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House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was child.

Topics

PovertyPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

March 11th, 2011 / 12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I wish to present a petition on behalf of 44 Nova Scotians who are very concerned about people living in poverty in Canada and call upon Parliament to ensure swift passage of Bill C-545, An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada.

IranPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table a petition from my constituents who are alarmed that the fourfold Iranian threat: nuclear, incitement, terrorism and massive domestic repression, constitute a grave threat to international peace and security of Canada.

Accordingly, the petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to support Bill C-412, the Iran Accountability Act, the only such bill before the House, to implement the recommendations of the unanimously adopted report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs on Ahmadinejad Iran's threat to peace, human rights and international law, to decry the massive domestic repression and human rights abuses in Iran, including an unprecedented rate of execution, to hold leaders in Iran criminally responsible for their state sanctioned incitement to genocide, to work with our international partners to combat the state sanctioned incitement, the quest for nuclear arms, the support for global terror and its massive domestic repression and to support the Interpol arrest warrant for terrorist action as well.

HousingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to present a petition from my riding. Denise Chartrand brought me this petition signed by more than 100 people calling on the Government of Canada to make the necessary public investment to enable the Société d'habitation du Québec to complete its low-income housing renovation plan and to cover the accumulated maintenance deficit.

On behalf of Denise Chartrand, it is my great pleasure to present this petition in the hope that the Canadian government will take it into account.

Health CarePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions I would like to present today.

The first one deals with the desire of many Canadians to have a national government that will insist on more accountability in health care. That means stable funding, national standards and more.

There is a great deal of concern in regard to the health care accord and the need for the government to start to take actions that will reinforce what is a very valuable treasure that many Canadians recognize, our health care system.

Foreign AffairsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the second petition deals with the issue of visitor visas particularly from the Philippines and India. We need to support the right of family members to be able to visit Canada as long as they are of good character and good health. Far too often visas are turned down for individuals who want to come to Canada to participate in special graduation ceremonies or because someone in their family has passed away.

We need to do more to enable families to be reunited during these times.

North KoreaPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition today from residents of Don Valley West and some of their friends, drawing attention to their concern about human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. The petitioners want to ensure that Canada's voice be heard in calling for fairness in treatment and transparency for people living in North Korea, as well as for those who may leave North Korea and seek refuge in other countries.

The petition reaffirms Canada's commitment to millennium development goals and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It requests us to maintain, if not increase, Canadian humanitarian aid to North Korea through NGOs and charitable organizations. It also pressures the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's government to take responsibility for human rights violations that it has committed in the past and prevent further violations.

I congratulate the students of Crescent School who have worked hard to not only get signatures, but also to raise awareness of this important human rights issue.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act, be read the third time and passed.

Enhanced New Veterans Charter ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Pursuant to an order made March 9, Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act and the Pension Act is deemed read a third time and passed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

The House proceeded to the consideration of C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that the Bill be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Hon. Rob Nicholson moved that the Bill be read the third time and passed.

He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the third reading debate on Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act.

The bill recognizes that sexual exploitation of children causes irreparable harm to the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. The bill recognizes that we as legislators not only have the opportunity but also the responsibility to do all that we can to protect children from this harm. No less important, the bill reflects the view held by most, if not all, Canadians that sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible and that the criminal law must treat all forms of child sexual exploitation as such, including by imposing penalties that fit the severity of this crime.

Bill C-54 therefore proposes Criminal Code amendments to ensure that all child sexual abuse penalties consistently reflect the serious nature of this crime as well as to prevent the commission of a sexual offence against a child.

The bill proposes to add seven new mandatory sentences to existing child sexual offences that do not currently impose minimum sentences. It proposes to increase the minimum sentences for seven child specific sexual offences that already have mandatory sentences and to impose two new sentences in the two new offences proposed by this bill. In this way, Bill C-54 would ensure that all sexual offences involving child victims are treated the same by requiring all convicted child sex offenders to serve a term of imprisonment. This would eliminate a distinction that currently exists between the 12 child specific sexual offences that already impose mandatory penalties and the seven additional sexual offences that still do not.

