Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to second reading of Bill C-333, an act to establish and maintain a national registry of sex offenders to protect our children, as proposed by the member for Langley--Abbotsford.
I am sure all of us in this place are unequivocal in expressing our support for any feasible measure that will effectively protect our children, indeed all our citizens from sexual predators. I would like to outline the efforts of the solicitor general to date on this matter.
The solicitor general has stated many times that he supports a registry of sex offenders. This nation already possesses one of the most technologically advanced criminal history registries in the world in the Canadian Police Information Centre, CPIC. The solicitor general told the House that his department would consider improvements to CPIC in the specific area of sex offences, citing concerns that CPIC was not address searchable by police officers.
In a very short period of time he met that commitment when he announced, on September 11, 2001, that a new database within the CPIC system would be created and known as the sex offender category. Further, he announced that this database would be both address and offence searchable, that it would be up and running within a year and that it would be funded completely by the federal government.
That is not all the government has done in recent years to combat the dangers of sexual predators.
In 1997 we proclaimed Bill C-55 which strengthened the dangerous offender rules in the criminal code and also created a new sentencing provision called long term offender.
As a result of these changes, prosecutors in almost every province are now aggressively pursuing dangerous offender and long term offender options. In fact, since 1997 the number of successful dangerous offender applications has doubled each year.
The 1997 legislative package also created a new category called long term offender, targeting individuals who were clearly a threat but would not meet the threshold of dangerous offender. This new designation recognized that released sex offenders who received supervision and treatment in the community experienced dramatically lower reoffending rates than an offender who entered the community at the end of his sentence without conditions for supervision or treatment.
In addition to the long term custodial term, long term offenders can be ordered to comply with a further 10 years of community supervision and conditions. This innovative measure has already resulted in over 100 long term offender orders.
In addition, another provision was created in section 810 of the criminal code called community protection orders. These are issued by a court and reviewed every 12 months to place conditions on a sex offender even when no sentence is being served.
As well, on November 17, 1994, the government introduced a national screening system to help organizations screen out child sex abusers applying for work with children by disclosing their criminal record.
None of these initiatives happened overnight. While I agree with my colleagues in the House that this is a pressing problem, cobbling together a mandatory sex offender registry without looking at all of the issues, all the details and all the facts will not result in effective legislation.
The solicitor general has taken a slightly different approach. He has asked his officials to work with all the provinces and territories to fully explore this issue, to determine what is and what is not feasible in a Canadian context and to find out where some jurisdictions have succeeded and where others have failed. I fully support this approach. It now appears that all of the provinces support this approach. Why else would they be participating fully in the federal-provincial-territorial working group on high risk offenders currently seized with this matter?
This approach makes sense. If we are going to have a registry, we want one that works, that is efficient and affordable and that is supported by all of the provinces. We want one that will recognize the impact of the charter of rights and freedoms. We want one that is not in breach of federal or provincial privacy laws. We want one that local agencies will have the ability and resources to administer and enforce. We want one for which all provinces from coast to coast can agree upon a consistent approach. Finally, we want one that will not drive convicted sex offenders underground with assumed identities and no assistance with their rehabilitation.
At the Moncton meeting last February federal ministers agreed to bring forward legislation to support a national registration process in the same time frame as the completion of enhancements to CPIC including mandatory registration of specified offenders as hon. the member for Langley--Abbotsford has referred to. They will again discuss the matter when they meet in early June a couple of weeks from now.
It is essential for senior officials to continue this important work and develop a common model before deciding how best to proceed. A detailed model would help us consider and, it is hoped, come to agreement on important matters such as cost, charter compliance, privacy issues and potential liability. We do not know how much the entire system would cost. We would prefer not to enter into a new system arbitrarily but to do so knowing what the real costs would be at all levels of government.
We must carefully address the issue in the context of a national system while recognizing that not all jurisdictions have the same needs. Without completing this work it will not be possible to decide with precision what the legislation should contain.
The bill put forward by the hon. member proposes policy and legislative options. It has support on both sides of the House although there are differences in terms of timing and detail. I congratulate the hon. member for his continuing work on the issue. Although his remarks were phrased somewhat in the negative he should not underestimate the importance of private members' business in fostering, promoting and exhorting government legislation in the House.
The work of the hon. member and other members in this place has fostered support for the type of sex offender registry now evolving within the CPIC registry system. With the co-operation of the provinces and territories we in the government hope to have in place a system of mandatory registration for certain offenders so we can make the system work as the hon. member stated earlier.
In closing, I note the importance of Bill C-333 and all private members' business in spurring the government and this place to enact better policy and legislation.