House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville. A short question, please.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Garry Breitkreuz Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I suspect there are a lot of people watching the debate on television. This is a topic of great interest to many of them. The member made mention of funding being an issue and he tied in the funding of crown attorneys.

Would he please clarify whose responsibility it is to fund crown attorneys? Who is paying for them at this point?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. As I have said before, crown prosecutors fall under provincial jurisdiction. It is relatively easy to make laws. Enforcing them and administering justice is very costly.

Over the past few years, federal lawmakers have given the provinces a lot of very expensive responsibilities. That is just one of the many things that produced the fiscal imbalance. The Government of Canada was collecting too much money for its responsibilities while the provinces were not collecting enough.

That applies to crown prosecutors as well as to health and education matters.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party on the merits, and not, of Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts.

As has been previously mentioned by other speakers, this bill amends a number of pieces of legislation, most notably the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, as well as the DNA data bank. I will touch on those two important pieces of legislation and speak a bit about how this bill both improves those pieces of legislation and where we believe there are some deficiencies that can be cured by all-party co-operation at the committee level.

I am going to start first with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, which came into force on December 15, 2004. It established a national sex offender database, which contains information on convicted sex offenders. SOIRA, as it is known, works in combination with sections 490.011 to 490.032 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

The purpose and principle of this act, as stated in subsection 2(1), “is to help police services investigate crimes of a sexual nature by requiring the registration of certain information relating to sex offenders”. Information, such as addresses and telephone numbers, offences, the aliases they may have used, identifying marks, places of employment, tattoos and when they leave their place of residence, is included in the national database. The registry works to enhance public protection by helping police identify possible suspects known to be near the offence site.

The above-noted purpose of SOIRA is to be achieved in accordance with the following principles. First, in the interest of protecting society through the effective investigation of crimes of a sexual nature, police services must have rapid access to certain information relating to sex offenders. Second, the collection and registration of accurate information on an ongoing basis is the most effective way of ensuring that such information is current and reliable. Third, the privacy interests of sex offenders and the public interest in their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community as law-abiding citizens requires that this information be collected only to investigate crimes that there are reasonable grounds to suspect are of a sexual nature and where access to the information and use and disclosure of the information is restricted.

I was struck during our study of this bill, and I will speak about that in a few minutes, by the following statistics. Police officers appearing before the committee during this review explained that time is of the essence when investigating crimes of all types, but no more so than in crimes of a sexual nature, particularly in the case where a child has been kidnapped.

During her appearance, Chief Superintendent Lines presented statistics that illustrate this importance. She pointed out that in cases where children are kidnapped and murdered, 44% were dead within an hour of the kidnapping, 74% were dead within 3 hours, and 91% were dead within 24 hours.

We can see that the need to have an extremely quick ability for our police forces to access a databank of known sexual offenders is critical, particularly in the cases, as I said, where children are involved.

The national sex offender registry, which I will call “the registry”, is administered and maintained by the RCMP on a national basis. Upon conviction of a designated sexual offence that is enumerated by the act, which is a long list of offences of a sexual nature in one category, the Crown may make an application for an order. There is another category of offences under the Criminal Code that are not sexual in nature per se but that may have a sexual component, for example, break and enter. Break and enter is normally not a crime of a sexual nature, but if a person is breaking and entering for the purpose of committing a sexual assault then that second group provides a type of offence for which registration may be applied for.

Currently, the Crown may make an application upon conviction for an order requiring the sexual offender to register within the database. Such an order is to be made as soon as possible after sentence is imposed for a designated offence, or after the court renders a verdict of not criminally responsible for such an offence on account of a mental disorder. For certain designated offences, the court shall make the order when the Crown has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the act was committed with the intent to commit one of the designated sexual offences.

That said, there is an exception. When the court is presented with such an application, it is not required to make an order under this section if it is satisfied that the offender has established that if the order were made, the impact on him or her, including on his or her privacy or liberty, would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest in protecting society through the effective investigation of crimes of a sexual nature. This section of the Criminal Code also requires the court to give reasons for making or refusing an order to register.

I am going to pause there to point out a couple of important principles of the current legislation that this bill before the House would seek to change.

Currently, there is no automatic registration of offenders upon conviction. Rather, it is left to the discretion of the prosecution and the court to grant such an order.

Second, there is a reverse onus on the accused, so lest anyone think that such an order is hotly contested or difficult to achieve, when the prosecutor makes such an application, it will be automatically granted unless the accused satisfies the court, the burden of which is upon him or her, that the granting of the order would create what is called a grossly disproportionate effect on that person.

In law, and we know that we have a fair number of lawyers in this chamber, it is an unusual thing where a burden is on an accused, and it is also a very hard test to meet when the test is one of gross disproportionality.

To summarize, the way that the act works now, a prosecutor has the discretion to make an application. If such an application is made, it is routinely granted unless an accused meets a very high test of showing why that order ought not to be granted.

In terms of the duration of the orders, we will see why this is such an onerous obligation upon anybody convicted of such. The duration of a registration order is set out in section 490 of the Criminal Code. Depending on the offence for which an offender is convicted, he or she must remain registered for one of the following three periods: a minimum of 10 years for summary conviction offences; 20 years for offences where the maximum term is 10 to 14 years; and life, for offences for which the maximum term is life itself.

In terms of the reporting obligations, if sexual offenders are in fact the subject of an order, they have to register with the police, within 15 days after such an order, a wide variety of information, such as, their address, place of work, if they are leaving their domicile for more than 15 days, identifying marks and tattoos, or aliases, and if any of those factors are changed, those must be indicated to the local police force very quickly. These orders, quite properly, are very serious. They impose serious incursions on a person's liberty for a long period of time, as they properly should.

Currently as well, it is important to note that the preamble and the purpose of the statute, as it is presently written, make it abundantly clear that the purpose of this act is to help police investigate crimes of a sexual nature. That means that prior to searching the database, police must have reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed and that it is of a sexual nature.

We heard testimony at the committee before police officers who said that this is too rigid of a test. Particularly in the case of an abducted child, where a child has been reported missing, they may have reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed, but they may not have the basis to suspect that it is of a sexual nature.

From the New Democratic point of view, we think it is reasonable to expand that purpose, so that police can have quicker access, so that they do not have to satisfy these rigid tests and get access to the registry quickly.

In addition, the police officers said they required information on a subject's vehicle information, which is another current deficiency in the act. Presently, an offender under such an order does not have to indicate vehicle registration. We think that is an important amendment to make to the act as well because very often a sex offender in a car is spotted near a school or other areas where there might be vulnerable citizens and it is important that police know who that vehicle is registered to in order to have rapid response.

I am going to pause to talk a bit about principles. New Democrats understand and support the rights of all Canadians to be safe and secure in every aspect of Canadian society, in their homes, workplaces and communities. In particular, we want women to be free from all forms of violence and harassment. We want seniors to be free to walk our streets in safety and respect, and for our children to be safe and sound wherever they are.

We have heard Canadians speak. They want to feel and be safe, and they are absolutely right to feel this way. New Democrats have long championed the right of all to live in security. In fact, my party has always stood strongest on this issue because it has always championed the right of every citizen to be secure in every respect, not only physically but economically, socially and culturally.

