Bill C-15 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.
Stéphane Dion Liberal
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
May 30th, 2012 / 7:10 p.m.
Executive Director, Nature Québec
On behalf of Nature Québec, I want to thank the members of the Subcommittee on Bill C-38 for having me this evening. I will make my presentation in French.
Nature Québec is a non-profit organization that brings together individuals and 120 conservation organizations from across Quebec. So we have several thousand members and supporters who work on protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development.
Nature Québec works on maintaining species and ecosystem diversity. Since 1981, our organization has been committed to the objectives of the World Conservation Strategy of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN. Our objectives are to maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems, to preserve genetic diversity and to ensure the sustainable development and utilization of resources and ecosystems.
Nature Québec is an active member of several coalitions, including the St. Lawrence Coalition, an interprovincial coalition that was created to convince government institutions to urgently put a moratorium on gas and oil exploration and development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, until such a time as a full environmental assessment is conducted on the impacts of that industry.
Like others before us, we want to reiterate that the use of a budget implementation bill that amends 69 pieces of legislation and transforms Canada's environmental protection economy—including 19 pieces of legislation or areas of activity that are affected at that level alone—is a perversion of democracy, and at the very least a lack of respect for parliamentary institutions.
It is totally unacceptable that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development—on which I sat between 2004 and 2006 as a member for Beauport—Limoilou—was not asked to hold a thorough debate and broad consultations on the legislative provisions that are directly related to and will directly affect environmental protection in Canada. I must admit that we fully agreed with the recommendation made by Ecojustice, which appeared yesterday or the day before, asking that the bill be divided, so that at least part 3 would be subject to a specific piece of legislation that could be thoroughly debated. The bill was drafted quickly, with provisions that apply both retroactively and immediately, and some provisions we are not familiar with that will apply pending a cabinet decision later on. Part 3 of the bill is worthy of special treatment and should be debated thoroughly.
When I was an MP, I remember having agreements with the Conservative Party, more specifically regarding Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. We obtained a fairly special amendment that helped protect migratory birds from oil spills. I would like to see that Conservative Party again. By passing that bill, they made some progress in terms of the environment in Canada.
Through various measures, Bill C-38 directly violates the principle of non-regression in environmental law, a principle that will be debated and perhaps adopted in Rio. That principle was adopted at the third international meeting of environmental law experts and associations in Limoges, in 2011. It says the following:
To prevent any regression in environmental protection, the states must, in the common interest of humanity, recognize and establish the non-regression principle. To do so, the states must take the necessary steps to guarantee that no measures shall reduce the level of environmental protection achieved thus far.
I will talk about hydrocarbon development and the concrete impact Bill C-38 will have in terms of that. Pursuant to provisions retroactive to July 1, 2010, Bill C-38 sows confusion in the ongoing assessment process in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and opens the door to oil development without proper environmental assessment. The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Our understanding is that the board's role as the responsible authority for environmental assessment was taken away, retroactive to July 1, 2010.
What is happening with the ongoing screening process? Who will take over? Will it be the National Energy Board, which is one of the three recognized authorities, along with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission? The board will have 45 days to determine whether a more in-depth environmental assessment is necessary.
I want to remind you that only three responsible authorities will now be recognized—the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. However, two of the biggest recent environmental disasters—the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Fukushima nuclear disaster—tell us that there must be independent alternatives to such regulatory agencies as the NEB and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which are often too close to industry interests to do credible work in terms of environmental protection.
I want to remind you that the value of fish landings in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is $500 million a year, and the total value amounts to $1.5 billion if we take processing into account. That is a real treasure trove, which is already available, while the hope in hydrocarbons is still only potential.
Allowing oil exploration without a full environmental assessment guarantee would be totally irresponsible. You will recall that recent disasters in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea happened during the exploration stage.
How much time do I have left, Mr. Chair?
November 1st, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
Chair, Committee on Pollution and the Marine Environment, Canadian Maritime Law Association
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I am speaking to you from Quebec City. I was not able to be with you in Ottawa today.
I would like to thank the committee for allowing me to participate in this session by teleconference.
My name is John O'Connor, and I am the chair of the environmental committee of the Canadian Maritime Law Association.
