moved that Bill C-15, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to amend other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin second reading debate on Bill C-15, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to amend other acts.
As omnibus bills before it, Bill C-15 has a number of diverse elements. Most recently we have seen examples of omnibus bills: Bill C-51 in 1999, Bill C-17 in 1996 and Bill C-42 in 1994. These examples demonstrate that the practice of introducing criminal amendments through an omnibus bill is a longstanding practice and one that has served the criminal justice system well.
The amendments proposed in the criminal law amendment act, 2001 respond to serious crimes against children and other vulnerable members of society, provide additional safeguards for the law enforcement community, strengthen our laws concerning cruelty to animals, make administrative and procedural improvements to the justice system, and make administrative amendments to the Firearms Act.
First I will deal with the proposed amendments to better protect our children. The provisions that deal with protecting children respond to the government's commitment in the Speech from the Throne to safeguard children from criminals on the Internet and to ensure that children are protected from those who would prey upon their vulnerability. They also respond to a consensus of ministers responsible for justice at the last FPT meeting to create an offence of Internet luring.
The Internet is a new technology that can be used to stimulate the communication of ideas and facilitate research, but, as with any instrument, when placed in the wrong hands it can be used for ill and to cause harm. Canadians will not tolerate a situation where individuals, from the safety and secrecy of their house, use the anonymity of the Internet to lure children into situations where they can be exploited sexually.
The new offence seeks to address what has been reported as a growing phenomenon not only in our country but globally. It criminalizes communicating through a computer system for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against a child or the abduction of a child.
We also want to ensure that those who view, or transmit child pornography to others, will not escape criminal liability by using new technologies.
We will extend the scope of current child pornography offences to make it clearer that actions that constitute an offence when committed with traditional means remain an offence when committed with electronic means.
Bill C-15 seeks to create four new offences: an offence of transmitting child pornography to cover one to one distribution, such as e-mail sent to one person only; an offence of making child pornography available to cover those who post child pornography on a publicly accessible website but take no other steps to distribute it; an offence of exporting child pornography to meet our international obligation; and an offence of accessing child pornography to capture those who intentionally view child pornography on the net but where the legal notion of possession may be problematic. The offence is defined to ensure that inadvertent viewing would not be caught under this offence.
I will now turn to three other proposed measures to better protect vulnerable Canadians. The first measure I wish to mention is the offence of criminal harassment, or stalking as it is sometimes referred to. This is a serious offence that can have a devastating effect upon the emotional and physical well-being of the victim.
In Bill C-15, this government is taking strong measures to ensure that the criminal justice system treats criminal harassment as the serious offence that we know it to be.
The government's response to this issue is twofold: first, to strengthen the existing legislation; and, second, to strengthen enforcement of the law through comprehensive guidelines for criminal justice personnel on criminal harassment.
Bill C-15 responds to our first commitment by proposing to increase the maximum penalty for criminal harassment when prosecuted on indictment from five to ten years. This sends a strong signal to would-be stalkers. Criminal harassment is a serious offence and its sentence would now better reflect this serious nature.
With respect to our second commitment relating to enhancing the enforcement of the criminal harassment provisions, I am pleased to note that together with our federal, provincial and territorial counterparts a handbook for police and crown prosecutors on criminal harassment was developed and released in December 1999. The handbook provides a practical set of guidelines for criminal justice personnel on all aspects of a criminal harassment case, including victim safety.
I now wish to address the difficult issue of home invasions, one that has been raised by a number of my colleagues on all sides of the House. The term home invasion is generally used to describe a robbery or break and enter of a private residence when the perpetrator forces entry while the occupants are at home, and this is key, and the perpetrator threatens to use or does use violence against the occupants.
The proposed amendment to the criminal code would indicate that where the offender's conduct was in the nature of a home invasion the court must consider this to be an aggravating factor when determining the sentence to be imposed. Such an amendment would provide clear direction to the courts and would express parliament's view that home invasion is a grave form of criminal conduct which must be dealt with appropriately during the sentencing process.
Another important measure proposed in Bill C-15 is the new offence of disarming or attempting to disarm a peace officer. This new offence would apply to anyone who tries to take away an officer's weapon when the officer is acting in the course of his or her duties. It is proposed that this new offence carry a maximum penalty of five years to reflect the seriousness of the offence and to send a clear message that taking or attempting to take a police officer's weapon would not be tolerated. The safety of police officers is a priority for the government.
The criminal law amendment act, 2001, would revive amendments introduced in the last parliament dealing with cruelty to animals. The proposed reforms have two primary objectives: to simplify and better organize the existing laws and to enhance the penalties for animal cruelty.
