Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on the second reading of Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act. However, I must say that although I fully support this bill, I do so with sadness, because like every member of this House, I wish it were not necessary, but unfortunately it is.
We discussed earlier the statistics from Juristat, which describe the problem. Over 3,900 sexual violations against children were reported to police in 2012, which was an increase of 3% from 2011, and the same increase was seen from 2010 to 2011. There were approximately 33,000 sex offenders on the National Sex Offender Registry, of which approximately 22,000 had a conviction for a child sex offence as of October 2013.
This is very unfortunate. It is the one type of crime in Canada that continues to increase year by year.
I was told by Karyn Kennedy, the executive director of the Boost child advocacy centre in Toronto, an agency that is doing fantastic work to assist child and youth victims of sexual offences, that they cannot keep up with the demand. They opened a centre a year ago expecting to have about 1,400 cases in that year, and they had almost double that number during that period.
It is an endemic problem. It may be fuelled in part by the availability of the Internet and the ease of luring and abusing children over the Internet. Unfortunately, it is a heinous crime that is being perpetrated against the most vulnerable people in our society, and we must all take action to do whatever we can to reduce and eliminate it.
This bill reflects the ongoing efforts of the government to protect our children from sexual exploitation. My remarks today will focus on the bill's proposals to ensure that the sentences imposed for child sexual offences adequately reflect the appropriate level of denunciation and deterrence.
We know that children are far more likely to be victims of sexual crimes than are adults. It is worrisome to see that the trend is increasing. One of the factors contributing to this trend in recent years has been the Internet, which has expanded the reach of sexual predators to the globe with a click of a button.
The justice committee heard considerable evidence of the use of the Internet to lure, exploit, and sexually bully children during its study of Bill C-13, the protecting Canadians from online crime act. The proposed reforms to our Criminal Code and our new investigative powers in that bill are necessary to protect children, as are the provisions in the bill before us.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is an impressive organization that has, since 2004, received support from the federal government as part of the national strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. It delivers programs to increase the personal safety of children and reduce their risk of sexual exploitation. These programs include education and prevention, research, and the coordination of national efforts on child protection with the private sector, government, and law enforcement.
It also operates cybertip.ca, Canada's national 24/7 tip line for reporting online child sexual exploitation. As noted on its website, between September 2002 and June 2010, cybertip.ca received 39,783 reports of online child sexual exploitation, 90% of which were for child pornography offences. These numbers paint a horrifying picture that clearly demonstrates that we must do more to stop child sexual exploitation, including by online predators. The proposed amendments contained in this bill would assist in achieving this objective by ensuring that sentences handed down would properly denounce and deter all forms of child sexual exploitation.
Bill C-26 proposes to increase the mandatory minimum penalty for nine existing child sexual offences as well as increase the maximum penalties for 16 existing child sexual offences. For example, the maximum penalty for section 171.1 of the Criminal Code, making sexually explicit material available to a child for the purpose of facilitating the sexual abuse of the child, would increase from two years of imprisonment on indictment to 14 years of imprisonment, with a corresponding increase in the mandatory minimum penalty from 90 days to six months imprisonment.
The offences of making child pornography, subsection 163.1(2), and distributing child pornography, subsection 163.1(3) of the Criminal Code would be converted from hybrid offences to indictable offences, and the maximum penalties would increase from 10 to 14 years.
As well, the maximum penalties on indictment for luring a child on the Internet, section 172.1 of the code, and for an agreement or arrangement to commit a sexual offence against a child through the use of telecommunications, section 172.2 of the code, will increase from 10 to 14 years of imprisonment. These are serious crimes, and this bill will ensure that they receive serious penalties.
This bill goes further to ensure that the objective of these amendments, to impose penalties that properly reflect the seriousness of the offence, is not defeated through sentence discounts for offenders sentenced at the same time for multiple child sexual offences.
Courts have, over time, developed rules to assist sentencing judges in the determination of whether sentences should be served concurrently, at the same time, or consecutively, that is, served one after the other. The general rule is that offences committed as part of the same transaction or same event should be served concurrently. For instance, an offender who sexually abuses a child and also makes a permanent record of that abuse by making child pornography should in theory be ordered to serve two sentences concurrently. Where an offender is sentenced at the same time for offences that are not committed as part of the same transaction, those sentences are normally served consecutively.
However, sometimes it happens that an offender is sentenced at the same time for sexual offences committed against different children, that is, committed as separate events. There have been a number of notorious serial child sex offenders whose crimes have come to light in much later years and were then tried together. Those offenders sometimes get a sentence discount through sentences that are imposed concurrent to each other rather than consecutively. Such an approach, in my view, sends a message, in the case of multiple victims, that not every victim counts. That is unfortunate.
