Mr. Speaker, when we think about the sex offender registry and sex crimes in general, all our minds turn to our own children or to children in our families. It is hard to think of crimes that are more reprehensible than those that are of a sexual nature, particularly those of a sexual nature against children.
I think every member of the House would agree that every effective tool we can put at the disposal of law enforcement officials to ensure we can stop the crimes from happening or when a crime happens, we can get to the victims as quickly as possible to pull them away from harm is action we must take.
We the know of the Stephensons, who lost their son, and all the work they did in developing Christopher's law. It has led in Ontario to some very effective legislation, legislation that is used many hundreds of times a day and searched far more than the national registry. The success of that registry underscores the failure of the national registry. When we look at the statistics, and it is hard to believe, the Ontario registry is used four times more in a day than the national registry is used in a year.
I do not think there is any disagreement from anyone in the House that the sex offender registry is in need of modernization and amendment, and I welcome that debate.
I am greatly disappointed by the approach the government has taken. We had a bipartisan co-operative approach that was adopted by committee. All committee members had agreed that this was an item of importance, that we had a mandatory review to undertake, that we needed to update the legislation and we needed to do it in a careful, thoughtful way. We brought in witnesses from all different corners and had the opportunity to hear from them at committee about the types of changes that needed to be made. There was an expectation that we would then present a report and that report would be presented this week.
Imagine our shock when the government threw this legislation down on the table, put it on the order paper, short-circuiting all the work the committee had done, all the work in a collaborative, non-partisan way to find a solution. We can imagine how the witnesses who came before committee and made presentations on those changes felt.
The result, quite frankly, is legislation that is less than perfect. It really would have benefited from the input of committee and would have benefited from taking the time to ensure it was incorporated. It begs this question. Why would the government halt a process that was under way in committee, that was on its final stages of being completed to the point where we were to go through clause by clause tomorrow? Why would the government have short-circuited that process?
The only reason anybody could come up with was because the government desperately wanted to change the channel. It was mismanaging the economy. It had a deficit and a debt that was growing wildly out of control. It was desperately mismanaging the crisis with isotopes, making error after error, and it needed a channel change. What did it rely upon? Dumping everything it possibly could on the order paper that had to do with crime and justice to make itself look “tough on crime”.
In so doing, instead of having the House consider legislation that had the benefit of witnesses and of a mandatory review and having come with bipartisan, unanimous support from committee, it has rushed something to the table that is absent in a number of areas, and that is most unfortunate.
I want to talk about a number of points in the bill and some areas where we will have to redo the work of committee to get the bill into a form where it can take the proper action that a bill of this nature deserves.
First, we have to recognize that no matter what improvements are made to the sex offender registry, it is not a panacea. We should not hold this out as the solution to crimes dealing with sexual offences. Much more work needs to be done outside of the registry to reduce the amount of victimization we see. A lot of that work has to do with both rehabilitative programs and preventive programs to ensure the crimes do not happen in the first place.
We never hear about working on prevention from the government side, working on stopping crimes happening in the first place, working on ensuring that people who are to be reintegrated into society are going to be given the skills, tools and help they need to be productive members of society and that they will not re-offend, that we bring down that rate of recidivism. However, that has not been the priority of the government, which is a real shame because it is extremely important.
Second, we need to ensure we work with all levels of government, in every possible way, to share information and best practices, to ensure we not only integrate our enforcement efforts but also that we work together to break the cycle of violence and abuse that so often is symptomatic of these types of crimes.
In the bill itself, one of the key provisions is automatic inclusion. The argument made here is that right now, because of judicial discretion, there are a great number of individuals who are not put on the sex offender registry because judges make the decision not to put them on it. In fact, the numbers are quite high. We philosophically do not have a problem with the idea of automatic inclusion. We want to have an effective registry, but this is an area to which we have to pay great attention. If we do not, we could end up filling the sex offender registry with a huge list of people, some of whom are not really dangerous offenders. When a crime occurs and police officers turn to that sex offender registry, they could have people on the list where there would almost no likelihood they would have committed that crime. That will slow down the investigation and weaken the effectiveness of the sex offender registry.
Let me give an example with one of the terms that has been included in the bill, the term of voyeurism. One could envision a situation where voyeurism is something that warrants being put on a sex offender registry, such as an individual outside a child's window, looking inside. We would say that individual should be on the sex offender registry. That is the type of activity we would want to encapsulate in this. What about individuals who are looking from one apartment window into another? Clearly they should not have done it. Clearly it is inappropriate. However, are they dangerous offenders? Are these the types of people we want to mix on this list, thus slowing down the process and the police's ability to respond?
When I asked the question of law enforcement officers in committee as to what they would do in this situation, where it was a more minor offence of voyeurism and they did not feel that the person really should be automatically included on the sex offender registry, they said they would not charge that person. I think this is going to be a real problem. If we do not word this properly and do not deal with it with the right balance, minor offences will not be prosecuted because there will be a feeling by those officers or by the crown that if they prosecute these individuals, they will to be unjustly placed on the sex offender registry.
