moved that Bill C-284, an act to amend the Criminal Records Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act (offences against children), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-284 this afternoon. The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Records Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act with respect to sexual offences against children. I was pleased that the bill was drawn and made votable. I do not buy lottery tickets but I feel like I have won.
The bill addresses some of the very real concerns of parents. It addresses some of the procedural shortcomings of our current policies regarding an individual's criminal record. Essentially the bill allows for the disclosure of an individual's criminal record if the individual has been convicted of a sexual offence against a child and later applies for a position of trust with respect to children. We would think that this would be the current case but it is not.
Before I delve into the details of the bill, I would like to lay out the big picture that lies at its heart. Our families are the building block of society. Children are our nation's future.
As one of the constitutional principles of my party, we “affirm the value and dignity of the individual person and the importance of strengthening and protecting the family as essential to the well-being of individuals in society”. Our children are a most precious resource as they are our future. If we protect our children we are protecting the future of Canada.
Reformers are concerned about the safety of our children. Reformers are concerned about ensuring that those responsible for children will not abuse their position of trust. Reformers are concerned about how difficult it is for children's organizations to know whom it is that they are hiring and to be sure that they are not putting children at risk.
Especially with respect to sex offences against children, Reformers and hopefully all of us in the House are concerned about protecting those most vulnerable from the potential sexual predator. We justifiably recoil in horror when we hear some of the stories of children being sexually abused. As parliamentarians in the House we have the responsibility to fulfil the fundamental role of government to ensure the protection of our citizens. This is particularly true for children who are the most innocent and vulnerable in society.
Bill C-284 before us today is designed to help address these legitimate concerns. It would enable those responsible for children to make fully informed decisions about whom they hire. It would help ensure public confidence that those responsible for children or looking after children have not abused this position of authority in the past.
Bill C-284 was based on an earlier bill in the 35th parliament tabled by the Reform member from Fraser Valley, which again underlines our commitment to children and families. His bill was in response to a petition from over 25,000 people across Canada which called for specific changes to prevent those convicted of sex offences against children from holding positions of trust over children. This is what Bill C-284 is concerned about. This could effectively be achieved when Bill C-284 is passed.
Let us look at the mechanics of our current legal system in this regard. It is true that when one is convicted of an offence, including a sexual offence against a child, one receives a criminal record and justifiably so. It is true that if a person applies for a position of authority over children in day care, et cetera, the children's agency may do a record check, flag the fact that the person has been convicted of such an offence and take these facts into consideration when considering a job application. This all makes sense and that is how it should be.
Where is the weakness in our current laws? The weakness occurs when an one's sentence is completed and one receives what is termed a “ pardon”. Let me be clear that “a pardon does not erase the fact that you are convicted of the offence”. This is a direct quote from the pardon application booklet of the National Parole Board. The individual has still committed the offence.
Rather, a pardon allows people convicted of a criminal offence to have their criminal record sealed and effectively erased from the public record. This means once a pardon is awarded for an offence for which one is convicted, any federal agency or department that has records of convictions must keep those records separate and away from the public. Therefore, once a pardon is granted the fact that a person was convicted of a criminal offence will not be disclosed or made accessible to anyone without prior approval of the Solicitor General of Canada which, for practical purposes, is an impossible process.
Essentially once a person receives a pardon for a previous conviction there is no record accessible to the public that there ever was such a conviction or that the pardon was ever even granted.
I do not want to spend too much time debating the merits of pardons, although I will note that according to the National Parole Board for the last number of years 96% of the total decisions it makes are in favour of granting pardons. Very few are denied. More specifically, in 1996-97 there were 18,294 decisions made and 104 decisions were denial, 1% of the total.
With that background let us go back now to Bill C-284. In the preamble of the bill it recognizes that there are certain circumstances in which it may be appropriate to grant a pardon to a person who has been of good behaviour following a conviction for a criminal offence and a period following the completion of the sentence.
Bill C-284 also recognizes that if a person has been granted a pardon for an offence the record of that offence should be kept separate from other records and access thereto should be given only in cases where public interest overrides the privacy of the record.
