The Vice-Chair (Mr. Brian Murphy (Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, Lib.)):
Good afternoon everyone. This is the 48th meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Today we have witnesses on Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children).
We're very pleased this afternoon to have in our first hour two witnesses as individuals. The first is Vernon Quinsey, professor emeritus of psychology from Queen's University; and the second is Hubert Van Gijseghem, who is a psychologist and a retired professor, formerly of the University of Montreal.
Gentlemen, professors, we generally allow an opening statement of about ten minutes, followed by a round of questions from all of the parties represented here.
We'd like to start with you, Professor Quinsey, for ten minutes.
Dr. Vernon Quinsey (Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Queen's University, As an Individual):
Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.
I have a few remarks to make. I tried to think of things that would serve as an appropriate background for consideration of sex offender sentencing and sexual crimes against children.
The first point I want to make, and the one that's most important in this area and in dealing with sex offenders, is that sex offenders vary enormously in their likelihood of reoffending. This is the central datum that has to be dealt with in any kind of sentencing policy. That being said, there are certain categories of sex offenders who are relatively unlikely to commit subsequent “hands-on” or contact sex offences. Among these are incest offenders and Internet offenders without a history of contact offences.
At the individual level, a sex offender's risk of reoffending can be estimated with a fair degree of accuracy using actuarial methods. Our predictive abilities are good, but they're not perfect.
Sexual predators are those who are very likely to commit new “hands-on” sexual offences, especially violent sex offences. It is critically important to identify and to incapacitate these individuals. Given this, I think that criminal justice policies should seek to balance offenders' civil liberties and community protection by maximizing the incarceration of sexual predators and minimizing the incarceration of low-risk offenders. In this view, sentences should reflect both the gravity of the instant offence and the risk the individual presents to the community. We have to realize in this area that no sentencing policy can lead to the incapacitation of all sex offenders who are sexual predators without the lifetime incarceration of virtually all sex offenders. There will always be some missed. The issue is one of striking a proper balance.
The solution to this policy conundrum involves carefully appraising the risk of identified sex offenders and adjusting the amount and intensity of supervision and the duration of incarceration on the basis of risk.
I want to switch gears a little bit now and talk about the historical context within which we find ourselves contemplating changes in sentencing policy.
Throughout North America, the rates of homicide, rape, and a variety of other crimes have declined over recent years, sometimes substantially. These changes, reflected in both survey and official records, parallel drops in a variety of other risk-related behaviours and outcomes, including industrial accidents, driving without a seat belt, having sex before age 13, smoking, dropping out of school, and so forth. So there's a wide variety of indicators that are related to risky behaviours, some of them criminal, some of them not. They're all showing the same welcome trends.
We are doubly fortunate, I believe, that the rate of sexual offending against children has also markedly decreased in recent years. This is a North-America-wide phenomenon. We're doubly fortunate, because sexual offenders against children are more likely to have been sexually victimized themselves as children. It is likely, therefore, that the drop in sexual offences against children will lead to a further drop in the number of sexual offences against children.
That concludes my opening remarks.
Dr. Hubert Van Gijseghem (Psychologist and Professor (retired), University of Montreal, As an Individual):
I will briefly start by introducing myself for credibility purposes. My name is Hubert Van Gijseghem. I have been a psychologist since 1963. I got my PHD in psychology in 1970. I have had two parallel careers: one as an academic at the University of Montreal and one as a practitioner.
As a university professor, I obviously have the opportunity to teach and do research. Most of my research has been on sexual abuse, on victims and the consequences for victims, as well as on offenders. As a practitioner, my entire life, I have mainly been a clinician. As a clinician, I have had the opportunity to provide treatment, once again to victims as well as to sex offenders.
However, over the last 15 or 20 years of my career as a practitioner, I have focused solely on forensic examinations, in other words expertise for a number of courts in various jurisdictions. Like my colleagues who are here today, I have published some papers and books on the subject of sexual abuse.
I have been asked to say something intelligent on Bill C-54 regarding the protection of children against sexual predators and also to address whether or not mandatory minimum sentences are necessary or useful.
