This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was community.

Topics

Question No. 141Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to establish the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec be read the third time and passed.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

May 20th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want first to come back to some issues I had raised in my first speech, in addition to making a few points.

I had insisted on an important issue. We must avoid making allegations. Earlier, in oral question period, I heard my Liberal Party colleague, the member for Gatineau, claim or rather imply that regional development is not important to us.

I will not respond to such allegations, except to say that regional development is extremely important, too much, in fact, for us to engage in partisan politics. I think it is important to work or at least to try to work in harmony and cooperation in order to resolve all the problems in the regions. This is what the Bloc Québécois and I have tried to do in the debates at each stage of Bill C-9.

Earlier, I mentioned some important issues that the Bloc put forward. These issues were important to us, to Quebec and to the regions. We have made progress.

I also mentioned the concept of designated areas, which was struck from the bill. This concept gave the minister the freedom to intervene in one region instead of another. This was struck from the bill. This is fortunate.

One other thing was also struck. In my opinion, it may have been important to the government, but it was much less so to the opposition, for whom it was appalling to say the least. I am talking about the possibility of announcing grants during an election. An election is the time for debating the issues and adopting positions on local, regional and national issues, whereas this party is using it as an opportunity to announce grants.

We are quite pleased that our Conservative colleagues put forward this amendment, which naturally the Bloc Québécois supported.

The Bloc Québécois—which is concerned with equity throughout Quebec—also ensured that the original mission of the agency was put back in the bill. It reads as follows:

The object of the Agency is to promote the long-term economic development of the regions of Quebec by giving special attention to those—

Here is the important part:

—where slow economic growth is prevalent or where opportunities for productive employment are inadequate.

As I said, we went from the designated areas and the free will of the minister, and returned to a concern for equity of all regions truly in need.

We also offered the possibility to this government and to the minister that he have some authority. We would have liked him to participate and support our amendment. It concerns the possibility from the technical point of view—I will not go into detail—of his being able to make transfers directly to the Government of Quebec, of money, or least certain amounts, or agreements involving the regions, in order to participate in some major initiatives. That would not, of course, mean just anything, but would involve major initiatives for certain regions.

For example, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean a consensus emerged from the summit between Quebec and its regions for the creation of a regional venture capital investment fund. This fund is so important that even a major company like Alcan is prepared to inject money into it. The Government of Quebec is even prepared to match, and double, the amount contributed by the community. For example, if there were $10 million in private funding, the Government of Quebec would be prepared to inject $20 million. This is a major initiative.

Once again, on a number of occasions, this government has refused to participate. This is a regional prerogative on which there was consensus from all leaders in the region, regardless of party.

There is one other important reason behind the refusal to support this bill, which has been rejected by both the government and the Quebec federalists. I make that differentiation because, at one point, even western Conservative MPs had accepted this orientation. We wanted the agency and the minister to exercise their authorities in such a way as to respect the priorities of the Government of Quebec for regional development. Why is this so vital? Quite simply because the majority of questions that impact on regional development fall into areas under Quebec jurisdiction. Yes, someone could bring up the Charter, but I am not talking about that.

Municipalities, Quebec's; land use planning, Quebec's; assessment and training, Quebec's; accepting and integrating immigrants, Quebec's; and, natural resources, a huge area, Quebec's. The same is true of hydroelectricity, forests, lumber and land use planning. All of these issues are unavoidable, and the Government of Quebec cannot be ignored. Regional development requires Quebec consensus, because it concerns Quebec and its regions primarily.

I would say as well that the other reasons relate to the establishment of such a substantial organization. There must be no competition so as to avoid any counter-productive duplication. The minister himself said that the aim is complementarity. He is offered a chance to consolidate this complementarity and out of hand he rejects the notion of respecting the priorities of the Government of Quebec. Whatever the government thinks, the witnesses who came to the committee should have been heard. Mr. Jean-Claude Beauchemin, the mayor of Rouyn-Noranda said, “Given the nature of the Agency proposed in Bill C-9, we fear that there may be a strong centralization of this process and a breakdown of the mutual consultation mechanisms ”.

Others have said, “We plan to create a department, but there are no mechanisms for cooperation among federal departments, throughout Canada or between provinces and regions.” And we have also heard people say, “Economic development agencies do not have a board of directors, and therefore they are unable to bring together the stakeholders to discuss the issues in regional initiatives.”

My time is running out, but I would have other comments to make regarding witnesses. In view of this testimony, the problem I have with the government and the minister is that they missed the target when they refused, or failed, to consult the most important people, the people in the regions. They are the ones who, day in and day out since even before I was born, have been working for economic development. They bring focus to these debates and to the regional development approach. This is why we will vote against Bill C-9.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my colleague from Jonquière—Alma on his speech regarding Bill C-9. He talked about the regional investment fund in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region. This regional fund is supported financially by the community, by businesses and by the Quebec government. The region approached the federal government to seek its support, but the answer was no.

My question is this. Does the member believe that it would be important for the federal government to support this regional investment fund and can he tell us what this fund means for the development of a region such as the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean region?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Chicoutimi—Le Fjord. His question is particularly important since he was also affected by various crises, the softwood lumber crisis, the mad cow crisis, as well as difficult regional realities. He is working hard, he is diligent and I commend him for this good work.

When there is a regional consensus as important as the mobilization of a whole community, I think that we cannot remain insensitive. Yet, several ministers have been criticized one after the other, not only by members of the Bloc Québécois, but also by the sector and by journalists over the importance of this issue, and yet, this fund is mobilizing both the social and economic sector, the economic sector, as well as such big businesses as Alcan and the Quebec government.

Thus, all these people consider that a venture capital fund is very important. However, the government is afraid to lose something by putting money into this fund. It might lose its precious visibility in the regions.

I said earlier that we must not politicize the debate about resource regions. We must not politicize regional development for partisanship purposes. We must be forward-looking. Economic models that existed previously are no longer working. What we must do today is review them. This is what I intend to continue to do with the leaders of the region, no matter what the government decides.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Lapierre Bloc Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity, a little earlier today, to point out to the minister that, as a former municipal elected person, I had to work, on the regional level, with other elected people and representatives of different organizations. We often managed to achieve regional consensus on projects that were considered viable. We had funds from the CRÉ, formerly the CRCD, as well as cooperation from the provincial government.

I want to ask this of the minister. Has he ever witnessed, in his own riding, projects that had received the approval of organizations in the sector and that had already benefited from local and provincial funding, but, when the time came to ask the federal government for funds, were flatly refused?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Lévis—Bellechasse who has an impressive background and brings a lot of experience to our caucus.

