That the government immediately introduce legislation to protect children from sexual predators including measures that raise the legal age of consent to at least sixteen, and measures that prohibit the creation or use of sexually explicit materials exploiting children or materials that appear to depict or describe children engaged in sexual activity.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to this most pressing of issues, the protection of Canadian children from sexual exploitation by adult predators.
Although I am honoured to be speaking to the motion, I am truly sad that it has to be so. It is no secret that Canada's low age of general sexual consent at 14, coupled with the government's failure to adequately protect children from sexual predators, has resulted in Canada potentially becoming a preferred destination for sexual predators to prey on innocent Canadian children.
The damage to children due to the proliferation of child pornography and the exploitation of young girls and boys through sexual abuse and prostitution has been incalculable. The need to protect innocent and vulnerable children from pimps and other sexual predators is a matter of highest priority.
The government now has a opportunity to send a direct and clear message to Canadians that it will no longer stand for the abuse of innocent children by sexual predators by voting in favour of our motion today.
Before I proceed with my comments, I want to make a couple of things abundantly clear. First, that the motion is not making criminals out of teens or those close in age who decide to engage in some kind of sexual activity. It is also not about lowering the age of consent in any of the cases where it is now 18. The current law governing the age of consent does not criminalize behaviour between teens who are close in age and we concur with this aspect of the current legislation.
We in the official opposition are calling on the government to raise the age of consent, which is set out in section 150.1 of the criminal code, from 14 to at least 16. There are many good arguments that it should actually be raised to the age of 18 across the board.
In addition, we are asking that the government strengthen the existing child pornography legislation by sending a clear message to Canadians that there is zero tolerance for sexual exploitation of children in our country. We are asking the government to place the protection of children above the rights of those who would exploit them through the creation of sexually explicit materials depicting children or materials that appear to depict or describe children engaged in sexual activity.
We on this side of the House echo the comments of the attorney general of Alberta who recently said:
Some argue that we must be careful not to restrict freedom of expression. I say that if there is any place that cries out for society to say no it is the area of child pornography.
We do not accept the concept that people should be free to defile children--either physically or in writing.
We do not accept the concept that there can be “artistic merit” in the victimization of children.
And we do not accept the concept that the intention of exciting or titillating a passion for that which is illegal, immoral, and in all fashion and form reprehensible to a civil society, is acceptable in any form. Even if it is based on the rather far fetched notion that the creators of such offensive material will not share it with others and will keep it only for themselves.
We agree with the attorney general.
Before I continue I want to take this opportunity to thank the member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge for his excellent work and recent initiative in addressing the protection of children from sexual exploitation.
I also want to make special mention of the work of my hon. colleague, the member for Calgary Northeast, who unfortunately cannot be here today to speak to the motion. He has worked long and hard on trying to raise the age of sexual consent and should be commended for doing so.
One of the things I want to do this morning is to emphasize the size of the problem because most people do not realize the size of the problem we are addressing in the motion today. I want to attempt to give people some idea of the magnitude of this terrible scourge on our children. If people have not seen the pictures or the broken lives it is impossible to comprehend the awfulness of this repugnant blight on society.
Let me try to illustrate it with some facts. Approximately 7,000 people were registered as members of the Candyman e-group, including 4,000 living outside the United States. I would presume that some of those 4,000 would be in Canada. This is the fact that caused the launch of Operation Candyman.
On Monday, March 18 of this year, 89 people were arrested in 26 states, including 27 who were charged with molesting children, after a nationwide sweep called Operation Candyman.
This helps to show that the use of the Internet to sell and trade child pornography has grown sharply in recent years.
In 2001 the FBI's crimes against children unit opened 1,541 cases against people suspected of using the Internet to commit crimes involving child pornography or abuse, compared to 113 cases in 1996. In 1995 the FBI had only 20 employees devoted to cases involving Internet crimes against children, compared to about 150 agents now. U.S. law enforcement officials and experts on pedophilia generally agree that there is a link between child pornography and sexual abuse of children.
On the Canadian scene, the child pornography unit of the Toronto police department reports that out of every 17 people arrested for possession of child pornography, 8 of them are guilty of sexual abuse of children. They say that 8 out of 17 arrested with child pornography were child molesters and child abusers. That was right here in Canada.