I read the legislative summary and was somewhat shocked by some passages. When I read arguments in favour of these types of prison sentences and read the arguments against them, I found myself in favour of almost all arguments. That is probably compatible with the type of doubt inherent in the scientific mind.
I am not a lawyer. I have little or no understanding of legislation, even existing legislation. Furthermore, I have little knowledge of case law on sexual abuse. So I do have some difficulty providing an opinion on the need for or use usefulness of mandatory minimum sentences.
However, I am a psychologist and I do believe that I have some knowledge, to a certain extent, of the sex offender population. I also know certain things about their dangerousness, the risk of recidivism, and the actuarial and other tools my colleague just referred to. That is within my area of expertise.
The first thing I would like to point out, from the outset, is that the sex offender population is not homogeneous. There are different types of offenders. All those who have tried to come up with a typology of abusers realized that there are in fact a number of sub-categories that are not necessarily comparable.
Given the heterogeneous nature of this group it is difficult to devise automatic or standardized measures. If we look at evaluative research, because at the end of the day that is what brings clarity to the issue of dangerousness or risk of recidivism, there are two types of evaluative research. One is the type carried out by those who promote therapy. Quite often, their results indicate that therapy works and has a certain rate of success. However, when you look at evaluative research conducted by independent researchers, results are far less optimistic.
As Dr. Quinsey mentioned, specifically for extra-familial abusers, not much rehabilitation is possible before a given age, in order words before aging itself has had an effect.
This evaluative research, and I am thinking of some research conducted by my colleague Dr. Quinsey and his team or other research done by my colleague Dr. Hanson, who is also here with his team, has effectively shown that, especially in the case of extra-familial abusers, there is no great improvement in the area of risk of recidivism or dangerousness, regardless of whether or not the individual has had psychotherapy. If there was psychotherapy, the type of therapy matters little.
This leads us to believe that therapy or an order given by a judge for a course of therapy, even though it may be seen as good news by all, cannot be perceived as an alternative to incarceration nor a substitute for punishment.
When we speak of therapy or when individuals get therapy and we feel as though everyone is pacified, the good news is often illusory. For instance, it is a fact that real pedophiles account for only 20% of sexual abusers. If we know that pedophiles are not simply people who commit a small offence from time to time but rather are grappling with what is equivalent to a sexual orientation just like another individual may be grappling with heterosexuality or even homosexuality, and if we agree on the fact that true pedophiles have an exclusive preference for children, which is the same as having a sexual orientation, everyone knows that there is no such thing as real therapy. You cannot change this person's sexual orientation. He may however remain abstinent.
Now, if we think of psychopaths, who, according to my own samples account for 15% of the sexual offender population, it might be worthwhile to point out that we have been trying for hundreds if not thousands of years to rehabilitate them, all for naught, at least for the time being.
Of course, everything I have just said also points to the fact that there probably are sexual offenders or types of sexual offenders who can be rehabilitated. Which ones? Is it the majority? I am not sure it will be the majority, but because some abusers can certainly not be rehabilitated and others can, it means that sooner or later we will have to come up with a careful differential diagnosis to determine which ones can be rehabilitated.
Is this feasible? Is it too expensive in terms of time, effort, or money? I do not know. There might be something to be done in the area of the presentence report. I have seen many presentence reports and I personally have often remained dissatisfied. Can a country afford far more in-depth and elaborate presentence assessments? That is probably up to you to decide.
Mr. Brian Murphy:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank both witnesses for your testimony today.
Bill C-54 imposes a number of mandatory minimums, or actually expands a number of mandatory minimums. I couldn't be more empathetic, Professor Van Gijseghem, because it's very clear that the mandatory minimums are in the code already, have been for a long time, and there have been a number of them introduced, but it's very much a matter of calibration as to whether people think they go overboard, go too far, or don't.
If you look at the Library of Parliament's documents, you will read that those who like mandatory minimums say they act as deterrents and they perform an educational purpose by clearly communicating society's disapproval, and those who don't like them say that there's no deterrent effect and it's an inflexible penalty structure.
