Age of Consent
9 min

Age of consent

Resources and links to keep you informed and help you take action!


News headlines

Age of consent bill passes third reading in the House
YOUTH RIGHTS / Opposition MPs raise concerns about 'discriminatory' and 'homophobic' nature of the bill
The age of consent bill passed third reading in the House Of Commons, despite criticism from opposition MPs that the bill is discriminatory because it does not remove the age of consent for anal sex, which is set at 18. To read the story click here.

Consent bill awaits final approval
YOUTH RIGHTS / NDP mum on how they'll vote
Two months ago, the NDP wouldn't say how they would vote on raising the age of consent from 14 to 16. While justice critic Joe Comartin publicly supported it, he and his caucus said they would wait to see what the bill looked like after house amendment procedure. To read the story click here.
 

Committee clears way for age of consent bill
YOUTH RIGHTS / Bill likely to pass in House; NDP members to hold a free vote on the issue
In the final day of debate on a Conservative bill to raise the age of sexual consent, the federal justice committee approved C-22. To read the story click here.

Gays hung out to dry on consent
YOUTH RIGHTS / Liberals split vote, kill gay amendments
The rhetoric of 'protection' was still intact after a handful of amendments were jettisoned April 17, as the federal justice committee enters the final stage of debate on C-22, a bill to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. To read the storyclick here.

Age of consent: How is reverse onus a compromise?
YOUTH RIGHTS / Last recommendations harp on "presumption" hail mary
Suggestions from a legal aid clinic specializing in youth issues caught the ear of MPs in the final hours of public hearings on C-22, a bill to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14. Meanwhile, legal experts lamented the bill's consequences. To read the story click here.

Anal sex amendment impossible: Art Hanger
YOUTH RIGHTS / "Thank you Lord, bring us victory, Jesus," mutters spectator
A meeting of the justice committee went into overtime Mar 27, after off-hand comments by MPs left sexual health specialists and queer activists spitting nails. To read the story click here.

Queers squeezed from justice committee schedule
YOUTH RIGHTS / Sex Laws and CLGRO dumped; Egale and The Age Of Consent Committee a go
As the invite list for Parliament's justice committee hearings crystallizes, gay and lesbian groups have been largely dropped from the agenda. To read the story click here

Queer groups prepare briefs for justice commitee
YOUTH RIGHTS / C-22 will leave young gays more vulnerable, disrupt sex ed and target us, briefs say
A bill to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 will give the state more power to police the private sexual lives of Canadians, say briefs prepared for the justice committee by three gay groups. To read the story click here

MPs eager to please police, evangelicals
SEXUAL FREEDOM / Liberals as anxious as Cons to pass bill
One day after the Liberals tried to circumvent public hearings, the justice committee began receiving witnesses on a bill to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14. To read the story click here.

Liberals don't want public hearings on consent bill
SEXUAL FREEDOM / Rushing to out-conservative the government, the Libs tried to cancel chat with Egale
A clumsy attempt to bump up the vote on a bill to raise the age of consent has failed, leaving both the Liberals and the Conservatives pointing finger. To read the story,click here.

Taking it to the Hill
YOUTH RIGHTS / Rights groups to tell Parliament to keep consent at 14 
Canada's leading gay groups are gearing up to fight the proposed Conservative bill to raise the age of sexual consent. To read the story, click here.
 

The background

Gay youth endangered by Tory bill
REALITY CHECK / Did none of these people have sex as teenagers?

Story by Marcus McCann

Teens have sex — and that makes some adults squeamish. Conservatives are using that discomfort to leverage votes, risking the safely of young people in an attempt to get votes.

On the last day of the spring 2006 session of Parliament, Vic Toews and Vince Bevan — then justice minister and Ottawa police chief, respectively — announced the Conservative government would introduce Bill C-22, legislation to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16. 

On the surface, Conservative agenda-setting had worked: the move was designed to leave Canadians feeling that the Conservatives were "protecting" the young and the vulnerable — even though experts say the law is dangerous for the youth it seeks to protect. Nowhere was this messaging more blatant than the proposal to change the name of age of consent to "age of protection."

The failure of other political parties to adequately respond to C-22 means that gay and lesbian groups are virtually alone in speaking out against the June, 2006 announcement. 

In November 2006, C-22 passed second reading "on division", meaning that no vote was taken at that time, but ensuring a member-by-member vote when it reaches Parliament's third and final reading of the bill. Meanwhile, the bill awaits hearings at the justice committee with a dozen other Conservative law-and-order bills. By the end of March or beginning of April, it's likely to be debated at that committee.

Tories introduce bill to raise age of consent.

* Age of consent heads to committee

Who's presenting at the justice committee hearings.

But the Harper Conservatives are not the only party letting down gays and those concerned about the health of our youth. Both the NDP and the Liberals have balked at protecting youth's right to sexual self-determination. Even after youth and queer members of the NDP sought to make age of consent a priority, the party machine sidelined their concerns. The Liberals pointed to their own anti-sex legislation, 2005's C-2, as enough "protection" for teens from sex.

* How the NDP screwed their own youth.

* Liberals and NDP duck for cover.

Having sex with someone when you're in a position of authority — with people of any age — is already illegal under Canadian law. In other words, Canada doesn't need a special law for exploitive relationships involving people under the age of 18. The same statute that punishes a boss who has sex with his secretary would punish a coach that has sex with his or her athletes. Or a teacher that has sex with his or her students. And of course any sexual encounter not freely entered into is sexual assault or rape. And that's before the draconian measures of C-2 became law (see below).