Unlike some of our colleagues here, the Canadian Maritime Law Association has been around for many years, long before the federal Department of the Environment was commenced. In the marine field, as a matter of fact, one of the more important years was 1967. That was the year of the huge pollution, the very large oil pollution, in Europe that led to an international convention that is enforced today in Canada. This very important convention, which we call the civil liability convention, is enforced in this country. Canada is a member to this convention.
That was in 1967, and we, the Canadian Maritime Law Association, commenced our environmental committee immediately after that accident. We participated with the Government of Canada in the adoption of that convention, or at least in having input into the adoption of that convention, in 1969.
Canada did not join the convention, by the way, until 1989, but we did eventually become a member.
In the meantime, in 1973, Canada put together what was then part XX of the Canada Shipping Act, which was the very first piece of federal legislation in the marine field that had anything to do with civil liability and oil pollution.
Our committee has been around for a long time. I personally have chaired it for many years, and we have spoken to many bills. I must say that today is a fun experience for me. I'm always somehow in the group of the industry people who are usually speaking negatively about bills. Today, to hear all these committees speak positively about it, it's heartening. We too support much of the bill.
Our view is that many of the frustrations and problems that other areas of the environment have encountered are less present than in the marine field. In the marine field, when there is an unfortunate accident, or pollution, it's often very high-profile. The government does not sit back and do nothing. On the contrary, our experience is that not only is the Department of Transport very active but also even the Department of the Environment itself has taken a great interest in marine activities over the years.
Just as reference, you may think of Bill C-15 in 2005 and Bill C-16 in 2009. I was flattered to be asked to speak to those bills in both the House and the Senate, by the way.
I think what I would like to do, in the time I have, is simply underline that our association is in favour of anything that will assist in reducing pollution or improving the environment. The bill, then, certainly is not something we're against. However, there are three points I'd like to raise, because I think there are three flaws in the bill and I just want to bring them to your attention. Perhaps this committee will be able to address some of these problems.
First, you have to understand how the bill is divided. Clause 16 creates the environmental protection action. Clause 19 talks about remedies. Clause 22 talks about a true judicial review under the Federal Courts Act in section 18.1. Finally, clause 23 creates a new civil action.
It's a bit complex, the way they've done it, but I've heard people today talking about “patchwork” application. To my mind, patchwork application means that in different parts of the country there are--or there are not--different pieces of legislation available for use in environmental matters. But patchwork doesn't just mean horizontal. It can also be vertical. The problem we have in Canada is that with all the good faith we have in trying to settle these problems, we have built overlapping levels of legislation. This is a problem that the CMLA has spoken to before.
In other words, we adopted these international conventions, which are very strict and very clear. We tried to create clear and obvious remedies for when environmental problems involve vessels. Then we'd go and adopt Bill C-15 and Bill C-16, which give almost overlapping remedies without any clarity as to whether the convention should overrule or be overridden by the legislation.
I'm sure you know that Parliament is sovereign enough that if it enacts a piece of legislation, the fact that it may have adopted an international convention does not mean that the convention overrules. It's the contrary: Parliament is so sovereign that it can decide not to respect its international obligations, if it wishes.
Our view is that we should have some clarity on how the conventions and the legislation fit together. To do so, we have addressed three points.
The first is in clause 19 of the bill. Where we're talking about the remedies under clause 16, there seems to be something that I personally do not understand. Subclause 19(2) says, “If the Federal Court finds that the plaintiff is entitled to judgment”, it may “(a) suspend or cancel a permit or authorization” of the defendant.
Yet clause 16 clearly states there's only one defendant; ìt's called “the Government of Canada”. The Government of Canada does not hold permits, so I'm wondering how subclause 19(2) fits into the scheme. I think it may be a bit of an oversight, unless I'm misunderstanding something.
My second point has to do with clause 23. Clause 23 creates a civil action. The Canadian Maritime Law Association feels that the civil action that is created in the marine field is not necessary, for the simple reason that we already have civil actions under our CLC, the civil liability convention. Then they added civil actions under the environmental legislation that was amended under Bill C-16 and Bill C-15, notably the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, both of which allow a civil action that seems to overlap the CLC action, which is enacted under the Marine Liability Act. Now we're adding a new civil action.