To answer his question I will say that yes, we often see consensus in the community but the government will give all kind of excuses to justify its refusal to participate. Sometimes, it says it is because of its program constraints, sometimes because it will not get enough visibility or that it will not be the main stakeholder in a project.

When there is consensus and the region says that a project is good, I do not see why the federal government would say that it is bad and that it will not get involved. Who but those who are affected by a problem are in the best position to plan their own development, to nurture that development?

Let us take a conflict like lumber for example. We have been asking for two or three years for a loan guarantee program to really help businesses. We also asked for the payment of legal costs. We proposed a plan to help forest industries because their situation is a tragedy. Two days ago, Tembec announced the closure of four plants. Will the government wait for the sector to be completely destroyed before doing something?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada LiberalMinister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and Minister responsible for the Francophonie

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues in the Bloc should get their act together. Clearly, one of their members asked a question, and his colleague could not give any real answer.

This question was quite simple and relevant. Was there any project in the Saguenay area in which all those concerned were ready to invest and which Canada Economic Development refused? The answer that was not provided and should have been is a resounding no. Not a single investment project that was put forward locally and supported by the Quebec government was rejected by Canada Economic Development. Not a single one.

Maybe these gentlemen should have a little discussion to find out why they are opposing Bill C-9. They do not even agree between themselves.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will avoid talking specifically about too many projects, but I will mention one, the footbridge in Sainte-Monique. The CLD put a proposal forward after doing a comprehensive study of this issue. This project also enjoyed local support, but Canada Economic Development refused to go along.

Out of respect for developers who put projects forward, we will not politicize the issue, but this happens frequently. On the pretext that program standards exist, they go one way or the other. The best example is the regional fund. The whole community in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean contributed to this fund because it is important. But this government refuses the money we need for development.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Françoise Boivin Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the speech of my colleague. It is not the first time I hear that kind of comment. As a matter of fact, I intended to ask a question similar to the one asked by the minister responsible for Bill C-9 because, once again, erroneous answers are being given to Quebeckers. They are being told that there is one bill and that it is the only one that can be referred to. However, it is never said that it is sometimes because the province is not doing anything about this issue.

Now, in terms of regional collaboration, I know that Canada Economic Development has an extraordinary perception of my region, the Outaouais. Things are going very well. By the way, I want to say that CED-Q has been in place far longer than the CLDs and CREs that the Bloc Québécois is supporting and in which it sees a panacea to regional problems.

I would like to ask the member for Jonquière—Alma a question. Beside the fact that, in his own region, stakeholders do not seem ready to oppose Bill C-9 — he seems to be isolated in that regard — does putting so much focus on CREs not concern him, considering that other groups, namely women, are no longer involved in those organizations?

I think that when the Bloc Québécois says that there is community involvement, this is somewhat exaggerated. I believe that CED-Q already has a very good reputation. It works a lot with the community. Maybe it does such good work because it has been doing it for a long time. Therefore, I have a lot of difficulty understanding why the Bloc Québécois always comes back to CREs, and is acting in a way that is detrimental to Quebec.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Sébastien Gagnon Bloc Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer my colleague, I will simply ask a question. Why did they not see fit to consult the local population and stakeholders?

Earlier, I was talking about the need to review economic models. We had a good opportunity, but they missed it. About the way of doing things, I will quote a witness who certainly knows how to do things.

They wanted at least to put the CFDC and the CLD in the same physical location so that they would work in a complementary fashion. Every time, it was a categorical no. That was an illogical stand that caused a great deal of difficulty in Quebec. ... We achieved the successes we had in spite of the federal government.

The witness is André Brunet, president of the Abitibi CLD, and this is important.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the debate on third reading of Bill C-9, an act to establish the economic development agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec.

This is a public policy matter of profound significance for communities everywhere. Although the bill deals specifically with community economic development in various regions of the province of Quebec, the concept we are discussing is critically important for the future of many communities across the country.

I would like to take a moment to address the essence of this proposal and the whole meaning of social, economic development or political involvement at the grassroots level because that is what we are talking about.

This is about communities having the means to ensure that community development occurs in ways that are relevant to that community. It is about turning around our priorities as politicians and as members of Parliament. We ought to stop saying how communities must perform. We ought to stop making decisions from on high about what communities need and what is best for people at the local level. We ought to begin by saying that no one knows better about what is in the best interests of a community than the people who work day in and day out building communities and creating cooperative arrangements for improving life in that particular neighbourhood.

I have a very relevant example in terms of my own constituency of Winnipeg North, a community that is a typical, inner city, north end neighbourhood. It is an older neighbourhood with old stock housing and many very significant problems in terms of economic and social development.

We are talking about communities where many people live on a day to day basis trying to make ends meet for their families, communities that are struggling in terms of some external factors that are hard to address. It may be an influx of people from other communities without proper housing and other services available to those individuals. We are talking about all the social determinants that come from economic indicators that are indicative of many social ills and problems that we all have to deal with on a day to day basis.

Economic development is central for every region and every community in every one of our provinces to overcoming great difficulties and ensuring we have a long term strategy for overcoming economic and social inequalities.

There is an old expression we have all heard that if we give a person a fish, they will eat for a day, but if we teach that person to fish, they will be able to provide for themselves and their families forever. One could even take that a little further and say that if one gave those families access to the pond, to the lake or the river where the fish are plentiful, then the future of that community is guaranteed forever. It is about giving communities the resources they need to develop, to grow and to provide for all of the people in that community.

We cannot do that in isolation. We cannot do that from government speaking on high and we cannot do it in terms of dealing with things on a piecemeal, ad hoc, band-aid, pilot project basis, which has been the tendency of the government.

It has not tended to look at communities in terms of holistic needs and in terms of working to find solutions with a community, not for that community, not telling that community how the job must get done.

My experience also comes from a community where in fact there is a very high aboriginal population. These are people who want to gain control over their own lives. They are people who know that they will continue to suffer social injustice and economic inequality until we as politicians are prepared to share power and are prepared to empower people to look after themselves, to care for themselves and to make communities work for one another. That is the essence of this concept and why this bill is so important.

Let me now focus specifically on Bill C-9. It is a bill that has gone through all the stages and has had serious study by the committee.

In that regard I want to acknowledge the work of my colleague, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, who is a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Natural Resources, Science and Technology. She has been very much involved in the work of that committee in developing recommendations and amendments to this legislation to make it better, to make it more effective in terms of dealing with the very objectives at stake here, that is, how to give communities the means by which they can shape their own future.

