Age of Consent
3 min

Gays hung out to dry on consent

Liberals split vote, kill gay amendments

iFrameThe rhetoric of 'protection' was still intact after a handful of amendments were jettisoned April 17, as the federal justice committee enters the final stage of debate on C-22, a bill to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16.

The amendments would have created legal shelters for young mothers and teens requiring sexual health services. Two other amendments sought to strike a discriminatory anal sex law. None were adopted.

As the Conservative chair had promised, Art Hanger ruled all the amendments out of order that dealt with the Criminal Code's section 159, a law that sets the age of consent for anal sex at 18 and which carries up to a 10-year jail term.

Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings moved an amendment to the bill that would have struck the anal sex law entirely.

"Given that [Jennings' amendment] purports to change a section of the code which is not [mentioned in C-22], I must rule it out of order," Hanger said.

Jennings challenged the chair's decision, a rare procedural move used in minority parliaments. By a simple majority of the opposition-controlled committee, the amendment could have moved forward. Jennings did not have the support of two members of her own party — Larry Bagnell and Derek Lee — so the question failed by a 6-5 margin.

"I don't want to frivolously overrule the chair all the time," Bagnell told the committee.

Lee denies that he killed the amendment.

"It's outside the scope of the bill. It's just so clearly outside the scope of the bill. If this is not outside of the scope of the bill, then we could take advantage of this bill to amend all kinds of other little sections of the Criminal Code involving sexual offences," Lee told Capital Xtra after the meeting.

"I was simply supporting the chair on this issue," he says.

Following Jennings' attempt to strike section 159, NDP justice critic Joe Comartin introduced two amendments, both of which were ruled out of order. One would have exempted medical professionals from reporting patients' partners to the police, and a second would have harmonized the age of consent in the anal sex law with the proposed measures of C-22.

Comartin tried to overrule the chair, but both attempts failed by one vote. Lee voted with the Conservatives both times. He argued that the anal sex law — struck down by provincial courts in Ontario, Quebec, BC, Alberta and recently in Nova Scotia — was not being enforced any more.

However, the 2006 Nova Scotia decision — made more than 10 years after the law was struck in Ontario — set aside a then-recent conviction. Lawyers presenting to the justice committee in March told MPs the anal sex law was still being used to prosecute (mostly) gays.

"I know, but the trend is clearly there. I'm not saying that there won't be charges laid, but it's better that the charges not be laid. I think that you'll see that increasingly, that there won't be any charges laid. And I can ask the question, I don't think there is a private member's bill dealing with this," said Lee.

"In terms of its priority in the greater scheme of things, we probably all have bigger fish to fry but it's still an issue, it's still a piece of unfinished business in the never ending task of updating the Criminal Code. And should a bill that deals with section 159 … come forward, I would fall right off my chair if it were not adopted without any debate. The section is going to prove to be unenforceable."

The justice committee was supposed to wrap up its proceedings the same day, but an NDP amendment to exempt married couples, cohabiting couples and couples with a child from criminalization will be re-addressed Apr 19. The bill could pass third reading as early as next week, with all-party support.
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