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.


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12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add my voice to those of my colleagues in regard to Bill C-20, the bill that makes amendments to the Criminal Code to safeguard children from sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect.

I would like to make a few observations. This legislation is of course very complex. It has many cumbersome provisions that will not make it easier to prosecute sexual predators. The existing defences of child pornography such as artistic merit, it is educational, scientific or for medical purpose and the public good are now being reduced in this bill to the single broad defence of “the public good”. This is simply not sufficient.

First, there is no substantial difference between this defence and the previous defence, the community standards test. That was rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in 1992 in the Butler case. The community standards test, just like the public good defence, was concerned primarily with the risk of harm to individuals in society. There is no positive benefit in recycling laws that have already been discredited by the courts. That is why I would ask the government to strengthen this legislation.

Second, it is clear that the artistic merit defence which has been eliminated on paper may still apply in practice. The minister has simply renamed and repackaged the artistic merit defence in this bill.

The bill does not raise the age of consent of sexual activity between children and adults as my previous colleague mentioned. The bill creates the category of sexual exploitation with the intended aim of protecting children between the age of 14 years and 18 years. In determining whether a person is in a relationship with a young person that is exploitative of a young person, a judge must consider the age difference between the accused and the young person, the evolution of the relationship and the degree of control or influence by the person over the young person.

It is already against the law for a person in a position of trust or authority with whom a young person, someone between 14 years and 18 years was in a relationship of dependency, to be sexually involved with that young person. It is unclear how adding people who are in a relationship with a young person that is exploitative of the young person will help protect young people. By the Liberals failing to prohibit adults having sex with children under the age of 16 years, the police and parents are still faced with the continuing task to children that is not effectively addressed by these amendments, but a continuing risk of that. Only by raising the age of consent will young people be truly protected under the Criminal Code.

The bill increases maximum sentences for child related offences. These offences include sexual offences, failing to provide the necessities of life and abandoning the child. This is truly meaningless if the courts do not impose the sentences. Currently, sex offenders often receive a slap on the wrist and serve time in the community. What is needed is truth in sentencing, eliminating statutory release and conditional sentencing for sex offenders and putting in minimum sentences in order to deter child predators.

Modern technology has surpassed the legislative provisions that govern the use of evidence in these cases. The bill fails to address those shortcomings and amendments are required in order to deal with child pornography cases effectively and efficiently.

The bill creates a new offence of voyeurism and distribution of voyeuristic material. This is a positive step. This makes it an offence to observe or make a visual recording of a person who should have a reasonable expectation of privacy if the person is in a place in which the person can be expected to be nude or engaged in sexual activity.

As to the impact the legislation will have on the family, we must observe that there are no substantial improvements that will benefit children and their families. The protection of children is of vital interest to Canadian families but this bill fails to take the necessary steps to address pressing concerns in this area.

The Canadian Alliance has called for the complete elimination of the artistic merit defence and for the age of consent to be raised to 16 years from 14 years. The bill does not do that. Bill C-20 falls short of protecting Canada's children. The Canadian Alliance will continue to advocate raising the age of consent to 16 years and will continue to advocate for the elimination of defences that protect sexual predators. I will have to oppose this legislation because it is just not good enough.

I agree with my colleagues in the Canadian Alliance. The bill is a timid first step for Canadian children. It is complex and has cumbersome provisions that will not make it easier to prosecute sexual predators. Police and prosecutors still do not have the tools to deal with child pornography cases effectively or efficiently. Children must be protected from abuse at the hands of adult predators, regardless of whether that relationship is a so-called trust relationship or not. The Liberals' failure to prohibit all adult-child sex leaves children at an unacceptable risk.

After months of the Canadian Alliance demanding an elimination of the artistic merit defence, the Liberals have finally recognized its danger. Unfortunately, the Liberals have replaced the existing defences with the single defence of the public good. There really is no substantial difference between this defence and the previous defence that was rendered ineffective by the Supreme Court in 1992.

Higher maximum sentences for child pornography and predation will not be effective unless the courts enforce them. The bill also fails to prohibit conditional sentences for child sex crimes. Child predators should serve their sentences in prison, not in the community.

The age of consent for adult-child sex must be raised from 14 years to 16 years in addition to the new category of exploitative relationship. The bill's criteria for evaluating if a relationship is exploitative are vague and very subjective. By not raising the age from 14 years to 16 years, Canada's children are still at risk.

I add my voice to those of my colleagues. I have to oppose this legislation. Even though there are some good provisions in it, it just does not do what it should do.

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12:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion that this question be now put. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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12:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

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12:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

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The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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12:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The recorded division on the motion stands deferred until tomorrow, April 1 at 3:00 p.m., following question period.

The House resumed from March 21, consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act respecting the registration of information relating to sex offenders, to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be now read a second time and referred to a committee.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address Bill C-23, an act respecting the registration of information relating to sex offenders.

Today, I am speaking as the Bloc Quebecois critic on issues relating to the Solicitor General. However, as hon. members have noticed in my previous speeches in this House, I take a great interest in all issues that concern children, directly or indirectly, and this is another reason I am addressing this legislation today.

First, I want to say that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of Bill C-23. Protecting children and vulnerable persons is perfectly legitimate and advisable. In fact, protecting all members of the public is a legitimate goal. Incidentally, my colleague, the hon. member for Jonquière, introduced Bill C-399, which seeks to protect the public, and specifically children, from sexual predators.

However, even though we support the principle of the bill, we must remain cautious regarding anything that has to do with its implementation and, more specifically, we must ensure that certain provisions of Bill C-23 are in compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Bloc Quebecois is also cautious about the costs relating to the implementation of this bill, because far too much information is lacking in this regard. The government must absolutely avoid making the mistakes it made with the firearms program, which resulted in a financial fiasco. This time, we want to know what it is going to cost.

