Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to address Bill C-20, in a perspective slightly different from that of the previous speaker of course, but it is the role of Parliament to offer different perspectives.
I would like to start by thanking the members of the Standing Committee on Justice, particularly the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, in the beautiful area of Quebec City, Quebec's national capital, who has worked very hard with all the parliamentarians on the committee to report an improved bill.
We must remember that this bill was in response to court decisions attempting to determine what constituted child pornography offences and what constituted the right to freedom of expression. Any attempt to oversimplify this issue should make us suspicious.
The basic premise of the bill is a real and perfectly defensible one and I think it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that we are opposed to it. We must not change or allow the law to be changed in such a way that children under the age of 14 could have sexual relations with adults and vice versa.
There is a bias in this bill reflecting this reality. Representations were made by a number of groups, and parliamentarians as well. Also, I had the pleasure of exchanging ideas with a member of the other place—I do not think our standing orders allow me to name her—who has been looking into this whole issue of sexual exploitation for a decade. She testified before the subcommittee on solicitation laws.
Our colleague from the NDP proposed a motion to the committee on which I represent the Bloc Quebecois with our colleague, the critic for justice. The senator made us realize that, of the problems we are facing, human trafficking is the biggest. Bigger than property trafficking, and bigger than drug trafficking. The danger exists that children will be used and exploited for sexual purposes.
The Bloc Quebecois supports this bill because it creates a new criminal offence in Canada that did not exist before. It amends section 153 by adding subsection (1.2), which stipulates that, in order to determine that a person--meaning a adult--is ina relationship with a young person that isexploitative of the young person, a judge may take into account thenature and circumstances of the relationship.
Under the Criminal Code, it is already an offence to have sexual relations with anyone under 14 years of age, and that is understandable. There should be something beautiful, egalitarian, and noble about sexuality that contributes to personal growth, which is not the case for 11-, 12- or 13-year-old children who do not have the maturity or experience to engage in, enjoy and benefit from a sexual relationship.
That is how the Criminal Code used to deal with this. For decades now, courts have been convicting individuals who have sexual relations with children under 14 years of age. This bill makes it clear not only that a adult in a relationship with a young person that is exploitative of that young person—note the use of the word exploitative—cannot have sexual relations with the young person, but that the nature of the relationship will be taken into consideration. Originally, the bill set out a number of criteria to be used to determine if a relationship was exploitative.
The first of those criteria was, of course, the age difference between the adult and the young person. The second one was the evolution of the relationship, and the third one was the influence the adult had over the young person.
The Standing Committee on Justice, as I understand--the parliamentary secretary may nod if I am right--added a fourth criterion, namely the age of the teenager.
That goes to the heart of the bill. We believe all those things are relevant. The biggest traffic in the history of mankind, no longer of goods only, but of human beings, is a problem compounded by Internet and new communications technologies. It is now possible to get a lot of information and have access to sites showing teenagers.
This is why a new offence has been added to the Criminal Code; it is aimed at those individuals who have sex with children under 14.
The issue is not as straightforward as it may appear, because of the right to freedom of expression. Of course, no one would claim that freedom of expression justifies having sex with a person under 14. The Supreme Court handed down a decision. What did it say about child pornography? I would like to quote the following:
I conclude that “artistic merit” should be interpreted as including any expression that may reasonably be viewed as art. Any objectively established artistic value, however small, suffices to support defence.
What the Supreme Court said is that we should never interfere with an artist's creative process. As law makers, we are certainly concerned by the Supreme Court's very broad interpretation of freedom of expression and creative process. This is why we had to set limits.
Bill C-20 says that if the depiction of sexual acts with teenagers goes too far, under Bill C-20, it will not be accepted even if it is part of a creative process. That is indeed setting limits.
The definition that would be found in the bill, if passed, would include some safeguards. Thus, we would talk about material that might objectively consist of child pornography, and I quote:
c) any written material the dominant characteristic of which is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of a sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen years.
This would be an offence under the current legislation. We understand there should be a balance. We agree that there might be painters or other artists who will, in their creative process, reproduce scenes of nudity that might involve children. What we do not agree with is written material the explicit and dominant characteristic of which is the depiction of an activity for a sexual purpose and involving people under the age of 18. I think the difference is extremely important.
I was a little sad about the comment from our Canadian Alliance colleague. He suggested that some parliamentarians, because they support Bill C-20, might agree with the fact that there are sexual activities without consent with children. I think we must recognize and say that this is not the objective of the bill.
In substance, the bill would create a new offence, the exploitation of children with the intent of having sexual activities. It would include safeguards in this definition.
When this offence is brought before a court of law, we believe there would be enough safeguards to ensure there is no abuse.
The time that was allowed to me to make my point on this issue has expired.