Debates of May 3rd, 2007
House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sexual.
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John Maloney Welland, ON
Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, I would have thought that the government would have taken this opportunity to rectify that situation. When the courts have clearly said that prohibitions of this nature are homophobic and discriminatory, I think it would have been prudent on the government's part to allow that amendment to go through.
It would have been a good opportunity to do that. It is disappointing that it perhaps did not happen. Notwithstanding that, I make no judgment call on the sexual act itself. That is not our function. When the court does make that finding, then we have a duty to respond accordingly and clear up that situation.
May 3rd, 2007 / 3:50 p.m.
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to again address the issue of Bill C-22, the age of protection, age of consent legislation. It is the second time I have been able to speak in this debate. I believe this is very important legislation. It is important to many people in my community of Burnaby—Douglas and across the country.
There are many different positions on this. There seems to be some unanimity in this place. There is an emerging consensus that the legislation will pass. However, I believe there are important opinions and understandings of sexual expression, the age of consent, what is appropriate sexual expression and relational models, that need to be part of this debate.
I am one person who does not support the legislation because of some of the serious flaws I see in it. At the same time, recognizing there are other opinions, I believe people have taken this issue seriously and we have had a serious debate on this matter, both here in this chamber and in committee. I have read most of the transcripts of the presentations at the committee.
The NDP caucus has also had the opportunity to discuss the legislation as well. Even in this caucus there is a diversity of opinion on this legislation. However, I do not think anyone wants to diminish the importance of it.
It is important that we take all possible precautions to ensure there is not exploitation, particularly of young people in our society. We all want to ensure that we have the best and most appropriate tools at our disposal to ensure young people are not exploited. How we do that, I think there can be some discussion and debate about. I want to take the opportunity today to talk about this attempt to do that.
For many of us this is a very personal issue and we come to it with various personal experiences. Some of us may come to the debate because of a concern we had of a young person who was involved in a relationship with someone much older. Others come from other kinds of experience to this debate.
As a gay man, I have a particular experience of a time when in Canada my sexual expression was criminal. It was illegal to engage in homosexual activity, to engage in a gay or lesbian relationship. I grew up in that period in the 1960s when it was criminally sanctioned. That was not an easy time for me as a young person coming to terms with my own sexuality. It was not an easy time to go through all that learning about what it meant to be a full human person, what it meant to experience one's sexual self at a time where any expression of my understanding of my sexuality could have resulted in criminal sanction. That is totally outside the issue of the age of consent. It was just plain illegal to do that.
That was a very difficult time, not to mention the social sanctions that were also present around being gay or lesbian at that time, or the ordinary difficulties that any young person might have in expressing their concerns, or their experiences or their questions about sexuality. It is difficult enough as it is. As young people, it is hard to have those kinds of discussions with people who care about us and with people who we look to for information. That is hugely difficult and remains through most of our society. However, on top of all of that, it was illegal. It was a crime to engage in that activity.
It was very difficult to come to terms with who I was as a person and who I was as a sexual person when there were those social and criminal sanctions. I do not really want to wish that on anyone else. I do not want to wish that circumstance of a criminal sanction around the time when we are learning about our sexual expression and learning about what it means to be a sexual person. Criminal sanction is a huge burden to place on anyone going through that period of time.
There are still social sanctions around relationships where there is an age difference. There are still difficulties for young people to raise their questions about expressing their sexuality, the meaning of their sexuality, dealing with health issues or problems in any relationship, let alone one where there might be an age difference. We are complicating that even further by adding a new criminal sanction around expression of sexuality for our youth.
I say this recognizing that we have very good legislation on the books now. We have a good law on the age of consent in Canada that essentially had sections of it amended in 1987 under a previous Conservative government and minister of justice, who went on to become the governor general, Ramon Hnatyshyn. The law very clearly stated that between the ages of 14 and 18 any circumstance of exploitation, the misuse of trust, dependency and authority was a sanction that protected a young person in that age group. The legislation was very clear.
I was working on the Hill at the time. I remember there was widespread support for the legislation. People saw that this was an important way to elucidate the places where harm could come to someone, the ways in which a relationship, particularly a sexual one, could be exploited. That law went a considerable way to outline that.
At the time I worked for a member of Parliament, who defended the issue. Because of his outspokenness, it generated lots of phone calls to the office where I worked. I had conversations with many people about the law. I think people understood that the law went out of its way to protect young people from exploitation and did so in many ways.
