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House of Commons Hansard #72 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-22.

Topics

Undocumented WorkersPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition that is signed by many people across the country. The petitioners ask that the government look at finding a humane and just solution for the people who are undocumented in this country.

Unfortunately, it seems that the government does not have any concern about the issues of undocumented workers. Certainly the people I spoke with this weekend are very much concerned about the fact that the government has shown no compassion and no caring for all those people, many of whom are contributing and have been here for a very long time.

Rights of the UnbornPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Conservative Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, under current federal law an unborn child is not recognized as a victim with respect to violent crimes.

Olivia Talbot of Edmonton was shot and killed in November 2005. Her 27 week unborn son, Lane, Jr., also died, but because no legal protection for unborn children is in place, today no charge could be laid on behalf of baby Lane.

The petitioners call on Parliament to enact legislation which would recognize unborn children as separate victims when they are injured or killed during the commission of an offence against their mother, allowing two charges to be laid against the offender instead of only one.

I am sure that this is a petition which is supported by all members of the House.

National Homelessness InitiativePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am tabling three petitions calling for the National Homelessness Initiative, including the SCPI and the RHF, to be reinstated immediately, permanently, and with increased funding.

I have a petition with 341 names, for which I must thank my colleague from Drummond, from three different agencies: the Groupe de la Tablée populaire, the Carrefour d'Entraide Drummond and Ensoleilvent de Drummondville. These agencies all help homeless people by offering them community support locally. They are saying:

We are losing the services of two intervenors who provide service to more than 100 socially marginalized people daily; we cannot cover this financially.

They cannot carry on if the SCPI is not reinstated.

The second petition I am tabling is from the hon. member for Québec. The 102 signatures on this petition come from Évasion Saint-Pie X in Charlesbourg and the Comité logement d'aide aux locataires, two agencies that help homeless people by offering intervention in the field and by supporting the necessary prevention.

The third and final petition I am tabling—and I want to thank my colleague from Sherbrooke for it—has 57 signatures on it and comes from Accueil Poirier and the Grande Table in Sherbrooke. These agencies help homeless people by offering lodging services and soup kitchens.

Automobile IndustryPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I present these petitions on behalf of the hard-working men and women of the Canadian auto workers who are asking the government to cancel negotiations on a free trade agreement with Korea and to develop a new automotive trade policy that would require Korea and other offshore markets to purchase equivalent volumes of finished vehicles and auto parts from North America as a condition of their continued access to our market.

I concur with these petitions.

Visitor VisasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have the honour to present a petition signed by over 300 citizens. The signatures were collected by the Canadian Croatian Chamber of Commerce.

The petitioners strongly urge Parliament to pass Motion No. 99 and thereby follow the lead of the United Kingdom by lifting visitor visas for Croatian nationals.

The days of the iron curtain have ended. Today Croatia is standing shoulder to shoulder with Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan and is currently the second largest non-NATO troop contributor to the Afghan mission.

Politically, economically and socially Croatia is integrated with the west. It is time for Canada to follow the example of the U.K. and lift visitor visa requirements for Croatia.

Age of ConsentPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Gerry Ritz Conservative Battlefords—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present a petition from hundreds of my constituents asking that the age of consent be raised from 14 to 16. As timing is everything in politics, it is certainly apropos today with the debate on Bill C-22, the age of protection, which would see exactly that happen.

I ask all members to support this petition and to support that bill.

Automobile IndustryPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Catherine Bell NDP Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour today to present a petition that is signed by many people from across this country.

This petition recognizes the quality production in Canadian automotive assembly facilities that are threatened as a result of expanding imports from Asia and Europe. It asks the Conservative government to protect Canadian jobs and workers by cancelling negotiations for a free trade agreement with Korea. It calls on the government to develop a new automotive trade policy that would require Korea and other offshore markets to purchase equivalent volumes of finished vehicles and auto parts from North America as a condition of their continued access to our market.

Kelowna AccordPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present a petition on behalf of my constituents from the community of Hopedale on Labrador's north coast in the territory of Nunatsiavut.

The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to immediately honour the letter and spirit of the Kelowna accord by delivering all the funding promised at Kelowna for the benefit of first nations, Inuit, Métis and all aboriginal peoples.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to participate in the second reading debate of Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act.

There are many reasons that Bill C-22 is so welcome. It realizes an important component of this government's tackling crime commitment to safeguard Canadian families against sexual predators. This commitment in turn reflects the importance that Canadians ascribe to the protection of children and youth against sexual exploitation. Most important, Bill C-22's reforms will finally provide 14 and 15 year olds with much needed additional protection against adult sexual predators.

Bill C-22 proposes to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16. Age of consent, or age of protection as Bill C-22 now calls it, refers to the age at which the criminal law recognizes the capacity of a young person to engage in sexual activity. All sexual activity with a young person below the age of protection is prohibited, and of course any non-consensual sexual activity, regardless of age, is prohibited.