We do not speak out for any environmental section except marine: we don't believe it's necessary to have a new additional civil action in clause 23 for the marine world. But again, we're not speaking about other sectors of the environment.
We noted that subclause 23(3) clearly states that it “is not a defence to a civil action” that the activity was authorized by an act of Parliament or a regulation. This is in contradiction to the Ontario legislation and frankly seems a bit surprising. If there is federal legislation on the table saying you are supposed to or you are enabled to do something, and it somehow comes into a pollution question, at least in the marine field, it's difficult to understand how this would work. You would say that you're going to have someone taking a civil action and that you cannot set up a defence that it's permitted by legislation.
You will also notice that paragraph 23(3)(b) goes on to say “there is no reasonable or prudent alternative”. Unlike other sectors, you can think of certain pollution in the marine field that is unfortunately absolutely necessary. For example, a vessel is unable to have a propeller that's turning unless there is some lubrication of the propeller shaft.
It's provided for in federal legislation that this small amount of pollution is legal. It has to be. Otherwise, the ship would not be able to function Therefore, it's baffling as to how this would work. You would have someone saying you're polluting because of your propeller shaft. We would be saying that it's provided for under the legislation and under the international conventions and someone would say that's not a defence.
With regard to clause 23, we would suggest that it be limited to fields other than the marine field. At the very least, it would seem that subclause 23(3) goes one step too far.
I would like to conclude by talking about international conventions. We've heard people speaking about international conventions this afternoon, and in our submission to Parliament we have added a suggested clause, which is on page 3 of our submission. It's in English and in French. Simply, why not add a clause to this act stating that it is intended to complement our international convention obligations and rights, not to over-ride them? That way we would at least know that Parliament intends to have the international conventions it has adhered have priority over this act.
As a final point, I would like to say--and this is my own error, as I put this together in great speed and haste to try to get it to the committee in time--that on page 2, I refer to sections 54, 55, and 57 of the Marine Liability Act because I was looking at my own handwritten copy. But in fact that was changed with Bill C-7 in 2009 and should read sections 48 and 78. I apologize for that error; it is entirely my own.
The other thoughts I've expressed are those of my committee.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity.
April 30th, 2009 / 10:40 a.m.
President and Secretary-General, International Ship-Owners Alliance of Canada Inc.
Why don't I start here? I can tell you that right now the international community is watching the Bill C-16 developments very closely. Right now, our global economy is really suffering. Canada has fared pretty well. Our banks are doing better than most banks globally and have an excellent track record, so there is a revived interest in Canada for investment.
Internationally, on the concerns with what Bill C-15 did, a lot of companies, blue-chip, great companies that are currently here, did risk assessments to see whether they should remain in Canada or do they owe it to their employees and shareholders to go to a less hostile environment? We did see downsizing, and we do know directly of two companies that were waiting to hear what would have happened with the result of Bill C-15. When Bill C-15 became law, these two companies went to Singapore. That's a fact, and we've heard of others.
The international shipping community is a small community and the links are tremendous. For example, the chair of ISAC is also the vice-chair at the International Chamber of Shipping. He's the vice-chair of the London Club, one of the largest P and I clubs in the world. He works with the Magsaysay Group. It is his company. They employ the biggest chunk of world seafarers globally. The connections go on and on. It's a small community.
One of our trading partners for Canada is Asia, and I can read here the Asian Shipowners' Forum joint statement: “The meeting was attended by 119 delegates from the Shipowner Associations of Australia, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea...”. At page 12, they highlight the Canadian Migratory Birds Act. I'll read from the statement: “The Forum noted the amendments to the Canadian Migratory Birds Act (1999) made by the adoption of Bill C-15 and continues to support the concerns expressed by the Canadian shipowners.”
April 30th, 2009 / 9:35 a.m.
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
This file has a very political component to it. We can indeed criticize the lack of consultation by the government, but once the bill is before committee, it is our responsibility as parliamentarians to study it. We may agree or disagree with the witnesses. That is why it is important, today, that we hear from both industry and workers affected by this issue.
I have read your briefs, and the prevailing point made in most of them is a request to the committee that amendments be tabled to restore the presumption of innocence. I think that this is quite important for both industry and the workers.
