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House of Commons Hansard #81 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.

Topics

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should celebrate and encourage Canada's magnificent and diverse culture by changing the Income Tax Act to exempt creative and interpretive artists from paying income tax on a percentage of income derived from copyright, neighbouring rights, and/or other income derived from the sale of any creative work.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Today the House will debate the first private member's item subject to the new provisional standing orders. Therefore, I would like to remind hon. members that the length of speeches will be as follows: (a) member moving the item, 15 minutes maximum,and the speech is subject to a five minute question and comment period; and (b) all other members 10 minutes.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker,it is an honour to be the first person to take part in the new parliamentary system around private members' motions. I guess one could say that I will go down in history today by being at the beginning of the roster.

It is my great pleasure to move Motion No. 293 today. The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should celebrate and encourage Canada's magnificent and diverse culture by changing the Income Tax Act to exempt creative and interpretive artists from paying income tax on a percentage of income derived from copyright, neighbouring rights, and/or other income derived from the sale of any creative work.

I am aware of one amendment that will be proposed by my friend from Quebec City, and I welcome the amendment.

In the last Parliament, my colleague, Nelson Riis, introduced a similar motion calling on the government to give a general tax exemption of $30,000 for artists. That motion was defeated largely based on an argument by the parliamentary secretary for the minister of finance of the day, who said:

It is not clear that artists, writers or performers have greater needs than any other individuals with comparable incomes. Thus, to provide a special tax exemption to an individual simply because he or she engages in artistic activities would be very difficult to defend on equity grounds. It would also lead to requests for similar treatment for other groups that also believe they are deserving of special status.

Sadly, the debate rules of that day did not allow for rebuttal on my part, so I would like to take a second to address the notion that artists want special status and how that would be inequitable, or the other arguments from that day saying that the status of an artist is a hard one to define.

On matters relating to who is an artist, the motion I have put forward today gives a much clearer idea of what part of the income would be eligible for income tax relief and what part of the income would be limited specifically to the direct income from the sale of creative works. This would help to define, in my estimation, what income would be allowed as an artistic exemption and it gets to the issue of what exactly is an artist and brings it into the realm of the marketplace, that if a work of art is sold then it becomes income that is eligible under this motion.

In terms of the cost to the treasury, the motion calls for only a portion of income to be deductible and that level would be set by the Minister of Finance. That being said, we know that regardless of the level this measure would not be a great loss to the federal treasury given the fact that the average income of artists in this country is around $13,000 a year.

What precedents are there for this kind of exemption? We can start with Ireland. Ireland has an absolute exemption for income tax for creators. The total cost to the treasury in Ireland is less than 10% of our expenditure on the Canada Council, a total of less than $14 million or less than 50¢ per Canadian.

Quebec has also allowed for a deduction of up to $15,000 on copyright income and that seems to be working very well in that province and has allowed art to flourish in Quebec.

I wish to address some other misconceptions that I have heard about support to our artists in general. A while back I heard from another member of the House who proclaimed that she did not believe we needed any special support for artists, the reason being that personalities and artists, such as Céline Dion and Shania Twain, have been so successful internationally, so why do we need to support our artists?

I would say that unfortunately this kind of mentality presumes that all art in Canada can be judged by commercial success in the international marketplace. It suggests that people who create outside the mainstream, which means less commercial success, are somehow less creative. It views art only as a commodity, only to be judged by its market value.

Although the motion involves changes to the Income Tax Act, the motion, strangely, is not about income. The motion is not about money, given the fact that artists are not making very much money to begin with. I would say it is more about recognition and respect for the creators in our country, and respect and recognition within one of the central laws of our country, the Income Tax Act.

The argument about special status put forward earlier by the parliamentary secretary does not stand up in many ways. In one way we have to look at it, sadly, that our current Income Tax Act is full of special statuses for classes of people, mostly people with money. We have special exemptions for family trusts so that wealthy families can shelter huge incomes for their children. We have special rules allowing entrepreneurs to deduct expenses related to their businesses. We allow the sheltering of income made by playing the stock market or making certain types of investments. When artists have come looking for tax recognition the government has said no because the finance department cries special status as if it is brand new concept. The fact is that art and culture in this country are special. Art and culture are special in the life of a nation.

His Excellency John Ralston Saul, one of Canada's most respected writers and philosophers, has had much to say on culture and its place in Canada. In 1999 he made the point that culture has been presented over the last few decades as if somehow it were a marginal adjunct to society. History tells us that this is nonsense. Culture either exists as the core element to society or it really is not culture at all. Culture is the motor of any successful society.

Up until six years ago, when I became a member of Parliament, I made my living as a playwright and filmmaker in this country. Many of my friends continue to be artists, sculptors, playwrights, directors and painters. Most of them continue to cobble together a living without one bit or one wit of security but also with little real choice in the matter because they are driven to create and to express themselves. They believe they have something to say and that they can make people laugh, cry, feel deeply or change their courses of action, that they can make people feel rage about injustice, cry out, feel deeply about humanity, about war, about terror, about deepening their spiritual journeys, about strengthening their connection to kin and community and about their sense of responsibility in their society. In a word, they believe, rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, or foolishly, that their tiny contributions and creations can have an impact, positive or negative, on the human condition.

For this faint hope, they labour mightily in the field of culture making on average about $13,000 a year. They give up a great deal for the special status of being artists. People who have made the choice to be creators often find they have no choice but to live in poverty. To be an artist in this country means to concentrate on creating while worrying about paying the rent and buying food. It means struggling to focus on art while dealing with overdue bills and trying to practise a craft when the basic costs of the tools are sometimes too expensive. It means trying to keep a creative spark alive, a creative work moving ahead over a period of years, while working on jobs which help pay the bills. It often means forgoing family and children altogether. It often means disrupting marriages, families and home lives since people have to travel great distances to work as artists, directors and actors.

We are tremendously richer because of the sacrifice of artists in our country. Our nation would be far worse off without the stout-hearted band of creators who chronicle its course, tell its story, shine light in the dark corners and provide the strength to face an uncertain future.

That is why I take every opportunity to raise issues of culture and creation in the House: because we need to value creation as much as we value money.

I hope that in a few months we will all stand in our places here to pass this motion to start giving creators a limited income tax exemption on their income directly derived from the sale of their work.

Previous debate on this subject in this place has pointed to the organizational support that successive governments have put in place as being adequate and that therefore no extra support is needed for individual artists. People bring up the budgets for the Canada Council, the CBC, the National Gallery, the NFB and Telefilm. They usually use recent numbers, which do not show how the overall cultural supports have been drastically reduced since the mid-nineties. Most important, these moneys do not recognize individual creators' contributions. They are more usually designed to support the amorphous cultural industries.

