(Ottawa) A sex law is the first piece of legislation being discussed by Canada’s new justice minister, and activists are encouraging queers to start fighting back right away.
Increasing the age of consent is a top priority of the Harper government, Justice Minister Vic Toews told reporters Feb 7.
The socially conservative minister wants to raise the age at which young people can legally consent to have sex from 14 to 16 years. He did not say whether the age of consent for anal sex, which is currently set at 18, would be lowered to match.
Gary Kinsman, a sociologist at Laurentian University, says the queer community must quickly get active to fight the proposed legislation.
“We should be extremely disturbed by this,” says the sociologist, researcher and longtime gay activist. “It’s a forewarning about things to come.
“This is a step in the wrong direction,” he continues. “We were moving as a society to lowering the age of consent.”
Kinsman says queers need to oppose any suggestion of raising the age of consent, and fight instead to officially bring the age of consent for anal sex down to 14 from 18.
“We need to put sexuality back on the agenda. Not just gay and lesbian sexuality, but also the sexuality of straight people,” he says.
The Conservatives have lobbied for years for the age of consent to be raised, and have repeatedly attempted to introduce private member’s bills raising the age to 16 and even to 18. It was first set at age 14 in 1892.
Toews says he wants to bring the legislation forward “as quickly as possible” in a stand-alone bill.
The bill would exempt close-in-age teens, Toews notes. “We don’t want to criminalize consenting sexual conduct between youth,” he told reporters. “We want to protect young people from adult sexual predators.”
Though Canada’s Criminal Code says young people can choose to have sex once they reach 14, it limits who they can have sex with. Youth aged 14 to 17 cannot have sex with people over 18 if the older person is in a position of trust or authority, or if the relationship is deemed to be “exploitative.” The “exploitative” part was added last July by the passage of the Liberals’ Bill C-2. No definition of exploitative has yet been tested by the courts.
Bill C-2 was strongly criticized by civil libertarians and gay groups for criminalizing teenage sexual behaviour and ignoring the realities of the sexual preferences of many gay teens.
Hilary Cook, chair of Egale Canada’s legal committee, told Capital Xtra last March, “In a class of 25 students, the chance of finding the love of your life is much reduced.” In a world of schoolyard harassment, bullying and generalized homophobia, teens often date and seek sex outside of their peer group, she said. It’s unrealistic to expect teens to have sex only with those of their own age.
“That’s not the queer youth reality,” she said.
“It’s definitely now an imperative” to develop a stand on Toews’ proposed bill, says Egale’s executive director Gilles Marchildon.
Historically, Egale policy did not specify a specific age of consent, says Marchildon. But it did say that it should be the same for everyone, and that specific sex acts — such as anal sex — should not be set at a higher age than other acts.
With an increased age of consent enjoying the support of most provincial attorneys general, and the possibility that the Liberals and NDP may lack the courage to oppose the bill unless quickly and strongly pressured to do so, Marchildon worries that “politically, this looks like a freight train heading down the tracks. And this has us concerned.”
“Nobody should be remotely surprised that this is the first act” of the Harper government, says Peter Bochove, Toronto bathhouse owner and founder of the Committee to Abolish the 19th Century. “They’re going to get their radical religious-right legislation through Parliament as soon as possible so people get over it before the next election.”
It’s up to queers and our sex-positive allies to “bog them down” so the Conservatives cannot pass legislation aimed at us, Bochove continues.
“Our strategy will be to watch them, speak out, not let it go and fight it all. They don’t have a large mandate. We must shout it from the rooftops.”
Harper is the first Canadian prime minister in memory “to thank God for his job, instead of the people who voted for him,” notes Bochove. “He’ll start by fucking around in our bedrooms. He’ll start with us. These people are outdated.”