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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Canada to Crack Down on Child Predators, Increase Victims' rights







Photo & Transcript - Photo & transcription - The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada - L'honorable Rob Nicholson, ministre de la Justice et procureur général du Canada


The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, accompanied by Sheldon Kennedy, former NHL player and victims advocate, and Vince Hawkes, Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner met with stakeholders to set out and discuss the next phase of the Government of Canada's plan for safe streets and communities.


L'honorable Rob Nicholson, ministre de la Justice et procureur général du Canada, accompagné de Sheldon Kennedy, ancien joueur de la LNH et défenseur des droits des victimes, et de Vince Hawkes, Sous-commissaire, Police provinciale de l'Ontario a rencontré aujourd'hui des interlocuteurs intéressés afin de présenter la prochaine phase du plan du gouvernement du Canada pour assurer la sécurité des rues et des communautés, et en discuter avec eux.


 

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Rob Nicholson,  Delivers Opening Remarks at a Roundtable and Unveils the Government's Justice Priorities for 2013.

Hon. Rob Nicholson: Well, good morning to everyone.  Deputy Commissioner and Sheldon, dear distinguished participants thank you so much for coming out and participating in this. You have been very helpful over the years in giving us guidance and advice, assistance and I just want to tell you how much that’s appreciated by me, the Prime Minister and everyone involved in this area. I’m pleased to provide you and those here today an update with respect to the Harper government’s plan to ensure that Canadians across the country can live safely in their streets and in their communities.

As you know, restoring Canadians’ confidence in their justice system has been an important priority for the Prime Minister. As he said last week, “Despite years of unceasing effort, there remains many areas requiring determined action in our criminal justice system. When it comes to keeping our streets and communities safe, we will not rest for there is much more to be done.”

Well, today, I am pleased to outline the major themes of our plan for safe streets and communities, one of the four priorities identified by the Prime Minister for our government.  Including of course our focus on jobs and the economy, specific initiatives will be announced in the days and months ahead. 

 

One reason Canadians granted our government a strong mandate is that they believe that the scales of justice have tipped away from the rights of law-abiding citizens and towards the rights of criminals while the interests of victims were too often ignored. 

Et le public perd confiance dans le système de justice quand il estime que les conséquences d’un crime sont inadéquates et que la peine ne convient pas au crime.

The public loses faith in a system when they feel that the consequences of breaking the law are inadequate or that the punishment does not fit the crime. They expect that if you break the law, you will be punished. Crime doesn’t and shouldn’t pay.

In an effort to continue to restore confidence in the criminal justice system, our government put forward a strong tough on crime agenda.  We established tougher penalties for a range of crimes related to everything from white collar crime and identity theft to street racing, auto theft and elder abuse.  We clarified the rules related to citizen’s arrest and the defence of property and persons.

Moreover, we passed three laws that really started to shift the scales of justice towards the rights of victims. These three laws are: 

1.the Tackling Violent Crime Act which toughens sentences for criminals who use guns, raised the age of protection and made it easier to keep dangerous, violent and repeat offenders behind bars;

2. the Truth in Sentencing Act which eliminated the practice of double time reductions in the sentence of criminals for time served before their trial except in exceptional circumstances; 

3.and the Safe Streets and Communities Act which eliminated house arrest for serious and violent crimes, toughened sentences for drug dealers and increased penalties for criminals who commit sexual offences against children.  These three laws demonstrated our commitment to put dangerous criminals behind bars and to keep our streets and communities safe. And they will ensure that the interests of victims and law-abiding citizens are a priority.

Our government’s reforms have certainly helped victims to play a more significant role in the criminal justice system. The Federal Victims Strategy, launched in 2007, established the federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime. The ombudsman gives victims a greater voice in the correction and justice systems. 

The Victims Fund, another part of the strategy, invests in projects that promote access to justice and participation in the criminal justice system. The Harper government has backed up these initiatives with stable, long-term funding, a cumulative total of more than $90 million since 2007. And proposed reforms that are currently being studied by the Senate will double the Victims Surcharge imposed on fines for some criminal offences. These fine surcharges help pay for victims’ services which we believe are so important.