The motion uses the individual tax return to award the individual creator. It is a strongly symbolic way of saying to the creators that our culture, our society, values their lonely efforts, their creative spirits. But we should also understand who really pays for our collective successes in the cultural sector. In 1982 Canada commissioned a study of our cultural sector; it is called the Applebaum-Hébert report. One of its overall findings was that the largest subsidy to cultural life in Canada comes not from governments, corporations or other patrons, but from the artists themselves for their unpaid or underpaid work.

It looks like things are now worse. In December last year, four months ago, the Cultural Human Resources Council issued its latest report, called “Face of the Future”. I would like to read one paragraph from the report, which looks at trends in the cultural sector:

Despite general growth in the sector, visual artists' annual income, which is extremely low to start with, is dropping. Between 1990 and 1995, Canadian craftspeople experienced a 21% decrease in their average annual income, dropping from an average of $13,480 to $10,606 per annum. In 1995, visual artists earned an average annual income of $12,600, which represented only 47.5% of the average annual income of the total workforce that year; craftspersons earned an average of $10,600 that year, or 40% of the total workforce.

So things are getting worse, and the successes in the sector are not because of government support but because of the sacrifices of individual creators.

I hope members of the House will see this motion as an important and constructive step in attacking the obstacles thrown in the way of our creators. I hope they will see it as a small way of relieving the economic grind facing them, perhaps allowing them to work in a more concentrated way on their art, perhaps allowing them to create a book or a play in one year instead of three or four. It would give them some small financial relief, but it would also give them one big boost symbolically in terms of their importance to this country.

By passing the motion we would be saying as a nation that what creators do is special to us. We would be collectively recognizing their contribution. We would be saying that we thank them, that we need them, and that we cannot exist without them.

I thank hon. members for listening to me today and I look forward to the debate that is going to unfold in the next couple of months on this very important issue and this very important recognition of artists in our country.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to take part in this new version of our private members' business where we actually get to question the mover of the motion.

I am looking back at the member's speech of February 20 of this year in which she was talking about child protection and so on. I would like to quote from that speech, because she made a comment that we must not use the Criminal Code to censor art, but then went on to state:

I worry that the police chief of Toronto has been publicly criticizing the government and has been using child pornography as his reason to ask for more federal money for law enforcement.

The next part is the important quote:

It does not bode well for our freedom of artists if police believe that their funding will increase if they lay more child pornography charges.

With the hon. member asking for tax relief for artists and demanding that the artistic merit principle stand up with child pornographers, the question would be this: Is this an unintended consequence of her bill or does she really believe that artistic merit should be safeguarded and that child pornographers should actually get a tax break? That is unbelievable.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will continue to say at every opportunity that artistic merit should be safeguarded. I look forward to having that debate in the House and in committee. Aside from that, the comments made by my colleague are not particularly relevant to this debate.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question. From our past work when we sat on the heritage committee in the 35th Parliament, I believe, and dealt with Bill C-32, the copyright legislation, she knows where my belief and conviction lie in terms of helping the artist. I introduced four amendments to that legislation, which substantially tilted the act toward the creator's side of it. I say that as a prelude to my question.

I believe there are two significant pillars to any civilization. In my opinion, arts and sciences are these two pillars. In both of these areas of human endeavour, there is a similar protection for the creator. As the member has identified, on the artistic side a number of legal mechanisms protect the copyright of these people, whether they be neighbouring rights or actual copyright and so forth. The same thing is true on the creative side for the sciences in that people who invent or innovate can obtain patents to protect their intellectual property.

How are we to determine, therefore, that one should have a tax exempt status and not the other?

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member has raised an interesting issue, one that I think is being addressed in this motion, and that is the idea of recognizing income derived from copyrighted work, a play that has been written or a piece of art, for example. It is the actual product of someone's imagination. Although there are many other ways to recognize somebody's status as an artist, that seems to be the one that is the most understandable or satisfying to accountants and people working in the finance department.

There are many ways to support creation. Our government is doing some very good work at supporting creative institutions such as the Canada Council, the CBC and Telefilm Canada. There are those kinds of vehicles, but we also need to look at how individuals can be supported through copyright legislation and through motions such as this which recognize copyright and the moneys attached to it. These are other methods of supporting creation in this country.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Motion No. 293. I do want to say that I have some sympathy for the private member's motion of the hon. member for Dartmouth. The sympathy I have is that I think there is a need for lower taxes in the country, lower taxes for a lot of Canadians, for hard working Canadian families. I also have some sympathy for her ideas that copyright and patent law need to be protected. We are in agreement with that. Intellectual property is an important part of property. Property needs to be rewarded. When people have ideas and want to put them out to the public, they need some kind of protection. We are supportive of that idea although it has caused some disruption in certain sectors, such as schools that want to photocopy material and have difficulty with that area.

In general I would say that Canadians, not just Canadian artists, are overtaxed. All Canadians are overtaxed. If we were to ask hard working Canadian families about it, they would certainly agree with that.

One of the reasons for this is that we have seen a tremendous amount of spending increases by the Liberal government over the last several years. In fact, from 2001-02 to 2004-05, spending rises from $125 billion to $150 billion. That is just on direct and indirect program spending. Then when we add on the interest we as a society have to pay for overspending in the past 30 years, we get into the range of $190 billion.

That interest alone causes me a great deal of difficulty. In fact, Canadian families, and Canadian artists or whoever, happen to be affected by this, with 21¢ out of every tax dollar they send to Ottawa going just to pay interest on debt. That is not good enough. That is money we would have in our pockets to spend as we would like if we had that opportunity, and the past two governments did not commit the sins that brought that about.

I recall the Liberal government coming to power in 1993 when the national debt was $508 billion, a horrific number, but it ran that up to $583 billion before the Canadian public and others around the world started to get concerned about countries hitting the wall: New Zealand, Mexico and even Canada. Our credit rating was being downgraded by Moody's and others. The message got through in about 1995-96 that we had to do something about it. What did we do? The government actually did reduce spending for a couple of years, but how did it reduce it? It reduced spending by cutting transfers to the provinces. That was the biggest area of spending cuts that it made. It was an easy target, 9% in its own backyard--

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

After we cut our own.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Charlie Penson Canadian Alliance Peace River, AB

The member for Ottawa--Vanier said that was after it cut its own. Let us just examine that for a moment. It cut its own spending by 9%, but it cut transfers to the provinces by 20%. That was an easy target and of course provinces had to supply municipal services, so they had to be cut as well.

