Madam Speaker, I had the opportunity this morning to view a press conference by a government agency on the issue of child poverty. Members will know that this issue has seized this place long before we all came here. There has been a great deal of attention placed on the issue.
I know parliamentarians share the view that for children who live in poverty chances are that the cycle of poverty is very likely to occur in their adult lives as well. We in this place care about children.
We also have talked about child abuse many times in a broader sense than sexual abuse. We have talked about its impact on children. The House and the Senate went through the custody and access joint hearings which produced a wonderful report. I remember one of the provisions in the report was children who witness abuse among their parents were as affected as if they had been abused themselves. We have again demonstrated a sensitivity to the impacts on children.
This morning at this press conference and subsequently at an informal gathering with the representatives of the poverty coalition one of the things talked about was lone parent situations. We now have a situation where lone parents in Canada represent less than 15% of all families and yet account for some 52% of all children living in poverty.
Family issues start to come up here. It is a very linked situation. When we look at the fundamental stability of the Canadian family, when we look at the impacts on children when there is abuse in the home or when there are economic pressures, et cetera, children are usually the victims. We certainly saw that in the custody and access hearings.
Canadians should know that this place has a very large spot in its heart for children. Obviously we all win when our children grow up to be healthy, well adjusted young people with a sound set of moral, social and family values so that as they move forward in their lives they do not fall into problems, whether it be the cycle of violence, of welfare, of poverty or of other social ills.
The issue of a national sex offender registry is certainly one that we have discussed for some time. All members agree that in the discussion we had last March it was important for Canadians to know what was happening around the world, what was happening in Canada, and how we could take what we had and move it forward.
Parliamentarians in this place supported a motion to establish a national registry because we knew that the recidivism rate among offenders, among pedophiles and rapists, et cetera, was very high. It is very tragic that in society we have to be vigilant at all times for people who prey on children. It is disgusting and contemptible, but I am not sure whether or not as the previous speaker said that we should throw in jail anybody we identify as possibly doing something.
Our hearts are in the right place, but we have to understand that we have laws which have be to applied in accordance with the charter of rights and freedoms. They have to be applied in accordance with what is right. When people are sex offenders by nature or character, I do not think they were born like that. They are functions of their environment. They are functions of their family home, their relations with those with whom they grew up and the problems in that regard.
I agree with all members who spoke that we need to make a stronger commitment to addressing the serious problem of sex offenders and certainly repeat sex offenders.
Today we have a motion before the House pursuant to one we dealt with on March 13, 2001, which called for establishment of a sex offender registry by January 30, 2002, a date we have just passed.
I clearly understand, in view of the fact there is not a comprehensive, fully integrated national sex offender registry, why this issue would come up again. I applaud the opposition member for raising it with the House because it is reflective of the priorities and value system the House holds collectively.
The motion calls for the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to prepare and bring forward a bill reflecting the spirit and intent of the motion with which we dealt last March.
I am not sure why we would take the whole process back to the committee to start again. It is a little confusing to me. I have no doubt the justice committee has the talent to draft a bill. Should that be asked by the minister and referred to the committee for such a purpose, I have no doubt it could do it.
However I am not sure that is the most efficient way for parliamentarians in this place to move the file forward and to get our national registry in place in the fashion it should be to achieve its objectives.
It would be useful to review briefly some of the background to the whole question of protecting our children and what parliament and the government have done to reflect that priority. We obviously are committed to saving communities and preventing crime. Protection of our children is obviously an issue of great concern. That is why we now have a national sex offender registry. It is a registry of all convicted offenders and it is called CPIC.
Unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to speak to the issue last March, but as a member who shares concern about the protection and safety of children in our communities I want to be on record with regard to my shared concern. I ask the House to bear with me as I put forward some of this information, probably for the benefit of my constituents who are interested in my views as well.
The Canadian Police Information Centre is a computerized information system for Canadian law enforcement. It is operated by the RCMP. It serves over 60,000 law enforcement officials in every province and territory in Canada and handles over 100 million inquiries from 15,000 points of access.
When we consider the dimensions of the CPIC system clearly it is a national system. Clearly it is used by policing authorities across the country and by all jurisdictions with policing responsibilities.
The CPIC system contains millions of records on criminals, missing persons, vehicles, stolen property, registered firearms and crime scene information. It is a fairly comprehensive database. It is the primary tool used by our police enforcement officers to do work on crime scene information, to analyze criminal activities and to determine information that might be helpful in bringing resolution to a criminal act.
In 1994 the national screening system was created using CPIC. The national screening system allows agencies serving children to request local police background checks through CPIC. The background checks permit the agency to screen out potential volunteers known to be sexual abusers.
Even before we debated the creation of a national sex offender registry, there was a CPIC system which was accessible throughout communities across Canada for the purpose of screening volunteers and protecting our children. It was already used in a sense to provide a safer environment for our children.
