moved that the Bill be concurred in.
(Motion agreed to)
Hon. Rob Nicholson moved that the Bill be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the third reading debate on Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act.
The bill recognizes that sexual exploitation of children causes irreparable harm to the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. The bill recognizes that we as legislators not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to do all that we can to protect children from this harm. No less important, the bill reflects the view held by most, if not all, Canadians that sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible and that the criminal law must treat all forms of child sexual exploitation as such, including by imposing penalties that fit the severity of this crime.
Bill C-54 therefore proposes Criminal Code amendments to ensure that all child sexual abuse penalties consistently reflect the serious nature of this crime as well as to prevent the commission of a sexual offence against a child.
The bill proposes to add seven new mandatory sentences to existing child sexual offences that do not currently impose minimum sentences. It proposes to increase the minimum sentences for seven child specific sexual offences that already have mandatory sentences and to impose two new sentences in the two new offences proposed by this bill. In this way, Bill C-54 would ensure that all sexual offences involving child victims are treated the same by requiring all convicted child sex offenders to serve a term of imprisonment. This would eliminate a distinction that currently exists between the 12 child specific sexual offences that already impose mandatory penalties and the seven additional sexual offences that still do not.
This existing distinction sends out the wrong message. In effect, it says to the majority of child sexual assault victims whose offenders are charged under the general sexual assault offence in section 271 that does not impose a minimum sentence that their victimization is less serious than that of the 19% of child victims whose offenders are charged under child specific sexual offences that do carry minimum penalties. This is just wrong and Bill C-54 would change this.
The bill would also increase seven existing mandatory minimum penalties in the child specific sexual offences to ensure that the minimums are commensurate not only with the offence in question, but are also coherent with those for other offences. For example, offences that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment would have the same minimum penalty of one year.
Accordingly, the existing minimum for the offence of sexual interference in section 151 would be increased from 45 days to one year, which in turn would be consistent with the new minimum proposed in section 271, the general sexual assault offence that also carries a maximum penalty of 10 years on indictment.
During its review of Bill C-54 the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from a range of witnesses, including victims' groups, police, academics, psychologists and criminal lawyers' associations. Some disagreed on Bill C-54's approach with minimum penalties. Some argued against minimum penalties. Some advocated for higher minimum penalties and some supported the reforms as proposed by this bill. But without exception they all agreed that child sexual abuse and the exploitation of children is a serious crime and must be treated as such. That is what this bill would do.
This bill proposes reforms to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children. It does so in two ways.
First, it proposes to create two new offences that target conduct that is preparatory to the commission of a contact sexual offence against a child.
The first offence would prohibit a person from making sexually explicit material available to a young person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual or abduction offence against that child. This offence recognizes that child sex offenders often give this type of material to their victims, often with a view to lowering their sexual inhibitions and making it easier to sexually assault them. If the material is child pornography, irrespective of the reason for which it may be given, this conduct is already prohibited. This bill would now prohibit providing other sexually explicit material for this specific purpose.
Our bill defines “sexually explicit material” in a manner that is consistent with its use and interpretation in the child pornography and voyeurism offences.
The proposed offence would apply to transmitting, making available, distributing or selling such material to a young person for this purpose and would apply whether it is provided directly in a face-to-face encounter or over the Internet.
The second new offence proposed is a prohibition against using telecommunications, such as the Internet, to agree or make arrangements with another person to commit one of the enumerated child sexual or abduction offences.
The existing prohibition in section 172.1 against using a computer system to communicate directly with a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of one of the enumerated child sex and abduction offences only applies where the communication is between the perpetrator and the child. It does not apply to a situation where, for example, one adult uses the Internet to communicate with another adult to agree with or arrange to commit a sexual offence against a third person, the child. Thankfully, this bill would close that gap.
There was much discussion at the justice committee about this new offence as to what the term “telecommunications” includes. How would the offence work? Does its formulation deny an accused legitimate defences and even legitimize police entrapment? The answer to that of course is no.
The term “telecommunications” is defined in the federal Interpretation Act as “the emission, transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature by any wire, cable, radio, optical or other electromagnetic system, or by any similar technical system”.
Using such a broad but clearly defined term would ensure that this new offence would apply to the same prohibited use of new technology that may be created after this offence is enacted.
The new offence would operate in a similar manner to the existing luring a child offence that is found in section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. It includes the same provisions about presumed or reasonable but mistaken belief in the age of the child.
Like the existing luring a child offence, the common law defence of entrapment would still be available to an accused in the appropriate circumstances.
Bill C-54 also proposes to require a court to consider prohibiting a child sex offender and a suspected child sex offender under section 810.1 from having both access and opportunity to sexually molest a child. It proposes to expand the list of sexual offences for which such prohibitions could be included to include four prostitution offences where the victim is a child.
Courts would also be specifically directed to consider imposing two new conditions prohibiting the offender from having any unsupervised access to a young person or from having any unsupervised use of the Internet.
These conditions would help prevent the offender from being placed in a situation where he or she has access and opportunity to sexually assault a child, and from having unfettered use of the Internet or other similar technologies that are instrumental in the commission of child pornography and other child sexual exploitative offences today.
Witnesses before the justice committee were generally quite supportive of these proposed preventive measures.
There was some discussion of what is meant by these provisions' use of the term “the Internet or other digital network”. Bill C-54's use of “the Internet or other digital network” is consistent with its commonly understood meaning. It is also used in Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, which is currently before Parliament.
Clearly, the intention here is to direct the court to consider imposing such a prohibition where it is appropriate in the circumstances of the accused and the safety needs of the community and, as specifically directed by this bill, to impose the prohibition subject to any appropriate conditions as determined by the court.
I am confident that this proposal strikes the right balance in providing sufficient clarity and needed flexibility to enable the courts to craft a clear and understandable prohibition with any applicable conditions warranted by the circumstances of each case.
This is an important step forward in the protection of children in this country, and I am asking the House to pass this bill as rapidly as possible.