database act to establish a public-accessible federal database that contains an amalgamation of already public information with respect to high-risk sex offenders.
I want to say a few words about rehabilitation, which I know is a principle of sentencing that the government prefers to ignore. However, from a public policy perspective, it is absolutely crucial. I say that not because anybody wants to put support for offenders above support for victims, but because we want to have fewer victims.
Some in this chamber may recall that at second reading I expressed considerable skepticism about the bill before us. After all, in 2012, many of the criminal provisions in Bill were amended in Bill C-10 to create or increase minimum penalties or to increase maximums. Since Bill C-10 came into force, the , as repeated again today by the , indicated that child sexual offences had risen by 6%. Therefore, it serves to reason that either Bill C-10 was ineffective at reducing the number of offences or that the government is again increasing penalties, without waiting to see whether Bill C-10 was effective.
I understand that maybe the focus here is denunciation and separating offenders from society, but I would plainly ask, why are we not doing more on prevention? Why is reduction not our central policy focus when it comes to child sex offences or at least worthy of equal focus to denunciation and separation from society?
Liberals will support the bill, but we would like a direct answer to this question from the government. Where is the prevention?
I would like to draw the government's attention to some specific testimony from the committee. We heard from two representatives from an organization, which was discussed earlier in debate, called Circles of Support and Accountability, or COSA.
COSA is a community-based reintegration group that holds sexual offenders accountable for the harm they have caused, while assisting with their re-entry into society at the end of their sentences. COSA was started by the Mennonite Central Committee, and there are chapters across the country.
At committee, we heard about the organization's remarkable success at reducing recidivism. Specifically, research indicates that offenders involved with COSA have a reduction of sexual recidivism of 70% to 80% compared to those who are not. The program is also very cost effective. For example, the annual budget in Ottawa, which would work with about 8 to 12 offenders a year, is less than the cost to incarcerate one offender in the federal system for a year.
COSA had been receiving $2.2 million in government money annually for two decades. However, the government ended that funding, which in Ontario, for example, supported 70% of its operations.
From a public policy perspective, how does it make sense to tinker with the Criminal Code, while defunding programs that are proven to reduce recidivism by 70% to 80%? Think of how many fewer victims that means, or maybe do not, because it is too heartbreaking.
Also on this point of prevention, speaking about the proposed federal sex offender registry, the Privacy Commissioner, Mr. Daniel Therrien, told the committee:
—evaluations that have been done based on the experience in the United States suggest that there is little or no evidence that registration and notification laws are effective, either in terms of deterring sex offender recidivism or in reducing reported sex offences.
Any government's time and money are limited resources. Is Bill an efficient allocation of those resources to serve the worthy objective of reducing child sexual offences? Again, I repeat, it is a missed opportunity.
I also want to mention that it remains my view, and the view of the Liberal Party, that some of these changes inappropriately remove judicial discretion from the sentencing process. Perhaps Conservatives look at these changes and think, “Great, higher sentences across the board”.
However, a key point that gets missed here is that discretion is not eliminated. It is simply downloaded to law enforcement and prosecutors. The result, in some instances, might be that we see no charge where we would currently see a relatively minor or moderate charge, because a new mandatory minimum would make an appropriate outcome impossible. Dr. Stacey Hannem, the chair of the policy review committee of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, drew our attention to the particular problem of eliminating summary offence options.
In any event, I want to reiterate that Liberals will support this bill, because we indeed support the denunciation of child sexual offences and separating offenders from society where necessary. None of my criticisms of this bill detract from the gravity of these types of crimes. However, their gravity is why I wish the government would do more to prevent these crimes in the first place, rather than focusing exclusively on dealing with their consequences.
As I said, this is a missed opportunity to prioritize the prevention of these intolerable crimes.