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House of Commons Hansard #192 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was life.

Topics

Business of the House

May 27th, 2002 / 11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Pursuant to Standing Order 81(14), it is my duty to inform the House that the motion to be considered tomorrow during the consideration of the business of supply is as follows:

That this House has lost confidence in the government for its failure to persuade the U.S. government to end protectionist policies that are damaging Canada's agriculture and lumber industries and for failing to implement offsetting trade injury measures for the agriculture and lumber sectors.

The motion standing in the name of the hon. member for Vancouver Island North is a votable item. Copies of the motion are available at the table.

It being 11.05 a.m., the House will now proceed to consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

moved that Bill C-437, an act to provide that persons who commit a sexual offence involving a child serve the entire sentence imposed without early release or parole and be found to be child predators, and to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, in summary, the child predator act defines the expression “child predator offence” to cover sexual offences involving children that include sexual activity by the offender. It would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to prevent any unescorted temporary absence, day parole, full parole or statutory release being granted to a person who has committed a child predator offence or who has been found to be a child predator under the new provisions of the criminal code. Thus, the bill would ensure that the full term of the sentence would be served in custody in every case of a child predator offence.

Further, the enactment would amend the criminal code to provide for an application to a court to find a person to be a child predator on the basis of having committed a child predator offence and having shown an inability to control sexual behaviour or an indifference to the consequences of that behaviour for victims.

The enactment would allow the court to order an offender who is found to be a child predator to be held in custody for an indeterminate period if the offence were a second or subsequent child predator offence and would require the court in all such cases to order counselling and, in the case of any subsequent release, avoidance of contact with children, electronic surveillance and monthly reporting to police of residence and place of work for at least five years after his or her release.

If the offender is not found to be a child predator the court, on passing sentence for a child predator offence, may still make any or all the orders specified in the enactment and find the accused to be a long term offender and shall in all cases order avoidance of contact with children and monthly reporting to the police.

The Minister of Justice would be required to establish procedures to ensure that any breaches of an order, including a failure to report to police, would result in an immediate issuance of a warrant for the offender's arrest and the notification of the relevant police authorities.

One of the Liberal government's biggest failures has been its refusal to strengthen the criminal justice system and its ability to deal with violent and repeat offenders. The result is that we feel less secure in our homes and communities.

According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, crime has steadily increased since 1993. However it was not until recently, when the regional psychiatric centre in Saskatoon was forced to accept convicted pedophile Karl Toft, that people in that community really understood the extent to which the criminal code did not adequately protect society.

Toft is the notorious child sex offender who received a 13 year sentence for 34 sex attacks on boys while he worked at a youth training facility. What is truly disturbing is that Toft, whose victims could ultimately number in the hundreds, became eligible for parole after serving only a fraction of his sentence. Not only was Toft eligible for parole, even though his prospects for rehabilitation were poor and he was a high risk to reoffend, he actually qualified for release into a community based halfway house.

It should have been a foregone conclusion that a predatory offender like Toft would have to spend the rest of his natural life behind bars. However at the time of sentence he was given concurrent as opposed to consecutive sentences. Therefore, despite the heinousness of his crimes against children, Toft became eligible for parole after serving only two-thirds, nine years, of his sentence.

As a result, and following a brief evaluative stay in Saskatoon, National Parole Board officials quietly released Toft. This occurred despite the objections of his victims who have been forced to live with the emotional and physical scars of what was done to them.

As a result, I introduced this private member's bill designed to prevent a repeat of this situation. Bill C-437, the child predator act, would ensure that all individuals convicted of a sex related crime against a child would serve their full sentence and be declared a dangerous offender. The dangerous offender designation is essential to keeping pedophiles behind bars indefinitely. There would also be greater emphasis placed on deterrents because the sentencing provisions would apply to first time offenders.

From a judicial perspective and where the safety of our community is concerned, the child predator act is a common sense approach that puts the safety of our children ahead of the rights of pedophiles.

While the Liberal government refuses to consider changes to the criminal code, the onus is on elected representatives at all levels of government to continue telling it like it is in the hope that public opinion will force changes to be made.

I have the psychiatric evaluation of child sex offender Karl Toft. I do not have time to read it all into the record but I will read one paragraph which will highlight the seriousness of the situation. The psychiatric evaluation reads:

You have been diagnosed as a homosexual pedophile...the highest risk category for sexual reoffending even after intensive treatment, with a personality disorder with schizoid and anti-social features. The prognosis for individuals with this profile is generally poor as therapy is difficult.

Despite that evaluation, the guy was released after having served only two-thirds of his sentence, having been convicted of 34 sex offences against children.

Releasing pedophiles into our communities is highly dangerous and I am appalled that they spend such little time in prison. The bill would prevent the release of deviant sex offenders into the communities where they prey upon our children.

Studies prove that pedophiles are incurable and are a threat to our children. They belong behind bars. The Liberal government has refused to make child predators subject to an automatic dangerous offender designation when they are sentenced, which would ensure that they remain in prison indefinitely.

I of course appeared before the committee that reviews private members' business to request that this bill be deemed votable but the Liberal members who sat on the committee declined that request. I would like now to request the unanimous consent of the House to deem the bill votable.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to make the bill votable?

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Canadian Alliance Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to participate in the debate on this private member's bill, Bill C-437, sponsored by the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt. I want to congratulate my colleague from Humboldt for bringing forward this private member's bill. It is a timely piece of legislation.

The bill aims to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to prevent any unescorted temporary absences, day parole, full parole or statutory release being granted to an individual who has committed a child predator offence and who has been found to be a child predator under the new provisions of the criminal code. In other words, if the bill were ever passed, child sex predators would have to serve their full time in custody. That is a novel idea: making rapists and other sadistic predators spend their entire sentence behind bars where they can no longer pose a threat to children.

I would respectfully recommend to the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt that this or a similar bill go even further and eliminate the statutory release for all offenders and that day parole and escorted absences be used much more discreetly. Unfortunately the bill is not votable and therefore will not become law. It is highly unlikely that this or any other measure aimed at eliminating statutory release or limiting day parole and escorted temporary absences ever will be a reality with this government at the helm.

There is ample reason to support measures such as those that we find in the bill. Correctional Service Canada figures from 1989 to 1994 reveal that some 4,980 persons, or 60%, who were convicted of violent offences such as child molestation, manslaughter, rape or attempted murder repeated their crimes, that is, they repeated their crimes while they were on conditional release from the penitentiary.

Statistics do not provide an adequate picture of how repeat offenders become progressively more violent. Therefore, I would like to provide the House with a few prime examples of why statutory release, day parole and even escorted temporary absences for sex offenders, particularly child sex offenders, need to be eliminated or restricted. Here is one example:

Since 1975, Allan Wayne Walsh of Mission, B.C. had more than 60 convictions for kidnapping, confining women, sex crimes, robbery and weapons offences. In 1983, he was convicted of 26 offences, including two counts of rape, and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Ten years later he was out on parole. Within months he used a knife to try to rape one woman and then raped and robbed another. On September 21, 1995 he was convicted of seven new offences, including sexual assault, which led the crown to have him declared a dangerous offender. These seven additional offences never would have occurred if Walsh had served his full 25-year sentence. Seven innocent people would have remained unharmed if this dangerous offender had served out his full sentence of 25 years.

Seven families who were devastated would have remained unharmed.

The Canadian Alliance believes in truth in sentencing for all violent and all dangerous offenders. We do not have truth in sentencing today. Truth in sentencing means that if a 25 year sentence is imposed, a 25 year sentence is served. In essence we support no parole for violent offenders, no reduction in the term decided by the courts upon consideration of the facts.

Another example that exemplifies my point is that of Ronald Richard McCauley, another British Columbia rapist who was sentenced to 17 years after two vicious rapes in which his victims were left for dead. At the time of sentencing, McCauley was another one who had an extensive criminal record. In 1992 when McCauley came up for parole he told the parole board he felt that had he not been caught he would have become another serial killer like Clifford Olson. The board, noting that McCauley appeared to benefit only superficially from treatment, turned him down, but two years later in 1994 McCauley got statutory release and was out. In 1995 McCauley was under investigation in the murder of two Vancouver women.

