Mr. Speaker, passing bad legislation hoping it will protect children will not do nearly as much as passing good legislation that actually will protect children.
This is the second time in a year that I have risen in the House to call upon the Liberal government to take meaningful steps to protect Canadian children from sexual predators. I am using the expression meaningful steps because I want to make a clear distinction between the government's actions and the needs of Canada's children.
Last April 23, in my other speech, I called upon the Liberal government to raise the age of sexual consent to at least 16. This was raised by my colleague from York just a moment ago. I did so because as we examine Bill C-20, which has the stated purpose of protecting children, we note that the bill does not in fact define what a child is. It relies upon the current definitions in the Criminal Code.
Here it is particularly useful to consider this in the context of sexual exploitation. Clause 4 of Bill C-20 modifies the current section 153(1) of the Criminal Code. At first inspection the modifications appear substantial but the true purpose of the amendment is to increase the punishment for this offence from five years to ten years. Although this increase alone is a positive step, its potential ability to really protect minor children from abuse is minimized unless the age of consent for adult-child sex is raised from 14 to 16 years.
Making this change would be simple and easy. For the purposes of section 153 of the Criminal Code, it would require changing one word in section 153(2). That is right. If we were to change the word “fourteen” to “sixteen” in section 153(2), we could raise the age of consent for the purpose of 153(1) to 16 years of age. Right there, that single word change would offer legal protection against sexual predation for an additional one million Canadian kids.
Let me repeat this concept so it is clear for Liberal members of Parliament who have not summoned the will to show leadership nor summoned the will to implement common sense into law. If we were to raise the age of consent to 16 we could offer, according to Statistics Canada, legal protection to roughly one million Canadians between the ages of 14 and 16 years. It would cost the state treasury nothing. It is simply a one word change. However, to some Liberals, changing a single word to safeguard a million children is just too hard, too politically correct and perhaps too obvious to grasp.
In 1987 the Progressive Conservative government of the day made one of the worst public policy decisions in recent years when it reduced the age of consent for sexual activity from 18 to 14 years of age. Both the provincial attorneys general of Canada and the Canadian Police Association are in favour of raising the age of consent to at least 16 years of age.
Over three years ago, in November 1999, after decades of seeing the terrible results of having lowered the age of sexual consent, a federal justice department paper recommended raising the age of consent from 14 years back up to 18. The report, commissioned by the government, which should have been read and should have been implemented, reads:
There will always be some people who seek out vulnerable children to satisfy their own dangerous impulses, frustrations or need to dominate, in spite of the law and the disapproval of the vast majority of Canadian society. Immature, inexperienced youngsters are unlikely to have adequate knowledge of the implications and consequences of sexual activity. The relatively low age [of consent] may allow pimps, for instance, to seduce young girls without fear of prosecution, with the intention of luring them into prostitution.
We heard the bogus argument from my Liberal colleague from York, who spoke prior to me, that if we were to raise the age of consent to 16 somehow parents of a 15 year old girl could prosecute a 17 year old boy, which is utterly nonsensical. No law ever goes to court unless a prosecutor decides to take it to court, and even if that were to happen, if a prosecutor were to set aside common sense, all that would have to happen is that we would write it into law. We could impose a law where if someone had sex with someone under the age of consent, we would not prosecute if the age between the two people was, say, less than five years. It would be a simple thing to do.
Unfortunately, like so many of the countless ideas, the reports I just quoted, the papers, the recommendations and issue discussion papers for which the Liberal government pays, this paper was dismissed. The fact that one million children who could be protected by the addition of a single word are being ignored is disturbing.
However the weaknesses of Bill C-20 go beyond this. If ignoring a million children or adding more defences for those who would sexually exploit children were not enough reasons for the government to call for better legislation, here is another one. In November 1999, as my colleagues have been arguing, John Robin Sharpe was charged with the possession of child pornography in violation of the Criminal Code. At his trial, Sharpe contested the constitutionality of section 163.1(4) by specifically stating that a definition of child pornography that included sketches or drawings that were based on the artist's imagination rather than on an actual child was going too far.
On June 30, 1999, the British Columbia Court of Appeal agreed with him. This was confirmed in January 2001 by the Supreme Court of Canada, which said:
Accordingly, s. 163.1(4) should be upheld on the basis that the definition of “child pornography” in s. 163.1 should be read as though it contained an exception for: (1) any written material or visual representation created by the accused alone, and held by the accused alone, exclusively for his or her own personal use; and (2) any visual recording, created by or depicting the accused, provided it does not depict unlawful sexual activity and is held by the accused exclusively for private use.
If the government were grounded in the common sense of everyday Canadians, bells would have been going off in the justice department the day the B.C. Court of Appeal said that there was a problem with the definition of child pornography.
Eighteen months later the Supreme Court of Canada agreed that there was a problem with the basic definition of child pornography. This happened roughly two years ago and the Liberal government still has not acted. What the government has done is broaden the defences contained in the Criminal Code, the section that aided and abetted John Robin Sharpe's perversion. That section currently reads:
...the court shall find the accused not guilty if the representation or written material that is alleged to constitute child pornography has artistic merit or an educational, scientific or medical purpose.
Thus, in the current Criminal Code there are four defences for people charged with possession of child pornography: if it has artistic merit, if it serves an educational purpose, if it serves a scientific purpose or if it serves a medical purpose.
Bill C-20 would completely rewrite subsection 163(1) of the Criminal Code. The new subsection would read:
No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence serve the public good and if the acts alleged do not extend beyond what serves the public good.
Instead of the four potential defences there would be just one, public good. It is therefore essential to find out what public good means. The very same Sharpe decision that told the Liberal government that there was a problem with the definition of child pornography, the Supreme Court of Canada examined the potential defence of public good.
At paragraph 70 of the decision Madam Justice McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, along with five other justices agreeing, wrote:
“Public good” has been interpreted as “necessary or advantageous to religion or morality, to the administration of justice, the pursuit of science, literature, or art, or other objects of general interest”.
So we have a majority of judges on the Supreme Court telling us that public good, which is what would be put into the law with Bill C-20, essentially has six elements. It has to be necessary or advantageous to any of the following: religion or morality, the administration of justice, the pursuit of science, the pursuit of literature, the pursuit of art, or the pursuit of other objects of general interest.
We have a Liberal member of Parliament applauding that. Yes, more power to the courts.
In Bill C-20 we have gone from four potential elements to six. The Liberal government has expanded the definitions and the reasons by which a Canadian may possess child pornography. Any bill that gives more ways to justify child pornography is a big step in the wrong direction, and yet the Liberal government celebrates the bill. The member from Hamilton just applauded to it, which includes dangerous ideas.
However, as we look at it things gets worse. We have lost the medical purpose as a defence and we have gained “the pursuit of other objects of general interest”. Most Canadians would agree that the pictures in Gray's Anatomy are not child pornography. At the very same time, I am not sure that our courts are ready to find out whether man-boy love documents could be said to be objects of general interest.
Quite simply, the bill cannot continue without dramatic amendment. As a Parliament we must stop merely passing legislation. We must begin taking meaningful steps to protect children from sexual predators.
Why? Because one of the worst things we do in this society is destroy the innocence of the young before their time. We do it in our culture, our television and in movies. We do it through our social and moral complacency. Now, sadly, we are doing it through our own laws by not using every and all known avenues to prevent the exploitation of kids.
The Liberal government, with all the tools of power at their disposal, has failed Canada's children yet again. Thus, it has provided yet one more reason why Canadians deserve a new government that understands the needs of Canada's most vulnerable. The Liberal government does not get it.