 

Perhaps no better project illustrates the value of the Victims Strategy than our support of Child Advocacy Centres. So far, Child Advocacy Centre projects have been funded in 15 cities or municipalities across Canada and another five projects are currently in various stages of development. At each centre, a team of professionals helps young victims and witnesses to cope with the trauma they have experienced and to navigate the criminal justice system.  This leads, in turn, to a greater sense of satisfaction among victims and witnesses, a sense that the system respects their experience and interests, a sense that their voice matters. Ultimately, this serves to build the public’s faith in the system. 

So we have much progress to do. Crime remains a serious issue that continues to affect all Canadians. 
While some crime has been in decline, in 2011 there were still nearly two million Criminal Code violations. More disturbingly, there were more than a thousand violent offences committed each and every day across Canada.  This means that there are still too many Canadians who are victims of attempted murder, major assaults, sexual assaults, robberies, break-ins and thefts. Moreover, the rates of some crimes such as child sexual offences, impaired driving and drug crimes are on the rise.

Then there’s the matter of repeat offenders.  Fifteen percent of offenders are responsible for nearly 60 percent of all reported crimes. And 43 percent of offenders released from federal prison will be re-convicted within two years of their release.  These are the facts; they can’t be ignored.

The cost of policing, which has been estimated at $8.6 billion per year, puts a serious strain on the system as do delays in our courts. Crime costs each and every one of us. And with estimates putting the total cost of crime at nearly $100 billion a year, that is more than the federal government spends on health care, Old Age Security and defence combined.  We cannot ignore its impact. 

As we move forward to ensure that Canadians have safe streets and communities to live in, our government will build on our successes over the last seven years. We will make additional progress in three key areas. 

SOLUTION
First, 
we will take further steps to take crime by holding violent criminals responsible. As I just mentioned, such terrible crimes as child sexual offences, including child pornography, are on the rise.  In 2009, 58 percent of all victims of police-reported sexual offences in Canada were children and youth 17 years or younger.  Police reported almost 4,000 sexual offences against children in 2011.  What makes this even more disturbing is that the sexual exploitation of children is apparently becoming more and more violent while the children who are being violated are younger than ever.  This trend was reflected in a 2009 Federal Victims Ombudsman’s report which indicated that 39 percent of child pornography images involved children between the ages of three and five. And 19 percent involved images of infants under three years of age.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was at the Centre d’expertise Marie-Saint-Vincent in Montreal which offers under one roof service to child victims of sexual crimes. They told me that 22 percent of the young victims who received services at their centre in the last year were less than five years of age. The year before, it had been 10 percent. This is wrong. This is unacceptable. This has to stop.  Children, the most vulnerable members of our society, must be better protected from these sexual predators who look for their next victims, both near and far, by – including by engaging in child sexual tourism. Their punishment for these crimes must reflect the devastation they cause in the lives of children and their families. 

Our government has worked to toughen the penalties against sexual predators. We’ve even added new offences to prevent these acts, including making it illegal for anyone to provide sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of grooming that child and we made it an offence to use computers or other means of telecommunications to agree or make arrangements with another person to commit a sexual offence against a child.

Still, more work has to be done. Accordingly, we will be introducing comprehensive legislation later this year to crack down on criminals who commit sexual offences against children, especially those who continue to violate their conditions while at large.

We also know that sexual predators rarely hurt just one victim. In fact, many go on for years victimizing one child after another without getting caught. Our criminal system must reflect the reality of victimization when it comes to this type of abuse. We intend to remedy the situation and to ensure that sentencing takes into account each young life that has been devastated by a sexual predator.

Our responsibility to protect the public goes well beyond child sexual offences.  For instance, as indicated last November, we will soon introduce legislation to protect the public from high risk accused persons who have been found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. This legislation will ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration in these cases. 

Second, 
we will further enhance the rights of victims of crime. Our government has worked hard since coming into office to ensure that victims of crime have a greater voice in our justice system and we believe that still more can be done to better recognize and protect their rights. 

For too long, victims have asked why the tragic impacts of crime on their lives, family and property are not given greater prominence in our justice system.  That is why our government will bring forward legislation to implement a Victims’ Bill of Rights.  This will further enhance our commitment to victims of crime by entrenching their rights into a single law at the federal level.