Bill C-284 would submit that public interest clearly overrides the privacy of the record in connection with the interests of caring for children, particularly when those responsible for children are reviewing applications for employment in positions of trust regarding children.
However, as I earlier indicated, once a pardon has been granted for any offence, including sexual offences against children, the current official policy is don't ask, don't tell. Employers guided by the Criminal Records Act are not to ask someone to disclose a conviction for which a pardon has been granted or issued.
To rectify the situation Bill C-284 proposes to allow the limited disclosure of an individual's criminal record when an individual applies for a position of trust with respect to children, even where a pardon has been granted.
I hear one member saying that makes good sense. I hope we can all concur and speedily pass it through the House.
Children's organizations would then be able to identify those who are more of a risk of abusing a position of trust with such a disclosure, the end result being better protection of Canadian children.
I think we will all agree that the protection of our children is paramount. Those who have suffered from sexual abuse characterize it as a life sentence. We in Parliament have a responsibility to ensure that when one's child is being placed in the hands of another individual those hands are not likely to be abusive. These are the concerns of Bill C-284.
The bill would enable those responsible for children to make fully informed decisions about who they hire. Bill C-284 would give parents with children in third party care the assurance that those responsible for looking after their children have not abused this position in the past. This is important because all the evidence indicates that individuals who have sexually abused others in the past are at greater risk to repeat this abusive behaviour. I will speak further to this a little later, but first I will summarize the particulars of the bill.
First, it is specific in its intent in order to better protect children from those who have been abusive in the past.
Second, Bill C-284 proposes to allow for the limited disclosure of an individual's criminal record if the individual has been convicted of a sexual offence against a child and later applies for a position of trust with respect to children. Such a disclosure will include an individual's criminal record for a previous sexual offence against a child or children, even if one had served one's sentence and had later received permission to have the notice of a conviction removed from the individual's criminal record.
Bill C-284 does not propose that sex offences against children can never be pardoned, although that might be another reasonable thought. The bill does not propose that if one makes a mistake such as this it should be forever on one's criminal record. Again, that might have merit but that is not what this bill is all about.
Rather, Bill C-284 proposes that if one does sexually abuse children that person could effectively be prevented from holding a position of care or authority over children ever again. Those responsible for children will be able to see that a job applicant has abused such a position in the past and thus be more judicious and wise in their hiring practices.
Why is Bill C-284 necessary? Essentially it sends a message that protecting our children is paramount. Bill C-284 provisions are common sense and because studies have shown that those who abused children sexually once are more likely to do it again. This is not harsh on my part. Those are the facts.
Correctional Service Canada studies have shown that about one third of all sex offenders are convicted of a new criminal offence after release. I am referring to a study done in 1996 by Correctional Service Canada, “Forum on Corrections Research”. To reference this same source, according to the offenders intake assessment process most of the 808 recent federal admissions with a sexual offence history had recommitted a sexual offence.
There are other studies I can quote but for sake of time I am going to move on to one other study which indicated that sexual offenders who had committed sex offences in the past had a subsequent sexual recidivism rate of about 30%. Again, not to use my words, but to quote this study's authors, the strongest predictor of repeating sexual assault crimes was not surprisingly a previous sexual offence.
Bill C-284 would address these troubling statistics by giving responsible agencies the means to deny sex offenders the ability to place themselves in high risk situations ever again. It would be good for both the offender and of course for the children.
What about the right to privacy, some may ask. In a May 1996 discussion paper the privacy commissioner explained the Privacy Act does not prevent the release of personal information if it is in the public interest to release such information. In fact, the act specifically permits the release of personal information in public interest.
The April 1996 RCMP protocol manual defines public interest as “evaluated on the basis of whether it is specific, current and probable, where there is a possible invasion of privacy balanced against a public interest, consideration may be given to who would be receiving the information and whether any controls can be placed on further use or release”. That is from the RCMP disclosure of personal information in the public interest document.
I submit the disclosure provisions in Bill C-284 fall well within the accepted protocol for the release of personal information, of which one's criminal record is a part.
