House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was children.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Elections Act
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4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Elections Act
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4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Elections Act
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4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canada Elections Act
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4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Canada Elections Act
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4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The vote on the amendment to the amendment is deferred until Monday at the end of government orders.

Canada Elections Act
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4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Jacques Saada Brossard—La Prairie, QC

I rise on a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to defer the taking of the deferred division until next Tuesday, at the end of government orders.

Canada Elections Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there unanimous consent of the House?

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4:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from February 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

February 20th, 2003 / 4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, normally when I stand to speak on a particular bill I start by saying that it gives me pleasure to speak to it. However, it really does not give me a lot of pleasure to speak to this bill.

I cannot believe the number of months and years that hundreds of thousands of Canadians across this country have been begging and pleading with the government to do something about those who perpetrate crimes through child pornography. They want the government to do something about the sentencing that is going on in terms of house arrest, early release and conditional sentencing for pedophiles all across the country. Every day there is another case.

Why is the government so reluctant to say it will bring it to the table, bring it to the floor, and sit together as people who believe in protecting the children of this land? Why can it not fix it to ensure people cannot harm our children any more? Why must we stand and continually speak on this particular issue?

Why do we not have a justice minister and legislation that says there is no defence for child pornography, that artistic merit is out, and that there is no public good in child pornography? In fact, child pornography is ugly and evil. If it is not evil, then evil does not exist. Why are we continually debating whether we should do something about this now?

Perhaps we should present it to a committee to fix it. That means weeks and weeks, which usually turns into months and months, and then into years and years. The next thing we know it is thrown out because an election has been called. Then it has to be reintroduced and there we go again, a few more years of waiting to do the most elemental duty that we have as members of Parliament, which is to protect Canadians from harm and danger, and, most specifically, to protect the children of this country.

I have turned on the television and watched Focus on the Family , 100 Huntley Street , and other programs that are calling on the government to do something about this horrible problem. The government is making no effort except through Bill C-20, which means it will provide a loophole once again for people who want to abuse the Internet and our children by throwing child pornography around wherever they please. Instead, it is creating what we call a haven for lawyers.

You can bet your last dime, Mr. Speaker, that for every charge of pornography that is brought against pedophiles they will claim that there is some public good in it and will tie up the court system day after day. More and more of them will tie up our court systems and the lawyers will get rich. It will be a joyful day for lawyers, but it will not be joyful for the victims, their parents or grandparents. The joyful day will be when the people on all sides of the House forget about politics, stand united, and say that today is the day we are going to rise to our feet and defeat this ugly, messy, and evil stuff that is absolutely destroying our nation on an immoral basis.

I see nothing wrong with doing that. What a pleasure it would be to work with the Liberals, the Bloc, the Conservatives and the NDP to say we want to protect the children of our country and actually do it.

What a shame when we hear the budget that was just introduced. The finance minister never mentioned the topic once. We have begged and the police have begged. All across the country police officers are asking to have their handcuffs removed to allow them to go out there and do something about this problem. They can do it, but they are handcuffed with court decisions that always protect the perpetrator and never look after the victims. They are asking for a chance to do it.

All the finance minister had to do was make one statement saying there would be whatever amount of money, $100 million or $200 million, to put a national strategy in place to fight child pornography. I would have stood on this side of the House and cheered that. However, there was no mention made, not even one cent was offered in that direction.

I have asked questions in the House day after day of the Solicitor General and of the justice minister. They say things are on their way; things are beginning to happen. Then I called all the front line officers and I spoke to some just today and I asked them how things were, were there any advancements in helping with the cause? They replied, “Absolutely none. Nothing is happening”.

Am I supposed to believe the answers I get in question period from these ministers or the front line officers? As for me, I believe the front line officers. I no longer believe anything the ministers tell me. The Solicitor General said the government will protect children and it will look after their welfare. It should start doing it and start showing it.

The front line officers who are in charge of these crimes do not know a thing about it. They have not even heard about it.

I found out that Canada was an observer to an international program which digitally catalogued all seized pornographic images of children. This program was pioneered in Sweden and has enabled investigators to determine the origin of seized images and thereby assist in identifying the children being abused.

The technology is out there. Canada can afford it because it is not that expensive. Yet the government is sitting back and doing nothing.

I want to remind everybody in the House of these images. These are real children; they really exist. They belong to some parent or grandparent. They are real kids, from six month old babies up to eighteen years of age, who are being abused daily and treated horribly. We are not taking the initiative to fix it. We in the House could do it. Contrary to what the government believes about Supreme Court decisions, Canadians still believe that this is the highest court of the land, not the Supreme Court, and that we can fix it.

