moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour to represent the good people of Perth—Wellington in this place.
It is an honour to rise in the House this afternoon to begin second reading debate of my private member's bill, known in this Parliament as Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual exploitation).
As I stated when I introduced the bill at first reading, it is a direct result of the advocacy, comments and concerns of the people of Perth—Wellington.
In early 2018, an incident occurred in which a person employed to work with persons with disabilities, who was also a children's entertainer, was convicted of a serious sexual crime against a person living with disabilities. My constituents were outraged by the lenient sentence of a monetary fine and probation, and called for a resolution to the flaw in the Criminal Code.
In a perfect world, I would have liked to have done so much more through the bill to better support Canadians living with disabilities. Far too often I hear from constituents who live with disabilities that they have fallen through the cracks: those who experience challenges in accessing government programs; those who face challenges with housing; and those who encounter barriers in employment. However, as hon. members know, with the limitations of Private Members' Business, it would not be possible to achieve all these goals through legislation without a royal recommendation.
In his 1913 autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt includes this quotation, “Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are”. I am here today in the House doing what I can with the legislative resources available to me to try in this way to better protect Canadians living with disabilities.
I originally introduced the legislation in the previous Parliament, in January 2019, as Bill . However, as members know, the Standing Orders on Private Members' Business were a barrier to moving the bill forward at the time and it died on the Order Paper when the 42nd Parliament was dissolved.
During the 2019 election, the proposals contained in my bill were included as part of the Conservative Party's election platform, and I personally made the commitment to my constituents that if I were to be re-elected, I would bring back this legislation to the House. Today, I am fulfilling that commitment to the constituents of Perth—Wellington.
Shortly after I tabled the bill for the second time in February 2020, another case involving sexual exploitation reached the news. This case involved a young person. The former chief of police of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia was sentenced to a 15-month imprisonment following an October 2019 conviction for sexually exploiting a 17-year-old girl. In this instance, the offender was also convicted of sexual assault, however, this caused a legal issue as it was questioned as to whether the court could convict a guilty person of two criminal offences for the same incident. In this case, the conviction of sexual exploitation was entered and the conviction of sexual assault was stayed.
As a sexual exploitation charge is often accompanied by a sexual assault charge, Bill would provide the additional benefit of ensuring only fair sentences are available when such controversies occur. Furthermore, Bill C-219 proposes to provide courts with the ability to impose harsher sentences in instances when only a charge of sexual exploitation is made. One example of the convictions of sexual exploitation but not sexual assault occurred last year, also in Nova Scotia, in which a religious leader was convicted of sexually exploiting a 17-year-old young person.
The second proposal contained within Bill was also inspired by the incident that occurred in my riding. If passed, the bill will require courts to consider the fact that a victim is a person living physical or mental disability as an aggravating circumstance when sentencing a person convicted under section 286.1(1) or 286.1(2) of the Criminal Code. This would fill an unfortunate void currently existing in the Criminal Code.
Persons living with disabilities are more vulnerable to this kind of exploitation due to a number of factors, including the capacity to give consent. What is more, in many cases, the offender is known to the victim and is often someone the victim must rely upon for care or other personal or financial support. This addition to the Criminal Code would ensure courts always take into account this vulnerability.
It is a sad truth, but as legislators we must be willing to admit that sexual exploitation is a problem in our country and we must strengthen our laws to better protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
Research and statistics have time and time again shown us that young people and persons living with disabilities are more often than not the victims of sexual and other types of crime.
According to Statistics Canada's report “Victims of Police-reported violent crime in Canada, 2016”, “When controlling for population, the rate of victimization was highest among youth aged 16 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 24.” The report further explains, “Overall, 8% of police-reported victims were victims of sexual offences. However, these offences were much more prevalent among child and youth victims that came to the attention of police.” The report goes on to state that 34%, more than one-third of female victims of sexual offences, were aged only 12 to 17 years old.
According to Statistics Canada’s Report Violent Victimization of Women with Disabilities, “according to both self-reported and police-reported data, the large majority of victims are women...This trend is also evident when looking at the population with a disability” who are victims of self-reported sexual assault “as nearly nine in ten (88%) victims...were women.” The report also states that Canadians with a disability, 30% of incidents, were more likely to be victimized in their own home compared to victims who did not have disability. This serves to highlight the sad reality that even in their home, people with a disability are at an increased vulnerability.
