Debates of March 12th, 2004
House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was products.
- Criminal Code
- Epilepsy Awareness Month
- Angel Hair For Kids
- Kidney Month
- Women Parliamentarians
- Canadian Wheat Board
- Employment Insurance
- Women of Ciudad Juarez
- Public Service
- Federal Election
- Softwood Lumber
- Violence Against Women
- Social Housing
- International Women's Week
- South Vancouver Neighbourhood House
- Turks and Caicos Islands
- Sponsorship Program
- Canada Pension Plan Investment Board
- Sponsorship Program
- National Defence
- Public Works and Government Services
- Child Benefits
- Post-Secondary Education
- Sponsorship Program
- Airline Industry
- Foreign Affairs
- Natural Resources
- Sponsorship Program
- Canadian National Railway
- Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
- National Defence
- Parliament of Canada Act
- Committees of the House
- Questions on the Order Paper
- Parliament of Canada Act
- Criminal Code
- Committees of the House
- Criminal Code
- Dairy Terms Act
The House resumed from March 9 consideration of the motion that Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be read the third time and passed, and of the amendment.
March 12th, 2004 / 9:55 a.m.
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning 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.
Contrary to yesterday's assertion by the justice minister, the official opposition cares about protecting children from sexual predators. That is why we are firmly opposed to Bill C-12. We want legislation that makes the perverts who prey upon our innocent children fearful.
Unfortunately, Bill C-12 fails in that regard. This bill has been endorsed by none other than Mr. John Robin Sharpe, the very man who was found guilty of possession of as many as 400 images of children whom 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 the stories he had written, specifically because those writings were deemed to have artistic merit. Mr. Sharpe feels that this bill is so poorly crafted that even he could use it to his advantage in the courts.
To quote the nation's most notorious child pornographer, “The interesting thing about the child sex laws is that they may offer some unintended opportunities for the defence”. Mr. Sharpe asserts that the federal proposal is a panic reaction to his two successes in challenging the current legislation in court. He further writes, “I am fairly confident that given good legal counsel, and a by-the-book judge who bases his decisions on the wording of the law...I and my stories would again be acquitted under the proposed measures”.
The problem with this bill lies in the proposed public good defence. Mr. Sharpe is not alone when he claims that the proposal is too vague to survive court challenges. Many legal experts agree with him. Judges who interpret and apply the law do not consider the many fine speeches delivered in this chamber. They simply look at the words of the laws that we pass in this place.
What does public good really mean? The government has failed to make that clear. What if, as Mr. Sharpe suggests, a judge finds it in the public good to allow possession of child pornography if it prevents convicted child molesters from reoffending again? That certainly is within the realm of possibility.
If Parliament passes this bill, a person would 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 have called again and again on the federal government to eliminate the artistic merit defence, but replacing it with a public good defence is not the solution. We must eliminate all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography.
The Liberals need to get their priorities straight. They have brought forward many pieces of legislation, but none of them protect children against child pornography. For years I have been demanding a stop to the sexual exploitation of children, but the Liberals clearly lack the political will to fix that problem for our society.
In fact, during the Liberal government's tenure, family values have been continually eroded. We can talk about any single issue that relates to family values. Those family values have been eroding under the Liberals, whether it is the definition of marriage, protecting children from child pornography, raising the age of consent, taxation laws with respect to single parent families, or giving law enforcement agencies enough resources and laws with teeth.
On every single front, the Liberal government has let families down. It always forgets that the stronger the family, the stronger the community and the stronger our great nation would be. The foundation of this great country is the family, not the social welfare system. We have to strengthen our families. We have to protect children and other vulnerable people.
Canadians want laws with teeth. That is one thing we can do in this chamber. At least we could make laws with teeth and not have just a slap on the wrist or a revolving door criminal justice system. We cannot do that anymore. Why can the Liberals not see that we want deterrents in place, not some sort of motivation for criminal behaviour?
Bill C-12, which we are debating today, will increase maximum sentences or maximum penalties for offences that harm children. I agree, but that is not good enough. How many times has government introduced legislation that increases maximum sentences? What is the good of increasing maximum sentences if the courts will not apply the full force of the laws we already have in place? Increasing penalties is meaningless if the courts do not impose the sentences.