Members on that side of the House are afraid that if the legislation goes forward it would create a charter challenge. If it will protect our kids, then so be it. I cannot believe that the authors of the charter thought for a moment that they were creating a document that would protect people who hurt children rather than protect children. I cannot believe that they intended that.

Therefore let us ensure that the courts understand. Let us ensure the judges understand that we are developing an absolute truly zero tolerance to these kinds of perpetrators and we collectively will do it and do it quickly before there are any more victims.

If we must use the notwithstanding clause to keep the charter from interfering, then we must be determined to do that without hesitation. There would be no better reason in the world to use that clause than to protect the children that are being hurt daily.

There was a case of a trusted teacher who liked to fondle little girls. He was charged and convicted. He had the use of the Internet with thousands of items of pornography. It was a serious crime yet he received a slap on the wrist.

In the last few weeks there were three cases. There was a dentist with 50,000 images on his own computer, using it, promoting it, and making a profit off of it with real live children in these real live images. These perpetrators are not coming from the back alleys or slums. These are people who are living right beside us every day who need to be off the streets, and need to be taken out of society and around children.

However we cannot do it. Police officers could do it but we handcuff them. We do not let police officers do their job. Why do we tie police officers up? They should be given a chance. They are the experts. They can do it, but we in this place must make it possible for them to do so. We must send that message to the courts loud and clear, and to every judge in this country, that the next time a person is convicted of hurting a child that judge will treat that as seriously as any bank robber who would probably get 10 years instead of house arrest or community service.

Will we do that? I am sure that I will not get to speak on this bill again so I am begging and pleading with members of the Liberal Party to talk to the people in charge who could do that. That section should be pulled out of Bill C-20 and we should make certain that our children are safe.

That is the least we can do for my grandchildren, other people's grandchildren, and everybody in the country. That is the most elemental aspect of our duty. What are we waiting for? What kind of cowards are we that we do not take advantage of our position to say that one thing we can do it, and do it quickly, is solve the problem out there that so many children are facing. Let us do it.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Lanark—Carleton, Official Languages; the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville, Firearms Registry.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-20. I support a vast majority of the bill. I have one problem with it which I will address later on in my remarks.

I support the sections in Bill C-20 dealing with sexual exploitation. I feel it is important to have mechanisms that protect children from sexual exploitation by those in positions of trust, be they parents, teachers, coaches or any other adults.

I support the creation of voyeurism offences because with various technological advances it has become even easier to invade people's privacy. This section would seek to update the Criminal Code to ensure that modern day peeping Toms could be prosecuted for the full range of crimes they commit.

Until recently voyeurism type offences would be prosecuted under trespass sections of the Criminal Code as they would usually involve trespassing on someone's property in order to invade their privacy. With this legislation, an improvement is made which states that photographing someone surreptitiously or using a mini camera to spy on them would be prosecuted under a section of the Criminal Code. Other offences would include prosecution under the section of distributing those materials, most commonly by e-mail or over the Internet.

I support the section that facilitates the sensitive treatment of children as witnesses as it seeks to make it easier and less traumatic for children to testify in criminal trials. This is a critical element of the bill and I support it. We have to do everything we can to make children feel comfortable when testifying about acts that have been committed against them.

I support also the increase in sentences for offences against children. We need to protect children from the growing range of exploitation. That includes the more sophisticated methods of exploiting children now through technological advances.

I have one concern with the government totally dropping the defence of artistic merit against potential charges of child pornography. Let me elaborate on what I see as problems with using the Criminal Code in this way. Let me also try to address some of the more extreme accusations that some make surrounding this difficult but important issue.

I strongly believe it is the role of Parliament and the Criminal Code to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation. I have two sons and any form of sexual assault on them would be an unbelievably horrific thing to even contemplate. However, I am a writer of plays as well as a legislator. I think the government is making a mistake by caving in to the politics of fear that some have created coming out of the recent Sharpe decision at the Supreme Court.

Do not get me wrong. I think that anyone who creates sado-masochistic pornography depicting children as sexual objects is sick. I think people who distribute such trash are criminals. The courts agree, which is why Sharpe was convicted on charges of distributing child pornography.

