House of Commons Hansard #55 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prairie.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

moved that Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (kidnapping of young person), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I stand today for the protection of all children and speak to Bill C-299 and to recognize the severity of kidnapping a child under the age of 16 by a stranger, by attaching a minimum sentence of five years to anyone convicted of this crime.

A child is the most valued treasure of a parent, a gift and is bequeathed with the honour of carrying the legacy of that family forward. When that is taken from a family there are no words to describe what the family is going through except sheer terror. For the child taken by a stranger without consent, I can only imagine the fear and the anxiety the child would go through.

In its simplest terms, kidnapping came from the term “kid-napping”, slang for child stealing. Unfortunately, the act of kidnapping is the forgotten crime under normal circumstances. Stranger kidnappings in Canada are a rare occurrence; however, each incident tends to shock the nation. When child kidnapping is portrayed by the media it is usually a report of the most severe kind. A child is taken from his or her home, yard or bed, kept for ransom, for sexual exploitation and sometimes murdered.

A kidnapper is normally classified under one of four categories. The first is pedophiles, individuals who seem to identify with children better than with adults which is the reason they are able to lure children easily. The second is profiteers, individuals who are crime exploiters, who sell children to pornographers or adoption rings. The third is serial killers, methodical and ritualized, with power, dominance and control as the most frequent motivators. The fourth is childless psychotics, individuals who tend to kidnap children when they are unable to have children of their own or have lost a child and seek another in its place.

Child kidnappers are characteristically habitual offenders and carry out their assaults in a highly stereotypical modus operandi. They are some of the scariest offenders because in the terms of kidnapping they have planned what they are going to do and to whom, with no regard for those they are about to affect. Their sole desire is self-gratification. Once the kidnapping has occurred, their attention turns to not being apprehended by the authorities and the victim is drawn deeper into the desperation of the kidnapper.

Kidnappers must ensure that the victim conforms to each and every demand and normally that will involve physical violence. The younger the victim, the more traumatic the experience.

For the most part, if a person has resorted to this type of criminal behaviour, his or her ability for rehabilitation is remote. Why do I say that? Because these people have no regard for the care or well-being of a fellow human being. As I said before, this is about self-gratification or financial gain and nothing more.

Kidnappers seldom stalk their victims. They are usually very skilled at manipulating and luring children. In the most recent case in Sparwood, B.C., the accused entered the home of the victim and removed him while the family slept. Most kidnappers target younger children because they cannot match the strength of an adult and consequently they are quite easy to restrain.

There is one more point about why this law must be changed to better reflect the severity of the crime.

In a 2000-01 study of stranger-kidnapping cases, five cases were studied. In three of those cases, the accused was convicted of murder. In another case, the accused was before the courts and charged with murder. However, the most disturbing to me was the last case. A babysitter kidnapped a child and later returned the child unharmed. The accused was sentenced to open custody and probation. Just because a child is returned unharmed does not justify a leaner sentence. The child was taken without consent and that is just wrong.

I would like to focus for a few moments on two children from British Columbia who were kidnapped during my tenure as a police officer and another, while I was a member of Parliament.

Michael Dunahee was born on May 12, 1986 and disappeared from the Blanshard Street playground in Victoria, B.C. on March 24, 1991. He was four years old. He has never been found. His parents were mere metres away when Michael was taken. His mother, Crystal, was instrumental in getting the AMBER alert program implemented in British Columbia. She also serves as the president of Child Find for British Columbia. Police officers across Canada were kept on alert for years after Michael's disappearance and many people across Canada volunteered their time to search for Michael. It has been over 20 years since Michael Dunahee's disappearance and we hope that he is still alive and he will be found some day.

Mindy Tran was kidnapped and murdered in Kelowna, British Columbia in 1994. As a member of the RCMP stationed in Penticton at the time, I was part of an enormous team assembled to search for her. The fear that gripped the city of Kelowna was very noticeable. For a young child of eight years old to be riding her bike on her street and vanish without a trace is something that no parent should be subjected to. Mindy was found about six weeks later, not far from her home, in a shallow grave.

