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

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Royal Recommendation--Bill C-568--Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

December 3rd, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons on November 5, 2010, concerning the requirements for a royal recommendation for Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census), standing in the name of the hon. member for St. Paul's.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having drawn this matter to the attention of the House as well as the member for York South—Weston for his comments.

In raising this issue, the parliamentary secretary explained that Bill C-568 would add two requirements to the Statistics Act. First, it would prescribe that in 20% of the cases, the long form census questionnaire be used and second, that the questions in the long form questionnaire be similar in length and scope to the ones contained in the 1971 census. He stated that in his view, this would constitute a new obligation for Statistics Canada given that even though the statutory authority for including a long form census questionnaire already exists, Bill C-568 would make its use mandatory instead of discretionary. He also argued that this requirement would compel the government to spend a minimum of $50 million. He concluded that since Bill C-568 would alter the conditions and qualifications of Statistics Canada's existing mandate in addition to imposing a new statutory obligation, a royal recommendation is required.

In support of his view, the parliamentary secretary made reference to a series of precedents involving bills that were found by the Chair to require a royal recommendation because they were either changing the purpose of a spending authority or adding a new function to an existing mandate.

In his intervention, the member for York South—Weston argued that Bill C-568 does not change the current mandate of Statistics Canada, nor does it add a new responsibility or a new function to the department. He contended that the bill only requires Statistics Canada to fulfill its existing mandate. He also argued that, contrary to the arguments raised by the parliamentary secretary, Bill C-568 would not entail additional expenses; in fact, he claimed that it would actually cost less.

The Chair has examined carefully the provisions of Bill C-568, An Act to amend the Statistics Act (mandatory long-form census) as well as the Statistics Act and the precedents enumerated by the parliamentary secretary.

The precedents cited by the parliamentary secretary involved bills that required a royal recommendation because they were proposing new purposes or new functions not currently authorized. Such is not the case for Bill C-568 since it does not appear to be adding to or expanding the current mandate of Statistics Canada.

This mandate may be found in paragraphs (a) and (c) of section 3 of the Statistics Act, which reads as follows:

3. There shall continue to be a statistics bureau under the Minister, to be known as Statistics Canada, the duties of which are

(a) to collect, compile, analyse, abstract and publish statistical information relating to the commercial, industrial, financial, social, economic and general activities and condition of the people;...

(c) to take the census of population of Canada and the census of agriculture of Canada as provided in this Act;

With regard to the issue of costs associated with the mandatory use of the long form as prescribed by Bill C-568, the key question for the Chair is whether what the bill proposes constitutes a new appropriation of public funds.

Section 19 of the Statistics Act states:

A census of population of Canada shall be taken by Statistics Canada in the month of June in the year 1971, and every fifth year thereafter in a month to be fixed by the Governor in Council.

In my view, this section, along with section 3 cited earlier, constitutes the statutory spending authority for Statistics Canada to conduct the census using either the short or the long form questionnaire.

Bill C-568 would require the Chief Statistician to include a long form questionnaire in 20% of the cases whenever a population census is conducted.

Even though there is now no such requirement in the Statistics Act, the Chief Statistician is currently authorized to include a long form questionnaire.

Therefore, it is my view that this would not constitute a new spending authority, nor would it alter the terms and conditions of Statistic Canada's mandate.

Consequently, from a strictly procedural point of view, the Chair cannot find that Bill C-568 requires the expenditure of public funds for a new and distinct purpose. I therefore rule that there is no requirement that the bill be accompanied by a royal recommendation and that the House may continue to consider it in accordance with the rules governing private members' business.

I thank the hon. members for their attention.

The House resumed consideration of the motion 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.

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12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are continuing debate on this quite new statute. It was only introduced a month ago.

It is another of the government's many amendments to the Criminal Code, which for some reason it has not been able to package in one bill. I do not mind that if perhaps carving up these Criminal Code amendments into smaller pieces will make it easier for colleagues in the House, and maybe for the cabinet. Maybe the cabinet is not able to handle a big Criminal Code omnibus bill all at once. It is quite possible the members of the cabinet have limited capacity to handle those kinds of volumes.

I can assure the House that I have seen bills that are longer, larger, thicker, more complex than each of these Criminal Code amendments. Something tells me the procedure would go a lot faster and more efficiently if the government had chosen the route of larger bills.