U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft said “Operation Candyman demonstrates our commitment to protecting our nation's children from sexual predators”. Just what is it that demonstrates our government's commitment to protecting children?
Stephen Whitelaw, a former Glasgow university lecturer and chief executive of Buchanan International, a Scottish security software company, developed a program to trace, log and map the dark side of the worldwide web. They were able to produce a unique profile of the web in all of its inglorious forms. They were able to register in forensic detail about 40 broad categories of undesirable activity, some of which were fraud, anarchism, virus creation, violence promotion and pornography.
Mr. Whitelaw found that more than 20,000 new hosts for pornographic sites were being created daily. The average site contained just 43 images but some sites had more than 100,000 images.
I want to give a few statistics that come from the child pornography unit of the Toronto police. Two thousand cases of child abuse are reported annually in Toronto and of those under 14 years of age, 70% were sexually assaulted. One case of child porn being investigated has yielded 400,000 pornographic images of children. Those 400,000 images have to be catalogued one by one and then presented to the defence one by one. Just cataloguing these images freezes the entire department for five to six months. Four hundred other known individuals need investigation and 160 are known to need to be arrested but it cannot be done because of the backlog of this one case. They have confiscated 750,000 child porn pictures since January 1 of this year. That is one unit in our country.
In August 2001, the National Post reported an RCMP investigation called Project Snowball. Two thousand Canadians who subscribed to explicit child pornographic websites were under investigation by the RCMP.
Police sources said that Project Snowball had identified 406 suspects in British Columbia, 232 in Alberta, 52 in Saskatchewan, 82 in Manitoba, 946 in Ontario, 436 in Quebec, 61 in Nova Scotia, 35 in New Brunswick, 8 in Newfoundland, 6 in Prince Edward Island, 20 in Northwest Territories and 4 in Yukon.
RCMP Sergeant Paul Marsh said “The protection of our youth in Canada is one of the RCMP's top priorities. It is a serious problem in that our youth is the most vulnerable to people with criminal intent”.
I now want to spend some time talking about the damage sexual abuse causes to children. I want to share with the House some information that I received as a result of a request from Kathy Broady. Kathy is the clinical director of AbuseConsultants.com. She said:
Severe abuse leads to severe responses. Society can never ever underestimate the price children continue to pay for the rest of their lives after being victims of crimes like pedophilia, child pornography and prostitution.
What I am presenting is not a list of symptoms. This is a list that describes the daily existence of these children and adults. These are the facts of what their lives are like after being so severely abused. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine your life with a small handful of these complications everyday for a week...If only it was that easy for victims of severe sexual abuse. These issues are constant--daily, yearly, seemingly eternal--struggles for them.
Severe childhood sexual abuse literally steals a lifetime of productivity, happiness, fulfillment, and peace from its victims.
Children that have been sexually abused and sold into the sex slave industry experience the following negative impacts.
The list by category is long so I will only read the categories. From five to twelve items are listed under each category in the document. If members wish to view the document they can find it on the AbuseConsultants.com website. The categories are: fear, mistrust, ongoing violence and abuse, poor coping skills, self-destruction, suicide, addictions, mental health problems, no self-esteem, less education, destroyed careers, poor medical and therapeutic assistance, damaged relationships, sexual problems, lack of parenting skills, increased medical complications, detachment, poor self-care, mental torment, sleep complications and disorders, anger issues, and losses.
Under losses, she lists health, family, education, career, self-worth, years of time, personal integrity, financial independence, peace of mind, intellectual capability, spiritual security, emotional growth, the maximization of their potential, and the fulfillment of their dreams.
If we took the time to examine those problems we would understand the extreme damage this activity with our children brings about in their later life.
Let me read a part of a personal victim's statement that describes her ordeal in her own words. The statement reads:
I am doing this because of the importance of putting a face to all the victims of pornography. It is easy to forget that there are real children and adults behind the statistics and generic words that are used to describe the victims whose lives have been shattered by pornography.
