Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to rise in the House today and address the motion to reinstate government bills.
I know there is a tendency to wander when we have the opportunity to address matters of this nature, especially when it is not in the interests, in particular, of the opposition to do so, and today is no exception.
Clearly, though, I think the Canadian public expects us to take seriously the matter before the House because a lot of time, effort and energy has been invested in the bills that the government wishes to reinstate in the House.
I think each and every one of us, if we were to look back at the history of the reinstatement process, would see that this process goes back some 30-plus years and, in fact, has precedent in this process where we have received unanimous consent in the previous times for reinstating bills that were advanced in the House in pre-prorogation periods.
The United Kingdom also carries on with a similar process. This process is quite normal and it should be respected in the House at this time.
We have come here with an obligation to serve the country and advance the cause and interests of this just society. I think that as we do so we need to take the time to properly address issues of this nature and go forward.
In this particular case it is clear that there are a number of bills that the government would like to bring forward. In particular, I would refer at this time to Bill C-20. I know that bill, which was brought forward in the House before, is part of a reform package to improve the protection of our children and other vulnerable persons. It responds to the commitments that were made in the 2002 Speech from the Throne. Quite frankly, I think these commitments continue today in the interest of advancing those protections.
We want to protect our children from exploitation in all of its forms. We want to reform the Criminal Code to increase penalties for abuse and neglect, and to provide more sensitive treatment for children who take part in justice proceedings as victims or as witnesses.
Bill C-20, as introduced in the previous session, is very important. These proposals build on some of the recent measures, that is measures that we had brought in before, in the interest of increasing the protection for children from sexual exploitation.
The previous reforms that we brought in included some criminal law reforms that created new offences to target criminals who use the Internet to lure and exploit children, or who transmit, make available, export or intentionally access child pornography.
The government has been consistent in its desire to better protect children. With the advent of new technologies, this has been a constant challenge for the law to stay up to and maintain the protection that we believe our children need.
Since the new technologies, including the Internet, are increasingly making the sexual exploitation of children a borderless crime, the government is also working closely with the international community in developing a strategy to include measures that will improve international co-operation, information sharing and techniques that will advance the prevention, health and public awareness, cooperation with the private sector and outreach to other countries with respect to issues of this nature.
We need to advance stronger child pornography provisions and Bill C-20, I submit, would certainly do that. The fact that the opposition is stalling today in order to stop the process of bringing forward this bill is somewhat distressing to those of us who seriously believe there is an opportunity to advance the protection of our children.
The existing defences for child pornography would, under this new bill, be reduced to a single defence of public good. A person would be found guilty of a child pornography offence when the material or act in question does not serve that public good, or where the risk of harm outweighs any public good that it would otherwise serve.
The proposed reforms would also expand the existing definition of written child pornography to include material that is created for a sexual purpose and predominantly describes prohibited sexual activity with children. The current definition of child pornography only applies to material that advocates or counsels prohibited sexual activity with children. This is something that is important. It is meaningful and it should be advanced as quickly as possible in the House.
One other area in Bill C-20, which could be brought forward through the process of this motion, deals with the new category of sexual exploitation. The provision would provide new protection to young persons between 14 and 18 years of age. Under this proposed reform, courts would have to consider whether a relationship is exploitive, based upon its nature and circumstances, including any difference of age, the evolution of the relationship and the degree of control or influence exercised over the young person.
This new category focuses the court's determination on the conduct or behaviour of the accused rather than on the consent of the young person to sexual activity, again a very important advance that we believe ought to be brought forward as quickly as possible.
When we look at sentencing within the bill, we see that it proposes tougher sentencing provisions. Under the government's reform proposals, the penalties for offences that harm children would be increased. The maximum penalty for sexual exploitation, for example, would double from five years to ten. The maximum penalty for abandonment of a child or failure to provide the necessities of life to a child would more than double from two to five years. The abuse of a child in the commission of any Criminal Code offence would also have to be considered as an aggravating factor by the court and could result in a tougher sentence.
Clearly, members can see that these are very important points that need to be advanced for the protection of our children and other vulnerable persons. It is very important that we continue to bring forward these ideas, which I believe are important for the future of our children in this country.