According to the Department of Justice Research and Statistics Division, “Sexual assault is a gendered crime; women are victimized at a higher rate…than men... As with other violent victimization…young people aged 15-24 years have the highest rate of sexual assault (71 incidents per 1,000 population).”
Sexual exploitation is a disturbing crime because it involves an imbalance and an abuse of power. Often it involves some sort of authority figure in a position of trust. That is why for years the Criminal Code includes the following description in its section on sexual exploitation “Every person...who is in a position of trust or authority towards a young person” or “who is a person with whom the young person is in a relationship of dependency. ” Furthermore, in the sexual exploitation of someone with a person with a disability, it reads similarly, “Every person who is in a position of trust or authority towards a person with a mental or physical disability or who is a person with whom a person with a mental or physical disability is in a relationship of dependency.”
This makes the specific crime of sexual exploitation all the more concerning. It requires a person in a position of power to take advantage of that power for their own appalling purposes. There is no excuse and there is no justification for these kinds of acts. These crimes occur when a person actively choses to use their position to harm an innocent victim.
Last month I had the honour to meet virtually with representatives of Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre, an organization that provides services to victims of these types of crimes from Toronto to Barrie to Peterborough. They talk about how difficult it is for victims of vulnerable populations in the justice system.
We need to ensure they are respected and supported. We need to ensure when victims come forward, they feel they are taken seriously. We need to ensure victims of these types of crimes have faith in the system and believe the devastating acts committed against them will not go unpunished.
I recognize that introducing legislation that proposes to increase sentences may not be consistent with the direction of the current government, which has often taken the position that some mandatory minimums are not appropriate. I would like to address that issue.
Charter challenges on mandatory minimum sentences are determinations if the sentence is “grossly disproportionate”. This is not the case with this bill. Given the abuse of power and the long-term impacts on victims, it should be clear to all of us that a one-year minimum sentence for sexual exploitation of a person under 18 years of age or a person with a disability is proportionate to the serious crime.
Sex crimes are different from other crimes. This has been recognized by successive governments for decades, including by the current Liberal government. The current mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days for sexual exploitation of a young person has been in place since the current Liberal government came to office and they have chosen to keep that in place. In fact, when the government introduced Bill C-22, their own backgrounder explicitly stated they were not proposing to remove mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences and listed them among other serious violent offences in which strict sentences remain in place.
Furthermore, when the spoke in the House, he clearly stated that sexual offences committed against children were committed by serious criminals and should be treated seriously. The same should be true of sexual offences committed against persons living with disabilities.
It would be beneficial for Parliament, the elected branch of government, to explicitly include in the Criminal Code a higher sentence for these crimes for the purpose of protecting vulnerable Canadians. Criminal laws serve to protect vulnerable people and serve a valid purpose. They are a legitimate part of fostering a safe society and they serve the public good.
The last number of months, under the challenges of COVID-19, many Canadians have been distressed to hear increasing reports of sexual crimes.
On July 13, 2020, a CBC news headline stated, “Child sex exploitation is on the rise in Canada during the pandemic.” The article states, “Cybertip.ca said...saw an 81 per cent spike over April, May and June in reports from youth who had been sexually exploited, and reports of people trying to sexually abuse children.”
A Global News report last month stated that a man from outside of Edmonton was arrested and charged with multiple counts of exploitation, among other charges.
A March 20, CBC news headlined stated, “Reports of sexual violations against children double in P.E.I.”
I encourage all members of all parties to come together to support this bill. In fact, there is precedence for all-party co-operation regarding changes to these sections of the Criminal Code.
Prior to 2005, the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation of a young person as an indictable offence was only five years, and no minimum sentence was provided. This changed in the 38th Parliament, when the then Liberal minority government passed Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, protection of children and other vulnerable persons, and the Canada Evidence Act, which was sponsored by then justice minister Irwin Cotler. That bill increased the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation of a young person to 10 years, and introduced a minimum sentence of 14 days.
