moved that bill be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to voice my support for Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act, during third reading debate. This is critical legislation that addresses concerns that I believe we all share.
Bill C-26 reflects the ongoing efforts by this government to combat all forms of child sexual exploitation and denounce the grave and reprehensible nature of such heinous crimes. The bill is another concrete example of our commitment to protect Canadian families, communities and, above all, to protect the most vulnerable and valuable members of our society, our children.
We know that children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation, and are far more likely to be victims of sexual crimes than are adults. Our violent crime rates are trending downward in Canada. It is very worrisome that the number of child sexual offences reported to police continues to rise.
In 2013, police reported some 4,200 incidents of sexual violations against children, a 6% increase in the rate from the previous year. As noted by Statistics Canada, in its report on police reported crime released in July 2014, sexual offences against children was one of the few categories of violent crimes to increase in Canada in 2013.
I think we can all agree that these numbers are a cause for concern. Let me assure the House that the troubling reality behind those numbers is exactly what the tougher penalties for child predators act aims to address.
One of the amendments to criminal law proposed in Bill C-26 seeks to deter people from committing such horrific crimes by ensuring that offenders are liable for the harm they cause children and by improving our capacity to monitor these offenders and prevent recidivism.
More specifically, Bill C-26 proposes increasing mandatory minimum penalties and maximum penalties for many sexual offences against children.
For example, Bill C-26 will ensure that anyone who commits any hybrid offence involving sexual contact is liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years less a day when the person is found guilty on summary conviction and a term of 14 years when the person is found guilty on indictment.
Bill C-26 also proposes to increase the penalties for making and distributing child pornography and to make these offences strictly indictable to better reflect their seriousness. Child pornography offences can have long-lasting and devastating impacts on victims, particularly when images and videos are posted on the Internet. Once on the web, child pornographic images can quickly be disseminated around the world and might be accessed indefinitely, with the result of re-victimizing the child victim at every click.
This bill would also ensure that committing a child sexual offence while on a conditional sentence order, parole, or statutory release would be considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes to assist in preventing future offences by convicted child sexual offenders.
Bill C-26 proposes to increase maximum penalties for violations of prohibition orders, probation orders, and peace bonds. Canadians are rightly concerned about the mobility and conduct of known child sexual predators once they are released into the community. Stricter measures are needed to ensure that supervision orders are observed and that breaches of conditions result in appropriate consequences. These conditions, which may include refraining from being in contact with a victim or staying away from a specific household or prohibitions around the use of weapons, alcohol, or drugs, are imposed to protect the children. A breach of these conditions generally means that there is an increased risk that the offender may commit further sexual offences. Therefore, Bill C-26 would increase the maximum penalties for breaches of conditions of any of these orders, from six to 18 months if preceded by summary conviction, and from two to four years if preceded by indictment.
Bill C-26 not only sends a strong signal that the protection of children is a paramount value of Canadian society but also communicates the important message that every victim matters.
The reforms in Bill C-26 would also amend the Canada Evidence Act to ensure that spouses of individuals accused of child pornographic offences would be compellable witnesses for the crown. The testimony of an accused spouse may be required to facilitate the prosecution of a child pornography offence when the pornographic material is found on a home computer, for example.
However, the amendments set out in Bill C-26 do not stop there. In order to further address the risk that sex offenders pose to children, Bill C-26 proposes amendments to the Sex Offender Information Registration Act that would require sex offenders to notify authorities of any absences of seven days or more for any trip within Canada or abroad, as well as the dates of their travel and the locations where they will be staying.
It is important to note that child sex offenders will be expected to meet these obligations regardless of the duration of their trip.
The proposed amendments would also increase our knowledge of sexual offenders by authorizing the sharing of information on registered sexual offenders between National Sex Offender Registry officials and the Canada Border Services Agency. In particular, this would assist in preventing and addressing offenders who travel abroad to commit sexual offences against children.
Bill C-26 also proposes to create a national, publicly accessible database of high-risk child sexual offenders who have been the subject of a public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. A centralized database would help to ensure that law enforcement and the public had greater access to information about high-risk child sex offenders.
Our government recognizes that the issue of child sexual exploitation is not one dimensional and requires a multi-pronged or holistic approach. Although the criminal law reforms proposed in Bill C-26 are a critical part of the overall response, I am pleased that our government has dedicated over $10 million since 2010 for 21 new or enhanced child advocacy centres to address the needs of child and youth victims of crime and to assist with the recovery of victims who have suffered significant trauma as a result of those heinous crimes.
The bill aims to further protect the most vulnerable members of our society, our children, from exploitation by providing measures designed to deter and denounce crimes of a sexual nature committed against them.
The sentencing amendments proposed in the bill include mandatory consecutive sentences, which would ensure that in cases of multiple crimes, including in instances where offences were committed against multiple victims, offenders would not receive what is commonly coined a “sentence discount” at the time they were sentenced.
