Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
I am pleased to rise and speak today to Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to protecting children and other vulnerable persons.
This subject has been high on the agenda of our party for a long time. For years the Canadian Alliance has demanded a national child registry and only recently has the government acted. We have demanded harsher punishments for child predators and more resources for law enforcement to catch them. We have tirelessly advocated raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 so that those vulnerable young people have less of a chance of being cruelly victimized.
I am sad to say that in all these regards the bill is sorely lacking. There are no more resources for law enforcement to do its job, there are longer sentences but not mandatory ones, and the age of consent is still at a shameful 14 years.
Last year, John Robin Sharpe argued before the Supreme Court of Canada that he had the constitutional right to possess child pornography. Sharpe had been arrested in British Columbia after police found photographs of nude boys and sexually explicit written material, most of which were described as extremely violent, and included children as young as six years old.
At his provincial trial in 1999, Sharpe had been acquitted of all four counts of possessing child pornography, with the judge striking down the child pornography law. While the Supreme Court decision substantially upheld Canada's laws against child pornography, the exception created for personal writings was defined in such a broad way that violent and anti-social text, like Sharpe's, could still be justified under the law.
These upsetting court decisions do not properly reflect society's interest in protecting children from sexual predators. Children are the most valuable members of our society and the law must recognize that fact and the courts must uphold it.
This necessity has become increasingly apparent over the recent revelations of project snowball. Two weeks ago, project snowball, an offshoot of a worldwide child porn investigation into 250,000 people, has turned over names from every province and territory to Canadian authorities. These individuals have been paying by credit card to access a U.S. child porn site which a Toronto police detective said included “some of the most evil images of child abuse you can imagine”.
Unfortunately we cannot be sure that those individuals will ever face justice for their crimes. Police stated last week that they had the names of more than 2,300 suspected pedophiles across Canada but that only 5% had been arrested because Canada lacked a national strategy for targeting sex offenders. A lack of resources and appropriate legal tools stand in the way of an effective response to this growing problem. Canadian police are hamstrung and Ottawa must do more. We do not see any help forthcoming in the bill which will help to solve the problems our police are facing.
While police are not given the resources to do their jobs, the government will point to its bill and say that children will be better protected. Bill C-20 aims to achieve this by changing the defence for possessing child pornography from the current artistic merit to public good. The word swap is simply repackaging the same thing. It is something we see from the government time and time again.
The public good defence that the government now heralds is almost identical to the old community standards defence that was rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in 1992. There is no positive benefit in recycling laws that have already been discredited by the courts. To do so risks even more child predators continuing to walk free.
In order to create the impression that this law will be tough on child exploitation, the bill proposes to increase the maximum sentences for exploiting children. Unfortunately, the courts have consistently failed to proportionately increase punishments when the maximum allowable sentences are raised. Child pornographers will still be entitled to house arrest, an alternative to prison. Without minimum sentences, pedophiles, like John Robin Sharpe, will continue to escape custodial sentences even when they are convicted.
There are areas in the bill that will increase the maximum punishment for child related offences. These include sexual offences, failing to provide the necessities of life and abandoning a child. The government proclaims that children will be better protected because there will be a greater deterrent to the offences that pedophiles and others who harm children may commit. This is simply not true.
Currently the norm seems to be for pedophiles to be given a slap on the wrist and to serve their time in the community, usually the same one in which they have committed their crime.
In this vein I would like to bring to the attention of the House examples of what a lack of minimum sentences result in. John Robin Sharpe received just four months of house arrest at home instead of doing prison time.
Recently five London, Ontario men, aged 33 to 56, nabbed in the Snowball investigation were charged with offences such as possession of child pornography, production of child pornography and distribution of child pornography. The police described the Internet photographs these men had as some of the most evil images of child abuse we could imagine. Two of those men were recently sentenced with both receiving a six month conditional sentence and eighteen months probation. Is that justice?
The Ontario Provincial Police have urged tougher sentencing for those convicted of child pornography offences saying, “Light sentences in Canada are a joke”.
These penalties do not reflect the severity of these crimes. What has been done to these children to make these terrible photographs is simply unacceptable. We will continue to see more of these types of sentences as the individuals caught in Project Snowball make their way through the courts. We will see pedophiles getting off pretty much scot-free while lives are destroyed to please perverted minds.
Another serious flaw in the bill is the continued refusal by the government to raise the minimum age of consent from age 14 to 16. This is clearly shown by the comments by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada who when performing yet another stalling tactic stated that, “there are many social and cultural differences that have to be reflected in the law and we will work within the consensus”. It is unfortunate that working with its cultural consensus results in a toothless bill. I would like this parliamentary secretary to name the culture to which he referred. There are no cultures in Canada that I am aware of that would accept this kind of child abuse.
It still seems under this government parents and law enforcement officers will never see the legal protection and the authority they need to give these children the proper protection from predators. The age of consent in Canada remains at 14 years even though most western democratic nations have legislated a 16 year age minimum.
The Liberal proposal is to bring in a law that requires the court to analyze each case to see if the adult is exploiting the child. This approach is cumbersome and complex and it fails to create the certainty of protection that children require.
Canada's low age of sexual consent coupled with the government's failure to protect children from sexual predators has resulted in Canada potentially becoming a preferred destination for sexual predators to prey on innocent Canadian children.
The need to protect innocent and vulnerable children from pimps and other adult sexual predators is a matter of the highest priority. Even the Department of Justice's own 1999 consultation paper expressed the view that the current age of consent was “too low to provide effective protection from sexual exploitation by adults”. Until this legislation contains provisions to raise the age of consent to 16, neither I nor my party can support the bill.
The federal government's lack of action has given rise to the belief among Canadians that the rights of pedophiles, pornographers and other sexual predators are more important than protecting our own children.
A Canadian Alliance government would institute a comprehensive sexual offence registry, implement tougher sentences for pedophiles, eliminate all the legal loopholes for child pornography, streamline the administrative process for convicting sex offenders and prohibit all adult-child sexual contact.
Possessing child pornography is not a victimless crime. It degrades, dehumanizes and sexually exploits children. It destroys innocence.
One thing Canadians will see in Bill C-20 is that the government is more concerned with protecting the rights of child predators than in making the necessary changes to protect children. Until our parents and law enforcement agencies have the tools to clamp down on these dangerous sexual predators, they will continue to walk free. We cannot allow that to happen.