We have to ask the question: Why do we consume so much tax money in Canada to begin with? Why do we need all these taxes? The answer is that we have a government with a spending addiction. As I said, it is going up by $25 billion in the next three years alone. In the two years prior to 2001-02, under the former finance minister, the member for LaSalle—Émard, we saw increases in spending of 6% to 7% a year. Why would he need that amount of money? Population growth and inflation, put together as a formula, were running at roughly 2% a year. We saw a government that was intent on running up spending, so that was 6% a year.

Why do we have this much spending? I would suggest that there are a bunch of business sector grants that are going out to the aerospace sector, for example. Hundreds of millions and in fact billions of dollars are being spent in grants and subsidies to the aerospace sector: Pratt & Whitney, General Electric, Bombardier and some of the biggest corporations in the world.

Therefore when the member talks about artists, I guess she is just asking for the same kind of treatment that some of our big businesses are getting.

However, members of the Canadian Alliance do not agree with that. To begin with, we do not think that these business sectors should receive that kind of grant. That is the reason we need this kind of tax. The government needs that kind of tax to cover off all of the wasteful and misdirected spending.

Instead of sending those business subsidies out, why not leave that money with Canadians? We will decide how to spend it. If we want to invest in Pratt & Whitney or in Bombardier, which are publicly traded companies, we can do that. I suggest we leave that money in people's pockets, that we reduce taxes for all Canadians, not just certain sectors such as artists, although I agree they are part of the composite that needs that spending reduced as well.

I agree that this is a better approach than we normally see from some of the members in the House where they ask for subsidies for certain sectors. Rather than ask for subsidies, we should ask for tax relief. The member for Dartmouth has done just that. I have sympathy for her argument, but I would not restrict it to only one segment of society.

We must examine what is happening with Canadian families. We must look across the border to the United States and the people we compete against every day for the product that we are selling and for our very jobs.

I just returned from Kitchener-Waterloo. In that one corner of Ontario $9 billion of goods are exported mainly to the United States. Those goods must compete with other products from other countries. They must also compete with taxes. George Bush's latest tax proposal, that has recently gone to the United States senate, has made the case that a family of four earning $40,000 or less annually will not have to pay any federal tax.

What do similar families face in Canada? They start paying taxes at $14,000. There is a $26,000 difference. No wonder artists and hard working families are concerned about the tax levels in the country. There are 30 OECD countries and Canada has the highest personal tax levels.

We will get more groups speaking out and saying that we are overtaxed. I agree with them because we are overtaxed. We must make the case for all Canadians, not just those of us in a special sector.

I will examine a little bit further where that kicks in. Basic personal exemptions in Canada on the federal side kick in at about $9,000. After that individuals begin paying federal tax. Does that make any sense? I think not. Those levels must be raised. In order to allow basic personal exemptions to be raised we must have a government committed to reducing spending and to get some priority on its spending. We must stop the wasteful spending that we saw when the government blew a billion dollars on an HRDC program that moved a Hostess potato chips plant from one place in Ontario to 30 miles down the road to another member's riding. That did not make any sense.

We have other areas where government advertising contracts have blown a lot more money. The gun registry is on its second billion dollars. It does not make any sense. The Auditor General has identified lots of wasteful spending.

We must cut out some of this wasteful spending. Let us get our priorities straight. We should leave money in people's pockets and let them decide how they will spend it. They will make wiser choices than the government of the day.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the government for his generosity.

The Bloc Quebecois is pleased to speak to Motion No. 293, the purpose of which is to improve the living conditions of creative and interpretive artists. I thank the hon. member for Dartmouth for raising this matter before the House, one we will support, of course.

In Quebec there is already similar legislation. All of us here, I believe, acknowledge the inestimable contribution made by the artists of Quebec and Canada. If artists succeed in making a name for themselves internationally, it is because they have already gained recognition here. The fastest growing sector of manpower here is the cultural sector.

We have all experienced magical moments provided to us by one kind of cultural activity or another: a song, a musical creation, a play, a concert, a book salon, a chance to meet a writer. These all provide us with an insight into something new.

Each of us can remember being moved by a Cirque du Soleil performance, or a book by the likes of Marie Laberge or Neil Bissoondath. Let us think of all the creative minds behind Céline Dion's super-spectacular show in Las Vegas, or the fascinating Légendes fantastiques presented in Drummondville.

The 1999 report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, entitled “A Sense of Place--A Sense of Being”, stated the following:

From the Committee's standpoint, investing in the arts is no less important than investing in the social sciences, humanities, the pure sciences or medicine. The Committee is also aware of the long-term commitments made to researchers and scholars by other federal government agencies and looks for a similar level of commitment to Canadian artists...The Committee feels that support to individual creators should be increased.

We support the demand for increased assistance to creative and interpretive artists, and Motion No. 293 gives us an opportunity to show this support. The intent of the motion is to exempt creative and interpretive artists from paying income tax on a percentage of income derived from copyright, neighbouring rights, and/or other income derived from the sale of any creative work. Creative artists take the biggest risks and are not paid for the time they spend doing research or project development, only for the distribution of the final product.

What are neighbouring rights? They protect performers, such as actors, singers, and record producers and radio broadcasters. Although neighbouring rights seem similar to copyrights, there is a difference. In general, copyright protects songwriters, while neighbouring rights protect singers. Music performers can produce work subject to neighbouring rights called a performer's performance. Sometimes, neighbouring rights are guaranteed in a contract.

Many artists are self-employed. Being a self-employed artist has some advantages when it comes to being creative, but many disadvantages when it comes to getting paid, and many artists live below the poverty line. Income tax deductions do nothing to improve the situation, since if an artist's income is insufficient, being entitled to deductions does not change anything. Not only do artists make very little money, how much they make can vary greatly from one year to the next.

The federal government, in announcing cuts of $25 million over the next two years to the Canadian Television Fund, or CTF, in its latest budget, is not helping interpretive and creative artists.

Many artisans spend their lives struggling from one financial crisis to the next, unless they are, or have been, extremely successful in their particular field.

The perseverance of our artists has allowed audiences in Quebec, Canada and around the world to discover the talents that we have here.

In Quebec, the relevant sections of the Taxation Act that affect what is contained in Motion No. 293 are sections 80, 128, 59 and 68. Obviously, Quebec's Union des artistes intervened on several occasions to ask for these exemptions on copyright revenues. The Canadian Conference of the Arts also asked for tax breaks on copyright revenues.

Cultural products are very labour intensive. Many artists live below the poverty level and some of them could become so discouraged that it could prevent them from producing major works.

In its budget proposal to the finance committee in September 2002, the CCA recommended introducing an annual tax exemption on copyright royalties only, as is currently the case in Quebec. Incidentally, this idea had already been the subject of a private member's bill, a few years ago.

In Quebec, artists were eligible for an annual exemption on copyright revenues based on a sliding scale up to $30,000 at first. This has now been raised to $60,000.

