Evidence of meeting #59 for Justice and Human Rights in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was young.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Paul Gillespie  Consultant, As an Individual
  • Lynn Barr-Telford  Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
  • Tamra Thomson  Director, Legislation and Law Reform, Canadian Bar Association
  • Margaret Gallagher  Treasurer, National Criminal Justice Section, Canadian Bar Association
  • Kevin Kindred  Branch Section Chair, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conference, Canadian Bar Association
  • Judy Nuttall  Coordinator, Affiliated with Citizens Addressing Sexual Exploitation, White Ribbon Against Pornography
  • Steve Sullivan  President, Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime
  • Martha Mackinnon  Executive Director, Justice for Children and Youth
  • Karen Mihorean  Assistant Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada
  • William Trudell  Chair, Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers
  • Jason Gratl  President, B.C. Civil Liberties Association
  • Kim Pate  Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
  • Andrew Brett  Member, Age of Consent Committee
  • Nicholas Dodds  Member, Age of Consent Committee
  • Dave Quist  Executive Director, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada
  • Daphne Gilbert  Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
  • Christina Godlewska  Articled Student, B.C. Civil Liberties Association

12:15 p.m.

Kim Pate Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for inviting us to appear. I bring regrets from members of my board of directors who were unable to appear with me.

I come representing 25 member societies that work with victimized and criminalized women and girls across the country. My comments will be brief, but I look forward to some of the discussion.

I would suspect that most of us everywhere would prefer that young people and children refrain from sexual activity until the time they are of sufficient age and maturity to engage in caring and consensual relationships. That being said, none of us want to see young people exploited, and none of us want to see young people further victimized. But we think the current Criminal Code health and child welfare provisions adequately cover many of these areas.

From our perspective, the gap tends to be in the bigger issue of the sometime lack of political or administrative will to ensure the existing laws and protections are implemented and the protections in fact exist in the way they're intended. There is also sometimes a reluctance to pursue those who violate those provisions.

We also have concerns about who might be pursued in this context. Let's say you have a young woman who engages in a sexual relationship with an older man and is observed by a doctor. We see situations where the young woman might refuse to provide information. We'd be loath to see those young women end up being cited for things like contempt or other potential charges. Those realities exist now, I would suggest, because of the lack of will to ensure that the current provisions are implemented in a gender-specific and fair way.

We also want to protect children in terms of a variety of other areas, but we don't see, for instance, the same interest in other potential areas where young people are being exploited, whether or not it's child pornography. We know there's an interest in that area, but pornographic advertising techniques aren't challenged in similar ways.

If we're interested in not promoting the sexualization of young people, I think there are many other areas we need to look at, including broader based education campaigns and ways to limit the use of young people who are increasingly being sexualized at very young ages.

We also do not support a differential age in terms of anal intercourse. If you decide to in fact proceed with this bill, in the alternative, we're interested in having some discussions about the issue of rebuttable presumption.

That's our submission. Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Thank you.

Age of Consent Committee, Andrew Brett and Nicholas Dodds. Who will be presenting?

12:20 p.m.

Andrew Brett Member, Age of Consent Committee

Both of us.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Keep your comments to ten minutes and I won't cut you off.

March 29th, 2007 / 12:20 p.m.

Nicholas Dodds Member, Age of Consent Committee

Thank you very much for having us here today.

My name is Nicholas Dodds. I'm a youth rights advocate from Aurora, Ontario.

Andrew, would you introduce yourself?

12:20 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Andrew Brett

I'm Andrew Brett. I'm also a youth from the GTA.

12:20 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Nicholas Dodds

The Age of Consent Committee is a coalition of youth and youth advocates who came together in early 2006 out of concern for the dangerous effects of Bill C-22, which proposes to raise the basic age of consent in Canada.

Our members consist of students, social workers, sexual health workers, youth workers, and most importantly, young people themselves.

Over the past few days you've heard many arguments on both sides of this bill, and while we agree with many of the groups that have presented, there is a notable lack of input from young people themselves. We are here today in an attempt to bring youth concerns with this bill to the table.

12:20 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Andrew Brett

As young people, we stand unequivocally opposed to Bill C-22 on many grounds, which we will outline in four main points.

The first one is that the motivation for this bill is based out of illogical fear and hysteria about cases that are either already illegal or exaggerated.

Number two, increasing the age of consent would result in young people not seeking out vital information or services related to sexual health.

Number three, an increase in the age of consent would result in social workers and teachers being reluctant to provide adequate sexual health information to young people.

And number four, this bill will have a—

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Art Hanger

Excuse me. Just slow it down a little bit so that interpreters can keep up.

Thank you.

12:20 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Andrew Brett

Okay.

Number four, this bill will have a disproportionate impact on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, and queer youth.

12:20 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Nicholas Dodds

After reading the news reports and minutes from previous witnesses at this hearing, it is frustrating to hear the type of evidence being presented to bolster the case for Bill C-22.

One newspaper reports that a witness used the sexual abuse of a two-year-old as justification for this bill, as if the law was somehow unclear on this and needed to be strengthened. The supporters of this bill claim that the age of consent must be increased in order to combat child prostitution and child pornography.