The bill also added to the Criminal Code a list of factors regarding the nature and circumstances of the relations to be established to determine how the relationship is exploitative. As Minister Cotler told the justice committee at the time, the purposes of the bill were ”to provide greater protection to youth against sexual exploitation from persons who would prey on their vulnerability.”
This bill was not only supported by all parties, but its passage was accelerated by all-party agreement and the use of a unanimous consent motion.
Then, on May 1, 2008, the Criminal Code was amended again, through another bill also named Bill , this time to change the definition of a young person and to provide additional protections. This bill, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, was sponsored by the then justice minister Rob Nicholson and passed quickly through the House of Commons with all-party support and co-operation.
I would note the support of that bill included the current , the , the , the , and the Liberals members for , , , and .
Young people and persons living with disabilities need to be protected. It is incumbent on us to pass this bill, because it is a targeted bill to correct two specific flaws in the Criminal Code. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure the Criminal Code provides appropriate sentences for disturbing crimes so vulnerable Canadians are not at risk. There is no excuse for these crimes.
I urge all my fellow members to support this important bill.
Madam Speaker, it is safe to say that parliamentarians reflect their constituents' beliefs. I think that we would find consensus that hideous crimes are being perpetrated in society far too often. Sexual offences, in particular against children and persons with disabilities, are indeed hideous crimes. They cause so much damage to our society.
An occurrence can take place over hours. Often, more than the hours of the actual incident, the effects could be prolonged for days and in incidents of captivity they could be much longer than that. People seem to forget that the consequences of being a victim of such a crime go far beyond the time of the incident: they stay with the person for the rest of their lives.
It is important that we as legislators understand and appreciate the impact these types of crimes have on victims, their family members and friends. Having that appreciation and understanding puts us in a better position to take action.
I used to serve on a justice committee. I want to bring two perspectives from that. It was a youth justice committee, and I was its chair for a number of years. We had this discussion about minimum sentencing, or minimum dispositions, as there was an increase of people who were stealing cars. People on the committee said that no matter who the person was who stole a car, we needed to ensure that youth had a minimum sentence or an assessment where he or she, most often he, would have to fulfill x, y and z requirement plus whatever else they would have to assign. Other members of the committee had a different approach, saying that we needed to allow the honorary probation officers dealing with youth some discretion.
As a justice committee, we never dealt with sexual offences, but the principle of judicial discretion was something on which we had a very healthy discussion. When the committee first formed, some individuals with the hardest attitudes toward ensuring there were the toughest consequences came to believe that minimum sentences were not what we should be putting into place.
I say this because I believe that, if we were to canvass our constituents, everyone would agree that sexual offences, in particular against children and persons with disabilities, upset people significantly. We have a difficult time understanding why an offender would do such a thing and the initial reaction is to put them in jail and throw away the key. We, as legislators, understand and appreciate that is not necessarily the answer.
Yes, there needs to be a consequence, an element of punishment, but we also need to look at the bigger picture. That is not to say, as the introducer of the motion has put on the record, that former Liberal ministers have come forward and said yes to minimum sentences for certain types of crimes, this being one of them, nor does it mean we have to outright oppose all minimum sentencing; what it does mean is that we need to give special consideration to the types of things that are happening in our communities.
Whatever members think of minimum sentencing, as my New Democratic friend pointed out, they should think of judicial independence and the laws we have in place today. The Criminal Code covers most of everything, if not everything. I have not gone through the details of the private member's bill that has been provided, but it seems to cover, in one fashion or another, what we are having to face today. We might find the odd example that would challenge it to a certain degree, but I think we have to be very careful not to recognize the importance of judicial discretion. That is part of the fear I have. When we talk about systemic racism and look at incarceration and the role it has played, at least in part, it would be irresponsible for us as legislators, any time we talk about minimum sentencing, to not take into consideration the impact it may have on other issues where there could be a correlation. I find some crimes more upsetting than others.