The third recommendation reads as follows:

That the government of Canada give serious consideration to supporting Canada’s professional artists and creators, the cornerstone of Canada’s cultural industries and institutions, by exempting up to $60,000 of annual copyright income.

Other countries have adopted similar measures. Ireland is unique in its tax breaks because there are virtually no taxes at all. However, based on our information, some countries allow income to be carried over into subsequent years, countries such as Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Greece, France, the U.K. and Luxembourg. Australia allows artists with unstable incomes to carry them over a five year period.

Given that artists contribute so much to our experience and our quality of life, the Bloc Quebecois supports Motion No. 293, moved by the member for Dartmouth. We hope that all of our colleagues in the House will recognize the exceptional contribution that artists make to our cultural life, and that they will also support this motion.

I move, pursuant to provisional Standing Order 93(3) for Private Members' Business:

That the motion be amended by replacing the word “Canada's” with the word “a”.

The member for Matapédia—Matane seconds this amendment.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before I declare the amendment in order, I must ask you whether you have the consent of the mover, the hon. member for Dartmouth, to amend the motion.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Pauline Picard Bloc Drummond, QC

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the amendment in order.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Oak Ridges Ontario

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I would first point out that we certainly will not support the amendment to remove the word “Canadian”.

As mentioned, the provision for the government to support or stimulate the creation of Canadian culture product is an important policy of the government. The motion before us for debate proposes a lower tax rate for creative and interpretive artists on income from creative written works, such as royalties and sales produced from copyright and related rights.

The hon. member is to be commended for her endeavour to support the artistic community. I think we all on this side of the House that. Supporting our remarkable and diverse community of artists is crucial to maintaining Canada's identity as a nation. It is absolutely vital that we possess the necessary tools to safeguard our own culture and to tell our own stories.

The government already provides considerable resources to help ensure that our artists and cultural industries remain vital and prosperous, especially as Canada enters the new millennium. These important supports are delivered through a number of organizations and institutions, representing our commitment to continued excellence in the arts.

I would like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the main institutions, programs and policies available to help Canadian artists, writers and performers in pursuing their chosen craft.

For example, the government provides financial support to writers and other artists through the Canada Council, such as grants, prizes and other assistance for the promotion of the arts, as well as some fellowships in the humanities and social sciences. In 2001-02 the Council awarded nearly 6,300 grants, for a total of $137 million in direct support for Canada's artists and artistic organizations.

Our National Film Board is known throughout the world for its reputation of quality. The Film Board is dedicated to producing and distributing films, audiovisual and multimedia works which reflect Canada to Canadians and the rest of the world. For over 60 years the Film Board has played a crucial role in Canadian and international filmmaking.

The Department of Canadian Heritage also offers a number of important programs, including the cultural initiatives program, which facilitates the involvement of artists from across Canada in over 150 national and international art festivals and special art events. Canadian Heritage also operates a national arts training contribution program, supporting national institutions that prepare young people for professional arts careers.

Turning attention to the tax system, I would note that it too already includes a number of favourable provisions targeted to Canada's cultural sector.

For example, artists may deduct the costs of creating a work of art in the year the costs are incurred instead of when the work is ultimately sold. Moreover, employed artists and musicians are entitled to deduct certain employment related expenses against their employment income which are not available to other employees.

Other important tax provisions in support of Canadian culture include a tax credit for Canadian film and video productions, including the cost of services provided by scriptwriters. This credit provided $145 million in direct support for Canadian film and television producers in 2001-02. They also include deduction over time of the cost of Canadian art that is purchased by businesses and no taxation of capital gains on cultural property transferred to museums.

Turning to the motion before us today, I once again wish to laud the member for Dartmouth for wishing to provide additional support to our cultural community. However I feel that introducing a tax exemption for income earned by certain individuals, such as creative writers, may not be the most effective tool in achieving this result.

As I have already noted, the tax system recognizes the circumstances of artists and musicians in a number of ways. The special provisions ensure that these individuals are not penalized due to various aspects unique to their professions, such as the necessity of maintain valuable musical instruments or the difficulty in valuing art pieces donated from an artist's inventory.

However, outside of these special cases already provided for, it is not clear that artists, such as creative writers, have greater needs than other individuals with comparable incomes. The tax system should, as much as possible, treat individuals in similar circumstances in a similar fashion. Thus to provide a special tax exemption to an individual simply because he or she engages in artistic activities would be very difficult to defend on equity grounds. It would also lead to requests for similar treatment from other groups who also feel that they are deserving of special status.

When it comes to tax relief, I believe the course adopted by the government of substantial general tax relief is the correct one. The government's five year tax reduction plan provides real and significant tax relief to all individuals whatever their chosen career. These tax cuts are particularly beneficial to moderate and middle income families with children. The plan provided economic stimulus of about $17 billion in 2001 and $20 billion in 2002. Canadian writers will benefit from these historic tax reductions along with other taxpayers.

In conclusion, I feel the motion, well intentioned though it is, should not receive the support of the House.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise following the parliamentary secretary who just gave us a little speech on the historic tax reductions. What he did not mention was the historic tax additions that the Liberals added on over the last 10 years which have put us in this mess where we find ourselves the most highly taxed country in the world. The historic tax reductions are much less than the additions. That goes for the employment insurance premiums too that we have paid over the years, which are exorbitant and unjustified.

However I am certainly pleased to rise today to speak on Motion No. 293 which speaks to tax benefits for the working artists in Canada. It is a very worthwhile motion and actually was first brought before the House in similar form in the year 2000. It is a testament to the noteworthy underlying principle of the motion on which the House once more has had an opportunity to reflect.

As an Atlantic Canadian from Nova Scotia, one of the most culturally diverse regions of the country, we value a tradition of excellence in the arts. In fact there are economic opportunities for all Canadians in recognizing and harnessing the power of arts and culture. These types of success stories are worthy of recognition, however we have to do a lot more to help artists when they are starting off.

The motion is very admirable from the perspective of the hon. member's desire to help but there are some difficulties in the concept and in the eventual implementation. I would like to point out a couple of those difficulties that we find with the motion.

I am not sure how to get around this, but the motion is ambiguous in terms of describing who qualifies and how the term “artist” fits a specific individual, whether that can be defined and the definition defended effectively and categorized as to exactly who is or is not an artist and who qualifies. Where would the government draw the line as to who is an artist? Would it just be the painters, sculptors and musicians? What about the people who claim that their work is art, yet no one sees it that way but themselves? Who makes that decision and how could one make that decision?

