Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to provide some input in this very important bill. It is of paramount importance that it pass through Parliament as quickly as possible.
Our government has had a very strong desire to protect children. When it comes to criminal activity such as sexual exploitation against our most vulnerable, our children, we know we must never back down in our efforts to stop these terrible crimes. When one child is hurt or exploited, it is one child too many. As a parliamentarian and a mother of six children, I am convinced that we need to do more to protect our children against sexual exploitation and believe strongly that the legislation before the House today would do just that.
I feel strongly that Canadians all across the country will pay attention to the speeches today, to the responses and to the positions of everybody on this issue. I am sure every member in the House, whether a parent, uncle, aunt, grandparent or friend, would agree that we must ensure that individuals who sexually exploit children are held fully accountable. I hope every member agrees that we must ensure the laws allow our justice system to hand out appropriate sentences that match the seriousness of the crime.
With Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act, we have an opportunity today to take an important step to protect our children from this crime that occurs far too often. As the statistics show and as was mentioned earlier, there is a 6% increase in sex offences against children. I urge all members of the House to support the passage of this bill without delay. Our children are too important, and it affects every family in Canada in one way or another.
Child sexual abuse is a crime of the most heinous nature. It causes unimaginable devastation to the lives of children. Studies have shown that it profoundly affects victims into adulthood and throughout their lives, and I dare say it affects their families as well.
Children under the age of 18 accounted for more than half the victims of sexual offences reported to police in 2012, and these numbers are unacceptable. They call for the kind of tough and decisive measures our government has proposed in this legislation. The bill contains a number of important elements, some of which fall under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice, including, as the name suggests, tougher penalties for those convicted of child sexual offences, and that is exactly what they should get: tougher penalties.
Legislation would require judges to impose consecutive sentences when convicted child sex offenders were sentenced at the same time for contact child sexual offences against multiple victims or for child porn and contact child sexual offences. With this legislation, both the maximum and minimum penalties for child offences would be increased, as would the maximum penalties for violating conditions of supervision orders. This is well put when 6% more offences are occurring in our great country.
The bill also includes many practical measures at better safeguarding children against sexual exploitation, both in Canada and abroad. Our government often speaks about the need to ensure that law enforcement has the tools it needs to do its job of helping to keep citizens safe. That is certainly a key preoccupation of mine and I am proud of our government's record. It is a record upon which we can further build this legislation.
For the purposes of our discussion today, the tool in question is the National Sex Offender Registry, administered by the RCMP and used by police officers all across the country. It goes without saying that law enforcement agencies need to be aware of the location of registered sex offenders, and that is where the registry comes in. As of January 2015, there were approximately 37,000 registered sex offenders on the registry. Of those, approximately 25,000 have a conviction for a child sex offence.
Clearly, the National Sex Offender Registry is a vital tool for police in that it provides officers with rapid access to information on registered sex offenders who are living or working in a given area and can help police in their work to prevent or investigate sexual crimes.
Members in this House know that our government has made some legislative improvements already to enhance the effectiveness of the registry. In 2011, we ensured that convicted sex offenders were automatically included in the registry and were required to give a mandatory DNA sample to the National DNA Data Bank.
However, we could do more to strengthen its effectiveness as a tool to assist police in carrying out their work. To do that, we need to make some important amendments to the legislation that governs the registry, namely the Sex Offender Information Registration Act. As members know, that act came into force in 2004 and authorized the establishment of the data base containing information on convicted sex offenders across Canada. It includes information such as the offender's name, address, place of employment, and physical description.
Let me describe how the proposed amendments in the legislation before us would improve the effectiveness of the registry, beginning with the enhanced reporting requirements that would be imposed on sex offenders.
Obviously, reporting requirements are very important to ensure that police have up-to-date information on the whereabouts of registered sex offenders, including when they travel outside of Canada. As it stands today, registered sex offenders are required to report in person to registry officials on an annual basis and within seven days if they change either their addresses or legal names. They must also notify registry officials within seven days of a change in employment or volunteer activity, including the type of work they do.
All registered sex offenders are required to report the dates of absences of seven days or more for travel either within or outside of Canada. These are critical reporting requirements from the perspective of both accountability and public safety. However, they do not go far enough. At present, these offenders are only required to provide specific destinations and addresses for travel within Canada. Here is where it is obvious that there is a need for increased accountability and reporting.
Canada is one of many countries on the international stage that is gravely concerned about child sex tourism. Our determination to protect children from sexual crime does not stop at our borders. It extends to children everywhere. That is why, with this bill, we are taking measures to increase the reporting requirements for sex offenders who travel abroad and are imposing even more stringent requirements on those who have committed these crimes against children.
Registered sex offenders with a child sex offence would be required to report, in advance, international travel of any duration. This would now include a requirement to provide the address or locations where they will be staying and the specific dates of their travel.
As for other registered sex offenders, that is, those who do not fall into the category of child sex offender, their reporting requirements would be as follows.