The third and final child I would like to speak about is Kienan Hebert. Kienan was taken from his home in Sparwood, B.C. this past September. Kienan is three years old. It was the middle of the night and he was taken from his bedroom while the rest of his family slept. For four days, the people of Elk Valley, Canada and the international community were focused on the safe return of Kienan to his family. Through the efforts of so many, and some very good police work, Kienan was returned and his kidnapper arrested.

I have presented three kidnappings with three different results. The families of these children will never be the same. A child was taken from them without consent and those responsible for the abductions did not care in any way about the effects that they would have on so many. They only cared about their own gratification.

I now focus on the most important part of this bill: standing up for the victims of kidnapping and for some of the most vulnerable in our society, our children.

As a police officer for 20 years, I worked with victims of crime in the gravest of circumstances. Those who were subjected to traumatic events such as sexual assault or kidnapping will in most circumstances always be faced with that question: Why me? Most of the time there is no answer and, as such, the victims continue to relive the event and are subject to years of mental torture. There is also fear that the crime will reoccur.

I cannot say how many times I have had to convince victims that their giving a statement and providing evidence in court was the only way for the accused to receive justice. Most victims of crime are so fearful of the accused that facing them in a secure courtroom is a very tough challenge.

Subsection 279(1.1) of the Criminal Code of Canada provides for minimum sentencing when a firearm is used in the commission of kidnapping. In fact, the sentencing is most severe if, “the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization”.

Most kidnappings involving children do not involve a firearm. The child is either lured or physically manhandled.

Our children are more important than any criminal organization. As politicians, we have an obligation to ensure that we protect them at all costs. Children are fragile. They are to be nurtured and loved. They should not be subject to intimidation or fear. They should know all of society will protect them and stand up for their well-being.

In closing, I have received questions regarding the intention of the bill and whether it focuses on the kidnapping of children by strangers. My intention is to have the mandatory prison sentence apply only in cases where a stranger commits the crime of kidnapping a child under the age of 16. I am open to considering an amendment to my bill that would clarify that intention. I call on every member of this House to stand and support the bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the clarification at the end of his remarks because on this side we have tremendous trouble with mandatory minimums and taking the discretion away from judges.

As a family doctor, I can say that many times we see women with severe post-partum depression, even to the degree that the father is given custody of the child. The way the bill is written at this time, if the very unwell mother came and took the child, hoping that was what was best for the child, that mother would be put in prison for five years.

Would the member explain exactly how he expects the bill to be applied and what amendment he is putting forward?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is specifically for a stranger only; it does not involve a parent or a parent of an adopted child. This is stranger-related, nothing further.

I do not want to involve sections 280 to 283 of the Criminal Code which already identify parent abduction or those who are responsible for the child legally. This is specific to a stranger-related kidnapping.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member who spoke.

When I was a lawyer, I dealt with compensation for victims of crime. I also saw cases that were not pleasant. In general, the most serious cases are not covered by your bill. What I mean is that when there is a murder, the person is not looking at five years in prison, since the Criminal Code already automatically recognizes it as first degree murder, even if that was not the original intent.

All of the horrible crimes you spoke of are already covered in the Criminal Code by a minimum punishment of 25 years. That does not mean that the criminal will receive only 25 years, since it could be much more than that. All of that is covered by the Criminal Code.

The problem you spoke about is that people kidnap children. I am thinking about the unfortunate case where someone who kidnapped a child was sentenced to only three years in prison. But as soon as he got out of prison two years later, he killed a woman who was a corrections employee in Laval. So there is a problem.

But do we really need a minimum punishment? We would risk punishing individuals in certain situations, for example, in the case of a 21-year-old man who kidnaps a 15-year-old girl. In light of these types of situations, must we take away all freedom from judges?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

I would like to remind all hon. members to direct their comments to the chair.

The hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the member's question, this is specific to stranger abduction. If people do not know who they have been abducted or kidnapped by, this sentencing would then come into play. It is specific to strangers and nothing else.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague from Kootenay—Columbia. This is long overdue. I would like the member to talk about victims and the ramifications on victims' families. I have worked with families whose children have been abducted by strangers. I would like him to elaborate on the fact that we need to put the signal out that this is not acceptable in Canada and we cannot let criminals get away with this.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, the families of children who are taken are also victims because in most cases, as has been mentioned, the children do not come back alive. Historically, they are found murdered, left in shallow graves or sometimes, as in the case of Michael Dunahee, never found. Families live with that horror forever and ever. We have to send a message that in these circumstances of stranger abductions, if children are found and there are no other subsequent charges that heed stronger convictions, the minimum sentence for kidnapping by a stranger would be five years.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak today to Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (kidnapping of young person), a private member's bill which was just introduced.

We all have the same strong feelings of revulsion and concern when a child, a young person, is the victim of a crime of this nature, in fact of any nature. I know we collectively have a great revulsion to the crime of sexual predation and sexual assaults. All of us have supported increasing and strengthening of sentences in the case of sexual assaults.

I want to talk a little bit about this particular offence in the context of the Criminal Code. I do not think the prayer that precedes the House opening is in camera in the sense that it is secret, but in the prayer there is an exhortation to ask for support to make good laws and wise decisions in this House. It is kind of in this context that I want to talk about this piece of legislation.

It is a private member's bill in the context of the Criminal Code. I think we all know the Criminal Code is a pretty thick and integrated document with all kinds of inter-related sentences, penalties, crimes and procedures. It has been a part of our criminal law since 1892, when the first code was brought forward.

The sentence for kidnapping of any person is life imprisonment. Although that particular sentence of life imprisonment may be rare for kidnapping, it is in fact not only available but has been used, in particular, in the case of a child. I will refer members to cases. The member said quite rightly that these are extremely rare cases. The fact is that we are going back over 20 years in British Columbia to come up with the three that the member mentioned.

There are also extremely rare cases to be found with pure kidnapping. The kidnapping offence is in the code. There is a series of them. There are abduction charges, forcible confinement charges, and abduction of a child charges, all with different types of approaches and different types of sentencing.

The essence of kidnapping is that someone abducts someone else and takes them from one place to another. In appropriate cases, and I say “appropriate” in the sense that it is the sentencing judge who looks at this. I will refer members to the case of Gillen, which is also quite an old British Columbia case. The offender abducted a child from strangers in order to raise him as his own. In this case, the offender received a life sentence for the kidnapping of a two-week-old baby.

We do see the courts treating the abduction of a child in these circumstances very seriously. I have done some research in response to the member's bill. I know that he is very sincere in bringing this forward, particularly in response to the publicity surrounding the most recent case. It is natural that we would want to follow that case and see what is going to happen to this individual.

To say that, in this case, a minimum five year sentence is appropriate in all cases is uncertain. The circumstances are extremely different in all cases. If we are talking about deterrence, sending messages or that sort of thing, the sentence of life imprisonment is not only available but has been used in the province of British Columbia. If that is not a deterrent or a proper denunciation, then one would have to question whether a minimum sentence of five years is going to have any effect whatsoever.

I do note, and I suppose we should not talk too much about this case because it is still before the courts, there seemed to be some question of mental capacity or potentially diminished responsibility, I do not know, but the family certainly seemed to be aware of something. At one time they said that they did not think that incarcerating the individual for a lengthy period of time would be necessarily appropriate, but obviously leaving it up to the court to decide what an appropriate punishment was for this individual.

We do take these crimes extremely seriously, and so do the courts, and this is one example that I brought forward.

When we look at kidnapping cases generally, whether it is a child or an adult, sentences of 12 to 14 years are not uncommon. Six years is not uncommon, even for the abduction cases where it is not called kidnapping. The starting point, and that phrase was used the other day, is four years, so for aggravating factors it goes higher. However, for kidnapping, we commonly see sentences of 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, even more years for kidnapping, particularly if it involved premeditation, ransom and other charges of that nature.

Kidnapping offences are rare and the kidnapping of children is rarer still, but we do have in our justice system a system where the legislature, through the Criminal Code, sets out the seriousness of the offence by having a maximum penalty, and for the most serious offences, life imprisonment is the punishment. There are circumstances of first degree murder, et cetera.