In particular we are increasing the penalties for animal cruelty offences with the highest penalty being five years in prison, up from the current maximum of six months. We would eliminate the current limit of two years maximum duration for an order prohibiting the offender from possessing animals and would include a new power for the court to order as part of a sentence that the offender repay to a humane society the reasonable costs associated with the care of the animal.
I would like to make clear this afternoon that these changes do not in any way negatively affect the many legitimate activities that involve animals, such as hunting, farming, or medical and scientific research. These are regulated activities subject to specific technical rules and regulations and codes of practice. The criminal law is not being used to establish or modify industry standards but rather to prohibit conduct that is grossly unacceptable. Simply put, what is lawful today in the course of legitimate activities would be lawful when the bill receives royal assent.
The law already requires that we treat animals humanely and with respect. These amendments would ensure that the law can adequately deal with those who would wilfully abuse animals. I believe that all members of the House can support this principle. There is no subject on which I receive more mail from Canadians on a weekly basis than on the question of modernizing our laws in relation to cruelty to animals.
I would like to speak now in relation to the proposed amendments concerning firearms. The Canadian firearms program is an example of the preventive approach our government takes to public safety. Moreover, the program is already achieving higher levels of public safety for all Canadians and the facts demonstrate it.
Since December 1, 1998, more than 3,000 licences have been refused or revoked by public safety authorities. The number of revocations is 26 times higher than the total of the five previous years. Overall the licensing compliance rate in Canada is now over 90%.
However, we have learned from the licensing experience. We have also listened to the concerns of gun owners and other Canadians about program efficiency and client service. We are proposing administrative changes to facilitate the registration process and to continue to ensure a high level of service to clients. These administrative changes do not affect the deadline of January 1, 2003, for registration of all firearms nor the government's commitment to public safety.
We are responding to the needs and wishes of Canadians and firearms owners by proposing changes that will make the program more user friendly, more cost efficient and client oriented. We will design a more streamlined system by simplifying the licence renewal process, by redesigning the registration process and by making better use of new and emerging Internet technology, for example, by allowing for registration of firearms online. We also intend to improve efficiency and reduce costs, for example, by staggering firearms licence renewals to avoid a surge of applications in five year cycles.
With these amendments, we will reach a balance between the interests of responsible firearms owners and our shared objective of public safety.
The efficiency of any criminal justice system depends upon its ability to protect the innocent while bringing those who are guilty of crime to justice. Despite all the precautions that our justice system takes to avoid the conviction of an innocent person, no system is infallible. Wrongful convictions can occur and regrettably have occurred in the past. The names Donald Marshall, David Milgaard and Guy Paul Morin make my point.
In such cases our entire justice system finds itself in disrepute. That is why Bill C-15 includes important improvements to section 690 of the criminal code, the conviction review process. It is a final safety net for those who are the victims of wrongful conviction.
In October 1998 we released a public consultation paper seeking submissions on how our conviction review process could be improved. The consultations informed the measures now found in Bill C-15.
The ultimate decision making authority in criminal conviction reviews will remain with the federal Minister of Justice, who is accountable to parliament and to the people of Canada. The Minister of Justice can recognize and maintain the traditional jurisdiction of the courts while providing a fair and just remedy in those exceptional cases that have somehow fallen through the cracks of the conventional justice system.
However, maintaining the status quo is not an acceptable option. Therefore the amendments to section 690 will provide investigative powers to those investigating cases on behalf of the Minister of Justice. This will allow investigators to compel witnesses to testify and documents to be produced.
In order to make the conviction review process more open and accountable, ministers of justice will now be required to provide an annual report to parliament and a website will be created to give applicants information on the process.
I believe that these amendments are the most efficient and effective way to improve the post-appellant extrajudicial conviction review process in Canada.
Let me turn briefly to the area of criminal procedure reform. The Department of Justice has been working closely with the provinces and territories on criminal procedure reform for some years. This work is now in its third phase.
The objectives of phase three are to simplify trial procedure, modernize the criminal justice system and enhance its efficiency through the increased use of technology, better protect victims and witnesses in criminal trials, and provide speedy trials in accordance with charter requirements.
We are trying to bring criminal procedure into the 21st century. This phase reflects our efforts to modernize our procedure without in any way reducing the measure of justice provided by the system.
As I said at the outset, the provinces and territories support these reforms. As they are responsible for the administration of justice, I believe that we should do our best to give them the tools they need to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the criminal justice system.
In conclusion, I am sure the standing committee will give Bill C-15 its usual thorough review and examination. I believe it contains a number of important improvements to the criminal justice system and measures that will contribute to the protection and safety of all Canadians. I call on all members of the House to support the bill.
With consent, I would move that the debate on Bill C-15 do now adjourn.