The Supreme Court has sent us a message and I am worried that because of the high levels of emotion that surround this issue we are not hearing its message. The court said that artistic merit was a defence against a charge of possession of child pornography that is valid, but which could be interpreted as too broad and therefore anyone could say they are an artist. The court did not say that Sharpe was an artist. It said that Parliament drafted a sloppy law. Sharpe got off on the possession charge because of poor drafting by this House.

My worry is that the elimination of the artistic defence is simply another form of sloppy drafting. This one is dangerously sloppy because it could lead to establishing a principle in our Criminal Code that criminalizes the imagination. I will give a personal example.

Many years ago I wrote the play All Fall Down which among other things deals with allegations of sexual assault at a daycare. I will not go into the full plot; for that, members will have to buy a ticket. I worry that if we create a section of the Criminal Code which says that writing anything similar may result in charges of creating child pornography we are saying to creators, do not create.

We must not use the Criminal Code to censor art. Artists play an important role. That role is to hold a mirror up to society. If we do not like what we see, that is certainly another issue but we cannot say to artists that they cannot even attempt to address the vast and troubling areas of abuse of power and sexual exploitation of children. These are critical areas to look at. We have to go to the very heart of darkness of what we are seeing in our society. We have to look at that and we have to challenge ourselves. I have always thought that was the role of artists.

We should not use our Criminal Code to censor art and artists. I do not think we can take away the only defence they have for the very important role that they play. The government has put forward a substitute defence, and that is of the public good. I do not see this as giving legitimate artists who are telling important stories confidence that they will not be tracked down by overly moralistic police or crown prosecutors.

Remember that Sharpe was not the first person charged with child pornography offences under the previous law. It was just that he was the one who defeated the law because of poor drafting. Eli Langer, a respected Toronto painter, was charged in 1993 for giving a showing of his paintings which included depictions of nude children. He was acquitted after a long and expensive trial. We have seen gay and lesbian artists and bookstores charged by police and harassed by customs officers for material which does not have anything to do with children.

I have heard from arts groups that works of art such as Lolita by Nabokov, if he were writing it today, would not pass our laws of child pornography. We would have to look at Romeo and Juliet and many other works of art. Works of art will not be created in the future if we go in this direction of censoring people's imaginations.

I worry that the police chief of Toronto has been publicly criticizing the government and has been using child pornography as his reason to ask for more federal money for law enforcement. It does not bode well for our freedom of artists if police believe that their funding will increase if they lay more child pornography charges.

I would like to see a very careful examination of this issue at committee. We need to come up with a law that will protect children and which will also protect the creative spirit of artists to pursue their craft without fear and to play the very important role in society of holding up that mirror and having us look long and hard at ourselves.

I hope the committee will actively look for artists as witnesses. I will certainly be putting forward names of people and urging them to tell their stories to members of Parliament. I hope the committee will travel across the country to hear artists. As members of Parliament we need to understand the real fears which I have heard from this community. We need to understand all of the fears that are around these extremely emotional issues.

If members do their work here and in committee, I hope that they will redraft the section and that new ways will be found to create a section of the Criminal Code that protects children from real threats of exploitation by adults and which also protects artists from censorship by the police and the state. We need to do a better job of drafting this law than we did in 1992. I hope we are up to the challenge. I will do my part to make take place.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague from Wild Rose said, it is sometimes a pleasure to enter the debate in the House, but this bill is certainly not a pleasant thing to address because of the subject it deals with. In short, Bill C-20 is about child protection but it does not provide what it purports to do. My party wants to address why we feel that way and why we feel it is an illusion.

Ever since the Supreme Court decision in the case of John Robin Sharpe, Canadians have been waiting for the government to take the initiative and provide some genuine protection for Canadian children. Unfortunately, Bill C-20 fails in the effort and therefore it fails Canada as a whole.

I remember when the John Robin Sharpe decision came down in British Columbia because there was a huge public outcry in our communities. Members have received many letters and have presented many petitions in the House. I have tabled two petitions with over 1,000 signatures. Petitions have been submitted by all members of the House and in both official languages.

Most Canadians do not realize the extent of this plague of child pornography that is among us. I want to share some of the thoughts that have come in the deluge of mail I have received in my office.

Mrs. Hilda Higgs of Lantzville, B.C. wrote that she was appalled that someone could see anything artistic when it comes to child pornography.

Gerald Hall of Lantzville, B.C. quoted Job 9:24:

When a land falls into the hands of the wicked, he blindfolds its judges. If it is not he, then who is it?

He wrote a second time and said that the minds of our children are too precious to allow misguided individuals like Mr. Sharpe to overturn perfectly common sense laws that are in place to protect society.

