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House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pornography.

Topics

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Noon

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think one of the cornerstones of freedom of expression is that individuals should have the right to realize their full potential. However, I think we all understand that this is not an absolute right. The Criminal Code defines the limits of that right. That is why we have offences dealing with stealing, assault, murder, fraud and numerous other offences, which I guess to the criminal is their freedom of expression. However, we draw the line on these sorts of things.

I am really puzzled why the government does not deal with exploitive child pornography in the same way it deals with other criminal behaviours and put it squarely in the Criminal Code so that our children are protected from this sort of thing.

I think the member has some legal experience and I would be curious what his comments might be on that, because I cannot for the life of me see the distinction between other types of criminal behaviour and criminal behaviour in respect to child pornography matters.

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Noon

The Deputy Speaker

I regret, but the time has lapsed and we will now return to debate. The hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.

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Noon

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I too want to say a few words on the opposition motion tabled by the member for Wild Rose.

The whole issue of child pornography is an extremely important issue. First, I want to begin by thanking the justice committee. A few minutes ago in the justice committee, members dealt with Bill C-23, the national sex registry. The committee agreed to an amendment I made to have a review of the registry in two years.

I am pleased that the chairman of the justice committee broke the tie. There were opposition members and some government members in support of the amendment and some opposed. The amendment as passed will provide for a review of the national sex registry in two years time. That is a good thing to do. It will make the role of parliamentarians more meaningful in terms of our political system.

The debate before the House today is one that is very important. We are dealing with Bill C-20 in our justice committee. The minister and his officials have been before the committee. We are trying to find an effective way to ensure that we are tough with people who are involved in child pornography and the abuse of children.

I have absolutely no sympathy whatsoever for people who abuse children in the way that they do. I know the minister feels exactly the same way.

We saw some very moving video from the RCMP on some of the most horrific child pornography and the abuse of children that could possibly be imagined. It is the kind of abuse that brings tears to people's eyes. There is no doubt whatsoever that we have to deal with this in the toughest and most effective way possible.

The problem we have with the legislation before the House, and one which people are wrestling with, is clause 7, the public good, the definition of the public good and the whole question of freedom of expression, artistic merit, what a museum can display, what researchers can research and so on. There is a differing legal opinion, as the minister knows, as to clause 7 and the public good.

I want to begin by saying that there is a serious difference of opinion. The Canadian Bar Association, for example, believes that the public good test is too vague and too broad to give this legislation any real effect.

In other words, the Canadian Bar Association is saying that it is not really sure what the public good test really is. It could be too broad or it could be too narrow. It could be too narrow in terms of dealing with child pornography and those who abuse children. It could be too broad and catch in the sweeping definition in the courts genuine artists and researchers, museums or medical research in the country. We do not know what will happen. The jurisprudence will evolve through the courts. In effect what Parliament is doing here is giving the authority to the courts to define what is the public good.

I wish the member for Wild Rose was here. I wonder if he would agree that what we should is remove clause 7 from Bill C-20, with instructions that Parliament define what is the public good. Then the intent of parliamentarians would be clearly signalled to the courts. If we do not do that, the courts will make the definition of public good.

I am one who is very much in favour of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our Constitution. However, I am also one who has been a bit nervous about the evolution of more and more power to the courts, where the courts and not legislatures make more and more decisions in our country about public policy.

I respect the courts and judges. However, they are not elected. It should be us as parliamentarians and provincial legislatures that determine policy in terms of what direction our society wants to go.

This is really the whole debate that we are now having in the justice committee. The debate is what is freedom of expression. I see the member for Dauphin—Swan River who is a decent parliamentarian and human being. He believes in freedom of expression. If he went to a movie theatre tonight at nine o'clock and there was a very popular movie on, if he jumped on the stage half way through the movie to make a big long speech about how wonderful such and such was, he would be in contempt because freedom of expression has certain limitations. He could not do that because it would be a limitation on freedom of expression.

Section 1 of the charter is the limitation clause. It shows there are limitations, but it has to be demonstrated that these are in the public good or the common good. It has to be demonstrated. The whole debate in the justice committee is what is artistic merit, what is the public good?

We want to make sure we have tough child pornography laws that deal in a very tough way with people who abuse children in this country. Some of this stuff is horrendously offensive and is almost beyond imagination. We have to deal with it in an extremely tough way. However, in the sweep of the law we have to make sure that genuine artistic merit and expression does not become a criminal offence. That is a concern many have.

The Canadian Bar Association is about as credible an organization as possible in terms of expressing an opinion on a certain law before the House. Its concern, as I said before, is that the use of the public good test is much too vague and broad to give the legislation any real effect.

We should be instructing the government, instructing the justice committee, instructing Parliament, to make sure that we say what is the public good and what we mean in terms of the law and how it will be carried out.

I see in the House the member from Edmonton, the former Alliance House leader. I am sure she would agree that we often leave too much power with the courts, with unelected judges, when parliamentarians should make the decisions.