Right now, I did a count on this, there are somewhere around 15 separate Criminal Code amendments in the House and in the Senate. It has dragged on from the previous session into this session, and in some cases from the previous Parliament into this Parliament.

In any event, let us say that we are catching up. We are trying to accommodate the volume, keeping in mind that every bill must be debated in the House. The bills have to go committee. Almost all bills do go to committee for study after second reading, then come back here for possible amendment or concurrence or third reading, and then off to the Senate for analogous procedures.

All of that takes time, no matter how we cut it. I am merely saying this because with the addition of this new bill, it will simply add to the list that the Minister of Justice will, from time to time, refer to and pretend that the House is taking excessive or inordinate amounts of time to pass.

He has made the same complaint with the Senate, although I do notice that since the Conservatives achieved a working majority in the Senate, the other place, he does not seem to criticize the Senate quite as often as he used to. Indeed, that Senate has to do the same kind of work we do. It has to pass these bills.

If there is anyone to blame for the lengthy investment of procedural time on these bills, it must be the government itself because it is the one that decided that instead of having two or three separate bills, it wanted to have roughly 15 bills. That is simply the state of art as it is now.

This particular bill focuses on the area of sexual offences in relation to children. It is a three or four part rework of a number of sections of the Criminal Code, sentencing provisions and prohibition orders. There is an insertion of one, two or three new provisions, and I will make reference to those in my remarks.

The concept of adding some mandatory minimum sentences to the code is not new. We have been doing this in Parliament for 10, 20 or 30 years, but not doing it on a wholesale basis. It seems to me that every time the government moves around now it includes mandatory minimum sentences in whatever it does in relation to the Criminal Code. I do not think that is good public policy. There are a whole lot of people who do not think that is good public policy.

That is not to say that we do not need minimum sentences. There are situations and circumstances where they are appropriate and useful, and should be there. In this particular bill, while there are a whole lot of mandatory minimums added, I would have to accept that in some cases the mandatory minimum is appropriate with one proviso.

As I read the bill, and as I said it has only been on the order paper for a month, I compared the new provision to the old provision. I found that the old provision already had a mandatory minimum sentence built into it. I wondered what was happening here.

This is like a bidding war such that “I can legislate a bigger mandatory minimum sentence than they can”. I hope that is not what is going on here. I hope that the mandatory minimum sentence provisions that have been chosen and inserted into some of these new bills have been thought about and canvassed among people who understand how the sentencing system works. I hope this is not just a political reaction of “look how big of a sentence I can propose in my legislation”.

The bill also expands the list of conditions and coordinates the conditions with convictions. For example, on a type of offence involving children there may be a condition during or post sentence that the individual is prohibited from doing certain things or being in certain places. That is usually involving children.

There are a couple of other new arrangements in there that we should take a look at, and I will in my remarks if I have time.

One of the newer interventions in the Criminal Code in dealing with children is the arrival of the Internet and computer. At one point in our legislation we actually used the term “computer”. About 15 or 20 years ago we defined what a computer was and the types of offences that would involve a computer and other people, or a computer and children.

Now, of course, we have convergence in the technology universe. The basic hand-held telephone is the equivalent of a computer. We now have to reinvent the terminology we use because a cellphone is not a computer, yet it is capable of being part of a series of actions involving a criminal offence.

I can see there is a reversion in the definitions here to go back and reincorporate telephones and telecommunications in addition to the computer. We may have to abandon the concept of “computer”, there may be some other concept of technology that we have to refer to.

Of course, we will be forever revising and amending our Criminal Code as we go into the future because these things will happen. Our society will change, technology will change, and we have to keep updating our codes. I do not object to the concept at all.

I have mentioned mandatory minimum sentencing as a concept and it has been inserted into many sections in the bill. I have to ask the question again: Do mandatory minimum sentences work?

The answer is not clear. There is not a simple yes or no answer to this. It appears that a mandatory minimum sentence can work as a deterrent if it is associated with public education and good enforcement. We learned this with reference to the drunk driving and the impaired driving provisions of the Criminal Code.

It appears to us that the mandatory minimum sentences provided for in the impaired driving sections have had a deterrent impact. Keep in mind that the mandatory minimums there are associated with other penalties, escalating penalties and good enforcement by police who are out there stopping drivers, using breathalyzers, and doing a very good job of enforcement.

