House of Commons Hansard #110 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was child.

Topics

Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

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

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

December 3rd, 2010 / 10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Durham, ON

moved that Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to commence second reading debate on Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), also known as the protecting children from sexual predators act.

Bill C-54 fulfills the 2010 Speech from the Throne commitment to increase the penalties for child sexual offences. It builds on other concrete measures already taken by this government to tackle violent crime and in particular safeguard children against sexual offenders.

For example, the Tackling Violent Crime Act of 2008 raised the age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years to better protect Canadian youth against adult sexual predators. This same act also provided all Canadians with better protection against dangerous offenders by providing police, crown prosecutors and the courts which much needed tools to more effectively manage the threat posed by individuals at very high risk to reoffend sexually and violently.

In addition to reflecting the government's unwavering commitment to tackle violent crime, Bill C-54 addresses something that is near and dear to the hearts of all Canadians, namely the protection of our children against sexual predators.

There are many issues on which parliamentarians may disagree but the protection of children against sexual exploitation should never be one of them.

The proposals in Bill C-54 have two objectives: one, to ensure that all forms of child sexual abuse irrespective of how they are charged are always treated as serious offences for sentencing purposes; and two, to prevent the commission of sexual offences against a child.

Currently an individual who commits sexual abuse and exploitation of a child victim can be charged and prosecuted under either child specific sexual offences or under general sexual offences that apply equally to adult and child victims. In deciding how to proceed, police and crown prosecutors take many factors into consideration, including the facts and circumstances of the case and which offence best applies to those facts and circumstances, including the intended penalty for the possible offences.

The penalties that are imposed for child specific sexual offences differ significantly from those imposed for the general sexual offences in one key respect. Twelve of the child sexual offences carry mandatory minimum penalties, whereas none of the general offences impose any mandatory minimum penalties. No less troubling, not all child specific sexual offences carry minimum penalties.

Bill C-54 proposes to change this to ensure that mandatory minimum penalties apply in all sexual assaults where the victim is a child. Some may think that this discrepancy is relevant in practice, perhaps thinking that the majority of child sexual assaults are charged under the child specific offences and therefore are subject to mandatory minimum penalties. Sadly, this is not the case.

In 2008, 80% of all sexual assaults of children reported to police were charged under the general sexual assault offence in section 271 of the Criminal Code, sometimes referred to as a level one sexual assault; 19% were charged under one of the child specific or other sexual offences, such as for example section 151, sexual interference; and the remaining 1% were charged under the two most serious general sexual assault offences, levels two and three sexual assault, namely sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm under section 272, and aggravated sexual assault under section 273.

From a sentencing perspective, this means in 81% all sexual assault cases involving child victims in 2008, there was no mandatory minimum sentence.

I recognize there are some who will say that this does not matter because irrespective of the starting point, the sentence ultimately imposed must reflect the facts and circumstances of each case and must always denounce and deter child sexual abuse.

In our view, that is simply not good enough. This government and the majority of Canadians take the position that the deterrence and denunciation of the sexual exploitation of children must be strong and it must be consistently reflected in the sentences imposed in all of these cases. This means that the starting point for any sentence calculation must be a sentence of imprisonment and not a conditional sentence of imprisonment or house arrest as it is sometimes called.

This is the first thing that Bill C-54 proposes to do to ensure consistency. It proposes to impose a mandatory minimum penalty in all sexual offences where the victim is a child. Bill C-54 proposes to add mandatory minimum penalties to seven offences that do not currently impose mandatory minimum penalties.

I apologize to those who are listening, but the content is not the type of thing that anyone really wants to talk about. These offences are: section 155, incest; subsection 160(3), bestiality in the presence of or by a child; section 172.1, Internet luring of a child; section 173(2), exposure to a person under 16 years; section 271, sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age; section 272, sexual assault with a weapon, threats or causing bodily harm where the victim is under 16 years of age; and section 273, aggravated sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age. It is unfortunate that we even have to contemplate these things.

The second thing that Bill C-54 sentencing reforms would do is ensure that the mandatory minimum penalties, MMPs, imposed are commensurate for each offence and consistent with other offences.

