House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was flag.

Topics

Competition Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of the Bloc Quebecois will vote against this motion.

Competition Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, NDP members present tonight vote no on this motion.

Competition Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Chicoutimi, QC

Mr. Speaker, the members of our party will vote in favour of this motion.

Competition Act
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Independent

John Nunziata York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be voting in favour.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 109
Government Orders

7 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Points Of Order
Government Orders

March 17th, 1998 / 7 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Bonwick Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent to table the following documents: Hansard of March 9, 1998 and a news release from the office of Deborah Grey, member of Parliament.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

7 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

As a point of clarification, these are the documents that were referred to in debate earlier today.

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent to table the documents?

Points Of Order
Government Orders

7 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

7 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. It is not necessary for the member to table copies of Hansard since they are a public record. Is that not true?

Points Of Order
Government Orders

7 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

Whether or not it is necessary to table them, the hon. member has unanimous consent and they are tabled. The House will now proceed with the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

, seconded by the hon. member for Kamloops, moved that Bill C-245, an act to amend the Criminal Code, penalties for sexual offences involving children, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I stand today to perform one of my most important duties as the member of Parliament for Oxford. This duty is to introduce legislation when I see that current legislation is not responding to a need within our society.

Over the last year and a half I have identified such a need. I have found that those who sexually prey upon our children are merely being slapped on the wrist by our judicial system. This seems horrendous to me and to my constituents. Finding that the sentences for these crimes against our children are inadequate, I introduce Bill C-245 which we have before us today.

I would like to thank the NDP member for Kamloops for seconding the bill. The bill will increase the maximum sentence for sexual assault on a child to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years. As well the sentence for forcible confinement of a child is increased to 14 years from the current 10. The definition of child pornography would extend to any information or reproduction transmitted by electronic means.

In the next few minutes I want to share with hon. members why my constituents and I believe the bill should be passed by Parliament.

The current maximum sentence for sexual assault is 10 years. According to information obtained through the adult criminal court survey, the average sentence given in 1993 and 1994 for level two sexual assault and level three sexual assault was 1,287 days, less than four years. Yet level two and level three sexual assault are sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault. These statistics were compiled using data from nine provincial jurisdictions.

There is no real distinction between sexual assault on a child and other charges of sexual assault.

I would like to share with this House the average sentence for sexual touching of a child under 14. For this charge, in which sexual intent must be proven, the average sentence imposed by the courts was 288 days, not even a full year. Furthermore, 77% of the accused in solved violent incidents involving children under 12 had a relationship with the victim. In 31% of these cases, the accused was a member of the victim's immediate family.

As members can see, these are not statistics that make one sleep easily at night.

I spent 36 years of my life in education as a teacher, union representative, principal and superintendent. I worked with our children. I am witness to the effects of abuse on children. I know the innocence of a child is destroyed by sexual abuse. I have heard the confusion and self-guilt in the mind of a sensitive teenage boy after his experience with a pedophile.

We as legislators must ask ourselves how an average sentence of 377 days for level one sexual assault can atone for the loss of a child's innocence and self-respect.

Bill C-245 speaks directly to sexual assault upon a child. The bill seeks to amend section 271 of the Criminal Code by increasing the maximum sentence to imprisonment for life with no parole eligibility for 25 years if found guilty of sexual assault on a child under eight or under fourteen who was under the offender's trust or authority or dependent on the offender.

I want to make it very clear that this sentence is the same sentence as that for first degree murder. It is my belief and that of many of my constituents that in the very worst cases of child sexual assault the sentence should be equal to that of murder. Why? Because these assaults have murdered the child's soul, the child's self-esteem and the child's mind.

We cannot see a Martin Kruze throw himself off a bridge without knowing why. His abuser led him there and pushed him off with his continued abuse as surely as if he were present.

One constituent wrote to me of the sentence received by a sex offender. The writer said “He gets a lousy two years probation and my child gets life”. Two years of probation to walk the streets, be employed and have a life while the child is devastated and emotionally murdered and his parents hope that just maybe he might find his life worth living again.

Unfortunately many victims of abuse find that life is not worth living again. And far too many of their abusers walk the streets after a sentence that does not reflect the severity of their crime.

