moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am here today to discuss Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act.
This bill is yet another example of our government's ongoing efforts to make the criminal justice system more effective in the fight against sexual offences and more responsive to the needs of victims and survivors of crime.
The main purpose of this bill is to respond to the Supreme Court decision that found sections of the sex offender registry unconstitutional. If we do not pass this bill by October 28 of this year, judges will not be able to add newly convicted sex offenders to the sex offender registry. I think we can all agree that none of us in the House from any party wants that outcome. Police have told us that this is an important tool for them in their work. We do not want to let police lose this tool.
We hear a lot of rhetoric from members in the House at times, including from the , about ensuring consequences for serious offenders and about keeping Canadians and victims safe. This bill is about doing exactly that. I look forward to collaborating with members on both sides of the aisle to ensure that it is passed and receives royal assent by the court deadline.
I want to start by thanking the Senate for its work on this critical legislation and indeed the many witnesses whose important testimony provided the impetus for the amendments the Senate has proposed. In particular, I want to thank the victims and survivors of sexual violence who lent their first-hand experience to the legislative process. I have listened and I have heard their pain. We need to do better as a nation. I thank them for helping us shape this critical reform. Senate members put in the work to ensure that we got this legislation in a timely manner in the House of Commons, and I thank them for their expeditious work.
Bill is a fundamental priority for me and for our government. I know it will improve our justice system, particularly for victims and survivors of crime. Along with responding to the Supreme Court decision and strengthening the sex offender registry, this bill also makes victim- and survivor-centric changes to the publication ban regime and to how victims access information. I will explain each of these elements.
First is the response to the Supreme Court decision. The urgency to pass this bill stems from the court's October 2022 decision in the Crown v. Ndhlovu case, which struck down two provisions of the Criminal Code relating to the sex offender registry.
The first provision that the Supreme Court struck down required judges to automatically order an individual to register with the sex offender registry when they are convicted of, or found not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder for, a designated offence. The Supreme Court held in that case, from last year, that the law was too broad because judges had to issue an order in every single case, including in cases where offenders do not pose a risk of reoffending. The court gave Parliament one year to respond to the striking down of this provision.
The second provision the Supreme Court struck down required a mandatory lifetime registration for those convicted of or found not criminally responsible for multiple offences within the same prosecution. To that category, the Supreme Court said that because people who are convicted of more than one offence during the same prosecution did not necessarily pose a higher risk in some circumstances, the provision went too far by requiring mandatory lifetime registration when a shorter period might be appropriate. The striking down of that provision was effective immediately upon the decision being rendered last year.
The bill before us now, Bill , responds to the Supreme Court's decision. It does so by improving the approach to mandatory registration. The bill maintains mandatory registration in two circumstances: those involving serious offences against children and those involving repeat sexual offenders. In all other circumstances, the bill before Parliament proposes a rebuttable presumption of registration. This means that individuals convicted of or found not criminally responsible for a qualifying offence will be required to register unless they can demonstrate to the court that registration would unduly affect their rights. Thus, it is rebuttable.
By adding narrow judicial discretion back into the sex offender registration regime, we are directly responding to the court's direction. However, we are also, at the same time, ensuring that we continue to have a robust sex offender registry, the registry that police have asked us to maintain. That means a registry that gives law enforcement the tools it needs to investigate sexual offences and to keep our communities safe. My fundamental job is to do just that.
The approach is essentially what was suggested by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security back in 2009 when it reviewed the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. However, the Conservative government, at that time back in 2009, decided not to heed the public safety committee's advice and proceeded instead down a path that was deemed unconstitutional.
It is not a coincidence that this is similar to what we see today from members across the aisle. The has repeatedly said that he is willing to ignore the charter when he does not like a court decision, and that is something that troubles me. In fact, I will note anecdotally that a few of the petitions that were just read into the record talked about the invocation of the notwithstanding clause because of perceptions and views about certain Supreme Court judgments.
Returning to the bill, I want to highlight the circumstances in which we believe the automatic registration to the national sex offender registry would be justified. These are all for repeat offenders and for child sex offenders convicted of indictable offences and sentenced to two years or more of imprisonment.
The Supreme Court of Canada has made clear that automatic registration in all cases is unconstitutional. It violates section 7 of the charter. Our government, nevertheless, believes that it is important to maintain automatic registration in two categories. The decision to retain automatic registration for these two categories is informed by evidence that shows an objectively verifiable risk of reoffending.
The first category, as I mention, is sexual offences against children. They are among the most heinous criminal acts. Based on the evidence, which we have reviewed, sexual offending against children is a known risk factor for sexual recidivism. Second, we know from experts that repeat sexual offenders have a high risk of reoffending, a risk that is five to eight times higher than individuals who have non-sexual criminal histories. For all other cases, other than the two categories I just mentioned, offenders would be required to register unless they can prove to a court why it would be inappropriate in their case based on the criteria I mentioned earlier.
This approach, outlined in Bill , is respectful of the charter. Again, one of my fundamental duties is keeping Canadians safe while all the time respecting charter rights. It is also consistent with upholding public safety.
