Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to thank the committee for having me here today as discussion begins on my private member's bill, Bill C-299, which would invoke a minimum mandatory penalty for the kidnapping of a child under the age of 16 by a stranger.
I would like to call the committee's attention to paragraph 279(1)(a) of the Criminal Code, which says:
(1) Every person commits an offence who kidnaps a person with intent (a) to cause the person to be confined or imprisoned against the person’s will;
Further, paragraph 279(1.1)(a) says:
(1.1) Every person who commits an offence under subsection (1) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable (a) if a restricted firearm or prohibited firearm is used in the commission of the offence or if any firearm is used in the commission of the offence and the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with, a criminal organization, to imprisonment for life and to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of (i) in the case of a first offence, five years, and (ii) in the case of a second or subsequent offence, seven years;
The committee should know that most kidnappings involving children do not involve a firearm, nor do they involve a criminal organization. The child is either lured or physically manhandled. Unfortunately, the act of kidnapping is the forgotten crime under normal circumstances.
Kidnapping of a child in Canada is a rare occurrence; however, each incident tends to shock the nation. When a child is kidnapped and it is reported by the media, it is usually a report of the most severe kind—a child is taken from their home, yard, or bed and kept for ransom and/or sexual exploitation, and sometimes murder.
As most of the committee will know, I am retired from the RCMP and served between the years 1980 and 2000. During that time, I can speak to two child kidnappings, and a third while a member of Parliament.
Michael Dunahee, who was born on May 12, 1986, disappeared from the Blanshard Street playground in Victoria, British Columbia, on March 24, 1991. He was four years old. He has never been found. His parents were mere metres away when Michael was taken. His mother, Crystal, was instrumental in getting the amber alert program implemented in British Columbia. She also serves as the president of Child Find for British Columbia.
Police officers from across Canada were kept on alert for months and years after Michael's disappearance. It moved so many people from across Canada to volunteer their time to search for Michael. I can still close my eyes today and see the posters of young Michael Dunahee.
Mindy Tran was kidnapped and murdered in Kelowna in 1994. As a member of the RCMP stationed in Penticton at the time, I was part of an enormous search team assembled to search for her. The fear that gripped the city of Kelowna was very noticeable. For a young child at the tender age of eight years old to be riding her bike on her street and to vanish without a trace is something that no parent should be subject to. Mindy was found six weeks later, not far from her home, in a shallow grave.
The third and final child I would like to speak of is Kienan Hebert. Taken from his home in Sparwood, British Columbia, Kienan was three years old. It was the middle of the night, and he was taken from his bedroom while the rest of his family slept. For four days, the people of the Elk Valley, the country, and international community were focused on the safe return of Kienan to his parents and family. Through the efforts of so many—and, may I add, some very good police work—Kienan was returned and his alleged kidnapper arrested.
You may wonder why this is so passionate to me. In my 20 years as a police officer, I have dealt with over 200 deaths. I have done four next-of-kin notifications, and two of them were for young children. Unless you have done one, you have no idea what it is like to tell a parent their child is dead. I would not wish that responsibility on anyone in this room.
We as politicians have the obligation to ensure that we protect our children at all costs and to ensure that a crime involving a child, in this case kidnapping, reflects the severity of the crime.
Surely if we as politicians see fit to give a mandatory minimum sentence to a person who kidnaps another person with a firearm or is connected to a criminal organization, we ought to see that kidnapping a defenceless child is, in my opinion, far graver than the aforementioned.
Thank you for letting me speak this morning, Mr. Chair.