Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate on Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.
As hon. members know, Bill C-12 proposes a number of criminal law reforms that seek: to better protect children against sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect; to facilitate testimony by child victims and witnesses and other vulnerable victims and witnesses in criminal justice proceedings; and to create a new offence of voyeurism. This last is an extremely important area. We have seen much of this in the media in recent years and I think every member in the House is concerned about this crime.
I believe that all of Bill C-12 is important and I support the whole of the bill. However, I will restrict my comments today to those provisions that respond to concerns relating to the age of consent to sexual activity.
The objectives of Bill C-12 on this issue are clearly articulated in the first paragraph of the preamble, which states:
Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns regarding the vulnerability of children to all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect--
The focus of Bill C-12's response to concerns about the age of consent to sexual activity is on the exploitive conduct of the wrongdoer and not on whether the young person or victim consented to that conduct. I want to repeat that, because I think it is an extremely important part of the bill. The focus of Bill C-12's response to concerns about the age of consent to sexual activity is on the exploitive conduct of the wrongdoer and not on whether the young person or victim consented to that conduct. This is, in my view, both the right focus and the right response.
Voyeurism is an element of the bill that has not yet received much attention, but is one which I believe is important for the protection of a fundamental value of Canadian society, that is, the right to privacy.
Technology has made wonderful progress in recent years. It has simplified our lives by giving us tools that our grandparents never even dreamed of. The technological process has been particularly spectacular in the miniaturization of objects.
While new technologies have given us many advantages, they also have the potential to be misused. I think many of us recognize as we adapt to more and more technological change how that great technology can be abused and used against people.
One instance of this is the use that is made of miniature cameras. These cameras are so small that they can be easily hidden in any place. They may also be hooked up to a computer to enable a person to observe what happens in a room when that person is not only in another room but in another building.
These cameras are so small they can be almost hidden in a pen. We have seen that in terms of some of the science fiction shows and some of the crime programs. At one time we did not believe this was possible, but today it is, and we see this technology being used and used especially for voyeurism. It is an abuse of an individual's rights and it is an infringement on privacy.
Bill C-12 deals with that issue. The proposed creation of a new offence of voyeurism directly responds to this new threat on our privacy, the privacy of individuals. Of course, voyeurism is not new. There have always been what we call peeping Toms, who have observed others through a bedroom window or a keyhole. This conduct was dealt with by charging the person with the offence of trespassing or the offence of mischief. But these offences do not apply to the new ways in which voyeurism is now committed, hence the need for a specific offence of voyeurism.
The offence of voyeurism would have three elements. First is the observation or recording of a person in a surreptitious manner, which means that the person cannot reasonably be expected to see the person or the means of observing or recording.
Second, the person observed is in circumstances giving rise to reasonable expectations of privacy.
Third, one of the three following cases must apply. First, the person observed or recorded is in a place where one can reasonably expect a person to be in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual activity. I would think that a bathroom, a bedroom or a fitting room would qualify as such a place.
Second, a person is in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual activity and the purpose of the observation or recording is to observe or record a person in that state.
Third, the observation or recording is done for a sexual purpose.
Bill C-12 would also criminalize the distribution of material obtained through voyeurism when the distributor knows that the material was obtained in this manner.
This new offence will not interfere with legitimate purposes. It will be a defence to a charge of voyeurism or distribution of voyeuristic material if the facts that constitute the offence served the public good and did not exceed what served the public good.
The bill would further protect the privacy of Canadians by providing for the seizure and forfeiture of voyeuristic material and deletion of such online material. This is an important element of Bill C-12. It protects a right that Canadians value dearly: their right to privacy.
We in this House have an obligation to ensure that Canadians' right to privacy is indeed protected. This is one more reason for the House to support the bill, in addition to the protection it will bring for children and other vulnerable people.
I want to take another moment and talk about Bill C-12 in its creation of the new category of prohibited sexual exploitation of a young person who is over the age of consent, that is, who is 14 years of age or older and under 18 years.
Under the proposed reform, courts will be directed to infer that a relationship is exploitive by looking to the nature and circumstances of the relationship, including the age of the young person, any difference in age, and the degree of control or influence exerted over that young person.
I understand that there continue to be calls to raise the age of consent for sexual activity. Why is this? As I understand them, these calls seem to be motivated by a number of different reasons.
For example, one reason sometimes given in support of raising the age of consent is that raising the age of consent to 16 or 18 will prevent others from forcing young persons into the sex trade. In response to this, I note that it is already an offence under the Criminal Code to force anyone under the age of 18 into prostitution. This offence carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years' imprisonment.
Another reason that is given seems to be related to different understandings of what is meant by sexual activity. Canadian prohibitions against sexual activity do not differentiate between sexual activity and sexual activity that involves sexual intercourse. I do not believe that Canadians think a 14 year old or 15 year old girl is not mature enough to freely make a decision to kiss her 17 year old boyfriend, nor do I believe that Canadians want to criminalize a 17 year old for kissing his 14 year old girlfriend. Whether we adults like it or not, the reality is that adolescents do engage in sexual activity.
Bill C-12 in whole is a bill that the House should support and support extensively. It creates new penalties and it creates new offences. At the end of the day, it would mean that we would more greatly protect the most vulnerable in our society. I encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-12.