What is more, in the previous Parliament improvements were made with Bill C-2. It was made more explicit. Issues of prostitution, pornography and luring on the Internet were explicitly dealt with in the amendments to the age of consent legislation, which were debated and passed in the 38th Parliament. Those amendments went some way to making it very clear. It took something that was already good and made it crystal clear in some very key areas, which many people have justified and serious concerns about in the ways in which young people are exploited.
It is very clear about a pimp who is pimping a person of that age group. It already was, but it made it explicitly clear. Similarly, it is very clear with regard to using a young person to produce pornography. On the whole exercise of luring someone on the Internet, the law is very clear now.
The only effect of this legislation is to criminalize consensual sexual relationships of 15 and 16 year olds outside of a certain five year age gap parameter, and that is my concern.
We have very clear legislation that outlines the problem areas in relationships with young people, as I have just explained. The current legislation goes out of its way to be very clear about how a young person can be exploited in that kind of relationship. All we are dealing with are relationships that are consensual, where a young person gives consent to be in that relationship.
We may not like the fact that 14 or 15 year olds are in relationships with who is 6 or 10 years older, or perhaps even older than that, and we may have reasons to be concerned about it. However, I put it to members of the House. I do not completely understand how criminalizing those relationships is going to add to the ability to solve whatever problems may exist in those relationships or how dragging the people involved in those relationships before the courts is necessarily going to address any of the current concerns we might have.
Why should young people involved in those kinds of relationship have to see their partners dragged before the court because of a relationship they consider to be consensual, but we consider detrimental, even though we can not prove it with the existing laws? How does that solve the problem. I think it creates more problems for the people in that relationship, particularly the young people. That is one concern I have about the legislation.
I have other concerns too. When we criminalize sexual activity, we will drive people underground. We will make it more difficult for young people to raise questions with somebody who may have advice to offer them about the course of their relationship when they have a problem, particularly if the people they are involved with are older than the five year limit.
We will make it more difficult for a young person involved in that kind of relationship to seek treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, for instance. This is a very serious issue that many sexual health educators across the country have raised. They have said that this is a serious problem with the kind of legislation we have before us.
I am very concerned that this kind of change in the legislation will drive behaviour underground. It will make it more difficult to assist people who are in these relationships, particularly young people where there might be exploitation or other problems that need to be addressed. That is another key reason why I cannot support the legislation.
There has been a lot of discussion about this legislation. The NDP debated this at our convention last September. The party referred it to its federal council. The federal council did approve a party position on it. I want to read the resolution that was passed. It says:
WHEREAS the Conservative government plans to increase the basic age of consent for sexual activity to sixteen (6) years of age; and
WHEREAS Bill C-2, passed into law in 2005, already prohibits any exploitative sexual relationship with a person under 18; and
WHEREAS there is no evidence to indicate that the proposed legislation will protect young people from predators; and
WHEREAS youth are significantly less likely to seek sexual health information or advice if their activities fall outside of the law; and
WHEREAS an increase in the age of consent is opposed by the Canadian AIDS Society, EGALE Canada, The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario and others,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Convention direct Caucus not to vote for the Conservative legislation to increase the basic age of consent for sexual activity to sixteen years of age; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NDP Federal Caucus work to ensure that the Age of Consent for anal sex be consistent with that for all other types of sexual activities.
We have a very clear party position about this kind of legislation, after considerable debate within the NDP. It is important to point out that it was a very careful debate within our party and we heard from a lot of people.
We also heard very clearly from the youth wing of the NDP that it was were opposed to the legislation. Young people took a very active part in that debate, calling for our opposition as New Democrats to this legislation. That is an important consideration.
As well, we have court decisions saying that the anal intercourse provisions of the Criminal Code violate the charter because they are unconstitutional. While we have those kinds of decisions, the government failed to integrate them into the legislation when it brought it in. That also indicates one of the important flaws with the bill.
For many years, this has been called in this place. In fact, back in 1987, I believe an all party committee of the House wrote a report called “Equality for All”. One of the recommendations of that report was that there be a uniform age of consent for sexual activity, no matter what that sexual activity. That has been a long-standing recommendation that came from an all party committee of this place, and it is still to be implemented here.
