Debates of Oct. 28th, 2003
House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was child.
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Business of the House
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
Agreed and so ordered.
The House resumed consideration of the motion.
October 28th, 2003 / 12:20 p.m.
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, once again, as members of the Canadian Alliance, we find ourselves in a position where we have to defend the rights of the most vulnerable group of people in our society, our children, against a Liberal cabinet fixated on protecting the interests of dangerous sexual offenders.
Past experience should tell us that this need not be much of a challenge, given the fact that Liberals tend to govern by opinion polls, and the evidence is clear that Canadians overwhelmingly support giving children the most effective legal protection possible against sexual predators.
Nevertheless, to this point the legislation put forward by the minister continues to defend the interests of sexual predators rather than Canadian children.
However it appears that some of the concerns that have been consistently raised by the Canadian Alliance, members of child advocacy organizations and the police may finally be catching the attention of the government.
Recently we heard the Solicitor General admit that he may have erred in his opinion that including convicted sex offenders in a national registry would violate their charter rights. Perhaps it is not too late to hope that the Liberals will also eventually admit that there is no justification for the criminal possession of child pornography and amend the laws accordingly.
Over the course of parliamentary debate on this issue I have often been struck by the contrast between the fact that Canada's Criminal Code provides no defences against certain types of hate propaganda, yet the defences for the possession of child pornography are alive and well and broader than ever. There is zero tolerance for hate propaganda against vulnerable minorities, and rightly so, yet the most vulnerable minority of all, our children, are not similarly protected.
By now most Canadians are familiar with the case of the notorious child pornographer, John Robin Sharpe, and the material that originally sparked this debate on our child pornography laws. After being caught with material glorifying violent sexual acts between adults and children, Sharpe began a court challenge in the mid-1990s arguing that his charter rights were being violated by Canada's legal prohibition on child pornography. Eventually the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law but said that artistic merit should be interpreted as broadly as possible. A British Columbia superior court judge later did just that and let Sharpe off the hook for two possession with intent to distribute charges on the basis that the material had artistic merit.
Let us be clear about what kind of material we are talking about, the kind of material that allowed this judge to apply artistic merit to acquit Mr. Sharpe of those charges. We are not talking about literature, art or anything that could reasonably be described as such. Seventeen stories that Sharpe had written were given as evidence. Detective Noreen Waters of the Vancouver police department characterized those stories as follows:
They're extremely violent stories, the majority of them, with sexual acts involving very young children, in most cases, under the age of 10 engaged in sado-masochistic and violent sex acts.... And the theme is often that the child enjoys the beatings and the sexual violence....
John Robin Sharpe was acquitted of those charges. Clearly, after the Sharpe cases, there was a legislative gap that required immediate attention. Canadians were outraged but it took some time and considerable pressure to convince the justice minister to bring forward legislation.
Last December, when Bill C-20 was finally tabled, the minister was proud to declare that the existing defences for child pornography had been narrowed, implying that the artistic merit defence was no longer there. No one was fooled. In fact, instead of eliminating all legal loopholes that justify the criminal possession of child pornography in Bill C-20, the minister simply combined these defences and hid them in the broadly interpreted defence of public good.
However, despite the minister's attempt to sell Bill C-20 on the basis that the artistic merit defence no longer applies, he admitted on September 25 in the justice committee that it was still included under the now broader public good defence.
The Supreme Court briefly commented on the public good defence in the Sharpe decision stating:
It might be argued that the public good is served by possession of materials that promote expressive or psychological well-being or enhance one's sexual identity in ways that do not involve harm to others.
If this commentary is any indication of how the public good defence will apply in the courts, it clearly will not fulfil the aim of protecting our children.
The Supreme Court of Canada does not make comments like that idly. It is signalling what it may well do in the future. It is too big a risk for Parliament to leave that particular phrase as open as it now is in the bill. It has become clear that the public good defence has not been precisely defined and will be subject to broad interpretations by the courts.