The scope of the public good, as I said, is too broad according to some lawyers, and too narrow according to other lawyers. We should clarify what we mean. The police will do a better job and make more sound decisions in their investigations of suspected child pornographers to protect children if there is a very clear definition of what we mean in terms of how we want to protect the children. On the other side, if we have a clear definition of what the public good means, then artists, museums, researchers and others will not be prosecuted for legitimate artistic expression or legitimate research in their field of endeavour.

One of my colleagues on the government side, who is on the justice committee has just walked in. He knows the debate that has been raging in the committee as to what those fine lines are.

We need clarity in what we mean by the definition of the public good. We have to give some guidance to the courts as to what we mean as a parliament by the public good. We have to stop delegating that power to an unelected judiciary. We parliamentarians should write the law and clearly signal to the courts what we mean when we tighten the law against those who commit pornography and abuse children, what we mean by the freedom of expression, what we mean by artistic merit and the right of museums to display certain pieces of art, what the fine line is and what the message is that we want to send to the court.

The bill before the justice committee, which I understand will be dealt with again tomorrow afternoon, is simply too vague on too many fronts on that particular point. We have seen that by the clash of interpretation among different witnesses and the clash of interpretation among different lawyers.

My main reason for intervening today is to say that it is extremely important that we are not derelict in our responsibilities. We as parliamentarians must make sure that we take clause 7 out of the bill as it stands.

We would be better off getting rid of the clause altogether than to have a vague clause which no one can guarantee what it means in the end and leave that power to the unelected courts. Once the jurisprudence and the precedents are built up by our legal system, we may have a very good law. On the other hand, we may have a law that one way or the other does not have the intent of what Parliament means. It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to make sure that is done. I think this is an issue on which Parliament can unite, that it should be us and not the courts who define what we mean by the public good.

Artists should have the freedom to express what they want to express and not be fearful of being charged under the Criminal Code in terms of legitimate artistic expression. People should be able to do legitimate research and museums should be able to exhibit legitimately without fear of being prosecuted and convicted under the Criminal Code. At the same time the Criminal Code must have more power to prosecute and put away those people who abuse children or those people who are involved in child pornography that is so offensive to any kind of civilized society.

I hope we can come to that consensus, that it should be Parliament and not the courts that makes that determination. We can debate what the fine lines are and signal clearly to the courts what the House means.

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12:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his remarks and his contribution in the justice committee as well. He has been here many years and has seen legislation seemingly take forever. If we look at the street level, some of these horrifying things are still happening year after year, decade after decade.

I would like to ask him a question with regard to his comments that he just made about the court system. Who in the world can determine such a subjective thing as artistic merit and what is in the public good? I have a difficult time doing this because of course it is a sliding scale. Everybody has his or her own definition of what that might be.

It seems to me that where young children are being forced into nudity and sexual acts with adults, there is no way on God's green earth I would ever be convinced nor surely would anyone else in this chamber nor anyone in the Supreme Court of Canada nor any of the legal people that this somehow falls under artistic merit. If we look at the devastating ramifications and implications this has on children as they grow up to be adults, I think we are seeing something rampant here that in the next generation we will only know the devastation it has caused.

What is the member's feeling and what are his thoughts on the justice minister coming here this morning and ranting about how Bill C-20 will actually solve everything? In fact a press conference is going on right now in the press room with police and law enforcers saying that this is not going to cut it.

What does he think we could do to convince the justice minister that it is not just us on a political basis here saying we do not think that Bill C-20 will be the answer to all the ills, but the police themselves are saying it just will not hold up? What could we do about that?

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I agree with the member for Edmonton North that any adult who forces a child is obviously not artistic merit. It obviously should be a violation of our Criminal Code and the criminal laws. I want to make that very clear. We saw scenes provided by the RCMP, as the member for Edmonton North said, of 18 month old baby girls being violated by adult men. Obviously that is horrific and we have to come down extremely hard on that type of issue.

My answer to the member's question is that either we as parliamentarians define what the public good is or the courts define what the public good is. It is one or the other. My appeal today is that we as parliamentarians should make the definition. It is going to be tricky in many cases, we all know that, but I would sooner have parliamentarians do it because we are elected and accountable to the people. We should write the legislation without the determination of the courts. If we do not, the courts will do it. As I said, the Canadian Bar Association has said that the use of the term public good as a test is too vague and too broad to give the legislation any real effect.

The answer to the question is that we should do it, not the courts.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps my colleague could comment on one of the concerns that I have, as well as many other members on this side of the House and on the other side too. It is about pornography being considered a gateway, something that will lead to, contribute to eventually and condition people to make the next step to pedophilia, child molestation. We are all concerned with the explosion on the Internet of pornography as it is today and that could lead catastrophically to an explosion in child molestation too, if this is considered to be the first step toward it.

