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Evidence of meeting #59 for Justice and Human Rights in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was young.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Paul Gillespie  Consultant, As an Individual
Lynn Barr-Telford  Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
Tamra Thomson  Director, Legislation and Law Reform, Canadian Bar Association
Margaret Gallagher  Treasurer, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association
Kevin Kindred  Branch Section Chair, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference, Canadian Bar Association
Judy Nuttall  Coordinator, Affiliated with Citizens Addressing Sexual Exploitation, White Ribbon Against Pornography
Steve Sullivan  President, Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime
Martha Mackinnon  Executive Director, Justice for Children and Youth
Karen Mihorean  Assistant Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
William Trudell  Chair, Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers
Jason Gratl  President, B.C. Civil Liberties Association
Kim Pate  Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Andrew Brett  Member, Age of Consent Committee
Nicholas Dodds  Member, Age of Consent Committee
Dave Quist  Executive Director, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada
Daphne Gilbert  Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Christina Godlewska  Articled Student, B.C. Civil Liberties Association

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I've enjoyed hearing the responses so far, so I'll try to touch on an area that hasn't received any questions so far. Maybe I could direct this toward Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Nuttall.

Obviously, one angle we have to look at this from is that of the victims. I wanted to get some information shared with the committee on what this means for the victims of sexual exploitation, of children who are exploited. What are the long-term consequences for someone who might have been abused before, but who didn't fall under the previous law? When we look at raising it to 16, what is that going to do in terms of the protection of those 14- and 15-year-olds who may not have been protected before? How is that going to help communities? How is that going to help families? How is that going to help neighbourhoods?

Perhaps I could get a response from Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Nuttall on that point.

10:35 a.m.

Coordinator, Affiliated with Citizens Addressing Sexual Exploitation, White Ribbon Against Pornography

Judy Nuttall

The work that we've been doing in Barrie has really been trying to wake parents up, to wake the community up to what is going on, so that they can begin to face the situation. As Mr. Gillespie said, people just won't believe it. If a statement or a strong move is made by Parliament, they will see that something is done, and it will reinforce their ability to deal with these situations.

One of the difficulties with children who are—I'd like to describe one child I've taught, only please don't go back to the school board I come from, because I'll be in terrible trouble and get kicked out.

I came across a girl who was extremely—

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I just wish to point out to Ms. Nuttall that these are public hearings. If she's concerned that she could get into trouble by giving out information, then she might want to think twice.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

Maybe you can couch your statement without making any reference to anyone.

10:35 a.m.

Coordinator, Affiliated with Citizens Addressing Sexual Exploitation, White Ribbon Against Pornography

Judy Nuttall

Okay.

Let's say there is a girl whose strong ambition—and it's more than an ambition—is to be an actress. There's something that lies behind it that you can't put your finger on. She cannot respond to discipline, and she's very disruptive. Just one example is that she says she can't write because it will hurt her hand. This is an 11-year-old. The thing is, this child and many like her may be in a situation in which they need help, they need to have the ability to reach out. That does come from education, from the word getting out that something is appropriate and something else isn't, and they can do something about it.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

Excuse me.

Did you have a point of order, Mr. Petit?

March 29th, 2007 / 10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

I agree with Ms. Jennings because I believe our witness is going a bit too far. She is describing a situation which some may recognize. This is a public hearing, and I think that we have a duty, as committee members, to warn our witness that the information is public, and it may be a problem. So, it would be good for the chair to remind her of a few points.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

Thank you, Mr. Petit and Ms. Jennings.

Just for your own benefit, ma'am, just try to keep your comments very general. Try not to make reference to specifics, if you possibly could. It is a public hearing.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

We are short of time, so maybe I could get Mr. Sullivan's comments on the long-term consequences for those 14- or 15-year olds who weren't covered under existing legislation.

10:40 a.m.

President, Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime

Steve Sullivan

Generally one of the benefits is that hopefully we prevent kids from being exploited by those who would seek to do that. I don't think any of us is naive enough to think that when we pass this law, people won't still be motivated, but hopefully when the word gets around, as Paul mentioned, it will stop some people from abusing children.

I think one of the things we have to recognize is that many of the young people in these situations won't recognize right away that they are being exploited. There may be benefits to these relationships that most of us wouldn't think of: acceptance, gifts, attention that they don't get from their parents, and all those kinds of things. They might not recognize it here and now.

In a general sense we've dealt with some historical victims of sexual abuse who are now reporting and going through compensation boards to get compensation, or reporting to police. The long-term implications are lack of trust and lack of intimate relationships. Some turn to alcoholism and self-abuse and all those kinds of things. The long-term implications of sexual abuse for individuals—and it's not just limited to 14- and 15-year-olds, but any victim—can be life-altering.

I think, hopefully, it will prevent some victims, stop some abuse before it gets too far, and also give enforcement and parents, as Mr. Thompson mentioned, the power to intervene when those situations are going on, and hopefully prevent even longer-term impact of this abuse.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

Go ahead, Mr. Petit.

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Thank you to all witnesses who have appeared before us this morning.

My first question is for Mr. Gillespie, but it is in a slightly different vein. The bill seems to be supported by all parties. When you have children, in our society, oftentimes you drop your kids off in the morning to catch their school buses, and do so until they are in grade 6. Then, they go to high school, and in my province, the CEGEP. Often, parents lose touch with their kids. Parents and their children come home at different hours and in the end the relationship is a difficult one.

At some point, the young woman or the young man turns 14 and experiences an adrenaline rush. It happens among all adolescents, and parents have no power over it. They may see that things are not going well, they feel responsible, guilty and do everything in their power to solve the problems.