Mr. David Matas, a well-known lawyer and a member of the board of directors of the child advocacy group, Beyond Borders, said the following during committee hearings on October 7 in reference to the public good defence:
The practical problems of putting a very vague defence into the law is this:
He was referring to this public good defence. The quote continues:
It doesn't serve as a deterrent. If you read what child abusers say, they think what they're doing is in the public good. They promote sexual activity of children. It also is going to lead to a lot of not-guilty pleas. We're going to get the courts clogged up with defendants saying that they're not guilty because they think there's a defence of public good. The defence, of course, will be defined over time, but differently in different provinces until it gets to the Supreme Court of Canada. So we'll have many years of uncertainty about the law.
Given what the Supreme Court of Canada has said, I think know where this court is going to take this particular definition.
The same day, detective sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Toronto police also said:
--trying to, as a front-line officer, determine what the public good is will prove to be impossible.
We are putting evidentiary burdens on the police in addition to those they already have that they simply will not be able to meet.
The representative from the Canadian Bar Association also expressed doubt that the public good defence would be effective stating:
The issue is one of how the courts are going to interpret for public good. This is not an easy concept and it is one that does incorporate the community standard that the court rejected in their interpretation of artistic merit in Sharpe, but there's a real issue of whether or not it's indeed going to solve the problem.
That is exactly what I have said on earlier occasions. The Supreme Court of Canada has already emasculated this particular defence. Why does it think that by resurrecting it in this new bill it will do any better?
From the side of the spectrum that tends to favour freedom of speech over all other social objectives, Mr. Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also expressed serious misgivings about the public good defence. He said:
Then they talk about the defence of public good, Bora Laskin described it as anomalous, the Supreme Court of Canada has expressed misgivings and the same court has also held that the comparable term “public interest” is constitutionally vague. That's what we would be left with if those amendments were enacted.
What we essentially have is almost every witness, other than the justice minister, coming before the committee and telling us that the law will not work, it will not be effective and, more important, it will not accomplish its objective of effectively prosecuting child pornographers.
In a further complication of the child pornography defences, the Supreme Court carved out two exemptions to the child pornography law in the Sharpe case: that materials, such as diaries and drawings, created privately and kept by that person for personal use; and visual recordings of a person by that person engaged in lawful sexual activity, again kept by the person for personal use.
Although at first blush those types of defences for personal use appear to be reasonable, the latter exemption has the potential to expose children age 14 to 18 to further exploitation by child pornographers since they would be engaging in a legal activity.
What that means is that a 40, 50 or 60 year old man can have sex with a 14 year old girl as long as she consents to the activity, and that man can legally make a visual recording of that activity. Of course it still remains illegal to distribute it but then there is a permanent record of that child that no doubt will eventually be put out into the public domain.
Our age of consent laws also enable child sexual predators to legally use the Internet to lure children over 14 who are online.
One of the more dubious objections to raising the age of consent from 14 was provided by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the member for Northumberland, who stated in the House of Commons on November 5, 2002 that there were “many social and cultural differences that have to be reflected in the law”.
That certainly was news to many Canadians. Many members of Canadian ethnic groups were offended and angry that the government was trying to hide behind so-called social or cultural considerations on the age of consent issue, and never have the members opposite ever asked which cultural group consented to the exploitation of their children. No such cultural group exists in Canada, and that activity should clearly be against the law.
As Liberal ministers keep making weak excuses for not moving to raise the age of consent, they will continue to be discredited by Canadians who have common sense ideas and are committed to the protection of their children even if this government is not.
Under our current laws, children and teenagers easily become targets of pornographers, Internet sex scams, pedophiles and sexual abuse, and parents have no legal recourse with which to shield their children from these dangers.
So far the committee has heard strong recommendations from several witnesses to ignore any excuse from the government in its refusal to raise the age of consent; particularly from police representatives Detective Sergeant Gillespie from the sex crimes unit of the Toronto police service, who has done such a fine job trying to make the children of this country safer, and Mr. Tony Cannavino of the Canadian Professional Police Association. They continue to come to Parliament to remind us that we are failing our children and that Bill C-20 certainly fails our children.