I certainly know no one in the House would want to see that happen, to see people committing more minor offences of a sexual nature receiving no punishment, such as indiscretions in the office place, or people at a party doing something they should not have done. We would not want to be turning the other cheek because of the fact that they did not want to put these individuals on the registry. In that regard, we have to ensure the list of offences is such that we really capture those dangerous individuals who would be the most likely to commit crimes when the sex offender registry is looked at.
Third, and this was discussed at committee, we need to ensure there is room for judicial expression in extraordinary cases. In other words, the threshold has to be very high. A judge would have to explain the rationale and have to be held to a very high standard. However, if there were individuals for whom placing them on the sex offender registry would be a gross miscarriage of justice, where it would be grossly unfair and disproportionate to the crime committed, we would expect and hope the judge would have some room to move.
If we completely remove judicial discretion, we do not get rid of discretion. I again point to the fact that we are just displacing the discretion from the judge onto those who are responsible for convictions, being the crown and the police.
The bill is important and it takes in a number of the things we were talking about at committee. It allows the tool of the sex offender registry to be used in a preventative way. One of the flaws with the system as it currently stands is law enforcement officers cannot use the sex offender registry proactively. If they something happens that looks suspicious, a crime has not been committed yet but somebody is where they really should not be and is acting in a very strange way, right now they cannot turn to the sex offender registry to see if that person may represent a risk. Clearly we would want the sex offender registry to be used in a proactive fashion, to ensure that in this kind of situation, police could deploy this to stop a crime happening in the first place.
The next important point is it expands and allows accredited law enforcement agencies to share and use information. Something like the sex offender registry should not be proprietary with law enforcement officials. The RCMP should not hold onto its information, police departments should not hold onto their information and not share and not communicate. That is going to lead to all kinds of things falling through the cracks into a system that frankly is not effective.
In this case, it expands and allows the information to be shared and utilized. Where we have to be careful and where we are going to want to ensure it is crystal clear at committee, is while sharing of information takes place, it has to happen inside police departments. We do not want this information to be circulated to the public or to go into hands of someone who might want to take some vigilante type action or some sort of action independently of the police force. In examples where sex offender registry information has got into the public's hands, it has led to very bad outcomes and does not increase public safety, so we have to watch that.
Another area that is important and has been long called for is the need to ensure that if someone commits a sexual offence abroad and then comes back to Canada, that the information is recorded and is a part of the sex offender registry. We do not want someone going to a foreign jurisdiction and committing crimes, being able to return to Canada and that information not showing up on our sex offender registry. It was a big hole before. This legislation addresses that.
The issue of automatic inclusion in the DNA databank is something we support in principle, but again, it is something we will have to look at in committee to ensure there is a proper balance in effect and that the information will be used in an intelligent, balanced fashion.
If anyone had listened to what transpired at committee, they would have heard there were some really key areas that were missed by the legislation. Perhaps it was because of its haste, just being dropped to change the channel, that this information was missed. However, police and victims rights groups have told us how important it is to ensure the vehicle information is included in the sex offender registry, such as the licence plate number, make, model, year and other identifying factors. Oftentimes it is a vehicle that would be identified first. That information should be updated regularly so if people change their vehicle, they are mandated to update that information with police departments. That was completely absent in the legislation. It was not there and I was surprised that it was missing.
There are many areas, but I will not cover them all. However, another area that is surprising is there is not really any discussion and coordination with the introduction of the bill in making the investments in things like software and technology. Data is only as good as its ability to be cross-referenced and analyzed and to show law enforcement officers exactly where they need to be and when they need to be there.
For example, to match past offences against the current situation, against the modus operandi, we need a software system that is able to take all the information and graphically represent it such that police officers can act instantaneously. We know that with crimes of this nature time is of the essence. Every second that goes by means there is more and more likelihood that someone who is abducted, for example, will not be found, or that a perpetrator will get away and never get convicted.
It is fair to say that it is right to take this legislation and move it to the next process to committee. However, it really is unfortunate, and I cannot stress this in a strong enough sense, that the government decided to short-circuit all the work of committee and to present it in the House. It would have greatly benefited from that process. Committee passed a resolution essentially saying that this undercut the ability of parliamentary committees to function, that it really showed enormous disrespect for Parliament. I cannot say that in strong enough terms.
When this happens and the next time we are asked to review a bill, I know that both witnesses and committee members will be a little hesitant to move a government item to the top. If this is the way committees are going to be respected and treated by having of our input tossed out, it is very disappointing. In fact, it is worse than being tossed out. Sometimes we are used to being ignored, but in this case it is worse than being ignored. We did not even get a chance to present something in order for it to be ignored, and that was a grave disappointment.
Certainly we are going to support sending the bill to committee. There are a number of improvements that have to be made. We are going to have to redo that work and recall all those witnesses. We will undertake that because this work is important. It is something that I know every member of the House cares deeply about and we on this side care a lot about.