Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to this debate on tougher penalties for sex offenders. In my professional career, I never stopped advocating for women's rights or for the fight against childhood poverty.
There is nothing sadder than to see children in vulnerable situations, whether because of an unstable family life, family violence, or just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We all have a duty in the House to ensure that we are doing everything we can to keep our families, children and communities safe and sound. Over the past few years, a significant number of children, girls and boys, have been victims of sex crimes in far too many of Canada's communities. This has an adverse effect on many aspects of their lives, on their self-confidence, their ability to trust others, their mental health and so many other things. So many families are wounded, broken and devastated because of these reprehensible crimes.
Furthermore, this bill is part of a complex societal debate because it involves several levels of government—municipal, provincial and territorial; police services such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and provincial and municipal police forces; many advocacy groups; and various professions such as youth protection workers, psychologists, street workers and psychosocial workers.
I am bringing my perspective as a mother, and also as the former president of the Regroupement des groupes de femmes de la région de la Capitale-Nationale to this debate. This bill does not do enough for the women and children traumatized by the horrors perpetrated by sex offenders.
The Conservatives consider themselves to be tough on crime. However, they are mistaken if they believe that the legislative measures proposed in this bill are sufficient. This is not the first nor the last time that I will admonish this government for its wishful thinking. I rise today with the expectation that this government will realize the importance of prevention, understand that simply handing out harsher sentences does not yield the desired results and grasp that we need meaningful action and not just fine words to look good for the cameras. Our children are paying the price for the lack of leadership to search for concrete solutions.
I want to talk about a statistic that shocked me and that could shock many people listening to me today. Sexual offences against children have increased 6% over the past two years. This statistic was shared by none other than the Minister of Justice, when he appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. A 6% increase is cause for concern.
Over the last decade, Canada has seen a significant increase in the number of people charged in cases of sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation and luring a child using a computer.
I will use my time today to talk about three important points. First, I will give a critique of the proposal for harsher prison sentences, which do not do enough to fix the problem. Second, I will talk about the cuts made to public protection services. Third, I will talk about how what the public really needs is meaningful, comprehensive action.
First, I would like to emphasize the fact that the NDP has always had a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual offences against children. I think it is important to repeat that. We have zero tolerance for sexual offences against children.
When preparing this speech on Bill C-26, I wondered why the Conservatives, who claim to be the champions in the fight against crime, have only one solution for every crime: tougher sentences. Tougher sentences alone do not work. A more comprehensive approach is needed.
Once again, the fact that sexual offences against children have increased by 6% in the past two years shows that the Conservatives are taking a minimalist approach. That is disgraceful. I would not want to be in the shoes of the Minister of Justice, who has to justify that statistic to Canadians, particularly victims and their loved ones.
One of the amendments proposed by the NDP sought to obligate the minister to submit an annual report to Parliament on the effectiveness of the law. That amendment was rejected. Once again, how can the government justify that to victims and their loved ones?
As I have said repeatedly, what I have seen since entering federal politics is a government that is too often reacting instead of being proactive.
They do not seem to think it is important to invest in preventing crime. I do, however, and so do the people of Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles and many Canadians.
The government absolutely must invest in crime prevention and other practical solutions to keep our communities safe. I have to say that we are disappointed that this bill does not do more to introduce effective solutions that will do a better job of protecting our children and making our communities safer.
That brings me to my second point, which is about budget cuts and funding shortfalls. If we want to reduce the number of sexual crimes against children in this country, we have to back that up with resources. Disappointment on that front too: there is no new funding in this bill.
Resources on the ground cannot always keep up with the Conservative government's harsher law and order policies. The NDP believes that our communities need resources to combat child sexual abuse.
In regard to funding for police services, police forces are having to do more with less. The RCMP is already having difficulty keeping the criminal records registry up to date, for lack of resources. This bill will only further increase their workload, without adding any trained personnel to protect our children.
That is why I was so surprised to learn recently that the RCMP did not spend the $10 million earmarked for the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre and other projects to fight child pornography, even though more and more people are coming forward all the time to report child exploitation. How can this government justify that?
To illustrate my third point, I want to talk about how the Conservatives stubbornly refuse to listen to the questions being asked by people in communities across Canada and by experts. For the NDP, passing legislation is not something we take lightly. We always encourage the relevant committees to examine the bills. We meet with experts, associations and professionals with full transparency in order to understand their point of view. We often propose amendments based on the arguments of workers on the ground who are familiar with the realities facing victims.
This bill is no different; however, one thing that has not changed about the process is that the Conservatives continue to reject our amendments.
We understand the political game they are playing. However, I take exception to this government ignoring the recommendations made by the professional associations and experts who testified in committee. The experts are the ones we turn to for opinions and clarification. So why do the Conservatives ignore their recommendations?
What we want is simple. We want the government to stop turning a deaf ear and understand the scope of the problem. We want it to be open to working in collaboration with the opposition parties and the experts.
In closing, we are here to work in the interest of Canadians. This is not an easy task and we do not have all the answers.
Child sex offences have increased by 6%. We are asking the government to do more to improve those statistics and ensure that children are no longer victims of sexual offences and that communities have more resources to work on preventing and condemning reprehensible acts.
We are voting in favour of Bill C-26, but I want to add my list of concerns.
I encourage the government to get its head out of the sand and stop thinking that tougher sentences will solve the problems, because they will not.
I urge the government to give victims support organizations and the police the resources they need to properly discharge their mandate in view of the growing number of complaints, including those about online practices.
I am asking the government to listen to the experts in order to improve this bill.
What measures will truly help protect the must vulnerable, such as children? How and when will these measures be incorporated in the government's policies?