Instead of raising the age of consent, the bill creates the category of “exploitive relationships” aimed at protecting people between the age of 14 and 18. Overwhelmingly, child advocates have urged committee members to reject the provisions of Bill C-20. This new category is a vague provision that fails to create the certainty of protection that children require. It will not serve as a real deterrent. It will simply result in longer trials and more litigation by putting unnecessary, undue prosecutorial burdens and evidentiary burdens on our crown attorneys and our police.
Mr. Normand Boudreau, also a member of the board of directors for Beyond Borders, urged members to reject excuses against raising the age of consent. He reminded us of the story of the little aboriginal girl in Saskatchewan. This case occurred in Melfort, Saskatchewan.
A 12 year old aboriginal girl was preyed upon sexually after being made drunk by three adult males. A 26 year old man sexually assaulted the 12 year old girl with his two friends outside his truck on a gravel road. The 26 year old man received a conditional sentence. The other two, however, were found not guilty. In the case of those two, the jury found that the accused took all reasonable steps to ascertain that the girl was at least 14 years of age. In effect, in this particular case, the age of consent was 12 years old. These individuals were acquitted because they took all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the individual may in fact be 14 years old. That is shameful and disgusting.
A side issue on this particular debate that is nevertheless an important one is what is to be done with sex offenders once they are convicted. Currently, Canada's methods serve as little more than a weak reprimand. The list of dangerous sexual offenders who receive no jail time is long. I can quote a number of cases where serious sexual offenders won. For example, the Toronto Sun reported that a Mr. Oswold, who had a record of sexual assault, sexual interference and had attempted to obtain the services of a 10 year old boy, received a conditional sentence for breach of a probation order.
These are the kinds of laws the government has passed. They are not only weak laws in terms of sentencing, but to add final insult to the injury is to try to pass a law such as Bill C-20. The list goes on.
Those who suggest that mandatory prison sentences do not deter crime are mistaken. We know that as long as they are secure behind bars, they will not reoffend.
One witness, I believe it was the Civil Liberties Association, said “What do you expect child pornographers to do, collect stamps?” I say they can collect stamps if they want to as long as they are doing it behind prison bars. They should not be released to be able to exploit our children on the Internet or otherwise.
Only a Liberal would suggest that society should take a chance with its children by releasing those individuals into society without first requiring a period of incarceration. A strong message from Parliament to the courts and from the courts to the offenders that the abuse of children will not be tolerated will have the appropriate effect. Unfortunately, Bill C-20 and the Liberal government fail to send that message.
The lack of funding also continues to be a vital problem for those who are tasked with enforcing the laws. In March 2003 Chief Julian Fantino of the Toronto Police Service said that he was:
--deeply disappointed by the recent comments by [the] Solicitor General that police are adequately resourced in the area of child pornography. The Toronto Police Service has received no funding or resources from the federal government in this area. We have, however, managed to move forward thanks to a $2 million grant from the provincial government.
It was the former conservative government in Ontario that showed concern when the federal Liberal government did not.
That will conclude my comments. I would be prepared to answer questions.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, the speech that we have just heard should be mandatory listening for every person in Canada.
The fact that the Liberal government continues to create ways in which sexual predators, those who prey on children, can hide behind a defence as provided by the Liberals is unconscionable. I would like the hon. member to comment on that defence. The new defence, the public good, in my view greatly broadens the defence that can be used. Instead of just restricting it to artistic merit as it was before, public good could probably be construed to include all of those issues, freedom of speech, artistic merit, all of these other things.
Who among us is not going to say that freedom of speech is a good thing? The courts will certainly see it that way. This one catch-all in my view adds all of these others to it and thereby even broadens the defence.
I would like to castigate the government for creating this defence which is such a huge error. I would appreciate the comments of my colleague on what I have just said. Does he agree with this?
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, if I were to stand here and say that I agree with the hon. member, people would simply see that as being self-serving as we are in the same political party. I do in fact agree with the hon. member not simply because it is my opinion but because it is the opinion of reputable child advocacy organizations across the country.
