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Criminal Code—Sex Offender Information Registration Act—International Transfer of Offenders Act

Bill to Amend--Message from Commons--Motion for Concurrence in Commons Amendments Adopted

October 26, 2023

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ + ]


That, in relation to Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer Act, the Senate agree to the amendments made by the House of Commons; and

That a message be sent to the House of Commons to acquaint that house accordingly.

He said: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

As you may recall, our chamber made several amendments to the bill last June, some pertaining to the publication ban rules. The bill is back before us once again, this time with new amendments to consider.

Bill S-12 proposes important reforms empowering victims of crime. It does so by changing the rules governing publication bans and a victim’s right to information. It also amends the National Sex Offender Registry in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v. Ndhlovu, which — as you’ll recall — declared certain provisions related to the registration of sex offenders, as well as the duration of those orders, to be unconstitutional.

The publication ban provisions are those that were amended further by the other place and are the subject of our examination today.

Colleagues, publication bans are useful tools to shield the identity of victims and witnesses, thereby protecting them from further harm. However, it is not uncommon for some survivors to want to share their stories publicly, and it can come as a surprise to them that they are unable to do so because of the bans that are in place. Survivors are also often unaware of the procedures to have such bans lifted.

It is in response to these concerns that Bill S-12 proposes changes to the publication ban regime with the aim of giving a greater voice and a greater agency to victims in the criminal justice system, including survivors of sexual assault and those wishing to share their stories.

Victims’ groups that appeared before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs were of the opinion that, as written, the bill did not go far enough toward achieving the goal of respecting victims’ and witnesses’ wishes when publication bans are imposed. Witnesses called for greater clarity in identifying actions meant to be protected by a ban and for a simpler process to change or revoke a ban. The committee then made several amendments to create a more robust, victim‑centred approach to publication bans.

While the majority of those Senate amendments are retained in this version of the bill, a small number of changes were made in the other place, and they impact the amendments we made. Those changes were made because of witnesses’ concerns about unintended consequences. Nevertheless, in my opinion, the current version of the bill does reflect the spirit and objectives of the bill the Senate passed earlier this year.

The first change relates to the Senate amendment requiring the prosecutor to advise the victim or witness of the existence of a publication ban and to inform a victim or witness about its effects. This would include the circumstances in which identifying information could be disclosed without breaching the order.

Concerns were raised by some Attorneys General — particularly from Ontario and Nova Scotia — that the latter part of the amendment, which required a prosecutor to outline which information could be disclosed, was problematic. It was felt that this element risked unintentionally requiring a prosecutor to provide victims and witnesses with legal advice on a matter that the prosecutor may have the responsibility to prosecute at a later date should a breach be committed. This same concern was also expressed by Ms. Megan Stephens, a criminal and constitutional lawyer who worked as a prosecutor for more than a decade and who represents victims in sexual assault proceedings, including in proceedings to lift publication bans.

Accordingly, with this information, Bill S-12 was amended to remove this requirement, thereby eliminating legal and policy risks concerning prosecutorial independence and the potential conflict of interest prosecutors could face in these situations. Colleagues, prosecutors will still be required, however, to provide information to victims about publication bans, including the right to apply for modification or revocation.

Colleagues, two technical amendments were also included to ensure that the bill’s objectives are clearly understood. The first clarifies what kind of information sharing would not be captured by a publication ban, including when a victim or a witness shares information about themselves provided that the information does not identify a person who is protected by another publication ban. As passed by the Senate, the bill’s provisions on this point were limited to persons protected by the same publication ban. This technical change recognizes that multiple victims can be protected by multiple publication bans.

The second technical amendment was in relation to language in the bill as passed by the Senate that spoke to persons who were “subject to the order.” This provision allowed victims who were protected by a publication ban to disclose information about themselves. But, as was noted by the witness in the other place from the National Association of Women and the Law, this idea would be better reflected by using the formulation “subject of the order.” In my view, this amendment is appropriate and provides for the harmonization of the language in the English version of the legislation with that of the French version.

