Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise again to speak to Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.
As all hon. members know, Bill C-12 proposes a number of criminal law reforms that seek to better protect children against sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect, to facilitate testimony by child victims and witnesses, other vulnerable victims, and witnesses in criminal justice proceedings, as well as to create a new offence of voyeurism.
I believe that all of Bill C-12 is important and I support the whole of the bill. However, I will take the time that remains today to restrict my comments to those provisions that respond to the concerns relating to the age of consent to sexual activity.
Bill C-12's objective on the issue is clearly articulated in the first paragraph of the preamble:
Whereas the Parliament of Canada has grave concerns regarding the vulnerability of children to all forms of exploitation, including child pornography, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect;--
The focus of Bill C-12's response to concerns about the age of consent to sexual activity is on the exploitative conduct of the wrongdoer and not on whether the young person or victim consented to that conduct. This is, in my view, both the right focus and the right response.
More specifically, Bill C-12 proposes to create a new category of prohibitive sexual exploitation of a young person who is over the age of consent, that is, someone who is 14 years of age or older and under 18 years.
Under the proposed reform, courts would be directed to infer that a relationship is exploitive by looking to the nature and circumstances of that relationship, including the age of the young person, any difference in age and the degree of control or influence exerted over the young person.
I understand that there continue to be calls to raise the age of consent to sexual activity. Why is this? As I understand them, these calls seem to be motivated by a number of different reasons. For example, one reason sometimes given in support of raising the age of consent is that raising the age of consent to 16 or 18 would prevent others from forcing young persons into the sex trade.
In response to this, I note that it is already an offence under the Criminal Code to force anyone under the age of 18 years into prostitution and that this offence carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years imprisonment. I would think it is also against criminal law to force anyone into prostitution.
Another reason given seems to be related to the differing understandings of what is meant by sexual activity. Canadian prohibitions against sexual activity do not differentiate between sexual activity that consists of kissing and sexual activity that involves sexual intercourse.
I do not believe that Canadians think that a 14 or 15 year old girl is not mature enough to freely make a decision to kiss her 17 year old boyfriend. Nor do I believe that Canadians want to criminalize a 17 year old for kissing a 14 year old girlfriend. Whether we as adults like it or not, the reality is that adolescents engage in sexual activity and the criminal law is not the place to deal with this type of activity.
I think other reasons sometimes given is that 14 or 15 year olds are too young and immature to fully appreciate the consequences of their decisions to engage in sexual activity. While it is true that a 14 or 15 year old does not typically possess the maturity of an 18 year old, as a society, nonetheless, we consider them mature enough to be treated as an adult under the new Youth Criminal Justice Act for the commission of serious violent offences.
Whatever the reason for advocating an increase in the age of consent, the common thread appears to be the prevention of sexual exploitation of young persons. This intent is to be applauded. On this I think that Bill C-12 delivers.
Unlike proposals to raise the age of consent to 16 years of age, Bill C-12 proposes to extend protection not only to 14 and 15 year olds, but also to 16 and 17 year olds. It would protect youth from exploitation at the hands of anyone.
Bill C-12 contains many welcomed reforms to the criminal law to protect our most vulnerable members of society. I hope that all hon. members will support Bill C-12 to better protect Canadian children against exploitation in all its forms.