It is not unusual for the law to prescribe lawful conduct based upon chronological age. For example, in the criminal law context, the age of criminal responsibility is 12 years. In other contexts, conduct is regulated by age for various purposes, including for example, attaining the age of majority, driving a motor vehicle, consuming alcohol and tobacco, mandatory attendance at school, and working.

Such legislation clearly recognizes that children and youth need to be protected. This is the framework within which the existing Criminal Code prohibitions against sexual activity with children and Bill C-22 operate.

Currently, the age of protection is 18 years where the sexual activity involves prostitution, pornography, or it occurs within a relationship of authority, trust, dependency, or one that is otherwise exploitative of the young person. For example, sexual activity between a teacher and his 17-year-old student, even if she purported to consent, is prohibited and has been since 1988. I am glad that Bill C-22 will maintain this age of protection.

The present age of protection for other sexual activity is 14 years. The Criminal Code currently has an exception for 12 and 13 year olds. They can consent to engage in sexual activity with another person who is less than two years older but under 16 years and with whom there is no relationship of authority, trust, dependency, and it is not otherwise exploitative of the young person.

Bill C-22 will not change this close in age exception for 12 and 13 year olds, but will increase it from 14 to 16 years of age so that 14 and 15 year olds will benefit from the same protection that 12 and 13 year olds have now.

Bill C-22 also proposes to create a new close in age exception for 14 and 15 year olds. Under this proposed new exception, 14 and 15 year olds could still consent to sexual activity with another person, provided that the other person was less than five years older and that the relationship did not involve authority, trust, dependency and was not otherwise exploitative of the young person.

I am very pleased to see this proposed close in age exception for 14 and 15 year olds. It reflects an appreciation of the basic realities, namely that, like it or not, young persons, specifically 14 and 15 year olds, are sexually active.

In February 2006 the Canadian Association for Adolescent Health and Ipsos released the results of a national survey of 14 to 17 year olds on their sexual behaviour and knowledge. The survey revealed that 27% of youth between 14 and 17 years of age reported being sexually active and 20% of youth age 15 reported being sexually active. It found that on average, teens have had three partners since becoming sexually active.

While some may find these statistics startling, the government has clearly said that the objective of Bill C-22 is to criminalize adults who sexually exploit youth and not to criminalize teenagers who engage in consensual sexual activity with their peers. Bill C-22's proposed close in age exceptions ensure that this is the case.

Bill C-22 also proposes another time limited exception for defined relationships that already exist when the new age of protection act comes into effect, relationships that would otherwise become illegal by virtue of the fact that the partner is five years or more older than the 14 or 15 year old.

Specifically, Bill C-22 proposes that existing marriages involving a 14 or 15 year old and a spouse who is five years or more older be excepted from the new age of protection. Similarly, if it is an existing common law relationship as defined and it is not a relationship of authority, trust, dependency or one that is otherwise exploitative of the young person, it will benefit from a time limited or transitional exception.

This means, if the couple had already been cohabitating in a conjugal relationship for the period of at least one year or for a period of less than one year but the relationship had already produce a child, whether born or is expected, when the new age of protection comes into effect, the relationship will have an exception that is otherwise illegal. I want to reiterate, though, that these exceptions would be transitional or time limited and would not apply to such a couple, for example that seeks to marry or establish a common law relationship after the new age of protection comes into force. Clearly, to allow such a relationship would be contrary to the objective of Bill C-22.

I have gone into some detail in describing the exceptions proposed by Bill C-22 because it is very important that they be fully appreciated and understood. During the previous debates on private members' bills and motions that sought to increase the age of consent, a major criticism of those efforts was always that they had not adequately addressed what is clearly the objective of Bill C-22: how to prohibit adults from sexually exploiting teens without criminalizing teens themselves for engaging in sexual activity with other teens.

Bill C-22 does exactly that. It builds upon the existing Criminal Code framework for age of protection and it provides the necessary safeguards to prevent the criminalization of teenagers who engage in consensual sexual activity with other teens.

The message in Bill C-22 is very clear. It is directed at adults, not at youth, and it is this. If one is five years or more older than a young person, one is prohibited from engaging in any form of sexual activity with that young person. Under Bill C-22 there is no more uncertainty about whether 14 or 15 year olds consented or purported to consent to sexual activity. Their consent becomes irrelevant. The focus and onus is on the adult as it should be.

I believe it is in the interest of all hon. members to support Bill C-22. It sends a clear message now to adult sexual predators, namely that Canada protects its children and will deal sternly with those who threaten them.

