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House of Commons Hansard #139 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I absolutely agree with my colleague from Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough. I think the majority of Canadians would agree that we must put the rights of the victims and the rights of the potential victims, who I think are the ones we talking about here, first. If there is a charter challenge or a little bit of fear that it may be challenged, so be it. It is up to us to represent our constituents and to do the things they want us to do. If the challenges are there, let them come forth and we will deal with the challenges.

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12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carole-Marie Allard Liberal Laval East, QC

Madam Speaker, I am quite happy to speak today to this very important issue raised by the member of the opposition. He calls for a bill to be drafted and introduced to establish a registry of sexual offenders.

There is no doubt in my mind that the opposition's objective is quite laudable. This wish to protect vulnerable people and children in Canada is obviously something that we parliamentarians in Canada all take to heart.

However, I feel the need to say today that I will be voting against this motion. I believe that it duplicates what already exists in Canada. I am part of a government that has been studying this issue for several years and that continues to examine, together with the provinces and territories, better ways in which to protect children and people who are vulnerable in our society.

In the early 1990s, our government held broad consultations across the country. We consulted with representatives from organizations responsible for the care and protection of children, children's aid societies, school boards, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Volunteer Canada, police forces and victims groups.

These people have not asked us to create a sex offender registry. They have asked us to help them screen people wishing to work with children and other vulnerable individuals, so as to be assured that they have no record of sexual offences.

Madam Speaker, I should point out before going on that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Oak Ridges.

These consultations have been effective, leading to creation of the national screening system. This was developed with the co-operation of the police forces and child welfare organizations, and is working very well. It led to the creation of the Canadian Police Information Centre.

This centre provides law enforcement agencies with access to a data bank that allows local police forces to assist organizations to search for police records.

According to the latest figures, there had been more than 700,000 search requests from volunteer organizations across Canada. We can conclude, therefore, that this is an excellent tool for protecting children and other vulnerable members of our society.

The government has done a great deal to protect vulnerable individuals and children. These steps include harsher sentences for dangerous offenders, protection orders coupled with special conditions, and more stringent child pornography legislation. The national system for screening persons in positions of trust with children is one key element in the whole government strategy.

I do not think it advisable to adopt the motion presented today by the opposition, because the creation of a national dangerous offender registry poses some real problems.

Which model would we adopt? Would we go along the lines of the registry already in place in the U.S. or Ontario, with which many find fault? What about the costs of such a registry Are they known? What about the related staffing costs? Are we not lulling the public into a false sense of security by talking of a national dangerous offender registry when truly dangerous offenders will find a way to get around it?

So there are fundamental issues involved and it is important today to look at them, because of the costs, the criteria relating to offences and the concerns regarding the charter and constitutional law.

The opposition often blames us for imposing structures on the provinces. In Ottawa, we have a task force that is working with the provinces to find better solutions, to co-operate and come up with effective solutions. This working group will meet again soon, on February 13 and 14. A team of senior federal, provincial and territorial officials has already met on numerous occasions and will meet again in the coming months to improve the existing structure.

I am of course in favour of improving the Canadian Police Information Centre, rather than creating a new structure that stakeholders do not really want. There is no doubt that the government is working. I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and I can say that this government works relentlessly to ensure that the best possible tools are available to protect Canadians in their neighbourhoods. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Department of Justice, along with the provinces and territories, will continue their work and, on a regular basis, monitor progress.

In conclusion, I want to say once again that the government is doing its best to protect Canadians and will continue to do so. We will continue to find solutions that are innovative and that benefit all Canadians. We will continue to improve our Canadian Information Police Centre. It is a reliable data bank that has proven effective.

The provinces that want their own sex offender registries will be able to use the Canadian Information Police Centre to transmit useful information to all police forces in the country.

For these reasons, I must oppose the motion, because it is important to co-ordinate the efforts made in Canada to protect vulnerable people and children. In my opinion, the sex offender registry is a structure that we should not impose on the provinces, since they are currently not interested in it and since such a structure would interfere with existing jurisdictions.

I trust that our government will continue to work to protect vulnerable people and children in our society. Therefore, I will not support the motion.

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12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this issue brought forth today by the hon. member for Langley--Abbotsford concerning the establishment of a national sex offender registry.

The solicitor general and the Minister of Justice continue to take steps in a number of areas, each of which contribute to public safety in a meaningful and effective way. It is clear that we want the best system possible to protect our children. That is something which all of us in the House agree upon. It is something the government is doing and will continue to do in the interest of all Canadians.

The government has built a solid foundation in an effort to prevent the victimization of children. In 1994, when the child centred organizations and groups representing victims expressed their concerns, the government responded by putting into place a national screening system to keep convicted sex abusers from working with children and other vulnerable groups. In 1995 a national flagging system was set up to help prosecutors deal more effectively with high risk offenders. The government has created a new form of long term supervision for sex offenders after they complete their normal sentence. Peace bonds allow special conditions to be imposed on high risk sex offenders even when they are not under sentence. With these measures, the government has imposed tougher controls on sex offenders and has made Canada a safer place.

