2 min

Teens get schizophrenic treatment from Harper

They're adults when they break the law; children when it comes to sex

Mandatory adult sentencing for teens 13 to 17 may be on its way, says the office of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.

A bill could be introduced in March requiring judges to hand out adult sentences to 14-year-olds who commit violent or repeat offences. It would tie the hands of judges who now exercise their discretion in meting out stiff penalties to young people.

Meanwhile, Bill C-22, legislation that would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16, is languishing at the federal justice committee after being sent there in November. The Conservatives overloaded that committee last fall, say opposition members, in anticipation that a spring election would turn the half-debated legislation into election issues.

Some lobbyists held their breath, hoping a spring election would spare them fighting the bill as it wound its way through Parliament. But as a spring election begins to look increasingly far-fetched, bills including C-22 and the anticipated youth crime legislation will have to be fought during this Parliament.

“We live in a society that glorifies violence but fears sex. This is one of the many contradictions that arise from that,” says Kaj Hasselriis, interim executive director of Egale Canada.

On the surface it looks like an issue of contradiction, but let’s not confuse the two, says Hasselriis. With age of consent activist Andrew Brett, he’ll be looking to get this issue onto the Hill in February.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that these two bills are being pushed through at the same time,” says Rob Teixeira, a PhD candidate at York University and a member of the Age Of Consent Committee.

“The discourse of youth being vulnerable and in need of protection has always walked hand-in-hand with the demonization of youth as drug addicts and criminals,” he says.

He points out that the use of paternalistic “protection” measures were used as a way of forestalling the progress of feminists 100 years ago.

He also adds that the bills purport to be concerned with youth, “while distracting the public from marginalization and exclusion that exist for youth, whether queer or poor or [of colour].”

Discussions on age of consent at the Justice committee will start in March at the earliest, according to Hasselriis, but mid-April seems more likely. None of the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc, nor the Green Party have taken a strong stand against the Conservatives’ efforts to raise the age of consent.

“Our goal is to make this an issue on Parliament Hill. Because it isn’t right now,” says Hasselriis. “The public has to have to have its say.”