Mr. Speaker, it is good to speak to this subject today. We have done it numerous times in the past. I certainly want to add our comments and those of my constituents to the debate.
I have to disagree with some of the comments we have just heard from across the floor. I do not think this is a great day for the protection of children in Canada. Until we have legislation in place that sends a clear message that anybody who fools around with our children will face the full consequence of the law, we have failed to do our jobs here. I do not think the bill does that and I will point out a number of reasons why I think that.
The member across the way referred to a motion that was brought to the House by my colleague from Wild Rose. I want to mention him in my comments today because, as we all know, he has made the issue of preying on our children one of his top priorities as he goes through his political and personal life. I support his endeavours. The motion that he brought forward in the House back on October 28 read:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should protect our children from further sexual exploitation by immediately eliminating from child pornography laws all defences for possession of child pornography which allow for the exploitation of children.
The motion was supported at that time, but there are still defences in this law for the possession of child pornography. That is one of the flaws we find in it.
The Conservative Party of Canada has problems with four main areas of the bill. The first one is it does not eliminate all defences for the criminal possession of child pornography. The second one is it does not raise the age of consent for adult-child sexual contact from 14 up to 16, and even some would suggest, 18. It is the lowest in the western world and that is not something I believe Canadians are proud of. It fails to institute mandatory sentences for child sexual assault, as has been done in the U.K.
There is a lot of debate and discussion here on raising the maximum sentences. However, raising maximum sentences that are never given is not a deterrent to the people who prey on our children. We should be raising minimum sentences and making sure that anybody who is convicted of exploiting our children is dealt with in a very severe manner.
The other one is the one dealing with evidence. I am working on a private member's bill that would change the way evidence could be presented in these cases. I have been doing some research on that. It is a very complex issue. It is not only in the Criminal Code but it also expands into other areas.
That is something that needs to be looked at. The people who fight child pornography in this country are bogged down by the amount of material they have to catalogue and bring to court. Certainly the accused has a right to know what the prosecution has in its possession and what it will be bringing forward. We have to be reasonable in the kind of cataloguing and evidence that has to be brought in these cases. That is something we really need to look at.
One of the real issues is that one of the most notorious pedophiles in Canada likes this bill. That should send a darn clear message that the government is on the wrong track in bringing the bill forward. He thinks that some of the provisions in the bill on giving evidence would be good for pedophiles. They would be able to bring forward young people to testify and they would enjoy that type of thing when it came to the court.
When somebody who enjoys this type of material sees merit in the bill because it will add to whatever they do to get enjoyment out of this type of material, and when he publicly states on his website that he thinks this is a good bill, then we really need to have a hard look at what we are doing. We need to make sure that we eliminate anything that pedophiles think will be to their advantage when they get to court on some of these issues.
There is controversy regarding the artistic merit defence. Changing it to the public good defence would leave a giant loophole in the law. I believe that some of the pedophiles in this country will see that as an advantageous tool that they will be able to use in their defence.
We have to eliminate any defence for people convicted of possession of child pornography. What possible public good could there be in images of children being abused? I cannot see what the government had in mind when it included a public good clause in the legislation. Images depicting children being abused in any way should not be allowed as art or for any other reason, such as research. Every time somebody looks at one of those images, the child goes through the whole process of abuse one more time.
That is a loophole in Bill C-12 and it needs to be taken out of the legislation. It should be changed before the bill is put into law. There is no reason to go forward with this and then come back years later and change it then. We feel very strongly about that. We need to make sure that aspect of the legislation is changed before it is put into law.
A poll was done a year or so ago and 80% of Canadians supported raising the age of consent for sexual activity. With 80% of Canadians onside, one would think the government would have paid heed to that but it did not.
A person as young as 14 years can be sexually exploited by an adult legally. There is a lot of talk about the issue of whether the sex is consensual, but we are talking about child-adult sex. If the age of consent could be raised to at least 16, that would protect thousands more children from people who choose to prey on them. That is an issue that needs to be dealt with. When that many Canadians are in support of it, any government should pay attention.
