On Oct 16 a bill to raise the age of consent quietly passed second reading in Parliament, but without the unanimous consent that the Harper Conservatives had hoped for. NDP MPs and out queers Libby Davies and Bill Siksay both spoke out against the bill — the only MPs to do so.
“[T]his is now being presented as a bill for protection for children,” Davies told the House Of Commons, “but there already are protections in the Criminal Code which ensure that exploitation, coercion and violence against young people do not take place.
“The critical thing here is that we must differentiate between what is harmful, exploitative, violent and coercive against what is actually consenting activity.”
Bill C-22 would raise the age of consent to 16 from 14 and rename it “age of protection.” It provides a five-year “near age exemption” for 14- and 15-year-olds; for example a 14-year-old could legally have sex with a 19-year-old. It also provides a transitional exemption for those already in some nonexploitive relationships with people aged 14 and 15.
Both Davies and Siksay demanded that Parliament hear from Canada’s youth.
“There is no one who sits in this place that is within the age range that we are contemplating in this legislation,” said Siksay. “It is very important that we take some pains to try and hear some of those voices as part of this discussion. I think young people do have a particular perspective on both sides of the issue.”
Bill C-22 is now before the justice committee. Progress there may be slow because, according to Davies, the committee is “swamped” with Conservative law-and-order bills.
Canadian law already 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 production of porno-graphy. But that didn’t stop Justice Minister Vic Toews from falling back on those explanations for this bill when it was introduced in June, 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.
Davies says Toews is “playing on our fears,” rather than making Canada safer.
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.”
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. Although courts in three provinces have struck down the law as discriminatory that restriction remains on the books.
The federal Liberals and Bloc Québécois 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.