This existing distinction sends out the wrong message. In effect, it says to the majority of child sexual assault victims whose offenders are charged under the general sexual assault offence in section 271 that does not impose a minimum sentence that their victimization is less serious than that of the 19% of child victims whose offenders are charged under child specific sexual offences that do carry minimum penalties. This is just wrong and Bill C-54 would change this.

The bill would also increase seven existing mandatory minimum penalties in the child specific sexual offences to ensure that the minimums are commensurate not only with the offence in question, but are also coherent with those for other offences. For example, offences that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment on indictment would have the same minimum penalty of one year.

Accordingly, the existing minimum for the offence of sexual interference in section 151 would be increased from 45 days to one year, which in turn would be consistent with the new minimum proposed in section 271, the general sexual assault offence that also carries a maximum penalty of 10 years on indictment.

During its review of Bill C-54 the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from a range of witnesses, including victims' groups, police, academics, psychologists and criminal lawyers' associations. Some disagreed on Bill C-54's approach with minimum penalties. Some argued against minimum penalties. Some advocated for higher minimum penalties and some supported the reforms as proposed by this bill. But without exception they all agreed that child sexual abuse and the exploitation of children is a serious crime and must be treated as such. That is what this bill would do.

This bill proposes reforms to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children. It does so in two ways.

First, it proposes to create two new offences that target conduct that is preparatory to the commission of a contact sexual offence against a child.

The first offence would prohibit a person from making sexually explicit material available to a young person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual or abduction offence against that child. This offence recognizes that child sex offenders often give this type of material to their victims, often with a view to lowering their sexual inhibitions and making it easier to sexually assault them. If the material is child pornography, irrespective of the reason for which it may be given, this conduct is already prohibited. This bill would now prohibit providing other sexually explicit material for this specific purpose.

Our bill defines “sexually explicit material” in a manner that is consistent with its use and interpretation in the child pornography and voyeurism offences.

The proposed offence would apply to transmitting, making available, distributing or selling such material to a young person for this purpose and would apply whether it is provided directly in a face-to-face encounter or over the Internet.

The second new offence proposed is a prohibition against using telecommunications, such as the Internet, to agree or make arrangements with another person to commit one of the enumerated child sexual or abduction offences.

The existing prohibition in section 172.1 against using a computer system to communicate directly with a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of one of the enumerated child sex and abduction offences only applies where the communication is between the perpetrator and the child. It does not apply to a situation where, for example, one adult uses the Internet to communicate with another adult to agree with or arrange to commit a sexual offence against a third person, the child. Thankfully, this bill would close that gap.

There was much discussion at the justice committee about this new offence as to what the term “telecommunications” includes. How would the offence work? Does its formulation deny an accused legitimate defences and even legitimize police entrapment? The answer to that of course is no.

The term “telecommunications” is defined in the federal Interpretation Act as “the emission, transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature by any wire, cable, radio, optical or other electromagnetic system, or by any similar technical system”.

Using such a broad but clearly defined term would ensure that this new offence would apply to the same prohibited use of new technology that may be created after this offence is enacted.

The new offence would operate in a similar manner to the existing luring a child offence that is found in section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. It includes the same provisions about presumed or reasonable but mistaken belief in the age of the child.

Like the existing luring a child offence, the common law defence of entrapment would still be available to an accused in the appropriate circumstances.

Bill C-54 also proposes to require a court to consider prohibiting a child sex offender and a suspected child sex offender under section 810.1 from having both access and opportunity to sexually molest a child. It proposes to expand the list of sexual offences for which such prohibitions could be included to include four prostitution offences where the victim is a child.

Courts would also be specifically directed to consider imposing two new conditions prohibiting the offender from having any unsupervised access to a young person or from having any unsupervised use of the Internet.

These conditions would help prevent the offender from being placed in a situation where he or she has access and opportunity to sexually assault a child, and from having unfettered use of the Internet or other similar technologies that are instrumental in the commission of child pornography and other child sexual exploitative offences today.

Witnesses before the justice committee were generally quite supportive of these proposed preventive measures.

There was some discussion of what is meant by these provisions' use of the term “the Internet or other digital network”. Bill C-54's use of “the Internet or other digital network” is consistent with its commonly understood meaning. It is also used in Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, which is currently before Parliament.

Clearly, the intention here is to direct the court to consider imposing such a prohibition where it is appropriate in the circumstances of the accused and the safety needs of the community and, as specifically directed by this bill, to impose the prohibition subject to any appropriate conditions as determined by the court.