To respond to the court's decision about the automatic lifetime registration, Bill would give courts the discretion to order lifetime registration in cases involving multiple offences in the same proceeding where the pattern of offending indicates that the individual poses a risk of reoffending.
In addition to certain aspects that respond to the Supreme Court decision, Bill contains a number of elements to strengthen the sex offender registration system as a whole.
These elements were developed through ongoing consultation with our provincial and territorial partners, including law enforcement agencies.
Bill would add new offences to the list for which registration may result, such as extortion for a sexual purpose, or sextortion, and non-consensual distribution of intimate images. These are inexcusable crimes that have inflicted real damage on Canadians' lives, especially those of women and girls. We take them seriously and are ensuring that offenders of these deplorable acts are held to account.
Changes would also require those who are already on the registry to provide 14 days' notice of any travel, as well as the specific address of their destination. When Attorney General Garland and Secretary Mayorkas were in Ottawa in March for the cross-border crime forum, they applauded this very important change to our legislative structure. These changes would strengthen our partnership with our American allies in maintaining safety and security across our shared border.
Furthermore, Bill would enact a new warrant provision that would allow police to arrest an offender who is in breach of their obligations and bring them to a registration centre.
Essentially, the changes to the national sex offender registry proposed in Bill will make the registry more effective and will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prevent sexual offences. I urge all my colleagues to join me in supporting these changes.
As I mentioned at the start, Bill also includes important and useful reforms of publication ban provisions. These reforms aim to empower victims of crime by ensuring that their wishes are respected when it comes to issuing, lifting or changing publication bans, and that their right to information about their case is fully upheld.
For a long time, these changes have been called for, including more recently by victims' and survivors' groups, such as a group called My Voice, My Choice.
The support for these reforms spans across all parties. I want to thank the member for in particular for her leadership on this very issue. At an event hosted by My Voice, My Choice this spring, members of the Conservative Party, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party all heard heartbreaking stories from survivors of sexual violence.
Across partisan lines, a promise was made to deliver changes to the publication ban regime, as called for by these brave survivors. We now, in this chamber, have the ability to fulfill this very promise. I hope members from all parties will join me in doing so.
One survivor of sexual violence who has spoken out on this issue sought to lift a publication ban on her name to protect her children. She was abused as a child and came forward to tell her story as an adult, after hearing that her abuser was working in the child care sector. It took months, legal fees and a complicated court process to finally get the ban lifted before she could try to protect her children and other children who she feared risked the same abuse as she had suffered.
When someone has the courage to reopen an immensely painful chapter in their life in order to lift a publication ban, I firmly believe our justice system needs to make it easier for them to heal and not retraumatize them. That is critical.
Calls for these changes have been advocated for a long time, including more recently by victims' groups like My Voice, My Choice. Calls for reform were also heard in the December 2022 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights entitled “Improving Support for Victims of Crime”. I am proud to be part of a government that finally took action on this matter.
While publication bans can be a useful tool for protecting victims, they can also unduly silence them. I want to assure Canadians, in this chamber, that our government's intention is for victims and survivors of sexual crimes to have ownership of their stories. That is absolutely critical as a priority for our government, and it is a priority for this legislation.
The publication ban amendments in Bill were the subject of significant discussion in the Senate. There was broad support for the policy objectives grounding these changes, but there was also a belief that more could be done to give them better effect. Our government worked collaboratively with survivors, experts and advocates to make some important changes. The bill was amended in a number of ways.
Generally speaking, I believe these changes have made Bill better, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful to the witnesses who shared their stories and their insights during the committee study. They also shared their stories with our colleagues in the Senate, who listened and proposed such thoughtful amendments.
What would Bill do in the area I am describing? First, it makes it clear that if a publication ban has been imposed, the court must, at the first reasonable opportunity, inform the recipient of their right to apply to revoke or vary the order. It is empowering the individual.
The bill also requires the court to ask a victim or witness if they wish to be the subject of a publication ban, if they are present in court. If they are not present, the court would be required to inquire of the Crown if they sought out the wishes of the victim or witness. Again, this is further empowerment.
The bill clarifies obligations that the prosecutor has toward the victim or witness with respect to information on their right to seek, revoke or vary a publication ban.
All of these changes place victims and witnesses at the centre of the publication ban process. The goal is simple: If wanted, a publication ban should be requested.
At the same time, we know it is not always possible to reach the victim or witness in the early stages of criminal proceedings, and it is important to safeguard their interests prior to knowing what they may wish to do. That is why the bill would not prevent a publication ban from being sought in cases where the views of a victim or witness cannot be ascertained. It is my expectation that it would only be impossible to seek the victim's wishes in very rare instances.
The bill would also make important changes to codify and clarify the process for varying or revoking a publication ban once imposed. Again, the perspectives of victims and survivors are at the centre of these changes.
Bill would create a new section of the Criminal Code to clarify and streamline the process of seeking to change or revoke a publication ban. If the person who is the subject of the publication ban wants it to be revoked, the court would be required to do so without holding a hearing.
