An Act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Art Hanger  Canadian Alliance

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Feb. 26, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2001 / 11:50 a.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very serious issue. I want to commend the member for Calgary Northeast for bringing his private member's bill, Bill C-278, to the floor of the House of Commons. The bill would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years.

This problem is not new to anyone. It is a very serious problem in our society. I come from British Columbia. Saanich—Gulf Islands is my riding and we witnessed last year the case of John Robin Sharpe, who was trying to justify that it is okay to sexually abuse young children. He was trying to suggest that child pornography is okay. That case went to three levels of court: to the B.C. supreme court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which actually ruled that possession of child pornography for one's own personal use was okay in British Columbia, and to the Supreme Court of Canada, which thankfully was able to see that it was actually not okay.

There are sexual predators in our society. They are real. They are being released from prison. They are offending right away in many cases. This is just not okay.

The member from Manitoba who just spoke said that this amendment will send a strong and clear signal from the Government of Canada. Unfortunately it will not, because this private member's bill is not votable. The committee that decides on private members' bills decided that this one should not be made votable. Members of the House will not even have an opportunity to vote the wishes of their constituents on this private member's bill, private members' bills being categorized as free votes.

That is not acceptable either. This is not a partisan issue. This is not a Canadian Alliance, a Liberal or a Tory issue. This is an issue which a former police officer, the member for Calgary Northeast, is bringing to the floor of the House of Commons, and it is a very serious concern.

The Parliament of Canada had an opportunity, if it had wanted to make this votable, to send a very clear signal about the age of sexual consent. Children 14 years of age are hardly out of elementary school. They are the most vulnerable in our society today. We are sending the wrong message. In fact I understand there are some hon. members who suggest that the age of consent should be 12. Children that age are still in elementary school.

I personally know that the hon. member for Calgary Northeast is one of the most honourable of men. I have the highest respect for him. He is bringing forward a private member's bill which should be made votable and it has not been. We will not have the opportunity to send this clear signal. That is troubling. Why are we not getting this opportunity?

This is the type of thing that Canadians want us to focus on. Canadians are looking to us as leaders to put forward constructive solutions on justice issues and on so many other issues in health care and finance. I could go on and on. This is just one small snippet. There are many more. This is one area that the hon. member for Calgary Northeast feels is important enough that he has drafted a private member's bill to be brought before the House of Commons. I do not think it is acceptable that this bill is not votable.

This is not a partisan issue. We as parliamentarians have a duty to bring issues like this forward. I want to commend the hon. member for Calgary Northeast for bringing this to the House of Commons. There may be different viewpoints, but I am 100% solidly behind this private member's bill. I think it is excellent.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2001 / 11:30 a.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate on Bill C-278. I know it has been before the House in previous incarnations and is one that all members take very seriously.

I listened very carefully to the comments of the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. He raises some very good points and very specific technical implications. There are always implications when one looks at a bill as comprehensive as the criminal code.

My overall reaction to his commentary is to ask what is stopping the government. It is a shame that private members bring forward good ideas and that the response of the government and the parliamentary secretary is to simply stand and tear the ideas apart limb from limb rather than embrace them and offer creative and constructive suggestions.

Much of the underlying theme of his commentary was to say that, yes, the government sees this as a problem that could be addressed. However the response is typically that they should study it more, do a survey and somehow engage more of the stakeholders to get their feedback.

That is consistent with the overriding concern of the Liberal Party to make sure it is okay in the polls. The Liberals want to make sure there is sufficient public support rather than take bold action on something that could have considerable impact on the lives of Canada's most vulnerable citizens.

I must begin by commending the hon. member for having the initiative to bring the matter forward, a matter he has been persistent in raising before. I believe it is because of his deep seated concern, having worked as a police officer, for children who are so vulnerable and who are often placed in a situation where someone in a position of trust preys on their vulnerability.

It goes without saying that it is sad that sexual predators are out there. They can be found in every province and every corner of the country. Infamous cases have occurred in places like Mount Cashel and in my home province of Nova Scotia in Shelburne at the school for boys. These were terrible instances where individuals were preyed upon by those whom they should have been able to rely on for protection. Sadly, the opposite occurred.

The life altering and life lasting implications and damage that result from a child being abused in this way is absolutely shocking and abhorrent to Canadians.