I would like to move on to another big reason why I am so supportive of Bill C-22. The bill is good for the people of my riding. Residents from all over my riding, be they from Peterborough, Havelock, Norwood, Ennismore, Bridgenorth, Curve Lake or anywhere else, have been telling me that they want their children protected from sexual predators. They are frustrated with laws enacted by the previous governments, which fail to keep their children safe, which fail to recognize exploitation for what it is and which undermine one of the key building blocks of our communities, the family.

Bill C-22 is in line with what our government has promised to do, namely to restore balance in the justice system and crack down on crime. Getting tough on crime involves protecting our children and citizens from those who threaten them. This is a two-pronged approach. The first is to ensure that imprisonment is imposed on those who commit serious crimes. The second is to ensure that what constitutes a crime is properly defined by the lawmakers of our country.

It is the duty of the lawmakers of Canada work in line with the sentiment and demands of the Canadian public. I happen to be one of those lawmakers. I would be remiss in my duties, as a representative of all people, including those in Peterborough, if I did not support the legislation.

As I have indicated, a provision of Bill C-22 provides a close in age exemption for teenagers who engage in sexual activity with other teens. This is a very worthwhile thing to consider. Governments cannot absolutely regulate human behaviour, in this case the sexual activity of minors.

While not speaking from personal experience, some teenagers are not always the most well behaved when dealing with authority regardless of the issue. Bill C-22 recognizes that teenagers will be teenagers and without explicitly sanctioning sexual activity, keeps the government out of their private lives. This is the correct approach. Young people are not likely to read any government legislation before deciding whether to engage in sexual activity with a partner. This is why our government has taken the lead on this issue, providing protection for young teenagers, not seeking to criminalize them.

Keeping the streets of Peterborough and the country safe has always been and remains a very high priority for me. The people of my riding deserve to walk the streets without fear. Bill C-22 is part of a wider initiative to provide safe streets and communities in Canada. The idea that everyone can walk down George Street in Peterborough and feel as safe as if they were in their backyard is something that is very important to me. Knowing that proper laws are in place to keep sexual predators off their streets will go a long way in Peterborough by showing constituents that their government is governing with their well-being as its primary focus.

A couple of weeks ago I had the honour to attend the 17th annual CSC Chaplaincy Conference held at Sir Sanford Fleming College in my riding. The guest speaker that evening was Jim Stephenson, the father of Christopher Stephenson, a young boy whose tragic and preventable death provided the motivation for Christopher's law. Christopher's law was revolutionary in Ontario as it established a sex offender registry. Christopher's law works to protect our children from sexual predators, and so does Bill C-22.

Bill C-22 has been a long time coming. It recognizes the concerns of Canadians, including those in the Peterborough riding who want to see their children protected from sexual predators by raising the age of protection from 14 to 16 years of age. The bill should be unanimously supported by all members of this House, and I call on all members to do just that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, all of us in the House and all Canadians want to ensure that our children are protected. We have an obligation, as legislators, to ensure that we do everything possible to guarantee this protection. The behaviour of young people is very difficult to legislate, and it is good that the member recognizes that.

Would the member tell me the difference between the previous legislation versus Bill C-22 when it comes to better protecting the community at large, which is something very different than talking about individuals? How does the this bill differ from previous legislation? How will it make our city streets any safer?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I share the hon. member's concern for our children, our families and our society as a whole.

The biggest difference between this legislation and previous legislation is that for the first time we are raising the age of protection from 14 to 16 years of age. This is the benchmark for most established societies, but in Canada it is 14 years of age. Sexual predators in Canada are targeting children 15 and 16 years of age who are currently not protected by the law. We are seeking to protect 14 and 15 year olds from sexual predators who specifically target them. That is the difference.

It is critical that all members of the House support the bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act.

The purpose of this bill is to better protect older youths from becoming victims of sexual exploitation. Bill C-22 will also show sexual predators that Canada does not tolerate abuse of adolescents. This bill makes it clear, on an international level, that Canada is not a sex tourism destination.

The Bloc Québécois agrees with the principle underlying this bill, but has some concerns about the negative effects that the legislative provisions arising from it might have.

The Criminal Code already includes a number of provisions to protect young people from sexual abuse and exploitation. It might seem that raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 would do a better job of protecting adolescent boys and girls from these dangers; nevertheless, this measure, though not of minor importance, does not meet all of the needs in this respect. We will try to improve on that in committee. We must ensure that Bill C-22 includes provisions concerning prevention and sexual education for young people as well as provisions for schools and social services.

As I said, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-22 in principle because it is an additional tool in the fight against the sexual exploitation of some of the most vulnerable members of society.

The Bloc Québécois has always recognized the need to increase the protection of young adolescents. In the past, we have actively worked to achieve those objectives. However, as I have stated, before adopting the bill under review, we must ensure that increasing the age of consent does not have harmful effects on the very young people that we are trying to protect. That will be the duty of the committee following second reading of Bill C-22.