The RCMP's Canadian Police Information Centre, CPIC, already provides, as we have talked about, a national registry for all criminal convictions, including sex offences. Child care agencies can seek potential employees by requiring them to obtain a CPIC check through the local police. The agency can screen out any individual found to have a criminal record. To ensure that the local agencies are making the best possible use of CPIC's process, the government has supported Volunteer Canada in providing a national education and training campaign for volunteer agencies to promote effective screening approaches.

For the most part I have talked about children as the potential victims of sex offenders, but I remind the House that children are not the only victims. Indeed, the institutionalized, the mentally challenged, the physically disabled and the elderly can be victims of those who prey upon the most vulnerable. We want the best public safety system to protect Canadians, but chief among them, the most vulnerable, are our children.

I am sure that hon. members recognize that positive actions taken by the government contribute to the safety of everyone. We continue to improve on this system because clearly no system is perfect.

Last year at the meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice, the Solicitor General of Canada announced new funding for CPIC to enhance the capacity to track sex offenders. The upgrade means that police will now have instant access to information about sex offenders under a distinct, searchable category combining address and offence. This category will be linked to other criminal history and police information already contained in CPIC and to any provincial sex offender registries.

In the spring of 1999 the solicitor general introduced legislative proposals to ensure that the records of pardoned sex offenders would be available for screening purposes. Even a successful application for a pardon is no longer a shield against a record check. This legislation came into effect on August 1, 2000. Such government initiatives are not developed in isolation or without recognizing that other jurisdictions have an interest in protecting Canadians. This legislation was founded on recommendations made by the federal, provincial and territorial working groups. It was supported by all jurisdictions as represented by federal officials and provincial and territorial ministers responsible for criminal justice. Earlier I mentioned the national screening system. In developing this system, the departments of the solicitor general, health and justice undertook extensive consultations across the country with victims, police and child serving organizations.

The intent of the current motion before the House for a national sex offender registry in large part is addressed to current practice. We already have a very credible and comprehensive national strategy. It is called CPIC and is a national registry for all convicted offenders, including sex offenders.

I have highlighted for the House numerous meaningful initiatives the government has undertaken. I would also point out, though, that there are two sections of the criminal code that deal with sexual offenders against children, dangerous offenders and long term offenders. Section 753 of the criminal code relates to dangerous offenders and applies to those who have committed an indictable offence involving violence that endangers life. In the criminal code it includes all offences including sexual assault, rape and intercourse with a child. If convicted, the offender can be designated a dangerous offender and the sentence will be indeterminate. In other words, there will be no end date in terms of the sentence.

Section 753.1 of the criminal code deals with long term offenders, repeat behaviours, an inability to control sexual impulses, and risks to the community, but the threshold is lower. Unlike a sentence for a dangerous offender, this sentence could be as little as two years for the offence but the judge is empowered, if satisfied, to in fact determine that this person is a risk to the public and then can designate that individual as a long term offender where appropriate. The judge can add as much as 10 years to the sentence. In other words, someone who received a 4 year sentence could receive a sentence of 14 years.

Nevertheless, given all of these comments I believe that the government is always open to suggestions that might promise positive reform. In this respect, the federal-provincial-territorial working group on high risk offenders shared its findings with provincial officials last December. There is still much that needs to be done within the context of the FPT consultations and co-operative efforts in this area and I think we all recognize that. The government continues to work with its FPT partners to examine options, including the use of CPIC as a vehicle to maintain the whereabouts of released sex offenders.

The government will never be satisfied that it has done everything possible to protect the vulnerable from sex offenders. As long as there are victims, there will be a need for constant improvement. The government is committed to that and to any suggestion in that regard. We need to keep our communities safe.

In conclusion, the national registry already exists through CPIC and the government has invested and continues to invest in improvements. Given that this is a very complex issue in regard to the nature of the exchange among federal, provincial and local police, it is imperative to get a national consensus to move forward. My understanding is that this national consensus should arrive sooner rather than later.

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1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member opposite could explain to me how something occurs in this national sex offender registry that he calls CPIC. Law enforcement agencies and everyone else deny that CPIC is a national sex offender registry, but let us suppose for the moment that it is.

Could the member tell me how we could make offenders report changes in this sex offender registry? For instance, if they go from one province to another or live in a certain province and change their addresses or names, which they are allowed to do, or if they are coming out of a federal or provincial prison from serving time for a sex offence and actually move somewhere else, I wonder if the member could tell us how to enforce the mandatory updating and changes unless that is legislated, like the province of Ontario has done.

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1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question.

Even in terms of whether the issue is legislated, the fact is that anyone can provide false information. Someone may provide a false address. I agree with the member that the issue is one of discharge, how we follow up once a person has been released. Obviously that is part of the issue on which federal, provincial and territorial governments are working. Without a clear national approach, the issue the member raises could happen. Unless there is a clear national policy that all provinces and territories buy into, there would be cracks in the system.