From a personal point of view, the issue of exploitation is something I do not think we could ever do enough about with respect to discussions, debates and looking at ways we can combat it. I do not believe it has been getting better over the last number of years or back over the last decades. In part, that is because of the amount of exploitation taking place on the Internet today. I applaud the ministers of the government who I know have been doing a tremendous amount of consulting on this issue. We have a with a teaching background, who understands the importance of young people and making sure they get the best chances at life. When we start talking about sexual exploitation and those who are vulnerable in our society, we need to be there so we can provide that extra level of protection. There are things we can do. I believe the Government of Canada has been very proactive on that file.
I am hopeful we will see a downturn. Some of what we hear as a direct result of the pandemic on the issue of sexual exploitation is making a lot of people nervous, because we know the cost of one offence is horrendous, not to mention the impact it has on the victim. The costs go far beyond the dollar value. The bill talks about how we want—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill , which would amend the Criminal Code to increase sentences for offences of sexual exploitation and to add as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim is a person with a disability for the purposes of sentencing.
I agree with all members, or at least I think all of them, that this bill has a noble objective to protect the most vulnerable. I am perhaps a little less comfortable with the method of achieving this goal through increasing sentences and imposing higher mandatory minimum sentences.
Before I begin talking about the bill itself, I want to talk in general about mandatory minimums and revisit a question I have asked the House before about whether these sentences truly act as deterrents. The example I cited was the Bloody Code, used in England from the 17th to the 19th centuries. This code imposed the death penalty for such crimes as the theft of an item valued at more than 12 pence, such as a turnip. One might think that the code deterred people from stealing turnips, but that was not the case. Instead of sending people to the gallows for stealing such low-value items, juries instead opted to acquit the offenders, often by underestimating the value of the item stolen. The code did not deter crime, but rather encouraged it. After the imposition of capital punishment for the theft of turnips, more turnips than ever were stolen.
In these modern times, one could imagine that mandatory sentences might now be deterrents for judges, who might be tempted to look for ways to acquit the offender rather than impose a minimum sentence that would be disproportionate to the crime committed. Conversely, if the minimum sentence is very short, one would have to wonder whether it would truly be a deterrent and whether it would simply give judges less discretion.
Before I speak about the different parts of the bill, I will say that at this stage I will not comment on whether it is appropriate to refer the bill to a committee. I believe that the bill raises many questions and I am going to focus on that today. I will then indicate whether I will be voting for or against the bill at second reading. I think that the discussions in this chamber will be very informative and a great opportunity to show the importance of the debates held in the House.
The first of the three aspects covered by Bill C-219 concerns people in a position of authority. Paragraph 153(1.1) of the Criminal Code will be amended to increase the minimum sentence on summary conviction from 90 days to one year. In such a summary conviction, the judge would be limited to handing out a sentence between one year and two years less a day. This would greatly limit the judge's discretion in determining the sentence. Judges' responsibilities go beyond handing down a guilty verdict or an acquittal. Sentencing is also an important part of their job. Their discretion in this case would be severely curtailed.
Another problem is the imposition of the same minimum sentences for crimes deemed indictable offences and for crimes deemed summary offences. Handing out the same minimum sentence for crimes considered to be of different severity raises questions.
Furthermore, this amendment to the Criminal Code may not be constitutional. In 2019, the Court of Appeal of Yukon ruled that the minimum sentence of one year for an indictable offence was unconstitutional. We therefore can expect that the courts will do the same thing with the one-year minimum sentence for an offence punishable on summary conviction. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal and certain lower courts in other provinces also declared this portion of the law unconstitutional.
The bill's second amendment relates to a person in a position of trust or authority, specifically towards a person with a mental or physical disability. This clause poses the same problem because it too adds a minimum punishment of one year for an offence punishable on summary conviction. We will most likely have the same debate about why the minimum sentence should be the same for an offence punishable on summary conviction as for a criminal offence.
Another problem might be the constitutionality of this mandatory minimum sentence. If we compare this to an article intended to protect other people also considered vulnerable, in this case children under 16 years of age, it is worth remembering that the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the mandatory minimum sentence in Caron Barrette in 2018. The court declared:
...that the one-year mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment provided for in s. 151(a) of the Criminal Code is of no force or effect with respect to the appellant, that it is unconstitutional as infringing s. 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is not saved by operation of s. 1 of the Charter.
