Justice Committee on March 22nd, 2007
A recording is available from Parliament.
On the agenda
- Sgt Kim Scanlan Detective Sergeant, Sex Crimes Unit, Toronto Police Service
- Tony Cannavino President, Canadian Police Association
- Doug Cryer Director, Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
- Don Hutchinson General Legal Counsel, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
- Carrie Kohan Child Advocate, Founder of MMAP and Co-founder of Project Guardian, Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles
- Sergeant Mike Frizzell Strategic and Operational Support, National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- David Griffin Executive Officer, Canadian Police Association
The Chair Art Hanger
I'd like to call the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to order.
I'll ask the committee members to take their seats and the witnesses to sit at the front of the table.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, October 30, 2006, Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act is the topic of discussion today.
We have a list of witnesses. The RCMP will be appearing, but they have not attended at this point. From the Toronto Police Service, we have Kim Scanlan, detective sergeant, sex crimes unit. From the Canadian Police Association, we have Tony Cannavino, president, and David Griffin, executive officer. From the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, we have Doug Cryer, director, public policy, and Don Hutchinson, general legal counsel. And we have Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles, Carrie Kohan, child advocate founder of MMAP and co-founder of Project Guardian. Welcome all.
The order in which you appear on the agenda is the order in which we will call you to speak, starting with the Toronto Police Service, Kim Scanlan.
You have the floor.
Det Sgt Kim Scanlan Detective Sergeant, Sex Crimes Unit, Toronto Police Service
Thank you. Good morning.
Thank you for this opportunity. I'm pleased to be here today to share with you some of the experiences of the Toronto Police Service, specifically the areas that I oversee, the child exploitation section and the special victims section. Both areas are responsible for investigations and arrests related to sex offences against children, including Internet-facilitated crimes and street prostitution. More importantly, the goal for both sections is to identify, rescue, and support vulnerable people, especially women and children.
It must be clear from the onset that our support of Bill C-22, increasing the age of protection from 14 years to 16 years of age, recognizes that it is not intended to criminalize consensual sexual activities of young people. Our support for the passing of the proposed legislation is meant for the increased identification and prosecution of adults who choose to sexually exploit and prey on the vulnerabilities of 14- and 15-year-olds.
I wanted to look at how 14- and 15-year-olds are vulnerable. First of all, it's the increased use and access to the Internet. Young people live in the world of the Internet and social networking while most of their parents don't. Parents are not always aware of where their children are going online and to whom they are talking. They do not want their children talking with total strangers, but on the Internet it's virtually impossible to prevent. When polled by a Microsoft-Ipsos Reid poll that was released in January 2007, 25% of children aged 10 to 14 years said they would feel safe getting together with a person they've only met online.
Sexual predators have an in-depth knowledge of computers and technology. They spend enormous amounts of time in the pursuit of their fantasy, which is having a sexual relationship with a young person. Sexual predators network with other like-minded individuals and are well versed in successful grooming and luring techniques. These abilities lead to potential sexual abuse and exploitation.
Further evidence of the vulnerability of this age group has been provided to me from some of Canada's most experienced undercover officers. These officers, who represent several provinces, have spent years online posing as 12- and 13-year-olds, and they report to me. Canada's low age of consent is openly discussed in peer-to-peer chat rooms by sexual predators. Some of the men who have been arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography or for luring were conversant with Canadian law in relation to sexual offences. Canada has been identified as a sex tourism destination, and pedophiles have openly sought opportunities to meet and have sex with young Canadian teenagers, both boys and girls.
Undercover officers report that 100% of the time when online posing as a 13-year-old, conversations that are initiated with them move quickly to discussions about sex. This usually occurs in less than one minute. Some predators who believed they were actually talking to a 13-year-old boy or girl tried to maintain the relationship with the undercover officer for several months, just waiting for that youth to reach the current age of consent, which is 14 years.