I want to specifically refer the member to some of the comments of Mr. David Matas of Winnipeg. Mr. David Matas is a very well respected legal counsel in Manitoba and in Canada. He has often fought for civil liberties, for immigrants and others. It was his concern, exactly as expressed by the member for Elk Island, that this broadened the defence of artistic merit and that we were not moving forward, we were not standing still, but we were moving backward.
The member for Elk Island should find some comfort that eminent legal scholars have agreed with his interpretation of what the Liberal bill does and that it in no way protects our children. It needs to go back to the drawing board to be redrafted so that the priority of children is the first consideration of Parliament.
Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB
Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my colleague's speech. He was right on. He has done an excellent job on this particular issue of Bill C-20.
I will ask him a question that I know he probably cannot answer which is in regard to raising the age of consent. I heard the same message from the Liberals that it was not raised to the age of 16 because of certain cultural groups in our country who prefer to keep it at 14 yet no such group can be found.
Can the member possibly give me any reason why the Liberal government refuses to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16? Is there any possible reason that he could name?
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Wild Rose who sponsored the motion. He has been a tireless advocate of ensuring that we have effective laws to protect our children.
In respect of the age of consent issue that the member raised, why is it that the government simply tries to avoid the most direct and effective mechanism of protecting children by at least raising the age of sexual consent between children and adults? I am not talking about children close in age. We all accept that there needs to be an exemption for that kind of activity. That is essentially a social issue rather than a criminal issue. I think what the member for Wild Rose is talking about is the exploitation by adults of children.
Why is it that the government has consistently refused to address that issue? I know one of the reasons. The government consistently puts the cart before the horse. The government keeps on thinking of what the courts are going to do with the legislation if it makes it effective and tough to protect children.
The government tries to think of every single excuse that a judge would come up with, rather than focusing on the legislation, saying what is the most effective way of protecting children, drafting the law in that way and then defending the law before the courts. If the courts want to jeopardize the safety of our children, let it be on their heads, but it should not be on the heads of parliamentarians and those who care about children.
Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC
Mr. Speaker, my colleague speaks with a great deal of knowledge being the former attorney general of the province of Manitoba.
I want to ask the member a specific legal question with regard to what the Supreme Court said in the Sharpe case. The Supreme Court said with regard to the public good clause that while the public good defence might prevent troubling applications of the law in certain cases, it would not do so in all.
My colleague mentioned that in his speech. I would like him to elaborate on that. I was chagrined and dismayed when the justice minister earlier today seemed to say that the fact the Alliance has brought the motion forward was a bad thing. I say it is a good thing. We need to discuss the problems with the government and its Bill C-20.
I would appreciate my colleague's comments on the public good defence as referenced in the Supreme Court decision.
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, first of all, with regard to it being a bad thing that the member for Wild Rose brought forward the motion, if that is a bad thing, I am happy to stand with the member for Wild Rose and to stand with those who want to protect children, as opposed to the minister who is only concerned about advancing the interests of dangerous offenders over the rights of our children.
With respect to the issue of public good, this is clearly a vague defence on which many of the witnesses have already commented. This defence effectively hides all of the existing defences, including that of artistic merit.
The minister can now stand up in the House and say that he has gotten rid of the defence of artistic merit. He can say that nowhere does it read in the legislation that artistic merit is there. However, all members in the House and any thinking Canadian knows that it has simply been subsumed into that broader, more vague phrase.
I would like to point out that it is not only those who are advocating on behalf of children who are concerned, but civil libertarians also say that this is too vague. Clearly, the minister has got it wrong from any direction one comes at it.
Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB
Mr. Speaker, I constantly hear the minister talk about the leadership that Canada is taking on all these judicial issues and how his government is leading the rest of the world. I find that to be a strange comment as I understand Canada is the only country of all free democracies that has the age of consent at 14, when the rest have the age of consent at least at 16 or older. Is that leadership? We are the bottom of the heap.
I would like to ask the member, from his experience if this particular motion were to pass through the House and most members found it acceptable, how difficult would it be to immediately incorporate the motion into Bill C-20?
