Debates of Nov. 4th, 2002
House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.
- Criminal Code
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- Starred Questions
- *Question No. 20
I wish to inform the House of an error in today's Order Paper. The motion on second reading of Bill C-17 should read:
and referral to a legislative committee.
I regret any inconvenience this may have caused hon. members.
Private Members' Business
November 4th, 2002 / 11:05 a.m.
Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB
moved that Bill C-215, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time that I have risen in the House to speak on this bill. The basic premise of Bill C-215 is to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years of age.
The bill has been introduced into the House for the fifth time now and it is the second time for debate. None of those times of course resulted in the bill becoming a votable item on the agenda in the House. Needless to say I am disappointed that the bill, which is aimed at protecting children, would be deemed non-votable by members of the subcommittee on private members' business.
I first would like to acknowledge those who have fought relentlessly in their efforts to protect children and in particular those who have really sought to raise the age of sexual consent even higher than what is proposed in the bill, which is 16. Some even have deemed it necessary to raise it to the age of 18, with which I have to agree. However, I will bring to the attention of the House and to the public at large some of those who have really fought hard for this.
First on my list is Focus on the Family. Dr. Darrel Reid is the chief director of Focus on the Family and has been very much aware of the political inhibitors to issues like this and others that are out to protect children.
Another organization that has struggled for years and has probably put out more material outlining why things have gone the way they have with legislation regarding the protection of our children than any other organization I know of is the Canada Family Action Coalition, Mr. Brian Rushfeld. My hat is goes off to him too.
Also the Canadian Police Association has been consistent in its delivery of the need to increase the age limit. The hands of all police officers and social workers have been tied. They know many children are at risk but they cannot do a thing about it because the so-called age of consent has really been difficult for them to get around. Some have resorted to other means in trying to protect children, but unfortunately the law does not work to their benefit.
I would also like to acknowledge the Canadian Chiefs of Police and in particular, Chief Julian Fantino of the Toronto Metro Police Department. Chief Fantino has been instrumental in bringing this issue to the attention and focus of the police departments and the different agencies, those that have come together to help fight the whole issue of child exploitation. Chief Fantino has travelled the world looking at other jurisdictions. He knows what is happening worldwide, and is probably a leading expert on enforcement when it comes to child exploitation laws. Again, I want to acknowledge Chief Fantino.
I would also like to acknowledge the tens of thousands of Canadians who have signed petitions over the years. They have sought to have the age of consent raised since I have been in Parliament. I delivered this message on their behalf to Parliament that they wanted to see something very significant happen in the laws that would protect children. This so far has fallen on deaf ears.
There are another probably three groups of people that I would like to acknowledge and thank. Journalists from every media who have carried profound stories of child abuse exposing the shortcomings in the present law. Phenomenal articles have been written and programs have been aired over television and radio about child abuse and exploitation. Information is there which makes it very clear that there is a need for change.
I would also like to acknowledge the justice ministers from the various provincial governments and concerned politicians who are now pushing for change. I know that presently in Calgary the justice ministers from all the provinces are meeting and will be meeting with their federal counterparts. This will be one issue that will be debated and discussed. I can only hope that common sense prevails here because this is long overdue.
Those sitting in the seats of power across the way have had ample opportunities to make this change and have failed to do so, but here is another opportunity. I support the endeavours of the federal government Minister of Justice and the Solicitor General, who will be meeting with their counterparts in the provinces, to put this issue on the table and make it happen, make it reality.
I would also like to acknowledge one other group here. Information, as it flows, comes from various sources but the most heart-rending of all stories are those from the children who have now become adults and who were in abusive situations at the hands of predators with evil intent. Their stories really have kept this momentum to raise the age of sexual consent. Their stories are the ones that are most profound and should have the greatest impact on what is about to happen. They should have an impact in Parliament where, while there is room for strong debate on these issues, there has to be some action. I hope their stories ultimately will be the ones that will push the government to do something. I commend those who have suffered abuse for their courage to tell their stories openly and publicly.
How did we get to this point of such a low age of sexual consent? That is a question that many have asked in the past. Some of it is rather fuzzy as to why this happened. At one time, before 1987, the age of sexual consent was 18. How did it all of a sudden get dropped dramatically to age 14?
In 1987 the Mulroney government, the Conservative government of the day, reduced the age of consent for sexual activity from 18 to 14. It was no longer criminal to engage in sexual activity of various kinds with youngsters between the ages of 14 and 18. Since that time the Liberal government has made no attempt to change this law, but I suspect that things are about to change. Hopefully it will see the light and adjust this to protect our kids.
One might ask how the current law hurts our children. First, the papers have been full of stories of predators attacking our kids. These are only the known stories and they hit our newspapers on a daily basis. I do not think there is a member in the House who does not have some situation in his or her riding that reflects the abuse of a predator on a youngster under the age of 16, 15, maybe even 14, and many even younger than that.
It is not to say that raising the age would eliminate predators. That is another issue for another day. I have introduced a private member's bill which will be subject to a one hour's debate on that in the future.