Increasingly, however, sentencing courts are recognizing that consecutive sentences are warranted in certain cases of child sexual exploitation. These situations include, for example, where the offender has sexually abused a child, made child pornographic recordings of that abuse, and then disseminated those images worldwide via the Internet.
Imposing consecutive sentences in these circumstances, as some courts have already done, recognizes the reality that once such images are distributed, they will forever be available on the Internet and that the child depicted in those images will be revictimized every time the images are viewed.
For these reasons, Bill C-26 proposes to codify this growing practice by requiring courts that are sentencing an offender at the same time for child pornography and child sexual abuse to impose consecutive sentences for these offences.
The bill would also require a sentencing court to consider imposing consecutive sentences on an offender who is sentenced at the same time for sexual offences against multiple child victims; that is, the sentence imposed for child sexual offences committed against one child would be served consecutive, meaning one after the other, to the sentence imposed for sexual offences committed against another child.
Those are all important and welcome steps to ensure that all child sexual offenders are held fully accountable for their crimes. This bill will treat each victim equally and with dignity. This bill will end volume discounts for serial child sexual offenders.
This bill will also look beyond the sentence and seek to enhance community safety where the offender is released into the community under a prohibition order, under section 161; a probation order, under section 731; or a peace bond, under 810.1 of the Criminal Code.
A sentencing court must consider imposing a prohibition order on an offender convicted of a child sexual assault offence. Probation orders, under section 731, can be imposed on offenders who are sentenced to less than two years' imprisonment. Peace bonds can be imposed where there is a reasonable fear that the person will commit a child sexual offence, which is under section 810.1 of the Criminal Code.
Many experts tell us that most, if not all, child sexual offenders can never be rehabilitated, that once they have this problem, this issue, this proclivity, there is really nothing that can be done to ensure that they do not have that proclivity in the future. There are people, unfortunately, in our society who must always be under some kind of probation order or watch and must be listed on an offender registry so that Canadians can keep their children safe.
All of these orders can impose conditions restricting the offender's contact with children and use of the Internet or other digital networks with a view to preventing the offender from committing a child sexual offence.
The Criminal Code currently provides for a maximum penalty on indictment of two years' imprisonment for breaches of the supervision orders. Given that they are crucial in protecting our children from sexual offenders, including from recidivists, the bill proposes to increase the penalty for a breach of these orders to a maximum term of imprisonment on indictment of four years.
The bill also proposes to impose consistent penalties for breaches of these orders when prosecuted summarily. There have been many cases, unfortunately, of child sexual offenders who, on release and on some form of probation, then committed a second, third, or fourth subsequent offence, and that is problem we are trying to address with these provisions in Bill C-26.
Currently, breaches of peace bonds and prohibition orders are both punished on summary conviction by a maximum fine of $5,000 or six months' imprisonment, or both. Yet breaches of probation orders are punishable on summary conviction by a maximum fine of $2,000 or 18 months' imprisonment, or both.
To ensure the harmonization of the penalties for breaches of these supervision orders, the bill would provide that the maximum penalty on summary conviction for breaches would be 18 months' imprisonment or $5,000, or both.
The last element I wish to touch upon is the amendment to the proposed Canada Evidence Act. The Canada Evidence Act provides that the spouse of a person accused of most offences can neither testify for the prosecution nor be forced to testify against the spouse. However, there are exceptions to this rule for most child sexual offences, but not, unfortunately, in the case of child pornography offences.
In child pornography cases, the evidence of the accused's spouse may be required to prove the guilt of the accused. That is why the amendments proposed in this bill would make the spouse competent and compellable to testify for the prosecution in cases of child pornography.
There are a number of other provisions that I think are very important in the bill that I would like everyone listening to know about. The bill would also establish a publicly accessible database of high-risk child sexual offenders who have been the subject of a public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. It would assist in ensuring the safety of our communities.
In addition, the bill would provide for legislation to enable information-sharing, on certain registered sex offenders, between officials responsible for the National Sex Offender Registry and those with the Canada Border Services Agency so that foreign nations may be notified when these types of offenders are travelling to other jurisdictions.
Finally, Bill C-26 would require registered sex offenders to provide more information regarding their travel abroad. We want to protect not only children in Canada but children around the world, and unfortunately, there are those in our society who would leave our borders to find victims around the world. Canada will live up to its international obligation to protect children around the world by ensuring that high-risk child sexual offenders notify the Canada Border Services Agency when they intend to travel abroad.
The heinous nature of sexual crimes committed against children, especially the online sexual exploitation of children, requires all of us in this chamber to support the proposed amendments contained in the bill. I was gratified to hear a few moments ago that my friends in the NDP will be supporting the bill to go to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for study. I look forward to working with them at the justice committee to study the bill and ensure that it addresses the needs of the children we are trying to protect in Canada.