The Bloc Québécois is concerned about the possibility of criminalizing relationships between young people that would be perfectly healthy and legitimate. We also fear that the bill could have unexpected perverse effects on the physical and mental health of the young people we are seeking to protect. I will come back to that point a little later. Let us consider a relationship in which a young person with psychological problems or health problems did not wish to call on the services of a doctor or a psychologist for fear of exposing a relationship with an adult that does not meet the objectives of Bill C-22.

The committee, therefore, will have to very seriously consider all these issues. I am sure that my colleague from Hochelaga who, as you know, is our justice critic, will propose amendments, if necessary, to truly achieve the objectives of Bill C-22— objectives that we all share—the protection of young people from sexual assault and exploitation. Bill C-22 must not penalize young people who have consensual sexual relations that are completely healthy and legitimate. In that respect, the exceptions set out in the bill appear to be an interesting alternative. I will come back to that point. The committee must examine them very closely to ensure that this protection does not have harmful effects.

The Bloc Québécois is particularly concerned about the effect that raising the age of consent could have on young people, especially in regard to receiving psychological and physical health care. For example, would a young person who thought he or she might have been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases or who was psychologically fragile be reluctant to consult a doctor or psychologist if he or she knew that their partner could face criminal prosecution if their relationship was disclosed?

It is important to make it clear that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of this bill with the sole objective of better protecting children against sexual predators and not with the goal of stigmatizing young people who have consensual sexual relations.

We have to resist the temptation to think that this one amendment to the Criminal Code will be enough to protect our children. If this House thinks that, then I think it is seriously mistaken.

The Bloc Québécois has often said, and will continue to say, that the real solution lies in prevention and in educating young people to recognize exploitative relationships and distance themselves from such relationships.

Nevertheless, this issue concerns me. I myself have adolescent children, and we know how complex relationships between young people can be, especially during adolescence. We must not think that by criminalizing such relationships, we will rectify terrible situations. The Criminal Code already includes a number of offences of this nature. For example, it prohibits a whole series of behaviours that violate individuals' sexual integrity, in some cases taking into account not only the victim's age, but the perpetrator's as well.

I would like to quote a definition of sexual assault, taken from a document published by the Government of Quebec in 2001, entitled “Orientations gouvernementales en matière d'agression sexuelle”. In this document, sexual assault is defined as follows:

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.

I am sure we all agree that this sort of attitude or behaviour is totally unacceptable in a civilized society.

The Criminal Code contains other provisions that address specific needs for protection of children, adolescents and persons with disabilities. These provisions are designed to prevent sexual exploitation and 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.

This provision, which is already included in the Criminal Code, seems to me to be an extremely important one. For example, I taught at a college for a number of years, myself. We know that at that age, students are very much in need of role models. What our society must do is categorically say no to behaviour on the part of people in positions of authority that results in their using that authority to obtain unwanted sexual favours. Our society must reject this. This is extremely important, since we know that young people and children are sometimes psychologically vulnerable or subject to emotional manipulation.

Provision has also recently been made in the Criminal Code for a court to declare a sexual offender, after a special hearing in accordance with the procedure set out in the Criminal Code, to be a long-term offender. After serving the sentence imposed, the offender is subject to an order for supervision in the community for a period not exceeding 10 years.

Thus there is already a set of measures in the Criminal Code that must be used judiciously. 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.

So in 2005 we plugged a loophole that could have been used by sexual predators. A provision was even added that such an individual is committing the offence of sexual exploitation defined in section 153 and is 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.

Obviously, Canada is not an exception; these are matters of great concern in the international community as a whole.

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted two conventions that assist in the struggle to eliminate violence against women and to protect the rights of children, and that provide guidance in terms of international standards. They are the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which goes back to 1979, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which dates from 1989. Canada has of course acceded to those conventions.

Bill C-22, in itself, is consistent both with recent developments in the law and the values adhered to in advanced democratic societies and with the conventions that have been entered into at the United Nations.

Getting back to Bill C-22 specifically, as I mentioned, the bill involves amendments to the Criminal Code and, by extension, the Criminal Records Act. It raises the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 and changes the wording to 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. I would point out that the Criminal Code already included many elements, as I mentioned earlier, and that Bill C-22 brings an additional aspect that represents another building block in a structure that is already quite advanced.

The bill raises the age of consent from 14 to 16, while allowing for some exceptions. This is extremely important. When the government announced its intention to table a bill to raise the age of consent, I must confess that I was worried about the issue of sexual relations between young people becoming a matter for the courts and the potential for family members to use it to put personality conflicts on trial, for example, or to interfere in the lives of young people.

I was pleased to see that provisions were made for certain exceptions, which I will now discuss. For example, exceptions apply to adolescents aged 14 and 15 who engage in non-exploitative sexual activity—I will come back to this definition—with a partner who is less than five years older. A 15-year-old youth can therefore have entirely healthy and normal relations with someone who is 18, 19 or 20. As I said, such relations can be completely legitimate.

