Mr. Speaker, it is my honour and privilege to speak on Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act. In particular, I do appreciate the minister's earlier comments on the necessity of mandatory minimums, because even for one child, protecting them from an offender who is behind bars is of paramount importance.
Bill C-26 is a critical component of our government's commitment to ensuring that children are protected from the most horrible forms of exploitation. Our government, and everyone in the House, is committed to holding those who perpetrate these horrendous crimes accountable for their actions and to be punished accordingly, and and above that, to ensure they are away from their victims so they cannot reoffend.
The proposed amendments would include increasing mandatory minimum penalties. That is why I think the subject is on the top of the radar screen in Parliament today and why we have continued to talk about them and their importance to keeping predators away from children and victims. Minimum penalties and maximum penalties for certain sexual offences committed against children ensure that the serious nature and effects of these offences on a child are recognized.
I note that the proposed amendments in the bill would build upon the reforms enacted by the Safe Streets and Communities Act by ensuring that all child sexual offences prosecuted by summary conviction are punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to two years less a day. I think that is very good.
The bill takes direct aim at and denounces child pornography by ensuring that the most serious forms of this offence are treated more seriously. I want to talk about this because the bill proposes that the offences of making and distributing child porn would no longer by hybrid offences that only result in a maximum provincial term of imprisonment of less than two years if prosecuted as a summary conviction. It needs to be noted that under Bill C-26, which should be passed as quickly as possible, making and distributing child porn would become straight indictable offences and would be punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty of one year imprisonment and a maximum of 14 years.
I want to pause for a moment to tell members about a very brave young man, a 10-year-old child, who wrote me a four-page letter about how he was addicted to porn. I remember that when I talked about this in an interview with the National Post, some readers said, “Oh, Mrs. Smith does not have any such child”.
In fact, I have received multiple letters and emails from across this country on this issue, but this one particular child really stood out with me because when the parents read the National Post comments section, they got very angry and phoned the paper. They got in their van, with their children and a couple of neighbours, drove all the way to Ottawa and knocked on my door here on Parliament Hill and spoke with me. They said, “This is a serious issue. It's not only our child, but it's others in school divisions all across this country that are affected”. At that point, they pointed out that the laws on child porn and its effects were very weak in this country. Because what happens out in the real world is that when a child trafficker targets a victim, they often condition them with porn. That is how they teach them. They try to normalize it.
In another case, a young girl—who, actually, I just gave an award to, about four weeks ago, for her bravery—came to see me. Her grandpa, who was a pedophile, had conditioned her while the parents were at work. Grandpa was home, conditioning her with porn, because he was taking care of her. This is so disturbing. He eventually put her out on the streets and raised a lot of money by trafficking his own granddaughter. Years later, terrible things happened to her because her whole world had been turned upside down
We are talking about middle-class Canada. We are not talking about somebody who is addicted to drugs. We are not talking about somebody on the streets. We are talking about middle-class Canada.
This bill is important because it addresses and denounces child porn, and our children are our most vulnerable citizens in this country. They are the little victims who do not speak out, particularly if it is done by a relative or somebody they are supposed to respect and love. More and more cases of pornography being inflicted on our youth population are emerging here in Canada.
Bill C-26 would make child porn an indictable offence punishable by mandatory minimum penalties. If this were not the case, many predators, in the quietness of their dens and homes, would use child porn in the most despicable manner. The penalties are a vehicle at our disposal to address the unlawful conduct of predators and the harm done to victims of crime. In the case of child porn, children are the innocent victims of a horrendous crime.
No one in the House wants to see a child harmed. They are silent victims. In the adult world, we need to have things that adults understand, because the child porn that has been inflicted on children is done mainly by adults, and this legislation is a step in the right direction. The penalties, however, are not the only tools we have.
All too often the denunciatory value of a sentence is diluted because the offender gets a volume discount, and that frustrates me. Multiple offences are all packaged into one, and an offender is given one sentence for multiple offences. I know of one individual who offended 47 children. At that time, years ago, his sentence was packaged into one, but all of those 47 children were left hurt and damaged. Two of them eventually committed suicide. I do not know how many became involved with drugs or alcohol, but I have heard since that several of them have been in addiction programs. Others have been counselled and became better.
When we talk on Parliament Hill about what is important to do, we must remember that it is not about the political landscape. It is not about what each party thinks about what. We are supposed to be taking care of our most vulnerable population. Here we are talking about the children in our country.
Courts will sometimes order the sentences for offences committed against several victims to be served concurrently. We also see this type of order in the case of an offender who has committed several crimes against the same victim. That is why I support the proposals contained in this bill to clarify the rules relating to the imposition of concurrent and consecutive sentences generally. I support as well the specific proposal relating to offenders who have committed several child sexual offences over a long period. These perpetrators have gotten off scot-free for too long. This has almost become normal in some cases, almost the real world. In Canada, this is not the real world. In Canada, this is what we want to stop.
I will attempt to demystify in a practical, real-world way the current rules contained in the Criminal Code, as well as the proposed new rules.