One must ask why struggling artists should benefit more than other struggling members of society. Why not give an income tax break to mechanics like Ted Embrie who helps keep the old car of the struggling artist on the road well beyond its normal life, in order that the struggling artist can attend an art exhibit to sell his or her paintings several hundred kilometres away? Ted is an artist too. He not only has the training but he has an inherent ability that is natural to him to make these repairs. In my view, that is an art.

What about the struggling plumber who helps the struggling mechanic? What about a journalist like Darrel Cole compared to an author who would consider himself an artist, who basically writes for a living while the journalist does the same thing? What about a sign painter like Bus Dobson? He truly is an artist. Although he paints signs, he is every bit an artist and has incredible talent.

Again, I would like to reiterate my position that this motion recognizes a problem which should be recognized and dealt with. Also, it is noted that artists are on a financial roller coaster. An artist may go for several years without payment and then receive a lump sum payment, recognizing the contributions he has made over a period of time. However many other trades and professions have the same problem and I have been in some of those.

The average income of an artist in Canada currently is estimated at about $13,000. The issue raised by the hon. member can be addressed in a more broad based way by significantly raising the basic personal exemption for all Canadians and thereby eliminating the problems of designating who qualifies and who does not.

The Progressive Conservative task force, which reported in January 2000, recommended an increase in the basic personal exemption to $12,000. This would help significantly, considering that the average income of an artist is $13,000. That being the case, we should move, over a period of time, to raise the basic personal exemption even higher. In future days ahead, it will not be unheard of to call for the raising of personal exemptions.

The hon. member recognizes that tax relief can play a very important role in helping artists pursue their chosen fields in culture and art, thereby keeping them in Canada. That is important because it indicates that she recognizes the importance of lowering taxes for all Canadians to ensure that Canadians, regardless of their careers or life pursuits, can choose to stay and prosper here in Canada. Whether it is in dot com, e-commerce, biotech or traditional industries, Canadians can have and should have a bright future right here.

The hon. member clearly demonstrated that she recognized the important role that tax policy plays in encouraging or discouraging pursuits of particular activities. In that vein, she would agree with me that we should continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the tax burdens of all Canadians should not be excessive when compared to those of other countries in comparative trades, professions or the arts.

Whether Canadians wish to pursue careers in the arts, the new economy or the traditional economy, we want them to be free to do so right here. I am sure she would share with me the need to reduce taxes for all Canadians based on her basic premise that decreasing taxes would help encourage people, in this case artists, to pursue and maintain a certain level of activity.

The issue of capital gains also needs to be addressed. We currently tax donations of publicly traded or listed securities to charitable foundations or institutions. Whether it is a hospital, a university, an endowment fund or a cultural activity, we tax the capital gains made through such donations. Inclusion taxes are taxed for donations of publicly traded or listed securities. In the U.S. there is absolutely no capital tax on contributions of listed securities.

Over the years that has led to a significant disadvantage for Canadian universities, hospitals and the arts community. It has created a distinctive disincentive for high net worth Canadians to contribute listed shares of publicly traded companies to the cultural and health foundations in universities.

The Progressive Conservatives, in numerous prebudget, budget and various committee reports, have always recommended the elimination of the capital gains tax on gifts of listed securities. That would go a long way to encourage high net worth individuals and those of relatively modest means who may have done very well in equity investing in recent years to help foster a greater environment for cultural activities in Canada. That is another way that the hon. member's concerns could be addressed.

While I may disagree with the particular vehicle chosen by the hon. member to help create a better environment for cultural and artistic diversity, I can assure her that the Progressive Conservative Party remains committed to work with other parties in the House towards this goal. We must seek better ways to support and encourage the arts, and all the types of creative endeavours whether they be graphic arts, the dot com universe, painting, dancing or even playwriting.

One of the things that defines us as Canadians is our unique cultural vibrancy from coast to coast, and with proper support and encouragement we can ensure that our cultural vibrancy and diversity, as expressed through the many forms of artistic creations that adorn Canada today, will remain solidly entrenched through the years to come.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Eugène Bellemare Liberal Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion put forward by the hon. member for Dartmouth calling for a partial exemption from tax on the income received by artists from creative written works.

While I respect the enthusiasm of the hon. member in her representation of Canada's creative writers, I must reiterate that the proposed exemption would be unfair to other taxpayers who must pay tax on their total income. It would be difficult for the government to explain to other Canadians why artists, writers and performers should pay less than their share of tax than other individuals with comparable incomes.

The tax exemption proposed by the hon. member would lead to requests for similar treatment from other groups such as athletes or entertainers. It would be difficult for the government to justify restricting the exemption to only creative writers. Expanding the exemption to accommodate these additional taxpayers would be costly for the federal and provincial governments.

Furthermore, while it is easily argued that many low income writers have difficulty in earning a basic living from their works, it is not clear that high income artists are in need of or deserving of tax rate reductions. The proposed exemption would apply equally to both high and low income artists.

As members know, the government already provides direct support to a diverse community of artists. The government provides other support mechanisms outside the tax system to provide this incentive to create Canadian cultural products. Many government organizations, institutions, programs and policies are available to help Canadian artists, writers and performers in their pursuits. Various classes of artists, including writers, are supported indirectly through programs that are targeted to specific forms of cultural products rather than to classes of professions.

For example, grants, prizes and fellowships are provided through the Canada Council. I also note the National Film Board. Other programs that help writers indirectly are provided through Telefilm and the Canadian television fund. The cultural initiatives program helps artists to undertake arts and heritage activities that ensure a wider distribution of works and facilitates the circulation of artists and artistic achievements in Canada. The national arts training contribution program helps independent, non-profit organizations to train Canadians for professional artistic careers.

The tax system already provides support to artists, some of which indirectly supports the creation of literary works. The motion before us today would not be the most effective tool for achieving this result. It is not clear that creative writers have greater financial needs than other individuals with comparable incomes.

The tax system should treat Canadians fairly. A special tax exemption to individuals simply because they engage in artistic activities would be difficult to defend on equity grounds. It would also be difficult to justify any policy distinction as to which creative and interpretative artists should be eligible and which creative works should be tax exempt. Other groups would undoubtedly approach the government with requests for similar special treatment.

The correct approach to dealing with the tax burden of all Canadians is to treat all Canadians fairly. The general tax relief provided by the government and endorsed in the 2003 budget is the correct approach. The government's five year tax reduction plan provides real and significant tax relief to all Canadians.

It is my view that the motion put forward by the hon. member should not receive the support of the government at this time.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to add my support to the member for Dartmouth and the worthwhile issue that she has raised in the House today. I want to thank her for her ongoing and longstanding commitment to the arts and to those who create in this country.

