House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was products.

Topics

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

moved that Bill C-24, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today, I have the honour of addressing Bill C-24, which seeks to amend the Parliament of Canada Act to allow retired parliamentarians who are between 50 and 55 years of age to benefit from the Public Service Health Care Plan, the Pensioners’ Dental Services Plan and the Public Service Management Insurance Plan established by the Treasury Board. The terms and conditions would be the same as those that apply to retired public servants aged 50 to 55.

With this legislation, all parliamentarians who are entitled to a pension will be able to get coverage under these medical plans beginning at age 50, just like public servants.

To benefit from such coverage, eligible parliamentarians would have to pay the required contributions, as is the case for other retired parliamentarians and public servants who are collecting a pension.

This measure bridges an important gap for parliamentarians aged 50 to 55 who are not yet eligible for pension.

The second part of the bill deals with the disability allowance for parliamentarians over 65 years, which was established in 2001 to provide coverage on the same basis as that available for parliamentarians under 65. Since then, it has been brought to the government's attention that the authority for medical plan coverage for parliamentarians receiving a disability allowance is not clear. The bill clarifies this situation.

The bill would come into force on January 1, 2001, consistent with other changes applicable to parliamentarians at that time.

I would like to conclude by thanking wholeheartedly my colleagues on all sides of the House for their support for this bill which has, in my view, a very profound and important humanitarian value.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say a few words on Bill C-24, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act. As the government House leader mentioned, this bill brings into line benefits for retired parliamentarians, the same as we would offer the public service.

Quite often people look upon elected politicians and think perhaps that our benefits are greater than anybody else's. We should not expect any more than anybody else but we should not expect any less. Sometimes it is only when we see a case where need has arisen that we see the discrepancies in our legislation. I am very pleased to support this legislation which will be there to protect people, retired parliamentarians, as it would be for public servants between the ages of 50 and 55, if the need arises.

That is the type of legislation we should always be conscious of making sure it is appropriate and up to date, so that whether we are a member of the public service or an elected representative, the benefits are there in time of need. That is really what this bill does and we are very pleased to support it.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Benoît Sauvageau Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a fairly rare event, but today you will see a harmony of spirit for humanitarian reasons, as the government House leader has indicated, on the subject of Bill C-24, amending the Parliament of Canada Act.

I am happy to see the broad consensus that exists in the House today, although I am somewhat sad to have to make such an amendment to the health insurance plan for retired parliamentarians.

The bill is simply intended to recognize a situation. Sometimes, when a bill or regulation is established, certain situations may fall through the cracks.

The bill we are agreeing to adopt is intended precisely to correct this kind of situation where a member of Parliament who is eligible for pension but is under 55, that is, between 50 and 55 years of age, would be denied entitlement to benefit from a health insurance and dental insurance, even if he paid his share of premiums. Therefore, we are not asking for the moon, but simply the recognition of a situation that can sometimes be a problem.

That is why, as my Conservative and Liberal colleagues have said, it appears completely normal to us in the Bloc Quebecois to make the plan similar to that which applies to public servants between the ages of 50 and 55, who are retired and decide to pay their premiums for health insurance and, thus, receive its benefits.

I will not speak longer, except to express my approval, as previous speakers have, for Bill C-24. I believe this is a way to improve to some extent the situation and condition of some members of this House. On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I am pleased to give my support to the amendment and to Bill C-24.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased on behalf of all of my colleagues in the New Democratic Party caucus to support Bill C-24, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act.

I also want to acknowledge the cooperative spirit in this place that has led to this bill coming before the House today. I appreciate the fact that all members from all parties in this House came together to address a serious flaw in our legislation.

Bill C-24 addresses a gap in the legislation. It addresses the issue if a member of Parliament today, who may have served for up to six years and has not yet reached the age of 55, but must leave this place or make a decision not to run for election because of health reasons, that MP is not able to buy into the health plan which he or she is eligible for at the age of 55.

We are addressing what is an oversight in our current legislation, a flaw that was unintended. It is fair to say that no one in this place believes that this is anything but an oversight. I cannot imagine that the drafters of the legislation intended to penalize members who find themselves unable to continue to work in the House of Commons because of illness yet find themselves, when they need it the most, unable to continue to pay into the health care plan.