We have heard time and again of the horrible events that can occur in a child's life. What better place to address the issue than the Parliament of Canada? What higher calling, what higher cause could there be than to protect children from this fate?

Sexual predators, I submit very firmly, are not always interested in sex but in power, control and severe violence. That reinforces the worry parents have every time their children leave their homes. To properly deal with the situation we need a national sex offender registry, something other parties have called upon the government to enact.

Again, the government's response has been a half measure. It says it has something on CPIC that is similar but CPIC does not provide the early intervention or information that police and communities need to play a truly protective role.

The Liberal government, and the solicitor general in particular, must take responsibility to enact this type of legislation and bring forward a national sex offender registry. The Liberals say it is one of their top 10 priorities but time and again the issue seems to slip through our fingers when we have an opportunity to do something about it here on the floor of the House.

On the other hand, some provinces are taking the initiative. Ontario last Monday launched the first sex offender registry of its kind in Canada. Each sex offender in Ontario must register within 15 days of release from custody. The same applies to those serving sentences in the community. A file will contain the offender's address, phone number, physical description, aliases and list of offences. Such information is critical to police if they are to afford protection to those whose children could be preyed upon.

Anyone sentenced to less than 10 years must report their whereabouts for 10 years. Offenders sentenced to longer than 10 years will remain on the registry for life. This is the type of bold, proactive and, in some instances, harsh legislation we need.

The Ontario government cares about public safety and is reacting to the concerns of communities in the province. Its law was passed in honour of Christopher Stephenson and is often referred to as Christopher's Law. Thirteen years ago young Christopher was abducted at knifepoint from a Brampton mall, sexually assaulted and murdered by repeat sex offender Joseph Fredericks.

It is absolutely gut-wrenching that something like that must happen before politicians and legislators take notice. However, such examples illustrate how important it is to take initiatives that can prevent lifelong suffering, murder, exploitation and terrible instances of sexual assault and intrusion into young people's lives.

Sadly, with the current state of affairs, offenders registered in Ontario can leave the province to avoid tracking because of the lack of a nationwide sex offender registry. Currently we have only piecemeal laws to deal with sex offences.

Former government legislation, old Bill C-7, names pardoned sex offenders and requires them to remain on the RCMP database. Such information would only be released to certain parties under special circumstances and with the approval of the solicitor general. However that is not enough. There is not enough money currently in the CPIC system. There is not enough know-how or infrastructure to allow CPIC to fully address the issue.

The private member's bill before the House is an opportunity to bring forward legislative change that the member, and I think many members of the House, embrace and see as an improvement.

The bill would require changing the current age of consent under the criminal code from 16 to 14. The parliamentary secretary makes a good point in that some implications might be unwanted and unforeseen by the hon. member moving the motion. There is an anomaly with respect to those close in age engaging in consensual sexual activities.

I cannot speak for the hon. member but I suggest he would be enthusiastic and pleased if the parliamentary secretary or someone on the government side amended the legislation to make it more in keeping with his intent: to protect children from exploitation by those who would recruit them for prostitution, lure them on the Internet or in person, or in any instance prey upon them sexual purposes.

The hon. member for Calgary Northeast has brought forward legislation that the Progressive Conservative Party will be supporting. We have moved similar legislation in the past which tried to expand the envelope of protection for children. This bill quite clearly fits into that category.

The number of reported instances gives rise to the need for action on the part of all governments, be they federal, provincial or municipal. We must do more. We must be more pro-active and involved in ensuring children are protected. We must ensure that those who contravene current or future laws are dealt with in a serious and straightforward way. We must do everything in our power because that is currently not the case.

More could be done. The hon. member who moved the motion knows, having worked as a police officer, that the implications are so grave and life altering that public safety should be our sole motivation.

I am pleased the bill has been reinstated in parliament. I encourage all members of the House to support this and other such legislation. If we must amend it, as suggested by the parliamentary secretary, let us do so quickly. Let us make the necessary changes so that it fits cheek and jowl with the current legislation and there are no unwanted consequences. Let us ensure that there are consequences for those who break the law and prey upon children. Let us make this issue a firm commitment and legislative priority of the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2001 / 11:20 a.m.
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Erie—Lincoln Ontario

Liberal

John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity this morning to speak to Bill C-278, an act to amend the criminal code respecting prohibited sexual acts, introduced by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast.