I am confident that this proposal strikes the right balance in providing sufficient clarity and needed flexibility to enable the courts to craft a clear and understandable prohibition with any applicable conditions warranted by the circumstances of each case.

This is an important step forward in the protection of children in this country, and I am asking the House to pass this bill as rapidly as possible.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-54. We have dealt with a lot of justice issues in the House. I follow all of them very carefully and, when I have the opportunity, I contribute to the debate. I am not a lawyer, although I have often been accused of being one, so I often let the people who have done this for a living handle the major bulk of the debates, but I have always been very interested, as are all members.

I am pleased to see Bill C-54. I think there is some work to be done, and with this piece of legislation, I wonder whether not being a lawyer is a detriment or not. One thing that makes us interested in this legislation in particular is our being parents, as many of us are, or grandparents. That is not to say that people who are not parents do not have an interest in what is happening with children.

I have a child who is now a teenager and one who is getting there rapidly. I worry about what happens with my children. People worry in this day and age with the new communications tools that are available to children. We try to monitor them, but there are lots of different things that people worry about when it comes to the exploitation of children.

I have organized how I am going to speak to this bill for the next few minutes. There could be up to 30 million Canadians watching this and I want them to be able to judge their time. This bill is important. I want to talk about the sexual exploitation of children, what happens and how often it happens. I want to set it in the overall context of the crime agenda of the government, and I will have a few comments about what people have to say about it. Then I will come back to the bill and conclude.

As has been noted, Bill C-54 seeks to amend the Criminal Code to introduce or extend mandatory penalties for crimes against children of a sexual nature and to introduce two new offences. We support this legislation. We are very concerned about the safety of our children. We recognize that times are changing and there are different threats to our children than used to exist.

It was the former Liberal government in 2002 that made it illegal to deliberately access a website containing child pornography. In an age where new technologies have the negative effect of increasing access of our children, we need to be responsible and have a look at the Criminal Code to ensure it is up to date.

This bill would introduce mandatory minimum sentences for seven existing Criminal Code offences, including sexual assault on a person under 16 years of age, luring a child, and conducting an indecent act in the presence of a child. It would also increase mandatory sentences for seven sexual offences involving child victims.

I think generally members of the House are going to support this bill. I am not sure but I think the New Democrats and the Bloc are going to support sending the bill to committee. There is a legitimate concern, which I understand and in many ways share, about mandatory minimums. They are controversial. There is a lot of conflicting evidence as to whether mandatory minimums work.

We supported mandatory minimums as a government. The Liberal government brought in some mandatory minimums. We do not think they work in all cases, which I will get to later, but we think in this instance they are appropriate.

The Department of Justice has a family violence initiative website. Let me preface my comments by mentioning people who have come to my constituency office, as people go to the offices of all members, with their concerns. It is pretty disconcerting when they visit their MPs to say they think the law needs to be changed because of something that happened in their own families and then they provide the details of what happened to their children.

In many ways, we are powerless to help these folks. We want to reach out and help them. One way we can help them, of course, is by bringing their stories to Parliament to try to make sure the laws of the land respond to their concerns and the wishes they extend.

The family violence initiative website states:

The sexual abuse and exploitation of children and youth may involve a range of behaviours....Sexual exploitation may involve prostitution as well as making children and youth participate in pornographic acts or performances for personal or commercial use.

Those are fairly serious issues. The question is:

HOW WIDESPREAD IS SEXUAL ABUSE AND THE EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN CANADA?

Further on it states:

However, the available national data indicates that sexual abuse and exploitation of children and youth is disturbingly common in Canada.

It was not recognized as a problem in Canada until the 1984 Badgley report. All evidence we have indicates that this is a very serious issue.

As to the extent of sexual abuse and exploitation, in 2002, 8,800 sexual assaults against children and youth were reported to a subset of 94 police departments in Canada. This included 2,863 sexual assaults against children and youth by family members. This is pretty disturbing. Sexual abuse was the primary reason for investigation in 10% of all child maltreatment referrals to social service agencies.

There is some very good information in terms of types of sexual abuse. According to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, the most common form of substantiated child sexual abuse in child protection cases was touching and fondling of children. It goes on to talk about other things that are more graphic than that, which I probably do not need to recite here but which need to be brought to the attention of parliamentarians.