I would like my hon. colleague to comment on that and to reinforce to the government the absolute urgency that this be attended to firmly and squarely with the laws that we do bring down, to prevent this explosion from carrying forward into the everyday world.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to reinforce that.

We are dealing here not just with a magazine one may pick up and pictures one may look at. We are dealing here with videos. We are dealing here with the Internet. We are dealing here with violation against children. We are dealing here with the abuse of children. We are dealing here with the whole gambit of violation and degradation of the crassest kind one would ever want to imagine. We have to deal with it in a very tough way and that is what I want to do.

I commend the member for Wild Rose for putting this motion on the Order Paper. I go back to my central point. It comes down to the definition of the public good. Who defines the public good? Is it the courts or is it Parliament? My plea is that Parliament, and not the unelected judiciary, define the public good. That is where we have to start. Then we can have the arguments as to what is the public good, what is artistic merit, what is legitimate research, what is legitimate in terms of museums, where the two clash and where the fine lines are. Those are not easy questions to answer, but we start with Parliament defining it and not the courts.

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12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I believe that if you seek it among all parties, you will find consent for the following regarding private members' business:

That Bill C-452 in the name of the member for Lakeland, the item that is to be debated on Thursday, October 30, 2003, be switched with Bill C-338 in the name of the member for Surrey North, the item that is to be debated on November 27, 2003.

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12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is there unanimous consent?

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12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Agreed and so ordered.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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October 28th, 2003 / 12:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, once again, as members of the Canadian Alliance, we find ourselves in a position where we have to defend the rights of the most vulnerable group of people in our society, our children, against a Liberal cabinet fixated on protecting the interests of dangerous sexual offenders.

Past experience should tell us that this need not be much of a challenge, given the fact that Liberals tend to govern by opinion polls, and the evidence is clear that Canadians overwhelmingly support giving children the most effective legal protection possible against sexual predators.

Nevertheless, to this point the legislation put forward by the minister continues to defend the interests of sexual predators rather than Canadian children.

However it appears that some of the concerns that have been consistently raised by the Canadian Alliance, members of child advocacy organizations and the police may finally be catching the attention of the government.

Recently we heard the Solicitor General admit that he may have erred in his opinion that including convicted sex offenders in a national registry would violate their charter rights. Perhaps it is not too late to hope that the Liberals will also eventually admit that there is no justification for the criminal possession of child pornography and amend the laws accordingly.

Over the course of parliamentary debate on this issue I have often been struck by the contrast between the fact that Canada's Criminal Code provides no defences against certain types of hate propaganda, yet the defences for the possession of child pornography are alive and well and broader than ever. There is zero tolerance for hate propaganda against vulnerable minorities, and rightly so, yet the most vulnerable minority of all, our children, are not similarly protected.

By now most Canadians are familiar with the case of the notorious child pornographer, John Robin Sharpe, and the material that originally sparked this debate on our child pornography laws. After being caught with material glorifying violent sexual acts between adults and children, Sharpe began a court challenge in the mid-1990s arguing that his charter rights were being violated by Canada's legal prohibition on child pornography. Eventually the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law but said that artistic merit should be interpreted as broadly as possible. A British Columbia superior court judge later did just that and let Sharpe off the hook for two possession with intent to distribute charges on the basis that the material had artistic merit.

Let us be clear about what kind of material we are talking about, the kind of material that allowed this judge to apply artistic merit to acquit Mr. Sharpe of those charges. We are not talking about literature, art or anything that could reasonably be described as such. Seventeen stories that Sharpe had written were given as evidence. Detective Noreen Waters of the Vancouver police department characterized those stories as follows:

They're extremely violent stories, the majority of them, with sexual acts involving very young children, in most cases, under the age of 10 engaged in sado-masochistic and violent sex acts.... And the theme is often that the child enjoys the beatings and the sexual violence....

John Robin Sharpe was acquitted of those charges. Clearly, after the Sharpe cases, there was a legislative gap that required immediate attention. Canadians were outraged but it took some time and considerable pressure to convince the justice minister to bring forward legislation.

Last December, when Bill C-20 was finally tabled, the minister was proud to declare that the existing defences for child pornography had been narrowed, implying that the artistic merit defence was no longer there. No one was fooled. In fact, instead of eliminating all legal loopholes that justify the criminal possession of child pornography in Bill C-20, the minister simply combined these defences and hid them in the broadly interpreted defence of public good.

However, despite the minister's attempt to sell Bill C-20 on the basis that the artistic merit defence no longer applies, he admitted on September 25 in the justice committee that it was still included under the now broader public good defence.

The Supreme Court briefly commented on the public good defence in the Sharpe decision stating:

It might be argued that the public good is served by possession of materials that promote expressive or psychological well-being or enhance one's sexual identity in ways that do not involve harm to others.

If this commentary is any indication of how the public good defence will apply in the courts, it clearly will not fulfil the aim of protecting our children.

