moved that Bill C-291, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts (child sexual abuse material), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House of Commons to speak to my private member’s bill, Bill C-291, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
At the outset, I would like to express my thanks to the hon. member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, who was central to the conception and drafting of this bill. The hon. member's years of experience as a Crown prosecutor have afforded him insights into how Canada’s laws and legislation in some instances are not necessarily as succinct as they should be and where changes could be made to improve them. Not all MPs have a chance to introduce and debate their private member's bill, so I was certainly happy to work with the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo to achieve this. The hon member's experience also afforded him insight into how the House and our colleagues in the upper chamber can strengthen our federal statutes. I thank the member for his work on this bill and other proposals that seek to enhance the protection of Canadians, especially children.
The Criminal Code of Canada contains many elements, including essential elements that define, prohibit, deter and penalize criminal activities. Bill C-291 does not propose amendments to definitions, prohibitions or penalties. It clearly and succinctly proposes to change the term “child pornography” to “child sexual abuse material”.
Some members in the House or Canadians watching this debate may wonder what the motive or value of Bill C-291’s proposals are. This is a question that I believe all legislative proposals should be subject to, and I will endeavour to answer this question.
Let us start with my motive in presenting this bill. I believe it is essential that the Criminal Code of Canada contain terms that accurately describe prohibited activities. I also believe that the code’s use of the term “child pornography” is a misnomer that fails to accurately describe the gravity and reality of such material. “Pornography” is a term typically used to describe material involving consenting adults, but there is no legal basis for children to consent to participating in such material. This factor of consent is central to the motivation behind this bill, and if hon. members agree that pornography describes material involving consenting adults, I hope they will also recognize that children cannot legally consent to being depicted in pornography.
What the Criminal Code currently calls “child pornography” is more severe than mere pornography because it involves children and cannot be consensual. It is exploitive and abusive, and the Criminal Code should clearly reflect these realities. So-called child pornographers are producers of child sexual abuse material. Those who distribute it are distributors of child sexual abuse material. Those who possess it are owners of child sexual abuse material. Those who view it are consumers of child sexual abuse material. These are the realities that compelled me to table this bill.
I hope all hon. members understand and support my motivation in proposing this bill. Together, we can collectively make a difference by ensuring that Canada’s Criminal Code contains clear terms for what is prohibited by the code. Words matter, especially the words and terms Parliament chooses to apply to federal statutes and especially the Criminal Code. The term “child pornography” is a misnomer, and I hope all members can recognize the necessity for our statutes to do away with this term. We cannot miss this opportunity to update and strengthen the Criminal Code so that it reflects reality. We must call child sexual abuse material exactly what it is: child sexual abuse material.
As I mentioned earlier, it is important for us to understand the motive and the value of all legislative proposals and I hope that I have provided the House a clear account of my motive in pursuing the proposals of this bill.
As for the value of the bill's proposals, I believe that changing the term “child pornography” to ”child sexual abuse material” will not only provide our statutes with a greater degree of accuracy, but will also provide a more accurate and true recognition of those victimized by such material. The terms “abuse”, “sexual abuse” and “exploitation” currently exist in the Criminal Code. I believe that the House must acknowledge that these terms afford a truer recognition of the victimization of children and potential future victimization of children caused by child sexual abuse material.
We must support those who, as children, have been victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. I believe this bill is a valuable opportunity for the House to acknowledge the true and severe nature of the crimes inflicted on victims of child sexual abuse material.
It is time that Parliament addresses the seriousness of what is occurring by providing clear terms to ensure that the words used in our laws reflect the severity of offences and the gravity of what is inflicted on victims.
I also see the value of the necessity of this bill's proposals, considering the latest crime data from Statistics Canada, which clearly states that child exploitation and abuse are on the increase here in Canada.
In a report released in August 2022, Statistics Canada reported that from 2019 to 2021, the rate of police-reported child sexual abuse material increased by a staggering 31% to a rate of 31 incidents per 100,000 of population. For a Canadian city of one million people, less than half the size of Vancouver, that translates to 310 cases per year. Those are just the cases reported to police. We all must understand that many more cases go unreported to police, but they do exist.
This increase from 2019 to 2021 follows a 47% increase in 2019. These increases have likely been contributed to by criminals using the Internet to abuse and exploit children.
The Statistics Canada report from this August states:
For many child sexual exploitation and abuse violations, the incidents that occur are committed online as cybercrimes. For instance, 61% of incidents of child pornography and 20% of sexual violations against children were recorded as cybercrimes. The pandemic has potentially exacerbated issues related to cybercrimes for these offences as children have been more likely to be staying at home and individuals are more likely to use the internet to engage with others.
It is also shocking to see that in 2021, there was a 14% increase in sexual violations against children. A Statistics Canada 2021 report on the 2020 data detailed how child sexual abuse material is a growing problem across our nation, especially in my home province of British Columbia. The 2021 report showed that among Canada's census metropolitan areas, or CMAs, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg and Victoria reported the largest increases in the number of child pornography violations. Together, these four CMAs represented 75% of the increase in incidents of child pornography among CMAs from 2019 to 2020.
The same 2021 report further demonstrated how from 2019 to 2020, incidents of child sexual abuse material significantly increased across Canada. The majority of the national increase was due to more incidents in British Columbia and Quebec, but the data showed troubling increases in other provinces as well. This includes 81% more incidents in New Brunswick and 55% more incidents in Nova Scotia.
The data is truly shocking, but it is not enough for us as parliamentarians to be just shocked. These realities demand a response, especially our response as parliamentarians. By passing this bill, we can strengthen our Criminal Code. We can acknowledge the true severity and often long-lasting effects of child sexual abuse material inflicted on victims. We can also demonstrate the responsiveness that Canadians expect and deserve from us as parliamentarians.
At this juncture, the first hour of second reading debate, I will welcome input from all parties represented here in this chamber for this important debate. Child sexual abuse material is a growing problem across our nation, as I pointed out in the report from Statistics Canada, and Canadians look to us, their elected representatives, to take the steps, big and small, that are required to deal with problems like child sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
I believe this bill is a step in the right direction. It is a small but important part of the response that must be issued by Parliament, and I hope that this debate will lead us to an outcome that benefits Canadians, especially Canada's children and the communities that look to us to deliver results.
In closing, I would again like to thank the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo for his work in drafting Bill C-291 and his passion for improving our federal statutes of law.
I commit to answering members’ questions today on this bill to the best of my ability. I commit to listening to members’ input, their suggestions and the interventions of other members as we participate in debate today and in the future. I commit to the dialogue we need for moving this bill diligently and expeditiously through the debate and committee stages so that it can continue through the legislative process to receive royal assent. I feel it is so important for Canadians, especially our children.
I commit to working with all to deliver results for Canada.