Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code, protection of children and other vulnerable persons, and the Canada Evidence Act.
Yesterday I participated in a debate about encouraging our youth to vote and to get involved in politics. Youth are our future. The most vulnerable groups in our society are children, women and seniors. All the laws we see coming from the government side over a period of time are not protecting any of these groups.
Some time ago there was an incident in my constituency of Surrey Central. A senior citizen, a second world war veteran who was deaf and mute, was beaten to death. Another time there was an incident in the Cloverdale area of Surrey Central. A young girl was abducted, badly treated, and I do not want to go there, and she was murdered.
We constantly see that our streets are not safe. These two vulnerable groups of citizens are not being protected in our society. The government is not doing enough. The law enforcement agencies do not have laws with teeth. We have ended up in a revolving door with legislation after legislation which is ineffective and is not working and is not giving adequate resources to the law enforcement agencies.
The bill before us today was first introduced in 2002. The Prime Minister tries to continue the charade that he leads a new government, yet here he has put an old, flawed bill before us. Admittedly, there are some good things in the bill, but with the good things there are some bad things as well. I have outlined them in the chamber many times before. However, the Prime Minister has not bothered to incorporate any proposed changes. He has not even seen the need to introduce any amendments of his own. How committed can the Prime Minister be to democratic reform? How new is his government or his ideas when we see legislation recycled time and again in this chamber and it does not reach anywhere?
The Department of Justice proposed Bill C-12 to expand the offence of sexual exploitation and the definition of pornography, and to eliminate the defence of artistic merit in child pornography proceedings.
The bill also increases maximum sentences for people convicted of these crimes. If passed, the bill would also increase penalties for failing to provide the necessities of life and abandoning a child.
Bill C-12 is a reaction to the 1995 case of John Robin Sharpe in British Columbia. Sharpe was found guilty of possession of as many as 400 images of children who prosecutors contended were being exploited sexually.
In March 2002 Sharpe's conviction concerning the images was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, he was ultimately acquitted of related charges that had been filed against him in connection with stories he had written, specifically because those writings were deemed to have artistic merit.
Bill C-12 purports to close the loophole that allows people to create child pornography using artistic merit as a defence and establishes a standard of public good.
If Parliament passes the bill, a person will be found guilty of a child pornography offence when the material or act in question does not serve the public good or where the risk of harm outweighs any public benefit.
Since the Sharpe case, Conservatives, and our predecessors, have called on the federal government to eliminate the artistic merit defence, but replacing it with a public good defence is not the solution to the problem. We must eliminate all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography.
The bill would also increase penalties for offences that harm children. The maximum penalty for sexual exploitation would double, from five years to ten years, and the maximum penalty for the abandonment of a child or the failure to provide the necessities of life to a child would more than double, from two years to five years.
These increases in penalties are meaningless, however, if the courts do not impose the sentences. We know by experience that when maximum sentences are raised, there is no corresponding pattern in the actual sentencing practices. What is needed are mandatory minimum sentences. Maximum sentences do not help. When a judge sentences someone for life, which is 25 years, it is never 25 years. Similarly, tougher penalties would probably be a better deterrent to committing a crime. What we need are minimum sentences, truth in sentencing and no conditional sentences for child predators.
Bill C-12 would also create a new category of sexual exploitation that would protect people aged 14 to 18. Courts would focus, not on consent but on whether the relationship is exploitative based on the age difference, or control exerted, and other circumstances. This is not good enough.
It is already against the law for a person in a position of trust or authority or with whom a young person is 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 would add legal protection for young people.
What the Liberals should have done was increase the age of sexual consent, which is what we have been asking for a very long time.
A major shortcoming of the bill is that it fails to raise the age of consent for sexual activity between children and adults, and, shamefully, Canada's is the lowest among all the developed countries.
I fail to see the rationale for permitting adults to engage in any sexual activity with children. The government should raise the age of consent, which is currently set out in section 150.1 of the Criminal Code, from 14 years to 16 years, if not 18 years. Just imagine a grade 9 student giving consent to have sex with a 60 year old person or a 50 year old person.
This is not the Canada I migrated to. We need to do much more to protect our children.
In British Columbia's lower mainland we are all too familiar with the problem of prostitution. Studies have found that 70% to 80% of Canadian prostitutes entered the trade as children. There are literally hundreds of prostitutes under 17 years of age currently working on Vancouver streets. It is very shameful.
The recruitment process for the sex trade in Canada preys on young girls and young boys, specifically targeting those who are at the current age of consent, which is 14.
According to the Children of the Street Society, the majority of parents who call asking for help have children who are 14 years old and are being recruited into the trade. They argue that if the police had the ability to pick up the girls or boys, regardless of their consent, and return them to their families or to take them to a safe house, then many youth would be saved from entering the sex trade.
It is of no use looking at the age of consent from the perspective of the advantaged, critically thinking, well protected 14 year olds. The government has to enact laws that will protect our children.
During my tenure in the House I have watched as family values have been continuously eroded in Parliament. Every time the government introduces any legislation we see family values being eroded, whether it is the definition of marriage, the age of consent or the protection of our children from predators. When will the government listen to Canadians, for the sake of our children and the most vulnerable, and enact laws with teeth?
Bill C-12 is very complex, with cumbersome provisions and it would not make it easier to prosecute sexual predators. The government lacks political will. The Prime Minister should be ashamed for doing so little so late to protect our children and other vulnerable groups.