An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of consent) and to amend another Act in consequence

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Myron Thompson  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 5, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

May 3rd, 2007 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc 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.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

May 3rd, 2007 / 11:40 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which involves both the criminal law and a number of moral assumptions, and, of course, the way we think about protecting young people. In the Bloc Québécois, my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant was responsible for this subject, and we have all stated our support for the bill. The purpose of the bill is to raise the age of consent to sexual activity. I will have an opportunity to address this, obviously without getting too autobiographical, to show that behind this there lie changes in the way we see things. There are social facts that we must recognize.

We supported this bill, which raises the age of consent to non-exploitive sexual activity—that is, sexual activity that does not involve prostitution, sexual activity that does not involve people who are in positions of authority, sexual activity that does not involve dependency, and sexual activity between young people and between other consenting individuals—from 14 years, which is the age currently permitted, to 16 years. The government has also proposed that we no longer call this the “age of consent”, but that we now call it the “age of protection”. This is one way of seeing things, but the fact is that it will be raised from 14 years to 16 years. I mention this so that it is clear.

For us in the Bloc Québécois, very early on, when it appeared in the Conservative Party platform that this idea was going to become public policy, our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, asked that there be close in age clauses, and the reason for this is clear. We did not want young people in the same high school—for example, the school in Arthabaska, or Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, or Windsor—young people who were in grade ten and were engaging in sexual activity with young people in grade twelve, to be turned into criminals. That is why the bill contains exceptions in the form of close in age clauses.

This means that a young person who is 12 or 13 years old will be able to engage in consenting, non-exploitive sexual activity with a person two years older, and a young person who is 14 or 15 years old will be able to engage in non-exploitive sexual activity with a person a minimum of five years older. It will also be possible for a 19 year old to engage in non-exploitive sexual activity with 14 year old without risking criminal prosecution.

Logically, the bill also provides that people who are married or living common-law, with or without a child, at the time the bill comes into force will be able to continue to live together, even in contravention of the age clause. We understand that in the case of a spousal involvement, by way of a common-law relationship or by way of marriage, the relationship may continue and there will be no criminal charges.

The entire question of the age of consent gives us pause. First, the Bloc supports the bill because it is reasonable. In fact, as the member for Windsor said, half the countries on earth have already identified 16 as the age of consent for sexual activity. This is not unreasonable. I might mention a few examples: Alabama, Alaska, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Finland and Hawaii. In more than 100 countries or states, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16.

I understand that when the government introduced its bill it particularly had in mind the phenomenon of sexual predators.

They pointed out to us, as everyone knows, that there are already provisions in the Criminal Code concerning the luring of children—I believe it is section 172—which provide for a penalty of five years or more.

However, we want to ensure that Canada and Quebec will not become welcome territory for sexual predators. It is true that in social terms, the fact that a 60-year-old person had sexual relations with a 14-year-old would be a questionable activity. There may be exceptional cases, where the conditions make that acceptable. However, as legislators, it is not unreasonable to believe that where the difference in ages is very great we are dealing with sexual relations that are exploitative or that are not healthy for the development of the persons involved.

Therefore, in the reasonable and enlightened spirit that has always characterized the positions held by the Bloc on the subject of justice, the Bloc Québécois has made it known that we support the bill. We heard from witnesses in committee and I believe that we are dealing with a good measure.

It is interesting because we began our work in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights by listening to representatives from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. It is a government agency that collects data specifically related to legal matters. I will summarize, in five points, what those representatives said to us about Bill C-22.

First, they reminded us that acts of sexual violence are the offences least likely to be reported to the police. Among all crimes and infractions, the ones least likely to be reported to the police are sexual offences. There are all kinds of reasons why this is so: fear of reprisal by the aggressor, a feeling that the offence is something personal that does not concern society, or a fear that the neighbours will know. For all these reasons, sexual offences are the least reported offences.

Second, young women between the ages of 13 and 15 are the most vulnerable to sexual violence. We can readily see that in raising the age of consent —which will now be referred to as the age of protection—to 16 years of age, the bill deals with a reality that is supported by the data.

Third, and this even more interesting, two-thirds of those charged are over 21 years old. Young men are the most likely to be charged with of this type of offence.

Fourth,fewer cases of sexual offences are dealt with by indictment. More often than not, the Crown will lay charges through summary proceedings rather than by criminal indictment. Sexual offences have one of the lowest rates of conviction. That is also upsetting. This fact was provided to us by representatives of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Fifth, they told us that where there are convictions, the courts are lenient in dealing with sexual offences, particularly where the victim is a young person and the accused is a family member. They also reminded us that, unfortunately, in the case of sexual offences, those who commit the offence, the aggressors, are often people who are known to the immediate circle of the victim and, in many cases, are even members of the family.

Therefore, if the bill passes, it would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years, with a close in age exemption. At age 12 or 13, a person may engage in sexual activity with people up to two years older. At 14 and 15, a person may engage in sexual activity with people up to five years older. The purpose of this is to adapt to the reality facing adolescents who attend the same high school or socialize within the same group of peers.

