moved that Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual exploitation), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour to represent the good people of Perth—Wellington in this place.
It is an honour to rise in the House this afternoon to begin second reading debate of my private member's bill, known in this Parliament as Bill C-219, an act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual exploitation).
As I stated when I introduced the bill at first reading, it is a direct result of the advocacy, comments and concerns of the people of Perth—Wellington.
In early 2018, an incident occurred in which a person employed to work with persons with disabilities, who was also a children's entertainer, was convicted of a serious sexual crime against a person living with disabilities. My constituents were outraged by the lenient sentence of a monetary fine and probation, and called for a resolution to the flaw in the Criminal Code.
In a perfect world, I would have liked to have done so much more through the bill to better support Canadians living with disabilities. Far too often I hear from constituents who live with disabilities that they have fallen through the cracks: those who experience challenges in accessing government programs; those who face challenges with housing; and those who encounter barriers in employment. However, as hon. members know, with the limitations of Private Members' Business, it would not be possible to achieve all these goals through legislation without a royal recommendation.
In his 1913 autobiography, Theodore Roosevelt includes this quotation, “Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are ”. I am here today in the House doing what I can with the legislative resources available to me to try in this way to better protect Canadians living with disabilities.
I originally introduced the legislation in the previous Parliament, in January 2019, as Bill C-424. However, as members know, the Standing Orders on Private Members' Business were a barrier to moving the bill forward at the time and it died on the Order Paper when the 42nd Parliament was dissolved.
During the 2019 election, the proposals contained in my bill were included as part of the Conservative Party's election platform, and I personally made the commitment to my constituents that if I were to be re-elected, I would bring back this legislation to the House. Today, I am fulfilling that commitment to the constituents of Perth—Wellington.
Shortly after I tabled the bill for the second time in February 2020, another case involving sexual exploitation reached the news. This case involved a young person. The former chief of police of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia was sentenced to a 15-month imprisonment following an October 2019 conviction for sexually exploiting a 17-year-old girl. In this instance, the offender was also convicted of sexual assault, however, this caused a legal issue as it was questioned as to whether the court could convict a guilty person of two criminal offences for the same incident. In this case, the conviction of sexual exploitation was entered and the conviction of sexual assault was stayed.
As a sexual exploitation charge is often accompanied by a sexual assault charge, Bill C-219 would provide the additional benefit of ensuring only fair sentences are available when such controversies occur. Furthermore, Bill C-219 proposes to provide courts with the ability to impose harsher sentences in instances when only a charge of sexual exploitation is made. One example of the convictions of sexual exploitation but not sexual assault occurred last year, also in Nova Scotia, in which a religious leader was convicted of sexually exploiting a 17-year-old young person.
The second proposal contained within Bill C-219 was also inspired by the incident that occurred in my riding. If passed, the bill will require courts to consider the fact that a victim is a person living physical or mental disability as an aggravating circumstance when sentencing a person convicted under section 286.1(1) or 286.1(2) of the Criminal Code. This would fill an unfortunate void currently existing in the Criminal Code.
Persons living with disabilities are more vulnerable to this kind of exploitation due to a number of factors, including the capacity to give consent. What is more, in many cases, the offender is known to the victim and is often someone the victim must rely upon for care or other personal or financial support. This addition to the Criminal Code would ensure courts always take into account this vulnerability.
It is a sad truth, but as legislators we must be willing to admit that sexual exploitation is a problem in our country and we must strengthen our laws to better protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
Research and statistics have time and time again shown us that young people and persons living with disabilities are more often than not the victims of sexual and other types of crime.
According to Statistics Canada's report “Victims of Police-reported violent crime in Canada, 2016”, “When controlling for population, the rate of victimization was highest among youth aged 16 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 24.” The report further explains, “Overall, 8% of police-reported victims were victims of sexual offences. However, these offences were much more prevalent among child and youth victims that came to the attention of police.” The report goes on to state that 34%, more than one-third of female victims of sexual offences, were aged only 12 to 17 years old.
According to Statistics Canada’s Report Violent Victimization of Women with Disabilities, “according to both self-reported and police-reported data, the large majority of victims are women...This trend is also evident when looking at the population with a disability” who are victims of self-reported sexual assault “as nearly nine in ten (88%) victims...were women.” The report also states that Canadians with a disability, 30% of incidents, were more likely to be victimized in their own home compared to victims who did not have disability. This serves to highlight the sad reality that even in their home, people with a disability are at an increased vulnerability.
According to the Department of Justice Research and Statistics Division, “Sexual assault is a gendered crime; women are victimized at a higher rate…than men... As with other violent victimization…young people aged 15-24 years have the highest rate of sexual assault (71 incidents per 1,000 population).”