Before describing the specifics of these amendments, allow me to provide some background with respect to the existing sentencing principles that are applicable to multiple offences. I will then focus my remarks on the proposed amendments to the sentencing regime with respect to child sexual offences.
Generally, the Criminal Code provides that a court has the discretion to order that a term of imprisonment be served consecutively to any sentence the offender is already serving or to any other sentence of imprisonment the court imposes, whether it is a result of the non-payment of a fine or not. If this provision sounds confusing, it is because it represents an amalgamation of sentencing rules that pre-date Confederation. Moreover, amendments over the years have further complicated the statement of the rules contained within the Criminal Code.
In addition to these Criminal Code rules, case law offers guidance with respect to the circumstances in which consecutive or concurrent sentences are imposed on an offender.
In general, courts will order that the sentence for two or more offences arising out of one continuous criminal act or single transaction, also referred to as the “same event or series of events” rule, will be served concurrently, or if members prefer, simultaneously. In these cases, the offender will serve the longer of the sentences imposed.
Offences or multiple convictions that arise out of a separate criminal transaction generally will garner consecutive sentences, which are served one after the other. The imposition of concurrent sentences for offences committed as part of the same event or series of events usually reflects the fact that the guilty mind of the accused is the same throughout the event or events, as opposed to offences arising out of separate criminal transactions. That said, courts will be reluctant to order that offences committed as part of the same event or series of events be served concurrently when it would allow the offender to commit subsequent offences with impunity, especially where the subsequent offence is particularly serious in nature.
For example, courts will order consecutive terms of imprisonment for an offence, the first offence, that is committed while fleeing from the police, the second offence. They will also order that an offence committed while on bail be served concurrently to the term of imprisonment for the predicate offence. The determination of whether sentences are to be served concurrently or consecutively, therefore, is a fact-specific inquiry as to whether the connection between the two offences is sufficiently close to warrant concurrent sentences.
It is important to outline the relevant sentencing principles at play, especially when discussing concurrent and consecutive sentences. The Criminal Code provides that the fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful, and safe society by imposing fit sentences that have one or more of the following objectives: denunciation, deterrence, separation of offenders from society, rehabilitation, reparation for harms done to victims, and the promotion of a sense of responsibility in offenders.
A fit sentence is one that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the degree of responsibility of the offender. The Criminal Code explicitly directs that a fit sentence must focus on the objectives of deterrence and denunciation.
The last step a court must take before deciding whether to consider that any terms of imprisonment it imposes be served consecutively or concurrently is to consider the totality principle.
Pursuant to subsection 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code, a court that imposes consecutive sentences must determine whether the combined sentence is unduly long or harsh. In other words, the totality principle requires courts to determine whether the totality of the sentence adequately reflects the overall gravity of the offender's conduct. Where the court is of the opinion that the combined sentence is unduly long or harsh, it may order that some of the offences be served concurrently instead of consecutively.
However, where the Criminal Code prescribes mandatory consecutive sentences, a court may impose shorter sentences on some or all of the individual offences in order for the combined sentence to be a fit sentence.
This will be the case for the offences of possession of explosives for a criminal organization, the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence, terrorism offences, or criminal organization offences.
In these cases, the Criminal Code requires judges to order the term of imprisonment for these offences be served consecutively to terms of imprisonment imposed for other offences, whether they arise out of the same event or series of events or not.
The proposed amendments clarify and codify the rules regarding the imposition of consecutive and concurrent sentences, which I outlined earlier in my remarks.
The amendments would also require courts to order in certain cases consecutive sentences on offenders who commit certain sexual offences against children. This would be similar to the current requirement of consecutive sentences for offences that I mentioned earlier: terrorism, criminal organization offences, the use of a firearm.
Specifically, the bill proposes that sentences for child pornography offences be served consecutively to any sentence imposed at the same time for a contact child sexual offence.
It also proposes that in cases of multiple victims, sentences imposed at the same time for contact child sexual offences committed against one victim be served consecutively to those imposed for contact child sexual offences against any other victim.
These amendments recognize the increasing tendency of courts to direct that a sentence for possession or making of child pornography be served consecutively to a sentence for a contact child sexual offence, in recognition of the heinous nature of sexual offending against children, especially where the child pornography material is distributed via the Internet.
Furthermore, requiring child sexual offenders to serve sentences imposed for offences committed against different victims consecutively would address the so-called “volume discounts” given to child sexual offenders sentenced at the same time for multiple child sexual offences. This direction is also valid in cases of multiple child sexual offences, especially where there is more than one victim.
These proposed amendments will reinforce the continued efforts of this government to protect children against sexual offences by ensuring that these crimes are denounced, that child predators are deterred, and that every child victim counts.
In closing, I would encourage all members to support these important amendments that seek to protect our most vulnerable members of society, our young children.