Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pledged Thursday to get tough on crime with mandatory minimum sentences of five years for anyone convicted of abusing children.

Scheer, who made the announcement in the Montreal suburb of Delson, Que., said he will ensure sentences for sexual crimes against children take into account the length and severity of abuse.

Wounds from sexual abuse last a lifetime, Scheer said, adding the penalty should “fit the crime” and that survivors need to be assured the federal government will ensure offenders are appropriately punished.

“Under my leadership, a Conservative government will always put the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals,” Scheer said in a statement. “We will ensure that anyone who harms or sexually exploits a child will be behind bars, where they belong, for a very long time.”

The Conservatives say that additional federal action is required because sentences for horrific crimes involving children are “woefully inadequate.”

David Taylor, director of communications for federal Justice Minister David Lametti, hit back today at Scheer’s claim that current sentencing guidelines for crimes against children fall short.

“The Criminal Code mandates serious jail time for those convicted of offences against children,” Taylor said in an email. “For example, there is a 14-year maximum for sexual offences as well as for aggravated assault. If a restricted weapon is used in the crime, life imprisonment — the harshest penalty available under Canadian law — is a possibility.

“Life sentences are also available in cases involving the kidnapping, forcible confinement and human trafficking of children.”

Taylor also argued that Scheer’s sentencing changes would slow the justice system down as defence lawyers challenged the constitutionality of mandatory minimum sentences.

“Andrew Scheer’s sentencing proposal won’t protect children. It will simply cause delays … That doesn’t protect anyone,” he said.

The Criminal Code has provisions on sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and sexual exploitation that carry maximum and minimum penalties, depending on whether a charge is pursued as an indictable offence or a summary conviction. Those can range from 90 days to 14 years behind bars.

Scheer has been rolling out a series of policy announcements ahead of the October election as he works to define himself and his party with Canadians.

On Wednesday, he pledged funding for police, survivor services and public awareness to fight human trafficking, adding he will make changes to the Criminal Code to make it easier to convict people accused of it.

He’s also in the middle of a five-speech series to lay out his views on issues such as foreign policy, the economy and the environment.

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