House of Commons Hansard #195 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-55.

Topics

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

André Harvey Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Madam Speaker I rise on a point of order. I once again invite my colleague to publish all my speeches in their entirety, since they did it during the last electoral campaign, and it worked.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I believe this is a point of debate rather than a point of order.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, getting back to Bill C-55, the measures it contains are rather worrisome because, as I have said, they resemble measures and laws in totalitarian countries so much that you cannot tell them apart.

We are not the only ones saying so. The privacy commissioner said so. It is rather worrisome and it is even more disturbing that certain Liberal members opposite--whose names I will not mention because it is forbidden to do so--including one member in particular, have asked for a review of the national security bill, saying that “the new anti-terrorism bill is a serious threat to civil liberties”.

As I said, it is rather worrisome to see the government introduce such measures. We need to be vigilant and remember that, yes, September 11 profoundly changed the circumstances for the United States, the relationship that may exist in terms of service delivery in different areas—

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

An hon. member

The minister of immigration would not have found that funny.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, could you put an end to this, because I can hardy think.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Order, please. If members want to have conversations, would they please hold them outside the House.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, as I mentioned, not only has this bill been criticized on this side of the House, not only has it been criticized by the privacy commissioner, but it has also been criticized by the Liberal member for Mount Royal.

As I was saying earlier, as recently as May 3, the member for Mount Royal stated that the new terrorism bill constitutes a troubling threat to civil liberties. So, this is rather troubling for a bill, and there seems to be some consensus on this.

From this morning's editorials, it is clear that there is a trend, and that this government would like to give the impression that it is, in theory, the defender of fundamental rights, the rights of citizens around the world. Which begs us to ask a number of questions.

In its report, Amnesty International—a fairly well known organization—points out that there are no less than six regional human rights treaties that Canada has yet to ratify.

This is rather troublesome when one considers, for example, that next Tuesday, the House of Commons will be debating a motion that I moved and that calls on the government to ratify the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture, which comes under the Organization of American States, and that only nine countries, including Canada and the United States, have not ratified.

If we want to establish a free trade zone for the Americas, it seems to be fundamental to me—and I will end on this—to maintain this important balance between freedom and security, something towards which this government seems very insensitive, given Bill C-55.

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Brien Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity to speak earlier today when we were not discussing the amendment now before us, and I had a few more things to say. I am happy that our last amendment incorporates things said by Amnesty International. This is not without insignificance, in the current context. Perhaps it can enlighten us before we proceeed any further with consideration of the bill before us.

Bill C-55 is a new version of a bill that was even worse initially, that is Bill C-42. Today, a certain amount of time has gone by since September 11, so that we can now better assess things. As more time goes by, we will be able to determine what we must do even better.

In my opinion, we must first ask this question: would we have thought of passing measures such as those in Bill C-55 this time last year? Certainly not. Have things changed since September 11? Yes, of course. But nothing justifies the current panic and psychosis. That is what Amnesty International is saying.

This is what we find in the newspapers. In the Journal de Montréal , Michel C. Auger writes:

Almost everywhere in the world, national security and the war against terrorism are becoming the best excuses to violate fundamental human rights.

It is disturbing to see such a tendency in many countries. It is not unique to this government. What is shameful is that we find the same tendency in our government in Ottawa, that is possibly to encourage abuse or create a climate that could lead to further measures. People wanted more security. After September 11, they felt very insecure, but not to the point of violating some fundamental rights as we are doing now.

We see it again today in Le Devoir . The editorial is entitled “Security versus freedom”. When we have to ask ourselves these types of questions, it means that there is a problem with what is being done here and we really have to think about it.

Few members on that side of the House addressed this issue today. The member from Mount Royal did it in the media but his colleagues remained silent throughout the day. Their silence disturbs me. We do not know their views, their positions in this important debate for our society. Our role is to step back as much as possible before passing these kinds of legislation, which will put so much power in the hands of a minister. It is all the more worrisome, members will agree, when this minister's competence is questionable. We have had these kinds of ministers throughout history and there will be more of them.

I do not have any problem with ministers having powers in a number of areas, but when these powers have an impact on fundamental freedoms, this is going too far. A minister is given the ability to act without following the usual procedure whereby a whole series of assessments is done before any legislation is passed. The problem with these powers is that they are often exercised in an atmosphere of sheer panic.

