The Conservative government will introduce new legislation to toughen penalties for child sex offenders and create a "Victims Bill of Rights" to put more focus on victims of crime, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says.
Mr. Nicholson laid out the next stage of his government's anti-crime agenda at a press conference in Toronto Monday morning.
"The public loses faith in a system when they feel that the consequences of breaking the law are inadequate or that the punishment does not fit the crime," he said. "Expect that if you break the law, you will be punished. Crime doesn't and shouldn't pay."
The new legislation will build on a range of tough-on-crime measures introduced by the Conservative government in recent years, including the omnibus anti-crime bill that was passed last year. The bill, dubbed the Safe Streets and Communities Act , included new mandatory minimum penalties for sexual assaults where the victim is under 16 years of age and increased the minimum sentences for crimes including sexual interference and child pornography, among other changes.
The government will bring forward additional, "comprehensive" legislation targeting child sexual offenders and those who violate their conditions after their release, Mr. Nicholson said.
The federal government has frequently been criticized for pushing a tough-on-crime agenda at a time when the crime rate in Canada is at a historic low. Mr. Nicholson acknowledged on Monday that "some crime" has been in decline, but added that certain offences, including child sexual offences and impaired driving, are on the rise.
The rate of impaired driving has grown over the past five years, according to Statistics Canada, a reversal that comes after two decades of dramatic decline. Police also reported an increase in the number of sexual offences against children from 2010 to 2011, including an increase of 40 per cent in police-reported child pornography. However, Statistics Canada notes that fluctuations in the rate of child pornography likely reflect police programming and initiatives.
The government will also introduce a "Victims Bill of Rights" and new legislation dealing with individuals found not criminally responsible for a crime, Mr. Nicholson said.
The latter bill is expected to make it more difficult for those found not criminally responsible for a serious offence to be released from custody, particularly if they might pose a risk to the public.
"We are committed to standing up for victims of crime and that is what we will continue to do," he said.
Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player and a victims-rights advocate, lauded the government's emphasis on victims. "I think the key here, is to be able to give kids, which are victims of crime, the opportunity to get out of being a victim," he said at Monday's press conference.