It is in the public interest for children not to be exposed to those who have abused them in the past and are more likely to do so again in the future, as the statistics I have quoted so clearly show.
It is in the public interest for parents to have confidence in those who are caring for their children, to evaluate public interest on the basis of whether it is specific, current and probable.
Bill C-284 is specific in that the disclosure takes place only when those responsible for children request the information upon reviewing an individual's job application for a position of trust with respect to children. Therefore it is specific. Bill C-284 is current in that disclosure takes place only if an individual applies for a position of trust over children. If no appropriate application is made, then no disclosure is given.
Bill C-284 is probable in that it allows for disclosure only during the time an individual applies for a job with children and information disclosure is very relevant to the situation.
Overall the bill is important for the protection of our children.
Those who have suffered from sexual abuse characterize it as a life sentence. I am quoting Abby Drover who as a 12 year old was held captive in an underground bunker in 1977.
How can we say no to parents and child care agencies crying out for this simple straightforward tool to protect innocent children? How can we say no to the protection of our children as we look into their eyes, place them in someone else's hands, close the door and drive away? We cannot.
Children and their parents thank members for their anticipated support and speedy passage of this bill.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Records Act
Mr. Nick Discepola (Parliamentary Secretary to Solicitor General of Canada, Lib.)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on Bill C-284 introduced by the member for Calgary Centre.
The bill deals with sentencing, release on parole, and Canadians' fundamental rights and freedoms, all topics familiar to us in the House.
Over the last 10 years, various justice ministers have presented a variety of legislative initiatives, some of which were specifically intended to introduce stiffer penalties and delay the release of those convicted of crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children.
In 1992, for instance, the House considered and passed an important bill introduced by the then solicitor general and intended to replace the Parole Act and the Penitentiary Act with the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. I must point out that, after a few years, even this act was constructively amended.
With all due respect for the member who introduced this bill, I cannot understand why the House is devoting time to issues that have recently been extensively debated here and in committee, especially when we know that the time allocated to private members' business is limited.
The proposals have been made, however, and I will take the opportunity available to me for comment.
All Canadians know of examples of terrible crimes and what happened to the victims of these criminal acts. From the comments sent to riding offices, mail received and reports in the media, we know that some of our fellow citizens are living in fear of crime and feel that the government has not been successful at protecting society at a time when people's perception is that the law is being flouted.
I would emphasize that this is not a view held by all Canadians. Far be it from me, however to ignore the concerns of individuals and groups wanting us to take a stronger stand against criminals.
Not long ago, the crime rate rose every year. More crimes and different types of crimes were being reported, because victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment were less stigmatized and less afraid to speak out and help in the efforts to bring their aggressors to justice.
However, in recent years, violent crime has declined. Despite the vast media coverage of sensational crimes, the general public must be better informed about the way the justice system works and about the measures taken to reduce crime.
Clearly an informed public is more likely to see the gaps in the system it knows only superficially. Those directly responsible for the security of Canadian communities, from the police through prosecutors, judges and, at the end of the line, the federal and provincial criminal law systems, must respond to the criticisms that arise from increased awareness and greater surveillance. This is the least we can do as legislators.
When we look at the statistics, we can see many factors affecting individuals' vulnerability to crime. For example, geographical location is a factor. More violent crime occurs in urban centres than in the country.
What I want to point out is that crime is not endemic everywhere in the country. I agree that many Canadians have no choice but to live where they are and they never know who they will run into one day.
However, it is also reasonable to think that, for many other Canadians, the only violence they will witness will be what they see on their televisions in the evening.
We must respond to these concerns and we must do so in a very effective manner. In the case of individuals, problems may often be dealt with directly by referring them to community and victim support groups that are available within the Ministry of the Solicitor General, from the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board regional offices throughout the country.
In addition, most police forces assign officers to community service duties and many courts are monitored by representatives of victims service organizations. This direct intervention by our staff members and constituency offices to provide information and assistance is the most satisfactory and personalized solution to constituents who are feeling baffled or neglected by the criminal justice system.