I am disappointed by some of the views that I have been hearing from members from other parties. There seems to be an unwillingness to entertain this idea with the importance we would like to see it given. We believe that some of the hon. members who have spoken are missing the point. Some are using this as a vehicle to raise completely unrelated issues and others are being far too narrow in their scope in trying to view the issue being raised by the member for Dartmouth and in recognizing the importance of arts and culture in our society.

The hon. member pointed out that we live in the richest and most powerful civilization in the world. Yet in Canada, we are not paying adequate deference to the contribution that artists and those who create make to our society.

The point has been made that other worthwhile organizations or pursuits would also be seeking comparable recognition in our tax laws. It is failing to reflect the unique contribution that artists make to the cultural fabric of our society and that is where I believe the arguments put forward by the other parties fall short and fail. I wish the arguments were not so narrow.

The hon. member for Dartmouth pointed out the example of Ireland, where the arts and culture are valued and treasured in a passionate way. That country saw fit to allow the first $15,000 of copyright income to be a tax deduction. The impact on its economy or revenue base was only $14 million Canadian a year, a paltry sum in Ireland.

We believe that showing recognition would be so meaningful to those who create, but so insignificant in the global revenue generating capacity of Canada. We are in a surplus situation. In fact, we are in a $100 billion surplus situation that the government has seen fit to give away in tax cuts, but in its zeal to provide tax cuts it failed to provide for the important contribution that artists and creators make.

I wish we could see broader support for the motion in the House.

Income Tax ActPrivate Members' Business

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

The House resumed from March 21, consideration of the motion that Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be now read a second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec

Liberal

Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, since Bill C-20 has been thoroughly debated by all parties represented in this House:

I move:

That the question be now put.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion in order.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Lynne Yelich Canadian Alliance Blackstrap, SK

Mr. Speaker, try to imagine how you would feel as a parent, or relative or neighbour of a child victimized by someone trying to satisfy a depraved sexual desire. Think of the anger, the sadness and the frustration of the physical and emotional damage suffered by the child. Then imagine how shocked and helpless one would feel finding out the culprit would not be prosecuted because the police were unable to muster enough resources to properly investigate this evil crime.

As a mother of two I can say that I do not ever want to have that experience. The reality however is that many parents do face that scenario.

Sexual deviants are preying on our children and in many cases the police are powerless to bring them to justice. Sadly, sexual offences against children have been occurring longer than any of us can remember. Compounding the problem is the commercialization of sexual abuse. Child sex tourism is a booming industry in some countries, and prostitution, pimping and pornography are profitable scourges worldwide.

Bill C-20 addresses several criminal law reforms regarding the protection of children. However today I would like to focus on three areas of the legislation that I find particularly weak: the issues of child pornography and the age of sexual consent as they relate to sexual exploitation and ineffective judicial sentencing.

The government last July implemented new laws to address the growing problem of the use of technology, such as the Internet, to facilitate sexual exploitation. This work is to be commended but, as the very existence of this bill illustrates, there is much more to be done.

As we have heard, the bill eliminates artistic merit as a defence for written and pictorial child pornography and replaces it with public good. The minister was kind enough to explain this vague concept during one of his earlier speeches on Bill C-20. I would like to read an excerpt from that speech:

Bill C-20 proposes to provide only one defence, the one of public good and to eliminate the other provision, which includes artistic merit. By doing so, the availability of a defence would be subject to a two step analysis. First, does the material or act in question serve the public good? If it does not, then there is 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 is no defence.

Can members think of a single instance in which child pornography could possibly be in the public good? Is there a single circumstance where exploiting sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or any other child could be justified? I cannot imagine any situation that could not be addressed in some way other than by sexually exploiting a child. That is why I question the minister's decision to provide a loophole, no matter how small, for people who prey on children to sidestep the law.

Raising the age of consent is another area in which the government chooses to allow sexual predators room to manoeuvre. Instead of raising the age of sexual consent to better protect our younger teenagers, the bill proposes a new category of prohibited sexual exploitation that the minister says will focus on the other person's exploitive conduct. He says that such a system will protect not only 14 and 15 year olds but also 16 and 17 year olds from exploitation. That is an admiral idea but one that would be more effective if combined with a higher age of consent to protect our younger adolescents from predators who may rely on consent as a defence for their actions.

Detective Sergeant Paul Gillespie of the Toronto Police Service's, Sex Crimes Unit, Child Exploitation Section, outlined to me his concerns about Bill C-20. One of the first things he mentioned was the government's refusal to raise the age of consent. He feels Bill C-20 would force police to more closely examine the nature and circumstances of the relationship in question, including the evolution of the relationship, the age difference and the degree of control or influence exercised by the offending party.

Detective Sergeant Gillespie said:

This is the law I can never envisage us using. It seems we are inviting intellectual exercises into morality issues, when in fact, this is about children being abused. When I hear such terms as “examine the evolution of the relationship,” I cringe.

He also questioned how such a law could be utilized effectively. He said:

The police do not have the resources to adequately investigate these types of cases in the first place, and now the onus is being put on us to “explore” the evolution of a relationship, or determine “trust”. How exactly are we supposed to do that?

Our country's police officers, the ones who are out in the field dealing with child exploitation, appreciate the government's attempt to further protect children by putting forth the bill. I think this is a goal that we all share. However, what the police need to do their jobs more effectively is not a convoluted set of rules open to interpretation. They need clarity and they need resources.

Detective Sergeant Gillespie has provided me with a list of simple directives he says would greatly assist the police in successfully protecting our children. I would like to share those ideas with members. I urge members to listen to what he is asking.

First, raise the age of consent from 14 years.

Second, eliminate artistic merit as a defence for child pornography.

Third, include all child pornography convictions as primary designated offences for the purpose of the DNA databank.

Fourth, allow for a sampling of materials seized as evidence, similar to how samples of narcotics are analyzed in the case of a large drug seizure.

Fifth, make it illegal to advertise child pornography.

Sixth, require accused persons to reveal the key or password to encrypted computer files seized by police.

Seventh, require Internet service providers to maintain client information and records for at least 60 days.

Eighth, allow police to obtain client information records and logs from Internet service providers by way of a one page affidavit.

In September the government promised to make child protection a top priority. Yet we find ourselves in a situation where investigators are able to access the names of thousands of Canadians suspected of child pornography related activity but struggle to conduct adequate investigations. There are too many barriers and not enough resources.

Even when authorities are able to gather enough evidence to merit a guilty verdict in court, sentences are often little more than a slap on the wrist and certainly nothing to deter an avid child porn enthusiast.

We have heard that Bill C-20 features tougher sentences for child related offences. Unfortunately, the courts have traditionally been hesitant to mete out the maximum available sentences, rendering this a moot point. In fact offenders often serve their sentence in the community, not in prison.