Next, during the committee’s study of Bill S-12 in the other place, some witnesses expressed a desire for the bill to be clearer about to whom disclosure might be made by victims or witnesses without them falling within the scope of a publication ban. The Senate committee added a provision to Bill S-12 ensuring that a publication ban does not apply where the disclosure of information is made by the person whose identity is protected provided the disclosure was not done for the purpose of making the information public.

This limitation was amended for greater clarity and now specifies that it also includes cases where the disclosure is made to a legal professional, a health care professional or a person of trust, but is not made for the purpose of making the information public.

I would now like to draw your attention to a small but important change to the wording of clause 4 of the bill, which made reference to the privacy rights of the accused. The Senate amendment included the expression, and I quote, “other than the accused” in the proposed subsections 486.51(2) and 486.51(3) to make it clear that the accused’s right to privacy should not be taken into account when determining whether to revoke or vary a publication ban. This amendment was understood as a change reflecting common law, and it was concluded that considerations related to the accused’s privacy were irrelevant when determining whether a publication ban had to be imposed or revoked.

However, concerns have been raised over the fact that wording specifically excluding the accused’s right to privacy could have the opposite effect and lead to the erroneous conclusion that, without such wording, the accused would otherwise have been able to invoke a right to privacy in the application.

The common law is clear. An accused has no right to privacy with respect to publication bans. This wording was therefore struck from the bill to better reflect the policy intent of the provision and thereby eliminate any risk of confusion.

Another change relates to the amendment made by the Senate to the publication ban provisions in the context of the mental disorder regime. Colleagues, this regime governs accused persons found unfit to stand trial or not to be held criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, or NCR.

This amendment would have required the Review Board, charged with overseeing persons subject to this regime, to inform those whose identities are protected by a section 486.4 publication ban about the existence of the order, its requirements and the consequences of failing to comply.

While the objective of this amendment was clearly laudable, there were concerns that its addition did not reflect the other changes made to section 486.4 and section 486.5 publication bans, and it was determined that further study of this issue would be beneficial.

The “not criminally responsible” regime is a unique area of the criminal law with different considerations, and it needs to be considered comprehensively. I further understand that Review Boards operating in this regime are constituted provincially; therefore, the government believes that a review of the mental disorder regime should be a separate exercise from this bill, requiring more thorough examination, especially in relation to these provisions. For these reasons, this clause has been deleted unanimously by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the other place.

Finally, a coordinating amendment between Bill S-12 and private member’s Bill C-291 was added. Bill C-291, which was referred to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs last June, proposes numerous amendments to the Criminal Code by replacing the term “child pornography” with the term “child sexual abuse and exploitation material.” This coordinating amendment would ensure that the new proposed definition of “designated offence” in Bill S-12 aligns with the updated terminology proposed in Bill C-291 should both bills receive Royal Assent and come into force.

In summary, colleagues, the committee in the other place agreed with six Senate amendments, albeit advanced on behalf of the government and drafted with key stakeholders. The other place also agreed with five other Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee amendments with further modifications, disagreed with one committee amendment on the issue of mental disorder and brought in one coordinating amendment.

Honourable senators, I support Bill S-12, as amended. These amendments promote the bill’s initial objectives and honour the spirit of the improvements that the Senate made previously. I would invite you to support this bill and its swift passage.

Before I conclude, I would like to clarify one final point: As colleagues know, Bill S-12 responds to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision which identified a constitutional deficiency with the status quo. The court imposed a deadline of October 28, 2023, for new legislation to be in place.

Earlier this week, Senator Dennis Patterson asked me whether the government would be prepared to seek an extension from the Supreme Court. I was subsequently informed that for contingency purposes, the government did, indeed, act responsibly by seeking an extension of the deadline in case things did not work out either in the other place or here in the Senate. Earlier today, I was advised that an extension was, indeed, granted yesterday.

That said, I encourage senators to proceed with consideration and adoption of the message on Bill S-12 today, as I believe the chamber is ready, and the other place acted quickly so that we would be able to bring this to Royal Assent, notably to ensure that the unconstitutional provisions at issue are repealed and replaced by a better, stronger law that we improved here with our work.