The only exception to that rule would be where the court believes that the privacy interests of another person who is subject to a publication ban would be impacted by the revocation or variation. For example, there could be a situation where there are two victims of sexual assault; one wants to have the ban removed, but the other wants her privacy maintained. A hearing should be held in that case to make sure that removing one of their publication bans will not inadvertently identify the other victim against her wishes. That is an important safeguard.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the accused would not have any say in the process of modifying or revoking a publication ban. We are not focused on the accused here; we are focused on victims and witnesses. This is about empowering victims to decide what is best for them.
In response to concerns expressed during the debate on Bill , there are now provisions in the bill that make clearer when prosecution of a breach of a publication ban by the recipient shall not occur. Specifically, the changes make clear that prosecution shall not occur in situations where a person breached their own publication ban, unless they compromised the privacy of another person who is also protected by a ban and where a warning would not be appropriate. These changes are important to me, to our government and to the many victims who have long advocated for reforms in this area.
Earlier I indicated that I believe Bill was generally improved by the amendments passed in the Senate. I do, however, want to ask the justice committee to consider whether there are any changes that need to be made; it should do so quickly, given the imminent Supreme Court deadline of October 28.
The final piece of the bill for victims responds to calls from victims groups and the federal ombudsperson for victims of crime to make it easier for victims to tell the court system whether they want to receive ongoing information about their case after trial. Under the Victims Bill of Rights, victims can decide whether they want to stay informed about all case developments, such as appeals or parole. They can also decide that they do not want to be contacted about the case. They have the right to move on and not have to hear about it again. It is their decision.
However, as advocates told the justice committee, many victims who want to receive ongoing case information are slipping through the cracks. They do not know that they need to register to receive ongoing information. To address this acute problem, Bill proposes to significantly simplify and streamline the process for registering by making the judge ask the victim their preference and by making it a simple box to tick on a form. I am grateful to the advocates who brought this to my attention, so we can address it with this important bill.
In conclusion, I would say that Bill is a tremendously important piece of legislation. It has victims and survivors at its core. It would contribute to public safety and respect charter rights at the same time. I look forward to the debate on this bill, and I am confident we can work together across party lines on both sides of the aisle to ensure and facilitate its speedy passage. This will show the importance not only of the continued operation of the national sex offender registry but also of the continued strengthening of the criminal justice system's response to victims of crime.
Mr. Speaker, what we are talking about is that there is an incredible weight behind the decisions we make. We know most of the laws we pass in Parliament have a lot of weight behind them, but in particular, when it comes to things like this, I think extra consideration needs to be given. I do believe that all parties will do so, but again, we do have a few concerns. I will outline some of them in my remarks today.
Ultimately, we are talking about Bill which would of course amend the Criminal Code, and notably make changes to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, among other things. I am just going to give some background about how we came to this point and the history of this in Canada and why it was so important that this registry was brought forward in the first place.
The Sex Offender Information Registration Act, or SOIRA, was first passed by the Liberal Martin government in 2004 with all parties supporting it. That does happen from time to time when there is tremendous gravity in the weight of the decision. It is good to see when sometimes all parties come together.
However, under Prime Minister Martin, the enrolment on the registry was at the discretion of the judge. It introduced the idea that registered sex offenders were required to report annually to registration centres, as well as declare any changes of residence, travel plans or changes in employment. They were certainly also subject to police checks. Failure to comply would result in fines and up to two years in prison. Frankly, this is rightfully so, in my opinion. It really brought in that accountability and that police watch on people who sexually violate other people. That was a very important move forward in Canada back in 2004.
A few years later, an enormous step forward again was made in 2011 under the Conservative Harper government. It introduced and passed Bill . There was with unanimous support yet again in the House with all parties supporting Bill , which made inclusion in the registry mandatory for those convicted of any sexual offence, and made inclusion for life mandatory for those convicted of multiple offences.
Under the Harper Conservative government, of course, an extra step forward was taken to really crack down and hold accountable those who sexually violate other Canadians. That change was very critical in the sense that it made it mandatory. The motivation behind that was because, when it was left to judicial discretion following the 2004 Martin government's initial legislation, nearly half of all convicted sex offenders were not being added to the list. As I just mentioned, basically half of all sex offenders had no accountability mechanism prior to it being built into the registry. That was very concerning and it certainly compromised the efficacy of that registry. If only one in two sex offenders is on there, it really undermines the safety, accountability and tools that police use all the time to ensure that we are kept safe from people like sex offenders and others.
That was a very important step forward. Again, it had unanimous support in the House at the time for those very reasons. However, we can fast forward to a year ago, October 2022, when a Supreme Court decision, R v. Ndhlovu, struck down two sections of the Criminal Code as being unconstitutional. It first struck down the section of the Criminal Code that required mandatory registration to the sex offender registry of anyone found guilty of a sexual offence. That was struck down in a split decision of five to four. I will get to that in a moment.
Ultimately, this means that it was no longer the case that the personal information of every sex offender had to be added to Canada's national sex offender registry. It is important to remember the reason that section was brought forward in the first place, which was that half of all convicted sex offenders were not being added, but the Supreme Court struck that down.