I'm going to ask you both your opinion on where your matrix is in this case. Do you think they're educational in purpose? Would they reduce sentence disparity across Canada? For instance, you might have some people getting lighter sentences in parts of the country for the same offence. But I want to ask you about the context here. When I look at this Criminal Code, it's like a textbook, and we try to order the offences by the degree of severity. Part 5 of our code is truly outdated, because it talks about very serious offences—sexual touching, invitation to sexual touching, sexual assaults, and so on, very serious—and we go down to around section 170, public nudity, which I'm not suggesting is good or permitted or whatever, but clearly is not as egregious as sexual touching. But there's an interim part under “Corrupting morals” that now contains our child pornography offences. And this is really the battle here: we realize in this day and age that there's a proliferation of child pornography. And child pornography is even a title that's out of date. It's the capturing on film or in media of an abusive act towards a child who is defenceless and cannot consent to that act. That's a crime of the highest order in this whole section, I would say, this part.
If you take it that we feel the child pornography aspects, the child abuse images, are the worst parts of the crimes in this section, do you not think it might be appropriate under these aims for mandatory minimums to torque them up a bit? That is what this bill does in large regard. It moves things from 14 days, minimum, to 90 days in some of these very serious offences. It creates new offences about the reality of people procuring meetings with minors and so on. As academics, do you see a balance there? That's the first question.
Secondly, you talk about a pedophile as having a preference. I'm not sure if I understood that; perhaps you want to expand. Is it a condition that can be treated, can be cured, or is it as varied as any answer might be in that regard: it depends on the patient and it depends on the client?
Those are the two questions for each of you. I think you'd each have about a minute and a half or so.
Dr. Vernon Quinsey:
You ask a number of questions within your question. I'll try to address them all as best as my memory will allow me to.
The first issue you raised was one of proportionate sentencing--how serious are these crimes, and are these mandatory minimums an appropriate response to such a crime? I don't know if I'm the right person to answer that question, but I'll give you my views anyway.
What I worry about, with respect to mandatory minimum sentencing, is the potential of having a whole bunch of new offenders in the system. That's a potential, a very negative outcome, I think, of increasing the penalties for say possession of Internet child pornography. I'm not so sure that we want to go that way.
The reason I say that is because in the United States this is the fastest-growing category of offenders in their system. When you think about how available this material is.... I mean, after all, child pornography is defined as images of anybody up to the age of 18. It's unfortunate that it's called child pornography, because these people are minors; they're young, the majority of them, but they're not what, in my language, I would call a child. Certainly they're not prepubertal.
On the other hand, I think you raise a very serious and important issue. What we seek to address is the exploitation of children. You can imagine all kinds of unhappy scenarios where someone is coerced or tricked into doing stuff that's filmed. Certainly I think those offences should be penalized quite heavily. At the level of possession, I'm not so sure. I fear that it's so common that it will lead to problems in administering justice.
You raise the issue of pedophilia. Let me just make some distinctions for you.
First of all, pedophiles are people who prefer prepubescent children. They're not interested in 15-year-olds who have an adult body shape or anything like that. They're not interested in those kinds of people. They have quite a restricted area of sexual interests in terms of the kinds of body types that their victims have. There is no evidence that this sort of preference can be changed through treatment or through anything else.
Treatment for those offenders shades into management, where you essentially have to teach someone to live within their sexual preference structure. They have to find other kinds of outlets. They have to avoid high-risk situations. They have to do all those sorts of things. But I think that most people would agree that this kind of sexual preference pattern—an actual preference for prepubertal children—is not alterable by any kinds of current treatments.
Dr. Hubert Van Gijseghem:
I have been involved in therapy programs for victims. Again, I would be cautious. I do not believe that most of the programs we currently have on the market should be suggested for or imposed upon children in a standardized or automatic way. Here, as elsewhere, we have to approach the issue on a case-by-case basis, to see what the needs of a particular child may be.