Vic Toews Provencher, MB
Mr. Speaker, there are number of issues. The biggest concern that I have with the suggestion made by the member for Wild Rose is not the legal issue. We can do that. Good legislative draughtsmen can put together the effective legislation that would prevent this criminal exploitation of our children. The biggest impediment that the people of Canada face is the government and its refusal to take the necessary steps.
What do I need to add? Child pornographers are advertising Canada as a good place to do business because of our present laws.
Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from the official opposition for moving this motion in the House.
As already stated, the motion from the opposition proposes to eliminate all defences for the possession of child pornography which allows for the exploitation of children.
We on this side of the House believe that this is what we are proposing to do with Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the protection of children and other vulnerable persons, and the Canada Evidence Act which was introduced by the Minister of Justice on December 5, 2002.
I am pleased that the hon. member from the opposite side chose to raise this very important issue because it allows me an opportunity to inform Parliament and Canadians of the important work that the government is doing to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children. We agree with the opposition that our children are our most vulnerable citizens and require the most protection.
I would like to build on a few of the remarks made by the hon. Minister of Justice relating to some of the efforts that the government has undertaken to combat the sexual exploitation of children, particularly on the Internet.
I realize the motion in question relates specifically to Bill C-20 and the public good defence, but now is a perfect opportunity for me to highlight the collective work that we are doing to address the troubling problem of child pornography.
I would like to take issue with statements made by the member for Provencher where he claimed that Canada is wild, open country for child pornographers and that the message going out internationally is that people can do business in child pornography here in Canada.
Most of the studies that I have read and most of the statements that I have either read or heard from law enforcement agencies is that the United States is the source of much more child pornography than Canada.
I am sure we are all aware that the sexual exploitation of children is sadly not a new crime. We have been working for many years on this issue. Canada has some of the toughest legislation and policies in place dealing with the sexual exploitation of children. We are challenged with keeping pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, including the Internet, that make it easier for people to sexually exploit our children.
We are all aware of the benefits of the Internet and the increased access to educational resources. However, the Internet also makes collecting, distributing, accessing and making child pornography easy to do. It is extremely difficult and complicated to investigate, according to our law enforcement experts.
Despite the complexities of these crimes, we have been active nationally and internationally on this issue. In fact, this year the Solicitor General of Canada and the Minister of Justice, along with their G-8 counterparts, endorsed the G-8 strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. This strategy has provided a framework for action by all member states. I am pleased to report that we are taking this initiative seriously and we are working to develop Canadian initiatives that meet the broader G-8 objectives.
On the law enforcement front, for example, the Solicitor General of Canada in the spring of this year asked the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police to create the national steering committee on Internet based child sexual exploitation. The committee has representation from law enforcement across Canada as well as representation from the federal departments of Solicitor General and Justice.
The steering committee is providing direction to law enforcement efforts to better address this problem and is working closely with many specialized units, and many other integrated teams in the provinces and municipalities.
Building on the work of the steering committee and the various provincial initiatives,--because there are provincial initiatives that are to be lauded in the area of prohibiting and investigating sexual exploitation of our children--I am happy to report that we have taken the first steps toward the creation of a national coordination centre at the RCMP.
While it is still in its infancy, this centre is currently in operation, and is coordinating national investigations and liaising with international partners. We are hoping to build the capacity of the centre so it can provide even greater national leadership in this area.
The Canadian government has also been active in the establishment of cybertip.ca, an online reporting centre for reports of Internet based child sexual exploitation. Run by Child Find Manitoba, this pilot project provides a valuable service to law enforcement by forwarding reports of child pornography and also providing educational materials to the public.
The Solicitor General of Canada had the pleasure of announcing $55,000 in funding from his department for the initiative in August of this year and along with other federal departments, including Justice and Industry, we are actively working to find ways to provide cybertip.ca with sustainable funding to build on the current pilot project to make cybertip.ca a national resource.
Children are our greatest asset and Canadians can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to better protect them. Canadians can be assured that law enforcement in Canada is working to complement our strong criminal law framework, which we are hoping to strengthen with Bill C-20. Canadians can also be assured that the government takes the protection of children seriously and is ensuring we keep pace with technological advances.