This is a loophole that needs to be fixed. I am pleased to see that we are on the path of fixing it today.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Speaker

The order provides that there would be one spokesman from each of the parties in the House. Is the right hon. member seeking unanimous consent of the House to speak on this matter?

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Very briefly, Mr. Speaker.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the House give consent to the right hon. member for Calgary Centre to speak on this matter?

Parliament of Canada Act
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12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Parliament of Canada Act
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12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I completely support this legislation. I think that it would be an anomaly that members of this House not have access to the same privileges that exist for other public servants.

I rise to thank the deputy government House leader for giving me background on this legislation on which I had not had the opportunity to be consulted before it was presented to the House. That courtesy I hope will become a practice in the House with regard to members such as myself.

I would also note that when the original legislation was brought in, there was an absolute insistence that there would be no changes in any of its provisions. I see the former government House leader who introduced that legislation is in the House and could confirm that we have departed by this legislation from that undertaking. I do not object to that. I note it and I certainly support this piece of legislation.

Parliament of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, March 11, Bill C-24, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act, is deemed read a second time, deemed referred to a committee, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, deemed read a third time and passed.

(Bill read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment, and of the amendment to the amendment.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

March 12th, 2004 / 12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-12, a bill that has been recycled by the federal justice minister, a bill that would do nothing to help give children the legal protection they need.

We heard a lot of evidence in committee regarding the bill. We heard from frontline police officers and from child advocacy groups, including groups like Beyond Borders. The government has simply ignored the mounds of evidence from these child advocate groups and frontline police officers who have indicated time and again that the Bill C-12 would not be effective in protecting children.

By reviving what has been referred to as pedophile-friendly legislation without a thought to the real needs of children, the Prime Minister has simply carried out the previous prime minister's legacy of indifference.

The bill does not address the fundamental problems relating to the protection of children that our criminal justice system should address. It does not eliminate all defences for the criminal possession of child pornography. It does not raise the age of consent for adult-child sexual contact from 14 years of age, one of the lowest ages of consent in the western world.

One of the provisions in the Criminal Code allows an adult to have sex with a child as young as 12 years old if that adult thought the child was in fact 14 years of age. While that may seem preposterous, that is exactly what happened in a recent case in Saskatchewan where a judge acquitted two adult males in their twenties who had sexual relations with a young aboriginal girl who had run away from home. They were acquitted because they thought she was 14 years of age.

The bill fails to introduce mandatory sentences for child sexual assault, as has been done in other jurisdictions, specifically the United Kingdom and the United States.

The bill also fails to streamline the laws of evidence governing convictions for sex offenders.

Canada is becoming a global haven for child predators because of these glaring Liberal policy failures. In fact, the entire bill is filled with vague provisions that fail to create the certainty of protection that children require. No doubt prompting therefore the applause from a notorious child predator like John Robin Sharpe, who supports the bill, because he believes it would bring understanding to the adult-child sexual relationship. Praise from a child predator is evident, but all the frontline police officers and child care agencies, indeed, every witness who went before the justice committee, condemned the bill, other than the minister himself.

Let me deal specifically with some of the concerns that have been raised.

The first concern that needs to be raised, which I know some of my colleagues have addressed, centres around the controversy regarding the artistic merit defence. That controversy began in reaction to the court case of the previously mentioned child predator John Robin Sharpe.

The Supreme Court of Canada in R. v Sharpe said that artistic merit should be interpreted as broadly as possible. That really opened the door to mischief in terms of trying to enforce this particular law. It basically meant that one could bring forward any witness to say that there was at least some artistic merit to these degrading writings and that would be sufficient for a judge to consider an acquittal.

That interpretation of the law by the Supreme Court of Canada helped shape the decision that allowed Mr. Sharpe to be acquitted for two counts of possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute, as the material, containing violent writing targeting vulnerable children, was considered by the judge to have artistic merit.

It is truly remarkable that we would never accept the defence of artistic merit with respect to women in our society and with respect to the exploitation of racial minorities, and yet with respect to the most vulnerable minority of them all, our children, the courts are more than quick to protect artistic merit rights and destroy the protection that children deserve. It is very evident that that defence needs to be eliminated. It is simply not necessary.

We have called on the federal government, as the Conservative Party, to eliminate that defence. The government responded but the response has been a pitiful response in terms of protecting children.

