House of Commons Hansard #151 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was driving.

Topics

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
Government Orders

November 5th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings for the Solicitor General of Canada

moved that the bill, as amended, be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

When shall the bill be read the third time? By leave, now?

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings for the Solicitor General of Canada

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine
Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in the House to take part in the debate on Bill C-23.

I am pleased to rise at third reading to speak in support of the government's Bill C-23. The bill would create a new act of Parliament, the sex offender information registration act, and would make important amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada.

Together, these provisions would bring into place a national sex offender registry for use by all our provincial and territorial partners. As many of my colleagues in the House will know, provincial premiers have unanimously called upon the federal government to assist them in creating a seamless registration system. A system that includes every jurisdiction would ensure a consistent approach across the country. This is so important.

The national sex offender registry that I am referring to would have three key separate components, the first one being the legislation that I speak about today. It properly should emanate from the Parliament of Canada so that the system will be a truly national system in scope and consistent from place to place across the country.

The second component is a national database that will be operated by the RCMP on behalf of all police agencies for their use.

The third component will be the administration and enforcement of the registration system by law enforcement agencies everywhere across Canada.

These elements combine to create an important new tool to assist police in the investigation of sexual offences committed by unknown persons. It would allow police to quickly consult the registry, to search its contents using established criteria and to develop possible suspects in the vicinity of the crime, or to eliminate potential suspects.

I say “quickly” quite purposefully because this is the essence of the system. Police have always recognized that when children are abducted, usually for a sexual purpose, and then murdered, that tragic ending usually happens within the first hours of the abduction.

Unfortunately, all is lost even when the crime is eventually solved, unless police can move quickly. The sex offender information registration act would allow our police to move rapidly to determine whether convicted sex offenders reside in the vicinity of the offence, to determine who they are, where they reside and to quickly decide if further investigation is warranted or if those individuals can be eliminated as suspects.

In brief, here is how the system would work. Following conviction and sentencing for one of the designated offences listed in the Criminal Code amendments, such as sexual assault, child pornography or sexual exploitation, the crown would be able apply to the court for a registration order. Registration would occur for sexual offences. For other offences where there is clearly a sexual component, registration would occur when the crown proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the act was committed with the intent to commit one of the designated sexual offences. The offender would have the right to appeal the order.

Once a court has ordered registration, notice would be provided to the offender requiring him or her to register in person at a designated registration centre with 15 days after the order is made or release from custody. The registration period would begin on the day the order was made and re-registration would be required once per year, as well as within 15 days of a change of name or residence. If the offender were absent from his home address for more than 15 continuous days, the registration centre would have to be notified.

Sex offenders would be required to remain registered for one of three periods. These periods would be geared to the maximum penalty available for the offence for which they were convicted: 10 years registration for summary conviction offences and offences with two and five year maximums; 20 years registration for offences carrying a 10 or 14 year maximum sentence; and finally, lifetime registration for offences with a maximum life sentence or when there is a prior conviction for a sex offence.

If the offender were to receive more than one registration order, the most recent order would determine the reporting date and would override previous orders. However the review period eligibility would be calculated from the date of the first order if it is still active.

Offenders would be required to provide local police and to keep current certain information, such as addresses, telephone numbers, date of birth, given name, surname, alias or aliases, and identifying marks and tattoos. And on subsequent occasions, when they attend at the registration centre, they would be obligated to update any of the information about themselves that is contained on the registry.

Under the proposed legislation, persons authorized to register information must collect only the information pertaining to the offence and resulting order. Information should be registered in the sex offender database without delay and treated confidentially. The sex offender would be able to request correction of information in the case of an error or omission.

Sex offender information would remain on the database indefinitely, except for final acquittal on appeal or free pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy or the Criminal Code. In these cases, information is permanently removed.

The government is aware that this new police tool could be life saving but it is also an extreme intrusion into the lives of those who would be subject to the registration. Most will remain registered long after they have completed the sentence of the court and most, in fact 65% after 30 years, will not again be convicted of a similar offence. For those who are making a sincere effort to lead a law-abiding life, their efforts should not be cancelled out by the stigma of registration. Consequently, there is no provision in the legislation for public access to the registry.

Access to registry data, except by authorized persons for sanctioned purposes, would be prohibited and criminal penalties are provided for misuse of the data. Public protection, which is the central purpose of the registration scheme, would be provided by police through their strategic use of the information. In other jurisdictions, particularly to the south of us, public access has often led to misuse and misunderstanding that mistakenly alarms the public, sometimes even resulting in acts of vigilantism.

