Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on a subject the government holds to be fundamental, that is, ensuring that we, as a society, can provide all the protection our young people deserve against people who commit the hideous crime of child pornography. It is a crime that has no place in Canadian society. And when I look at our relationships with the G-8 countries, I can say it is a crime that has no place in the world.
I am looking at the motion put forward by our colleagues in the Canadian Alliance. Essentially, this motion asks the government to eliminate all possible defences for possession of child pornography, which allow for the exploitation of children.
The basic motivation behind this motion is the desire to protect our children from all forms of sexual exploitation. I believe, when I look at all the parties and all the hon. members of this House, that each one of us has the same desire and that is that we want to take whatever action is possible to make sure that we can provide young Canadians with this kind of protection.
As I said before, this objective is at the heart of the government's ongoing commitment to protecting children from exploitation and all forms of mistreatment. This commitment was recently expressed in Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, which I introduced myself on December 5, 2002.
The preamble to Bill C-20 echoes the importance of the issues addressed by the motion. In particular, the preamble notes:
--the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns regarding the vulnerability of children to all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect;
As hon. members know, there are five key components of Bill C-20: first, strengthening the child pornography provisions; second, providing better protection to young persons against sexual exploitation; third, strengthening sentencing provisions related to offences against children; fourth, facilitating testimony by child victims and witnesses and other vulnerable witnesses; and fifth, modernizing the criminal law by creating a new voyeurism offence.
I welcome this motion because I believe Bill C-20 delivers what is proposed by the motion.
Currently, the Criminal Code provides a defence for material that has artistic merit or serves an educational, scientific or medical purpose. It also makes the public good defence available for all child pornography offences.
Hon. members will recall that the constitutionality of the offence of possession of child pornography was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001 in the Sharpe case. In its decision, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed Parliament's goal of protecting children from sexual exploitation through child pornography.
A key element in the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the constitutionality of the overall child pornography scheme was the existence of the current child pornography defences.
Bill C-20 is consistent with the Supreme Court decision. It is intended to simplify and reduce the number of defences that now exist, merging them into one defence based on the public good. In each case, the validity of this defence will be determined in two stages.
First, does the material or act in question serve the public good? If it does not, then there will be 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 will be no defence. In other words, does the risk of harm posed by an act or material in question outweigh any potential benefit to society? If it does, no defence will be available. This is what today's motion proposes.
Let me explain what is meant by public good because this concept has been misunderstood by some.
In the recent Sharpe case, the Supreme Court of Canada considered a public good defence specifically in the context of child pornography, including the meaning of public good. The Supreme Court noted that the public good had been interpreted as including matters that were necessary or advantageous to the administration of justice, the pursuit of science, literature, art or other objects of general interest.
This interpretation is perhaps more clearly understood if one considers how it might operate at a practical level. For example, the administration of justice would include the possession of child pornography as part of a police investigation of a child pornography offence, the possession of child pornography by crown prosecutors for the purpose of prosecuting a child pornography offence and the possession of child pornography by police and prosecutors for the purpose of providing training to police and prosecutors on the conduct of child pornography investigations and prosecutions or even for the purpose of providing educational session to parliamentarians on the harms of child pornography.
All these purposes fall within the administration of justice and all of them necessarily require police and prosecutors to possess child pornography to do their job, a job which the government recognizes as serving the public good.
Bill C-20 recognizes that law enforcement officials must be able to track down child pornographers and protect victims. They are performing a difficult job which serves the public interest and, therefore, they should have the protection of the law.
Consider another example: a journalist who is doing an investigative news story on a child pornography ring. In the course of exposing the child porn ring, this journalist may come into contact with material that constitutes child porn. Again, this expose serves the public good and, as a society, we value this kind of work. Again I believe that this approach is consistent with today's motion.
The proposal in Bill C-20 of a single defence of public good also adds another criterion that is not currently provided for in the artistic merit defence.
Under the current artistic merit defence, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, any objectively established artistic value provides a complete defence. From that perspective, there is no requirement to balance this merit, or good, against any potential harm to society.
Under Bill C-20, the courts must also take into account a second criterion, namely whether the “good” served by an act or any material related to an act offsets potential harm.
Just because there is only one defence, based on public good, does not mean that the legislator is suggesting that child pornography is acceptable. Clearly this is not the case. The government has taken very tangible steps, which denounce child pornography in no uncertain terms.
Bill C-20 proposes another reform with respect to child pornography. It proposes broadening the definition of written child pornography to include materials that advocate or counsel prohibited sexual activity with children, and also materials that describe prohibited sexual activity with children where the written descriptions of that activity are the dominant characteristic of the material and the material was written for a sexual purpose.
The bill includes this proposal because the government recognizes the harm this type of material can cause to children and to Canadian society by describing children as objects of sexual exploitation.
As well, I want to emphasize that the proposals in Bill C-20 seek better protection against sexual exploitation through child pornography in a manner that will withstand charter scrutiny.
The government takes very seriously its responsibility to protect children against all forms of sexual exploitation, including child pornography, as well as its responsibility to uphold the charter. I repeat that it is not a question of doing one or the other. Bill C-20 does both.
The purpose of Bill C-20 is to refine all the prohibitions already in place in Canada with respect to child pornography, prohibitions which are among the strictest in the world.
Since 1993, it has been an offence under the Criminal Code to make, print, publish or possess for the purpose of publication any child pornography, to import, distribute, sell or possess for the purpose of distribution or sale any child pornography, or to possess any child pornography.
Since July 2002, and as a result of Bill C-15A, it has also been an offence under the Criminal Code to transmit, make available or export child pornography or possess child pornography for the purpose of transmission, making available or exporting, as well as to access child pornography.
The same set of reforms also allowed the courts to order child pornography deleted from computer systems, including websites in Canada, and created the new offence of using a computer system in a way, such as through the Internet, to communicate with a child for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against that child.
In addition to these important legislative measures, the government continues to work with its G-8 partners in developing a common strategy to counter the exploitation of children via the Internet. This strategy is comprised of measures to improve international cooperation, prevention, public awareness and local actions in other countries.
There is one extremely important point to be made here. We in Canada have one of the toughest laws in the world, born of our desire to fight tenaciously against this crime, which is so fundamentally heinous and has no place whatsoever in our society, or indeed in any other.
We are well aware, however, that this crime is now taking on a new dimension, a new form because of the variety of means of communication now available, including the Internet. Because of these new technologies, crime is no longer limited by borders.
It goes without saying that perhaps what is required first and foremost to remedy this situation properly is good international cooperation. At the last G-8 meeting in Paris, we had an opportunity to discuss stepping up cooperation and to examine certain studies carried out, precisely with a view to determining solid bases for that cooperation.
We also had the opportunity at that time to hear the views of others involved in international investigations. Once again, they demonstrated the importance of working together internationally in order to ensure that we are able to seek and destroy these networks wherever they are established, even if they work out of countries that may be somewhat less vigilant as far as their legislation or police intervention is concerned.
As Minister of Justice it is my responsibility to ensure that our criminal laws, our policies and indeed the criminal justice system itself reflect evolving Canadian values and emerging justice issues.
The government recognizes the importance of ensuring a strong and effective criminal law response to child pornography. Our children represent our future. We will not allow the most vulnerable in our society to be victimized by pornography. That is what Canadians expect us to do.
The protection of children bill is currently before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I call on hon. members to protect our children by supporting Bill C-20 and to ensure its swift passage. This will enable Canada to continue to be a world leader in the fight against child pornography and the protection of our children.