Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be involved in today's debate at report stage of Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the protection of children and other vulnerable persons.
The reason I read the title of the bill is because we pass a lot of legislation in the House with great intent, but when it comes to the actual effectiveness of the legislation, it becomes very questionable.
I would like to congratulate my NDP colleague from Vancouver East for her success in having one of her amendments accepted. That in itself is a success because most times it is not easy to have amendments accepted in any legislation. I have been successful in the past with some amendments I have put forward on bills. The problem is that when amendments come to the House for debate and a vote, most times they end up being defeated.
The PC Party of Canada supports the amendment regarding the deletion of clause 7. Clause 7 probably took up half the time for public hearings on the debate over artistic merit and exactly what public good meant. Both sides of the argument were heard. There was no agreement as to how effective this clause would be if left in the bill. Even opponents were not sure of its affect and how it would relate in court. The artistic community felt it was unnecessary. Some individuals felt the clause was too broad. The PC Party does support the amendment in that it will delete clause 7 of the act.
We need to come back to the focus and intent of Bill C-20. The bill is about the protection of children in this country. A large majority of members in the House are parents themselves and have raised children. Perhaps many are grandparents. We all know that children are our most vulnerable and precious gifts. Whatever we can do to protect them from harm is laudable and that should be our prime focus.
Unfortunately, when we get into legislation, we tend to lose touch with its intent. We are so busy trying to make everybody happy that we lose focus of its intent, which is the protection of children and other vulnerable persons.
Canadians have great expectations of members in the House of Commons. On this very subject, Canadians want the House to remove all loophole wording in Bill C-20. The deletion of clause 7 is a good step.
Canadians want the age of consent for teens having sex with adults raised from 14 to 16. The greater public expects the House to add tough minimum mandatory sentences to all laws regarding adults having sex with underage teens or children.
Canadians have great expectations of members of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, we will probably fail them again like we did yesterday during debate on the sex offender registry, Bill C-23. The greatest shortcoming in that bill was the lack of retroactivity. In other words, what about all those convicted pedophiles of the last 10 years? We will not know where they are. We know that for repeat offenders the probability is quite large, especially for those who have been convicted of pedophilia.
Let me go back to clause 7. Under Bill C-20, the existing defence of child pornography, which is artistic merit, educational, scientific or medical purpose, is reduced to a single defence of public good. This leaves in the hands of judges the determination of what constitutes public good.
In fact, I am surprised and disappointed that the parliamentary secretary said this morning that the government will be opposed to this amendment. Furthermore, despite the minister's attempt to sell Bill C-20 on the basis that the artistic merit defence had been eliminated, he admitted recently in the justice committee that it is still included under the broader public good defence.
The PC Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. Of course, the criminal possession of child pornography does not apply to those in the justice system for purposes associated with prosecution, or by researchers studying the effects of exposure to child pornography.
Another shortcoming I alluded to, was the age of consent. Bill C-20 fails to raise the age of consent for sexual contact between children and adults. Instead, the bill would create a category of exploitative relationships aimed at protecting people between the ages of 14 and 18. In determining whether a person is in a relationship with a young person that is exploitative of the young person, a judge must consider: the age difference between the accused and the young person, the evolution of the relationship, and the degree of control or influence by the person over the young person. This category is a vague provision that fails to create the certainty of protection that children require. It would not serve as a real deterrent and would simply result in longer trials and more litigation.
It was already against the law for a person in a position of trust or authority, or with whom a young person, someone between 14 and 18, was in a relationship of dependency to be sexually involved with that young person. It is unclear how adding people who are in a relationship with a young person that is exploitative of the young person would add legal protection for young people.
As well, Regina v. Sharpe carved out two exemptions to the child pornography law: material such as diaries or drawings created privately and kept by that person for personal use, and visual recordings of a person by that person engaged in lawful sexual activity, kept by the person for personal use. The latter exemption would have the potential to expose children aged 14 to 18 to further exploitation by child pornographers since they would be engaging in legal activity.
By the government's failure to prohibit all adult-child sex, children continue to be at an unacceptable risk. Only by raising the age of consent would children be truly protected under the Criminal Code. We are not advocating criminalizing teenagers. As with other jurisdictions with a more reasonable age of consent, such as the U.K., Australia and most U.S. states, a close-in-age exemption would apply to ensure that teenagers were not criminalized.
Another aspect where Canadians expect change is in the sentencing of those convicted. Bill C-20 would increase maximum sentences for child related offences. These offences include sexual offences, failing to provide the necessities of life, and abandoning a child. This is meaningless if the courts do not impose the sentences, and we know by experience that when maximum sentences are raised there is no corresponding pattern in the actual sentencing practices. What is needed are mandatory sentences, truth in sentencing by eliminating statutory release, and no conditional sentences for child predators.
It is high time that the House, in passing legislation, protects the intent of the legislation, in this case Bill C-20, in regard to our children and other vulnerable persons.