Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in support of Bill C-26, the tougher penalties for child predators act. I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Macleod.
Bill C-26 is a part of the government's continuing effort to ensure that child sexual offences result in sentences of imprisonment that denounce the heinous nature of these crimes. We hear the opposition members question the necessity of this bill in light of amendments that this government made in the past, especially those enacted by Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act was a good step in the right direction, and Bill C-26 proposes to build on those reforms to fully recognize the devastating impact that these crimes have on the lives of victimized children.
We have heard criticism particularly directed at the effectiveness of mandatory minimum penalties in achieving this objective. A brief discussion about the current sentencing regime in the Criminal Code is warranted in order to explain the necessity of the proposed reforms.
The Criminal Code states that the fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to the respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.
In order to achieve this fundamental purpose, a sentence may have the following objectives: denunciation, deterrence, separation of the offender from society when necessary; rehabilitation of the offender; providing reparation for the harm done to the victim or community; the promotion of a sense of responsibility in offenders; and the acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community.
It is important to note that a just sentence does not have to reflect all of these sentencing objectives, but only those that are essential to achieve the fundamental purpose of sentencing.
In sentencing offenders for sexual offences committed against children, section 718.01 of the Criminal Code directs courts to consider denunciation and deterrence as the paramount sentencing objectives. How can we as legislators ensure that primary importance is also given to these objectives for these types of crimes?
Both social denunciation of a crime and the deterrence of criminals are achieved in our laws in two ways. First, maximum terms of imprisonment send a clear signal of what punishment is proportionate for the worst offender who commits a crime in the worst circumstances. Second, mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment represent the lowest punishment that we as a society consider important for certain serious crimes.
By increasing both minimum terms of imprisonment and maximum terms of imprisonment for certain sexual offences committed against children, Bill C-26 focuses on denunciation and deterrence and thereby ensures that sentences imposed contribute to a just, peaceful and safe society.
The fundamental objective of a sentence can only be achieved if the sentence imposed is just. According to the Criminal Code, a just sentence is one that is proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender and the gravity of the offence. In determining a just sentence, a court must consider the sentencing principles described in the Criminal Code. For example, a sentence must be increased to account for any aggravating factors relating to the offender or the offence.
Two of the listed aggravating factors in subsection 718(a) of the Criminal Code play an important role in child sexual cases.
First, paragraph 718.2(a)(ii.1) of the Criminal Code directs courts to treat the fact that an offender, in committing the offence, abused the person under the age of 18 years of age as an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
Second, paragraph 718.2(a)(iii) of the Criminal Code directs the fact of the offender in committing the offence abused a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim also be considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
Both these aggravating factors further indicate that the significant punishment as proposed by Bill C-26 is justifiable for child predators.
Another important contribution of Bill C-26 rests with the proposed reforms that relate to the imposition of concurrent and consecutive sentences. These amendments would clarify and codify applicable rules in situations where an offender would be sentenced for multiple offences, whether committed against the same victim or not.
Apart from the explicit reference to mandatory consecutive sentences in the context of terrorism acts, criminal organization offences and the use of a firearm in the commission of the offence, the general sentencing principles found in subsection 718.3(4) of the Criminal Code regarding consecutive and concurrent sentences only offer limited guidance to courts.
Bill C-26 proposes to improve on this by, among other things, directing courts to consider ordering that the terms of imprisonment for offences arising out of separate events, or a separate series of events, be served consecutively to one another.
This represents a codification of the rules developed by courts over the years. Courts will generally order that sentences be served consecutively unless they are committed as part of the same event or series of events, or as some have described it, as part of a criminal transaction. Where several offences are committed as part of the same criminal transaction, the courts will generally determine what is a proportionate sentence for the most serious offence committed and order that the other offences be served concurrently. However, where an offence committed as part of the same criminal transaction is gratuitous or dangerous, courts will generally consider ordering that the sentences be served consecutively to discourage offenders from committing serious offences with impunity.
This approach is codified in Bill C-26 by directing courts to consider ordering consecutive sentences in situations where one of the offences was committed either on judicial interim release or while the accused was fleeing from a peace officer.
The totality principle represents the final step in the determination of whether sentences of imprisonment should be served consecutively. This sentencing principle, described in paragraph 718.2(c) of the Criminal Code, prevents courts from ordering that terms of imprisonment be served one after the other if the combined sentence is unduly long or harsh. Where the combined sentence is, in the court's opinion, unduly long or harsh, it may order that certain terms of imprisonment be served concurrently instead of one after the other.
I understand that in ordering concurrent sentences in such cases, courts intend to craft a combined sentence that is proportionate to the overall responsibility of the offender. However, in the context of sexual offences committed against children, this approach translates into a sentence discount for the offender.
To address this problem, Bill C-26 proposes that sentences of imprisonment for child pornography offences be served consecutively to any sentence imposed at the same time for a contact child sexual offence, and in cases of multiple victims, that sentences imposed at the same time for contact child sexual offences committed against one victim be served consecutively to those imposed for contact child sexual offences committed against any other victim.
Requiring that these terms of imprisonment be served consecutively to one another would send a clear message that every sexual offence committed against children is serious and is clearly unacceptable. These amendments will also send a clear and unequivocal signal that a proportionate sentence is one that acknowledges that every child victim counts.