OTTAWA -- Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, introduced sweeping legislation yesterday aimed at pedophiles who use the Internet to lure children, and also includes tough new penalties to rid the Internet of child pornography.
The omnibus bill, which includes a range of other Criminal Code amendments as well as changes to the Firearms Act, will make it illegal for anyone to communicate with a child on the Internet for the purpose of committing a sexual offence.
The new crime of Internet luring, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison, is a response to police reports that pedophiles are using Internet chat rooms and false identities to entice unsuspecting children away from their homes.
The provision is accompanied by several new measures intended to curb what Ms. McLellan said is a burgeoning Internet trade involving the sexual abuse of children.
The legislation makes it illegal to transmit child pornography on the Net, make child pornography available in cyberspace, export it out of Canada on the Internet, or possess it for the purpose of transmitting it, making it available or exporting it. The offences all carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
"What we want to do as a country is send a signal that it doesn't matter what mode of communication you use, whether it's video or phone or, in this case, Internet, if you conduct yourself in certain ways, those things are crimes and they will be dealt with very harshly", Ms. McLellan told reporters after tabling the bill in the Commons.
But while the luring and child-pornography sections of the 78-page bill were supported by opposition MPs, Canadian Alliance and Conservative party spokesmen denounced Ms. McLellan for wrapping the measures in a package that includes amendments to other areas they will be hard-pressed to support.
Changes to the Firearms Act, for instance, including the establishment of a federal commissioner responsible for the system and a chief registrar to administer the national gun registry, will be opposed by most Alliance MPs as well as some Conservatives.
Peter MacKay, the Conservative House leader and a former Crown prosecutor, said he will not be able to support the entire bill because of other contentious sections, including stiffer penalties for cruelty to animals.
"Some of it is hog manure", Mr. MacKay said. "They pour molasses and brown sugar over it and they say 'eat the whole thing at one time'. What does cruelty to animals have to do with the Firearms Act?"
Vic Toews, an Alliance MP and a former Manitoba justice minister, refused to comment on the legislation in detail to protest that Ms. McLellan's department briefed media representatives about the bill before tabling it in the Commons.
"How can I stand here and give you anything intelligent without having an opportunity, at least the courtesy of a couple of hours, to read the 78 pages and respond in a meaningful way", Mr. Toews told a crowd of reporters outside the Commons.
"You know more about the bill than I do ... we were caught flat-footed; we didn't know what was coming down."
While Justice Department officials said Internet servers will be asked to shut down sites offering child pornography, they admitted the law can only apply to sites based in Canada. A spokesman for the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, which supports the legislation, later said the vast majority of child-pornography Web sites are based in other countries.
The legislation will also allow courts to order Internet service providers to remove any material that could "reasonably be found to be child pornography, or a link to such material".
Judges will be allowed to order the forfeiture of equipment and material used in the commission of a child pornography offence.
The bill will also make it easier to prosecute Canadian citizens or permanent residents who sexually abuse children while abroad and engage in so-called child-sex tourism. Under the new law, it will not be necessary to obtain a formal request for prosecution from the other country.
Ms. McLellan's omnibus bill also reintroduces Criminal Code amendments regarding criminal harassment and home invasions that had been introduced in the previous Parliament but were not passed before the federal election in November.
The bill doubles the maximum sentence for criminal harassment from five years to 10 years in prison and forces judges to consider home invasions, where robbers break into private residences while their occupants are at home, an aggravating circumstance that requires stiffer sentences.
The legislation also reintroduces disarming a police officer as a new Criminal Code violation and increases the maximum penalty for cruelty to animals to five years in prison.