After reading the news reports and minutes from previous witnesses at this hearing, it is frustrating to hear the type of evidence being presented to bolster the case for Bill C-22.
One newspaper reports that a witness used the sexual abuse of a two-year-old as justification for this bill, as if the law was somehow unclear on this and needed to be strengthened. The supporters of this bill claim that the age of consent must be increased in order to combat child prostitution and child pornography.
The reality is that both of these activities are already illegal, not just for 14- and 15-year-olds but for anyone under the age of 18. The laws are absolutely clear: sexual abuse and exploitation are illegal. If these laws aren't being enforced properly, the solution is not to make them more illegal. Redundant criminalization will not suddenly create an environment where young people are empowered to recognize exploitation and come forward about abuse. More work needs to be done to educate and empower youth, and Bill C-22 will be counterproductive to these aims, for reasons that will be outlined later.
Another claim is that Canada is a haven for pedophiles who want to take advantage of our supposedly low age of consent. In reality, when taking into account the 2005 law that expanded the definition of exploitation, which I believe was Bill C-2 before being passed into law, the Department of Justice says that “Canada's criminal law framework of protection against the sexual exploitation and abuse of children and youth is amongst the most comprehensive anywhere.”
Our second point is that increasing the age of consent will actually put young people in more danger by inhibiting their access to sexual health information and services. In the United Kingdom, where the age of consent is currently 16, a survey of young women found that those under the age of consent were six times more likely to say that “fear of being too young” prevented them from seeking help.
In fact, the Department of Justice itself stated just two years ago that the age of consent should not be increased to 16 because “educating youth to make informed choices that are right for them is better addressed through parental guidance and sexual health education than by using the Criminal Code to criminalize youth for engaging in such activity”.