Have there been any Supreme Court rulings on the issue? There was this ruling made in 1978 involving Sault Ste. Marie, where the Supreme Court of Canada established a principle of strict liability in 1978. Since the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court has ruled that strict liability penalties do not violate the Charter, even if they can lead to a prison term.
The Supreme Court has already made a pronouncement with respect to strict liability. Consequently, strict liability does not mean a presumption of guilt.
You were right to refer to Bill C-15, but you could have also referred to Bill C-34. The wording of certain provisions in Bill C-15 lead us to believe that a judge could decide to absolve a ship's master, shipowner, chief engineer or director of any criminal liability provided that it could be shown that these individuals acted with due diligence. The acts therefore contain this principle of diligence.
As a last resort, the principle of diligence provided in Bill C-15 may enable you to demonstrate to the court that you have implemented the requisite measures.
I would like to hear your opinion on previous rulings of the Supreme Court and how such rulings could establish jurisprudence in the case before us. Should we not give consideration, as parliamentarians, to Supreme Court decisions when we examine bills? In all honesty, I am no lawyer. However, this does appear to be a legal argument.
April 30th, 2009 / 9:35 a.m.
President and Secretary-General, International Ship-Owners Alliance of Canada Inc.
In terms of consultation from Transport, when I read about this bill in the paper, I immediately e-mailed the people from Transport who we work with and the director general at Environment Canada and his group. They were in London at the time for the IMO meetings. They e-mailed me back. They didn't know about this bill.
I spoke to them here yesterday, and they said, “Kaity, it was your letter that alerted us to the bill.” I was with the group in IMO at the MEPC 58 meetings back in October, and I can tell you that our Canadian Bill C-15 is raised on the international level.
I brought a few examples. I don't know if you'd like me to read from a circular.
November 14th, 2005 / 3:25 p.m.
Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the provisions of Bill C-50, an act to amend the Criminal Code relating to the cruelty to animals.
The legislation has a long and notorious history in Parliament. Members will no doubt remember that the legislation has been before the House on a number of occasions over the past five years. These animal cruelty amendments were first introduced in Parliament in 1999 as part of an omnibus criminal reform bill called Bill C-17 but died on the order paper. They were later reintroduced as another omnibus bill, Bill C-15, in a subsequent Parliament. That bill was split into two portions and the portion which contained the animal cruelty amendments again died on the order paper. The amendments were next re-tabled as Bill C-10 which were again split and again the portion with animal cruelty died on the order paper. In the last Parliament, these amendments were known as Bill C-22. Today we are discussing the same amendments in Bill C-50.
The history of the bill is a long and winding road, which includes two highly unusual incidents of bill-splitting and several messages being sent between this and the other chamber. Given the occurrences of rare parliamentary procedures and ping-ponging of the legislation, a person unfamiliar with this history might come away with the impression that the legislation is still controversial and lacks broad base support.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind the members that in actual fact this House has passed this legislation several times in the last two years with support from members on both sides of the House. In addition, hon. members should recall that the legislation has a history of accommodation and compromise that has brought together groups that advocate for animal welfare, as well as groups that advocate for people whose livelihoods depend upon the use of animals. Let me explain.
Over the past five years there has been spirited and comprehensive debate about the impact of the legislation in both this House and the other place, in committees in both places, in the public domain and in the media, not to mention the innumerable meetings between stakeholders and various government officials. As a result, specific amendments have been made on a number of occasions to this bill. These were not legally necessary changes, I would submit, but were adopted by the government with a view to providing greater clarity about the issues of concern.
These accommodations did not compromise protections against animal cruelty. The end result was that a large number of industry stakeholders came to support the legislation. The ministers received the written support of a broad based coalition of industry groups, including a letter from earlier this year urging the government to re-table these very amendments just months before this bill was tabled.
This coalition of stakeholders includes representatives from the agricultural sector, animal research and the trapping industry. The legislation is not meant to and will not negatively impact on the lawful and humane animal related industries and these industries have now acknowledged that. Of course, animal welfare organizations, as well as veterinary associations, police associations and provincial attorneys general, continue to support the legislation wholeheartedly.
