I want to thank all of the witnesses for being here this afternoon.
It is never easy to broach subjects like the one we are dealing with as part of our study of Bill C-54. Quite often, we are forced to draw comparisons between cases of incest and of violence against women. I am from Quebec. A number of extensive awareness campaigns have been launched to encourage women to report spousal abuse. It is my professional experience that the victim often withdraws her complaints before the case goes to trial because the husband is her and her children's sole support. The wife is then beaten by her husband the following week.
The Government of Quebec formally decided that once a complaint had been filed, it could not be withdrawn, regardless of the positions taken. When a woman files a complaint, she cannot withdraw it. The situation is much the same for children because they are afraid. It is very hard for them. It is not easy for someone to admit that she was abused by her father for 10 or 15 years. Understandably, it is a truly terrifying prospect for them.
A lawyer who knows the system a little and who represents the accused will go and see the Crown prosecutor. He finds out that there will not be a trial and the client pleads guilty. The judge then asks the two lawyers if they can suggest anything. They may suggest a minimum sentence of three years in prison, even if the offender is liable to 15 years in prison. A man abuses his daughter for nearly 15 years, but no one wants a trial. They argue that the victim will be spared from having to testify, that a costly trial will be avoided. However, no one is thinking about this terrified child who is denied justice.
A lawyer may be called upon to defend a 72-year-old man who abused his daughters for 15 years. This person arrives at the courthouse, pleads guilty and leaves immediately in a wheelchair. He does not receive any penalty whatsoever. Incredibly, these things happen. Lawyers refers to these as “sweet deals”.
I don't know if you have any children, but if you do, look them straight in the eye. It is incredible to see what is happening. Young girls are being abused for 15 years and being treated no better than dogs, and people are trying to convince us that minimum penalties should not be imposed. I'm sorry, but minimum penalties are necessary because this is the only way to get the message across. The members of the legal profession are beginning to understand. When a person commits a serious offence, we will send a clear message to the public. That is what I wanted to say. I practised law long enough to know that something is wrong with the system.
Mention was also made of mandatory minimum penalties. DUI offenders have long been subject to such penalties. Interestingly, the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec supports tougher minimum penalties because they mean fewer accidents and fatalities. This was a government decision. So then, minimum penalties are good. Minimum penalties are imposed in murder and firearms possession cases and interestingly, this approach works well. Why should the approach be any different in this case? This is the point I wanted to make.
You have to understand that this bill is intended not only for Conservatives. We are working for all children, whether they are the children of Bloc members, of Liberals, of New Democrats or of Conservatives like ourselves. We are not acting solely out of partisan concerns. We are also parliamentarians. In my opinion, it's ludicrous to waste our time on this. We should be banding together and unanimously endorsing this bill aimed at protecting our children.