For example, one would never think of holding a debate here on something like the death penalty two days after some heinous crime. Often, government members are critical of the Canadian Alliance for using events in the news to make a dramatic plea for a tougher criminal code. They are doing exactly the same thing by giving themselves these powers in the wake of September 11. That is what we are seeing right now, and we must say “Enough is enough”.

Another thing that worries me is the constant tendency of the government to almost blindly follow the lead of the Americans in everything. Canada never stands out from the Americans in any original way. It is all very fine and well for us to have common standards on a certain number of things, but we are always falling in with what they want.

If the last federal budgets had been prepared in Washington, they would not have been any different from what we saw here. We had the impression that the government just tabled a carbon copy here and read it out in parliament.

We wonder where bills are written. Earlier, the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie spoke about international treaties which were not signed by some countries. Oddly, when Canada was missing from the list, so was the United States. One might wonder just how real a voice Canada has internationally. Is it not increasingly seen as a mascot of the United States?

At some point, we must ask ourselves some questions. If I were in the shoes of the folks who are so full of advice about Canadian sovereignty and so on, I would be worried, because we are seeing less and less of it. On issues as important as this one, if there are differences—and I think there are in the public—we must ensure that they reflect our values and act responsibly when it comes to—

Public Safety Act, 2002
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but he will have approximately four minutes remaining when debate resumes.

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business as listed on today's order paper.

Sex Offender Registry Act
Private Members' Business

May 30th, 2002 / 5:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

moved that Bill C-333, an act to establish and maintain a national registry of sex offenders to protect the children and communities of Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, it is with great regret that I am speaking to the bill today because this is a private member's bill, for those who do not quite understand the emphasis on private member's business, and the fact is that the bill was refused to be made votable by a committee of the House of Commons. That means that the bill will never be voted on and the only time I get as the initiator of the national sex offender registry is a 15 minute speech today. That will be the end of it.

Therefore I have some apologies to make to people around the country who so earnestly wanted a national sex offender registry. I have to apologize to them because it will not happen even though it was committed to be developed by the Liberal government, not once but twice.

The bill itself was modelled after a bill in Ontario known as Christopher's law. The biggest apology I can offer on behalf of the federal Liberal government is one to Jim and Anna Stephenson, whose child was abducted, raped repeatedly and murdered by a known pedophile. The model of Christopher's bill in Ontario came from a great deal of what they and others have done in Ontario. The Ontario legislation has actually been quite successful. I may try to get into that in a very few minutes.

The problem here is that the legislation I tabled in the House was virtually identical to the legislation that is so successful in Ontario. We have had two commitments from the government. First it said it would implement a national sex offender registry by January 30, 2001, and that did not happen. Then it later said that it would implement it somewhere around November 2002. That will not happen. Government members talked a lot about CPIC, an information system for police in Canada, but that is not a sex offender registry. Even if the government developed software to implement a registry, it still needs legislation to mandate that sex offenders report and so forth. Not only did it not attempt to draft legislation, it completely ignored it. Therefore, the commitment that the government made for a national sex offender registry, not once but twice, was never, ever intended to be fulfilled.

We are here today with legislation that will basically go into the garbage after today and many people will wonder why we will still have problems with sex offenders. They will wonder why these problems occur and cannot be curtailed. The reason is that the government is just not prepared to move on a national sex offender registry.

I want to apologize to the Hon. David Young of Ontario, who said that Ontario was pleased that we were developing this on a national level and very pleased, and rightfully so, that this very same legislation was implemented in Ontario and was so successful.

I want to apologize, I suppose on behalf of the government, to the Alberta solicitor general, the Hon. Heather Forsyth, who was very supportive of this as well. Heather stated “I am, however, concerned that no timeframes were established to implement these changes. I can assure you that I will be monitoring the progress of the establishment of a national sex offender registry closely and intend to continue to urge the Solicitor General of Canada to move quickly to implement it”.

The surprise should not be there. There were no timeframes because the government never intended to do it in the first place. On behalf of the government, I guess, through me to the Hon. Heather Forsyth of Alberta, let me say that it just will not happen and that is unfortunate.

I could go to all the other provinces, but in Saskatchewan Chris Axworthy said the same thing. He said that he was pleased the federal ministers had agreed to bring forward legislation to support a national registration process. They said they would do but they did not.

In Ontario the Canadian Police Association stated:

On behalf of the 30,000 front-line members of the Canadian Police Association, we are pleased to convey our support for the creation of a National Sex Offender Registry. The Canadian Police Association is firmly on record in seeking a registry to assist in the investigation and apprehension of repeat sexual offenders.