We might have a constitutionality problem in this case too. Another problem is that subsection 153(1) of the Criminal Code is rarely used because it is not very clear. Unfortunately, it is not a paragon of clarity.
At paragraph 184 of the decision in R. v L.C., the Hon. Erick Vanchestein says:
This provision was not subject to specific doctrine or jurisprudence in respect of its interpretation.
In other words, it is rarely used. He goes on to say:
It would appear from the parliamentary debates and proceedings surrounding the enactment of this provision that this offence was created at the request of organizations representing [persons with disabilities] who were seeking to obtain specific protection for vulnerable persons with disabilities, more specifically, the caregivers.... For this provision to be meaningful it necessarily needs to be complementary to the provisions with which it forms part.
The important paragraph is the following:
The court finds that the protection targeted by this provision is sexual abuse that takes advantage of the victim's disability, which is not the case here.
In that case, the victim was deaf.
In the end, the person was acquitted of the charge under section 153, because it needed to be proven that they had taken advantage of the victim's disability. What Crown prosecutors often do is use other sections that are clearer and easier to convict on. That makes section 153 ultimately useless, because it is not clear enough or makes it too hard to meet the burden of proof.
The last part of the bill calls for an amendment in the context of the commodification of sexual activity. It states that the court shall “consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim of the offence is a person with a mental or physical disability”.
We can expect this to create some discrimination in the hiring of sex workers. That is the absurd part of it. For instance, clients would be more likely to be criminally charged if they used the services of a sex worker with a disability that does not make her otherwise vulnerable than if they went to her colleague who does not have a disability. This would be a rather strange side effect of a very literal reading of the clause.
Furthermore, section 718.04 of the Criminal Code already sets out aggravating factors for offences against vulnerable persons. It reads:
When a court imposes a sentence for an offence that involved the abuse of a person who is vulnerable because of personal circumstances — including because the person is Aboriginal and female — the court shall give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence of the conduct that forms the basis of the offence.
Therefore, there is already a directive for judges that a harsher sentence must be imposed when the victim is someone who is considered vulnerable.
There are a number of questions that could be asked about this bill. We could look at everything that was done following the Bedford case, which decriminalized the provision of sexual services. Should we be cracking down on clients or focusing on pimps, for example?
There is a lot to debate. I look forward to following this issue and hearing the parliamentary debates on it.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill , and I would like to thank the member for for bringing forward the bill. While I have great respect for the member, I cannot bring myself to support his bill. I say this knowing full well of his noble intentions to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Bill is yet another Conservative amendment to the Criminal Code that seeks to bring in mandatory minimum sentences. In this case, the amendments are to the sections dealing with offences for sexual exploitation, against both young persons and persons with disabilities. The bill would add the fact that the victim is a person with a disability as an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing when someone is found guilty of purchasing sexual services from a person under 18 years of age.
In the 41st Parliament, the NDP opposed the whole section of the Criminal Code that was criminalizing sex work because, of course, we know full well that this is forcing it even deeper into the shadows. Unfortunately, the bill we have before us today is attempting to grandstand on the backs of victims. I use that word because the bill would do nothing to prevent these crimes, nor would it reduce their severity.
Too often in this place, we let overheated rhetoric and the stoking of people's fears replace good policy. This is especially the case when dealing with criminal law. As legislators, we cannot let the desire for revenge substitute against what all of the evidence shows us. I am speaking as a parent of three young children, so I understand the emotional gut punch of these crimes. They are vile and they are of a nature that makes us recoil in horror, but I have to detach myself from those emotional feelings. I am not a judge. I am not the person looking at the circumstances of the case, and that is where I have to draw the line, the separation between the legislative branch of government and the judicial branch of government.
New Democrats are opposed to mandatory minimums because they are an ineffective tool against crime. They do not deter perpetrators from committing crimes. We believe that discretion on sentencing should be left in the hands of judges. Alternative sentences or diversion programs almost always have better results in terms of rehabilitating perpetrators and, thus, preventing future crimes.
Mandatory minimums prevent judges from using these alternative sentences and diversion programs. Mandatory minimums remove the decision-making power from judges, and mandatory minimums deprive the court of the nuance it needs to bring in its decision-making. Unfortunately, the Conservative approach is to have the exact same minimum punishment for every conviction, regardless of the circumstances of the case.
