Most agree that it is difficult to think of anything more reprehensible than an adult violating a child’s trust for personal sexual gratification. Where some might disagree is on the degree of punishment that is warranted for such violation.

Thursday’s introduction of Bill C-54, An act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children), takes steps forward in recognizing the severity of such crimes on the lives of children. Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson and the Government of Canada are to be congratulated for introducing this legislation, and Parliament encouraged to pass C-54 quickly. With a minority Parliament and rumours of an election continually swirling, actions that protect children deserve the full and early attention of both the House of Commons and the Senate.

The draft legislation introduces increased mandatory minimum sentences for the crimes of sexual interference (inappropriately touching a child), invitation to sexual touching (encouraging a child to touch an adult inappropriately), sexual exploitation (abusing a position of trust for sexual interference or invitation to sexual touching), and incest. The minimum sentences are proposed to be increased from forty-five days to one year for indictable offences, those assessed by prosecutor and court to be more serious, and from fourteen days to ninety days for  summary conviction offences, those assessed to be less serious – both types of offence being assessed as “serious” and in fact a crime. The potential maximum sentences remain ten years for indictable offences and eighteen months for summary convictions.

Bill C-54 also similarly increases the minimum penalties for possessing or accessing child pornography as defined in section 163.1 of the Criminal Code. Minimum sentences for parents who provide their children for sexual purposes and others who knowingly allow such sexual activity as described above to take place on their premises are also increased.

In addition, the draft legislation proposes to add the new crime of “making sexually explicit materials available” to a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of any of the series of sexual offences against the child as are described in the Criminal Code.

The legislation also proposes updating the Code to recognize offences that may be committed by “telecommunication” in sharing the offending materials or making arrangements/agreement for a child to be engaged in sexual offences.

As a corollary to legislation passed in 2008 that increased the age of consent to sexual activity with an adult from fourteen years of age to sixteen, penalties for sexual assault of a person under sixteen years of age are also strengthened.

There are those who are philosophically opposed to mandatory minimum sentences, usually because they are focused on a prison system that is not adequately directed toward rehabilitation of offenders. Others argue that such sentences do not function as a deterrent to the depraved mind.

Still, one cannot deny the need to take steps for the better protection of our children.

One step Bill C-54 takes is to bring public attention to a change in the law designed to make those who are tempted, but have not given themselves over to depravity, think twice before taking advantage of a child.

A second step is to better equip law enforcement officials with tools to arrest and prosecute those who intentionally violate children for personal satisfaction or financial gain.

A third step is making it clear to those who sentence convicted offenders that there is an expectation of recognizing the seriousness of the offence.

The fourth step is often not considered by those who oppose mandatory minimums. That step is recognition to the child victim of his or her significance when the person who perpetrated their abuse doesn’t walk out of the courtroom based on time served but instead is taken out of the courtroom through the door to the cells. That step is the recognition that for a period of time the child victim may live free from the fear that their abuser is just around the corner, and simply have the time to heal … perhaps to restore some elements of childhood that such perpetrators seek to steal.

Minister Nicholson, these are steps in the right direction. Now we wait for your colleagues in Parliament to join you in taking these steps. We trust it won’t be long.

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