It is very rare to have kidnapping cases that are simply about kidnapping. Sadly, they are often in connection with other crimes, whether they be of sexual assault or, in the most horrific of cases, murder. Even though they are rare, any case is horrific, any case is to be abhorred.

I will not make any special claim for being a parent, but I think that everyone understands how excruciating it would be if one's child were to go missing, we all feel that, even just keeping track of our children on an ongoing basis as a parent is expected to do.

There is a great deal of emotion about that. We do have a whole bunch of individual circumstances. The mover and one of the other speakers mentioned the difference in spousal situations where there is a dispute over custody.

No one is condoning the other spouse taking the child in these circumstances, but these cases are treated extremely differently by the courts, even in the extreme cases where a child may be taken to another country for some number of years.

These to me are very abhorrent cases as well, where a child is being deprived of the company, custody, and being able to grow up with the mother or other spouse, sometimes without any reason. It is not that the child would be endangered or anything with the other spouse, but is abducted just for mere reasons of a custody dispute, to resolve an uncertainty, or to prevent court proceedings. These are not excuses for the kind of child abduction that unfortunately takes place in spousal disputes.

To get back to the kidnapping, generally speaking we have a problem with private members' bills changing the Criminal Code. We just had an omnibus crime bill where all sorts of minimum sentences would be imposed. If that was important to the government, why was it not part of that?

Private members can introduce whatever bills they want, but it is the government and the Department of Justice that has the responsibility for shepherding the Criminal Code. As a matter of government policy if there are wholesale changes, they could be brought forth and debated through the whole process.

Generally speaking, changes to the Criminal Code by private members are a very difficult thing for us to accept as the official opposition. We have not seen a strong need for this in terms of either the prevalence of the offence or the failure of the courts to handle it properly.

As noted by another speaker, the mandatory minimum sentences here take away the discretion of the courts to fashion an appropriate remedy, taking into account all the circumstances of the case.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the bill before the House.

I will begin with a quote that sums up the government's approach quite nicely:

If one says “mandatory life imprisonment” quickly and often, without thinking about it too deeply, it sounds tough and that is what politicians like to do. It is easier and cheaper than taking time and committing resources to the development of policies that can address the causes of crime and reduce its incidence. The “tough” approach appeals to people who are driven by retribution; and they vote.

It is important to define what a mandatory sentence is. Ruth McColl provided a good definition of “mandatory sentencing” when she said:

“Mandatory sentences” are those sentences which a judicial officer is required to impose no matter what the circumstances of the offence. In other words, the judicial officer has no discretion to impose a higher or lower sentence depending upon the nature of the crime.

At their roots these types of bills emanating from the Conservatives suggest a lack of trust in our judicial system. The purpose of punishment for an offence is complex. The duty of the justice system is to protect the community from persons committing offences and to impose such sentences that are proportionate to the offence. In applying punishment, the justice system seeks to deter others by sending a message that such offences have consequences. The justice system must, by definition, be a just one.

That was not always the case. There was a time when punishment for offences was completely disproportionate to the offence, often arbitrary and inconsistent. It was that sense of injustice and the absence of proportionality that led to many reforms in England hundreds of years ago. Some of those reforms placed limits on the king's power to mete out punishment. It led to the introduction and evolution of the common law of which we in Canada are the beneficiaries.

The principle of proportionality is not a new one. It may be new to the Conservatives, but its origins are actually found in the Magna Carta of the 13th century. Clause 20 of the Magna Carta states:

A freeman shall not be amerced for a slight offense, except in accordance with the degree of the offense; and for a grave offense he shall be amerced in accordance with the gravity of the offense.

The subsequent centuries led to many more reforms and constraints on the king and the emergence of the Bill of Rights in 1689. A quick read of the Bill of Rights highlights the excesses of the monarchy in the exercise of justice, including excessive bail and fines and the imposition of punishments that were deemed to be illegal and of a cruel nature. That was the context in 1689.

Despite the emergence of the Bill of Rights, and the Magna Carta before it, mandatory penalties were applied to a long list of offences.

Let us use as an example the idea of capital punishment in old England. In the early 1800s in England there were an estimated 160 offences for which one could be sentenced to death and many people were executed.

