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.