There are many predators out there. Their intent is to put themselves into positions of trust and work their way into positions of authority. What happens then is that they are sitting in a situation where we have our most vulnerable and they are able to attack them. Unfortunately they are not treated harshly enough. The average sentence for a pedophile is just over a year. That is the average. What does a pedophile do? He attacks the young, the vulnerable. That is appalling. Yet that is what has happened.
One of the high profile cases to which I want to relate, and many do, is a prime example of what is happening in our society. I am speaking of John Robin Sharpe, a pornographer. He likes making movies of little kids, distributing and selling them at a profit. This is his forte in our society. Back in August this man, after being charged previously, was charged with indecent assault and gross indecency. The allegations involved a boy who was 12 to 13 years old at the time. Mr. Sharpe had befriended the boy some time back in 1979. It takes a long time for things to come to light sometimes, especially when we see the impact of this kind of attack on our children. It takes a while for them to come to grips with these things. There were other victims as well and it required a lot of follow-up investigations.
I have been a police officer myself for 22 years. I had cause to assist in some of these investigations while working in the major crime section of the Calgary Police Department. I know what kind of resources and special training it takes to work with youngsters who are subject to this kind of abuse. It takes a lot. The resources are never enough because this crime has become more insidious. That is why we must take these characters out of our society for a long period of time so that our children would be much safer.
Another problem is how this current law affects and hurts our children. Agencies are loaded with all kinds of work and they cannot keep up with all the complaints coming in. As a result there are some predators out there who are not apprehended, not detected and unfortunately they are victimizing others.
How else does that law hurt our children? Unfortunately there are organizations and individuals out there wanting more liberalization in the law. I could go on and on. I could read from the bill what kind of offences are involved here: everything from pimping youngsters of 14 years of age to subjecting them to degrading sexual acts for pornographers. It goes on and on. By raising the age of consent the bill would impact on numerous sections of the Criminal Code.
I trust, hope and pray that the provincial justice ministers and the federal justice minister reach a decision on raising the age of consent.
Private Members' Business
Paul MacKlin Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-215, an act to amend the Criminal Code respecting certain prohibited sexual acts. I welcome the opportunity to speak to the bill because, and as the hon. member has stated, the objective of the bill is important, namely, to better protect our children against sexual exploitation. The government's commitment in this regard is clear and strong. It is committed to protecting children from sexual, and indeed, all forms of exploitation.
As stated in the Speech from the Throne, the government believes that Canadians have a collective responsibility to protect our children from exploitation in all its forms. The government is committed to reforming the Criminal Code to increase penalties for abuse and neglect, and to provide more sensitive treatment for children who participate in criminal justice proceedings as victims and as witnesses.
Although we can agree on the importance of the bill's objective, the government does not support it. Bill C-215 addresses an issue which hon. members know has received considerable attention in recent months. The government welcomes this debate today for it is through such discussions that we are able to broaden the knowledge and understanding of the issue at hand.
I would like to take a moment to review the facts about the minimum age of consent in Canada. I want to do this because I am aware that the discussion of this issue in recent months has sometimes reflected a misunderstanding of Canada's criminal laws that protect children against sexual exploitation. This is not entirely surprising because the issue of the age of consent to sexual activity is complex.
The Criminal Code sets the age of consent at 14 years of age for most purposes, but there are two notable exceptions. First, where the relationship is exploitive, the age is set at 18 years. For example, the consent to sexual activity by a young person who is 14 years of age or older but under the age of 18 years is not valid where the older person is in a position of trust or authority over the young person, or the young person is in a position of dependency upon that older person. The age is also set at 18 for purposes relating to prostitution and child pornography. These are important facts that seem to not find a proper expression today.
Second, where the young person is close in age to the older person, the age of consent can be 12 years where the older person is 12 years or older but under the age of 16, is less than two years older than the younger person, and is not in a position of trust or authority toward the younger person, and the younger person is not in a relationship of dependency with the other.
I want to be clear on this. Any non-consensual sexual activity, no matter what the age, is sexual assault. I also want to note that the general minimum age of consent to sexual activity has been 14 years of age since 1890 when it was raised from 12 years of age. The issue of age of consent to sexual activity is a complex issue. It is an issue on which there is a divergence of opinion.
At the end of 1999 the Department of Justice launched a comprehensive public consultation and review of the need for further criminal law reforms to enhance the criminal law's protection of children. This consultation and review focused on the need for criminal law reforms relating to specific offences against children, sentencing, facilitating child victim and witness testimony, and the minimum age of consent.
Hon. members will recall that the Minister of Justice discussed the results of this consultation and review with provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice in February of this year. Ministers then directed federal, provincial and territorial senior officials to develop follow-up responses for consideration by ministers. I can indicate to hon. members that this matter will be discussed at the current meeting of the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice in Calgary this week. I suggest that we should await the outcome of these discussions.
I believe that Canadians do want to better protect children against sexual exploitation, including new forms of sexual exploitation, and yet, Bill C-215 does not respond to this concern.
Last year the government introduced Bill C-15A, which included amendments to the child pornography provisions of the Criminal Code. Bill C-15A created a new offence of using a computer system, such as the Internet, to lure a young person for the purposes of committing one of the enumerated sexual offences against the child. This new offence is now found in section 172.1 of the Criminal Code and I am pleased to note that it was proclaimed on July 23, 2002.