In those states south of the border that allow public access to sex offender registry information, more than 20 have been ordered by the courts to either cease operation or to introduce elaborate safeguards to prevent abuse. In a number of cases south of the border, boards or tribunals have been ordered established by the courts by which each case must be individually assessed to justify inclusion on the registry.

Here in Canada, we do things differently. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and when we put in place national schemes we attempt to ensure that those schemes are based on those rights and that those rights are protected.

We and our provincial and territorial partners unanimously agreed to avoid such disruption by providing a judicial process and procedural safeguards, and by strictly limiting those persons and the purposes for which access to registry information would be allowed under the legislation.

The safeguards that are provided in Bill C-23 have been carefully crafted in collaboration with our provincial and territorial governments. They provide for a fair and equitable system, while at the same time, an effective and efficient system. They will help prevent a successful court challenge that would reduce or eliminate the scheme due to its undue impact on the rights and liberties of these registrants without compromising the registry's effectiveness.

Persons whose convictions would normally lead to registration would have an opportunity to defend themselves against this presumption in court. Upon application by a crown attorney, the individual would be able to argue that placing his or her information on a registry would be “grossly disproportionate to the public interest in protecting society through the effective investigation of crimes of a sexual nature”. Moreover, these same persons would be given further opportunities to make out this defence after 5, 10 or 20 years of registration have elapsed. They would also have the entitlement to apply for a termination order after receiving a pardon under the Criminal Records Act.

These safeguards would not only protect the rights of these persons against unreasonable inclusion in the registry, they would prevent the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms from being used as a device to have the whole scheme set aside by the courts.

The important thing about this legislation is that it would set into place a national registration scheme that all the provincial and territorial governments agreed to in the fall of 2002. However there was not consensus as to those individuals who should be included on the sex offender registry. Therefore, at the time that the government originally tabled the bill in the House in December 2002, it would have only included those sex offenders who were convicted after royal assent and proclamation of the legislation.

However the federal government committed to continue to work with its provincial and territorial partners to determine if a consensus and a scheme could be built to bring retroactivity. In June the government announced that it had found consensus to include the Ontario sex offender registry information, which was partial retroactivity.

The government's commitment was such that it continued discussions with the provincial and territorial governments through their ministers, and happily, early this fall there was unanimous agreement to include any sex offenders who were still serving a sentence, whether in penitentiaries or prisons or in the larger community. If their warrants have not expired when this bill comes into force, they will be included. I am really pleased about that. I think many Canadians will be pleased with that and I think my colleague across the way are pleased with that.

I ask and I hope all my colleagues in the House will support Bill C-23, the sex offender information registration act, when votes are called.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak this afternoon on Bill C-23.

Before getting into the bill itself, I must congratulate my colleague, the hon. member for Châteauguay, for his excellent work throughout the entire study of Bill C-23. He is laid up at home today, but I want to tip my hat to him and thank him for defending this bill so vigorously on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois.

The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of this bill in principle, given our conviction that a sex offender registry is necessary. We feel it is important to facilitate police investigations into sex crimes, and this is the purpose of the registry.

Two years ago, I introduced a bill here in the House on sexual offences committed by pedophiles on children under the age of 14. At that time I was calling for changes to be made to the Criminal Code with respect to these offences. I introduced a bill again in February 2003 which called for the establishment of a national registry of sex offenders and amendments to the Criminal Code with respect to sex offences against children under the age of 14.

This bill responds in part to what mine was calling for, and I am very pleased to see that. I received a great deal of input from people in my riding whose children had been sexually abused by pedophiles. As well, I heard repeatedly from police officers calling for just such a registry.

We sometimes hear that opposition MPs cannot get any improvements put through on anything. Yet I see my bill has borne fruit, because here we are with Bill C-23.

We do wonder, however, whether this registry, as set out in this bill, is the best way to go about things. We are therefore committed to paying particular attention to the following points.

First, the data must be confidential so that they are sent to police services only for the purpose of investigating crimes of a sexual nature.

Second, we are disappointed by the fact that gravity of the offence and risk of recidivism were not retained as assessment criteria before making registration obligatory, as the Bloc Quebecois had suggested.

Also, we wonder about the cost assessment that was done with respect to implementing such a registry. We are going to monitor this carefully.

Finally, we are going to closely monitor the legal mechanisms used to guarantee the registration of offenders. We have many questions about this.

For the information of the listening public, I would like to say that this bill has 26 clauses. The primary objective of this bill is to help police services investigate crimes of a sexual nature. That is clause 2. This will be accomplished by the sex offender information registry.

According to clause 2 of the bill, the objective can only be attained by complying with certain principles. Information can only be collected for the purpose of investigating crimes of a sexual nature.

