Evidence of meeting #37 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was minimum.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • John Major  C.C., Q.C, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, Retired, As an Individual

May 15th, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I'll call the meeting to order.

Due to the votes, obviously it's later than this meeting was scheduled to begin, this being meeting 37 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 29, 2012, we are considering Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (kidnapping of young person).

We had scheduled Mr. Wilks, sponsor of the bill, for 11 o'clock. Due to the time, it's agreed that we will have forty minutes for each session as opposed to one hour.

Mr. Wilks, if you have an opening address, go ahead and give it to us. I think in general it's five to seven minutes. We'll let you know when you're getting close to the end of the time.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to thank the committee for having me here today as discussion begins on my private member's bill, Bill C-299, which would invoke a minimum mandatory penalty for the kidnapping of a child under the age of 16 by a stranger.

I would like to call the committee's attention to paragraph 279(1)(a) of the Criminal Code, which says:

(1) Every person commits an offence who kidnaps a person with intent (a) to cause the person to be confined or imprisoned against the person’s will;

Further, paragraph 279(1.1)(a) says:

(1.1) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable (a) if a restricted firearm or prohibited firearm is used in the commission of the offence or if any firearm is used in the commission of the offence and the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of (i) in the case of a first offence, five years, and (ii) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, seven years;

The committee should know that most kidnappings involving children do not involve a firearm, nor do they involve a criminal organization. The child is either lured or physically manhandled. Unfortunately, the act of kidnapping is the forgotten crime under normal circumstances.

Kidnapping of a child in Canada is a rare occurrence; however, each incident tends to shock the nation. When a child is kidnapped and it is reported by the media, it is usually a report of the most severe kind—a child is taken from their home, yard, or bed and kept for ransom and/or sexual exploitation, and sometimes murder.

As most of the committee will know, I am retired from the RCMP and served between the years 1980 and 2000. During that time, I can speak to two child kidnappings, and a third while a member of Parliament.

Michael Dunahee, who was born on May 12, 1986, disappeared from the Blanshard Street playground in Victoria, British Columbia, on March 24, 1991. He was four years old. He has never been found. His parents were mere metres away when Michael was taken. His mother, Crystal, was instrumental in getting the amber alert program implemented in British Columbia. She also serves as the president of Child Find for British Columbia.

Police officers from across Canada were kept on alert for months and years after Michael's disappearance. It moved so many people from across Canada to volunteer their time to search for Michael. I can still close my eyes today and see the posters of young Michael Dunahee.

Mindy Tran was kidnapped and murdered in Kelowna in 1994. As a member of the RCMP stationed in Penticton at the time, I was part of an enormous search team assembled to search for her. The fear that gripped the city of Kelowna was very noticeable. For a young child at the tender age of eight years old to be riding her bike on her street and to vanish without a trace is something that no parent should be subject to. Mindy was found six weeks later, not far from her home, in a shallow grave.

The third and final child I would like to speak of is Kienan Hebert. Taken from his home in Sparwood, British Columbia, Kienan was three years old. It was the middle of the night, and he was taken from his bedroom while the rest of his family slept. For four days, the people of the Elk Valley, the country, and international community were focused on the safe return of Kienan to his parents and family. Through the efforts of so many—and, may I add, some very good police work—Kienan was returned and his alleged kidnapper arrested.

You may wonder why this is so passionate to me. In my 20 years as a police officer, I have dealt with over 200 deaths. I have done four next-of-kin notifications, and two of them were for young children. Unless you have done one, you have no idea what it is like to tell a parent their child is dead. I would not wish that responsibility on anyone in this room.

We as politicians have the obligation to ensure that we protect our children at all costs and to ensure that a crime involving a child, in this case kidnapping, reflects the severity of the crime.

Surely if we as politicians see fit to give a mandatory minimum sentence to a person who kidnaps another person with a firearm or is connected to a criminal organization, we ought to see that kidnapping a defenceless child is, in my opinion, far graver than the aforementioned.

Thank you for letting me speak this morning, Mr. Chair.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Mr. Wilks.

Madam Boivin.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Wilks. You are very passionate, and we understand why it's important to you. However, it is also our role, as legislators, to ensure that what you are seeking will become a reality with the amendment.

Of the cases you dealt with during your career as an RCMP officer, was it the case of Kienan Hebert in particular that pushed you to table Bill C-299? Was that the catalyst?

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Thank you for your question.

It certainly was, because with the Kienan Hebert case a unique charge came about because the child was returned safely. Very rarely does that happen. Normally we culminate the charge with a murder charge and/or a sexual assault charge, and then the kidnapping charge is either stayed or not proceeded with.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

When you prepared Bill C-299, did you go through the Criminal Code to see the different provisions that apply in a case like the one you are trying to address through this bill? Are you familiar with, for example, all the principles of sentencing? I am thinking of section 718 and the following ones, among others, of the Criminal Code.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Yes, I am. I certainly looked at section 281 of the Criminal Code, which already exists, with regard to abduction, with a maximum sentence of 10 years but no minimum. It befuddles me why we created section 281 when section 279 already existed.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

You talk about children of 16 and under, but why not those of 17 and under? Why start by focusing on children of 16 and under? A 17-year-old is still considered a minor, not an adult under the law. First, why focus on children of 16 and under? Second, does your bill apply to everyone, whether it is the father or the mother? Is this aimed at strangers, particularly? Who are you targeting exactly?

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

To answer the second part of your question first, about strangers only, certainly abduction under sections 282 and 283, which recognize parents, guardians, and/or those who are legally looking over a child, is already covered. I'm not looking at that, just at strangers.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

It could be construed as being part of it, the way your bill is written.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

I agree with that.

What was your first question again? I'm sorry, Madam Boivin.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

I was asking you why you were focusing on children age 16 and under rather than those 17 and under.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Thank you.

Predominantly within the Criminal Code, as we see it now, everything is based on 16 years or 14 years. I based it on the specifics that everything following in the Criminal Code normally is under the age of 16 or under the age of 14.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

You know that in section 718, and even in other parts of the Criminal Code, it is considered an aggravating factor when a child is kidnapped or confined, etc. Is that not enough for you?

To determine my position on this, I read a huge amount of case law, and I did not see sentences of less than five years, except in very exceptional cases. I wonder how useful your bill is, because sentences tend to be eight or nine years, if not longer in other circumstances. Judges are already not sympathetic to this type of case. So I have a hard time understanding the reason for introducing a minimum sentence that would practically never be applied.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Certainly under paragraph 279(1.1)(a) right now there is a recognition that if you use a firearm or you're aligned with a criminal organization there's a five-year minimum. But we don't recognize the fact that a child is normally not taken with a firearm, because you don't need one. Second, they're normally not aligned with a criminal organization. There's absolutely nothing.

We have to recognize that children are the most important thing in our society. If we want to go beyond that and say that the firearm and/or the criminal organization must be part of the affiliation of the conviction, we have to relook at what we've done.

If I may add, with regard to the laws that already exist, I'll give you a good example of where I'm going. In the Hebert case, which is coming for sentencing in two weeks, there has been an agreement between—