Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
Bill C-10 is comprehensive legislation that addresses a number of serious issues that are in front of mind for this government and for all Canadians.
It proposes legislative reforms to strengthen our existing responses to: child sexual abuse and exploitation as well as serious drug, violent and property crimes found in part 2, clauses 10 to 51; terrorism, found in part 1, clauses 2 to 9; violent young offenders, part 4, clauses 167 to 204; offender accountability and management, part 3, clauses 52 to 166; and the protection of vulnerable foreign workers against abuse and exploitation, part 5, clauses 205 to 207.
There can be no question that this is an important package of reforms. That is why we must take our task as lawmakers seriously, and study and pass these proposals to ensure the safety of all Canadians.
Bill C-10 compiles the reforms that were included in nine bills that were before the previous Parliament which died on the order paper with the dissolution of that Parliament for the general election. Former Bill C-4, Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) is now in part 4 of Bill C-10. Former Bill C-5, Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act is now in part 3. Former Bill C-16, Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act is now in part 2. Former Bill C-23B, Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act is now in part 3. Former Bill C-39, Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act is now in part 3. Former Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act is now in part 2. Bill C-56, Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act is now in part 5. Former Bill C-59, Abolition of Early Parole Act is now in part 3. Former Bill S-7, Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act is now in part 1. Former Bill S-10, Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act is now in part 2.
Many of these former bills were previously debated, studied and some were even passed by the House of Commons. Therefore, they should easily be supported again in this Parliament.
I would like to focus the balance of my remarks on the proposals in Bill C-10 to better protect children against sexual exploitation, that being those reforms now in part 2 of this legislation that were previously in Bill C-54 in the last session of Parliament.
The reforms build on the government's well-established commitment and track record in delivering concrete measures tackling violent crime, and in particular to safeguard children against violent sexual offenders. For example, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, 2008 raised the age of consent of sexual activity from 14 to 16 years to better protect Canadian youth against adult sexual predators. It also better protected all Canadians against dangerous offenders by providing police, crown prosecutors and the courts with much needed tools to more effectively manage the threat posed by individuals who were at high risk of reoffending sexually and violently.
While it is true that our existing criminal laws addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation are already comprehensive and robust, there is always room for improvement. We should never be complacent in ensuring that we are doing all we can to safeguard such a vulnerable segment of the Canadian population.
This point is underscored by Statistics Canada's Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Juristat article “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2010”, released on July 21, 2011, which reported increases in the rates of child pornography offences as up 36% and sexual assault as up 5%.
The proposed reforms in Bill C-10 are both timely and welcome. They address clear gaps in our existing laws. The address the gap created by inconsistent penalties for sexual assault offences where the victim is a child and the gap that now exists because some of the preparatory conduct engaged in by child sex offenders is not criminalized. They fill a gap in our existing measures to help prevent known or suspected child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that could facilitate their sexual offences.
The proposals in Bill C-10 seek to ensure that all sexual offences involving a child are treated equally, seriously and consistently. They do so by: proposing to impose new mandatory minimum penalties for offences involving child victims that currently do not carry minimum penalties; increasing the mandatory minimum penalties for some child sex offences that are already imposed; and, by increasing the maximum penalties on some other offences. Once these reforms are enacted, there would be a consistent approach to sentencing in all sexual assault cases involving child victims.
Child sexual assault could be charged under any of the child-specific sexual offences or under the general sexual assault offences that also apply to adult victims. Currently, 12 but not all child-specific sexual offences impose mandatory minimum penalties and none of the general sexual assault offences impose mandatory minimum penalties.
In practice, this means that the overwhelming majority of child sexual assault cases do not carry mandatory minimum sentences. This is because the majority of child sexual offences are charged under the general sexual assault offence in section 271, which does not currently impose a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment. That is 80% of all child sex offences charged in 2008. The source of this information is Statistics Canada's Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, UCR2. It is very current data.
If we take as our starting point the universally shared view that all child sexual abuse must be strongly condemned and that mandatory minimum penalties are exceptional in the Criminal Code and are reserved for those crimes that Parliament determines must be strongly denounced and deterred, it should be obvious to all that the current use of mandatory minimum sentences for some but not all sexual offences involving child victims is just wrong. That sends a message to some victims that their experience of sexual assault is less serious than that of other child victims. It also sends a message to child sex offenders that they should try to plea bargain for charges under offences that do not impose mandatory minimum penalties.
Bill C-10 contains fundamental legislative safeguards for all Canadians. I call upon the opposition members to put an end to their attempts to obstruct the bill and to support our efforts to keep Canadians safe.