Three major principles must be respected and they are found in clauses 2( a ), 2( b ), and 2( c ). Information must be rapidly accessible and reliable, and its collection must strike a balance between the privacy interests of the sex offender and the public interest.

These principles must also take into account respect for the confidentiality of the information collected.

Under clause 2(2)( c )(i), the information may be collected only if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the crimes are of a sexual nature.

Clause 2(2)( c )(ii) restricts access to the registry, and the use and disclosure of information.

The government has decided to amend its own bill to replace “reasonable grounds to believe” with “reasonable grounds to suspect”.

We are categorically opposed to this change, which gives unlimited powers by substantially lightening the burden of proof.

Clauses 4 and 7 of this bill deal with the obligations of sex offenders. Clause 4(2) states that they shall report by themselves within 15 days. These are rules that sex offenders will have to comply with; it is very important to set them out because this will have to be part of the registration process.

Under clause 4(2)( a ), offenders have to report within 15 days after the order is made, if they are convicted of the offence but are not given a custodial sentence.

Under clause 4(2)( b ), offenders have to report within 15 days after they receive an absolute or conditional discharge, if they are found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder; under clause 4(2)( c ), after they are released from custody pending the determination of an appeal; and under clause 4(2)( d ), after they are released from custody.

Clause 4.1 provides for subsequent registration after a change in residence. That is normal practice. This way, if an offender moves to another part of Quebec or Canada, he or she can be located.

Officers have told me that, often, when there was a sex offender in a specific jurisdiction whom the police recognized, the offender moved out of their jurisdiction and they lost track of him because there was no registry.

The offender could then commit offences and not be located quickly. This clause will avoid that. It will also give the police faster tools to better protect the public and those who have been sexually assaulted, be they young people or adults. I think that clause 4(1) raises a very important point.

Clause 5 sets out the information to be provided by sex offenders: their given name and surname, date of birth and gender, address of residence and work, as well as telephone, cell phone or pager number.

The sex offender must also provide the person collecting information with a description of any identifying physical characteristics; if he has a mole somewhere, it must be recorded. He must disclose the facts. If he has a physical handicap, that too must be recorded. The more details that are provided, the more quickly the police will be able to arrest him if need be.

Clause 6 covers notice to the authorities if the sex offender leaves the area in which his main residence is located, and how that notice is to be given.

The duties of the person who collects and registers information are described in clauses 8 to 12 of Bill C-23.

The person will enter the sex offender's information into the database without delay, while ensuring confidentiality of the data.

That is very important. The offender has the right to obtain a copy of the information about him in the registry. This will all be quite transparent. That is only right because, after all, the offender is making disclosures, and one is normally entitled to a copy of the information one discloses.

Thus, he has the right to obtain a copy of the information about him in the registry free of charge, or to be sent a copy in the mail, in accordance with clause 12(1).

In addition, the person who receives information must make appropriate corrections. As I was saying, if the offender moves to a different area, region or province, he must inform the registry office to have the appropriate changes made.

I would have liked to provide our listeners with more information. However, I shall simply sum up the Bloc's position.

As I said at the beginning, the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of this bill in principle.

We are convinced of the importance of establishing a registry of sex offenders. Still, there are points we shall be watching very closely when this bill becomes law. I want to emphasize this, in order to ensure that this registry meets the need for which it was created.

Also, there are costs. We know what happened with the firearms registry. It was supposed to cost several million and now it is up to nearly a billion dollars.

The Bloc Quebecois will be watching the enforcement and cost very closely. In addition, the Bloc Quebecois wants to ensure that confidentiality is respected, and that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is respected.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are some acknowledgements that should be made for the bill. First, we as the official opposition, will be agreeing to the bill. It has been a long battle and there are some acknowledgements that have to be made.

This bill was not conceived in the House of Commons. It derived from the Ontario legislature and the efforts of Jim and Ann Stephenson whose son Christopher was murdered by a sex offender. Many years have gone by and Jim and Ann have lobbied the Ontario government successfully enough to get legislation in place. From there I took over and wrote the legislation and tabled it as Bill C-333 on April 4, 2001. At that time it was very difficult to convince the government quite frankly, that there was a need for a sex offender registry. Thanks to the police, Jim and Ann Stephenson, the solicitors general of the country, and many, many other people, the government was convinced that there had to be a registry and here it is today.

I do not think the government should stand here and say, “Look what we have done for you folks”. It is a majority government and yes it does take the Liberals to implement important sex offender registry legislation like this bill, but it has to be clearly understood that it was the efforts of many people in this country that got it here.