The second area of the Criminal Code that was struck down was the section that imposed mandatory registration for life for those who committed more than one such offence. That was struck down unanimously. Everybody in the court agreed that mandatory registration for life was unconstitutional.
As was outlined previously, the clock is ticking on this. Unfortunately, it took the Liberal government quite a while to get this legislation through. We have about a month to get this through all stages. I am going to guess that is going to be difficult to do. I have been here for four years. It is pretty rare to see that happen, but we will see if the Liberal government prioritizes. We will find out. They may have to ask for an extension because again, if it does not pass, then no one can be added to the registry at all. That is deeply concerning, so hopefully they are doing their due diligence to make this happen. We will find out. Again, the registry is a very important tool for police. It is also very important to hold sex offenders accountable, so we need to have this in there.
Despite the Supreme Court striking down these two areas, Bill does make registration automatic in a few cases, including child sex offenders sentenced to two or more years in prison and any repeat offender who has previously been convicted of a sexual offence. The bill would also allow judges the ability to impose lifetime registration for sex offenders who are found guilty of more than one offence at the same time if the offender poses a risk of reofffending. That is good. I am glad that is in there.
However, I am going to outline in brief the other cases that would not be automatically added. For example, sexual exploitation of a person with a disability would not be automatically added. Sexual assault with a weapon is another example. If someone sexually assaults someone with a weapon, they would not be automatically added to the sex offender registry. It is very concerning. People should be concerned about that, especially given the courts' record before, where only half were added. Another example is aggravated sexual assault with the use of a firearm, and there is a very long list of concerning circumstances where people would not necessarily be added if they violate someone like this. For me personally, and I know it is the same for our party, it is deeply concerning that this could be the case, given the track record before 2011.
I did want to go into the decision of five to four a bit because I thought that the dissenting arguments were quite compelling. Again, this was respecting mandatory registration. I will read a bit from the dissenting opinion. I do think it is relevant to this discussion. The minority dissent argued that Parliament was pursuing a rational objective in mandating that all sex offenders be included in the registry because this group of people as a whole possess an increased risk to reoffend, and the previous system of judicial discretion had resulted in up to 50% of sex offenders staying off the registry. The dissent, referring to those who struck us down on the court, went on to further argue:
But in substance they cherry pick just one such example: an exceptional case involving an offender who was wheelchair bound. That my colleagues can point to only a single, extreme case where it was clear at the time of sentencing that the offender did not pose an “increased risk” tends to prove my point, not theirs.
The dissent argued:
In finding it unconstitutional, my colleagues fixate on the removal of judicial discretion to exempt offenders who do not pose an “increased risk” to reoffend. But the exercise of discretion was the very problem that prompted Parliament to amend the Criminal Code to provide for automatic registration of sex offenders under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act.
In conclusion, the Supreme Court, at least in the dissent, argued:
Specifically, many judges had exercised their discretion to exempt offenders in a manifestly improper manner, and the Registry’s low inclusion rate undermined its efficacy. The evidence is clear that even low risk sex offenders, relative to the general criminal population, pose a heightened risk to commit another sexual offence. It is also clear that it cannot be reliably predicted at the time of sentencing which offenders will reoffend. In the face of that uncertain risk, Parliament was entitled to cast a wide net.
I thought that was very compelling. I am concerned. I do appreciate that the legislation seems to be doing what it can. I am not convinced it goes far enough. I think it could go further. We are looking to see if we can improve that throughout the stages of legislation in Parliament and in committee.
Just to conclude again, there was a reason this was mandatory. I recognize the Supreme Court decision, but as outlined in the dissent, we are talking about sex offenders and some of the most vulnerable people whom they impact. We want to see legislation that can go as far as it can in light of the Supreme Court decision, and we are not quite convinced that we are there yet. We will be looking at that very closely throughout the stages.
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.
Before I begin, I want to recognize that my wife's nephew, Dustin Dempsey, passed away this week. Obviously, this is quite unfortunate. He was quite young. He leaves behind his father, Rio, who is my wife's brother, and his mother, Vivian. My condolences go out to the whole family. May perpetual light shine upon him.
I also want to send my condolences to a high school friend of mine and her family, Stacey Gagnon. Her father, Leslie Gagnon, or Les as he was commonly known, passed away recently. I offer my deepest condolences as well to her family. May perpetual light shine upon him.
I find it interesting that I am here talking about this. There is something that I would have likely spoken about with my students when I was teaching an advanced criminal law or sentencing class at Thompson Rivers University in the Faculty of Law. It is a course that has since been taken over by one of my mentors, Judge Greg Koturbash. He is teaching tomorrow, so this may come up.
I would have spoken about the notion of dialogue. That dialogue is between a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada and Parliament. What we have often seen when it comes to criminal matters is that the courts speak and Parliament is supposed to respond. However, it feels as though often, with the Liberal government, the courts speak and Parliament does not respond.
One of the things that I noticed here is that Parliament has not responded when it comes to sexual offences. I put the on the spot and I anticipate he is going to ask me a question, and I invite him to ask a question.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to look directly at him. I asked the , in a question, whether he supports restricting the use of conditional sentence orders, that is house arrest or jail in the community, particularly for people who offend against children. Yes or no? I really hope he addresses that question when we have time for questions and answers.