It would seem to me that at this point the issue is one of discharge and how to improve it. I think we all agree that in terms of the tracking, even if the member's motion is taken into account, the issue is how we apply it when dealing with individuals who, for whatever reason, do not provide truthful information on the applications once they are discharged.

The issue is a critical one and I would agree with the member that this is what we need to continue to work on. That is what the consultations are trying to achieve. I would hope that the government makes it a priority to move on this as quickly as possible with its provincial counterparts. If as we have heard in the House there is concern from our provincial and territorial counterparts and from the federal government, then reaching a conclusion that is in the best interests of all Canadians in dealing with these perpetrators when they leave should not be that difficult to attain.

In that regard, I would implore the solicitor general and the Minister of Justice to move as quickly as possible with their provincial counterparts and report to the House as soon as possible on that matter.

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1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, actually this is not happening. The province of Ontario implemented a sex offender registry and the necessary legislation out of frustration that the federal government was not doing anything. The provinces of P.E.I., Alberta and British Columbia are following suit.

The difficulty most everybody in the country has is with the reluctance on the part of the federal government to mandate that sex offenders report. The reluctance is due to its insistence that any kind of mandate to report would be an offence to privacy. That is what the problem is here. Let us get it on the table. I would like to ask the member again, why is it that the government would not, could not, will not put in a simple piece of legislation mandating it instead of what is happening now? The Ontario police cannot depend upon the Correctional Service of Canada to demand of its prisoners who are going outside that they report. It will not even co-operate in that. The provincial police have to go inside the prison, give the notice and go back out. There is--

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1:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

We have run out of time, so with a quick response, the hon. member for Oak Ridges.

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, there is a lot of talk in the House with regard to the Ontario sex offender registry. Unfortunately it applies to those with two years and under and it deals with provincial rather than federal offenders. Therefore it is only part of the overall issue because it deals only with provincial offenders with two years and under, not with federal offenders. That is part of the problem we are trying to solve, hopefully, by establishing a strong national registry.

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to bring a completely different perspective to the discussion on the motion the official opposition has brought forward today for a national sex offender registry.

In November we received a report from a man who moved from Manitoba to a small town in Alberta. A short time after he moved he received a call from an official in the federal Department of Justice asking him if he had reported his change of address as it was a criminal offence not to do so. The man then moved to Calgary, where once again he received a call from the justice department official who asked if he had reported his change of address.

Was this a convicted sex offender who had a federal Department of Justice official tracking him across Canada? Not at all. Was this a dangerous repeat offender who had the federal government checking up on him? Not at all. This man was a law-abiding Canadian who had just applied for, passed a test for, paid for and was issued a firearms possession and acquisition licence.

According to regulations made by the governor in council, and it is really the justice minister, in accordance with section 117(a) of the Firearms Act it is a criminal offence for a firearms owner to move without telling the government within 30 days. The maximum penalty for violating this law is two years in jail.

The problem was that the man whom the government tracked from Manitoba to a small town in Alberta and then on to Calgary did not even own a gun. He just had a licence to acquire one. One would think that after spending $700 million on a gun registry the government might have known that from the information on this man's file.

Why is the government not so diligent about tracking the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders or dangerous repeat offenders? The actions of this overzealous Department of Justice bureaucrat prove that the government thinks it is more important to track a law-abiding citizen than it is to track convicted sex offenders. Hopefully the Privacy Commissioner of Canada will report to parliament on this horrendous breach of privacy.

Now to my key point: The Liberals have turned the justice system on its head. Instead of focusing on known criminals who are a real threat to society, they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars focusing on law-abiding citizens who, by issuing them a firearms licence, the government has declared are no threat to public safety.

As has been reported here today, the government's own research shows that 50% of child molesters reoffend 10 to 30 years after serving their sentence. Why is the government so reluctant to track the whereabouts of these individuals?

Unfortunately the privacy breaches for law-abiding citizens do not stop with mandatory reporting of addresses under threats of two years in jail. The RCMP has created a huge database in CPIC with private and personal information on 3,731,716 individuals as of November 3, 2001. The database is called the firearms interest police database. Last August the Privacy Commissioner of Canada reported that this database is full of garbage that has been loaded on those files without RCMP knowledge or consent.

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Souris--Moose Mountain.

On pages 28 and 29 of his report, the privacy commissioner states:

As a result, in some cases, the database contains entries on individuals who should never have been flagged as they do not meet the ineligibility criteria under section 5 of the Firearms Act. A FIP hit sometimes directs the FO to unsubstantiated and derogatory information, unproven charges or allegations, hearsay, records that are older than 5 years, incidents and charges that have been cleared or acquitted, duplicate entries as well as information about witnesses, victims of crime and various other associated subjects. People are unaware that they are being flagged in FIP as possible risks to public safety. Also, inaccurate information on FIP or information that has already been the subject of a previous investigation and cleared, is used over and over.

At this time, neither the RCMP nor DOJ has a framework or methodology in place to verify how many of the FIP records fall outside of the requirements of section 5 of the Firearms Act.

