Child sexual abusers to face longer sentences

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson




OTTAWA - Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was woefully short on specifics Monday, but signalled the government's intent to lock up child sexual predators longer and those found not guilty of crimes because of mental disorders.

And more emphasis will be placed on victims when the feds move forward with legislation, including a Victims Bill of Rights and tougher sentences for those who assault youth and even harsher penalties for repeat offenders.

"Their punishment for these crimes must reflect the devastation they cause in the lives of children and their families," Nicholson said in Toronto, flanked by former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, himself a victim of abuse at the hands of a coach and now a victims' rights advocate.

"We intend to remedy the situation and ensure that sentencing takes into account each young life that has been devastated by a sexual predator."

Legislation being drafted will also tackle bail reform, speed up the extradition of foreign criminals and restitution for victims - but no hard details were provided in the latest plank of the Conservative crime agenda.

Nicholson said that while statistics show some crime is dropping, the same can't be said about child sexual offences, impaired driving and drug-related crimes.

"These are the facts. They can't be ignored," he said, adding the total cost of crime is $100 billion a year.

The minister said the government is also following through with its pledge in November to keep killers like Vince Li behind bars indefinitely.

Li beheaded a bus passenger in Manitoba in 2008 and ate part of his victim. He has since been granted supervised outings from a mental institution.

The government has also criticized the release of Montreal doctor Guy Turcotte who stabbed his two children in 2009 and was found not criminally responsible for their deaths. He was ordered released in December after being deemed mentally fit after having spent 46 months under psychiatric care.

Catherine Latimer of the John Howard Society said studies show that "toughening" sentences do not deter crime, and that more emphasis should be placed on rehabilitation and reintegration programs that prevent victimization.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister, said the government's intentions are wrong-headed and stress punishment -- not the root causes of criminal behaviour and prevention and treatment.


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