Recent media accounts indicate that this new offence is being used to charge persons who have used the Internet to lure persons under the age of 14 years, yet Bill C-215 does not address this new offence of luring.
Bill C-215 does not address section 810.1 of the Criminal Code which permits the granting of a recognizance order or peace bond to prohibit a defendant from attending specified places, such as parks and school grounds, where children under the age of 14 years could reasonably be expected to be found and there would be reasonable grounds to believe the defendant would commit a sexual offence against a child.
I note these two omissions to illustrate my point that the issue of the age of consent to sexual activity is complex. There are many related provisions in the Criminal Code to protect children against sexual exploitation and abuse. We must take care to ensure that any legislative reform in this area is responsive to the concerns at hand, is reflected in all related Criminal Code provisions, and does not have unintended negative consequences. Bill C-215 does not do this. For all these reasons, the government does not support Bill C-215.
Private Members' Business
Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-215, introduced by my colleague from the Alliance. This bill, sponsored by the member for Calgary Northeast, could not be more directly linked with that party's dominant philosophy in favour of a harder line for the entire criminal justice system.
We need to look at the specific character of the legislative amendment proposed. It is no more and no less than a raising of the legal age of consent to sexual acts. The framework surrounding the concept of consent in the Criminal Code is a rather complex one, but can be summarized in three points.
First, the consent of a person under the age of 14 years is not a defence against a charge of sexual aggression, exhibitionism, sexual touching and the like.
This means that a person over the age of 14 years is in a position to give consent.
Second, there is an exception to this rule. Plaintiff consent may be a defence if:
the accused (a) is over 12 and under 14 years of age;
(b) is 12 years of age or more but under the age of 16;
(c) is less than two years older than the complainant; and
(d) is neither in a position of trust or authority towards the complainant nor is a person with whom the complainant is in a relationship of dependency.
a person in a situation of authority or trust may not have sexual contact with a person aged 14 to 17, even if the minor consents.
In attempting to make the legal framework more strict for sexual activities involving youth, the Canadian Alliance hopes to protect their virtue. However, there is a contradiction in the approach of the Canadian Alliance when it comes to youth justice. Allow me to explain.
The purpose of the Alliance proposal is to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16. First off, in our opinion, there is not much to debate about this. We know that young people engage in sexual activities at a younger age and the prevention campaigns that have been created for them work relatively well.
We believe that an approach based on listening to young people and sincere dialogue with youth works much better when it comes to sexual education than the punitive approach that the Canadian Alliance promotes.
The society in which we live has evolved considerably, so much so, that what used to be considered taboo is now discussed with complete openness and with a sometimes alarming candour. This is more the case in Quebec, which has the well-earned reputation of being the most liberal society in North America, when it comes to these matters; more so than the rest of Canada.
But, and this is where it gets touchy for the Canadian Alliance, what is the logic behind that party wanting to legislate the raising of the age of sexual consent, when in the whole debate on tightening the Young Offenders Act, it called for the age at which children can be tried in adult court to be dramatically lowered.
Indeed, in the debate on the young offenders bill, the Canadian Alliance supported an approach described as a hard line approach whereby 16 and 17 year olds, as well as 14 and 15 year olds charged with serious crimes, would be tried before adult court. This was in its own platform.
Now these 14 and 15 year olds, who are apparently mature enough to commit crimes, would not be able or capable of consenting to sexual activity? This is definitely double talk.
The Canadian Alliance's reasoning does not hold water. The initiative before us is, once again, a reflection of the Alliance's propensity to take a piecemeal approach to amending the Criminal Code, depending on the personal opinions of its members or popular trends in western Canada.
What they are suggesting would inevitably result in an unmanageable legal mess and would run counter to the fundamental principles of the administration of justice.
The objective pursued by the Alliance would be counterproductive in that it would criminalize the personal activities of young people on the basis of their age, instead of protecting them from sexual predators. To conclude, the Bloc Quebecois opposed this legislation in the past and remains opposed to it for the two main reasons mentioned earlier: while it may not be desirable for young people aged 14 and 15 to have sexual relations, the provisions referring to this age reflect what society is prepared to tolerate. The Canadian Alliance is using double talk.
In the debate on young offenders, they argued that adolescents 14 or 15 years of age were mature enough to be held criminally responsible for their actions, but in this debate on the age of sexual consent, they are arguing that the 14 year olds are not mature enough.
Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the bill, even though it is not a votable item.
Private Members' Business
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in this debate. I congratulate the Bloc Quebecois member for his very intelligent comments. These are remarks that present many important perspectives.
I also want to congratulate the parliamentary secretary who has delved into this issue in detail and has made the informed comment that we should engage and encourage our provincial colleagues to take this issue up.
I want to turn now to the mover of the motion who has been, in my view, relentless in his pursuit of this issue and who takes the issue very seriously. He comes to this place with a perspective that is important, as a frontline police officer having dealt with child victims I suspect, having heard that in his commentary. I have great respect for what he is trying to accomplish here.
The bill has been before the House in the past, which is again a tribute to the member's persistence. As was stated previously in the debate, whenever we look at the Criminal Code of Canada we have to look at all the implications. It is somewhat like a game of dominoes. It can have implications that may not have been completely anticipated. I know that is not the desire of the mover of the motion.