At the committee stage of the bill, many amendments were proposed and many were passed. I want to indicate for all in this House that the New Democratic Party certainly supports the amendments, recognizes the hard work of the committee and wants to support the bill as amended.

Specifically, the amendments state very clearly that social economy enterprises will be included as eligible organizations. That will help community economic development opportunities in the province of Quebec.

As well, the amendments focus on how this money will be used to promote the Quebec economy. I want to look specifically at those amendments that do just that and speak about why we are so supportive of the amendments and the bill including these amendments. The first of these amendments states that there shall be means to:

(a) promote economic development in the regions of Quebec where low incomes and/or slow economic growth are prevalent, or where opportunities for productive employment are inadequate.

That is fundamental to the task at hand and to the very essence of Canadian economic development.

The second part of the amendment states that through this bill it will be emphasized that “long-term economic development and sustainable employment and income creation” are explicitly stated as fundamental goals. The amendments also include reference to a focus on small and medium sized enterprises and the development of entrepreneurial talent.

All these amendments are important, all establishing very clear boundaries that will help direct how the funding that is available will be used and to whose benefit. Very clearly, these are critical steps in terms of this whole process, integral to the whole legislation we are dealing with.

As recent events in Montreal have shown, it is very important that bureaucrats understand the limits of how funds should be used.

I again want to spend just a moment on the importance of literacy in any social economy program. I am sure that members of the Bloc will agree when I say that Quebec, like Atlantic Canada, has more adults with low literacy skills than the rest of Canada. As we agree to the new status for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, it is very important for us to emphasize that literacy skills are the most important for people who are in transitional and emerging economies.

I want to point out that ABC CANADA is a great organization working to improve adult literacy skills. The following is stated on its website:

Statistics Canada released a report called Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society in 1997. This report confirms that we have a serious literacy problem in Canada. Here are some of the facts:

Literacy skills are like muscles--they are maintained and strengthened through regular use.

The higher an individual's literacy level, the more likely he/she will be employed and have a higher income.

Canadians use their literacy skills more in the workplace than at home.

--'good' jobs are those that provide opportunities to maintain and enhance literacy skills.

Let us stop for a moment and take a look at the third point I mentioned: that Canadians use their literacy skills more in the workplace than at home. It makes sense in that context, then, that any economic program, any community development initiative, needs to consider absolutely the need for lifelong learning, especially when it comes to adult literacy and numeracy training programs.

There is so much one could talk about in the context of the bill. I simply want to indicate our support for the bill as amended and to urge its final passage by the House of Commons.

I want to end by referring to some work prepared by the Canadian CED Network social economy round table consultation. I will refer specifically to the briefing notes the group produced. The document outlining the discussions at the round table consultation lists the main points that CCED Net believes should be common concerns during all consultations regarding the federal social economy initiative.

Emphasizing those three points really says it all in terms of what we are trying to achieve and what can be accomplished by providing the funds that are referenced in the bill and providing the framework for its implementation.

The three points made by CCED Net include, first, “strengthening social capital at the local level”. That means “building the local capacity of communities to systematically address the problems of their economies”. That is a very important point, because without acknowledging the need to increase local capacity so that the community itself can overcome the problems it is facing, we are only putting a band-aid on a problem. We are only allowing social injustices and economic inequalities to continue.

The second point about this approach involves “strengthening human capital at the local level”. This means “increasing the competence of local citizens to get and hold good jobs or build their own businesses, as well as to provide essential local leadership for the development process”.

This kind of investment in human capital cannot be done in isolation of all the parts of that individual. If we do not look at this on a holistic basis, it becomes almost impossible to see results by investing money strictly on the basis of a particular economic project. That means looking at the whole identity of an individual and of a community. That means considering the heritage, the culture, the skills, the particular expertise, and the practices of collaboration and working together: networking; the involvement of unions and businesses; the involvement of synagogues, churches and temples; the involvement of schools and universities; and the involvement of family associations and teacher-parent groups.

All of these various aspects of an individual's life, all integral to the health and well-being of a community, must be included in this concept of strengthening human capital at the local level.

Finally, let us get to the nub of the matter in terms of the wherewithal to do all of this. We have the people who want to do it. We have organizations at the local level with people who want to give their lives to making a difference at the community level, who are prepared to work on a volunteer basis and to work tirelessly doing community work, but they need the financial support of government to make that happen.

The third important point made by CCED Net about a community development or economic development initiative is “strengthening financial capital at the local level”. This means improving “investment resources available for local businesses, for affordable housing, and for alternative financial institutions”.

In this context, it is very important to reference the two budget bills passed by this House of Commons just last night, and in particular to reference the better balanced budget proposed by the NDP in Bill C-48, which in fact flows from this imperative and came from the need to address community needs and to support communities to help themselves. The money we have fought for and worked through with the Liberal government is critical for community economic development, the money for housing, education, retrofitting of homes, public transit and other environmental initiatives. All of these initiatives are critically important for feeding into the notion that the best communities are those that are able to help themselves.

By providing the resources to work with community groups like those I have in Winnipeg, the North End Community Renewal Corporation, Just Housing, Habitat for Humanity, North End Housing and other residents associations like the Point Douglas and William Whyte residents advisory groups, by providing assistance to those organizations and groups that are prepared to take on the challenges of a community that needs to be renewed and strengthened, we surely see the light at the end of the tunnel and know that the goals we all share can be accomplished.

This last point also references the need for every community to have access to financial institutions, and if those financial institutions are not there, to provide the resources to develop alternatives. When a community loses all of its bank branches and has no immediate direct access to financial institutions, then it is through community development and economic development proposals, like those we have been talking about under the auspices of this bill, that we can actually provide and ensure that a community has such access.

It is not easily done and it takes a lot of work, but I can tell members from firsthand experience how possible it actually is.

In the case of Winnipeg North, we have lost all of our bank branches in the last 10 years. In a very large and strategically significant area in Winnipeg, that being the north end, stretching many miles on all sides, there is no bank branch. The community realized that without access to financial services there would be no way to keep attracting new businesses. There would be no way to deal with the vacancies along main street and to get local initiatives housed and thriving in those vacant buildings without access to financial services.

That community, my community, decided to first take on the banks and it said to those banks that they had no right to desert a community that had been loyal to them for years and years, for decades and decades, and in some cases for more than 100 years. Those banks grew and became profitable because of that loyalty, only to desert that community when it was convenient for the banks because they wanted to make more profit in other areas. That community, my community, decided to take things into its own hands and to say to those banks, “If the banks will not stay and be loyal to us, then we will switch our allegiance and we will find our own way to deal with the situation”.

