Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation on Bill C-277.
I believe this legislation is another significant step forward in protecting children across Canada against sexual predators. As the sponsor of this bill, I've been encouraged by the widespread support the bill has received. I am here today to explain the contents of the bill, why Canada needs this legislation, and why I believe this committee, subject to one proposed amendment, should approve this bill.
At second reading, I commended the previous Liberal government for introducing section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. That section makes it a crime for a person to communicate with a child by means of a computer for the purpose of facilitating a number of different criminal offences against that child. This was a significant step forward in protecting our children. It criminalized attempts to sexually abuse a child without actually requiring the child to first suffer harm or damage. Actions that demonstrate a clear intent to use the Internet to commit a sexual offence against a child can result in a conviction. This now allows the authorities to intervene before actual harm occurs to a child.
My private member's bill clearly transcends partisanship inasmuch as it represents a further effort to protect the most vulnerable in our society, namely our unsuspecting and innocent children. I especially want to thank those members of the opposition who have publicly lent their support to this bill.
Bill C-277 is quite simple in that it increases the maximum sentence for the offence of Internet luring from five to ten years in prison. Why increase the maximum sentence for this crime? Like most of you, I have children--four beautiful daughters. They, together with my wife, are the most important people in my life. Annette and I have done everything we can to protect them against those who would take away their innocence and cause them lifelong harm. Thankfully, they are all now moving into adulthood as caring and responsible human beings. But there was a time when they were much more vulnerable than they are now.
As technology continues to improve and change, the challenges that all parents of young children face become more and more daunting. It appears that the Internet is becoming the platform of choice for those who want to sexually abuse our children. Sexual predators are no longer hiding behind bushes in schoolyards and trolling for victims. They now lure children from the privacy of their homes and hide their identities and ages behind the anonymity of their computers.
In turn, Canadian children, as perhaps the most Internet-savvy children in the world, are exposed to predators as a result of inadequate supervision at home and as a result of the use of computers at unsupervised locations. As all of you know, the Internet is a powerful tool for both good and evil. Just as it has a vast potential to educate and improve our lives, the Internet is also a powerful force in perpetrating crime and harming people. Our laws have often not kept pace with these realities.
The current maximum sentence for Internet luring in Canada is five years in prison. In that respect, our country lags far behind others such as the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, which have all acted to impose criminal sanctions against Internet luring. In those jurisdictions the sentences are significantly higher. In the U.K., for example, federal legislation calls for a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. In Australia, it is 15 years. In the U.S., the federal government enacted legislation that calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison with a maximum of 30 years. Individual states have also introduced their own laws against Internet luring, ranging anywhere from one to 30 years. Commonly the maximum sentence in those states is in the 10-year range. Clearly, if the maximum sentence is a reflection of the importance we place on protecting our children, we need to do more.
Just how prevalent is child luring over the Internet? Statistics are relatively hard to come by in Canada due to the short period during which the luring law has been in place. I can tell you that a November 2000 Ipsos-Reid study that surveyed 10,000 Internet users, aged 12 to 24, showed that 20% said they had actually met in person people who they had become acquainted with over the Internet.
An American study that same year revealed that 19% of youths were sexually solicited over the Internet. Some of you may be aware of Cybertip, a program of Child Find Manitoba. It investigates incidents of Internet-related sexual offences. In its first two years of operation, it was inundated with over 1,200 reports that fell under the category of child sexual exploitation. Ten per cent, or some 120 cases of those, involved Internet luring.
NBC's To Catch A Predator program has illustrated just how immense this problem has become in the United States. The program, which stages sting operations throughout the U.S., found no shortage of material to use. I can certainly provide members of this committee with a website that details, unfortunately in very graphic detail, the particulars of over 130 of these cases that resulted in convictions. A Leger Marketing survey reports that 14% of children admit to chatting with strangers while on the Internet. I also want to refer members of this committee to a June 2001 report from the American Medical Association reporting that 19% of youth interviewed experienced at least one sexual solicitation over the Internet; of these, 3% said the sexual overture was aggressive in nature.
If time permitted, I could regale you with lurid details of the convictions and sentences for Internet luring since section 172.1 of the Criminal Code became the law in Canada. In the interest of time, I'll simply say that the sentences in Canada for a first-time offender typically range from six months to two years in prison, with some involving conditional sentences, usually for reasons of sex offender treatment programs. It's only a matter of time before the courts will be called upon to sentence repeat offenders under the luring law. What should be of great concern to all of us is the likelihood that the relatively short maximum sentence of five years will handcuff the court's ability to sentence reoffenders.
Let me offer a tragic yet current example. The case of Peter Whitmore, although not a case of luring, mesmerized the nation for several months last year as police hunted down this predator, who had abducted two young boys. Mercifully Mr. Whitmore was caught, but only after allegedly committing numerous sexual offences against those boys. I'd like to refer very briefly to his history.
