Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate. I am tempted to say here we go again on what used to be known as Bill C-20 and now is known as Bill C-12.
The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to help safeguard children and other vulnerable persons from sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect and also to enhance the protection of victims and witnesses in criminal justice proceedings.
The bill was introduced and read the first time in December 2002. It was debated at second reading in January and February last year before heading off to the justice committee from whence it has now returned.
The bill has five major components that I would like to review. First, it proposes to strengthen the child pornography provisions by expanding the scope of some existing sentences; the maximum available penalty would be increased from 5 to 10 years imprisonment.
Second, it proposes to increase the protection of young people against sexual exploitation.
Third, it proposes the creation of new offences relating to voyeurism and the viewing or recording of others in situations where there is reasonable expectation of privacy against electronic peeping Toms who resort to tiny cameras and other high tech tools for their and others' sordid gratification.
Fourth, it proposes to increase penalties following conviction for offences committed against children under the age of 16 years, as well as abuse and neglect, which includes failing to respond to the necessities of life and abandonment. I am pleased to see that the maximum penalty has been increased from two to five years.
Fifth, it proposes to facilitate testimony by child victims as witnesses and other vulnerable persons and would ensure that the child witnesses are indeed competent.
Let me say loudly and clearly that I support fully the sections that I have just referred to that deal with sexual exploitation of our young people. It is crucial, as others have noted in this debate, that our society has proper mechanisms to protect children from sexual exploitation, especially by those in positions of trust.
The stronger penalties, for example, against voyeurism, are important because the Criminal Code will be updated to nab these electronic peeping Toms and prosecute them to the full extent of the law.
The New Democratic Party supports the sections that help children to be witnesses. This section makes it easier and less traumatic for children to testify at criminal trials, and I strongly support doubling the sentences for offences against children.
I believe to the core of my being that it is the role of Parliament and our criminal justice system to protect all children from all forms of sexual exploitation.
Like my colleague, the MP for Dartmouth, who is so well respected on all sides of the House and who has taken the lead on this bill, I have two children and I would see any form of sexual assault against either of them to be horrific as are all cases of sexual abuse and exploitation against all minors.
However the member of Parliament for Dartmouth, besides being a first rate mother and a first rate parliamentarian, is also a first rate playwright. She has stated, and I concur, that a growing number of Canadians and other organizations have a real concern with the exclusion of part 7 of the proposed bill because it drops the artistic merit defence as well as deleting the defence of an educational, scientific or medical purpose.
By doing so, it leaves only the defence of the public good. At face value, some people may think, and we have heard it in the House this afternoon, that defence of the public good would also include the two deleted defences. The public good is defined in the bill as something that is necessary or advantageous to the administration of justice or the pursuit of science, medicine, education or art. A story or drawing that passes muster under that public good definition is, however, still not home free because the court must then decide whether the harm to society outweighs the benefits.
This, as the Globe and Mail pointed out in an editorial last month, is treacherous territory. Any work of fiction involving the portrayal of a child in illegal sexual activity could be deemed pornographic.
These concerns were all raised when the bill was at committee, but the government is obviously not prepared to budge. The concern that I and other members of our caucus have is that the government has caved into the politics of fear.
Let me be absolutely clear, and I say this directly to the justice critic for the Conservative Party. I support, fully and completely, longer sentences for anyone in this country who creates sado-masochistic pornography that depicts children as sexual objects. Individuals who are involved in these criminal activities will, as a result of these changes, now go to prison for longer periods of time. I approve and applaud wholeheartedly these stiffer sentences.
The difficulty for me and others is that under this proposed revision, any work of fiction involving the portrayal of a child in illegal sexual activity could well be deemed to be pornographic. For example, The Tin Drum , a highly moral work by Gunter Grass, might run afoul of this new legislation, as could Vladimir Nabokov Lolita , a classic literary work, be in danger.
In the past, the Supreme Court has included artistic merit as a plausible defence but the fear is that the law, as it is presently drafted without the artistic merit clause, could criminalize the imagination and I have difficulty with that.
This is not some esoteric argument by the member for Dartmouth or myself. Besides the Globe and Mail , it has elicited the attention of the Ottawa Citizen, civil liberty groups, writers and the artistic community.
Yesterday in Toronto the Canadian Conference of the Arts and the Writers' Union of Canada held a public forum on their concerns about Bill C-12. They did not stand alone. Joining them were: Canadian Museums' Association; Canadian Artists' Representation; Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois; Canadian Civil Liberties Association; B.C. Civil Liberties Association; Union des artistes; PEN Canada; Canadian Library Association; Literary Translators' Association of Canada; Corporation des bibliothécaires professionnels du Québec; Association des auteures et auteurs de l'Ontario français; Ligue des droits et libertés; Regroupement des artistes en arts visuels du Québec; Société Civile des Auteurs Multimédia; Société des Auteurs de Radio, Télévision et Cinéma; Conseil des livres et des périodiques; and Société des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques.
The following were their specific concerns on this bill. First, artists from all disciplines who create works with themes involving persons under 18 and sexuality, risk having their expressions criminalized.
Second, artists whose work contains such themes would be deemed to be guilty until they can prove themselves innocent of the charge; in other words, reverse onus.
Third, the concept of public good would replace artistic merit. This is a subjective concept that, according to the Supreme Court, has not been clearly defined.
Fourth, under the proposed new law, artists would have to prove objectively in court that (a) they produce their work for the purpose of public good, and (b) their work does not exceed the limit of what constitutes public good.
Fifth and final, an expansive interpretation of sexual purpose and voyeurism will infringe on new and existing artistic works, including literature, visual and media art film and theatre.