My office has received many letters like the one I have just quoted from. Some are short and simply indicate support for this bill. Others are long and tell of the writer's experience with sexual abuse. These letters are not easy to read because they talk of the hurt and betrayal felt by the victims.

Of the three main cases I have received correspondence on, all have told of abuse delivered by someone known to the victim and to his or her family. The abusers were not strangers but a stepfather, a neighbour and a “big brother”, that is in this case a volunteer from the Big Brothers organization.

I would like to quote from one letter I received from a woman in my riding whose son was abused by his Big Brother volunteer. The mother says “I cannot believe when this man came to my house, when I thought it would be good for my son to have a big brother to look up to, a father figure in his life, that he could end up doing the things he did to him. I interviewed this man for at least two hours and was happy to think that my son was lucky to have a man like this in his life”.

Many years later this mother was devastated by the news that this man, this father figure, had sexually abused her child beginning at the age of eight. The woman's son had a very troubled adolescence. He spent time in jail and his mother now knows why. This woman has asked me to do everything I can to ensure that those who prey upon our children, as this man did on her son, are punished severely for their crimes. I want us to promise her today in the highest legislative body in this land that we will not let her down.

This issue was brought to my attention through a case in my riding. A father was convicted on three counts of unlawful confinement for locking his three sons in wire cages in a dark basement, three counts of administering a noxious substance for making them eat their own feces and drink their own urine, and three counts of assault for beating them. In addition this man was convicted of numerous sex charges, including three counts of intercourse with a girl under 14. The victims of the sexual assaults were his three stepdaughters. The perpetrator of these crimes was sentenced to 18.5 years in prison but he will be eligible for parole in just over six.

I would like to offer my thanks to the Woodstock Daily Sentinel Review for bringing this case to my attention. The reporter who covered this trial for the Sentinel Review called it the most disturbing case she has ever had to report on.

I can honestly say that this bill represents a fine example of how the press and the community has worked with me, their local member, to try to correct the weakness in our judicial system.

Because of the frightful instances of forcible confinement in the aforementioned case, I have included in Bill C-245 an amendment to section 279 of the Criminal Code. This amendment would increase the maximum sentence for forcible confinement to 14 years from 10 in the case of a parent or ward who confines their child and thereby harms the child's physical or mental health. Anyone who questions why I felt an increase in this sentence is necessary need only recall what that father did to his sons.

The final section of Bill C-245 would ensure that the definition of publication in the case of child pornography would cover display, transmission or storage by electronic mail and the Internet.

Some think government has no business regulating the information superhighway but I suspect that protecting our children in society from those who would trade in child pornography is far more important than any supposed right on the Internet.

Information technology is an incredible development. I continue to encourage my constituents to take advantage of the Internet to benefit themselves and their communities, but we cannot allow criminal use of the information superhighway to endanger our children.

It is my belief that my introduction of this bill into the House of Commons was my duty as the member of Parliament for Oxford. As I stated at the outset, it is a duty I take very seriously. As a member of Parliament and as a citizen of this great country of ours, I also have another duty. That duty is to speak for and to protect those members of our society who cannot protect themselves.

Each of us here in this House has a moral obligation to protect our children from those who prey upon them. I do not doubt for a moment that all members feel this obligation to our nation's children.

Bill C-245 is not a votable bill. During the subcommittee meeting I was asked by the member for Brandon—Souris why I felt my bill would increase sentences when in fact it did not impose a minimum sentence for these crimes. It was an excellent question. I dare say some members who are to follow me in this debate will raise this as an objection. For this reason, I offer my colleagues an answer.

Parliament speaks with a loud voice in the courtrooms across this land. If we were to pass this bill, we would be saying to our judicial system that the protection of our children is paramount.

Our voice with the governor general's signature attached would say that in the worst cases of abuse, those who prey upon our children must be removed from society for life. Our voice would represent constituents across the country who speak through us and who want their children protected.

Some changes may need to be made to this bill. I feel our colleagues on the justice committee can make these changes in the best interests of our children.

The support I received for this bill from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association has let me know that our front line law enforcement officers agree with increased sentences to protect our children.

I feel that this bill should be voted on by members of this House. For those members who are not familiar with the cases I have dealt with in my riding they need only look at cases in their own ridings. Any members who have dealt with children have met those who have suffered from the horrors of abuse.