If you go back in time to 1993, Mr. Whitmore was convicted of abduction and five sexual offences involving four young boys in Toronto. He got a year and four months in custody.
In 1995, he struck again. This time it was an eight-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy from outside of Toronto. He received five years in jail for those sexual offences.
Less than a month after his release from that imprisonment, Whitmore was found in a downtown Toronto motel with a 13-year-old boy. He was again sentenced to one year in jail for breaching a court order.
In 2002, a Toronto judge sentenced Whitmore to three more years in jail for probation violations, because he had fled British Columbia after being found in the company of a five-year-old boy.
In March 2004 a National Parole Board report notes that clinicians believe Whitmore has 100% probability of recidivism. Fast forward to July 22: Mr. Whitmore resurfaces in Winnipeg, where he is alleged to have offended against a 14-year-old boy. In July 30 of that year, RCMP issue an amber alert for a 10-year-old Saskatchewan boy who they believe has been abducted by Whitmore.
You know the story. The police were finally able to track down Mr. Whitmore. He's been charged with 15 sexual offences against children. That's the background in which we have to consider this offence and this bill.
My real fear is this, members of the committee. Here's a man who's already been sentenced repeatedly for terms of up to five years in prison for previous sexual offences. Even then, a five-year prison sentence did not deter this predator from seeking out young children again. He spent further time in jail for repeated parole violations.
Let's assume that Mr. Whitmore is again released from prison. If he then resorts to Internet luring to satisfy his urges and is charged under the luring law, the maximum sentence he could receive is the current maximum of, yes, five years, a term that has previously failed to deter him from molesting children.
For all of us, this issue is not only repeat offences under section 172.1, but also the ability to properly sentence the Peter Whitmores of this world, where luring is only a culmination of a long history of serious sexual crimes against children and others. I would also suggest to you that increasing the maximum sentence for luring to 10 years more aptly reflects the seriousness of this offence when compared to other arguably lesser offences under the Criminal Code. If we believe that violent offences against the most vulnerable in our society, especially our children, warrant stronger denunciation, that denunciation must be reflected in the sentences we impose. However, comparison of a number of other Criminal Code offences indicates that the five-year maximum sentence for luring does not represent the degree of denunciation that Canadians would expect.
A quick comparison of some offences that carry a maximum sentence of 10 or more years in prison is instructive.
I refer you to sections 151 and 152 of the Criminal Code, interference and touching for a sexual purpose. Exposing a child to bestiality also has a maximum sentence of 10 years or more. For incest, it's similar. For sexual assault, it's similar. Then we move to some offences that may not involve harm to a child or may not even involve harm to any person. Parental abduction, under section 283, means that a parent who takes a child from another parent--in other words, a spouse or former spouse--is subject to a maximum sentence of 10 years for abduction. Yet in that case one could argue that it may not be even harmful to the child for that abduction to have taken place--at least, not physically harmful to that child.
Simply distributing child pornography, under section 163, again carries a maximum term of 10 years. That again is a non-personal injury offence.
Now I'll refer you to two offences that put it into even more stark contrast. Fraud over $5,000 draws a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Did you know that the theft of cattle, under subsection 338(2), which is another non-personal injury offence, draws a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison? Clearly, when viewed in the context of these comparative offences, the luring of our children for sexual purposes cries out for at least similar, if not harsher, treatment. My heart tells me that the protection of our children is worth much more than the theft of cattle or simple fraud involving $5,000 or more.
I suggest to you a further argument in favour of increasing the maximum sentence for luring. By increasing the maximum sentence to 10 years, we provide the courts with the tools to remove from society for longer periods of time the most serious of habitual sexual offenders--the Peter Whitmores of our country, if you will. Common sense dictates that someone who repeatedly shows a clear intention to commit crimes against our children will not commit those crimes as long as he is incarcerated.
I would also suggest that an increased sentence for luring is justified by the unique nature of sexual offences against children. Many of those who prey on children are habitual offenders and often cannot or refuse to be treated. In other words, some of these offenders will remain a risk to their communities for the rest of their lives. A maximum sentence that delivers an enhanced opportunity for the courts to remove these habitual offenders from our communities clearly serves the interests of our children.
Members of the committee, I took great interest in the comments made by a number of opposition members during the debate at second reading. One criticism of the bill that I found to be most helpful was the implied suggestion from the Liberal member from Mississauga that the maximum sentence for the summary conviction offence of luring was too low and should be increased. In the spirit of those comments, I am prepared to submit for your consideration an amendment to the bill that does exactly that—namely, increases the maximum sentence upon summary conviction from six to 18 months in prison.
I believe that has been circulated, Mr. Chair.