When protests are prompted by system faults, the system must be changed from within, or if necessary, must be altered through the legislative process.
As is sometimes the case in isolated and regrettable instances, the correctional system's failures can be traced to human error where established policies and procedures that would protect the public are ignored or often misapplied. Extraordinary incidents occur with some tragic unfortunate results.
We must do everything in our power to reduce the number of these incidents, but an ineffective response can be worse than no response at all. Piecemeal legislation change is not a solution to the problems perceived.
I believe Bill C-284 is too narrow in its focus and too punitive. The law must be fashioned to accommodate a range of offenders in any given category. That is not to say that there are good people who commit violent and deplorable acts and bad people who are convicted of the same type of offences. There are however levels within each class of offender that lead us to believe that some may more readily resume a law-abiding lifestyle than would offenders who are serving sentences for similar offences.
This bill would reject the guiding principle of correctional services, which is that the public is best served if “the criminal is put back on the straight and narrow”. Inmates who react well to the opportunities for treatment, training and education offered by our system can return to society one day as law-abiding citizens.
Regardless of what we do for, or to, them, these individuals will be back in the community one day. Consequently, those who no longer constitute a threat must benefit from all reasonable opportunities, so that they may again be part of society as soon as possible.
Not only would the present bill restrict those opportunities for too many criminals, but it would also lengthen sentences without taking court deliberations into consideration, as well as punishing criminals for what they might do after serving the entire sentence for what they have done.
Now that I have mentioned some of my reservations concerning this bill, I will use the rest of the time allocated to me to remind my colleagues of a related initiative carried out during the last session of Parliament on behalf of the Minister of Justice and the departmental portfolio of the Solicitor General.
Bill C-55, a cohesive and complete set of reforms which came into effect last August, enables the courts to order the surveillance of certain criminals for up to 10 years after the end of their prison sentence.
In earlier initiatives we also revised the Criminal Code in order to allow the courts to ban persons found guilty of sexual offences involving children from the vicinity of schools, community centres and playgrounds.
In parallel, criminal harassment and stalking have become offences on which it is now easier to act because of certain clauses in the Criminal Code. The efforts expended to tighten up the legislation relating to these categories of criminals may have escaped the notice of the hon. member for Calgary Centre.
That is surprising, because I know that he is greatly interested in this and other related issues. Nevertheless, provisions and proposals of this nature constitute opportunities for frank discussions, in my opinion.
I will be satisfied if, as a result of this debate, the public acquires more knowledge of this part of our correctional system. The hon. member who introduced Bill C-284 obviously shares my opinion, and I congratulate him for his perseverance in bringing criminal justice into the public eye and thus helping to make Canadians better informed.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Records Act
Mr. Peter MacKay (Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, PC)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in support of Bill C-284. I commend the work of the member for Calgary Centre in tabling such an important piece of legislation. Bill C-284 is important in the sense that it focuses on one of the highest priorities, if not the highest priority the criminal justice system should have, which is the protection of children from abuse.
Conservative estimates indicate that one in three girls are sexually abused before the age of 18 while one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 16. These are tragic and disturbing figures. As a former crown attorney I often dealt with cases that put a human face on these statistics.
Even more frightening is the fact that most abused and neglected children never report these incidents to the proper authorities. This is especially true of cases of sexually abused children since there may be no outward sign of the physical, psychological or emotional harm that has resulted. Furthermore, sexually abused children are often reluctant to report these crimes for they feel intense shame, and secrecy is often the result.
For these and other reasons we must focus our attention and our efforts to combat child abuse at the prevention level. It is a serious matter of public interest which Bill C-284 if passed would help to address.
As outlined by previous speakers in the House, this bill amends two existing statutes, the Criminal Records Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The amendments to the Criminal Records Act would allow for limited disclosure of criminal records of persons pardoned for sexual convictions against a child. This disclosure would occur when the pardoned person applies for a position of trust over a child. The information would be provided to those individuals with responsibility for the child who are considering such an application. Any inappropriate disclosure of information by these individuals would be subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.
