House of Commons Hansard #112 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was registry.

Topics

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

There being no motions at report stage, the House will now proceed, without debate, to the putting of the question on the motion to concur in the bill at report stage.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

moved that the bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

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

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

December 7th, 2010 / 12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

moved that Bill S-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Oxford
Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak at the third reading of Bill S-2.

The significance of this bill cannot be overstated. It will help police prevent and investigate sex offences by having access to more complete information about convicted sex offenders. The result is quite simply that we can better protect our children, youth and adults.

Our government is committed to keeping Canadians safe and secure, and the legislation before us today is a crucial step forward in helping us meet that commitment. Most importantly, we want to give police the information and tools they need in order to do their jobs more effectively. This is an issue that affects all Canadians, young and old, in big cities or rural centres. We are all looking for a system that better protects communities against crimes of a sexual nature.

It is obvious from the support this legislation has received from hon. members that this is a priority for all of us. Together we are making a statement that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that the national sex offender registry must be strengthened.

We are saying that we are committed to both preventing sexual crimes and ensuring that police are aware of all convicted sex offenders in our communities so that they can carry out their investigative work more effectively.

Since coming into power in 2006, our government has made it a key priority to protect our citizens. We have acted decisively to crack down on crime and to ensure the safety and security of our neighbourhoods and communities.

In the 2010 Speech from the Throne, we told Canadians we would take action to protect the most vulnerable in our communities, and that is exactly what we will accomplish with Bill S-2.

The support we have seen for Bill S-2 from all hon. members shows that we all want the same thing: a Canada that is safer for everyone. That is certainly the message we have received from Canadians who have raised important questions about whether certain provisions of the justice system are as effective as they can be.

Canadians have also asked why we have a national sex offender registry that does not include all sex offenders and why we have a registry that, frankly, does not offer greater protection for the most vulnerable among us, our children.

Bill S-2 continues our work to address the concerns of Canadians by amending the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the Criminal Code to provide Canadians with a national sex offender registry and a national DNA databank that will more effectively offer Canadians that kind of security. It responds to the concerns and recommendations from victims' groups and from our partners in the provinces and territories with whom we have consulted extensively on how we can make the registry truly effective.

The bill also responds to the concerns and recommendations of law enforcement agencies. It includes amendments put forward by both the government and the opposition that further address shortcomings in the existing legislation.

First and foremost, Bill S-2 will ensure that every person convicted of a sexual offence is added to the national sex offender registry automatically and that every person added to the registry will also be required to provide a DNA sample to the national DNA databank.

At present, convicted sex offenders are added to the registry only after an application is made by the Crown. This leaves open the possibility that offenders can challenge the application and, if successful, their names would not be included in the registry.

By making the registration of sex offenders automatically, Bill S-2 eliminates the chance that police may not have knowledge of all convicted sex offenders.

This legislation will also transform the national sex offender registry into a proactive tool for law enforcement agencies. As it exists now, police can access information in the registry only after a sexual crime has been committed in order to help them investigate who may be responsible. This is certainly useful in bringing offenders to justice, but it does little to prevent crime.

With these changes in place, for example, if police see suspicious activity at a community centre, a shopping mall or a school yard, they will be able to access the registry in order to prevent a potential crime of a sexual nature. They will be able to find out whether the person involved is a registered sex offender and obtain other information to assist them in their work.

Since this bill was first introduced in the House, several other amendments have been made to strengthen the legislation. For example, officials will be authorized to include new information in the database, such as a registered sex offender's method of operating in relation to the offence. This would provide police with valuable information regarding how a sex offender carried out his or her crime and any unique aspects in this regard, which could help them identify potential suspects in a case more quickly and effectively.

Another change is a provision regarding vehicle registration information. I am sure we have all heard or seen reports of threatened or actual sex offences where the police have little to go on beyond a vague description of the vehicle involved, such as a white car with four doors or a dark brown van.

We have also seen how a detailed description of the vehicle used by an offender can lead to a quick arrest. With this change in place, registered sex offenders will be required to report the make, model, year, body type and colour of any vehicle registered in their names and any other vehicles that they may use on a regular basis, such as a company car or truck.

Bill S-2 also includes a provision that would allow travel notifications to police in other jurisdictions when a registered sex offender is travelling through or to their area. This is particularly important with respect to high-risk sex offenders.

This also includes the notification of police in other countries, in keeping with our international responsibility with regard to sex tourism and the protection of our children abroad. In this regard, Bill S-2 also includes provisions to include in the national sex offender registry individuals who have been convicted of sex offences abroad and then returned to Canada. These measures requiring proper sharing of information are significant improvements over the existing legislation. They would further ensure the registry is truly useful in protecting public safety.

Bill S-2 is an important piece of legislation, and the time has come to pass this bill and show Canadians that we are serious about ensuring their safety. This bill would ensure all sex offenders who should be on the national sex offender registry are on the registry, and it would provide police with the information they need to protect our children and other valuable members of our society from sex offences before they occur.