Take for example the child-specific offence of invitation to sexual touching in section 152 of the Criminal Code. It is a hybrid or dual procedure offence. When proceeded with summarily, the offence carries an MMP of 14 days and a maximum of 18 months. On indictment it carries an MMP of 45 days and a maximum of 10 years. Clearly, these MMPs do not adequately reflect the correct starting point for calculating the sentence for that offence.

The MMPs for sexual touching are also inconsistent with those provided in other offences, such as making child pornography in section 163.1(2), which carries an MMP of 90 days and a maximum of 18 months on summary conviction, and an MMP of one year and a maximum of 10 years on indictment.

Accordingly, Bill C-54 would impose higher MMPs for seven existing child-specific sexual offences: section 151, sexual interference; section 152, invitation to sexual touching; section 153, sexual exploitation; subsection 163.1(4), possession of child pornography; subsection 163.1(4.1), accessing child pornography; paragraph 170(b), parent or guardian procuring unlawful sexual activity with a child under 16 or 17 years; and paragraph 171(b), householder permitting unlawful sexual activity with a child age 16 or 17 years.

As an example, for the offence of sexual interference in section 151, where the maximum penalty on indictment is 10 years, the proposed MMP would be increased from 45 days to one year of imprisonment. For the offence of possessing child pornography under subsection 163.1(4) where the maximum penalty on indictment is five years, the proposed MMP would be increased from 45 days to six months' imprisonment. On summary conviction for the same offences and for which the maximum penalty is 18 months' imprisonment, the proposed MMP would be increased from 14 to 90 days.

Bill C-54 also seeks to prevent the commission of a sexual assault against a child. It does so through two types of reforms: through the creation of two new offences and by requiring courts to consider imposing conditions prohibiting convicted or suspected child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that may facilitate their offending.

Many child sex offenders engage in practices that will facilitate their offending. For example, they may seek out occupations or recreational activities that put them in close contact with children. They may befriend children who they perceive to be in need of friendship or even financial help and then exploit that friendship by engaging in unlawful sexual activity with the child. They may provide the child with aids, such as sexually explicit materials to lower their sexual inhibitions, or they may make arrangements with another person that will result in the commission of a sexual offence against a child.

Bill C-54 proposes to better address this preparatory conduct by creating two new offences. The first offence would prohibit a person from making sexually explicit material available to a young person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual or abduction offence against the young person. Child sex offenders often give such material to their victims to lower their sexual inhibitions and/or to show them the conduct they want the child victim to engage in, or to make the child believe that other children do this too.

It is already an offence to provide such material for any purpose where it constitutes child pornography. Bill C-54 would make it an offence to provide other sexually explicit material to a young person for this purpose. The offence would apply to transmitting, making available, distributing or selling such material to a young person for this purpose and would apply whether it is provided directly in a face-to-face encounter or over the Internet.

Bill C-54 proposes a clear definition of “sexually explicit material”, a definition that is consistent with its use and interpretation in the child pornography section 163.1 of the code, and voyeurism section 162 offences. The proposed new offence would clearly only apply when the material is provided for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an enumerated sexual or abduction offence against that child.

This “for the purpose” criteria is used in the existing Internet luring of a child offence in section 172.1, and was recently interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, in the R. v. Legare decision of 2009 as applying to preparatory conduct that helps to bring about, or make it easier or more probable for the young person to participate in the prohibited conduct. The proposed new offence would be subject to mandatory minimum penalties and a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment on summary conviction, and two years' imprisonment on indictment.

The second new offence proposed by Bill C-54 would prohibit using telecommunications, such as the Internet, to agree or make arrangements with another person to commit one of the enumerated sexual or abduction offences against a child. This offence was previously included in Bill C-46, the investigative powers for the 21st century bill, that the Minister of Justice had introduced in the previous session of Parliament and that died on the order paper on prorogation.

In addition to the new MMP and a more accurate marginal note or title for this proposed offence, it has also been modified from the former Bill C-46 version to ensure consistency with the other new offence being proposed by Bill C-54, and with the existing luring a child offence of section 172.1, all of which follow a similar approach.

