House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pornography.


Business of the House

11 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has informed me in writing that he will be unable to introduce his motion during the hour provided for private members' business on Monday, January 27, 2003.

It has not been possible to arrange an exchange of positions in the order of precedence. Accordingly, I am directing the table officers to drop that item of business to the bottom of the order of precedence.

Private members' hour will thus be suspended and Government Orders will begin immediately.

Board of Internal Economy

11 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that Michel Guimond of the electoral district of Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans has been appointed as a member of the Board of Internal Economy, replacing Pierre Brien of the electoral district of Témiscamingue.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Outremont Québec


Martin Cauchon LiberalMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, this is the first speech of 2003. I would, of course, like to begin by extending to you and all the members of your team my best wishes for this new parliamentary year. I would also like to extend best wishes to all my colleagues.

Here we have the opportunity to express ourselves in what is probably the finest democratic forum in the world. Not only is this an incredible opportunity, but also a duty. I believe that there have always been fine and constructive debates in this House aimed at ensuring our ability to continue to work together to build Canadian society. With that in mind, I again extend to all of my colleagues my best wishes for our continued constructive work together.

I am very pleased today to begin the second reading debate on Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.

The government's commitment to the protection of children is clear and strong. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, we believe that Canadians have a collective responsibility to protect our children from exploitation in all its forms, including sexual exploitation.

We have therefore introduced Bill C-20 in order to reform the Criminal Code, to increase penalties for abuse and neglect, as well as to provide more sensitive treatment for children who participate in criminal justice proceedings as victims or witnesses.

The bill proposes a package of criminal law reforms that address five key components: first,strengthening the child pornography provisions to respond to continuing concerns; providing increased protection to youth against sexual exploitation by persons who would prey on their vulnerability; strengthening specific sentencing provisions related to offences committed against children, including abuse and neglect, to ensure that sentences better reflect the serious nature of these offences; facilitating testimony by child victims as witnesses and other vulnerable persons through a number of measures that include providing consistency and clarity regarding the use of existing testimonial aids, and by providing that child witnesses are competent witnesses; and creating a new offence of voyeurism to address in defined situations surreptitious viewing or recording of others in situations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

This package of criminal law reforms is based, in large part, on extensive consultations with provincial and territorial governments, as well as with the general public.

This shows how much the current government values the collaboration of the provincial and territorial governments, which share responsibility for the criminal justice system with the Government of Canada. It also shows the current government's commitment to ensuring the participation of Canadians and obtaining their opinion on current issues.

With regard to the merits of Bill C-20, I would first like to point out that it includes a preamble. Although this is not without precedent, it is nevertheless an exception with regard to the majority of bills introduced in this House. We have included this preamble for a very specific reason, which is to stress the importance of the issues addressed in Bill C-20, namely, the protection of the most vulnerable people in our society, our children, from all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Child pornography is an issue on which the government has demonstrated leadership both domestically and internationally by taking strong and effective measures to better protect children from this form of sexual exploitation.

Hon. members will recall that last July new offences came into effect that addressed the misuse of new technologies, including the Internet, to sexually exploit children. These new offences include transmitting, making available, exporting and accessing child pornography. The amendments also allow courts to order the deletion of child pornography posted on Canadian computer systems such as websites.

In addition to these reforms, we have developed and are delivering a training program for prosecutors on computer crimes which include child pornography. We are also supporting the pilot project by Child Find Manitoba on Launched in September 2002, receives public reports about online child sexual exploitation. By mid-January 2003, as a result of reports forwarded by, more than 50 websites suspected of containing child pornography have been investigated by law enforcement. These investigations have led to many of the sites being shut down, including a number that were hosted in Canada.

At the international level, we continue to work with our G-8 partners on the implementation of a G-8 strategy for online child sexual exploitation. This strategy includes measures and aims at improving international cooperation, prevention, public awareness and outreach to other countries.

Today, Bill C-20 goes even further and directly responds to concerns regarding the issue of defence based on artistic merit and also the current definition of written child pornography.

As we respond to these concerns, it is important to remember that one of the key components that allowed the validity of the overall child pornography scheme to be recognized was the possibility of using various defences.

Bill C-20 is based on the Supreme Court's analysis and attempts to maintain this constitutional balance.

Bill C-20 recommends a twofold response drawing from the Supreme Court of Canada 2001 decision, which upheld the overall child pornography scheme. It would revise the child pornography defences to simplify and narrow their availability and broaden the definition of written child pornography.

Bill C-20 proposes to provide only one defence, the one of public good and to eliminate the other provision, which includes artistic merit. By doing so, the availability of a defence would be subject to a two step analysis. First, does the material or act in question serve the public good? If it does not, then there is no defence. Second, even if it does serve the public good, does it go beyond what serves the public good? If it goes beyond, then there is no defence.

Under the current laws, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, there is currently no requirement to balance artistic merit or good against any potential harm to society. Under the new law, the defences would be merged into one of public good and the courts would be required to consider whether the good served by the material or act is outweighed by the risk of harm that it poses.

Bill C-20 proposes to broaden the definition of written child pornography. In addition to including materials that advocate or counsel prohibited sexual activity with children, it would also include materials that describe prohibited sexual activity with children where the written descriptions of that activity are the dominant characteristic of the material and they are done for sexual purpose.

All Canadians are concerned about protecting young persons against sexual exploitation. We have begun to respond to this concern with the creation of the offence of Internet luring. I am pleased to say that charges have been laid under this new legislation.

Given the serious nature of this issue, we must continuously re-evaluate and ask ourselves if we can do more. Some believe that young persons would be better protected against sexual exploitation by simply increasing the age of consent to sexual activity. We believe however that the issue is about how to protect young persons from the exploitative conduct of others and not about their consent to such conduct.

Currently, the Criminal Code sets the age of consent to any form of sexual activity--from sexual touching to sexual intercourse--at 14 for most purposes with two exceptions. First, for exploitive relationships, the age of consent is 18 years. The consent of a young person who is 14 or older but under the age of 18 is not valid where the other person is in a position of trust or authority over the young person or the young person is in a position of dependency on the other. The age is also 18 for purposes related to prostitution and pornography. Second, for those close in age, a young person who is 12 or 13 may consent to sexual activity with a peer provided that the older person is less than 2 years their elder and there is no position of trust, authority or dependency.

But, and I want to be very clear on this, when we talk about the age of consent we are referring to consensual sexual activity. Consensual means there is a genuinely voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity. Any non-consensual sexual activity, no matter what the age of the person, is a sexual assault.

I held consultations on this issue, and just recently I asked for comments from my provincial and territorial counterparts. While there is agreement on the need to strengthen measures to protect young people from sexual exploitation, they do not all agree that raising the age of consent is the best way, or even an effective way, of reaching this objective.

I recognize that people's opinions on the age at which it is appropriate for young people to begin sexual activity varies enormously. However, as adults, whether we agree with it or not, the reality is that adolescents do indeed have sexual experiences. In this context, I believe that what Canadians want is to better protect their children from sexual exploitation.

Accordingly, the bill proposes creating a new category of prohibited sexual exploitation in order to better protect young people who have reached the age of consent, those who are between 14 and 18.

In addition to taking into consideration relationships of trust, authority or dependence, the courts must also take into account the fact that a relationship is based on exploitation and examine the nature and the circumstances of the relationship, including age difference and the degree of control or influence exerted over the adolescent.

In this manner the proposed amendment in Bill C-20 focuses on the other person's exploitation of the young person and not on the apparent consent of that young person to the exploitative conduct. I would also note that, unlike proposals to raise the age of consent to 16 years, the proposal in Bill C-20 would protect not only 14 and 15 year olds, but also 16 and 17 year olds from such exploitation.

The bill proposes several amendments to the sentencing provisions for offences against children to ensure that these provisions adequately reflect the serious nature of these offences. These include: increasing the current penalty for sexual exploitation, which includes the proposed new category, from 5 to 10 years when proceeded by indictment and from 6 to 18 months when proceeded by summary conviction; increasing the maximum penalty for sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching from 6 to 18 months when proceeded by summary conviction; and increasing the maximum penalty for failure to provide the necessities of life from 2 to 5 years when proceeded by indictment and from 6 to 18 months when proceeded by summary conviction.

Similar amendments are proposed for the abandonment of a child, which is currently an indictable offence that carries a maximum penalty of two years. We are proposing to make this a dual procedure offence with a maximum penalty of 18 months on summary convictions and 5 years on indictment, as well as making the abuse of any child, in the commission of an offence, an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.

Bill C-20 also contains reforms to ensure that it is not as difficult for child witnesses to take part in criminal proceedings. A courtroom can seem strange, even austere for most witnesses. But for children, the experience can be very traumatic.

There have been important reforms in criminal law since the late 1980s in order to make the justice system more sensitive and better suited to the needs and realities of child victims and witnesses. These reforms recognized that the ability of child victims or witnesses to provide a clear, full and precise description of events can be adversely affected by both the trauma of the offence, but also by the criminal justice system itself.

The reforms contained in Bill C-20 follow up on these measures, including those that allow child witnesses to be accompanied by a person they trust, those that allow child witnesses to testify from behind a screen or by closed-circuit television in the case of certain offences, and those that restrict the questioning of a child by an accused person who is representing himself, and also in the case of certain offences.