In all my time in the House of Commons, and in all the time I have left remaining here, I do not think there ever will be anything as disappointing as this. I fought for four years and received success on the national victim's bill of rights. I fought for about two or three years to get a special committee to look at the drug problems in Canada and managed to get that. We are working on that now.

However this legislation was important and it was not an onerous one. In fact, it was not legislation with which the government could have had a serious problem. It was just a plain sex offender registry.

What would this registry have done? It would have been used by police only. It would have recorded addresses, changes of addresses, changes of telephone numbers and the whereabouts of sex offenders. It would have kept an up to date registry. The legislation would have mandated that sex offenders report to the police if something changed. That was it. That was all it took in Ontario for it to be 95% successful. The number of sex offences in Ontario today are less of a problem.

All the federal government had to do was look beyond the fact that someone in the opposition brought this up in the House of Commons and listened to the common sense of the common people. It could have said “If this does a little to help prevent the serious sex offences, then maybe we should look at it and maybe we should undertake it”.

This is a sad day for everyone. Since the government will not apologize, I must do it for the government.

We are likely to hear someone on the other side say that the government is working on a sex offender registry, that it is making changes to the national police information system and that it will be there to protect us. Yes, it is working on amendments to the software. That is nice. However there is no guarantee that sex offenders or pedophiles who have been released from prison or who are presently out on the street will report further changes in their personal situations. In fact that will not happen and the information will remain unchanged for five, or ten, or twenty years or for life. All that had to be done was to mandate by law that any time these offenders changed their personal situation they had to report it or face penalties.

Having been involved with the prison system and the business of the solicitor general for 10 years now, I have seen the damage sex offenders can do. I have seen the frustration that has been experienced by the police because the information is archaic, or not available or cumbersome to retrieve. All it would have taken was a little of money, and not very much I can assure the House, to make some software changes. It would have taken no money to implement the legislation. For the life of me I wonder why we even deal with the frivolities that we seem to deal with these days in the House.

When it comes to looking at the rights of individuals maybe that was the government's problem. Maybe it thought it was about the rights and freedoms of sex offenders. That is the concern the government usually has. However the province of Ontario has implemented a registry and there has been no charter challenge. It has not been a problem.

Every solicitor general and police organization in the country has been in support of the project. I know of no organization in Canada that has opposed the national sex offender registry. There may be one or two but the vast majority of Canadians have agreed with the concept. The stumbling block has been the Government of Canada.

People like Jim and Anna Stephenson who have done so much to try to get such a small change should not give up. But for the ignorance in the House of Commons of what a sex offender registry is we would already have a national registry. But for the ignorance and resistance of politicians afraid to put a foot forward for fear of offending someone's rights we would not still have sex offenders on our streets without knowing their names or where they live.

I conducted a study of the number of people who change their names while in prison so that when they get out on parole they have new identities, new licences and new qualification certificates. My study found that of the many who changed their names in prison virtually every one was a sex offender. That is no coincidence. There is a reason for it. In many cases the reason is to prey on people again.

A national sex offender registry would ensure that the moment these people were out on the street they would immediately have to report to the police any changes in their vital information. If they moved anywhere in Canada they would be required to show where they lived. If they moved within a province they would be required to disclose changes in telephone numbers, where they lived and particular circumstances. If they had no changes to report they would still need to report every year. If they did not do so the police would have a valid reason to think there was a problem and could thus anticipate and avoid difficulties and problem situations that would otherwise arise.

I hope government members who speak to the bill do not stand and say I am full of rhetoric. I hope they do not say “Yes, we are putting a national sex offender registry in place. We have fixed it up and the hon. member for Langley--Abbotsford is wrong”. A sex offender registry which requires software to drive it is nothing unless we have legislation to mandate the reporting. That is the gist of the whole thing.

I will not give the issue up. However times are running short in the House of Commons. Before I leave I hope to someday be able to stand here and say I finally convinced the government there was something to the issue. I hope someday someone on the other side will say I was right and that the government should do this. I hope it does not take another high profile situation or another child like Jim and Anna's to get the government in gear. That would be a shame and a travesty.

There were a lot of good people who worked on this project. I am very sad that it did not come about. I am equally sad that the government did not understand what was behind it.

Sex Offender Registry Act
Private Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to second reading of Bill C-333, an act to establish and maintain a national registry of sex offenders to protect our children, as proposed by the member for Langley--Abbotsford.