The only difference between this legislation and that which was last passed by this House as Bill C-22 is the inclusion now of a non-derogation clause that reaffirms the applicability of existing constitutional protection for traditional aboriginal practices. This was included after discussions between the minister and concerned senators over the potential impact of the legislation on aboriginal persons.
In every other respect, the legislation we have before us today mirrors exactly that legislation which was passed by this House many times already and which stakeholder groups on all sides of the issue urged the government to re-table.
With that brief history, let me make a few basic points about the legislation.
The first point to note is that Bill C-50 is not about new law. It is about better law. The criminal law already contains a range of offences that prohibit cruelty to animals and has since 1893, but the law is a messy jumble of archaic terminology and piecemeal amendments made on a few occasions since 1893.
The first goal of the bill therefore is to modernize, simplify and rationalize the law as well as to fill in certain gaps in legal protection. This objective is accomplished by a variety of measures, including: removing the distinctions in the law that originate from another century; removing overlapping offences; improving the coherence and functionality of the law by removing problematic language, such as “dogs, birds and other animals”; eliminating the illogical notion of “wilful neglect” that is not found anywhere else in our criminal law; and filling in gaps by creating new offences of killing an animal with a brutal or vicious intent and training an animal for the purpose of fighting another animal.
One other change that bears mentioning is the creation of a new chapter of the Criminal Code devoted specifically to animal cruelty. The new chapter would not change the legal substance of offences but would allow us to stop categorizing animal cruelty as property crime and to symbolically reflect that animal cruelty is most appropriately characterized as a gross violation of public standards of acceptable behaviour, as oftentimes it is a serious offence of violence. In fact, there is increasingly scientific evidence of a link between animal cruelty and subsequent violent offending against humans, particularly in the context of domestic violence. The women and children who are forced to witness animal cruelty know that it is not about property damage and it is time our Criminal Code recognized this reality.
The second goal of the amendments is to increase and enhance the penalty regime for animal cruelty offences. The way that society traditionally recognizes the seriousness of a particular conduct is through the penalty that it prescribes for that conduct.
Bill C-50 would make the law more coherent by clearly distinguishing criminally negligent conduct from wilful cruelty for the purposes of providing different sentencing ranges. The person who keeps too many cats and is unable to care for them all commits a different kind of criminal offence than one who skins a cat alive, and Bill C-50 would ensure that penalty ranges reflect this.
The current maximum penalty for animal cruelty, six months in prison or a $2,000 fine or both, would be increased accordingly for both kinds of crime. For intentional cruelty, which would be made a hybrid offence, the maximum penalty on indictment would be increased to five years and on summary conviction to eighteen months. For criminally negligent offences, the maximum sentence would be increased to two years.
Another change is the removal of the current two year cap on orders prohibiting a convicted offender from owning or living with animals. The length of a prohibition order would be in the discretion of the judge and he or she would make the final determination. The courts would also be given a clear power to order a convicted offender to repay to a person or to an organization, which most likely would be the animal welfare society, the costs associated with the caring for the animal the offender was convicted of abusing.
These penalty enhancements, coupled with the other set of reforms that bring greater simplicity, coherence and rationality to the laws, will work together to signal to judges, prosecutors, police and the general public that the abuse of animals is about violence and that cruelty is a matter of serious criminal law.
To be effective, good criminal law must not only provide adequate penalty ranges, it must also be clear, coherent, complete and must reflect the true nature of the misconduct and the societal values at stake. The full range of legal reforms is necessary to bring our 19th century criminal laws in this area into the 21st century.
Over the course of many years that animal cruelty amendments have been before Parliament, Canadians have consistently voiced their strong support for legislative change in this area and their expectation that the legislation will be passed without delay. I urge all members in the House to ensure that occurs as soon as possible.
Pacific Gateway Act
October 31st, 2005 / 6:30 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources
Madam Speaker, I do not have to depart from my notes because they cover all the items the member mentioned and even more that he is obviously not aware of because he is not celebrating Canada's environmental record.
I welcome the 2005 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The report clearly reminds us that the job of ensuring that Canadians, today and in the future, will enjoy a safe and healthy environment and a sound and prosperous economy is an ongoing one and one that requires cooperative efforts internationally by all levels of government, all sectors of the economy and individual Canadians.
I would like to assure the hon. member and the commissioner that the government is listening and taking action.
