2 min

Poilievre’s loaded age of consent question

MP's scholarship contest highlights hypocrisy

Earlier this month, Pierre Poilievre, a Conservative MP, announced a $1,000 scholarship for youth in his riding. To qualify they must write a 500-word essay answering the question: “What steps can parents, police and politicians take to protect kids from internet luring by adult sexual predators?”

The catch?

They also have to collect 25 signatures on his petition supporting a bill that would increase the age of consent to 16. And since the contest question is — to put it mildly — a bit loaded, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out what to write if you want to win, particularly when the judges are police constables.

Youth interviewed in the media, even when they agreed with the raise in age, variously dismissed the contest as blatant manipulation or as a cheap ploy by someone too lazy to go out and do his own dirty work.

Under the Criminal Code relationships with under-18s involving exploitation, pornography, prostitution, internet luring or adults in positions of trust or authority have already been illegal for years.

Bill C-2, passed in 2005 (considered overkill by many), added even more protections and upped potential jail time to ten years.

Those of us who are queer, trans, people of colour, poor, or involved in sex work know laws are always disproportionately used against us — the more disenfranchised you are, the more vulnerable you are. We’ve seen this in the targeting of same-sex and sadomasochistic materials by customs, in how the anal sex law is used more against young men having sex with men than with other couples, and in the everyday reality of racial profiling by police. This law would be no different.

It’s hypocritical for government to decide youth are incapable of choosing their own sex partners when they can access contraception and abortion without parental consent and can be tried as adults for theft, murder and aggravated sexual assault at as young as 14. Raising the age of consent may violate Section 15 of the Charter by discriminating on the basis of age. It also contravenes Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by Canada in 1991), which gives youth the right to express their views on all matters related to them and to be consulted in decisions affecting their lives. Virtually no such consultation with youth has occurred with this bill — in fact, the only teen to speak at the hearings on the age of consent, on behalf of the Age of Consent Committee, had to fight for access to the hearings at all.

Poilievre’s scholarship highlights the hypocrisy: please write a rational, analytical essay, he asks of youth, explaining why you are incapable of making rational decisions.

The reality is many 14 year olds have relationships with 20 year olds. And guess what? They’re not gonna stop no matter what legislation we pass.

In Canada, one third of Grade 9 students have had oral sex, and one fifth vaginal sex. The average age of first sexual intercourse was 14, and youth 15 to 19 have the highest rate of STDs. Research demonstrates youth are significantly less likely to seek sexual health information, testing or contraception if they’re under the age of consent.

So explain to me again how this bill will ‘protect’ youth?

The Conservative’s bill to raise the age of consent is a sex-negative move to criminalize and repress youth sexual freedom and is a small part of a larger conservative agenda to replicate US policies in a Canadian context. If passed, this law will be used to penalize those not reporting ‘illegal’ relationships and as leverage to both replace comprehensive sexual health education with abstinence-only curricula and to erode other sexual freedoms.

Even the justice department said, in 2005 on the subject, “educating youth to make informed choices that are right for them is better addressed through parental guidance and sexual health education than by using the Criminal Code to criminalize youth for engaging in such activity.”

If only the politicians would listen!