That is the end of the quotation from the privacy commissioner. We ought to take careful note of what he has said.

The government has no compunction about violating the privacy rights of millions of law abiding Canadians but it is concerned about the privacy rights of a few thousand convicted sex offenders. Has the government completely lost its senses? It absolutely does not make sense. I introduced a private member's motion which read:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should enact legislation to require convicted sex offenders and those prohibited from owning firearms to report any change of address to police.

Hopefully after today the government will include this sensible provision in the new legislation implementing its national sex offender registry.

My sympathies go out to all young children who will be exposed to danger, injury and death if the government fails to act. As mentioned earlier today, it is absolutely crucial that police have the capability to track child molesters and to track them quickly.

Of children who are abducted for sexual purpose, of those victims who are murdered, 44% are dead within one hour of the abduction, 74% within three hours and 91% within 24 hours. This is an extremely important life and death discussion in which we are engaged.

A sex offender registry would assist police by identifying all the registered sex offenders living within a particular geographic area, something CPIC does not do. In excess of 75% of the time an offender lives within a two kilometre radius of where the incident occurs.

Almost a year ago on March 13, 2001, the House unanimously passed a Canadian Alliance motion which read:

That the government establish a national sex offender registry by January 30, 2002.

That deadline has come and gone and no real action has been taken. While the government tracks law abiding gun owners, convicted sex offenders roam freely. It is time for the government to keep at least one of its promises, and let that one promise be to establish a national sex offender registry.

The government just argued that the system was not perfect and implied that it was working on it. Where are its priorities? Where is it spending its money? It is being spent tracking duck hunters and not dangerous sex offenders. It is not tracking terrorists or people who are in Canada illegally. We know there are 27,000 people whose addresses are not known to the government who have been ordered deported. Nothing is being done.

For the government to argue that it is working on it is a spurious argument at best because if we look at where it is putting the resources we see that almost $700 million has been spent trying to track firearms in the country. It refuses to do a cost benefit analysis of whether it is producing any results worthy of the hundreds of millions being spent on it.

What is the government's priority? Is it tracking sex offenders? No. A huge amount of money is being spent in an area that has little benefit. It is not registering criminals. Instead it is registering law abiding citizens. It has established a huge bureaucratic gun registry with little benefit and instead it should be establishing a registry of sex offenders.

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1:20 p.m.

Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, earlier I mentioned in the House that I had talked to the local police department. The member for Prince George--Bulkley Valley, and I did not raise it as a point of order, commented that I may or may not have. I would not stand in the House and say that I spoke to the division if I did not. I spoke with division 23 in Etobicoke North. In fact I spoke with the staff sergeant.

It seems part of the debate is about whether we make modifications to CPIC or whether we have to go with a grandiose scheme, reinvent and start with a totally new system at great cost.

The minister has acknowledged that there is a new category on CPIC for sex offenders. The police in division 23 told me they can get on to CPIC to find the information needed. In a perfect world it would be nice to ask for all sex offenders in Etobicoke North. That would be a perfect world, but we deal with a world where we have finite resources and we have to make choices.

The police in my area are telling me that we have bigger priorities. We have people killing people for drugs. We have other ongoing things in Etobicoke North.

Why do the opposition parties insist that we need a totally new system rather than modifying CPIC which is already there and making it work better?

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, the hon. member did not ask me anything about the main point of my speech. That should be obvious by his question.

We are spending an inordinate amount of resources tracking law-abiding citizens and not tracking criminals. If the government were serious about that it would have fixed CPIC so that the criminals whose whereabouts we know nothing about would be the emphasis and the focus. Rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars on something that is producing a benefit, it spends it in a useless area.

The member mentioned his own area of Etobicoke North. Ontario Provincial Police officers have told people who have come to them asking for information on how to register their guns that they want to have nothing to do with it. They do not want to be told about the problems people were having with registering guns and complying with the legislation. They do not want to have anything to do with it. It does not do them any good. Rather they emphasized that they need resources to deal with the criminal element, that they need to put more police on the street.

The government is not doing what is necessary even in the area the member just mentioned: improving the CPIC system. It is not tracking sex offenders and properly registering them.

The government has put forward a spurious argument. We need a sex offender registry. The government committed to it and now it is backtracking on it. At least it should keep one promise.

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1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I agree with the hon. member's last statement. When it comes to not keeping its promises the government has set a new high or perhaps a new low. The GST and free trade are classic examples of commitments that were made on the public record,usually in a pre-election mode, and then completely cast aside.

That is part of the Liberal tradition begun by Prime Minister Trudeau when he spoke of gasoline taxes or wage and price control. That was part of the say what one has to say to get elected tradition.

With respect to this issue it has left me with a feeling of sadness as I heard Liberal members repeatedly toe the party line and behave like the whipped puppies they are on such an important issue.