The defence in the old bill has now been reduced into a single defence of public good. Despite the former justice minister's attempt to sell this bill on the basis that the artistic merit defence has been eliminated, he admitted in the justice committee hearings that the artistic merit defence is still included under the broader public good defence.

Again, that is typical of the kind of approach that the prior justice minister took and now apparently the new justice minister takes. If people are sufficiently outraged they make changes, not changes that substantively address the concerns raised, but rather changes that simply disguise their original intent and in fact carry out that original intent.

What did the former justice minister state in describing what this new public good defence includes? He admitted, and I want to quote from his comments. He stated:

Artistic merit still exists in the sense that a piece of art will have to essentially go through the new defence of public good and through the two stages. Of course, the first question is always this. Does it serve the public good?

Clearly, within there is still the defence of artistic merit.

In the Sharpe decision, when it was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, the court also addressed that particular statement. It briefly considered the defence of public good. The court found that public good has been interpreted as “necessary or advantageous to...the pursuit of science, literature, or art, or other objects of general interest”. That was the Supreme Court of Canada's interpretation of public good.

The court went on to say:

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. In some cases this might eliminate some of the more problematic applications of s. 163.1(4). For example, it might in certain cases foreclose the law's application to visual works created and privately held by one person alone....

That statement by the Supreme Court of Canada has been the subject of a lot of controversy. One of the things that the court apparently did not understand was that this type of written child pornography is used to groom children into thinking that these types of sexual relationships with adults are all right. It is very difficult then to suppress this particular information or this type of child pornography. The excuse being offered by these pornographers is that they were only writing it for themselves.

I heard an interesting story with respect to some of Mr. John Robin Sharpe's material that it was in fact found with a notation on it, “This material may be illegal in Canada”. That is a curious thing to put on one's own writings required for one's own personal use. If Mr. Sharpe thought it would be illegal, that is one thing, but why would he have to put that on the face of the material itself? The inference is clear. He distributes this material in order to assist other child predators in their activities.

In trying to create these kinds of exceptions, ostensibly to protect free speech, what the court does is it opens the door to the abuse of children.

The Conservative Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. Members opposite say that then means we have to make it illegal in every context. That is not correct. That is being mischievous. Obviously, for the purposes of prosecution, for example, it would not be illegal for the police or prosecutors to possess that or for researchers who are studying the effects of exposure to child pornography.

However there needs to be some limitation and clear delineation of what is acceptable and what is not.

We were met with a problem similar to this some years ago when it appeared that police officers were conducting certain illegal activity to further another criminal investigation.

The Supreme Court of Canada said there was no justification for police officers to engage in that illegal activity, no protection in common law, statute or otherwise. The House addressed that issue by passing legislation that set out exactly when police officers could break the law to investigate another charge. It was clearly delineated and set out in statute.

When members opposite say that the exclusion of all child pornography and categorizing it as criminal possession would never work because it would exclude the legitimate handling of pornography by police or prosecutors for a prosecution, is simply a lot of nonsense.

This bill needs to go back to the drawing board to address what I consider a fundamental flaw in that legislation, but yet a flaw that can be remedied by good statutory language. I might note in this context as well that civil libertarians have also indicated that they have a concern with the defence of public good and that it is simply too vague and too broad. So those who are interested in protecting children are concerned about this and civil libertarians who are concerned about certain artistic endeavours are also concerned that this phrase establishes no standard at all.

I want to talk about the age of consent. This bill, frankly, does not deal with that issue in an effective manner. Instead of prohibiting all child exploitation by adults where that child is, for example as in other countries, under the age of 16, this legislation requires a court to examine on a case by case basis if a child has been harmed. This kind of tiptoeing around criminal behaviour is reprehensible. The Conservative Party will not support this kind of vague legislation.

Again, comments by the notorious child predator John Robin Sharpe praising this pedophile friendly piece of legislation further validate the opposition's concern about this bill. Instead of raising the age to simply and clearly state that there shall be no adult-child sexual contact, the Liberals import this vague standard.

At the same time, I recognize that it is not the role of Parliament to get involved in certain social policy issues, for example, sexual relationships between children. The concern of the Conservative Party is not to regulate the sexual conduct of children between each other, that is, children under the age of 16. What we are concerned about is the exploitation of children by adults. We recognize that there needs to be a close in age exemption that ensures we do not criminalize consenting activity, but we do want to stop the kind of activity that John Robin Sharpe was just recently convicted of.