The Supreme Court of Canada does not make comments like that idly. It is signalling what it may well do in the future. It is too big a risk for Parliament to leave that particular phrase as open as it now is in the bill. It has become clear that the public good defence has not been precisely defined and will be subject to broad interpretations by the courts.

Mr. David Matas, a well-known lawyer and a member of the board of directors of the child advocacy group, Beyond Borders, said the following during committee hearings on October 7 in reference to the public good defence:

The practical problems of putting a very vague defence into the law is this:

He was referring to this public good defence. The quote continues:

It doesn't serve as a deterrent. If you read what child abusers say, they think what they're doing is in the public good. They promote sexual activity of children. It also is going to lead to a lot of not-guilty pleas. We're going to get the courts clogged up with defendants saying that they're not guilty because they think there's a defence of public good. The defence, of course, will be defined over time, but differently in different provinces until it gets to the Supreme Court of Canada. So we'll have many years of uncertainty about the law.

Given what the Supreme Court of Canada has said, I think know where this court is going to take this particular definition.

The same day, detective sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Toronto police also said:

--trying to, as a front-line officer, determine what the public good is will prove to be impossible.

We are putting evidentiary burdens on the police in addition to those they already have that they simply will not be able to meet.

The representative from the Canadian Bar Association also expressed doubt that the public good defence would be effective stating:

The issue is one of how the courts are going to interpret for public good. This is not an easy concept and it is one that does incorporate the community standard that the court rejected in their interpretation of artistic merit in Sharpe, but there's a real issue of whether or not it's indeed going to solve the problem.

That is exactly what I have said on earlier occasions. The Supreme Court of Canada has already emasculated this particular defence. Why does it think that by resurrecting it in this new bill it will do any better?

From the side of the spectrum that tends to favour freedom of speech over all other social objectives, Mr. Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association also expressed serious misgivings about the public good defence. He said:

Then they talk about the defence of public good, Bora Laskin described it as anomalous, the Supreme Court of Canada has expressed misgivings and the same court has also held that the comparable term “public interest” is constitutionally vague. That's what we would be left with if those amendments were enacted.

What we essentially have is almost every witness, other than the justice minister, coming before the committee and telling us that the law will not work, it will not be effective and, more important, it will not accomplish its objective of effectively prosecuting child pornographers.

In a further complication of the child pornography defences, the Supreme Court carved out two exemptions to the child pornography law in the Sharpe case: that materials, such as diaries and drawings, created privately and kept by that person for personal use; and visual recordings of a person by that person engaged in lawful sexual activity, again kept by the person for personal use.

Although at first blush those types of defences for personal use appear to be reasonable, the latter exemption has the potential to expose children age 14 to 18 to further exploitation by child pornographers since they would be engaging in a legal activity.

What that means is that a 40, 50 or 60 year old man can have sex with a 14 year old girl as long as she consents to the activity, and that man can legally make a visual recording of that activity. Of course it still remains illegal to distribute it but then there is a permanent record of that child that no doubt will eventually be put out into the public domain.

Our age of consent laws also enable child sexual predators to legally use the Internet to lure children over 14 who are online.

One of the more dubious objections to raising the age of consent from 14 was provided by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, the member for Northumberland, who stated in the House of Commons on November 5, 2002 that there were “many social and cultural differences that have to be reflected in the law”.

That certainly was news to many Canadians. Many members of Canadian ethnic groups were offended and angry that the government was trying to hide behind so-called social or cultural considerations on the age of consent issue, and never have the members opposite ever asked which cultural group consented to the exploitation of their children. No such cultural group exists in Canada, and that activity should clearly be against the law.

As Liberal ministers keep making weak excuses for not moving to raise the age of consent, they will continue to be discredited by Canadians who have common sense ideas and are committed to the protection of their children even if this government is not.

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.

So far the committee has heard strong recommendations from several witnesses to ignore any excuse from the government in its refusal to raise the age of consent; particularly from police representatives Detective Sergeant Gillespie from the sex crimes unit of the Toronto police service, who has done such a fine job trying to make the children of this country safer, and Mr. Tony Cannavino of the Canadian Professional Police Association. They continue to come to Parliament to remind us that we are failing our children and that Bill C-20 certainly fails our children.

Instead of raising the age of consent, the bill creates the category of “exploitive relationships” aimed at protecting people between the age of 14 and 18. Overwhelmingly, child advocates have urged committee members to reject the provisions of Bill C-20. This new category is a vague provision that fails to create the certainty of protection that children require. It will not serve as a real deterrent. It will simply result in longer trials and more litigation by putting unnecessary, undue prosecutorial burdens and evidentiary burdens on our crown attorneys and our police.

Mr. Normand Boudreau, also a member of the board of directors for Beyond Borders, urged members to reject excuses against raising the age of consent. He reminded us of the story of the little aboriginal girl in Saskatchewan. This case occurred in Melfort, Saskatchewan.