In another instance, in 1983 James Ronald Robinson of Ottawa was convicted of manslaughter in the stabbing death of Roxanne Nairn, a 17 year old grade 12 student. He was sentenced to three years on a manslaughter conviction, but again, he also was released early despite being caught trying to smuggle hashish into jail while returning from an unescorted pass. In 1990 Robinson spent two years in jail for raping and threatening to kill a woman he had lived with after his release from prison. On March 6, 1995, he was charged with another count of sexual assault on another victim whose life was hurt and damaged.

In another instance, despite having consecutive sentences adding up to 27 years, and despite having committed crimes while on parole, Claude Forget was given an escorted pass to visit his sister in 1993. He escaped. Forget forgot how to get home and two months later he shot two police officers. In September 1995 he was up for parole after serving only a very small fraction of his sentence because parole loopholes required any new sentence to be merged with any existing sentence. In Forget's case, this meant that he was eligible for parole almost as soon as he was convicted of the attempted murders because there was no consecutive sentence. Forget was granted a full parole hearing in December 1995.

I will give the House yet another example, one from 1986, and one which we have read about in many of our papers. Martin Dubuc, a Montreal hockey coach, was convicted of molesting team players:

After his release from prison he did not let a lifetime ban on coaching in Quebec stop him. He changed locales, becoming a coach and eventually president of the minor hockey association of southwest Montreal. As well, three different school boards in the Montreal area hired him as a substitute teacher. In September of 1995 he pleaded guilty to using the telephone to threaten boys aged 10 to 13.

More and more of these types of cases have occurred and will continue to occur unless amendments are made to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, amendments such as those contemplated in this private member's bill, Bill C-437.

There will be no discernible impact on the recidivism rates unless the government is willing to go the extra mile. The Liberals' soft on crime approach to justice simply is not working. What we need to do is implement zero tolerance for violent offenders and zero tolerance for sex offenders, which means we have to come down hard on those sadistic criminals who prey upon the weak and vulnerable members of our society.

The only way to truly protect our children from sex offenders is to keep those offenders locked up for their full sentences, then closely monitor them following their release and have their names and whereabouts registered on the national sex offender registry that the government has promised for months although we see no evidence of any registry coming forward.

There is probably no crime short of murder that offends the sensibilities and values of a community more than that of sexual assault on a child. It is most unconscionable when criminal acts such as these take place because they victimize the weakest, they victimize the most vulnerable and they victimize the most innocent among us as a society. Yet the government seems to remove itself from any type of remedy for the problem.

I therefore stand today to again congratulate the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt. I am fully supportive of this private member's bill, Bill C-437.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak today on Bill C-437, which creates the new category of child predator, and restricts release on parole for offenders in this category.

An examination of this child predator act, which the member is asking us to support, might lead one to conclude that there is not, at the present time, any legislative instrument to deal with this category of offenders, and this is not the case.

Contrary to what some might suggest, I am not against this bill today because of any softness of attitude toward those who commit sexual offences on children. The truth is that I cannot see the point of creating a new category of offender. The deviant behaviour involved is already, by definition, addressed by the criminal code provisions on dangerous offenders. Dangerous offenders, the large majority of whom are in fact sexual offenders, can already have sentences of indeterminate length imposed upon them.

A dangerous offender is a dangerous offender. Calling one a child predator will change nothing.

If an offender cannot be classified as dangerous under the present criteria, there is still the possibility of declaring him a long term offender, and thus subject to the addition of a maximum of ten years monitoring at the end of his sentence. This category was created specifically for sex offenders for whom it is advisable to add a long period of monitoring once they are back in the community in order to reduce the risk of repeat offences.

These provisions, which exist only in Canada—I repeat, only in Canada—have been held up as examples by experts in other countries, who saw them as an excellent means of closely monitoring high risk offenders within the limits imposed by our charter of rights and freedoms. Too often we try to adopt new solutions that are copied from what is done in other countries, where there are not the same wise measures as there are here.

I would point out in particular that this bill is particularly off track when it proposes restriction of gradual release or parole for this category of sex offenders, which is in my opinion contrary to its avowed objective of protecting Canadians.

This bill starts from the premise that public security is less threatened by an offender who serves his entire sentence, and then is required to report to the police once a month once set free. My colleague may not know this, but an offender under conditional release is subject to much stricter conditions than that, and can be sent back behind bars if he is deemed likely to reoffend. Once the sentence has been served, the police cannot act on a mere hunch.

Whether on day parole, full parole, or statutory release, the offender must report to a parole officer. The offender must abide by the conditions established by the National Parole Board, or risk having his parole suspended by his parole officer and being sent back to jail. Also, the parole officer can discuss the offender's behaviour with his entourage, such as his family or his employer, which makes it possible to detect any increase in the likelihood of reoffending. The police certainly do not have the time to monitor all sexual offenders this closely.

The other premise of this bill is that longer sentences constitute the best guarantee of public safety, which is not true.

According to research dating from May 2002, the longer a person is incarcerated, the greater that person's chances of reoffending upon release. This study was based on 111 studies, involving more than 442,000 offenders. I think that conclusions based on this amount of supporting data deserve to be taken into consideration. The conclusions stated specifically that a longer prison sentence was associated with a slight increase in the chances of reoffending, the repeat rate of approximately 3% rose to 7% when the sentence was longer than two years. So it is not by locking criminals up for longer that we will protect the public over the long term.

Even if this bill were passed, most offenders would return to the community one day. Experience has taught us that the best way to reintegrate offenders is to give them gradual freedom, and to monitor and supervise them properly to help them live their lives in abidance of the law.

The fact that the parole program begins with short escorted absences is not a coincidence. These are followed by unescorted temporary absences designed to evaluate the offender's ability to adjust to life in society. Day parole is a less restrictive form of freedom, but it does involve significant monitoring and controlling, since the offender must go back to a halfway house every evening. Full parole brings the offender closer to full release, but the parole officer can follow up on that person and take action if he deems that the situation is deteriorating.

Taking action does not necessarily mean putting the offender back in jail immediately. It may mean to make him go for counselling, impose stricter parole conditions, or require the offender to see his parole officer more often. It may also mean sending the offender back in jail if there is a serious risk that he may reoffend.

We must also not put all sexual offenders in the same boat. The risk of reoffending varies from one individual to another. Our system is based on that reality. We can evaluate the risk posed by an individual but not an homogeneous group and, depending on the seriousness of this risk and our ability to monitor it in the community, decide when the individual should be freed. If the offender is automatically released, something which is often criticized, he will be monitored until the end of his sentence. However, if he remains incarcerated until the end of his sentence, we no longer have the right to monitor his activities once he is released.

As I mentioned earlier, when an offender requires long term monitoring, we have two options. A dangerous offender is necessarily imposed an indeterminate sentence and remains under the surveillance of the parole board for the rest of his days, even if he is released.

If an individual is deemed to be a long term offender—and this is an option that already exists—he may be under surveillance for a maximum of ten years after the end of his sentence.

Finally, these figures show how important it is to ensure that offenders remain in the community without reoffending. An excellent way to help them achieve this is precisely to monitor them through a parole program.

In conclusion, it is not at all necessary to create new categories and to eliminate the discretionary power in the whole system. What we must do is to make educated choices based on current knowledge, so as to truly help increase public safety. This is a very important issue. It is unfortunate that there is not more time to debate it, but that is the way things are.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pierrette Venne Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-437. I must say that I have found it extremely difficult to take a position on this issue because of the distinction that must always be made between the purpose of good legislation, i.e. protecting children, and the means used by that legislation to achieve that purpose, i.e. creating a new system or a new status for those who commit sexual offences against children. If someone is found to be a child predator, he would now have to serve his full sentence, with no possibility of early release or parole.

It is only after long reflection on the fundamental purpose of Bill C-437, which is to protect children, that I declare myself in favour of Bill C-437 in principle—and only in principle. I do not, however, support the means used by this bill to attain the aforementioned goal of protecting children.

To begin with, it is impossible not to be sensitive to the welfare and especially the safety of children, who must be protected against any attempts to commit sexual offences against them and must most certainly be protected from possible attacks by sexual predators.