We know from experience that when maximum sentences are raised there is no corresponding pattern in the actual sentencing practices. What is needed? Mandatory minimum sentences. We need truth in sentencing. We need no conditional sentences for child predators. We need minimum mandatory sentences instead of the maximum sentences so that the judges can implement them.
Bill C-12 creates a new category of sexual exploitation that protects people aged 14 to 18. Courts would focus not on consent but on whether the relationship is exploitative based on age difference, control exerted and other circumstances. Again, that 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 relation of dependency, to be sexually involved with that young person. It is already in the law. It is unclear how adding such people will add legal protection for young children.
What the Liberals should have done instead was increase the age of consent for any sexual activity. A major shortcoming of the bill is that it fails to raise the age of consent for sexual activity between children and adults. 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, currently set out in section 150.1 of the Criminal Code, from 14 to 16 at least, if not 18.
In Surrey, we are all too familiar with the problem of prostitution. Studies have found that 70% to 80% of Canadian prostitutes enter the trade as children. In particular at that age, the recruitment process for the sex trade in Canada preys on young girls and boys and specifically targets those who are at the current age of consent, that is, 14. According to the Children of the Street Society, the majority of parents who call asking for help from the police have children who are 14 years old and are being recruited into the sex trade by the pimps.
I ask the Liberals, do they think that 50 year old men should be able to target 14 year old runaways for sex, give them a sexually transmitted disease and get them pregnant? What response will Liberals give at the doorstep during the upcoming campaign? I would be very interested to hear from the government members who lack the political will to protect our children from these sex predators.
The results of dozens of studies show the effect of adult sexual contact with children. There is a huge risk of clinical depression, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, and extreme promiscuity and involvement in prostitution. It is vitally important that we do not confuse physical maturation with psychological maturation. The “age of majority” is a term used by lawyers to protect the offender and to describe the time in life after which a person is legally no longer considered a child. In essence, it is an arbitrary time when a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law.
Why is it that we as a society feel that children are ill-prepared to drive, to drink, even to vote or marry or drop out of school or even watch violent movies, but we feel they are totally ready to decide for themselves with whom they should have sex? It is a pity to have this societal social evil. This makes absolutely no sense.
Raising the age of sexual consent would definitely put us more in line with other western nations. We know that in Denmark, France and Sweden the age of consent for sexual activity is 15. In Australia, Finland, Germany, Holland, Israel, New Zealand, Norway and even the United Kingdom, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16. In Canada, we still have that age of 14. It is time for the Liberals to prohibit adults from having sex with children under the age of 16. This age of 14 is not a good thing for society.
The need to protect innocent and vulnerable children from pimps and other sexual predators is a matter of highest priority. It should not be on the back burner of the government's priorities. How many Canadians are aware that a 14 year old can move into a conjugal relationship with a 50 year old? There is nothing the parents can do, at least legally, to put a stop to such an exploitative relationship. Persons at 14 and 15 years of age lack the mental and emotional maturity to cope with the psychological effects of engaging in sexual activity with older persons.
A survey last summer found that 80% of Canadians, eight out of ten people, believe the age of sexual consent should be raised to 16. So why does the age of consent remain at 14?
I know that the Liberal government is governing the country with polls. It has been looking at the polls for the definition of marriage and now is looking at the polls for when to call the election, but why does it not see this same poll, in which 80% of Canadians demand from this weak and arrogant Liberal government that the age for sexual activity be raised from 14 to at least 16? Why are we depriving parents of the ability to protect their children from sexual exploitation? It is a very important issue. It cannot be ignored.
I talked about minimum mandatory sentences. They are a root cause of the criminal justice system not being effective. Let us take marijuana cultivation as an example. According to a British Columbia police study, on average it takes seven convictions before a person will serve jail time for cultivation of cannabis. In neighbouring Washington State, first time offenders get an automatic three month sentence. Needless to say, we have considerably more grow ops in British Columbia, particularly in my constituency, than they do south of the border.
But what does the government do? It introduces legislation that would increase maximum sentences for larger grow operations. What about the minimum sentences? Minimum sentences are what Canadians need. They send a message to the criminal element in society that we are serious about preventing crime, whether it is child pornography, drugs or any other violent crime.