William Blackstone, the famous English jurist, and yes, a Tory politician, wrote:

Yet, although in this instance we may glory in the wisdom of the English law, we find it more difficult to justify the frequency of capital punishment to be found therein; inflicted (perhaps inattentively) by a multitude of successive independent statutes, upon crimes very different in their natures. It is a melancholy truth, that among the variety of actions, which men are daily liable to commit, no less than a hundred and sixty have been declared by Act of Parliament to be felonies without benefit of clergy; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death.

It was the uniform nature of sentences without regard to mitigating factors that caused Blackstone difficulty, and rightly so. Back then it was not uncommon with that lengthy list of offences for a child over the age of seven to be sentenced to death because the law said so without regard to circumstances. Today we would find that notion absurd and even horrifying.

The penalty and punishment had no regard to circumstance, age, or any other mitigating fact. It was so because it was a mandatory penalty. It did not allow a judge any leeway to assess a situation or to apply any sense of proportionality.

Another example of the use of mandatory penalties in England was the crime of arson. Again, despite the Bill of Rights with its roots in the Magna Carta, and despite the slow move toward proportionality in sentencing, England in the mid-18th century really had an issue with arson and applied a standard that would rightly be viewed as cruel and unusual in modern society, at least on this side of the House.

With few exceptions, arson was an offence met upon conviction with the sentence of death, regardless of age. Imagine, setting a grass fire or burning an outhouse led to a sentence of death, without regard to the circumstances.

Eventually, as the rights of individuals and a more enlightened and educated society emerged, jurists were given the power to assess cases and apply law in light of mitigating factors. That is the way it must be.

Should the punishment for an individual stealing $10,000 from a bank be different from that of a young child stealing a set of golf balls from Walmart? Yes, of course. In order to say yes to that question, one must instinctively see the injustice that would arise if the sentencing were the same. It is for that and many other reasons mandatory sentencing is problematic.

Here in modern Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada has already determined that in some instances a mandatory sentence of seven years for certain drug offences is unconstitutional and deemed cruel and unusual punishment under the charter. The court said:

A punishment will be cruel and unusual and violate s. 12 of the Charter if it has any one or more of the following characteristics:

(1) The punishment is of such character or duration as to outrage the public conscience or be degrading to human dignity;

(2) The punishment goes beyond what is necessary for the achievement of a valid social aim, having regard to the legitimate purposes of punishment and the adequacy of possible alternatives; or

(3) The punishment is arbitrarily imposed in the sense that it is not applied on a rational basis in accordance with ascertained or ascertainable standards.

I realize that perhaps my presentation today is tilted toward the history and evolution of criminal law, but history did not begin this morning. We are inheritors of the common law from our forefathers. It is important to note historical experience and to learn from it.

I have no doubt that members opposite believe that their approach to law is one that makes them feel happy inside. It is a “hang 'em high” approach for sure. The Conservatives would have loved the 18th century version of justice in England.

Mandatory minimums are a failed policy, and stacking our Criminal Code full of them does nothing to reduce crime or improve public safety. Mandatory minimums do not advance the goal they purport to reach, that of crime prevention and of deterrence. We have examples from the world over, but we do not need to look beyond our borders for proof.

Our own Department of Justice published a study in December 1990. Members will note that was under a Progressive Conservative government. The study was called “A Framework for Sentencing, Corrections and Conditional Release, Directions for Reform”. Page nine reads:

The evidence shows that long periods served in prison increase the chance that the offender will offend again. In the end, public security is diminished rather than increased if we 'throw away the key'.

The United States Sentencing Commission said earlier this month that mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe”, not “narrowly tailored to apply only to those offenders who warrant such punishment” and “not applied consistently”.

The truth is that mandatory minimum sentences also have a disproportionate impact on those minority groups that already suffer from poverty, deprivation and disadvantage. That is certainly well known within our aboriginal community.

Mandatory minimums do not alleviate or address this problem; rather, they exacerbate it. To the Conservatives, the only thing they are tough on is evidence, facts and reality. We are seeing first-hand the wholesale importation of the American view of justice. It is irrational.