There is something that struck me and stuck out to me. This is the first provision. It is speaking about changing one of the provisions, somehow it got missed, section 153.1(1)(a) from five years to 10 years. I believe that is the sexual exploitation of a person with a disability. It says a person will be liable, on indictment, to 10 years.
Here is what is interesting about that, and it really frustrates me. It is not that we are raising it; it is that we are not raising it high enough. I tabled Bill . I was heckled by the Liberals when I did it, but this is the thrust of Bill . I am going to go through it one more time because I think it is extremely important and it is germane to this discussion when we talk about protecting children, which the has said is a primary aim of this bill.
We have various offences in the Criminal Code that will end with a potential life imprisonment, as in life is the maximum sentence, and the one I always go to is robbery. Robbery is the deliberate taking of property without consent. Theft plus violence is robbery. It is the most basic thing.
What is sexual assault? What is a sexual offence? A sexual offence is a sexual element, violence and a lack of consent. What is the maximum term here? It is 10 years. The maximum term for sexual assault against an adult is 10 years. The maximum for most sexual offences against children is 14 years, yet we are falling into that same trap here.
We actually are valuing and saying that the taking of property without consent is more serious than taking somebody's sexual dignity without consent. It is only 10 years. That is what someone's dignity, inviolability and consent is worth: 10 years. It is incumbent on this chamber, and I will say to every single person here, that Parliament address this.
I would ask every single person here: Do members prefer to be robbed or prefer to be sexually assaulted? I can tell everyone right now, a hundred times out of a hundred, most people here would say, “I would take the robbery.” Why? It is because there is something about our bodily dignity. There is something about our bodily integrity.
There are victims, like the people with My Voice, My Choice, who spoke so eloquently to me in the past, who I found to be so compelling in their presentation. People in that position are often serving a psychological life sentence. When I ask the whether he supports house arrest when these people are in a psychological jail themselves, there is a reason for it.
We, as legislators, have not kept up with the research that tells us the pernicious effects, and sometimes the insidious effects, of sexual violence against children. Yes, a registry is one step, but punishment itself is a primary step. I do put it to the and hope he asks a question. It will just be a simple “yes” or “no”. Does he support the elimination of conditional sentence orders for sexual offences, particularly sexual offences against children?
My message here is not just for all of us here. We talked about a dialogue. Mr. Iacobucci talked about that in one of his decisions from many years ago. This is a dialogue I wish to have with judges, Crown prosecutors, of whom I was one, defence lawyers, and most importantly, victims: that those of us who are in this chamber will stand up for victims every single chance we get.
I have said it before and I will say it again. If we, as Conservatives, if I, myself, as the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, am ever given an opportunity to legislate in this area, I will not take my foot off the gas pedal until the views of every victim in this country are represented and the gravity of offences, particularly offences of a sexual nature against children, are adequately reflected in the punishment received by those who would take the innocence of a child.
I do have some experience with the publication ban end of things. It is something my colleague from asked my colleague from after her excellent presentation. I can remember, and it is one of the first times I can ever remember this happening, where a victim set aside her publication ban. We did have a number of people from My Voice, My Choice come forward and say, “I have been a victim. Please leave it to me whether or not I get to speak.” That will debated at committee. My hope is a representative from that group will be permitted to attend.
This legislation also imparts a new application for a victim that they can put an application forward and that the court must hold a hearing to determine whether the order is revoked, and will include the victim's wishes. Far too often we do not incorporate the victims. They are an afterthought.
Sentencing is so often an offender-centred approach, and I understand why. They are the person. However, when we ultimately look at who is impacted, it is not just the offender who is impacted, particularly when we are talking about sexual offences. One of the primary offences, for instance, is section 163.1 listed here as “child pornography”. It is my hope that term will never be used again in this legislation.
Bill , which I drafted and my colleague from the put forward, is currently at third reading in the Senate. It would change the name of “child pornography“ to “child sexual abuse and exploitation material” to reflect the actual harm done.
I see I am running of time. I hope the rises right now in questions and comments to indicate whether he does favour eliminating house arrest for those who would steal the innocence of children when those children are themselves abused.
Mr. Speaker, indeed, these are debates that speak to us and that may be why we end up spending more time on them than on other bills.
That being said, I must say that this bill seems not only welcome, but essential. The sex offender registry helps police officers in their work. It allows them to better monitor repeat offenders and serious offenders.
The Bloc Québécois will support Bill . Are we going to propose amendments in committee? We will see. Essentially, I think that it is a good bill. The first thing I will do is thank Senator Gold for introducing this bill last spring and ensuring that the Senate moved quickly.
Two months can seem like a long time, but it can also seem short. In parliamentary life, bills that are introduced and adopted at third reading at the end of two months are few and far between. I think there was some diligence on the Senate side. I want to commend that diligence and thank the hon. Senator Gold for his work.