I am certain that every member of this House would like to tackle the problem of sexual predators. However, I doubt anyone in this House would like to penalize young people who are sexually active.

Consider the example of two of our young pages who fall in love before reaching the age of majority and suddenly find they are head over heels. As we all know, people can be impulsive at the age of 14, 15 or 16. Of course, no one would want that relationship to be subject to criminal prosecution.

At the same time, I would remind the House that the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, which testified before parliamentarians, expressed some concerns. I would like to share those concerns with the House. The federation indicated:

The perception or reality that one could be prosecuted for participating in consensual sexual activities with a younger/older partner will likely result in young people becoming fearful and resistant to access appropriate health care services regarding contraception, abortion, STI and HIV testing and treatment, emergency contraception, etc.

STIs are sexually transmitted infections. The term STD is no longer used. They are now referred to as STIs.

We do not want to find ourselves as legislators in a position where we are an impediment as well to the impulse that young people feel to get informed about safe sexual practices. It is important for everyone to be informed. For instance, people need to protect themselves when they have sex. They need to respect the wishes of partners who are not ready to start a sexual relationship. They should not engage in risky practices, and those who might be pregnant should go get tested.

The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health told us that if the age of consent is raised, we should make sure that young people will still feel comfortable about getting the necessary information. The CFSH reminded us that it is important that sexuality be part of the curriculum in public schools in Quebec and Canada.

We could do a little survey right here. The average age in the House is obviously at least 50 and maybe even 55. I can say with some pride that I help to bring this average down. If members were asked whether they received any information on safe sex, I would not be surprised if many did not. There were taboos surrounding this subject. People said it was a family responsibility. It is, of course, but our public authorities, including schools, also have a responsibility to ensure that the sexuality of young people is discussed.

I am personally familiar with a number of community groups. For example, there is GRIS, the research and social intervention group, which goes to schools to talk about HIV-AIDS. They use a quiz and have a very educational way of getting young people to think about these realities.

We are not living in times when young people have too much information. Contrary to what one might think, STIs or sexually transmitted infections like HIV-AIDS are not regressing. That should make us ask some hard questions about our society.

The Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We are very aware of the representations made by the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health.

We believe that, socially, it makes sense to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16, as a number of countries throughout the world have done.

A private members' bill on the issue of age of consent has already been introduced. My colleague, the hon. member for Wild Rose, introduced a bill a few weeks ago, Bill C-267. His bill had the misfortune, or the inconvenience, even the extreme oversight, of not including a close in age provision. We were criticized, but that is why the Bloc Québécois did not vote in favour of the bill presented by our colleague from Wild Rose.

The Bloc Québécois is very concerned about respecting the prerogatives of the provinces. We asked many questions in committee because this obviously involves the whole issue of the legal capacity for marriage. For example, who can get married? There is a law prohibiting first cousins, people who are related, from marrying each other. The law has also been changed to allow same sex partners to marry. These are basic conditions for determining who can get married. The restrictions on degrees of consanguinity are a federal government responsibility.

Nonetheless, there are issues related to the celebration of marriage. The conditions under which it is celebrated, the regulations on who can become an officiant or whether a marriage can be publicly celebrated, and the age of consent for marriage are all provincial responsibilities.

In committee we were told that not all the provinces had the same conditions. Some provinces allowed marriage at age 15, others at 16 and others at 14. We were concerned about having the federal government respect the varied legislation in effect. We think that the provisions in the bill on marriages which have already taken place when the legislation come into effect are there to reassure us that provincial and federal jurisdictions are being strictly respected.

This is a bill we had the pleasure of studying in parliamentary committee. It is a bill founded on common sense. And it is a bill that has received very few negative comments. In my opinion, there was only one thing that the groups brought up. I say this for the sake of clarity, to properly report the different views observed in committee. We spoke about section 159 of the Criminal Code. Section 159 deals with anal intercourse, and has various provisions. To legally consent to anal intercourse, a person must be at least 18 years old. The witnesses wondered why a person had to wait until the age of 18 to have anal intercourse, but could engage in other types of intercourse at the age of 16. We did not make a big deal out of it, since this is something rather intimate. But the question remains, especially since the courts in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia, as well as the Federal Court have ruled that this provision of the Criminal Code is a form of discrimination based on age and marital relations.

I will conclude my speech here. I am happy to take any questions my colleagues may have. I will not be able to take too many since I must meet a group, but I can take a few.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

November 5th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-267, an act to amend the Criminal Code (age of consent) and to amend another act in consequence.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and reintroduce this bill from the past. It is something that Canadians have been calling for all across the country in huge majorities. It is supported by the police associations across the land, victims groups and parent organizations.

It is a bill that would raise the age of consent from the present 14 years of age to 16 years of age. This is something that should have been done a long time ago. I hope that somehow or other this can be addressed either through this private member's bill or through wise legislation from the government.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)