We have also heard Canadians speak out on their expectation of crime policy. They want a criminal justice system that is effective, efficient and fair because our criminal justice system is an important component in the overall security package. We need laws that are well thought out and clearly drafted. We need a properly resourced police force, a judicial system that can process breaches against those laws effectively and in a timely fashion. We need policies that are based on sound principles of justice that provide justice for victims of crime and effective punishment and protection of society.

Also, and this is what sets my party apart, I would say, from every other party in the chamber, we in the NDP believe in prevention strategies. We believe in the rehabilitation of individuals to become law abiding and productive contributors to society. We believe in fairness, compassion and a belief that almost every individual who commits a breach of social rules is worthy of an attempt at redemption and the opportunity to get assistance with the issues that so often are the underlying reason for the deviant behaviour.

More importantly, we believe that all of society has a stake in these principles unless we are going to lock people up for the rest of their natural life in every case because 99.9% of convicted offenders return to society. We all have an interest in making sure that we do everything possible to keep criminals from committing more offences.

The issues before us in this bill engage these principles. In some cases, the bill satisfies them. In other ways, the bill before us diminishes these principles. That is why New Democrats are offering cautious and critical support for this bill at second reading. We will agree that there is merit in some of the goals and methods of this legislation, but we will also be looking very carefully at the details and seeking some important clarifications and possible amendments to ensure this legislation meets the principles outlined above.

I sit on the public safety and national security committee, which had been studying this bill for the previous two months. Witnesses came before the committee and testified, including police officers, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, victims groups, and criminal defence lawyers. They took their time and testified before the committee as we reviewed this bill.

I am not yet cynical enough to think that the work that a committee does in Parliament, and the respect for committee members including members opposite, is not valuable and that the testimony of the witnesses who appeared is not valuable.

While we were putting the final touches on our draft report, yet to be issued to the minister, the minister came down with this piece of legislation that amends the very legislation that we were studying. The minister did not wait or have the courtesy or respect for the work of our committee to wait for us to issue our report and give him the benefit of our recommendations. I find that disrespectful and appalling. It is disrespectful to the skilled analysts who helped us. It is disrespectful to the witnesses who appeared before our committee. It is disrespectful to every member of that committee. I have to point that out.

There was no urgency to this legislation. There was no issue of national import that required the government to act immediately on this. The review that the committee was conducting was a statutory one. The bill itself required a committee to review the statute within two years to see how the registry was working. The minister did not wait for that.

I do think there is a reason for it. The Conservatives routinely put politics before good policy making. They have a huge deficit. Over the last six months they went from saying there is no recession to saying there was a technical recession to a big recession. Six months ago there was a surplus. Then there was a $34 billion deficit. Now there is a $50 billion deficit. We have Chalk River mismanagement. Obviously, when the government gets in trouble on the national stage, it goes back to its crime agenda and introduces some hastily put together legislation to get people off the real issues facing it.

This legislation with respect to the sex offender registry does do some good things. It loosens the definition of when it could be accessed. It widens some of the information, like the vehicle registration I mentioned. It also allows police officers to notify authorities in other jurisdictions, foreign or Canadian, when an offender travels to their area, and those are laudable goals that the New Democrats will support.

However, there are issues with this legislation. First, this legislation proposes automatic registration of every offender who commits one of the enumerated offences. That takes away prosecutorial and judicial discretion because the list of offences under the Criminal Code of Canada that are captured by this legislation, most of which would have no difficulty with automatic registration, but there are a couple of offences, for instance sexual assault, that are hybrid offences. They can be proceeded with summarily or by indictment. There may be an occasion where it is not appropriate to make an order against someone convicted of that offence, and it should be up to a prosecutor and a judge to determine when that exception may apply.

This legislation makes registration automatic for all these offences. This is part of the side opposite's approach to crime, which is to remove any kind of discretion from the judicial system, not to trust prosecutors and not to trust judges to actually hear the case before them.

This legislation also introduces the concept of allowing police access to this registry for prevention purposes. I sat on the committee and heard from all the witness, and we never heard any real testimony or details about what that would look like. Currently, the legislation has an avowed purpose of helping police solve crimes. That is the purpose of it. It is not to have police prevent crimes. What does that mean? Does that mean police can search the database and go out into the community and just talk to people? There are serious privacy interests at stake, as well as the need to protect the public.

There are concerns about the bill's provisions that allow police to automatically register people convicted in foreign jurisdictions who come to Canada. The gay and lesbian and transgender community is concerned about that because there are crimes in foreign jurisdictions that are not recognized by us concerning homosexual acts that may be caught by this legislation, so we have to be careful.

I will conclude my remarks by talking quickly about the DNA registry, which is an excellent registry to which the bill also seeks to make amendments. The New Democrats support an expansion of the good work that this registry does, which works to not only help secure convictions but secure exonerations.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to the member's speech. I noticed that he talked about disrespect. He said that there was no urgency for this law. Well, he needs to talk to some of the victims' families because the crimes we are talking about are some of the most heinous crimes we could imagine.

He expressed concerns that the Crown and the judges had discretion as to whether a convicted sex offender not be registered in the registry. I remind the member opposite that the victim is never given any discretion at the hands of the perpetrator.

I want to know if the member opposite supports the automatic inclusion in the registry of those convicted of sex offences, and if not, could he then answer why the NDP wants to give criminals, convicted sex offenders, more rights than the victims of the crime, people whose lives are often destroyed at the hands of these heinous criminals?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, once again, the New Democrats support, and have always supported, this legislation. This legislation would give important tools to police to help protect the public in cases of, as my friend properly said, the heinous crimes of a sexual nature committed against people.

However, my friend misses the point on the disrespect argument. The statute, as I will repeat again for him, has a statutory review built into it. That means when Parliament passed this legislation in 2004 it put in a provision that said this House should review this legislation two years later. Because of the minority government situation, that got delayed somewhat, I am told, but in February our committee started reviewing this legislation. The reason we reviewed it is Parliament said we should review it. While we were doing this important work and hearing from witnesses, the government jumped the gun and did not wait until the valuable testimony of this committee was completed so that we could give the minister the benefit of what we heard, and that is disrespectful.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I just want to follow up on that same topic. I think it is, unfortunately, the Conservative member who just spoke and the Conservative Party that are denying the victims good treatment and better treatment and a better registry.

As the member said, it is absolutely absurd that, when a committee is in the middle of a study with the experts and members of Parliament to come up with the best solutions to help the victims, it is short-circuited with this hastily drafted legislation. I want to assure the member that he did not have to go outside the justice department like he did to see bad policy. This has been the history of this whole Parliament, bill after bill, poorly drafted justice bills that had to be amended or turned down. The reason the legislation has been so bad is that the Conservatives did not listen to the experts. They did not even listen to the justice department.

Hopefully the committee is continuing with the report. I am not on that committee, so I want to ask the member, did he get any assurances from the minister that he would take the wisdom of the committee and be open to amendments to the bill so that we could help victims even more? Are there suggestions in the committee deliberations that were not included in the bill and would help victims, as everyone in this House wants to do?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his astute comments and good questions.

The New Democrats, and in fact, all the members of the committee, I would hope, were working to make this registry even better.