Who is doing these crimes? The perpetrators are more often individuals who know the victim rather than strangers. About half of sexual assaults against children and youth reported to a subset of police departments in 2002 involved friends or acquaintances, while a quarter of those assaults involved family members. About 18% involved assaults by strangers. Most but not all are male.

There is a bit of a pattern. We have some information that has been gathered over the years on who is committing these heinous acts against our children. What has been done about it? There have been a number of pieces of legislation that have been brought to this House, mainly by Liberal governments over the years.

Bill C-2, introduced October 8, 2004, proposing amendments to the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act that are intended to protect children and others who are vulnerable. It lists all the things that it did, expanding the scope of existing offences, narrowing the availability of statutory defences, composing the creation of new offences, voyeurism, proposes amendments allowing children and other vulnerable witnesses greater access to aids. I will mention a few of them.

Bill C-15A, proclaimed into force in July 2002, created new Criminal Code offences.

Bill C-7, which is the Youth Criminal Justice Act, replaced the Young Offenders Act. It holds young people accountable for their actions through interventions that are fair and in proportion to the seriousness of the offence committed.

Bill C-79, proclaimed in 1999, amends the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act to facilitate the participation of victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process.

I will not go through all of the bills, but they include: Bill C-27 in 1997; Bill C-46 in 1997; Bill C-41 in 1995; Bill C-42; Bill C-72; Bill C-126; Bill C-49; and Bill C-15. These are all relatively recent pieces of legislation that address the issue of sexual exploitation of children.

We have to accept the fact that there is a problem. Part of that is the changing technology, the changing way children communicate with other children and adults, and sometimes we do not even know who our children are communicating with. I am sure I am no different from any other parent in this place in that we try to keep an eye on those sorts of things. We want our children to be aware of what is happening around them.

We support this legislation. I want to put this in context of the greater criminal justice agenda of the government. Today, we have come together. I think all four parties are speeding up the process so that we can deal with this bill and get it to the Senate so that it can be adopted. The Minister of Justice no doubt is very appreciative of the support of all parties so that we can get this done. However, he has not always been so appreciative of the support of the Liberal Party.

One of my favourite letters that I have seen, and I am sure the minister has had a chance to look at it extensively, is one from February 4 of last year. Senator Cowan sent a very affectionate letter to the Minister of Justice responding to concerns the government had that the Senate was holding up all kinds of legislation. I wonder if the minister remembers that letter.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Oh, I remember that. We had a lot of trouble with it.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

This very good letter outlines some facts. It said:

I was puzzled to read reports in which you defended the latest Senate appointments as necessary to allow your Government “to move forward on [y]our tackling-crime agenda.” You accused the Liberal opposition of having “obstructed that agenda in the Senate.”

If members knew Senator Cowan as I do, they would know that he always assumed the most purest of motives about anybody. He said:

I can only assume that you have been misinformed as to the progress of anti-crime legislation. In fact, as I am sure your Cabinet colleague, Senator Marjory LeBreton, would tell you, the overwhelming majority of your Government’s anti-crime bills had not even reached the Senate when [the] Prime Minister...chose to prorogue Parliament. Indeed, an honest examination of the record compels one to acknowledge that the greatest delays to implementation of your justice agenda have resulted from your own Government’s actions--sitting on bills and not bringing them forward for debate, delaying bringing legislation into force, and ultimately, of course, proroguing Parliament. That action alone caused some 18 of your justice-related bills to die on the Order Paper.

He goes on in his helpful way to further enunciate the status of those bills. He says:

Your Government introduced 19 justice-related bills in the House of Commons. Of these, 14 were still in the House of Commons at prorogation. Of the five justice bills that passed the House of Commons and came to the Senate:

two passed the Senate without amendment;

one (the so-called Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime bill) was tabled by your Government in November in the Senate but not brought forward for further action after that;

one was passed with four amendments and returned to the House of Commons which did not deal with it before Parliament was prorogued; and

one was being studied in committee when Parliament was prorogued and all committee work shut down.

He goes into a bit more detail on exactly what happened with the government's alleged tough on crime agenda.