I am sure all of us in this place are unequivocal in expressing our support for any feasible measure that will effectively protect our children, indeed all our citizens from sexual predators. I would like to outline the efforts of the solicitor general to date on this matter.

The solicitor general has stated many times that he supports a registry of sex offenders. This nation already possesses one of the most technologically advanced criminal history registries in the world in the Canadian Police Information Centre, CPIC. The solicitor general told the House that his department would consider improvements to CPIC in the specific area of sex offences, citing concerns that CPIC was not address searchable by police officers.

In a very short period of time he met that commitment when he announced, on September 11, 2001, that a new database within the CPIC system would be created and known as the sex offender category. Further, he announced that this database would be both address and offence searchable, that it would be up and running within a year and that it would be funded completely by the federal government.

That is not all the government has done in recent years to combat the dangers of sexual predators.

In 1997 we proclaimed Bill C-55 which strengthened the dangerous offender rules in the criminal code and also created a new sentencing provision called long term offender.

As a result of these changes, prosecutors in almost every province are now aggressively pursuing dangerous offender and long term offender options. In fact, since 1997 the number of successful dangerous offender applications has doubled each year.

The 1997 legislative package also created a new category called long term offender, targeting individuals who were clearly a threat but would not meet the threshold of dangerous offender. This new designation recognized that released sex offenders who received supervision and treatment in the community experienced dramatically lower reoffending rates than an offender who entered the community at the end of his sentence without conditions for supervision or treatment.

In addition to the long term custodial term, long term offenders can be ordered to comply with a further 10 years of community supervision and conditions. This innovative measure has already resulted in over 100 long term offender orders.

In addition, another provision was created in section 810 of the criminal code called community protection orders. These are issued by a court and reviewed every 12 months to place conditions on a sex offender even when no sentence is being served.

As well, on November 17, 1994, the government introduced a national screening system to help organizations screen out child sex abusers applying for work with children by disclosing their criminal record.

None of these initiatives happened overnight. While I agree with my colleagues in the House that this is a pressing problem, cobbling together a mandatory sex offender registry without looking at all of the issues, all the details and all the facts will not result in effective legislation.

The solicitor general has taken a slightly different approach. He has asked his officials to work with all the provinces and territories to fully explore this issue, to determine what is and what is not feasible in a Canadian context and to find out where some jurisdictions have succeeded and where others have failed. I fully support this approach. It now appears that all of the provinces support this approach. Why else would they be participating fully in the federal-provincial-territorial working group on high risk offenders currently seized with this matter?

This approach makes sense. If we are going to have a registry, we want one that works, that is efficient and affordable and that is supported by all of the provinces. We want one that will recognize the impact of the charter of rights and freedoms. We want one that is not in breach of federal or provincial privacy laws. We want one that local agencies will have the ability and resources to administer and enforce. We want one for which all provinces from coast to coast can agree upon a consistent approach. Finally, we want one that will not drive convicted sex offenders underground with assumed identities and no assistance with their rehabilitation.

At the Moncton meeting last February federal ministers agreed to bring forward legislation to support a national registration process in the same time frame as the completion of enhancements to CPIC including mandatory registration of specified offenders as hon. the member for Langley--Abbotsford has referred to. They will again discuss the matter when they meet in early June a couple of weeks from now.

It is essential for senior officials to continue this important work and develop a common model before deciding how best to proceed. A detailed model would help us consider and, it is hoped, come to agreement on important matters such as cost, charter compliance, privacy issues and potential liability. We do not know how much the entire system would cost. We would prefer not to enter into a new system arbitrarily but to do so knowing what the real costs would be at all levels of government.

We must carefully address the issue in the context of a national system while recognizing that not all jurisdictions have the same needs. Without completing this work it will not be possible to decide with precision what the legislation should contain.

The bill put forward by the hon. member proposes policy and legislative options. It has support on both sides of the House although there are differences in terms of timing and detail. I congratulate the hon. member for his continuing work on the issue. Although his remarks were phrased somewhat in the negative he should not underestimate the importance of private members' business in fostering, promoting and exhorting government legislation in the House.

The work of the hon. member and other members in this place has fostered support for the type of sex offender registry now evolving within the CPIC registry system. With the co-operation of the provinces and territories we in the government hope to have in place a system of mandatory registration for certain offenders so we can make the system work as the hon. member stated earlier.

In closing, I note the importance of Bill C-333 and all private members' business in spurring the government and this place to enact better policy and legislation.

Sex Offender Registry Act
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

It being 5.54 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 5.54 p.m.)