It belies the bias of the government. It could indicate that there is an anti-sex bias in this kind of legislation. The failure to deal with an important constitutional issue and the whole question of uniformity of the age of consent legislation is a very serious problem with the bill. It is another reason why I will not support it.
I am glad that my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has tabled private member's legislation to deal with that particular aspect of the bill. However, I think if this had been a serious attempt to deal with the problems of the age of consent legislation in Canada, that provision would have been part of this legislation, or at least the amendments that were proposed at committee by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and others to add that provision to the legislation would have been accepted and we would have that before us today, but sadly, we do not.
I am also concerned that the legislation is becoming increasingly complex. The existing legislation that is in force now in Canada can be explained effectively. I actually wish that that legislation were taught in our schools. I wish there would be some attempt to inform young people. It probably should be taught in other places so that people come to an understanding of what the requirements are for an appropriate relationship, of what it means to be in a position of trust or authority in a relationship, what it means to be exploited sexually in a relationship, so that we could have frank discussions on that. The existing legislation is an excellent tool.
Back in 1987 when the law was changed to what we have today, the Department of Justice produced an excellent resource about the age of consent legislation. I personally, through the constituency office that I worked in, gave away probably thousands of copies of that booklet. It was such a helpful resource for people trying to understand the issue of the age of consent laws, trying to understand the importance of relationships, what they meant and how a relationship could be conducted appropriately. I am sad that that resource is long out of print because I think it did go some way to helping people understand what it would be to have an appropriate relationship.
I want to point to testimony that was offered by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the president, Mr. Jason Gratl, at the committee that was looking at the legislation. It is important to note the issues that that group raised. They saw the legislation before us today, Bill C-22, as a fundamental shift from the way Canada has chosen to deal with issues of harm to young people and of social policy.
I just want to quote from what Mr. Gratl said to the committee looking at the legislation. He said:
I'll begin with a general comment expressing our concern that Bill C-22 represents a fundamental shift of policy and attitude towards sexuality. In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the Butler decision dealing with the definition of obscenity, signalled a fundamental shift from the legislation of morality to the legislation of harm. From that point forward, the legislature and the courts were to look for specific types of harm, not necessarily scientifically measurable types of harm, but analytically discoverable harm, such as attitudinal harm--changes in people's attitudes toward each other that are fundamentally anti-social, psychological harm to individuals.
The idea was to rationally connect appreciable types of harm to the type of legislative endeavour underway. To our mind, that commitment to legislating against harm rather than legislating morality is endangered or imperiled by the approach this committee currently seems to be taking.
The existing protections for young people are adequate, in our submission. Sexual predators who exist in the world need to be taken account of, and much has already been done to ensure that those sexual predators are controlled, punished, deterred, and so forth, by the existing criminal law. The committee is well familiar with the crime of exploitation, as well as the restraints placed on persons in positions of trust, power, and authority to refrain from sexual contact with minors. Those go a long way to ensuring that young people are protected.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association raises an important point about how this legislation departs, from a recent tradition at least, of legislating against specific harms rather than against morality in general. The direction of this legislation in that broad sense is also one that I find difficult.
Other organizations such as the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, formerly known as Planned Parenthood, that do a lot of sexuality education across the country, have said that we need to be putting more resources into educating people and young people about sexuality. They said that we need to put more resources into sexuality and relationship education and that would go some way toward dealing with those kinds of problems. They do not support the current legislation. They see the difficulties it causes for health education and for ensuring that young people are able to make mature and responsible decisions about sexual expression. This legislation would complicate that.
We need to get on with promoting the excellent legislation that is currently on the books, with teaching the law that we have currently on the books. I believe that would help all of us make better decisions about relationships, make better decisions about our sexual relationships. I will not be able to support the legislation as it currently stands.
Rod Bruinooge Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians
Mr. Speaker, parents in my riding have often raised the point with me that protection of our children is essential in today's modern era of the Internet and other communication tools.
By raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years, what type of message does the member think that would send to the international sexual predator community? Would it be a message that Canada is getting tougher on this activity or softer?
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, I believe that Canada has tough legislation on the kinds of issues to which the member referred. We have tough legislation currently on the books about Internet luring, about using children in pornography, about exploiting children in prostitution, about exploiting children in a relationship of trust, authority or dependency.
If we talked about the legislation that was currently on the books rather than soft selling it or underplaying it all the time, we could go some way to educating people here in Canada and around the world that we do not stand for the exploitation of our children, that we very clearly have taken measures to prevent that, to prosecute that where it arises.