We can all remember the recent problems within Maple Leaf Gardens or with Graham James and Sheldon Kennedy. We can recall the abuse perpetrated on our aboriginal children in orphanages and residential schools, religious or otherwise. Thank God for people like Sheldon Kennedy who spoke out about the years of abuse he suffered. He has battled back to be a model for victims but we must also remember that for every Sheldon Kennedy there is a Martin Kruze who saw as his only escape, especially after a ridiculously short sentence given to his abuser, a jump off Toronto's Bloor Street viaduct.

I would ask members to look into their hearts and ask themselves if we would be performing our duty if this bill was not put to a vote. It is time to send a message to sex offenders that the time for judicial slaps on the wrist has past. Canadians will not allow us to pass the buck to other jurisdictions or wait until some obscure commission passes recommendations.

If this House decides in approximately 35 minutes that this bill should not be votable I ask those members present to look into the eyes of a victim or the mother of a victim and tell them why they have to wait for justice. If amendments should be made let us send this bill to committee so it can hear witnesses and make changes to improve the bill.

Early in my speech I read from a letter sent to me from an abused child's mother. I would like to refer to that letter again. This mother says:

Child abuse of any kind has to stop, and the introduction of your bill will certainly be a start. I am tired of those people being set free and sent to counselling and everything is okay. It certainly is not okay, that doesn't do a thing for the victims who have to live with this the rest of their lives. In requesting higher sentences for these sex offenders, how can I ask this be considered out of line, when, in fact, the children are sentenced to life without parole, in trying to live with what was inflicted upon them.

It is time to perform our duty and to protect our children. I ask this House for its support of Bill C-245.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

7:15 p.m.

Reform

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be able to speak today to the bill sponsored by the member for Oxford dealing with penalties for sexual offences involving children.

I commend the member for Bill C-245. I support the amendment he is making to the Criminal Code. I wish that more members from his side of the House would also recognize that creating stiffer penalties would go a long way to curbing crime in Canada, especially of this heinous type.

Reform members came to Ottawa in 1993 with a commitment to the Canadian people to reform Parliament. Included in those reforms was the promise to be supportive whenever possible of the people's agenda over party manoeuvres. We promised not to oppose government legislation or private members' bills simply for the sake of opposition. If a bill enhances public safety we will support it. We therefore support the member for Oxford.

Bill C-245 if passed by this House will change the definition of publication in the case of child pornography to cover transmission by electronic mail or posting the material on the Internet or any other electronic net. This amendment to the Criminal Code is simply in keeping with the advances of the technology and the prevalence of child pornography on the Internet today. I applaud the hon. member's effort in this regard. However, this amendment should and could have been enacted by the government. However, there is a pattern. The government is weak. When action is needed there is a pattern of Liberal government weakness.

While this government is introducing legislation which deals with technology and privacy it has neglected to make the necessary Criminal Code amendments to protect our children from the perverts who surf the net. It is not surprising given the low priority this government places on the protection of society and in particular our children. We have discovered sex slavery in Canada and sadly we have juvenile prostitution in every major city. The government has done little while at the same time shuts down private members' bills that deal with these things. The government is weak.

Despite claiming in June, 1997 that revamping the Young Offenders Act was a priority, the justice minister has failed to bring one single amendment. The minister's failure in this regard has put our children who are most often the victims of crime at needless risk.

We also support the increase in the maximum penalty for forcible confinement from 10 to 14 years in the case of a parent or a ward who confines a child and thereby harms the child's physical or mental health.

The Reform Party fully supports the penalty of imprisonment for life with no parole eligibility for 25 years for anyone found guilty of sexually assaulting a child under 8 or a child under 14 who is under the offender's trust or authority or who is dependent on the offender.

I do, however, question the age of eight years. In 1994 the Liberal government refused to amend the Young Offenders Act to include 10 and 11 year olds, claiming they were much too young to be held accountable for their criminal behaviour. I therefore have to wonder why the hon. member for Oxford has not at least included 10 and 11 year olds. I would recommend including children up to the age of at least 13, in recognition of the vulnerability of children within this tender age group.