Which just leaves consenting non-exploitive sexual relationships. Why is state intervention required to control consenting sex? Legislation controlling sex smacks of the same moralizing that made other sexual practices illegal — from gay sex to premarital sex — in earlier times and which continues to suppress polyamory, sex work, public sex and anal sex under the age of 18.

The reality of gay and lesbian life is that a Grade 10 student choosing a sexual partner who is 19 or 20 is not unusual. That phenomenon can be partly attributed to the fact that gay teens often have no peers who are potential sexual partners. And unlike straight people — who can model their relationships after their parents, their neighbours, and prime-time TV couples — gay teens have precious few ways of learning about the way we live. Gay teens are ostracized by their peer group; often the only people they can "be gay around" are older. C-22 would leave them more isolated, more alone, and ultimately more at risk.

For some politicians, the proposed legislation is flawed because they see it as jeopardizing access to sexual health services. In other words, the bill could limit young people's ability to get STI tests, safe-sex and pregnancy prevention information, and abortions. The Liberals want to see the bill amended to re-enforce teens' right to medical services. But the cooling effect — where teens feel unsafe disclosing their sexual histories to doctors and other professionals — has potentially dangerous consequences regardless of whether the bill is amended. AIDS groups and the national association of Planned Parenthood groups have added their voice to the chorus of opposition to raising the age of consent.

In addition, the law will undoubtedly be used predominantly against gay men. Laws surrounding youth sexuality are often used to harass our community. The uneven application of the law both comes from and re-enforces the attitude that gay men are predatory. Consider Kim Campbell's kiddie porn law: a hastily produced bill which outlawed everything from journal entries to artistic commentary about the sexuality of those under the age of 18 (parts of this law were subsequently struck down at the Supreme Court). That bill was used by overzealous police officers like Julian Fantino, who went on to be the Toronto police chief, to lead a crusade, purportedly to protect young people, but in fact systematically targeting gay men. Or consider the way gay material versus straight material is handled by Customs. A law can be bias-free in letter but homophobically applied, and nowhere is that more true than when youth sexuality is the ostensible target.

Dealing with youth sexuality has always been a game of political hot potato. So many voters are parents — full of anxiety about their children having sex, ever — that even silly or demonstrably harmful laws can garner widespread popular appeal. That's why gays and lesbians need to be especially vigilant about youth sexuality. But as you're about to read, that's not always been the case.

For more information on how to fight C-2 visit www.ageofconsent.ca

Learning our lessons: Queer groups fail to mobilize on C-2
SEXUAL FREEDOM / Egale drops ball – twice – on porn bill

As same-sex marriage legislation was winding its way through Parliament (the first time), a much-less-debated piece of legislation quietly crept along with it. Bill C-2 — Paul Martin's response to Stephen Harper's accusations he was soft on children and sex — ostensibly dealt with porn, teen sex, and "voyeurism." Nestled into one of the clauses was an amendment to the Criminal Code which, some worried, effectively raised the age of consent.

Before C-2, sex was forbidden between a teen and a person "in a position of trust or authority" or where there was a "relationship of dependency." C-2 changed the law to the vaguer "relationship with a young person that is exploitative of the young person." It also doubles the maximum penalty to 10 years of jail time. The bill also makes it easier to prosecute people for possessing child porn by eliminating the artistic merit defence that arose after the Supreme Court Of Canada dictated new rules to respect the work of artists.

* Read the text of C-2.

The Toronto-based Sex Laws Committee and the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO) submitted vigorous briefs denouncing C-2. They pointed out that the preponderance of sexual abuse against children and adolescents happens in the home, perpetrated by family members or other people known to the family. "By continuing to pursue an agenda which disproportionately attends to cases of stranger assault and the creation of child pornography, the government actively occludes the identification and promotion of policy alternatives which can attend to the major issues" of domestic and family sexual abuse.

Moreover, the bill collapses the definition of "child," "adolescent," and "young person," the latter being someone between 14 and 17 inclusive who can be tried as an adult for serious crimes like murder and aggravated sexual assault. The authors of CLGRO's brief points out the law's double standard: a young person can be held accountable for the crimes he commits, but cannot be trusted to make decisions about his or her sexual self-determination.

* Read the Sex Laws Committee's and CLGRO's positions on C-2.

Egale, on the other hand, flip-flopped on C-2. In December 2005, Egale's board discussed C-2, but failed to produce a position on the bill whatsoever. "We have parents on our board who are naturally concerned about the exploitation of children," said then-director Gilles Marchildon at the time. Meanwhile, Egale's legal issues committee opposed parts of the bill. The board later reconsidered its position, but it failed to produce a document for the government to consider. 

* Egale's positions on C-2 in February 2005; then in March 2005; and then July 2005.

Egale had been spending the bulk of its resources on fighting to legalize state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. In the end, C-2 and C-38, the gay marriage bill, were passed by Parliament on the same day, leaving many progressives upset with the way C-2 had been ignored.

C-2 and C-38 clear Parliament.

Gays ignored on Bill C-2.

Even in 2005, when C-2 was chugging its way through Parliament, there were signs that more legislation on age of consent was in the works. Against the backdrop of Reform, Alliance, and Conservative private member's bills spanning over a decade-which sought to raise the age of consent to 16 and even 18, BC Conservative MP Nina Grewal introduced such a bill in March 2005. Given the Liberals' sliding approval ratings and the fallout from adscam, in retrospect it seems almost inevitable that the suburban MP's private member's bill would return during the present Parliament.

* Conservatives are defeated on age of consent… this time.