I do not think anyone should downplay the importance of the legislation that we have on the books. It has developed over many years. It was initiatives by a former Conservative government that set us down this important path of being absolutely clear about the kinds of problems that caused people to get into trouble in terms of their sexual expression and in terms of the kinds of relationships they have.
I do not think anyone who is seeking to exploit children will find any solace in the existing legislation in Canada. It is absolutely clear. It is absolutely well defined. If there are problems with the existing legislation, then we should have addressed those specific problems.
I do not believe that the kind of blanket measure that Bill C-22 proposes is going to help protect any young person in Canada. I think that it complicates their lives, that it criminalizes their sexual activity. I do not think that it is an appropriate way of proceeding.
Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on an excellent speech on a difficult subject.
I have struggled with this subject as well. I have taken the time in all the touring of my extensive riding to ask at all public meetings that I have had what people think about changing the age of consent. I have asked it in small first nations communities and in many, many different settings. I have asked it in high schools in the last three weeks. I have talked in three different high schools and brought up the subject and asked students what they thought about it.
I have polled my constituents and I find that there is a lot of wisdom in what they said. Among the elders there is very strong support to move ahead with this legislation. The people who perhaps were in residential schools understand how sexual expression from older persons to younger ones could change young people's lives in a way that at the time was not criminal but changed their way of thinking and led to different patterns of behaviour in the future. That was a difficult thing to legislate, to understand how someone who was a teacher, a priest or an RCMP officer could ask a young person to commit to the other person in a way that was exploitive but not criminal.
What we have here is a law that raises the age at which a person can consent to non-exploitative sexual activity. That is important. On the other hand, when I talked to the schools and the young people, there was a strong sense that something was being taken away from them. There is a fundamental conflict in this.
Has my hon. colleague spent time in his riding consulting with the various groups to understand how the different aspects of this work?
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Yes, Mr. Speaker, I have had many conversations. As I have said, I have had conversations about this for over 20 years. I would contend that I have had probably more conversations than any other member of Parliament on this particular issue just from answering the telephone in a very busy constituency office where this issue cropped up over many years. I have talked with many people. I have carefully read submissions that were presented to committee on this as well.
I actually was a staff assistant for a member of Parliament who was a representative on the committee that looked at the legislation back in 1987. I heard all of that testimony and saw all the briefs that were brought before the committee at that time. I am very familiar with the issues before us.
The exploitation that happened in the residential school system was criminal. No one can convince me that was not criminal activity and could not have been prosecuted at the time. We, our society, so downplayed the value of the aboriginal children in those schools that we did not see that crime before our very eyes. It was so blatant at the time.
I want to quote what the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health said about this legislation because it is very important. It goes to the situation of young people. Before presenting its specific recommendations, the federation presented a summary which states:
Bill C-22 does nothing to put knowledge and, therefore, power into the hands of young people to be able to protect themselves from sexual exploitation. CFSH proposes that any legislation designed to protect young people from sexual exploitation must also ensure that they have access to accurate, comprehensive, timely and non-judgmental sexual health education and services that inform them about their rights and options, and the risks and benefits of engaging in sexual activity.
The intent of Bill C-22 is to protect children and youth from sexual exploitation by adults, not to criminalize or stigmatize youth for their sexual activity. Unfortunately, once a law is passed, there is no way to control how it is used or interpreted. The intent may not always be honoured.
There is an eloquent statement of what some of the flaws are with this legislation.
Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC
Mr. Speaker, I know this has been mentioned before by the hon. member and others, but I was going to ask the hon. member a question which now, in retrospect, will be very difficult for him to answer. I was going to ask him if he believed that there would be a charter challenge to this based on the fact that courts in different provinces have already ruled that the disparity between anal sex and vaginal sex remains as the bill now stands. However, the people who would have used the court challenges program to challenge such a thing do not have the court challenges program to use any more.
I wanted to speak to the member about this because this goes against everything that the House has passed over the years with regard to equality between heterosexual and same sex couples. The fact that we maintained this in a piece of legislation goes against everything that the House has voted for over the last 11 years that I have been here. For me, this makes this bill, as it stands, clearly something that I cannot support.
I wonder what the member's comments would be. What does he think the recourse would be for people who are--
The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer
The hon. member for Burnaby--Douglas.
Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC
Mr. Speaker, in my speech I did address the whole problem with the anal intercourse provisions of the Criminal Code. They are clearly discriminatory. The courts have found that they are unconstitutional and violate the charter. I think it is tragic that the government did not take that advice and include that in the legislation to clean it up once and for all. It is a very serious problem.
People are still being charged under those provisions of the Criminal Code. People are still being harassed. It is plain outright harassment, and it continues today using the provisions of the Criminal Code related to anal intercourse. It is totally inappropriate.
There are other problems with this legislation. The bill had to be amended because it did not take into consideration people who are already in relationships where there is a greater age difference. It did not take into consideration the fact that people can get married at 15 years of age in some jurisdictions in Canada. Changes had to be made there.
Changes were made to the legislation to deal with people in marriages, but it does not touch on the whole situation of common law relationships--
The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Rosemont--La Petite--Patrie.
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-22. I am dedicating this speech to all Bloc Québécois employees, those who work in the office of the house leader, in the office of the whip and in the office of the leader, and to all those who take the time to prepare excellent notes that guide us through very interesting debates.
Bill C-22 is summarized as follows by the legislative staff:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code to raise the age, from 14 to 16 years, at which a person can consent to non-exploitative sexual activity. It creates an exception in respect of an accused who engages in sexual activity with a 14- or 15-year-old youth and who is less than five years older than the youth. It also creates an exception for transitional purposes in respect of an accused who engages in sexual activity with a 14- or 15-year-old youth and who is five or more years older than the youth if, on the day on which this Act comes into force, the accused is married to the youth. The exception also applies to the accused if, on the day on which this Act comes into force, he or she is the common-law partner of the youth or has been cohabiting with the youth in a conjugal relationship for less than one year and they have had or are expecting to have a child as a result of the relationship, and the sexual activity was not otherwise prohibited before that day.
Whether we believe it or not, this is the summary drafted by the law clerks for Bill C-22. This legislation seeks to better protect older teenagers from becoming victims of sexual exploitation. Bill C-22 also seeks to send a message to sexual predators that Canada will not tolerate the abuse of adolescents. At the international level, this bill will make it clear that Canada is not a destination for sex tourism. Consequently, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-22.
The Bloc Québécois has always recognized the need to increase the protection afforded to children, and it has been actively involved in the pursuit of that objective. We support this bill, because it seems to provide additional protection that will allow us to fight more effectively the exploitation of our society's most vulnerable members.
If we look at the protection currently provided, we can see that the Criminal Code already includes a number of offences. It prohibits a whole series of behaviours that violate a person's sexual integrity, in some cases taking into account not only the victim's age, but the perpetrator's as well. Sexual assaults are included in the chapter on crimes against people, and more specifically in the provisions on assault. There are three levels of crime: sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault. The seriousness of these offences varies, depending on the circumstances and on the type of violence used.
There are other provisions that address specific needs for the protection of children, adolescents and persons with disabilities. These provisions are designed to prevent sexual exploitation, prohibit sexual interference with children under 14, and sexual exploitation of children between 14 and 18 by persons in a position of authority or trust towards them, as well as sexual exploitation of persons with a mental or physical disability.
Judicial intervention in cases of sexual assault is also governed by a set of rules of evidence and procedures that have greatly evolved in the past 20 years. These rules aim to protect the victim's private life and to facilitate their testimony. For example, they prohibit the names of victims from being published, abolish the requirement of corroborated testimony, prohibit evidence regarding sexual history, limit access to the victim's private file, whether they are minors or adults, and enable children to testify via closed-circuit television or from behind a screen. This is also a possibility for people who have difficulty communicating due to a mental or physical disability.
Moreover, the Criminal Code sets out the principles and objectives that the courts must follow when determining the penalty. Some provisions are particularly interesting when it comes to sexual assault.
For a short time now, the court has been able to declare a sex offender a long-term offender after a special hearing in accordance with the procedure set out in the Criminal Code.
After serving the sentence imposed, the offender is subject to a supervision order in the community for a period not exceeding 10 years.
Since July 2005, the Criminal Code has prohibited an individual of any age from exploiting his or her control or influence, and the age difference between them, to persuade a person under the age of 18 years to engage in sexual contact with him or her.
The individual is committing the offence of sexual exploitation as set out in section 153, liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years. The individual may even be guilty of a second crime, luring a child, if he or she uses a computer to contact adolescents for the purpose of engaging in prohibited sexual contact with them.
