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Tories ‘bullying’ Senate to pass crime bill

Senator wants more time to study age of consent

The Harper government is “bullying” the Senate into passing its omnibus crime bill, legislation that, among other things, seeks to raise the age of sexual consent.

Yesterday, the Harper government introduced a motion calling on the House of Commons to tell the Senate to pass the Tackling Violent Crime Act by Mar 1. The Tories have declared it a confidence motion, which means that an election could be triggered if the House votes against it.

“It’s a juvenile trick by a government desperate to fall,” Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion told reporters yesterday.

But when the motion comes to a vote next week, it will likely pass with support from the Bloc Quebecois, even with the Liberals and NDP opposed.

This latest confidence motion is among a series of moves by the Tories to set the stage for a federal election. In the coming weeks, confidence motions are expected on the Afghanistan mission and the federal budget.

“It’s just bullying by the Harper government,” said Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs during a Feb 6 CTV interview. “We should all be used to it as Canadians.”

She says that the House does not have the constitutional authority to put such demands on the Senate. She adds that it would be impossible to pass the crime legislation through the Senate by the end of the month, when the House had months to study it. And she has a number of concerns with the bill, especially with its aim to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16.

“I’ve been a teacher for 20 years. I know that young 14 year olds are sexually active,” says Carstairs. “To gloss it all over and criminalize their behaviour is, to me, untenable.

Carstairs says she wants more time to hear from social workers and the public before making any rushed decisions.

“I am concerned that this bill may prevent young men and young women from reporting sexually transmitted diseases. I am concerned that it may put a chill on family life education programs.”

Health organizations expressed similar concerns last year during Commons justice committee hearings. They argued that raising the age of consent might prevent health care workers from talking frankly to youth about sexual health.

Queer groups also spoke out against the bill, arguing that youth should have the right to make decisions for themselves. They also urged the committee to amend the bill to lower the age of consent for anal sex, which is currently set at 18. That request was rejected by the committee’s Conservative chair Art Hanger, who said that it was outside the scope of the bill.

The Senate’s legal affairs committee is set to debate the omnibus crime bill on Feb 13.

“It’s not the intention of the Senate to spend 50 days in committee, as the House of Commons did,” says Carstairs. “But to say we should spend only four days in committee — which is all we would have over the next couple of weeks — is ludicrous.”