Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-54, which was introduced by the Minister of Justice on November 4 and which amends the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), also known as the protecting children from sexual predators act.
It is important for the people listening to us to understand the scope of this bill, which I will summarize in five points. The bill increases or imposes mandatory minimum penalties for certain sexual offences with respect to children; prohibits anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child; prohibits anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree or make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child; ensures consistency among those two new offences and the existing offence of luring a child; and expands the list of specified conditions that may be added to prohibition and recognizance orders to include prohibitions concerning contact with a person under the age of 16 and use of the Internet or other digital network, and to expand the list of enumerated offences that may give rise to such orders and prohibitions.
New technologies are forcing us to rethink the offences set out in the Criminal Code. The Bloc Québécois believes that the all-important fight against crime—especially when the victims are children—must be realistic. Crime rates in Quebec have been dropping over the past 15 years, as they have in Canada.
Some of the measures proposed in this bill definitely warrant attention, such as the creation of new offences or new restrictions imposed on delinquents. But, once again, this bill contains minimum sentences. That is not a surprise, but the Bloc Québécois has always maintained here in the House that minimum sentences are ineffective and unfair by nature.
It is important that those watching us understand. We have inherited our justice system from our ancestors. The Criminal Code has always been based on maximum sentences. Judges use case law and the circumstances of each case—in criminal law, each case is unique—to determine the most appropriate sentence for the individual before them and for the crime committed. That is how our ancestors founded criminal law and passed it on to Quebec and Canadian society.
In recent years, with increasing media involvement, there has been a strong tendency to use the Criminal Code as a substitute for judges through the imposition of minimum sentences. This has been even more evident since the Conservatives took power. The trend is to not let the judge determine the penalty but to set fixed sentences in the Criminal Code. This trend is purely a matter of partisan opportunism. When something is reported in the media, it is amplified, tempers flare and people think that the sentence is never stiff enough for the crime committed, especially when the media get involved.
Our ancestors left us a justice system that was sheltered from such impulsive public reactions. As our societies evolved, things have changed. When I came into politics in 2000, the Internet was around, but it was not as efficient as it is today. With social networking, some situations end up online so quickly that the public finds out even before the media can report on it.
What does this mean? It means that the public develops an opinion before the police even start handling a case or before it can even be reported on properly.
You may say that our ancestors did not have that, which is true, but they still left us a historic form of logic. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and the justice system allows the judge to determine what sentence is appropriate for the crime committed, in light of all kinds of factors. For example, the judge must consider whether it is a first or second offence, and so on. This is what has developed from what our ancestors left us. The case law or jurisprudence changes and evolves, and judges adapt.
The government wants to introduce minimum sentences because it thinks that the system is not fast enough. It thinks that our legal system is slower than people want it to be. However, once again, it seems to me that popular opinion is being artificially manipulated by the media, by all media. Some of them have completely different interpretations. That is important. When something happens and we hear about it at home via the Internet, Facebook, Twitter or some other channel, initial versions of events may differ from those conveyed by the media. Then, once all the facts are laid before the court, there is often a huge difference between people's first impression of events and the court's interpretation in handing down a verdict. The courts analyze each case, review the evidence and get to know every little detail about the crime, how it was committed and the person who committed it.
Once again, I want to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois wants to study this bill in committee. The new offences seem appropriate to us because technology has evolved. People make contact through the Internet, not necessarily physical contact. But some virtual contact may become physical, and that should be condemned. We have to create new sentences.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois has some serious reservations about minimum sentences. During the committee's study of this bill, we will call the necessary witnesses to help the Conservatives understand that minimum sentences are not necessarily the best solution.
I will review the new jail sentences included in this bill. It covers sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, aggravated sexual assault where the victim is under 16 years of age, incest where the victim is under 16 years of age, luring a child through the use of a computer, and exposure. There are provisions that create two new offences. I want to take the time to mention these because I find them interesting.
The first is to prohibit anyone from providing sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child. This hybrid offence would carry a mandatory prison sentence of 30 days—once again, this is the minimum sentence—and a maximum penalty of 6 months when proceeded on summary conviction, and a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days—once again, this is the minimum sentence.
The second is to prohibit anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree or make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child. This new offence was previously proposed as part of former Bill C-46 in the previous session of Parliament. This proposed hybrid offence would now carry a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days—once again, this is a minimum sentence.
I would like to reiterate that we concur with the new offences that have been added. However, we question the idea of mandatory prison sentences that even a judge cannot interpret or adjust based on the seriousness of the situation.