Internationally, two United Nations General Assembly conventions support the fight for the rights of children and the elimination of violence against women: the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. Signatories to these conventions, including Canada and, therefore, Quebec, must report to the United Nations every five years on the measures they have taken to eliminate violence against women and children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recommends that the age of consent be set at 18.
Let us review the history of this bill. Bill C-22 was introduced on June 22, 2006, by the Minister of Justice. This was the first time the government introduced such a bill in the House of Commons. Similar bills have been introduced by private members in the past. On November 5, 2005, the Conservative member for Wild Rose introduced Bill C-267, which raised the age of consent from 14 to 16. However the bill did not include a close in age exception and would have criminalized sexual activity between teenagers. The bill died on the order paper at first reading when the election was called in late November 2005. This was not the member for Wild Rose's first attempt. He had introduced the same bill in November 2002.
Bill C-22 amends the Criminal Code and makes consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act. It raises the age of consent from 14 to 16 and renames it the age of protection.
First of all, I must mention that raising the age of consent does not change the “enticement of a minor” provisions, which prohibit all adults in a position of authority from having sexual relations with a minor under 18 unless the two are married or common-law partners or have had a child as a result of their relationship.
If Bill C-22 were adopted, sexual contact between people of the following ages would be allowed, under the exceptions that are created: 12 and 14, 13 and 15, 14 and 19, 15 and 20. However, sexual contact between people of the following ages would be prohibited: 13 and 16, 14 and 21—unless the individuals are already married or common-law partners or have a child when the legislation comes into force—and 15 and 30.
The age of consent is the age at which the criminal law recognizes the legal capacity of a young person to consent to sexual activity. Below this age, all sexual activity with a young person, ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse, is prohibited.
Did you get that? “All sexual activity with a young person, ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse, is prohibited”. Please get that clear.
At present, the age of consent to exploitative sexual activity is 18 and the age of consent to non-exploitative sexual activity is 14. Exploitative activity includes sexual activity related to prostitution or pornography or when there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependence or any other situation where a young person is otherwise exploited. This is just an overview.
In a substantive document based on extensive consultations, the Government of Quebec painted a picture of abuse and sexual exploitation. The document, published in 2001, contained specific sections on the reality of the exploitation of children and youth. This is how sexual assault was defined.
Sexual assault is an act that is sexual in nature, with or without physical contact, committed by an individual without the consent of the victim or in some cases through emotional manipulation or blackmail, especially when children are involved. It is an act that subjects another person to the perpetrator´s desires through an abuse of power and/or the use of force or coercion, accompanied by implicit or explicit threats. Sexual assault violates the victim's basic rights, including the right to physical and psychological integrity and security of the person.
Again, from this same detailed document, which was the result of serious reflection by the Government of Quebec:
This definition applies regardless of the age, sex, culture, religion or sexual orientation of the victim or the sexual abuser, regardless of the type of sexual act committed or the social context in which it was committed, or the relationship between the victim and the sexual abuser. Sexual assault includes other descriptions such as rape, sexual abuse, sexual offence, sexual contact, incest, prostitution and child pornography.
It is an exhaustive list, to say the least. The document also provides some background:
Until the 1970s, although sexual assault of children was widespread, it was generally not talked about. The justice system was not really adapted to this reality nor to the needs of these young victims, and offered only limited protection to child victims of sexual assault. The focus was on evaluating the ability of the child to testify and under the rules of evidence, the testimony of a child who did not fully understand the nature of their oath was inadmissible. In 1988, following the Badgley report, the Canadian government adopted legislative changes to better protect child victims of sexual assault, to facilitate their testimony and encourage the disclosure of sexual offences committed against them, regardless of the social context in which these criminal offences were committed.
This document also paints a general picture of sexually abused children and the repercussions these assaults have on their psychological balance.
Just like adult victims, most child victims of sexual assault are female and know their attacker, since sexual assault is often committed by a family member, an authority figure or a person trusted by the child. Research shows that girls are more often victims of sexual assault within the family, whereas boys are more likely to be sexually abused outside the home. For some children, the risk of sexual assault is greater, given the isolation of their community or because of a physical or intellectual handicap. Studies show that sexually abused children have more physical and psychological problems than those who have not experienced such abuse.
Children who are victims of sexual abuse display a wide range of symptoms including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, behavioural problems, age-inappropriate sexual behaviour and low self-esteem.
