I will. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would also like to express our gratitude for the opportunity to be here. Justice for Children and Youth is a legal clinic that addresses all of the legal regimes that affect children. In fact, we're Canada's only clinic with the breadth of the types of laws that affect children and youth that we deal with.
In addition, Justice for Children and Youth is a strong supporter of Canada's implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and for that reason we're particularly happy to be here, because the convention recognizes the balance both of the intrinsic individual rights of the child and of their need for special protections. So I thank you very much for the opportunity.
We have read Bill C-22 with those principles, this balancing in mind. I will apologize. We have prepared a written submission; however, I was unable to complete it in time for translation, so I have provided it to the clerk and I hope you will have the opportunity to look at it when it's in a suitable form for you all.
We have a few recommendations or positions relating to Bill C-22. The first position, which I believe everyone in this room shares, is that no one wants young people to be sexually exploited. We are also supporters of the amendments referred to by Mr. Sullivan in 2005 that set out criteria and broadened our understanding of what sexual exploitation might look like. And in fact those amendments specifically identified age and age difference as two of the possible criteria to be considered. We supported those amendments and are delighted they have been enacted.
Bill C-22 doesn't change our understanding of sexual exploitation. It does, however, broaden the protection against predatory luring for 14- and 15-year-olds. We support that as well.
I'm not going to go into our lengthy submissions on this point, but we agree with the Canadian Bar Association that this legislation is the opportunity—and there is a moral and I think a legal mandate—to repeal section 159 of the Criminal Code. That provision is, in our opinion, discriminatory. In fact, Justice for Children and Youth intervened at the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case that changed the law in Ontario, the case that has been referred to by the Canadian Bar Association. So I won't go on and make further submissions. As I said, they're in our written comment about that. I'll simply agree with the Canadian Bar Association.
I will, however, point out one piece of language, and that is that the government's backgrounder with respect to Bill C-22 suggests that the age of 18 is the age at which exploitative sexual relationships are legal. So I would point out that it's therefore not appropriate to be indicating that section 159 of the Criminal Code by its very nature is addressing exploitative conduct.
The next point I'm grateful to have the opportunity to make is slightly more complex. That relates to the close-in-age exemption. The close-in-age exemption, in my view, is a proxy for power imbalance. We assume—and I think mostly we're right—that people who are significantly older have more power, more ability to manipulate. It's a proxy for what we think is wrong.
We don't have rules about it if you're over 18. We've all seen relationships in which age isn't the determining factor for what creates a power imbalance, so it's problematic. As then Minister Toews suggested, sexually active 14- and 15-year-olds mostly are having their relationships with peers or cohorts, but not all—it's “mostly”. In addition, again as then Minister of Justice Toews suggested, the intent of this legislation is not to criminalize teenage conduct, and yet the relationship of a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old, even if their birthdays are the same day, would in fact be criminalized.
The law likes ages because they're certain, they're easier to apply, and there is an attractiveness to them, yet they might not in fact reflect a relationship that is exploitative or has a power imbalance or is manipulative. Therefore, we have a suggestion that I think would allow our courts to look at the nature of the actual relationship in perhaps a more effective way. It is our submission that the sexual exploitation provisions be amended to say that an age gap of five years or more is presumptively exploitative. It's not just a factor to be considered; one can presume legally that it is exploitative.
Legally, presumptions are rebuttable; hence, if you had a relationship in which — We can all picture somebody who is as sophisticated, as in control, as mature, as someone who's five years older than they, and that would allow for that sort of relationship not to be criminalized.
Our last suggestion with respect to this bill relates to the past as well. Canada's laws with respect to sexual activity are complex. They're hard to follow. At one point in my career, when I was counsel to a school board, I actually drew a chart trying to show what was legal and what was not, because young people have difficulty understanding it. It won't be any easier if Bill C-22 is passed unamended. It's our submission that there needs to be a targeted public education campaign.
I think there are two targets. One is a general public education campaign for everyone, which may have a deterrent effect, but in any case will make it clear what the rules are, because they're somewhat complicated.
The second thing is that young people need to be addressed in a targeted public education campaign. They don't necessarily understand the rules that apply to them. One of the concerns—and I know others have expressed this to you—is that if you think it's illegal, you won't seek the help you need. You won't report to the police; you won't seek health information; you won't seek birth control information. You'll go underground. No one wants that, and it ought not to be the effect of Bill C-22, but it may well be, because it's going to be hard to understand.
In our submission, a campaign that fleshes out what exploitation looks like and what luring looks like and that helps young people to actually understand the rules that are going to apply to them and their relationships might have the effect—and I hope it would—of allowing young people themselves, through their own voices, to say, “Hey, you can't do that to me.”