A clumsy attempt to bump up the vote on a bill to raise the age of consent has failed, leaving both the Liberals and the Conservatives pointing fingers.
Less than two weeks after Liberal justice critic Marlene Jennings emphasized the importance of public consultations, her party attempted to shut the door to hearing from the public about C-22 on Mar 21.
The move came just one day before public hearings on the bill were set to begin. Presenters have been preparing since October, when the bill passed second reading.
In an apparent effort to out-conservative the Conservatives, Jennings gave notice that the Liberals would introduce a motion to skip justice committee hearings on the consent bill and two other pieces of law-and-order legislation. Those bills would then move directly to final approval by the House Of Commons.
That would have meant that organizations both for and against would not have been able to directly address MPs on the issue.
“We are still in a position where witnesses have not yet been heard. We are here to debate legislation. We are here to do the public’s business. We are here to give due process to things,” said out lesbian Libby Davies during the debate.
The objection — made on technical grounds — was raised by Conservative house leader Peter Van Loan:
“Much as we would like that to move quickly, much as we would like to see those bills pass quickly, the fact remains the Standing Orders exist as their protection that this Parliament will work in the fashion that it does.”
The Liberal motion was ruled out of order.
Those scheduled to speak in favour of the bill include police and religious organizations. Those intending to speak against the bill include Justice For Children And Youth, the Canadian Federation For Sexual Health, and Egale Canada.
“There is a good reason why they have a public consultations, and that’s to hear from the public. If they don’t have public consultations, then they make their decisions in a vaccuum,” says Kaj Hasselriis, Egale Canada’s interim executive director.
C-22 has been criticized for limiting the sexual freedom of young people and pushing their sexual practices further underground. It has been widely denounced by health agencies like the Canadian AIDS Society and Planned Parenthood. Every major queer lobby group in Canada, including Egale, Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), The Sex Laws Committee and The Committee To Abolish The 19th Century has panned the bill as not just foolhardy paternalism — but posing serious health risks too.
The NDP has been drafting amendments — one to provide confidentiality to young people who seek medical advice after sexual encounters, the other to harmonize the age of anal consent (currently set at 18) — which could be put forward at the justice committee after public consultation.