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Age of consent bill heads to committee

Davies & Siksay demand youth be consulted

ASK YOUTH. Libby Davies and Bill Siksay, the out NDP MPs, spoke out against Bill C-22 on second reading. They want youth consulted. Credit: (Shawn Scallen)

A bill to raise the age of consent to 16 quietly passed second reading in Parliament Oct 16, but without the unanimous consent that the Harper Conservatives had hoped for.

Bill C-22, first introduced in June on the last day of the spring sitting, is now before the justice committee. Progress there may be slow because the committee is “swamped” with Conservative law-and-order bills, says NDP MP and out lesbian Libby Davies.

The bill would raise the age of consent to 16 from 14 and rename it “age of protection.” It provides a five-year near-in-age exemption for 14- and 15-year-olds and a “transitional” exemption for those already in some nonexploitive relationships with people aged 14 and 15.

Davies and gay Burnaby NDP MP Bill Siksay spoke out against the bill on second reading — the only MPs to do so.

Siksay demanded that Parliament hear from Canada’s youth, and noted that youth members of the NDP oppose raising the age of consent.

“We already have laws that protect youth from violence, coercion, assault — as are adults,” Davies told Capital Xtra.

Canadian law prohibits relationships with youth where there is a position of trust, authority or dependency, where youth are offered money or other “rewards,” where young persons are “lured” on the Internet, and for the purposes of the production of pornography. But that didn’t stop the justice minister, Vic Toews, from falling back on those explanations for this bill, claiming the bill “clearly condemns those adults who prey on and sexually exploit our youth.”

“The trust provisions in the Criminal Code are very rarely, if ever, used because of the difficulty of having to rely on a child to demonstrate there was no trust exploitation. For all other types of sexual activity, the current age of consent is 14 years,” said Toews when introducing the bill.

“Police point out that this low age is often known by sexual predators and encourages them to target Canada in search of younger victims who would not be able to consent in countries with a higher age of consent.”

Toews is “playing on our fears,” rather than making Canada safer, Davies says.

Longtime gay activist Tom Warner says Toews is missing the point.

“I’m skeptical when they say they can’t prosecute under current laws,” says Warner, speaking for the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario (CLGRO). “What they really mean is that they can’t prosecute where the younger is consenting; they should not prosecuting in those cases.”

CLGRO is expected to release a brief on the age of consent next week.

In comments to Parliament Siksay and Davies made several arguments against the bill: that youth are already protected from exploitative sex; that the bill drives youth sexuality underground, leaving them more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections; that young people have not been heard by Parliament on this issue; and that the bill should correct the homophobic distinction between vaginal and anal sex.

The Criminal Code outlaws anal sex before the age of 18, while allowing other consensual sexual activities at 14. Although courts in three provinces have struck down the law as discriminatory, the age of consent for the most significant gay sex act remains 18 on the books.

The federal Liberals and Bloc Quebecois appear ready to vote in favour of Bill C-22. Most NDP MPs also support the bill but they, along with the Bloc, are expected to try and amend the bill to lower the age of anal sex to 16.

At second reading, the Liberals noted that Bill C-2, which they passed in 2005, gave police and prosecutors wide-ranging discretion in prosecuting virtually any adult in a sexual relationship with a young person.

Bloc MP Real Menard, an out gay man, said his party supported Bill C-22 in principle.

It is not clear whether Siksay, Davies and Menard will vote against the bill on third reading.

The Conservatives are expected to introduce a motion to reconsider same-sex marriage rights in the first week of December.