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Age of consent: Vote likely before government falls

C-22 elbows its way in front of other justice bills

A bill to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 will be the first considered by the justice committee when Parliament resumes Mon, Mar 19. Government officials confirm Bill C-22 will be the top priority out of a dozen pieces of legislation clogging the committee.

That means there’s time for C-22 to wind its way through Parliament before the government falls. Pundits expect the Conservatives to call an election at the end of April, with Canadians voting in late May.

Hearings on C-22 will begin Mar 21, justice committee clerk Diane Diotte confirms, although the finalized schedule is not yet available. Presentations will last at least two weeks, at which point the committee can discuss amendments.

C-22 could be hurried through Parliament with the support of the Liberals, who are in favour of raising the age of consent. But Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings and NDP MPs Libby Davies and Bill Siksay have all emphasized the importance of hearing from a diverse group at the justice committee — a process that could gum up the bill’s progress if an election is called this spring.

“We should not cut short that debate. I’m looking forward to hearing from all the stakeholders,” Jennings told Capital Xtra Mar 8.

That statement may carry more weight than it appears to. In November, the Conservatives accused the Liberals and NDP of slow-walking the bill by failing to fast track it after second reading. Now, in a strange reversal, it appears that the Conservatives, who are polling on the verge of majority government, are in a position to kill the bill’s chances of becoming law by sending Canadians to the ballot box.

“That’s a risk that the government takes if it engineers its own downfall,” says Jennings.

Queer lobby group Egale has already confirmed that it will make a presentation to the committee. The RCMP and former Toronto police bulldog Paul Gillespie will also be presenting, Diotte says.

After the presentations, NDP will likely propose two amendments to the bill: one would exempt medical professionals from disclosing personal details about a minor’s sexual histories to police. The other would harmonize the age of consent for anal sex (currently 18) with all other types of sex. Because amendments do not need to be filed in advance, the final text is not yet available.

“I don’t know that those amendments are enough to satisfy my concerns,” says Siksay, who won’t commit to voting against C-22 until he sees the motion as amended. “My concern is still that we should not be going down the road of criminalizing the consensual sexual activities of young people.”