We have only to look at the dictionary definition of predator, an animal naturally preying on others, and link it up with child to realize immediately the extremely great risk that a sexual predator may pose to any human being, whether male or female, and that this risk is even greater when a child sexual predator is involved because, as we know, a child is defenceless.

Everyone will remember the terrible tragedy which took place in Belgium some years back when child sexual predator Marc Dutroux was arrested for kidnapping and murdering several young children. The public will also remember the 1996 White March in which 300,000 Belgian men, women and children demonstrated against all forms of pedophilia and against those crimes which could have been prevented if a rigorous system of surveillance had been put in place to thwart people like Marc Dutroux.

We do not need to look to other countries to seek out examples of these terrible predators. We need look no further than our own, where we have the recent cases of two sexual predators in Ontario, Paul Bernardo and his wife, and of Conrad Brossard in Quebec, who is alleged to have just recently committed his latest heinous crime against a Trois-Rivières woman. These cases are proof that no civilized society is safe from the hideous misdeeds of these monsters, who must be made incapable of perpetrating any further acts, in order to protect potential future victims.

There are not many means of neutralizing these dangerous beings, who represent a danger not only to society as a whole but also and particularly to potential victims. They can be sentenced to death, as they are in the United States and many other countries, or they can be imprisoned, in countries like Canada where the death penalty has been abolished.

In the latter case, however, the whole issue of the potential rehabilitation of these sexual predators crops up, with the eventual possibility of their being released on parole. That possibility stirs up enormous fears if a child predator is concerned.

Many people are absolutely convinced that child predators are never cured and remain an ongoing danger, because of the phenomenon of recidivism.

That fear is what has prompted the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt to propose Bill C-437, when he learned that notorious child sex offender Karl Toft had just been released. According to the member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, the Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre was forced to accept what the sponsor of Bill C-437 describes as this “pedophile found guilty of 34 sexual attacks on young boys, whose victims could ultimately number in the hundreds”.

The member went on to say:

Studies prove that pedophiles are incurable and are a threat to our children. They belong behind bars. The Liberal government has refused to make child predators subject to an automatic dangerous offender designation when they are sentenced, which would ensure that they remain in prison indefinitely”.

Therefore, even though the goal of Bill C-437 is eminently laudable, the means used to attain this goal pose serious problems and are ill-adapted to the fundamental principles of our criminal law system. In fact, the definition of child predator offence is unclear in that it does not define rigorously enough the seriousness of the sexual offences contemplated and how much criminal behaviour must tolerated before someone is found to be a child predator, with the very serious ramifications that may ensue. The proposed legislative wording seems to allow for the term child predator to be applied retroactively, contrary to the usual custom that legislation not be retroactive. For these two reasons, the bill is not acceptable in its present form.

In addition, this bill creates a special system for child predators. I see no reason to exclude women or men from this form of protection against sexual predators, for their lives surely deserve just as much attention from the legislator as do those of children. We have only to think of the fifty or so women in the Vancouver area who have allegedly been kidnapped and murdered to realize that all human beings, men, women and children, must be protected against predators and that this protection must not be limited solely to children.

It must also be pointed out that proposed section 753.11 in Bill C-437 provides for a dubious and unusual system requiring the Minister of Justice to monitor whether an offender is in breach of an order against him. A simpler and more effective system of administrative monitoring should be provided for, if required.

Finally, we must ask ourselves whether the existing criminal code system is not entirely sufficient to cope with the admittedly very serious situation of child sexual predators, and whether it is really necessary to create this special new system solely for children.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would indicate quite clearly, as did the previous speaker, that we in our party support the idea behind the bill. We support the sentiment that we must do everything in our power to protect our most valued and valuable asset: our children. Yet I have real reservations about the method by which Bill C-437 might invoke that.

I very much commend the hon. member who has moved the bill. This is a cause he has long been engaged in and strongly believes in. Bill C-437 is intended to bring about a greater system of protection for children. It is intended to enforce many of the things one would assume should already be happening in the system of release, the parole system and the prison system. Were it to be enacted, the bill would further define the expression “child predator” in the criminal code to cover all sexual offences involving children that include sexual activity by the offender.

We in our party support the sentiment behind the bill. It is laudable that we encourage every effort to protect children and ensure that fairness for the victim prevails in the system. This is often lost. Victims are often thrust into a life of fear not only of what has happened but of the legal system which can be extremely cold and difficult to navigate. The system is at times unforgiving and lacking in compassion and information. I have often heard this from victims.

Bill C-437 would create a separate type of sentence in the criminal code. This is quite clear from the wording of the amendment, the effect of which would be to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to prevent unescorted temporary absences, day parole, full parole or statutory release from being granted to individuals who have committed child predatory offences or been found to be child predators under the new provisions of the criminal code.

There will be a need to clarify the definition. This is not to be misinterpreted, but there is a scale of sexual offences in the criminal code. We can never forget that. It may sound clinical but I am saying this to clearly indicate that there is a scale for looking at types of offences. It ranges from inappropriate touching, which is not to be condoned but is one type of offence, to the horrific cases of rape, murder and serial rape and murder we have seen in the country.

With respect to sentencing, Bill C-437 seeks to ensure the entire sentence is served in custody in every case in which a child predator offence is perpetrated. Yes, there would still be the full protection of due process. Individuals would still be able to avail themselves of due process from the time of disclosure to a conviction or not guilty finding. We must ensure all the protections currently afforded remain in place and that due process is not interfered with.

However Bill C-437 is about what happens after the fact, after the finding of guilt. That is an important point. Because of the special nature of the offence and the special type of harm to society and the individual that results from it, we very much need a change in response and attitude by the justice department. That is implicit in the legislation.

Bill C-437 would amend the criminal code to provide for applications to the court to find people to be child predators on the basis of having committed offences against children or their inability to control their sexual behaviour. A finding of guilt and a finding of that designation would have certain consequences. We are talking about a type of dangerous offender application, something which is already permissible under the criminal code. We are talking about the worst of the worst.

I shudder to mention the names Olson and Bernardo but these are the types of predatory, sexual and violent offences envisioned by the criminal code change. We can talk about rehabilitation in the context of some offenders, but at the upper end of the scale rehabilitation is no longer a consideration. Rehabilitation of these offenders is virtually non-existent.

When looking at the intent of our justice system the protection of the public must be given precedence. This is brought about by deterrence and denunciation. It is why I recognize what the hon. member is trying to do. He is trying to draw a clearer line to distinguish the types of offences that are so horrific and damaging in their psychological and physical impact on victims. Such offences require special treatment. The offenders should be denied early release or any leniency that could be misinterpreted as condoning or embracing that type of behaviour.

Bill C-437 would give courts the ability to hold offenders for an indeterminate period of time. This is akin to the dangerous offender applications that currently exist. The bill calls for mandatory treatment. This should happen in every instance. It is a resource question. It is a priority question within the penal system and the parole board.

Under the bill counselling would be ordered in all cases to ensure avoidance of contact with children after release. Electronic surveillance might be employed as well as monthly reporting to the police. Certain parameters in the system which are now discretionary would be made mandatory in instances where sexual predators have been identified.

I have a similar bill in this regard which talks about banning contact between convicted sex offenders and children in dwelling houses. This is because of the frequency of contact between offenders and children in dwelling houses. It is where most offences are perpetrated.

Bill C-437 would require the minister of justice to establish procedures to ensure that any breach of an order including failure to report to police resulted in the immediate issuance of a warrant for arrest. That is common sense. It is what should be occurring now. Bill C-437 would codify some existing tenets which have flexibility and require discretion in the field and within Correctional Service of Canada. Under the bill offenders identified as sexual predators would be treated with special caution and in some instances given no leniency.

This is a sentiment we should embrace. The Progressive Conservative Party commends the mover of the motion in this regard. It is trite to say how important children have become in our society. Everyone recognizes that. It is a sentiment everyone should be quick to embrace.

Cautious estimates note that one in three young women are sexually abused before the age of 18 and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 16. These are startling figures. Even more frightening is that most abused and neglected children never come to the attention of the authorities. The cases we hear of are but a fraction of what is occurring.