I also find it questionable that the member for Oxford has proposed what can only be considered a heavy penalty, one which would not be supported by a majority of his own 1700 colleagues.

In 1995 a majority of Liberal members voted against eliminating the faint hope clause for murderers. I question why this member and his Liberal colleagues would ever agree to put a child molester behind bars for a minimum of 25 years when they have repeatedly failed to keep murderers locked away for at least the 25 years.

Let us not forget that it was the Liberal Party which gave us the faint hope clause, claiming some hope must be given to first degree murderers.

Clifford Olson raped and killed 11 innocent children and after serving only 15 years of his life sentence this sadistic killer took full advantage of the Liberal made faint hope clause and applied for early release.

I might add that the former justice minister is directly responsible for Olson's full press court. The former justice minister failed to bring in Bill C-45 in time to prevent Olson from once again terrorizing these victims' families. There was plenty of warning. There was no excuse.

I and many of my colleagues were there the day Olson, to the horror of the nation, was once again terrorizing his victims' families. I and many of my colleagues were there, at court, the very day Olson, to the horror of the nation, was once again granted the absurd privilege of making a mockery of our justice system.

Last week when representatives of the Canadian Police Association were in Ottawa they left a message for the Liberal government. Topping their list was the elimination of the faint hope clause. Perhaps finally the justice minister will see to it to repeal section 745 of the Criminal Code and keep murderers behind bars where they belong.

There are a number of other areas which require attention. To date the justice minister has done little or nothing with regard to enhancing public safety.

Conditional sentences for violent offenders must be eliminated. How many more rapists must walk free before the justice minister amends specifically her predecessor's flawed section of the Criminal Code?

I point to one significant omission in Bill C-245. It does not amend the Young Offenders Act. Therefore, anyone under the age of 18 who sexually assaults a child will not be sentenced to life imprisonment. The maximum sentence they will receive under the YOA is three years, plus a possible two years of additional control.

Adolescent males commit approximately 20% of sexual assaults against teens and adults, and between 30% to 50% of such assaults against children. According to the forum on correctional research, January 1995, sexual assaults committed by youth are as serious as those committed by adults.

Without changes to the YOA the maximum penalty a youth can receive for raping or molesting a child will remain three years, with an additional optional two years. If the young offender is released into the community no one will know because of the privacy provisions of the YOA which do not allow for the publishing of young offenders' names, including young rapists. I mentioned that today in my question to the justice minister and received a very unsatisfactory answer.

Jason Gamache was a sex offender, but this fact was not made known to his neighbours. An unsuspecting mother allowed Mr. Gamache to babysit her young daughter. Her daughter was raped and killed by Gamache. The mistakes in the provincial administration of this case were all started by the secrecy provisions of the Young Offenders Act.

On September 26 my colleague from Crowfoot introduced a private member's bill to amend the YOA. Unlike the Liberal justice minister, the member for Crowfoot worked all summer on Bill C-210 and at the first opportunity introduced his bill.

We in the Reform Party have introduced many private members' bills on the Young Offenders Act. Where are the minister's? Amending the YOA is a priority for the Reform Party, as it is for many Canadians.

In June, 1997 the justice minister said that the YOA was a priority, and yet we have seen nothing.

Last year the justice committee travelled throughout the country, spending close to half a million dollars reviewing the act.

In April, 1997 the committee tabled a report containing a number of recommendations for amending the YOA and the Reform Party produced a minority report which was rejected by the committee because it was too comprehensive. We ensured that our report was given to all the provincial attorneys general, many of whom have been requesting similar changes to the Young Offenders Act.

Since the former justice minister mandated the committee to review the Young Offenders Act upon the 10th anniversary of its enactment, the Reform Party has questioned the commitment of the justice minister and the Liberal dominated justice committee to effectively change this act which is now 14 years old.

This government failed during its first three and a half year mandate to improve public safety and it is failing again. This justice minister has done very little. It has been a very weak performance.

The member for Oxford can count on Reform's support but, interestingly, he cannot count on the support of his bleeding heart pals who refuse to keep murderers locked up for at least 25 years. By the process of this bill today, we can see that the justice agenda of average Canadians is reflected in the Reform Party position and not the bureaucratic, top down agenda of the Liberals.