There are other things that would also be met by allowing the reintroduction of Bill C-20. For example, when we talk about children and other vulnerable persons as witnesses within our courts, several reforms contained within the bill would help ensure that when they are participating in the criminal justice system, it would be less traumatic for them than it would otherwise be. First of all, it is very traumatic for someone to have gone through an experience of this nature, and it is even worse when they have to relive it in a courtroom setting. It is very important that we make provisions so that it is as easy and as least intimidating as possible. I think that although every time one enters a courtroom there is an element of intimidation, we should certainly try to minimize that for those who would be witnesses.
The current Criminal Code provisions would be expanded to allow all witnesses under age 18 to benefit from testimonial aids in any criminal proceeding, not just those involving sexual or other specified offences. These aids would include providing testimony from behind a screen or by closed circuit television, or having a support person accompany the young witness.
Current provisions generally require the Crown to establish the need for a testimonial aid. Given the potential trauma of the courtroom experience for young witnesses, the proposed reforms in Bill C-20 acknowledge the need for the aid. For all testimonial aids, the judge retains the discretion to deny the aid or protection where its use would interfere with the proper administration of justice. In addition, the facilities to permit the use of a screen or closed circuit TV must be available in the courtroom before the judge can permit their use.
Fundamental rights for the accused are fully respected under the proposed amendments. For example, the reforms would also allow children under 14 to give their evidence when they are able to understand and respond to questions. A competency hearing, which is currently mandatory, would no longer be required.
These are very important advances that would be very helpful in the administration of justice and are being held up by the failure of the House to approve the motion for reinstatement.
There are other areas, too, where in fact we talk about voyeurism. I think most of us are aware that with electronic advances today, voyeurism is becoming more and more of a problem. The latest evolution seems to be in the cellphone camera. It seems to be the latest intervention that is causing additional concern about voyeurism. I see that now notices are actually being posted at various establishments like the YMCA, for example, to the effect that one no longer can take a cellphone into a dressing room because of that particular characteristic of these more modern phones.
So it is something that is extremely important, this concept of voyeurism and making it an offence, and we have to deal with it. Bill C-20 is a bill that attempts to do this, and I believe it would do so in an appropriate manner. The rapid technological changes and developments of these years of course have brought many benefits to our society, but they raise all sorts of implications for such basic matters as our privacy. Web cameras, for example, which can transmit live images over the Internet, have raised concerns about their potential abuse, notably, of course, the secret viewing or recording of people for sexual purposes or where the viewing of a recording involves a serious breach of privacy.
The proposed offences listed in Bill C-20 would make it a crime in three specific cases to deliberately and secretly observe or record another person in circumstances where a reasonable expectation of privacy exists: first, when the observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose; second, when the person observed or recorded is in a place where one is reasonably expected to be in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity; and third, when the person observed is in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity and the purpose is to observe or record a person in such state of activity.
Distributing material knowing that it was produced through an offence of voyeurism would also be a crime. The maximum penalty for all voyeurism offences would be five years in prison. The copies for sale or distribution of a recording obtained through the commission of a voyeurism offence would be subject to seizure and forfeiture. The courts could also order the deletion of voyeuristic material from a computer system.
As members can see, these reforms clearly are quite important. The steps that we have taken so far to bring forward Bill C-20 in the previous pre-prorogation session, in fact, were very important and I think they were very positive steps in this regard. I think Canadians are concerned. They want solutions to these issues. That we are bringing forward solutions is extremely important. The fact that these solutions are being slowed up by this process of failure to cooperate and to work with the government in terms of bringing forward the existing bills that the government would like to reintroduce on this motion quite frankly is very troubling to me.
The time has come for the House to engage in the business that we were sent here to engage in and that is to advance the cause of the protection of our citizens. In this particular case, by reinstating Bill C-20 we would be advancing the cause of children and other vulnerable persons. It is extraordinarily important. I find that this process of delay for no reasoned purpose is very ineffective. Quite frankly, I think the Canadian people can see through this masquerade and they want us to proceed.
Accordingly, I would ask that the House support the reinstatement motion, bring it forward as soon as possible and have it pass in the House.