If my words seem particularly pointed this morning, it is because I worry about this country. I worry about the right-wingers across the aisle who are destroying the fabric of the justice system and replacing it with an American-style system that has been proven not to work. The member opposite and his party do not much care for statistics and evidence; what matters is how they feel. That cannot be the basis for making law.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Delta—Richmond East
B.C.

Conservative

Kerry-Lynne Findlay Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to voice my support for private member's Bill C-299, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (kidnapping of young person), which was introduced on September 29 by the member for Kootenay—Columbia.

The bill proposes to impose a mandatory minimum penalty of five years on those convicted of kidnapping a child. Its objective is, without doubt, compelling in its simplicity. We must ensure a strong criminal justice response to those who would harm our children. I would like to be able to stand in this place and say that surely we can all agree that such offenders must be held to fully account for their crimes.

However, after listening to the purported history lesson on the law by the Liberal member for Charlottetown, I proffer more recent history. Before this government took office in 2006, there were already 40 mandatory minimum penalties to be found in the Criminal Code of Canada, either introduced by his party or never repealed by that party.

I understand that a recent British Columbia case, which took place in September of this year in the sponsoring member's riding, has brought this issue once again to the fore. A young child was taken from the safety of his home. That child was three years of age. The authorities mobilized quickly to ensure his safe return and, thankfully, the child was returned safely to his home. However, too often this is not the case.

Such cases remind us that we must remain vigilant in ensuring that we have in place a comprehensive response to these types of cases. We have heard about our tool box of offences that apply when these crimes are committed and comprehensive laws are important, but they are not enough. Significantly, we also have in place initiatives aimed at preventing these crimes from happening in the first place, as well as achieving effective enforcement of these laws. When such offences are committed, it is of extreme concern to the whole community.

Bill C-299 is an important piece of our broader response to this complex issue. This broader response includes the RCMP's Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, which is home to the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre and the National Missing Children Services. The National Missing Children Services, which has been in operation since 1986, oversees the our missing children program, a program that is integral to the successful search for, recovery and return of a missing child to parents. It is an investigative and collaborative mechanism designed to coordinate missing children investigations. Such investigations are often complex and can span multiple police agencies and jurisdictions.

Reflecting this complexity, five government departments and agencies work closely together on this program: the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Foreign Affairs Canada and Justice Canada. Specifically, the National Missing Children Services assists law enforcement agencies in the investigation, location and return of a missing child by collaborating on cases with municipal, regional, provincial and national law enforcement agencies. It also provides a number of services, such as computer age progression service; posting missing children photographs on the Our Missing Children website; distributing posters of missing children to partners, such as Walmart Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency and Passport Canada; managing a transportation reunification program for parents with financial needs to pick up their children; and liaising with the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre investigators on Internet luring cases.

Also, research conducted by this unit contributes to policy development, the advancement of investigative processes and helps to better understand the nature and scope of the problem of missing children in Canada.

Another significant initiative is AMBER Alert. In 2004, AMBER Alert was implemented in every Canadian province. This alert is a voluntary national co-operation effort between police and local broadcasters to rapidly disseminate information about a child who is believed to have been abducted and whose life is believed to be in grave danger. The National Missing Children Services provides information to law enforcement agencies by coordinating and monitoring the implementation of this alert system.

In addition, supported in part by the Government of Canada, as well as private sector organizations, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection is a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to the personal safety of all children. The centre's new MissingKids.ca website provides a link and an information portal for parents, particularly of missing children, and an in-depth resource of law enforcement agencies across Canada. It is designed to assist in the location of missing children, provide educational materials to help prevent children from going missing, be an information resource centre on missing children and coordinate efforts and assist stakeholders in the delivery of missing children's services.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to review these comprehensive initiatives that both implement preventive measures and seek to achieve effective enforcement of our criminal laws on this issue. However, I agree that we can always do more and Bill C-299 provides us with an opportunity to do just that.

Obviously, it would be better to prevent these crimes altogether from happening in the first place. However, sadly, despite our best prevention efforts, we know they do happen. It is not a matter that they do not happen very often. One is too many and one is too many for any family who has been put in this position. We need to be able to respond effectively and appropriately when they do.