The conclusion is obvious. If Canadians want a good justice system they need to elect a Reform Party government.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, private member's bill C-245 covers three extremely important points.

The first has to do with the transmission of child pornography through the Internet or electronic mail. The second has to do with sexual assault on a child, and the third has to do with the confinement of a child by a parent or ward. These are three extremely important points. As the member who introduced the bill said earlier, these are three things that cannot be tolerated in a free and democratic society such as ours.

I am going to examine the bill clause by clause, because there are only three of them. The first clause deals with the definition of publication per se. The issue raised by the first clause of the bill is a very special one. What is the role of the lawmaker with respect to cyberspace? Although clause 1 of the bill looks specifically at the publication of child pornography, it raises the more general issue of governments' responsibility with respect to management of the Internet.

Each of us has his or her own perception of cyberspace. Some people positively worship the Internet. Internet surfers consider this virtual space to be one of the great achievements of the 20th century. Others fear the Internet. This electronic network seems to interfere with the respect of certain principles our community holds dear.

If the Internet is seen as a source of all knowledge, it is also the favourite realm of individuals with a warped view of the world, who spend their time using it to distribute illegal material. Child pornography is a perfect example. The following question therefore arises: What can we as lawmakers do to stop this unhealthy use of the Internet?

Whether to limit the distribution of hate propaganda, discriminatory material or child pornography, various initiatives have already been suggested.

In the United States, the suppression of child pornography focuses on protecting the children that are its subjects. In Canada, while not dealing specifically with publication on the Internet, section 163(1) of the Criminal Code defines child pornography in broader terms. Child pornography is condemned not just because of its direct impact on the young people who are its subjects, but also in order to eliminate its impact on pedophiles and various criminals of this sort who use these media.

Nonetheless, as the Université de Montréal authors of a work entitled Droit du cyberespace pointed out, the regulation of violence on information highways must be consistent with the imperatives of freedom of expression. Concerns about the circulation of violent material arise primarily from the fear that exposure to this kind of material trivializes the real phenomenon of violence or encourages people to resort to violence. To this general concern is naturally added the concern to protect children.

Striking a balance between freedom of expression and a justified control of material harmful to society is not easy. For example, in 1996, there was an American bill, the Decency Act, which was intended to criminalize the distribution of pornographic material, but it was declared unconstitutional.

Considering how difficult it is to establish the identity of a user, the effect of that legislation was to restrict the freedom of expression of the distributors on the one hand, but also the right of adult users to receive information on the other hand.

This clause does not solve all of the problems relating to use of the Internet, and others, but it does engage a debate, which makes us reflect as lawmakers. The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of this more thorough analysis.

Clause 2 addresses sexual assault against children. There is most certainly nothing more abhorrent than sex crimes involving children. Children are the incarnation of everything that is most fragile in our society. When someone decides to sully the innocence of our young people, society as a whole suffers. Children are arguably our most precious resource.

How, then, can such acts not be vigorously denounced? How can we understand someone stooping so low as to commit such monstrous acts? A lawmaker cannot remain indifferent to offences of this nature.

The bill of the hon. member for Oxford is intended to offer some elements of a response to these questions. Clause 2 of the bill provides for special sentencing of those found guilty of sexually assaulting children.

This bill would add to section 271 of the Criminal Code, which pertains to sexual offences, and include in it a special regime for cases when children are the victims. The sentence proposed is harsh: imprisonment for life. This sentence is sought when the crime is particularly heinous, but that is what he are dealing with in cases of sexual assault of children.

Nevertheless, while the bill is severe, the member proposes certain application criteria that would require the courts to evaluate certain characteristics of the victim. Clause 2 thus provides that imprisonment for life would apply when the child involved is under the age of eight years or under the age of fourteen years and in the trust of or dependent on the offender.

Thus the terms provided in section 271(1.1) b) would provide a defence for the accused if it could be proven that the victim aged between 8 and 14 years was not in a in the trust of, under the authority of, or in a relationship of dependency on, the offender.

It should be pointed out that the Criminal Code currently provides a defence that the offender charged under section 271 could use. Section 150(1) of the Criminal Code provides that a person accused under section 271 may use consent as a defence, if the victim is between 12 and 14 and the aggressor is all of the following: aged 12 or older but less than 16; less then two years older than the victim and not someone with whom the victim is in a relationship of dependency.