As an example, some of the police testified that if we were to have automatic registration of every person convicted of an offence, that could decrease the efficacy of the registry because they would be registering people who are not appropriately the subject of an order. Let us say an offence is committed and we have only 12 hours. We do not want to waste police time tracking down and talking to people who are actually not proper subjects of such orders. That was not the New Democrats saying that, that was police officers saying it.

A member of the party opposite agreed with me in committee, when we talked about the sexual assault charge, that perhaps we should look at not having registration automatic for summary conviction offences but making it automatic for the more important indictable offences.

These are the kinds of things that all committee members were working on in a co-operative, all-party fashion as we wrestled to make the database better, when the minister came forward again with this legislation that did not wait for any of this well thought-out commentary.

To answer my hon. colleague's last question, no, the minister has given no indication to the committee that he will listen to anything. However, judging by the way he dropped this legislation on us, I would not hold my breath.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Yukon and our member are absolutely correct. When they tried to even suggest that we would study the bill and make improvements, we had members of the Conservative Party chirping from their seats, saying that we were soft on crime. That just points to the political nature of the whole process, where the Conservatives short-circuit the process in committee and bring out the bill. The Conservatives are just dying to get this stuff out in the public so they can run around saying, “We're strong on crime and you are not”. We know that is a bunch of nonsense, and we are going to get our points out there as well.

I want to ask the member a question regarding the DNA database. There must be, at this point, volumes of statistics that relate to how efficient this database is. I would like to ask the member whether he is aware of what types of studies are available and how one goes about gaining access to these studies.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, this highlights another problem with the approach of the minister, because one of the issues that the committee was working on was the fact that there are no statistics relating to the efficacy of the DNA data bank.

We asked questions such as how often the data bank has been used to exonerate someone and prove someone's innocence. They do not know. We asked how often the data bank was used to secure a conviction. They do not know. We asked how often the data bank may have been accessed and used to secure a confession by presenting DNA data, thereby saving our judicial system resources and time. They do not know.

One thing that we were looking to do, at least on the New Democrats' side, was to see if we could build in some mechanism of gathering statistical data so that we could show Canadians how this data bank actually works in practice, how it saves them time and money and how it helps make our judicial system more streamlined and fair. However, this legislation was brought forward in quick fashion and Canadians are deprived of that information because of it.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the member for Vancouver Kingsway on his speech, which was well researched and very well prepared. He is a new member who works with all the enthusiasm of newcomers, believing that his work will be useful and will receive some consideration. With the current government, he is likely to be disappointed.

In time, he will likely discover something that is typical not only of the Conservatives, but also of many legislators in the United States when it comes to criminal law. If you mention an exception, a situation that warrants greater leniency or some sort of accommodation, they will come right back with the worst case scenario. When they draft laws, they do so with the worst case scenario in mind. They do not draft them as they should be drafted, for the whole range of offenders, including the worst ones, but also the ones who are not as bad.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for the fine work he does on the committee. As an ex-justice minister in Quebec, he brings an enormous amount of skill and knowledge to our committee.

He is quite right. Unique examples do not make good policy. Often they elicit great emotion, and that has to be given its due respect. However, if we are making sound laws, we have to think about those laws and be intelligent and measured in our response. That is why I was so disappointed that the government came down with this legislation prior to having three months of effort.

Again, members on the committee from the government side cannot say it, so I will: They must be disappointed. I wonder what they would say if they were on this side of the House and another government pulled that kind of stunt on them, where they had a committee work for three months and was just poised to issue a report when a government came down with legislation that rendered the result of their work utterly meaningless and academic.

New Democrats want to stand up for Canadians. We want to make this registry work, both the DNA data bank and the sex offender registry, to protect Canadians and make sure that we make people in their societies and communities safe, while also respecting rights at the same time. That is the Canadian way.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-34, an act to amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, the Criminal Code, the National Defence Act, and the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

The legislation before us today would strengthen the national sex offender registry in order to give police the tools they need to both investigate and prevent such crimes from occurring.

Hon. members will know that victims' rights groups, local police forces from across Canada, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as ordinary Canadians have been calling for the changes before us today for several years. Some of them had noted that the present national sex offender information registry is akin to an emperor with no clothes.

Some might say that it looks very nice on the surface, but the reality is there is little there. The registry fails to adequately protect Canadians from becoming victims or from being re-victimized by offenders released back into the community.

More precisely, we have learned over the past number of years that the registry fails in several ways.

First, it simply does not register the necessary information on all convicted sex offenders.

Second, it does not allow police to use the information from the registry to notify other police services in Canada and abroad when a registered sex offender is travelling to their jurisdictions.

Third, it does not apply to Canadians returning to this country after having been convicted abroad of a sexual offence. What this means is that the police are not able to identify these individuals as they are simply not part of the registry despite having been convicted of serious sexual offences.

Fourth, it does not allow police to use the registry to help prevent sex crimes in the first place. Currently, the registry can only be used to investigate crimes after they have taken place. It is purely a reactive tool. There is no opportunity for this law enforcement tool to prevent what amounts to some of the most serious and devastating crimes imaginable.

As we have heard from the minister, Bill C-34 also proposes to eliminate a loophole in the current legislation that allowed some convicted sex offenders to avoid having their information added to the national sex offender registry.

Today, the police have no access to information on some convicted sex offenders during the investigation of a crime, either because a crown attorney has not sought an order for them to register or the presiding judge has declined to grant one.

Bill C-34 proposes to make registration of all convicted sex offenders in the future automatic, while upholding existing safeguards around access to and the use of this information.

Offenders convicted of a serious designated offence under the sex offender information registry act would also be subject to DNA sampling, further strengthening the ability of the police to investigate effectively.

It should be noted that offences such as manslaughter, which today can be registered if there is sufficient evidence that they were committed with an underlying sexual intent, would not be automatically included in the registry under the proposed changes but would remain subject to registration if the sentencing court was satisfied that there was an intent to commit a designated sexual offence.

Another way that Bill C-34 would strengthen the ability of police to investigate and prevent sex crimes is by enhancing the ability of police to share information. The legislation before us today would allow police to use information in the registry to notify other police services about a registered sex offender travelling to their area who is considered at a high risk to reoffend.

As well, Bill C-34 would allow federal and provincial correctional agencies to advise registry officials when a registered sex offender is either released or readmitted into custody.

There are Canadians who have been convicted of sex offences in other countries, and when they return to Canada they are not required to register with the national sex offender registry, leaving another serious gap in the information that police have at their disposal to investigate future sex crimes. Bill C-34 proposes to address this in two ways.

First, if an offenders are returned to Canada under the International Transfer of Offenders Act, they would be required to register in Canada as if the offence had been committed here.

Second, if someone is convicted of a sexual offence outside of Canada and returns at the end of their sentence, they would be required to notify police in the province or territory where they reside of that fact and register if they are ordered to do so. In this case, offenders would have the right to apply to the courts to determine whether the foreign conviction was a proper basis for the requirement to register.

I said at the beginning of these remarks that one of the most significant aspects of Bill C-34 is that it will allow police to use the registry in a proactive way as well as in a reactive way. In other words, the police will be able to use it to help prevent crimes as well as investigate them.