Under the proposed reforms, an additional time-limited exception would be available for a 14 or 15 year old youth whose sexual partner is more than five years older but with whom, when the new age of protection comes into effect, the youth is already legally married or living in a common-law relationship. Thus, existing and legal relationships under the current age of consent, which is 14, are being protected.

In addition, the bill maintains a close in age exception for 12 and 13 year old youths who engage in sexual activities with an adolescent who is less than two years older, on condition that these activities are not exploitative in nature. Here too, a 12 year old youth involved in sexual activities with a 14 year old would be covered in Bill C-22. These kinds of things happen in our society. Sometimes youths become sexually active quite early.

I would like to summarize these exceptions. First, there is a close in age exception of five years for 14 and 15 year old youths. Second, there is a close in age exception of two years for 12 and 13 year old youths. Third, there is a transitional exception which provides that, at the time when the act comes into force, 14 or 15 year old youths and their partners who are more than five years older may legally continue their sexual contact if, and only if, they are married, are common-law partners, or have a child as a result of their relationship.

These protections help to ensure that the fears which may have arisen when the bill was announced are not so great as they might have been. The exceptions ensure that youths in late adolescence or early adulthood are not stigmatized for feeling sexually attracted and having healthy, legitimate sexual relations.

I wanted to return to the question of exploitative activities. When it comes to these activities, for example when youths are asked to participate in pornographic films or are placed in situations that involve their sexuality and for which they are paid, the age of consent is 18. The legislation should not change in this regard. When there is a position of trust, authority or dependence involved, the age of consent should remain at 18.

We already have clear, major guidelines in this regard, and Bill C-22 will add a few more. It is simply an extension of the legislation that has been passed over the last few years or decades.

As I mentioned earlier, these exceptions make it clear that the purpose of the bill is to prevent assault and sexual exploitation of youth by sexual predators or deviants. However, we should also realize—the government included—that deplorable situations cannot be addressed by the Criminal Code alone. The Criminal Code comes into play once the assault has taken place. Some may believe that without a deterrent, it is still true.

Most sexual deviants are mentally ill. Thus, youths must be equipped to recognize situations where they may be at risk and situations where they may be manipulated emotionally or blackmailed by any number of means.

It is important for us as a society to realize that sex education is absolutely necessary to truly protect adolescents and youth in general. It can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and protect youth and adolescents from unwanted sexual relations or exploitative situations. In this regard, all of us—parents, schools, social services, society in general—share the responsibility

In closing, I would like to quickly state that the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-22. We recognize the need to increase protection of children and, in the past, have been proactive in attaining these objectives. The Bloc Québécois wishes to ascertain, however, that there will be no adverse effects on the health and freedom of the youth we seek to protect. When the bill is studied in committee, we will have to be very careful to ensure that the intention of protecting children, youth and adolescents—which I believe is shared by all parliamentarians in this House—does not backfire and that they are not stigmatized for sexual activities that are quite normal and healthy.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Joliette for his excellent presentation. I just want to ask him how, in committee, he intends to defend cases that will come up that I consider to be marginal?

As hon. members know, there was a case in England where a father sued a 19 year old woman for having sexual relations with his 13 and a half year old daughter. The age difference is five and a half years, not five years. However, this was not highly dangerous to society and the two girls were consenting. Unfortunately, the 19 year old was given a two year prison sentence.

Will the bill allow for such results, that are so difficult to understand and to accept in a society that does not necessarily provide enough prevention and education? I would like my colleague to tell us how, in committee, we will avoid such mistakes, because in my opinion this is a mistake. Will young people have to go around with their ID card in their pocket or their age on their forehead to show how old they are?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Brome—Missisquoi for his question. He raises the Bloc Québécois' fears regarding this type of bill which gives specific age limits: five years, five years and one month or five years and two months.

What is very important in such cases is to ensure that the handling of this type of situation by the courts is not traumatic for the youths involved. Imagine how this girl of 19 feels, and also the 13 year old whose girlfriend is sent to jail, if I have understood correctly. I am convinced that, behind it all, the 13 year old girl had a very difficult relationship with her parents, her father in particular.

Experts will appear before the committee to try to assure us that this bill is not overly restrictive but rather gives a clear message to society as a whole that there is no place for sexual predators, that they are not welcome and that society protects young people against this incomprehensible form of aggression.

However, the question raised is, in my opinion, one that will have to be addressed in committee to ensure that no one has to endure such situations.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech by my colleague from Joliette. I think it is very important for the public to understand that the amendment, or in any case the exception, set out in the bill is on the difference of less than five years between the two people concerned. I believe that it is very important not to get involved in systematic criminalization of relations between adolescent boyfriends and girlfriends. As hon. members will recall, the Conservatives' initial bill was to criminalize every scenario. The bill introduced takes this specific aspect into account and should prevent any excess.