Just as the government acted responsibly in requesting an extension, might I suggest and submit that the responsible thing for the Senate to do today is to conclude debate and adopt the message to prevent prolonging a status quo identified by the Supreme Court as constitutionally deficient.

Bill S-12 would bring much-needed clarity to the National Sex Offender Registry in Canada, it will empower victims of crime and help build confidence in the criminal justice system.

Colleagues, thank you very much for your time today.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

Senator Gold, would you take a question?

Senator Gold [ + ]

Of course.

Senator Plett [ + ]

You and I did speak about this earlier, and I appreciate that. I don’t want my standing to ask you a question to be seen as an intention to delay things. I think we have shown that we are supportive, certainly, of the intent of this legislation, both in this place and in the other.

You’re absolutely right; not only did Senator Dennis Patterson ask that question in this chamber, but at our leaders’ meetings we have asked this question a number of times: Why could we not seek an extension? Why are we being asked to rush? We were constantly reminded we needed to rush, and so we did that.

You say they acted responsibly. I would suggest that being responsible would at least include telling us that they are trying, but they didn’t.

So why would they not have told us? Why would you not have told us? I accept that you maybe didn’t know. Why would the government not have told you, “We’re trying to seek an extension”?

And how much of an extension did they get? If this bill does not pass today, how much of an extension did they get? What is the deadline?

Senator Gold [ + ]

Those are fair questions. Thank you for that.

The short answer to the latter part of the question is that the government sought a three-month extension, which was granted by the court yesterday in the latter part of the day. My office was informed of it midday today, and the first thing I did — as some of you would know, and I hope you shared it with your colleagues — was I spoke to all the leaders to inform them, and I also called Senator Dennis Patterson, who was the one who had raised this first. At the time he raised the question, I did not know that the government had sought an extension, and I still don’t know exactly when they made that decision.

But I can state with some confidence that when a request for such an extension is made, it does not come with an automatic date for the hearing, much less certainty of the conclusion. I strongly believe the government acted responsibly, as the deadline was approaching, to seek an extension — and they got it — in the event that circumstances in the other place, which are not always smooth sailing, were such that they couldn’t get it to us in time, or, indeed, whenever they could get it to us, we would not have time or the will to move quickly.

In that regard, I do also want to remind senators and thank them because when we did get the bill, and it was introduced in this place, I asked all leaders and all senators to study it properly, as we did — and we improved it — and to do so with dispatch so it could be sent back to the House before we rose for the summer.

Why did I ask that? Because the deadline was known, and I thought it was only appropriate that we give the House of Commons the equivalent amount of time to study the bill that we chose to take to do it. We didn’t rush our study, and they, as it turns out, spent less time on the bill than we were able to devote to it.

The only point of difference, Senator Plett, that I would take with your question — because it’s a fair question — is I don’t think we’re being asked to rush this. I think that our committee did tremendous work. Earlier in the week I circulated both to leadership and to all senators a high-level summary of the amendments that were accepted, tweaked and introduced in the other place.

We’re here on a Thursday. It’s 3:30 p.m. We have plenty of time for each and every senator to take the floor and debate it. I continue to hope that we will conclude the debate, send it for Royal Assent and complete the work that we began and that we began so well.

Thank you.

Senator Plett [ + ]

I have a brief follow-up question. You’re right, Senator Gold; you called us all at noon. We let our critic know, but, clearly, in light of time, we didn’t let everybody know, although you told me very clearly you would be addressing it in the chamber, so everybody would know before we got to a vote. I thank you for that.

My question is — and you answered part of it — you said they sought a three-month extension. Did they get a three-month extension?

Senator Gold [ + ]

I apologize. Yes, they did. They sought and received a three-month extension.

I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear on that.

Would you take another question, Senator Gold?

Senator Gold [ + ]

Of course.

One of the amendments that the Senate passed aimed to ensure that victims and witnesses subject to publication bans were informed about the effects of a publication ban and the circumstances where Bill S-12 permits disclosure of information subject to a publication ban.