One of the top priorities of any government of course is to protect the safety and security of its citizens. I have heard time and time again that the government must tackle crime to make Canadian streets and communities safer. That is what this government is doing. We are following through with the commitment we made to Canadians in the last election to continue to get tough on crime, especially serious gun crimes and crimes against the more vulnerable members of our society.

In the last Parliament our government passed important laws cracking down on crime, including imposing mandatory prison sentences for gun crime. Recently our government introduced legislation to automatically make murders connected to organized crime first degree murder and to tackle drive-by shootings and other intentional shootings that involve the reckless disregard for the life or safety of others while further protecting police and peace officers.

It is our government's belief that crime prevention is a critical component to our efforts in getting tough on crime. It is one that our government is committed to strengthening. Strong crime prevention initiatives help to make sure that people can walk the streets without fear. They help to build safer streets and communities for everyone. They keep Canadians safe in their homes.

I believe all of us want to make sure that crime prevention extends to preventing crimes of a sexual nature that can sometimes result in irreparable trauma, pain and suffering. This is one of many things the bill before us will do. The bill strengthens Canada's national sex offender registry. It implements reforms to further protect Canadians from offenders who commit heinous sex crimes by ensuring that the police have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

It implements changes which have the support of victims groups, police forces, provincial and territorial governments and thousands of Canadians right across the country.

I therefore urge all hon. members to work with the government to quickly pass this legislation and send a message to all Canadians that their safety and security is of prime importance.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. parliamentary secretary and I serve on committee together and when it comes to this particular issue, we have much in common. I firmly believe that amendments were needed in terms of this legislation. The problem is the method used and the exact substance of what has been put before Parliament.

I want to start with some history. This is the second attempt by the Conservatives to get this right. They attempted to fix the legislation by way of Bill S-3 which received royal assent on March 29, 2007 and was proclaimed on September 12, 2008. They have tried this before and they did not get it right or the legislation would not be back before Parliament in such a short period of time.

One would think that because they had to come before Parliament in such a short period of time, they would take all reasonable steps to ensure that the amendments would be proper and helpful. That would include a study by the relevant parliamentary committee, which is what took place. We studied this legislation for a number days over the last couple of months. We have a draft report and were in the process of reviewing it so that we could table it, probably within a couple of weeks, for the benefit of the minister before the providing of any legislation.

People can say whatever they want and call it disrespectful, contemptuous or use whatever phraseology, but the short of it is it is just not smart. The Conservatives have put forward legislation without the benefit of a study, the draft report of which was almost complete, without the benefit of expert testimony and all the information disclosure that came forward in that process. This just is not smart. They have done it for political points. I would like to go through what they have suggested. I would like to go through what is good about the legislation, because there are some good points, what is weak about it, and what I think needs to be improved.

The committee determined that the Ontario system is much better. There is an Ontario statute passed in 2000 which is called “Christopher's Law” and we know the history of that. In Ontario the registry is accessed over 400 times a day, where the federal regime was accessed 150 times per year. That comparison shows there is a huge difference. The federal system has truly failed in its use because of the ineffectual amendments that were put through by the Conservatives by way of Bill S-3 in 2008. And here we are again, which is fine. The legislation needs to be fixed and I support that, but let us do it in a smart manner, which is not what is occurring here.

We identified a number of problems which remained after the amendments the Conservatives passed in 2008. There was an issue in terms of mandatory inclusion. There was not an automatic inclusion in the registry of the various offenders after they were convicted. The Crown had to apply for this to take place. One of the problems with that is that a lot of Crowns, as part of a plea bargain, would negotiate to not include the name of an individual in the registry, or the Crowns would simply forget to make the request, or judges would not grant the request to include the offender in the registry. These are all problematic. I very strongly support the mandatory inclusion of these various offenders in the registry.

Let us look at what is really happening. The Conservatives like to say that the Conservative Party is the party of law and order, that the opposition parties and the Liberals do not support such an agenda.

Although the Conservatives have mandatory inclusion, they have put in all kinds of loopholes. One can seek to be exempted from the mandatory inclusion. One can appeal the mandatory inclusion. One can seek to be removed from the mandatory inclusion after a period of time. The mandatory inclusion expires automatically after various periods of time. All kinds of loopholes and exceptions are enumerated in this proposed legislation. In essence, they water down the mandatory inclusion.

That was probably the second most serious problem. Although the Conservatives will go out and eventually knock on doors and say they put mandatory inclusion into the legislation, they will not be able to legitimately say that because they put various exceptions into the legislation as well. Frankly, I do not understand why they did that. I think it is wrong.

I want to digress for a moment and talk about why this legislation needs to be a strong as possible while protecting the charter rights of people.

I did not know these statistics before the committee held its hearings, but I found them shocking and I think Canadians need to know them in order to know why we need to support a very strong system. This relates to the abduction of children. First, of all children abducted, 44% are dead within an hour of a kidnapping. Second, 74% of all children are dead within three hours of a kidnapping. Third, 91% of all children are dead within 24 hours of their being kidnapped. Those are horrible statistics.

We have a duty as parliamentarians, regardless of the party we belong to, to do everything possible to prevent those deaths. To me, that means there needs to be an effective system in place, whatever it may be, to ensure that when anybody is abducted, and in this example it is children, the police have whatever is necessary to find those children. This legislation, as proposed, does not do that.

What the Conservatives have done in terms of this legislation is address one of the glaring errors, and I think it was the number one error. The registry could only be used for the investigation of crimes that had been committed. It is a worthy goal and is absolutely necessary, but it is not good enough. The federal registry could not be used to help in crime prevention, which is what the Ontario system allows the police to do.

In terms of prevention, if somebody is kidnapped or there are any suspicious circumstances, in Ontario the registry can be used to investigate and attempt to prevent crimes. If there are stalkers or suspicious people around schools, if somebody has been abducted, the system can be used. That does not apply in the federal model. This particular change is very worthy, and we should support that 100%.

Other problems were identified. The first one was the mandatory inclusion. The second was prevention as opposed to just investigation. There are others. The automatic expiry of the orders was identified as a problem. If somebody has been convicted of a serious offence, I do not know why there would be an automatic expiry. These particular amendments continue that, and in fact provide additional ways in which someone could get out of the system. I think that is incorrect.

There are other problems. Unbelievably, the offenders are not required to provide information such as a car licence plate number. If somebody is abducted, the police do not have the ability under the federal model to ascertain the licence plate number of the car the offender is driving. This is unbelievable, but that problem was left in the system when the Conservatives put through the amendments in 2008. It has not been fixed. That is a serious error. There is nothing in this proposed legislation that changes that.

I find that shocking and that is one reason why the government should have waited for the report from the committee. That should have been in there. It needs to be changed and I believe my colleagues on the committee, regardless of the party they are from, would support that.

Another problem identified was foreign convictions and Canadians coming back to Canada. The government has sought to fix it, but not in a strong enough manner. I will go through that in a moment when I look at the various proposed changes in the legislation.

To summarize so far, the legislation is needed in a very strong manner. It needs to be amended to fix the problems left by the Conservatives in 2008. Those problems were identified in committee. The Conservative minister would have had the opportunity to read the report if he had only waited a couple of weeks. I find it shocking that Parliament and the committee, in particular, was disrespected.