Put simply, these changes would give organizations that deal with children an additional tool to scrutinize potential employees or volunteers before they are placed in positions of trust, in positions where children are most vulnerable where a relationship of trust might exist. Groups such as Scouts Canada, Girl Guides of Canada , Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Canada and minor sports teams would have access to information that is extremely relevant to the selection process they must undergo.
For those who would object on the grounds of privacy rights for pardoned offenders, I suggest they examine the reality of sexual offenders. Among criminal offenders, those convicted of sexual offences have one of the highest rates of recidivism.
Our children are far too important to risk having repeat offenders enter into positions of authority and trust. We must give child centred and youth centred organizations the tools to prevent further tragedies of sexual abuse. It is a sad irony that we presently have a government that cracks down on law-abiding gun owners and leaves tens of thousands of hepatitis victims twisting in the wind but nevertheless feels that the rights of convicted child sex offenders should take precedence over children's safety.
The second component of Bill C-284 amends the Canadian Human Rights Act. It would permit organizations to refuse to employ individuals in so-called child trust positions on the basis of persons having been pardoned of sexual offences against children. This amendment is a logical step in this bill. Once an organization has access to relevant information, it should certainly be free to act upon that relevant information without fear of reprisals.
I share the view of those who believe that rehabilitation is a laudable goal. I also believe that securing employment for offenders re-entering society is often critical to ensure that they do not become repeat offenders and that rehabilitation can occur. This in turn helps protect public safety and confidence in our criminal justice system which is something that has been sorely lacking in recent years.
However, we need to draw the line at allowing convicted sex offenders irrespective of whether they are pardoned to secretly enter into positions of trust over children. On balance it is far too important. The consequences and the potential for harm are something we really have to consider in this instance.
Canadians need peace of mind that organizations in which they entrust their children's safety have taken all precautionary steps necessary to protect their children's safety. Bill C-284 gives these organizations another very crucial weapon to fight child abuse. This bill is a reasonable compromise between the rights of offenders and the rights of society, which is something that we always wrestle with in our justice system. In particular this bill protects our most important citizens in this country, our children.
On behalf of the Progressive Conservative caucus, I urge all members to support this legislation. Let us support our volunteer driven organizations that deal with our children and the future of our country. Let us support our families and the safety of our children. Let us do it and let us do it quickly.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Records Act
Mr. Speaker, I begin by commending my colleague from Calgary Centre for his wisdom and effort in bringing this legislation before the House for consideration.
Bill C-284 has all the elements that make excellent legislation. First of all it is based on common sense. Our society does not accept child molesters in any position of trust when it comes to the issue of children. Common sense tells us that it is simply too risky and any parent is unwilling to accept that kind of risk when it comes to their children.
This legislation is also simple and direct. It sticks to the very matter at hand and pinpoints a specific flaw in our justice system.
Finally this bill is reasonable and fair. While its central focus is to protect our children, the amendments proposed under Bill C-284 do not flagrantly harass convicted child molesters who have been pardoned. There is absolutely no impact on their search for gainful employment that does not involve children. Unless children are involved, they continue to enjoy the privilege of not being required to divulge their conviction.
This bill closes a loophole and that is one of the things MPs are sent to the House to do. We must close the legal loopholes that jeopardize the safety of Canadians and fail to protect and improve their lives. When we discuss this loophole we are not talking about extreme cases, worst case scenarios or remote odds. We are talking about a common occurrence where a convicted child molester has been given a pardon and is perfectly free to seek a position involving children with no scrutiny and absolutely no questions asked.
Only about 1% of convicted criminals who apply for pardons are refused. That means 99% are pardoned. It is not as though a child molester must fight through challenging hurdles in order to get himself or herself into a position of trust over children. The possibility of this happening is very high and very real. Once the pardon is granted, the current laws mean a day care or nursery school is breaking the law to even ask a child molester if he or she has ever been pardoned for a criminal offence against children.
This debate can be boiled down to one central issue, the quest to appear politically correct versus the protection of our children. We are well aware of this government's effort to ensure the rights and freedoms of prisoners and convicted criminals.