A 12 year old aboriginal girl was preyed upon sexually after being made drunk by three adult males. A 26 year old man sexually assaulted the 12 year old girl with his two friends outside his truck on a gravel road. The 26 year old man received a conditional sentence. The other two, however, were found not guilty. In the case of those two, the jury found that the accused took all reasonable steps to ascertain that the girl was at least 14 years of age. In effect, in this particular case, the age of consent was 12 years old. These individuals were acquitted because they took all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the individual may in fact be 14 years old. That is shameful and disgusting.

A side issue on this particular debate that is nevertheless an important one is what is to be done with sex offenders once they are convicted. Currently, Canada's methods serve as little more than a weak reprimand. The list of dangerous sexual offenders who receive no jail time is long. I can quote a number of cases where serious sexual offenders won. For example, the Toronto Sun reported that a Mr. Oswold, who had a record of sexual assault, sexual interference and had attempted to obtain the services of a 10 year old boy, received a conditional sentence for breach of a probation order.

These are the kinds of laws the government has passed. They are not only weak laws in terms of sentencing, but to add final insult to the injury is to try to pass a law such as Bill C-20. The list goes on.

Those who suggest that mandatory prison sentences do not deter crime are mistaken. We know that as long as they are secure behind bars, they will not reoffend.

One witness, I believe it was the Civil Liberties Association, said “What do you expect child pornographers to do, collect stamps?” I say they can collect stamps if they want to as long as they are doing it behind prison bars. They should not be released to be able to exploit our children on the Internet or otherwise.

Only a Liberal would suggest that society should take a chance with its children by releasing those individuals into society without first requiring a period of incarceration. A strong message from Parliament to the courts and from the courts to the offenders that the abuse of children will not be tolerated will have the appropriate effect. Unfortunately, Bill C-20 and the Liberal government fail to send that message.

The lack of funding also continues to be a vital problem for those who are tasked with enforcing the laws. In March 2003 Chief Julian Fantino of the Toronto Police Service said that he was:

--deeply disappointed by the recent comments by [the] Solicitor General that police are adequately resourced in the area of child pornography. The Toronto Police Service has received no funding or resources from the federal government in this area. We have, however, managed to move forward thanks to a $2 million grant from the provincial government.

It was the former conservative government in Ontario that showed concern when the federal Liberal government did not.

That will conclude my comments. I would be prepared to answer questions.

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, the speech that we have just heard should be mandatory listening for every person in Canada.

The fact that the Liberal government continues to create ways in which sexual predators, those who prey on children, can hide behind a defence as provided by the Liberals is unconscionable. I would like the hon. member to comment on that defence. The new defence, the public good, in my view greatly broadens the defence that can be used. Instead of just restricting it to artistic merit as it was before, public good could probably be construed to include all of those issues, freedom of speech, artistic merit, all of these other things.

Who among us is not going to say that freedom of speech is a good thing? The courts will certainly see it that way. This one catch-all in my view adds all of these others to it and thereby even broadens the defence.

I would like to castigate the government for creating this defence which is such a huge error. I would appreciate the comments of my colleague on what I have just said. Does he agree with this?

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12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, if I were to stand here and say that I agree with the hon. member, people would simply see that as being self-serving as we are in the same political party. I do in fact agree with the hon. member not simply because it is my opinion but because it is the opinion of reputable child advocacy organizations across the country.

I want to specifically refer the member to some of the comments of Mr. David Matas of Winnipeg. Mr. David Matas is a very well respected legal counsel in Manitoba and in Canada. He has often fought for civil liberties, for immigrants and others. It was his concern, exactly as expressed by the member for Elk Island, that this broadened the defence of artistic merit and that we were not moving forward, we were not standing still, but we were moving backward.

The member for Elk Island should find some comfort that eminent legal scholars have agreed with his interpretation of what the Liberal bill does and that it in no way protects our children. It needs to go back to the drawing board to be redrafted so that the priority of children is the first consideration of Parliament.

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my colleague's speech. He was right on. He has done an excellent job on this particular issue of Bill C-20.

I will ask him a question that I know he probably cannot answer which is in regard to raising the age of consent. I heard the same message from the Liberals that it was not raised to the age of 16 because of certain cultural groups in our country who prefer to keep it at 14 yet no such group can be found.

Can the member possibly give me any reason why the Liberal government refuses to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16? Is there any possible reason that he could name?

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Wild Rose who sponsored the motion. He has been a tireless advocate of ensuring that we have effective laws to protect our children.

In respect of the age of consent issue that the member raised, why is it that the government simply tries to avoid the most direct and effective mechanism of protecting children by at least raising the age of sexual consent between children and adults? I am not talking about children close in age. We all accept that there needs to be an exemption for that kind of activity. That is essentially a social issue rather than a criminal issue. I think what the member for Wild Rose is talking about is the exploitation by adults of children.