According to November statistics from Correctional Service Canada, nearly 64% of federally incarcerated male sex offenders had prepubescent or adolescent victims. That figure rises to 70.7% when we calculate the percentage of male sex offenders serving their sentence in the community.

Think about that: 637 sex offenders who victimized a child or young person were roaming our streets during their sentence. That kind of punishment hardly serves as a deterrent, and without eliminating statutory release and conditional sentencing, tougher sentences will not be effective.

Our children deserve meaningful legislation that will give police and prosecutors the tools they need to halt child predation and bring child predators to justice.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on this occasion to address the House and Canadians on the matter that has unfortunately captured the attention of the public for a number of years.

Bill C-20, the Liberal answer to the John Robin Sharpe case, has been too long in the making and I am fearful does not go far enough to alleviate the inexcusable production of child pornography.

I will however preface the bulk of my comments by saying that some aspects of the legislation are favourable and under closer scrutiny of the justice committee will no doubt prove beneficial. For example, clause 5, which amends section 161(1) of the Criminal Code to expand the definition of those convicted or discharged on the conditions prescribed in a probation order can be seen as a positive step. The addition of offences under this section will increase a number of offences for which the judge can place an order of prohibition leading to a greater number of victims who will be protected.

We can also view as a positive the amendments in sections 151 and 152 of the Code, maintaining the indictable offence maximum of 10 years while increasing the level of punishment under summary conviction by directing the court to incarceration not exceeding 18 months.

The fundamental question in this debate must centre around the harm caused to those most vulnerable in our society: children. Underlying this we must give thought to the role of the court in the context of judicial policy-making as it pertains to the supremacy of Parliament and we must show how this new legislation will eradicate child pornography within the context of the artistic merit defence. Unfortunately for Canadians the legislation does not go far enough and could once against be subjected to judicial interpretation, again putting our children at risk. There will always most definitely be constitutional challenges.

There is an inherent danger to society as a whole when we fail to recognize the detrimental effect child pornography can have at a very base level. No one is suggesting that literary works be removed from circulation based on the promotion of sexual conduct with minors. Indeed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides sufficient protection for freedom of thought and expression. However the question of what constitutes a reasonable limit is central to this whole debate.

Clause 7(1) of Bill C-20 amends subsection 163.1(1) of the Criminal Code defining child pornography to include any written material the dominant characteristic of which is the description, for a sexual purpose, of sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 years. While the addition of a clear section for the purpose of specifically defining what constitutes child pornography is welcome, I would suggest that the definition be streamlined to remove foreseeable subjectivity.

As a definition, child pornography should not be open to interpretation through intent or any other means. That is to say the thought process behind the writing and whether the work was produced for a sexual purpose should be of no consequence. We need simply state the definition of what is acceptable and what is not. With the clear definition, the judiciary is removed from the public-private nature of the debate. As a remedy to the problems associated with Section 163.1(6) of the Code, clause 7(2) replaces section 163.1(6) with:

No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section if the acts that are alleged to constitute the offence, or if the material related to those acts that is alleged to contain child pornography, serve the public good and do not extend beyond what serves the public good.

While I understand the intent of the minister's legislation, I fear the manner in which it is presented will not be sufficient to protect against the abhorrent creation of pornographic material depicting children. The public, along with child advocacy groups and members of the House, has called upon the government to produce a clear, concise piece of legislation, which would completely remove the chance works of this nature would see the light of day.

Once again the minister has left the door open to interpretation by the courts, a matter that strikes at the very heart of our democracy. The intent of the bill is to protect children from all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, definitions of public good will be vague and no level of objectivity exists which will allow a court to decide what is pornographic and what is not. Once again it will be a question of acceptability to the individual. Obviously an argument as to what constitutes the public good will predominate, leaving our children vulnerable.

I ask the minister why it has taken the government so long and how his legion of lawyers could have produced yet again such an obviously flawed piece of legislation which is going to raise more questions than it answers.

The overall effect of the Sharpe decision by Mr. Justice Shaw had many in society recoiling with dismay and shock. That a learned judge would in fact open the door to potential pedophiles and those who take advantage of youth who denigrate images and engage in writings that have a very corrosive effect on societal norms is a travesty. Works of this nature go against the very fabric of what is acceptable in a moral and just society.

There can be no denial that a direct correlation exists between the fantasies of sick individuals and harm created to children. Why risk the potential danger when the collective will of the people would see this material stricken from existence?

In handing down the Sharpe decision, Justice Shaw effectively broadened the interpretation of the current exemption or defence of artistic merit.

Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in the charter “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. The contention that section 1 limits are justifiable in this case are correct when weighed against the potential harm to children and the intent of Parliament to protect the rights of those most vulnerable.

Simply put, it is my belief that the Supreme Court erred when it favourably interpreted the Shaw decision.

Unfortunately, it seems the minister's lawyers have weighed the rights of the individual against the rights of the child and we are once again left with a mediocre attempt to correct what the Canadian public realizes is a serious problem.

If the Liberals are unwilling to protect the rights of the children and, by extension, their families, I suggest they might at the very least take the opportunity in the upcoming budget to consider supporting victims of crime financially.

The Progressive Conservative Party has been supportive in the past of the law enforcement community, victims' groups and child advocates who are constantly tasked and constantly struggling with the lack of resources available to them. As I have said before, what could be a more fundamental issue?

We know that the lasting impact on victims of sexual abuse is sometimes a life sentence. Very often the mental anguish and the detrimental effect on the development of young people is everlasting. It is certainly incumbent upon Parliament to take every available opportunity to make for a safer and kinder society.

There is a need for victims to have more support, a stronger voice, an ability to be heard in a substantive way by the individuals who ultimately will decide whether a person be incarcerated and, after the fact, whether the person will be released. It talks directly to the issue of respect for and dignity of victims.

It is clear that there has to be an equitable approach taken by the government. This is why we need a victims' ombudsman's office. We have a budget specifically set aside for the commissioner of corrections to deal with the concerns, some legitimate and some not, of federal inmates. There is a federal budget allocated to ensure that inmates, some of whom are serving time for absolutely heinous crimes and have victimized numerous citizens, have an office where they can go if their situation in prison is not to their liking. Yet victims very often are completely ignored. They have no outlet, no central office in the country, where they can go to find out about important things like parole hearings or information pertaining to response or treatment.

While we debate the merits of the bill, elevating the philosophical discussion of the public good, it becomes evident that this legislation is a far cry from solving the problems associated with the Shaw decision. For the sake of the children the government must do better.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gerry Ritz Canadian Alliance Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-20. The title of the bill, the child protection act, does not really cover what is in the bill. The speakers before me have pointed out the flaws in the bill.

