Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-45 and related initiatives. It has been said many times in this House that our penal justice system lacks the means required to control high-risk offenders, including sex offenders.
The public has become increasingly fearful and intolerant of crimes committed by these offenders, especially when the victims are children. This is a very legitimate concern which Bill C-45 should help to alleviate by providing better protection for the most vulnerable members of our society. In many cases, sexual offences not only harm a person physically but also cause psychological damage that unfortunately may leave lasting scars.
If we want to improve public safety, we must act quickly and use the most effective means at our disposal. That is why we have opted for a comprehensive approach consisting of legislation and other measures that will help us deal with the problem on all fronts. As you know, Bill C-45 contains major amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that will increase public safety.
The principal changes include amending the provisions on the detention of sex offenders who attack children. To provide better protection for our young people, Bill C-45 gives the word "child" the broadest possible legal sense, in other words, any individual under 18 years of age. Thanks to the proposed amendments, it will no longer be necessary to prove that serious harm was or will be caused to the child by a sexual offence.
This change was necessary because in many cases, the impact of sexual abuse is not easy to detect in a child. The problem is further compounded by the fact that child abusers often tell their victims that the sex acts they are forced to commit are acceptable and not to be discussed with others. Research has also shown that the harm suffered by a child who is a victim of sexual abuse may not become apparent until years later.
For all these reasons, it is difficult and almost impossible to find out whether there was serious harm. Bill C-45 will fill this gap by giving the National Parole Board the authority to keep in custody any offender it deems likely to commit a sexual offence involving a child before the expiration of his sentence.
I would like to point out that we have before us a piece of legislation that is intelligent and sound and based on the latest scientific research. It was well received by many of the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs during its study of the bill. I may refer more specifically to the clinicians representing the Canadian Psychological Association. They found the bill perfectly reasonable in clinical terms, because, as they said, people sexually drawn to children, known clinically as pedophiles, have a much higher risk of recividism than those suffering from some other form of deviant sexual behaviour.
At times, treatment appears to have no effect on pedophiles. Accordingly, since the bill concerns offenders representing the greatest threat to the security and welfare of children, we believe it should go a long way to calming Canadians' concerns.
Before I talk about other legislative changes, I would like to return to the comments by the solicitor general on the point amending the provisions on detention. The fact that the change applies only to young victims does not mean that sexual offences against adults are of less concern to us.
All sexual crimes are serious, and the vulnerability of the victim, whoever that may be, is a vital consideration in each decision on parole or detention.
We must give ourselves the means to accurately assess the risk involved in a sexual offence, whoever the victim may be. In recent years, some people have wondered whether we can really assess the damage victims suffer when there has been no bodily harm. This is particularly important in the case of victims of sexual crimes.
As many of you know, the definition of serious harm in the present legislation covers both physical injury and psychological damage. As psychological damage is not apparent most times, it is often difficult to detect. In an effort to overcome this difficulty, the Department of the Solicitor General formulated guidelines on this last fall.
Accordingly, the people responsible for identifying cases of potential detention and commissioners responsible for deciding on them are better equipped to assess the psychological wrong a victim has suffered. They can therefore better recognize offenders who are more likely to cause serious harm in the future.
The department developed these guidelines according to the most recent research available on the psychological effects of crime for victims and on clinical diagnostic criteria. This major undertaking results from the department's commitment to clarify the concept of serious harm and to better protect the public against high risk offenders. Whether they are violent criminals or sexual offenders.
The bill contains other changes along these lines, as I mentioned earlier. Some of them have to do with Schedules I and II of the act, which list the offences for which an offender can be referred for detention.
These lists will now include several violent crimes against persons and serious drug offences such as conspiring to commit serious drug offences, impaired driving, criminal negligence causing death or bodily harm, criminal harassment, and breaking and entering when the planned offence is listed in Schedule I.
The addition of this last crime means that an offender who breaks and enters a home with intent to commit a serious offence such as a sexual assault will no longer be eligible for the speedy review procedure and will automatically be subject to review for detention.
In addition, a number of sexual offences that have been repealed will be included in Schedule I so that any offender serving a sentence for one of these offences will be covered. The purpose of these amendments is to correct any shortcoming in the detention provisions that may compromise public safety.
Another important set of amendments provide for the house arrest of some high risk offenders who do not meet detention criteria. These amendments had been demanded by the members of Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs, the former Standing Committee on Justice and Solicitor General, the Ontario commission responsible for investigating the Stephenson case, and the Canadian Police Association.
In response to their recommendations, the government recently made legislative amendments to Bill C-45, which were approved by the Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs last March.
These amendments will enable the National Parole Board to require that offenders who must be released because they do not meet detention criteria but who need additional community support live in a community based residential facility.
This will allow the board to better monitor and manage these offenders and the risk they present, in order to strengthen the released offenders monitoring system and facilitate their reintegration into society.
While the legislative or policy changes I mentioned represent a sound reform, we must bear in mind that these changes alone cannot ensure greater public protection. We must not settle for longer prison terms for offenders. Most sexual offenders are sentenced to a definite term of imprisonment and, sooner or later, they are back in community.