I want to make a brief comment on the subject of private members' bills. We have repeatedly seen, throughout the history of this place, private members' bills that come forward that have a great idea, that are intended purely for the improvement of society or for the improvement of a certain situation and the government will tear those ideas limb from limb and dismiss them. Then a short time later we will see the bill come back under the name of the government where the mover might then be a minister and it suddenly becomes a great idea.
I am not suggesting that will happen here but the commentary from the parliamentary secretary at least indicates that there is a willingness to examine this issue.
I also want to address a situation that was referred to by the mover of the motion from Calgary, Bill C-15, which was passed in 1989, and delved into the subject matter of the age of consent. Under the Progressive Conservative government that bill replaced prior unsuitable legislation. What was left out of the commentary by the member from Calgary was that the bill in essence prohibited adults from engaging in virtually any act or any kind of sexual contact with boys or girls under the age of 14.
The bill also made it illegal for adults in positions of trust or authority to have sexual contact with minors between--and here are the key words--the ages of 14 to 18. It did not raise the age of consent.
Therefore, by simply stamping the age 16 in place in all those sections of the Criminal Code there is a danger that a very naive, unworldly and vulnerable youth age 17 might fall outside the parameters of the hon. member's bill.
We have heard the sad tales, and there are many, of people in positions of trust, those involved in the church or in the school system, foster parents and, sadly, even family members and parents, who take advantage of youth who are now under the age of 18, not 16.
We want to be very careful when we look at changing sections of the Criminal Code not to narrow further the ability of the prosecution to proceed with charges when positions of trust are involved. It is always important to look at the whole perspective here.
I again commend the emotion and the diligence with which the mover of the motion has brought to this debate. It is tragic beyond belief that there are sexual predators out there.
Sexual predators can be found in any province, any community, any corner of this country. We have all heard of many infamous cases such as at Mount Cashel in Newfoundland and at the school for boys in Shelburne in my home province of Nova Scotia. We know there are sad cases involving native schools where young people were preyed upon. Maple Leaf Gardens is another institution in which horrible instances of abuse took place. Those are terrible cases where individuals were preyed upon, sadly, by persons who they should have been able to rely upon for protection. However the opposite occurred.
The Goler case in Nova Scotia is one that motivated me to bring forward a private member's bill which would in fact expand the parameters of the Criminal Code to allow a judge to put in place prohibitions about attending dwelling houses. Currently it specifically mentions schools, pools, places where children frequent, but it does not include dwelling houses where the majority of sexual assault cases occur.
The life altering and lasting implications and the damage that results to young people being abused is shocking and abhorrent to all Canadians and all members of Parliament. We have heard time and time again the horrible events that can occur in a child's life. What better place is there than the Parliament of Canada to address those issues and address any shortcomings that might exist? What higher calling, what higher place could there be to protect children from this fate than the House of Commons?
Sexual predators I submit very firmly are not always interested in sex but are interested in power, control and severe violence. That reinforces the worry that parents have each and every time their children leave home.
Another sad phenomenon that occurs is where victims, in some instances in attempt to regain power over their own lives, go out and become perpetrators. That is a very sad implication from the effects of having been abused as a child.
Some provinces, including I believe the province of the hon. member who moved the motion, have taken initiatives in terms of protecting our most vulnerable. The Ontario government, for example, needs to be commended for its decision to launch the first ever sex offender registry of its kind in Canada. Each sex offender in Ontario must register within 15 days of being released from custody. The same applies to those serving sentences in the community. The file will contain the offender's address, phone number, physical description, aliases and list of offences. Such information is critical to policemen if they are to be able to afford the protection for the children who might become victims.
Chief Fantino was mentioned in the remarks by the mover of the motion and the good work that he is doing on behalf of protecting children in the province of Ontario and specifically in Toronto.
Offenders sentenced to less than 10 years must report their whereabouts for 10 years under the Ontario registry, and offenders sentenced to periods of incarceration longer than 10 years will remain on the registry for life. This is the type of bold, proactive and, in some instances, harsh legislation that we might need to protect children.
The Ontario government cares about public safety and is reacting to the concerns of communities in that province. Its law was passed in honour of Christopher Stephenson, and the law is often referred to as Christopher's law. Fourteen years ago young Christopher was abducted at knife point in a Brampton mall, sexually assaulted and murdered by repeat sex offender Joseph Fredericks.
That is the type of case that sadly is the motivation for this type of change in the law, and I know the type of motivation that is behind the mover.
It is absolutely gut-wrenching that something like that must happen before politicians, present company included, and legislators take notice. However these examples illustrate how important it is to take these initiatives that can prevent lifelong suffering, murder, exploitation and the terrible instances of sexual assault and intrusion into young people's lives.
We talk about making sentences longer. These sentences are life sentences for young people when they have been victimized.
I mentioned the anomaly of adopting the bill in its current form. I know that the hon. member might be open to making certain amendments to it. I am glad to see that this debate is taking place. I look forward to seeing the bill proceed through the chamber and being taken to the justice committee where it could be discussed further.
The hon. member for Calgary Northeast has brought forward the legislation with the best of motivations, and I congratulate him for that.