I would like to address some of the government initiatives to protect our children from sexual exploitation. If we look at Bill C-20, among the various provisions, it proposes to limit the existing defences for child pornography. It proposes to strengthen the Criminal Code by expanding the current definition of written child pornography. It also proposes to increase the maximum penalty for sexual exploitation of children from 5 years to 10.
It maintains Canada's status as having some of the toughest child pornography legislation in the world, but we have done other things. Members who are sitting in the House now may remember that on December 11, 2002, the government tabled Bill C-23, the sex offender information registration act. It is before the committee on justice. I am pleased that we dealt with it this morning and hopefully it will be reported back to the House either today or shortly.
Bill C-23 proposes to establish a national sex offender database. The database would contain information on convicted sex offenders and would assist police across the country who investigate crimes of a sexual nature by providing them with rapid access to vital current information of convicted sex offenders.
We have Bill C-15A, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to amend other acts, which received royal assent on June 4, 2002. What are some of its provisions? It created a new offence to target criminals who use the Internet to lure and exploit children for sexual purposes. It made it a crime to transmit, make available, export and intentionally access child pornography on the Internet. It also allowed judges to order the deletion of child pornography posted on computer systems in Canada.
This was a power or an authority that the judges did not have prior to the royal assent of Bill C-15A. It allowed judges to order forfeiture of materials or equipment used in the commission of a child pornography offence. Here again, this provided new authority to judges which they did not have before.
It also enhanced the ability of judges to keep known sex offenders away from children by making prohibition orders, long term offender designations and one year peace bonds available for offences relating to child pornography and the Internet.
Finally, another of the provisions amended the child sex tourism act, which had been enacted in 1997, to simplify the process of prosecuting Canadians who sexually assault children in other countries. I think that is testimony to the gravity and the seriousness with which the government takes its responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children.
That is not all. Since 1993, we have introduced other changes designed to protect our children or to enhance the protections that we have for our children, such as, for instance, amending the Criminal Code to toughen the laws on child prostitution and child sex tourism, which I just mentioned. We strengthened it again under Bill C-15A. We amended the Criminal Code to ensure that peace bonds keep abusers away from women and children. We passed legislation to enable criminal records of pardoned sex offenders to be available for background checks. We passed legislation to change the parole and corrections systems so that sex offenders serve until the end of their sentence.
Those are just a couple of example of provisions, measures, steps and legislative changes that the government has taken to strengthen the protections that we have for our children in order to ensure that we do everything we can to eliminate sexual exploitation of our children, and that when we do uncover it and find it, it is properly addressed and those who commit it are properly punished.
It is so important for us to look at and deal seriously with this issue. I honestly believe that our government has done so. I have not listened to all the speeches or the participation in the debate of all members of the opposition and members on the government side who have participated; I have only been able to listen to that of the member for Provencher. I found some of the issues he raised to be very pertinent, but I disagree with him when he says that they are not addressed by Bill C-20. I believe they are addressed.
There is one issue that I think most if not all of the witnesses who came before the justice committee spoke to. I am a member of the justice committee and I have had the privilege of participating in these sessions where we have conducted consultations on Bill C-20. It is the issue of the public good defence. There has been some confusion on the part of some witnesses, but there has been clarity on the part of other witnesses. It is clear that the clarity brought forward by what I would say is a consensus of witnesses is that the government may do well to look again at the dispositions or the sections in Bill C-20 that talk about public good and bring more clarity to them to ensure that the bill does in fact ensure protection of our children from sexual exploitation. On that, I think the member for Provencher gave an accurate accounting of what we heard from a large majority of witnesses. I think the government would do well to look at that piece of it.
However, on the rest of Bill C-20, I think that the overall majority of the witnesses who came before us, if not all, said that this is needed legislation. They commended the government in going forward on the legislation. They were in agreement that the legislation is needed, that it is a positive measure and that they wanted to see Bill C-20 adopted. However, they wanted to see clarity brought to the public defence issue. On that issue, there was agreement among a lot of the witnesses.