Taxpayers need to know this. The committee spent a lot of time, called witnesses, paid for witnesses, asked them questions and none of that work was considered by the minister before the bill was introduced. Canadians have to understand that is wrong and it shows a tendency to dictate down and not respect the work of Parliament, which is dangerous.

In terms of this legislation, I have already indicated that prevention was a glaring omission, which is a very worthy change.

In terms of foreign criminals, there is a problem in that although they will be required to register, it specifically says that this only applies to persons who come to Canada after the legislation is passed. If serious sex offenders are already in Canada or they come here after the legislation passed, either way they are a risk to society and our obligation is to protect Canadians. Those people should be required to register and it truly has nothing to do with when they arrive in Canada.

In terms of automatic registration, when people are reviewing this statute and deciding whether it should be supported, they need to look at all the exceptions, and there are a number of them, which are all shocking. For example, in clause 9 there is termination order. There is an exemption order under clause 12. There are appeal provisions. There are many different loopholes. There is a litany of what offenders can do to get out of the system, which is not what the committee discovered we needed to do.

The committee found one of the problems was the automatic expiry of the registrations. Nothing has changed. If we look at paragraph 490.02904(3), we will see that all these automatic expiries are there. There could be exemption orders under the paragraph 490.02905(2). In essence, there is exception and loophole upon exception and loophole for these offenders to try to get out of the registration system. This is not what the committee would support in its report, which is almost done.

There is form 52, “Order to Comply with Sex Offender Information Registration Act”. Even in that form it says under section 7, “You have the right to apply to a court to terminate this order, and the right to appeal any decision of that court”. It advises people, as soon as they are told to register, that they can try to get out of it immediately. There are also mandatory provisions for the court.

Under 490.02905(2) the court “shall” make an exemption order. It is not even discretionary. It requires a court to take somebody out of the system based on those various criteria.

The Conservatives say that they have fixed this problem and now there is automatic inclusion, but that is just not true.

The first thing I did when I read Bill C-34 was look to see whether there were any licence plate requirements in it or that type of detailed information. I read it twice because I thought I could not have missed it, that it was sure to be in there somewhere. This was one of the most glaring errors identified by the committee.

This is such a serious error on the part of the minister that it has to be spoken of and we have to fix it. We cannot let this second round of amendments go through without changing this. There can be no exception to that. This must be changed. One of the key findings of why the Ontario system, Christopher's law, worked so well was because it had that ability.

Another large problem is funding. Perhaps I missed it, but I have not heard the minister say anything about the funding of this system. We can change whatever we want by way of legislation, but if we do not have the money to do it, what is the point?

The Ontario system funds its registry. It provides $4 million a year to ensure it is effective, which is why it gets so many daily hits. The federal system, which is operated by the RCMP, gets $400,000 to $600,000 per year for all of Canada. Think about that discrepancy: $4 million in Ontario, but $400,000 to $600,000 for the entire system. That needs to be changed and we need some commitment from the minister on how this will be adequately funded to ensure it works.

One of the other problems is faulty technology. The Ontario system has software that is highly developed. The information can be put in, such as the modus operandi of the offender, so the police can use the system very effectively and quickly for the best possible law enforcement mechanisms. There is nothing in this legislation about upgrading to better software or doing anything to fix the problem, which is one of the major concerns of the federal system.

In terms of warrants, there was evidence at the committee of what happened in Ontario if sex offenders failed to comply. If they do not register, if they do not advise of a change of address or licence plate, if they go on vacation or move and they do not provide the information, Ontario does something about it. I would like to see changes to the legislation to specifically authorize police officers to issue warrants if there is any breach of the information requirements, so we keep track of these offenders for the benefit and the protection of our citizens and for the investigation part of it as well.

There are two other problems.

First, there is no method under the current federal system of registration for people who are incarcerated or if they are deceased. In essence, this hurts the efforts of police officers because they simply do not know if somebody should be still questioned or if there is still somebody who could possibly be a suspect. This needs to be changed as well.

Finally, I have spoken a lot about what needs to be done to protect Canadians, but I also want to speak, on a final point, about what we need to do to protect the persons who have been convicted.

Hopefully most of these people will receive the proper rehabilitation. They will come back into society and hopefully lead good lives and do not repeat their mistakes. That is the goal of our criminal justice system. For those people, we have to offer protections to them as well. Section 17 of the current legislation provides penalties for the unauthorized use of this information. We need to strengthen those so anybody who uses this information for any improper purpose and not for the protection of Canadians is punished severely. That is my attempt to protect these people as well.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member made an excellent presentation. He detailed how Bill S-3 was passed back in 2007 and how the government did not get it right at that time. Then there was the recent exposé. The parliamentary committee reviewed and had a draft report within two weeks of being available and then the government introduced legislation.

The member does have a lot of concerns about the bill, but by the sounds of it, he and members of his party will support the legislation at the end of the day, at least as far as getting it into committee. At that point, hopefully some of his good ideas will find their way into the bill.

He pointed out the strong points of the Ontario statute. I was not aware of the fact that people use the Ontario statute roughly 400 times a day, while the federal system is only used 150 times a year. Clearly, there are some advantages to the Ontario system that merit adoption.

He also mentioned the very important point that 77% of children who had been abducted were dead within three hours. That is astounding. I was not aware of that statistic.

I thank him for that information.

However, I want to ask him a question regarding the expansion of the registry to include those convicted of sexual offences outside Canada. I am assuming that would include places like Thailand and other countries that have sex tourism. How are we to know how these people are going to be included? Are we going to have the Thailand government giving us a list of people who have been convicted? Is there some sort of international registry for us to determine who should be coming to us from that list?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


Andrew Kania Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not aware of any international registry, but I would assume that Interpol or the RCMP has co-operation with other law enforcement agencies in other countries. What I do know from the legislation, and it is a very good point, is there is a glaring omission in it because nowhere does it speak of that. In fact, there is a discretion given to the minister saying that there has to be the equivalency of what would be included under our legislation.

There is no specific, hard information or guarantees of what would be included. Whether it is in the legislation or through regulations, the Conservatives are going to have to get a lot more detailed and they are going to have to think very seriously about how they are going to get this information. Perhaps there will be an information requirement for people returning to Canada in terms of advising whether they have been convicted of these offences. It is a good point and something the committee will have to study if the legislation gets through, which I assume it will.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure today to speak on Bill C-34, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts, protecting victims from sex offenders.

We all know that one of the most grievous, heinous, most despicable and appalling crimes that can be inflicted on another is to commit sexual violence against them.

Too often, many of these victims are children. Everyone in the public and all of us here in the House have to wonder about some of the penalties meted out to individuals who have been convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Particularly in cases where there are repeat offences, where the offence is obviously grievous and exceptionally harmful to children, one stands in utter dismay at some of the extremely slight penalties that the offender often gets.

Often it is not the first offence for many of these people who are convicted of assaulting a child. In fact, there is often a long history of repeat offences before that person is actually convicted.

For the victim, for the child, it can leave long-lasting, indelible, profound and harmful effects on the individual. We often see it in adults. With those who have been sexually abused, we often find an array of internal trauma that has not been dealt with, that has been buried because of the shame the person feels.