People have said that we cannot stop sex between teenagers, but that is not the issue; that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about child-adult sex. That is what we need to focus on. When these conditions, or what I call loopholes, that for some reason this should be allowed, are put into law, it is the same issue as artistic merit or public good being left in the bill. There is no reason to do it.
We are talking about children. We are talking about the most vulnerable people in our society. If we as legislators cannot come up with laws that will protect them to the ultimate degree because they cannot protect themselves, then we have not done our jobs. We need to have the strongest possible legislation in place.
Why would we as a nation be lagging behind the rest of the western world when it comes to these issues? It just does not make any sense. It makes us want to step back and wonder exactly what the minister was thinking when he developed the bill and why the government is pushing it through in its present state. Why can we as Canadians not be leaders instead of followers? Why can we not have the strongest legislation in place to protect children?
Canada has become known as a haven for pedophiles. The availability of the Internet to those types of people, the way they can dispense information rapidly and in such high volume requires us to have systems in place to stop it. Every time a market is created or there is a need for something like this, then another child has been abused. We have to stop the end use of it so it filters back and stops the creation of it.
The member who spoke previously made a lot of comments and put a lot of credence in the fact that maximum sentences were being increased. That does not do the job. Minimum sentences have to be increased so that the message is clear and unavoidable. People who prey on our children or hurt a child in Canada will pay the ultimate price. They will pay it upfront and a deterrent will be put in place to stop them from doing it again. If it is a maximum sentence that is never imposed by the courts, then what is the point of doing it?
There is the issue of support for our police departments. Many of us have met with police forces across the country. Some of the stories they tell us are horrific and they are things that stay in your mind. We cannot possibly understand how someone could do to children some of the things that are done.
We have to give the police the resources they need to protect children in Canada. To say that this is a great day for children, I completely disagree with that for many reasons. The fact that our police forces are so overworked and under-resourced in this area is one of them.
Every time another task force is created, there is a lot of hoopla in the media about it, but there are no more police officers given. It is just another task force that has to be shared by the present forces. We must increase the numbers of policemen on the ground and increase their ability to pursue these people and stop them from trading in this vile information.
There were some policemen on Parliament Hill a year or two ago. I witnessed what they had to say. While they were speaking to us, they hooked up a computer and went online. I am not sure how chat rooms work, but before the meeting was over, they had put up something that indicated there was an underage person being manipulated by an adult and those who wanted to take part could tune in. Before the meeting was over, the police had two or three hits from people from who knows where that were interested. That is how fast and how effective the Internet is for those people who promote that type of thing. It was quite a lesson to many of us as to how easily these things can happen.
The Toronto police force indicated that it had 2,300 names of suspected pedophiles in Canada and only 5% of them had been addressed. This in itself is a damning statistic, that we have actual names of people and we do not have the resources to go out and hold them to task or enough manpower to investigate what is going on and put a stop to it. The cases are many. The issues are huge.
I want to get back to the John Robin Sharpe case. I firmly believe that when people such as Mr. Sharpe come forward and indicate that they support the bill and they feel that there are aspects in it that they would find appealing and would convince society to become more tolerant of pedophiles, then we are really on the wrong track. We must make sure that any bill that is put forward does not fall into the hands of pedophiles, allowing them to ply their trade and prey on our children.
There a couple of other points I would like to make along these lines. There is the aspect of Canadians that have been involved. Thousands of Canadians have petitioned Parliament to take away all the defences for child pornography and to increase the resources that are available to the police to fight this issue. We have to listen to these people. They are going to a lot of effort. They are very involved and very knowledgeable on what is going on. They know the numbers of children that have been preyed upon. They have a huge concern.
When we see that many Canadians engaged in an issue, then the government should pay attention. The government should look at what they are suggesting and try to implement it into law. We have not seen that here. The loopholes that have been left are many and they need to be addressed.
Before I close I would like to move an amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefore:
“Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, be not now read a third time but referred back to the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness for the purpose of reconsidering all of its clauses with the view to eliminate loopholes identified by 'the nation's most notorious child pornographer', Robin Sharpe.