Sexual predators in some instances are never caught. It goes without saying that this is sad. There is a serial element to their behaviour when there are no deterrents or consequences. They can be found in every province. It is not a rural-urban issue. There is not a higher instance in some provinces than in others. It is prevalent throughout. There is a high rate of recidivism. This is another important factor in the mover's motion. The life altering and lasting implications for the victims and the damage that results is shocking and abhorrent to Canadians. We have heard time and again of these events and the impact they can have on a child.

We should bring the bill to the justice committee where amendments can be put into place. I respect what the hon. member is trying to do. However we should change the bill's details to make it possible, charter proof and applicable under the law.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to Bill C-437. I commend the hon. member for Saskatoon--Humboldt who brought the bill forward.

This an important issue. The bill would make people who commit sexual offences against children ineligible for parole. It would create a sex offender registry to which offenders would have to report for five years concerning their residency, employment and other things.

A number of people have spoken to the bill in the House. The hon. member for Crowfoot said he fully supported the bill. He commended the member for bringing it forward although he said he would like to see changes. The hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough said very eloquently that the bill was not perfect but was something we needed. He said we should get it to committee where we can make changes and work together in a non-partisan way to see that it becomes law. Unfortunately, government members ensured the bill would not be votable. The hon. member asked for unanimous consent but was denied it by the government.

Bill C-437 seeks to protect the most vulnerable in society: our children. The hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough talked about statistics and the disturbing number of children in our society who are subjected to sexual predators. Also disturbing has been the government's refusal to act on the matter prior to the bill coming forward . It refused to let the bill go to committee so it could be fine tuned to make it charter proof. There needed to be changes.

In British Columbia where I come from we had the Robin Sharpe case. The man preyed on our most innocent and vulnerable: our children. He went through a number of trials beginning at the trial division. He was acquitted of possession of child pornography. The case went to the court of appeal and all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. All through the process there was a need for the government to bring in a clear law to protect children. The cases were thrown out because section 164 of the criminal code violated his rights under the charter.

The government could have intervened and brought forward a tight and bulletproof law. Opposition members are trying to fill in the void. The hon. member for Saskatoon--Humboldt has brought forward Bill C-437 in an attempt to protect children. He spoke eloquently about the case in his province of a pedophile, Mr. Karl Toft, who was convicted for 34 sexual attacks on boys. He read into the record part of the psychiatric report which said it was one of the most severe cases. The report said there was no possibility of rehabilitation and an extremely high likelihood of Mr. Toft reoffending.

The recidivism rate is well over 50% for these types of sexual predators. Yet we as legislators are refusing to deal with the issue. Bill C-437 is not perfect. The hon. member for Crowfoot said we could tighten it up and make it positive in some aspects. The Tory member says he applauds the hon. member and understands what he is trying to do, but would like to see some changes in committee. That is where we could tighten the bill up. Yet government members are refusing to allow this to happen. The most vulnerable in our society, our children, have no opportunity to stand and defend themselves. It is unfortunate that we will not do it for them.

This is a serious problem and there are obviously holes in our current criminal code. There are holes in our legislation. We see repeat cases all the time. There are the severe cases like the Karla Homolkas and the Paul Bernardos, which are enough to send chills up anyone's spine, but there are also tens of thousands of cases for which we need to tighten up the legislation to ensure these people are not released. One of the key aspects of the bill is that sexual predators would not be eligible for parole. We could track them once they are released because the rate of reoffending is so high. Once they have served their full terms, we would know where they are working and where they are living.

The Canadian Alliance has called for the creation of a national sex offender registry in supply day motions. It was even voted upon by all members of the House. It passed yet we have not seen any action. That is the frustrating part. The issue has been brought before the House by numerous members, albeit opposition members, who recognize the void in our criminal code legislation. Yet the government has stonewalled every single time while our most vulnerable in society are put at risk.

There are a number of positive aspects to the bill. I do have some concerns as to whether the bill would be bulletproof with respect to the charter, but we could make it happen. We could take it to committee. I am sure the member would be open to listening to members from all sides as long as we followed his intent to protect our children and ensured these sexual predators would not reoffend.

We could make the necessary amendments. I am sure the member would be more than willing to listen to those amendments and the arguments, as long as we tried to do that. But no, the bill will get an hour of debate today and it is not votable. The member asked for unanimous consent to make this serious matter votable.

I can imagine the hundreds of thousands of dollars that we spent on the Robin Sharpe case alone as it went from the trial court to the court of appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada and back down to the trial court division, taking years and years. Children who were victims of sexual predators watched these shenanigans go on for years with no results.

It is our job as legislators to ensure that the legislation in the criminal code is there. When it is not working we should do something about it. I mentioned a specific case but there are many more.

I applaud the member for Saskatoon--Humboldt for bringing this forward as well as the member for Crowfoot and other members who have spoken on the bill. Unfortunately we have not heard a lot from the government side. I appeal to all members of the House to put partisanship behind us and let the bill go to committee in the name of all children, their own children and grandchildren who could be subject to sexual predators.

I will ask members to think once again, to re-evaluate this and let the bill go to committee. I ask for unanimous consent to make the bill votable which would allow it to go to committee where the necessary changes could be made. This would be a positive aspect for all Canadians and something of which every member of the House could be proud.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the hon. member have unanimous consent of the House to make the bill a votable item?

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues from Saanich—Gulf Islands, Crowfoot and Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for expressing a degree of support for the intent of my bill.

I want to express my profound disappointment that Liberal members refused to allow the bill to proceed through a legislative process. I would like to state for the permanent record that the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine spoke against the intent of the bill, and I will be making some comments on that in a moment.

I would also like to state for the record that the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration and the member for Brossard—La Prairie are the ones who declined unanimous consent of the House to allow this legislation to proceed. I urge the constituents they are supposed to represent to bear that in mind at the time of the next federal election. The priority of their Liberal members of parliament was to mollycoddle child sex offenders as opposed to protecting our children.

I am astonished at the remarks made by the Liberal member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine who in her remarks said that putting criminals behind bars would not protect the public and that it was important for offenders to be released into society. It is clear that she is detached from reality. She does not appreciate the obscenity in releasing a guy like Karl Toft who was convicted of 34 sex offences against children and as I stated in my previous speech the number is probably in the hundreds. He would only serve nine years behind bars and then be released into our community. That is obscene and offensive.

The Liberal members are shirking their responsibility as representatives of their constituents by not allowing the bill to go forth. Once again I would like to express my profound disappointment at their lack of willingness to represent their constituents who would virtually unanimously agree that releasing such a deviant into society after only nine years, considering the number of victims that he has left in his wake, is completely unacceptable. Their unwillingness to allow this child predator act to go to committee is inexplicable and highly disappointing.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The period provided for consideration of private members' business has now expired. Since the motion has not been selected as a votable item, the item is dropped from the order paper.

We shall now proceed to Government Orders.

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Before we proceed to orders of the day we understand that changes have taken place in the cabinet. The House should know why those cabinet changes took place before it proceeds to consider the business the government wishes to place before the House.

I would ask that the government table the letter of resignation from the Minister of National Defence and further, that the House itself be informed by the government of the reasons for these changes. The Prime Minister, whether he likes it or not, is accountable to the House and owes the House some explanation.

Could the Speaker confirm that it would be in order for the Prime Minister to make a full ministerial statement in the House and that the government would be within its reason to table that letter of resignation?

Child Predator ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I must inform the hon. member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough that was not a point of order.

Does the assistant government whip want to state the reasons for the cabinet shuffle? I understand the answer is no.

The House resumed from May 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Canadian Alliance

Reed Elley Canadian Alliance Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this important debate. Bill C-56 is a piece of legislation that has been long in coming. Canadians have been calling for legislation since 1993 when the royal commission on new reproductive technologies reported.

This issue has a long history. In July 1995 minister Marleau introduced a voluntary moratorium on some reproductive technologies. In June 1996 the government introduced a bill prohibiting 13 uses of assisted reproductive and genetic technologies but allowed the bill to die on the order paper at the time of the 1997 election. Draft legislation was thereafter submitted to the health committee on May 3, 2001 for consideration. The committee presented its report entitled “Building Families” in December 2001.

In March 2002 the Canadian Institutes for Health Research pre-empted any legislation by parliament by publishing rules to approve funding for experiments on human embryos and aborted fetuses. Funding was put off for one year following opposition protest of that particular move.