When we look at the statistics, we know the culprits, those who are actually committing the offences, are often people who are close to home or in the home. If we look at the individuals, particularly children, who have been victimized, we find they often know the person who has assaulted them. That makes it an even more complex and horrific situation for the family members who are also affected by this most grievous of issues.

We support the bill. We support it because it goes to proving the purpose of a registry that was put forth some years ago by the then Liberal government in an effort to assist the police in dealing with sex offenders. The bill was put forth in 2004 by the Liberal government and proclaimed into law. It was the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. It was established to be able to create the national data base of convicted sex offenders.

In fairness, the government of the day tried its best to put together a registry that would meet the needs of the public and the police. We found over time, with the very earnest and professional expertise of our police officers across the country, that the registry did not work to the extent we had hoped.

There were a number of errors that prevented justice from being done and particular crimes from being prevented.

I will go through a few of the key points on the bill. The bill amends the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, which I mentioned was put out in 2004, and the National Defence Act, which is separate but deals with the same issues, to enhance police investigation of crimes of a sexual nature and to allow police services to use the national data base proactively to prevent crimes of a sexual nature.

This is a key point, to use it proactively. The current data base only enables police officers to access the data base after the fact. It does not enable them to look at the data base and rule out or rule in people of interest to prevent a crime from happening. This is an important and positive change in this bill.

The legislation also provides that sex offenders who are subject to a mandatory requirement to comply with the Sex Offender Information Registration Act are also subject to a mandatory requirement to provide a sample for forensic DNA analysis.

We are also a little perplexed that the government has a parliamentary committee looking at this issue right now. The committee has almost completed its study and will recommend constructive solutions. The government could have crafted a bill around those solutions, but chose not to. That is an unfortunate omission on its part. I am sure that the committee's findings, through this House, will be brought up by my colleagues. We will offer solutions to strengthen this act in the service of our citizens and to prevent these heinous crimes being committed.

The national sex offender registry is a national registration system for sex offenders. It has a number of parameters for what is put into the database: name, date of birth, address, identifying marks, et cetera, and nothing will change with respect to that.

We have about 20,000 sex offenders in Canada. Unfortunately, in the current situation, many of them fall through the cracks. Some sex offenders are not in the database. Quebec has the largest number of sex offenders who are not on the registry. The members from the Bloc Québécois, MPs from Quebec and other political parties will find that of interest. It binds us together to try to deal with it.

Other provinces have hundreds of individuals who are not on the current registry. It creates a huge and gaping hole, which needs to be filled, to ensure that these people are all on the same list.

There are 20 Criminal Code offences in the bill. There are some concerns that offences of a lesser nature should not be in this, but I am sure that debate will take place in the coming weeks.

With regard to the number of offenders and their rate of recidivism, a group did a study of 4,700 offenders, and it found that less than 25% actually reoffend. Of that, a smaller percentage who reoffended received treatment.

I have to add a caveat to that, because we know a lot of offenders are difficult to find. Convictions often happen after a series of offences have taken place. We have to look at the data, because clearly it behooves us to make sure we are not misled.

We have also spoken about a few gaps in terms of dealing with sexual predators who travel abroad. This is a very serious problem. There have been cases in Thailand, which is the centre for the sex trade in the world, and an area to which pedophiles gravitate.

Right now, Canadian police officers are forbidden to tell the Thai authorities when a sex offender travels to their country. This issue has to be dealt with, and maybe one of the venues would be through Interpol. We could work with Interpol more closely to share information about sex offenders. We could connect with other countries around the world so that sex offenders can be monitored when they leave our borders to travel to other countries. Then the countries they travel to would be aware when a sex offender comes into their midst. Similarly, we need to know when sex offenders travel to our country. This is very important information in terms of public knowledge.

There are a number of individuals who commit sexual offences abroad but spend no time in prison. In fact, they do not come to the attention of authorities at all. Sexual predators have gone into various countries in the world, countries with weaker judicial systems than ours, and prey on children. That is going on today. It is not a small problem. It is a huge problem, and it occurs in many countries in the world, but particularly in Southeast Asia. However, it is also occurring in other areas, for example, in West Africa, in Central America and South America.

It is known that sexual predators go to the northern part of Colombia because they will not be found or convicted for the offences they commit against the most vulnerable individuals in society: children.

The other issue is caring for victims. We would like to see a much better system for caring for victims who have been subject to sexual abuse.

I have an indelible image in my mind of a time when I was doing a clinic in a juvenile jail where there were two young teenage girls who had been picked up for prostitution. When I asked them how they got involved, they told me they had been pimped by their mother. I happen to know the mother as well, because I had seen her in the emergency department on a number of occasions and in a jail when I was running an adult clinic.

Those teenage girls had been pimped by their mother to pay for her drug addiction. They were too young to make any effective decision on their own and no one was there to prevent a horrific situation.

One of those girls wound up murdered, and because her mother introduced her to IV drugs, the other one had a massive stroke, which left half her body paralyzed. I saw her one day when I was doing rounds in the hospital on the pediatric ward. That was their fate, and it is not uncommon.

If we listen to the tragic and horrific stories of many who live on the street, we will hear too often that many of them had been sexually abused as children. While being abused as a child does not exonerate someone from any charges as a result of a crime they may commit, many of those people were also sexually assaulted as children.

Being sexually assaulted as a child begets sexual assault later on in too many cases. It is not an excuse; it is an observation, but it is an important observation. If we are trying to prevent some of the most horrific crimes we can imagine, does it not behoove us to do what we can to prevent somebody from being sexually abused in the first place?

Bill C-34 deals with the ability of police officers to get information on people of interest, thereby hopefully preventing something from happening down the road.

We also need to look at something a bit simpler. Hawaii's healthy start program deals with families at risk. Middle-aged women who have had their children are used as mentors to guide moms and dads and families at risk. The results were truly extraordinary. There was a 99% drop in child abuse in the families who were privy to the mentorship program. Imagine that.

We know that if child abuse can be reduced, the incidence of adult abusers will be lowered as well. That is something we need to embrace. Some of us have been speaking about this for a very long time in the House, more than 15 years in fact.

While this is a provincial responsibility, it would be a stroke of leadership on the part of the federal government to work with willing provinces to adopt such a program. My colleague from Toronto worked with the provinces to develop an early learning national daycare program for kids. It could be very useful to introduce this other aspect where needed.

I also want to talk about first nations communities. The trauma that is taking place right now on first nations communities is a national blight. Some reserves are extraordinary. They have wonderful leadership and great social outcomes. The reality is that the incidence of child abuse, sexual abuse, and violence is much higher in aboriginal communities than in non-aboriginal communities.

This goes for first nations on and off reserve, the off-reserve community being one that is often ignored. If we look at the jail population, those who are incarcerated, we find that the population of first nations individuals in that environment is actually disproportionate to their numbers in Canada.

While the Department of Indian Affairs has chronically used a lot of money to try to address these issues, we have not seen the outcomes that we should have. The reason for that in large part is the fact that the Indian Act in many ways acts as a rock around the neck of first nations communities. In fact, while we are going to have a change in the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, many of those individuals who are running to be the national chief of the AFN are speaking very publicly about the need for a new relationship between the people of Canada and first nations communities across our land.