He knows and I know that more can be done. As a police officer, he already has done a great deal in this area and I have nothing but respect for what he is trying to do. I am pleased that the bill is back before Parliament. Let us make the necessary changes that we need to ensure that there are real consequences for those who break the law and those who prey upon children.
Private Members' Business
Monte Solberg Medicine Hat, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise and address Bill C-215 today. I want to start where my friend from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough left off, by congratulating the member for Calgary Northeast who has been relentless in bringing forward this bill. He is deeply concerned about children and that is a sentiment that is shared around the House.
But I also want to note that what is troubling about this is that it has been raised a number of times. While the issue is complex, and I agree with both the parliamentary secretary and also my Conservative friend that it is complex, there are some things that we all agree on. One of those things is this: I do not think that there is anybody in this place who believes that it is perfectly licit for an adult, a 35 year old or 40 year old man, to seek out and prey upon, for instance, a 14 year old girl. I think just about everyone in this place thinks that is wrong and that is the sort of thing we need to get at.
With respect, I think the parliamentary secretary was somewhat disingenuous when he tossed out red herrings about Bill C-215 not addressing things like luring over the Internet. He knows very well that this is not the intent of the bill. What my friend from Calgary Northeast wants to do is draw attention to something very specific. He wants the age of consent raised from 14 to 16 so that we do not see the type of activity that already has been referred to in the House, whereby adults prey upon naive young people who are not yet mature enough to distinguish between somebody who is preying on them and somebody who truly cares about them. That is what we are trying to get at. That is why my friend brought forward the bill. I wish the government would get that message instead of trying to get us off track with red herrings.
I remind the House that back on April 23 the official opposition, urged by our leader, the member for Calgary Southwest, who had only been our leader for a few weeks at that time, brought forward a particular supply motion which called for the age of consent to be raised to at least the age of 16. Sadly, most of the government members, and to their credit not all of them, voted against that. I would like to think that they were simply naive about what was at stake. I will not attribute anything to them other than that, because this is an issue that the public is deeply concerned about. I am sure that there is not a member in this place who has children who does not shudder at the thought of having their 14 year old son or daughter being preyed upon by somebody who is much older, preyed upon explicitly for the purpose of having sex.
Not awfully long ago, just a number of months ago, my friend from Lethbridge and I went to the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta. One of the things that the customs officials told us they were running into more and more was instances of sexual predators trying to lure young men and women into the United States. They would come up into Canada and try to pick them up and take them back across the border, or it would work in reverse. The point is that this is something that is increasing in prevalence. The government is not doing its job if it does not start to put in place some measures to begin to address this.
I acknowledge that in Bill C-15A the government did do something about this with its changes to the Criminal Code affecting Internet luring. The Canadian Alliance, by the way, was at the forefront of promoting that. We wanted that legislation in place. I am glad that the government followed our advice when it came to that. We were able to get the bill split so that we could pass it very quickly. We were happy to do that, along with other members of the opposition, but the government simply has not gone far enough.
Maybe the best way of making my point is to say that when one is involved in an area where there are a lot of complexities and it is unclear which way to proceed, my guidance to the government is to always proceed in a way that gives the benefit of the doubt to the potential victims. That is the answer. When we are not sure, we should err on the side of protecting victims, in this case, on the side of protecting children. Governments, in their misguided desire to be completely fair to everyone, think that is an excuse for not acting at all and that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable when we are talking about young children, 14 years of age and 15 years of age in this case. That is completely unacceptable.
It is my hope that in the discussions the justice minister says he will have with the provinces eventually, the government will bring forward legislation that reflects the intent of my friend's bill. As the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough pointed out, very often the government will stand up and decry particular pieces of private members' business only to turn around and adopt particular pieces of it later on and laud how wonderful they are and what a great job they are doing for the public. Let us hope that the government is not being disingenuous this time. I suspect that to some degree it is.
Of course I hope that in the end it adopts this legislation, but if it is going to do that then it should have the courage of its convictions and should congratulate my friend from Calgary Northeast for what he is trying to do, again to protect children. I see many good members on the government side right now who I know believe in the intent of my friend's bill. I hope that they push the justice minister and the parliamentary secretary to do the right thing and support this bill, although it is not votable, which in and of itself is a shame. Although it is not votable, we do hope that they will push the justice minister and the justice committee to do the right thing and adopt the spirit of Bill C-215 and also give credit where credit is due, and not just to my friend from Calgary Northeast. He has pointed out that there have been many others in this place and outside it who have promoted raising the age of consent to the age of 16. He has mentioned Chief of Police Fantino, the Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and Focus on the Family Canada, headed up by our friend Darrel Reid, who does a wonderful job in promoting issues that protect and strengthen families.
All of these people deserve credit. I can assure everyone that this place would receive praise and accolades from the entire public if the government would quit dragging its heels on this important piece of legislation and adopt what my friend from Calgary Northeast is arguing for.
Private Members' Business
Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB
Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to acknowledge the comments made by all members who have contributed to this debate within the short period of time we have had. I believe this deserves a lot more than just one hour of debate. The effort was made at the subcommittee on private members' business to convince it that this matter should be a votable matter. I still believe that it should be a votable matter in spite of the fact that the committee refused to accept it as such.