The problem is that the bill makes no mention of section 150(1). While this silence does not affect the merits of the bill, that is, the application of a more severe sentence in the case of the sexual assault of children, the fact that it does not mention the terms of section 150(1) would have the effect of proposing two different defences for a single offence.

Once again, we agree with the content, with the objective of clause 2, but I believe it lacks some refinement to really achieve the intended objective.

Clause 3 deals with the confinement of a child or ward. It proposes an addition to section 279 of the Criminal Code to introduce more severe sentences when the offence of confinement or imprisonment involves children.

Like sexual assault, this offence is most intolerable, since it takes advantage of children's weakness. Once again, this situation must be denounced and the bill seems to meet that need.

As I have said, this private member's bill addresses three extremely important points, since situations or acts involving children are involved.

However, as always, we in the Bloc Quebecois do not necessarily always have a visceral reaction in such cases. I believe that an analysis that is as cold and objective as possible of these clauses is necessary if we are to attain the objective of amending the Criminal Code in such a way as to truly have the desired impact.

The goal is to protect our young people, the most important thing in our country. I do not believe anyone in this House could be against this bill. I do, however, think that it merits more study in order to improve its clauses and its approaches to the objective sought.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this important debate on Bill C-245. Let me first say how much I appreciate my colleague from Oxford for bringing the bill forward. It is very timely and very appropriate. It provides members of Parliament with the opportunity to speak out on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. I refer particularly to the children of Canada.

Over the last number of years I spent a great deal of time with friends and associates who have worked in the Kamloops Sexual Assault Centre. I have received countless letters from constituents concerned about the issue of child abuse, sexual predation upon children and other related issues.

In my time before I became a member of Parliament I was a teacher for 15 years. I knew of countless cases of young people whose lives had been destroyed irreparably because of some unscrupulous person involving them in unwanted sexual acts at a very young age.

Many of my friends are guidance counsellors and family counsellors of one kind or another. Many are in the field of rehabilitation in terms of sexual assault victims as well as those accused and found guilty of sexual assault. The stories they tell can be summarized in a word and that is devastation. Young people who are forced to experience this type of activity at a young age essentially have their lives destroyed in most cases forever.

I cannot help but mention many of my friends, particularly those in the Shuswap First Nation in Kamloops, who over the years brought forward the stories of their experiences in so-called Indian residential schools which, I am loathe to say, were sponsored by various religious orders. They tell of the physical abuse they experienced and in particular sexual abuse that not only destroyed their lives in many ways but destroyed the lives of their children as well.

We have seen generation after generation of people whose lives and the lives of their children and perhaps their grandchildren have been affected in a negative way because of being involved in some sexual predation.

My colleague from Oxford brought forth Bill C-245, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding penalties for sexual offences involved children. I applaud him for this initiative. I assume all members of Parliament, when they have a chance to vote on it, will vote in support of the bill. I know I speak for myself and for colleagues to whom I have talked about the bill when I say we endorse it enthusiastically.

Let me simply say that the reason there is so much enthusiasm in support of this initiative is that many members of Parliament find that sentences for crimes against children are inadequate in today's court system.

Countless times people have said to me that we have a legal system but we do not have a justice system, that it lacks a sense of justice. Therefore, the bill which will increase the maximum sentence for sexual assault on a child to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 25 years is supportable. As well, the sentence for forcible confinement of a child in the bill is increased to 14 years from the present 10 years. The definition of child pornography would now extend to any information or reproduction transmitted by electronic means.

In the next few moments I want to say why I support the bill so strongly. The current maximum sentence for sexual assault, as I said, is 10 years. According to information obtained through the adult criminal court survey, the average sentence being given for sexual assault is less than 1,287 days, less than four years.

These are sexual assaults with a weapon. These are sexual assaults resulting in aggravated assault. These are horrendous acts perpetrated against a person, in this case against children. It is difficult to imagine a more unscrupulous, heinous type of individual than one who would participate in these types of acts.

Because there is no real distinction between sexual assault on the child and other charges of sexual assault, the member shared with the House the average sentence for sexual touching of a child under 14. This is a charge in which sexual intent must be proven, I might add. The average sentence imposed by the courts is 288 days, less than one full year.

