Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-2, which is a very important bill but, as previous members have indicated, it follows on the good footsteps and foundation of steps provincially in Ontario and nationally by a former Liberal government in 2004. In that sense, it is trying to make existing law better.
Why do we need to make the existing law better? We could argue that in Ontario, Christopher's Law (Sex Offender Registry) is working quite well, which is probably very good for people in Ontario, but there are nine other provinces and three territories where Christopher's Law is not in place. Therefore, it is really important for us as parliamentarians for all the country to get it right.
In places outside of Ontario where the federal legislation is not working as well as the Ontario legislation and where in many provinces there is no registry provincially, we need to ask ourselves what the goal is here.
I am quoting from statistics in this regard when I say that the police have indicated that the present legislative framework does not allow them to prevent crimes of a sexual nature. Response times in the investigation of those crimes are critically important, especially in cases involving child abduction. Can we as a parent, a grandmother, a grandfather, an aunt, an uncle or just a member of a community imagine something more horrifying than having our child abducted or having a child in our community abducted?
All members of Parliament have either experienced that in their community and know people who have experienced it in their communities who react with shock and horror at even the prospect of this happening. As parents we all have those dreams and nightmares that we are at the mall or the hockey rink and one of our three to five children is gone because we turned away for a second.
Why is that response time so important after an abduction? Here are the statistics. Rapid response is so important because 44% of child victims are dead 1 hour after abduction, 74% are dead 3 hours after abduction and 91% of children abducted are dead 24 hours after abduction. This is not to say that every abduction is a sexual offence or a sex offender related offence but, sadly, most of them are.
I want to refer to some of the debate that has been taking place with respect to why the Ontario legislation is so much broader and so much better. It reminds me of a debate that we had recently with respect to protecting children from sexual Internet exploitation and there was a requirement to have Internet service providers report incidents of child exploitation or child pornography.
What we learned in that case is that the federal government of any stripe, as my friend from Scarborough--Rouge River indicated, operates on a much narrower principle of constitutional law with respect to our Criminal Code provisions and the acts that we enact here and that is the criminal law.
In the reporting of child pornography law, which we just studied, it was clear that the federal government felt that its criminal law power was not as broad as the provincial power under the family and child services act to protect children. Therefore, we saw across the country, in two instances, in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, where legislation has been passed protecting children from Internet pornography in a broader way by making it a positive duty on anyone who sees child pornography or child victimization to so report. That is because the child power resides with the provinces under our Constitution and we are enacting laws from the broader criminal provisions.
That is interesting because it has raised its head in this debate that perhaps the Department of Justice, in preparing the legislation in 2004, used the more narrow criminal law power and did not get as pervasive as the Ontario legislation in 2000 which was meant to protect all of the community no matter whether it was criminal in nature. I use that as a backdrop to say that Canadians may wonder why Ontario has the legislation and why federal legislation has been less effective.
It is my pleasure to indicate that we support the legislation which is meant to deal with the sensitive subject of sexual offenders. Members of Parliament, however, have a duty to deal with the crime in a serious way and to give the bill serious and thoughtful review. We would have liked to have seen Bill S-2 in its previous incarnation as Bill C-34 passed. The government knows there is no opposition to strengthening measures to protect Canadians from sexual offences, so I wonder why we did not get Bill C-34 through.
Bill S-2 aims to strengthen the current national sex offenders registry under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act that was enacted by the government of the day in 2004. The current framework is a national registry comprising mandatory information entered, such as address, telephone number, physical distinguishing marks, the offences and the characteristics of the victims, and it is information only available to police officers. Amendments were later made to the National Defence Act to bring it into sync with civilian laws.
As of April 2009, 19,000 offenders were registered in the national registry. It is important to say that the 2004 legislation had the effect of seeing to the registration of 19,000 sexual offenders. Only 50% of those offenders not criminally responsible, as in the mentally ill or youth, are under order to register.
The public safety committee heard witnesses who testified about the problems with the recent bill and possible improvements.
The Ontario registry system, as I mentioned, is used a lot more than the national database. The national sex offender registry is used, and I get to the real numbers of my comparison, 165 times a year, while the Ontario registry is used about 475 times a day. That is quite a difference. It is imminently clear that the Ontario registry is being used more often to prevent crime and to crack down on the crime the moment that it occurs, especially in the case of an abduction.
The reason for this much higher usage of the Ontario registry is thought to be that it could be used more preventively, something that cannot be done with the national registry as it exists. The national registry can be used only when police officers have reasonable grounds to suspect that the crimes investigated are sexual in nature. Police organizations have complained that this framework is hampering their work as police officers since the exact nature of a crime is not always known during an investigation.
While we all recognize the difficulty of the fight against sexual offenders, we also want to take a closer look at the morality behind the use of past offences to create reasonable doubt for the existence of a crime.
Our duty as legislators is to find a correct balance between the right to be presumed innocent, which is in our charter under section 11(d), and our duty to protect victims of sexual abuse, which no doubt comes from the override provisions in section 1 of the charter.
We cannot presume to have a suspect in hand for every crime because he has offended before. On the other hand, in crimes of sexual exploitation and in crimes of a sexual nature, compelling statistics suggest that there is a high degree of recidivism, so there may be a public duty that is higher and outweighs that of the presumption of innocence in this case.