Why is it that the government has consistently refused to address that issue? I know one of the reasons. The government consistently puts the cart before the horse. The government keeps on thinking of what the courts are going to do with the legislation if it makes it effective and tough to protect children.

The government tries to think of every single excuse that a judge would come up with, rather than focusing on the legislation, saying what is the most effective way of protecting children, drafting the law in that way and then defending the law before the courts. If the courts want to jeopardize the safety of our children, let it be on their heads, but it should not be on the heads of parliamentarians and those who care about children.

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague speaks with a great deal of knowledge being the former attorney general of the province of Manitoba.

I want to ask the member a specific legal question with regard to what the Supreme Court said in the Sharpe case. The Supreme Court said with regard to the public good clause that while the public good defence might prevent troubling applications of the law in certain cases, it would not do so in all.

My colleague mentioned that in his speech. I would like him to elaborate on that. I was chagrined and dismayed when the justice minister earlier today seemed to say that the fact the Alliance has brought the motion forward was a bad thing. I say it is a good thing. We need to discuss the problems with the government and its Bill C-20.

I would appreciate my colleague's comments on the public good defence as referenced in the Supreme Court decision.

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12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, with regard to it being a bad thing that the member for Wild Rose brought forward the motion, if that is a bad thing, I am happy to stand with the member for Wild Rose and to stand with those who want to protect children, as opposed to the minister who is only concerned about advancing the interests of dangerous offenders over the rights of our children.

With respect to the issue of public good, this is clearly a vague defence on which many of the witnesses have already commented. This defence effectively hides all of the existing defences, including that of artistic merit.

The minister can now stand up in the House and say that he has gotten rid of the defence of artistic merit. He can say that nowhere does it read in the legislation that artistic merit is there. However, all members in the House and any thinking Canadian knows that it has simply been subsumed into that broader, more vague phrase.

I would like to point out that it is not only those who are advocating on behalf of children who are concerned, but civil libertarians also say that this is too vague. Clearly, the minister has got it wrong from any direction one comes at it.

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I constantly hear the minister talk about the leadership that Canada is taking on all these judicial issues and how his government is leading the rest of the world. I find that to be a strange comment as I understand Canada is the only country of all free democracies that has the age of consent at 14, when the rest have the age of consent at least at 16 or older. Is that leadership? We are the bottom of the heap.

I would like to ask the member, from his experience if this particular motion were to pass through the House and most members found it acceptable, how difficult would it be to immediately incorporate the motion into Bill C-20?

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12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, there are number of issues. The biggest concern that I have with the suggestion made by the member for Wild Rose is not the legal issue. We can do that. Good legislative draughtsmen can put together the effective legislation that would prevent this criminal exploitation of our children. The biggest impediment that the people of Canada face is the government and its refusal to take the necessary steps.

What do I need to add? Child pornographers are advertising Canada as a good place to do business because of our present laws.

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12:50 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from the official opposition for moving this motion in the House.

As already stated, the motion from the opposition proposes to eliminate all defences for the possession of child pornography which allows for the exploitation of children.

We on this side of the House believe that this is what we are proposing to do with Bill C-20, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the protection of children and other vulnerable persons, and the Canada Evidence Act which was introduced by the Minister of Justice on December 5, 2002.

I am pleased that the hon. member from the opposite side chose to raise this very important issue because it allows me an opportunity to inform Parliament and Canadians of the important work that the government is doing to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children. We agree with the opposition that our children are our most vulnerable citizens and require the most protection.

I would like to build on a few of the remarks made by the hon. Minister of Justice relating to some of the efforts that the government has undertaken to combat the sexual exploitation of children, particularly on the Internet.

I realize the motion in question relates specifically to Bill C-20 and the public good defence, but now is a perfect opportunity for me to highlight the collective work that we are doing to address the troubling problem of child pornography.

I would like to take issue with statements made by the member for Provencher where he claimed that Canada is wild, open country for child pornographers and that the message going out internationally is that people can do business in child pornography here in Canada.

Most of the studies that I have read and most of the statements that I have either read or heard from law enforcement agencies is that the United States is the source of much more child pornography than Canada.

I am sure we are all aware that the sexual exploitation of children is sadly not a new crime. We have been working for many years on this issue. Canada has some of the toughest legislation and policies in place dealing with the sexual exploitation of children. We are challenged with keeping pace with the rapidly evolving technologies, including the Internet, that make it easier for people to sexually exploit our children.

We are all aware of the benefits of the Internet and the increased access to educational resources. However, the Internet also makes collecting, distributing, accessing and making child pornography easy to do. It is extremely difficult and complicated to investigate, according to our law enforcement experts.

Despite the complexities of these crimes, we have been active nationally and internationally on this issue. In fact, this year the Solicitor General of Canada and the Minister of Justice, along with their G-8 counterparts, endorsed the G-8 strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. This strategy has provided a framework for action by all member states. I am pleased to report that we are taking this initiative seriously and we are working to develop Canadian initiatives that meet the broader G-8 objectives.

