Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to add my support to the motion presented by my friend and colleague, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. It deals with a very serious issue that is every parent's worry, and should anything happen, their worst nightmare: the loss of a child, particularly if it is as a victim to a predator, and in the case of this motion, an Internet predator.
As the father of five children from six to 20 years of age, I can say that this is a very real concern. As responsible parents, we do everything in our power to protect our children from the dangers of the world in which we live. In the early years when our children are young, while we must remain vigilant, the task of ensuring the safety of our children is relatively straightforward.
We are able to set limits on the time of day our children are outside, where they play, who their friends are and with whom they spend time. We are able to limit their access to technology such as the Internet and we are able to filter out much of what might harm our children.
However, as our children grow older into youth and young adulthood, they become more independent. They travel further from home and they have access to all types of technology. It is important to note, however, that even though our children are older, they are still vulnerable, which is why as parents we still worry.
One major concern has to do with Internet usage. This technology has become an essential tool in today's society. Although the Internet offers us new opportunities in the areas of information, education, entertainment and communication, it also provides some degree of anonymity to people who want to harm our children.
Thanks to the Internet, our children can have conversations with people far, far away, including strangers who might have very dubious intentions, despite the fact that our children are physically at home or somewhere thought to be safe.
As responsible parents, my wife and I always try to carefully supervise our children's use of the Internet, but we also recognize that it is not always easy. In many families, both parents work, so they cannot possibly always be at home when their children go on the Internet.
In many cases, children even have computers in their bedrooms, and as we have seen recently, when Internet predators come along, the consequences can be devastating.
I am sure all members here will recall the tragic death of Nadia Kajouji, a young student of 18, who took her own life here in Ottawa after a man from Minnesota encouraged her over the Internet to commit suicide. It was a terrible act that sounded the alarm and worried parents across Canada.
As parents, we had already seen the risks posed by online sexual predators, and Parliament moved ahead by adopting tougher laws to outlaw the luring of children over the Internet. It is also important to note that, in order to better protect our children against sexual predators, our Conservative government moved ahead by raising the age of sexual consent from 14 years of age to 16 years of age.
I am glad that fellow members of Parliament realized the importance of protecting our children and that we worked together to move forward with better legislation to protect them, but there is still a lot more to do. It is becoming much more apparent to Canadians that dangerous people often use the Internet to prey on our innocent and vulnerable youth.
Our youth, who during a difficult time in their lives might typically turn to people they love and trust for support, sometimes seek the anonymity of the Internet and confide in people who do not really know them. The grave concern is that this same anonymity that hides their own identity also hides the identity of dangerous manipulators who seek to take advantage of them and the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves.
In this one case I mentioned, the person who allegedly encouraged Ms. Kajouji to commit suicide was actually a man in his 40s, even though he claimed to be a woman of the same age. This individual is said to have had the morbid fantasy of seeing this poor young woman kill herself online for his pleasure and for the entire world to see.
Nadia Kajouji was only 18. She had just started her studies at Carleton University and had her whole life ahead of her. However, despite her good marks and large circle of friends in her hometown of Brampton, Nadia suffered from a serious illness, as do many people, with symptoms that were not apparent to her family and friends. She suffered from depression, a dangerous condition that can lead to suicide, the second leading cause of death in young adults in Canada.
I had the opportunity to meet with her mother, Deborah, here in Parliament and believe me, it was not easy for her to hear the facts because most parents do not expect it. Children do not always admit to their parents that they are depressed.
Like many victims of depression, Nadia turned to the Internet for support, for advice, for interaction with people who were in the same situation in which she found herself. In other words, she turned to the Internet looking for help. Unfortunately, those looking for help are often those who are the most vulnerable to being taken advantage of. The sad reality is that there are a number of predators with sinister motives who seek out those who are vulnerable. In this case, a man named William Melchert-Dinkel, living almost 2,000 kilometres away, is said to have manipulated her emotions over the Internet, encouraged her to commit suicide, and most unfortunately, her body was found in the Rideau River shortly afterwards.
Our law is very clear with respect to aiding, counselling or encouraging someone to commit suicide. It is illegal and can be punishable with jail time. However, the laws have been on the books long before use of the Internet became so widespread and predators need to know that there are laws that apply very much to them.
Our problem is that the current law, as it is written, makes no reference to acts committed over the Internet. For this reason, I am proud to support the motion of the member for Kitchener—Conestoga, which would amend section 241 of the Criminal Code to better reflect today's reality.
We must do more to protect our children against the dangers lurking on the Internet. Many believe that the law of the land does not apply to the Internet because it is a global network that has no borders. For that reason it is important that we provide clarification by including, in section 241 of the Criminal Code, the Internet and other electronic means as prohibited means of encouraging suicide.