I think the government will seize this opportunity to make amends, by providing us with the breakdown of the costs for this initiative. It would be deplorable for the government to miss this opportunity to promote transparency and then tell us, some time later, that it is normal for a government initiative to cost one billion dollars. This is what the Minister of Justice told us. The minister had the nerve to say that it is now normal for a program to cost one billion dollars. As far as the Bloc Quebecois is concerned, this is not normal at all.

So, while the objective of protecting society against sexual predators is perfectly worthwhile, since the idea is to provide a means to facilitate criminal investigations, the government must nevertheless act with caution and avoid letting things get completely out of hand. I want to reiterate my position regarding the administrative fiasco of the firearms program.

With regard to other jurisdictions, California was the first to introduce a sex offender registry in 1947. But it was not until the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act was passed in 1994 that the registry was actually used.

The Wetterling act was named for an eleven-year-old boy abducted in 1989. The intent of the legislation is essentially to establish guidelines to require all persons convicted of crimes against minors to register their address for a period of ten years. Under this legislation, the attorney general can also require those convicted of violent sexual offences to register for life with a designated agency.

These guidelines apply in all instances, except if it is determined that a treated sex offender no longer suffers from mental illness or a personality disorder. In short, this guideline does not apply if experts can prove that the individual presents low to no risk of re-offending.

Since the Wetterling act is American legislation, the FBI is responsible for data collection. It should be noted that local police forces help in this collection.

To better enforce this legislation, the United States government even threatened to cut penal system funding to all states that did not comply with the legislation's requirements. As a result, in June 2000, the Wetterling act came into force in all American states.

The Wetterling act works in one of the following ways. First, states can appoint a board to determine the risk level each offender poses to society and apply an action plan accordingly. Second, states can choose to establish categories for sexual predators who must comply with the registration requirements.

A third possibility is to make it incumbent on the offender himself to report his presence to the community. Finally, it may also be up to a community to inquire about the presence of a sexual predator, or to ask for information on such individuals.

Based on the American experience, three groups are directly or indirectly involved with the implementation of the act, namely the organizations responsible for collecting information, the public and the media.

In the U.S., all states have decided to inform schools of the presence of a sex offender in the community. Some states have also decided to warn social housing services, libraries, churches, women's groups or children's groups. As for the media, it is up to local organizations to decide whether they should be contacted and, if so, to determine which ones.

In 1994, the State of New Jersey passed Megan's law, which created the requirement to inform the public of the presence of a sexual predator in a given area. This means that it is now legal to conduct a search by community or by name to find out if a sex offender is living in a given area or neighbourhood. In 1996, a federal version of that law was passed by the U.S. Congress.

The Bloc Quebecois feels that the government should be cautious in this regard. We believe that, contrary to what is provided under Megan's law, it is essential to protect the confidentiality of the information. In fact, this confidentiality is recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

So, Megan's law allows the disclosure of information, but the states should decide which groups are to provide that information. The danger with this process is that the names and addresses of some offenders who are absolutely not at risk of reoffending may be disclosed, while those of more dangerous offenders might not be disclosed, because they are not part of a group identified as one that must be registered in the database.

The same goes for the types of information that must be included in the database. The groups of offenders and the types of information are left to the discretion of the states' legislators. These laws have led to a number of challenges. Some have argued that being registered is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, while others have questioned the retroactive effect of the legislation.

It is these latter challenges that have received the greatest attention from the courts. The U.S. courts have ruled that registration in itself is acceptable and non punitive, despite the fact that retroactive legislation is prohibited under the U.S. constitution.

In the case of Great Britain, the Sex Offenders Act was passed in 1997. The registration requirement of that act provides that individuals found guilty or not guilty for reasons of insanity must give their name, date of birth and address to the police. The police can also take a photograph and fingerprints. In December 2001, 97% of sex offenders had registered. In Great Britain, the legislation applies retroactively.

We reiterate our opposition to such retroactivity.

The big difference between the United States and Great Britain is that the British registry is not accessible to the public. Thus, Great Britain has decided to respect the confidentiality of the information provided by sex offenders.

Nevertheless, the British legislation provides for the release of information as part of a risk-management plan to protect children or vulnerable individuals. The British government believes that interventions by popular militias or vigilantes must be avoided, and we are in agreement with this principle.

The British government is also of the opinion that there is a risk that offenders may enter the country in secret to avoid being targeted by these vigilantes. Early this year, the British government presented a bill to amend the 1997 Sex Offenders Act.

The amendments seek to add a category of offenders, that is, those who have been found guilty of a sexual offence abroad, which would cover those who engage in sexual tourism. In addition, offenders would be obliged to register each year.

In Canada, three provinces have enacted legislation: Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta. Ontario's Christopher's Law—Sex Offender Registry, 2000, was passed on April 23, 2001. This legislation resulted from a coroner's report concerning the death of an 11-year-old boy who was killed in 1988. The coroner had been recommending the creation of a registry since 1993.

The registry system in Ontario is intended for released sex offenders. They have to report to the police yearly, giving their name, date of birth, address, photo and the sex offences they have committed. The sex crimes in question are listed. The register is not open to the public. There is, however, a retroactive aspect and this, I repeat, we are opposed to.

There are provisions concerning the length of time people are registered and the sanctions applied for non-compliance. These range from fines of up to $25,000 to sentences of up to two years imprisonment, or both. The offender is struck from the list only when rehabilitated with respect to all the sex offences in question.

The OPP has an obligation to maintain the register on behalf of the Solicitor General of Ontario, but it is the responsibility of the local police forces to determine where offenders are to report. It is also up to them to ensure compliance.

As for distribution of the information, the Police Services Act allows chiefs of police to release it when an offender whose presence presents a considerable risk to the community is in the community. It must be made clear that there must be considerable risk to the community, a risk that will be significantly reduced by disclosure of the information.