When it comes to the current provisions, experience has shown that while these measures to facilitate testimony are very helpful for young witnesses, they are not always requested or applied in cases where they should be.

The justice department conducted extensive consultations concerning child victims and the criminal justice system. Responses obtained during these consultations show that the legislative reforms to make it easier for young victims and witnesses to testify during criminal proceedings enjoy considerable support. More specifically, respondents said they were in favour of the application of a uniform criterion for all victims and witnesses who are under 18, in terms of the possibility of testifying behind a screen, by closed-circuit television, or in the presence of someone they trust. The presumption by which these means would be provided unless they hinder the administration of justice is also supported.

Bill C-20 reflects these views and proposes to make testimonial assistance available for all young victims and witnesses under 18 years of age in all proceedings. Under the new law all children up to 18 years of age who are victims or witnesses in any proceedings, not only sexual offence proceedings, may request that a support person accompany them and may request to give their evidence from behind a screen or by closed circuit TV. The crown, in making the request, would not be required to prove the need for this assistance. The judge would order the use of the testimonial aid unless he or she was of the view that its use would interfere with the proper administration of justice.

Coming face to face with the person accused of the offence can be frightening and intimidating for young witnesses. Bill C-20 would ensure that a self represented accused person could not personally cross-examine a witness under 18 years of age in any proceeding. In such cases counsel would be appointed to conduct the cross-examination unless the judge determined that it was necessary to proceed in another manner.

We will also address the alarming issue of criminal harassment, or stalking as it is often called. A victim of criminal harassment should never have to face the possibility of being harassed again by an accused who chooses to represent himself and interrogates the victim personally. In such situations the court will appoint a lawyer who will represent the accused in order to avoid possibly traumatizing the victim with face to face confrontation.

Bill C-20 will also expand the provisions making video recorded testimony by a child admissible in court. Admissibility of a video recording can decrease the risk of anxiety or trauma for a child by reducing the amount of time spent testifying in court. Statements made on video will also allow the court to keep a recording of the statements made by a child at a time when the events were still fresh in his or her mind.

Currently, under the Criminal Code, statements recorded on video are admissible only for specific offences such as sexual exploitation, incest, child pornography, offences related to prostitution and sexual assault, and not in other offences involving violence such as murder or homicide. Video cassettes can also be entered into evidence when the complainant or witness is able to communicate the evidence but may have difficulty doing so because of a physical or mental impairment.

The new legislation will make an interview with a child witness or a witness with difficulty in communicating admissible for any offence, not just sexual offences.

As well, our reforms would also modernize those provisions of the Criminal Code allowing a publication ban in order to protect the identity of a victim or witness or to insure the fairness of a trial. Technological advances have given rise to new means of distributing information, and our legislation must reflect this.

Bill C-20 includes changes to ensure that a publication ban, when imposed, applies to publication, distribution or transmission by any means, including the Internet.

Bill C-20 also proposes amendments to the Canada Evidence Act to address continuing misperceptions of the reliability of children's testimony. Currently, child witnesses under the age of 14 years must undergo an inquiry into their competency and understanding of an oath or affirmation before being allowed to testify.

Bill C-20 proposes to eliminate the mandatory competency hearing and the distinction between sworn and unsworn testimony. The new test will be whether the child is able to understand and respond to questions. It will then be up to trier of fact to determine what weight to give to the evidence.

As well, Bill C-20 also creates offences of voyeurism aimed at remedying a shortcoming in criminal law. While voyeurism is not a new phenomenon, the means by which it can be perpetrated are.

Until very recently, voyeurism mainly related to peeping Toms. The Criminal Code currently allows for that type of voyeurism to be dealt with properly.

The development of new technologies has changed the situation considerably. Nowadays, it is possible to obtain miniature cameras at a relatively reasonable cost. It is easier to be a voyeur from a distance using such cameras, and to do so in locations that would not have been accessible before. The present provisions of the Criminal Code do not allow for this new form of voyeurism to be dealt with properly, which is why we wish to remedy this shortcoming with Bill C-20.

What we are proposing is to make it an offence to surreptitiously observe and record a person in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy, not only when that observation and recording is for the purpose of sexual exploitation but also when it constitutes a serious violation of the right to privacy.

It will make it possible to seize copies of these recordings in order to prevent their being distributed or sold, as well as to delete all electronic copies of these recordings from computer systems, including the Internet.

Canadians value their privacy. This was confirmed again in the response we received from the public consultation on voyeurism. An overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that this offence should criminalize not only voyeurism conducted for a sexual purpose but also when it constitutes a serious breach of privacy. These new offences would reinforce the protection of the right to privacy valued by Canadians.

It is obvious that Bill C-20 responds in a very direct and meaningful way to many issues that are of concern to all Canadians such as child pornography, protection of youth against sexual exploitation, strengthening sentencing provisions related to offences committed against children, facilitating vulnerable witnesses and victims' testimony and creating the new offence of voyeurism.

I would ask all members of the House to support this very important bill for Canadian society.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Would there be consent in the House for the minister to answer a few questions about this important bill? He could clarify some things and perhaps let all of us better understand the potential impacts of the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent for a question period following the minister's speech?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very disappointed that Liberal members would not allow the minister to be questioned on his speech. His speech raises a number of very serious issues. The minister should not be allowed to duck out of answering the real tough questions in respect of the bill.

Recently the Toronto Police Service held a press conference. In that press conference it told Canadians two things that were reported as news, although it was not news to anyone. It told us that Canada was rife with child pornography and that the federal government was not giving police officers the support they required to deal with the epidemic of child pornography.

Toronto police officers said that they had more than 2,300 names of suspected pedophiles on their list but only about 5% of them had been arrested. The reason for that very low arrest rate was because Canada lacked a national strategy for targeting sex offenders. The police officers are not getting the money nor the legislative changes needed to work effectively and efficiently to convict child pornographers and put them behind bars.

On the other hand, the Liberal government continues to claim that it is doing everything it can to protect children and that its laws are working. Who should Canadians believe? Should they believe the frontline police who have seen firsthand the worst and most degrading forms of child sexual abuse and the most depraved kinds of criminals who perpetrate this abuse or should they believe the Liberal government that was accused in December by the independent Auditor General of deliberately misleading Parliament for years about the billion dollar cost overrun and administrative failures in implementing Bill C-68, the long gun registry?

Canadians want to know what it will take for the government to get its priorities straight. For years frontline police officers have pleaded for federal support to combat child exploitation. The only response from the Liberals has been to slash police resources and to enact complex legislation that does nothing to protect children.

In contrast the British authorities have already arrested 1,500 people out of the 7,000 suspects from the same child pornography investigation. Why is Canada so far behind other western industrialized nations in this very important struggle? It is a lack of will, a lack of real concern and a failure to set our priorities straight as a country.

Perhaps it would be inaccurate to say that the Liberal government does not care about protecting children. I believe that all Canadians care very deeply about our children. However, the Liberal approach to protecting children consistently fails to put the needs of children ahead of the rights of criminals. This needs to change.

Much of the most recent public awareness about Canada's child pornography laws date back to a man named John Robin Sharpe. In the mid-1990s Mr. Sharpe was charged with possession of child pornography and defended himself on the basis that the Criminal Code laws against this offensive material violated his freedom of expression.

Mr. Justice Duncan Shaw in the B.C. Supreme Court agreed and struck down the Canadian child pornography laws as unconstitutional. For two years Canadian children effectively went without legal protection against pedophiles as police were compelled to put investigations on hold pending the appeals.

I quote what Ontario Provincial Police Detective Inspector Robert Matthews said in the Kingston Whig-Standard on May 3, 1999 just after the laws were struck down, “We have some cases... dealing with possession that are being put on hold awaiting [a final decision]”.

Isabelle Schuman, head of the criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association, said in the same newspaper report, “Here in Quebec, there are a number of cases where the Crown and defence have agreed to wait because there is no point in going ahead”.

In the Globe and Mail on March 2, 1999, it was reported that, “The Crown will seek adjournments on child pornography possession cases now before the B.C. courts”.

All across Canada, child pornography cases were put on hold while the Liberal government and the then justice minister, who is now our health minister, stood by for the Sharpe case to wind its way through the courts. One by one, the Liberals stood to vote down a Reform motion in Parliament to invoke section 33 of the charter as a measure to allow cases to proceed normally during this appeal process. All that the former justice minister stated was that she had confidence in the appeal courts to make the right decision. However, while our justice minister was busy being confident in the courts, law enforcement agencies across Canada were severely handicapped in their attempts to suppress child pornography, and as a result, our children went unprotected for a period of two entire years.

Canadians felt relieved when the Supreme Court decision of January 2001 substantially upheld the law as constitutional. What most Canadians did not understand was that while upholding the constitutional propriety of the law, the Supreme Court opened up a loophole in the interpretation of the law that simply allowed the pedophiles to continue exploiting children.

When John Robin Sharpe was tried by the B.C. Supreme Court, the same judge who had struck down the law as unconstitutional in 1999 proceeded to acquit him on two charges involving written pornographic material by applying an absurdly broad definition of artistic merit. It strikes me as strange that the same judge who had already expressed his disdain for the law on a constitutional basis would be put back by the courts to hear the matter. Clearly the chief justice in that province should have assigned a new judge to that case so that at least Canadians would have had the perception that the judge was approaching this case from a fresh point of view. Clearly what he could not do by declaring the law unconstitutional, he simply did by applying this absurdly broad definition of artistic merit.