The community, through the North End Community Renewal Corporation, has developed an alternative financial institutions plan, has tested it and is now in the final stages of putting it into effect, but it needs money and it needs support from all levels of government. I have actually pursued this matter with the Minister of Finance and said to him that he had an obligation to support such community initiatives and to ensure that if the banks desert communities and we cannot legislate them to stay, then surely we, as representatives of this place and as members of a government, have an obligation to help communities help themselves and provide the necessary economic development and financial institutional resources that they need. The essence of this project is helping communities to help themselves.

I urge members of the House to support Bill C-9.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have taken place among all parties and I believe you would find consent to adjourn the present debate in order to immediately proceed to private members' business.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is that agreed?

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

moved that Bill C-313, an act to amend the Criminal Code (prohibited sexual acts), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Edmonton—Sherwood Park for seconding this motion today. He will also be taking part in this hour of debate. I appreciate him being here on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Ottawa.

I am honoured to rise in the House today to debate my private member's bill, Bill C-313. The bill has a very worthy goal of amending Canada's Criminal Code by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 years to 16 years. The bill embodies a cause that I have inherited from the hon. members from Calgary Northeast and Wild Rose, both of whom have spent tireless hours over the past 12 years in an effort to achieve the protection of our children that this bill calls for. Mr. Speaker, you know full well that they have worked very hard in other aspects of protecting children in Canada.

As I have mentioned, this is not the first time the House has been faced with the opportunity to take meaningful action to protect our children from adults who use legal loopholes to engage in sexual activities with minors. For years the House has been presented with many private members' bills aimed at raising the age of consent and today that call continues. It continues largely because the House has yet to provide an appropriate answer to those calls for protection.

Despite claims by the government and Liberal governments that predated it, Canada's Criminal Code remains ineffective in its protection of our children when it comes to providing deterrents for adults who seek sexual relations with the most vulnerable and impressionable citizens of our society: our children. I use the words “our children” because, whether we have children of our own or not, as citizens and members of Parliament we possess a collective responsibility to provide meaningful protection for the children of Canada as if they were our own.

Although my children are now adults, they in turn have children, making me a pretty proud grandfather. The children of our neighbours, our co-workers, our colleagues and even strangers we pass on the street from all regions, ethnic backgrounds and faiths, are all Canada's children. They are Canada's children and therefore, as Canadians and legislators, they are our children to protect.

As members of Parliament, we are elected to make laws that respond to the various needs and necessities of our constituents. I would state that an essential virtue of this bill is that it affords much needed protection for children in not only my constituency of Lethbridge but every single constituency represented in the House. I look forward to the day when Canadian parents can rest assured that no adult can lawfully pursue sexual relations with their children.

The Criminal Code of Canada, as exists today, provides tacit approval for sexual relations between adults and adolescents as young as 14 as long as the sexual relations are consensual and the adult is not in a position of authority or trust over the minor. The same Criminal Code also excuses adults who have sexual relations with children as young as 12 years of age as long as the adult involved was under the impression that the minor was at least 14 years of age, the sexual relations was consensual and there was no abuse of position of authority or trust. As hard as that is to believe, that is what the law is in Canada.

In short, the laws of this land leave our children, as young as 12 years old, vulnerable to the lowest seductions and manipulations of troubled adults who would seek to rob them of their innocence. Clearly, it is time for the House to provide meaningful protection for our children.

Recent Liberal governments have taken a piecemeal approach to protecting our children from opportunistic adults seeking sexual relations with children. One example of this is the Liberal government's Bill C-15A of 2002 which outlawed the use of the Internet to communicate with a child for sexual purposes. While criminalizing Internet luring was a positive step, it really did not provide meaningful protection against very real threats.

Bill C-15A merely removed a stepping stone from the path. While removing a mere stepping stone from the illicit path is positive, it does not eliminate the destination to which the path winds, and that is sexual relations between adults and children.

The Criminal Code of Canada must be amended in order to establish truly robust and effective protection for our children and it is time for us to take real action against a real problem.

A recent event right here in Ottawa highlighted the need for this very action that my bill pursues. Just two months ago, a 38 year old man travelled from the United States to Ottawa with the express purpose of having sexual relations with a 14 year old boy. This individual's trip to Ottawa was the culmination of an Internet relationship that began in an online chat room several months before.

Because the age of consent in Canada is 14, he was not charged with sexual assault or any child sex crime. Under the current Criminal Code, the only charges that the police and parents could pursue against this individual were two charges of unlawfully taking a person under 16 away from his parents against their will and one count of using the Internet to facilitate this. Unfortunately, these charges carry no minimum penalties and have maximums of only five years.

Ironically, this individual faces heavier consequences in the United States where there are strict laws against adults crossing state and international borders in order to have sex with persons under the age of 16, even if it is consensual. It is shameful that the laws of another nation currently provide stronger protection for our children than do our own Canadian laws.

It is no coincidence that this troubled man travelled to Canada to have sexual relations with a minor. Our ineffective laws lacking deterrence and consequences leave the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, much more vulnerable and unprotected than need be.

There was a case in eastern Canada where another person came from the United States, contacted a 14 year old, was apprehended, was thrown in jail and had to be released because the young person with whom he had come to Canada to have a sexual relationship was 14 and legal. He therefore had to be released.

As long as our laws remain complacent in the face of such threats, Canada will remain vulnerable to the cold calculations of those who seek to exploit the innocence of and have sexual relations with our children. We are in real trouble when we have such troubled persons from outside our country travelling into Canada for that expressed reason: to take advantage of our lax laws and to have sexual relations with our children.

The Criminal Code as it stands today is powerless in the face of such brazen acts of illicit opportunism where a minor, who, in the Ottawa case, was suffering from depression, is seduced and manipulated prior to being drawn into actual sexual encounters with an adult.

I will speak of another event here in Ottawa where a 35 year old man was found guilty of having repeated sexual relations with a local 13 year old. He was not found guilty but he was charged. Although this individual has clearly broken the current law that supposedly protects our children, he was simply sentenced to house arrest. During the first 12 months of his sentence he is merely obliged to follow a curfew and to participate in sexual behaviour assessments and treatments if his corrections officer deems them necessary, and that is “if”. The court also required this individual to make a $1,000 donation to the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

That incident illustrates how, even when the laws meant to protect our children are clearly broken, no real consequences are assigned as a deterrent for the guilty individual or others who may follow suit. We have laws that together reflect our society's disapproval of adults having sexual relations with minors but there is no definitive principle or legislation supporting them.