The recent passage of Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, substantially enhances Canada's ability to deal with oil deposits into the marine environment by extending its enforcement regime to the outward edge of the exclusive economic zone. In fact, the Minister of the Environment was recognized by IFAW just last week for his invaluable work on this important file. I was at the awards ceremony and it was heartwarming to see Canada's Minister of the Environment being recognized by such an important environmental organization.
We are also taking action with regard to protecting the ecological integrity of Canada's national parks, as the member mentioned. Through the budget 2005 allocation of $269 million in additional funds, we are preserving not only ecological integrity and Canada's magnificent heritage, but an essential source of revenue for Canada's tourism industry, for many communities and for Canada's aboriginal people.
The Government of Canada's agenda for water includes a five year water management strategy, with investments of $600 million to improve water and waste water services for first nation reserve communities and $28 million is devoted to the first phase of the government's oceans and action plan.
I will depart from my notes just to react to something the member said. It is not in my notes because I do not think anyone would have believed he would be suggesting that we take away responsibilities from the provinces and municipalities.
We have an $85 million strategy to combat the proliferation of invasive exotic species. We are moving ahead with a 10 year clean air agenda, including addressing transboundary pollution, emissions in the transportation sector and from major industrial sources, and advancing the science on these issues. One of its key elements is a strict regulatory action plan for vehicles, engines and fuels which will reduce smog forming emissions from new vehicles by 90% by 2010, compared to levels in 2000.
I will depart again from my notes to explain that our auto emissions agreement is much better than California's agreement.
As important, we are laying the foundation for fundamental changes we will need to ensure long term environmental sustainability. Over the last year, the Prime Minister has given unprecedented momentum to Canada's environmental policy. The Speech from the Throne contained no less than 13 actions that became the basis of project green. Project green puts environmental sustainability at the heart of our economic agenda. Last February the Minister of Finance gave Canada its greenest budget since Confederation.
In April the Government of Canada released a comprehensive plan for honouring our Kyoto commitments. Our environmental agenda is going ahead on all fronts but we also agree with the commissioner that more needs to be done.
Through project green, our action plans for clean air, water, nature, contaminated sites and climate change will provide enormous benefits for Canadians. We are moving forward and I am confident Canadians will continue to see the progress that we are making.
Oral Question Period
June 6th, 2005 / 3 p.m.
Stéphane Dion Minister of the Environment
Mr. Speaker, the three measures are as follows. First, Bill C-15, on protecting migratory birds, is now law in this country. I want to thank all the members of this House for voting unanimously for the bill.
Second, the Minister of State for Infrastructure and Communities invested $800 million to improve public transit systems in Canada.
Third, the Minister of Public Works and Government Services announced this morning the establishment of the Office of Greening Government Operations, which aims to protect nature, quality of life in our cities and the role of the Government of Canada in the environment.
Private Members' Business
May 20th, 2005 / 12:50 p.m.
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
moved that Bill C-313, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Edmonton—Sherwood Park for seconding this motion today. He will also be taking part in this hour of debate. I appreciate him being here on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Ottawa.
I am honoured to rise in the House today to debate my private member's bill, Bill C-313. The bill has a very worthy goal of amending Canada's Criminal Code by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 years to 16 years. The bill embodies a cause that I have inherited from the hon. members from Calgary Northeast and Wild Rose, both of whom have spent tireless hours over the past 12 years in an effort to achieve the protection of our children that this bill calls for. Mr. Speaker, you know full well that they have worked very hard in other aspects of protecting children in Canada.
As I have mentioned, this is not the first time the House has been faced with the opportunity to take meaningful action to protect our children from adults who use legal loopholes to engage in sexual activities with minors. For years the House has been presented with many private members' bills aimed at raising the age of consent and today that call continues. It continues largely because the House has yet to provide an appropriate answer to those calls for protection.
Despite claims by the government and Liberal governments that predated it, Canada's Criminal Code remains ineffective in its protection of our children when it comes to providing deterrents for adults who seek sexual relations with the most vulnerable and impressionable citizens of our society: our children. I use the words “our children” because, whether we have children of our own or not, as citizens and members of Parliament we possess a collective responsibility to provide meaningful protection for the children of Canada as if they were our own.