As you mentioned, this amendment was removed in the other place. I wonder how the government is planning to ensure that those subject to publication bans, especially the most marginalized and disadvantaged, have the information that they need to know their rights, and to feel confident in exercising them — secure in the knowledge that they will not face criminal charges, which is part of what gave rise to this bill in the first place.

Senator Gold [ + ]

It’s a very good question. I will answer the question, and then I will comment.

I don’t know exactly what measures might be taken going forward, whether it’s by the federal government, the Crowns or those responsible for the administration of justice. It is still the case — notwithstanding that the committee deleted the amendment — that victims and witnesses are informed of the nature of publication bans and procedures. I’ll certainly make inquiries. It’s an important question for the simple reason that it’s one thing for some of us — when provided with such information — to know how to navigate it. It’s not always obvious to others either because of the circumstances or the stress they are under, or their lack of access to the kind of resources that some of us are more privileged to have.

It’s a fair question, and it’s the government’s position that the objective of this was laudable. But there were concerns that were raised in the other place. I believe it was unanimous, Senator Pate — all members of the committee voted to delete it. I’ll certainly do some follow-up to find out what, if anything, is being done, and to bring forward your preoccupations — which I’m sure you will also continue to advance — to the attention of the relevant minister.

Thank you very much for that, and I look forward to that information.

One of the other amendments that the Senate passed, and which was essentially negated in the other place, concerned section 672.501(4) of the Criminal Code, which you alluded to. This provision relates to publication bans that can be ordered by review boards charged with determining whether people are not criminally responsible for reasons related to mental health.

Though very similar to other publication bans under the Criminal Code, this type of publication ban was not touched by Bill S-12, and the Senate’s amendment aimed to help ensure that similar rules continue to apply to all forms of publication bans under the Criminal Code. You mentioned that the other place recommended further study, and I’m curious what the government is planning to do for outstanding publication ban provisions such as these in the Criminal Code that have not been updated to reflect the new changes proposed in Bill S-12.

Senator Gold [ + ]

Thank you. Again, it’s a legitimate and important question. I don’t know what thinking, if any, the government has put into this particular issue. It was not very long ago that the tweak, or the change, was made in the other place. You can be sure that I will raise this issue, and I fully expect that once Royal Assent is granted to this bill, this issue — and all the other issues that flow from Bill S-12 — will be taken up with proper consideration.

Hon. Denise Batters [ + ]

Senator Gold, I want to ask you a question about the coordinating amendment which coordinates with Bill C-291 — it’s a bill that I’m honoured to sponsor in the Senate, and a bill that was initiated by my MP colleagues Mel Arnold and Frank Caputo in the House of Commons, and passed unanimously. Now we’re waiting for the Legal Committee to study it. I think it’s very forward-looking on the part of those who added this language in order to change the language from “child pornography” to “child sexual abuse and exploitation material.” I just want to thank those who had done that for this particular bill, and also thank the government for accepting that amendment. I’m wondering if there is any further comment that you could provide to us regarding more explanation about that. Thank you.

Senator Gold [ + ]

Thank you for your comments. I really don’t know, frankly, if there is anything else to add. I believe it reflects the government’s agreement that the older way of describing this material was inappropriate, and that the definition advanced in the bill — which you sponsored here in the Senate — is a more appropriate and accurate way to describe this material. None of us wants to see it exist, but it does exist, and, therefore, it needs to be dealt with appropriately and under the Criminal Code.

Hon. Percy E. Downe [ + ]

I have a point of order. Now that we have a three-month extension, I seek the advice of Your Honour and your officials on the legislative grounds that we’re proceeding on.

My experience has been that messages from the House of Commons to the Senate are always from the Clerk of the respective chamber. For the document that I’m looking at — and I may be reading it wrong — I understand there is no Clerk in the House of Commons; there is an Acting Clerk. Was this document signed by the Acting Clerk or by someone else on their behalf? Is that legitimate?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Senator Downe, I’m being told that, yes, it was signed by the Acting Clerk of the other place, and proper notice has been given. The process is in order.

Senator Downe [ + ]

Thank you.

Hon. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today as the critic of Bill S-12, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Sex Offender Information Registration Act and the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which was introduced by the Honourable Marc Gold, the Liberal government’s representative in the Senate.