What we cannot do is stick with the status quo, because it creates a milieu that in many ways breeds a dysfunctional environment. Whether someone is aboriginal or non-aboriginal, in that environment, I think anybody would actually be suffering from many of the same maladies we see today. The fact that we somehow treat first nations people as people apart and treat them differently is in some ways respectful of the place that they are in, in the history of our country, but also the negative side of that is that they have been treated as second-class citizens, in my view, because they have to do things that we as non-aboriginal people do not have to do. Those obstacles significantly impede their ability to be masters of their destiny.

I have worked in first nations communities, in some of the worst and toughest in our country. I have flown up into the northern parts of British Columbia. I have done house calls in rooms that 10 people are in, to treat grandmothers and grandfathers who are sleeping on urine-stained mattresses in hermetically sealed homes that we would never live in, where it is boiling hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, where children are sleeping on a pillowcase with a tiny threadbare blanket around them.

When I saw that, that is one of the reasons I entered politics, because it is fundamentally, completely unacceptable that these circumstances are allowed to exist in our country today. Who speaks for them? Who is going to go and enable that child to have a future that any individual in this country deserves to have? That is the quintessential question. There are solutions out there and many dynamic first nations leaders who are willing and able to provide those solutions, but we have to listen and work with them to implement the solutions to give those children a chance.

In my riding on Vancouver Island, in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I have the Pacheedaht First Nation, and on that reserve there are horrific conditions. There have been suicides, children committing suicide, suicide pacts, sexual abuse, violence and substance abuse. As hard as one tries to break through that, the community is never quite able to get the resources or the relationship that is required by the Department of Indian Affairs to deal with their plight.

In closing, I would impress that it is absolutely crucial, a matter of fundamental humanitarianism, that we work with these communities and embrace the solutions that will give these children, this generation, more hope and a better future than their parents had.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba


Vic Toews ConservativePresident of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I have a few comments to make. I want to emphasize how important this bill is in terms of removing the discretion to register, both in respect of the sex registry and DNA, to take DNA samples. It is absolutely essential and has nothing to do with, as some have suggested, not respecting the judiciary.

If one understands the administrative complications of actually obtaining a conviction and then having to bring those people back to court at a later date, one understands the complications that the police face. This is why hundreds of these people have in fact fallen between the cracks. Much like there is automatic fingerprinting in certain cases, such as when a person has been charged with an indictable offence, this would deal with mandatory registration upon conviction and it would eliminate a number of administrative steps that have only intervened to cause serious delays and therefore allowed these individuals to not be registered. From a practical prosecutorial point of view and from a police point of view, this measure is absolutely essential.

The second point I want to make, very briefly, is with respect to this distinction that we make between those offenders who are so-called violent offenders and those who are property offenders.

If one goes back to the record when this bill on DNA was first brought forward by the former Liberal government, there was a British expert who said, to suggest that these two groups of people are distinguishable is simply wrong. To get all the indictable offences under DNA where there has been a conviction--in Britain, in fact, it is when a person is charged--would allow police to cross-reference. Many times, people who are guilty of house burglary will also be found to be sexual assaulters, or guilty, indeed, of crimes like murder.

That is something that this bill would not do, but I think we need to examine that entire issue. That has not yet been addressed.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, there are three parts I want to discuss.

The first is the mandatory registration, which the member spoke very well about and which is something that we are supportive of. Of the 20 offences that are there, I think where we have some concern is that, as my colleague the critic said, we want to ensure that the registry is going to actually do the job for those people who are committing the serious offences. We want to take a look at those 20 offences and ensure that all of them are serious, that all of them deserve to be on there. We want to listen to the police officers to ensure that we are not actually going to create a registry that is going to be watered down and is going to negatively impact their ability to work nimbly and effectively to arrest those who are committing these offences.

The second is the access issue, which I think is very important. I know the minister would agree that the issue of enabling the police now to access the database proactively is a very important change with respect to this bill.

Lastly, on the issue of collaboration, I would ask the minister, with the power he has with his colleagues, to improve collaboration between provinces and also internationally through INTERPOL.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca for his very thoughtful comments.

Similar to his background, although I do not have his extensive medical background, I was one of the founders of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton. I am fully aware that with sexual assaults it is not really the bogeyman in the bush, but in many cases, it is actually within the family or among neighbours. So there is a lot of sensitivity in the issue and we need the sensitivity of the police when they are investigating and following up.

I wonder, though, if the member could speak to a couple of issues. I raised a similar question to one of the member's colleagues. While I think it is laudable that we are trying to beef up the ability to follow up police activity, particularly to intervene in terms of prevention, that raises the question, when it comes to committee, does the member think it would be important to look at resourcing?

We know our police officers are already stretched to the limit. They are now dealing with major gang incidents. We are dealing with Internet pornography and the molestation of children on the Internet. We have extremely complex cases to deal with now and the police are already pressed.

There is also the issue of intelligence sharing. I have worked in the area of international environmental law enforcement and I know how critical it is to get co-operation not just between countries but between the police forces within our country, so between the RCMP and the provincial police officers.

I wonder if the member could comment about the resourcing and whether that would be an important matter to look at when we are approving this bill, or are we simply loading more onto the police without providing the adequate resources? Should there be a commitment by the government at the same time?

Also there is the issue of where it is going to be necessary to report sexual offences occurring outside Canada. As I mentioned previously, in some countries, simply holding hands in public is considered a sexual offence. What kind of system are we putting forward for the intelligence sharing and to validate?

In some cases, new Canadians come here who may have been charged with an offence. Where are we going to draw the line on what has to be reported?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her excellent series of questions. We could talk about this for 20 minutes, but I know I am not going to have 20 minutes.

I will start from the last point on information sharing. I think INTERPOL is a very important tool that we do not use enough. I know that the head of INTERPOL has spoken very clearly of the lack of co-operation he has found between countries, the lack of information sharing. That is something that needs to be improved.

The member is absolutely correct. What has happened is that the range of offences has changed in the 21st century, but we are using 20th century resources for 21st century crimes. There has been a change in the number and type of crimes that our police forces have.

The RCMP is chronically undermanned. They have a huge deficit, and that deficit is only going to get worse for many reasons. It is an urgent situation for them. They are now dealing with issues of terrorism, gang warfare and the Internet.

I think the police need four basic things. There are disclosure issues that have to change. The manpower resources have to be there. IT and Internet legislation has to be modified to ensure that our police are able to follow those who are committing crimes and are able to monitor the new IT tools that they have. The legislation has not caught up to the new IT tools like the BlackBerry that we have today. Those, in a nutshell, are some of the solutions that will address the member's concerns.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this proposed legislation.

I will state at the outset that I am in support of it going to committee for consideration and hopefully improvement. While this legislation has some of the bones that we need to improve the sex offender information registry, it is sadly lacking in some other areas.

The first thing I want to comment on is the process by which the minister and the government brought this piece of legislation into the House today. As a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I must express my outrage at the fact that the committee is undergoing a statutory review of the legislation. It began that review after a decision was made in February to do so.

It has spent a considerable amount of time listening to witnesses and deliberating. It is in the final stages of creating its report and even as it is being written, the minister presents legislation in the House for consideration. This is an affront to all parliamentarians because it is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to ensure that due process is always followed.

