Quebec demands emergency measures against 'scourge' of child lurers

A unanimous motion passed last week asks Ottawa to invoke the notwithstanding clause to re-establish mandatory minimums

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Amid a spike in Canadian child sex offences, Quebec’s National Assembly is demanding that the federal government employ emergency measures in a bid to “protect our children” against a rising “scourge” of child luring.

In a unanimous motion last week, Quebec’s parliament demanded that Ottawa invoke the “notwithstanding clause” in order to override the Supreme Court and toughen prison terms against those convicted of child luring.

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The Quebec National Assembly “formally demands that the federal Parliament utilize the clause of parliamentary supremacy to re-establish minimum sentences in cases of child luring,” reads the French-language motion.

The motion cites the “devastating consequences” of sex crimes on children, and also cites data from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection showing that reports of online child luring have risen 815 per cent between 2018 and 2022.

The motion was a reaction to a Nov. 3 Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down mandatory minimum sentences for child luring — a crime involving the use of a “computer system” to communicate with a minor for the purposes of committing a sex offence.

The minimum sentence in question was a 12-month prison term, but in a six-to-one decision earlier this month the Supreme Court ruled that this represented “cruel and unusual punishment” and was thus unconstitutional.

“As sex crimes against children multiply, the Supreme Court is striking down minimum sentences. The federal government must rectify this and do everything possible to protect our children against this scourge,” wrote Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette in a French-language social media post accompanying the motion.

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The motion accused the decision of “breaking the confidence” of the victims of crime in the administration of justice.

The spur for the Nov. 3 decision was a case out of Quebec in which 22-year-old Maxime Marchand used Facebook to make contact with a 13-year-old child living in foster care whom he would lure into “illegal sexual intercourse” on four occasions.

But the decision didn’t so much concern itself with the facts of the Marchand case as with two hypothetical scenarios in which a made-up offender committed a far less egregious crime (such as an 18-year-old requesting a nude photo from his 17-year-old girlfriend) and got slapped with the minimum sentence anyway.

“The mandatory minimum penalties … are therefore grossly disproportionate to the fit sentences for the (hypothetical) offenders and hence unconstitutional,” it read.

The decision was only the latest example of the Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional to impose a minimum sentence on a serious criminal offence.

Most notably, the court also cited “cruel and unusual punishment” in a May 2022 decision that freed mass shooter Alexandre Bissonnette from a rare 125-year prison sentence.

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In 2017, Bissonnette murdered six worshippers during a racist attack gun attack on a Quebec City mosque. As per the terms of a 2011 bill that specifically ordained tougher sentences against mass killers, Bissonnette had been sentenced to a 25-year period of parole ineligibility for each of his victims.

But the Supreme Court decided that it was “cruel and unusual” to subject Bissonnette to a “monotonous, futile existence in isolation from … loved ones” and ruled that he could apply for parole after just 25 years.

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The “notwithstanding clause” refers to Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it’s an override that allow parliaments to knowingly pass legislation in violation of select rights guaranteed by the charter. All that’s required is that parliaments publicly announce they are doing so — and then renew that announcement every five years.

Quebec has used Section 33 quite often, most notably in the case of Bill 21 — the province’s bill to ban the wearing of religious head coverings by government employees. In any court challenge, Bill 21 would probably be slapped down as a violation of the Charter right to “freedom of conscience and religion.” But since Bill 21 is shielded from constitutional scrutiny by the Notwithstanding Clause, that court challenge has never happened.

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Since one of the “legal rights” enshrined by the charter is the right “not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment,” the Supreme Court’s recent child luring decision could indeed be overridden by an Act of Parliament that included an invocation of the notwithstanding clause.

While the clause has been repeatedly invoked by provincial governments, this would mark the first time that it was employed at the federal level.

Quebec’s motion just happens to coincide with a particularly high number of child sex offenders being freed from prison.

In just the last week, three men with lengthy records of abusing and even killing children were released from Canadian custody. In all three cases, their release was accompanied by public warnings that they were at “high risk to reoffend” and would likely be seeking out new victims.

B.C. man Brian Abrosimo was released from jail last Thursday only 18 years after he abducted an 11-year-old girl off a street in Langley, B.C. and sexually assaulted her in a van.

Manitoba’s Marcel Hank Charlette, 51, walked free this week after his most recent sentence regarding a violent attack on a random woman. His lengthy criminal record also includes the killing of a two-year-old child in 1991 for which he was convicted of manslaughter — but released within five years, given that he was convicted of a brutal assault against a woman in 1996.

And in Lethbridge, Alta., police are warning about the release of Glenn Christopher John Rutledge, 42, a man with a lengthy history of victimizing female children and ignoring his various release conditions.

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