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.