Mr. Gurmant Grewal (Surrey Central, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this morning on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central to participate in the debate on Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.
Contrary to yesterday's assertion by the justice minister, the official opposition cares about protecting children from sexual predators. That is why we are firmly opposed to Bill C-12. We want legislation that makes the perverts who prey upon our innocent children fearful.
Unfortunately, Bill C-12 fails in that regard. This bill has been endorsed by none other than Mr. John Robin Sharpe, the very man who was found guilty of possession of as many as 400 images of children whom prosecutors contended were being exploited sexually.
In March 2002 Sharpe's conviction concerning the images was upheld by the Supreme Court. However, he was ultimately acquitted of related charges that had been filed against him in connection with the stories he had written, specifically because those writings were deemed to have artistic merit. Mr. Sharpe feels that this bill is so poorly crafted that even he could use it to his advantage in the courts.
To quote the nation's most notorious child pornographer, “The interesting thing about the child sex laws is that they may offer some unintended opportunities for the defence”. Mr. Sharpe asserts that the federal proposal is a panic reaction to his two successes in challenging the current legislation in court. He further writes, “I am fairly confident that given good legal counsel, and a by-the-book judge who bases his decisions on the wording of the law...I and my stories would again be acquitted under the proposed measures”.
The problem with this bill lies in the proposed public good defence. Mr. Sharpe is not alone when he claims that the proposal is too vague to survive court challenges. Many legal experts agree with him. Judges who interpret and apply the law do not consider the many fine speeches delivered in this chamber. They simply look at the words of the laws that we pass in this place.
What does public good really mean? The government has failed to make that clear. What if, as Mr. Sharpe suggests, a judge finds it in the public good to allow possession of child pornography if it prevents convicted child molesters from reoffending again? That certainly is within the realm of possibility.
If Parliament passes this bill, a person would be found guilty of a child pornography offence when the material or act in question does not serve the public good or where the risk of harm outweighs any public benefit. Since the Sharpe case, Conservatives have called again and again on the federal government to eliminate the artistic merit defence, but replacing it with a public good defence is not the solution. We must eliminate all defences that justify the criminal possession of child pornography.
The Liberals need to get their priorities straight. They have brought forward many pieces of legislation, but none of them protect children against child pornography. For years I have been demanding a stop to the sexual exploitation of children, but the Liberals clearly lack the political will to fix that problem for our society.
In fact, during the Liberal government's tenure, family values have been continually eroded. We can talk about any single issue that relates to family values. Those family values have been eroding under the Liberals, whether it is the definition of marriage, protecting children from child pornography, raising the age of consent, taxation laws with respect to single parent families, or giving law enforcement agencies enough resources and laws with teeth.
On every single front, the Liberal government has let families down. It always forgets that the stronger the family, the stronger the community and the stronger our great nation would be. The foundation of this great country is the family, not the social welfare system. We have to strengthen our families. We have to protect children and other vulnerable people.
Canadians want laws with teeth. That is one thing we can do in this chamber. At least we could make laws with teeth and not have just a slap on the wrist or a revolving door criminal justice system. We cannot do that anymore. Why can the Liberals not see that we want deterrents in place, not some sort of motivation for criminal behaviour?
Bill C-12, which we are debating today, will increase maximum sentences or maximum penalties for offences that harm children. I agree, but that is not good enough. How many times has government introduced legislation that increases maximum sentences? What is the good of increasing maximum sentences if the courts will not apply the full force of the laws we already have in place? Increasing penalties is meaningless if the courts do not impose the sentences.
We know from experience that when maximum sentences are raised there is no corresponding pattern in the actual sentencing practices. What is needed? Mandatory minimum sentences. We need truth in sentencing. We need no conditional sentences for child predators. We need minimum mandatory sentences instead of the maximum sentences so that the judges can implement them.
Bill C-12 creates a new category of sexual exploitation that protects people aged 14 to 18. Courts would focus not on consent but on whether the relationship is exploitative based on age difference, control exerted and other circumstances. Again, that is not good enough. It is already against the law for a person in a position of trust or authority, or with whom a young person is in a relation of dependency, to be sexually involved with that young person. It is already in the law. It is unclear how adding such people will add legal protection for young children.
What the Liberals should have done instead was increase the age of consent for any sexual activity. A major shortcoming of the bill is that it fails to raise the age of consent for sexual activity between children and adults. I fail to see the rationale for permitting adults to engage in any sexual activity with children. The government should raise the age of consent, currently set out in section 150.1 of the Criminal Code, from 14 to 16 at least, if not 18.