John Robin Sharpe's written material is not art on the basis of any reasonable standard. His writings depict sexually explicit material that glorifies the violent sexual exploitation of children by adults. Furthermore, most Canadians will agree that all forms of child pornography are harmful. The harm done to children and society generally by the creation and distribution of this type of material, regardless of how it is produced, cannot be ignored. Beyond the clear intent for this material to provide sexual gratification to the creator or viewer, child pornography is created to glorify, to encourage and to normalize the idea of sexual activity between adults and children. It simply opens the door to the further exploitation of children.

Despite the court's obvious error in this ruling, once again the Liberal government did not immediately move to clarify the law and eliminate the artistic merit defence, a move that would have had the overwhelming support of Canadians. Only after months of intense pressure from the Canadian Alliance did the Minister of Justice move toward this legislation in which he claims to have eliminated the artistic merit defence. In reality he has done no such thing. The minister has replaced all of the previous defences to child pornography and merged them into one defence, the defence of the public good. There are two substantial flaws in this wrong-headed Liberal approach

First, there is no substantive difference between the public good defence and a previous defence, the community standards defence, which was rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1992 Butler decision. The community standards test, just like the public good defence, was concerned primarily with the risk of harm to individuals and society. However, because of how the court approached that particular defence, it was rendered ineffective. There is no positive benefit in doing what this minister has done in respect of the public good defence. There is no positive benefit in simply recycling laws that have been already discredited by the courts.

The second substantial flaw is that the artistic merit defence, which has been eliminated on paper, still applies in practice. Even by the Minister of Justice's own admission, artistic merit remains a component of the public good that the courts will consider in any new charge of child pornography. In essence, the minister has simply repackaged and renamed the artistic good defence.

I find it surprising that members opposite would tolerate this kind of perpetuation of abuse against children on the thin excuse of artistic merit when they would never allow, I would hope, the same kind of abuse to be perpetrated against ethnic minorities, against women or against other minorities. Yet they choose to do it in respect of the most vulnerable people in our society, our children. Once again the Liberals, in this legislation, avoid taking a clear stand against child pornography and the protection of children.

One of the biggest failures of this Liberal bill is that it will not protect children by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 years of age to 16 years. The most frequently cited reason that Liberals give for not raising the age is that it might criminalize sexual activity between young people close in age. Every parliamentarian, and hopefully most Canadians, understands that this excuse is pure nonsense. All the minister needs to do is establish a peer exemption for sexually active younger teens. The Criminal Code already permits children younger than 14 to consent to sexual activity as long as their partners are less than two years older than they are. The British, who have set their age of consent at 16, also have a close in age category that has not, as Liberals suggest, criminalized teenagers. It has had the opposite effect, that is, it protects these vulnerable young people from much older sexual predators.

In a Pollara poll released in May 2002, 80% of Canadians believed that the federal government should raise the age of sexual consent from 14 years of age to 16 years of age. I find it interesting that the Minister of Justice continually quotes a similar percentage of Canadians who are in favour of marijuana decriminalization as his basis for moving in that direction, yet despite calls from average Canadians, provincial Attorneys General and premiers, Child Find Manitoba, Beyond Borders, Focus on the Family, the Canadian Police Association, the Alberta Federation of Police Associations, and countless other organizations, including the Canadian Alliance, the Minister of Justice continues to give excuses as to why this cannot be done.

Even the former justice minister said in response to a question that I asked her in the justice committee on October 2, 2001 that:

...I think we will see that a consensus is emerging that, with certain safeguards, we should probably be moving on the age of consent from 14 to 16.

Elected officials from all political stripes recognize the importance of implementing these legal tools so that our law enforcement authorities can better protect our children, but this minister keeps offering excuses for why it cannot or should not be done. He keeps saying how difficult it would be, although I cannot imagine that it could be more difficult than making our drug laws more lenient, which is what he proposes to do this spring, especially considering the ramifications such a move would have on the United States, our neighbour and our largest trading partner.

The minister tries to tell us as Canadians that his thousands of lawyers in the Department of Justice cannot figure out a way of raising what virtually every civilized jurisdiction in the world has done. The British, most American states and other western civilized countries have moved in that direction. What impediment is there that prevents his lawyers from drafting a relatively simple provision that provides certain safeguards and brings the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 without criminalizing teenage sexual activity but protecting our children from child predators?

There is a reason that has been given. The minister's parliamentary secretary, the hon. member for Northumberland, even said in the House on November 5, 2002, that there were “many social and cultural differences that have to be reflected in that law”. This was certainly news to many Canadians. I do not know what he is talking about. Is he talking about a culture of pedophilia when he makes references to cultural backgrounds?

Let me tell the House about what one member of Canada's ethnic communities had to say about that. I will spell the name so we have it right for the record. Vettivelu Nallainayagam, a name which is almost as difficult to say as Toews or “Taves” if one were making that kind of comparison, wrote on November 16, 2002 in the Calgary Herald:

I am offended, and angry, that the government has sought to hide its unwillingness to change the age, using as its excuse the different sexual mores of Canada's various cultures. It casts these cultures in a negative light and undermines the foundations of our multicultural society.

The writer continued:

I have interacted with many cultural groups, having been associated with the Calgary Multicultural Centre for a long period of time, and I never took home the impression that any one cultural group in Canada would be opposed to changing the age of sexual consent.

The writer concluded the piece by saying:

I appeal to the minister of justice and his parliamentary secretary not to hide behind cultural excuses but to act to raise the age of sexual consent to 16. And I would also urge the members of different ethnic communities to write to [the parliamentary secretary] asking him not to insult the intelligence of the ethnic community in Canada.

As Liberal ministers keep making weak excuses for not moving to raise the age, they will continue to be discredited by clear-thinking Canadians.

As I have stated, it is not anyone's intention to criminalize sexual activities between young people who are close in age. The intent is to protect young people, who are not always in the best position to protect themselves from sexual abuse by adults. Under our current laws, children and teenagers easily become targets of pornographers, Internet sex scams, pedophiles and sexual abuse, and parents have no legal recourse with which to shield their children from these dangers.

I noted that in the minister's speech today he is proposing that witnesses under the age of 18 receive extensive protection in court, extensive protection that would prevent an accused from cross-examining those individuals under 18. This is a remarkable admission by the Minister of Justice. Here he is saying that even in the court, children under the age of 18 can be exploited by the court process where there is a crown attorney, where there is a judge, where there is a public forum. Children under the age of 18 can be exploited, so he wants to bring in protection for children under the age of 18. What about children out on the street who are under the age of 16 and are victims of sexual predators? There is not a judge out there on the street protecting these children. There is not a crown prosecutor out there protecting these children. Yet there is no protection by the government for laws that at least will give the police and parents the right to protect their children.

What double standards: that children need protection in the courts, but where they are in danger of being preyed upon by sexual predators on the street and elsewhere they receive no protection that is effective in preventing these kinds of abuses.

Instead of extending full protection to children under the age of 16, the Liberals prefer to introduce a complex and cumbersome law that will do little to achieve its stated purpose. This is the same thing as the complex Young Offenders Act. It says wonderful things, but if one is actually in the street trying to enforce these laws, they are ineffective. It is the same thing as the gang law that has been passed: complex procedures that will not effectively curtail the activities of gangs without substantial increases in police and court resources.

Even today we have heard about how complex trials are grinding our justice system to halt. What I have heard the minister say here today simply is adding more of this complexity rather than putting in straightforward provisions that actually protect children. What he creates is wonderful net for lawyers to work in, to operate in, to ensure that the entire system slows down and in fact, as the chief justice indicates, grinds to a halt.

Why are we doing this? Why do we choose to discard the effective and embrace the cumbersome? I can tell the House that the reason is this: the focus of Liberal legislation is not on who the legislation is intended to protect. The focus is on what the courts may say if we pass this legislation. The courts might declare it unconstitutional so therefore we should not do the right thing; we should do the thing that is complex and cumbersome and satisfies the legal machinations of our legal system.

We need a government and a minister who will stand up and say, “I want to bring forward legislation that is straightforward, direct and effective and that will protect children”.

When the minister brings in that type of legislation he should be prepared to stand up to the courts and tell them that the rights of children are more important than the rights of sexual predators who rely on decisions, like Mr. Justice Duncan Shaw's decision, in respect of artistic merit. Why is it that these types of perverse decisions receive protection while children are left to fend for themselves? Lip service is paid by adding a few little things in courts, but the substantive issue of children being preyed upon by sexual predators virtually goes unaddressed.

Instead of a straightforward, effective provision, the bill creates the category of sexual exploitation with the intended aim of protecting children between the ages of 14 and 18. In determining whether an adult is in a relationship with a young person, which is exploitative of the young person, a judge must consider the age difference between the accused and the young person, the evolution of the relationship and the degree of control or influence by the adult over the young person. Anyone who has had experience in the courts will explain what this means. This is another complex law that will simply grind the system to a halt and, in the end, will do nothing to protect children. This is lip service, not a substantive recognition of the problem that the Toronto police recently pointed out to us.

Currently it is against the law for a person in a position of trust or authority, or with whom a young person, someone between 14 and 18, is in a relationship of dependency, to be sexually involved with that young person. It is unclear how adding people who are “in a relationship with a young person that is exploitative of the young person” will protect young people.