There have been a number of initiatives and we have been supportive of just about all of those bills. However, we have had concerns because some of the bills have come to us with very little or misleading information. I think about what we could do for the health of our children. One of those, in fairness to the minister, is to deal with it in the way that Bill C-54 would.

When we look at any societal problem, we need to do two things. We need to ask if there are regulations in place that ensure we are protecting our children from being exploited or hurt in this manner. There not only needs to be a legislative response but also a response that looks at the causes of the issue that we are trying to prevent.

If we could invest more money in the boys and girls clubs, we would need less prisons. If we could invest more money in early learning and child care, we would need less prisons. The studies on the impact of early learning and child care on criminal behaviour are absolutely amazing. If we want to reduce the amount of money that we need to spend on prisons, then we should invest in reducing poverty.

Just this week, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development snuck in a totally inadequate response to a poverty report done by all members of this House, including members of her own party. We have heard from people like Don Drummond and just about every social policy organization, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. We have seen the impact that can be made on reducing criminal justice by investing in reducing poverty. We would see huge reductions in health costs as well. A report organized by the food banks in Ontario, which Don Drummond was part of, said that by reducing poverty we would reduce criminal justice costs in Ontario alone by some $600 million in a year.

We are on a failed course in terms of criminal justice. Those who the government emulates on criminal justice, who are the hard right Republicans in the United States, have had an epiphany, a change of course.

Newt Gingrich, who will be running for president in 2012, was one of the architects of this new tough on crime agenda. It was part of the contract with America in, I believe, 1994. The Americans were saying that they needed to invest in prisons, that they needed to spend money on our prisons, that they needed to put people behind bars because that is how to deal with these situations.

On January 7, 2011, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “Prison reform: A smart way for states to save money and lives”. This is an amazing document that repudiates the alleged tough on crime agenda of the eighties and nineties that put so many Americans behind bars. The article reads:

There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections--300% more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.

Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but...half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.

That is a pretty powerful statement.

What Mr. Gingrich is calling for is a Conservative response to what the Conservatives caused in the last two or three decades with this “tough on crime” approach, which has not reduced crime. In fact, the article goes on to say:

Some people attribute [this] to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime...some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety. Americans need to know that we can reform our prison systems to cost less and keep the public safe.

Asa Hutchinson was quoted recently in the Globe and Mail on March 3 talking about these same issues. Part of that article reported that:

Because of tough criminal justice policies in the United States, one in every 100 American adults is behind bars--up from one in 400....

Mr. Hutchinson was also stated:

The United States has five per cent of the world’s population but 23 per cent of the world’s recorded prisoners.

That was an admission that there was a failed policy brought into the United States to jail more people and spend more money on prisons. The problem is that it did not reduce crime, but it cost a lot of money. We know the condition of the American economy and the situation that it is in.

The case is very clear. In all cases, throwing more money into prisons and locking more people up does not work. We are not be looking at the causes of crime and the root issues that create criminal intent in our young people. We are not investing in early learning and child care. We are not doing very much to equalize out the opportunity. It does not need to be all kinds of government spending. It could be targeted support for our wonderful Boys and Girls Club.

Tomorrow I will be bowling in Halifax for the Big Brothers Big Sisters. Let us think about the work it does to reduce crime in our communities and the work it does to mentor young Canadians so they do not, as a first instinct, think about becoming a criminal but instead think about the dignity and self-worth they have as individuals. Those are the kinds of things we should be investing more in if we are going to be reducing crime.

I appreciate the minister's indulgence in being here for the discussion on this debate. I commend him on this bill but, overall, I think the justice agenda of the government is taking us in a wrong direction. We cannot even get the exact costs of what the government is proposing in terms of building these mega prisons. It seems that building more prisons is the Conservatives' answer to a national housing strategy but it is not. If we want to keep people out of prison, one way to start is to ensure people have a roof over their heads when they go to sleep at night. We need to provide those kinds of supports that Canadians need.

I am pleased to support this bill. Our Liberal critic, the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, has worked very hard on these issues and will also support the bill. It is a sensible bill under the circumstances. We worry about our kids and we want to give them all the tools they need to be happy, healthy and productive adults. From a government point of view, there is a responsibility on us as legislators to recognize that the world is changing.

