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House approves age of consent bill

Opposition MPs raise concerns about 'discriminatory' and 'homophobic' nature of the bill

VOICE OF DISSENT. NDP House leader Libby Davies says she believes the bill will "drive issues of youth sexuality underground." Credit: Brent Creelman

Bill C-22 — an act to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 — passed third reading in the House Of Commons on Friday, despite criticism from opposition MPs that the bill is discriminatory because it does not remove the age of consent for anal sex, which is set at 18.

The House passed Bill C-22 with unanimous consent “on division,” which means that while all parties supported the bill, there were a number of individual MPs who raised objections.

NDP House leader Libby Davies told the House on Thursday she was concerned that raising the age of consent may discourage youth from seeking sexual health information if they know their activities are outside of the law. It may also discourage educators and health care workers from talking to youth about sexual health due to the legal uncertainty, she said.

Tories had chance to remove age of consent for anal sex, but chose not to act

Davies and other MPs also spoke against section 159 of the Criminal Code, which sets the age of consent for anal sex at 18 years, higher than for any other type of sexual activity.

Although Liberal MP Marlene Jennings supports C-22, she blasted the Tory government for not removing the age of consent for anal sex when it had the chance.

“When the government drafted Bill C-22, it could have acted then to remove this archaic section of the Criminal Code,” said Jennings. She also argued that the Tories could have supported her amendment to remove the anal sex clause during justice committee debate. The committee’s Conservative chair, MP Art Hanger, ruled that Jenning’s amendment was not within the scope of the original bill.

“The government decided on two occasions … that it would champion discrimination and homophobia. I think this speaks volumes to that Conservative government’s values and the members of that government,” said Jennings.

Liberal MP Hedy Fry said that she could not support the bill because it does not address the discriminatory anal sex clause.

“This goes against everything that the House has passed over the years with regard to equality between heterosexual and same-sex couples,” said Liberal MP Hedy Fry.

Private member’s bill seeks to remove age of consent for anal sex

After failing to get amendments through in the justice committee to strike down the anal sex clause of the Criminal Code, NDP justice critic Joe Comartin introduced a private member’s bill in the House on Wednesday that would do just that.

“Neither the Liberal Party in the 13 years when it was in power nor the Conservative government currently has seen fit to move to amend the code and take that section out,” said Comartin.

Private member’s bills rarely pass through Parliament, but Davies says the chances are strong in this case.

“I do think on this one that we have a very strong argument to put forward to other members that there is this glaring inconsistency in the law,” Davies told Xtra.ca on Thursday. “[We can] say to the Conservatives: ‘show us this not about you imposing your moral views. Show us that this is about objectivity in the law and being consistent.'”

Having passed through the House, Bill C-22 will next be debated in the Senate.