Although my children are now adults, they in turn have children, making me a pretty proud grandfather. The children of our neighbours, our co-workers, our colleagues and even strangers we pass on the street from all regions, ethnic backgrounds and faiths, are all Canada's children. They are Canada's children and therefore, as Canadians and legislators, they are our children to protect.
As members of Parliament, we are elected to make laws that respond to the various needs and necessities of our constituents. I would state that an essential virtue of this bill is that it affords much needed protection for children in not only my constituency of Lethbridge but every single constituency represented in the House. I look forward to the day when Canadian parents can rest assured that no adult can lawfully pursue sexual relations with their children.
The Criminal Code of Canada, as exists today, provides tacit approval for sexual relations between adults and adolescents as young as 14 as long as the sexual relations are consensual and the adult is not in a position of authority or trust over the minor. The same Criminal Code also excuses adults who have sexual relations with children as young as 12 years of age as long as the adult involved was under the impression that the minor was at least 14 years of age, the sexual relations was consensual and there was no abuse of position of authority or trust. As hard as that is to believe, that is what the law is in Canada.
In short, the laws of this land leave our children, as young as 12 years old, vulnerable to the lowest seductions and manipulations of troubled adults who would seek to rob them of their innocence. Clearly, it is time for the House to provide meaningful protection for our children.
Recent Liberal governments have taken a piecemeal approach to protecting our children from opportunistic adults seeking sexual relations with children. One example of this is the Liberal government's Bill C-15A of 2002 which outlawed the use of the Internet to communicate with a child for sexual purposes. While criminalizing Internet luring was a positive step, it really did not provide meaningful protection against very real threats.
Bill C-15A merely removed a stepping stone from the path. While removing a mere stepping stone from the illicit path is positive, it does not eliminate the destination to which the path winds, and that is sexual relations between adults and children.
The Criminal Code of Canada must be amended in order to establish truly robust and effective protection for our children and it is time for us to take real action against a real problem.
A recent event right here in Ottawa highlighted the need for this very action that my bill pursues. Just two months ago, a 38 year old man travelled from the United States to Ottawa with the express purpose of having sexual relations with a 14 year old boy. This individual's trip to Ottawa was the culmination of an Internet relationship that began in an online chat room several months before.
Because the age of consent in Canada is 14, he was not charged with sexual assault or any child sex crime. Under the current Criminal Code, the only charges that the police and parents could pursue against this individual were two charges of unlawfully taking a person under 16 away from his parents against their will and one count of using the Internet to facilitate this. Unfortunately, these charges carry no minimum penalties and have maximums of only five years.
Ironically, this individual faces heavier consequences in the United States where there are strict laws against adults crossing state and international borders in order to have sex with persons under the age of 16, even if it is consensual. It is shameful that the laws of another nation currently provide stronger protection for our children than do our own Canadian laws.
It is no coincidence that this troubled man travelled to Canada to have sexual relations with a minor. Our ineffective laws lacking deterrence and consequences leave the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, much more vulnerable and unprotected than need be.
There was a case in eastern Canada where another person came from the United States, contacted a 14 year old, was apprehended, was thrown in jail and had to be released because the young person with whom he had come to Canada to have a sexual relationship was 14 and legal. He therefore had to be released.
As long as our laws remain complacent in the face of such threats, Canada will remain vulnerable to the cold calculations of those who seek to exploit the innocence of and have sexual relations with our children. We are in real trouble when we have such troubled persons from outside our country travelling into Canada for that expressed reason: to take advantage of our lax laws and to have sexual relations with our children.
The Criminal Code as it stands today is powerless in the face of such brazen acts of illicit opportunism where a minor, who, in the Ottawa case, was suffering from depression, is seduced and manipulated prior to being drawn into actual sexual encounters with an adult.
I will speak of another event here in Ottawa where a 35 year old man was found guilty of having repeated sexual relations with a local 13 year old. He was not found guilty but he was charged. Although this individual has clearly broken the current law that supposedly protects our children, he was simply sentenced to house arrest. During the first 12 months of his sentence he is merely obliged to follow a curfew and to participate in sexual behaviour assessments and treatments if his corrections officer deems them necessary, and that is “if”. The court also required this individual to make a $1,000 donation to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
That incident illustrates how, even when the laws meant to protect our children are clearly broken, no real consequences are assigned as a deterrent for the guilty individual or others who may follow suit. We have laws that together reflect our society's disapproval of adults having sexual relations with minors but there is no definitive principle or legislation supporting them.