People involved in a direct sexual way with the intent of having a sexual act with a child, if found guilty, may receive a penalty to serve time in prison of less than a year. What kind of signal does that send to people who have destroyed some young child's life? Having a few days in jail certainly does not deter one, but it sends a signal that we as a society essentially or relatively condone this type of behaviour. As a society we ought not to have any tolerance at all regarding violence toward people. We should not have any tolerance at all involving adults perpetrating sexual activity with a young child.

Seventy-seven per cent of the accused in solved violent incidents involving children under 12 years of age have had some kind of relationship with the victim. In 31 per cent of these cases the accused was a member of the victim's immediate family. This is the kind of information that does not make one feel terribly comfortable.

Bill C-245 speaks directly to sexual assault on a child. It amends section 271 of the Criminal Code by increasing the maximum sentence to imprisonment for life with no parole eligibility for 25 years, if guilty of sexual assault on a child under 8 years of age or a child under 14 years of age who is under the offender's trust or authority or dependent on the offender.

Just as an aside at this point, I might add that it is a rare case when a serious pedophile or someone who has been involved with aggressive sexual behaviour with a child is rehabilitated. I know there are programs that people attend. I know there are courses that people are required to attend when serving prison terms for these types of offences, but I think the evidence would suggest that it is a rarity for someone to modify their behaviour sufficiently to ensure that type of behaviour will not be repeated.

That is why I think locking these people up, these sexual predators of children, makes sense in terms of protecting society from this type of behaviour.

I want to make it clear at this point that the sentence being advocated in Bill C-245 is the same sentence as that for first degree murder. It was the mover's suggestion that many of his constituents felt that in the very worst cases of child sexual assault the sentence should be equal to that of murder, the reason being that these assaults have in many ways murdered the children's soul, the child's self-esteem and the child's mind.

We just need to recall the abuse of young hockey players that occurred in the Toronto stadium, Maple Leaf Gardens. One of the victims ended up committing suicide as a way of dealing with his trauma.

I could go on and on, but I will not take up valuable time because I know other of my colleagues want to speak to this important issue. I refer particularly to the section of the bill that suggests we should increase the maximum penalty for forcible confinement from 10 to 14 years in the case of a parent or ward who confines a child and thereby harms the child's physical or mental health. My colleague pointed out the case where the individual locked his three sons in wire cages in a dark basement.

We can all recall these kinds of examples we see revealed in the courts from time to time where parents or those responsible for young children for whatever peculiar horrible set of reasons decide to confine children in unimaginable circumstances. It is fair to say that anybody who is perpetuating that type of activity should be punished. More important, society needs to be protected from these kinds of people.

I thank the member for Oxford for introducing this bill. We have to take steps to keep child pornography off the electronic mail and the Internet. He can count on my support.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

7:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of the bill put forward by the hon. member for Oxford. I support his initiative in this regard. It is indeed a pleasure for me to speak on this piece of legislation.

As a number of speakers have already mentioned, if adopted, this bill would essentially accomplish three things. In the worst cases of sexual assault involving children, the sentence imposed on the individual would be given the same emphasis, the same range of sentence for the judge who would be handing down that sentence. That range would include a sentence of up to 25 years.

The maximum sentence of imprisonment for life with no parole eligibility for 25 years would accurately reflect society's disdain for the serious types of sexual assaults that sadly do occur in our society. It would allow society to feel protected in the sense that it would have the assurance that a judge would have that at his or her discretion. If adopted, the act would create an increase in the maximum penalty for forcible confinement from 10 to 14 years in the case of a parent or ward who confines a child and thereby harms the child's physical or mental health.

It is important to consider the deterrent effect that this increased range of sentence has when looking at cases such as this. In this scenario, a judge's discretion should be expanded to allow for that. Sadly, in my career as a crown prosecutor, I encountered a number of cases where if the maximum sentence had been expanded, if the judge had that range, perhaps higher sentences would have been handed down.

The third thing this piece of legislation would accomplish is with respect to the Internet and the use of the Internet as a means of transmitting child pornography. The bill would make this a prohibited act under section 163.1. It would give assurances that the definition of publication in the case of child pornography would cover transmissions via electronic mail or posting of material on the Internet.