Marilyn Burrows of Port Alberni. B.C. wrote expressing concern that the John Robin Sharpe decision would set a dangerous precedent for our children.

Isabel Zenuk of Qualicum Beach wrote that children are our greatest natural resource and that we must work to close the loopholes in our child protection laws.

Dr. Maureen Keane from Qualicum Beach wrote and asked that the age of consent be raised and that the artistic merit defence be removed.

Dorothy Thomson from Parksville, B.C. sent a white ribbon and said that child pornography is a heinous crime against our children and our grandchildren and that it must be stopped.

Helen Metz of Parksville, B.C. wrote that artistic merit was a subjective quality, so anything could be judged to have artistic merit. She sent a white ribbon and asked us to close the loopholes in the legislation.

Joan Groot of Parksville, B.C. wrote that it was unbelievable to think that child pornography could have any artistic merit, and that this could not be the Canadian way.

In spite of the member who spoke earlier, I thought I heard her making some allusions that we had to consider art in this. I hope I misunderstood her, aside from the fact that I was a little distracted at the time with other matters.

Denzil and Rose Merriman of Nanaimo, B.C. wrote that children are a precious inheritance and should be cared for and looked after, and that the idea of child pornography had artistic merit was utter nonsense. I wholeheartedly agree.

Carol Rae of Errington, B.C. called the office to say that we must do something to prevent another Sharpe decision. She was worried that the new legislation would not stop child pornography. I share her concern, as do many members on this side of the House.

The government has brought in the public good defence as a legal defence instead of artistic merit. Most Canadians would have a hard time understanding that any depiction of an adult abusing a child sexually could have any artistic merit.

It is time for our artists to have a reality check. It is time for the House to deliver such a reality check with very clear legislation that removes such defences and makes child pornography, as the member for Wild Rose said, eliminated in our society. We can do it. We have the ability to do it. We need to do it to protect our children.

Most Canadians are not aware of how pervasive this problem is. I do not think all members in the House have any idea.

Some of us were here when members of the Toronto police came to the Hill. They apologized for having to subject us to the protrayal of such graphic images. Their officers, after dealing with this stuff and looking at it, sometimes have to go on leave because of the sickness they feel after seeing those images.

Some members here who viewed those images had to leave the room. Some could not bear to look at the images. I am still haunted by some of the images we saw brought forward by the Toronto police, by what is out there on the Internet, what people are feeding on and what is being spread in our society, hundreds of images through computers and through other means, and yet the courts want to say that there is artistic merit in some of this. We need to get this stuff out of our society. It is poisoning the minds of our citizens and it is leading to abuse of our children. It needs to be stopped.

One of the most glaring failures of the legislation is the proposal that the legal defence for child pornography has been sufficiently narrowed to prevent harm to children through using the so-called “public good” defence.

In the Supreme Court case involving John Robin Sharpe, the chief justice remarked in paragraph 70:

“Public good” has been interpreted as "necessary or advantageous to religion or morality, to the administration of justice, the pursuit of science, literature, or art, or other objects of general interest.”

The glaring problem is that asking whether or not a piece of child pornography has artistic merit is the same as asking whether a piece of child pornography is necessary or advantageous to the pursuit of art. The answer is very likely to be the same in the courts.

The concerns of my constituents are very likely to be borne out, that justices can look at the images that John Robin Sharpe had as artistic merit, they are likely to be approved under this public good defence.

The government wants us to believe the same legal procedure for defence will result in a different verdict and that children will be protected. I call that smoke and mirrors. It is not good enough. We need to close the loopholes, not change the names they go by.

If the Supreme Court found that pornography had artistic merit, it certainly could find that child pornography was necessary and advantageous to the pursuit of art. The defence is the same, why would the result be different? There should be no defence for child pornography.

The age of consent is another glaring disappointment in the proposed legislation. It fails to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. That is for sex between adults and children. It is hard to fathom why the government refuses to make this much needed amendment to the criminal code. The police chiefs are asking for it. We have young girls at 14 years of age who think they know everything about the world. We were young once and we thought we knew a lot, but at that age they are children. They have not had enough life experience to resist the luring and the abuse that adults expose them to. The fact is that 14 year olds are being abused. We need to raise the age of sexual consent.

Whereas Canada was once recognized as a global leader in combating the sexual exploitation of children, the international group, ECPAT, the End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism and which is now called End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking, released a report in November 2000 stating that Canada's regressive age of consent laws, flawed legislation and an overall lack of planning by the federal government are turning Canada into a venue for sexual exploitation of children.

