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Committee clears way for age of consent bill

Bill likely to pass in House; NDP members to hold a free vote on the issue

TOKENISM. Andrew Brett represented one of only two queer groups invited to speak at the committee. Credit: Tony Fong photo

In the final day of debate on a Conservative bill to raise the age of sexual consent, the federal justice committee approved C-22.

“We’re trying to prevent people under 16 from entering exploitative relationships,” said Conservative MP Rob Moore told the justice committee Apr 19.

The bill will go back to the House of Commons for further debate, but with most parties appearing to favour the legislation, it will likely pass. The law would criminalize sexual activity between youth ages 14 or 15 and persons more than five years older.

Queer youth joined with health groups to oppose the bill in appearances before the committee last month.

NDP justice critic Joe Comartin has not decided whether he will support the bill when it is brought back to the House for a vote.

But Comartin argued before the committee that some youth will continue to enter into relations with people more than five years older, despite government attempts to control their sexuality.

“We can draft and pass whatever laws we want, but we can’t avoid these cases,” said Comartin.

“The [New Democratic] party itself is on a free vote on this one, so we can all vote the way we want,” Comartin told Xtra. He estimates that about half the party will vote in favour of C-22.

Earlier this week, Comartin tried to amend C-22 so that it would bring the age of consent for anal sex into line with the age for all other sex acts. He argued that section 159 of the Criminal Code, which sets the age of consent for anal sex at 18, is outdated and needs to be changed.

The justice committee chair, Conservative MP Art Hanger, rejected the amendment by saying that it was outside the scope of C-22. When some committee members challenged Hanger’s ruling, Hanger was supported by some Liberals.

After today’s committee meeting, Comartin told Xtra that he has filed a private member’s bill to remove section 159 from the Criminal Code entirely.