I have done research in this area and I would say that some children need to discuss what happened or to “get therapy”, any therapy. However, other children do not need that. There are a certain number of children, rather a large number, who would be better served if we left them alone quite simply, who do better if they are not resubjected to the process of having to discuss their sexual assaults all over again.
That means, I think, that we need to take into account the individual and developmental needs of each child before we sign victims up for existing programs.
I would therefore advise the highest degree of caution in this case. I think a certain number of children have been re-abused through this automatic recruiting into the types of therapy that are currently available. One size does not fit all and we need to apply a differential, case-by-case diagnosis. That is my opinion.
Mr. Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener Centre, CPC):
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to our witness for being here with us.
I've been favourably impressed by the manner in which you have testified. You have been professional and cautious, and you do not overstate. Many times we see witnesses who are here to pursue certain interests of their own, and they are less cautious. So I thank you for that.
I note that you have both been careful to qualify your evidence by saying you are not jurists. I assume that neither of you is a lawyer. You are psychologists, so I mean this question in the best sense, just to understand where you're coming from. Have you actually read the bill we are here to study, Bill C-54?
Mr. Stephen Woodworth:
I should say there is a time limit on me, so I will try to ask questions that can be answered simply. I myself am not a psychologist, so large psychological explanations will be of less use to me than legal explanations may be to you.
In this bill, for example, we have created a new offence, which would impose a mandatory minimum penalty on anyone who, through telecommunications, arranges with a second person to commit a sexual offence against a child--in other words, a kind of conspiracy. Would your concern about mandatory minimum penalties extend to that sort of offence?
Mr. Stephen Woodworth: Bien
There are a number of other sections in the act that you would see deal with serious sexual offences of this nature, which impose mandatory minimum penalties.
I was curious, I think it was Dr. Quinsey who mentioned that the incidence of child sexual assault is reducing. We heard evidence from the manager of the child sexual exploitation investigations section of the Ontario Provincial Police that in four years alone that unit has conducted 11,537 investigations; it has laid 3,897 charges against 1,303 individuals.
I don't know, Dr. Quinsey, whether those figures would surprise you or not, but I want to place that in the context of what I think I heard, in that someone said these offences are reducing. Has it been worse than that in the past?
Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.): Merci, Monsieur le président.
Thank you both for your presentations here.
Both of you have expressed agreement that in certain cases sexual offenders should be subject to minimum mandatory penalties. In the Criminal Code there are three categories of sexual offences. There are those that have a maximum penalty, but no minimum. There's a second category that already has minimum mandatory penalties and of course a maximum penalty. Then there are the two new offences that the government, through this legislation, hopes to create and that would also have minimum mandatories.
Given the amount of research that has been done on sex offenders, on the rates of recidivism, on the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of minimum mandatory penalties, are you aware of any studies that actually looked at the criminal offences currently in the Criminal Code, for which there are already minimum mandatory sentences, to determine how effective those have been?
Mr. Ed McIsaac (Interim Director, Policy, John Howard Society of Canada):
I'll begin by thanking the committee, on behalf of the John Howard Society of Canada, for the invitation to appear. We appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss Bill C-54.
For those of you who don't know, the John Howard Society of Canada is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support effective, just, and humane responses to the causes and the consequences of crime. The society has 65 front-line offices across the country, which deliver programs and services to support the safe reintegration of offenders into our communities.
Everyone in this room is supportive of protecting our children from sexual predators and promoting safer communities. Where our concern lies with this legislation is in the vehicle chosen to accomplish this goal. The introduction of mandatory minimum sentences and the corresponding elimination of conditional sentences proposed by this legislation will, in our opinion, not move us forward on these issues.
The John Howard Society of Canada has been on record for a decade as opposing mandatory minimum sentences. One of the cornerstones of our sentencing policy is proportionality. We sentence the offender, not the offence. The ability of the judiciary after having heard all of the evidence to pass sentence consistent with that evidence is central to ensuring proportionality and effective interventions.