The CCA concluded that the bill was poorly crafted and proposed reframing the legislation to protect children while allowing bona fide artists the freedom to create. It argues that retaining the defence of artistic merit in the Criminal Code will serve all the people of Canada, both youth and elders.
It is saying that the elimination of the artistic merit defence will not have any effect on the government's purpose of eradicating sexual abuse of minors, nor will it prevent child pornography. It will serve only to create confusion and punish artists whose work, created in good faith, could be deemed in contravention of the new legislation.
Nor does the CCA believe the term “public good” used in the legislation has been defined adequately and therefore it believes the defence under the public good is an unacceptable substitute for the defence of artistic merit.
Let me come back to the reverse onus clause. This will require an artist to prove that his or her work is not pornographic instead of requiring the Crown to prove otherwise. Clearly this is totally contrary to our judicial system that holds every citizen as presumed innocent until proven guilty. Under this legislation, under the reverse onus clause, someone who is innocent would have to prove it first.
The House needs to be reminded that we are debating this legislation largely because of one individual, John Robin Sharpe. In the court decision regarding Mr. Sharpe, he was convicted of possession of photographs of boys engaged in sexual acts and poses, but he was acquitted on possession of child pornography stories that he had written because two out of three literary experts concluded that his stories had artistic merit.
What does Mr. Sharpe think of the proposed legislation? Just like the writers, artists, editorial writers and New Democrats, he says that the bill is poorly crafted, but he goes on to say that it is so poorly crafted, he could probably use it to his advantage in court. He said:
I am fairly confident that given good legal counsel, and a conservative, by-the-book judge who bases his decisions on the wording of the law...that I and my stories would again be acquitted under the proposed measures.
Legal experts tend to agree with Robin Sharpe, saying that the public good defence is too vague to survive court challenges. The Supreme Court upheld the federal legislation in the Sharpe case, but stressed there had to be generous leeway for artistic merit, and he was acquitted on some counts, not merely because of artistic merit but because the court concluded that his stories did not advocate or counsel pedophilia. In short, the court ruled on the side of free expression.
It is difficult, and it ought to be difficult, to criminalize expression. Of course Parliament has a duty. Children have to be protected, and that we are very clear about. However, at the same time we cannot be seen to be encroaching on freedom of speech or the right to know with some precision what is allowable and what is forbidden.
The Ottawa Citizen , in a recent editorial entitled “Making matters worse”, stated that Bill C-12 would violate both of these principles. It went on to say that no matter how well intentioned the law was, it should not pass. The editorial stated:
The government has not produced solid, empirical evidence that viewing or reading works of the imagination prompts pedophiles to molest real children. Without that evidence, there's no reason to believe this law will make children any safer.
Paul Rapoport from the School of Arts at McMaster University writes that when it comes to visual media especially, “all nudity is sex, all sex is porn, and if minors are involved, find somebody to lock up and throw away the key”.
That description certainly encompasses some members of the Conservative Party who have spoken on this bill in debate in spite of the fact that the most common child in art, according to Mr. Rapoport, is named Jesus.
I was in debate on the artistic merit defence last year, and in responding to another MP, I said this:
--if it has not specifically hurt a minor in the production of it, if it is created by people's visual imaginations and if the main purpose of it is not simply about pornography and sexual exploitation, then under the laws people do have a right to their own imaginations and thoughts, however perverse the member and I might think they are.
This quote made it into a lot of Canadian Alliance householders. We killed a lot of trees over this one, as I guess they tried to portray me as being soft on child pornography. I am not soft on child pornography. However, I must say that I am also encouraged by the editorial boards of major newspapers, civil libertarian groups, writers and artists who have expressed similar concerns about where we are headed with this bill. Specifically, hear the conclusion of the Ottawa Citizen editorial:
The only solution is a law that criminalizes pornography involving real children, but excludes all works of the imagination. This would protect children just as well as the law now before Parliament. But it would also respect free speech and provide a bright, clear line between what is illegal and what is not.
Of course there is a circular argument in all of this that deserves to be named as well. We have the Conservative Party, and especially its justice critic, railing constantly against judicial activism. However, by arguing for a narrower and narrower interpretation of child pornography and one that excludes both artistic merit and defence of the public good, the courts and judges will have no choice but to say that it is so narrow that it violates the Charter of Rights.
The judges and courts will strike this down and the justice critic for the Conservative Party will mount his pet hobby horse about judicial activism. In fact I am convinced that the other place, when it looks at this bill, will find it a deficient piece of legislation and demand that changes be made here before it passes.
The list of people and organizations who see flaws in the bill is long and it is getting longer. As I indicated, it legitimate artists, writers, the Canadian Conference of the Arts, some police, civil libertarians, the Canadian Bar Association and major newspapers.
Sergeant Gillespie of the Toronto police said:
Police would simply appreciate laws that are very clear and that will allow us to make better informed decisions at the time we are required to make them.
The Canadian Bar Association said, “While we appreciate the intent”, referring to the defence of public good, “the amendment may not achieve its goal”.
Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association recommends that the law be narrowed so that it applies only to material, the making of which is held out to involve the lawful abuse of a real child; not an imaginary child, a real child.
Strengthening the provisions of child pornography, doubling penalties and increasing protections of youth against sexual predators and sexual exploitation is important, and I support it fully. This must be done while protecting free speech and imagination.
I was raised in a time when the words to a pop song of the day went, “Brother, you can't go to jail for what you're thinking”. These words should be as true today and tomorrow as they were yesterday. Without reinstating the artistic merit in this bill, I will reluctantly and sadly find myself voting against Bill C-12.