By the Liberals' failure to prohibit adults exploiting, in a sexual sense, children under the age of 16, police and parents are faced with a continuing risk to children that is not effectively addressed by these amendments. As has been said by more than 80% of Canadians, only by raising the age of sexual consent will young people be truly protected under the Criminal Code.

While I realize that the Solicitor General has introduced a separate bill concerning the sexual offender registry, I want to comment briefly on that since the Liberal failures in that department are quite significant in this context.

After reviewing the Solicitor General's proposal for the registry, I have concluded that the Liberal idea of justice defies all common sense by targeting law-abiding Canadians while giving convicted child predators the benefit of the doubt.

The Liberals continue to pour millions of dollars of taxpayer money into a registry of law-abiding firearms owners but still refuse to create a registry that includes all sexual offenders. We heard the Solicitor General's weak and very lame comments in excusing why convicted criminals, who are serving time in prison today for brutally destroying the lives of children, will not be on that sexual offender registry. He says that it is double jeopardy when he knows this has nothing to do with the constitutional doctrine of double jeopardy. Double jeopardy relates to two criminal convictions for the same offence. This sex offender registry is not a conviction. It follows that conviction. It is done in every other context where we seek to identify those who present a danger to society. What better criteria can we rely on than when someone has been convicted by a court of these crimes?

In reality the Liberal proposal for a sex offender registry appears to be a poorly disguised public relations strategy. The proposed registry is nothing more than a blank piece of paper. I know and Canadians know that without a comprehensive list of offenders convicted in the past the registry will be virtually useless.

Pedophiles and other sex offenders who have a notoriously high rate of reoffending can only be added to the registry if they offend and are caught in the future. Furthermore, none of this information will be available for members of the public who may need to know when there is a sexual offender in their midst. In effect, known sexual predators will be exempted from the Liberal plan until they are convicted of more offences.

The Liberals did not say that about farmers and duck hunters who might have a shotgun or a .22. No, they put them on the registry right away. They have done a very poor job of even establishing a registry but they did not say that they would wait until these people were convicted of an offence. We need to remember that these people, who are otherwise lawful gun owners, have never been convicted of any offence. If they had been they would not have received the right to possess a gun. Now the Liberals are saying that convicted pedophiles get a break despite the fact that they have been convicted by a court. They will not go on a registry because that would be double jeopardy. What about innocent Canadians who have committed no wrong? We all know that t cannot be double jeopardy because they have not even been convicted once. If the Liberals want to be consistent they should at least wait until someone breaks the law before putting them on this kind of registry.

In effect, known, convicted sexual predators will be exempted from the Liberal plan until they are convicted of more offences. The reason the Solicitor General gives is that he has concerns about the charter and privacy rights. This is simply nonsense and it has no credible basis in law. The minister should have focused on drafting a law that protects victims instead of trying to guess what the courts might do. If the courts think that the protection of children and other victims should be compromised, Parliament should not make it easier for the courts or for pedophiles or for other sexual offenders,

Furthermore, the federal law prohibiting retroactivity could impact negatively on existing provincial registries. The provinces, as a result of the failure of the federal government to proceed, have acted. Ontario, especially, has gone to great lengths. Other provinces have set up different types of registries. In the United States, virtually every single state has a registry. We can go on the Internet today and put in a name and the face of the convicted felon comes up on the computer screen. That is how public the access is. In some states the access is not that public.

There are reasons perhaps, philosophical, legal or other, but we are not even having that debate here in Canada. Basically we are saying that victims do not deserve this protection and that is the end of the discussion. The same thing is true about the sex offender registry as it is with this particular Bill C-20. It does not focus on the needs of victims. It focuses on what courts might do, and, in the process, renders it ineffective.

Ontario police Inspector Bob Matthews told reporters recently that the light sentences that Canadian pedophiles receive are, in his words, a joke. He said:

It almost encourages child pornography to be distributed, if you know there's no punishment.

Courts regularly, even in my home province of Manitoba, are overturning the decisions of lower court judges who put pedophiles or child pornographers in jail and are giving them conditional sentences. Another Liberal excuse about these people really being in jail but serving their sentences at home. That statement and that process defies any credibility.

Inspector Bob Matthews and every other law enforcement officer knows that the current maximum sentences in Canada for distributing child pornography or for other child sexual offences are rarely given out.

The Minister of Justice has come here and said that the Liberals will raise the maximum sentences which shows their determination to take some effective measures against child predators. The minister knows that the courts do not give those maximum sentences. They do not give the present maximum sentences and they will not give the maximum sentences that will be in place if the bill is passed. This is window dressing designed simply to assure Canadians that something is being done when in fact nothing is being done.

If the minister were truly serious about punishing pedophiles and child pornographers and sending them to jail he would not worry so much about the maximum sentences. He would bring in minimum sentences so that the courts could not allow these individuals to escape the appropriate punishment. He would repeal conditional sentences for child predators and others who commit violent acts against Canadians.

We know that legislating higher maximum sentences for child pornography and predators, as this bill does, will not be effective unless the courts enforce them. We know that the courts simply have no will and no desire to enforce the laws as written.

The bill also fails to prohibit a number of other issues. I realize others want to speak but what I want to speak specifically and very briefly on, in conclusion, is the ever looming problem of the scarcity of resources.

Police and prosecutors simply do not have the tools to deal with child pornography cases effectively or efficiently. They do not have the legal tools they need and they have suffered crippling funding cuts over the past decade that prevent them from doing a thorough and complete investigation.

In addition to the strain caused by lack of resources that the Toronto Police brought to our attention, current evidentiary laws tie up additional police resources preventing police from investigating and prosecuting child pornography in a timely manner. While technology used by child pornographers has developed, the laws needed to address the problem have not kept pace, and that is a glaring omission in the bill.

Those are my opening remarks. I trust that the minister and Liberal colleagues will keep an open mind about possible amendments to the bill. Perhaps the bill should be sent back with specific instructions to ensure that victims, rather than child predators, are protected.

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12:15 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, the bill before the House this morning is, in my opinion, of special importance. The initiative of the Minister of Justice to restrict access to child pornography is an important measure and I want to assure the House that the Bloc Quebecois will work very seriously on this issue.

Protecting children is a fundamental principle in a society. Children are our greatest asset and they deserve all our attention and protection. They are the most vulnerable group in our society.

We could have a long debate on pornography in the broad sense of the term. However, in my opinion, child pornography is something that must be completely and fundamentally banned and prohibited, something that we must fight actively and strongly to prevent its spreading.

Not only is child pornography associated with a degrading sexual deviance, it also reflects a sick and degrading state of mind, for consumers, but especially for children.

It is not without a degree of emotion that I rise to address Bill C-20, because I am the father of two young children. I thought about my speech this morning for a long time, and I have been haunted by a terrible thought: what if my two sons fell into the hands of sexual predators or were sexually exploited by such depraved minds? This is why I am taking a particular interest in today's debate.

The Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of Bill C-20, because we feel that the minister's initiative deals with several important aspects of criminal law. It includes new provisions that have become necessary, given the particular nature of today's new technologies.

However, some clauses of Bill C-20 raise important questions, including those dealing with the issue of consent regarding sexual relations.

The Bloc Quebecois hopes to have some witnesses appear to discuss this issue and to examine all its aspects. Of course, we reserve the right and the privilege to move some amendments later on.

Bill C-20 makes fundamental changes two acts, the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act. The government hopes to make a number of amendments to the Criminal Code, particularly to:

(a) amend the child pornography provisions with respect to the type of written material that constitutes child pornography, and with respect to the child pornography defences;

The bill will also:

(b) add a new category to the offence of sexual exploitation of young persons and make additional amendments to further protect children from sexual exploitation;

(c) increase the maximum penalty for child sexual offences—


(d) make child abuse an aggravating factor for the purpose of sentencing;

In the same vein, it is important, under the circumstances, to:

(e) amend and clarify the applicable test and criteria that need to be met for the use of testimonial aids, for excluding the public, for imposing a publication ban, for using video-recorded evidence or for appointing counsel for self-represented accused to conduct a cross-examination of certain witnesses;

And finally, it is important, in terms of the Criminal Code, to

(f) create an offence of voyeurism and the distribution of voyeuristic material.

Bill C-20 “also amends the Canada Evidence Act to abolish the requirement for a competency hearing for children under 14 years of age”.

In order to make the most of the bill's objectives, it is important to carefully assess the law as it current exists. One of the significant concerns that we have deals with consent to sexual relations.

Currently, under the Criminal Code provisions concerning consent to sexual activity, the consent of a person under the age of fourteen is not a defence against charges of a sexual nature, such as sexual abuse, exhibitionism or fondling. This means that persons aged fourteen and older can give their consent.

This provision, as you know, is subject to an exception. The consent of a complainant can be a defence if the latter is between twelve and fourteen years of age, if the accused is more than twelve but under sixteen years of age, if the accused is less than two years older than the complainant and if the accused is not in a position of trust or authority towards the complainant.

Furthermore, a person in a position of trust or authority cannot sexually interfere with a person between the ages of fourteen and seventeen years, even if the minor consents. It is also important to remember that, obviously, child prostitution is illegal in Canada.