It is very important that we look into these issues seriously. I talked about Surrey. We know that last year a massive RCMP probe, code-named Project Snowball, tracked more than 2,000 Canadians, including over 406 in British Columbia, suspected of possessing and distributing sexually explicit pictures of children. Out of those 406 identified in British Columbia, 23 were from Surrey.
A quick survey of local Surrey newspapers reveals many cases of adults sexually exploiting children. For instance, there is 32 year old Stephen Smith, who was charged with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation involving two underage boys he had met on the Internet. Dale Nault, a 34 year old, also from Surrey, was charged with three counts of sexual assault involving a 14 year old boy he met over the Internet and with one count of possession of child pornography.
In all these cases, the government failed to protect the children. I know that my time is almost up, but I would like to say that if the Liberals were serious about protecting our children and making our streets safe for all Canadians, they would strengthen our laws by introducing maximum sentences and ensuring that sentences handed out are actually served. They would give law enforcement agencies the resources they need to fight crime instead of wasting money on a useless gun registry.
Rather than registering sex offenders, the government has been wasting billions of dollars registering guns of law-abiding citizens. We need a comprehensive sex offender registry, tougher sentences for pedophiles, elimination of all legal loopholes for child pornography, a streamlining of the administrative process for convicting sex offenders and the prohibition of all adult-child sexual contact.
In closing, I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding: “and that the committee report back no later than April 5, 2004.”
The amendment is in order.
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague touched somewhat on a fact that is very disturbing to me, that there are pedophiles and child molesters who say there are parts of this legislation that they support. A responsible government should take note of that, find the section in the legislation that allows those creeps to find some benefit in the legislation, and make sure it is changed before it is passed into law.
Time after time we have made suggestions to the government that would allow it to improve the legislation to make it stronger and to really send the message out that if offenders mess with our kids, they will pay a strong price. The present legislation does not do that.
I would like my colleague to comment on the fact that there are parts of this legislation that the people who prey on our children actually support. What does he feel needs to be done to make the legislation stronger than it is?
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, as I indicated in my speech, it was indicated in the House of Commons yesterday during question period, surprisingly by a Liberal member, who cited John Robin Sharpe as endorsing this bill. How shameless that a Liberal member would stand up and indicate that a notorious pedophile in this country endorses this bill. It indicates so clearly that the bill is good for pedophiles and not for victims and does not protect our children.
Where is the defence for protecting our children? It is completely missing. The underlying cause is the government lacks the political will to protect children from pedophiles.
There are many loopholes in the bill. Previously it was artistic merit and now the government would put in law the public good defence. How good is that public defence when it does not protect children from pedophiles, from child pornography, from sexual exploitation? How good is the public good defence? I cannot understand why the Liberal government is letting it go forward in this form.
I have been watching since the new Prime Minister took power, after many years of backroom stabbing and manipulations, and he has not come forward with a single piece of his own legislation. He is recycling the legislation from the previous Liberal government.
He has missed the opportunity to include in the law the amendments from the official opposition's thoughtful members. Time and again we have raised those issues in the House, to make the law tougher and make the sentences meaningful but the government has ignored us. The Prime Minister has chosen to ignore us again. He has missed that opportunity. The loopholes in the law will continue and people like John Robin Sharpe will continue to endorse the laws made by the weak and arrogant Liberal government.
Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK
Mr. Speaker, does the member know, from media reports and other sources, whether in his part of the country there has been an escalation in that particular area?
As members of Parliament we want to represent and defend for the common good our own constituencies, the interests of people in our own back yard, so to speak. The member has been a hardworking member of Parliament coming up on seven years now. I would specifically like to know whether on his part of the horizon there has been an escalation. Is the need for this legislation now more serious, amended as suggested by the Conservative Party of Canada?
Gurmant Grewal Surrey Central, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely true that such heinous crimes have been increasing in our communities.
In the city of Surrey, many children have been kidnapped. There are some famous cases where the kids have been even murdered. I do not want to name those children to respect the privacy of the families. It is certainly very painful to see that happen.
The city of Surrey is considered, unfortunately, the auto theft capital of North America. Break and enters, gang violence, drug related violence and organized crime related violence have been escalating.
One root cause is the government has not been giving enough resources to the law enforcement agencies. Today there are 4,200 fewer RCMP officers on our streets and highways than there were when the Liberals came to power in 1993. Moreover, last year the Canadian Police Association said that the RCMP needs an immediate infusion of $250 million into the system.