I support Bill C-54 and I urge other members to do the same.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-54, which pertains to minimum sentences for sexual offences against children. This bill would amend the Criminal Code.

On March 22, my grandson will be 18 months old. Grandparents are always proud of their grandchildren. There are grandparents who are watching today and I know that they are proud of their grandchildren. I cannot remain unmoved by a bill introduced in Parliament that pertains to minimum sentences for sexual offences against children. If anyone touched my grandson, I would have difficulty abiding by the law; however, I would, as all citizens are obliged to do.

Bill C-54, which is well-intentioned, must be examined. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of the bill at this stage and feels it should be sent to committee. When it is reviewed in committee, we can ask witnesses questions. The fight against crime is of the utmost importance, particularly when children are the victims. However, it must be said that, in Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, the crime rate has been declining for the past 15 years or so. The measures set out in Bill C-54 warrant our attention. This bill creates new offences and imposes new restrictions on offenders. However, the bill also provides for minimum sentences.

We must hear from legal experts on the matter. When the Conservatives introduce crime bills, they do so to satisfy their own ideology rather than to improve society. They have that annoying tendency of trying to do what the justice system should do. When minimum penalties are brought in, we tell the judges what they have to do. Our parents and grandparents passed on a legacy of the rule of law and a justice system in which judges look at offences on a case-by-case basis and assign penalties in accordance with precedents that have been developed over years. In short, looking at case law means looking at what has happened in the past and giving similar penalties for similar crimes, so that justice is balanced.

When minimum penalties are brought in, it changes this balance that was passed on to us by our parents and grandparents. I am a grandfather to a boy who will be 18 months on March 22, and I would not want to leave him a justice system that completely disregards our history and the foundation of our society.

The Bloc Québécois is generally in favour of the principle of sending a bill to be studied in committee. There, we can hear from witnesses and make any necessary amendments to the bill. The purpose is that when the bill is passed, it helps develop society. The sole objective should not be to replace the justice system that was passed down to us by our parents and grandparents with the new system that the Conservatives and their ideology are trying to impose.

Quebeckers and people from the rest of Canada can trust the Bloc Québécois to maintain that balance. We have always done so in the House and we will continue to do so. The principle of the bill is very interesting and we want to develop it and discuss it.

The bill would create two new offences. The first offence would 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 imprisonment and a maximum penalty of six months or a mandatory prison sentence of 90 days.

The second offence would prohibit anyone from using any means of telecommunications, including a computer system, to agree or to make arrangements with another person for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against a child. This provision was part of former Bill C-46, which was introduced in the previous parliamentary session but was not passed because of the last election.

The Bloc's goal is to help society evolve. This bill would prohibit the use of telecommunications. Our parents knew nothing about these kinds of things. I am getting older, and my father never saw such things, nor did my grandparents. Laws need to be adapted, and I think this is a step in the right direction. Once again, at this stage in the discussions surrounding Bill C-54, the Bloc Québécois will support the bill.

Next, we need to proceed with this bill so that the legal and criminal aspects of our society, passed down by our parents and grandparents, will evolve and be more suitable for our grandchildren. That is the challenge that the Bloc Québécois has taken on. We will bring the necessary witnesses forward and we, along with the other parties, will try to move this bill forward to achieve the final goal of helping society move in a positive direction and not towards a right-wing conservative ideology as has happened with the U.S. Republicans and in totalitarian societies in the world. There needs to be a balance, and that is what the Bloc is here for.

At this stage, the government can count on the Bloc's support.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-54 today. I know my hon. colleague, the member for Niagara Falls, the Minister of Justice, and I lived through a horrific period of time a number of years ago, with Paul Bernardo and the luring of who were then ostensibly children. He and I have intimate knowledge of that, living in the area at that time and knowing the consequences of the actions of that couple.

The minister knows that I was more than pleased to work with the Minister of Public Safety to ensure that one of the perpetrators, Karla Homolka, did not receive a pardon, when she came to the end of her sentence. I was extremely pleased to work with the government. I thank the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice for their work with me to ensure it did not happen. It was immensely important, not just for the people who live in Niagara where those heinous crimes were committed, but for all Canadians across this land who believed that justice would not be served if it happened.

