Published: August 29, 2013, 12:36 pm
OTTAWA — The federal government is again targeting child predators with new legislation in the fall that will impose stiffer sentences for child pornographers and pedophiles.
The new Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act will include mandatory minimum and maximum sentences, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday, while offering few details about what those minimum and maximum penalties will be.
“Once the bill has passed, the measures it contains will represent the most comprehensive legislation to combat sex crimes against children ever enacted in this country,” Harper said at a news conference in Toronto.
“We are doing this because every victim matters, because every child matters.”
Under the proposed legislation, which will be tabled after Parliament resumes in October, those convicted on multiple counts will have to serve their sentences consecutively — “one prison sentence after the other, particularly for offenders that have victimized multiple children,” Harper said, noting 40 per cent of cases involve four or more charges.
The new bill will also include provisions that could compel the spouse of an accused person to testify against their partner in court.
There will also be increased penalties for those who violate their parole conditions and provisions to ensure that any crime committed while on parole or statutory release would become a mandatory factor during sentencing.
“As a father, frankly I think I speak for almost everyone, I cannot even begin to comprehend why those who sexually pray on children do the heinous things that they do, but sadly there are truly evil people out there,” Harper said, noting sex crimes against young people are “sadly” on the rise and that more than half of all reported sex assaults in Canada now involve children.
“The fact is we don’t understand them and we don’t particularly care to. We understand only that they must be dealt with. We must deal with them to protect our children.”
It appears the new legislation will expand upon Bill C-10, the omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act which became law in March 2012. Among other things, it created two new offences for sex crimes involving children, imposed a number of new mandatory minimum penalties and increased existing mandatory minimum and maximum penalties for a series of crimes.
Mandatory minimum penalties now range from 30 days to five years depending on the crime and its severity. Maximum penalties range from two to 14 years, though aggravated sexual assault against a child could carry a sentence of life in prison.
But last December, former NHL star Theo Fleury lashed out against the government, saying Canada remained a “Disneyland for pedophiles” and that the laws were still too weak.
He called for mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years in prison for each count of sexual abuse, to be served consecutively. He also called for legal repercussions for anyone who fails to report cases of sex abuse.
Himself a victim of abuse at the hands of disgraced hockey coach Graham James when he played for him in the 1980s, Fleury has since become an outspoken advocate for victims of child sex crimes.
The bill, however, will likely face some criticism.
Liberal justice critic Sean Casey said mandatory minimums tend to raise red flags.
“The evidence is quite clear, mandatory minimums don’t deter crime and they contribute to overcrowding,” he said.
“My immediate reaction is let’s wait and see the details. If there’s mandatory minimums, that will certainly be one element we’ll likely stand against as we have consistently.”
Consecutive sentences could have the same overcrowding effect, he said, adding mandating them also presumes judges can’t do their jobs.
“We feel that judges are quite capable of assessing the evidence and exercising their discretion based on what they see and hear and their ability to make sentences consecutive or concurrent is part and parcel of that discretion,” he said.
The NDP did not respond to a request for comment.
While the United States recently signalled its intent to move away from mandatory minimums and harsh sentences that have made the country’s prison system unmanageable, the Conservative government maintains it’s on the right track and that previous mandatory minimums did not result in the exploding prison populations many predicted.