Another area we looked at was a two-year review of the Toronto Police Service sexual assault arrest data, focusing on offenders who were arrested in the years 2005 and 2006, although the offences could have occurred at any time. The following results were noted. In total there were 1,956 records of arrest. These were persons who were arrested, and there were no duplications here. The offence dates range from 1965 to 2006. There were some historical cases that came forward. When looking at only the victims who were under the age of 18, 75% of their offenders were adults, and for all the victims of sexual assault, the largest groups were represented by 14- and 15-year-olds. I repeat, 14- and 15-year-olds were victimized at a higher rate than any other age group, and when you combine the two ages, they equalled over 10% of the total of 1,956 victims.
As we know, the reporting of sexual offences to police is very low, somewhere between 10% and 25%. If you take that number, even at 25%, for the number of victims who came forward, it means there are likely 1,500 more victims from Toronto we did not hear from, including hundreds of 14- and 15-year-olds who were likely victimized.
The passing of Bill C-22 in the courts would mean that 14- and 15-year-old victims of sexual assault would not have to contend with the issue of consent; the only question would be whether a sexual act had occurred. The responsibility for sexual exploitation would revert to the offender, and this change would make it easier for more victims to come forward.
The number of persons reported missing and last seen in Toronto was another area we looked at. In 2006 alone, there were 5,861 missing person reports, and that doesn't include any repeat runaways or other people who went missing more than once. Of that number, 14-year-olds made up over 10% of this group, and 15-year-olds made up almost 20% of this group. Both ages combined equal about 1,700 reports of missing young people who are 14 and 15 years old, just for Toronto alone.
At any given time there are hundreds of vulnerable teenagers aged 14 and 15 who run away to cities like Toronto. They fall prey to sexual predators who are eager to take advantage of them. Gang members and organized crime members recruit runaway teens to get them involved in drug trafficking and the sex trade.
Some of these youths include Canadian and foreign teenagers who are tricked or coerced and become victims of human trafficking. Most young prostitutes are well hidden, working out of bawdy houses, which are not easy for the police to locate.
Increasing the age of consent, the age of protection, to 16 years will provide some protection to younger teens who may find themselves in vulnerable situations. Efforts to gain their compliance for sex would be more difficult, and those who prey on young people would have to consider the new legal consequences.
I'd like to make a couple of recommendations that would further assist us.
We need to stress greater deterrence in terms of lengthier terms of incarceration and prohibition for those who choose to ignore our laws and prey on children.
Victims need better protection of the kind that exists for domestic violence cases in terms of speedy trials, and they need protection when giving testimony in court. Victims should not be further victimized by participating in the court process.
There needs to be funding for resources for child exploitation investigative units. Direct funding to police services that are committed to doing this work is always needed. Increased numbers of arrests and the identification and rescue of victims are directly proportional to the investment in this area.
Funding and resources are needed for community agencies to help support youth before they become victims and to provide care for them after they have become addicted or abused.
Support is needed before and after a young person meets someone who may hurt them; before and after they run away from home and end up on the streets; before and after prostitution becomes their only means of supporting themselves; before and after they develop addictions to drug and alcohol; before and after their health begins to deteriorate due to sexually transmitted diseases; before suicide seems like the best option--it brings to mind the ongoing inquest right now in Winnipeg into the case of the 14-year-old child prostitute Tracia Owen--and support is needed before they meet their untimely death.
There needs to be support for continuing education. All people must be educated on these issues: Internet safety, safe sex, communicable diseases, how to report abuse, and resources that are available.
Non-governmental agencies must be encouraged to do everything within their ability to protect our youth. Legislation should not be required to make cooperation with the police happen, but instead it should occur because it is the right thing to do.
Canada needs to be more proactive when it comes to protecting vulnerable persons, especially women and children. We have not reached our full potential and need to be doing more. Sexual exploitation in any form is unacceptable and must be stopped, using all the resources that we have available.
As the parent of two young teenagers, I feel this legislation is particularly important to me to help protect them, and as a law enforcement officer, I feel the passing of Bill C-22, the age-of-protection legislation, is a step in the right direction and one more tool for law enforcement to use to help keep Canadian children safe.