They can also have the effect of clogging up our court system, because there may be accused innocent persons who are most likely to take a plea deal in order to avoid mandatory minimum sentencing if they feel that there is not strong enough evidence to acquit them even though they are quite sure of their innocence, while those who are guilty may not have any incentive to plead guilty, because they know there is going to be a mandatory minimum in place. We already have a judicial system that is bursting at the seams with so many court cases that have been backlogged, and this has been exacerbated by COVID-19. I certainly do not want to add to our already over-burdened court system.
[T]he evidence is clear: [mandatory minimums] are an ineffective and [in fact] dangerous justice tool. They do not deter crime. They do not increase public safety. They disproportionately affect Indigenous and other racialized Canadians. And they are incredibly expensive.
But we have known that for decades.
In 1984, the Canadian Sentencing Commission concluded that [mandatory minimums] create injustice without accomplishing any of the other functions ascribed to them.
In 2005, a Department of Justice...report found evidence that “minimum sentences are not an effective sentencing tool: that is, they constrain judicial discretion without offering any increased crime prevention benefits.”
For the next part of my speech, I will move on to a very important and already existing section of the Criminal Code. It is very important for us to realize, in the context of today's debate, and in any reform of the Criminal Code, that there are already detailed sentencing principles that a judge must apply in their consideration of the appropriate punishment.
For example, under section 718.01, any time there is an offence against children, the court, when imposing a sentence, has to give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence of such conduct. Under the existing section 718.04, when it comes to an offence against a vulnerable person, the court has to give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence. Also, a fundamental principle that is outlined under section 718.1 is that a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the responsibility of the offender.
Of course, the section that has often been quoted in these types of debates pertains to the other sentencing principles as outlined under the existing section 718.2, which, for the purposes of debating Bill , I should mention specifically reference whether the offender, in committing an offence, abused a person under the age of 18 years; whether the offender, in committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim; and, also, evidence that the offence had a significant impact on the victim, considering their age and other personal circumstances, including their health.
All of these specific references, which are already in the Criminal Code, give judges incredible leeway to apply the appropriate punishment for the appropriate crime.
I know that these crimes illicit a very strong, emotional response. However, it is important for us to remember that the Criminal Code, at the end of the day, is not a proactive piece of legislation. It is is very often a reactive piece of legislation. It comes into effect after the fact, after the crime has been committed. Our ultimate goal is to try and engage in preventative measures and, of course, to make sure that we do have those supports in place for the victims.
I do thank the member for for bringing forward the bill for debate and, again, I know that it is coming from a good place and has very noble intentions. However, in conclusion, my NDP colleagues and I support doing what is most effective to prevent crime and that also offers the best outcomes for the victims of crime.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of my colleague from 's private member's bill, Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, sexual exploitation.
The purpose of this bill is to increase the maximum and minimum sentences for individuals found guilty of sexually exploiting vulnerable individuals, such as children and those with mental disabilities, under the Criminal Code. The reason that this bill is needed is so disheartening.
A Stratford man who worked for a social service agency and performed as a clown was convicted of obtaining sexual services for consideration involving a 25-year-old mentally disabled woman. The punishment for his crime was just two years of probation and a $2,000 fine. This man preyed on this woman, took advantage of her and was let off the hook with a slap on the wrist. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.
In 2016, a Nova Scotian police chief was found guilty of sexually exploiting a teenage girl. A police chief, a person who we are taught to trust and go to for safety, abused his position and exploited a vulnerable individual. His only punishment was 15 months in jail. This is so disturbing.
As the shadow minister for women and gender equality, I have the opportunity to sit on the status of women committee. Recently, we tabled our report on the impacts of COVID-19 on women. One of the things that we learned about the devastating impacts of COVID and the consequences of the lockdowns was that women's shelters saw a significant decrease in the number of calls they were receiving from women.
Normally, a reduction in calls would be a good thing, but what we know is that during times of crisis, violence toward women actually increases. This meant that women were trapped at their homes with their abusers with no help. They were basically living in their own type of prison.