In the meantime, this bill does not address certain cases where, especially if it might be a matter of sexual offenders who commit an offence or engage in an unacceptable and reprehensible act, it could be punished later. For example, if a young person aged 16, 17 or 18 engaged in this type of act, on some occasions and under certain circumstances this would be punished. This bill does not address that issue much.

I would like my colleague from Joliette to explain how the five year age difference rule will be applied. People need to realize that the specific purpose of this exception is to ensure that there will be no extreme criminalization of such relations between young people. Often, these young people are simply acting in good faith. We have to prepare for the fact that there may be parents who are involved in the situations. For some young people in difficult family situations, this may become a way of controlling their behaviour.

I would like my colleague from Joliette to clarify the specific aspect of the bill that addresses the five year age difference.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I dare not say the name of his riding, but it begins with Montmagny.

If Bill C-22 were passed, sexual relations between young people between the ages of 12 and 14 would be permitted—of course, I am referring to that age range—and between young people aged between 13 and 15, those aged between 14 and 19, and those aged between 15 and 20. That is the current situation. We have already pointed out that there is something arbitrary about the selection of that age range, which sets out very specific rights for very specific ages.

That said, our concern stems from the fact that, in tabling Bill C-22, the Conservative government has plans for a whole series of other bills, which are unacceptable from the point of view of the values we defend. In this context, the committee must ensure that this is not an attempt to stigmatize young people who engage in legitimate, healthy, sexual relations. Rather, it should aim to protect them from sexual predators. In my opinion, work still needs to be done on this matter.

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4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, today I am honoured to speak to Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act. It is a very important bill and it is something our government tried to get through during our 13 year tenure as government in the House of Commons. Age of protection is one of the most important issues because it means protecting our young children.

We debate many issues each day in this House and while they are all important, there can be no doubt that when it comes to talking about the protection of Canadian children and youth against sexual exploitation, this debate rises to the top of our priorities. It is quite understandable. We are parliamentarians who also are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and we share the same concern about safeguarding children against such exploitation.

Bill C-22 is about recognizing that our youth, in particular 14 and 15 year old youth, need and indeed deserve better protection against adult sexual predators.

Youths of this age are experiencing constant and rapid change, including social, physical and cognitive changes. While there is nothing new about this, the environment in which the change is occurring is quite different today than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. The impact of such things as the Internet and what youth see and hear through the media and the entertainment industry today cannot be underestimated. It is in the faces of our youth 24/7.

It is incumbent upon us as parliamentarians to remain vigilant in ensuring that we are doing all we can to safeguard youth against harm or the risk of harm. Police have been asking us to do exactly that for a number of years. For instance, the Canadian Professional Police Association, the national voice for 54,000 police officers across the country, has consistently advocated for increasing the age of consent for youth to have sexual relations with adults from 14 to at least 16 years of age. Many police officers have said that it is absolutely deplorable that in our nation 14 year olds can legally have sex with adults.

That is what we are trying to accomplish with Bill C-22. Bill C-22 is a bill to protect our youth. Bill C-22 proposes to amend the Criminal Code to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16 years. The age of consent, which Bill C-22 proposes to rename as the age of protection, refers to the age at which the criminal law recognizes the capacity of a young person to consent to engage in sexual activity. Any sexual activity with a young person who is younger than the age of consent, irrespective of whether that young person purported to consent to the activity, is prohibited.

Currently the age of protection for sexual activity involving prostitution, pornography or relationships involving authority, trust, dependency or otherwise exploitive use of the young person is 18 years. Bill C-22 would maintain 18 years as the age of protection for these activities but for all other activities or relationships the age of protection is now only 14 years of age.

There is an exception to this. It is what is often called a close in age or peer group exception and it is this: a 12 year old or 13 year old can consent to engage in sexual activity with a partner who is less than two years older and under age 16, as long as the relationship does not involve authority, trust or dependency and is not otherwise exploitative of the young person.

Bill C-22 would maintain this two-year close in age exception for 12 and 13 year olds, but would raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 and would create another close in age exception for 14 and 15 year olds. In this way, Bill C-22 would not criminalize consensual teenage sexual activity, but it would prohibit anyone who is five years or more older than the 14 year old or 15 year old from engaging in any sexual activity with that young person.

I recognize that there may well be different views on whether and when teenagers should be engaging in sexual activity. The fact that Bill C-22 proposes to maintain the existing close in age exemption for 12 and 13 year olds and to create a new one for 14 and 15 year olds should not be interpreted as condoning such activity.