Bill S-2 is a thorough and effective response to legitimate concerns and recommendations that have been expressed by police, by victims' rights groups, by our provincial and territorial partners and by Canadians. I ask all hon. members to unanimously support Bill S-2 and help our government fulfill this pledge to Canadians to protect our most vulnerable from harm.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member and I had an opportunity to work on this bill in committee, and I wonder if he could comment on something that is regrettable and I hope does not happen again. I am looking for him to confirm that we will not see this happen again.

We in committee had the opportunity to hear from a good number of witnesses who came from all over the place to give testimony, particularly with respect to Christopher's Law and how we need to better model that example from Ontario federally. The committee had agreed to make time on the calendar to do a statutory review of the sex offender registry, where this had come from.

Committee members were obviously greatly disappointed that, mere weeks before we were about to publish our report with our recommendations from all of that work, the government tabled its bill and pre-empted that. In fact, if the government had just waited a little to hear about the work the committee had done, many of the changes the member is referencing would not have had to be changes; they could have been incorporated initially into the bill.

I am wondering if I could have the assurance of the member on behalf of the government that, in the future, if committees are working on reports or undertaking statutory reviews, we could be given the opportunity to at least be listened to before the legislation is tabled.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all members of the committee for their hard work on this bill. As I indicated in my speech, there was good co-operation from all members. Some amendments were made to the bill, which I believe strengthen it a great deal, and that was through the co-operation and support of all members of the committee.

In fact, the committee waited far too long to get this bill moving; the government could not wait any longer and the legislation was introduced. However, it did not affect the efficiency of the committee in dealing with it. As I said in my speech, all committee members worked diligently to make sure that this piece of legislation moved forward in its current stage. It is a piece of legislation that all parties can point to as being a good piece of legislation coming out of this session.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
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12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.

When we did the report on the sex offender registry, we heard testimony from two organizations that conduct DNA analysis. If my memory serves me correctly, because it was almost a year ago, one was from Quebec and the other from Ontario. What is more, one of them was run by the RCMP and the other by a Quebec organization.

When we were talking to them, they told us that they still did not have a new budget agreement with the federal government for analyzing DNA samples, that there were delays of up to one year and that, in their opinion, their budget needed to be increased in order to deal with the backlog.

Was an agreement ever reached between these two organizations and the government? Will the budgets be increased? If so, by how much will they be increased?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I previously indicated, there was good co-operation from all members of the committee working together on this.

My colleague is right that there was some discussion about outside bodies requesting additional financing. Those discussions were taking place amongst the two levels of jurisdiction. At this point I am not certain as to what the final outcome was, but we certainly have not heard anything since from the body of which my colleague spoke.

I do not know whether or not those agreements are in place. I am certain that those discussions, if they have not been completed, will be finalized somewhere in the not too distant future.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
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12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, given that my colleague humbly said that he was not aware of the outcome of this issue, I would appreciate it if he looked into the matter to satisfy my curiosity and to bring everyone up to speed. I would like this information to be presented in the House or in committee so that we know whether an agreement was reached and whether the budgets were increased.

Since my colleague does not know, could he get that information to us?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will endeavour to get the information as soon as I can and will give it to my colleague at a committee meeting.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise on this bill. It is a difficult emotional topic. There are probably not many Canadians who do not know somebody or have a family member who has in some way been touched by sexual violence. When it happens to a child, it is particularly heinous.

Obviously governments and parliaments should do everything in their power to go after those who commit the crimes, and in particular enable police, once a crime has happened, to apprehend the person quickly and to remove the young person from danger before something worse happens. When an incident of this nature occurs, the first hours are critical in finding out where the child is. Having an effective sex offender registry that allows police in a timely way to target their search and go after those who might have committed the offence is critically important.

If we look at where the legislation comes from, there was a mandatory review, as I referenced earlier, which required the committee to take a look at the sex offender registry. In undertaking that work, it became very clear to all of us that the federal registry was woefully inadequate, that other jurisdictions provincially had far outpaced us. It was certainly the case in Ontario where Christopher's law had been implemented with great success. It was a model all committee members looked at and on which we asked a lot of questions.

Witnesses came from different parts of Canada and we took the opportunity to hear from them. We were on the verge of releasing a series of recommendations, but that process was pre-empted by the bill being presented. Much to our disappointment, because the bill had been hastily crafted and prematurely presented, a number of the recommendations that we made were missing and had to be injected into the bill.

I understand that all of us want to move legislation through expeditiously, but so too it is important to have a proper study of legislation to make sure that when we pass something, we get it right. If we respond instantly to a headline and try to craft legislation on the back of a napkin and toss it out the door at a thousand miles an hour, mistakes happen, gaps are left and things get undone.

I think of the pardon legislation, as an example. I remember some four years ago the then public safety minister said in response to a horrible story, “We have got the problem fixed. Don't worry, it is all done”. It was only a couple of days after the event. There was no opportunity to study it at committee, to ask questions, to delve into the issue, and of course four years later the government came forward and said that there were problems with the pardon system, that we have to review it, renew it and change it.