There are many Criminal Code offences that may apply to cases involving kidnapping of children, depending on the facts of a given case. These include: kidnapping, subsection 279(1); forceable confinement, subsection 279.1(2); child abduction, sections 280 and 281; and a number of other offences, including child sexual offences, sections 151 to 153; general sexual offences, sections 271 to 272; and even the luring a child offence, section 172.1(1), which criminalizes communicating with a child by means of a computer system, such as the Internet, for the purposes of facilitating the commission of any of the listed child sexual and abduction offences.

Our laws are comprehensive and I am pleased to have the opportunity to support a legislative initiative that would further strengthen these laws. Bill C-299 would ensure that a stronger, more appropriate penalty is imposed upon those who kidnap children. This is not only a praiseworthy objective but also a significant enhancement of our current criminal justice response to this very serious issue.

I understand that the sponsor of the bill has expressed openness to considering an amendment that would clarify the intention of the bill. It is now clear that the hon. member's intention was always to capture the kidnapping of children under 16 by strangers, not parents or those who would stand in loco parentis. Having practised family law for many years before becoming a member of Parliament, this distinction I know to be very important. I am happy that the hon. member is willing to clarify this and I am sure it is something we can consider if and when the bill is studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

I support Bill C-299 and I encourage others to join me in my support. I thank the member for Kootenay—Columbia for giving us the opportunity to discuss these issues. They are, undeniably, of national importance. We all need to do everything we can to keep our communities and our children safe.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure today that I bring to bear my experience as a criminal lawyer after six long months away from the courts.

The current matter before Parliament provides me with an opportunity to make a case that, I hope, will be taken up by my fellow lawyers. First of all, I have to say that my colleagues have often described my interventions as obiter dictum, that is to say that my comments are tangential. However, to my mind, the facts that will be presented today should be brought to the attention of Canadians, even though I do not attach much importance to minimum sentences and other technicalities.

Therefore, I must say that my first reaction, with respect to the bill submitted to the House for consideration, naturally was to inquire as to the position of the Barreau du Québec on the issue. This allowed me to focus my presentation to the House on the considerations pertaining to the kidnapping of children by strangers. As we have already heard, that is today's subject.

This quite deliberate focus will nevertheless result in consideration of the responsibilities that must be assumed by the father, the mother, the guardian or the person with legal custody of a child to prevent such a social tragedy.

In keeping with my previous speeches, I will inform the House of the social realities and repercussions of crimes against the person that have been perpetrated in Canada's aboriginal communities. It is especially appropriate to take this approach to this issue because the kidnapping and disappearance of aboriginal young people is a reality in Canada. It is such a current issue that, at the meeting of AFNQL chiefs last week in Ottawa, this matter was again discussed by the members and the chiefs heard testimony about this from the Anishinabe community. It seems that young women were still disappearing recently from this community. This was also the theme at the Sisters In Spirit walk in which I participated in Montreal just over a month ago. Representatives of communities across Canada chronicled the disappearances that have taken place not just in British Columbia, but all over Canada.

The notion of kidnapping echos what happened in the past in communities dealing with the effects of Indian residential schools. Having worked on and dealt with a few cases of financial compensation linked to Indian residential schools, I can assure you that those communities regard the experience as a kind of kidnapping. RCMP officers showed up at people's homes and simply took the children and cut them out of the family unit. It was like kidnapping. I wanted to make this point clear.

With that part of history now behind us, it seems that many situations compromising the physical integrity of youth are currently happening on reserves in Canada. Because of the deterioration of the social fabric in some aboriginal communities in Canada, negative influences are corrupting young people who are struggling with serious identity crises. As we know, elements of the criminal underworld have been able to infiltrate family units and the clan dynamic that is characteristic of aboriginal communities, all with a view to perpetrating criminal activities in remote regions.

According to an Amnesty International report published in 2009, sexual predators and people who commit crimes against individuals in general deliberately target aboriginal people, since those acts can be motivated by racism or by the belief that society's apathy regarding the well-being and safety of these aboriginal young people will allow the criminals to escape justice.