This is the crux of my argument today. This bill is aimed at protecting, not limiting our children and their rights. I invite members to read the bill and join me in its promotion by considering a peer exemption for close in age categories so as not to criminalize teens who are sexually active with their peers. The true aim of the bill is the protection of our children from adults who intentionally pursue sexual relations with minors. With this bill Parliament will send a clear message.
It is time for Parliament to state clearly and with authority that our children are not fair game for those troubled adults and it is time for Parliament to state clearly and with authority that we will support the parents and law enforcement agencies which are the front line defenders of our children by providing them with laws clearly stating that sexual relations between adults and children are not only unacceptable but unlawful.
If the government and this House cannot support the bill, a Conservative government will.
Article 85 of the Conservative policy statement states:
A Conservative government will act to protect children by eliminating all defences that are used to justify the possession of child pornography. A Conservative government would rename the age of consent to the age of protection and raise it from 14 to 16 years of age.
Raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age will empower parents and law enforcement agencies to vigorously protect some of the most vulnerable citizens from the darkest threats posed to them.
We have seen an attempt by the government to address this issue, but it falls far short of what needs to be done. The bill that the government brought forward is Bill C-2 which was tabled last fall. However, it does not address the issue of the age of sexual consent. I will read some comments from our justice critic, the member for Provencher, who stated:
Yet, despite the stated goals of the bill and the lofty promises of the Justice Minister, C-2 fails miserably in many respects. Most notable is its failure to protect a very vulnerable category of children--14 to 16 year olds--from the grasp of sexual predators. Children at these ages can easily become targets of pornographers, pedophiles and Internet sex scams while their parents are horrified to learn that Canadian law fails to provide them with legal recourse.
In most democratic jurisdictions that include the United Kingdom, Australia, most American states and European countries, adults are prohibited with having sexual relationships with children less than 16 or even 17 years of age. In Canada, a child may legally consent to sex with an adult at age 14.
As I indicated before, in some circumstances that can be as low as 12 and still be acceptable in the courts. The member further stated:
Despite persistent calls from provincial attorneys general and premiers, child advocacy groups, police, and countless other organizations, including the Conservative Party of Canada, successive Liberal ministers of justice continue to resist the proposal to raise Canada's age of sexual consent.
The most frequently cited reason provided by Liberals for not raising the age of consent is that it might criminalize sexual activity between young people.
That is why I mentioned the close in age exemption category that could be easily implemented. The member stated further:
The Criminal Code already permits children younger than 14 to consent to sexual activity as long as their partners are less than two years older than they are. The British, who have set their age of consent at 16, also have a close in age category that has not, as Liberals suggest, criminalized teenagers
There are many issues to be dealt with on this subject. Hopefully, when we hear what the other parties have to say there will be some consideration for this. I feel it is important to note that children who are between 14 and 16 years of age are still children. They still need direction and our protection. As legislators and lawmakers in this country, it is up to us to provide that protection while they are the most vulnerable in our society.
I look forward to the debate today and returning for the second hour and going to a vote. I hope that members of Parliament, when they deliberate, will find it in their hearts and thoughts to support the bill and pass it into law, so that we can say that we have taken a huge step toward helping to protect our children.
Act to authorize the Minister of Finance to Make Certain Payments
May 19th, 2005 / 4:30 p.m.
The Deputy Speaker
Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:
I have the honour to inform you that the Honourable Morris Fish, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his capacity as Deputy Governor General, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the schedule to this letter on the 19th day of May, 2005, at 4:05 p.m.
Secretary to the Governor General
The schedule indicates that royal assent was given to: Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mental disorder) and to make consequential amendments to other acts--Chapter No. 22; Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999--Chapter No. 23; Bill C-40, an act to amend the Canada Grain Act and the Canada Transportation Act, Chapter No. 24; Bill C-13, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the DNA Identification Act and the National Defence Act, Chapter No. 25; and Bill S-25, an act to amend the act of incorporation of The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, Fisheries.