On the age of consent, 80% of Canadians polled said they want to raise the age of consent to at least age 16. The response of this government has been that there are certain cultural considerations in Canada which prevent it from doing that. We have asked time and again what culture in this country agrees with the sexual exploitation of children by adults. The Liberals have been silent. The government has tried to rely on some kind of cultural camouflage, which has only insulted Canadians of every culture. If there is evidence that cultures in Canada accept the exploitation of children by adults, why does the government not bring it forward instead of casting aspersions on every culture in Canada?

The approach of the Liberals in this bill to create this category of exploitative relationships is simply cumbersome and is in fact very difficult to prove in terms of trying to bring forward a prosecution. We already have a provision that makes it against the law for someone in a position of trust to exploit a young person between the ages of 14 and 18. Here, they are simply trying to recast this. Those are my brief comments at this time. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the member if he would reflect on the part of the country that he comes from, the area of Winnipeg, Manitoba. In particular, has there been a sense of an increase of child pornography and so on in that area? Have there been greater concerns in the last number of years since he has served in public office? Would the member reflect on some of the comments from the Toronto police he alluded to and the concerns they have with respect to raising the age of consent? Could he confirm that this would be their express wish as well?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, from my conversations with them, I understand that the Toronto police, as well as other police forces across Canada, support an increase of that age of sexual consent to age 16 when it comes to dealing with child-adult sexual relationships.

In terms of pornography itself and child pornography in particular, the police are very concerned. Indeed, they are overwhelmed. In this age of technology and computers there can be thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of pictures on a particular computer, making it very difficult to prosecute these cases, and very cumbersome and very expensive. We had a presentation here from the Toronto police about a year ago now, wherein they expressed concern that the legislation and the approaches by the government were not stemming this tide of child pornography.

Rather than simply proceeding along the same path as it has been, why will this government not bring in legislation that addresses the concerns of front line police officers, that addresses the concerns of child advocacy agencies, and that indeed addresses the concern that children are not being protected in the existing law or in this law itself?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the remarks of my esteemed colleague who just spoke. He has been attorney general in his province and has worked in the law field for some time, so he has had a lot of discussion and dialogue with the authorities, with justice officials under his purview and his watch in the province of Manitoba, and he serves our Conservative Party very well as our lead critic in these matters.

The bill we have before us, Bill C-12, is one about which different people have wanted to speak out. People are outraged that we do not have it right in respect of the piece of legislation that we have here today. This whole controversy about the artistic merit defence actually began some time ago in reaction to the court case of John Robin Sharpe, a notorious child pornographer.

The bill purports to make amendments to the Criminal Code to safeguard children from sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect. We think the bill has not done this in the appropriate way and to the extent that it should. Therefore, as Conservative Party members, we have objections with respect to the Liberal government bill before us today.

The Supreme Court of Canada said in the Sharpe case that artistic merit should be interpreted as broadly as possible. That very much concerns us. We do not have any other direction from Parliament, the highest court in the land, if we will, so therefore we have a broad latitude in the statement from the Supreme Court on the John Robin Sharpe case. That statement helped shape the decision that allowed John Robin Sharpe to be acquitted for two counts of possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute.

That material, containing some very violent writings targeting vulnerable children, was considered by judges to have artistic merit. Since that time, this side of the House, particularly the Conservatives, has called on the federal government to eliminate that particular artistic merit defence.

Under this now slightly changed bill, Bill C-12, the existing defences of child pornography, that is, artistic merit, educational, scientific or medical purposes, are reduced to a single defence of public good, but this still has not solved the problem because of how wide and a little bit vague this term is.

Despite the attempts of the former justice minister, the member for Outremont, to sell us the bill and convince us on that basis that the artistic merit defence was eliminated--and technically speaking that would be true--he admitted in the justice committee that it is still included under the broader public good defence. Therein lies the difficulty. As he said in the justice committee, artistic merit still exists in the sense that a piece of art essentially will have to go through this new defence of public good and go through the two stages, and of course there is always the first question: does it serve the public good? That is in the committee records of September 25, 2003.

In the Sharpe case, the Supreme Court of Canada also briefly--