This is the crux of my argument today. This bill is aimed at protecting, not limiting our children and their rights. I invite members to read the bill and join me in its promotion by considering a peer exemption for close in age categories so as not to criminalize teens who are sexually active with their peers. The true aim of the bill is the protection of our children from adults who intentionally pursue sexual relations with minors. With this bill Parliament will send a clear message.

It is time for Parliament to state clearly and with authority that our children are not fair game for those troubled adults and it is time for Parliament to state clearly and with authority that we will support the parents and law enforcement agencies which are the front line defenders of our children by providing them with laws clearly stating that sexual relations between adults and children are not only unacceptable but unlawful.

If the government and this House cannot support the bill, a Conservative government will.

Article 85 of the Conservative policy statement states:

A Conservative government will act to protect children by eliminating all defences that are used to justify the possession of child pornography. A Conservative government would rename the age of consent to the age of protection and raise it from 14 to 16 years of age.

Raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age will empower parents and law enforcement agencies to vigorously protect some of the most vulnerable citizens from the darkest threats posed to them.

We have seen an attempt by the government to address this issue, but it falls far short of what needs to be done. The bill that the government brought forward is Bill C-2 which was tabled last fall. However, it does not address the issue of the age of sexual consent. I will read some comments from our justice critic, the member for Provencher, who stated:

Yet, despite the stated goals of the bill and the lofty promises of the Justice Minister, C-2 fails miserably in many respects. Most notable is its failure to protect a very vulnerable category of children--14 to 16 year olds--from the grasp of sexual predators. Children at these ages can easily become targets of pornographers, pedophiles and Internet sex scams while their parents are horrified to learn that Canadian law fails to provide them with legal recourse.

In most democratic jurisdictions that include the United Kingdom, Australia, most American states and European countries, adults are prohibited with having sexual relationships with children less than 16 or even 17 years of age. In Canada, a child may legally consent to sex with an adult at age 14.

As I indicated before, in some circumstances that can be as low as 12 and still be acceptable in the courts. The member further stated:

Despite persistent calls from provincial attorneys general and premiers, child advocacy groups, police, and countless other organizations, including the Conservative Party of Canada, successive Liberal ministers of justice continue to resist the proposal to raise Canada's age of sexual consent.

The most frequently cited reason provided by Liberals for not raising the age of consent is that it might criminalize sexual activity between young people.

That is why I mentioned the close in age exemption category that could be easily implemented. The member stated further:

The Criminal Code already permits children younger than 14 to consent to sexual activity as long as their partners are less than two years older than they are. The British, who have set their age of consent at 16, also have a close in age category that has not, as Liberals suggest, criminalized teenagers

There are many issues to be dealt with on this subject. Hopefully, when we hear what the other parties have to say there will be some consideration for this. I feel it is important to note that children who are between 14 and 16 years of age are still children. They still need direction and our protection. As legislators and lawmakers in this country, it is up to us to provide that protection while they are the most vulnerable in our society.

I look forward to the debate today and returning for the second hour and going to a vote. I hope that members of Parliament, when they deliberate, will find it in their hearts and thoughts to support the bill and pass it into law, so that we can say that we have taken a huge step toward helping to protect our children.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-313, an act to amend the Criminal Code, dealing with prohibited sexual acts.

I am pleased to join the debate on the bill because it truly addresses an important issue and also because it is an issue on which misinformation seems to abound.

I appreciate the apparent intent of the bill, namely to better protect our youth against sexual abuse and exploitation. However, I do not support it because the bill will bring greater harm than good to those whom it seeks to protect and because the approach of the bill is ad hoc and somewhat incomplete.

Bill C-313 proposes a number of reforms which would raise the age of consent to non-exploitative sexual activity from 14 to 16 years for some, but not all, sexual offences against children.

The age of consent refers to the age below which the criminal law does not recognize the legal capacity of a young person to consent to sexual activity, and below this age of consent, any and all sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching, such as kissing, to sexual intercourse, is prohibited.

The age of consent to sexual activity is, in fact, 18 years where the relationship is exploitative, such as where it involves prostitution, pornography or where there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency. Where none of these exploitative circumstances exist, the age of consent is 14 years and, despite some incorrect beliefs by some, the age of consent for non-exploitative sexual activity has always been 14 and was not lowered in the 1980s.

The only exception to this age is where the young person is 12 or 13 years old and the other person is less than two years older, but under 16 years of age and there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency. It is important to be perfectly clear that any non-consensual sexual activity, regardless of age, is a sexual assault.

Bill C-313, as I read it, proposes to raise the age of consent for non-exploitative sexual activity by amending only some of the relevant offences, but not all, by raising the age from 14 to 16 years. It would expand the existing clause, close in age exception, for 12 and 13 year olds to include 14 and 15 year olds, but with the same conditions. The other person must be less than two years older and under 16 years of age and there be no relationship of trust, authority or dependency.

Under this exception, for example, although a 15 year old boy could engage in sexual activity with his 15 and a half year old girlfriend, this sexual activity would become illegal on the day of the girl's 16th birthday. In other words, Bill C-313 would criminalize the 16 year old for engaging in consensual activity that was legal literally only the day before.

I do not believe that Canadians want to criminalize such activity. I also do not believe that the 15 year old boy would wish to be depicted as a sexual assault victim. This is not an unreasonable or even exceptional hypothetical situation. In fact, according to the May 3, 2005 Statistics Canada edition of, The Daily, we should consider this to be a very likely and common scenario.

It reported that by age 14 or 15 about 13% of Canadian adolescents have had sexual intercourse. The figure for boys and girls was quite similar, 12% and 13% respectively. From such estimates, it is reasonable to believe that youth begin to engage in other or lesser forms of sexual activity at an even younger age.

For instance, in the 2003 Canadian youth, sexual health and HIV-AIDS study released by the council of ministers of education, this survey of Canadian adolescents in grades 7, 9 and 11 found that 35% of boys and 49% of girls in grade 7, that is kids 12 years of age, had engaged in deep or open mouth kissing, sexual activity as described by our criminal laws.

The reality is that whether one condones or approves such activity or not, the fact of the matter is that Canadian youth are sexually active from at least as young as 12 years of age. It is clear that Bill C-313 would criminalize youth for engaging in normal adolescent sexual activity even when that activity is engaged in with a peer. As I said, while one may not agree with youth engaging in such activity, there are other far more effective ways than using the state's strongest power, the criminal law power, to educate our children about sexuality.