Honourable colleagues, I would like to begin my speech by talking about the measures in Bill S-12 that deal with publication bans. The Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs made a series of amendments to the bill that sought to reflect the requests of My Voice, My Choice, an initiative created by victims of crime who want section 486.4 of the Criminal Code to be amended so that no one is ever forced to be silent because of an unwanted publication ban.

Colleagues, I would like to remind you of some of the stories shared by this victims’ group.

In 2021, a victim from Victoria, Kelly Favreau, appeared in person before the Supreme Court of British Columbia to ask for her publication ban to be lifted. She discovered the existence of this ban four years after the end of the legal proceedings. She stated that this process again infringed on her freedom and that she felt revictimized by the justice system. The alleged perpetrator in her case was authorized to present arguments explaining why the ban should not be lifted. The victim had never consented to a publication ban.

In May 2021, a victim from Ottawa, Morrell Andrews, asked the Crown prosecutor associated with her case for a hearing to lift the publication ban, but the prosecutor said that she was not sure about the procedure or policy in effect or whether the Crown would consent to lifting the ban.

After making the same request directly to the judge at the sentencing hearing, Ms. Andrews was told that the judge was no longer in a position to do so.

When a third Crown prosecutor finally asked the court to lift the publication ban, the alleged criminal’s defence lawyer opposed the request and was allowed to present arguments as to why the ban should not be lifted. The victim never gave her consent for a publication ban.

Is it normal for the abuser to control the victim’s decision? These publication bans are supposed to be a tool to protect victims and they should never be used against them. When a victim requests the lifting of a publication ban, a process should automatically be put in place by the justice system to study the request and discharge the victim of all responsibility.

In my speech at second reading, I stated that it is essential that the victim’s consent be sought before a publication ban is issued on their behalf. Crown prosecutors tend to apply publication bans in the early stages of a trial, particularly at the accused’s initial appearance. Typically, the victim is not present at that time. In such cases, victims are neither notified nor consulted, which contravenes their right to information and right to participation, rights guaranteed by the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights. The result is that victims are excluded from judicial decisions and silenced, even though they are the ones most affected and should, logically, be the first to know.

Bill S‑12, in its current form, simply suggests informing the victims. However, it is important to obtain their explicit consent. Victims have to be able to decide whether they want to publicly talk about their experience, where they feel that would serve their interests. It is unacceptable that anyone can deny them this right or limit their freedom of speech under the guise of protection.

As part of the study of Bill S‑12 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Liberals and the New Democrats rejected amendment PV-2, proposed by the Green Party. This amendment had a clear and essential intention, namely, to ensure that every victim was informed and had the opportunity to decide whether a publication ban was appropriate, in their situation, before such a measure was unilaterally imposed by the court.

Allow me to explain why this decision is so problematic.

Under the current framework, when a court case is opened, specifically upon the first appearance of the accused in court, judges frequently issue publication bans. However, these decisions are made without victims being informed, let alone consulted. Accordingly, if we do in fact reject amendment PV-2, we are perpetuating a status quo that is unacceptable.

As a result, victims are deprived of their right to choose. Not only is this contrary to the spirit of our justice system, which is intended to be fair and transparent, it also neglects the fundamental rights of victims, leaving them in a position of weakness, often at a time when they are particularly vulnerable. This perpetuates the legal tradition of making victims incidental to our justice system.

Victims deserve to be heard, informed and involved in the process that directly concerns them. It is imperative that our justice system recognize and respect this fundamental right.

I would now like to address another aspect of the changes made by the House of Commons.

First, I would like to remind senators that, originally, the bill allowed the victim or witness to request that the publication ban be modified or lifted, which required a court hearing. However, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs amended this provision to simplify the procedure for victims or witnesses who wish to modify or lift a publication ban. The revised statute now requires the prosecutor to file an application on their behalf to modify or lift the ban as quickly as possible, although victims or witnesses may still do so themselves, if they wish.

The court is required to modify or lift the publication ban, in accordance with the wishes of the victims or witnesses, unless doing so would compromise the privacy of another person also covered by the ban. In that case, a hearing must be scheduled to determine whether the ban should be modified or lifted.