Sexual exploitation is a disturbing crime because it involves an imbalance and an abuse of power. Often it involves some sort of authority figure in a position of trust. That is why for years the Criminal Code includes the following description in its section on sexual exploitation “Every person...who is in a position of trust or authority towards a young person” or “who is a person with whom the young person is in a relationship of dependency. ” Furthermore, in the sexual exploitation of someone with a person with a disability, it reads similarly, “Every person who is in a position of trust or authority towards a person with a mental or physical disability or who is a person with whom a person with a mental or physical disability is in a relationship of dependency.”
This makes the specific crime of sexual exploitation all the more concerning. It requires a person in a position of power to take advantage of that power for their own appalling purposes. There is no excuse and there is no justification for these kinds of acts. These crimes occur when a person actively choses to use their position to harm an innocent victim.
Last month I had the honour to meet virtually with representatives of Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre, an organization that provides services to victims of these types of crimes from Toronto to Barrie to Peterborough. They talk about how difficult it is for victims of vulnerable populations in the justice system.
We need to ensure they are respected and supported. We need to ensure when victims come forward, they feel they are taken seriously. We need to ensure victims of these types of crimes have faith in the system and believe the devastating acts committed against them will not go unpunished.
I recognize that introducing legislation that proposes to increase sentences may not be consistent with the direction of the current government, which has often taken the position that some mandatory minimums are not appropriate. I would like to address that issue.
Charter challenges on mandatory minimum sentences are determinations if the sentence is “grossly disproportionate”. This is not the case with this bill. Given the abuse of power and the long-term impacts on victims, it should be clear to all of us that a one-year minimum sentence for sexual exploitation of a person under 18 years of age or a person with a disability is proportionate to the serious crime.
Sex crimes are different from other crimes. This has been recognized by successive governments for decades, including by the current Liberal government. The current mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days for sexual exploitation of a young person has been in place since the current Liberal government came to office and they have chosen to keep that in place. In fact, when the government introduced Bill C-22, their own backgrounder explicitly stated they were not proposing to remove mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences and listed them among other serious violent offences in which strict sentences remain in place.
Furthermore, when the justice minister spoke in the House, he clearly stated that sexual offences committed against children were committed by serious criminals and should be treated seriously. The same should be true of sexual offences committed against persons living with disabilities.
It would be beneficial for Parliament, the elected branch of government, to explicitly include in the Criminal Code a higher sentence for these crimes for the purpose of protecting vulnerable Canadians. Criminal laws serve to protect vulnerable people and serve a valid purpose. They are a legitimate part of fostering a safe society and they serve the public good.
The last number of months, under the challenges of COVID-19, many Canadians have been distressed to hear increasing reports of sexual crimes.
On July 13, 2020, a CBC news headline stated, “Child sex exploitation is on the rise in Canada during the pandemic.” The article states, “Cybertip.ca said...saw an 81 per cent spike over April, May and June in reports from youth who had been sexually exploited, and reports of people trying to sexually abuse children.”
A Global News report last month stated that a man from outside of Edmonton was arrested and charged with multiple counts of exploitation, among other charges.
A March 20, CBC news headlined stated, “Reports of sexual violations against children double in P.E.I.”
I encourage all members of all parties to come together to support this bill. In fact, there is precedence for all-party co-operation regarding changes to these sections of the Criminal Code.
Prior to 2005, the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation of a young person as an indictable offence was only five years, and no minimum sentence was provided. This changed in the 38th Parliament, when the then Liberal minority government passed Bill C-2, an act to amend the Criminal Code, protection of children and other vulnerable persons, and the Canada Evidence Act, which was sponsored by then justice minister Irwin Cotler. That bill increased the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation of a young person to 10 years, and introduced a minimum sentence of 14 days.
The bill also added to the Criminal Code a list of factors regarding the nature and circumstances of the relations to be established to determine how the relationship is exploitative. As Minister Cotler told the justice committee at the time, the purposes of the bill were ”to provide greater protection to youth against sexual exploitation from persons who would prey on their vulnerability.”
This bill was not only supported by all parties, but its passage was accelerated by all-party agreement and the use of a unanimous consent motion.
Then, on May 1, 2008, the Criminal Code was amended again, through another bill also named Bill C-2, this time to change the definition of a young person and to provide additional protections. This bill, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, was sponsored by the then justice minister Rob Nicholson and passed quickly through the House of Commons with all-party support and co-operation.
I would note the support of that bill included the current Minister of Transport, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, the government House leader, the chief government whip, and the Liberals members for Ottawa South, Halifax West, Humber River—Black Creek, Lac-Saint-Louis and Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame.
Young people and persons living with disabilities need to be protected. It is incumbent on us to pass this bill, because it is a targeted bill to correct two specific flaws in the Criminal Code. As parliamentarians, we have a duty to ensure the Criminal Code provides appropriate sentences for disturbing crimes so vulnerable Canadians are not at risk. There is no excuse for these crimes.
I urge all my fellow members to support this important bill.