Did it get rid of impaired driving? No.

Has it diminished it? The statistics show that it has.

We accept that a mandatory minimum penalty will work. We have evidence that it does not work. The mandatory minimum penalty for murder is life in prison, 25 years before parole. Does that deter murder? Let us accept that it does but we still have a lot of murders. Obviously the toughest sentence we have does not deter.

Lurking behind this issue of mandatory minimum sentencing is the problem that most people who commit criminal offences do not even think about deterrence in the first place. When they commit the offence, they actually do not believe they will be caught. If they do not believe they are going to get caught, then they could hardly be expected to turn their mind to a mandatory minimum sentence if caught. If the mandatory minimum sentence is going to deter an individual, that individual has to think he or she will get caught.

I also have to accept that mandatory minimum sentences are not there only for deterrence. Mandatory minimums can also be used for what is called societal denunciation, meaning society says the individual has done a bad thing so that no matter what he or she has to go to jail.

We have had a lot of litigation on this. There has been a lot of sociology on this. As Canadians, we are entitled to put a firm penalty into a Criminal Code offence. We are entitled to say that someone who has done a bad thing must serve some time so that the person knows and everyone knows it was a bad thing.

Denunciation is a part of this but it cannot be the rock bottom foundation. For public safety purposes we need deterrents and a whole range of other factors in sentencing. They are all listed in the Criminal Code in one of the sections revised about 15 years ago.

A lot of us in the House come from urban areas or urban-rural areas close to big cities. A few of us come from rural and remote areas with a lot of very small communities. Not every small community has a court and a jail. When we enact in here a provision that says there must be a mandatory minimum sentence and a crime takes place in a remote community that requires that mandatory minimum sentence, the individual has to be picked up and taken to a court somewhere. Even if there is a courthouse in the community there may not be a jail. If the individual is convicted, he or she has to be moved another 500 miles or kilometres, or whatever it is, to a detention facility. That is pretty costly. I ask the question and I leave it unanswered: Is that the most appropriate type of sentence for an offender in a remote community, to lift him or her up and take them away from where they are?

We have to do that because there is a mandatory minimum sentence. It is not like we could resort to some other form of appropriate sentencing. Even if everybody in the village believes the sentencing is appropriate if it does not involve mandatory detention, it would not matter because we are passing a law that says there must be a mandatory sentence attached to it. The person would have to be taken away. In any event, that is a fact of life in Canada.

This is really unfortunate if a crime happens in a rural area. I am thinking of first nations communities. I really wish that we and our first nations communities could handle some of these justice matters ourselves and not have the boys and girls in Ottawa imposing mandatory minimum sentences.

One of the sentences in relation to which the government is proposing a mandatory minimum does not involve a few months. A five-year minimum sentence applies to incest involving a child. This is a serious offence. Unfortunately, incest reflects a serious social problem. I question whether a mandatory five-year minimum sentence in every instance, every scenario, every case is appropriate. Five years would be mandated by this new section.

I think we see that in some circumstances the sociology of drug addition, the sociology of alcoholism, the sociology of mental illness, all are factors in some of these cases. Just presuming that we appropriately respond and solve that problem by imposing a mandatory five year minimum sentence, without even know the facts, seems backhanded. It someone's view of denunciation.

I do not for a moment condone this type of criminal activity. It is reprehensible, but I am not so sure that the government's knee-jerk five year minimum is what is appropriate in our system of justice.

Members will have an opportunity to look at this in the committee and we will see what the justifications are.

Another proposed section of the bill seemed like it was concocted in a crime novel, and that is new section 15. It creates a new offence under section 172.2. This is one of these sections where we have to reach back and add in the word “telecommunications”. It states:

Every person commits an offence who, by a means of telecommunication, agrees with a person, or makes an arrangement with a person, to commit an offence...

A whole raft of sexual offences are there. However, the essential part of that is making an arrangement by telephone. By the way, it sounds like the Criminal Code to commit an attempt type offence because the offence actually does not have to happen. The sexual act or sexual encounter does not have to happen for the offence to take place.

