Mr. Speaker, first I would like to thank my colleagues on the justice and legal affairs committee for their work in relation to Bill C-27.
The committee heard several important witnesses and, following the testimony of those witnesses, decided it would be appropriate to make two major amendments to the bill. I believe that the amendments, dealing with female genital mutilation and the prosecution of cases involving child sexual exploitation committed by Canadians outside Canada, significantly improve the bill by dealing more squarely with the problems of abuse and exploitation of women and children.
Bill C-27 was introduced in the context of the government's willingness to address the serious problem of violence against women and children. Violence violates women's and children's fundamental human rights and freedoms. The harm caused by violence undermines their ability to lead lives free of fear and coercion and imposes great costs on society.
The bill focuses on four particular problems related to violence against women and children: child prostitution, child sexual exploitation, criminal harassment and female genital mutilation. Its purpose is to provide for appropriate criminal legislation to deal with these problems and to make a clear statement that, notwithstanding the context in which it occurs, violence against women and children is clearly unacceptable.
Canada is already playing an important role at the international level to address the problem of violence against women and children. More particularly, through its participation in the drafting of the draft optional protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Canada is committing itself to better protecting children, whether they are here or abroad, from all forms of sexual exploitation and unlawful sexual practices.
The involvement of young people in prostitution, whether in or outside Canada, is a serious and tragic problem which has become more evident over the years. It is particularly troublesome because young people, by virtue of their age and legal status, are more vulnerable than adults to danger, exploitation and abuse.
During the national consultations on prostitution, which were held during 1995 and 1996, it appeared that there was an urgent need to address the problems of youths involved in prostitution as
some provisions of the Criminal Code related to sexual offences against children have had a limited effect in reducing juvenile prostitution. Thus the changes proposed in Bill C-27 in relation to prostitution are aimed at protecting children from adult predators who seek children for sexual services or exploit young prostitutes for economic gain. These changes respond in part to the consultations and to the interim report of the federal, provincial and territorial working group on prostitution summarizing the results of these national consultations.
In relation to the customers wishing to obtain the sexual services of a person under 18, the present wording of subsection 212(4) limits the ability of the police to gather evidence to support a charge as the youth must either be willing to give evidence of his or her age in court or there must be solid evidence from another source of the person's age. Many youths are not willing to provide evidence of their age. Furthermore, police are not able to execute sting operations against those who would purchase sex from youths as the use of an adult decoy would mean that there was no attempt to purchase sex from somebody under 18 years of age.
During the national consultations on prostitution which I referred to earlier, there was strong support for amending subsection 212(4) to increase its enforceability. The present wording proposed to replace subsection 212(4) in Bill C-27 refers to a person who the offender believes is under the age of 18 years with a new subsection 212(5) providing an evidentiary presumption with respect to this belief.
We believe that both of these subsections will greatly assist the enforcement of this provision by allowing for the use of an undercover operator who can present himself or herself to the customers as being under the age of 18 years.
In relation to those who procure young people for prostitution, a new offence of aggravated procuring would also be created for those who, for their own profits and while living on the avails of youths involved in prostitution, use violence or intimidation in carrying out prostitution related activities. In order to send a strong message of society's absolute abhorrence of this type of crime, the offence carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment.
While procuring youths is never acceptable as evidenced by the high sentences already included in the Criminal Code, procuring youths with these added serious circumstances is even less tolerable and is to be punished accordingly. Both public protection and the expression of public revulsion for such conduct would appear to require that the minimum time served in a correctional system be subject to legislative rather than judicial and administrative control.
As other victims of child sexual abuse, youths involved in prostitution are genuinely afraid to testify against their procurers due to fear of reprisal. The same can be said in relation to young victims of child pornography or of assault. For this reason, special protection to ease the burden of these youths testifying in court are made available in Bill C-27. These protections include publication bans as well as methods of testifying that are less intimidating than courtroom testimony such as video taped evidence or the use of screens.
Child sex tourism is another important area covered in Bill C-27. As members have seen in the media, there is growing concern at the national and international levels that citizens, mainly from developed countries, should not be able to go to a foreign, usually developing country and sexually exploit children with impunity.