Consecutive sentences are sentences that an offender serves one after another. On the other hand, concurrent sentences are served simultaneously, and the offender serves the longer sentence. The Criminal Code currently requires that consecutive sentences be imposed for the offences of possession of explosives by a criminal organization, the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence, terrorism offences, and criminal organization offences.
That is what the Criminal Code currently requires. For other offences, the Criminal Code provides courts with the discretion to impose consecutive sentences. However, it does not provide clear guidance as to when consecutive sentences are preferred, except to say that their combined effects should not be unduly long or harsh.
Over the years the courts have developed a general approach of ordering multiple sentences to be served consecutively unless the offences arise out of the same event or series of events, in which case concurrent sentences are imposed. The same event or series of events rule, referred to as the continuing criminal transaction rule, requires that there be a close nexus between the offences committed in order to justify the imposition of concurrent sentences. This is so because the moral blameworthiness of the offender relates to the overall criminal conduct, which may include the commission of several offences.
The determination of whether offences are committed as part of the same event or series of events is a fact-specific determination made by the sentencing court. In some instances, the nature of a particular offence calls for the imposition of consecutive sentences. For example, courts will generally order an offence committed while fleeing from a peace officer to be served consecutively to any other offence that is part of the same event or series of events, which is a common phrasing used in the courts. Similarly, the courts will often direct that an offence committed while on bail be served consecutively to the predicate events.
The proposed amendments are aimed at clarifying the existing rules in the Criminal Code and codifying the practices developed by the courts that I have just mentioned. For instance, Bill C-26 proposes to require a sentencing court to consider imposing consecutive sentences when an offender is sentenced at the same time for multiple offences that do not arise out of the same event or series of events, including offences committed while the defendant was on bail or was fleeing from a peace officer.
This bill would also clarify the existing language by directing sentencing courts to consider imposing consecutive sentences when the offender is being sentenced for one offence but is already subject to a term of imprisonment for another offence.
What we see out there in the real world is that parents and families are sometimes frustrated and dismayed at how the court system works and at the lack of clarity within the court system. What is so great about Bill C-26 is it clarifies a lot of things that were not clarified before.
The amendments would also clarify the term of imprisonment. It includes one that results from a failure to pay a fine or something like that, but there are also clarifications of other procedures that the court carries out as well on a regular basis.
All in all, when we look at Bill C-26, we see a clear denunciation of sexual crimes against children. This bill would ensure that each victim counts in the sentencing process. There is nothing as damaging to a young child who has been sexually violated than for the pain, agony, and injustice that the child has gone through not to be recognized. Pornography and the like on the Internet have been rampant in this country, and up until now everybody in this country has said that it is unfortunate and they do not like it, but it is a fact of life. Our government has gone beyond that and is trying to ensure that each child and each individual is recognized and that the punishment fits the crime.
It has also done something else that is very important. I referred to it earlier in one of the questions. Lately I have had many adult women come to talk to me about how they were sexually exploited. They have never talked about it. They never said anything.
The family of an 84-year old grandmother called me to the hospital to talk to her not too long ago because she wanted to tell me that she was trafficked. She wanted to tell me what happened to her and she wanted to tell me that nobody really cared about it. She wanted to tell me that she was so glad that now people were talking at it, and before she died, she wanted to talk about what happened to her.
Four weeks ago, at a big event on human trafficking, another grandmother, who was 64 years old, told me that when she was a child, her father's best friend sexually attacked her on numerous occasions. She said she told her father, but he was a friend of the family and her father was convinced that she was lying. Her parents never took her to a doctor. They never examined the man, who was a financial partner with her dad. She said that has always torn at her heart and that she has been very angry about it. We talked at length about the fact that in Canada, child offences are now being recognized.
These have been the silent victims. The value of Bill C-26 is to give a voice to the silent victims and to take the fear away from them.
A little while ago in Montreal, there was a trafficked victim who went through a second trial and testified against her perpetrators. She has now been taken out of Montreal, but the perpetrators are being brought to justice. One comment she made to me was that nobody seemed to care when her boyfriend became involved in her life when she was 15 and a half years old and separated her from her parents and then trafficked her from the U.S. to Canada. She said, “No one seemed to care.” The relationship between the young girl and her mom had become so bad that the last thing she said to her mom was, “I am leaving this house and I'm never going to see you again.” That was after she came into the house with liquor on her breath at 2 a.m. and the mother just lost it because this had happened frequently.
This was an offence by an older man against a child. He was a boyfriend who wanted to separate her from her parents, and he did. For over seven years she was trafficked in Canada. She served, on average, 40 men a night, and she made money for her trafficker.
She was very deliberately rescued. She thought she was going to die, so she stole things from a store so that the guard would notice her, and she was arrested. I have to give a shout-out to Dominic Monchamp, the head of the vice squad in Montreal, who listened to her story. He rescued her and did many things to help her.
In this country I am proud to support Bill C-26. I am proud that members opposite are supporting Bill C-26.
It is time to stop the long speeches. It is time to listen to the public in Canada. It is time to listen to the victims and get the bill through committee.