After it was passed by the Senate on June 22, the bill is now before us this fall. I spoke about it in the questions I asked earlier. I would have liked to hear from the minister. I understand that that will not be possible today. I hope that we will be able to get some clarification on the timelines over the next few days.
That being said, it is a good bill that will provide better safeguards and strike a better balance between the rights of victims and the rights of the accused. It is important to remember that we have a legal system where people are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. We want offenders to be rehabilitated, especially in Quebec, where a lot of legislation has been passed in that regard. We want these people to be able, in many ways, to improve the behaviour and attitude that caused the problem and reintegrate into society. We want them to become or get back to being active members of society. We believe in rehabilitation.
In that sense, one could argue that the sex offender registry could, in some ways, thwart rehabilitation efforts by sending offenders the message that, not only are we going to punish them for the crime they committed, but we are also going to add their name to a registry for a certain period of time. How do we resolve that dilemma? I think that exceptions need to be made for some crimes.
We can see that in the bill, when we talk about sexual assault, we are not talking about someone who drank a little too much in a bar and patted their boyfriend or girlfriend on the behind. We are not talking about a crime that could be described as accidental or even trivial, as some might say. We are talking about repeat offenders who have frequently been convicted of sexual offences, or people who have sexually assaulted children.
I do not know of anyone in society, at least among my friends and contacts, who claims that sexually assaulting a child is not a serious crime. I know people who were sexually abused as children. I can say that it leaves a mark on people for their entire lives. That said, it does not always mess them up. Not everyone ends up on medication for the rest of their lives. Yet it does leave a mark in all cases.
I believe that someone who is unable to control their behaviour and takes the liberty to assault a child deserves an appropriate punishment and also that society protect itself a little better from them. In that sense, the sex offender registry allows police to track and monitor those individuals. I think that is a good thing. That said, not everyone is registered the same way.
The Supreme Court made a ruling last year. In about a month, it will have been a year since that ruling was handed down. The court indicated in that ruling that the automatic registration of all sex offenders contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I think that ruling was well founded. Bill seeks to remedy the problem by saying that offenders will not be automatically registered, indiscriminately, in every situation. Only offenders who have been sentenced to more than two years in prison for this type of crime, including offences against children, and repeat offenders will be subject to mandatory or automatic registration. That covers automatic registration. I think that, in such cases, automatic registration is a good idea.
Now, for the other offenders, we are told there will be a presumption. That means that the Crown will not be asked to prove that an individual needs to be registered. There is a presumption that the individual has to be registered. The individual will be asked to prove that there is no need to register them on the sex offender registry because their offence is completely unrelated to the objectives set out in the legislation that creates this registry or, still, because their registration would be completely disproportionate to the crime they committed.
I will give an example. A person who touches someone else's bottom at a bar has committed sexual assault and could be sentenced for it. Does that warrant adding this person to a sex offender registry for life? I do not think so, but it is debatable. We have to make a distinction between that crime and the crime of raping a 12-year old girl, for example.
Bill S-12 will in some way balance the process of adding offenders to the registry by making registration automatic for serious crimes, while allowing individuals who commit less serious offences to show the judge that registration is unnecessary for a given reason. If it is shown that this registration would have absolutely no bearing on the registry's objective of assisting the work of police officers or that it would be completely disproportionate, the individual will not be added to the registry. This does not mean they will not be convicted. A trial will be held, and if the individual is found guilty, they will be sentenced. In this case, the offender would be sentenced but not added to the registry.
I think this is an acceptable and honourable compromise that would let us improve the registry provisions. In this regard, I think we can only applaud the Supreme Court's ruling last year, as well as the introduction of this bill by the hon. Senator Gold.
Now, Bill S‑12 does more than that. It also enhances victim participation in legal proceedings. I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for some time. We have done studies on this issue, including a review of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. Many victims testified that some of them wanted to be more involved in the trial, to be better informed and to be called upon by the Crown prosecutor when there were important decisions to be made. Other victims said they would rather stay home and not be involved in their attacker's trial. Both positions are valid. I think we should respect the victim's right to participate or not. That is what this bill provides for.
I was talking about participation in the broad sense, but there is one thing in particular that victims want a say in, and that is publication bans. A number of years ago, provisions were adopted whereby, in some cases, the judge can order a ban on publication of proceedings. In such cases, the identities of those involved remain unknown so as not to identify the victims. The goal was to prevent victims from being identified if they did not want to be, from being stigmatized and from having to answer for acts that were not theirs, but their attacker's. The intent was to ban publication of proceedings. There is also another point at which in camera proceedings can be ordered, but we are not talking about that right now; we are talking about publication bans.
At the time, that was done in good faith to help victims, and everyone likely agreed it was a good idea. Victims now tell us that, in some cases, they are glad there is a publication ban. In other cases, however, they do not want one. There are victims who want to talk about the crime committed against them, either with journalists, on television, or publicly, through social media and other venues. Then there are victims who feel it is therapeutic to talk about their experience. However, as things stand, if they do so when a publication ban has been issued, they are contravening the ban and could face consequences. Victims have told us we should let them decide. If we are doing this to protect them, as we claim, we should ask for their opinion. If they do not want to be under a publication ban, one should not be issued. If they want to seek a publication ban, then one can be issued.