As I have said, there may be some uncertainty when it comes to provisions guaranteeing the balance of proportionality between the means for implementing the objectives of this bill and their impact on rights and freedoms.

That is why it is absolutely justified to question the methods proposed in this bill for ensuring the objective of protecting society. The principle of proportionality is a fundamental right that is recognized by our courts as far as the legislative means used to attain the objective of the bill are concerned.

As I have said, protection of the public is a legitimate objective. Registration does, however, still impose a constraint on certain citizens. The principle of fundamental justice requires compliance with section 7 of the charter in that the mechanisms adopted must not be disproportionate to the intended objective.

The courts refer to minimal impairment. In the case of the bill at hand, the protection of society is tied to the restrictions imposed on the freedoms of sex offenders. It is therefore up to legislators to respect this requirement of fundamental proportionality.

I believe that Bill C-23 is seriously flawed. As far as I am concerned, it does not respect this fundamental principle of proportionality. In fact, the requirement is there for all sexual offenders, regardless of the gravity of the offence. I want to point out that I do not take these crimes lightly, quite the opposite, but we have to take into account the specific circumstances surrounding each case. Under the current wording, the government makes registration obligatory, without any regard for the gravity of the offence. This bill clearly targets the nature of the offence, and not its gravity. This is one of our key criticisms of this bill.

Given that it is only about the nature of the offence and not its gravity, the burden of proof falls to the offender. He must therefore convince the courts that an order to register is clearly excessive in terms of protecting society.

It would be up to the offender to prove that being registered in the database would have an unreasonable impact relative to the protection it would afford society, and that it would be to the offender's disadvantage. Based on certain statistics available, the recidivism rate is lower for sexual offenders than for other types of criminals. The rate is below 20%.

Of course, some types of sex offenders present a real risk of re-offending, and we are in favour of having a registry for such persons. However, it is impossible to differentiate between these two groups based solely on the nature of the offence. This is why I believe that dangerousness is the key element in determining registration orders.

Once again, I must state that cases before the courts must be subject to regular review. We must avoid generalities, and there is a real danger of these since the Crown is responsible for deciding whether to demand that an offender be required to register. In its current form, the bill would impose a binding obligation on approximately 80% of offenders who do not pose a real threat to society, thereby shedding doubt on the constitutionality of these provisions.

The bill must be such that it avoids excessive measures. This registry must not, therefore, be used to witch hunt; it must not be used by individuals bent on exacting revenge on sex offenders.

The Bloc Quebecois insists, therefore, on the confidentiality of the database. We also insist on very limited disclosure to a very specific clientele, namely the police. One of the conditions for access to this registry must be a police investigation of a sexual offence.

There are, therefore, three conditions on obtaining information in the registry. First, does the request come from a police force? Second, is the request being made in relation to an investigation? Third, is it a sex offence investigation?

We must insist on these conditions for obtaining information because not doing so could be used against us. The bill's objective is not to create panic in neighbourhoods nor to incite bounty hunters, far from it. In fact, the sole goal of this registry is to facilitate criminal investigations in a specific area. Protecting privacy is essential and is even the subject of specific legislation. However, this legislation applies to all members of our society.

Applying this legislation to sex offenders too will, of course, prevent such offenders from going underground, and disappearing from our radar screens and those of the police.

The underlying goal of any legal decision is to encourage rehabilitation, not punishment. This is yet another reason why privacy protection is so important. To rehabilitate such offenders, all of society must be protected. We will all be safe if we can avoid forcing offenders into hiding.

The fact that the police force knows exactly where these offenders are located is reassuring enough. That is what we need to look for, not revenge. We must prevent all forms of vigilantism.

The rehabilitation of sex offenders must be part of the measures designed to protect society. There are several organizations that specialize in reintegrating and rehabilitating offenders. These organizations promote community involvement combined with public participation. This cooperation has helped define solutions for problems that affect everyone.

By taking part in the decision making process, the public contributes to the social development of a group, like sex offenders, that has been labelled antisocial. Community groups have established a number of projects to reintegrate sex offenders, such as halfway houses and community service work programs, but we must not stop there. The purpose of these programs is to make offenders responsible.

It would be good to point out that this is similar to how young offenders were treated in Quebec, under the Young Offenders Act. This act, incidentally, was subject to drastic changes by this very same government. We must be very careful if we want to avoid making this type of mistake again. It is somewhat ironic that the current government is advocating a preventative approach for offenders who have been found guilty, when they are taking the opposite approach with young offenders.

As I was saying, public participation is important to prevent uncontrolled and uncontrollable witch hunts. We need to find solutions that are fair, and that satisfy victims, offenders and society.

The Bloc Quebecois is of the opinion that registration contributes to this goal, on the condition, obviously, that directives to protect privacy are respected, and that only police forces will have access to the data.

On April 30, 2001, the Government of Quebec released the recommendations from the report on the decision making process and the whole integrated release system for offenders. This report, know as the Corbo report, entitled “Pour rendre plus sécuritaire un risque nécessaire”, discusses how to reduce the risks involved in releasing offenders, once rehabilitated. The authors of the report believe that involving community resources in the rehabilitation of offenders, and in their reintegration, is absolutely essential.

They go on to say, “On the one hand, it is first and foremost via these volunteer bodies from within itself that civil society can fulfill its necessary role in the rehabilitation and social reintegration of all its members who are not in compliance with the common standards and have developed behaviours that represent a threat to public safety”.

The report includes the following among its recommendations: “being allowed at large before the end of the sentence, or even once the sentence has been served, represents some degree of risk. The recidivism rate requires some clear thinking to be done about this, but it is a necessary risk. Quebec society really has no other choice but to seek the rehabilitation and community reintegration of offenders. If that objective were abandoned, society would enter into a policy of ongoing repression of offenders. Such a policy would have heavy economic and social costs and would lead to an impasse with no way out except to pile repression on repression.

