Evidence of meeting #40 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 amendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Nathalie Levman  Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I call to order meeting number 40 of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, February 29, 2012, today we are considering Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (kidnapping of young person), clause by clause.

It is quite a large bill—there's one clause.

I think, Mr. Cotler, you have an amendment, LIB-1.

May 31st, 2012 / 11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Yes, Mr. Chairman.

The amendment is that Bill C-299, in clause 1, be amended by replacing lines 10 to 12 on page 1 with the following:

imprisonment for life; and

Mr. Chairman, if I may, let me just provide an explanatory context for this. This amendment effectively removes a mandatory minimum penalty from the proposed legislation. I don't want to use the occasion to repeat all that I've said before and will say prospectively on other occasions about my critiques of mandatory minimums—they're well known. Much of what I've been saying was also echoed in witness testimony before this committee, including succinctly by our witness in the last meeting.

I just want to address two points in relation to this amendment. The first is the following—which I want to state for the record as a result of exchanges that sometimes take place in the House. Like all members here, we are all concerned about the kidnapping of young persons. Indeed, when I was Minister of Justice, the first piece of legislation I introduced on behalf of the government at the time was Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, which became law in July 2005, and which, among other things, enhanced the Criminal Code with respect to sexual offences against children, failure to provide the necessities of life, and abandonment of children. It also made child abuse in the commission of an offence an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

I make reference to this because I accept and promote the overarching objective with respect to this legislation, the protection of young children from criminal offences. My objection is only on the issue of the mandatory minimum. If I may state for the record why the issue of children is so important to me, as I've stated before, when my daughter was 15 years of age, she came to me one day and said, “Daddy, if you want to know what the real test of human rights is, then always ask yourself, at any time, in any situation, in any part of the world, is it good for children? Is what is happening good for children?”

So the question of protecting children was a priority for me as a minister, and that legislation to which I just referred became known among us in the government as “Gila's Law”, because at the time it was very much inspired by my daughter Gila. This is an issue that I take very seriously, as do all members of this committee.

I want to draw the attention of colleagues to the language of my second amendment, LIB-2, because it should be read in concert with the first.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Mr. Cotler, I think we can only deal with LIB-1.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

It's only by way of background.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

But I don't think we should deal with that.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Okay.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Cotler, Bill C-299 amends the Criminal Code to impose a mandatory minimum sentence on anyone convicted of kidnapping a person under 16 years of age. This amendment proposes to delete the mandatory minimum sentence. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states on page 766: An amendment to a bill that was referred to a committee after second reading is out of order if it is beyond the scope and principle of the bill.

In the opinion of the chair, the deletion of the key element is contrary to the principle of Bill C-299 and is therefore inadmissible.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Can we challenge you on that one?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

You can challenge the chair.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

We'll challenge the chair.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Shall the ruling of the chair be sustained?

(Ruling of the chair sustained: yeas 6; nays 5)

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Therefore, the amendment will not be considered. Here I should say that I erred in allowing the debate to carry on about LIB-1.

Madam Findlay, are you introducing G-1?

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

Yes, I am.

We move that Bill C-299, in clause 1, be amended by replacing line 10 on page 1 with the following:

imprisonment for life and, unless the person who commits the offence is a parent, guardian or person having the lawful care or charge of the person referred to in that paragraph, to a minimum

Can I speak to it?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Yes, you can.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Delta—Richmond East, BC

In our view, the bill rightly seeks to ensure that cases involving kidnapping of children by strangers are treated with the severity they deserve. This goal is laudable and merits support. We know that although stranger child abduction happens fairly rarely—thank goodness—the consequences are dire, as abducted children are often sexually assaulted or murdered.

Offenders must be punished severely for such crimes, in our view. However, there is a concern that the way it's presently worded the proposed mandatory minimum penalty could apply to a parent or someone in loco parentis. With respect to that person, there might be an issue of preventing that child from seeing the other parent in the context of a custody or access dispute. We know that parents involved in such disputes have been charged with kidnapping of their own child.

Of course, parental child abduction is a serious issue, as well, for all involved, but we don't believe this bill's intention is to impose severe penalties in these types of situations. The Criminal Code currently criminalizes kidnapping of children through a number of different offences: subsections 279(1), kidnapping, and 279(2), forcible confinement; and sections 280 to 283, which contain four child-specific abduction offences.

Maximum penalties for these offences range from five years to life imprisonment, but only the kidnapping offence, in subsection 279(1), imposes mandatory minimum penalties in certain circumstances, for example, where a firearm is used or where organized crime is involved. Although sections 282 and 283 deal exclusively with parental child abduction, sections 279 and 280 can apply to cases involving both stranger and parental child abductions.

Therefore, Bill C-299's proposed mandatory minimum penalty could, as presently written, apply to parents. To prevent this unintended result, the proposed friendly amendment—which Mr. Wilks has also stated he would accept—would exempt parents and persons standing in place of parents from the application of the proposed mandatory minimum penalty.

Whether or not this amendment is supported, I certainly hope the bill will receive the support it deserves and that we all move together to seek sanctions on those who would seek to harm our children.