In Surrey, we are all too familiar with the problem of prostitution. Studies have found that 70% to 80% of Canadian prostitutes enter the trade as children. In particular at that age, the recruitment process for the sex trade in Canada preys on young girls and boys and specifically targets those who are at the current age of consent, that is, 14. According to the Children of the Street Society, the majority of parents who call asking for help from the police have children who are 14 years old and are being recruited into the sex trade by the pimps.
I ask the Liberals, do they think that 50 year old men should be able to target 14 year old runaways for sex, give them a sexually transmitted disease and get them pregnant? What response will Liberals give at the doorstep during the upcoming campaign? I would be very interested to hear from the government members who lack the political will to protect our children from these sex predators.
The results of dozens of studies show the effect of adult sexual contact with children. There is a huge risk of clinical depression, suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, and extreme promiscuity and involvement in prostitution. It is vitally important that we do not confuse physical maturation with psychological maturation. The “age of majority” is a term used by lawyers to protect the offender and to describe the time in life after which a person is legally no longer considered a child. In essence, it is an arbitrary time when a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law.
Why is it that we as a society feel that children are ill-prepared to drive, to drink, even to vote or marry or drop out of school or even watch violent movies, but we feel they are totally ready to decide for themselves with whom they should have sex? It is a pity to have this societal social evil. This makes absolutely no sense.
Raising the age of sexual consent would definitely put us more in line with other western nations. We know that in Denmark, France and Sweden the age of consent for sexual activity is 15. In Australia, Finland, Germany, Holland, Israel, New Zealand, Norway and even the United Kingdom, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16. In Canada, we still have that age of 14. It is time for the Liberals to prohibit adults from having sex with children under the age of 16. This age of 14 is not a good thing for society.
The need to protect innocent and vulnerable children from pimps and other sexual predators is a matter of highest priority. It should not be on the back burner of the government's priorities. How many Canadians are aware that a 14 year old can move into a conjugal relationship with a 50 year old? There is nothing the parents can do, at least legally, to put a stop to such an exploitative relationship. Persons at 14 and 15 years of age lack the mental and emotional maturity to cope with the psychological effects of engaging in sexual activity with older persons.
A survey last summer found that 80% of Canadians, eight out of ten people, believe the age of sexual consent should be raised to 16. So why does the age of consent remain at 14?
I know that the Liberal government is governing the country with polls. It has been looking at the polls for the definition of marriage and now is looking at the polls for when to call the election, but why does it not see this same poll, in which 80% of Canadians demand from this weak and arrogant Liberal government that the age for sexual activity be raised from 14 to at least 16? Why are we depriving parents of the ability to protect their children from sexual exploitation? It is a very important issue. It cannot be ignored.
I talked about minimum mandatory sentences. They are a root cause of the criminal justice system not being effective. Let us take marijuana cultivation as an example. According to a British Columbia police study, on average it takes seven convictions before a person will serve jail time for cultivation of cannabis. In neighbouring Washington State, first time offenders get an automatic three month sentence. Needless to say, we have considerably more grow ops in British Columbia, particularly in my constituency, than they do south of the border.
But what does the government do? It introduces legislation that would increase maximum sentences for larger grow operations. What about the minimum sentences? Minimum sentences are what Canadians need. They send a message to the criminal element in society that we are serious about preventing crime, whether it is child pornography, drugs or any other violent crime.
It is very important that we look into these issues seriously. I talked about Surrey. We know that last year a massive RCMP probe, code-named Project Snowball, tracked more than 2,000 Canadians, including over 406 in British Columbia, suspected of possessing and distributing sexually explicit pictures of children. Out of those 406 identified in British Columbia, 23 were from Surrey.
A quick survey of local Surrey newspapers reveals many cases of adults sexually exploiting children. For instance, there is 32 year old Stephen Smith, who was charged with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation involving two underage boys he had met on the Internet. Dale Nault, a 34 year old, also from Surrey, was charged with three counts of sexual assault involving a 14 year old boy he met over the Internet and with one count of possession of child pornography.
In all these cases, the government failed to protect the children. I know that my time is almost up, but I would like to say that if the Liberals were serious about protecting our children and making our streets safe for all Canadians, they would strengthen our laws by introducing maximum sentences and ensuring that sentences handed out are actually served. They would give law enforcement agencies the resources they need to fight crime instead of wasting money on a useless gun registry.
Rather than registering sex offenders, the government has been wasting billions of dollars registering guns of law-abiding citizens. We need a comprehensive sex offender registry, tougher sentences for pedophiles, elimination of all legal loopholes for child pornography, a streamlining of the administrative process for convicting sex offenders and the prohibition of all adult-child sexual contact.
In closing, I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding: “and that the committee report back no later than April 5, 2004.”
Subtopic: Criminal Code