I wish to make it clear that the Canadian Alliance strongly believes in the improvement of human health. We support research wherever it is compatible with the dignity and value of human life. We will work to protect the value of human life and the best interests of children born of assisted reproductive technologies as well as ensuring that prospective parents have access to the best assisted reproductive technologies that science can ethically offer.

On such an important issue members of all parties should have the right to a free vote on the bill. It is important that we hear from Canadians on this issue and then, when in possession of all the facts, be able to vote free from party discipline on this important subject.

There are parts of the bill that I am pleased to see. I support the bill in regard to reproductive technology and the legislative framework it would create for this important subject. I do not wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater because there are parts of the bill which I cannot support.

I hope the committee will truly flex its political muscles and allows amendments to be passed so that we might at the end of the day be able to support the legislation.

What concerns me about the legislation? I believe we run the serious risk that donor insemination creates divided families. Recently Maclean's magazine published a six-page article entitled, “Who's my birth father?” In it the journalist states that with the exception of a few instances, “approximately 14,000 Canadians born by donor insemination in the past two decades are locked in a system that protects the donor anonymity.” The article stated that, “until recently, physicians even encouraged parents not to tell their children how they were conceived.” The remainder of the article contained numerous stories of children born by donor insemination who were demanding to know who their biological fathers were. In Canada over one million families are single parent homes and approximately 900,000 of these parents are mothers.

Too many children in Canada have little access to their natural fathers and I fear that the bill will only cause these numbers to increase and not serve in the best interest of children born of assisted human reproduction. Children born through donor insemination must have access to information about their biological fathers.

Another area of concern is the issue of stem cell research. There have been considerable advances in this area of medical technology. It proves to be a promising field that could lead to revolutionary discoveries. However, in this piece of legislation Canadians are only getting half the story. Legislation based on only half the story may lead to many sufferers of terminal diseases never seeing a cure.

This is the case when we rely too heavily on embryonic stem cells as the cure all for these debilitating diseases. Simply put, there are other sources of stem cells other than embryos. For the information of the House today, I have reviewed some of the available research on this issue. I have learned that scientists and doctors across the country are discovering stem cells taken from sources such as placentas, umbilical cords, bone marrow and even human fat are equally as capable as those collected from embryos.

For instance, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta have recently isolated and extracted healthy islet cells from an adult pancreas. These are cells that produce insulin. They have successfully transplanted the cells into the pancreas of 25 people suffering from juvenile diabetes.

There are other examples. For instance, a researcher from McGill University also discovered that stem cells collected from adult skin was capable of growing into brain cells and other tissue.

Then again, researchers found evidence that stem cells circulating in the bloodstream could grow new tissue in the liver, gut and skin. Adult stem cells are therefore more versatile than previously thought.

Finally, University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute researchers showed that adult bone marrow stem cells can become blood vessels. The researcher said “The findings suggest that these adult stem cells may be an ideal source of cells for clinical therapy”.

The Duke University Medical Centre researchers turned stem cells from knee fat into cartilage, bone and fat cells. The researcher said: “different clinical problems could be addressed by using adult cells taken from different spots throughout the body, without the same ethical concerns associated with embryonic stem cells”.

These are only a few examples of successful advances that have been made in the area of adult stem cell research. Why then would the Liberal government put all its eggs in one basket, so to speak, in the bill, fail to acknowledge that even though scientists have been working for over 20 years with embryonic stem cells without any significant breakthrough in treating disease and seemingly pay no regard to the scientific breakthroughs that are happening within Canada and around the world in adult stem cell research?

Derek Rogusky, director of research at Focus on the Family, has stated that:

While embryonic stem cell research holds out a faint hope for Canadians suffering with disease, adult stem cell research is already changing lives for the better. Building on these successes, not the challenges of embryonic stem cells, is where we should be investing our tax dollars.

Stem cell research is a relevant issue to the bill and Canadians are eager to have the government take action. I suggest that the Liberal government take seriously the recommendation made by the Canadian Alliance to call for a three year prohibition on research on human embryos in order to realize the full potential of adult stem cells. This research thus far has only proven successful and therefore suggests that its future is bright.

The standing committee has said:

--in the past year, there have been tremendous gains in adult stem research in humans. We also heard that, after many years of embryo stem cell research with animal models, the results have not provided the expected advances. Therefore, we want to encourage research funding in the area of adult stem cells.

The official opposition's minority report called for a three year prohibition on the experimentation with human embryos, to allow time for the use of adult stem cells to be fully explored. It recommended:

--that the government strongly encourage its granting agencies and the scientific community to place the emphasis on adult (post-natal) stem cell research.

The House must acknowledge the use of adult stem cells and the significant advances that have already been made in this area. I therefore urge the government to implement the three year prohibition of experimentation on human embryos. While this is important legislation that has been long coming, let us not rush it through only to create new problems. People who suffer from debilitating diseases deserve the best science, certainly the best cure and indeed the best legislation. Let us do the job right if we are going to do it at all.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity in the debate to reply to some of the comments made by my colleague opposite. I respect absolutely the position that has been taken by the opposition and some Liberal members on the issues raised by Bill C-56, particularly as they pertain to stem cell research.

The member opposite in a very reasoned argument suggested that perhaps society is moving too quickly on this whole matter of experimenting with embryonic stem cells and the potential that they show and that surely first we should exploit, as a government, as a society, as scientists, the potentials of adult stem cells that may be taken from elsewhere in the body and may indeed with research be proved to be as effective as embryonic stem cells in addressing some of the illnesses that we have such hope these new procedures will cure eventually.

My problem with the argument is simply this. It is an ethical one, indeed. I think the whole debate is an ethical issue. If embryonic stem cells, taken as part of the procedures in which they would otherwise be discarded, because no one is in favour of creating embryonic stem cells deliberately for the purposes of research, but given that embryonic stem cells are now being routinely discarded, if we do not encourage the scientists to carry on research with these embryonic cells, and if we as my colleague opposite suggests and set that issue aside and concentrate on adult stem cells, what if we are delaying the procedures and the opportunities of people who have debilitating illnesses from becoming well?

For instance, I have a relative who has Parkinson's disease. It is very difficult to watch somebody who is close suffering from a disease for which we know there is no present cure. When I look at him, I am very anxious that a cure be provided for him before the Parkinson's disease reaches such an advanced state that it really debilitates him.

A person in my community suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease. That person has shown incredible courage in the way he has managed that disease over 10 years. He is really exceptional in the sense that he has lived far longer than anyone expected. He is completely paralyzed. It may be a matter of weeks or months, but it is a very short time in which that disease will finally kill him.

My difficulty is that if there is reasonably good scientific thought to the effect that embryonic stem cells may offer a better road to curing people of these terrible diseases, and we do not know for certain but the possibility is there, I feel very strongly that we have an ethical obligation to take advantage of that opportunity as it sits right now.

A problem with the idea of delaying, as was suggested in the minority report of the opposition to the health committee report, and I do not dispute the sincerity with which it made that report, is that there will be people who will die. There will be people whose diseases will advance enormously if we may find out in retrospect that embryonic cells are better and more effective in bringing about the cures that we hope from the stem cell research. That is my dilemma. I am not sure we can wait.

I would like to make one other point. There has been some reluctance to address the moral issue, the faith issue, that is lurking behind the whole debate on embryonic stem cells. There are a great many Canadians who as a matter of faith believe that life begins at conception and that part of the resistance to using embryonic cells for research is this whole idea that we are dealing with cells that have to do with the fundamentals of an individual human being.

I can only say how I react to that. I can accept that life may begin at conception. When a procedure occurs in which death follows that life, although these cells may be only a week old, they have to be discarded. That is death and I would submit that if in death those cells which we might regard as human beings can be used to give life, is that not what we all should want? I do not know how to express this very adequately, but I feel very strongly that the greatest gift that a living human being can give is the gift of life to another human being. If that gift of life is given at the moment of death then I think morally it is correct.

My difficulty in the bill is that I acknowledge the commitment and the passion that is felt by the people debating on all sides, and I have been reading the Hansard , but in the end with me it is an ethical and moral issue. In deciding, when the legislation does come before me for a vote, I will have to support the idea that when life gives over to death and that death gives opportunity to life, and I know where my vote will be.

