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Age of consent: MPs eager to please police, evangelicals

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. The two-hour meeting Mar 22 heard from groups who support raising the age of consent — police and Christian lobbyists.

Most of what was discussed had little to do with the consensual sexual activities of 14- and 15-year-olds. Instead, most presenters talked about activities that were already illegal: sex with kids as young as age two, sexual assault, prostitution, pornography and Internet luring.

Kim Scanlan of Toronto’s Sex Crimes Unit suggested that teenage victims of sexual assault would feel more comfortable approaching the police if all forms of sex with older people were illegal. Canadian Police Association president Tony Cannavino said that one in four teens have been sent porn on the Internet by a stranger. Those who had their first sexual encounter before the age of 13 are twice as likely to contract an STI, warned Don Hutchinson of the Evangelical Fellowship Of Canada.

People convicted of sexual offenses involving minors get light sentences in Canada, whereas US courts hand out sentences of up to 130 years, insisted Mad Mothers Against Pedophiles founder Carrie Kohan.

“If we don’t keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, we become a haven for paedophiles,” she said.

Kohan and the police kept referring to Canada as a “sex tourism destination” and a “safe-haven for paedophiles.” Across the board, they recommended longer jail terms for those convicted of consensual sex with teens.

The Liberals, who appear to be drifting to the right on social issues, seemed anxious to support the presenters. Quebec MP Marlene Jennings said that the Conservatives were holding up the bill by forcing the committee to sit through public hearings. Another MP suggested they forgo hearing the rest of the testimonials and approve the bill immediately.

(Jennings has clearly made an about-turn on the issue. In a Mar 8 interview with Capital Xtra she said, “We should not cut short that debate. I’m looking forward to hearing from all the stakeholders.”)

Meanwhile, the Conservatives pointed out that the Liberals had voted down previous incarnations of C-22 — a move which Conservative MP Rob Moore called “the height of hypocrisy.”

“You had your chance and you voted against it,” Conservative Alberta MP Myron Thompson told Jennings.

“I don’t see how anyone could be against raising the age of consent,” said Moore.

NDP justice critic Joe Comartin — who supports C-22 despite the objections of his party’s youth and queer wings — called Kohan’s presentation “over the edge” and US-style sentencing “ridiculous.”

Health organizations and queer groups will outline their concerns with the bill next week.

Bill C-22 has been widely denounced by agencies like the Canadian AIDS Society and Planned Parenthood for pushing the sexual activities of young people further underground. Every major queer lobby group in Canada, including Egale, Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), The Sex Laws Committee and The Committee To Abolish The 19th Century has panned the bill as not just foolhardy paternalism — but posing serious health risks, too.