The Chair Art Hanger
Thank you, Ms. Scanlan.
We will go now to the Canadian Police Association and Mr. Tony Cannavino.
Tony Cannavino President, Canadian Police Association
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
The Canadian Police Association welcomes the opportunity to present our submissions to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to Bill C-22.
The CPA is the national voice for 54,000 police personnel across Canada. Through our 170 affiliates, membership includes police personnel serving in police services from Canada's smallest towns and villages as well as those working in our largest municipal and provincial police services, the RCMP member's association, and first nations police associations.
Protection of Canada's children has been an issue of paramount concern for the CPA and our members. In this regard, the CPA has long advocated that Parliament increase the age of consent from 14 years of age to 16.
The government included a commitment to move forward with this legislation in their justice platform during the last federal election, and we are pleased to see this commitment being delivered upon. We are also pleased to see that all other parties in the House of Commons have been generally supportive of the principles contained in this bill.
Canadians also support efforts to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years. In 2002, a Pollara poll of Canadians revealed that 72% of those polled agreed with raising the age of consent from 14 to 16.
Canada lags behind most first world nations in the protection of our children through age-of-consent provisions. Countries with an age of consent of 16 or higher include Belgium, Hong Kong, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. Most of the states in the United States and Australia have an age of consent of 16 or higher. Many of these countries also include “similar in age” provisions to address consensual relations between young people of similar age.
The growth of the Internet has significantly increased the availability of child pornography and it facilitates attempts by pedophiles to find new victims. Unfortunately, under existing Canadian law, Canada is viewed by some foreign sex predators as a child sex tourism destination. Law enforcement authorities report a growth in the number of pedophiles who contact young people in Canada through the Internet because of the low age of consent and who then travel here for sexual purposes.
Those who would prey on our children through the Internet or other means understand that it is not an offence in Canada for an older person who is not in a position of trust or authority to have consensual sexual relations with a child of 15 years.
Although Canadian families have the highest per capita Internet use in the world, Canada remains well behind other jurisdictions in dealing with the online sexual exploitation of children. According to the Young Canadians in a Wired World survey, 99% of youth have reported using the Internet, one in four children have had a stranger ask to meet them in person, and 15% of all young Internet users have met in person at least one individual whom they first met on the Internet. Of those, only 6% were accompanied by a parent or another adult. One in four youth have been sent pornography on the Internet by a stranger.
Police officers welcome the changes introduced in Bill C-22 as another tool to help protect our children from sexual exploitation by an older person. Bill C-22 sends a message to these predators that Canadian children are no longer open game. The bill will reinforce the way police investigate child exploitation and provide police with the needed tools to intervene when older persons seek to engage in sexual activity with children between the ages of 14 and 16.
The Canadian Police Association recommends that Parliament proceed with the swift passage of Bill C-22 to give effect to the amendments contained therein.
Thank you very much.
The Chair Art Hanger
Thank you, Mr. Cannavino.
Now, from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, Mr. Doug Cryer.
Doug Cryer Director, Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Mr. Chair, I imagine you are encouraged today. I believe it was in 1994 when you introduced a similar piece of legislation for the first time, and today you are chairing a committee that is looking at this legislation. I was just thinking that 1993 was the year you were elected, and kids who were born that year are turning 14. So I think this is also a significant moment in this.
To other committee members, I thank you for my perceived support of this bill.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is the national association of evangelical Christians. The EFC affiliates consist of 40 denominations and over 75 ministry organizations, such as: the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; International Justice Mission, which many of you have met with; World Vision Canada; as well as numerous street-level ministries that work directly with victims of childhood and sexual abuse. We also have 35 post-secondary education institutions and over 1,100 churches that affiliate with us. In general, it is estimated in Canada that there are over three million Canadians who consider themselves to be evangelicals.
The EFC has long advocated the protection of the vulnerable, particularly children. We were interveners before the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Sharpe, contributing to the court's decision to uphold the child pornography provisions in the Criminal Code of Canada.