I will conclude now. I still have five minutes but will not repeat what I have said as I think the statements and points I have made are very clear. I think that any member in the House who listened to what I had to say would understand very clearly where I am coming from and what issues I feel are important and are being addressed by Bill C-20. As well, they would understand the measures and the steps that the government has taken since 1993 to continually strengthen the protection of our most vulnerable citizens, our children, and to strengthen Criminal Code provisions to ensure that those who would sexually exploit our children are properly caught, properly charged, have a fair hearing before the proper courts and, when convicted, receive the proper sentencing.
Brian Fitzpatrick Prince Albert, SK
Mr. Speaker, in my comment I want to reflect on a situation that occurred in our province of Saskatchewan this past year. A 12 year old girl was sexually assaulted. Three men in their twenties were charged. The trial took place in Melfort. One man was convicted and two were acquitted.
The decision to acquit those two individuals was very controversial in Saskatchewan. The public backlash was massive and it united aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.
In the trial, the defence used by the accused and the instructions to the jury on the matter referred to the matter of the age of the victim. The argument used was that they believed she was 14 or older when she was in fact 12 years of age.
I recall the Minister of Justice saying on that particular issue, when we had a motion before the House on it, that it was far too complicated to be dealt with here, that it was a very complicated issue. I would suggest that the inaction of this government caused a huge injustice in that trial and that perhaps two individuals are walking free in our society today who should not be.
Does the member now see the merit in looking at this age of consent and moving it up to a reasonable level, to at least 16, for one purpose, that of protecting our children from abuse and from sexual assaults like that in the case to which I have just referred?
Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have not had the privilege of actually following the case the member is talking about. When I say following the case, I mean actually following all the testimony during the trial itself and then the verdict and the reasons for the verdict.
However, on that issue, obviously it is horrendous for any child to be taken advantage of sexually, but putting that particular case aside and simply dealing with the question of age of consent, I am a mother. I have a daughter who will be 11 years old next year. As a mother, and I do not mean to trivialize the question, I would love to have the age of consent at 25. For me personally as a mother, I do find that the age of consent at 14 is too low. I would be more than prepared to look at raising the age of consent, possibly to 16.
However, I do not think at this point in time that this is what we are dealing with. We are dealing with Bill C-20. We are dealing with sexual exploitation of children. I think that age of consent has to be dealt with in another debate. The reason I say it would need to be dealt with in another debate is that I am aware that depending on which province one is in there is a different age requirement for marriage, for instance. I think we have to look at all of that issue.
I would not at this time address the age of consent, as the member opposite would like, in Bill C-20. I would say that we as Parliament and as a society should begin a debate on the issue of age of consent, making it separate from Bill C-20. If there develops a real consensus among Canadians that the age of consent should be changed from where it now stands, then we would take in the appropriate legislative changes. The legislative changes would not just be those that are addressed by Bill C-20. There would be a whole host of legislation. In some cases that legislation may actually be civil legislation and come under provincial jurisdiction.
So on the issue of whether or not there should be a debate on age of consent for sexual activity, yes, it is a debate that we certainly could have in our society and in this House, but I do not think that now is the time. I think we need to support Bill C-20 and get it adopted so that the criminal dispositions that will protect our children will be reinforced.
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, I listened quite carefully to the speech. One thing rather amazed me. The member is a person of some authority, I suppose, as she is a member of the justice committee and she has been studying these issues, but in that whole speech I was not able to find out whether or not she would be supporting this motion today.
She spoke on both sides of the issue at various times. Every once in a while I thought, “Yes, she will be supporting this motion today”. This is a really good motion today. We are talking about stopping the sexual exploitation of children. I thought, “Wow, she is going to vote for it. She is going to support it”. Then a few minutes later, there was all that equivocation.
If she will be voting against this, I would really like her to explain whether she in fact condones the use of children in depictions of sexual acts, either with other children or with adults, and whether somehow in our society it is in the public interest and the public good if that is done.
Therefore, I would urge her to vote in favour of this motion today and I would like her to state that she will be doing so in order to give leadership to all those other colleagues of hers over there who may be similarly vacillating.