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Is Canada too soft on child sexual abuse?

Categories: Canada, Politics

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy (left) speaks at a news conference with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013. Nicholson announced government plans to stiffen penalties for child-sex offenders and create a victims bill of rights. (Colin Perkel/Canadian Press)

A roundtable discussing harsher punishment for criminals who commit sexual offences against children is set to begin today.

Victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy and OPP deputy commissioner Vince Hawkes are joining Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in Toronto to discuss the Harper government's next steps with respect to criminal justice measures and victim support.

The government intends on passing a victims' bill of rights later in 2013, entrenching several measures into a single piece of legislation. Victims rights groups are currently being consulted on what needs to go into this legislation, and no timeline has been offered for the bill's introduction.

Now, with a majority, the conservative government can pass legislation more easily and focus efforts on harsher punishments - one of four key priorities for the government in 2013.

The government wants to impose tougher mandatory minimum and maximum penalties for sexual offences against children under 16, and also create new offences targeting those who facilitate child abuse.

Under the proposed new laws, anyone who commits a sexual offence against a child will face at least 90 days in jail - currently the minimum is 14 days. And a more serious offence against a child will go up to a minimum of six months, up from the current 45 days.

Two new offences were created to reflect new ways predators have of accessing their victims via technology. They will to ban anyone from providing any material to a child for the purpose of committing a sexual offence against that child - which will have a minimum mandatory sentence of at least 30 days in prison - and ban anyone from using the internet to make arrangements with another person to commit a sexual offence against a child. This is to highlight that 'grooming' children over the internet is a crime

 Education also needed: Kennedy

Kennedy, a victim of sexual assault at the hands of his former coach Graham James, feels that cases such as his highlights the need for more stringent punishments.

James previously served three and a half years in the late 1990s for assaults on Kennedy and another young player. In 2012, James was sentenced to two more years of jail time for assaults on former NHL player Theo Fleury and cousin Todd Hold, but he can apply for parole and be released by the end of this year.

While Kennedy agrees with the tougher sentencing proposed by the government, he is also an advocate for further education of the public and empowering victims and bystanders to speak out and take action.

Critics - including opposition MPs, professionals working in the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association - say that the introduction of mandatory jail sentences would create more problems that it solves, citing trials in other jurisdictions - mostly in the U.S.

They say that imposing maximum sentences and mandatory minimums will burden the prison and court system in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and will potentially carry little benefit.

Critics say the changes would lead to:

  • Increased costs of prosecution, leaving little money for rehabilitation programs
  • Prison overcrowding
  • Blanket sentences imposed regardless of specific circumstances
  • More defendants pleading to lesser offences that do not carry a mandatory minimum sentence.
  • Violation of provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and legal challenges against the government on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

Should Canada be tougher on those who commit sexual offences against children?

What do you think of the changes the conservative government is proposing?

Tags: Canada, Community

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