The EFC made submissions to the Standing Committee on Justice on Bill C-20 in October 2003 and in April 2005 when the bill was reintroduced in the 38th Parliament as Bill C-2, an act for the protection of children and other vulnerable persons. The EFC has also made presentations to the Department of Justice and the Minister of Justice on matters of child pornography, child prostitution, and the age of consent.
Our concern for the protection of children stems from the biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable. Our belief that God has created all people in His image and loves every person is the foundation of our belief in the worth of each human being. Flowing from this respect for human dignity is our desire to treat all people as persons with inherent worth and not as objects or playthings.
Don Hutchinson General Legal Counsel, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Children are among society’s most vulnerable persons. They need adults to protect, guide, and provide for them. For this reason, legislation across Canada and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, defines a child as a person under the age of 18 years. Canada's child pornography laws confirm a child to be a person under the age of 18 years.
Children’s smaller size and their developing impressionable nature make them vulnerable to abuse. A child’s trust is violated when he or she is abused by one or more adults. A child’s sense of personhood is inherently damaged when treated as nothing more than an object to fulfill an adult’s sexual desires. The Public Health Agency of Canada's paper entitled “Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse” reports on the experience of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, demonstrating that the damage caused by such abuse can have lifelong consequences.
Canada’s current age of consent to sexual activity with adults is low in comparison to the United States and other countries. This lower age of consent facilitates an increased level of risk for our children. Until 1988 it was illegal for an adult male to have sex with a virgin female under the age of 16. With the age of consent now 14, Canada has become a destination for people who want to have sex with children.
The EFC therefore applauds the intent of Bill C-22 to offer increased legal protection to Canadian children and youth. We regard the introduction of Bill C-22 as a strong commitment to protect Canadian children from those who would view and abuse them as sexual prey--both foreign and Canadian predators.
Director, Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
As Christians and members of churches, we long to see a society that avoids the early sexualization of our children. Pastors and counsellors across Canada have numerous experiences of counselling young people after early sexualization has occurred and know the damage it causes from a personal front-line perspective.
We strongly believe that sexual expression is most fully and properly experienced within the security of a lifelong marriage relationship. We will continue to promote the role of parents and their spiritual communities in sharing the values that shape youth, including understanding of their sexual identity from a Christian perspective.
At the same time, we appreciate the complexities children encounter growing up at this time in history and recognize that the close-in-age exemption expressed in the bill provides guidance to the courts regarding sexual relationships between youth.
There are some who have expressed concern about the possibility of criminalizing relationships between young people that would otherwise, in their opinion, be perfectly healthy and legitimate. In a recent Maclean's article, from its July 4, 2006, edition, a writer states that:
...critics are concerned that adolescents' unique circumstances and varying developmental needs could be overlooked under the new legislation.
Then there's a quotation:
“When we deal with arbitrary cut-offs, we lose the flexibility to apply the law in a much more specific and individualized kind of way,” says Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada.
Now, we must recognize that all federal and provincial age-related legislation has what some might call arbitrary cut-offs, whether it is the age to obtain a driver's licence, the legal age of consumption of alcohol, or the age at which one can purchase cigarettes. These age-related restrictions exist because as a society we recognize the responsibility to protect our children. At what age is a person mature enough to engage in activities that may have lifelong consequences? There are health and safety risks as well as questions of maturity associated with each of these activities, which is why we have age restrictions.
Statistics Canada, it is worth noting, reports that first intercourse at an early age increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Those who'd had sexual intercourse by age 13 were twice as likely to report an STD as those who had waited until they were older. With Canadian government studies reporting the increased risk of STDs and other potential damage of early sexualization of our children that has the potential of lifelong consequences, it is quite reasonable that as a society we recognize that there must be limitations on sexual activity in children and youth. This bill addresses that concern.