The legislation, in supporting the limited use of embryonic cells always with the understanding these are discarded cells, ethically, at least for this person, the only choice that we have is to support what is in the legislation.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the two previous members who spoke to the legislation. They made some very thoughtful comments.

I rise today to address Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction. The legislation deals with some very difficult medical, scientific and ethical issues.

The bill has been expected for a long time, ever since the royal commission on new reproductive technologies reported in 1993. It is of course a direct response to the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health which reviewed draft legislation and made a series of recommendations on December 12, 2001.

I would like to publicly commend all members of that committee for their work, particularly our health critic, the member for Yellowhead, and the former member for Calgary Southwest, the former leader of the opposition, Mr. Preston Manning.

As the two previous speakers said, this is one of the most important issues we will discuss during this parliament. What does the bill do specifically? The proposed bill prohibits unacceptable practices, such as creating a human clone for any purpose, reproductive or therapeutic purposes; identifying the sex of an embryo created for reproductive purposes except for medical reasons, such as sex linked disorders; creating human/non-human combinations for reproductive purposes; paying a woman a financial incentive to be a surrogate mother, commercial surrogacy; paying donors for their sperm or eggs or providing goods or services in exchange; and selling or buying human embryos or providing goods or services in exchange. The official opposition generally supports these measures.

I would like to point out in particular the prohibition of sex selection for reproductive purposes. In 1994, as an assistant to the former MP for Surrey North, I had the opportunity to work on a private member's motion that sought to do exactly this. I commend the government for finally putting forward this measure in legislation.

The legislation would also establish the assisted human reproductive agency of Canada. This agency would operate as a separate organizational entity from Health Canada reporting to the Minister of Health. It would have up to 13 members on a board of directors reflecting a range of backgrounds and disciplines. I would suggest that whoever determines the agency, such as the minister, should consider someone like the former member for Calgary Southwest, Preston Manning, as a member on that board.

The agency would also be responsible for licensing, monitoring and enforcement of the act and its regulations. It would maintain a donor offspring registry. Finally, it would provide reliable information on assisted human reproduction to Canadians.

Our main concern about the agency is that it would report to the Minister of Health. We question whether it would have the independence required of such an agency to be truly effective.

The most contentious issue in the bill is obviously embryonic stem cell research, in particular, the fact that excess embryos would be used for research purposes. The bill would prohibit the creation of embryos solely for research purposes, something which I very much support.

I want to respond to the previous speaker whose comments I felt were well thought out. If we were to allow excess embryos from IVF, how could we be sure that they were not created simply for research purposes?

The member also indicated that the embryo was life and that if an excess embryo were created and subsequently killed, through death would we not seek to help other lives? That is partly true ethically, but the question is, are we unwillingly killing an embryo? This is not a willing person giving his or her life in a defensive situation for another life. There is no consent and that is something we have to consider.

This is a very difficult medical issue. My uncle is a diabetes researcher in Edmonton. I know many scientists are looking at embryonic stem cell research and see a lot of possibilities in it. They are looking at helping people through this research.

My main concern with this legislation and with other bills that come before the House is the lack of guidance by first principles. The majority report of the health committee suggested we include in the preamble of the legislation the phrase “the dignity of and respect for human life”. That has to be in the bill at the very beginning. We have to be guided by that first principle.

That was stated in both the majority report from the Liberals and the minority report from the official opposition. It should be included in clause 22 of the bill as a primary objective of the new agency.

That brings me to the biggest question we face, which is the question behind the bill. It seems that many people do not want to answer the question of the distinction between a human life, human being or human person. It is interesting to note that philosophers in ancient times always defined terms in the preamble or before they even got down to the serious work. That is what we have to do here. We have to define these terms.

The definition of a human being under section 223(1) of the criminal code, as it is currently written, states:

A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother, whether or not

(a) it has breathed,

(b) it has an independent circulation, or

(c) the navel string is severed.

Frankly, that definition is unacceptable to me and it is unacceptable to most ethicists and people in the medical community in Canada.

I would draw the attention of the House to a question Mr. Preston Manning asked during the health committee discussion on this draft bill. He wanted to know what the moral status of the embryo as captured by the legislation should be and how we would establish and define that moral status in law? That was an excellent question.

Ms. Françoise Baylis, from Dalhousie University's department of bioethics, gave the following response:

In philosophy, we would refer to this as an essentially contested concept. There is no answer to it because it is not a matter of fact, and there are no more facts to put on the table that will resolve the question, though there are more facts about human development.

The first thing to recognize in the legislation and in all of your conversations is that embryos are human beings.

Her response contradicts the definition that is currently in the criminal code.

She went on to state:

That is an uncontested biological fact. They are a member of the human species. What is contested is their moral status. The language we use there is technical and that's where we talk about persons.

She has distinguished between a human being and a human person.

She went on to state:

I think what becomes very clear is that when you are talking about embryos you don't need to have a debate about whether or not they are human or human beings. The answer is yes.

She said that debate had been decided. She said that it was a biological claim and stated:

The term “person” however is not a biological term. It is not a term about which there are facts. It is a moral term, a value laden term about which people will disagree and they will then point to facts and try to tell you that their definition is the right one.

I think that was a very illuminating exchange between Preston Manning and Françoise Baylis. That to me is the crux of the issue here. If it is, as she said, decided that the embryo is in fact a human being but it is not technically a human person, then that is what our debate should be about today.

If we all agree that the embryo is a nascent human life but it is not necessarily a person, what is it that distinguishes a human person from a human being? What characteristics or criteria do we use? When do embryos become persons and what is the distinction?

In researching this I went through some of my old essays. One essay was by the Canadian philosopher, George Grant, one of the most pre-eminent philosophers this country has ever seen. In discussing another issue, he said that we have to think as a society about what it is that is common to us as a species but unique to us as a species so that we can stand up and say there is a charter of rights in which we as human beings have a right to life. We do not do that. The definition in the criminal code is simply biological, not ethical. That is a debate we should have.

The reason the Canadian Alliance and the official opposition are very hesitant about embryonic stem cell research is not only because of the potential of adult stem cell research but because it is part of our conservative philosophy that we define things, as Aristotle did, not simply as they are, not simply looking at what they are today but at what they will potentially be. That was his famous concept of actus et potentia in which we examine an acorn, not just look at it but examine it, knowing that it will become an oak tree. We also look at an embryo not just as an embryo but we look at it knowing that it will become a human being.

In conclusion, I encourage all members to deliberate on these very difficult medical, scientific and ethical issues.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important for all members to make comments in this particular debate. It is something that is controversial and something with which I think each of us have struggled.

There is one thing that I think is necessary. So far the government is doing it and I hope it will continue in this vein, and that is that there has to be full and unrestricted debate on this legislation. We cannot have closure on this at some point or some attempt to rush this through. I hope the government sees that. There is no indication it would do otherwise but I trust it will stay with that.

In committee, in particular, aside from debate, it is very necessary that there be full public consultation. We have had some arguments, I guess we could call it, with the transport committee recently. The Canadian Alliance refused travel on a particular piece of legislation. I go along with that simply because with the committee travel that I have been a part of before I have seen occasions where we go out and hear overwhelming testimony from the public one way or another where people are of a common mind. Yet the legislation or any amendments that pass at the committee level do not reflect what we have heard from the public, which then of course brings to cause whether we should be bothering to consult and pretend to go through this facade if indeed we are not going to reflect what people have said.

In this bill in particular it is very important that we not only consult with the public but that the legislation ultimately reflects the will of the public as a result of those consultations. Beyond that, when it comes back to the House for a vote, I think it is very necessary that this be a free vote. A free vote is often something that is misinterpreted. A free vote should not be for individual members of parliament like myself, my colleague who just spoke or any of the members across the way to vote the way they personally feel regardless of input from others.

There are 301 members of parliament in the House and collectively we represent all the people of this country. The free vote should reflect our consultation with the people we represent in our individual ridings. We should take the time and the trouble to explain these issues, to bring the information before our constituents, to seek input from those constituents and ultimately to vote according to the direction of those constituents after they have been informed as openly as possible of the pros and cons of this bill.