The Canadian per capita average indicates that British Columbia would need 691 more police officers. In Surrey there is one police officer per 893 residents. In Vancouver there is one police officer per 400 people. On a per capita basis, we have just half the police officers.
There are 75 vacancies in the RCMP in the city of Surrey alone. Those positions have been vacant for a very long time. Why? One underlying reason is that the Liberal government is not giving our law enforcement agencies enough resources.
In addition to having fewer police officers, they have the highest number of files per police officer. In Surrey, RCMP officers each handle on average 126 files. We know what the result is from starving the RCMP of resources, officers and vehicles to patrol the streets. Naturally the response time after 911 calls is longer. Naturally there is a shortage of police officers on the street. Therefore crime is on the rise.
We need to take action. I have been calling upon the weak and arrogant Liberal government time and again to do something about it. The Liberals have not done anything. With Bill C-12, the Liberals had another opportunity to make the legislation tougher to protect our children and they have failed.
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in this House to take part in this very important debate on Bill C-12.
The bill is one which capsulates, and very much is intended to address, an extremely important issue, that being the proliferation and possession of child pornography in this country. I am very sad to say that the overwhelming feeling that I and many others, including the previous speaker, have been left with is that a huge missed opportunity is occurring within the pages of Bill C-12.
While the bill attempts to address these critical matters of protecting children in the country, it falls far short. In its final analysis, it is described as a complex and cumbersome bill that will not make it easier to prosecute sex offenders and those who, in many cases, are sexual predators in our community who perpetrate the worst kind of violence on children: sexual abuse, which is tantamount in many situations to a life sentence of turmoil, of complex physical damage, of the type of impact on a person's life from which they never recover.
The responsibility, obligation, upon members of Parliament, those in a position to address the situation, cannot be understated. Here we had a golden opportunity to do something about this egregious situation that is occurring on the streets, in small villages and towns and residences across the country.
The controversy arising in one area of child pornography that came out of the now infamous John Robin Sharpe case, which went all the way up to our Supreme Court of Canada, and the difficulty that remains surrounding the definition of an artistic merit interpretation that was left by the courts allows for a dangerous and broad interpretation of a type of child pornography of which a person might be in possession. This statement not only has allowed but has left open the door for further proliferation of child pornography by individuals like John Robin Sharpe,
There is an important distinction to be made between the types of defences that rely on an exception, if you will, to possession of certain types of materials. I want to be clear in defining that. The courts spoke of essentially three exceptions, artistic merit being one of them, which I personally and many members of the Conservative Party oppose. It also made way for educational, scientific or medical purposes. What we are talking about clearly is anatomy charts, instructional videos for educational purposes that depict a child in a certain fashion.
All of those defences lumped in with artistic merit were, in essence, boiled down by the courts to a single defence of public good. That broad interpretation is what is so dangerous. The former justice minister in the wake of this decision came before the justice committee and essentially admitted that the broader definition of public good defence was still very much one which would leave open the possibility of a person possessing child pornography. He said, and I am quoting from his testimony at the justice committee:
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?
That might be the first test, but that second broad category of artistic merit leaves open the possibility that an individual can possess or perpetrate or proliferate child pornography. A zero tolerance definition is needed. No one in any way, shape or form in this country should be encouraged or permitted to possess child pornography, full stop. Yet the bill leaves open that very real possibility. That is the Liberal answer to the John Robin Sharpe case.
I am fearful that any backing away or watering down of a definition such as this will leave that danger out there for young people in this country. There is no excuse for not completely eradicating the flexibility that was left open by the Supreme Court.
That is not to say there are no other elements of the bill that do at least attempt to go further in securing the lives and the safety of children, and I will touch on that in a moment. The fundamental question in this debate must centre around the harm that could be caused to those who are most vulnerable, mainly children.
Underlying this theme, we must give thought to the role of the court in the context of judicial policy making as it pertains to the supremacy of Parliament. We must show how this new legislation would eradicate child pornography in Canada within the context of the artistic merit defence. Bill C-12 comes up short. The legislation does not go far enough. It does not subject the country to the type of ironclad protections that should be available when it comes to protecting children.
