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Evidence of meeting #38 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was children.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Crystal Dunahee  President, Child Find British Columbia, As an Individual
Rodney B. Freeman  Woodstock Police Service
Michel Surprenant  Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

In fact as time goes by and these criminals get away with this type of behaviour, they become more complex. They plan it out more. In fact, based on 1980 stats, I understand that somewhere between 20% and 21% of the actual kidnapping cases led to a charge, so that means somewhere in the neighbourhood of 79% of the cases in 1980 are still not solved or there were no charges that led from that. Is that fair to say?

11:40 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

I'm not familiar with that statistic, but I'll accept what you're saying.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Okay.

In fact in 2008 based on the stats—and I know there are better stats today—there were almost three times more kidnappings and abductions that took place than did in 1980.

I guess my understanding, and I did some work as I said in this area.... It's very disturbing. Excuse me.

Based upon your experience, Mr. Freeman, not only as a police officer, what do you think is a reasonable disposition for these people?

11:40 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

You do have to consider all the circumstances, but quite frankly, I'd be at the upper end leaning toward life imprisonment. They can't be rehabilitated. They've harmed sweet, innocent children. That has had an impact on the family, and the ripple effect is incredible. My entire community was traumatized by the abduction and murder of Victoria Stafford. Her family will never fully recover. Emotionally and physically, it has taken a toll on all of us as police officers.

There would be no mercy from me for the child abductor.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I think a lot of people don't understand that many of these people who commit these crimes are people who have had the crime committed on them. In fact it continues and continues and continues. It becomes more complex. They actually enter into agreements with other people to commit these crimes after a period of time.

Indeed I would suggest that is why many of these crimes go unsolved. It's because once they get away with it once, they will continue and continue. I have had cases where there have been brutal assaults and people have received conditional sentences of two years less a day to their homes.

Can you comment on that?

11:40 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

I fully believe that's happening out there in some cases. That's why I chose to stand with Mr. Wilks on this bill.

That is entirely unacceptable. I don't care what other peripheral circumstances may factor into the decision, that is absolutely unacceptable. I believe the victim and the victim's family and the community would share my thoughts.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Isn't it fair to say this is exactly why we need minimum mandatory sentences? In my experience judges see this every single day. In my mind, they come to a point where they don't become immune, but certainly, they become desensitized to it. That has been my experience.

Would you say that's fair?

11:40 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

I would agree with you, sir. Yes.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Surprenant, would you agree as well in relation to what I've mentioned?

11:40 a.m.

Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Michel Surprenant

I'm sorry, but I didn't fully understand the question.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

In essence, what do you think would be a fair disposition for people who are caught kidnapping young people?

11:40 a.m.

Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Michel Surprenant

In the case of sexual predators, the maximum sentence is always what people are most hoping for. If, for example, an eight-year sentence is given, it needs to be eight years of imprisonment, period. If the person is released, the release should be supervised, which might require him to wear a bracelet that would monitor the sexual predator's movements at all times. If a child is assaulted and we see that a sexual predator was in the neighbourhood, that person can already be targeted.

I think a minimum amount of supervision would be absolutely necessary because a sexual predator is always waiting to become anonymous again to reoffend. So it is extremely important to be able to track him.

We can make an analogy with an animal that goes and hides away, waiting for the right moment, then leaps out, does what it has to do and moves along. It's practically the same thing with a sexual predator. The difference is that the brain of the sexual predator controls what happens down below. That's the difference. That's the strategy that is used to respond to the impulse that comes from below.

Wearing a bracelet would be an important measure. It would make it possible to know where the predator is at all times, to use a GPS to track him. That would be the minimum.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Jacob.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Chief Freeman, Mr. Surprenant and Ms. Dunahee, thank you for being here this morning to give us your testimony and shed light on this matter.

The kidnapping of a child is always a very serious offence, regardless of the circumstances. That's why I somewhat agree with Ms. Boivin about the minimum sentences. The retired Supreme Court justice, Mr. Major, said that the jurisprudence showed that kidnapping cases involved an average minimum sentence of eight years or more. Section 279 mentions life imprisonment. I am also thinking about the legislator who never speaks to say nothing and that that could be misinterpreted.

Chief Freeman, based on your vast experience, could you tell me if you have any knowledge of cases where the sentence for kidnapping a child had been five years or less?

11:45 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

Thankfully I've had very few abduction investigations, but I have had a couple. One I will remind you of, which I was involved in when I was chief in Fergus, was Peter Whitmore, now incarcerated for life, I believe. He was a sex offender in Ontario who had a propensity to abduct or lure away young males and sexually assault them. On one of the occasions when he got out of jail, he then went to British Columbia and was involved in another abduction for sexual purposes out there.

I think the message that is being conveyed when there is no established minimum is an empty message. By establishing a minimum five-year mandatory penitentiary term, we are taking a stand. We're expressing something. It's a start. By having no minimum, we're saying nothing.