We support a three year delay in proceeding with any experimentation on embryonic stem cells. We do this, first, because there have been great advances in the case of adult stem cell research and utilization of adult stem cells in treatments. There has been nothing that indicates or has demonstrated the ability of embryotic stem cells to be superior to adult stem cells. We keep hearing about the potential of what might be, what could be. The reality is that there is absolutely nothing concrete yet that says it is superior.

To the contrary. We know there are a lot of problems with embryotic stem cells because of rejection. We are using foreign tissue and, as a result, there is a rejection problem. I have some acquaintances and friends who have gone through organ transplants only to reject them and need the operation again. Rejection is a serious thing and it is something we want to avoid at all costs.

There is probably a desire on the part of some people to say that they want some kind of magic fix that is squirted up their noses which fixes their toes, so to speak. The reality is that in the treatment that comes from adult stem cell research, the stem cell is taken from the individual who is being treated so there is no rejection problem but it is very site specific. There is not necessarily a problem with that as long as they ultimately manage to produce the medications and cures necessary to deal with illnesses that are currently treatable.

I hope the vote of individual members of parliament does reflect the information that has gone out to the public and the opinions of their own constituents that they get back.

Certainly we need some of the things proposed in the bill, and there are some things that should be in the bill but are missing, one of them being a total and absolute ban on the creation of hybrids. A hybrid is the result of a human egg fertilized with an animal's sperm. It is fine to say that we will not allow it to proceed to fruition, but there is no justification for even the creation of it. It opens up the door to all kinds of horrors. We think it is something that should be nipped in the bud and stopped. I do not think there will be much support at all from the general public. I am sure that if hon. members took the trouble to have even quick consultations with their constituents they would find that most of their constituents would be shocked and horrified at the very concept of this thing proceeding.

One area that I have a couple of concerns about deals with the same category. It has to do with placing limitations on the donors. There is a very obvious need for this. I do not think it has been spelled out in the bill at all, and it needs to be. We have had some cases, one in particular in the United States, where a very unscrupulous individual who was supposedly acting on behalf of a number of donors simply supplied all the sperm himself. It turned out that he had hundreds of offspring with none of them realizing that they were interrelated, with all the potential problems that brings forward. There need to be some guidelines and safety measures put in place to ensure that this can never happen.

Beyond that but on the same concept is an area that our party is proposing, and I agree with it, providing the right caveats are in place, and that is the rights of the child who is born as a result of embryonic mixing. When that child grows up and wants to know who the parents are, our party's position is that absolutely the information should be available to the child. I agree that our background history, our knowledge of our ancestors and our heritage is very important. There is something that needs to be put in the bill with regard to this, very clearly and specifically. There must be some kind of legal protection for the donors so that there can be absolutely no question about it, so that the child cannot come back years later and say “You are my father so you have to pay for my full education” or for some other costs. The intention has supposedly been spelled out in the bill, but we know that often intention does not prove to be reality.

In regard to intention, we have seen all kinds of bills offered by the government. One that always sticks in my mind is conditional sentencing. That is where someone does not serve any time in jail. Violent offenders were allowed to go free as a result of that. When we brought the issue back to the House, the minister who introduced that legislation said that it was never the intention that it would apply to violent offenders. The reality is that because it was not clearly spelled out in the bill it was indeed applied to violent offenders.

It needs to be made absolutely clear in law, in the bill, that the children created through this type of birth can have access to their parents' histories but that there can be no legal or financial ramifications that would come back on those parents.

One area which I think shows maybe a bit of arrogance on the part of the government is the method by which the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada would operate. I would hope we would all agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with creating an agency for which the government appoints those who will be in that agency and then allows the minister herself to give that agency any policy direction that she wishes. Further, the agency is obliged to follow the directions given to it by the minister and must ensure that these directions remain secret. That basically says that we will appoint one person in the House who will decide for herself which direction things will go in and who will be accountable to absolutely no one and will not even have to release the information about which decision was made except to give direction to those who would carry out that will. That is fundamentally wrong. That is one thing that has to stop.

I see that I am out of time, but I think this is the kind of subject for which we need to have a great deal of time and consideration. We need to listen to one another and consider one another's position. I would hope that each person does take the time to consult with their constituents and reflect upon their needs and wishes rather than just take direction from their parties, and I hope that we ultimately have a free vote which truly will reflect the wishes of our constituents.

Assisted Human Reproduction ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I dare say that this is a bill which more than any other in recent years, perhaps, has caused members of parliament to look deep within themselves, to consult broadly with constituents, and to hear from many groups that I think have a very visceral and emotional attachment to the content and implications of this legislation. Many members have given very thoughtful, personal and almost philosophic views as to how the bill would impact them, their constituents and the country as a whole.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is a bill upon which we should reflect with a great deal of care and caution as we proceed. Although the bill is one that has been a long time in coming, I certainly hope that the government does not push it through with any degree of urgency or carelessness. It is one that will require significant input from numerous sectors in society, including the religious, the scientific, the groups concerned about privacy elements, and there are the medical concerns of the numerous groups working toward medical research which will enhance and improve basic human life.

The bill has been a long time in the process, but I will preface my remarks by saying that we should not by any means rush headlong into the final draft of this legislation. In May, when the bill was first introduced, it came to public knowledge with a great deal of attention and consternation. The bill, I am quick to point out, prohibits human cloning and the creation of an in vitro embryo for purposes other than creating life. It also prohibits the creation of an embryo from an embryo or from a fetus for the purpose of creating a human being.

It creates the assisted human reproduction agency of Canada, the AHRAC, which would exercise the powers found in clause 24 in relation to the licences under the bill. Subclause 25(1) states:

The Minister may issue policy directions to the Agency concerning the exercise of any of its powers, and the Agency shall give effect to directions so issued.

There has been concern expressed about the accountability of this agency. What will comprise the agency? How far reaching will its powers be? What checks and balances will be in place? These are very legitimate questions. The bill states that the governor in council may make regulations concerning the use of human reproductive material or an in vitro embryo for research purposes, that is, use of embryonic stem cells. A licence from the referred to agency for such research will also be required.

Although the bill would prohibit the paying of surrogate mothers under clause 6, certain expenditures may be reimbursed according to the regulations set out in paragraph 65(1)(e).

Suffice it to say that the bill is one in which it is important to examine and highlight what it prohibits as well as what it allows or permits. It raises questions that, as I have referred to, may be incomplete at this point and may even be dangerous. It is a bill that will test the intellect of individuals and members of parliament, their moral fibre, the conflicts that may exist between their religious beliefs and their rational view of the scientific elements of the bill, and their emotional personal beliefs. I would suggest that it raises as many questions as it answers. Caution should be exercised.

The bill gives the government a wide range of powers to regulate the type of research that will occur and parliament may therefore be marginalized or pushed aside after the legislation comes into effect. It is a stark reminder for us that parliament has to do its work in the first instance. In essence, we must get it right the first time, because if changes are not brought about to keep parliament in the loop there may be no future ability for parliament to reconsider and bring these issues back to the floor, at least not as is envisioned in the current bill.

It also goes against the spirit of the recommendation of the Standing Committee on Health that human embryonic stem cell research be allowed as an exception and only after it has been demonstrated that the research can be done with no other biological material. That came about under recommendation number 14. Nor does it reflect the recommendation with respect to the research and the ability with which the government then intervenes in or commences this research.

The agency I referred to earlier, AHRAC, will issue licences for research, advise the government and oversee the application of the law. This agency is not at arm's length but is under the powers of the minister, as is clearly stated in clause 25. Limits on the acceptable number of embryos created and stored for reproductive purposes are not addressed by the bill in its current form. The government will determine these limits as it sees fit, outside the purview of, the review of and the rigorous testing that is supposed to occur in the parliamentary process.

The bill also follows closely the CIHR regulations and guidelines that were issued on March 4, well before the bill. At the committee level, Dr. Bernstein, the president of the CIHR, confirmed that the minister was well aware beforehand that such guidelines were being issued. In all likelihood the guidelines serve as a barometer to check public relations and public opinion on the proposition. This method of proceeding is highly undemocratic, I would suggest, and again it pushes parliament aside and prevents us from doing the rigorous review that is demanded and required in democracies.