While the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-22, we believe that strengthening the Criminal Code is not the only option and that, contrary to what the Conservatives may think, not all the answers lie in piecemeal amendments to the Criminal Code.
There are many barriers to overcome in the fight against sexual abuse of adolescents, and many of them will remain even if the bill we are debating today is adopted. For instance, the low rate of disclosure and reporting by victims of sexual assault is a major barrier in the fight against sexual offences. It is impossible to take action if a young person lies or hides a relationship to protect his or her aggressor. Studies suggest that, each year, barely 10% of sexual assaults are reported to the police. Victims are reluctant to report their situation because they fear a negative reaction from their entourage and their aggressor, among other things, and they are afraid of facing special problems in their role as witnesses in court.
The Bloc Québécois believes that sex education is a must if we want to really protect our youth from sexual exploitation. Not only must education teach them about their responsibilities concerning sexuality—in connection with STDs and unwanted pregnancies, for instance—but, above all, it must give them the tools to protect themselves better from unwanted or exploitative sexual relations.
Better sex education will help children and youth avoid some difficult and trying situations. Sex education informs, stimulates thought and facilitates informed decision making. Parents, schools and social services have to stop passing the buck back and forth because they all share the important responsibility of looking after the sexual education of children. Effective sex education entails, particularly on the part of adults, delivering messages that have a clear and unambiguous meaning and are age appropriate.
Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry
Mr. Speaker, today I want to speak as a parent of two young boys, age 13 and 11, who I think are normal, average boys. They are interested in video games and they hang out with their friends. The older one is actually starting to become interested in girls which is wonderful to see.
I liked the fact that the member raised the issue of informed consent. I think this is one of the major issues we need to deal with as a government. A government's job is to protect its citizens and its most vulnerable citizens are our children. I have heard this debate go back and forth and I think sometimes certain members are missing the important point and missing the issue.
I wonder if the hon. member would comment on what else he thinks the Government of Canada should do to help educate our kids and help protect the most vulnerable in our society. What does he think we could be doing better on than we are doing now, other than this legislation?
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, the answer is obvious.
For example, last week, the hon. member could very well have supported the bill to reduce violence on television, particularly at children's peak viewing periods. The hon. member mentioned the Internet and he was right. These days, some unacceptable messages are being disseminated through media like the Internet and television. We must intervene at the source. It is not only a question of law and order, but we must be in a position to influence—at their source—the factors that affect our kids.
We need better control on firearms and a better regulatory framework to ensure that the media like the Internet, video games and television that our kids use no longer expose them to stereotypes. In my view, we should adopt other legislation on the issue.
I hope that the hon. member will support the bill that I introduced to change the Broadcasting Act. That would be an important first step, along with the bill before us today, to help us reach our objectives.
Dennis Bevington Western Arctic, NT
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the crux of the matter in the bill lies with the perceived need to ensure that children, young people between the age of 14 and 16, are not interfered in other ways other than the criminal ways that are already covered under the act.
What we are doing is making a decision about the nature of exploitation that is above criminality. I think that is the key to this discussion. We are saying that under our Criminal Code there is exploitation of young people between the age of 14 and 16 that is not criminalized now and needs to be criminalized.
What we have done, with very broad strokes, is to say that every relationship is criminal because obviously we have missed some in the way we are judging society now.
I would ask my hon. colleague to comment on the kinds of behaviours that he sees as being exploitative now and that should be criminalized, which make the fundamental point within the bill?
Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, the reality is our children are considered as a vulnerable group. Unfortunately, in our society, some individuals try to use this vulnerability for their own purposes.
These past years, transmission and communication tools have increased considerably. We are no longer living in the era where people had to write a letter to communicate with children or youth. Media has developed. The most striking example is the great increase of Internet sites, where young children have access to sites that are unacceptable, intolerable and immoral.
There are also communication sites, quite often between youth and adults who pretend to be children. At some point, we must be able to better regulate and penalize, if necessary, this abuse of power. Provisions must be included in the Criminal Code, because there are communication sites where young adolescents come into contact with adults, through what is called chat or MSN. Such exploitation that is unacceptable.
Let us give ourselves the means to penalize this type of sexual exploitation. We must try to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified and signed in 1989. It contains the spirit of the changes, both legislative and regulatory, that must be undertaken in Canada. This seems important to me.