General Legal Counsel, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
A society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. Statistics Canada notes that in 2003, six out of every ten sexual assaults reported to police involved a child or youth, although they represent only 21% of the population. It is clear from these statistics that we as a society need to do more to protect our children. Bill C-22 in effect says “hands off” and asserts this stronger protection.
A recent case that made the news involved a teacher in the United States who was convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old and was offered two sentencing options: jail in the U.S. or three years' exile in Canada, where an adult being in a relationship with a 15-year-old is currently legal. Clearly, there has to be more equity on this issue between these two bordering countries. Raising the age of consent to 16 years of age will provide an additional measure of protection for our children.
Yesterday's Ottawa Citizen reported the arrest of a Vanier man preying on young girls over the Internet. He was arrested when police were alerted to his efforts to meet a particular 13-year-old girl. What if she had been 14?
As mentioned earlier, a May 2002 Pollara survey entitled “Canadians' Opinions on Canadian Child Pornography Legislation and the Age of Sexual Consent” found that 80% of respondents expressed a desire for the age of consent to be raised to 16 or even higher.
We commend the intent of this bill, which is to protect our children from adult pedophiles and predators of pubescent youth. We strongly support the adoption of this bill into law, believing that it makes a good step towards making Canada a safer place for our children.
Thank you very much.
The Chair Art Hanger
Thank you, gentlemen.
Now I'll call upon Ms. Kohan, a child advocate and founder of MMAP and co-founder of Project Guardian.
Go ahead, Ms. Kohan.
Carrie Kohan Child Advocate, Founder of MMAP and Co-founder of Project Guardian, Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles
Hello. Bonjour. My name is Carrie Kohan. I am a child advocate who founded Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles and I am the co-founder of Project Guardian.
I've sat in front of this committee for many years now on various bills, and I'd like to thank the justice committee again for allowing me to speak to you on this matter today.
When looking at Bill C-22, age of consent, I feel like I'm having a déjà vu, because on October 7, 2003, four years ago, I sat in front of this justice committee on this very topic. It was Bill C-20, an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act. It was an omnibus bill that tied in child Internet porn, artistic merit, and the support of vulnerable witnesses. Each one of these topics was a very serious issue and probably should have been addressed individually; however, they were lumped under one large bill.
In my address, I spoke of my concern that having a lower age of consent combined with such lenient sentences or non-existent sentences for convicted pedophiles would lead to Canada becoming a pedophile haven, which it since has.
According to the recent 178-page report compiled by EPCAT in December 2006, it states that Canada has indeed become a destination for child sex tourism because of its relatively lower age of consent. If that statement doesn't sound alarms in the whole of the justice committee, I don't know what else you'll need to hear to create change and understand the desperate situation our children are being put in as a result of our previous lawmakers and their apparent lack of concern for the safety of our children.
I also believe another contributing factor has resulted in our country being recognized as a pedophile haven, and that is our lack of sentencing for convicted pedophiles. In the hearings of October 2003, I shared with the then Liberal justice committee the 1997 stats that showed that in Canada, 60% of convicted pedophiles get jail time and 40% get conditional releases or house arrest. Of the 60% who get jail time, the average time served in prison was only six to eight months. This is because in Canada we can't enforce our maximum penalties. If we do, they are often appealed and reversed to a much more lenient sentence.
It is not that all Canadian judges don't want to give the maximum sentence; in Canada, they cannot. If a judge even tries to give a maximum sentence it is likely the convicted pedophile will successfully appeal his or her sentence and win, and the children of Canada and we as a society will lose. So the judge has no choice but to base his or her decision on precedent because our legal system is based on civil law.
Let's take a look at a recent conviction in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office, on November 3, 2006, a 54-year-old West Palm Beach man named James--or Jimmy--Oliver was convicted and sentenced to 130 years for just four counts of sexual exploitation and one count of possession of child pornography. The convicted man had traded child pornography online with another man and included a video of himself performing oral sex on a prepubescent child in his care. When a police seizure was made of Oliver's home, he was also found to possess images of child pornography on his computer.