For example, the listing of offences in each of these three offences will now all be consistent. Similarly, all three offences would be added to the child sex tourism provision in subsection 7(4.1), which would provide extraterritorial jurisdiction for a Canadian prosecution of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who engages in one of the enumerated child sexual offences while abroad.

Coordinating amendments with Bill S-2, the protecting victims from sex offenders bill, are also proposed to ensure consistent treatment of these offences for the purposes of the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, and DNA provisions in the Criminal Code.

This proposed new offence would fill a gap in our existing law. Currently the existing prohibition against the Internet luring of a child, in section 172.1, applies to communications between the offender and the child. This new offence would apply to communications between, for example, two adults who arrange or make an agreement that would in essence result in the sexual assault of a child. The new offence would better address this preparatory conduct and help to prevent the commission of the actual sexual assault against a child.

Bill C-54 also seeks to prevent convicted or suspected child sex offenders from having the opportunity to facilitate their offending. Finding access to a child or the opportunity to be alone with a child is a key for many child sex offenders. An increasing number of child sex offenders also use the Internet and other new technologies to facilitate the grooming of victims or to commit other child sex offences.

Currently, section 161 of the Criminal Code requires a sentencing court, at the time of sentencing a person convicted of committing one of the enumerated child sexual or abduction offences, to consider imposing a prohibition against the offender from frequenting places where children can reasonably be expected to be found, such as a playground or schoolyard, or from seeking or holding paid or volunteer positions of trust or authority over children, or from using a computer system for the purposes of communicating with a young person.

Section 810.1 of the code provides a comparable direction vis-à-vis conditions that could be imposed as part of a recognizance or peace bond against a person who is reasonably believed to be at risk of committing one of the enumerated child sex or abduction offences.

Bill C-54 proposes to expand the list of enumerated child sex offences to include four procuring offences. It would also broaden the list of prohibitions by directing a court to consider prohibiting the person from having any unsupervised access to a child under the age of 16 years, or from having any unsupervised use of the Internet. The objective of these conditions is to prevent the suspected or convicted child sex offender from being provided with the opportunity to sexually offend against a child or to use the Internet to facilitate such offending.

In summary, Bill C-54 builds upon numerous past and current legislative reforms and initiatives to better protect all children against sexual abuse and exploitation.

It proposes sentencing reforms to ensure that all sexual assaults against a child victim are equally and strongly denounced and deterred through consistent and coherent mandatory minimum sentences. It also proposes reforms to prevent the commission of sexual assault against children.

I hope that all hon. members will support the expeditious enactment of these reforms to provide children with the protection they need and deserve.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have one major concern with the bill, and that is the provision of the sexually explicit material. I understand the Supreme Court of Canada made reference to this. It is common knowledge, and anybody, whether psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker, who has worked on cases involving child sexual abuse is well aware of the technique that pedophiles use to engage younger children as well as teenagers by using sexually explicit material.

I have a question for the parliamentary secretary and my colleague on the justice committee. I am concerned by the way the bill has been drafted. I am asking if the justice department in particular has analysed it from this perspective: whether, by the way this section has been drafted, it will be seen by the courts as a way of getting around the definition of child pornography as it exists in this country now and as the courts have found in a repeated number of cases. Is it a technique to get around the definition so that if this material that is shown to a young person does not amount to child pornography, will the courts say that it does not fit into the definition of child pornography, it is way beyond the scope of child pornography, and strike the charges down because of that, under the charter, because it would be a charter argument?

I am just asking if the department has looked at it from that perspective. I hope I have made my question clear enough. I rambled a bit there.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question and the statement he made earlier today on Bill C-22 that all hon. members agree and have an interest in making our laws more restrictive to ensure that no child is ever sexually abused in Canada.