The report, titled “Looking Back, Thinking Forward”, also criticized Canada for increasingly becoming a hot spot for sexual tourism. Predators are coming from all over the world to take advantage of our lax age of consent laws, and Canadian children are paying the price.

Maximum sentencing is another failure. The government proposes increases in maximum sentencing but, frankly, maximum sentences are hardly ever used. We should be raising the minimum sentences so that we send the message to our criminals out there that they will pay a price if they abuse our children.

Police and prosecutors still do not have the tools to deal with child pornography cases effectively or efficiently. Children must be protected from abuse at the hands of all adult predators, regardless of whether that relationship is a so-called trust relationship or not. The Liberals' failure to prohibit all adult-child sex leaves children at an unacceptable risk.

The artistic merit defence needs to be eliminated, not changed into a public good defence. That is a charade. Higher maximum sentences will not be effective. We need higher minimum sentences. The age of sexual consent for adult-child sex must be raised to protect our children.

I hope that members will consider this bill and make the amendments necessary to protect our children. It is time we took action in the House for the good of our citizens, for the good of our children and for the good of our society.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too am pleased to stand and represent all the constituents of Saanich--Gulf Islands, although on a very troublesome topic. It is not a topic that is about political parties or partisan politics. This is a topic about the most vulnerable in our society, our children. It is our duty and our obligation as parliamentarians to ensure that children are protected, no matter from which walk of life we come.

This all goes back to the Robin Sharpe case. I remember being in Vancouver, speaking at rallies and listening to parents. They had genuine concerns. To see this man go through the courts, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and have the decision upheld that it was legal for him to be in possession of child pornography, was absolutely sick. Our laws said that it was illegal to duplicate it but that it was okay to have it for one's own personal use.

That creates a demand in the market to produce this absolutely sick material. I would argue that clause 1, that the greater interest of public good, that the charter would override the argument that was made under the charter that it was freedom of expression and that he was entitled to have this.

I wish the government had acted sooner, especially when the case was first before the courts, but it actually has dealt with the defence of artistic merit. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with the single defence of the public good.

From a legal perspective we need to ask ourselves what that means. This is not politics. It is strictly factual. I put this out as information and hopefully we can correct this very serious flaw in the legislation. The Supreme Court of Canada has already dealt with this. We do not have to ask it for a ruling on the defence of public good. The Supreme Court ruled that there was no substantial difference between the defence and the previous defence. The communities standards test that was rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in the 1992 Butler case. The communities standards test, just like the public good defence, was concerned primarily with the risk of harm to individuals in society. There is no positive benefit in recycling laws that have already been discredited by our courts. The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled on this matter.

It is our duty and our obligation to ensure that there are no loopholes. I would argue, even if we infringe on the rights of the individual protected under the charter, that the infringement is so minimal compared to the greater good of society and that it should be saved by clause 1.

I would plead with all members of the House to ensure that our children are protected. We have heard other members talk about how sick this material is. I am sure all members know that. I do not think there is a member in the House from any political party who is not as horrified as I am. They are as concerned about the children of this nation as I am.

I would ask all members to go back to their respective colleagues and have a good look at the bill, go back to the Department of Justice and tell them that they have concerns about this and that loopholes need to be closed. We cannot leave the door cracked open. If the government wants to crack it open on an adult, although I do not know if that would be okay, but absolutely not on our children. We must slam the door shut.

As I was discussing this morning in another piece of legislation, when legislation is ambiguous and a little uncertain, it is our job to make it crystal clear. You and I did that this morning, Mr. Speaker, in another committee.

We should be doing that here. I feel very strongly about that. I have two young children, ages seven and nine. I am sure many members do as well. I want our children to have our full protection. We do not want to allow this sick, degrading behaviour by anyone for any reason. We absolutely must send a message that it will not be tolerated at all.

I think we should be going further. We should not be allowing conditional sentences for any child predator. Most animals are probably more humane than human predators. This has to be the most sick, warped, demented behaviour. We as parliamentarians can do something about that. We can ensure that a situation like Robin Sharpe does not happen. We can ensure that child predators from other countries know that Canada is closed for business, that we do not want them here, and that if they ever do come here and they act in this manner they will be dealt with in the most severe way and with the harshest penalties we can impose in our courts. It is simply not okay.

I would ask the members of all parties to have a hard look at the legislation while we still have an opportunity to amend it.