Bill C-278 proposes to amend in isolation several sections of the criminal code where the general minimum age of consent is part of the definition of sexual offences involving a child victim. The current age of consent to most forms of sexual activity is 14, but there is an important exception for consensual sexual activity between young people within 2 years of age and under 16.

Bill C-278 proposes to increase the general age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16. The age would also be raised to 16 in the existing exception. The proposed bill would also raise the age to 16 in connection with the powers of the courts to make prohibition orders against offenders who are convicted or who are discharged on conditions in a prohibition order of certain sexual offences against a person under 14.

Bill C-278 reflects valid concerns about whether the current protection provided to young people in the criminal code is sufficient. There appears to be general agreement that the current minimum age consent for sexual activity, which has been in the code for more than 100 years, should be reviewed. At the same time care must be taken that any changes provide comprehensive protection and do not accidentally create an inconsistency in the code or criminalize the consensual sexual activity of young people.

Permit me to raise three distinct points. First, as we know, in November 1999 the Department of Justice released a consultation document entitled “Child Victims and the Criminal Justice System”. The document examines a wide range of possible changes to both the criminal code and the Canada Evidence Act to improve public safety for children. Although the major responsibility for child protection lies with the provinces, there is a key role for the criminal justice system in supporting provincial and territorial efforts in this area.

The consultation paper is a collection of suggestions for change put forward by provincial and territorial officials and others working with children. Three main areas are under consideration: the creation of further child specific offences, including the age of consent issue; sentencing to protect children from those who might reoffend; and additional means to facilitate children's testimony.

The release of the consultation paper invited comments from all Canadians. The public consultation phase is now complete and efforts are being made to complete the provincial and territorial consultation with their co-operation as quickly as possible.

It has been argued that the general present age of consent, which is 14, is too low to provide effective protection from sexual exploitation by adults. The relatively low age allows pimps, for example, to seduce young girls, with the intention of luring them into prostitution without fear of prosecution.

Social workers are concerned that many young people in care may be vulnerable to be targeted by pimps. Canada's age of consent is lower than that of many other countries that use 15 or 16 as the minimum age. However the bill put forward by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast is premised on the belief that the issue is a straightforward one and that all that is involved in addressing the complex issue of age of consent is simply to change the age. With respect that is not the case.

Protecting our children goes beyond a simple and arbitrary increase of the age of consent to sexual activity. It means addressing the broader issues of the safety and well-being of our children. Our objective is to develop and maintain effective, comprehensive measures to support provincial and territorial measures to improve public safety for children and to protect children from serious injury and even death at the hands of adults.

The achievement of this objective rests in a collaborative effort by the provinces, the territories and the Government of Canada. While the provision of services to children who are in need of protection is the responsibility of the provinces and territories, the assurance that appropriate offences and penalties are available for serious harm done to children remains the responsibility of the Government of Canada. By targeting extreme forms of harm through the criminal code, the Government of Canada would provide strong support for provincial and territorial initiatives to protect children.

However Bill C-278 does not maintain a comprehensive approach. It leaves a reference to age 14 in several provisions, for example section 281 dealing with the abduction of a person under age 14, and even more critically perhaps in section 810.1 which allows a court to issue a prohibition order if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an individual will commit a sexual offence against a child.

The provision in section 810.1 has proven to be an effective tool by some police forces and high risk offender teams in providing community monitoring and control of pedophiles. It is unfortunate that these two sections have been left out of the bill. It is also unfortunate that the only remaining child testimony provision that refers to age 14, section 486 which allows child witnesses to have available to them a support person while they are testifying in court, should also have been left out of the bill.

Second, the bill does not address the criminal code consequences of raising the general age at which sexual activity with young people would be criminalized. With respect, by not addressing this issue, Bill C-278 proposes an amendment that is inconsistent with the other relevant sections of the criminal code.

For example, even though the complainant's age would be raised to 16, there is no consequential change to the age of the accused in the exception that prevents criminalizing consensual sexual activity between young people close in age and under 16. The result is that a teenager over the age of 16 who has consensual sex with a person under 16 but who is close in age would be considered to be engaging in criminal conduct. At the same time a younger teenager would be able to consent to sexual activity with a person close in age. This outcome would appear to be not only discriminatory but also contrary to common sense.

