Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise on debate on the tougher penalties for child predators act.
Although members of the House do not always agree on the best approach to tackle challenging societal problems, I am confident we can all agree on the need to act to better protect children from the heinous crime of sexual exploitation.
Since 2011, children accounted for approximately half of all victims of police-reported sexual assault in Canada. Clearly this is unacceptable, and clearly it is incumbent on us to do everything in our control to better safeguard children from a crime that leaves an everlasting impact. The government strongly believes that further measures are warranted in this regard and that is why it has brought forward this legislation.
The tougher penalties for child predators act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that would allow us to better protect communities and children from convicted sex offenders, both in Canada and abroad. The changes we have proposed in the bill would allow us to move ahead on two different fronts, one that is supported by the Department of Justice and one that is supported by Public Safety Canada.
The first element, broadly speaking, addresses penalties for child sexual offences through amendments to the Criminal Code. The second deals with changes to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, which I will get into in a few moments.
As we heard from the Minister of Justice, when the bill was first introduced our government proposed a number of enhancements that would allow us to ensure that penalties for child sexual offences would better reflect the long-lasting damage inflicted on young victims and further hold offenders accountable for their actions. Members of the House will not be surprised to hear me reiterate our government's firm belief that the punishment should fit the severity of the crime. I trust that members agree with me that, when we speak of the crime of sexual exploitation against children, this is a particularly important principle of living in a law-abiding society. There is no question that children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, so now is the time to act.
The other set of changes we are proposing is with respect to the information available to law enforcement about registered sex offenders and, of course, to the public.
As we have heard, the bill contains proposed amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, amendments that would enhance our knowledge about the whereabouts of registered sex offenders when they travel abroad, as well as increased offender accountability. The act is the governing legislation for the national sex offender registry, the existing federal database that houses the names of convicted sex offenders across the country. As members may be aware, this database is administered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and is accessible to police forces countrywide through a provincial-territorial registry centre. It is a vital tool that allows police to obtain a list of convicted sex offenders living or employed in a geographical area, when required for preventive or investigative purposes.
Currently, offenders subject to the registry must comply with a number of obligations with respect to reporting to registry officials. For example, they need to report each year, in addition to anytime they change their address or legal name. Further, they are obligated to notify registry officials if they plan to be away from their main or secondary residence for a period of seven days or longer. They are required to provide the estimated dates of travel, and for any domestic travel, they must provide the address or location at which they expect to stay.
With respect to international travel, registered sex offenders are not currently obligated to report absences unless those absences are seven days or longer. We feel this represents a significant gap in terms of registry officials' authority to obtain complete information on the international travel plans of registered sex offenders.
When it comes to sex offenders with a child offence conviction, they would be required to report any out-of-country absence of any length of time. Again, they would be required to provide specific travel plans, including dates and locations. All registered sex offenders would be required to report their travel dates and the addresses or locations where they are staying for any trips longer than seven days outside of Canada.
We have also proposed a change to address a gap that currently exists with respect to information sharing about registered sex offenders between the officials at the national sex offender registry and those at the Canada Border Services Agency. Some Canadians may be surprised to learn that currently there is no avenue for registry officials to share information regularly with border officials, since they are not a designated police service. In addition, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act currently does not authorize such disclosure. This unnecessarily limits our knowledge of travelling sex offenders.
It stands to reason that those on the front lines, those guarding our borders, could be playing an even more meaningful role in safeguarding our communities than they already do. With this legislation, we could empower them to do just that by giving them the right information. After all, border officials are the ones who will admit convicted sex offenders back into the country. The bill would allow for registry officials to disclose relevant information about certain registered sex offenders to Canada Border Services Agency officials, including the cases of child sex offenders who have been designated as being at a high risk to re-offend.
Such a change would allow them to be placed in a lookout system. This type of information sharing would mean that border officials would then be alerted to travelling sex offenders and that upon those offenders' return to Canada, the officials would then be in a position to collect the offenders' travel information and to share it with registry officials. This kind of exchange could allow for the investigation of crimes of a sexual nature, in addition to addressing any other potential breaches of reporting obligations of the offender. These changes, I propose, would go a long way toward helping us better protect children from this offender group in both Canada and abroad.
Finally, with this legislation, we would allow for the future creation of a publicly accessible national database of high-risk child offenders. Separate from the national sex offender registry, this database would capture those who have been the subject of public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction and would be presented in a searchable format for any Canadians who wish to access such information.
We are pleased with the progress that we continue to achieve in making our streets and communities safer, particularly for the youngest members of our society. The passage of this bill and the implication of its much needed amendments would take us even further in this regard. I therefore call on all members of this place to support the protection of children, on which I have heard many encouraging things today, both at home and abroad, from the horrific crimes of child sexual exploitation.