These provisions in the Criminal Code have been strongly criticized, namely by the Canadian Alliance, which wanted to change the age of sexual consent to sixteen. Among the arguments advanced in favour of raising the age of consent was that Canada might become a sex tourism destination simply because sexual relations with minors aged fourteen and up are not illegal here.

However, with such stakes, it is essential, urgent and necessary to think clearly. To this end, the Bloc has always been opposed to raising the age of consent to sexual relations. We believe, and let us be clear, that although it is preferable that children aged fourteen and fifteen do not have sex, this is the age that society in general seems willing to tolerate.

Furthermore, you will recall, this is what I said during the debate at second reading on Bill C-215 introduced by the member for Calgary Northeast last November 4.

I also drew attention to the doublespeak by the Canadian Alliance on this issue—and it is important that this be done. In fact, let us remember that during the debate on the Young Offenders Act, Alliance members thought a 14 or 15 year old child was responsible enough to be tried in adult court, but not responsible enough to consent to sexual activity. They were prepared to put this child in prison, because according to them he was criminally responsible, but he was not responsible enough to consent to sexual relations. What doublespeak.

In a different vein, in his proposal, the Minister of Justice creates a new concept of exploitation. Now, an adult will not be able to have sexual relations with a minor if the latter is placed in a position of exploitation with regard to the adult.

The criteria that will be used to determine whether there is exploitation in the relationship are the following: first, the age difference between the person and the young person; second, the evolution of the relationship; and third, the degree of control or influence by the person over the young person.

This may seem complicated. To simplify things, let us look at a specific example. Geneviève is 15 and in a relationship with Gilbert, age 45, whom she met in a bar. Geneviève is not dependant on Gilbert in any way. However, from the beginning of the relationship, Gilbert has showered Geneviève with gifts that are very expensive for a young girl her age. Very soon, Geneviève consents to sexual relations with Gilbert.

In this situation, based on current law, Gilbert is not guilty of any crime. Under the provisions proposed by the minister, Gilbert could be found guilty of an offence under section 153 of the Criminal Code and liable to imprisonment not exceeding ten years. In fact, their age difference is 30 years and the relationship is very recent.

It is important to point out that we have some reservations about these new provisions. First, they create uncertainty regarding the law, and this is never a good thing. A person of full age who has sexual relations with a minor will never be sure whether he or she is committing a criminal offence, since these provisions of the Criminal Code leave a great deal to the interpretation judges will make of the clauses that are proposed today.

This leads us to a second point. A parent who disapproves the sentimental choice of his or her minor child will always have the option of filing a complaint with the police, even though their reasons for doing so are not those anticipated by the legislator. This could add to the legal uncertainty.

Consequently, I reiterate the fact that the Bloc Quebecois is interested in hearing witnesses in committee on this issue. We are prepared to move amendments if necessary.

As I mentioned earlier, the rapid technological changes that have occurred in recent years have made it necessary to make some legislative changes, in order to deal with the new reality.

For example, the electronic cameras that transmit live images on the Internet have raised concerns about possible abuse, including the illegal observation or recording of persons for sexual purposes, or when such observation or recording is a blatant violation of privacy.

This is why the bill proposes to add two new offences to the Criminal Code. The first one would make it a criminal offence, in three specific cases, to deliberately and surreptitiously observe or record another person in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy. The first case would be when the observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose. The second case would be when the person observed or recorded is in a place in which a person can reasonably be expected to be nude or to be engaged in sexual activity. Finally, the third case would be when the person is nude or is engaged in sexual activity, and the observation or recording is done for the purpose of observing or recording a person in such a state or engaged in such activity.

So, we are not talking about surveillance cameras in a shopping mall or in a parking lot, but in a place where a person can reasonably expect a minimum of privacy.

The second offence relates to distribution of material when aware that such material has been obtained by commission of the offence of voyeurism. This would also constitute a crime. The maximum sentence for all voyeurism-related offences would be five years imprisonment.

Finally, copies of a recording obtained by the offence of voyeurism for the purpose of sale or distribution could be seized or confiscated. The courts could also order deletion of any voyeuristic material from a computer.

The Bloc Quebecois feels that the legislative provisions relating to voyeurism were made necessary by the proliferation of surveillance cameras and the rapidity of distributing images taken by such cameras, via the Internet for instance.

Consequently, we are in favour of the provisions relating to voyeurism.

Now, let us move on to child pornography. Primarily, the new provisions on child pornography address two different aspects.

On the one hand, the present definition of child pornography applies only to material that advocates or counsels sexual activity with a child. Bill C-20 would expand that definition to include any material that describes prohibited sexual activity with a child where the written description of the activity is the dominant characteristic of the material and is done for a sexual purpose.

These new provisions raise a number of questions. First of all, it must be made clear that possession of child pornography is a crime punishable by five years imprisonment.

The new provision calls for any written material describing sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 to be considered a form of child pornography. Consequently, this would mean that someone who recorded in his personal diary fantasies, sick and twisted as they might be, of sexual relations of this nature would be committing a criminal offence and be liable to five years in prison, even if he or she did not show this document to anyone and no child was in any way involved in creating the document.

First of all, this provision strikes us as a broad one, and tantamount in a way to making thoughts a crime. The Minister of Justice counters that objection, however, by saying that we must interpret these provisions in light of the Supreme Court of Canada judgment in the Sharpe case.

In Sharpe, it is indicated that there are two types of material that must be excluded from the definition of child pornography: first, documents or representations that the accused alone created and retains solely for personal use, for example a diary, and second, visual recordings created by the accused or in which he is represented, which do not depict any illegal sexual activity and which the accused retains solely for personal use.

We find it hard to understand why the Minister of Justice did not integrate these exceptions into the Criminal Code. In fact, their absence will have the effect of creating legal uncertainty, because the Criminal Code will provide, even for an informed reader, a very imprecise definition of child pornography.

We plan to use the hearings of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to hear witnesses on this issue. Of course, we will move amendments if we believe they are necessary.

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12:35 p.m.


Richard Marceau Bloc Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

And from a somewhat different perspective, there is the sensitive issue of defence for possession of child pornography. The interpretation of the notion of artistic merit given by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Sharpe case angered many. In fact, the court interpreted this notion in a very broad manner, and I quote:

I conclude that “artistic merit” should be interpreted as including any expression that may reasonably be viewed as art. Any objectively established artistic value, however small, suffices to support the defence. Simply put, artists, so long as they are producing art, should not fear prosecution under s. 163.1(4).

The Minister of Justice, in introducing Bill C-20, has replaced this defence with another one, based on the public good this time. It specifies, and I quote, that:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence serve the public good and if the acts alleged do not extend beyond what serves the public good.

Let us again use a fictitious example to illustrate cases in which this new defence could be used.

Normally, the possession of pornographic videos involving children would be considered a sexual offence. We all agree, this is very clear. However, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of pedophiles could justify having such tapes in his possession for treatment purposes because his possessing such tapes serves the public good. In this case, the possession of videos is more helpful than harmful. Prima facie, this new defence seems reasonable.

Bill C-20 also proposes harsher sentencing for offenders. The proposal of the Minister of Justice would see the maximum sentence for sexual exploitation double from five to ten years. The maximum sentence for abandoning a child or failing to provide the necessaries of life to a child would more than double from two to five years in prison.

The courts would also consider child abuse during the commission of an offence under the Criminal Code an aggravating factor that could lead to harsher sentencing. In our opinion, these changes seem quite relevant and we support them.

Before closing, I would like to stress the overall objective of facilitating the testimony of children. This legislation would reform the current criminal justice system so that contributing to and participating in the system is less traumatic for victims and witnesses.

The current provisions of the Criminal Code would be expanded to make testimonial assistance available for all witnesses under 18, not only those who are affected by sexual offences and other specific offences, in all criminal proceedings.

This assistance includes allowing witnesses to give their evidence from behind a screen or by closed-circuit television, or having a young witness accompanied by someone they trust.

The current provisions generally require that the Crown establish the need for testimonial assistance. Given the possible trauma to young witnesses of the courtroom experience—and I know whereof I speak, having watched the proceedings, and my wife, who is a Crown attorney, and I have spoken about this at length—the proposed reforms recognize the need for this particular assistance. We strongly support it.

We should note in passing that it is at the judge's discretion, however, to deny assistance or protection if it obstructs the administration of justice.

In our view, these elements of the bill represent a step in the right direction and we will support them throughout the entire legislative process. However, this new process must not infringe on the right of an accused person to a full and complete defence, which remains a fundamental right under current Canadian law.

This bill that we are talking about is very broad and the different angles that we intend to work on are those that I have just mentioned. We intend to support the bill at this stage. As I have already said a few times, we will take the opportunity at committee stage to improve it in order to protect our children. They are society's most important resource.

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12:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

My colleagues, starting with the next speaker speeches will be of 20 minutes in length followed by a 10 minute question and comment period. If members decide to split their time with one of their colleagues, it would greatly help the Chair if they would give notice. This having been said I give the floor to the hon. member for Palliser.

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12:40 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House on the first day back after the Christmas-New Year's recess and to take part in the second reading debate of this important legislation, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.