The reality is that both of these activities are already illegal, not just for 14- and 15-year-olds but for anyone under the age of 18. The laws are absolutely clear: sexual abuse and exploitation are illegal. If these laws aren't being enforced properly, the solution is not to make them more illegal. Redundant criminalization will not suddenly create an environment where young people are empowered to recognize exploitation and come forward about abuse. More work needs to be done to educate and empower youth, and Bill C-22 will be counterproductive to these aims, for reasons that will be outlined later.

Another claim is that Canada is a haven for pedophiles who want to take advantage of our supposedly low age of consent. In reality, when taking into account the 2005 law that expanded the definition of exploitation, which I believe was Bill C-2 before being passed into law, the Department of Justice says that “Canada's criminal law framework of protection against the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and youth is amongst the most comprehensive anywhere.”

Our second point is that increasing the age of consent will actually put young people in more danger by inhibiting their access to sexual health information and services. In the United Kingdom, where the age of consent is currently 16, a survey of young women found that those under the age of consent were six times more likely to say that “fear of being too young” prevented them from seeking help.

In fact, the Department of Justice itself stated just two years ago that the age of consent should not be increased to 16 because “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”.

12:25 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Andrew Brett

Our third point is that an increase to the age of consent would result in social workers and teachers being reluctant to provide adequate sexual health education and information to young people.

The Ontario Court of Appeal noted in a 1995 ruling how age of consent laws, which purport to protect young people, can actually have the opposite effect by preventing them from accessing information. I'll quote from the ruling:

The health education they should be receiving to protect them from avoidable harm may be curtailed, since it may be interpreted as counselling young people about a form of sexual conduct the law prohibits them from participating in. Hence, the Criminal Code provision ostensibly crafted to prevent adolescents from harm may itself, by inhibiting education about health risks associated with that behaviour, contribute to the harm it seeks to reduce.

Through federal and provincial laws and professional codes of regulatory bodies, mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse is widespread across Canada. In Ontario the Child and Family Services Act mandates reporting if the young person is under the age of 16. This applies to teachers, social workers, youth workers, doctors, nurses, and many others.

By criminalizing consensual sexual activity involving 14- and 15-year-olds, previously legal activity will now be considered abuse and the prospect of mandatory disclosure may prevent professionals from assisting young people. As a former peer counsellor for youth myself, I was trained to warn young people about the possibility of incriminating themselves or their partners before they spoke about their sexual activities. Increasing the age of consent would mean that more young people would have to be warned about disclosure and more of them would be reluctant to speak with professionals.

Our final point is that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, and queer youth will be disproportionately affected by this bill compared to their heterosexual counterparts. The choices of queer youth already face additional scrutiny when it comes to their sexual identity and activity.

In the Marc Hall case, when a 17-year-old high school student was denied a request to bring his 21-year-old male date to his prom, the school board chair justified this homophobic discrimination by claiming that Marc's partner was too old to bring anyway. In reality, many heterosexual students bring dates of similarly disparate ages to their school proms and rarely are these decisions ever questioned.

When youth are queer it is often assumed their choices are uninformed, just a phase, or that they are being recruited and exploited. In addition, given the widespread homophobia that exists among teachers, parents, and society in general, we have very good reason to believe that Bill C-22 will be disproportionately used to regulate the sexual lives of queer youth.

It is not uncommon for queer youth to seek out relationships with older partners, as they can provide much-needed recognition and support in a context where many of their peers are still closeted due to prevailing homophobia in schools and families. Such age-discrepant relationships are not always exploitative or harmful. In fact, they can be beneficial, and this recognition is an important one in the lives of queer youth. This proposed law would further isolate them and expose them to danger.

Gay and bisexual male youth are already explicitly targeted in current age-of-consent legislation through section 159 of the Criminal Code, which sets a discriminatory age of consent for anal intercourse. It is important to note that when this section was struck down by the Ontario Court of Appeal in May 1995 the majority opinion held that the discrimination was unconstitutional, not based on sexual orientation but on age. This sets a precedent that leads us to believe that Bill C-22 can be struck down as a violation of section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the basis that it discriminates against young people without demonstrable justification.

12:25 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Nicholas Dodds

The members of the Age of Consent Committee know from present and recent personal experience how youth are marginalized and their voices rarely heard in mainstream political processes. We note with anger and resentment that pushing forward this bill, which has had admitted virtually no consultation with communities of youth that are directly affected, sends a cynical political message about the importance of youth participation under the present government.

Additionally, we note that article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child indicates that children and youth are assured the right to express their views in all matters affecting them and to be consulted in decisions that affect their lives. Given the fact that young people directly affected by this bill are currently denied the right to vote, we are especially frustrated at the lack of youth consultation in this process.

12:30 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Andrew Brett

As the only youth-led committee making a presentation to the justice committee on this bill, we urge you to listen to our concerns. Bill C-22 is dangerous for youth workers, health professionals, educators, and to young people themselves. We are firmly committed to defeating any move to increase the age of consent in Canada.

12:30 p.m.

Member, Age of Consent Committee

Nicholas Dodds

That's our submission.