I'm not sure if that makes sense. It made sense up here; I'm not sure it made sense coming out.

We're making a declaration by saying a minimum of five years. By accepting no minimum mandatory jail term, we're saying nothing. We're standing mute.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Very well.

My second question—

11:45 a.m.

Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Michel Surprenant

Forgive me, but there is something I would like to add. Someone said earlier that the sentence of eight years was always the penalty for kidnapping involving a sexual offence. As the gentleman said, the five-year sentence is a minimum. For kidnapping alone, before a sexual offence is committed, I think a minimum sentence of five years is called for. If the predator is caught before he has the chance to do anything, a minimum sentence of five years should be imposed. It's a minimum safety measure.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Surprenant.

Everyone wants to protect children. The abduction of a child affects not just the parents, but also the whole community for a long time, if not forever, as you said.

This is for Mr. Freeman. Would putting more police officers in the field reduce the number of victims?

I also have a question for Mr. Surprenant. Would a bigger focus on kidnapping prevention, targeting children, parents and the community, reduce the number of victims?

Go ahead, Mr. Freeman.

11:50 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

Thank you, sir.

My short answer is, no. I don't think additional police officers would stop this problem. In this investigation we brought in 1,000 investigators in the aftermath to do the investigation. These predators, the people who are preying on our children, do so very covertly. They lure. They groom. They work very much behind the scenes in the darkness, and that's when they grab our kids.

I think crime prevention strategies, educational strategies for perhaps parents and children, and consistent unified strategies in schools right across the country would help a bit, but the strongest deterrent I see is harsh, firm, clear sentencing. That's from my perspective.

11:50 a.m.

Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Michel Surprenant

I want to add something to what Mr. Freeman said. Prevention is very useful, but it doesn't replace deterrence. The two go hand in hand. Measures are needed to deter sexual predators from reoffending. In other words, we have to make life hard for them. At the same time, however, it is appropriate to educate children about certain things. For instance, if they are going to the convenience store, they should go with someone, not alone; that is very important. Those kinds of measures should be taken, but they should accompany and complement deterrents, not replace them. That is key.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

I want to comment on a concern raised by a member of the committee earlier. He said he was worried about the message a minimum sentence sends judges.

I want to reassure the member that when a judge sees a minimum penalty for any offence, the judge understands full well that Parliament intends that to be a minimum; that is to say, it is intended for the case of that offence which is least culpable. A judge knows full well that, as the degree of culpability for that offence increases, the penalty ought also to increase. So judges do know that a minimum penalty is exactly that—it's for the least culpable instance of such a case—and that increases are warranted thereafter.

Ms. Dunahee, I would like to direct some questions to you. I will begin by thanking all of the witnesses, by the way, but particularly you, because the pain in which your circumstances have left you is quite apparent. I know the courage that it takes to be here, and I know that your intentions in attending here are to assist all of us in understanding the point of view of the victim, because clearly the children who are taken are not the only victims in such cases. So I think it's important for us to ask you to do your best to put across for the members of the committee that point of view, the point of view of a victim.

What I know about your case is that your son, Michael, was taken when he was four years old. He was not found despite the fact that there was, as I understand it, one of the largest police investigations in Canadian history; despite the fact, I understand, that some 11,000 tips have been received by the police; despite the fact that this was well reported in the media across Canada and in the United States; and despite the fact that there was a $100,000 reward offered. Nonetheless, the police have not been able to make progress in your case.

I also understand that you have, yourself, been a leading advocate for missing children issues, and that in 2002 you lent your voice to support the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their calls to introduce an AMBER alert system in British Columbia. These are examples of how your terrible circumstances have been turned to good use.

I don't even know when it was that your son was lost, so perhaps you could start by telling us how long you have suffered with this tragedy and give the members of this committee some insight into why it is, from your experience, that the law we're considering needs to be looked at so seriously.

11:55 a.m.

President, Child Find British Columbia, As an Individual

Crystal Dunahee

Thank you.

Michael was taken from us on March 24, 1991. He has now just had his twenty-sixth birthday. The person or persons responsible for taking Michael from us and eluding every channel that we've attempted, because we chose to make our case very public.... We wanted it out there so that we would have more eyes helping us search for Michael. Unfortunately, that hasn't worked to this date. I do believe that he is out there somewhere and that one day he will see himself and find his way home.

On the changes to the Criminal Code that your committee is looking at, there is that chance that something.... I don't know how to put it. Not having that minimum there is.... It needs to be there, as far as I'm concerned and as the member who put forth the bill said, because there is that opening there that needs to be shut. We need to have that stronger message put out there that we shouldn't be taking other people's children. It's just....

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

The word a lawyer would use—

11:55 a.m.

President, Child Find British Columbia, As an Individual

Crystal Dunahee

I don't know if I'm answering your question.