Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to Bill C-12, a bill that has been recycled by the federal justice minister, a bill that would do nothing to help give children the legal protection they need.
We heard a lot of evidence in committee regarding the bill. We heard from frontline police officers and from child advocacy groups, including groups like Beyond Borders. The government has simply ignored the mounds of evidence from these child advocate groups and frontline police officers who have indicated time and again that the Bill C-12 would not be effective in protecting children.
By reviving what has been referred to as pedophile-friendly legislation without a thought to the real needs of children, the Prime Minister has simply carried out the previous prime minister's legacy of indifference.
The bill does not address the fundamental problems relating to the protection of children that our criminal justice system should address. It does not eliminate all defences for the criminal possession of child pornography. It does not raise the age of consent for adult-child sexual contact from 14 years of age, one of the lowest ages of consent in the western world.
One of the provisions in the Criminal Code allows an adult to have sex with a child as young as 12 years old if that adult thought the child was in fact 14 years of age. While that may seem preposterous, that is exactly what happened in a recent case in Saskatchewan where a judge acquitted two adult males in their twenties who had sexual relations with a young aboriginal girl who had run away from home. They were acquitted because they thought she was 14 years of age.
The bill fails to introduce mandatory sentences for child sexual assault, as has been done in other jurisdictions, specifically the United Kingdom and the United States.
The bill also fails to streamline the laws of evidence governing convictions for sex offenders.
Canada is becoming a global haven for child predators because of these glaring Liberal policy failures. In fact, the entire bill is filled with vague provisions that fail to create the certainty of protection that children require. No doubt prompting therefore the applause from a notorious child predator like John Robin Sharpe, who supports the bill, because he believes it would bring understanding to the adult-child sexual relationship. Praise from a child predator is evident, but all the frontline police officers and child care agencies, indeed, every witness who went before the justice committee, condemned the bill, other than the minister himself.
Let me deal specifically with some of the concerns that have been raised.
The first concern that needs to be raised, which I know some of my colleagues have addressed, centres around the controversy regarding the artistic merit defence. That controversy began in reaction to the court case of the previously mentioned child predator John Robin Sharpe.
The Supreme Court of Canada in R. v Sharpe said that artistic merit should be interpreted as broadly as possible. That really opened the door to mischief in terms of trying to enforce this particular law. It basically meant that one could bring forward any witness to say that there was at least some artistic merit to these degrading writings and that would be sufficient for a judge to consider an acquittal.
That interpretation of the law by the Supreme Court of Canada helped shape the decision that allowed Mr. Sharpe to be acquitted for two counts of possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute, as the material, containing violent writing targeting vulnerable children, was considered by the judge to have artistic merit.
It is truly remarkable that we would never accept the defence of artistic merit with respect to women in our society and with respect to the exploitation of racial minorities, and yet with respect to the most vulnerable minority of them all, our children, the courts are more than quick to protect artistic merit rights and destroy the protection that children deserve. It is very evident that that defence needs to be eliminated. It is simply not necessary.
We have called on the federal government, as the Conservative Party, to eliminate that defence. The government responded but the response has been a pitiful response in terms of protecting children.
The defence in the old bill has now been reduced into a single defence of public good. Despite the former justice minister's attempt to sell this bill on the basis that the artistic merit defence has been eliminated, he admitted in the justice committee hearings that the artistic merit defence is still included under the broader public good defence.
Again, that is typical of the kind of approach that the prior justice minister took and now apparently the new justice minister takes. If people are sufficiently outraged they make changes, not changes that substantively address the concerns raised, but rather changes that simply disguise their original intent and in fact carry out that original intent.
What did the former justice minister state in describing what this new public good defence includes? He admitted, and I want to quote from his comments. He stated:
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?
Clearly, within there is still the defence of artistic merit.
In the Sharpe decision, when it was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada, the court also addressed that particular statement. It briefly considered the defence of public good. The court found that public good has been interpreted as “necessary or advantageous to...the pursuit of science, literature, or art, or other objects of general interest”. That was the Supreme Court of Canada's interpretation of public good.
