Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-20.
Before I go any further I wish to inform the House that I will be splitting my time with the Secretary of State for Children and Youth who I know has been working very diligently in this area.
I would like to inform the member for Okanagan—Shuswap that the chair of the environment committee earlier today tabled a bill from that committee that had 79 amendments. Committees do in fact amend legislation on a regular basis. To say anything else to the Canadian public is a misrepresentation of what in fact takes place in this parliamentary process. That bill could be further amended in third reading in the House. I encourage all members to support Bill C-20 and get it into committee where more fulsome testimony can be heard.
Throughout this discussion I hope members will be very cautious in how they present the opposing viewpoints. It was very disheartening to me, as somebody who has worked on this issue and who cares very deeply about the children of this country and other countries where some of this pornography is made, that because we do not support their perspective somehow we do not care about children. That is absolutely inaccurate. I care very deeply about children and I have been working on this issue since I came to Parliament in 1993.
The language that we use is also important. I know the headlines in our local newspaper in the case of the Internet pornography that came out of Texas had "kiddie porn bust". Kiddie porn is an attempt to make it cute and acceptable. It is not cute or acceptable. It is child exploitation. We need to be very careful in the language we use and the headlines which refer to this kind of exploitation. All members of the media need to take their responsibility very seriously.
It is important to note that through the work of CIDA we work to reduce the exploitation of children in other parts of the world. The House passed legislation that makes it illegal to travel to another country to exploit a child. That was very important legislation. We were only the 12th country in the world to pass that bill. It will make a difference for children internationally.
We also need to be very cognizant of the fact that the people who work with children on the streets of Toronto, Vancouver and any other big city in this country tell us that those pornographic materials that exploit children are being produced right here in Canada. We must do more to enhance child protection. We must ensure that we have strict laws that prohibit the production and possession of this material as the bill does. We have to do more to educate the public about what it means when they consume this kind of material. We have to turn off the people who think this is acceptable. Ultimately, laws are only there when people have done something wrong. I prefer that we turned it off in the first place.
I was very pleased to hear in the minister's announcement of Bill C-20 that he reiterated the government's financial support for Cybertip.ca and for a tip line, 1-866-658-9022, where people can call and report incidents when they think people are exploiting children on the Internet or elsewhere. We can work toward ensuring people understand what this means for the world's children.
Bill C-20 is a comprehensive set of protections and reforms to the Criminal Code. It is responding to decisions that have been made in the courts and making sure that it is Parliament that is making the laws and not anybody else. It is our job to accept or reject the decisions that are made in the courtrooms across the country. We all play a part in making sure that Canadians have the best laws in place.
The minister has introduced this comprehensive package of reforms that improve the protection for children and vulnerable persons. It fulfills key commitments that we made in the throne speech of 2002. Particularly, we will enhance the protection of children from sexual exploitation and enhance the measures that we have already taken to create new offences that target criminals who use the Internet to lure and exploit children.
New technologies like the Internet are making the exploitation of children a borderless crime and so the government is working internationally to try to reduce this exploitation.
The important things that have been debated today are the changes to the artistic merit and public good sections of the bill. I will touch briefly on that. However it must be clear that the proposed reforms would expand the existing definition of written child pornography to include material that is created for a sexual purpose and predominantly describes prohibited sexual activity with children. The current definition in our Criminal Code only applies to material that advocates or counsels sexual activity with children. This is an expansion of the current provisions and will do more to make sure the law achieves what we all want it to.
The other very important area is the new category of sexual exploitation to protect young Canadians between the ages of 14 and 18. The courts will now have to consider whether a relationship is exploitative based on its nature and circumstances, including any difference of age, the evolution of the relationship and the degree of control or influence exercised over the young person. It will really be up to the courts to look at the conduct and behaviour of the accused rather than the issue of consent, and that is an important issue for all Canadians.
We have heard other members say that all we need to do is raise the age of sexual consent to 16. Oh, really. Then we would somehow say that it is not appropriate for a 14 year old and a 15 year old to kiss each other. That is sexual activity. Nobody wants to criminalize that kind of behaviour. In what the minister has done, we are making sure that kind of activity can continue and that we will protect 16 year olds and 17 year olds as well, which the members opposite would not do by moving the age of consent to 16. They would not be protecting 16 year olds and 17 year olds.
It is important that we are also enhancing, doubling in fact, the maximum penalty for sexual exploitation. Contrary to what some people have said in the House during debate, doubling the maximum penalities sends a strong signal to the courts that this is a very serious issue and it can be more effective than any minimum sentence in deterring this kind of activity as much as people actually think about how they will be prosecuted.
The maximum penalty for abandonment of a child or failure to provide the necessities of life to a child will be more than doubled, from two years to five years. That is another important area where we can protect our children.
An important area that has not been touched on at all is the new offence of voyeurism. We are faced with a situation right across the world now where people are becoming involved in webcam activity. People, young and old, are having all their daily activities monitored on the web. It is a very bizarre kind of thing. I do not know why people consume it or produce it but people are doing it. We must be very careful to ensure that there is no secret viewing or recording of people for sexual purposes, or breaching people's privacies. Those are important areas to protect particularly young people who may not see the seriousness of giving up their privacy by participating in this kind of activity.
It has been a very interesting debate in another important area. I heard members of Parliament talk about how they want to do more to protect our children. I say to them that I do not understand why they oppose gun control which protects our children and our society. I would ask them why they want to criminalize activity and treat children as adults when it comes to the Young Offenders Act but they do not want to treat children as children in this particular case and work to protect them in the same ways.
We have to be very careful to be consistent in our messages. The government believes that people under the age of 18 deserve some enhanced protection, which is what the minister has done with the bill.
I would encourage all members of the House to support the bill, to have further debate in committee and to work toward enhancing the education around protecting our children.