Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough East. I hope we can refocus our debate on the issue. We are dealing with an extremely important issue and I know that we all have very strong feelings about it.
I am pleased to participate in the debate brought about by the motion put forward by the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford. I welcome the opportunity to demonstrate how the government has risen to the challenge of protecting victims and potential victims of sex offenders.
In the past eight years the Solicitor General of Canada and the Minister of Justice have taken a number of initiatives, each of which contributes significantly to public safety. In short, as other speakers will mention, the government has already taken action to prevent the victimization of children.
The motion put forward by the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford basically endorses the efforts undertaken on this side of the House and ultimately has my support and I would assume my government's support.
These efforts began immediately after the change in government following the 1993 federal election. In 1994 the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor General of Canada responded to the needs expressed by child centred organizations and groups representing victims by introducing the national screening system.
I was part of one of those groups that lobbied the government as a result of the horrible murder of little Christopher. I was very pleased to see the government listening to and responding to it. I wear a button today that I have kept for many years since meeting the Stephensons. Together with thousands of other Canadians I have worked on lobbying the government and pressing forward for these changes to happen.
Today, as in 1994, the RCMP's Canadian Police Information Centre, CPIC, already provides a national registry of all criminal convictions. It is not limited just to sexual offences. Employers and volunteer groups providing services to children can screen all potential employees by requiring them to obtain a CPIC check through the local police. Any individual who has a criminal record, no matter what, can be screened out by the agency.
To assist local agencies with the process, which in the beginning they found expensive to carry out, the government has also supported Volunteer Canada in providing a national education and training campaign for volunteer agencies to promote effective screening approaches for the protection of children and other vulnerable groups.
This database was enhanced by government action and these enhancements did not stand alone and unused. The announcement was followed by programs to promote awareness of its existence and the necessary initiatives to educate the appropriate individuals in the use of the database.
These efforts have enhanced the ability of child caring agencies to obtain the criminal records of those seeking positions of trust. Great efforts have been made by government officials and their counterparts in the private and voluntary sectors to educate those who are involved in the selection of employees and volunteers to work with the most vulnerable members of Canadian society.
For the most part, I have been referring to children as the potential victims of sex offenders. I am sure that the minds of most members take a similar direction when they hear of sexual exploitation of victims.
Children are not alone when it comes to victimization. I recognize that the institutionalized, the mentally challenged, the physically disabled and the elderly may also be particularly susceptible to victimization through the sexual misconduct of those who prey on the most vulnerable.
Canadians from all walks of life in various circumstances who until victimized participate in the daily life in their communities, oblivious to the predations of a small number of offenders who do not think that the rules and the mores of society apply to them. Nonetheless it is for our children that we reserve our highest level of concern. I am sure all hon. members will recognize that the positive actions of the government on their behalf contribute to the safety of all Canadians.
The most recent reform to strengthen our defences against sex offenders came into effect on August 1, 2000. In the spring of 1999 the solicitor general introduced legislative proposals to ensure that even the records of sex offenders who have been pardoned would be available for screening purposes. This addition to the CPIC arsenal of information focused on the attention of police forces conducting criminal investigations of those offenders previously convicted of offences of particular interest to those who might otherwise engage them in positions of trust involving children.
Even a successful application for a pardon is no longer a shield against the discovery of relevant offences by a records check. The legislation was Bill C-7 and its provisions came into effect on August 1, 2000. Such government initiatives are not undertaken on a whim or without the recognition that other jurisdictions also have an interest in protecting Canadians.
Bill C-7 was born of the recommendations of a federal-provincial-territorial working group. It was supported by all jurisdictions in Canada as represented by federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for criminal justice. These officials heartily recommended and endorsed Bill C-7.
Through this forum the government has studied and discussed the question of a sex offender registry on more than one occasion and conducted extensive consultations. As requested by the federal-provincial-territorial ministers, senior officials have prepared a report entitled “Information systems on sex offenders against children and other vulnerable groups”.
At their meeting in Regina on October 29, 1998, the FPT ministers accepted the 10 recommendations contained in the report and agreed to its public release. Since then FPT officials have met several times to review progress regarding the implementation of these recommendations.
At any rate, the recommendations in the FPT report became the foundation for the Criminal Records Act amendments of Bill C-7 that came into force in August 2000. These will provide genuine enhancement of the protection of children and other vulnerable sectors.
With the exception of the governments of Ontario and British Columbia, officials from all jurisdictions supported the amending legislation. We can conclude from the support that the majority equally rejected the notion of a sex offender registry, be it national or local, at that time.
Therefore the thrust of the current proposal for a national registry is largely addressed through the current practice of the government. The current national screening process announced by the solicitor general in November 1994 was done after careful study. The study was conducted by the departments of the solicitor general, health and justice. It included extensive consultations across the country. It involved victims, police and child serving organizations. There was a general consensus that a registry system would be expensive, difficult to administer and not very useful. It would also give the public a false sense of security rather than enhance public safety.
We have a national registry of all criminal convictions which is provided through the RCMP CPIC database. There is broad agreement that the federal government has produced meaningful initiatives to protect all Canadians. In addition there is a degree of consensus that a national sex offender registry is not the answer to the problems identified by the hon. member.
The government is always open to suggestions that may promise positive reform. It is open to changes in policy that come from time to time when provincial elections are held or senior officials are given different positions within the machinery of government. This is a government that is open to constant review of its legislation to strengthen it in order to protect all Canadians.
At the recent meeting of the FPT ministers of justice, the Saskatchewan justice minister, with the support of his colleagues from Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, favoured another review that would revisit options regarding the protection of children against sex offenders, including a national sex offender registry. The ministers agreed that officials would again study these options and related issues.
The government will never be satisfied that all possible measures have been taken to protect the vulnerable from sex offenders. As long as there are victims there will be the willingness to move toward a safer society. The federal door is not closed to suggestions, and motions such as the one before us today provide a welcome occasion to review positive action of the recent past as well as possibilities for the future.
Perhaps the motion will lead to reinforced protection for young and vulnerable Canadians as well as for any other individuals who might fall prey to the recidivism of a sex offender. We should not deny these proposals a chance to contribute to the ongoing improvements stemming from the government's public safety agenda.