The committee also recommended that at least half of the members of the agency be comprised of women. The bill does not address that issue.

In looking at the bill, I want to highlight, as other members have, that there are a number of practices that are out and out banned. It is important to highlight them again. Banned are: human cloning; creation of in vitro embryo for anything other than creating a human or improving reproductive purposes; creating an embryo from an embryo; sex determination of embryo for non-medical purposes; human and non-human hybrids for reproductive purposes. Other members have talked about the horrors of this sort of tampering with God's creation. To in some fashion bring in stem cells or life forms that were not envisioned in the beginning is very unsettling and is frightening to the very core for many Canadians.

Also banned are: inheritable DNA manipulation of sperm, ovum or embryos; maintaining an embryo outside a woman's body past its 14th day of development; removal of reproductive materials from a donor's body after death without prior written consent of the donor; commercial surrogacy, that is, paying sperm or ovum donors and buying or selling a human embryo. All of these practices are completely banned under this legislation. I would suggest that when examining the legislation we can see that many of the great, grave and legitimate concerns that have been expressed are to some degree addressed in the out and out banning of those activities.

It is also important to note the deterrence elements. Those convicted of contravening these bans face criminal code offences with fines of up to $500,000 or prison terms of up to 10 years. The consequences are severe, are real and are codified in the legislation.

Regulated activities include the storage, handling and use of sperm, ovum and embryos and also the provision of compensation to surrogates for reasonable expenses such as maternity clothes, medical treatment and for other receipts that are provided.

This is without a doubt a very comprehensive bill, one that inevitably will cause members to consult broadly, as they should, as I said in my opening remarks. It is important for us to take the bill very systematically and very carefully through our process. It will proceed next to the committee, where some of those same members who sat on the earlier committee will have an opportunity to use their prior knowledge, their gained knowledge, to rigorously examine witnesses who will be called, witnesses with the expertise that many members of parliament, including myself, might lack. They are individuals who have a very important perspective to be heard.

I suggest again that this is not a bill that we should sidestep in any fashion but it is one that we have to proceed with and respect because of the elements of a human life which are encompassed in this type of legislation.

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity as well to rise on this important occasion, one that we have been anticipating for years. In fact this dates back many years now. When the Prime Minister came in and assumed office in 1993, there were some fundamental issues then. Here we are almost nine years later dealing with this.

It seems very strange that we are doing this in almost a hurry up fashion before the House rises for the summer. In fact there is even talk of prorogation. We certainly have to question how important this is to the government, in light of recent events. I am sure the government has some concerns about this but one would hate to think that this might be some sort of tactic to toss it in to get flaming issues off the back burner. Nonetheless, we do need to look at this but not in such a hurried fashion. We should really study this.

Ten or fifteen years ago we would not have even had this debate because the technology was not available to determine some of these very sensitive but important ethical and technological questions. We certainly need to deal with it because the advances in medicine have been absolutely phenomenal.

I would like to take the few minutes I have to talk about the important and amazing breakthroughs taking place with non-embryonic stem cell research or adult stem cell research if that is a synonym. Then I would like to talk about what the whole argument is, where the road will lead us and what is the definition of human life. I would like to use that as my thesis and discuss for a few moments how important it is to say that the Canadian Alliance supports stem cell research. Again the breakthroughs in medicine and research have been just absolutely phenomenal in these last few years, and we are able to celebrate that.

Having said that, it is not all done because there are breakthroughs daily, weekly, monthly, in terms of stem cell research and exciting things are happening all the time. It is not a closed book.

If we bring in legislation to say that we will go down the embryonic stem cell research route without fully realizing and celebrating the importance and amazing breakthroughs taking place with non-embryonic stem cell research, then it seems to me we would be cutting ourselves short, cutting the Canadian public short and cutting short the people whose lives are depending on this.

There have been tremendous breakthroughs with Parkinson's disease and MS. We had the ALS people here on the Hill not long ago. These are real people who have real names, real faces, real families and whose lives can benefit so much by this.

It would be premature for us to say that the government has all the answers and that we will go down this path when we have not fully explored the path of adult stem cell research. Because of these exciting breakthroughs, it would be essential for us to say that there would be a three year review, as the government has said. That is terrific but I hate to be cynical but this. Those of us who have been around more than three years have watched some of these reviews. A few of us have seen a few three year cycles in this place. The Canadian Alliance is calling for a three year moratorium on this so we can see, in the long term, some of the scientific advances being made in this area.

Adult stem cell research, or non-embryonic stem cell research, has three benefits. There are probably lots more but we could talk about three of them. First, the cells are readily accessible and there are plenty of us around.

Second, they are not subject to tissue rejection. These are cells that have gone on and in some cases some much longer than others. There is tremendous potential and realization. If the cells are not subject to tissue rejection, what a wonderful thing. We could do the stem cell research and testing. Because these are not embryonic stem cells, people would be able to move ahead because there would be no tissue rejection, which is important and can be devastating to many transplant patients.

Third, it poses minimal ethical concerns. I am sure that every one of us would agree that there are huge ethical concerns here. As I mentioned earlier, this was not even a factor 10 or 15 years ago. We did not have the potential for these kinds of things so it was not a real ethical dilemma. However it now is.

We get into the very question of what is important and what is essential for us to realize in terms of embryos are embryos and when do we stop saying that an embryo has been developed by parents. Let us not just call them donors, because whoever they are, they have names, faces, families and loved ones as well. When does it leave that path and swap over to the path of getting at it and farming these things for pure scientific research or use as donors.

We talk about that and the transition from embryonic stem cell research to what is the definition of human life, because I think that is with what all of us probably struggle. I know the committee, which did tremendous work, discussed that I am sure at length and had to come up with what human life really was and when did it start. Those questions have been asked for a very long time. I will not get into that debate.

I just want to show a couple of examples of how thankful I am and how strongly I believe, because of DNA and because of all kinds of other factors, that life begins at conception. If we look at the DNA of any embryo, that is again technology which has only been perfected or advanced in the last several years. DNA does not start at birth. It does not start at 27 weeks gestation. It does not start at 13.5 days. It starts at the moment of conception. That, with scientific research to back it up, is when life really starts. Then we get down the road to whether we start farming these things or do we celebrate that as human life.

Let me tell the House about my brother, Sean, who is adopted. He came to our home when I was about six years old and he was about two or two and a half years old. All of a sudden I had a brother. I am very grateful that somebody, somewhere, who was in a difficult situation, chose to give him up for adoption. Because of that I ended up with a brother. I do not pay any attention to the fact that he is adopted or that he has different DNA than any of the rest of us. It does not matters. What matters is that somebody, somewhere realized that this was a human life.

He is now a living, breathing human being. He is my brother, he has been for a very long time and I am glad for that. That is the real life, the real face, the real people issue of this for which I am grateful. He has been my brother forever and will continue to be. I am grateful that somebody, somewhere realized that although he was just an embryo then, he was still a human being.

Let me talk for a couple of minutes about something I read in the newspaper yesterday. When we talk about when human life really starts, we think it has to have so much weight or so much gestation or whatever. There was a story about a little girl. The newspaper named her Pearl because it could not give her real name. This took place in France. She was born in February. She weighed 10 ounces. This is an absolute record of a living, breathing person who was born at 10 ounces.

I think about a pound of butter. I am not too good with math, but I think about my palm pilot and how I can bounce it around in my hand. It feels a little bit less than a pound of butter so maybe it is 10 ounces, I do not know. The palm pilot people would know, but it is not very big. If we hold 10 ounces in our hands, it is not very big. Yet there she is. She came home from the hospital this weekend. She weighs four pounds, four ounces now. She is a real live human being. That to me is exciting.

That is what we need to debate and celebrate; that human life begins right at the moment of conception, because that is when our DNA starts. That is where little baby Pearl started. She has gone home from the hospital now and I am sure she will give great joy and satisfaction to her family.

I will just wrap up by saying, I move:

That the motion be amended by replacing all the words after the word “that” with:

“this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-56, an act respecting assisted human reproduction, since the principle of the Bill does not recognize the value of non-embryonic stem cell research which has had great advancements in the last year”.

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1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The amendment is in order.