In creating the new sentence, the bill removes the defence of whether we knew the person was under or over 18. Some people would say that if we did not know, it would be our own fault. However, do not forget, this offence happens on the telephone.

Then there is another section that takes away defences. It is no defence that the person on the telephone was a police officer or was put up to it by a police officer. That is not a defence, so a police officer can do that. Then it says that it is not even an offence if the person who the arrangement was made with did not even exist if there was a peace officer involved on the other end of this. It is an entrapment machine. We need to have a very good look at this.

I am happy to see this concept of setting up an arrangement or a rendezvous with a young person under 18, then under 16 and under 14, as set out in the section, as a potential criminal offence. I am not happy to see the defences removed. A person might not even know the age of the person. It says that one is still guilty unless one took reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the person. I am not so sure that in a telephone conversation like that, someone will ask for a driver's licence and ask for age. Therefore, this has to be looked at very carefully.

Police officers may feel this will enhance their ability to snare predators and that may well be the case. I do not mind if it does, but, as always, we have to ensure that our Criminal Code provides procedural fairness for everyone, not just the bad guy. There but for the grace of God sometimes go all of us. We never know when we will get caught in a trap, when someone sets us up. I think most of us have seen enough television or read enough novels to know about that.

The last thing I want to refer to is section 26. Again, we are using and reusing terminology—

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12:30 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member. I could not get his attention. Perhaps he can finish his speech in response to questions and comment.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to listen to the comments of the member for Scarborough—Rouge River on Bill C-54.

I was intrigued by his observations that the government had introduced perhaps 15 Criminal Code amendments, which are fairly simple. The suggestion he has made, being a well-regarded lawyer who has been around the House for many years, is that perhaps the government could have proceeded by way of an omnibus bill. It certainly managed to that with the 980 page budget bill, which was not appropriate for that case. However, in this case, a revamp of the Criminal Code, putting all these amendments into one bill, would not only be appropriate, but would probably be the preferred way to do.

The other aspect of it is that the Criminal Code is 100 years old and is probably in need of a very large revamp as it is. Does the hon. member agree that perhaps the federal government should have engaged in consultation with the provinces and had a series of road show type hearings across the country about what should be involved in a total rewrite of the Criminal Code? The Conservatives could start by involving the opposition parties. By doing that, they would have a better possibility of having a productive Parliament and actually achieving something during the government's tenure in office.

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12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has made the point about the non-omnibus bill. It would have been a lot more efficient to have one.

In terms of reworking the Criminal Code in a big way, yes it needs it. The statute is very old. There are some pretty old sections in it. However, there are right ways and wrong ways to do that. Most jurisdictions have found that if they do not lay the groundwork properly, they do not seek the political consensus and they do not get the new rework through quickly, they get stoned to death. They get nickeled and dimed to oblivion.

I recall about 25 years ago when the state of Indiana did a rework of its Criminal Code. It was reputed that it did it the right way. We could do it here with the right kind of collaboration and laying the right groundwork. However, we should all agree that with these short parliaments we have now and minority governments, this would be very difficult to do, but some day we will get around to it.

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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Madam Speaker, this legislation, the protecting children from sexual predators act, is supported by me as well as members of the House because so many of us have children, grandchildren and people in our families who we want to protect. I know the legislation would go a long day to doing that.

The hon. member talked about remote communities. I represent many remote communities, communities that do not have, as he described, access to court and jail institutions. However, removing these people from remote communities is absolutely essential. First, it would ensure the protection of the community. It would also allow the children against whom these crimes have been perpetrated some ability to heal by not having to see the perpetrator on a daily basis. In many of these remote communities, there are only several hundred people. There is a good chance that if the perpetrator is not removed, the children would continue to see this person on an ongoing basis. I am a strong promoter and believer that these people should be removed from those communities.

The member talked about whether five years was an appropriate sentence. I have met with victims of incest. We might find that people, especially victims of these horrible crimes, would agree five years is not long enough. In fact, it should be much longer, and I appreciate that.

In his description of mandatory minimum sentences, the member described the fact that they were deterrents as well as denunciations. However, he did not comment on the fact that these are good protections. We know sexual predators who are in the practice of victimizing children have a very high propensity to reoffend. If these people are put under house arrest and are sent back to the communities where they perpetrated their crimes, there is a very good chance they will continue to victimize children.