It is critical to note that an amendment by Senator Simons prevented the privacy of the accused from being included in the protection afforded by publication bans. The goal of publication bans is first and foremost to protect the privacy of victims and witnesses, not the accused. The accused has to be informed if the ban is lifted, quashed or varied. However, at the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Liberals moved an amendment to delete Senator Simons’ amendment, thereby allowing for criminals to be protected by publication bans.

It is ironic, and quite frankly worrisome, to see that, under the guise of providing protection, these amendments help to maintain the power of accused persons in the judicial process. Under these changes, if a victim wants to challenge a publication ban or have it lifted, the accused can still benefit from protection.

The accused, who is often central to the case, can end up in a position where they are able to use their influence to keep a publication ban in place, even if the ban goes against the victim’s wishes. That creates a clear imbalance. We have here a situation where the rights of the accused seem to take precedence over those of the victim, particularly in terms of freedom of expression and the victim’s ability to share their own story. How is it fair for a victim who is trying to find their voice again and share their story to be prevented from doing so by the accused, the very person who caused their suffering in the first place?

This measure, as adopted, opens the door to a form of injustice where the accused, who already enjoys numerous protections under our judicial system, can be granted additional powers, specifically to indirectly muzzle the victim. It is critically important to question the logic of a law that, instead of striking a balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim, leans more in favour of the person who is in a position of strength relative to the victim. Should we allow our justice system to be used not only to defend the accused, which is fair and necessary, but to potentially suppress victims’ voices?

Justice, in its purest form, must seek a balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim. However, recent changes seem to have upset this delicate balance.

Honourable senators, there is much more to be said about the changes made to this bill, which have considerably reduced the scope of the amendments made by the Senate. An examination of the recent changes to Bill S-12 reveals a disturbing trend on the part of this government, which seems to be ignoring not only the valuable contributions of the Senate, but also, and far more troubling, the voices of victims themselves. By severely limiting the scope of the amendments proposed by the Senate, the government is showing an unwillingness to accept external, expert perspectives. This one-sided approach raises serious concerns about the government’s willingness to listen to and integrate diverse perspectives that are essential to drafting fair and balanced legislation.

The Senate, in playing its role as a chamber of sober second thought, made thoughtful changes to the bill to strengthen the rights and protection of victims. However, by rejecting these amendments, the government is sending a very clear message: Its actions do not match its words. Although the government claims to stand up for and listen to victims, its actions show a lack of consideration for and sensitivity to the real needs of victims and the recommendations that seek to improve how they fare in a complex and callous judicial process.

Honourable senators, I would now like to remind you of my views on the other part of the bill, which has to do with the National Sex Offender Registry. I already shared them in this chamber a few months ago, so I will keep my comments brief.

As we all know, Bill S-12 was introduced to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Ndhlovu, which involved a 19-year-old man who sexually assaulted two women at a party, where he touched both women’s private parts.

Despite these acts, which I would describe as serious and troubling, there is a sense, from reading the Supreme Court ruling, that including this offender in the registry is unjustified, considering the consequences that could have on his life. Similarly, the ruling seems to justify striking down the provisions that would require the automatic registration of any person found guilty of or not criminally responsible for a sexual offence as well as the provisions requiring that certain particularly violent offenders who commit more serious crimes be included, in perpetuity, in the National Sex Offender Registry.

Personally, I wonder whether the victims’ point of view was taken into account in this ruling, whether they were asked if they had suffered any trauma and whether they have suffered lasting harm as a result of the assaults. Why weren’t victims asked whether they thought the offender should be added to the registry?

This kind of ruling trivializes sexual violence against women in Canada and sends a negative message to women who are victims of sexual assault and who are reluctant to report their attackers. This offender should be registered in the National Sex Offender Registry, because he is a sex offender. The acts he committed are unacceptable in a law-abiding society like ours. The goal is to protect women against future attackers.

Take, for example, the recent case of a sex offender who was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on April 11, 2023. From January 7 to June 5, 2022, this man assaulted six women between the ages of 30 and 65.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Senator Boisvenu, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I must remind you that, as critic of the bill, when replying to a message, you have 15 minutes to speak. You may conclude your speech in debate.