They are so very sensitive to the newest theories in criminal rehabilitation. That is all very well and good, but never can these accommodating gestures be made at the expense of victims and potential victims, in this case the most vulnerable in our society, our children.
Which is more important, the right to privacy for a pardoned sex offender or the right to life and safety of a child? I believe Canadians want the law to place children first. As for the privacy and potential harassment of a pardoned criminal, this bill does not advocate pasting their name and photo on every telephone pole, something that has become a great source of controversy in this country and around the world. This legislation is simply designed to prevent and discourage sex offenders from working with children. That is all.
Members of some of the other parties in this Chamber have accused Reformers in the past of sensationalizing crime and inflating the problems in our justice system. In rebuttal I would argue that the only thing Reformers have done has been to raise the unpleasant and horrifying impact of government inaction in rectifying faulty laws, legal loopholes and weak enforcement.
Reform MPs have done many things in Ottawa that members of other parties have not dared to do, things that would disturb the old guard and the status quo. We have dared to bring these preventable crimes to light.
I am not going to relate the horrible tragedies in which convicted child molesters have managed to regain access to children. We all know it happens. We all read the newspapers and watch television. Instead I want to appeal to the mothers and fathers, the grandmothers and grandfathers, the aunts and uncles, the Godmothers and Godfathers and anyone else who is fortunate enough to have a child in their life who they love and who loves them.
Like many children that child will probably at some point in his or her life enrol in a nursery school, a play group, a day care, a sporting activity, a hobby club or a service organization such as Brownies or Scouts.
Let us take the example of a nursery school. The parents of that child have the right to demand that their two, three or four year old child is not susceptible to sex offenders or child molesters.
To achieve this level of safety the nursery school, like most organizations involving children, requires that any employee, volunteer, or any other individual for that matter, with access to those children while they are under the responsibility of the school undergo a criminal reference check. This would include the nursery school teachers, any assistants or any parents who help with the children's activities.
Individuals obtain from the police documentation stating that they have no criminal record. At this point, if a parent feels certain their child is at no risk of being in the care of a child molester, they are unfortunately misguided. When a convicted criminal receives a pardon for his or her offence the police are required to remove any record of that conviction from their personal records. So, unwittingly, the police may issue a positive criminal reference check for a pardoned child molester. That is certainly not the fault of the police. It is the fault of the law. It is obvious that we need to remedy this horrifying oversight.
I believe Bill C-284 is the ideal solution. It would ensure that organizations like nursery schools do not mistakenly hire a child molester. At the same time the bill offers a reasonable approach.
This fairness can be seen in the following example. Again I will refer to my nursery school scenario.
A father of one of the nursery school's young students is required, along with all parents, to assist the teacher during some classes, or to drive students on a field trip. When this man, now in his late thirties, was 18 years of age perhaps he was involved in a bar room brawl and subsequently received a conviction for assault. It undoubtedly was a stupid thing to do and part of his youth that he is not very proud of, but he has taken responsibility for his actions, served his debt to society and some two decades later has a career and family of his own. He requests, and is granted, a pardon for his assault conviction.
Is it fair that this man be prevented from participating in his own child's nursery school activities? Of course not. He was young and he made a mistake.
Under Bill C-284, with his pardon, this man would still receive a positive criminal reference and be able to fulfil his parental obligations to the nursery school. He poses little risk, if any, to the children and Bill C-284 acknowledges that.
But child molesters do pose a very high risk, a very serious risk to children's safety and they should never, ever, be put in a position of trust over children.
Just how much of a risk do children face? In studies conducted by the Correctional Service Canada, pedophiles were found to have the highest rate of sexual recidivism when compared to other sex offenders.
One such study called “Managing the Treatment of Sex Offenders: a Canadian Perspective” said that “It appears likely that pedophiles, especially those men who offend against young boys, are at greater risk to recidivate sexually than are rapists”.
Another study called “Factors Related to Recidivism Among Released Federal Sex Offenders” found that one-third of sex offenders were convicted of a new criminal offence following release. This study also found that pedophiles had the highest rate of sexual recidivism.