As we have already heard in the House, we are trying to find a reasonable balance between proposed legislation to strengthen child pornography laws and to better protect teens from sexual exploitation. The concern on the one hand is that the legislation does not go far enough, while on the other hand civil libertarians are saying the rights to free expression would be violated by the reforms designed to narrow any defence against child pornography changes. The bill, according to those folks, says nothing about raising the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14, which at least one political party has proposed here today.

The argument goes that children are falling between the cracks and landing in the hands of sexual predators. We have heard that on the other hand the government is saying that teens from age 14 to 18 are better shielded by doubling the maximum jail term for sexual exploitation to 10 years from five under the proposed legislation. That would further deter those in positions of trust or authority, and I am thinking of teacher-student relationships, who might be inclined to sexually exploit a younger person.

Courts would be asked to focus more on the behaviour and motives of the accused and less on the young person's consent. The argument is that it is a much better protection than simply raising the age of consent.

That is the issue that we have before us. It is not an easy question to answer because the question of child pornography is of great concern to all of us. While there seems to be widespread support in the Canadian public on this issue, we have witnessed many times in the past the unwarranted targeting of artists, art organizations and businesses under the guise of various public morality laws.

The defence that the government has provided Canadians is the defence of the public good. An individual would only be found guilty of a child pornography offence if the act or material in question did not serve the public good. That means to me that if the risk of harming outweighed any positive benefits, the material or act would be considered a criminal act. This would protect legitimate visual artists and other artists.

There is also a new definition for written work to be considered child pornography. For work to be considered along this line it would have to have as its main characteristic the description of those prohibited sexual acts written explicitly for sexual purpose.

We must walk a fine line on the legislation. On the one hand, in the wake of the John Robin Sharpe decision of last year, we must ensure that material he produced is condemned and not condoned, especially under a defence of artistic merit. On the other hand we must ensure that works with real genuine artistic merit are not criminalized. How to do that is the crucial question that is before us in the House today.

One of the main problems with the legislation is that artistic merit would now be decided upon by judges. An option to that could be to figure out some mechanism by which artistic merit could be decided upon more independently, perhaps by a panel of experts. Rather than simply having a decision based on the public good, which could be a particularly difficult concept upon which to decide, a defence based on artistic merit or excellence could be judged by a panel of experts.

Another problem under the legislation as it now stands is that artists would have to prove that their work should be exempted rather than the other way around. We would all agree that this is contrary to the judicial system in which the onus is on the Crown to prove someone or something is guilty, not the other way around.

If people decide to oppose the bill because it does not allow for art, then it needs to be made clear that the goal is to stop the harassment of artists by overly moralistic forces in our society. We raise that because it has happened in the past and civil libertarians have spoken out about it. It is not necessarily a good thing for any society when police and prosecutors are asked to judge artistic merit through the personal lens of community morals.

Dealing with the bill more specifically, on the issue of sexual exploitation, the proposed section deals with the calls from numerous Canadians to increase the age of sexual consent. While the proposed legislation does not do this, it does create a new definition of exploitative relationships. Rather than having a list of relationships prohibited in which one participant is an adult and one is a minor the legislation before us would establish that there are certain characteristics that would categorize a sexual relationship to be illegal.

If, for example, a court were to decide that a relationship was exploitative that would call into question its legality. Therefore, as I indicated earlier, a relationship between a teacher and a student would remain illegal, however now under the proposed legislation a relationship between a minor and an adult that was not necessarily illegal under the old provisions could be deemed to be so if a court found it to be exploitative. Because it is highly unlikely that a court would find a relationship between a high school senior over the age of 18 and a high school junior, say 15 and a half, to be exploitative, this effectively would remove concerns around criminalizing teen sexual activities. This seems to be flexible yet enforceable enough to protect children more effectively than previous provisions.

On the issue of increased maximum sentences the proposed section strives to create greater maximum sentences for offences in which a child is victimized. The only potential concern around this proposed section has to do with increased sentences for failures to provide the necessities of life to a child and abandonment of a child. These would target low income Canadians more so than others and might be a more heavy-handed approach than is necessary in ensuring that children who live in marginal circumstances are provided with the necessities of life.

I would like to comment on children as witnesses. This proposed section makes it easier and certainly less traumatic for children to testify in criminal trials.

On the issue of voyeurism, this proposed section would create a new offence in the Criminal Code. With various technological advances it has become ever easier to invade someone's privacy. We are suggesting that this proposed section would seek to update the Criminal Code to ensure that modern day peeping Toms could be prosecuted for the full range of crimes that they commit. Until recently voyeurism type offences would be prosecuted under trespass sections of the Criminal Code, as they would usually involve trespassing on someone's property in order to invade their privacy.

With this proposed legislation photographing someone surreptitiously or using a mini-camera to spy on them would be prosecuted under a special section of the Criminal Code as well as other offences which would include prosecution for distributing these materials most commonly by e-mail or over the Internet.

Our original concerns about this proposed legislation around child protection have been the need to strike a fair balance between child protection and the maintenance of certain important freedoms. In our opinion these concerns seem to have been addressed sufficiently in the proposed legislation.

The newly redrafted child pornography provisions were a response to the decisions of the B.C. Court of Appeal in the Sharpe decision which forced the government to introduce this defence of artistic merit to ensure that freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was not infringed.

Part of the concerns in terms of the trial of Mr. Sharpe was that he was found not guilty of child pornography offences for written material which he had produced. That material was generally considered to be offensive and pornographic however. What the government has done with the new legislation is attempt to tighten the defence of artistic merit to ensure that the production of materials like this is prohibited.

The defence the government has provided Canadians with is a defence of public good. An individual would only be found guilty of a child pornography offence if the act or the material in question did not serve that public good. It means that if the risk of harm outweighs any positive benefits, the material or act would then be criminalized. It seems to me that this would protect legitimate visual artists. I have indicated there is a new definition for written work to be considered child pornographic. For work to be considered pornographic, it would have to have as its main characteristic the description of these prohibited sexual acts.

These definitions are generally up to the courts to uphold and enforce and would likely meet challenges to their constitutionality. It seems to me on balance that this section seems to strike an effective balance.

I further would add that in the Sharpe case specifically, his stories included tales of children younger than 10 engaged in sado-masochism with adults. As I pointed out, such writings would sicken most Canadians. However from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association point of view and Alan Borovoy, the long time head of the CCLA, it does not excuse Ottawa's efforts to criminalize works of the imagination. Mr. Borovoy is on record as saying that it would have no objection to criminalizing material that is produced by abusing an actual child. However if we are talking about fictional depiction, then there is simply no reason to prohibit that.

That is the position of the New Democratic Party on this. To the NDP it seems that the legislation does a reasonable balance of ensuring the protection of children and others from exploitation and harm, while balancing the needs of a free and democratic society. While we may discover ways in which the legislation can be changed and improved upon as we learn more about it and the effects, it is worthy of our support here today.

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

David Anderson Canadian Alliance Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, I suppose I am not surprised, but I am a bit ashamed to hear the NDP defending any presentation of child pornography.

I was surprised to hear the member comment that we have overly moralistic forces in our society that must be stopped in their attempts to prevent child pornography. He also mentioned a couple of times that he did not like Sharpe's work. However he said that genuine artistic merit must be protected. He also said that the risk of harming children must outweigh the benefits of the material if we outlaw it.

The minister told us this morning that the measure for checking whether the material would be illegal would be did it serve the public good. I would like the member to answer a couple of questions.

First, what part of child pornography does the member feel would serve the public good? Second, at the end he mentioned that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association seemed to think that child pornography was all right if it was made up. What are the member's views about video imaging, computer enhancement and the material that is on the Internet which does not portray children being abused but comes from people's imaginations; that is they make it up, put the material on the net and make it available to people? Does the member defend that as well?

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12:55 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, in response to the member's specific questions, the position that I take, and I believe would be shared by a majority if not all of my caucus colleagues, is that if it has not specifically hurt a minor in the production of it, if it is created by people's visual imaginations and if the main purpose of it is not simply about pornography and sexual exploitation, then under the laws people do have a right to their own imaginations and thoughts, however perverse the member and I might think they are.

Nevertheless, if they come from an artist's thoughts and the body of work that is presented is not pornography per se, that is it may be an element of the overall story but not the main focus of it, then personally I would say, as I do not want to speak for my colleagues, those are fair limits of artistic expression.

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12:55 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member caught my attention as well with his defence of artistic merit as a legitimate defence. I think the member should well know that if child pornography exists, then a child has been abused. That is the bottom line.

What really concerns me about this discussion, and I hope the House will try to flesh out a little more conceptually on this whole aspect of what constitutes the public good, is that this defence has been floated out to be the only defence that will be permitted. If the premise is that the existence of child pornography in any form means that a child must have been abused, then what public good can someone define for me?

Would the member please enlighten the House a little as to public good examples so we can better understand conceptually the principle of public good. In my view it is not very clear what constitutes public good but it should be.

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12:55 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the premise of the question from the member for Mississauga South, if a child has been abused it is pornographic. I agree 100% with the member's point on that issue.

What I am trying to say is that if an artist has visualized this, or dreamt this, or put this in his or her writings or drawings as the case may be but it has not actually affected or involved any minor and if the body of work in question is not primarily pornography but, as I said before in my answer to the member for Cypress Hills—Grasslands, is incidental to the main body of work, then it should be looked at in that light, if it is not filth and garbage.