At committee, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association was concerned about the provisions that grant the police additional powers to cross-reference the registry when they find someone acting suspiciously near a school. I have cited the statistics with respect to abduction and I suggest that the Ontario model is being used so much more and with such more efficacy that it ought to be adopted in these changes to this law.
The major effects on our legislative scheme would be several-fold. Bill S-2 has 65 clauses. Clause 19 adds 15 new sections to the Criminal Code. This is not an inconsequential bill.
I do not want to go through the 65 clauses and 15 new sections, but the main provisions of the bill in general are: to amend the purpose of the registry and give broader authority to consult, which seems very reasonable; to make registration automatic, which also seems reasonable based on the Ontario experience; and to make offences of a sexual nature designated offences for which DNA samples may be taken.
A lot has happened with respect to the use of DNA evidence in the courts. That is to be reflected in the changes to the Criminal Code, which is, after all, organic and needs to be updated.
There will be obligations for sex offenders convicted in Canada and outside Canada to register and provide information. There will be consequences for failure to comply with the order to register.
Members have talked about the aspect of persons outside Canada committing an offence and either returning to Canada or coming to live in Canada. They have a positive obligation to register. Our system of international crime statistic gathering makes it unlikely they would be here without the police knowing of their prior record, and therefore it would make our streets safer by having mandatory registration.
As I said, Bill S-2 provides for a regime. Fifteen new sections are added to the Criminal Code. For example, under clause 9 of the bill, the court may terminate an order if it is satisfied that the person has established that the impact on him or her of continuing an order or obligation, including on personal privacy or liberty, would be grossly disproportionate to the public interest in protecting society through the effective prevention or investigation of crimes of a sexual nature, to be achieved by the registration of information relating to sex offenders under the Sex Offender Information Registration Act.
And subclause 21(1) of the bill provides for the creation of a new offence for sex offenders who fail to comply with their obligations or an order made under the Criminal Code.
According to this bill, these new offences would carry maximum prison terms of two years and maximum fines of $10,000 or a summary conviction.
In general, I believe that this bill makes a number of worthwhile improvements to the law created by the Liberals in 2004. It is a new registration regime. There will surely be more room for improvement as the police learn to use this new tool. However, we have some concerns about the treatment of those found not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder.
That is where I would conclude with the whole area of whether the net we cast by supporting this bill is too wide. We say we want to protect the public and make the federal legislation as wide as the Ontario legislation. We want to make sure our police forces are using the data bank of sexual offenders across the country to protect the public. We say that with some conviction. I think everyone in the House believes that.
We have to imagine a particular case where a person committed a sexual offence in his or her past. The person did it before being diagnosed with a mental ailment that caused the person to act improperly, criminally, and as a shock to the ethics and morals of the community in which the person lived. Perhaps since that time, the person has received medication and treatment and is no longer the same person as when the person committed the crime. That person may find himself or herself moving from community to community and being outed as a person who is on the registry of sexual offenders.
While that is within the aim of protecting society, this is where the rubber hits the road on the application of the law by the enforcement officials. This is where we have to put faith in our law enforcement officials, our crown prosecutors, and our judges to make the justice system work. This is where we hope that upon investigating someone who is registered in the circumstances just laid out, the person is treated fairly and with the good common sense that a cop on the beat would have in his or her community, to suggest the person is not the same person that he or she was before, this is not a person who presents a danger to the community in terms of recidivism, of performing acts such as those performed years ago by the person.
That is the non-legal aspect of this bill and all the bills we bring forward in the criminal justice area. We hope the players in the system use the discretion they have to investigate, to lay charges, to arrest, to defend, or to convict. Along the line of the criminal justice system, every player has some discretion. I have been in this House for five years and from day one I have been very adamant in suggesting to our friends across the way that they not poke sticks in the eyes of judges with respect to discretionary powers. They would not do it to police officers or to prosecutors, so why early on were they attacking judicial discretion?
I am pleased to report that we on this side have had some effect on the other side; not enough, and probably we never will, which is why we have elections. However, recent bills from the Minister of Justice have shown a willingness on occasion to restore and keep in place judicial discretion. That is what will make the difference between the laws we enact here being good for society or not being good for society.
I thank my colleagues who serve on the public safety committee. The committee report was replete with changes to the sex offender information registration act. Certainly the work of the committee was worthy. The greatest compliment is the imitation of one's work. The government, looking at the date on the calendar and realizing it had not done anything in this regard in five years, had to bring this legislation forward to replace Bill C-34. It looked at the work done by the committee and chose to do it. This is good. This means the committee was doing its work, in pushing the government toward a piece of legislation, with the caveat I mentioned about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms application at the federal level, but generally good legislation which we will support. It is primarily due to the good work of all parliamentarians who serve on a multi-party committee.
This is an example of how Parliament can work.
It has to be said that it is now 2010. The law was enacted in 2004. The Ontario law was there in 2000, and was working well. I am very firm in saying that as early as 2006, when various notable police officers appeared in Ottawa, to use a legal term, it was certainly reasonable for the players on the other side in the justice department to know that this needed to be updated. It is now 2010. The message is that we should get on with this law, but it should have been done four years ago.
With that I conclude. We will be supporting this piece of legislation. We hope it will make the streets and communities not just of Ontario but all of Canada safer.