Temporary absences or parole are necessary if the goal of rehabilitation and resocialization is to be achieved, but there is an associated element of risk. Ongoing efforts can be made to reduce this, but we must realize it will never be reduced to zero. Thus the core concern in this report is to identify the means most likely to reduce this risk and increase safety”.

The report goes on to state that “our society rightly takes pride in respecting the privacy of its members and protecting their personal information. While this is justified, our society feels equally strongly that its members must be properly protected against those likely to harm their physical or psychological integrity, including in the privacy of the conjugal home.

It is therefore appropriate to define an administrative and legal framework that is suitable to all and strikes a balance with the principles of fundamental justice and our rights and freedoms. The Corbo report states that access to such assessments or other information requires Quebec society and the legislator to design and implement measures which achieve a more finely tuned balance between the protection of privacy and the protection of public safety. Demanding the absolute supremacy of one or the other of these values is liable to compromise the other. That is why the concept of balance is important.

I am still puzzled when I read clause 20 of the bill, which adds section 490.02 to the Criminal Code. Paragraph ( a ) refers to sexual offences while paragraph ( b ) does not. We are concerned when a bill with the worthwhile goal of protecting against sexual predators is used to add a general and imprecise provision.

It is of particular concern to me to see that property offences such as breaking and entering a dwelling house are included in this section. I fail to see how that protects against a sexual predator. It would be good to know what the lawmaker's intent really is when it comes to including offences with no connection to sexual offences. After all, the title of this bill does say “respecting the registration of information relating to sex offenders”. The scope of this section goes far beyond that. That an offender could have to be registered for such an offence is cause for concern.

I repeat that this bill has a worthwhile goal of protecting, but only with regard to strict enforcement criteria concerning privacy, the promotion of reintegration into society and the community as well as accessibility of data only to police and only for investigations on crimes of a sexual nature.

We have another concern about Bill C-23, which could become a major one given the bill's constitutional nature. While the registration requirement is within the prosecution's jurisdiction, it does not in any way guarantee its constitutional validity.

In fact, the Supreme Court recently concluded that the lawmaker giving the prosecution discretion to act does not resolve a potential constitutional problem. In the references Lavallee, Rackel & Heintz v. Canada; White, Ottenheimer & Baker v. Canada, and R. v. Finn, in a recent and unpublished judgment, Madam Justice Arbour stated, “Nor can the provision be infused with reasonableness in a constitutional sense on the basis of an assumption that the prosecution will behave honourably—”

She went on to say that, “'The protection of basic rights should not be dependent upon a reliance on the continuous exemplary conduct of the Crown, something that is impossible to monitor or control.' Even more so, I would add that the constitutionality of a statutory provision cannot rest on an expectation that the Crown will refrain from doing what it is permitted to do”.

At first glance, we might think that the prosecution will act carefully. But we must not forget that we are dealing with a very controversial and hot issue.

I agree that appropriate steps must be taken to deal with sexual predators in order to protect children and any other vulnerable person from abuse. However, we should not go overboard and require all sex offenders to register.

Again, I insist on the notion of gravity in the assessment made by the prosecutor, in his analysis of the need to invoke these provisions. The notion of gravity must be at the core of the decision making process regarding the provision that authorizes the registration of sex offenders.

Another reservation regarding Bill C-23 has to do with the implementation costs of this system. This is a very serious concern. The Solicitor General is talking about investing $2 million to launch this system and then $400,000 per year to manage it.

It would be interesting to see the studies that have led to these numbers. It would be perfectly appropriate and relevant to know all the figures that have led to these amounts, particularly after the fiasco in the management of the firearms program, which the government must absolutely avoid repeating. Therefore, I am asking the Solicitor General to provide us with the documents relating to the funding of this registry.

This blatant lack of information raises some questions, namely: who will absorb the excess costs? Quebec and the provinces? Since Quebec and the provinces are responsible for the operation of this system, they should have all the information that is relevant to this program.

It is Quebec that is responsible for getting the orders and presenting the challenges, reviews and appeals. It is also Quebec that must review and register offenders and check the information. Then there are the arrests made when there is a refusal to act. All these proceedings will undoubtedly result in significant costs.

Let us not forget, also, the costs that could result from constitutional challenges. Some measures will have to be adopted to protect and maintain the database. We should also include a gravity assessment procedure. This procedure will of course be costly, because of the complexity of such assessments, and because they rely on expert opinions.

The Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of protecting society against dangerous sexual predators. However, we must first look at what these provisions entail.

So, the constitutional validity of this system and the significant costs that it will generate must be taken into consideration. We must remain cautious and ensure that the measures taken are not disproportionate and that parliamentarians have all the relevant information on the implementation of this system.

In short, we need more information about the costs, as per the economic feasibility studies. In this way, we hope to avoid repeating the firearm registry fiasco.

We must also insist on the guarantee of proportionality in accordance with section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is a fundamental right that could cause problems, not just in terms of enforcement, but also credibility, if the issue is not properly addressed. The bill must therefore provide the protections stipulated in the charter.

In closing, the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of this bill, which is to protect the public from sexual predators. However, we remain cautious in terms of the constitutional validity of some of the bill's provisions, and this is why we want to know more about the costs that will be incurred.

In closing, I would like to reiterate the Bloc Quebecois' support for the principle of this bill. However, we believe that it is reasonable and justifiable to want the full details in terms of provisions affecting how the bill will be enforced, in addition to the effects these provisions will have. These details are what will really testify to the quality of work that we, in this House, will have done.

Therefore, it will be in committee that we will really be able to assess the scope of this bill and make any necessary changes for Canadians and Quebeckers, so they can feel assured that they are protected against the threat of sexual predators.

It is in committee, I believe, that we will be able to fully understand the scope of this bill, particularly with respect to the notion of recidivism and the gravity of the offence, but also with respect to the breadth of the scope of the bill and the impact it will have.