The consultations undertaken by the Department of Justice have generally indicated that if the age of consent is raised the close in age exception for these older children must be broadened, perhaps to include within the exception consensual sexual activity between children who are three or even four years apart.

That would allow a child who is just before his or her 16th birthday to engage in consensual sexual activity with a young person who is approaching his or her 18th or even 19th birthday. Otherwise that behaviour, which may be considered inadvisable but certainly not criminal by most Canadians, would be subject to prosecution under the criminal code. Bill C-278 does not address the issue but rather could create confusion and criminalize the behaviour of all children over 16 years of age even where the behaviour was consensual.

Third, the bill does not address the broader implications that arise from the amendment to the general age of consent. Since legislative changes do not take place in a vacuum, we must be aware that a change in the age of consent may have an impact on other legislation.

For example, such changes may impact on the age 14 for providing assistance to child witnesses, as I mentioned a minute ago, for competency to testify in the criminal code and the Canada Evidence Act, and even for marriage legislation in the few provinces that still allow children under 16 to marry.

The question is: Would an amendment to the age of consent to sexual activity require amendments to other age related provisions of the criminal code and other statutes? Furthermore, any arbitrary changes in the criminal code would be inconsistent with the government's commitment to consult with the provinces and territories before introducing amendments intended to support its efforts to protect children from abuse, neglect and exploitation.

During the consultations several jurisdictions voiced concerns about proceeding too quickly on this question and accidentally criminalizing the behaviour of young people.

The Minister of Justice cannot support Bill C-278 for three reasons.

In conclusion, the issue of age of consent is a real concern. Children deserve to live in a safe society and be protected from all forms of exploitation by adults. At the same time, to be effective, people in the community and at every level of government must work together because we all have an important role to play.

We believe all Canadians should be given an opportunity to express their views on the issue. We also believe changes to the age of consent must be practical and carefully considered to ensure they achieve their goal without unintended negative effects. To do so they should be dealt with in a comprehensive package within the broader context of other age related issues in the criminal code. That is why the Department of Justice issued its consultation paper. The results of that consultation process should be used to ensure that the best options are put forward and carefully considered so that children can be given the comprehensive protection they deserve.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

April 30th, 2001 / 11:05 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

moved that Bill C-278, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again today to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-278, which would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.

I should make mention at this point that it is the third time this private member's bill has hit the floor of the House. It is the third time there was enough emotion and concern to bring it forward, and that is the viewpoint held by so many people outside the House. I might also point out that I think parliamentarians overall find a universal agreement on matters like this in the House.

The protection of our children is the key point that the bill targets. It brings into focus the concern expressed by the public who want a greater level of security for our children. The bill would not answer all the problems out there when it comes to sexual offenders and how they may act or react against our most vulnerable. There are other variables, such as the early release of pedophiles and sexual offenders, that contribute to the growing number of victims in our society.

I think we all have a differing view on the role of government in this area. However, overall, whether we are Conservative, Bloc, Liberal, socialist or libertarian, there is a general consensus to protect Canada's children.

I think the one word that really describes the reaction of the public when a child, one of the more vulnerable in our society, is attacked by a pedophile or a sexual offender, is outrage. I think we have seen this outrage expressed time and time again in every community across the country.

As a police officer, I remember when a whole community would almost have to hunker down because a sexual offender was released from prison. The sexual offender was so dangerous that the public had to be notified and his picture had to be posted, and yet he was being released.

The big concern regarding that particular individual was the fact that his target was young children. He would not touch 15 or 16 year olds as they were of no concern to him. He was after the younger children, the ones who were 14, 13, 12 and perhaps younger. That took great resources from the community, the police and social services. Partnerships available to deal with this kind of crime must be tied together to combat it effectively. We must put those at risk in a more secure area.

I have a couple of press releases before me that reflect what happens when a sexual offender threatens a community. I will read two very important examples because they do tell quite a story. These stories will have been heard and repeated time and time again in communities.

The first story deals with a 52 year old parolee who had been serving a life sentence as a dangerous sexual offender. He was released on parole. Hardly a few days had gone by when he grabbed a young girl, just above being a toddler, and walked down the street with her. Fortunately, her father was not far away and he was able to intercept and get his daughter back to safety.