They would have to report any trips of seven days or longer, again including the dates and addresses or locations where they would be staying. They would also be required to report their passport and driver's licence numbers. Of note, the new reporting obligations would apply to those currently in the registry and those convicted after the legislation comes into force. Taken together, these changes would have the effect of ensuring that police have better information regarding the whereabouts of travelling sex offenders.
Another critical part is information sharing. The next element in the bill I will highlight is how we would provide for the exchange of information on certain registered sex offenders between the officials responsible for the registry and those at the Canada Border Services Agency, CBSA.
As members have heard, under the current legislative framework, there is no specific legal mechanism for this information to be shared at the present time. While the current legislation allows registry information to be shared in certain circumstances, including to police services, there is no such authority for sharing with CBSA. This gap in information sharing obviously inhibits our knowledge about the travel of sex offenders. It is a gap that needs to be addressed.
Given its responsibility for management of our borders, CBSA can and should be one of the authorities involved in receiving and providing information that assists in monitoring the travel of sex offenders.
With this bill we would close the information gap by providing the authority for officials at the registry to regularly disclose information to the CBSA about child sex offenders who are assessed as a high risk to reoffend. The bill would also allow sharing of information between the RCMP and CBSA on other registered sex offenders on a case-by-case basis.
I would note here that the RCMP would implement a risk assessment process to determine those child offenders who present the highest risk to reoffend. The experts in the police forces are the people to do this.
Upon receiving a list of these offenders, the CBSA would then ensure that the sex offenders' names were placed on their lookout system. Border officials would also be authorized to collect travel information from these offenders upon their return to Canada and to share it with National Sex Offender Registry officials, including the date of departure and return to Canada and every address or location at which they stayed outside of Canada.
This type of enhanced information sharing would achieve two very important outcomes. The first is that we would better enable authorities to investigate and prevent crimes of a sexual nature. The second is that we would put the authorities in a better position to address any potential breaches in the reporting obligations of the offenders.
These are reasonable changes that just make sense. If we are going to keep a closer eye on the travel habits of sex offenders, it only stands to reason that our border officials and National Sex Offender Registry officials need to be able to share the information.
The final element of the bill is one that would allow us to further deliver on our commitment to Canadians to protect our communities from sex offenders. This is very important to our government, because Canadians want and deserve access to information they feel could protect their families. They feel that they need to have this information, and that includes information about potentially high-risk individuals who live in their communities. That information should be easily accessible and available to all Canadians, and this bill would pave the way for that.
The proposed public database, the high risk child sex offender database, would be separate from the National Sex Offender Registry, which is accessible only to police. This new high risk child sex offender database would be searchable by the entire Canadian public. It would include information about those high-risk child sex offenders who have already been the subject of a public notification in a provincial or territorial jurisdiction. They would be well known anyway to the public.
Our government believes that it is only right that Canadians have the ability to access this type of information with a few simple clicks on the computer. After all, knowledge of the presence of high-risk child sex offenders in the city would empower parents to take appropriate precautions to protect their children.
To that end, I can assure members of this House that consultations are under way with the provinces and territories regarding police notifications and the proposed database. We continue to work closely with these partners to develop further criteria to define the high-risk child sex offenders who would be included in the new publicly accessible database
As members can see, our government has developed a clear path forward to better protect the public from offenders with one of the most troubling forms of criminal behaviour we have to face in society. I am speaking as one who has worked with many trafficked victims and many children who have been sexually violated.
There is an impact on a family, and it is not just poor people, aboriginal people, or girls who are out looking for a boyfriend, or whatever people say. What we are talking about is a predatory kind of crime that looks to prepubescent children for the perpetrator's sexual gratification.
This bill would do much to close the gaps out there now. When we see a 6% increase in child exploitation and child sex offences, clearly, in Canada, there is a problem. That is why our government has taken bold steps to protect children. It has taken bold steps to ensure that we do every possible thing to enhance information sharing and communication between police forces and to protect our children from sexual exploitation and sexual crimes.
We would improve the accountability of sex offenders and better protect those who need safeguarding from crimes of a sexual nature. Those are our children.
I have to say that I am very proud to be part of a government that has taken a very clear stand on this. Today it is particularly interesting to hear some of the comments, because we as parliamentarians have to take a very responsible attitude and make sure that the children throughout our country are protected from sexual predators. It is frivolous to vote against or block anything that would do that. Certainly this particular bill would close many gaps. Even now, a lot of children are at risk without these gaps being closed.
I hope parliamentarians on all sides of the House will put aside their partisan concerns. I know that an election is coming soon, but by the same token, Canadians all across the country want these laws. They want their children protected. They want to know where the individuals who have been convicted of sexual offences against children reside.
We cannot heal sexual offences against children. They learn how to be survivors, but the occurrence comes back to them over and over again. The first thing I believe parliamentarians have to do in one voice is protect the most vulnerable in this country.
This is too important for political interference. We need to take the heart of the nation and the heart of the parents and children who are reaching out to the House of Commons today and put these laws into place and ensure that their families are safe.