Yet another study by the Canada working group found that when sexual aggressors do re-offend they tend to repeat the offence for which they were originally convicted.
It is very fortunate that this bill has been deemed votable. This means that we in this Chamber have the opportunity to enact some very good legislation, the kind of legislation that will reap benefits, restore faith in the justice system and, first and foremost, protect children. Obtaining these goals is part of our job as parliamentarians and I encourage all members of this House to do their job and support Bill C-284.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Records Act
Madam Speaker, I too want to congratulate the member for Calgary South for bringing forward this private member's bill.
He started off his comments by saying he felt he had already won by getting selected in the lottery and, as all members know, that is a matter of being fortuitous.
The more important success the member has achieved is that he has brought an issue before the House which has received the support of a committee of his peers to be votable. I think that is the success, that the bill is before this House and will be subject to a vote of members of Parliament. For that he should be congratulated.
I believe he has brought a matter to the attention of the House which is important for debate. The greatest value of Private Members' Business is that it provides an opportunity for public debate and for consultations among the parties to determine whether or not there is some basis for influencing legislation either directly or indirectly.
Recently we have talked a great deal about the Young Offenders Act and the issue of whether or not the names of young offenders should be disclosed and what impact that may have on their ability to be rehabilitated. I see many parallels between that issue and the issue which the member has brought forward. The only difference is that this bill targets the sexual offenders of children.
This is one of those issues about which people should be very cautious because of the inherent risks involved. If we had to pit the interests of one against the other, clearly, most people would say that public interest is more important than the interest of the individual who has been convicted of sexual abuse against children. It is a very difficult issue to deal with, but legislators have to deal with difficult issues.
Questions have to be asked whenever we do Private Members' Business. It is a matter of whether legislation should come forward with regard to a certain aspect that we may have identified. Or, has the fact that this has come forward identified other areas? Are other things going on that are related which would provide some synergy or make the legislation even better?
This is always the frustration or the difficulty with Private Members' Business because to get the confidence of members it has to be somewhat straightforward without too many tentacles leading to other areas of other legislation. That is the problem and that is why most Private Members' Business does not pass in this House. I would support changes or some reform to Private Members' Business to allow a better airing of some of these views so that good ideas, such as the one brought forward by the member, do get worthy consideration.
Let me talk for a few moments about the Criminal Records Act. The development of the Criminal Records Act was based on a proposal put forward in the same way as this private member's bill, although the intention of the sponsors of the two private members' bills and their ultimate foundations were somewhat dissimilar.
Private members' bills and initiatives should be taken very seriously. Without such respect, however, we may have some unexpected consequences. I raise the caution from the standpoint of a member who has been very active in private members' bills. I must admit that from time to time issues are raised by other members that I have not contemplated. That is understandable because ordinary members of Parliament do not have the resources to be able to do that exhaustive work.
This member has touched on an area at which I know the government has been looking as well. There are some possibilities which have to be explored.
Obviously the objective before us is to determine how we can improve the Criminal Records Act. It was introduced in June 1996 and referred to the justice committee of the day. It held formal meetings between March and November 1967. The proposed changes were discussed at length and the committee had the opinion of many interested parties. These are the kinds of things that would occur at committee should this matter be referred there.
That justice committee report came back to the House. The government at the time proceeded with a study of the initiative. In the current situation we face the same fundamental question as was posed when the legislation was first discussed some 20 years ago.
The issue is the legitimate balance between the objective of assisting those who have transgressed the law to reform and lead crime-free lives and the equally legitimate needs of the policing authority and the community at large to be protected from a recurrence of criminal activities.
The principal issues obviously extend to others. They include where the line is drawn between individual and collective rights. Is it worth the time of parliamentarians to ensure that all options may have been canvassed and discussed? Should we make one change to a complex piece of legislation that may have some far-reaching implications on other pieces of legislation? Has sufficient study been done?
I do not know whether the process at this point allows for sufficient study to have been done to date. I do know, however, that the House would provide the venue and the envelope in Private Members' Business to have that kind of consultation.