The parolee's propensity was to go after the very young and the very vulnerable. He was fully paroled after serving 29 years of a life sentence for brutally raping a three year old girl. Everyone, including the police, were notified about this man's release. The parole board said that it had no choice. The community, in this particular case, was unaware of what was about to happen. Thank God there was some intervention on the part of the father as this individual was attempting to apply his desires upon this young girl. These things should not be happening. The community has a right to know about these kinds of situations.

The second example deals with a repeat pedophile who was infected with HIV, syphilis and two strains of hepatitis. He was freed from prison and moved into a Toronto halfway house. He had four previous charges and was convicted of sex crimes against pubescent boys aged 9 to 14.

These are habitual types of crimes zeroing in on the most vulnerable: children aged 12 to 15. My bill would like to raise the level of protection up to 15.

Some people have proclaimed that they would like to see the age of consent lowered to 12. However, the majority of Canadians do not hold that viewpoint. The House has made an effort to do that. However, that does not reflect the viewpoint of people in my community and it certainly does not reflect the viewpoint of parents who are attempting to keep their children safe and secure and want what is best for them. They want to be able to protect them, and herein lies the involvement of our legislators in government, the people in the House.

It seems, as time passes from one generation to the next, the innocence of childhood gets shorter and shorter. The bill is a very small attempt to restore innocence to youth, to curtail and incarcerate sexual predators who pick on those under 16. For too long we have allowed the exploitation of society's most vulnerable, our children, by those who would extinguish their youth and replace it with mistrust, suspicion and lasting psychological and sometimes physical damage.

Apart from the psychological costs to the victim, the societal costs can be absolutely enormous. On numerous occasions I have had individuals come to me, both male and female, who were sexually assaulted as youngsters. They bear the shame and sometimes feel guilty about their own actions and the fact that they were caught in that situation. Out of fear, or whatever the case may be, it was never revealed. Something triggers it in their lives and they had to confess to someone else what had happened to them.

When we look at the psychological profiles of victims having to bear these dramatic things in their lives, even trying to hide them in some cases, it affects their relationships with others, sometimes their productivity in the community and certainly close relationships like those with family or between husband and wife in future years. They have major problems to overcome.

We will never be able to get rid of all attacks by those who want to exploit children, but we sure can curtail them. We have a responsibility as parliamentarians, as the government today, to bring about a more secure future for many.

We are talking about ending the vicious cycle of one person exploiting another, who exploits another, who exploits another. If it means raising the age of consent to include a larger group of youngsters when they are still vulnerable, still shaping their thoughts and their futures, and putting them under a protective umbrella, that is what the House should do.

Over the past year the House grappled with fallout from the Sharpe case in British Columbia. We were reminded in no uncertain terms through this pedophile and his actions that there were some very dangerous, conniving and manipulative people out there. I believe it is essential to develop and direct the law of the land to protect our children.

It does not matter to whom we talk, consultations with police departments and prosecutors will reveal what must be done and should be done, if only the legislators really, truly and honestly want to compile that information from those two groups of authorities in our land.

Legislators at all levels of government must not shirk their responsibility to step in where society breaks down. In that respect I am very much aware of the rage out there when pedophiles and others attack our young children, as I would suggest most members would be. Far from just a casual number of offences are taking place in our country.

I know too that there are other related offences such as Internet pornography. A registry for controlling pedophiles and other forms of law that require partnerships with social services and the like are certainly required. People who fall into those categories should be consulted.

In conclusion, we are not the same society we were when the current legislation came into effect back in the late 1800s, but we as legislators are in the driver's seat. We must not let changes in society allow the moral high ground to slip away. It is our job to protect it. The bill is about protecting Canadian children. I know we all agree that it is a goal worth pursuing. I urge support for Bill C-278.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

February 26th, 2001 / 3:05 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-278, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to reintroduce this private member's bill. It seeks to raise the age of sexual consent from age 14 to age 16. It would thus make it a criminal offence for an adult to engage in sex with children 16 and under.

The bill was first introduced in 1996 and was reintroduced in 1997 and again in 1999.

I rise again in the House and must unfortunately appeal to the better nature of every member of parliament. The widespread concern over child pornography and child prostitution in the country makes it even more urgent for enactment of the legislation to protect the young and the vulnerable in our society from the predators among us.

For the sake of our children, I appeal to members of the House to give serious consideration to the bill and to lend their support accordingly.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)