This is an issue of fundamentally protecting children from sexual predators and putting in place a system. It would not be a new complicated, elaborate system like the gun registry to which the hon. member for Etobicoke North alluded. That $100 million, ill-fated, cumbersome, costly, impossible to enforce system is a perfect example of what the minister was talking about.

We in the opposition are trying to keep it on a factual, intellectually honest basis. We are talking about a parallel system that specifically targets sex offenders, requiring them to register their change of address and to check in periodically. We would monitor their activities so that we could warn communities and arm police with information that could be used to prevent crimes. That is what we are talking about.

All this other muddying of the waters, alluding to a separate system and repealing CPIC is nonsense. It is a complete fabrication to take the emphasis away from the government once again backing away from a promise it made and a promise it will break.

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1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, the member makes a good point. We are talking about the weak and vulnerable in society: women and children who are most likely to be targeted by sex offenders.

The government has set up a completely separate system to register gun owners, law abiding citizens, but when it comes to criminals and sex offenders it does not do that. That is what we are asking for.

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1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it is obvious in this debate that we on this side of the House are extremely concerned about what our constituents have to say about the topic we are debating today.

It is almost a year since the government promised that it would bring in a national sex registry. I wonder how many sexual offences have been committed since that time because of the lack of a registry. I have two girls in my family and three granddaughters. I know very well how I would feel if they had been abused.

I have in my hand a letter from a police association within my constituency. Every detachment of the city police and mounted police agree with the letter dated a year ago which states on behalf of members of this police association that they strongly support the proposed legislation. It is interesting to note the letter also states that the Canadian Police Information Centre does not meet their needs.

I do not know why the government would continue to say it is a matter of simply registering and would defend it as something of very little cost.

In the last two months I have received many letters, mainly from ladies groups, church groups and so on, wanting me to come up with some idea of why the government has delayed the legislation. I could not for the life of me give them an answer at the spur of the moment on the phone.

I have since thought of some of the ways. First, it looks like the solicitor general is the person who is holding back the national sex offender registry and the government is holding back the funds. That is one logical conclusion. I do not know that for sure. I know it has spent, as my colleague has talked about, over half a billion dollars on another registry that has not saved anyone's life and the costs are growing. I saw in the paper that only a third of guns had been registered.

What is another possible reason aside from there being no money left? Is it that the Liberals will only implement an idea they thought of first? I hardly think that. However, if that were the case, then they should take the idea, make it theirs and bring in the registry. We could not care less. We know it is needed and that people are crying out for it.

I wonder if I could answer a phone call by saying the Liberals have an aversion to using something that actually works. We could ask the provinces that have put in their own registries and they will tell us that they work.

However the provinces that have implemented it may not be of the same political stripe. Too much time is spent on the politics of things while we are interested in the possibility and likelihood of saving people, particularly young girls, from a sexual predator.

We cannot say that a national sex registry would not make any difference, because it has made a difference not only in our provinces but around the world.

What other excuse could there be? This is a pretty good one: They actually believe in the rights of the offender more than they believe in the rights of the victim. I think that has been proven over and over again.

Are the Liberals spending too much time worrying that they may bring in legislation that will offend a predator or his rights and freedoms? That is a possibility. Again they are forgetting about the victims.

We should do what we think should be done. I think the solicitor general actually believes he knows better than all the police forces across the country. He thinks he knows better than those who want to protect our children. He thinks he knows better what needs to be done in this area.

We do not believe that. The people of Canada do not believe that. Why in the world have we not moved on this registry?

The hon. gentleman thinks he knows better than the victims groups. We should listen to the victims groups. The hon. minister thinks he knows better than the police associations.

We continue to get letters from the police associations asking that a bill be introduced. In my own riding people have clearly stated the same thing. The Canadian Police Information Centre does not presently meet the requirements for a sex offender registry. Are all those statements going down the drain today? Are the people across Canada not being heard? I do not know how anyone can put up an argument against the bill and this registry.

Do the solicitor general and the government think they know better than the front line officers? The front line officers could write a book about these horrific events. Does the solicitor general think he knows better than those who have been abused?

Abraham Lincoln once said in speaking about alcohol that alcohol “has many defenders” but so far nobody has come up with a defence. I would say the same thing about the motion. There are some defenders on that side of the House. They will speak and they will question but one thing I guarantee is that they cannot come up with a good defence for this motion not being passed.

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1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a whole file of letters. I am going to quote from several to ask my colleague a question.

The first one is from the solicitor general of Alberta. He wrote: “I can advise that the Alberta government is currently reviewing the feasibility of establishing a provincial high risk offender registry. Although a national registry is considered to be the most viable and useful option in the matter, the federal government has not taken the appropriate action to establish this registry. In Alberta we feel this initiative is long overdue and we must therefore establish a provincial registry”.

The London Police Association wrote: “The Canadian Police Information Centre does not presently meet our requirements for a sex offender registry. We support the creation of a separate database available to police through the CPIC network”.

The Mounted PolicePprofessional Association wrote: “The CPIC system does not presently meet our requirements for a sex offender registry. We support the creation of a separate system”.