Would the hon. member agree with me that mandatory minimum sentences would do what he describes, act as deterrents and denunciations, but, more important, would provide additional protection of the community and children because these people would be unable to continue to perpetrate and victimize children?

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I can agree in many cases that the member is accurate. My comments about mandatory minimums were not with respect only to sexual offence, but across the whole range of the Criminal Code.

He spoke about perpetrators committing sexual offences against children. If the perpetrator is convicted of some other criminal offence, not a sexual offence in relation to children, the mandatory minimum would removed that person from the family and put the individual in another jail in another place. That would be another impact on children. This has nothing to do with sexual offences.

The focus on the bill is sexual offences, protecting children against sexual offences. I think this has pretty wide support in the House. As we go forward on mandatory minimums, I want to ensure we target properly and get it right.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I enjoyed my colleague's comments about the mandatory minimums and the common expression for mandatory minimums being “deterrents”, in a general sense.

Let us look at the murder rates and how the mandatory minimum talks about 25 years imprisonment. Let us compare Houston to Toronto. One has the death penalty, one does not and one has a higher murder rate, which would be Houston.

Could he comment briefly on that?

The member mentioned section 26, but did not have time to talk about it in his speech. Perhaps he could start by making his comments on that section known to the House and to the public.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the point I wanted to raise in relation to section 26, for which I thank the member for giving me the opportunity to do so, is the section refers to one of these prohibitions during and post-sentence where a person is convicted. It states:

prohibit the defendant from using the Internet or other digital network, unless the defendant does so in accordance with conditions set by the judge;

What is a digital network? We are fishing around in the new age of technology. A digital network could involve a hearing aid that a person is wearing. It could involve a telephone. Even when we watch T.V., we are watching something that is a part of a digital network.

I want to ensure we have our terminology right. The intent is clear and I support it. I want to ensure when we use these terms, we use the right ones.

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12:40 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, the member suggested that the government should have introduced perhaps one bill instead of 15 separate bills. I would simply like to remind the hon. member that the government has extreme difficulty pursuing any one of the 15 bills.

He is a member of the justice committee and he will know that his party objected to Bill S-6, the faint hope clause bill. The Liberals claimed that they were going to reintroduce it in a future government, if they were ever to form a government.

Can members imagine what would happen if all those bills were combined into one bill? It would never get through Parliament.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, I did not say one bill; I said a few. I think I mentioned the number three, or perhaps four. We have to get 15 down.

The member has partly made my point. He says they have trouble getting one bill through. Then they have trouble getting 15 bills through. If they would reduce it to three or four bills, they would only have trouble getting three or four bills through and we would get through this stuff a whole lot more quickly.

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12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-54, which was introduced by the Minister of Justice on November 4 and which amends the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), also known as the protecting children from sexual predators act.

It is important for the people listening to us to understand the scope of this bill, which I will summarize in five points. The bill increases or imposes mandatory minimum penalties for certain sexual offences with respect to children; prohibits anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child; prohibits anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree or make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child; ensures consistency among those two new offences and the existing offence of luring a child; and expands the list of specified conditions that may be added to prohibition and recognizance orders to include prohibitions concerning contact with a person under the age of 16 and use of the Internet or other digital network, and to expand the list of enumerated offences that may give rise to such orders and prohibitions.

New technologies are forcing us to rethink the offences set out in the Criminal Code. The Bloc Québécois believes that the all-important fight against crime—especially when the victims are children—must be realistic. Crime rates in Quebec have been dropping over the past 15 years, as they have in Canada.

Some of the measures proposed in this bill definitely warrant attention, such as the creation of new offences or new restrictions imposed on delinquents. But, once again, this bill contains minimum sentences. That is not a surprise, but the Bloc Québécois has always maintained here in the House that minimum sentences are ineffective and unfair by nature.

It is important that those watching us understand. We have inherited our justice system from our ancestors. The Criminal Code has always been based on maximum sentences. Judges use case law and the circumstances of each case—in criminal law, each case is unique—to determine the most appropriate sentence for the individual before them and for the crime committed. That is how our ancestors founded criminal law and passed it on to Quebec and Canadian society.