Mr. Gillespie, I don't want to discuss the question of new technologies. According to you, would this bill help parents as was stated earlier on? The age of consent is being raised to 16. Could this bill, in some cases, help parents who are no longer able to fulfil their roles because of these very modern lifestyles and the furious pace of things? Forget about the word "luring". I don't want to discuss computers. I simply want you to tell us whether, based on your experience, this bill could help.

10:40 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

Paul Gillespie

I think so.

Let me first say that you're right. Kids are kids, and some children are going to make decisions in various life situations and potentially make mistakes. This bill will stop, however, those who will take advantage of those situations in which children may wish to get outside of the rules within the family and make some bad decisions. If it will at least deter some of those from getting involved with some of these kids, I think it will help parents, because they will perhaps have a little more sense of safety, a sense that older men are not allowed to prey on their children no matter what they want to do. It will not, certainly, stop everything, but I do believe it will make a difference and allow a little more control over your kids.

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Gillespie, you know as well as I do that in large cities where there are a number of ghettos and where newcomers often settle, parents work long hours and children are sometimes left to their own devices, thereby ending up in street gangs which, at some point, will sexually exploit them.

We know full well that other legislation, other Criminal Code provisions can help us here. Also, immigrants arrive here with 14 or 15-year-old children. That is my case, I'm an immigrant and I experienced having to adapt to a new culture. So I'll repeat my question, because street gangs are a serious problem in our large urban centres.

Would this bill, if it were passed, help parents report "unfortunate" behaviour among their teenagers with respect to street gangs which may be exploiting them or may exploit them in the future? Could this help? Of course I am not referring to computers here, but to events in the real world.

10:45 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

Paul Gillespie

I think you've made an interesting observation. Certainly, within different cultures and different lifestyles, and certainly with new immigrants, it raises several new issues and challenges. However, I think if the line is drawn definitively that this is not legal, it will at least allow parents potentially a little bit of comfort, and hopefully children will start to make better decisions.

The truth is there are always going to be older people willing to exploit younger people, whether it's for the purpose of enticing them into a street gang to commit criminal activity or to perhaps perform sexual favours. I just think it will help society in general if the line is drawn in the sand: this is off-limits, and that is the law.

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

My next question is for the Canadian Bar Association.

Earlier on, a very relevant question was asked. There is a difference between a five-year close-in-age absolute rule and a presumption. The presumption would be that we will presume that an adult, say a 22-year-old, going out with a 14-year-old girl, is exploiting her.

What distinction do you make? Would it make things easier? We do not want to complicate everybody's life nor spend all of our time before the courts trying to reverse the presumption. Do you understand what I'm trying to say? I would like to know whether or not it would be preferable to keep an absolute rule.

Earlier on, a question was raised—and I haven't yet thought about it—about presumption. We cannot forget that presumptions would open the door quite wide. You know what an irrefragable presumption is, and God only knows how many problems we've had before the courts because of this notion.

Could someone from the Canadian Bar Association, without giving legal advice, provide us with some guidance? Have you thought about this?

10:45 a.m.

Treasurer, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association

Margaret Gallagher

The CBA as a whole has not considered the presumption option. Again, when I spoke earlier, I had misunderstood the question. I thought it was an expansion beyond the original close-in-age exemption as set out in the bill, proposed, and as supported by the Canadian Bar Association.

If I just may repeat again, the charter challenge has earlier been made in the context, obviously, of the existing law. In several courts it has been found not to infringe on equality rights to remove the consent defence when a complainant was under 14 years.

Without entering into a constitutional debate or the merits of an individual case, which is obviously how it would happen, it is the position of the Canadian Bar Association that the proposal would, on the face of it, based on that and with the consensus of the body that is the CBA, survive a constitutional challenge—probably. Obviously, I can't say that for certain.

We are not here to promote the notion of a presumption, even though certainly it's something that's come forward this morning. It hasn't been put to the membership.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

Thank you, Mr. Petit.

Mr. Gillespie, you wanted to make a comment.

10:50 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

Paul Gillespie

Yes, may I just quickly respond?

Regarding the concept of a presumption, I believe a similar concept was debated some years ago that would potentially allow for the examining of the nature of the relationship and thus call the nature into examination, potentially bringing the victim in, and opening up this large, very significant problem.

Here's the problem: everybody will do it. The victims will not want to get involved. Law enforcement will be very frustrated, knowing that some long-going battle fought out between lawyers is eventually going to frustrate everybody. So law enforcement will choose to spend its time, under most circumstances, following different routes, perhaps laying different charges. It will simply bog down the courts.

In my opinion, it will basically be an ineffective law and will not be enforced.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

It's interesting you would say that about the court issue, and I can see that happening.

Reviewing my years at the Calgary police department when the age was at under 14, I remember that the extent of the child abuse investigations was such that it bogged down the police department with untold numbers of investigations that they really couldn't handle, and many were farmed off to social services. By including two more years onto that list—and from what I understand from the stats, there's much more activity in those years now—what's that going to do to investigative teams when it comes to handling this increased number of complaints that will be coming through? How is the court going to be able to handle that?

10:50 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

Paul Gillespie

I simply believe that a trier of fact will ultimately be responsible for examining the nature of a relationship. Based on all the extenuating circumstances that surround the exploitation issue, it will be a very long and lengthy process and very frustrating for all involved.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

You're talking about presumptive?

10:50 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

Paul Gillespie

Yes, if there were a presumption.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Art Hanger

If there were no presumptive aspect to it, but rather just looking at it from the point of view of the way investigators and the courts handle it right now, you're still going to have a substantial increase in complaints.

10:50 a.m.

Consultant, As an Individual

Paul Gillespie

Absolutely.