With a rapidly changing ability to transmit and the use of technology, it is with some sad reflection that we are faced with the fact that there are those in society who will use this mode of communication for such a sick and twisted purpose. This bill puts in place something in the Criminal Code that allows us to respond and to respond with force.

This private member's bill has received the support of both the Canadian Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. They have said: “Sentencing reform for sexual offences against children is, in our view, an important improvement and required”.

I am sure the remarks we have heard in this Chamber and the remarks from many groups, including victims advocate groups, parental groups and society in general would certainly echo those remarks.

I am very proud to have worked in the justice system with many dedicated men and women whom I have spoken to in relation to this legislation. I voice their support of it through my comments today.

I have spoken to individuals in Antigonish—Guysborough who have worked in the justice system, Corporal MacGenny, Sergeant MacNeil and many others who are on the front lines. They are the thin blue line of the police who deal with these laws. I am encouraged to see that initiatives are taken to bring forward very positive changes to our Criminal Code.

I am also pleased to say that the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada equally embraces and encourages these initiatives taken by the hon. member for Oxford. It is indeed time to give children the protection that they need. It is time that we as legislators send a very serious message to the courts stating that sexual offenders deserve tougher sentences.

As victims of child sexual offences have asked many times, those victims who are struggling with painful stories, why does an individual who has perpetrated such a heinous act receive a light sentence and probation at times.

Again, to use the analogy that has been made in this House, the child is forced into a life sentence of coping and of dealing with this trauma. That life of painful memories and the damage that results cannot be erased and will never be erased because of the ensuing court case and the ensuing cases. However, I would suggest that it does, in some small measure, restore some dignity and faith in the system and its ability to react.

At a time when victims' rights should be at the centre of the changes to our criminal justice system, this bill provides victims in question the comfort of having offenders at least sentenced or at least the possibility that they can be sentenced to a real significant period of incarceration.

Statistics have consistently shown that sexual offenders are not getting the length of incarceration that they deserve. There have been a number of references to those sentences. The ones that jumped out at me are based on the average prison sentences in 1993 and 1994 when statistics showed that sexual assault levels two and three, the more serious and high end assaults, get an average of 3.5 years incarceration. Again one has to ask if society is being sufficiently protected.

The average sentence for sexual touching of a child under the age of 14 is less than one year of incarceration. One questions the deterrent effect but one also has to question the rehabilitative aspect of a sentence of such short duration.

On top of that, let us remind ourselves that children under the age of 12 account for 16% of the population yet account for 28% of the victimization. I think that we as a society and as legislators must remind ourselves consistently that we have an obligation and responsibility to protect those most in need and those most vulnerable. That can be done through positive changes to our Criminal Code.

The numbers that I have referred to and others that have been referred to in this debate are incredible and do raise very important and serious questions as to what we as members of this House do in response and do we in fact do enough to protect those who are most vulnerable. Sadly, women and children in this country are the ones who are most often at the receiving end of victimization.

The very least we can do is take up the challenge, take these initiatives and see them through to fruition in a timely fashion. These changes to the Criminal Code are presented and put forward in a very common sense approach. It does not take a great deal of intellectual gymnastics to figure out what the intent of these changes are. Quite simply, I support them wholeheartedly. I really feel that sexual offences are not and should not be considered minor offences. Indeed, these short sentences somehow diminish the seriousness of the effect they have on victims.

By supporting this bill, we are going to tell the courts and those in the criminal justice system that we do consider these to be important changes.

By supporting the bill, we are also sending a very serious and strong message to perpetrators that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated and giving the judges an important tool to use in combating these types of human indiscretions.

Government improvements and general improvements to the Criminal Code transcend partisan politics as has been exhibited by the comments in the Chamber.

Let me end by referring to what a young mother has said to me about a young boy who was a victim of a sexual assault. She said “In requesting higher sentences for sexual offenders, I ask how can this be considered out of line when in fact the children are sentenced to life without parole in trying to live with what was inflicted on them”.

Heinous crimes are happening right now as we make these remarks. It is up to us to take up that challenge. I support this bill fully and I am sure those in the House will do likewise.