One of the often used defences when we see cases like this is that if we were to bring forward amendments in legislation to shut down any further interpretation there could be a constitutional challenge. Well, as sure as night follows day, in a matter like this there will be a constitutional challenge. If we get caught up in the constitutional constipation that we see constantly from the government, we will leave a lot of people vulnerable. On an issue as fundamental as the protection of children that is unacceptable.
The government is letting down the country when it comes to leaving open interpretations such as artistic merit for child pornography. There is an inherent danger in society as a whole when we fail to recognize the detrimental effects of child pornography at a very basic level.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms does provide sufficient protection for freedom of thought and expression, and surely a common sense interpretation has to follow, but what constitutes a reasonable limit is central to the debate, the so-called Oakes test that applies when it comes to a clash of constitutional rights protected by the charter.
The existing defences of child pornography are outlined in Bill C-12. Artistic merit is grouped in with educational, scientific or medical purposes. That is misleading and unacceptable. They are reduced to the public good definition. I have already referred to the justice minister's admission that the public good is still a wide open interpretation.
In the R. v Sharpe case, the Supreme Court also briefly considered the defence of public good. The court found that the public good has been interpreted as “necessary or advantageous...the pursuit of science, literature, or art, or other objects of general interest”.
What on God's green Earth does that mean? What are the general interests of somebody so sick as to go out and depict children in a sexual fashion?
The court went on to say:
It might be argued that the public good is served by possession of materials that promote expressive or psychological well-being or enhance one's sexual identity in ways that do not involve harm to others.
Explicitly, child pornography harms children. The making of it, the depiction of children in a sexual fashion, harms children, harms society and tears the social fabric.
The court went on to say:
In some cases this might eliminate some of the more problematic applications of s. 163.1(4). For example, it might in certain cases foreclose the law's application to visual works created and privately held by one person alone, or to private recordings by adolescents of their lawful sexual activity. Nevertheless, the public good defence might not answer all concerns as to the law's breadth. Absent evidence of public good in the particular case, a person might still be convicted for possession of material that directly engages the value of self-fulfilment and presents little or no risk of harm to children. Thus, while the public good defence might prevent troubling applications of the law in certain cases, it would not do so in all.
That admission by the court underlines the problem of leaving the door even slightly open.
We must speak with clarity and strength on the issue. We must call for the elimination of all defences that would justify the criminal possession of child pornography and call for legislation that would criminalize possession of child pornography. Of course the criminal possession of that material would not apply to those in the justice system who have it for the purpose associated with prosecution, for research or for studying the effects of exposure to child pornography, which is consistent with the court's definition of educational and scientific material.
However I would underline again, for emphasis, the fact that through the bill the minister has left the matter open to interpretation by the courts, strikes at the very heart of what we are tasked with in this place.
The intent of the bill should be, first and foremost, to protect children from all forms of exploitation, all forms of child pornography and all forms of sexual exploitation that, in many cases, documented, scientific, anecdotal and otherwise, lead to further abuse. That is something that we should be moving with quickness and with clarity to eradicate.
Definitions of public good that are as vague as the resulting case law, in this case entrenched by the bill, would not leave courts with the sufficient objectivity to decide what is and what is not pornographic.
I would argue strenuously, having appeared in numerous courts, that common sense would prevail and that the judges, given the opportunity to judge on its merits what constitutes child pornography, would find in every case, having run the gamut, that child pornography can be easily identified, and the purpose for which it is being used is the only defence. Allowing that definition of artistic merit to remain in the bill would open a very dangerous element to that interpretation.
I ask rhetorically why the minister would want to leave that interpretation there. Why did the minister and the government wait so long to act? Why did we have to wait, in this instance, for the court to make that ruling?
I know there will be a legion of lawyers lining up to use this defence and I know it will make its way through the courts again. If this bill becomes law, as a result of the flawed drafting that I see, it will very likely wind up back before this place again, so why would we not do it right the first time? Is that not really the goal here, to be efficient, to streamline legislation, to do it right in the first instance?
As my colleague from Lakeland has indicated, that does not appear to be the way the government operates. It is always about waiting to see what the courts will do, or waiting to see what the polls crystallize around, and somehow keeping the political angle first and foremost in its mind. That is not the way a government should operate, particularly on an issue as fundamental as protecting children.
This is an occasion where the government should act with strength, with leadership and with vision on something so fundamental that goes to the very bedrock of our society, protecting our most vulnerable citizens, the children of Canada.