We know intuitively as parents of young children--and health professionals can confirm--that early sexual intercourse can have serious consequences for any young person. For example, Statistics Canada's May 2005 Health Reports, volume 16, number 3, describes these consequences as including longer exposure to the risk of an unwanted pregnancy or of contracting a sexually transmitted infection, and greater difficulty for teenage mothers completing school, with the additional consequence of restricted economic and career opportunities. As for babies born to teenagers, they are at greater risk of premature birth and low birth weight and of dying during their first year of life.

But Bill C-22's proposed close in age exception reflects the reality that teenagers are sexually active and that sexual experimentation among teenagers does occur. In fact, the same Statistics Canada report states, “By age 14 or 15, about 13% of Canadian adolescents have had sexual intercourse”. There are similar percentages for boys and girls, at 12% and 13% respectively.

Bill C-22's proposed close in age exception also reflects the reality of the broad scope of our criminal law's prohibitions against sexual activity below the age of consent. They apply to all sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse. So even if only 13% of teens have had sexual intercourse by age 14 or 15, it is quite possible that more have engaged in lesser forms of sexual activity. Bill C-22 is not seeking to criminalize such activity between consenting teenagers.

This is why I support Bill C-22. It directly responds to a gap in our existing Criminal Code protections by criminalizing adult sexual predators of 14 year olds and 15 year olds while at the same time proposing the necessary additional reforms to prevent the criminalization of consensual sexual activity between teenagers.

One of the very real and practical benefits that I see flowing from Bill C-22 is the certainty that it will bring. Currently, and as a result of Criminal Code reforms enacted in the previous Parliament by former Bill C-2 on the protection of children and other vulnerable persons, a court may infer that a relationship with a young person is exploitative of that young person by looking to the nature and circumstances of that relationship, including: first, the age of the young person; second, any difference in age between the young person and the other person involved; third, the evolution of the relationship; and fourth, the degree of control or influence exerted over the young person.

In my view, this approach is inadequate. With it, there is too much uncertainty, uncertainty for the adult, for the young person and for the police and the prosecutors. It might protect some 14 and 15 year olds, but not all, or not all 14 and 15 year olds in the same situations.

Under Bill C-22, there is no such uncertainty. If the adult is five years or more older than the 14 year old or 15 year old, all sexual activity with that young person is prohibited.

Bill C-22 proposes long awaited criminal law reforms to better protect youth against adult sexual predators. I call upon all hon. members to support its swift passage so that our youth do not have to wait any longer for such protection.

Indeed, it has hit home very closely to me as the mother of a police officer who worked in the ICE unit, the Internet child exploitation unit. Time and time again, young people, our most vulnerable citizens, were exposed to sexual predators over the Internet. They were young people who were on the streets and without homes, young people who were left vulnerable to those who had authority over them.

I think that now there is a relatively new crime that is not on the horizon but on our streets. We are addressing it right now in the status of women committee. It is the issue of human trafficking. When we have laws that do not protect our young and our vulnerable, the traffickers are able to coerce our young people into the sex trade industry. In my view, and in the view of the members on this side of the House, that crime is not an industry, and the sex trade, as it called, is not a trade. It is all about intimidation, exploitation, disrespect and criminal activity against very young people in our nation.

Today Bill C-22 has come to the forefront. I implore all members on all sides of the House not to hold up this bill. Last year under the former government, we tried our very best to raise the age of consent. We have answered all possible questions. We know it is common practice in a minority government for members opposite to drag their feet and make a lot of excuses, but I implore all members from all sides of the House to take very careful consideration, through their vote, of raising the age of consent.

I would implore all members on all sides of the House to vote in favour of Bill C-22 and get it through the Senate as quickly as possible. What we are seeing in the Senate now with the federal accountability act and some of our laws that we have put through the Senate is that they are being stopped in the Senate, so we cannot go any further. With much pride, some members opposite have been stating that they are just holding the bills there, looking things up and putting in amendments

The raising of the age of consent has been brought to this House under the former government, which was in government in Canada for approximately 13 years. The age of consent was not raised from 14 to 16 when we tried very hard to have it happen as early as last year. Now I get the sense that all members are ready to pass this bill. I would implore all members to do exactly that, because without it our youth are at risk on a daily basis. Our police officers and everybody are in concert in asking the House of Commons and every member of Parliament to stick up for our young people and raise the age of consent. That is what we have to do.

As for human trafficking, it puts young people who are trafficked from other countries into our country and it puts our own youth at risk in human trafficking. Human trafficking, as members know, is not a choice for young people. Human trafficking occurs when the youth are actually captured. I have known of youth who actually were put in bondage and told that they must participate in sexual activities and pay off debt. Under human trafficking, there are even training camps for youth who refuse to comply. These young people are sent to training camps. A lot of terrible things are done to them to make sure they comply.