I am going to go back to this issue in reference to the comments made about this bill. If, in the view of the government, there is some flaw in the bill, it certainly has the right to bring that up and pay attention to where it may fall short. I certainly am willing to accept that aspect of what is happening here in our Parliament. It is part of the process. On the other hand, the government also has a responsibility to protect our children, so if there is some shortfall in the bill then let us correct it and go forward with it.
I do not buy the argument that this is a complex matter, because really all it takes is to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16. It is very simple. Everything else stays the same.
Private Members' Business
An hon. member
It is complicated.
Private Members' Business
Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB
I do not see anything complicated about it.
I am going to refer to some comments made by a friend of mine, a staff sergeant on the Calgary city police force, who for years worked on the police services vice unit and was the coordinator of Project 118 Children's Services. As a law enforcement officer, he issues a warning. He warns that the low age of legal sexual consent provides official legislative sanction for promiscuity and sexual activity for youth. He states:
This law makes it easier for recruiters and predators--for example, a 15-year-old living with a 45-year-old.
This staff sergeant, Ross MacInnes, founded Street Teams, an agency that helped get girls off the street. He states that Canadian law makes it difficult to rescue children from dangerous situations. If a 14-year-old girl runs away from home, for example, international protocol makes it possible to get her back from California within 12 hours and from Mexico within 24 hours. Says MacInnes:
But I can't get her back from another city within Canada. There is a view in Canada--and the age of consent is one factor--that there is a form of emancipation taking place, and that the youngster is capable of making her own choice.
That is the view and that is what I am attempting to fight with this bill. It is one that I think the government should be addressing head on.
In conclusion, I think one of the most important benefits of raising the age of consent would be to send a clear message from our government that Canadian children have value and that we as a society are committed to protecting them.
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.
Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB
That this House condemn the government for continuing to overstretch our military personnel and call on the government to increase spending more than is currently planned, as the Canadian Forces need more money simply to continue operating in a sustainable way.
Mr. Speaker,I will be splitting my time with the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.
Ten days ago at a meeting of the Toronto Board of Trade, the Minister of National Defence stated “With those brave young Canadians who I met in Afghanistan firmly in the back of my mind, I say to you that it is simply wrong that we treat in a shabby way those of our fellow citizens who risk their lives for us”.
That statement was made nine years to the day that I was elected to this House and it is without question as honest an assessment of the government's record as I have ever heard. A concession by the Minister of National Defence that we were mistreating our armed forces personnel would be noteworthy in and of itself, but the minister used the same occasion to call for an increase in our defence spending.
He argued that although the government had used its most recent budget to increase defence spending, it was simply not enough. We in the Progressive Conservative caucus could not agree more with the minister.
I would ask that the House and those in it do not confuse my anger with surprise, for the sad reality is that the revelations made by the minister in his remarks were not new. They are the same disheartening facts that have been uncovered by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs and its companion committee in the other place.
They are the same facts known to our American neighbours and NATO allies. They are the same facts known to anyone who has looked at a newspaper or watched the news in the last five years.
It was however, the first time that a Minister of National Defence has acknowledged and confirmed the government's record on defence. I for one applaud the minister for his remarks. We should all recognize the personal courage it must have taken to prepare and deliver a speech that exposed the inadequacies of the government in which he serves. I hope that the minister's integrity in this regard will inspire others in the cabinet to act accordingly.
In the fiscal year 1993-94 our national defence budget was $12 billion but by 1998-99 that total was down to a mere $9.4 billion, a reduction of 22%. This was despite the fact that in the same period the operational tempo of our armed forces, that is to say that ratio of time spent by our military in deployed missions, rose from a mere 6.2 to 23.2, an increase of almost 400%.
In short, for close to 10 years we have asked our military men and women to do significantly more with dramatically less. If we care to calculate our military spending as a percentage of our national gross domestic product, a non-partisan conservative calculation would show that it hovers between 1.1% and 1.2% of Canada's GDP. This is the third worst record in all of NATO, only better than Iceland and Luxembourg, two nations with populations of roughly 275,000 and 450,000 respectively.
When any department, let alone one as important as the Department of National Defence, has had its budget reduced by roughly a quarter in a period of only a few years, its ability to honour commitments will be necessarily affected.
It saddens me to report to the House that our military is no longer able to conduct the type and kind of missions that it could in the recent past. The equipment that we have in our arsenal has been allowed to age and deteriorate to the point where it is no longer reliable or interoperable with other allied forces.
Worse still, our men and women in uniform are being abused to the point where too many of them are coming home from missions suffering from illnesses ranging from exhaustion to post traumatic stress disorder. This is the “shabby” treatment that the minister himself condemns.
We are fortunate in this country that we have courageous men and women who are willing to put their lives at risk to defend both this country and the values we espouse. They are nothing short of national heroes and they must be treated accordingly.
I am proud that in my time in this place my voice has been one of those in the chorus of voices calling out for the government to make a significant reinvestment in our military.