I could go on and on reading from letters. The members across the way say they are working with everybody and they will fix it up. Everybody they are supposed to be working with is saying that it is no good and to get a separate registry.

What is the problem here? Everybody we know of is saying that this does not work, that we need a national sex offender registry but members on the other side are saying it is the national sex offender registry and it works. Can my colleague reconcile that?

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1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, it would appear that government members do not believe that bringing in legislation will be of any benefit. That is what I hear them saying. I hear them saying that a hodgepodge, throwing it in with CPIC, will be the answer.

Not one province in Canada believes that. Not one police force in Canada believes that. My only assumption is that the Liberals do not seem to understand that high risk offenders do not pay any attention to provincial boundaries. They move back and forth. It is imperative to have a national sex offender registry.

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1:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, following up on the previous question, the government continues to say that it has an adequate registry. I am beginning to wonder if it is talking about the one that is supposed to be in existence. If we look at the amount of time and money it is spending on the gun registry, is it trying to tie it into that? Certainly the present registry is not the one Canadians want. Would the member comment on that?

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1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, I do not think the government really wants to have the half a billion dollars and growing in the gun registry connected with what we are trying to do here. I can assure the hon. member that the cost of doing what we want to do with this registry would make the expense of the gun registry look like a Sunday school collection. I would do that without any hesitation of the cost of the national registry we are talking about.

The police say that they are pleased to lend their collective voices in support of a national sex offender registry. That is what they are saying across Canada.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Liberal Guelph—Wellington, ON

Madam Speaker, members on both sides of the House are worried about sexual offenders. There is no doubt about that.

For Alliance members to try to portray themselves as the good people who are defending the interests of people and the Liberal members as the terrible people because we do not is simply quite untrue.

The reality is we do have something in place called CPIC. When I met with police officers from Guelph, Ontario, they told me it was a good system. It needs more money and more expansion and that is happening. We on this side of the House always work to expand and make things better.

It is wrong to simply throw out a system that works and which the police back. To do that at the gain of real political points is a cheap shot.

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1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Canadian Alliance Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Madam Speaker, the hon. member knows very well that I never in my life made a cheap shot of that nature in the House and I did not do it with this issue.

Let me quickly respond. If what we have presently is the answer, why do the police continue to say that they want a quicker response, that they want the registration to be this way or that way? The hon. member would know that in her province the police support the provincial registry. It is not something that only we are saying. It is being said across Canada.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion of the hon. member for Langley--Abbotsford on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of Justice.

We on this side of the House are unequivocal in our support for any feasible measure that will effectively protect our children, indeed all of our citizens, from sexual predators. At the same time, however, I would urge all members to exercise caution and not jump at any measure that promises a quick fix, that claims to be a cure-all for this most pressing problem. I fear that a temptation in the specific area of sex offender registries is to leap first and look later. That appears to have happened all too often in some jurisdictions that have gone before us.

In fact this morning in the justice committee the hon. member for Prince Albert commented that often we are too quick to pass laws, to push a button that makes us feel good, but we are weak in evaluating and monitoring. Now the opposition wishes to charge forward on this issue. It seems to pick whatever process best suits its political purposes. What hypocrisy.

For example, over the last decade, the number of registries of sex offenders has jumped from a few isolated ones to registries in the 50 American states, in the United Kingdom, in Scotland, Ireland and even recently in Canada, in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.

Given the implementation of these registries, one might easily assume that these registries stop sex offenders in their tracks. With all of these registries by now, one might assume there are all kinds of studies that empirically support such claims. Imagine my surprise when I found out that not one single study has been published that empirically concludes that sex offender registries reduce reoffending rates. Imagine my surprise when I found out that in many jurisdictions quite the opposite has happened.

For example, in the majority of states in America that have implemented a sex offender registry, anyone, even those of us sitting at home in Canada, can log on to the Internet and see pictures and addresses of every known sex offender living in that state. In many cases their pictures will be available like that for the rest of their lives. Has that active publication of personal information reduced sex crimes? Apparently not.

Here in Canada where sex offender registries have yet to have any impact on available data, the incidence of violent sexual offences per capita has been steadily dropping over the past few years. This is not the case however in most U.S. jurisdictions that publish the names of sex offenders over the Internet. At the same time these states have all experienced atrocious acts of vigilantism against these offenders. While some may say “Very good, they deserve it”, I and the government could never condone any such system that invited retaliation.

The question is, why would anyone pass a sex offender registry law that to date seems to have had so little positive effect? All too often these policies are drafted in haste, in a crisis situation born of desperation. All too often we have seen an isolated tragedy involving a sex offender and a child which causes an immediate legislative call to arms. In their haste, as has often been the case in this highly emotional issue, legislators fail to understand all the consequences of their emotionally drafted bills.

In almost every single case where a legislative body has passed a sex offender registry bill, the same scenario was played out: a painful and highly publicized case of kidnapping and murder of a child, followed by community outrage, calls for action and passionate speeches calling for new and better tools to combat this problem. Were the resulting registries always the best tools for the job? Was careful analysis of sex offender traits and trends used to model and shape a policy designed to reduce reoffending? Were legislators solely dedicated to finding the right policies? Or were there other factors at play, factors such as revenge, blame and politics?