Something I find very difficult to measure or to get information on is whether or not there is effectiveness in this. Some of my research has shown that other countries which have national sex offender registries have been unable to determine if they have prevented crimes that otherwise would have taken place. It is almost unmeasurable. It is more intuitive. I am not sure if I have heard today some evidence that these registries transfer the sort of crime prevention and protection that we seek to achieve.
Intuitively, it is the right thing to do. That is why parliamentarians supported the registry. It was important that it be there. The community thought it was something we needed. It is not a matter of having a silver bullet or that there is only one thing that we need to do to ensure we achieve the objective of full safety for our children and communities. That is not reasonable. Like most problems in society, this is complex. It means we need a multiplicity of solutions. A national registry is obviously one part of it.
I recall a line I have used throughout my parliamentary career. For every complex problem, there is a simple solution and it is wrong.
We are not looking for simple solutions. I think people who watch us on the television or watch from the gallery want to see us working in the best interests of Canadians, our children and communities. They want safe homes and safe streets. These are the themes and important areas which Canadians expect parliamentarians to address.
In April 1999 the solicitor general announced additional funding of $115 million to renew and enhance CPIC. Even though CPIC is a substantially older vintage of database, it has been enhanced and continues to grow. We have done even more.
In September 2001 the solicitor general announced that the RCMP would spend an additional $2 million on CPIC to improve its capacity to track sex offenders.
In March 2001 we first dealt with this motion. We did not wait for an unreasonable period of time to come up with some enhancements in CPIC to bring it up to the standard that members wanted to see. I do not think members are concerned whether CPIC or a national database is something we need. We do need a national sex offender registry.
The concern is whether it includes the kinds of information we need. Is it accessible to all who need to have it? Is it a tool that we can use to keep track of those sex offenders who have a high risk of reoffending?
An additional $2 million was allotted to improve the system. We have also improved the ability of police to locate sex offenders quickly by enabling the database to be searched by a combination of address and offence. These are some of the things that are included in the Ontario model as well.
Protecting our children against sex offenders is ultimately our goal and we want to ensure we achieve that goal. In 2000 Bill C-7 amended the Criminal Records Act to ensure that the records of sex offenders who had been pardoned would be available for screening purposes. This was another important addition to the effectiveness of the existing database.
In 1997, new measures to deal with high risk offenders, including sex offenders, and to strengthen the sentencing and correction regime were introduced. A new long term offender designation targeted sex offenders and added a period of supervision of up to 10 years following the release from prison. Also amendments strengthened the dangerous offender provisions in the criminal code, including requiring judges to impose indeterminate sentences on all dangerous offenders and a new judicial restraint provision to permit controls to be applied to those at high risk of committing a serious personal injury offence.
It is clear that this is a multiplicity of measures to enhance the overall objective to improve the safety and security of our children and of Canadians from repeat offenders.
In June 2000 the DNA Identification Act came into effect. It established a DNA data bank to be maintained by the RCMP. With that data bank judges may order offenders convicted of designated criminal code offences to provide samples of bodily substances for DNA analysis with the resulting DNA profiles preserved in a convicted offenders index within the national DNA data bank. Again, this is another enhancement to the overall or comprehensive approach to dealing with the need to have the information necessary on a timely basis to address sex offenders.
Since March 13, 2001, the federal, provincial and territorial solicitors general and ministers of justice have met to discuss the issue of the sex offender registry on two occasions. They will be meeting again in eight days, on February 13 and 14. Senior federal, provincial and territorial teams have met on a number of occasions in preparation for this.
They are working on such things as a common understanding of the necessary components of a registry system, the principles and objectives of such a system, and the respective jurisdictional roles and responsibilities to deal with some of the legitimate concerns that the provinces and territories have with regard to ensuring that the objectives are met in their provinces.
While this work continues, the advice of the provincial and territorial jurisdictions has been received and CPIC enhancements are further underway. Now a distinct sub-database is to be created. Current addresses will be added and a five year history will be maintained. Registration information will be added. Other identifying information will be carried such as someone who has a tattoo. The database will be searched by address and offence.
As the previous speaker indicated, a number of jurisdictions within the provinces have existing systems. The current provisions within the CPIC system and the related databases already exceed the requests or the requirements of some of those jurisdictions. It is not as if the current system is somehow so deficient that we should go back to the justice committee and start from scratch.
We have a system in place. We have a commitment to that. I think all parliamentarians share the commitment that we need these tools to do the job. We made the commitment last March. We have reaffirmed that commitment by the initiatives we have taken over the months since the House adopted the motion. There should be no illusion whatsoever that there is a parliamentarian in this place who does not support the development, maintenance and upgrade of a national sex offender registry to ensure we have the tools needed to protect Canadians, especially our children.