I am unaware that we have experienced in this country a rash of unreasonable sentencing decisions that would cause us to limit the traditional discretion given our judges. Both experience and research tell us that mandatory minimum sentences, in addition to limiting the ability to ensure that sanctions imposed fit the crime, result in fewer guilty pleas, which results in more trials, with more offenders being sentenced to longer periods of incarceration. Our courts are currently backlogged, resulting in excessive delays in initiating corrective interventions. Our jails are currently overcrowded at both the provincial and the federal level, causing further delays in accessing treatment programs.
We know that mandatory minimum sentences neither act as a deterrent nor reduce crime rates. The protection of society is best served through the timely, supportive reintegration of offenders back into our communities. Mandatory minimum sentences do not facilitate that process.
The limitations placed on judicial discretion by this legislation will, in both the long and short term, act as barriers to achieving the legislative objective. As both our neighbours to the south and Great Britain retreat from decades of mandatory minimum sentencing policy, I urge this committee to take a step back and ensure that proportionality remains the cornerstone of our sentencing policies.
I thank you for your attention. I look forward to your comments and questions.
Dr. R. Karl Hanson:
I'm Karl Hanson. I'm a senior research officer with Public Safety Canada. I was invited here today as a content expert. I've been doing research on sex offenders for a number of years and some of my work has been mentioned in previous testimony. What I will do today is basically introduce some summaries of some basic facts about sex offenders and open myself up for questions on the topics on which I have conducted research in our department, as stated positions.
In front of you are four separate pieces of paper. One of the pieces of paper is called “Sex Offender Recidivism”. It's a basic summary of recidivism rates of sex offenders. We took a large group of sex offenders, followed them for a period of time, and looked at how many of them were caught for a new sex offence. What we find, on large studies, is that about 10% to 15% will be convicted of a new sex offence after about a five-year follow-up period of time. This is lower than many people anticipate, but it's not zero. Also, there is wide variability in the recidivism rates, with observed rates being as low as 1% or 2% in certain subgroups and being as high as 50% or 60% in other subgroups.
The second piece of paper, the research summary, is “Recidivism rates of female sex offenders”. This is one of the subgroups of sex offenders who have very low recidivism rates. Their sexual recidivism rates are in the order of 1% or 2%, if you follow them for a period of time. We have updated this with larger samples with similar results.
The third piece of paper is something called “What Works For Sexual Offenders?” I'll pause here, since it says something a little bit more complicated. What we did was we looked at all the treatment programs out there that have been evaluated for sex offenders and compared the ones that were more likely to be effective and those that were less likely to be effective.
We found that, overall, for the offenders who received treatment, their recidivism rates were about 11% after a five- or six-year follow-up, and for those who did not receive treatment, it was about 19%--it was higher. Both numbers are not zero, but there is a significant reduction overall.
We also found that we could identify the programs that are most likely to be effective. Those are the ones that treat moderate-risk to higher-risk offenders--offenders who have at least a moderate chance of reoffending--and those that treat the aspects or psychological characteristics associated with offending risk, their criminogenic needs. And the third principle is if they are able to engage the offenders meaningfully in the therapy process--what we refer to as responsivity. For programs that follow these principles, we have much stronger effects than those that do not. Basically, there are treatments out there that can be effective, many of which are implemented across Canada in various places.
The fourth piece of paper is one abstract translated in a French and English version. It summarizes a research study that I conducted with my colleagues Michael Seto and Kelly Babchishin, which looks at the extent to which offenders who have been caught for Internet sex crimes are also involved in contact sex offences. What we found is that among those who have been caught for an Internet sex crime, about 12% have an official conviction or record of a prior contact offence. About half of them will admit to a contact offence in the past.
If you look, then, at what happens to them after they're caught, you find that their recidivism rates are in the order of 3% to 5%. We observe a 4% to 5% recidivism rate after about three to five years, on average. About 2% are new contact offences, and about 3% are new Internet sex offences.
In summary, we believe there is a category of individuals who are involved with Internet sex offences who have a very low probability of becoming involved with contact sex offences. Some of the Internet sex offenders are just normal sex offenders who have Internet access, whereas there's another category, probably a smaller category, of individuals whose crimes are essentially restricted to Internet involvement.