Restitution also remains difficult to obtain for many victims and families who incur losses. To that end, we will find ways to make it easier for victims to obtain restitution in these cases. We are committed to standing up for victims of crime and that is what we will continue to do.

Thirdly, we will work to ensure the efficiency of our justice system. Legislation is now in place to improve the fairness and efficiency of major trials, particularly those involving gangs and organized crime. However, we will continue to look at related measures, including the use of new technologies in the justice system. We will also look at measures to make the bail and extradition regimes more effective and efficient.

In Canada, it takes an average two and a half years to extradite a criminal to face justice. In exceptional circumstances, it’s been known to take as long as 12 years.  As the Chief Justice of Canada has said that delays in our justice system cause personal and social costs that are incalculable.  Needless to say, this creates an undue burden for our justice system.  Delays and inefficiencies have had a devastating impact on certain cases where charges are stayed for unreasonable delay. Witnesses lose their ability to give accurate testimony and victims question when, if ever, their alleged abusers will face justice. More worrisome, police officers have to spend hours and hours of their days entangled in bureaucratic red tape instead of being out on the street putting dangerous criminals behind bars. 

Our government has taken action to tackle crime and to stand up for victims. We will also do more to ensure our justice system is more efficient in concert with our provincial and territorial counterparts and other participants in the justice system.

Ladies and gentlemen, our government’s ultimate goal is to do everything we can to ensure that the streets and communities of Canadians are a safe place to live. And, to achieve this, our criminal justice system must hold violent criminals accountable, champion the rights of victims and make an efficient, integrated and collaborative approach to preventing and fighting crime. 

Crime has caused too much harm to too many people in this country.  We must continue to build on our many successful efforts to date to restore public faith in our criminal justice system for the benefit of all Canadians.

Thank you very much.

Sheldon Kennedy:      I want to thank all the media for coming. It’s important. Child sex predators rely on society’s ignorance and indifference so the more we can get this story and this conversation happening within our country, the better.  I want to thank everybody for being around this table. And I especially want to thank you, Minister Nicholson, for hosting the roundtable and allowing me to speak on behalf of victims.

I couldn’t have imagined 16 years ago, when I disclosed my abuse, that we’d be talking about these issues so openly and with such commitment to make positive change for victims. Minister Nicholson, thank you for understanding that offenders need to be brought to justice, victims need a louder voice in the criminal justice system and child victims need more support.

In many cases, if these children do not get early attention, they end up in our medical or our criminal systems where the personal costs are enormous and financial costs are in the tens of billions. In order to eliminate revictimization of our children, increase conviction rates, obtain longer sentences, and to start the early rehabilitation of these young children and their families, the Child Advocacy Centre approach through collaboration is key.

When I say collaboration, I mean all agencies working together with one common goal, including police services, child and family services, health and the crown prosecutor under one roof to openly share information and to keep the singular focus on what is in the best interest of the child. To create this model, we need engagement from all levels of government, our school systems, corporations and the community at large.

This is a tall order but I am pleased to say this is exactly what we’ve been able to accomplish in Calgary. Through the Centre, we hope to be able to prove through early intervention, community-wide education and research on outcomes that this approach will provide to be a model for which all governments will feel confident in which to continue to invest.  The ultimate goal is to create the safest environment for disclosure, investigation and rehabilitation for our most vulnerable.

In closing, I would like to applaud the Harper government’s leadership and Minister Nicholson personally for already coming forward and addressing critical issues in this area, including legislation dealing with child sexual offences, the victims’ surcharge, the Victims’ Bill of Rights and your support of the Child Advocacy Centres. You have my commitment, Minister Nicholson, that I will continue to work with our government in finding solutions to best meet our collective priority of creating safer streets and communities for all Canadians.

And thank you all for coming today.

Moderator:                             We’ll take some questions from the press. We’ve got a microphone right over here if you want to line up.

Question:                                The first question is for Mr. Nicholson. Thank you for taking time to speak with us today. I’m sure you’re aware that the opposition has been very critical of the Harper government’s stance on getting tough on crime. How do you answer those critics based on what you’re announcing today?

Hon. Rob Nicholson: I tell them that this is what Canadians have been telling us.  I have over the last six years gone across this country. I’ve held crime roundtables just like I’m going to have a little later on this morning.  And we are responding to what people are telling us. And I am pleased that in every election since 2004 that when we have made this a priority Canadians are increasingly supportive of this. So I would say to opposition members just have a look across this country and listen to what your constituents are telling you. They are supportive of what we’re trying to do.