On October 6, 2006, the West Palm Beach federal grand jury returned a 19-count second superseding indictment, charging Oliver with seven counts of distribution of child pornography and one count of receipt of child pornography, each of which carries a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of five years, up to a maximum of 20 years.
Oliver was also charged with two counts of distribution of child pornography to a minor in order to induce or persuade that minor to engage in sexual activity with him. These convictions also carry a minimum of five to 20 years. Oliver was also charged with four counts of sexual exploitation of a minor for the purpose of creating child pornography, each of which carried a mandatory minimum term of 15 to 30 years.
Oliver was charged with four counts of permitting a minor in his custody or control to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of creating child pornography, again a mandatory minimum term of 15 to 30 years. Lastly, Oliver was charged with one count of possession of child pornography, carrying a statutory maximum term of 10 years. In total, Oliver got 130 years in prison.
The U.S. judge also imposed restitution in the amount of $11,142 to pay for the victim's psychological counselling and a special assessment to be paid of $500. The judge also stated that no prison term, no matter how lengthy, can undo the serious harm done to these children.
Obviously, the United States of America has a zero tolerance policy for this crime. Now compare this to Canada. Can you understand why we are considered one of the places now to come and rape children and create child pornography and distribute it from? In May 2006, a Montreal man, who must remain nameless because of our laws, assaulted his young daughter from age 24 months to 4 years of age. He posted the pictures of this crime on the Internet. He was also found to have roughly 5,000 pictures and 5,000 videos of child pornography on his computer, some of which featured very young children and infants.
By the way, this actually brings up something else that I'd like to talk about later--the police issue of sampling. That's something we have to address.
Anyway, this 32-year-old Canadian man was sentenced to a maximum sentence of 15 years in November 2005. However, he won his appeal in the Quebec Court of Appeal and had his sentence reduced from 15 years to nine years. But in Canada nine years doesn't mean nine years; it actually means anywhere from three to six years, not including time served.
When the appellate court reduced the sentence, Judge Côté cited the man's crimes were not amongst the worst sexual assaults ever committed. And they also cited his young age--not the young age of his victim, but his young age. The court also cited the fact that this man had only one other criminal conviction, for sexually assaulting another child when he was 17 years old.
Here we have two similar crimes. The convicted pedophile in Canada has a prior conviction and possesses over 1,000 pieces of child pornography and gets maybe five to six years in prison, a prison that Canadians have now nicknamed Club Fed. The other convicted pedophile, in the United States, gets 130 years for virtually the same crime, and he has no prior conviction. Where do you think pedophiles would rather commit their crime? In a country where they could potentially get 130 years in prison or a country where they can get a maximum three to six years served? And that's if they are even caught in the first place.
The previous justice committee of Canada, Solicitor General, justice minister, and prime ministers that I have met or sat before over the past eight years have effectively put Canadian children on the top hit list for pedophiles to target. The only way to correct the ineffective laws of our past governments is to create new laws that will mirror those of our neighbours, so that we will no longer be the desirable destination of choice by pedophiles.
We need to increase our age of consent to 16 years minimum. In fact, the majority of Canadians that I have spoken to, which have been many, have actually wanted the age of consent to be similar to that of the United States and other countries and be raised to the age of 18. We need to include a close-in-age clause, four to five years. We need to grandfather previous relationships of one year or more that are outside that five-year age difference--within reason, of course. We also need to be on par with other democratic countries and implement minimum sentences of five years, to a maximum of 20 years, for various child-predatory-related crimes. I would personally like to see Carrie's guardian angel law adopt a progressive timeline for this type of sentencing.
I hope this justice committee understands the urgency needed here, and I also hope that this bill and the safety of our children does not become a bargaining tool for other political parties. That would be a shameful act, demonstrating that the will of the party is not to protect the children of Canada but instead to use the bill for the party's own political benefit or gain. Whether it is within the legal means of the political party to use this bill as a tool or not, I would ask that all parties present and the members of this committee pass this bill as a selfless act and act as a united parliamentary union in support of the protection of the children of Canada from predators.