On the law enforcement front, for example, the Solicitor General of Canada in the spring of this year asked the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police to create the national steering committee on Internet based child sexual exploitation. The committee has representation from law enforcement across Canada as well as representation from the federal departments of Solicitor General and Justice.

The steering committee is providing direction to law enforcement efforts to better address this problem and is working closely with many specialized units, and many other integrated teams in the provinces and municipalities.

Building on the work of the steering committee and the various provincial initiatives,--because there are provincial initiatives that are to be lauded in the area of prohibiting and investigating sexual exploitation of our children--I am happy to report that we have taken the first steps toward the creation of a national coordination centre at the RCMP.

While it is still in its infancy, this centre is currently in operation, and is coordinating national investigations and liaising with international partners. We are hoping to build the capacity of the centre so it can provide even greater national leadership in this area.

The Canadian government has also been active in the establishment of cybertip.ca, an online reporting centre for reports of Internet based child sexual exploitation. Run by Child Find Manitoba, this pilot project provides a valuable service to law enforcement by forwarding reports of child pornography and also providing educational materials to the public.

The Solicitor General of Canada had the pleasure of announcing $55,000 in funding from his department for the initiative in August of this year and along with other federal departments, including Justice and Industry, we are actively working to find ways to provide cybertip.ca with sustainable funding to build on the current pilot project to make cybertip.ca a national resource.

Children are our greatest asset and Canadians can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to better protect them. Canadians can be assured that law enforcement in Canada is working to complement our strong criminal law framework, which we are hoping to strengthen with Bill C-20. Canadians can also be assured that the government takes the protection of children seriously and is ensuring we keep pace with technological advances.

I would like to address some of the government initiatives to protect our children from sexual exploitation. If we look at Bill C-20, among the various provisions, it proposes to limit the existing defences for child pornography. It proposes to strengthen the Criminal Code by expanding the current definition of written child pornography. It also proposes to increase the maximum penalty for sexual exploitation of children from 5 years to 10.

It maintains Canada's status as having some of the toughest child pornography legislation in the world, but we have done other things. Members who are sitting in the House now may remember that on December 11, 2002, the government tabled Bill C-23, the sex offender information registration act. It is before the committee on justice. I am pleased that we dealt with it this morning and hopefully it will be reported back to the House either today or shortly.

Bill C-23 proposes to establish a national sex offender database. The database would contain information on convicted sex offenders and would assist police across the country who investigate crimes of a sexual nature by providing them with rapid access to vital current information of convicted sex offenders.

We have Bill C-15A, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to amend other acts, which received royal assent on June 4, 2002. What are some of its provisions? It created a new offence to target criminals who use the Internet to lure and exploit children for sexual purposes. It made it a crime to transmit, make available, export and intentionally access child pornography on the Internet. It also allowed judges to order the deletion of child pornography posted on computer systems in Canada.

This was a power or an authority that the judges did not have prior to the royal assent of Bill C-15A. It allowed judges to order forfeiture of materials or equipment used in the commission of a child pornography offence. Here again, this provided new authority to judges which they did not have before.

It also enhanced the ability of judges to keep known sex offenders away from children by making prohibition orders, long term offender designations and one year peace bonds available for offences relating to child pornography and the Internet.

Finally, another of the provisions amended the child sex tourism act, which had been enacted in 1997, to simplify the process of prosecuting Canadians who sexually assault children in other countries. I think that is testimony to the gravity and the seriousness with which the government takes its responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our children.

That is not all. Since 1993, we have introduced other changes designed to protect our children or to enhance the protections that we have for our children, such as, for instance, amending the Criminal Code to toughen the laws on child prostitution and child sex tourism, which I just mentioned. We strengthened it again under Bill C-15A. We amended the Criminal Code to ensure that peace bonds keep abusers away from women and children. We passed legislation to enable criminal records of pardoned sex offenders to be available for background checks. We passed legislation to change the parole and corrections systems so that sex offenders serve until the end of their sentence.

Those are just a couple of example of provisions, measures, steps and legislative changes that the government has taken to strengthen the protections that we have for our children in order to ensure that we do everything we can to eliminate sexual exploitation of our children, and that when we do uncover it and find it, it is properly addressed and those who commit it are properly punished.

It is so important for us to look at and deal seriously with this issue. I honestly believe that our government has done so. I have not listened to all the speeches or the participation in the debate of all members of the opposition and members on the government side who have participated; I have only been able to listen to that of the member for Provencher. I found some of the issues he raised to be very pertinent, but I disagree with him when he says that they are not addressed by Bill C-20. I believe they are addressed.