Again, I might find all this terribly offensive myself and I am sure I would. However we have condemned artistic material over many hundreds of years which on reflection perhaps should have been given a second look. It seems to me that on this question there is reasonable balance on both sides. We are not saying it is perfect legislation. We are saying that we will support what the government has provided today under this omnibus bill.

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1 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, the NDP presenter said that he referred to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have rights and we have freedoms but every one of us who has been elected to the House of Commons has the responsibility to protect our children.

The Toronto police force sent their representatives to Ottawa to meet with us. At the meeting they told us that it was all child pornography. They asked us to strengthen the laws and to give them the tools to straighten this out and correct the situation.

My question to the hon. member is this. How could anyone say that it is artistic merit when they use a child? Glory be, it is not. It is child pornography and every elected person in the House of Commons should be against it and ensure that the legislation brought forward will protect children and correct this.

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1 p.m.


Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wish the hon. member for Saint John had heard what I said. I think that she and I are not in disagreement. As I said to the member for Mississauga Centre, I agree that if a child has been exploited in any of this, it is obviously a criminal activity and should be prosecuted under the full extent of the law, which under this bill would now be significantly greater than what we had before.

What I am trying to do is differentiate between this. I appreciate where the member for Saint John is coming from, as well as the members for Cypress Hills—Grasslands and Mississauga Centre. It is that it is a difficult concept. However we cannot make legislation for somebody who visualizes or imagines or dreams something and puts that in an artistic form, be it in a book, magazine or an art catalogue. If it has not physically harmed an individual, then we have to look at that and consider it before we take any legal action or automatically say that they cannot do that, that we will burn the book and that we will put them in prison for ten years.

As members of Parliament, we have to protect both sides. We have to ensure that children are not sexually exploited. At the same time there has to be some recognition of artistic merit and the need for it. That is the balance we are trying to strike here. What the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is saying is important and we need to weigh that very carefully.

I was at the same conference last year as the member for Saint John when the police were here. I saw her put her head down and refuse to look at the visual images. I know what she is talking about and where she is coming from on this. However there is a balance and we have to try to find that balance, which is what we are doing today.

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1 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this very important debate. Bill C-20 provides us with an opportunity to better protect children in Canada.

This particular debate will evoke a great deal of emotion and there is no doubt that Canadians are watching closely as to how the government and the Parliament of Canada will respond to this important issue. Since the decision in the Sharpe case brought this issue to the forefront, I think that police agencies, victims' groups and Canadians in general have viewed this as an issue of timeliness and an issue requiring immediate action. Sadly, that has not been the case. Although I applaud the government for finally bringing this legislation forward, I lament the fact that it has taken almost two years.

I respectfully disagree with the commentary from my NDP colleague, although I take his comments very much to heart when he speaks of balance. Yes, there is often a need for balance when dealing with issues such as this one, but I also agree with the commentary that there is a time for decisiveness, particularly and fundamentally on an issue that is so grave in the harm that can come to children.

This bill has taken a long time to come before the Parliament of Canada. One would have hoped that in that time it would have come in a perfect form or at least close to a perfect form. That is not the case. I am very fearful that this legislation does not go far enough to alleviate the inexcusable production of child pornography. The bill does not address the current lack of resources in the country vis-à-vis the police and those who deal directly with all efforts to try to attack and remove this scourge on society.

I will preface my remarks by saying that there are many favourable aspects of the legislation. I suspect that on closer scrutiny by the justice committee, it will no doubt prove to be beneficial. For example, clause 5 amends subsection 161(1) of the Criminal Code to expand the definition of those convicted or discharged on conditions prescribed in a probation order and can be viewed as a positive step. The addition of offences under this section will increase the number of offences for which a judge can place a probation order, leading to a greater number of victims being protected. I have a private member's bill that is in the same vein. It would allow a judge to place a provision on a sexual offender barring his or her presence in a dwelling house in the presence of a child unless escorted by an adult. Those are the types of expanded protections that we should be constantly seeking as far as legislation such as this is concerned.

A total crackdown on child pornography is happening in many jurisdictions, including in the United Kingdom. That type of response sends a strong message, a message of deterrence and a message that embraces public protection. That is in and of itself part of what should occur when the law is brought to the forefront.

Sadly, the government has a record of producing complex and cumbersome legislation that is difficult to enforce and often difficult for the courts to interpret. The replacement of the Young Offenders Act is a perfect example, as are the terrorist legislation and the gang law. All of these, although well intended, came far short of accomplishing what one would hope because of the abstract, complex nature in which they were presented.

Getting back to the substance of the bill, the amendments to sections 151 and 152 of the code also maintain the indictable offence maximum of 10 years and increase the level of punishment under summary conviction, by directing the court to incarcerate not exceeding 18 months, making it a hybrid offence, in essence. Again, I view this as positive. It expands the range of sentences available to judges to send that message of deterrence and keeps in mind the balance necessary to at the very least try to rehabilitate.

Sadly, when it comes to child pornography and individuals who engage actively in the manufacturing, production and proliferation of child pornography, just as for those involved in pedophilia and sexual assaults, the chances of rehabilitation are often very slim. The preference in my view, and I suggest in the view of many, is that the emphasis has to be put on the protection of the public when these types of offences are involved. These offences are referred to as sexual assault cases but they are violent offences. Sexual assaults inevitably can be characterized as violent and the effects are long-lasting, lifelong in many instances. A life sentence is what is handed to a victim of this type of horrific invasion.

The fundamental question in this debate must centre around the harm caused to those who are most vulnerable: children, obviously. Underlying this, we must give thought to the role of the court in the context of judicial policy as it pertains to the supremacy of Parliament. We must show how this new legislation would eradicate child pornography within the context of artistic merit.

My overall assessment is that this legislation narrows but does not eliminate or eradicate artistic merit from the Criminal Code. Unfortunately for Canadians, the legislation does not go far enough, I suggest, for it once again could be subjected to judicial interpretation, putting children at risk.

Does the two step analysis of which the minister spoke serve the public good? Some of the questions from my hon. colleague from Mississauga and other members of the House posed the rhetorical question: What possible public good or merit could be found in something that exploits children? There is no merit. There is no public good that could be found in such material.

The second part of this two step analysis of which the minister spoke asks if it goes beyond what serves the public good. I find that statement in and of itself completely puzzling. There is no merit in the depiction of children in a way which degrades them. There is harm in and of itself. There definitely will be constitutional challenges. There always are and there always will be on issues such as this. As surely as night follows day, there will be a challenge based on this new legislation. That is inevitable. Yet Parliament has a strong role to play when it comes to issues of public good. It has a strong role to play in drawing lines on moral issues. Why not be definitive in the first instance if we know that it is going to go to the courts?

There is an inherent danger to society as a whole when we fail to recognize just how detrimental child pornography is at a basic level. No one is suggesting that the works of Nabokov in Lolita or Plato in Symposium or other classics that touch to some degree on issues involving children be removed from circulation based on the promotion of sexual conduct with minors. As my colleague from Saint John suggested, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides protections for freedom of thought and expression, yet implicit in that are responsibilities as well. The question of what constitutes a reasonable limit is central to this debate. Common sense surely must be the guiding principle, common sense that is so often lacking in legislation that appears in this place.

Subclause 7(1) of Bill C-20 amends subsection 163.1(1) of the Criminal Code, defining child pornography to include:

any written material, the dominant characteristic of which is the description, for a sexual purpose, of sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years--

While the addition of a clear section for the purpose of defining what constitutes child pornography is welcome, the removal of the words “for a sexual purpose” would, in my opinion, completely change the meaning of the legislation and its purpose. The exclusion of those four words could send a clear message to the judiciary, removing the subjectivity of the purpose of the work and putting the emphasis on the acts within.

There is also in legislation before the House the issue of dealing with raising the age of consent. I would suggest again that an opportunity was missed to send a clear message on this. There is easily a remedy when it comes to a pure exemption. It would have clarified this supposed reason that the government is putting forward for not raising the age of consent because it would involve sexually active teenagers, that somehow the activities of two teenagers at a drive-in could result in criminal charges being brought forward. There is already the two year exemption that is applied, which again is a common sense approach that surely would prevail, yet the message it sends is one of ambivalence. I know that there certainly are examples that we can all imagine whereby a very streetwise 13 year old, up against a naive 17 year old, would fall outside the current parameters or even the parameters that are presented in raising the age of consent. Again one would hope that common sense would prevail in the courts of the land.

There is always a need to streamline legislation and to put it in common parlance so that people, and particularly young people, can understand it. We seem to, in this place, continually stack legislation upon legislation. My grandfather used to speak about the need to strip away old shingles before putting new shingles on the roof. That same approach, I suggest, would often apply in legislation such as this, as the definition of child pornography should not be open to interpretation through intent or by any other means, that is to say, the thought process behind the writing and whether or not a work was produced for a sexual purpose would be of no consequence. We simply need to state the definition of what is acceptable and what is not, with the clear definition that the judiciary is removed from the public-private nature of the debate.

As a remedy to the problem associated with subsection 163.1(6) of the code, subclause 7(2) replaces subsection 163.1(6) with another subsection which states that no person will be convicted of an offence under the section

if the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence, or if the material related to those acts that is alleged to contain child pornography, serve the public good and do not extend beyond what serves the public good.

What on earth does that mean? Where could there be public good found in some form of child pornography?

