Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak in support of Bill C-22, the Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act, a government bill.
I think everyone in this House would agree there is no greater duty for us as elected officials than to ensure the protection of children, the most precious and vulnerable members of our society.
Although the Canadian laws designed to combat child pornography are among the most exhaustive in the world, we can and must do more to make sure our children are protected from sexual exploitation.
The creation of the Internet has provided new means for offenders to distribute and use child pornography, resulting in significant increases in the availability and volume of child pornography.
This bill is aimed at the Internet, and in particular the distribution of child pornography on the Web. Exactly as Bill C-58 did in the previous session, it proposes to enhance Canada’s capacity to protect children from sexual exploitation by requiring that Internet service providers report child pornography on the Internet.
This piece of legislation would strengthen Canada's ability to detect potential child pornography offences. It would also help reduce the availability of online child pornography, and would facilitate the identification, apprehension and prosecution of offenders. Most importantly, this bill would help identify victims so they may be rescued from sexual predators.
Last summer, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime released a special report entitled “Every Image, Every child”, which provided an overview of the problem of online sexual exploitation of children. According to a special report, the number of charges for production or distribution of child pornography increased by 900% between 1998 and 2003. Additionally, the number of images of serious child abuse quadrupled between 2003 and 2007.
Again according to that report, 39% of those accessing child pornography are viewing images of children between the ages of three and five, and 19% want to see images of children under three years old.
The federal ombudsman's special report quotes Ontario Provincial Police detective inspector Angie Howe, and this quotation was from her appearance before the Senate committee in 2005. She said:
As recently as one year ago, we did not often see pictures with babies, where now it is normal to see babies in many collections that we find. There is even a highly sought-after series on the Internet of a newborn baby being violated. She still has her umbilical cord attached; she is that young.
According to this report, commercial child pornography is estimated to be a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Thousands of new images or videos are put on the Internet every week and hundreds of thousands of searches for child sexual abuse images are performed daily.
There are more than 750,000 pedophiles online at any given time and some of them may have collections of over a million child sexual abuse images.
The conclusions in the special report from the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime were quickly used in a more recent report from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which presents an overview of the information obtained through tips received by Cybertip.ca.
Cybertip.ca is a Canada-wide tipline for the public reporting of online child sexual exploitation, which includes child pornography, Internet luring, child prostitution, child sex tourism and child trafficking for sexual purposes.
I would like to quote from this report because it contains troubling statistics about the prevalence of online child sexual exploitation. It also reports that the images are becoming increasingly violent and are showing increasingly younger children.
The results of this assessment provide some disturbing data on the issue of child abuse images. Most concerning is the severity of abuse depicted, with over 35% of all images showing serious sexual assaults. Combined with the age ranges of the children in the images, we see that children under 8 years old are most likely to be abused through sexual assaults. Even more alarming is the extreme sexual assaults which occur against children under the age of 8 years. These statistics challenge the misconception that child pornography consists largely of innocent or harmless nude photographs of children.
The government is committed to doing everything it can to put a stop to this growing problem. That is why we are reintroducing in the House this legislative measure to create a uniform mandatory reporting regime across Canada that would apply to all Internet service providers.
The new measures in Bill C-22 will complete a series of existing measures in Canada that are intended to protect children from sexual exploitation, including child pornography.
Canadian criminal laws against child pornography are among the most comprehensive in the world and apply to representations involving real and imaginary children. Section 163.1 of the Criminal Code prohibits all forms of making, distributing, transmitting, selling, importing, exporting, accessing, advertising and possessing child pornography.
The Criminal Code provides a broad definition of child pornography that includes any visual, written and audio depictions of sexual abuse of a young person under the age of 18 years, and any written material or audio recording that advocates or counsels such unlawful activity, or whose dominant characteristic is the description of such unlawful activity.
The Criminal Code sets out tough sentences for child pornography offences, including a maximum sentence of 10 years for producing or distributing child pornography. Since 2005, all child pornography offences carry a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment, which prevents persons found guilty of such an offence to be given a conditional sentence, for example house arrest.
In addition, committing a child pornography offence with intent to make a profit is an aggravating factor when determining the sentence. Since 2005, the courts responsible for sentencing have had to pay particular attention to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence when imposing a sentence for an offence involving the sexual exploitation of children.
The government recognizes that, although tough criminal laws are necessary to fight this scourge, they are not enough. For that reason, we announced last year that we were renewing our commitment to work with our partners on the national strategy for the protection of children from sexual exploitation on the Internet. This strategy has been successful and has played an important role in recent years in ensuring that the increasing number of youth using the Internet are protected and that measures to stop sexual predators are in place. The government will invest $71 million over five years to ensure that this national strategy continues to be successful.