There is one issue that I think most if not all of the witnesses who came before the justice committee spoke to. I am a member of the justice committee and I have had the privilege of participating in these sessions where we have conducted consultations on Bill C-20. It is the issue of the public good defence. There has been some confusion on the part of some witnesses, but there has been clarity on the part of other witnesses. It is clear that the clarity brought forward by what I would say is a consensus of witnesses is that the government may do well to look again at the dispositions or the sections in Bill C-20 that talk about public good and bring more clarity to them to ensure that the bill does in fact ensure protection of our children from sexual exploitation. On that, I think the member for Provencher gave an accurate accounting of what we heard from a large majority of witnesses. I think the government would do well to look at that piece of it.

However, on the rest of Bill C-20, I think that the overall majority of the witnesses who came before us, if not all, said that this is needed legislation. They commended the government in going forward on the legislation. They were in agreement that the legislation is needed, that it is a positive measure and that they wanted to see Bill C-20 adopted. However, they wanted to see clarity brought to the public defence issue. On that issue, there was agreement among a lot of the witnesses.

I will conclude now. I still have five minutes but will not repeat what I have said as I think the statements and points I have made are very clear. I think that any member in the House who listened to what I had to say would understand very clearly where I am coming from and what issues I feel are important and are being addressed by Bill C-20. As well, they would understand the measures and the steps that the government has taken since 1993 to continually strengthen the protection of our most vulnerable citizens, our children, and to strengthen Criminal Code provisions to ensure that those who would sexually exploit our children are properly caught, properly charged, have a fair hearing before the proper courts and, when convicted, receive the proper sentencing.

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1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, in my comment I want to reflect on a situation that occurred in our province of Saskatchewan this past year. A 12 year old girl was sexually assaulted. Three men in their twenties were charged. The trial took place in Melfort. One man was convicted and two were acquitted.

The decision to acquit those two individuals was very controversial in Saskatchewan. The public backlash was massive and it united aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

In the trial, the defence used by the accused and the instructions to the jury on the matter referred to the matter of the age of the victim. The argument used was that they believed she was 14 or older when she was in fact 12 years of age.

I recall the Minister of Justice saying on that particular issue, when we had a motion before the House on it, that it was far too complicated to be dealt with here, that it was a very complicated issue. I would suggest that the inaction of this government caused a huge injustice in that trial and that perhaps two individuals are walking free in our society today who should not be.

Does the member now see the merit in looking at this age of consent and moving it up to a reasonable level, to at least 16, for one purpose, that of protecting our children from abuse and from sexual assaults like that in the case to which I have just referred?

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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have not had the privilege of actually following the case the member is talking about. When I say following the case, I mean actually following all the testimony during the trial itself and then the verdict and the reasons for the verdict.

However, on that issue, obviously it is horrendous for any child to be taken advantage of sexually, but putting that particular case aside and simply dealing with the question of age of consent, I am a mother. I have a daughter who will be 11 years old next year. As a mother, and I do not mean to trivialize the question, I would love to have the age of consent at 25. For me personally as a mother, I do find that the age of consent at 14 is too low. I would be more than prepared to look at raising the age of consent, possibly to 16.

However, I do not think at this point in time that this is what we are dealing with. We are dealing with Bill C-20. We are dealing with sexual exploitation of children. I think that age of consent has to be dealt with in another debate. The reason I say it would need to be dealt with in another debate is that I am aware that depending on which province one is in there is a different age requirement for marriage, for instance. I think we have to look at all of that issue.

I would not at this time address the age of consent, as the member opposite would like, in Bill C-20. I would say that we as Parliament and as a society should begin a debate on the issue of age of consent, making it separate from Bill C-20. If there develops a real consensus among Canadians that the age of consent should be changed from where it now stands, then we would take in the appropriate legislative changes. The legislative changes would not just be those that are addressed by Bill C-20. There would be a whole host of legislation. In some cases that legislation may actually be civil legislation and come under provincial jurisdiction.

So on the issue of whether or not there should be a debate on age of consent for sexual activity, yes, it is a debate that we certainly could have in our society and in this House, but I do not think that now is the time. I think we need to support Bill C-20 and get it adopted so that the criminal dispositions that will protect our children will be reinforced.

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1:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened quite carefully to the speech. One thing rather amazed me. The member is a person of some authority, I suppose, as she is a member of the justice committee and she has been studying these issues, but in that whole speech I was not able to find out whether or not she would be supporting this motion today.

She spoke on both sides of the issue at various times. Every once in a while I thought, “Yes, she will be supporting this motion today”. This is a really good motion today. We are talking about stopping the sexual exploitation of children. I thought, “Wow, she is going to vote for it. She is going to support it”. Then a few minutes later, there was all that equivocation.

If she will be voting against this, I would really like her to explain whether she in fact condones the use of children in depictions of sexual acts, either with other children or with adults, and whether somehow in our society it is in the public interest and the public good if that is done.

Therefore, I would urge her to vote in favour of this motion today and I would like her to state that she will be doing so in order to give leadership to all those other colleagues of hers over there who may be similarly vacillating.