With respect to his specific question, I can assure him that the department did look at the way the definitions of child pornography mesh with the provisions of material to a child for the purposes of grooming the child for sexual abuse. It is the view of the government and the department that both will withstand any charter challenge.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask a question on the bill. As a father of two young girls, there is no bill we are currently looking at that has more for parents like me to be concerned about than the safety of our own children, so the bill goes a long way to address some of the concerns that we have.

I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary would address a point. My understand is that house arrest would no longer be one of the provisions that would be allowed for those people who have been convicted of some of these horrific crimes. I am wondering if he could express to me an assurance that the bill does address the fact that these people who have been convicted of these horrific crimes will not be let back into the communities, many times the same communities in which they committed their crimes.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question, for his concern and the good work he does to protect children in all of the matters he does, working on behalf of his constituents. I can assure him that the provisions of Bill C-54 will remove the possibility of a conditional sentence for a child sexual offender, and will replace it with a series of mandatory minimum penalties ranging from six months to 18 months of incarceration.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, while I certainly support the intent of this bill, I wonder whether we will see a move on the part of some of these people to engage in sex tourism in other countries. We have had that problem for many years, and the countries change over the years. Thailand was a big source for this activity and I am sure there are other countries.

Does the government have any plans, or is it making any effort, to make certain that we are enforcing our own sex tourism laws? What efforts are being made to deal with other countries to toughen up their laws?

If all we do is export the problem somewhere else, we are not really getting ahead on a worldwide basis.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the hon. member that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice very frequently bring these issues up at international conferences, as do our ambassadors and foreign affairs officials around the world. They continually make the case that other jurisdictions must pass the same kinds of legislation that we have here in Canada against child sexual offences and they must enforce them.

In that regard, as the member will know because I know he listened intently to my speech, I said earlier today that Bill C-54 includes a provision, which will be in subsection 7(4.1) of the Criminal Code, that will provide extraterritorial jurisdiction for Canadian prosecution of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident who engages in one of the enumerated child sexual offences while abroad.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member whether the government has any plans for a criminal injuries compensation fund similar to the fund we have in Manitoba that was set up under the NDP government of Ed Schreyer in 1969 or 1970.

There is a lot of damage caused to people on a long-term basis. Does the government have any way for these victims of crime to receive compensation? Are there any plans afoot to have a federal victims' compensation fund or provisions like that?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will know that this government has recently appointed a new victims' ombudsman, Ms. Susan O'Sullivan, who is a lifelong career police officer. She has an incredible amount of experience in law enforcement and brings all of that experience to bear in advocating on behalf of victims to make sure that victims' interests are taken care of by our justice system.

The member will also know that our government has spent more than any other government on victims' services. As well, it has increased the victims' services budget this year.

We encourage all police officers, current prosecutors and law enforcement officials to bring these services to the attention of all victims. Of course, victims are the number one priority of this government.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the criminal injuries compensation fund idea that was started in Manitoba some 40 years ago is something that his government should look at. It has certainly fulfilled a very valuable function in my home province.

If the government is as concerned as it says it is, and we believe it is, with the plight of victims in society, then it should not only talk about it, but actually do something about it. Certainly the experience with the previous holder of the office was that he was not happy with the lack of commitment to victims.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bob Dechert Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the hon. member that the government is in close consultation with the victims' ombudsman to enhance all services to victims. We will take his suggestions and consider them in all seriousness.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

That concludes the time for debate at this stage. I am going to move now to statements by members since it is almost 11 o'clock.

Gow's Home Hardware
Statements By Members

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to recognize the achievement of Peter Gow and Gow's Home Hardware in my riding of South Shore—St. Margaret's.

Gow's Home Hardware serves Bridgewater and the surrounding community and has a long history that can be traced back to a hardware store originally started by Robert Dawson in 1848.

For the second time, Gow's Home Hardware has been given the singular honour of being recognized as the country's most outstanding hardware store.

Peter Gow, the third-generation owner of Gow's Home Hardware, was awarded Hardware Merchandising magazine's Store of the Year Award.

Gow's Home Hardware is active in its community and always there to assist and co-operate. Congratulations to Peter Gow and his team at Gow's Home Hardware. His hard work, service and accomplishments are recognized by his community and his peers.