How well did the resulting registries work? Did sex offenders all stop offending? The data suggests otherwise. For example, in one of the most comprehensive recidivist studies ever undertaken, a recent study by the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives looked at over 45,000 historical sex offenders in the United States and concluded that 87% of these convicted offenders do not commit another sex offence after release. This rate is substantially better than that observed for other forms of property and violent crimes. Yet sex offender registries typically target 100% of convicted offenders regardless of their determined threat or likelihood of recidivism based on a personal profile. In most cases all of these offenders are required to register for the rest of their lives.

Instead of focusing its efforts on, for example, the 13% who are likely to reoffend, police forces in the states that have sex offender registries must spend their resources on monitoring 100% of all convicted sex offenders, over 200,000 of them to date in the United States, regardless of their likelihood of reoffending. Most criminology experts argue that the registry concept is incredibly inefficient.

Many of the American registries are facing a new threat from their state and federal supreme courts where rights based challenges against lifelong mandatory registration requirements are starting to proceed through the appeals process. The news is not great. Many states, including Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, have had their respective registries struck down in whole or in part as a result of clashes with state constitutional rights, few of which are as stringent as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Certainly there are lessons to be learned from these experiences.

When the United Kingdom drafted its sex offender registry and forced Ray Whiting to register for his sex offence related murder of Jason Swift, how did it happen that after his statutory release for that crime he managed to rape and murder yet another victim, young Sarah Payne? Why did the local police admit that the U.K. sex offender registry, as it existed, was of little use in monitoring the offender, or in preventing the subsequent crime, or in treating the offender, or in investigating and apprehending that offender?

Why did subsequent inquiries conclude that toughening the existing sex offender registry would have had little impact in preventing cases like the Sarah Payne tragedy? Why was it that most experts concluded that Whiting's failure to receive therapy and assistance in integrating into the community was the chief factor that caused this tragedy? Why did the U.K. government introduce in the following year a new sex offender registry law?

What then do we make of sex offender registries? Are they perfect? Certainly not. Are we intent on repeating these types of mistakes? Hopefully not. Can we learn from the experience of others? I sincerely hope so.

The motion before us today is an example of the desire to sprint ahead without having examined all the pitfalls that may lay ahead. The implication of this motion is that the government is doing nothing while our children remain in danger. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would like to note the solicitor general's efforts to date on this matter. The solicitor general rose in the House last March and stated emphatically that he supported the motion by the member for Langley--Abbotsford, as did all members present, because this nation already possessed one of the most technologically advanced criminal registries in the world, the Canadian Police Information Centre. We know it as CPIC. Further, he told the House that his department would begin evaluating potential improvements to CPIC in the specific areas of sex offences, citing the criticism that CPIC was not address searchable by police officers.

In a very short period of time he fulfilled that commitment when he announced on September 11 last year that a new database within the CPIC system was to be created: the sex offender category. Further, he announced that the database would be address searchable and would be up and running within a year, funded completely by the federal government.

That is not all the government has done in recent years to combat the dangers of sexual predators. In 1997 we proclaimed Bill C-55 which strengthened the dangerous offender rules in part XXIV of the criminal code and also created a new sentencing provision called long term offender.

As a result of these changes, prosecutors in almost every province are aggressively pursuing dangerous offender and long term offender designations. In fact, since 1997 the number of successful dangerous offender applications has doubled each year.

The 1997 legislative package also created a new category called the long term offender. It targeted individuals who were clearly a threat but who would not meet the threshold as a dangerous offender. This new designation recognized that released sex offenders who received supervision and treatment in the community experienced dramatically lower recidivist rates than offenders who were released at warrant expiry without conditions for supervision or treatment.

In addition to their custodial period, long term offenders can be sentenced to up to 10 years of community supervision and conditions following the termination of their custodial period. This innovative measure has already resulted in over 100 successful long term offender applications.

The government also recognized that there were new emerging areas of sex crimes that needed to be targeted specifically. In 1997 and later in 1999, parliament passed important measures to protect children from being drawn into the sex trade. A new offence of aggravated procuring was created, with a minimum five year sentence, to deal with those who use violence against a child and force that child into prostitution related activity. Special protections were instituted to make it easier for children to testify in court against pimps.

Bill C-15A, which is now before the House, contains new provisions that would make it an offence to lure minors over the Internet for the purpose of committing a sexual offence. However, none of these initiatives happened overnight.

While I agree with my colleagues that this is an urgent problem, cobbling together a mandatory sex offender registry without looking at all the issues, all the details and all the facts will not result in good legislation.