One of the big issues of this legislation was whether or not it was going to be retroactive. That took a lot of work as well. I am pleased to see that at least the government reacted to this and we do have it. There are several things within the legislation that are undone and although they are not as complete as we would like them to be and they are basically not complete as I had originally written them in 2002, that is okay because we can fix it. We can either form the government and fix it, or convince the government that it needs to be fixed and accommodate that.

Some of those changes follow. For instance, young offenders are not in the registry. Those who are convicted in youth court will not show up in the registry. We feel that has to occur because many of those young offenders will likely go on to be adult sex offenders. It is important to get them on the registry so that we have some idea of what is coming up.

I know the feelings with the government in particular that young offenders are a different group and should be handled differently. When it comes to sex offences, members should know that sex offenders have a very high recidivism rate. It is not just a problem that is created and goes away. In many cases they are likely to reoffend. That is why they should be included in the registry.

Another problem is that the entry on the registry is by application from the crown counsel. This is a particular problem that the government should listen to. One day we are going to have to change this. Whether it is our government or the Liberal government, we are going to have to change this because it creates inequities in the registry.

For instance, someone who was charged and convicted of sexual assault in Halifax would only enter on the registry if the crown applied. If that same offence occurred perhaps in Edmonton and the crown applied there and it went ahead, then the individual in Edmonton would be on the registry and the one in Halifax would not be on the registry.

Those people are portable; they will go from province to province. Eventually as the crown does not make application to enter them on the registry, we will find that there are many inequities and gaps in the system. People will ask why a fellow who had committed sexual assault two or three times was not on the registry. Well, the crown did not apply.

My experience is that in many cases crown counsel does not make application. I have seen it with dangerous sex offenders and dangerous offender applications. They do not apply because they are too busy, the courts are tied up and it is more work, or they just do not feel that a particular person should be on the list for one reason or another.

There is a schedule of sex offences. Once someone is convicted of a sex offence on the schedule, it should be automatic. The person should be on the registry and stay on the registry until the person is withdrawn, not on application from the crown.

The other issue we are concerned about is that the offender has the right to appeal. There goes more court cases. What offender would not appeal being on the sex offender registry? My office just had a call from a sex offender a few hours ago who said, “I do not like these sex offender ideas”. We asked him why. He said, “I am on it. I do not like this. It is not a good idea”. Every one of them will be appealing it. If a person is convicted of a sex offence which already exists on the schedule, there should be no appeal. That person is a sex offender and should be on it, therefore there should be no appeal and no application from crown counsel.

The other area we are concerned about is that the judge has discretion. The crown has discretion, the offender has the right to appeal and after all of this, now the judge comes into it and says, “I have particular concerns about privacy. The person should not be on the registry because it is an affront to his livelihood”. The judge can say, “No, even though you apply and even if you appeal, I do not want you on the registry”.

There is far too much discretion throughout the system for the system to work well. We should take out that discretion. We should eliminate the crown's application ability, eliminate the appeal process and eliminate the judge's discretion. That is the way it has to be.

The other area we are concerned about is that sex offenders on prisoner exchanges are exempt. That means if a person is a Canadian sex offender who has committed a crime, a serious sex offence in the United States and that person is brought back to Canada to serve the time, that person is not entered on the sex offender registry. That is absurd. It has been explained to us that there is a big difficulty in perhaps matching a certain crime in the United States to the same type of crime in Canada, but a sex offence basically is a sex offence. Therefore, prisoners on prisoner exchanges should be included on the registry.

The final area with which we are having difficulty is that if a person does not register on the sex offender registry, that person can get up to two years imprisonment. A person who does not register on the gun registry can get up to 10 years imprisonment. What does that say to law-abiding gun owners in Canada? A person gets 10 years for not registering a gun, but a person gets two years for not registering as a sex offender. That is completely absurd. That kind of thought process does not even make sense.

There are six items about which we have some very deep concerns. To the people watching and listening to what I am saying, yes, we will go along with the sex offender registry and yes, it will be retroactive to include all those who are currently incarcerated, but there is work to be done. Much like the victims rights legislation that we put through the House of Commons, we are still looking for changes on that to assist victims of crime in their dealings with the courts.

I will stop there. I have registered our concerns. I have also indicated that it is not only the Liberal government that can stand up and say, “Look what we are doing for Canadians”. It is really the effort of many Canadians. Jim and Ann Stephenson in particular should take a bow for this one. They have done a great deal. That is why I originally wrote the legislation.