Prior to the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, those of us asking for more defence spending were called alarmists. We were told that in the post-cold war world there was no need for Canada to maintain a robust military. How wrong they were and we all know it.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington revealed a sinister new threat to the globe. They demonstrated in the cruelest manner possible that we continue to live in a dangerous world and that we must always be vigilant in defence of our people.
The systematic dismantling of our military was a serious mistake and it remains a serious mistake. I fear that the consequences to Canadians could be deadly. Canadian blood has already been shed in the war on terrorism, first in the U.S. and later in Afghanistan. This is not some foreign conflict in which we have no interest. This is a Canadian fight, one in which we have a vested interest. By not doing our share of the work, by not lifting our share of the burden, we are both undermining our international alliances and dishonouring more than 100 years of military heritage.
Our mission is clear. We have a continuing obligation to fight alongside our allies abroad and defend our citizens here at home, but as the minister himself indicated, our Canadian armed forces are no longer in a position to do both with what we have given them. Again, to quote the minister, “The Canadian Forces need more money simply to continue operating as they are today in a sustainable way”. I would agree with that sentiment, but would take it even one step further. Without a meaningful and immediate reinvestment in our military, our national security is and remains at risk.
I know that some of my colleagues on the government benches will rise today and say that it is not just a money problem and that merely throwing money at it will not solve the problems. For the record, let me just say that I agree wholeheartedly with that. The government's problem is as much a problem with priorities. It is prepared to put everything ahead of national defence and national security. It is prepared to invest millions in other schemes, but when the military comes asking, the vault door seems to be shut in its face.
Moreover, the government should be condemned for how it wastes money: $500 million to cancel the EH-101 contract to replace our antique Sea King helicopters; $750 million to purchase used submarines that our sailors refuse to use now because the government refused to invest the money needed to refit and repair them; $36 million to get the Americans to taxi our supplies back from Afghanistan because we do not have the airlift and sealift capacity to do it ourselves; $65 million for a pilot training program that does not train pilots. The list goes on and on.
I have often told the House that our men and women in uniform do not have the choice to come to Parliament Hill, as so many other groups do, to protest the unjust cuts to the military's budget. They cannot come up here with placards to voice their concerns about their living arrangements, the food they receive on missions, or the tattered state of the combat uniforms given to them. The problem is that the government sees their silence as satisfaction when in truth it is only out of respect for the uniforms they wear and the people in Canada whom they serve.
I am convinced that if the government were to allow its members to vote as they saw fit on today's motion, there would not be a single vote cast against it. Many in the House have received letters from families of peacekeepers abroad worried that they do not have enough food and worried that they do not have the appropriate camouflage for the environment in which they are serving.
I do not know whether the Minister of National Defence showed a draft copy of his speech to the Prime Minister before he delivered it, but I do know if the minister gave any warning to the PMO that he would be criticizing government policy, it would not have sat well.
I cannot answer the question of the former finance minister whom he knows in the PMO. All I know is that the government has betrayed its best citizens to the point where even the minister responsible will not stand for it any longer. All I know is that the mistreatment of our armed forces personnel has gotten so bad that the minister himself has now said it is wrong.
Some 60 years ago, my brothers went to war for Canada. They did so because in their hearts they knew that it was their duty to fight for king and country. We now live in an age where the single greatest threat to the Canadian armed forces is the government.
When we wrote this motion, we did so using much of the same language that was used by the minister, except for a couple of words.
To the members on the government benches, I can only say that to vote against the motion, they vote against the expert opinion of the Minister of National Defence himself. If they vote against the motion, they vote against the men and women in our armed forces. If they vote against the men and women of the armed forces, they vote against Canada.
Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this chamber today to support the motion of my colleague, the hon. member for Saint John.
For years she and other members of the House, of my party and of other parties, have been decrying the level of support afforded by the government to the men and women who serve the country as members of our armed forces. As my colleague remarked, between 1993 and 1998 the percentage of time our troops spent on deployed missions increased by 400% while funding for our military declined during the same period by 22%. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of basic mathematics will tell us that is simply not sustainable.
For several years now, studies have been deploring the current funding level of the Canadian Forces. I am sure that a number of members of this House will use today's debate to add their voices to those who have been trying for so long to convince the government that the current funding level waters down our contribution to peacekeeping and puts our troops at risk.
That did not happen suddenly. It is the result of a continuing, cumulative deterioration of the equipment and morale of the Canadian armed forces. This is not something the government can blame on another party in office. One of the determining issues which elected the Liberal government was an issue of investment in national defence. The cancellation of the EH-101 helicopter contract was blatant not only in its partisanship, but in the way it trivialized Canada's commitment to the military.
This is about more than a failure to invest. It is about a failure to understand the importance of our military to a country like Canada. One of Canada's distinguishing assets is our international reputation as a country that can be counted on. There is a growing list of other countries with resources and wealth and skills that are roughly comparable to ours but we sit at the G-8 and we play above our weight because we have been known as a country that respects our obligations and does what we say we will do.
We began to earn that reputation and thus began to earn that distinguishing asset by our military contribution in the first world war and by our military and diplomatic conduct ever since. Beyond that, such common history as Canadians have draws heavily on the record of ordinary men and women from coast to coast to coast across all the cultures of Canada to defend with their lives values they thought important. Those were the values of free societies in times of conflict and combat; they were the values of stability in peacekeeping.