I do not see how this bill provides better protection to young persons against sexual exploitation when it would in effect turn them into young offenders. Another reason why I cannot support the bill is because of its ad hoc approach to raising the age of consent for sexual activity. It does not ensure uniform and consistent protection because it does not include all offences that relate to the age of consent.

Specifically, it does not amend the following offences: section 172.1, luring a child over the Internet for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against a child; section 273.3, removal of a child from Canada for the purpose of committing one of the enumerated child sexual offences; section 810.1, reconnaissance orders or peace bonds to prevent suspected child sex offenders from frequenting places where children can be expected to congregate or from engaging in activity that involves contact with young persons, including communicating with young persons through the use of a computer system such as the Internet; or section 159, anal intercourse.

I will not guess as to why these provisions are not amended by Bill C-313, but the net effect of these omissions is to confirm my concerns about the ad hoc approach of this bill. The protection of our youth against sexual exploitation is far too important for us as lawmakers to address it in an ad hoc fashion. For all of these reasons, I do not support Bill C-313 in its present form.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-313.

Let us be honest, this bill is totally Conservative in its logic. As my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles was saying, we cannot support this bill, which proposes to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 years, as it is now, to 16 years.

Of course, the Bloc Quebecois agrees with what has been empirically recognized and scientifically observed, and what is just basic common sense, namely that, generally, it is not advisable to have sexual relations at 14. At that age, a person is still closer to childhood than to adulthood. Puberty may not even have started yet and it is certainly not advisable to have sexual relations.

I think I am not being overly moralistic if I say that when entering the world of sexuality, one must be prepared and have enough information about healthy sexual practices, about the meaning of commitment and, let us say it, about the loss of a certain naivety. Indeed, one's first sexual experience is a defining moment in one's life.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I am 43 years old. Incidentally, I thank you for your kind wishes on my birthday this week.

I must say that, back in the days when I was in high school, sexual activity tended to start later than it does today. We even had a saying in Quebec about someone being a late bloomer in matters of sexuality. But we must recognize that things have changed.

Why do young people, at least some of them, start being sexually active earlier? Obviously, there are all sorts of theories on the subject. There has been investigative reporting into this matter. Apparently, there is a connection between early sexual activity and information. With Internet and the increased speed at which information is circulating, the shroud of mystery surrounding sexuality is lifted earlier for today's young people, who have access to information from an early age and, as a result, start experimenting with sex earlier.

Once again, we do not agree. We fully realize that not having sexual relations at age 14 is desirable. However, we are not prepared to go one step further, as proposed by the Conservative Party, and make it criminal, which would involve the judicial system. This would mean that charges could be laid against young people who had sexual relations.

This is the kind of unfortunate situation that shows how out of touch with Quebec realities the Conservative Party is. In the performance of my duties as an MP, I do not remember meeting many young people and many stakeholders who are in favour of criminalizing early sexual activity.

Should we not, as a society, work to provide information and ensure that sexual education classes are made mandatory instead? Sexuality should be discussed at home and in the young people's milieux. The objectives we pursue as a society would ensure that, by the time young people have their first sexual relations, they are informed and prepared.

Having sex for the first time signifies a loss of innocence. It truly marks the entry into adulthood. It should be entered into with complete responsibility and awareness.

Is there anything more beautiful than sexuality? When two people are attracted to one another and are ready to express their feelings by having sex, this should not lead to criminal charges. Obviously, they should be ready, prepared and fully informed.

With that caveat I would add that the Bloc Québécois is fully aware that extreme vigilance must be used in the entire issue of sexual exploitation. The Criminal Code, as we speak, includes provisions. The Supreme Court made a ruling in early 2000. Since the Sharpe case, more provisions have been added to the Criminal Code on sexual exploitation and also child pornography.

I know there is not a single member in this House who does not want Parliament to be extra careful in dealing with the issue of sexual exploitation. There is nothing more terrible, horrible and appalling than the thought of an adult sexually exploiting a child in a relationship that cannot be one of equals, given the traumatic effect this has on the child's development. The Bloc Québécois agrees that in the Criminal Code as well as in the application of the law, we must be extremely vigilant when it comes to sexual relations between adults and children.

If our colleague's bill were to pass, we could end up with the following situation. A 16-year-old boy has consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl. They are both very mature and fully capable of assessing the scope of their actions. They are moved by true love. They have protected sex. They have a satisfying and mutually agreed to sexual experience. However, because one of their parents, the girl's for example, disapproves of the choice in partner, charges could be filed.

Is that any way to handle this issue? We do not think the bill is very helpful.

I have done a bit of research on the age of consent. I have here a comparative table of various countries, and it shows that among most major democracies and large countries—large in terms of population, not hegemony of course—Canada comes out in a good middle position.

For example, the age of consent in Mexico is 12. We know Japan to be a relatively puritan society, and we are familiar with some characteristics of that culture, the little, sometimes nervous, laugh, people who are aware of their place, enterprising, ready to serve. Theirs is a society where order is valued and relations between people are clearly circumscribed. That does not mean, of course, that every Japanese is devoid of romantic thoughts. Nonetheless, it is surprising to learn that the age of consent in Japan is 13 years, that is a year younger than in Canada.

Austria, so famous for its romantic waltzes, which you yourself may have been entranced by, Mr. Speaker, in earlier days of course, has an age of consent of 14. In Iceland, that nordic country where beer flows in abundance amidst an atmosphere of celebration, the age is also 14 years.

Italy, that romantic Mediterranean country of pastas and wine—which sounds tempting as the weekend approaches—also has an age of consent of 14. In Denmark it is 15. in France, the country of Marianne, the eldest daughter of the Church, that most Jacobin French republic, the age of consent is 15.

I will close by saying that, regretfully, the Bloc Québécois will not be able to support this bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am burdened to speak to this bill today, burdened because I hear the Liberal critic will recommend to his caucus, and I presume that means it will follow, that it vote against the bill.

We do not know where NDP members stand, the new partners of the Liberal Party, since there seems to be no one willing to speak on their behalf. The member for the Bloc member indicated specifically that the Bloc would not support it. I do not know whether their members will be given a free vote on it or whether it is one of those whipped votes in that party. That was not made clear by the member who just spoke.

At any rate, I want to speak strongly in favour of the bill.

