Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate this issue. Many others have spoken on some of the specific issues. I will do a little bit of that too, but I would like to talk about this issue in a general fashion first.
I would like to raise the question, why, after 10 years that I have been here, are we still just talking about this issue? I was first elected in 1993 and very soon after I came down here we raised many of the issues we are still talking about today. We have asked questions of the government, in committee and in the House of Commons, as to why it is not acting more quickly on something as urgent and so critical as protecting our children from sexual predators. What question could be more fundamental for government to deal with than that?
It has been 10 years that I have been here. I have been asking questions and my colleagues have been asking questions. We stated our position on protecting children from sexual predators and nothing has happened. The legislation that we are debating today, Bill C-12, in practical terms when applied, will not change things. My question to the government is, why has it taken 10 years and why after 10 years has nothing been done on such a critical issue?
I do not expect that I will get an answer to my question today, but Canadians certainly deserve an answer to this question. It is a question that Canadians are still asking. Next to some of the hot button issues, it is one of the issues most often brought to my attention, especially the issue of raising the age of sexual consent. However, there are other aspects as well that deal with protecting our children from sexual predators.
If this issue is so important to my constituents, I would have a hard time not believing that it is also important to the constituents of all members opposite. In fact, they are hearing the same things that I am hearing because in various ways I have heard them say so. They are concerned about the age of consent. They are concerned about some of these other things like artistic merit that my colleagues and everyone in the House has been debating.
Therefore, if that concern is so widespread, including on the government side, why has appropriate action not been taken after 10 years? We will hear the government use the excuse that was used by the public works minister yesterday in question period when he said that it was not his government. He said that his government only started on December 12.
Really, that is what he said in response to a question. We were talking about how the government's reputation has been tarnished due to all the scandals, like the ad scam, the sponsorship program, and the military issue that my colleague from Prince George has brought up recently regarding how $160 million was somehow misspent. It is probably the worst type of corruption, yet the government did not pick up on it for years. These things come up, and we have been bringing them up on a regular basis.
What did the public works minister say yesterday? He said that his government has only been in place since December 12, trying to distance himself and the responsibility of the Prime Minister, the cabinet and all the members of Parliament on the government side. The Liberal members are trying to distance themselves from their responsibility; however, they were a part of the government over the past 10 years. I would be trying to distance myself from that too, quite frankly, if I were there.
However, corruption is one thing and we are not talking about corruption in this debate today. We are not talking about the sponsorship scandal or any of the other areas of corruption.
We are talking about something every bit as important though, and that is the protection of our children from sexual predators. If so many of these members of Parliament feel, as I know they do, that this is something they want to do, that they want their government to do, why have they been so ineffective in doing it? After all, they are part of the government, or at least they are supposed to influence the government in caucus and in other ways.
I do not think it is because they are not good people. I know that most members of Parliament, no matter which party they are from, do the best job they can to represent their constituents. They do that; we all do that. We work very hard at that. I believe Liberal members of Parliament are no different. I have talked with them enough to know that they want to represent their constituents.
Why then, on critical issues such as this, can they not do that? Why are they not allowed to do so? Why have they been so unsuccessful in dealing with this most urgent of issues, such as protecting our children?
The answer comes down to a lack of democratic process in the House of Commons, in the government, and in our political system. That is something that I have talked about an awful lot in the last 16 years since the Reform Party of Canada was founded.
One of the main issues that the Reform Party was founded on back in 1987 was the issue of democratic reform. It would put in place various democratic reforms so that each and every member of Parliament from every political party would have a real impact in this place. Members would be able to actually represent their constituents in this place.
Why after 16 years and why after more than 10 years of the government being in power has so little been done on that issue? It is because of Bill C-12, that we are dealing with today, and what happens with every other piece of legislation we deal with in the House that will depend on whether we have a democratic system or not?
Have we had a democratic system in place, one that was really working? The government has had 10 years to do that and it has actually made things worse rather than better. I honestly believe that things are less democratic in the House now than they were 10 years ago when I came here.
Had democratic changes been made, I believe the Liberal members of Parliament, who understand the importance of this issue, along with my colleagues and colleagues from other political parties, would have forced the government to pass legislation which would deal with these issues that we are talking about in Bill C-12.
It comes down to having a process in place that allows people from right across this country to appear to be represented and to in fact be represented by their member of Parliament. After all, their member of Parliament should answer to them and not to this cabinet and not to the Prime Minister. That is not the way our system should work.
Unfortunately, it is the way that it does work. That is a sad commentary on 10 years of Liberal government. We can go back farther than that. I am only looking at the 10 years that I have been here because I am very much familiar with those 10 years.
I know the fight that my colleagues and I, and some in other political parties too, including the governing party, have put up to bring democratic change. It would ensure that issues like the protection of children would be dealt with in the way that the general public wants it to be dealt with.