We are left with flawed legislation that could be fixed easily by removing this artistic merit loophole. My colleague from Surrey Central gave a very comprehensive and fact based speech in the House of Commons this morning. He spoke of the need to put resources into policing, the need to help some of the social services that are there, not only to help with the aftermath of violence and sexual exploitation, but to help prevent it. In the cases of policing, he spoke of the shocking figures that exist in some communities where they do not have enough resources for their police.
It is also a telling comment to know that the police do not support this bill. The police forces in Canada have found the bill wanting for some of the same reasons outlined by myself and my colleague from Surrey. They clearly recognize, as do others, the shortcomings.
Similarly, child advocacy groups have found the bill wanting. They recognize that the bill would give no greater legal protection, nor would it assist in the prosecution of these cases.
The bill should be about accountability and about taking steps to hold people to account when these atrocities occur, but further than that, it should also be about deterrence, about setting an example and about holding a person to account. Putting in place mandatory maximum sentences or raising the maximum sentence does not do that because there is no commensurate requirement for judges to follow that sentencing scheme.
It sounds very impressive when we say that the maximum sentence will be jacked up, but there is no requirement in the bill for a judge to follow that recommendation. Mandatory minimums, on the other hand, would. They put in place a minimum sentence.
I would suggest that when it comes to child sexual exploitation there is need for incarceration and for deterrents. Public protection should be first and foremost in the bill.
On the issue of protecting children, I think we could get unanimity in this place if we were to recognize our responsibility to address anything that allows us to further protect society. I am therefore absolutely astounded that this legislation has left open this artistic loophole.
If we were to step outside this bubble, this political world in which we live, and if we were talk to average Canadians, I think we would find that they too are stunned to find that we have missed an opportunity to protect our children. Why has the Liberal government failed to protect all children? Why did it not bring in a more strident and efficient bill? I cannot answer that question and it is a question that I find extremely troubling.
The interpretation of what constitutes child pornography is something with which the courts are wrestling. Works of a nature that exploit children go against the very fabric of what is acceptable and what is moral in a just society. There can be no denial that there is a direct correlation between the machinations and fascinations of some demented individuals that would harm children and what is actually carried out or perpetrated. Why risk the potential danger when the collective will of the people would see any sort of material that would fall into that definition stricken from existence?
In handing down the Sharpe decision in the first instance, Justice Shaw effectively broadened the interpretation that was there for the current exemption of that defence. Although the Supreme Court wrestled with it, it did not sufficiently close that definition.
While it seems that the minister's lawyers have weighted the rights of the individual and the rights of the child, which is a clash I would say that should be certainly decided in favour of the child, we are once again left with a very mediocre attempt to correct what the Canadian public clearly recognizes is a serious problem. Yet the government is unprepared to step up to that challenge.
By being unwilling to protect the rights of children, and by extension their families, I suggest the government might at the very least have taken the opportunity to present in the upcoming budget steps that would allow for the support of families, the support of policing units and the support of social services, and by that I mean certainly elevating the transfer payments that are there and fixing the fiscal imbalance.
The Conservative Party has been very supportive of past and present laws that protect children, the law enforcement community, victims groups and child advocacy groups that are constantly tasked and struggling with a lack of resources and the overwhelming and, sadly, the increasing numbers of cases that involve children.
This is a sad day when we have legislation as fundamental, as critical as this and the opportunity seems to be slipping through our fingers. I ask rhetorically, why would the government present a flawed legislation on something as fundamental as this? Why do we not just do it right in the first instance? Let us fix the bill because we cannot support it in this flawed state.
The Deputy Speaker
The House will resume this debate with questions and comments for the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. In the meantime, I would like to proceed to statements by members.
Epilepsy Awareness Month
Statements By Members
Shawn Murphy Hillsborough, PE
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the House and all Canadians that March is Epilepsy Awareness Month.
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in Canada, affecting approximately 300,000 people or about 1% of the Canadian population. Each day in Canada an average of 38 people learn they have epilepsy. People of all ages are affected, particularly the very young and the elderly. A number of known factors can cause epilepsy, but in some cases a definite cause cannot be determined.
Fortunately, epilepsy is often amenable to treatment through medication, through surgery and diet. Unfortunately, it can still be a life altering condition, especially when one has to contend with ongoing discrimination, insensitivity and misunderstanding of those around them about the disorder and its consequences.