This is a hefty revision to the act. This has obviously been in the works for several weeks, if not months, and the committee was in the final stages of coming up with important suggestions on how we can change the legislation. Much of it is being done by the government's amendments but much of it is not being done.

The first thing I want to say is that it is unfair to committee members on the government side and on the opposition side to not have taken into account the legislative review that is being undertaken right now.

In that review, the committee has heard that the current sex offender information registry is sadly lacking and that it is not helping police. In fact, police officers have told us on a number of occasions that it has not helped them at this point solve any crime. Not a victim has been helped and no offence has been stopped by the sex offender registry as it is now in place.

A decision has already been reached in committee that this bill needs to be changed. We need to address several things severely lacking in the bill. At the same time, I want to put on the table that this bill is not, as it is being presented today, going to solve all those problems. Hopefully, our work in committee can begin to address that.

I look forward to the motion from the committee that will be brought forward to the House for its consideration on the fact that the government is not paying attention to parliamentary committees and, in effect, not listening to people through their elected representatives. That question aside, I want to bring up some issues that I hope will be addressed in committee that will make this legislation more effective.

I will begin by saying that, absolutely, when offenders are found guilty, they do surrender some of their rights. It is also important to say they do not surrender all of their rights. Even though offenders have committed tremendously horrible crimes, they still deserve to be protected by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I will be watching very closely to ensure that certain rights are still guaranteed even for the worst offenders among us. We speak up for them even though they make up the most unpopular group in our country. People need to stand up for human rights at all times.

The legislation seems, in my mind, to be lacking in several ways. First, police officers have called for a fuller understanding of what should be in the actual registry. There is technical information, but in the registry we need more information that will help both profiling and understanding for police officers to go after a potential criminal and to solve a crime when time is of the essence.

With many of the crimes that are happening, minutes and hours are at stake between the life and death of a victim. That means we have to give police officers every opportunity to find and apprehend a person who is potentially committing a crime at that moment. They need to be given every opportunity. That means that vehicle information, licence plate numbers and descriptions of vehicles need to be part of this registry.

That is something the committee is already in the stages of recommending. It is already beginning to look at that. There are a number of recommendations from witnesses who say it is critical for police officers to have vehicle information. They need to know what cars, trucks or vans these people are driving so they will not be hindered in their investigations.

It is also important to have information about the modus operandi, the way a previous criminal has actually committed an offence, so that police officers can look at patterns. They can look at how someone has done something in the past to predict whether not someone will do this in the future. If police officers are seeing a certain pattern invoked, they will be able to look at the sex offender registry and draw up the information to help them in their own investigation. This is absolutely critical because we are talking about minutes and hours that could save a person's life. The registry still does not seem to have a fullness in its quality of information that will actually help police officers.

I think what also has to be clear is that, in this process, we still do not have a full national registry that is effective. As the member for Edmonton—Strathcona was pointing out, there is no commitment from the government to put the kinds of resources into the police activity, investigative activity and ongoing activity, that will ensure that police officers have the resources to do that. For instance, in this legislation, there is an automatic taking of DNA samples. This will not be left up to the discretion of any judge. That means that the DNA database, which is also under statutory review, will be further burdened by more work with no promise of resources.

The most critical tool in many of these crimes is having a DNA match that can help the police and then later help in the criminal proceedings to ensure that we actually get a conviction. That DNA is being used more and more, but our DNA database, the registry and the RCMP offices that do that do not have adequate resources to undertake the work that they are currently doing. This will impose more work on them, so there needs to be a commitment from the government that goes hand in hand with this legislation to provide resources to the DNA database.

We have also been discovering from witnesses at committee that the work that has gone on to keep the registry up to date across the country is very uneven. The number of visits that police officers would pay to a house to check whether or not the person is still residing there, whether or not that person's physical appearance has changed and whether or not that person has been involved in a non-sexual crime are the kinds of things that are not being adequately followed up by police officers because they do not have the resources to do it.

Some jurisdictions maintain their annual or more-than-annual visits to ensure that the sex offender registry is up to date. Other jurisdictions have not seen people for months or years. They have lost contact with the people, so the sex offender registry information is no longer helpful. It is simply not going to work. Again, that is part of the resourcing that needs to go hand in hand with this legislation.

The police have also been asking for us to have the facility for geomapping and the ability to pinpoint where criminals are living in a way that allows police to move quickly in a situation. I am aware that the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona was talking about the fact that many of these crimes are actually committed by family members. That is a different set of circumstances. However, for crimes that involve abduction, kidnapping or predatory activities, police officers have to have the ability to ensure that they have every possible tool to get to the crime scene quickly when there is a missing person.

Our children are our most precious resource. We have to do everything we can do to ensure that they have the police in their hands, with the ability to find them, protect them and take care of them. It is where time is of the essence.

I want to close with where I started on this topic: the rights of offenders. I know it is an uncomfortable subject for most people in the House because we have to ensure that even though we are possibly taking discretion away from judges in these cases, we must still protect privacy. I am glad that the legislation seems to imagine that this is still not a publicly accessible registry but for the use of police officers only.

It is incumbent upon police officers to maintain that privacy, secure the information that they are carrying around with them, and take every possible chance to ensure that even those who have committed the most heinous of crimes have their human rights protected. It is uncomfortable for us to talk about it, but we must surely be part of that discussion.

The reason we need to be part of that is not only for their rights, but because we know that offenders tend to reoffend when they are under stress, when they are feeling further victimized. If we want to actually prevent this kind of crime from happening, we have to ensure that we are approaching it with fairness, with a preservation of human rights and civil rights, and that offenders are part of our community as well.

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member's speech and again it is pretty typical of what I would expect from the other side.

We do appreciate the support for the bill, but a number of issues were raised, challenges with the current sex offender registry. It may be for the information of the member, but what police have told us over and over is that the problems with the current registry, and the lack of completeness in the registry that has been so detrimental, is the way it was drafted initially. It has left too many loopholes and that is why this bill will require mandatory inclusion in the sex offender registry and in the DNA data bank for someone who has committed one of these crimes.

He mentioned resources. Again, it was under the previous Liberal government that resources for police were cut to the bone.

He also mentioned the discomfort in talking about the rights of criminals. We have no discomfort on this side. We have been talking about the rights of law-abiding citizens, the rights of Canadians not to be victimized. That is why this piece of legislation has to be improved. We respect the human rights of all Canadians and the right of all Canadians to live in a country where they feel safe.

I have two questions for the member. Has anyone on his side explained why there were so many glaring holes left in the original registry that this bill is attempting to plug? Also, through the nineties, why was funding for the police and the RCMP slashed to the bone?

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Madam Speaker, the government and its members always seem to have the ability to forget that this is now. It is not then. The government has been in place for three years and it had the opportunity, repeatedly, to bring its agenda about.

The Conservatives seem to forget that they are the government and we have respected that they are the government. But they are simply not acting as the government.

I was not here when the previous legislation was enacted. I am not going to defend it, nor do I feel the need to. The electors of my riding have sent me here to try to improve the legislation and to actually make a positive contribution about today and the future, and not to be turning the clock back.

They may want to change the channel--

Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.


James Moore Conservative Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam, BC

When Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, I was seven and I don't come back to that.