Every one of us is elected by the people in our constituency to work on their behalf, to represent their views. We learn about issues from polling and surveys, and many of us do that in our householders. We will take an issue such as the protection of children or the age of consent, and I have done that myself and many of my colleagues have done that. We have given information looking at both sides of the issue.
Sometimes we will invite someone who takes a contrary position to our own position to put information in our householders to our constituents. We will put our position in because part of being a representative is to be a local leader. Part of leadership is to try to persuade people to our point of view. We put our persuasive position in there. Then we allow our constituents to decide. We allow our constituents to make it clear, by actually voting, how they feel on these important issues.
Any survey that has been done backs up widespread public support to raise the sexual age of consent for children from 14. They should not be making decisions on whether to have sex with an adult. That is not something they should not have to think of at that age. Let them be children for awhile.
Every one of the official polls done on the issue shows an 80% support rate or higher for raising the age of sexual consent to at least 16.
It comes down to unfortunately the fact that we have, as the Prime Minister calls it, this democratic deficit. What has he done to fix it? Nothing. What has he done to deal with this issue when he must know about it, because I am sure many of his members of Parliament have made the point to him that they want these issues dealt with by the government. What has he done? He has done nothing about it.
This legislation, should it pass, quite frankly will not help solve the problem. I will quickly go through some of the specific issues in the legislation that have not been dealt with by the government. I will talk about issues that are conspicuous by their absence.
The first is the issue of artistic merit, and some of my colleagues have talked about it. The controversy on artistic merit has been going on for some time. It certainly came from the John Robin Sharpe case from British Columbia. I think we are all very much aware of that. He is a notorious child pornographer.
In the Supreme Court case, R. v Sharpe, it was determined that artistic merit should be interpreted as widely as possible. In the legislation the government has said that it will deal with it by taking away the artistic merit defence and put in place the public good defence. This was after a former justice minister, who was attempting to sell the bill to committee, admitted that the broader public good defence in fact would allow the artistic merit defence to be there. I want to read the quote from the former justice minister. He said:
Artistic merit still exists in the sense that a piece of art will have to essentially go through the new defence of public good and through the two stages. Of course, the first question is always this. Does it serve the public good?
He went on to say that artistic merit was a part of what was considered under whether it served the public good.
That issue has not been dealt with in the legislation in any kind of effective way. In practice, when it goes before the courts, it probably will not change a thing. It will probably be dealt with in exactly the same way and the artistic merit of what I call child pornography will still be a consideration and probably the results will be no different. The government has failed entirely in that regard.
The Conservative Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. We are clear on that. Why is the government so unclear on that? What it is clear on is that it is not willing to take this issue and deal with it head on to ensure that our children are protected.
The second issue which has not been dealt with at all in the legislation is age of consent. I have already referred to that because it is an issue that so obviously should have been dealt with years ago. We all know that having 14 year olds decide whether they want to have sex with an adult is simply not acceptable, yet that is not in the legislation. In the general polling 80% of Canadians have said that they want it to be in there.
Canadians are clear on this and, as I said, many MPs have done their own surveys on this through their householders they send out to constituents. We have received results that in many cases are much higher than the 80%. Why has it not been dealt with?
Another former justice minister, although I cannot name her, said this on raising the age of consent. She indicated very clearly that it was something the government looked forward to doing. This was years ago. She said:
With regard to age of consent--from 14 to 16--we have our child as victim consultation paper. We discussed that at our federal-provincial justice ministers' meeting in September in Nova Scotia. Those consultations will be concluded and reported on by December 31 of this year, and I think we will see that a consensus is emerging that with certain safeguards we should probably be moving on the age of consent from 14 to 16.
This was in October 2001. What that former justice minister is saying is that she believes all provinces, and that is what we found too, want to go ahead with raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. She acknowledged that was what Canadians wanted and it was certainly what the premiers wanted. Therefore, the federal government would not be improperly interfering in the areas of provincial jurisdiction, something that is so important to our Bloc colleagues as well as to us. We are very conscious of the federal government respecting provincial jurisdiction. That has been done. The provinces want to go with this and the federal government is ignoring that wish.
Again, Bill C-12 fails to raise the age of consent of sexual contact between children and adults. That is clear. The government claims that it has somehow effectively dealt with this issue of the age of consent. It has not. Though, as I have said before, probably a majority of its members of Parliament support that. Why do a majority of its members of Parliament support that, even in the governing party? Because their constituents have told them that.
The third issue, which I will refer to very briefly, is the issue of minimum sentences. In the bill the government raises the maximum sentence allowed under these various offences, but it puts in place no mandatory minimum sentence. Raising the maximum sentence probably will do nothing to help judges take these issues more seriously under the law. Putting in place mandatory minimum sentences for these offences on the other hand will mean judges will have no choice. Parliament will have dictated and minimum sentences will be put in place. It will give offenders at least the minimum sentence as required by law, but the government has refused to do that.
I want to close by saying that it is hard for me to understand why after 10 years this has not been changed and why the bill will not change it. It is a sad commentary. Let us move ahead. I can assure the House the next government will change that.