I think this is a wise approach that will help improve federal criminal legislation, in other words, the Criminal Code. I can only applaud this provision of Bill . This is consistent with the report tabled by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights last December. I can confirm that this is consistent with what we heard from witnesses in committee. I think it makes sense.
What this provision will do is require the Crown to consult with victims before issuing a publication ban. As I think the minister said earlier, if there are two victims, and one of them wants the information withheld but the other wants it published, the court will have to take that into account and ensure that the identity of the victim who does not want to be identified is protected, while allowing the identity of the victim who does want to be identified to be released. There will be a process, with the court having to weigh the best interests of the victims when the time comes. I think there is a way to do it. Victims will then have a say on whether a publication ban is issued or not.
What is more, they will be able to ask to have the publication ban lifted, if one is imposed. Initially the victim may not want to be identified, so a publication ban is a good idea, but after three months, six months, a year or three years, the victim might say that enough time has passed for them to have processed their thoughts and that they feel like talking about the crime that was committed against them. That was not the case before, but now victims will be able to ask for the publication ban to be lifted, which, again, seems reasonable to me.
Lastly, this bill will allow victims to get updates on their attacker's case. Is the offender in prison? Where is the offender? Victims will be able to get information from correctional services and will then be informed about the individual's release date, parole conditions, and so on. This will help victims prepare themselves for the possibility that the offender might be released, enabling them to protect themselves or intervene when the time comes.
I feel these are reasonable, desirable provisions that are consistent with what victims asked for and with the report tabled by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in December.
I will now come back to the current government's inaction. I do not know how to say it anymore, because I feel like I am repeating myself, and people will think that the member for Rivière‑du‑Nord is like a broken record that just keeps repeating the same thing over and over. That is not it. The member for Rivière‑du‑Nord has been dealing with the same government for eight years, and he feels that the government is dragging its feet on this issue. I say this with all due respect for the and his predecessor, because I am convinced they mean well, but I have no idea what the holdup is. Nothing was done for six months. My colleague from the Conservative Party was asking earlier what they have done, and rightly so.
I would like to hear a member of cabinet, or even the himself, offer an apology for the delay and the fact that this has fallen through the cracks. I cannot even imagine what excuse they could possibly come up with. I would like an explanation because this has become a nasty habit, one that causes enormous harm, especially to victims. Right now, there is a distinct possibility that we will no longer have a sex offender registry as of October 29. It is going to expire. The Supreme Court said so last year. We cannot blame this on the court. It gave the government a year to take action. That took six months, and even then, it was not the government that took action, it was a senator.
What is going on with this government? Is there anyone still at the controls? I would really like to know.
Earlier, the said he hopes the opposition will collaborate because the bill needs to pass by October 29. I completely agree. I want to say that we will collaborate in order to once again ram the provisions through so they come into force quickly. This week, the bail provisions in Bill had to be rammed through. However, ramming things through has negative consequences. The procedural rules and principles we have adopted do serve a purpose.
Do not try and tell me that studying bills in committee is pointless, because I will take it personally. If that is the case, our work over the past eight years has been for nothing. Others have been here longer than eight years. For example, my colleague, the member for , has been here for almost 40 years. Who is going to tell him that his work has been useless all this time? I doubt it. People worked to draft these rules and have us adopt them. Was their work all for nothing? I do not think so. The rules must be followed.
There are exceptions, of course. This week, Bill was one of them. It was an exception to the principle of presumption of innocence. The bill would involve keeping someone in prison before they are even convicted. That is far from the presumption of innocence, but we agreed that this was an exception that was justified in certain cases. That is what we did, and the bill was passed.
Now we are being asked to do the same for the sex offender registry. I am not suggesting that the registry is not important. It is very important. We would like the registration requirements to be amended, as proposed in Bill . However, I am very upset and worried about yet another government attempt to ram things through the parliamentary process.
I do not want to refer to the presence or absence of a member in the House, but maybe the minister could stand up here at some point and explain to us why, for the second time in two days, parliamentary procedures are being rammed through.
How come the government twiddled its thumbs for six months in this case, until a senator suddenly said it needed to be done, and now, we are being told to wake up, agree with him and pass this as quickly as possible?
They cannot be serious. I would like the government to take this seriously because the government is asking us to take it seriously. I feel like saying that we will take it seriously if the government could also take things kind of seriously when it comes to passing bills that are introduced in the House.
Madam Speaker, before I start on Bill , as one of the openly gay members of this Parliament, I will make a brief mention of the events outside the House today.
I was very pleased to see that, in Ottawa, there was a large turnout of counter-demonstration against the wave of anti-trans and anti-2SLGBTIA hate that is sweeping this country. I am pleased to hear a commitment from the government to work with us on a motion that will condemn hatred and the destruction of public events and public institutions, such as school boards, on very misinformed and hateful grounds. I look forward to working on that. However, one of the things it requires is for the justice committee to meet.