The obvious social and cultural challenges that some of these communities face on a daily basis constitute fertile ground for the corruption and exploitation of disillusioned youth. This finding is especially damning considering that, last week—so this is very recent—the QMI Agency reported that, in the western provinces, most children involved in the sex trade are aboriginal.

This is where parental authority comes into play. I will draw from empirical experience and my personal experience to illustrate what I mean. Having spent most of my life on a native reserve, I think it is important for me to offer some criticism about the laissez-faire attitude within many family units in my home community.

In some cases, youth who are drifting through life do not have model parents. In short, the youth are drifting because their parents are drifting. The lack of parental supervision stemming from the climate of infantilism that can be seen on the reserves paves the way to exposing children to criminal elements. When I talk about the climate of infantilism, I am of course referring to how the parents in the communities distance themselves from the parental role, which is ultimately theirs.

We know that traditionally, in the woods, young people enjoyed a freedom and an independence that allowed them to hunt and provide for the family unit. However, transposing this reasoning and these facts to contemporary realities is dangerous. Nowadays, in the communities, young people are forced to grow up too fast and take care of their younger brothers and sisters. Often the parents revert back to being adolescents themselves and the young people end up having to support the family. Again, this paves the way to criminality.

Accordingly, it is important to distinguish between kidnapping offences involving the father, the mother, the guardian or the person having the lawful care or charge of the child and offences involving third parties. I know that hon. members have emphasized this distinction throughout their speeches. Although some cases might be handled in criminal court, most cases involving people who have parental authority are referred to family court.

We know that matters involving habeas corpus, custody and child support are referred to family court in Quebec. I think cases of kidnapping by a parent should be—and are—dealt with in civil court since the parents ultimately have parental authority over those children. This also includes oversight over custody and all manner of things.

All of this is respectfully submitted.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to commend my colleague, the member for Kootenay—Columbia, for putting forward Bill C-299.

This is an important bill to strengthen Canada's legislation on kidnapping. As an RCMP officer for over 20 years, this member has been on the front lines, protecting and serving many communities throughout B.C. My own son is an RCMP officer. I thank the member for his service to our country.

The member has tabled a bill that I strongly support. Bill C-299 will amend the Criminal Code under subsection 279 (1.1) to include a mandatory minimum sentence of five years' imprisonment if the kidnap victim is under 16 years of age. This is an important amendment, as it recognizes the grave implications of kidnapping a minor.

I want to recognize that this legislation focuses on stranger abductions, which are abductions by someone other than the parent or the legal guardian.

During his comments, the member for Kootenay—Columbia referenced a number of kidnapping cases that he was involved in, some with heartbreaking outcomes. The abduction of a child is an egregious crime that has significant implications on the child, the child's parents and family, and the community at large.

The impact on the child is most serious, as the child is often sexually or physically abused. If the child is never rescued, this abuse can go on for years. In other cases, the children are murdered and never have the opportunity to live out their lives. In those cases in which the children are rescued, they often face years of physical and psychological trauma.

It has been documented that the impact of abduction on children includes depression; loss of community; loss of stability, security and trust; excessive fearfulness, even of ordinary occurrences; loneliness; anger; helplessness; disruption of identity formation; and fear of abandonment.

In 2003, the RCMP report entitled The Abduction of Children by Strangers in Canada: Nature and Scope noted that teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 years were at the highest risk and more likely to be abducted by strangers. I want to emphasize a few other important statistics from this report on the profile of Canadian child abduction victims.

Female children are more at risk; however, younger victims were found to be more often male, aged from birth to age three. Females from pre-school through high school, aged three to 18 years, were at least three times more likely to be abducted than males. When murder followed an abduction, adolescent females aged 13 to 17 years were at the highest risk, followed by young females aged one to 12 years, then young males, and then adolescent boys.

Parents and families are also put through devastating emotional trauma in having their children ripped away from them. They face significant anxiety, not knowing the condition of their children or if they will ever be reunited. There is often deep guilt around whether they could have done anything different to prevent the kidnapping. There is also a general fear and anxiety placed on communities where the abduction has taken place.

In Canada, numerous stranger abductions occur every year.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul will have six minutes remaining when this matter returns to the House.

Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers
Government Orders

Noon

Conservative