Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-22. I am also very aware that all the justice critics need to be in committee for clause by clause of another justice bill right after this, so I am going to truncate my remarks to help get all the right people in the room who need to be there shortly after question period.
I will say at the outset that our party will support the bill. In doing so, we are following up on work that has gone on over a number of years. The Speech from the Throne of October 5, 2004 committed the government to cracking down on child pornography. Similarly, in the previous Speech from the Throne, the former Liberal government committed to reinstating former Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.
The bill was reinstated on February 12, 2004 as Bill C-12. It was awaiting second reading in the Senate at the time of that Parliament's dissolution for a federal election. In June 2004 the then prime minister reiterated support for reintroduction of the package as the first legislative item in the new Parliament. I know that the former minister of justice, the hon. member for Mount Royal, introduced in the former Parliament Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act. It received third reading on June 9, 2005, royal assent on July 20, 2005, and came into force in its entirety less than a year ago, on January 2, 2006. Bill C-2, then, is built on reforms previously proposed in the former Bill C-12 and proposed reforms in five key areas.
I might reiterate, too, that former Bill C-12, by a procedural motion, a hoist motion, from the then opposition Conservative Party, was prevented from going forward a couple of years earlier.
Be that as it may, when I hear the Minister of Justice incorrectly saying that nothing was done, I have to put on the record that we did strengthen prohibitions against child pornography.
We broadened the definition of child pornography to include audio formats as well as written material “that has, as its predominant characteristic, the description of prohibited sexual activity” with children “where that description is provided for a sexual purpose“. We prohibited advertising child pornography, increasing the maximum sentences and making a number of offences have more bite.
We wanted to protect young persons against sexual exploitation. One of the things that I like in Bill C-22 is that the government has not disposed of that section that was so important, the section that talked about the exploitation of children. It had prohibited sexual activity with young persons between 14 and 18. Under Bill C-2, a court would be directed to “infer that a relationship is exploitative of the young person based on its nature and circumstances, including the age of the young person, any difference of age, the evolution of the relationship, and the degree of control or influence exercised over the young person”.
Consistent with the existing criminal law treatment of sexual assault, that bill focused on the offending conduct of the accused rather than just on the young person's consent to that conduct. That was always the concern, that it was not just an age number, because the age of 14 has been in the Criminal Code and utilized since the late 1800s. It was the “exploitative” nature, and I am pleased that the bill keeps this, because that helps in our being able to come forward with our consent today.
We did increase the penalties for offences against children.
We facilitated testimony not only for child victims and witnesses under 18 years but for other vulnerable victims and witnesses. This is procedural, to help stop re-victimization in the court process.
We created a new voyeurism offence. Today we have those cameras that take pictures; that is why we needed this.
In 2002 we also created the offence of Internet luring under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. That prohibited the use of a computer system, including the Internet, to communicate with a young person for the purpose of committing a sexual assault against that person. It can and is being successfully charged, irrespective of whether a sexual assault actually took place. The fact of the offending conduct of trying to lure a child via a computer system is what we were getting at and it is there.
Also, just a few weeks back, a private member's bill on increasing sentences passed in the House.
Today's Bill C-22 is an improvement over former private members' bills, no matter how good the intention was. The fact is that now this bill has the five year close in age exception and that will go a long way, I think, in helping us to accept this bill and give our consent to it.
In fact, in our Liberal justice plan announced last week, this was one of the bills that we said would be put forward and given consent by our party, along with the other bills of conditional sentencing and imprisonment, as amended in committee, such as: Bill C-9; Bill C-18, an act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification; Bill C-19, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act; Bill C-23, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments); and Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate), which was debated in the House last week under the topic of payday loans.
We on this side will add Bill C-22 to that list of bills. There are about 11 government justice bills. This one makes six that the Liberals are prepared to move forward in the Liberal justice plan, although we do not think that these bills are universally perfect. But we could find flaws with all pieces of legislation in the House. There are sections in this bill to do with unconstitutional areas of the Criminal Code, which we could have fixed. The justice minister has chosen not to do that, but at this stage I think the protection of children should be our utmost priority.
Listening in the chamber today was one of the good police officers who has to work in this area. He was kind enough to give some Liberal members a briefing. Unfortunately, his colleague from the federal police services was not allowed to do that, for reasons unknown.
On this side of the House, we as the official opposition are prepared to support this bill. I am prepared now to move on and give my time so that critics from the other parties can all be present in the justice committee for voting measures later this afternoon on another piece of legislation. There is unequivocal support here for Bill C-22.