I’ll read the relevant rule.

Senator Boisvenu [ + ]

In that case, Your Honour, I would ask for five more minutes.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Is leave granted, honourable senators?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

I will begin by reading the rule, and then I will ask if leave is granted. The rule reads as follows:

 . . . the critic of a bill, if not the Leader of the Government or the Leader of the Opposition, shall be allowed up to 45 minutes for debate at second and third reading;

Therefore, the duration is 15 minutes in any other context.

Is leave granted, honourable senators, for five more minutes?

Senator Boisvenu [ + ]

Thank you, colleagues. I’ll try to read fast.

Take the recent case of a sex offender sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on April 11, 2023. Between January 7 and June 5, 2022, this man assaulted six women between the ages of 30 and 65. Those crimes were committed in the Quebec City region.

Imagine: three years and nine months for assaulting and traumatizing six women! Pardon me if I criticize our justice system for being so permissive, so soft on these criminals. No wonder the stats for sex crimes are so high. No wonder women choose not to report their attackers. According to 2015 data, 50% of women who have been sexually assaulted drop their case during legal proceedings. Add to that the number of women who do not report these crimes, which is also high; only one in ten women report. A mere one in thirty attackers will ever be sentenced to jail.

Honourable senators, the court gave the federal government until October 28, 2023, to respond. We were pressed for time when we studied this bill because the federal government waited six months to introduce it. That delay had a significant impact on our ability to study changes to the National Sex Offender Registry.

It is essential to take into account victims’ voices and to think about the lasting harm they have suffered. Laws and court decisions like this one can dissuade women from reporting assault, which is counterproductive in our fight to end violence against women.

The statistics clearly show that violence against women, particularly Indigenous women, is a major problem in Canada. It is imperative that our justice system reflect the urgent need to treat these crimes with the seriousness they deserve. Given the alarming statistics on violence against women, it is imperative that we strengthen our legislation. By requiring that only child sex offenders and repeat sex offenders be automatically included in the National Sex Offender Registry, Bill S-12 fails to properly address this urgent situation. Most victims of sex crimes are women, and it is fundamental that any man who is sentenced to more than two years for such crimes against a woman be automatically included in the registry.

I proposed an amendment to correct that and to call for the automatic registration of offenders sentenced to more than two years for sex crimes against women. Unfortunately, that amendment was rejected. I still do not understand why my colleagues on the Constitutional Affairs Committee made that decision on something that is so important for victims.

Some have suggested this might conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision, but let’s remember that it is not up to the Supreme Court to tell us how to do our legislative work. We must act courageously to keep women in our society safe. When we stand up for victims’ interests, we must be guided not by fear, but by courage, the same courage the victims show when they report their attackers.

We are about to pass Bill S‑12, but I’m deeply concerned that it will not be good enough to go up against crime in Canada, especially not crimes of violence against women. This bill doesn’t include necessary improvements to the National Sex Offender Registry, so it could end up making it possible for many attackers to victimize even more people.

I know what I’m talking about, because my own daughter, Julie, was the tragic victim of a sex offender. Our justice system was soft on him, and that is one of the factors that led to him committing that crime. In 2002, there was no registry, and, as a result, a predator who had just been released from jail was able to take my daughter’s life. I won’t even mention the sentence he got before that fatal attack, a sentence that essentially served as his licence to reoffend.

The safety of Canadian women should always take priority over an offender’s right to privacy. We must never underestimate the disastrous consequences of a sexual assault, which can sometimes escalate to femicide. I fear that one day, with this bill, we will regret our actions.

It is essential to recognize that the victims, often forgotten or ignored in the judicial process, deserve much more attention and support than just words of comfort. These women, scarred by events that are often traumatizing, need us to take well-reasoned action that reflects a true understanding of their suffering and their specific needs.

As committed and responsible members of our society, it is our duty to guarantee that each and every victim is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Are honourable senators ready for the question?

The Hon. the Speaker pro tempore [ + ]

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to.)

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