Women were not the only ones who saw an increase in violence directed at them. Cybertip.ca reported that, with children doing school remotely and spending more time on their computers, tablets and phones, it saw an 81% increase in the number of reports from youth who had been sexually exploited and reports of people trying to sexually abuse children.
The National Child Exploitation Crime Centre also reported that at the onset of the pandemic it saw offenders on livestreaming sites, social media and on the dark web looking for children to chat with online or to meet in person so they could sexually assault them.
It is hard to believe that in a country such as Canada, people who like to prey on these vulnerable individuals exist. We owe it to our children and to those most vulnerable to ensure that those who would prey on them for their own sexual pleasure are met with some of the toughest punishments.
This is why I fully support my colleague's private member's bill to bring in mandatory minimums on these criminals and strongly urge all members of this House to support it.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to join second reading of Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, sexual exploitation, which was introduced on February 25, 2020, by the member for .
At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the bill's important objectives to better protect young people and persons with disabilities from sexual exploitation and to ensure the appropriate sentencing for anyone who commits a serious sexual crime against them.
The available data shows we must remain vigilant in ensuring children and people living with disabilities are protected from sexual violence. We know young persons aged 15 to 24 have the highest rate of sexual assault. This comes from JustFacts Sexual Assault, May 2017.
According to the 2014 General Social Survey on victimization, Canadians with disabilities were almost twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than Canadians who did not have a disability. That survey also indicates the proportion of women with mental health-related disabilities who reported being a victim of sexual assault was over three times higher than that of their counterparts with no such condition.
This bill proposes a number of sentencing reforms that would apply to three sexual offences: sexual exploitation, section 153; sexual exploitation of a person with disability, section 153.1; and purchasing sexual services, section 286.1. These reforms involve increasing and imposing new mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment on sexual exploitation offences.
I have just noted increasing the maximum penalty for sexual exploitation of persons with disability and a new aggravating factor that would apply where sexual services are purchased from a person living with a disability. I propose to situate these reforms in the broader criminal framework governing sexual offending, which is recognized as one of the most comprehensive in the world.
The Criminal Code includes child-specific sexual offences as well as sexual offences of general application that criminalize a broad range of conduct. These offences protect children from all forms of sexual conduct with adults. For example, offences prohibiting sexual interference in section 151 and invitation to sexual touching in section 152 protect children under the ages of 16.
Once it is established that sexual conduct occurred and that the accused knew the victim was under the age of 16 or failed to take responsible steps to ascertain that age when the circumstances required it, the offence has been committed. It does not matter whether the young person consented.
The Criminal Code sexual exploitation offence, section 153, which this bill proposes to amend, protects 16-year-old and 17-year-old youth from sexual conduct with adults where there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency between the adult and the young person or the relationship is otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Courts may infer a relationship is exploitative of a young person from the nature of the circumstances of the relationship, including the age difference between the accused and the young person, the evolution of the relationship and the degree of control or influence by the accused over the young person. That is subsection 153(1.2).
I have two minutes remaining and perhaps I will get to finish when this comes back again.
In offences committed where it is established the sexual conduct occurred in the context of one of the relationships and the accused knew that the victim was 16 or 17 or failed to take reasonable steps to ascertain that age when the circumstances required it, again it does not matter whether the young person consented.
These are all serious offences with maximum penalties of 14 years' imprisonment on indictment and the MMPs of one year on indictment and 90 days on summary conviction. Furthermore, the sexual assault offences, section 271 to 273, that protect all Canadians also protect children. Sexual assault captures the full range of sexual contact, from kissing to intercourse. Where the victim is under the age of 16, this offence carries the same penalties as child-specific sexual offences. The sexual assault provisions also protect all Canadians, including those living with disabilities.
When the victim is 16 years old or older, sexual assault involves sexual touching without consent of the person being touched. In recognition of the fact that sexual assault victims are often vulnerable and have a very difficult time coming forward, the sexual assault provisions contain special rules and procedures that are designed to protect victims. For example, subsection 273.1(1) of the Criminal Code “defines consent as the voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question.” This means that consent must be expressed actively through words or conduct. Anything short of that does not constitute consent.
The Criminal Code also specifies that consent is not obtained as a matter of law in a number of different—