Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant.
I support Bill C-26 to amend the Criminal Code to do a number of things to deal with the scourge of child predators. It would amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and create a high-risk child sex offender database, as well as make a number of changes to the Criminal Code, which I will discuss during my remarks.
This bill is consistent with the zero tolerance policy that my party, the NDP, has with respect to child sexual crimes. Sexual crimes against children have to be dealt with in the most effective manner possible. The issue then before us is whether this bill will do what it says it is trying to achieve, a goal which we applaud. The question, then, is whether some of the mandatory new minimum sentences and the consecutive sentences provisions will do the job or whether judicial discretion, which has been the case before this, will still be a relevant way to proceed.
It will be my argument that although the bill is useful in some regard, it seems to ignore the evidence in a couple of key provisions, evidence that was brought before the committee that studied the bill, which I will refer to during my remarks.
It would increase existing mandatory minimum and maximum penalties. It would amend the Evidence Act to ensure that spouses of the accused would be competent and compellable witnesses where child pornography would be involved.
It would also amend the Sex Offender Information Registration Act to increase the reporting requirements when sex offenders travelled outside the country. There is some question as to wether the laudable end goal would be achieved in practice. It would enact a high-risk child offender database to establish a publicly accessible database containing information that police would have previously made accessible to the public in other places. We have that under the legislation in my province and in others, I understand. This would create that kind of accessibility across the country.
As I said at the outset, our party has a long-standing zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual offences against children and we therefore wonder whether this bill will do the job, protect children and keep our communities safe. For reasons I will describe, I am not sure it will do so. Simply having a tough on crime rhetoric and building more prisons and the like will be ineffective, as many of the experts said when they testified.
It is a question of having the resources available in the communities to do the job, as well as having legislation, which in and of itself is a partial measure. However, if we give people the tools and they do not have the ability to implement them because they do not have the budget, what good have we done except disappoint Canadians in our response? Therefore, are the necessary resources available? The answer appears to be no.
We have suggested that necessary resources be earmarked for the RCMP registry and budgets be made available to support victims. For example, the NDP fought for the Circles of Support and Accountability program only to find out that the measly $650,000 in funding that Correctional Service Canada offered was simply all and that it would not do the job.
CoSA, which is the Circles of Support and Accountability to which I have referred, receives funding from the National Crime Prevention Centre, which will end this fall. It costs $2.2 million a year. CoSA has been extraordinarily successful in having people settle into normal lives. Just having coffee and ensuring people are on track has proven, as it has been studied, to actually work and make a difference. Will there be money available for such programs? I do not think so, and that is what is so problematic about the bill.
If the government really were tough on crime, aside from getting good talking points, it would put its money where its mouth is.
Let us talk about what some of the experts have said about the specifics of the bill and see whether it is evidence-based or merely populous.
The politics are that we all join in wanting to make our communities safer for children, but one of the ways the Conservatives think they will do so is to have what they call mandatory minimum sentences for various offences. A long list is created.
The law requires, however, that there be a proportionate sentence for the offender and the offence. That is what the Constitution tells us. Rather, the Conservatives have mandatory minimum sentences throughout this. The message from Mr. Michael Spratt, who testified on behalf of the Criminal Lawyers' Association to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is that it will not work. From evidence on February 16, he said:
—the message that's being sent, that minimum sentences and harsher sentences make us safer. You know that's not true. You've been told that before. You've been told that by me, and you've been told that by other experts. The evidence suggests quite the opposite —minimum sentences don't make communities safer. They don't deter the commission of offences. They impede rehabilitation. They are costly, and they can be unconstitutional.
It looks good, sounds good, but it does not work.
Another witness from the Canadian Bar Association, a former crown attorney, Mr. Paul Calarco, said that there were very significant increases in this statute with respect to minimum offences, but stated:
I believe it is far more likely now that there will be constitutional challenges, there will be a finding of gross disproportionality, and that means the entire sentencing regime must be struck down.
Does that sound like a good way to protect our children?
It is not just these people. The famous Professor Anthony Doob from the University of Toronto testified that, “mandatory minimum penalties of this kind do not deter crime”. “Steve Sullivan testified, not only speaking to the ineffectiveness of minimum sentences but also how they can make the situation worse”. So many experts testified, asking and making the same point, that it would be likely to be held unconstitutional, therefore being a waste of time.
Also in terms of lack of evidence regarding the sexual offence registry, Mr. Calarco talked to the fact that:
There is little evidence to suggest that sexual offender registries, as they are presently constituted, prevent sexual assaults. This can be seen in both the reports of the Auditor General of Ontario and the John Howard Society....
[The] bill does not make the prevention of sexual exploitation any more likely. [Its] reporting requirements are unlikely to have any discernible effect on public safety, or will be unenforceable when they deal with matters outside [the] country....
He goes on to say that so many of the people involved in these horrible crimes are in family situations and that it will do nothing for them. A registry would not prevent these kinds of incidents. One of the most important ways to ensure a safe and just society is by rehabilitating the offenders.
Is that not what we want, to rehabilitate as opposed to simply show society's disgust with the crimes at issue?
If the experts and the evidence are saying that these kinds of measures, minimum mandatory sentences, simply will not work, if they are saying that we need more money to do the job, and if they are saying that the registries are not particularly effective, we need to address why in committee the Conservatives rejected the amendments that were proposed by the NDP to try to improve the bill.
The New Democrats suggested, for example, that the information in the new database could not be used to identify the victims and that it should be clarified. That was rejected. It was suggested to require that the minister report annually to Parliament on whether the bill was working. The Conservatives did not want that either. It is unclear why they would reject that kind of accountability. The Conservatives like to brag about accountability in their rhetoric, but when it comes to actually doing the job, they do not want to take those steps.
This is a position that puts us in great difficulty. Of course we support this bill because we have zero tolerance for sexual crimes involving children. However, we are dubious as to whether it will achieve its objectives. We wish it were more evidence-based because the evidence before the committee and before Parliament is that some of these measures will not do the job.
Nevertheless, we stand in support of the bill, wishing the Conservatives would allow a review, as they have done with other legislation, after a certain period of time so Parliament can assess whether it has been effective.