, seconded by the hon. member for Kamloops, moved that Bill C-245, an act to amend the Criminal Code, penalties for sexual offences involving children, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I stand today to perform one of my most important duties as the member of Parliament for Oxford. This duty is to introduce legislation when I see that current legislation is not responding to a need within our society.
Over the last year and a half I have identified such a need. I have found that those who sexually prey upon our children are merely being slapped on the wrist by our judicial system. This seems horrendous to me and to my constituents. Finding that the sentences for these crimes against our children are inadequate, I introduce Bill C-245 which we have before us today.
I would like to thank the NDP member for Kamloops for seconding the bill. The bill will increase the maximum sentence for sexual assault on a child to life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 25 years. As well the sentence for forcible confinement of a child is increased to 14 years from the current 10. The definition of child pornography would extend to any information or reproduction transmitted by electronic means.
In the next few minutes I want to share with hon. members why my constituents and I believe the bill should be passed by Parliament.
The current maximum sentence for sexual assault is 10 years. According to information obtained through the adult criminal court survey, the average sentence given in 1993 and 1994 for level two sexual assault and level three sexual assault was 1,287 days, less than four years. Yet level two and level three sexual assault are sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault. These statistics were compiled using data from nine provincial jurisdictions.
There is no real distinction between sexual assault on a child and other charges of sexual assault.
I would like to share with this House the average sentence for sexual touching of a child under 14. For this charge, in which sexual intent must be proven, the average sentence imposed by the courts was 288 days, not even a full year. Furthermore, 77% of the accused in solved violent incidents involving children under 12 had a relationship with the victim. In 31% of these cases, the accused was a member of the victim's immediate family.
As members can see, these are not statistics that make one sleep easily at night.
I spent 36 years of my life in education as a teacher, union representative, principal and superintendent. I worked with our children. I am witness to the effects of abuse on children. I know the innocence of a child is destroyed by sexual abuse. I have heard the confusion and self-guilt in the mind of a sensitive teenage boy after his experience with a pedophile.
We as legislators must ask ourselves how an average sentence of 377 days for level one sexual assault can atone for the loss of a child's innocence and self-respect.
Bill C-245 speaks directly to sexual assault upon a child. The bill seeks to amend section 271 of the Criminal Code by increasing the maximum sentence to imprisonment for life with no parole eligibility for 25 years if found guilty of sexual assault on a child under eight or under fourteen who was under the offender's trust or authority or dependent on the offender.
I want to make it very clear that this sentence is the same sentence as that for first degree murder. It is my belief and that of many of my constituents that in the very worst cases of child sexual assault the sentence should be equal to that of murder. Why? Because these assaults have murdered the child's soul, the child's self-esteem and the child's mind.
We cannot see a Martin Kruze throw himself off a bridge without knowing why. His abuser led him there and pushed him off with his continued abuse as surely as if he were present.
One constituent wrote to me of the sentence received by a sex offender. The writer said “He gets a lousy two years probation and my child gets life”. Two years of probation to walk the streets, be employed and have a life while the child is devastated and emotionally murdered and his parents hope that just maybe he might find his life worth living again.
Unfortunately many victims of abuse find that life is not worth living again. And far too many of their abusers walk the streets after a sentence that does not reflect the severity of their crime.
My office has received many letters like the one I have just quoted from. Some are short and simply indicate support for this bill. Others are long and tell of the writer's experience with sexual abuse. These letters are not easy to read because they talk of the hurt and betrayal felt by the victims.
Of the three main cases I have received correspondence on, all have told of abuse delivered by someone known to the victim and to his or her family. The abusers were not strangers but a stepfather, a neighbour and a “big brother”, that is in this case a volunteer from the Big Brothers organization.
I would like to quote from one letter I received from a woman in my riding whose son was abused by his Big Brother volunteer. The mother says “I cannot believe when this man came to my house, when I thought it would be good for my son to have a big brother to look up to, a father figure in his life, that he could end up doing the things he did to him. I interviewed this man for at least two hours and was happy to think that my son was lucky to have a man like this in his life”.
Many years later this mother was devastated by the news that this man, this father figure, had sexually abused her child beginning at the age of eight. The woman's son had a very troubled adolescence. He spent time in jail and his mother now knows why. This woman has asked me to do everything I can to ensure that those who prey upon our children, as this man did on her son, are punished severely for their crimes. I want us to promise her today in the highest legislative body in this land that we will not let her down.