There has been a huge outcry in my riding over these situations that have occurred that have brought about the genesis of the bill, Bill C-20, child protection. With the advent of the Internet and the world becoming a smaller place we are starting to see more and more abuses.

The concerns that my constituents have is that they are seeing more and more that Canada is becoming a safe haven for the perverts of the world because we will not stand up and protect our children.

There has been this huge public outcry that we need to go further, faster and really put something on the books that protects our kids. This bill does not do that. Unfortunately there are a few things missing.

The government and other governments before it always have these code words that such and such is a priority for the government. We have heard that time and time again.

We only have to go back to 1989 and the Conservative government at the time when child poverty was a priority for the government. It went on and it has been a priority for the Liberal government as well. Guess what? It is worse, not better.

Whenever we hear these code words that it is a priority, citizens beware. Somewhere in there someone will get left out which is what we are seeing in the bill.

There is an accompanying bill that we will be debating later this afternoon I am sure, Bill C-23, the sex offender registry. We see the same underlying so-called priority and direction of the government not really covering the fatal flaws that we have in our legislation now. The biggest concern with Bill C-23 is that it is not retroactive. It will not go back and address the folks who have committed these offences, are habitual criminals and who will reoffend. It does not go back and put them on the list because of privacy and constitutional challenges which is what the Solicitor Generals tells us he is concerned with. However that flies in the face of protecting someone.

Canadian parents are concerned. They have read the articles on Canada becoming a safe haven. They have seen the court cases that have not been heard, or have been adjourned, or have been thrown out or whatever. Because of the way our laws are written they will not protect our kids. The bill seeks to address some of those missing elements but it does not.

We still have a version of the outrageous argument that there is artistic merit somehow in child pornography. The Liberals have recognized that is not the right way to write that down so they changed it and put in some fuzzy words. Now they call it public good. How can it be for the public good when we label it as pornography and it involves kids?

We have heard arguments from some members of the House. My counterpart, the member for Palliser, stood up and said that there was no victim here. Well, there certainly is. The last speaker, the member for Cumberland--Colchester, made the point, and I agree with him, that there was long-lasting psychological damage. Certainly there is a victim in a sense.

Artistic merit, public good or whatever we want to call it, leaves a huge loophole for these worldwide offenders to come to Canada and say they are artists. Now the member for Dartmouth wants to give them a tax credit. That is how ludicrous some of the arguments are on this example.

We see these types of offenders, the lowest of the lowest, being given community arrest. They are put back into the very community where the crime happened and where the victim lives. There is an instance of that right now in North Battleford. A fellow named Gladue has just been given a conditional release and he is out in the community. The police are not supposed to say anything because of his privacy but, thank God, they have come forward and told the people about the problem. They put forward the usual rules, that he cannot go near a park or talk to kids, but how do we enforce that when he is dropped back into a community where kids live on every block and are on every corner? They walk past the buildings. How do we enforce those types of things? It is an anomaly that my constituents cannot get their minds around. We release this guy because statutory release says that we have to do it.

He has taken no psychological analysis or any programs while incarcerated that say it is safe to release him but they are saying no. His chances of repeat offending are like 80% to 90%. He is a time bomb waiting to go off but he is out in my community. At least the police have acknowledged that he is there and have told people to watch out for him, and rightly so.

The other loophole in the bill is that we do not see the age of consent moved from 14 years old. Canadians have said that their kids up to age 16 receive a government cheque called a child tax credit. Under the tax system children up to the age of 16 receive a tax credit but at 14 they can have sex? It just flies in the face of any rational thinking that the government would not move that age to 16, and it makes no attempt in the bill to do that.

I remember one day in question period that exact question was put forward by my colleague from Provencher, the former attorney general of Manitoba. The parliamentary secretary stood and said that the government could not make that move because there were cultural groups in Canada that required that age. Can anyone believe that; cultural groups in Canada that insist that 14 remain the age of consent? That is ridiculous. This is Canada. We have our own rules and regulations. We do not need a cultural group dictating that the age of consent stay at 14. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is not in here.

I know some amendments will be brought forward by my colleagues from Provencher and from Crowfoot, our justice critic, to this very bill. We know the chances of those amendments getting through are slim to none but we have to try. People are requesting it.

The police associations were here last week for the lobby day on the Hill. The government made a big hue and cry about how the CPA was all in favour of Bill C-68, the gun registry, and that we should spend the money because it was a useful tool. However it forgot to tell us that on that very same day the CPA said that there was not enough money for child pornography and that it needed more cash and more police officers on the line to fight it.

The criminals who perpetrate this type of thing have gone on the Internet, they have gone global, and our police officers have not been given the resources to fight it. The Liberals forgot to mention that little flaw in their thinking the other day.

It is fine to support Bill C-68. Everybody is welcome to do that in a democracy. However there are two officers in Toronto who have been forced to sit and watch this stuff through their whole shift to prove there is criminal intent here. How perverse is that? They have a psychiatric review themselves after six months but there is no psychiatric review for the people they arrest for this thing. It is craziness. We do a psychoanalysis on the policemen but not on the bad guys. We just shake our heads at how these type of things get in here. Court cases are tossed out. They are unenforceable.

The bill would increase the maximum sentence. It sounds great that the maximum sentence for doing something will be increased. Whether we use that or not has no bearing on the fact. It is the minimum sentence that needs to be increased. If the minimum sentence is 4 years now, let us make it 10 years. It does not matter if we make the maximum sentence 20 years because nobody qualifies for the maximum anyway. There are weasel words right in the bill that say it is protecting our kids by increasing the maximum sentence. It is the minimum that we need to increase, not the maximum. This really fails any kind of a test. There are so many things that are required that are just basic.

What about conditional sentences and the idea of community arrest? Prison time is called for so criminals can get the counselling and the psychiatric care they need if and when they ever do get released.

We have a lot of concerns with the bill. There is no truth in sentencing when we see the maximum increased, not the minimum. Nobody really tells us that the victims have no rights at all, that the criminals have all the rights. He can be statutorily released into the same community in which he committed the crime. These poor kids who are victims of this are stuck living with this person right in their midst.

This whole idea of minimum sentences not being increased and psychological assessments and analyses not being done on these perverted people in our society just flies in the face of anything called child protection. There is no possible way that my colleagues and I can support a bill like this. I know the committee worked very hard on this. It heard from a lot of community groups and lot of parents who said that these things needed to be in the bill. However we have seen no movement by the government to enforce tougher and harder penalties on these criminals.

We are not able to support the legislation simply because the government will not broaden out the scope of who will be covered, how they will covered and why they will be covered, and stop this whole influx of the global perverts who come to Canada because it is a free ride. That is not acceptable.