It is probably unfair to get up and repeat all the words in the bill and some justification for taking the stand I am without giving a bit of my background and without appealing to people to consider the true and deep moral structures that have guided our country for many years and which seem now, in our present day and age, to be rapidly falling apart.

As I have indicated in some previous speeches, I had the privilege of being raised in a wonderful, loving family. My dad had nine brothers and sisters, actually he had 10 but one died in infancy, and they were all wonderful, loving people to their spouses and to their children. Until recently, there has been a very good record of marital fidelity in our family. I have made reference to that in previous debates where I have talked about the fact that my parents were married for 67.5 years. They would have gone a little longer if Dad had not have passed away. The record of all my uncles and aunts is impeccable in this area.

I also grew up in a religious context. We are often told that church and state do not mix. However, I am quite impressed that we bring to the debates our actions, our words, our moral framework, whatever that is. I believe that even those who claim to have no faith in God, or in the Bible or in any of the other religions is a religious decision. It is based on faith. It is something that one chooses to believe, based on the amount of evidence that he or she has gathered.

I have made a lifelong study of the scriptures since I became a Christian at age 20, and it is very meaningful to me. I believe that the good book, as some call it, is a definitive instruction book for how we ought to live. As I have studied it over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the instructions in this book are there for our good. We can take every one of the rules and laws in it and they are all positive for the behaviour of families and of society in general.

That is the kind of the background from which I come. In that I then also take that marriage is designed in order to provide for the best for families and for children and it is to be a lifelong marriage.

I believe also in the basic moral concept that sexual activity is not a game that one plays, like basketball or football. It is a very sacred thing, to be participated in within the bonds of marriage. I think we do our society a disservice by not reinforcing those kinds of boundaries and encouraging our young people, in every way possible, that sexual activity is to be saved for and kept within the boundaries of what is called holy matrimony.

I realize that we live in a society in which those morals have been deteriorating rapidly. We even have in the House a bill that would seek to inalienable change the definition of marriage and thereby attack a very solid teaching that many Canadian citizens, by far the majority, have espoused for years.

In the present context, we find that more and more people are engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage and sometimes by coercing others to do so or at least by seducing them. That is what we are talking about.

I have to share with members a very sad thing that is happening in my community way back in the Edmonton Sherwood Park area. I do not know what the latest count is but around 30 bodies of young women have shown up in my riding east of Edmonton in the last 10 or 15 years. These were young women involved in the sex trade and who were killed by someone. It is not known right now whether it is a serial killer or whether it is several individuals.

My heart is broken. I am so sad about that happening. I am a dad. My wife and I have three children. I might hasten to add, perfect children. Not many families can boast that. My daughter Beverley came along first and then sons Brent and Brian. If I think of my daughter being sexually abused by anyone in the family or outside, that is so foreign to my thinking and if someone else were to do it there is something that swells up inside me that says as a father I have an obligation to protect that young girl.

We had a wonderful open relationship in our family and we discussed these things over the years. I am very happy to say that it is our belief that our children grew up according to those standards.

There are many families in which this does not happen. There are parents who permit their children to become involved in other relationships, sometimes with older people, and there are some who would like to resist it but unfortunately, in our present legal system, do not have the right to do so.

When I speak in favour of the bill, I am speaking as a loving father and, I might add, a loving grandfather. Our youngest granddaughter just had her sixth birthday. We have a grandson who is younger than that. He just turned two a couple of months previously.

I am thinking of my grandchildren: Dallas at 13, Kayla, Noah, Hannah and Micah who are wonderful innocent little grandchildren. For me to think of anyone luring them, getting them involved in sexual activity, taking away from them the ability to retroactively be pure in their marriage, I find that very difficult to accept.

This bill would address the issue of individuals who would lure young people into sexual activity. We are talking specifically of those who are older, who would use prostitutes and, when that is not enough, they lure children either on the Internet or by some other means. They get them involved in sexual activity that is dangerous, as we can see. Sociological studies have shown that when children are involved in sexual activity when they are young, even if they have given consent, they are ripe and open to being lured into the business of prostitution. As I just said, I would not call it a profession, it is a dangerous thing to do.

We need to do everything we can to protect our children. I am saying that if someone were to pick up my young granddaughter, or my daughter at 14 or 15 years of age, and involve her in sexual activity, I do not think there should be a defence. I do not think anyone should be able to say that a child talked them into it. She probably would not have, although there may be some who I think at that age lose their heads.

It is up to us as parents, us as grandparents and us as legislators to provide a protective framework for those young people so they are not subject to this kind of vicious and brutal attack.

I would strongly recommend that all members of the House give careful thought to what we are considering here, to support the bill as I do most enthusiastically for my constituents and on behalf of my colleague from Lethbridge.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Lui Temelkovski Liberal Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-313, an act to amendment the Criminal Code, prohibited sexual acts. Bill C-313 proposes criminal law amendments to raise the age of consent to sexual activity for some but not all sexual offences against children.

The protection of children and youth is an issue that is well-known to hon. members. The age of consent to sexual activity, as a component of this broader issue, is also not a new issue for us. Although I think we should agree that the protection of our youth against sexual exploitation is a priority for many, if not for all of us, it is clear that we cannot agree on the best and most effective ways to achieve this objective.

I cannot support Bill C-313 for it is an incomplete and ineffective approach. Bill C-313 proposes amendments that will raise the age of consent to non-exploitative sexual activity from 14 to 16 years for some but not all sexual offences against children.

The age of consent is not a term that is used in the Criminal Code, but it is one that is commonly used to refer to the age below which the criminal law does not recognize the legal capacity of a young person to consent to sexual activity. All sexual activity with persons below this age, ranging from sexual touching such as kissing to sexual intercourse, is prohibited, but any non-consensual activity regardless of age is a sexual assault.

One shortcoming of Bill C-313 is that it seeks to provide youth with greater protection against sexual exploitation by focusing, not on the exploitative conduct of the wrongdoer, as the Criminal Code does generally with sexual assault, but rather on whether the young person consented to be exploited. This is an odd approach.

Another limitation is that Bill C-313 only recognizes one factor as an indicator of a young person's vulnerability to being sexually exploited, namely the young person's chronological age. Bill C-313 appears to arbitrarily set it at age 16. Again, this is a bit at odds with the fact that most would readily acknowledge that not all 14 year olds have the same level of maturity and even that some 14 year olds are more mature than some 17 year olds.

Therefore I am not sure why the bill would not similarly consider the specific circumstances of the young person as being reasonable indicators of the young person's vulnerability to being sexually exploited.

