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.