Thank you and good morning.
Ms. Chairperson and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide a presentation on Bill C-5. My name is Monique St. Germain. I am the general counsel of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which is a registered charity dedicated to the personal safety of all children that has been operating for over 30 years.
For the past 17 years, we have been operating Cybertip.ca, which is Canada’s tip line to report the online sexual exploitation of children. Cybertip is a central part of the Government of Canada’s national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. We also created and operate Project Arachnid, a global platform to reduce online child sexual exploitation.
Every day our agency bears witness to the brutal ways in which children are victimized online. The vast majority of the reports we receive through Cybertip relate to images and videos, material that depicts very young, prepubescent children, many of whom are pre-verbal and cannot tell anyone about the abuse they are enduring. Most of these children have never been identified by law enforcement.
We also work directly with survivors of childhood sexual violence, including those whose childhood sexual abuse was recorded. We know all too well the devastating and long-lasting impact that these crimes have on victims and their families. I am here this morning to express our agency’s strong support for Bill C-5 and to put forward our recommendations to specifically account for children in this bill.
First, the term “sexual assault law” is not defined in the bill. It should be crystal clear within the Judges Act that the term is meant to include all offences listed in clause 4 of the bill.
Second, the Criminal Code offences for which a record must be created does not include the offences related to commercial sexual exploitation of children or sex trafficking. This oversight must be rectified. Consideration should also be given to including offences that involve the use of technology such as the offence of making child pornography.
Third, the mandated inclusion in training that is set out in proposed paragraph 60(3)(b) of the Judges Act is incomplete when it comes to children. Topics that need to be included in training to be responsive to the needs of children include grooming, which is a process by which an offender lowers inhibitions and gains access and time alone with children. We actively monitor reported case law related to sexual offences against children, and it is clear that the Canadian courts need to deepen their understanding of this very common offender tactic.
Another topic is the age of protection or the age of consent. These Criminal Code provisions are complicated. They are specific to minors, and they reference concepts such as trust, authority, dependency and exploitation, all of which are critical legal concepts when it comes to a child’s capacity to consent.
A third topic is the dynamics of child sexual abuse. There are significant differences to consider between adult and child sexual assaults. The perpetrators are different. The extent of vulnerability is different. The tactics used are different. The rates of disclosure are different. Even the ability of the victim to recognize if something was or wasn't a sexual violation is different. All of these issues must be accounted for in any training if that training is to be responsive to children.
The online terrorization and manipulation of children that occurs via technology is unprecedented in today’s society. There are multiple complex Criminal Code [Technical difficulty--Editor]. We live in a world where children can be virtually assaulted and where live-streamed child sexual abuse is ever increasing. The impact on children of technology-related offences can be as serious as offences involving physical contact. It's essential that technology-facilitated offending be included in this training.
Finally, the history and purpose of various Criminal Code provisions that are meant to address the needs of children in the court process, such as testimonial aids, publication bans and section 161 of the Criminal Code, must be covered. These are incredibly important for children.
In closing, we see the concrete evidence of sexual assaults against children every single day. Children are far too often the victims of sexual assault. It is imperative that judicial education account for their unique vulnerabilities, their status as independent rights holders, and all of the Criminal Code provisions that exist to protect their interests. Children deserve to be understood by our courts, and to be fully accommodated throughout all court processes. Thank you.