This issue was brought to my attention through a case in my riding. A father was convicted on three counts of unlawful confinement for locking his three sons in wire cages in a dark basement, three counts of administering a noxious substance for making them eat their own feces and drink their own urine, and three counts of assault for beating them. In addition this man was convicted of numerous sex charges, including three counts of intercourse with a girl under 14. The victims of the sexual assaults were his three stepdaughters. The perpetrator of these crimes was sentenced to 18.5 years in prison but he will be eligible for parole in just over six.
I would like to offer my thanks to the Woodstock Daily Sentinel Review for bringing this case to my attention. The reporter who covered this trial for the Sentinel Review called it the most disturbing case she has ever had to report on.
I can honestly say that this bill represents a fine example of how the press and the community has worked with me, their local member, to try to correct the weakness in our judicial system.
Because of the frightful instances of forcible confinement in the aforementioned case, I have included in Bill C-245 an amendment to section 279 of the Criminal Code. This amendment would increase the maximum sentence for forcible confinement to 14 years from 10 in the case of a parent or ward who confines their child and thereby harms the child's physical or mental health. Anyone who questions why I felt an increase in this sentence is necessary need only recall what that father did to his sons.
The final section of Bill C-245 would ensure that the definition of publication in the case of child pornography would cover display, transmission or storage by electronic mail and the Internet.
Some think government has no business regulating the information superhighway but I suspect that protecting our children in society from those who would trade in child pornography is far more important than any supposed right on the Internet.
Information technology is an incredible development. I continue to encourage my constituents to take advantage of the Internet to benefit themselves and their communities, but we cannot allow criminal use of the information superhighway to endanger our children.
It is my belief that my introduction of this bill into the House of Commons was my duty as the member of Parliament for Oxford. As I stated at the outset, it is a duty I take very seriously. As a member of Parliament and as a citizen of this great country of ours, I also have another duty. That duty is to speak for and to protect those members of our society who cannot protect themselves.
Each of us here in this House has a moral obligation to protect our children from those who prey upon them. I do not doubt for a moment that all members feel this obligation to our nation's children.
Bill C-245 is not a votable bill. During the subcommittee meeting I was asked by the member for Brandon—Souris why I felt my bill would increase sentences when in fact it did not impose a minimum sentence for these crimes. It was an excellent question. I dare say some members who are to follow me in this debate will raise this as an objection. For this reason, I offer my colleagues an answer.
Parliament speaks with a loud voice in the courtrooms across this land. If we were to pass this bill, we would be saying to our judicial system that the protection of our children is paramount.
Our voice with the governor general's signature attached would say that in the worst cases of abuse, those who prey upon our children must be removed from society for life. Our voice would represent constituents across the country who speak through us and who want their children protected.
Some changes may need to be made to this bill. I feel our colleagues on the justice committee can make these changes in the best interests of our children.
The support I received for this bill from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association has let me know that our front line law enforcement officers agree with increased sentences to protect our children.
I feel that this bill should be voted on by members of this House. For those members who are not familiar with the cases I have dealt with in my riding they need only look at cases in their own ridings. Any members who have dealt with children have met those who have suffered from the horrors of abuse.
We can all remember the recent problems within Maple Leaf Gardens or with Graham James and Sheldon Kennedy. We can recall the abuse perpetrated on our aboriginal children in orphanages and residential schools, religious or otherwise. Thank God for people like Sheldon Kennedy who spoke out about the years of abuse he suffered. He has battled back to be a model for victims but we must also remember that for every Sheldon Kennedy there is a Martin Kruze who saw as his only escape, especially after a ridiculously short sentence given to his abuser, a jump off Toronto's Bloor Street viaduct.
I would ask members to look into their hearts and ask themselves if we would be performing our duty if this bill was not put to a vote. It is time to send a message to sex offenders that the time for judicial slaps on the wrist has past. Canadians will not allow us to pass the buck to other jurisdictions or wait until some obscure commission passes recommendations.
If this House decides in approximately 35 minutes that this bill should not be votable I ask those members present to look into the eyes of a victim or the mother of a victim and tell them why they have to wait for justice. If amendments should be made let us send this bill to committee so it can hear witnesses and make changes to improve the bill.
Early in my speech I read from a letter sent to me from an abused child's mother. I would like to refer to that letter again. This mother says:
Child abuse of any kind has to stop, and the introduction of your bill will certainly be a start. I am tired of those people being set free and sent to counselling and everything is okay. It certainly is not okay, that doesn't do a thing for the victims who have to live with this the rest of their lives. In requesting higher sentences for these sex offenders, how can I ask this be considered out of line, when, in fact, the children are sentenced to life without parole, in trying to live with what was inflicted upon them.
It is time to perform our duty and to protect our children. I ask this House for its support of Bill C-245.