At first glance, we need to make sure in committee that the measures related to these two offences will facilitate the work of police, since that is the goal. The Bloc Québécois has always acted responsibly in this House and, in particular, it was the first party to fight organized crime, among other things, by requiring the reversal of the onus of proof for members of organized crime groups.
Before the Bloc Québecois intervened, the state had to prove that goods in the possession of organized criminals were not acquired legally. The onus of proof is now reversed thanks to the Bloc Québecois, which succeeded in convincing Parliament that such should be the case. Now, when a crime is committed by members of an organized crime group, these individuals must prove that the goods were acquired using money earned doing legal activities. If they are not able to prove that such is the case, the goods are automatically considered to have been obtained illegally.
Inevitably, this has had a considerable impact on the seizure of assets belonging to criminals who are members of organized crime groups. I think this has, among other things, made the job of police officers in Quebec a little easier. There was Opération Printemps 2001, the Carcajou squad and the whole fight against organized crime led by the Parti Québécois government of the day, which practically guaranteed the disbandment of organized biker gangs like the Hells Angels and other groups. They have been practically obliterated. Authorities were able to arrest their leaders, because they could not prove that their assets had been lawfully acquired.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois's approach has always been responsible and effective. Our approach puts faith in the justice system. We learned this approach and this trust in the judicial system from our predecessors. Judges are supposed to be the most competent individuals in the legal community. They are the best qualified to determine the appropriate sentence based on the crime committed and the criminal history of the person on trial.
We even demonstrated our sense of responsibility in this House with our plan to deal with economic crime. During the recent economic crisis, several white collar criminals profited from the largesse of many people who were not very knowledgeable.
When the economy is doing well, everyone makes money and the hope is to make more than everyone else. That has always made me laugh, especially when it comes to our bankers. There are organizations that were even paying bankers to give talks. The major bank presidents of this world were giving talks and getting paid to do so.
Then, like sheep, they were all fleeced. They all lost money. No one saw the financial crisis coming. They relied on their junior staff and passed themselves off as geniuses when everything was going well. The worst part is that in the wake of this crisis, they continue to earn their big fat salaries. That is just wrong.
The Bloc Québécois has its own way of fighting economic crime. First, we have always maintained that parole after one-sixth of a sentence needs to be abolished. One of the reasons for public cynicism is the fact that a person sentenced to six years can be eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence.
In other words, that person can be released after one year. When someone spends months behind bars before the trial, that time counts for double. We have always wanted to abolish this two-for-one rule. In my example, the six-year sentence would be reduced to one year because the offender is eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence. Having already spent two months in prison, the offender would get a four-month credit. Even though the offender gets a six-year sentence, he will have only eight months left to serve before being released.
This is out of the hands of the judiciary. Politicians are the ones who decided on parole and the two-for-one rule. Judges apply sentences, and if the person is deemed eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence, then he will be paroled. In the case of economic crimes, we are saying in no uncertain terms that there should not be any parole after one-sixth of the sentence. If the person was sentenced to six years, he must serve six years, period. Nor should any time count for double.
We wanted to amend the Criminal Code provisions on confiscating the proceeds of crime in order to include measures covering fraud over $5,000, reorganize police forces, and require that banks report irregularities in trust accounts. All these responsible measures proposed by the Bloc Québécois were not accepted or took some time to be acknowledged by the Conservative Party.
All that to say that we have always anticipated what the people want, while respecting the legacy our ancestors left us. The legal system is a legacy. The Bloc Québécois's position will not change and it will always hold the same opinion about Bill C-54. The new offences to be added, which are often made necessary by new technologies, are a no-brainer. They have to be created, especially when children are concerned.
My beautiful little grandson is just 14 months old. If anything at all were to happen to him, I would be tempted to take the law into my own hands and I would have to restrain myself. It is our job, as decision-makers, to protect these beautiful children. It is awful that new technologies can corrupt our children and even subject them to sexual crimes. We must support these new sentences and this means of fighting crime that targets children.
But do we need a system of minimum penalties that goes against the justice system left to us by our ancestors? According to that system, judges are the best able to decide, not journalists or members of Parliament, because they are subject to public pressure and want to establish a fair system to be passed on to future generations. We need a proper debate on this, and that is what will happen when this bill is sent to committee. We will have to hear from expert witnesses to find out how minimum penalties have been used in other societies. The Americans have used them. There are examples from other parts of the world that can show whether minimum penalties have prevented, reduced or solved the problem of crime.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill at second reading to ensure that it can be studied in committee and that it meets everyone's expectations.