Those are the major points I'd like to make today.
Dr. Richard Haughian (Vice-President, Church Council on Justice and Corrections):
Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you.
The Church Council on Justice and Corrections is a national faith-based coalition of 11 founding churches, incorporated in 1972. We promote community responsibility for justice, with an emphasis on addressing the needs of victims and offenders, mutual respect, healing, individual accountability, and crime prevention.
In December 2010 the CCJC sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada expressing our concern that in this time of financial cuts to important services, the Government of Canada is prepared to significantly increase investment in the building of new prisons: “Proposed new federal laws will ensure that more Canadians are sent to prison for longer periods, a strategy that has been repeatedly proven neither to reduce crime nor to assist victims”.
Mr. Chair, Bill C-54 is one of the bills about which we have concern.
With me is Ms. Lorraine Berzins, CCJC's community chair of justice. Lorraine has had many years of experience working in the criminal justice system. She will speak in more detail about CCJC's position.
Ms. Lorraine Berzins (Community Chair of Justice, Church Council on Justice and Corrections):
I've worked for CCJC for 27 years now, after working in prison for 14. I want to tell you, first of all, that CCJC takes very seriously the harm done to children by sexual offences and that we've a long track record of really trying to do everything we can to help break the silence about this in our churches and in our communities.
We have produced, over the years, several different resources that help people in churches talk about it, because we've known that so many victims were suffering in silence and that it was something that was condoned. We take responsibility for how that has affected and been contributed to by our own churches. We have done a lot to help victims find a voice and to help churches be candid and honest with each other and work toward prevention. We want to stop the behaviour and help people heal.
Those are very good goals, and I think those are the goals you have with this legislation too, but we are very concerned about the fact that mandatory minimum sentences, as a tool, are not effective and can do a lot of harm. Our concern is that your proposals cover a lot of different situations for a lot of victims in a lot of different situations and they cover them with the same blunt tool of mandatory minimums.
We know and we've encountered situations where the immediate safety of the victim in the community does require that someone be in prison, and we are absolutely confident that when it's the safest thing to do, it has to be done. But there are so many more where that is not the case. What we're concerned about are the proposals that are going to really make this something that has to be done even when it's not appropriate and that what is already bad for victims in the criminal justice system will become worse. I mean by that the adversarial system and the way that works.
The adversarial court room is not a safe place for victims to find support and tell their story. It's very frightening, especially for children. It makes them feel guilty when they are pushed by defence lawyers who are busy doing their job in our criminal justice system. It's very scary for them, and people who care about particular child victims would do anything not to put them through that. So proceeding in a way that is not going to require a prison sentence for safety but can avoid for the victim the kind of extra suffering is often a good thing to do. It's something we would not want to lose.
The increased penalties are going to raise the stakes in that and are going to make that battle even more so in our courts. Even the victim impact statement is a scary thing for victims, and I'm telling you this from my own direct experience with some victims and from what I've heard from many others who work with victims. Child victims don't want to feel that their entire life is ruined by what has happened. They need to feel that they can still have a good life and that the tools are there to help them do that.
A victim impact statement in an adversarial system really tends to make them stress all the worst things and the terrible prognosis of what's going to happen to them. That's not good for the victim. So for those of us who care about them as people, it makes a lot of sense to try to look at what could be avoided in order to give them what they need to find support but not put them through what is not necessary.
We have found one model that has worked very well and we would really like to recommend that. It's the child abuse teams that some crown attorneys' offices have established in some jurisdictions. In that kind of model, the crown, police, victims' services, children's aid, the parents, and the interviewer of the child—all of the people who have a piece of the puzzle—get together and carefully assess what would be the best way to respond as a criminal justice system in this situation. Then they make a proposal that's put before the judge. Sometimes it includes a sentence of imprisonment, but often it doesn't.
The problem with a mandatory minimum sentence is that it doesn't allow you that flexibility. As other people have told you, it goes against all the research we have. There's no positive reason to do it, and it takes away something that is so key to working more effectively. It also goes against the international trends right now.