Question:                                You touched on compensation for victims of criminals in this country. How do you determine what’s adequate compensation?

Hon. Rob Nicholson: Yes, that’s a very good point. One of the things that we did when we brought in the bill on white collar crime was to make the system a little more user-friendly so that the courts will have the opportunity to assess that individual’s loss. We even put a form in the Criminal Code so to help that individual. And, again, we’re not taking over the area of civil jurisdiction in this but I think it’s important for us to make it as easy as possible for people who have been victimized and have had financial loss that they should be able to recover that. And so that has to be a priority and we started that process already and we’ll continue to be.

Question:                                Thank you. Mr. Kennedy, this question’s for you. You’re here today supporting the government’s position on crime, particularly against child sex predators. What do you have to say about the government announce (sic) today in terms of what it means to you going forward?

Sheldon Kennedy:      Well, I think what I really like is the focus on victims.  I think that that’s key. I think that when we look at this type of crime, you know, we catch some child sex abusers but I think it’s paramount that we take care of the victims of the perpetrators because I think a lot of these kids end up in our systems, as I said. So this is huge. We would have never had this conversation even 10 years ago. So I think for us to recognize this and for the amount of people that sit around this table and to be able to have this conversation at this type of level is huge. And I think that the key here is to be able to give kids which are victims of crime the opportunity to get out of being a victim. Because you disclose doesn’t mean that you’re automatically not a victim anymore. It takes time to work on that type of trauma that happens as a child so I think our ultimate goal is to give these kids back the life that they grew up wanting.

Question:                                Hi. Good morning. I have a two-part question and so, please, feel free to weigh in.  It’s – we’ve talked about streamlining in the past.  We’ve heard about – we’ve heard this talked about many times in the past so why do you think this will work? And my other question is that based on what Mr. Hawkes said, suggesting that, you know, there is – this is the digital age and child predators have changed. Are you addressing that in any significant way because police we’ve seen in press conference after press conference complaining about that very issue?

Hon. Rob Nicholson: I know. We have to continue to modernize the Criminal Code and, indeed, some of the measures that we’ve already brought in are a direct response to what we heard. One of them was, and I touched on that briefly, the double credit that individuals were getting in provincial facilities, in provincial institutions. I was told from right across this country that this was clogging up the criminal justice system, clogging up provincial resources, detention centres and I made that very clear when we introduced that legislation that that’s one of the reasons that we are doing – doing that is to assist in that direction.

That being said, we know the Criminal Code has to be continued to be modernized.  We, you know, the criminals don’t just telephone each other anymore. They’ve gotten out of the business of sending telegrams to each other and, you know, our laws have to be up to date on that. So we will look at those areas as well. I indicated to you in the area of extraditions, individuals who have been accused of committing serious crimes outside of this country it’s averaging two and a half years to as high as 12 years. I think most people would think that there are some problems with the system when it takes that long. So, yes, we are looking at those areas and we’re committed to making the system as efficient as possible. I mean the area – the bill that we brought in with respect to mega trials and gang-related trials, we’re making progress in this area but when I talk with law enforcement agents and people involved with the criminal justice system, they say we have to do more and we’re going to do more.

Moderator:                             Final question.

Question:                                It seems to me that when the omnibus bill, crime bill was introduced last winter, there were tougher mandatory minimums for small time pot growers than there were for child predators or child molesters. So it seems like this one is the last to actually get some attention. Why is that?

Hon. Rob Nicholson: We have increased the penalties with respect to child sexual abuses.  The areas that we have increased the penalties are individuals who are into the business of trafficking, importing drugs, the people involved with organized crime in the drug industry and so that is where we’ve increased the penalties. But we are looking at this area of child sexual abuse.  As I indicated in my opening remarks, we’ve even created two new offences in this area to try and intercept those individuals before they actually do abuse the child and so, again, we have a lot of work to do but when I listen to individuals here like Greg Cahoolie (ph) and Sheldon Kennedy and others, you know, it continues, it reinforces our resolve to crack down on this kind of activity.

Moderator:                             Thank you very much.  Merci beaucoup.