There is an unfortunate tendency to ram things through. That process of ramming things through means that mistakes get made and things get left out.

What was egregious about this particular example was that we were literally a week or two away from being able to offer those recommendations, if the government had had the courtesy to wait. It is one thing to be ignored, but it is another thing entirely to not even be heard before we are ignored.

On the whole, this represents good legislation with the changes that have been made and is something which is supportable. However, I do want to comment, because as much as the parliamentary secretary talks about the co-operation in committee, I have to say I was deeply concerned that the member for Saint Boniface and a few other members, on television, when I was debating on panels both inside and outside this place, attacked me for not supporting the sex offender registry.

Where does this stem from? It stems from the fact that I asked questions, if anyone can believe such an outrageous thing. I asked questions about the fact that the list of offences was much longer than what was present in Ontario under Christopher's law. As an example, voyeurism was on the list. There was concern expressed about whether or not voyeurism should be on the list of offences that would put somebody on the sex offender registry. This concern came not only from me, but from police officers who were concerned that if the list was too broad, they would be visiting far too many houses when an incident happened. What they wanted was to have that scoped to make sure the houses they were visiting and the information they had would be directly addressed to people who commit the most serious offences.

The other example was of an indiscretion at an office party. As there was something in this bill about sexual assault, we wanted to make sure that if there was an indiscretion, and certainly somebody should not make unwanted sexual advances at something like an office party, that the individual would not end up on the sex offender registry. When a child goes missing, that would probably not be the first door to knock on to ask questions when there are other people on the list.

In raising these concerns, somehow that morphed both in the House and in television panels into some people saying that I did not support the sex offender registry. That is incredibly dishonest. Unfortunately, we see it in this House with enormous regularity. The Conservatives seem particularly obsessed with me and my riding. They rise on S.O. 31 statements saying that I love criminals and that I am against support for victims, but nothing could be further from the truth.

What the Conservatives are really saying is that I ask questions and that I do not blindly accept whatever is put in front of me. When anybody criticizes the Conservatives or asks questions, their first instinct is to attack, to try to bite off the person's head, as opposed to maybe listening and considering the fact that the points being raised are worthy of debate and discussion. In passing legislation, debate is an important part of the process that forms good legislation.

As much as I support this legislation as it is currently crafted, I have to express concern more broadly as to where the government is going with respect to its agenda. There are a lot of bills currently before the House. I think this is a good one, but there are many others that are not and it is leading us in a direction that is disturbing.

I came across an article in the New York Times that talks about the state of California's prison system. It bears reading excerpts from the article because it speaks to the model the government is chasing. While the rest of the world is running away, the government is chasing after what is happening in California.

The title of the article is “The Crime of Punishment”:

In 2005, when a federal court took a snapshot of California’s prisons, one inmate was dying each week because the state failed to provide adequate health care. Adequate does not mean state-of-the-art, or even tolerable. It means care meeting “the minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities,” in the Supreme Court’s words, so inmates do not die from rampant staph infections or commit suicide at nearly twice the national average.

These and other horrors have been documented in California’s prisons for two decades, and last week they were before the Supreme Court in Schwarzenegger v. Plata. It is the most important case in years about prison conditions. The justices should uphold the lower court’s remedy for addressing the horrors.

Four years ago, when the number of inmates in California reached more than 160,000, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a “state of emergency.” The state’s prisons, he said, are places “of extreme peril.”

Last year, under a federal law focusing on prison conditions, the lower court found that overcrowding was the “primary cause” of gruesome inadequacies in medical and mental health care. The court concluded that the only relief under the law “capable of remedying these constitutional deficiencies” is a “prison release order.”

Today, there are almost twice as many inmates in California’s 33 prisons as they were designed for. The court ordered the state to reduce that population by around 30 percent. While still leaving it overcrowded, that would free up space, staff and other vital resources for long overdue medical and mental health clinics.

I would add rehabilitation also. Further on, the article continues:

Among experts, as a forthcoming issue of the journal Criminology & Public Policy relates, there is a growing belief that less prison and more and better policing will reduce crime. There is almost unanimous condemnation of California-style mass incarceration, which has led to no reduction in serious crime and has turned many inmates into habitual criminals.

America’s prison system is now studied largely because of its failure—the result of an expensive approach to criminal justice shaped by fear-driven ideology. California’s prisons embody this overwhelming failure.

The Americans themselves are acknowledging that the path taken by California is a disaster and has led not only to less safe communities but to budgets being completely evaporated. Prisons are sucking like a vacuum from health care, education and infrastructure as they go these mega-prison complexes.

The problems are then compounded in terms of mental health. As we heard from the correctional investigator, the state of mental health in our prisons is deteriorating.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I am curious as to whether the member for Ajax—Pickering is ever going to talk about the sex offender registry.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member is making a point of relevance. I would encourage the member for Ajax--Pickering to remember that we are at third reading stage of debate and traditionally the Chair is more strict with the rules regarding relevance. I would ask him to bring his remarks to the motion before the House.