When we talk about child luring for the purposes of sexual exploitation, all of us in the House agree it has to be one of the most repulsive and heinous acts committed against the most vulnerable and cherished in our society, our little ones. As the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said earlier, whether we have little ones or not, we must protect them. As my mother always says to me, I am always her little one. I am not sure how that happens with my size and age, but I guess I am always her son. I have a son who is six foot five, but he is still my little guy and he always will be.

There is no greater thing in this world that we can do than protect those little ones. No matter how old they get, they are always our little ones and we want to protect them. That should be, by extension, not just for family but out across the broader community, across this province, across the country and around the world. They are the folks we cherish most. They are put in situations where they are vulnerable and we cannot allow folks, who have the wherewithal, to make decisions to go ahead and try to lure those little ones.

The New Democrats actually brought forward a bill on child luring through the act of using communications as various methods. In fact, I congratulate my good friend and colleague Dawn Black who has now moved on to British Columbia's legislature. She initially put two bills before the House to deal with this very subject.

I want to congratulate the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam who has taken them on himself to ensure that the work started by Dawn continues to go forward. That is how we feel in this party about the importance of it and how we ensure we protect our little ones.

Also, I give a great deal of thanks for our member for Windsor—Tecumseh who is our critic for justice. He gives yeoman work when it comes to debating the bills and ensuring they are crafted in such a way when they get to committee, with amendments and good questions, and calling good witnesses. It was in second reading that my friend from Windsor—Tecumseh said that part of the failings of the initial part of the bill was around the sense of what was “telecommunications”. He highlighted the point that the definition was too narrow when it came to telecommunications.

As many of us know, the art form of telecommunications moves at a horrendous speed, which makes it very difficult for us to keep up. Modern telecommunications could be yesterday's telecommunications within less than a year or even months in some cases. He has pushed for that, and I am sure he would want let the minister know that the committee has broadened the sense of what “telecommunications” is and what “communications for child luring” is. He has made it more accessible and not a narrow definition but a broad one. Therefore, we will not have folks escaping the very net we are casting to catch those who would lure our children for sexual exploitation.

All of us believe they need to be punished. I do not believe anyone would say they should not be. We need to find ways to not only to reduce what happens to our young people, but to find ways to stop it.

What do we want to see happen? I believe the bill accomplishes a fair amount, but it unfortunately leaves parts out. My friend for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour articulated issues around poverty and the things that we ought to do that might be helpful at the preventative level so we would not see young people get lured and then engaged after the fact.

Part of the aspect that is missing is this sense of how we treat those offenders. As I read through the committee transcript, there were some eminently qualified witnesses, psychiatrists and psychologists, who talked about the types of offenders who committed and perpetrated these crimes. They are not exactly as we think they might be. The witnesses explained that they fell into three different categories. It is not for me to try to explain it because they are the experts. They quantified the numbers included in there. For one category of offenders, there was great hope that with certain forms of treatment, there was the possibility that they would not reoffend, and the treatment would be successful.

Therefore, the sense is not that they should not be apprehended and punished. They should be. However, we do not want to just simply end it with that and allow them back out to reoffend. If they do reoffend, it is not simply a question of saying that because they have reoffended, we will put them back in jail to punish them again. The person who has really suffered the greatest is that child. Accordingly, if we can catch the perpetrators and find ways to get them into treatment, and experts have told us there are ways to do this in the vast majority of cases, hopefully when they get out, they will not reoffend. That would set us on a path to reducing child luring, child exploitation and child molestation. However, to send them back out to reoffend does not make any sense.

I hope the minister and the government will look at this and decide that perhaps they ought to spend a few dollars to do that.

Let me be abundantly clear that all New Democrats feel revulsion when it comes to child luring and child exploitation. All of us want to put an end to it to ensure our children are protected.

Therefore, for all of the above reasons, we will support the bill as it goes forward. We have heard that from my other colleagues in the House. Let us put an end to the exploitation of the most vulnerable citizens in our communities, our families and across our country. It is our obligation to do so and we take that obligation seriously.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak today on behalf of this. I hope, once and for all, some day in the not too distant future, we will not have to talk about a subject like this again because we have put ourselves on the road to ensure it will not happen to our most vulnerable.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to, bill read the third time and passed)

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 1:30 p.m.

Protecting Children from Sexual Predators ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Shall I see the clock at 1:30 p.m.?