Please ask yourself how many children are being raped at this very moment across Canada because of our ridiculous laws to date and the apparent lack of protection for Canadian children. And how many pedophiles are walking away with house arrests for abusing defenceless children?
Take a look at the 178-page report. You will see that we are a national disgrace. Only you, this committee, can do something about it. Please raise the age of consent immediately--today--and unanimously bring forward new legislation to introduce minimum sentencing for pedophile-related and violent crimes, such as the four violent crimes we witnessed in Edmonton, Alberta, over this last year, against Shane Rolston, Josh Hunt, Dylan McGillis, and, most recently, 13-year-old Nina Courtepatte. We'll be hearing that sentencing tomorrow.
These were violent crimes. The murderers deserve more than bail and house arrest.
Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.
The Chair Art Hanger
Thank you, Ms. Kohan.
Finally, I'd like to welcome the representative from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Staff Sergeant Mike Frizzell, strategic and operational support, National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre. I believe many of us on the committee actually visited the centre.
Mr. Frizzell, you have the floor.
Staff Sergeant Mike Frizzell Strategic and Operational Support, National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Thank you very much.
My apologies for being late this morning. I've had a streak of bad luck recently, and I hope it didn't follow me into the committee room this morning.
As stated, I work for the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre. I'm an RCMP member, but I work in the centre, which is part of Canada's national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet.
My job, day in and day out, is dealing with the sexual exploitation of children in Canada and internationally. Part of our responsibility at the centre is to remain current on the changing social and criminal environments in Canada so that our prevention and enforcement efforts are aligned and effective. One of our roles is to assist and enable police forces across Canada by developing training for investigators, recommending investigational standards, and identifying legislative and other impediments that get in the way of maintaining safe homes and safe communities.
In this role, we at the national centre are constantly in contact with community members, border officers, social and medical workers, and police investigators across Canada who are responsible for the investigation of Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation. Based on that consultation and my own personal experience as a police officer, l can tell you that raising the age of protection for sexual activity has frequently been identified as a desirable legislative amendment. Based on our collective experience, we believe the current age of protection of 14 is of significant detriment to our efforts to protect children 14 and 15 years old from sexual exploitation. And it is always preferable to prevent crime rather than to investigate it after the damage has occurred.
We believe the amendment being considered today will greatly assist in the prevention, deterrence, and, when necessary, the investigation of adults who sexually exploit Canadian children.
We also support that the proposed bill ensures that consensual activity between young people is not criminalized. This law recognizes that youth will explore sexual development and can legally do so with similar-aged peers. The bill properly leaves the question of sex between teens as a moral issue and not a legal one.
This bill is specifically designed to protect young teens from being targeted by adults who seek out 14- and 15-year-olds as an age group, who have sometimes physically matured but are still developing their emotional maturity. That children are still developing this emotional maturity at that age is recognized in a number of ways by protective laws that already exist. Children aged 14 are not allowed to view movies with restricted adult content. They're not allowed to drive, to get credit, to drink alcohol, to serve in the military, or to sign a legal document. However, under the current law, they can consent to have sexual activity with someone many times their age. So with the exception of sexual activity, teens under 16 years of age are presently prohibited from many activities that involve avoidable risk.
We know there are adults who pay very close attention to what the age of protection is. We go to websites and chat rooms that promote sex between adults and children and that list the age of consent for countries across the world. Of course, Canada stands out there. In one website, they define the age of consent as “the age at which you can touch your special friend without either of you getting into trouble”.
To add to this, the Internet has created a portal for sexual offenders to make contact with our children in what used to be the safety of their own homes and schools. Our experience is that there is an abundance of adults online, at any given time, trying to make contact with a child for a sexual purpose.
During a recent training course we ran on Internet luring, which of course is a huge issue, 20 police officers went online in public chat rooms for one hour. Of those officers posing as children, nine received live webcam video images of masturbation, and over a dozen luring attempts were documented. Many of these officers were approached by adults wishing sex within seconds of going online.