It is also in committee that we will be able to see all of the information necessary to determine the costs related to implementing the registry. As I said before, the goal is praiseworthy, but is this the right approach? This remains to be seen.

The Bloc Quebecois supports this bill in principle, but caution requires that we study it more closely and make the necessary changes. We need to look at the costs involved in order to avoid a fiasco and we must also ensure that the registry is truly confidential, that the information is given only to police forces, and that none of the information is used in any witch hunts, but that it is used under the conditions that I laid out earlier in my comments.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-23, the sex offender information registration act, and I am pleased to follow the discussion and presentation by the spokesperson for the Bloc.

As the Bloc Quebecois member has said, it is clear that we are going to support this bill in general, but with some reservations. We are going to ask the parliamentary committee to look at certain things in connection with this very important bill.

We, like the Bloc Quebecois, want to see a balance struck between protection of our children and protection of our rights. This will always be our goal, and time must be taken to hear witnesses when this very important matter is being considered.

As I tried to say in French, members of the New Democratic Party, like the spokesperson for the Bloc, wish to offer our general support for the bill and indicate that we believe it is a very important initiative. At the same time, as is our wont on all cases pertaining to constitutional matters and legal provisions, we seek to ensure that the rights and liberties of individuals are protected and upheld and that nothing we do by way of legislation in the House takes away those hard fought freedoms.

It is clear that we are dealing with a long overdue piece of legislation. This matter of a sex offenders registry has been before Parliament and in public policy circles for many months. In fact, I think back to a couple of years ago when this place dealt with this subject by way of a motion from Alliance members, I believe. It was subsequently pursued by provincial ministers of justice on a regular basis.

In fact, I think if it were not for the constant push by ministers of justice at the provincial level the bill in fact would not be here today. It is clearly a culmination of a long process and an outcry from Canadians right across this land for action to deal with a most serious and critical matter in our society today.

No one in this place can ignore the agony that families go through when a child or a loved one is raped or sexually assaulted. No one can ignore the fact that in our society there are pedophiles who are at large and will continue to offend and reoffend if serious actions are not taken.

Bill C-23 is certainly one step in the right direction. It is important because it will help police services investigate crimes of a sexual nature by requiring the registration of certain information relating to sex offenders. It is a tool and a provision that will allow the police to keep track of the whereabouts of those who have offended in terms of rape or sexual assault against children or any vulnerable member in our society. That is very important, because one does not have to follow this issue too far to know the extent to which our children and women in our society today are at risk of sexual assault and exploitation.

The primary objective with the legislation is to ensure the effective protection of Canadians. In this case in terms of Bill C-23, we are concerned about the potential victims of sexual crimes, primarily women and children, who are especially vulnerable.

I will first talk about violence against women. This is a matter that the House must continually come to grips with and I think that through this bill we have such an opportunity. I think we all agree that Canadian women have a right to live without the threat of violence, yet we know that for many women it is a reality. One study shows that 42% of women, and that is in comparison to 10% of men, feel totally unsafe walking in their own neighbourhoods at night. Nearly as many, 37%, are worried about being home alone at night.

We know that much of the violence against women manifests itself through sex related violence. We know that, and we have to continually be vigilant in finding ways to reduce the incidence of sexual violence against women, because we are tired of building monuments to victims.

Let me also talk briefly about sexual violence against children. Understandably, there is a feeling of sickness and rage every time we enter another search for another child's body. This bill actually will help us to channel those justifiable feelings to the positive objective of improving prevention.

There are a few other facts. It is estimated that only 10% of sexual assaults on women are reported to police. In Canada this means that more than half a million assaults occur each year. Another fact: Every minute of every day in Canada a woman or child is being sexually assaulted. Let us not forget in this debate, as in other debates we are having, particularly on Bill C-22, the divorce act, that 98% of sex offenders are men and that 82% of victims surviving reported assaults are women.

Tragically, recent well-publicized incidents confirm the fact that those most often committing assaults are in positions of trust. They are fathers, other relatives, religious officials, doctors, teachers, employers, friends and dates.

There are more facts to be put on the record. There are more examples of the kind of emotional upheaval that families go through when a child, a woman or a vulnerable person experiences sexual assault, but perhaps that is enough for now to highlight the importance of the bill and why we are in general support of Bill C-23.

There are some problems with the bill. We heard the member from the Bloc speak about some of those issues that we have to grapple with. Some of the provincial governments have raised other concerns with the bill. The concerns before us fill the whole spectrum. They range from those who believe the bill is not tough enough to those who believe the bill may infringe on civil liberties, and that is something we must sort out in the next stages of the bill, particularly when it is sent to the standing committee and witnesses are heard and testimony is received. I would suggest that we take seriously all those concerns.

I want to put on the table some of the concerns raised by the provincial minister of justice of the Government of Manitoba, the Hon. Gord Mackintosh, who in fact was central to the push that led to the bill before the House today. It was Gordon Mackintosh, back in September 2001, who actually presented a motion to the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice meeting calling on the government to establish, together with the provinces and territories, a national registry for sexual offenders.

He introduced that motion with the support of many provinces to try to force the Government of Canada to listen and to act. Fortunately today we are in a position where the federal government has listened, has acted and has brought before us a bill that is consistent with the wishes of the provincial and territorial ministers of justice as well as the wishes of many Canadians who are very worried about ensuring that the incidence of child sexual assault and rape of women and children is dealt with on a consistent and effective basis.

The minister from Manitoba, Gordon Mackintosh, has raised some outstanding matters that need to be pursued by the House and by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He raised the issue of retroactivity. That is a matter that has been before us throughout the debate. It is a matter of concern. The position of the Manitoba government is that it makes sense to look at a provision that deals not just with those who offend once this bill is proclaimed, but also gives some consideration to the fact that it ought to apply to those who are now serving sentences for sexual offences.