I understand the intent of the minister's legislation, yet I fear that what has been presented will not be sufficient to protect against the abhorrent creation of child pornography, of material depicting children in a pornographic way. Members of the public, along with child advocacy groups, members of the House of Commons and Canadians in general, have continually called upon the government to produce a clear, concise piece of legislation which would completely remove the chance that material of this nature would ever find its way into public hands.

The Catholic Women's League of Antigonish and groups from all over the riding of Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, from across Nova Scotia and from across the country have continuously carried on the white ribbon campaign in an effort to have the government bring forward strong laws against child pornography. This bill, sadly, does not meet the standard that they are searching for.

The minister has left open to interpretation by the courts a matter that strikes at the very heart of our democracy. The intent of the bill is to protect children from all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect, and yet unfortunately the definitions of public good will be vague and insufficient and not of a level to objectively put forward to the courts any type of pornography and how it might be used. It is not clear. Once again there is a question of the acceptability to the individual. Obviously an argument as to what constitutes the public good will predominate, leaving the children vulnerable again. There can be no levels of child pornography, just like there are no levels of pregnancy. It either is or is not.

I ask the minister why this legislation took the government so long to produce if it is going to be brought forward in such a flawed manner. The overall effect of the Sharpe decision by Mr. Justice Shaw in many cases had people absolutely recoiling in horror that this decision could have been produced by someone from the bench. Yet that learned judge, by his decision, in fact has kicked open the door, and by this legislation it has been left open by the minister. The door is left open to potential pedophiles who would take advantage of youth, who denigrate images and engage in writings that have a very corrosive effect on societal norms. This is a travesty. Works of this nature go against the very fabric of what is acceptable in a just and moral society. There can be no denial. A direct correlation exists between the fantasies of sick-minded individuals and the harm to children that is created. Why risk the potential danger, I ask rhetorically, when the collective will of the people would see this material stricken from existence?

In handing down the Sharpe decision, Justice Shaw effectively broadened the interpretation of the current exemption of defence for artistic merit. Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in the charter “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. The contention of that section, which is that limits are justifiable, in this case is correct when weighed against the potential harm to children and the intent of Parliament to protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable.

The essence of the debate today is that the protection of children must come first. Simply put, it is my belief the Supreme Court of Canada erred in its favourable interpretation of the Shaw decision. Unfortunately, and I say that respectfully of the courts, the justice minister's lawyers have weighed the rights of the individual against the rights of the child and once again we are left with a mediocre half measure, an attempt to correct. The Canadian public realizes that this is a serious problem yet this is the legislation that the government has produced.

If the Liberal government is unwilling to protect the rights of children and, by extension, their families, I suggest that it might at the very least take the opportunity presented by the upcoming budget to consider supporting victims of crime financially.

The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada has always been supportive of attempts by the law enforcement community, victims groups and child advocates who are constantly tasked and constantly struggling with the lack of resources available to them.

Given what we saw wasted by the government in the production of a long gun registry that is ineffective and a complete disaster, what if that type of money were put into expanding the registry for the DNA data bank, expanding the sexual offenders registry or a missing persons registry, which should be the next step in this attempt to put information online? What about having a victims' ombudsman's office for timely access to information as to matters that were before the court and individuals who are about to be released from prison who were offenders? Funding for legal aid in this country is a disgrace. This, in and of itself, would be an opportunity to put more money into the system to allow for a better brand of justice.

There are so many greater priorities that would have assisted and enhanced our justice system rather than wasting money on a long gun registry that has no connection to public safety and was poorly managed by the government. The Liberals are not good managers, clearly. The fact remains that criminals, particularly the Hell's Angels, will never register their guns. The entire premise of this ill-fated registry is flawed and yet the government continues to support it with taxpayer money. The priorities for where they put the money do not seem to be in line with the public priorities.

As I have said before, what could be more fundamental than the issue of protecting children? We know that the lasting impact on victims of sexual abuse is a life sentence and many of these drastic debilitating effects are sadly passed on and further victims are the result. Very often the mental anguish and detrimental effect on the development of young people is everlasting.

It is incumbent upon Parliament to take every opportunity to make for a safer, kinder, gentler society. I do not want to see Parliament miss that opportunity again.

With the technology that is available, the Internet, there is a great opportunity for police, given the proper resources, to combat this problem in a more effective way. They are crying out for it. Police groups recently have drawn that comparison, what they could have done with $1 billion to address this issue. There is a need to support victims and to have more support and stronger legislation in that regard. It talks directly to the issue of respect and dignity for those who have been victimized. It is clear that there has to be an equitable approach taken by the government, which is why we need this victims' ombudsman's office.

While we debate the merits of the bill, alleviating the philosophic discussions of public good, it becomes evident that the legislation is wanting; the problems associated with the Shaw decision, the Sharpe decision. For the sake of the children, the government has to do better.

In conclusion, we will support the legislation as far as getting it to the committee to try to improve it and add some substance to it. The legislation is a half measure. We want to see the whole measure. People who abuse children must be prosecuted and severely punished. Bringing down laws that are strict, clear and pragmatic is the way to approach this. The legislation is wanting. We in the Progressive Conservative Party hope to make a contribution to see that this will in fact protect children and improve their lives.

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1:20 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on his French. It is coming along very well.

I know the member has spoken many times on the subject matter and I have participated in debate as well. I have questions in two areas.

First, as the member outlined, and as I had asked the NDP member who spoke, conceptually about this thing called public good, maybe the member would like to comment as to whether this generously nebulous concept of public good is an admission, or appears to be an admission, that we cannot frontally address the problems raised by the supreme court.

The second issue has to do with whether or not the member would agree with me that there are circumstances in which subsection 33(1) of the charter, i.e. the notwithstanding clause, and that the protection of our children where the courts cannot seem to be reasonably reflective of what I understand to be the public good and what the social values of Canada are, should be invoked if we cannot deal with this frontally with the courts.

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1:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for this important question.

The issue of public good, which is central to the debate, is what is so unfortunate because the public good can never be served where there is tolerance for child pornography, which is what has happened. The legislation does not close the loophole. Albeit the loophole has been narrowed and is not as broad it is still open to misinterpretation. I do not think the public good could ever be interpreted as allowing for child pornography to exist in any form. There has to be a clear signal and putting down some clear stakes in the ground on this issue is what the legislation should be aimed at.

The second part of my friend's question speaks to the exercise of the notwithstanding clause which is, to use the vernacular, the nuclear bomb within the charter that would obliterate an area of law for a substantive period of time. It is a final step. I would suggest that all preferable routes should be pursued. I suggest that the legislation, with the work and input of my hon. friend, is the answer if we can amend the legislation to get it right. If members of the House of Commons and members of my friend's government would support amendments that would close that loophole we would not have to go the route of invoking the notwithstanding clause.

I am one who is not suggesting that we should never use the notwithstanding clause. It is there for a reason. Members of Parliament should be aware of situations when the notwithstanding clause should be invoked. I strongly suggest that if the legislation is not corrected and remains in such a way that it will leave this type of abuse open then we should use the notwithstanding clause. The Government of Canada should seriously consider doing that. If that is what is needed to protect children then by all means.

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1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech and I can certainly agree with about 99.9% of what he said. There is one little problem though and I will discuss that in just a second.

He mentioned two words, common sense. Since 1993 I have been waiting for some real common sense to prevail in this place when it comes to protecting the children of our country. For the life of me, it has never come to be.

I cannot understand in the slightest why we even hesitate, why we are even debating the idea that there might be a way to present it when the message from Canadians is loud and clear: no child pornography in the country, not an inch, not a pound, not an ounce. There is no room whatsoever for child pornography to exist in the country. There is no public good. There is no artistic merit. No discussion. Legislation that comes forward should indicate that right off the bat

For the life of me I do not know why the Conservative Party would support this on the first ballot in order to get it to committee when we know what the results of committee work have been. It has been demonstrated over and over. Committee work, 99% of the time, is a waste of time because committee recommendations are never listened to. The front row over there will do what it wants. The dictator over there will get what he wants. Why do we not given them a message today on--

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1:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Order, please. I think the hon. member went a bit far. I have no choice but to ask him to withdraw the word “dictator”.

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1:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

I do not know what other word replaces such a word but I will withdraw that one, that is for sure.

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1:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I began my remarks by saying that people become emotional over this issue. I understand my hon. friend's frustration. He asks me why the Progressive Conservative Party supports the legislation at this stage. It is because we have no choice. This is the forum to try to improve legislation.

There are elements, I am sure my friend would agree, that are positive. There are elements here that create a new offence of voyeurism, measures to protect children and vulnerable persons, measures in the courtroom that will protect them from being cross-examined by their abuser, tougher sentencing provisions, a category of sexual exploitation, elements that are there to strengthen the current provisions.

Does the bill go far enough? Does it close the loophole? No, it does not, but it is process that we have to follow. I would rather keep pushing the rock up the hill than jump off the hill, just because we are not at the top yet.

The Progressive Conservative Party will support this flawed legislation at this stage in the hopes of improving it. It is simply a straightforward approach that we have to take. Hopefully common sense, which, as the hon. member has pointed out, is so sorely lacking, will prevail. Members of the government may be shamed into bringing about the necessary improvements by their own constituents. I hope that is the case but I know I can count on my hon. friend to continue to fight the good fight to protect children in this country.