I know this because when I was 4 years old until I was fifteen I was taken to people's houses as a child prostitute. Inside those homes I was shown newspaper type magazines filled with haunting pictures of children like me that looked drugged, dazed and lifeless. I still remember their faces today and wonder whatever became of them.
Pictures were also taken of me. I clearly remember standing cold and naked, exposed to all while someone would tell me how to pose. It was harder than the physical and sexual abuse because there wasn't any fighting or struggling to keep me distracted. I would try to go numb or disappear but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't. The pain that I felt and the shame was too strong for me to go numb. After it was over and I would go home I was always worried and scared where those pictures would wind up, and who would see me. I still have those same concerns at age thirty. Those pictures could be anywhere.
Today, I can't take a picture of my own children without feeling like I am doing something wrong. I cringe at the sight of someone approaching me at a gathering with a camera. If someone looks at me the wrong way or simply asks me to move my arm I instantly feel all the terrible feelings that I had back when I was a child. Nightmares and flashbacks still occupy my mind now 15 years later. I can feel as though it all happened again after having a night filled with nightmares. No matter how hard I try to get those experiences behind me they can come and take over my mind and make trying to enjoy anything in the present impossible.
There are a lot of things that go along with the picture-taking and posing. There is drug use so that a child is more cooperative and sexual abuse that can leave a child with emotional scars that may never heal. I have tried to look for more survivors of this abuse, and, to tell you the truth, they are hard to find.
It isn't that they don't exist. It is just that some have died, or are not mentally able to speak about their trauma, or sadly have turned to prostitution or drugs to hide from the pain. Just because they aren't able to talk about it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. The problem is that it is such a horrible abuse that it destroys a person's life so strongly that it makes it almost impossible to talk about. The hardest part of having those experiences is having the knowledge that there are thousands of boys and girls who are now being robbed of the innocence and will walk around with the effects of their abuse for the rest of their lives.
That is a dramatic description from the life of one person. Let me read a brief excerpt from a mother and grandmother of children who were sexually abused. This is what she says:
What I can say without fear or favour is that our whole family has been systematically and wilfully torn apart and destroyed by these obscene perpetrator networks. In particular, by exposing my children and grandchildren to unspeakable abuses from early infancy, these criminal networks systematically and wilfully interfered with the normal and healthy development of their immature brains. In effect, as innocent infant-children they received a life sentence, without trial, without representation, and without parole.
Recent research has shown that this kind of abuse that we have been talking about actually impacts the development of a young child's brain. It is actually observable in physical form. These are the four abnormalities, as one researcher describes them, that are likely to be present in that person's brain: first, changes to the part of the brain that control emotions, usually affecting the left hemisphere of the brain and associated with more self-destructive behaviour and more aggression; second, deficient development of the left side of the brain, which may contribute to depression or impaired memory; third, impaired pathway integrating the two hemispheres, resulting in dramatic shifts in mood and personality, especially with boys who have suffered neglect and sexually abused girls; fourth, increased blood flow to the part of the brain that involves emotion, attention and the regulation of the limbic system, disrupting emotional balance.
In closing, I would like to urge the members of the House to set aside partisan politics and do what is right. The government now has the opportunity to send a direct and clear message to Canadians that it will no longer stand for the potential abuse of innocent 14 year old children by perverted 40 year olds who would take advantage of their innocence.
I would urge all hon. members of the House to be honest and ask themselves what kind of protection they want for their own children. Are we truly content with a law that allows our own 14 year olds to run away and have sex with a person of any age without being able to stop them?
As I mentioned at the outset, the motion is not about making criminals of those teens who are close in age who decide to engage in sexual activity. This is not the intent of the motion. The intent is to protect innocent children from exploitation by adult predators. I ask the hon. members across the way to listen to their own former Minister of Justice who, on October 3 of last year, told the justice committee:
...I think we will see that a consensus is emerging that with certain safeguards we should probably be moving the age of consent from 14 to 16.
That indeed is one of the intentions of the motion.
Finally, I ask all hon. members to listen to the public outcry begging for the gaping holes in the current child pornography legislation to be filled. Let us send a clear message to all Canadian families that the House will no longer stand for the sexual exploitation of our most precious resource, our children. I would urge all hon. members to vote in favour of the motion today.