To properly deal with the problem of sexual offenders, sustainable solutions must be developed. In this regard, many of the witnesses who testified at the justice committee hearings on Bill C-45 were of the opinion that the best way to protect society against sexual offenders in the long term was through formal phased release programs combined with treatment and support.
This has prompted the government to undertake a number of initiatives with regard to programs, including enhancing treatment programs for this category of offenders.
I will briefly comment on what we know to date about treating sex offenders. Research evidence shows sex offenders are not all the same. Their offences are influenced by a host of motivating and situational factors which vary from one individual to the next. Consequently, there is no single cause for sexual abuse and no single approach to treatment. However, there is general agreement among clinical practitioners that for many offenders the risk of reoffending can be reduced through continuity of treatment programs and relapse prevention.
In keeping with this view, a key component of our public safety strategy focuses on the expansion and enhancement of treatment programs for sex offenders. Research and pilot projects in support
of rehabilitation and safe reintegration of sex offenders are an integral part of this endeavour.
To ensure the federal correctional system uses the most effective management and treatment methods for sex offenders, Correctional Service Canada created a national committee earlier this year. This committee has developed standards to deal with the important issue regarding the assessment and treatment of sex offenders. The committee is undertaking consultations with provincial mental health and correctional agencies with a view to developing a national consensus on these and other issues of mutual concern.
To facilitate this effort I had the pleasure of opening the first conference on the national sex offender strategy in Toronto last March. This conference brought together sex offender experts from across Canada as well as from other countries to share their knowledge, refine our assessment and treatment methods, and find innovative ways of restoring public confidence in corrections and criminal justice. This is an important milestone, and I am confident good progress in this area will continue.
We are also active on the local front to help community organizations protect children against sexual abuse. Over the years, the RCMP has played a major role in this respect with its Canadian Police Information Center, or CPIC, a data base made available to police across Canada. This center provides computerized information on the criminal records of individuals who have been fingerprinted. Thus, local police can now check, on behalf of community organizations, the background of those who want to do volunteer work or work for pay involving children. It is one of many ways of helping to prevent direct contact between child molesters or sexual offenders and children in our communities.
Last November, the government announced that the CPIC had been upgraded so that checks run through this national data base can be even more efficient.
As a result, the CPIC now provides information on restraining orders issued in cases of family violence, orders prohibiting holding positions of trust around children and peace bond orders issued to child sex offenders. It also provides more detailed information on the criminal background of offenders, including a list of all sexual offences, whether summary or indictable, committed against children.
These improvements will provide a better profile of those people who could be a threat to the safety and well-being of our children. However, are these improvements sufficient? Some victim advocates have said that better information will be of little use if community organizations do not know it exists, or if they do not systematically check the track record of applicants with the local police force.
In response to that legitimate concern, the solicitor general, justice and health departments are working to set up a national awareness program, in co-operation with the Canadian Association of Volunteer Bureaux and Centres. Starting this fall, and for the next few years, public information and education documents will be prepared, and training sessions will be provided to police officers as well as to volunteer and sports organizations in more than 200 communities across the country, in an effort to ensure better screening of volunteers and staff.
As for high risk offenders who remain a danger to society at the end of their prison term, we are pursuing our efforts to find an adequate solution to the problem. We work in close co-operation with our provincial and territorial counterparts, and quick progress is being made. Every province and territory has agreed to make the best possible use of the Criminal Code provisions which relate to dangerous offenders.
These provisions authorize judges to impose an indeterminate jail term to offenders who, in their opinion, remain a danger to society.
The solicitor general also announced last March a national flagging system to identify at an early date those offenders who may later be considered for a dangerous offender application. Should any offender who is flagged be prosecuted in the future, all relevant background information held by other jurisdictions will be available to assist prosecutors in deciding whether to bring in an applicant.
The solicitor general and the justice minister in conjunction with their federal, provincial and territorial counterparts have agreed to an examination of legislative changes with regard to creating a new category of long term offender. This could lead to special preventative measures for a broader range of violent offenders, especially sexual predators such as pedophiles, including up to 10 years of supervision following the usual penitentiary sentence.
The ministers have agreed that other criminal justice options will be explored for offenders who are at the end of their sentences and who are still believed to be too dangerous to be released into the community. In this regard the solicitor general and the justice minister convened a meeting of leading constitutional lawyers and other experts this past spring to review the limits and possibilities related to the detention of offenders beyond the end of their sentence. This will allow for a full examination of possible strategies under the criminal law which might be viable to achieve greater public safety.
All these measures seek to increase protection of the public against high risk offenders and to restore the confidence of Canadians in our criminal justice system. They are based on a progressive policy dealing with practical issues related to therapeutic programs for offenders, and with the development of the most effective program strategies to treat sexual and other high risk offenders.
Our criminal justice system must be balanced, so that we can truly make our country a place where Canadians and their children can live without fear of being victims of violence or sexual abuse.
I believe that Bill C-45, along with related initiatives and the work that will continue to be done in the months to come, clearly shows that the government intends to do its utmost to make our communities safer. I am sure that members from both sides of this House will help us achieve that goal through this bill.