It is true that the ideas for change which led to the passage of the Criminal Records Act were first presented to the House in the form of a private member's bill. The government of the day apparently recognizing the importance of the change in this area encouraged the initiative. I believe the parallel exists here as well.
The bill proposed comprehensive reform and resulted in a consensus among those who had knowledge of the subject. I think it will take some work to get the House up to speed on the sensitive criteria related to it. Thereafter the government bill was sent to committee for additional study. This is certainly something that should be considered in terms of this bill as well.
I understand the officials of the Department of the Solicitor General have had occasion to study the various suggestions our hon. colleague has raised. I think I can conclude that the member has identified a potential weakness in the system. I am not exactly sure whether what he is proposing is precisely the way to do it, but I want to make a recommendation to him with regard to how we proceed from here.
Very often good ideas in Private Members' Business do not receive the confidence of the House in terms of a vote, but there is another opportunity that has happened on many occasions. When substantive issues raised in a private member's bill are valid and enjoy the support of the House, the bill may very well not be voted on and dropped from the order paper. However the member or someone in support of the member can rise in the House and ask that the subject matter of the bill be referred to committee.
It means that it would still remain alive as an issue. It means that if the government is serious about the issues that he has raised and some ancillary issues this member would still see his initiative go forward in legislation that may be brought in by the government. I ask him to keep that in mind as we move forward.
I would support referral of this matter to the standing committee on justice.
I again congratulate the member. All private members' business deserves our respect and attention. I believe he has done a excellent job in raising this issue. We should be thankful for a fine job on behalf of all private members.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Records Act
Madam Speaker, I too would like to congratulate my colleague from Calgary who has brought this private member's bill in. I too am pleased that it has been drawn as a votable item.
I would like to withhold most of my comments for the second round of debate on this bill because time does not permit it today.
However, there are a number of observations I would like to make. There are a number of suggestions I would like to make to hon. members on the government side.
Members of the Reform caucus do not seek any glorification in winning a so-called political battle in bringing this motion forward. We have but one purpose. We are not vindictive. We do not hold malice. We have one thing in mind. We are not satisfied with the 31% figure of pedophiles coming back to abuse our children.
The hon. member who spoke earlier from the government seemed to suggest that number was satisfactory. I do not think the last member who spoke from the government would agree. He would agree that if we can by any means bring that down to 15% that would be better for all of the people in Canada, never mind this House. We are here because of the people of Canada. This bill came forward because of the children of Canada, whom we want to protect.
My profession has put me front and foremost of watching young people suffer because of sexual molestation. I have watched them struggle through life. I watched them struggle through high school. Now I watch them struggle in adulthood. If there are ways and means to prevent this, then let us go for it. I say to my hon. colleague who spoke last from the Liberal side of the House we do not care what happens. If he would like to readjust the bill and bring it back in, we would be pleased with that. We are not looking for credit in any way. The hon. member who initiated this bill would be the first to agree to it.
Different organizations have been mentioned. I want to tell members of the difficulties I had hiring teachers on whom I could not obtain the information I should have obtained. They were protected. This led to a disaster. I was the CEO to the board. A bill like this would prevent school boards from becoming trapped in an issue. It would prevent communities that hire recreational directors from becoming trapped. They should have this right. To deny the main purpose of this bill, to deny the main intent of this bill will mean this will go on and on.
Church groups that get young people together for the summer should have this right. They should have the right for limited information to protect not only themselves but the children. They are putting on functions for children because they love children and they want to protect them. The fundamental purpose of this bill, the only purpose, is to provide protection for Canadian youth.
Finally, let us forget about politics. Let us forget about the different parties. Let us forget about our personal viewpoints. Let us work together, whatever it takes. If it means going back to the committee, fine. But let us come up with a more positive solution than we have at the present time or Canadians are going to have less faith in the House for not doing something which is a national problem. We cannot sit by and simply say, as I heard this afternoon, 31% is not a bad figure and it is holding. That is not good enough for us on this side of the House.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: Criminal Records Act