Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Langley--Abbotsford.
I rise today to participate in this most important debate. I am confident that members on both the government and opposition sides of the House agree that nothing is as important in our lives as our children and our grandchildren and that therefore Bill C-20, which deals with child protection and child pornography, is of utmost importance in our minds.
Unfortunately, the bill, like all justice bills produced by this government, falls far short of the expectations of the Canadian Alliance, the official opposition. It fails to adequately protect our children from sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect. That, in my opinion, is totally frightening and unacceptable. I say that not only as a member of the opposition but also as a father of two young children.
As pointed out earlier today by my colleague from Provencher, Bill C-20 simply changes the defence for the possession of child pornography. Under this legislation, individuals arrested for the possession of child pornography may use what the government considers a narrower defence, that being the defence of within “the public good” as opposed to defending the possession of child pornography for reasons of artistic merit, educational, scientific or medical reasons, and the public good. In R v. Sharpe, the Supreme Court of Canada found that public good could have been interpreted to be “necessary or advantageous to the pursuit of science, literature, or art, or other objects of general interest”.
Quite obviously, for all intents and purposes the defence of public good can and will be widely interpreted to still include artistic merit. Therefore, nothing really changes from the current status except that our courts will be further inundated with cases. Horrific amounts of time will be wasted while defence lawyers argue what does and does not constitute the public good. We all can recognize that this will become a lawyer's dream as they argue back and forth as to whether or not this constitutes the public good.
Bill C-20 does seek to increase maximum sentences for child related offences. It does not, however, impose any minimum sentence, which effectively means that pedophiles can and will continue to receive fines and conditional sentences, measures that do not in my opinion ensure the protection of society or the protection of children. They do not ensure the good that we would like to see come out of such a bill.
Bill C-20 was introduced on December 5, 2002. Less than two weeks later, when the issue of child pornography was very prevalent in the media, a Brantford police officer convicted for possession of child pornography on his home computer was given a conditional sentence of 18 months, including only 6 months of house arrest.
Similarly, a Winnipeg man who was caught with 258 pictures of naked children, some as young as six years old, posing and participating in explicit sexual activity, was given absolutely no jail time. In fact, he was not even given a conditional sentence. This child predator was simply fined for his crime against hundreds of innocent children. Although he was ordered not to use the Internet or a computer while at home, he was still permitted to use the computer while he was at work. He was placed on three months' probation and ordered not to have any contact with children under the age of 18 unless an adult was present, a restriction that nowadays would be hard for much overworked probation officers to diligently enforce given their workload, which we hear about from the media.
The provincial court judge was rather proud of the hefty fine that she placed on this individual. She noted that in other cases where persons had pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, offenders were given lesser fines for both the possession and the wilful distribution of these despicable pictures.
Nothing within Bill C-20 prevents judges from handing out conditional sentences or fines to offenders convicted of possessing or distributing child pornography. In my opinion and in the opinion of the Canadian Alliance, those who possess and seek to possess child pornography are every bit as guilty of committing a crime against a child as those who take the pictures. They should therefore be sentenced to a minimum term in prison. Forget the maximum that the judges and the courts very seldom impose; they should be sentenced to a minimum term in prison for committing the offence of aiding and abetting the abuse, the torture and/or the sexual exploitation of children.
We need a law that makes sure that people do not go near child pornography. Child pornography is unacceptable. It would seem that is the type of law the government is unwilling or unable to bring forward.
Unfortunately I hold out little hope that the government will ever create that type of offence or see fit to ensure that anyone and everyone who preys on innocent children spends time incarcerated. Incarcerating those who possess and distribute child pornography not only helps protect other children from being victimized, it acts as a deterrent to those who are seeking to sexually exploit children.
Since 1995 the Canadian Alliance has been asking the government to restrict the use of conditional sentences for non-violent offenders. We have ample reason to be concerned about the release of violent offenders, particularly rapists, on to our streets, reason such as the safety of our children, the safety of our sons and our daughters.
I have often stood in the House and stated that sex offenders have the highest reoffending rate and therefore pose a very serious risk to the safety and lives of families across this nation. Despite our repeated requests, despite the requests that have been echoed by the Canadian Police Association, the Minister of Justice refuses to limit conditional sentences. Therefore clause 3 of Bill C-20 states that any person who, for a sexual purpose touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object any part of the body of a person under the age of 14 years is, under section 151(b) of the Criminal Code, guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to a term in prison for a term not exceeding 18 months. In other words, anyone convicted of sexual interference with a person under the age of 14 can and will be given a conditional sentence.
If the government were interested in truly protecting our children, it would have drafted the bill to have all sexual interference considered an indictable offence and subject to a minimum term in prison.
The Canadian Police Association and the official opposition have asked for restriction on the use of conditional sentences. In fact it was one of the recommendations or resolutions of the Canadian Police Association in 2002. The government has ignored that request.
It was interesting to note that in a desperate attempt to save grace in the face of daily news stories regarding the $1 billion boondoggle of the gun registry, the justice minister proudly paraded the position of the Canadian Police Association on the firearms registry. In fact the justice minister disseminated to all members of Parliament and we all received a copy of a document produced by the CPA regarding the registry.
I challenge the Minister of Justice to distribute to all members of Parliament the resolutions or recommendations of the Canadian Police Association regarding conditional sentences. I challenge him to distribute all of the resolutions of the Canadian Police Association, such as the one calling for an end to club fed; an end to housing dangerous and violent offenders in prison and many others; the resolution regarding the elimination of faint hope; the creation of a viable sex offender registry that will work; the creation of a cyber tip hotline. I challenge the justice minister to explain why he has ignored the Canadian Police Association on so many issues yet he parades the association around when it suits him.
The police complained two weeks ago that they needed more resources to deal with child pornography, especially after foreign investigators tipped them to hundreds of users in this country.
Commenting on the international investigation, a Toronto police detective sergeant said that the Canadian police are hamstrung. It is time that the federal government changed it.
Our request to the government that is in power is first to recognize that what it is bringing in Bill C-20 is not adequate. It is not going to adequately help the police. It is not going to adequately protect the children. We need a bill that will do that.