The police, the solicitors general, the Liberal government and the official opposition should all take a bow on this one. Canada is a better place for having a sex offender registry.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Inky Mark Dauphin—Swan River, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my comments regarding the very important bill on the sex offender registry. The Progressive Conservative Party supports Bill C-23, but not because it came from the Liberal government. Like many other bills, it seems that we have had to wait forever.

In 1996 President Clinton signed Megan's law which requires notification of sex offenders in neighbourhoods. Following his signature on that law, all 50 states had the authority to implement their own registration requirements for such offenders.

Those whose families or friends have experienced a tragedy of this nature understand why it is important that we keep track of convicted pedophiles. Everyone agrees that our children are very precious to us.

The provinces have been pushing for a registry for a long time. In 1995 my own province of Manitoba created the community notification advisory committee to review cases of convicted sex offenders thought to be at high risk to reoffend. That was eight years ago and it has taken all this time for the federal government to put together a bill dealing with the issue.

There is no doubt that the province of Ontario took the lead in this matter. It set up its own sex offender registry three years ago under a bill dubbed Christopher's law. The bill was named after 11 year old Christopher Stephenson who was murdered by a convicted pedophile who was out on parole.

Statistics show that a vast majority of sex offenders commit their crimes within a two kilometre radius of where they live or work. Many abducted children are killed within 24 hours of being abducted.

Members of Parliament have a duty to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society and their families are protected. That is the biggest concern that has been raised by provincial governments. They want the legislation that comes from the House of Commons to have some teeth.

One of the criticisms about this legislation is the lack of retroactivity. Gord Mackintosh, the minister of justice of my own province, said:

The provinces agree the proposed registry, which is now before Parliament, will be useless for 10 to 20 years because it will be restricted to people who are not sentenced until after the registry becomes law.

He has a point. Are people who have already been convicted not considered a risk to the safety, health and welfare of our children? They certainly are.

Some concerns have been raised by attorneys general from across the country. One concern is about limiting conditional sentences in which offenders serve time at home instead of in jail. They are worried about that. They are worried about who is going to monitor those individuals. Some of them may already be convicted pedophiles. Another concern is about imposing automatic first degree murder charges on suspected child killers. That should take place. Tightening the terms for people to be released on bail is another concern which we have heard many times over. Tougher penalties are also needed for those who kill peace officers. The last concern is about ending preliminary inquiries in court proceedings.

Bill C-23 is a step in the right direction. The Progressive Conservative Party supports the legislation.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-23 on behalf of my federal NDP colleagues. I would like to mention the great work that my hon. colleague from Churchill, Manitoba has done on this. Also, the long serving member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has done yeoman's work on the proposed legislation. In fact his amendment will ensure that the registry will be reviewed in two years.

After the disaster of the gun registry, we want to ensure that this registry will work in the way it is intended.

I cannot see how anyone can object to this type of legislation when the essence of the bill is to protect children and protect the interests of their families.

Being a family man myself, with two young girls, I know the importance of doing everything we can to ensure that we, as legislators, invoke legislation that has stiff penalties and deterrents in place, but not only on a piece of paper. We have to ensure that our law enforcement officers have the resources, finances and manpower to do the job that we ask them to do.

The House may know that I have a private member's bill in the House of Commons dealing with child Internet pornography. This is a new medium that is luring unsuspecting children to various sites. In terms of Internet pornography, we need to do all that we can to ensure that the most dastardly of dastardly people, these pedophiles, are apprehended and put away so they cannot cause us any more concerns.

It is not just members of Parliament who support this proposed legislation. The great province and the Government of Manitoba, under Gary Doer, support it. In fact I am sure all provincial governments, including territorial representatives and probably aboriginal representatives as well would be very supportive of the bill.

We want the government have the teeth behind the law to ensure the registry does what it is supposed to do. It does no good for me to stand up in the House of Commons and say that these are the great things it will do and then have someone defeat it in a court of law or challenge it. We have to ensure that the law is ironclad. We have to ensure that all those people who have had various concerns with the bill have been heard. We also want to ensure that the bill does not end up on the dead list, as we say, through prorogation. We want to ensure that the Senate has the capability to deal with this and get it passed immediately.

I see the hon. House leader, a gentleman who I respect greatly, although we disagree on many things, nodding his head and telling me to get on with the speech, so I will.

I say quite clearly that we in the NDP support the bill. In two years we will be asking for a review of the legislation to ensure that it has done what it was intended to do, not like the gun registry, Bill C-68. We will not let the government forget that one.

However, we will ensure that this registry does what it is supposed to do, which is to protect children and their families from coast to coast to coast.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is the House ready for the question?

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Sex Offender Information Registration Act
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5:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House resumed consideration of the motion: that Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code (capital markets fraud and evidence-gathering)be read the third time and passed.