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. 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....
That statement by the Supreme Court of Canada has been the subject of a lot of controversy. One of the things that the court apparently did not understand was that this type of written child pornography is used to groom children into thinking that these types of sexual relationships with adults are all right. It is very difficult then to suppress this particular information or this type of child pornography. The excuse being offered by these pornographers is that they were only writing it for themselves.
I heard an interesting story with respect to some of Mr. John Robin Sharpe's material that it was in fact found with a notation on it, “This material may be illegal in Canada”. That is a curious thing to put on one's own writings required for one's own personal use. If Mr. Sharpe thought it would be illegal, that is one thing, but why would he have to put that on the face of the material itself? The inference is clear. He distributes this material in order to assist other child predators in their activities.
In trying to create these kinds of exceptions, ostensibly to protect free speech, what the court does is it opens the door to the abuse of children.
The Conservative Party calls for the elimination of all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography. Members opposite say that then means we have to make it illegal in every context. That is not correct. That is being mischievous. Obviously, for the purposes of prosecution, for example, it would not be illegal for the police or prosecutors to possess that or for researchers who are studying the effects of exposure to child pornography.
However there needs to be some limitation and clear delineation of what is acceptable and what is not.
We were met with a problem similar to this some years ago when it appeared that police officers were conducting certain illegal activity to further another criminal investigation.
The Supreme Court of Canada said there was no justification for police officers to engage in that illegal activity, no protection in common law, statute or otherwise. The House addressed that issue by passing legislation that set out exactly when police officers could break the law to investigate another charge. It was clearly delineated and set out in statute.
When members opposite say that the exclusion of all child pornography and categorizing it as criminal possession would never work because it would exclude the legitimate handling of pornography by police or prosecutors for a prosecution, is simply a lot of nonsense.
This bill needs to go back to the drawing board to address what I consider a fundamental flaw in that legislation, but yet a flaw that can be remedied by good statutory language. I might note in this context as well that civil libertarians have also indicated that they have a concern with the defence of public good and that it is simply too vague and too broad. So those who are interested in protecting children are concerned about this and civil libertarians who are concerned about certain artistic endeavours are also concerned that this phrase establishes no standard at all.
I want to talk about the age of consent. This bill, frankly, does not deal with that issue in an effective manner. Instead of prohibiting all child exploitation by adults where that child is, for example as in other countries, under the age of 16, this legislation requires a court to examine on a case by case basis if a child has been harmed. This kind of tiptoeing around criminal behaviour is reprehensible. The Conservative Party will not support this kind of vague legislation.
Again, comments by the notorious child predator John Robin Sharpe praising this pedophile friendly piece of legislation further validate the opposition's concern about this bill. Instead of raising the age to simply and clearly state that there shall be no adult-child sexual contact, the Liberals import this vague standard.
At the same time, I recognize that it is not the role of Parliament to get involved in certain social policy issues, for example, sexual relationships between children. The concern of the Conservative Party is not to regulate the sexual conduct of children between each other, that is, children under the age of 16. What we are concerned about is the exploitation of children by adults. We recognize that there needs to be a close in age exemption that ensures we do not criminalize consenting activity, but we do want to stop the kind of activity that John Robin Sharpe was just recently convicted of.
On the age of consent, 80% of Canadians polled said they want to raise the age of consent to at least age 16. The response of this government has been that there are certain cultural considerations in Canada which prevent it from doing that. We have asked time and again what culture in this country agrees with the sexual exploitation of children by adults. The Liberals have been silent. The government has tried to rely on some kind of cultural camouflage, which has only insulted Canadians of every culture. If there is evidence that cultures in Canada accept the exploitation of children by adults, why does the government not bring it forward instead of casting aspersions on every culture in Canada?
The approach of the Liberals in this bill to create this category of exploitative relationships is simply cumbersome and is in fact very difficult to prove in terms of trying to bring forward a prosecution. We already have a provision that makes it against the law for someone in a position of trust to exploit a young person between the ages of 14 and 18. Here, they are simply trying to recast this. Those are my brief comments at this time. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.