This money will make it possible for the government, through the National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, to increase its capacity to fight against the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet by identifying the victims, conducting investigations and helping to bring offenders to justice, and also by improving the capacity of municipal, territorial, provincial, federal and foreign police by providing training and support for investigations.
We also want to enhance the centre's ability to help young people take charge of their own safety while engaging in online activities, and enable the public to report possible cases of online sexual exploitation of children through initiatives like Cybertip.ca
The international community has also recognized that the protection of our children is of paramount importance in the many treaties that address the issue. In particular, the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime seeks to standardize a definition of child pornography and offences related to child pornography in an attempt to foster international co-operation in combating crimes against children.
On May 6, 2010, the government reintroduced this important bill in the House to enhance our ability to co-operate with our international partners in combating this scourge.
I would now like to explain how this piece of legislation will work. The bill focuses on the Internet and those who supply Internet services to the public, because the widespread adoption of the Internet is largely responsible for the growth in child pornography crimes over the last 10 years or so.
Because Internet service providers provide Canadians with the Internet services through with child pornography crimes are committed, they are in the best position to discover these crimes. That is why this legislative measure requires them to report to the police any Internet address related to child pornography that can be publicly accessed on the Internet, to notify the police if they think that their Internet services have been used to commit a child pornography crime, and to preserve any related evidence.
It should be noted that this act will cover more than just ISPs. The term ISP usually refers to those who provide access to the Internet, in other words, the wires that go into our homes and deliver signals. This bill applies to ISPs and to all those who supply electronic mail services such as webmail, Internet content hosting, which would include web designers and co-location facilities, and social networking sites that allow members to upload images and documents. The law would also apply to those providing free Internet services to the public, such as cybercafés, hotels, restaurants and public libraries. This wide application will eliminate as many pedophile safe havens as possible.
This legislation would impose a certain number of obligations on those who provide Internet services. First, if a person is advised, in the course of providing an Internet service to the public, of an Internet address where child pornography may be available, that person would be required to report that address to the organization designated by the regulations. To be absolutely clear, these providers would be required to provide only the Internet address. No personal information would be sent to the designated organization. We chose this route in order to comply with the Privacy Act and because the designated organization would not require additional information to fulfill its obligations under the regulations. Even though the regulations have not yet been written, we foresee the organization's main roles to be: one, to determine if the information communicated about that Internet address does give access to child pornography in the meaning of the Criminal Code; and two, to determine the geographic location of the server where the content is stored, if applicable. Once this information has been confirmed, the organization would send it to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
The second duty C-22 would impose on Internet service providers would be to notify the police if they have reasonable grounds to believe that their Internet service has been used to commit a child pornography offence. For example, an email provider that realized while maintaining its message server that a user's mailbox contained child pornography would be required to notify police that it had reasons to believe that a child pornography offence had been committed. In addition, the provider would be required to preserve the evidence for 21 days after notifying police. However, to minimize the impact on the privacy of Canadians, the Internet service provider would also be required to destroy the information that would not be retained in the ordinary course of business after the expiry of the 21-day period, unless required to keep it by a judicial order.
So as not to prejudice a planned or ongoing criminal investigation, a person could not disclose that they had made a report or a notification under the legislation.
The general principle behind this legislation is that it must not promote the use or distribution of child pornography. In keeping with this principle, the bill expressly states that it does not require or authorize anyone to seek out child pornography. As well, the bill is not worded in such a way that Internet service providers themselves are required to check the information on an Internet address or investigate users' activities
The last two things I would like to talk about are offences and punishment. Failure to comply with the duties under this proposed legislation would constitute an offence punishable by summary conviction with a graduated penalty scheme.
Individuals, or sole proprietors, would be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 for the first offence, a fine of not more than $5,000 for a second offence, and a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or both, for each subsequent offence.
Corporations and other entities would be subject to a fine of not more than $10,000 for a first offence, a fine of not more than $50,000 for a second offence, and a fine of not more than $100,000 for each subsequent offence. This two-level penalty system takes into account the diversity of the Internet service sector in Canada, where there are just as many sole proprietorships as there are multinational corporations.
Some might feel that these penalties are light, but we have to remember that this bill is a complement to all of the existing measures to protect our children against sexual exploitation, including the harsh penalties provided for in the Criminal Code for child pornography offences.
This bill sends a message to those who provide Internet services to the public that they have a social and moral obligation, and now also a legal one, to report the existence of this heinous material when they become aware of it.
We believe that the penalties provided for in this bill would allow us to balance the objective of the bill with its effectiveness. In order to achieve the objective of this bill, to better protect children, the government wants to ensure that all Internet service providers in Canada abide by the law, not just the major Internet service providers who already voluntarily declare such cases and assist the police.
In conclusion, I hope that all parties and all parliamentarians will support Bill C-22, the Protecting Children from Online Sexual Exploitation Act.