Instead, the solicitor general has taken a different approach. He has asked his officials to work with all the provinces and territories to fully explore the issue, to determine what is and what is not feasible in the Canadian context, to determine what works and what does not, and to find out where some jurisdictions have succeeded and where others have failed. I fully support this approach and this side of the House fully supports this approach. It is obvious to me that the provinces also support this approach. Why else would they be participating fully in the federal-provincial-territorial working group on high risk offenders currently seized with this matter?

Canadians must abide by many rules, many laws and many conventions that are uniquely Canadian. The division of powers between federal and provincial governments is quite different from that found in, for example, the United States or the conventions and laws of the unitary styled United Kingdom. We have a constitution, including a charter of rights, that is unique and, while similar, is different from the American bill of rights. Any proposed national sex offender registry can only be successful if it is designed and drafted within this unique Canadian context.

It is for those specific reasons that there are high level discussions taking place among the federal, provincial and territorial officials on what kind of registry system would be workable in the very unique Canadian context. From the issue of charter and privacy challenges, to how information could be transferred from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from computer system to computer system, to whether non-compliance should be a criminal code offence, there are many choices and the solicitor general is looking for a consensus among our partners before proceeding further.

That approach makes sense. If we are going to have a registry, we should have one that works, that is efficient and affordable, that will recognize the impact of the charter of rights and freedoms, that is not in breach of federal or provincial privacy laws, that local police agencies will have the ability and resources to administer, one for which all provinces and territories from coast to coast to coast can agree on a consistent approach, and one that will not drive convicted sex offenders underground with changed identities and no hope of rehabilitation.

In closing, I must decline to support the motion, not because I do not wish to protect our children from sex offenders, because I do, but because I insist that my government does more than just pretend to protect our children from sex offenders. I will not support any measure that is not properly understood, not completely explored and does not receive full scrutiny at every level.

No measure within the criminal justice system exists in a vacuum, sex offender registries included. The task of preventing recidivism by sex offenders needs an effective, multi-faceted approach, from investigation to capture, from charge to prosecution, from sentence to release and, finally, from community supervision and treatment to rehabilitation.

A sex offender registry, in whatever form it ultimately may take, is just one piece of this very big puzzle. It will be no panacea, but if we do it right and do it carefully maybe it can work. If we are careful it will not be a strain on police resources, it will not drive violent sexual predators underground and it will not bring a flood of charter challenges.

I urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to give our federal-provincial-territorial officials a chance to do their work, to reach a consensus and to evaluate the options. At that time we will be in a much better position to know where we should be headed, what legislation to support and how best to make our children safe.

Let us take the necessary time to study the issue carefully and positively. Let is take the necessary measures to enact effective strategies that will protect our children and indeed to protect all Canadians.

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1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Randy White Canadian Alliance Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I do not know what to say about that speech. We do not need a sex offender registry but we are building one. I have heard more contradictions in that speech today than in most speeches in the House.

What really escapes me, however, in the comments my colleague on the Liberal side made, is that we do not need a registry that is convoluted, costs a lot of money, drives offenders underground and makes criminals out of people. I think he also said that we should study this for a long time and make sure it is done right and conclusively.

It seems to me that this is the government that brought in something called a gun registry quickly, which drove more innocent Canadians underground, and that cost somewhere we think in the neighbourhood of $650 million.

Does the member opposite think the gun registry was a darn good idea? Could he also tell us why that registry, such as it is, was such a great idea and a national sex offender registry is not a good idea?

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1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Madam Speaker, if my friend wants to know what to say about that speech, I will say it was an excellent speech.

We have the CPIC system which is already in existence. We have a national security system. We have a system that is in place that can be improved upon. However we should be looking with our partners, the provinces and the territories, at how to implement a system that would be effective, cost efficient and would thereby protect all the children. Is the gun registry a good system? Yes. I think it is an excellent system. Gun control is effective and necessary. It is something that all members in the House should be advocating.

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1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, as with my colleague from the Canadian Alliance, I cannot believe the speech that the member for Erie--Lincoln just delivered. It was unbelievable. I hope there are a lot of Canadians out there watching the sad display of a speech in the House about the need for a national sex offender registry.

He talked at great length about how the provinces had to buy in, that there had to be agreement from the provinces and that we had to look at what was successful in other countries. Yet that was not the case with the now infamous firearms registry. The government forged ahead no matter that the majority of the provinces were opposed to it. The majority of Canadians were opposed to it, the ones who at least understood what was happening with that registry. The cost has been astronomical.

Montfort HospitalStatements by Members

February 5th, 2002 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise to speak today. I would like the House to recognize the tremendous efforts made by Gisèle Lalonde and the committee to save the Montfort hospital during the last five years.

Last Friday, the Ontario government announced that it accepted the decision of the Court of Appeal of Ontario. This court found that the Montfort hospital was essential to the survival of the French language community in Ontario and that the rights of that community were guaranteed by the constitution. This is a victory for all Franco-Ontarians, as well as for all francophones in Canada.

My colleagues join with me in paying tribute to the perseverance of Gisèle Lalonde and her committee. The battle has been a long one, but we have come out of it stronger and more unified.

More than ever, I am proud to be a Franco-Ontarian.