Another significant shortcoming of Bill C-313 is that it does not propose to impose a uniform age of consent for all related offences. It does not amend the following offences: section 159, anal intercourse; section 172.1, luring a child over the Internet for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against the child; section 273.3, removal of a child from Canada for the purpose of committing one of the enumerated child sexual offences; section 810.1, peace bond to prevent a known or suspected child sex offender from frequenting places where children can be expected to congregate or from engaging in activity that involves contact with young persons, including communicating with young persons through the use of a computer system such as the Internet.

The most significant shortcoming of Bill C-313 is that it would criminalize youth for engaging in consensual, non-exploitative sexual activity even with peers. The bill does not provide a close in age exception. For example, it would be illegal for a 15 year old to engage in sexual activity with her 16 or 17 year old boyfriend, even though such activity may have been legal immediately before his 16th birthday and importantly, even though we all know that such activity is common. Turning these persons into young offenders does not provide them with better protection.

I do not support Bill C-313 for its approach. Instead, I think the better and more effective approach is the government's approach as reflected in Bill C-2, protection of children and other vulnerable persons, currently before the justice committee.

Bill C-2 proposes to create a new category of prohibited sexual exploitation of a young person who is over the age of consent for sexual activity; that is, who is 14 years of age or older and under 18 years.

Under this new offence, courts would be directed to infer that the relationship with a young person is exploitative of that young person by looking to the nature and circumstances of that relationship. The bill would direct the court to consider specific indicators of exploitation including: the age of the young person; any difference in age between the young person and the other person; the evolution of the relationship; and the degree of control of influence exerted over the young person.

Simply stated, Bill C-2 would recognize chronological age as well as other factors as indicators of vulnerability. It would recognize that the particular circumstances of some youth, including 16 and 17 year olds, may put them at greater risk of being exploited. It would recognize that the way in which a relationship develops, for example, secretly over the Internet, can also be an indicator.

Under Bill C-2 all youth between 14 and 18, not just 14 and 16 years as proposed by Bill C-313, would receive increased protection, irrespective of whether the exploitation was at the hands of someone who was much older or close in age.

Bill C-2 also focuses the law's attention on the wrongdoer instead of whether the young person ostensibly consented to that conduct. Bill C-2 says, in fact, that young persons cannot legally consent to be sexually exploited.

While some may debate whether young persons should engage in any sexual activity and at what age, the fact remains that Canadian youth, as young or younger than 12 years old, are sexually active.

It is clear that Bill C-313 would criminalize youth for engaging in normal adolescent sexual activity, even when that activity is engaged in with a peer. As I said, while one may not agree with youth engaging in such activity, there are other far more effective ways than using the state's strongest power, the criminal law power, to educate our children about their sexuality.

For all these reasons, I do not support Bill C-313.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is very enlightening to hear from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP and their position on this because this is a question that I have asked the justice minister every time he has visited the justice committee. I do not seem to get a straight answer. I have asked the justice minister during question period and have not had a straight answer. At least now I have heard today, in a riveting dialogue, the position of the Liberals and that of the Bloc.

I want to start by thanking my colleague from Lethbridge. He has brought forward a private member's bill that truly represents what Canadians want.

We heard from the Bloc that this was out of sync with what Quebeckers wanted. That is absolute nonsense. The people of Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and across our great country want to protect our children.

The House has heard for years, through chiefs of police, through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and through experts that we need to raise the age of consent because 14 is too low. Canadians want to know why we are not raising the age to 16.

We are seeing the very reason right now why it is not being raised. It is resistance by the Liberal Party, the Bloc and the NDP. When we talk about being out of sync, Canadians really see what is out of sync. It is not the Conservative Party. It is the other parties.

The Liberal Party has said that Bill C-313, the private member's bill put forward by the member for Lethbridge, is incomplete and ineffective. That makes no sense. That is ridiculous. The bill will protect our children. What we see as ineffective and incomplete is the government.

We heard that kissing and touching is illegal. I will confess that every time I see my grandson, I kiss and hug him. Let us not go on to the absurd. Kissing and touching is not illegal.

We are talking about is kissing and touching a child for sexual purposes, which should be illegal. A 14 year old does not have the cognitive skills to realize that they are being duped, that they are being lured into a very dangerous situation.

We have heard from the member of the Liberal Party that some 14 year olds have more maturity than 17 year olds. I would agree with that. When I hear statements like that, I could say that some 14 year olds have more maturity and experience than some members of the government across the way.

Fourteen year olds generally do not have the cognitive skills to know what the consequences will be of their decisions. There are sexually transmitted diseases that they may be in danger of receiving if they have a relationship. There is pregnancy. There is depression. It is a very important decision to engage in a sexual relationship outside of marriage.

I appreciate the comments made by my colleague from Edmonton. He is right on. The first choice is to do it within the context of marriage. I agree totally. That is the way I was raised. I am proud that I have been married 33 years. We have five children and one grandchild. I am just so blessed.

Before I was elected to the House, I was a councillor, a member of municipal government, and child prostitution was a huge problem. I was on a task force dealing with child prostitution. Our group listened to experts from across the country who said that one reason why our children were being lured into prostitution was because of the low age of consent. The age of 14 is one of the lowest in the world. That is why pedophiles come here to look for our children. It is not a position authority. It is a position of abuse and luring.

Ask the average person on the street if it is acceptable for 40 year olds, or 50 year olds or 60 year olds to have a sexual relationship with 14 year olds or 12 year olds who say they are 14 years old. That is sick and it should be a criminal offence.

I am frustrated with what has been said. It is not accurate. It is absolutely wrong when members say that this private member's bill is going to criminalize relationships between teenagers and their peers. That is anything but the truth.

What we want to do is focus on protecting our children. There is an age differential exception built into this because we know that children are going to experiment. That is not my first choice. I recommended to my children that they wait until marriage, but Bill C-313 has this exception as an option. It will not criminalize teenagers.

I ask members of the House not to give false statements, please. This bill deals with adults having sex with children. Fourteen year olds should not be lured. What we want is the truth. Canada, as I have said, has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world. As such, we put our children at risk of being lured. International pedophiles come to our country and lure children. They use child pornography. They take them out for pizza and to movies and then it is deemed consent when a child is lured to do this.

Our children are our up and coming generation. We need to protect them. If we fail our children, we have failed. I encourage every member to read the bill carefully. It is a good bill and it does provide protection.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House stands adjourned until Monday, May 30, at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Orders 28(2) and 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:51 p.m.)