One of the primary concerns of persons affected is insufficient public awareness. That is why I would like to commend both Epilepsy Canada and the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance. Their mission it is to enhance the quality of life for persons affected through awareness and public education programs and medical research in this very important area.
I thank them and their numerous volunteers for their dedication. I also wish them continued success in making a difference in the lives of those affected.
Statements By Members
Lynne Yelich Blackstrap, SK
Mr. Speaker, the formula used to calculate equalization payments is anything but equal or fair to the people of Saskatchewan. Constituents in my riding are angry. The province's energy revenues have been clawed back at a rate of more than 100%. The math does not add up.
My province, already suffering from the economic effects of a declining population and the crisis in agriculture, will now see its equalization payment drop significantly. The finance minister says that the equalization program could not possibly fix all of Saskatchewan's financial woes. That is true. We have endured a decade of a failed socialist experiments at the provincial level. Even so, Saskatchewan should get what it deserves.
The complicated formula used to justify this unbalanced tax back is up for renewal. This is the time to do it right for all of the provinces.
Angel Hair For Kids
Statements By Members
Julian Reed Halton, ON
Mr. Speaker, today I would like to tell the House and all Canadians about a very special constituent. Megan Leonard, from my hometown of Norval, is six years old and has a big heart.
Last year she watched a show about kids with cancer and learned that wigs can be made from donated hair. Right away she knew she wanted to donate to Angel Hair For Kids. She let her hair grow out and last Friday went to the salon and had her long hair cut off. Now she is sporting a cute pixie style cut.
I would like Megan to know that no matter how beautiful her hair is, the beauty of her heart is even greater. Bravo to Megan, only six years old and making a real difference in the world.
Statements By Members
Jeannot Castonguay Madawaska—Restigouche, NB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House and all Canadians that March is Kidney Month.
Kidney disease can strike anyone at any age. It is estimated that some 1.9 million Canadians have chronic kidney disease, and more than 3,000 of them die each year. Most of them do not even know they have kidney disease because the symptoms are silent.
Over the last 10 years, medical research has made it possible to improve the success rate for kidney transplants to more than 85%. Nevertheless, the demand for organ transplants is much greater than the availability. The rate of organ donations in Canada is only 40%. We can all help by remembering to sign our organ donor cards.
Increasing public awareness and encouraging organ donation are both integral parts of the Kidney Foundation of Canada's mission. I would like to congratulate the foundation, its volunteers, and its sponsors for the precious help and services they provide. I hope that Kidney Month will make people more aware of organ donations and other issues related to kidney disease.
I ask everyone to sign their organ donor card today.
Statements By Members
Eleni Bakopanos Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to three young Canadian women who are encouraging women to get involved in politics.
Although the number of women serving in Canadian political institutions has increased over the past 20 years, women are still in the minority. Looking at the number of female parliamentarians in the world, we can see that Canada is a long way ahead of most other countries in participation by women. In a list of 181 countries, Canada ranks 37th in the world, with women occupying 21% of the seats in the House of Commons.
Women bring a different character to the policy making process and should be encouraged to enter politics at every level.
There are three young women right now who have a wonderful initiative called “Young Women Vote 2004: The 20,000 Project”. Their goal is to have 20,000 women between the ages of 18 and 30 sign a petition pledging to cast a vote in the federal election. Their initiative is grassroots and non-partisan.
I want to congratulate Chi Nguyen, Crystal Graber and Cloe Rowbotham.
Canadian Wheat Board
Statements By Members
Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB
Mr. Speaker, I have always believed that the Canadian Wheat Board has marketing experts who do a pretty good job of marketing western Canadian farmers' wheat and barley. However, I am not so sure anymore. Although, the fault may lie with the board. Either way our farmers have lost a lot of money because of this.
Adrian Measner admitted at the House of Commons agriculture committee yesterday that more than $7 a bushel net to farmers on farm was available in the fall of 2002, and the farmers received about $4 a bushel. It is unfortunate indeed that $3 was left on the table and lost to farmers at a time when farmers simply could not afford to lose that money.
It is clearly time for farmers to be given a choice to market through the wheat board or not, as they choose. In any modern democracy this is an accepted right, a right which is allowed to all except western Canadian grain farmers. It is time for that to change.