Luring is rampant because of the anonymity of the Internet, which provides offenders from anywhere in the world the opportunity to solicit numerous children at the same time without leaving their own homes, that is, until they make contact and have set up meets. Age, sex, and location are always the first questions asked, allowing offenders to identify viable targets.
Because the age of consent is 14, we often see 13-year-olds being targeted. Offenders will invest months grooming 13-year-olds, waiting for them to turn 14, when they can legally have sex with them. The Internet is such a fertile ground to meet teens, as they are using it more and more for social networking, and that networking, or that use of the computer, is often unsupervised. Parents don't know what is happening, and I'm sure you've probably heard today that a recent survey showed that 25% of children have indicated they will actually meet someone they've met online without telling anyone.
Of course, you've already heard as well that not only is domestic luring on the rise, but Canada is also being touted as a sex tourism destination. Our investigators have been on websites where pedophiles from other countries go goo-goo over Canadian pedophiles who have this law that allows them to have sex with 14- and 15-year-olds. In recent cases in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and right here in Ottawa, Europeans and Americans have come to Canada for the sole purpose of having sex with a child who is 14 or 15 years old because it's illegal in their countries.
Canada's age of protection is one of the lowest in the western industrialized nations. The United Kingdom, the U.S., and Australia are noted for their aggressive efforts to combat Internet-facilitated sexual exploitation, and their age of protection is no less than 16. Canada has demonstrated a very strong commitment to fighting these types of crimes, so this age of protection bill will bring us more in line with these progressive countries.
A case last week that happened in Quebec highlights the problem with the current age of consent or age of protection. A 15-year-old girl met a 50-year-old man on the Internet. He groomed her and had consensual sex with her. Her parents found out. They turned to the police for help and were angered by the fact that we could do nothing. No criminal charges were possible. We weren't even able to get a warrant to look on his computer to see if he was grooming any other children, because that's simply allowed here.
The bill will also provide more consistency in the law. In a recent case in Alberta, an adult male took a 16-year-old girl to a hotel room, took sexually exploitive photographs of her, and he was quite rightly charged with the production of child pornography. However, had he just taken a 14- or 15-year-old girl in there and had sex with her without photographing it, there would have been nothing we could have done.
In my experience, both dealing with people in a consultative manner and as a policeman on the street, I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that I've been called by parents who are outraged that a much older person is having a relationship with their 14- or 15-year-old child. They are of the mistaken belief that young teens are already protected from anyone who is more than five years their senior. Our experience has been that Canadians believe it is illegal already for a 50-year-old male to have a sexual relationship with a 14- or 15-year-old teen. I don't mean to pick on 50-year-old males.
In conversation with the public and in our dealings with parents and victims, they are often horrified to learn that once you're 14, you're free game. This bill more accurately reflects the age of protection that we believe Canadians will accept and in fact already believe exists. This amendment will impact on the workload of police agencies because we will be able to do something about this problem now, but it will have an even greater, positive impact on our children and our families, so it is very worth it.
If this amendment is passed, the NCECC and its police partners and community partners will work to raise public awareness that the age of protection in Canada has been raised and that Canada is not a sex tourism destination.
The Chair Art Hanger
Thank you very much, Mr. Frizzell.
Now we are going to get to the questions immediately. First on the list is Madam Jennings.
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
On behalf of my caucus and of all my Liberal colleagues, I would like to thank each and every one of you for having agreed to appear before us today in order to express your support for Bill C-22. Each one of you asked for this bill to be passed as quickly as possible.
What would you have to say about a government which, in October 2006, received an offer from the official opposition to have this bill adopted swiftly? This same offer was repeated in February 2007 and March 2007. Yesterday, the official opposition, the Liberal Party of Canada, introduced a motion for today's opposition day, which would have, had the government supported it, had this bill we are discussing today, Bill C-22, deemed to have been passed at all stages in the House, including at third reading, by the end of the day today.
What would you say of a government which stopped the passage of a bill it had itself introduced?