In recent years, with increasing media involvement, there has been a strong tendency to use the Criminal Code as a substitute for judges through the imposition of minimum sentences. This has been even more evident since the Conservatives took power. The trend is to not let the judge determine the penalty but to set fixed sentences in the Criminal Code. This trend is purely a matter of partisan opportunism. When something is reported in the media, it is amplified, tempers flare and people think that the sentence is never stiff enough for the crime committed, especially when the media get involved.

Our ancestors left us a justice system that was sheltered from such impulsive public reactions. As our societies evolved, things have changed. When I came into politics in 2000, the Internet was around, but it was not as efficient as it is today. With social networking, some situations end up online so quickly that the public finds out even before the media can report on it.

What does this mean? It means that the public develops an opinion before the police even start handling a case or before it can even be reported on properly.

You may say that our ancestors did not have that, which is true, but they still left us a historic form of logic. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and the justice system allows the judge to determine what sentence is appropriate for the crime committed, in light of all kinds of factors. For example, the judge must consider whether it is a first or second offence, and so on. This is what has developed from what our ancestors left us. The case law or jurisprudence changes and evolves, and judges adapt.

The government wants to introduce minimum sentences because it thinks that the system is not fast enough. It thinks that our legal system is slower than people want it to be. However, once again, it seems to me that popular opinion is being artificially manipulated by the media, by all media. Some of them have completely different interpretations. That is important. When something happens and we hear about it at home via the Internet, Facebook, Twitter or some other channel, initial versions of events may differ from those conveyed by the media. Then, once all the facts are laid before the court, there is often a huge difference between people's first impression of events and the court's interpretation in handing down a verdict. The courts analyze each case, review the evidence and get to know every little detail about the crime, how it was committed and the person who committed it.

Once again, I want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois wants to study this bill in committee. The new offences seem appropriate to us because technology has evolved. People make contact through the Internet, not necessarily physical contact. But some virtual contact may become physical, and that should be condemned. We have to create new sentences.

Once again, the Bloc Québécois has some serious reservations about minimum sentences. During the committee's study of this bill, we will call the necessary witnesses to help the Conservatives understand that minimum sentences are not necessarily the best solution.

I will review the new jail sentences included in this bill. It covers sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, aggravated sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, incest where the victim is under 16 years of age, luring a child through the use of a computer, and exposure. There are provisions that create two new offences. I want to take the time to mention these because I find them interesting.

The first is to prohibit anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child. This hybrid offence would carry a mandatory prison sentence of 30 days—once again, this is the minimum sentence—and a maximum penalty of 6 months when proceeded on summary conviction, and a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days—once again, this is the minimum sentence.

The second is to prohibit anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree or make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child. This new offence was previously proposed as part of former Bill C-46 in the previous session of Parliament. This proposed hybrid offence would now carry a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days—once again, this is a minimum sentence.

I would like to reiterate that we concur with the new offences that have been added. However, we question the idea of mandatory prison sentences that even a judge cannot interpret or adjust based on the seriousness of the situation.

At first glance, we need to make sure in committee that the measures related to these two offences will facilitate the work of police, since that is the goal. The Bloc Québécois has always acted responsibly in this House and, in particular, it was the first party to fight organized crime, among other things, by requiring the reversal of the onus of proof for members of organized crime groups.

Before the Bloc Québecois intervened, the state had to prove that goods in the possession of organized criminals were not acquired legally. The onus of proof is now reversed thanks to the Bloc Québecois, which succeeded in convincing Parliament that such should be the case. Now, when a crime is committed by members of an organized crime group, these individuals must prove that the goods were acquired using money earned doing legal activities. If they are not able to prove that such is the case, the goods are automatically considered to have been obtained illegally.

Inevitably, this has had a considerable impact on the seizure of assets belonging to criminals who are members of organized crime groups. I think this has, among other things, made the job of police officers in Quebec a little easier. There was Opération Printemps 2001, the Carcajou squad and the whole fight against organized crime led by the Parti Québécois government of the day, which practically guaranteed the disbandment of organized biker gangs like the Hells Angels and other groups. They have been practically obliterated. Authorities were able to arrest their leaders, because they could not prove that their assets had been lawfully acquired.

Once again, the Bloc Québécois's approach has always been responsible and effective. Our approach puts faith in the justice system. We learned this approach and this trust in the judicial system from our predecessors. Judges are supposed to be the most competent individuals in the legal community. They are the best qualified to determine the appropriate sentence based on the crime committed and the criminal history of the person on trial.