So why is the government doing this? Have you found from research that the sentences are too low? I haven't seen anything like that put forward. Have you found that when they were too low crowns didn't appeal when they could have? What is the reason that is pushing you to think this is necessary? I haven't seen any.
The terrible thing is that there will be collateral damage from this. There will be a lot of unintended consequences, because these proposals are designed by people who don't understand how the system really works. I would like you to think very seriously before you move ahead with something that's going to do so much harm.
It appears to have been done to reassure the media and the public, but uninformed people are not the people to rely on to guide you in what you should be doing on something as important as this.
We're not the first country to experience this. I'm going to leave you with a quote by Lord Auld in the U.K., who faced the same situation. He said:
||it is one thing to rely on uninformed views of the public as a guide to what may be necessary to engender public confidence, and another to rely on such views as an argument for fashioning the system to meet them. Public confidence is not an end in itself; it is or should be an outcome of a fair and efficient system. The proper approach is to make the system fair and efficient and, if public ignorance stands in the way of public confidence, take steps adequately to demonstrate to the public that it is so.
These proposals will not do that; they will do the opposite. They will make the system worse, and they will reduce public confidence as a result of that.
I make three recommendations. First, there should be no mandatory minimums. At the very least, could you make it presumptive rather than mandatory?
Second, have child abuse teams in more jurisdictions. I would really recommend that you consider this as an important direction to pursue.
Third, couldn't future proposals be more evidence-based? They need to be designed by people who understand how the system really works. You could begin as a government to consult with people who can give you that kind of recommendation so what you do doesn't do more damage.
Mr. Brian Murphy:
Well, with respect to the offences we're dealing with, do you have any studies or evidence on these?
The problem for all of us here is that we already have mandatory minimum sentences and now we're moving the bar. That's the problem.
Some of these statistics seem to indicate that with the right treatment, recidivism, and therefore the problem to the community, is less than we thought. That's with mandatory minimums already in place. They've existed for some time.
I think it's hard for all of us to say, as lawmakers, that they don't work at all, because I assume from most of the arguments here—citing the statistics fellow—that it's not bad. I mean, it's not great; there are problems out there, but it's working as it is. We don't need to increase it.
Isn't that an argument that they are working partly because there are mandatory minimums?
Did you want to respond to that?
Mr. Joe Comartin:
You know, we saw it here with earlier witnesses who came before us, people who work directly with victims, and of course we get it from the Conservative Party and their right-wing pundits all the time, that every single sexual abuser is going to reoffend, that there's not one of them who doesn't.
Can you help us at all? How did we get to this stage? I don't want you to make political comments here, and I'm not asking you to do that, but is there something—I don't know—in the demographics of this? Are there other studies at some point that would take just the pedophilia, the hard-core pedophilia, and they'd say they couldn't work with them and then extrapolate from that? Are there studies like that? Is there some genesis for this gross misconception as to our ability to successfully deal with sexual abusers of children?
Dr. R. Karl Hanson:
I can speculate. I've been around long enough to have perceived public opinion as not taking these things seriously enough. I have personally participated in trying to get people to pay attention to sexual abuse. And during that period of time, particularly the early eighties, many of my colleagues would be saying things such as “there's no cure for pedophilia”, or “once a pedophile, always a pedophile”. They were saying these things largely as an advocacy position to get people to take sex offending seriously.
Prior to the 1980s there was widespread disbelief that the rates of sex offending were as high as they actually are. You saw a major change in social values during the eighties and nineties where sex offending went from being an obscure crime to being a dominant crime, including a significant portion of federal offenders. That could be part of the genesis of this.
The other genesis of it is the actual rates of sexual victimization. If you asked individuals, or individual women particularly, a large number of them have been sexually abused. The rates may be one in four. Sometimes it's a little higher, sometimes a little lower than that. So it's a big problem. So if you are around any women and ask them questions, you'll find rates of sexual abuse that are much higher than you want them to be.
So, yes, it's a problem, and in terms of the absolute recidivism rates, it is surprising that they're a lot lower than current public opinion would attribute.