I think we ought to give that some thought. Our caucus has remained open to the question. I know that there are strong views on both sides and I think we need to really grapple with this whole issue of retroactivity and whether or not we are doing a disservice to Canadians at risk by not applying this provision retroactively to some extent.

The Manitoba government has raised the issue of photographs and whether or not the bill will in fact allow for the use of photos. There was some understanding that in fact the federal government has acknowledged that photographs are important and will be introduced at some time in the future. However, there appears to be no mention of the question of photographs in the legislation before us. I think we ought to deal with that issue here and now; otherwise it is clear that the legislation will have to be reopened and that we will have to deal with this issue all over again once the federal government decides to live up to its commitment to the provinces to include the matter of the use of photographs.

A third issue raised by the provincial governments that I think has to be taken seriously as we pursue this bill is the question of financial support for the new responsibilities that provincial governments will face once this bill is proclaimed. It is clear that there will be additional costs because, as we know from the proposals in the legislation, judges must in fact make written application to ensure that a person convicted of a sexual offence is added to the registry. That takes time.

We know that judges are now overburdened with existing demands and provisions. A new piece of legislation does require the government and all of us to look at the question of what resources are required and whether that is being considered as the bill goes through the various stages. It would be irresponsible on our part to pass legislation that in fact puts all kinds of financial requirements on the table and leaves it to the provinces to sort out. That would be irresponsible and unfair. I think it is important for us to now get commitments from the federal government as we pursue Bill C-23 about how it intends to support, fund and finance the new demands placed on our provincial judicial systems as a result of the implementation of Bill C-23.

I think it is clear that the House acknowledges the importance of having a registry that is mandatory and requires the documentation and identification of those who have offended sexually against children and other vulnerable members of our society. I think that there is this understanding. As a House, we are grappling with some of the intricacies of the bill and with how we can ensure that the balance is upheld between protection of the most vulnerable in our society and the adherence to our charter and our constitutional traditions. I think this is the mandate of the committee and I ask that we all take the process very seriously and ensure that the standing committee is given the time it needs to do this work.

For now let me say that my colleagues and I in the NDP support the broad thrust of the bill. We know that it is long overdue. We know there are some problems, but on the other hand we say thank goodness it is finally here and thank God we have such a proposal before us. Let us ensure that we do not lose sight of the objective at hand and that we do everything we can to make this a fine piece of legislation and a law that will actually work. Not only do we have to ensure that we track sexual offenders and ensure that if they reoffend they are picked up quickly, but through the bill we actually have to ensure that we find a way to prevent sexual assault of our children and vulnerable citizens. We have to do everything we can to make our communities safer and more secure for everyone among us.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine Québec


Marlene Jennings LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the member opposite for her thoughtful comments on Bill C-23. I do, however, have an issue that I would like to discuss with the member, that is, her comments about the Manitoba government wishing there were a provision allowing for retroactivity in the application of the sex offender registry.

Is the member not aware that it is a basic tenet in criminal law and also in labour law that when one establishes a sanction for an act there is no retroactivity? We do not reach back in time in order to capture people who committed those acts at a time when it was not illegal or criminal. Having done a bit of labour law, I know that this is a basic tenet in disciplinary administrative law. For instance, let us say that an employer creates a sanction and says that as of such-and-such a date one must call in sick, otherwise one may be found to have violated the employer's rules and regulations or the collective agreement and could be liable for a three day or five day suspension. It is a basic tenet in labour law that we do not reach back into the past. It is also a basic tenet in criminal law.

Given that the member has said the Manitoba government wants retroactivity in this legislation, how does she feel, as a member of the New Democratic Party, which pretends to represent labour, about the fact that the provincial government wants to reach back into the past?

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question and the issue is one that I would like to see thoroughly addressed and pursued at the detailed clause by clause analysis of the bill. There are outstanding questions that have to be put on the table. We have to hear from constitutional lawyers and we have to hear from provincial governments. We have to hear from groups that represent victims. We have to grapple with what is not a cut and dried matter. It is not an easy issue. It is one for which there are different precedents and different constitutional interpretations.

The federal New Democratic Party has not taken a position in favour of retroactivity. We are always very careful to try to find a way to balance the protection of the vulnerable with the upholding of our charter, but at the same time I want us to deal with what provincial governments are asking us, which is this: Is there any constitutional interpretation under which retroactivity in this case would apply and would be upheld?

Comments have been made on both sides of the issue. One such comment made in a recent newspaper article enunciated the view that there cannot be retroactivity if someone has been sentenced under the old rules. Offenders have to know what the playing field is before they offend. I think we should hear what that means and how it can be interpreted in terms of this law. I do know that at the same time this argument is being made there are those who say there are people who already have been sentenced or who are about to be sentenced for sexual offences against children and vulnerable people, people who will be released at some point and who will not be included in the registry, and therefore there are questions about safety and security that have to be dealt with.

Again I will say that there is no easy answer to this. We have not taken a position. We would like to hear all the facts and all the constitutional arguments. That is why the bill needs to get to committee for that kind of thorough vetting and process.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, on the question of the retroactive effect of the registration system, I did not hear that sort of enthusiasm from government members when they brought in the firearms registration act on the technicalities of a retroactive effect of the legislation. However when it comes to sexual offenders who cause a lot of damage to a lot of people, they get on their high horse on the issue.

We deal with registration in our society. We register motor vehicles. We have to register with the government so we can file our income tax returns or we will get into trouble. If people want to sell wheat in the country, they have to register with the government.

There are rights that are trampled because of this. We can get into an argument on rights but someone on the government side says that the public good is more important than the individual rights involved.

When we take into account the high rate of recidivism among sexual offenders and the position of trust that so many hold in our society and when we look at their record and the devastation they have caused to people, both women and children, surely the protection of the children, women and people who are abused by people in trust are more important than the offender's right not to be registered.