In other countries, armies defended territory; they were a home defence. Our military tradition is broader than that. It reflects the reality that Canadian security depends upon larger security, but it has always been ready to defend those larger interests of international security. The willingness to do that is what won our reputation in the world. Our inability to do that under the government is costing Canada our reputation in the world.
Ten years ago when the world considered the range of actions it could take against Saddam Hussein, Canada was at the centre of deliberations at UN headquarters in New York, in London, in Washington and in the Middle East. We punched above our weight and we were treated with the respect that over decades Canada had earned. Now today with the crisis and tensions renewing, Canada is undoubtedly, undeniably on the outside looking in, paying the price for the indifference of the government to military preparedness over the last decade.
This is the essence of the issue. Does Canada want to continue the tradition of the Borden, Pearson and Mulroney governments and fully contribute to the development of the international community, or does it want to sink into insignificance and abdicate its responsibilities toward the world that surrounds it?
As my colleague from Saint John has said, we did not casually choose the wording of today's motion. These are precisely the words the Minister of National Defence used when he addressed the Toronto Board of Trade on October 25. The minister said, and I quote:
--it's wrong to continue overstretching our military people and their families...We should be spending more than is currently planned. Indeed, the Canadian Forces need more money simply to continue operating as they are today in a sustainable way.
That was a direct and pointed criticism of the policies of his own government, in the department for which he bears direct responsibility. In any normal government the Prime Minister would have changed the minister immediately or he would have changed the policy immediately. Instead the Prime Minister treats the minister as just another voice in a chat room, expressing opinions but not able to influence policy.
The Prime Minister can ignore his minister and he can ignore the military. However it will be harder to ignore the considered judgment of this House, which is the point of this motion today. Unless this House acts, nothing will happen to help the military before a budget at the earliest or most likely until some time after the review of international policy which the throne speech promised for the end of the mandate, whenever that is.
This is not a parliamentary question of confidence which might bring down the government. On the contrary, it is a focused and specific means for the House of Commons to help the government give effect to changes recommended precisely by the Minister of National Defence. Since his speech, the minister on numerous occasions has assured the House that his observations that the government continues to overstretch our military personnel and his prescription for increased funding beyond what is currently planned are not contrary to government policy.
If that is government policy, it should be acted on. The government should walk the talk. This motion allows the government to honour the commitment of the minister and to offer real and immediate help to the men and women of the Canadian armed forces.
Rick Borotsik Brandon—Souris, MB
Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, and who better to answer this question than a previous minister of foreign affairs and a previous prime minister.
He touched on Canada's inability now to have any influence on world affairs. This is something that I find dramatically lacking, particularly with regard to the policies and positions of this government. Our military is not seen any longer as having any influence in world military actions. For that matter our ability to even take part in some of those actions has been cut back drastically.
Other than just putting money into the military, what should we be doing as a country to bring back the influence that we had prior to 1993? Could the right hon. member for Calgary Centre comment on that?
Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB
Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. For one thing, we have to be much more aggressive internationally in the world. We cannot back away from the opportunities and obligations of leadership that await Canada.
I for one, and I am sure many members of the House, shared the shame when at the time of the terrible crisis in the United States the prime minister of this world who was present offering support to Americans was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister of Canada stood back and was not heard from for several days. That has become almost a trademark of the government, a trademark of stepping back from areas of responsibility where traditionally the Government of Canada has led.
Again, we are now pretending to propose a major fund for aid to Africa. We spent millions of dollars on the conference in Kananaskis that proposed the fund. However when we look at the estimates, which are supposed to put actual money in the account, the money is not there. That is the absence of leadership. That is on the diplomatic side.
The point of the debate is that we won our reputation. If members look at the history of Canada, we won our reputation as an international player through the activities of the men and women in the Canadian armed forces in the first world war. That is when Canada became a sovereign nation in the eyes of the world. It has been the service of Canadian men and women in the armed forces, our diplomats and others that has made Canada such a significant player internationally.
My colleague for Brandon—Souris makes the point again about the current gathering tensions in the world now. These are tensions which require not only the kind of leadership and diplomacy followed by strength, which Canada has traditionally indicated, but also the kind of calm judgment that can prevail in times like this.
The world is hearing from a prime minister on this. They are hearing from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. They are not hearing from Canada. In part, the authority of the United Kingdom has to do not simply with the initiative of the prime minister, but with the fact that his country has not let its military down. It has the means to deliver on its commitments. Our country does not. That has to change.
If we are to play a leading role in the world again, we have to invest again to improve the moral and the capacity of the Canadian armed forces.
Rob Merrifield Yellowhead, AB
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for his comments. As the former member of Parliament for Yellowhead, we served the same people. When I talk with the veterans, who were prepared to go to war to defend this nation, they are very proud of their history. They are very proud of the people who serve in the armed forces right now. They are not very proud with the way they are being treated.
When I look at the shambles we have with the submarines which have just been purchased or when I see, such as I did this weekend, that the helicopters cannot get off the ground, it is very frustrating.
Do we have the same problem with this government with regard to the military as we do with health care? I am the health critic for my party. It has been a culture of neglect over a decade, rather than just more money.