Initially, Bill C-27 proposed to amend the Criminal Code to enable the criminal prosecution in Canada of Canadian citizens and permanent residents who travel abroad to engage in the sexual exploitation of children for money or other forms of consideration. However, in light of very important testimony of several witnesses, the justice and legal affairs committee decided that the bill should go further and allow not only for the prosecution of Canadians who engage in what is often referred to as child sex tourism, but also of Canadians who sexually abuse children, including Canadian children while abroad without any money or any consideration being involved.
The committee decided that two preconditions would be necessary before prosecution could be instituted in Canada in such child sexual abuse cases. First, the foreign state where the offence is alleged to have been committed would have to request Canada to prosecute the offence. Second, the consent of the responsible provincial attorney general would need to be obtained.
The committee decided that contrary to cases involving child sex tourism, where a clear international consensus exists, cases of child sexual abuse committed by Canadians outside of Canada could not be prosecuted in Canada without complying with these two preconditions.
I believe that in view of the lack of international consensus and for reasons related to the sovereignty of the state in which the offence is committed, such preconditions will allow Canada to comply with proper jurisdictional principles.
The practice of child sexual exploitation, whether in Canada or abroad, can be stopped only if each country is committed to adopting legislation to fight it and to working at the international level to have it recognized as being subject to criminal liability notwithstanding where the crime has been committed.
Bill C-27, as modified by the justice and legal affairs committee, recognizes this commitment and sends a very strong message nationally and internationally about Canada's intolerance of such abhorrent practices.
As the preamble to the bill indicates, this government is also committed to taking strong measures against criminal harassment or stalking, as it is sometimes called. The two reforms proposed by Bill C-27 will do exactly that and will thereby provide increased protection to women and their children, who are often the victims of such conduct.
Bill C-27 proposes that a person who commits murder while stalking in circumstances where he or she intended to make that victim fear for their safety and that of others, such as the victim's children, can be convicted of first degree murder. First degree murder carries mandatory life imprisonment with no eligibility of parole for 25 years.
Bill C-27 also proposes that a court imposing a sentence on a person convicted of stalking in the face of an existing protective court order shall treat such a breach as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
Support for this strong denunciation of stalking conduct was recently expressed by the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice at a meeting in February.
Further, the Department of Justice's report on the implementation of existing criminal harassment provisions released in January also supports such efforts to treat criminal harassment as a more serious offence.
Bill C-27 also addresses the need to protect women and girls from the life and health threatening practice of female genital mutilation. Young girls in particular are especially vulnerable to this practice by virtue of their lack of maturity and will clearly be afforded better protection against this practice.
Bill C-27 proposes to clarify the existing law's prohibition of the practice by specifically stating that no form of female genital mutilation is permitted by Canadian criminal law.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs has further strengthened this amendment to ensure that there can be no doubt about the illegality of the practice of female genital mutilation. No one can consent to such a procedure that results in bodily harm.
This reform will facilitate the collaborative efforts of the departments of justice, health, the status of women, Canadian heritage and citizenship and immigration in developing public, legal, health and cultural and educational materials on FGM.
I wish to reiterate this government's commitment to addressing the problem of violence against women and children. I believe Bill C-27 is further evidence of Canada's leadership in that area, as it deals with several issues where young people and women are particularly vulnerable, juvenile prostitution, child sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation and criminal harassment.
Not only is Bill C-27 important for all Canadians, it demonstrates Canada's unwavering commitment at the international level to co-operate with other countries in developing measures to curb the abhorrent practice of sexually exploiting children wherever it takes place.
I think this bill demonstrates the commitment of the federal government in dealing with the criminal law to ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to deal in a tough manner with criminals and those who would decide to breach the norms of a civilized society, those norms contained within the Criminal Code of Canada.
As has been indicated on a considerable number of occasions, this legislation adds to the list of very successful, progressive legislation that has been put in place over the last term of the government to get tough on crime. More criminal legislation has been put in place by this government to get tough on crime than any government in the history of our nation. We have much to be proud of.
I wish to congratulate the members of the standing committee on legal affairs for their work and the Minister of Justice for his work in providing this type of leadership throughout the country in the field of criminal law.