We even demonstrated our sense of responsibility in this House with our plan to deal with economic crime. During the recent economic crisis, several white collar criminals profited from the largesse of many people who were not very knowledgeable.

When the economy is doing well, everyone makes money and the hope is to make more than everyone else. That has always made me laugh, especially when it comes to our bankers. There are organizations that were even paying bankers to give talks. The major bank presidents of this world were giving talks and getting paid to do so.

Then, like sheep, they were all fleeced. They all lost money. No one saw the financial crisis coming. They relied on their junior staff and passed themselves off as geniuses when everything was going well. The worst part is that in the wake of this crisis, they continue to earn their big fat salaries. That is just wrong.

The Bloc Québécois has its own way of fighting economic crime. First, we have always maintained that parole after one-sixth of a sentence needs to be abolished. One of the reasons for public cynicism is the fact that a person sentenced to six years can be eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence.

In other words, that person can be released after one year. When someone spends months behind bars before the trial, that time counts for double. We have always wanted to abolish this two-for-one rule. In my example, the six-year sentence would be reduced to one year because the offender is eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence. Having already spent two months in prison, the offender would get a four-month credit. Even though the offender gets a six-year sentence, he will have only eight months left to serve before being released.

This is out of the hands of the judiciary. Politicians are the ones who decided on parole and the two-for-one rule. Judges apply sentences, and if the person is deemed eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence, then he will be paroled. In the case of economic crimes, we are saying in no uncertain terms that there should not be any parole after one-sixth of the sentence. If the person was sentenced to six years, he must serve six years, period. Nor should any time count for double.

We wanted to amend the Criminal Code provisions on confiscating the proceeds of crime in order to include measures covering fraud over $5,000, reorganize police forces, and require that banks report irregularities in trust accounts. All these responsible measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois were not accepted or took some time to be acknowledged by the Conservative Party.

All that to say that we have always anticipated what the people want, while respecting the legacy our ancestors left us. The legal system is a legacy. The Bloc Québécois's position will not change and it will always hold the same opinion about Bill C-54. The new offences to be added, which are often made necessary by new technologies, are a no-brainer. They have to be created, especially when children are concerned.

My beautiful little grandson is just 14 months old. If anything at all were to happen to him, I would be tempted to take the law into my own hands and I would have to restrain myself. It is our job, as decision-makers, to protect these beautiful children. It is awful that new technologies can corrupt our children and even subject them to sexual crimes. We must support these new sentences and this means of fighting crime that targets children.

But do we need a system of minimum penalties that goes against the justice system left to us by our ancestors? According to that system, judges are the best able to decide, not journalists or members of Parliament, because they are subject to public pressure and want to establish a fair system to be passed on to future generations. We need a proper debate on this, and that is what will happen when this bill is sent to committee. We will have to hear from expert witnesses to find out how minimum penalties have been used in other societies. The Americans have used them. There are examples from other parts of the world that can show whether minimum penalties have prevented, reduced or solved the problem of crime.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill at second reading to ensure that it can be studied in committee and that it meets everyone's expectations.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the hon. member's speech and I am pleased to hear that his party will at least support sending this very important bill to committee.

He raised the issue of mandatory minimum penalties. Of course, we have heard this from the Bloc before, but I am a little confused because a few weeks ago when we were debating Bill S-9, the bill on auto theft, there was a mandatory minimum penalty of six months for a third conviction offence of auto theft. In the House a member of his party, in fact I think it was the justice critic for his party, said that the Bloc was not rigidly ideologically against mandatory minimum penalties, and as an example, the Bloc was going to vote in favour of the bill because those members think six months is reasonable. Then when the bill went through committee, the Bloc moved a motion to have that deleted because the Bloc members decided they were in fact ideologically opposed to mandatory minimum penalties.

Perhaps the member would like to explain why including a mandatory minimum penalty for accessing child pornography and sexual exploitation of children and moving the minimum on summary conviction up from 14 days to 90 days, and on indictment from 45 days to six months is outrageous. Perhaps he could also comment on the impact on people's faith and confidence in the justice system when they see child sexual predators spend a minimum of 15 days in jail.