One of the pieces of urgency here, obviously, is Bill . However, I have to say that I am a little disappointed that we have had no meetings of the justice committee this week. I would urge leaders of all parties in the House to come together, get the justice committee reconstituted and get it operating as quickly as possible. We not only have Bill , but we also have my motion, which deals with the wave of hate; I would like to get it dealt with in committee.
Turning to the bill itself, we have had lots of comments about why the bill was late getting here. I share the concerns that the bill could have been here earlier, although there is one piece that I will give the Liberals some credit for. People are asking why it went to the Senate first. Actually, that was an attempt by the government to move more quickly by having the Senate do some of this work and get the bill to us. When we are finished with the bill, it will already have been passed in the Senate, and therefore, we can get things going very quickly. However, this requires that we not have what I think a member referred to before, which is a lot of people giving the same speech over and over in support of the same bill. We have some important work to do at committee, and I hope that all parties will make sure that we can get the bill to committee as soon as possible and do that work.
Now, there are two things in the bill. Again, some members have talked about only one part of the bill in their speeches. However, there are two parts, and the part that is most important to me looks at victims of sexual offences and making sure that we change the law to restore agency to those victims, so that publication bans are not imposed on cases against the wishes of the victim.
Publication bans sometimes serve a very important purpose, and some victims will want to have them imposed. However, to me, publication bans are a relic of old thinking that somehow sexual assault victims have done something wrong, and therefore, their names should not be exposed to the public. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, what is more important is what we heard from the My Voice, My Choice group. Often, victims of crime actually want to help prevent there being more victims, and they feel that publication bans end up inadvertently protecting the perpetrators and keeping important information from other members of the community about who might be a perpetrator.
In one of my questions, I made reference to the case in 2021 in Ontario, where a victim of sexual assault was actually prosecuted for violating the publication ban and received a fine of $2,000 and a victim impact surcharge of $600. What did she do? She was assaulted by a friend or family member, as happens in 80% of cases, and she felt that other members of her friend group and her family should know who the perpetrator was. She said the names, against the publication ban, of herself as the victim and of the perpetrator, to help protect other people in the community. Bill would correct that fault in our law and restore agency to victims of sexual assault. To me, that is the very most important thing in the bill.
I salute the members of My Voice, My Choice who came to the justice committee when we were doing our study on victims of crime. They very bravely retold their stories and, in many ways, retraumatized themselves in order to be of service to other victims.
When we talk to victims of crime, and I know this from my experience in the criminal justice field, the most important thing for almost all victims is that what happened to them not happen to someone else. Their first response is not always what members of another party in the House tend to say, which is to demand punishment. They demand prevention and education so that this does not happen to someone else. The lifting of publication bans will help prevent there being other victims of sexual offences. Once again, to me, that is the most important part of the bill.
The other half of this bill is the part that results from the Supreme Court decision about the sex offender registry. Let me say the obvious: We all support the operation of the registry. However, the court found that, in many cases, we are overly broad in the automatic registration of offenders. While any kind of sexual offender is not a popular person to talk about, there were some cases where people with intellectual disabilities or people who were neurodiverse, who failed to understand the rules of social conduct and properly read social cues, ended up convicted of sexual offences. I know of two such cases in my own community.
I am not going to say it was through no fault of their own, because I do not wish to put it that way. However, it was through a lack of understanding. They are very unlikely to reoffend or to repeat their behaviour, yet they ended up registered as sex offenders for life. What did it mean in those cases? It meant they could not live in social housing and could not get lots of the social supports they needed, because they were registered sex offenders.
What this bill would do is restore the discretion of judges in a very limited number of cases to not register those people permanently as sex offenders. The analysis of this bill that was done by the justice department says that over 90% of the people who are registered now will continue to be automatically registered. Perhaps as many as 10% will be able to apply to a judge and argue why they should not be registered, but 90% will still automatically be registered.
We are preventing an injustice to those who may have intellectual or other challenges preventing them from understanding their behaviour; however, we are also making sure that the resources that the sex offender registry uses are concentrated on those who are most likely to reoffend. That, to me, is a very strong reason for parties in the House to support this bill.
If we do not get this work done and the sex offender registry ceases to function, that is a big problem. While, yes, I will join in saying I wish this had gotten here sooner, I will also point out that the report on victims of crime, which included the material from My Voice, My Choice, was only tabled in the House last December. The material that came forward in that report from committee was taken by the government and incorporated into this bill.
Some of this work was done fairly fast and was done at the request of victims, so we have an obligation now not to spend a lot of time on it. I know I am not going to get the full amount of time today, but that is okay, because we in the New Democratic Party support this bill. We think it is an important bill, and we want to get it to committee without delay.
There are other things we must do. The report from the justice committee on better support for victims of crime has not really been acted on. I think we should all take seriously the recommendations that are there. The federal ombudsperson for victims of crime has also suggested that we can improve support for victims of crime; this bill is one of the ways we can do that.
I urge all members to support this bill and get it to committee without delay, and I urge those on the justice committee to make this bill a priority in our dealings. However, going back to the leadership of the House from all parties, we have missed all our meetings this week. Could we get the justice committee constituted and meeting?