It seems to me it is a fairly clearcut question when we put it in the perspective of all the other registration regimes we have, that we have a very compelling public reason to make this retroactive. If it is not retroactive, it is not really worth very much because the vast bulk of offenders already have a record and they are the menace to society.

Could the member from Winnipeg address this concern? It seems to me it is such a compelling argument in favour of registration, so overwhelmingly compelling, that we make it retroactive. If we do not, it is virtually useless. I would like to have the member's comments on that.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question. I think there are compelling arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. That is why the bill needs to be sent to committee where we can hear from constitutional experts and from organizations trying to help the victims and from the families of victims who must get through these difficult incidents of sexual assault. Therefore I would really like to see that happen.

In addition to the question of retroactivity, we also must in the spirit of balance look at the question of ensuring that there are provisions for being taken off the registry if the person has been pardoned or if there has been a complete rehabilitation process undergone by the offender.

We have to be really careful on both sides. We have to ensure that we are upholding the Charter as well as looking for the utmost ways in which to protect the victims of sexual offences.

My colleague, the critic for justice for our caucus, has indicated in the debates earlier that he will be proposing an amendment to ensure an automatic review of the registry list, which I think is important. He will be recommending that we deal with provisions to ensure that the burden of removal from the database is placed on the people granting the pardon whereas currently a pardoned sex offender could have his or her criminal record cleared but would not be on the automatic review of requirements to register the database.

There are a number of suggestions that have been made by our caucus critic. Others are on the table from provincial ministers of justice. We need to review this at the committee and come up with the best possible legislation.

Sex Offender Information Registration ActGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to rise in the House and to address this very important matter. For once, this is a very positive bill, one aimed at protecting children. That is a major priority for Canadians.

This legislation, as has been stated several times already, is long overdue. It is one that certainly we in the Progressive Conservative Party support. We have long been calling for a stand-alone sex offender registry that would have a very practical and immediate impact on the ability of the police to protect and enhance existing systems of protection for children and for communities generally.

The implementation of the legislation will be important. It comes from an incredibly sound idea, the concept that has been in public debate for some time. The introduction of the legislation represents a departure from the government's normal routine of doing very little.

Bill C-23 would require sex offenders to be registered in a national database, which would make changes to the Criminal Code and help police investigate crimes of a sexual nature. The registration itself is of certain information relating to sex offenders and would have no doubt a positive impact on the timeliness of investigations and, more important, would add a much to the needed element of public protection.

I am glad to see we are bringing this forward at this time. Our party has long been an advocate of action of this file and on a number of occasions we have called for the immediate implementation of such a registry. It boggles the mind to think that we would be spending so much time and effort on a long gun registry, as was alluded to already, that has cost the country a billion dollars, with more millions being poured into it as recently as last week, when we would have an opportunity to bring forward such a practical response in empowering police to do their investigations to protect children.

While we agree that this is a very important step in the process, having the opportunity to debate the particulars of the legislation, there remains a number of problems that I would like to point out. In particular, clause 20, subsection 490.03(4), provides convicted sex offenders with the opportunity to have their names removed from the registry if they can prove that it would impact on their privacy or liberty.

I am very concerned, and I would not put too fine a point on the analogy, with the loophole that already exists with respect to child pornography, which in essence gives a great deal of discretion in the area of what has been described as artistic merit. This is a similar type of loophole. The clause reads:

--if the order were made, the impact on them, including on their privacy or liberty, would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest in protecting society...

I find this to be such an anomaly. When it comes to protecting children from sexual offenders, how can there be any disproportionate public interest? What could possibly trump the interests of protecting children?

My fear is that with this loophole, or setting up of a loophole, for sex offenders who do not wish to have their names included, who would define the grossly disproportionate impact? Who would define the public good? Even if there is an acceptable definition that we could all agree with for each of these terms, which I doubt, who then would decide which took precedence? Obviously, it would be the courts which would result in a long antiquated process that ultimately would not protect young people.

Let us hope we get it right in the first instance. Let us hope that judges will make that proper call. Then we would know that there is an appeal process. We know that there is a review process.

I am not suggesting that the balanced approach is not the correct one. My fear is we are deliberately putting in place a loophole which will result in immediate litigation.

Unfortunately, there are other changes which I believe need to take place within the scope and parameters of the bill. The bill, if it is to live up to its intention of public protection, not the least of which will be the need for a separate and stand-alone database, will have to be revised.

Police officers, provincial attorneys general and other people working in the field will verify that the current CPIC system does not allow for a mandatory registry of information pertaining to sex offenders, contrary to what the solicitor general and previous solicitor generals have said for years. This is exactly what is needed.

What is needed and what is imperative to protect children in particular and what would be very useful is to have a stand-alone system. If we could have a stand-alone system to register guns that does not work, surely we could have a stand-alone system to protect children. When one compares the two on balance, there is no comparison. We are pushing for a stand-alone system and continue to do so.

I have talked to members of the victims' services, to police officers, to those involved in child protection, to lawyers, Steve Sullivan and to many others who are concerned about having a system that does not quite fit the bill and really creates a false sense of security.

The information provided is only as good as its accessibility and its accuracy. In fact the Auditor General, on previous occasions, has outlined the inadequacies of the present CPIC system in terms of the data that it already holds.

To make the case, the current system, which was designed in 1966 consisting of one main computer, a communications network and the local hardware and software that provides users with access, has been near collapse at times. Despite efforts to update the system, I would suggest that simply adding or piecing together another element of the system would put further strain in place. What we have seen in the past is times when CPIC has been actually inoperable and police officers have been unable to access that important information.

It was originally designed to handle 11 million transactions annually and to accommodate 1,500 points of access. In 1998 the system handled 114 million transactions, 10 times its original design volume, and it currently handles more than 15,000 points of access, serving a current 1,285 police departments and government agencies.

Just to put that in context, what we are seeing is a system that is so overloaded. What we need, I would suggest and what provincial attorneys general, police and other interested parties are calling for, is a separate stand-alone system. The Canadian Police Association, as I mentioned, the Victims Resource Centre and many other concerned citizens suggest that the system needs to be stand-alone. The government is aware of that. It needs to show some leadership in this regard. If the political will exists, it can happen and happen quickly.

I do not want to mix messages on this point, but I must bring into the debate again the issue with respect to the gun registry on which a billion dollars plus, and counting, has been spent with no correlation to public safety. That is the misnomer the government and members opposite have tried to perpetrate now for years, that there is an actual connection, a nexus, between registering the long guns and public protection This is a complete fallacy and a farce that has been exposed repeatedly.

Liberal members of caucus were told that they had to toe the party line last week and, as a result, voted for supplementary estimates and another $68 million or $69 million into this Liberal sinkhole to really demonstrate again the face saving over lifesaving element behind this.

This is not the first time it was done, of course. We have seen numerous examples, such as the EH-101 helicopter cancellation, hundreds of millions of dollars spent on faulty advertising, HRDC programs and Pearson airport cancellation, all resulting in a lack of common sense and a lack of accountability and practical responsibility when it comes to governance.

What I am getting at is that here is an opportunity to take the existing infrastructure of the gun registry, the computer systems, the personnel, the effort that has been put into this flawed system, and apply it to a sex offender registry for a practical application that would work, that would protect children and that would put it back in line with the priorities of Canadians. I strongly suggest that this would go a long way to restoring some faith.

Currently, convicted offenders may be released into the community and change their residences, or their appearances or their names to avoid discovery. We know that sex offenders prey upon those least able to defend themselves and they do so by deceit, by disguise and by subterfuge. These types of nefarious activities are done intentionally so that they might go undetected.

Clearly there is a need to have accurate information that is current and available. Without an actual sex offender registry that is timely and accurate, we are putting children's lives at risk and I do not believe that the government in any way would want to put a price tag on that.

Coupled with the information that is currently found on the CPIC system, it is impossible to sort out in such a way the police and those in the law enforcement community can access and use this information for prevention. In my view, the addition of a sex offender category on the antiquated, overloaded system is destined to fail. We know that recidivism is extremely high with sex offenders.

In the event of reoccurrence, such heinous acts of abduction and sexual assault, valuable time is lost in trying to identify the suspect who is oftentimes not known to the local police or to the community, or because of the issue of mobility or nefarious means to change an appearance or name. This is a very prevalent occurrence.

A stand alone system would provide police with an enhanced ability to protect society and carry out this critical task of enforcing a safe and orderly society. It would give police better access to information about the specific whereabouts of offenders and all previous convictions of a sexual nature that have been registered through the courts.

Sadly, not all offenders make it onto the CPIC system. When the offence has occurred, for example, in British Columbia there may be a delay in entering that information into the system. If individuals then find themselves before the courts in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, it is difficult to ensure that the information is accurate.

Colleagues from Nova Scotia, South Shore and Cumberland—Colchester and members of the Progressive Conservative Party support this initiative. Let us ensure we get it right and let us ensure, when we bring this to the justice system, there is a common sense approach taken to amend this process to ensure that it works for all Canadians.

Epilepsy Awareness MonthStatements By Members

March 31st, 2003 / 1:55 p.m.


Yolande Thibeault Liberal Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House and the people of Canada that March is Epilepsy Awareness Month. Epilepsy is a serious disease of the brain affecting more than 300,000 Canadians. Its symptoms include seizures, uncontrollable trembling, convulsions and confusion.

Many persons suffering from epilepsy are hesitant to admit that they have this disease and even to seek treatment. The goal of Epilepsy Canada is to raise public awareness about this disease and remove the stigma that has been attached to it.

I strongly encourage Canadians to make an effort to learn more about this disease. Together, along with medical research, we can improve the quality of life of all who suffer from this disease in this great land.

I congratulate Epilepsy Canada for its remarkable work and offer my best wishes for its success in the future.

Canada-U.S. RelationsStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Diane Ablonczy Canadian Alliance Calgary Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, Liberal anti-Americanism is having shocking consequences for ordinary Canadians. A message of intolerance and lack of respect for others from leaders in the government is being picked up by some individuals.

A disabled woman wrote to tell me that she has been spat on and suffered verbal threats. Why? Because she chose to put U.S. and U.K. decals on her vehicle. She did so to “support their efforts regarding security, freedom, peace and humanitarian actions“.

Leadership matters. Sadly, Liberal bigotry has spilled out to harm society and our citizens, and to shame our great country.

Liver DiseaseStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Liver Foundation has designated March as Help Fight Liver Disease Month.

Liver disease is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, striking men, women and children indiscriminately. The foundation's mandate is to reduce the incidence and the impact of liver disease through research and education.

Canadian researchers have long been recognized internationally for their breakthroughs in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of liver disease. The foundation is proud to be able to support their efforts by awarding research grants to leading liver specialists as well as to new researchers who are so important to this field.

I wish to ask my colleagues to join me in honouring the Canadian Liver Foundation and all of its volunteers during Help Fight Liver Disease Month.

Rémon LecavalierStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Serge Marcil Liberal Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to acknowledge the remarkable community involvement of a constituent in my riding, Mr. Rémon Lecavalier.

Mr. Lecavalier has been working in the scouting movement for many years. His energy and his determination to transmit time-honoured values to the youth of Beauharnois—Salaberry are precious assets.

On March 21, 2003, the Lieutenant Governor of Canada presented him with the gold medal of merit of the Quebec scouting federation in recognition of his exceptional commitment to the scouting movement.

On behalf of all the young scouts in the Beauharnois—Salaberry area, I thank Mr. Lecavalier and congratulate him on this well deserved honour.