Raising the age of consent addresses a lot of issues across our nation, from human trafficking to sexual exploitation, and it puts Canada on alert and on the map as saying that we as a nation refuse to have our young people exploited, we refuse to accept the fact that sexual exploitation is an industry, and we refuse to accept allowing anything happening in that venue in our nation.

Today again I have to say that I hope all members, instead of arguing, debating and bringing up all sorts of different things, will know this bill has tried to address all issues. It tries to ensure that teenagers who are in a consensual sexual activity are not condemned or judged. It just tries to protect our youth against very serious sexual predators. I hope that the House of Commons will stand on Canadian soil today and with one voice say that we are not going to allow sexual predators to use and abuse our young people, whether those young people live at home or are strangers or immigrants from other countries. Our youth are here to be educated and given opportunities, not used and abused. They are here to be respected.

I have heard from many youth who say they know how weak the laws are here in Canada. I would suggest that the age of protection be widely advertised after the bill is passed so that people will know our youth are protected.

Today is a day for very serious consideration. I think that all elected members from all parties, from all sides of the House, are elected to act in an extremely responsible way to protect our young people. I will acknowledge that there has been a great deal of evidence in the House of Commons to show that we definitely have a difference of opinion, but there has been much debate about this over a long period of time. It has gone back and forth. Now it is time to stop going back and forth. It is a time to instruct the people in the House of Commons, the people in the Senate and the law makers of the nation that the highest court is here in the House of Commons.

As the member of Parliament for Kildonan—St. Paul in the House of Commons, as a mother of six children, the mother of a police officer and the former justice critic for the province of Manitoba, I am standing here now and saying that raising the age of consent is mandatory. It is the right thing to do. We have to cross party lines and stop the arguing. We have to bring forth our declaration, in a strong Canadian voice, that raising the age of consent is the right thing to do.

I would ask every member of Parliament before voting to think about their own daughters or their own children or grandchildren. Is the sex industry something that they want their children in? As a member of Parliament, I have to say no, it is not what I want my children in. As members of Parliament, we are the responsible ones who have to stand up and protect all the youth for all of Canada. We cannot have a double standard. It is our responsibility to stand up for Canada and for the young people in our Canada. I ask each and every member to put down their swords, protect the youth and make sure that the political arguments are buried long enough to pass Bill C-22.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, why are the members of her party speaking to this issue today? Clearly, the protection of our children is something that is extremely important.

We introduced Bill C-2 in previous parliaments that looked at enhancing opportunities to ensure our children were protected. Her members are talking about a variety of other issues, as if the rest of us do not care. It is the government that is filibustering its own legislation. We on this side of the House announced last week that we were very supportive of the legislation.

Why do we not just move forward today and pass the legislation rather than filibuster it and delay it? It is my understanding that none of us on this side of the House have any objections to it, and we indicated that.

Let us just get on with supporting the legislation and move on to the other issues on the agenda.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is great to hear that comment. I agree, we need to move forward.

In answer to the question, past history has caused us to be tentative and very careful to ensure that we are very clear on what we want on this side of the House. Last year this side of the House was voted down on raising the age of consent.

However, I am glad to hear that all questions have been answered and that members on the Liberal side are willing to support and pass Bill C-22.

When all bills get to the Senate, I hope the message to the Liberal Senate is that it too should not hold up legislation, as has been happening in Senate, and that it would put the legislation through so we could get on with the business of raising the age of consent.

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Fitzpatrick Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, I was going to try to address the need for the change in the age of consent. However, we had a situation in Saskatchewan a few years ago, and I think most members would recall it, where three individuals in their twenties picked up a 12 year old first nations girl, had her consume a fair amount of liquor and, from what I can gather, sexually exploited that young girl. It was quite a controversial case. Through the appeal system, eventually all three were found guilty.

However, I want to point out what happened at the trial of two of these individuals. They had a very good defence lawyer. I know members opposite sometimes take their advice from defence counsel and defence lawyers in designing the laws of the country, and sometimes that is an error. The defence lawyer at a jury trial made a very compelling argument to the jury that the girl looked like she might be over 14 years of age, although she really was 12 years of age. All one has to do is raise a reasonable doubt to get an acquittal in our criminal court system.

Therefore, that is a fairly major loophole in the law. I think any fair-minded person in the House should understand, as parliamentarians of all parties, that we should not create laws that allow that sort of loophole to be exploited by defence attorneys in a criminal court system. Let us take that away from them.

Could the member enlighten us as to why we need to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16? I think I have given every member in the House of Commons one good reason to support the bill, without any doubt, unless they are taking their cues from defence lawyers. Young people in our country need protection and the way the law is right now it is not very good protection.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I am the mother of a police officer and I hear over and over again how the criminals get out faster than the time it takes to do the paperwork to put them in.

As one voice, the House of Commons is the highest court in the land. As one voice, there can be no arguments across party lines. We have to stand as one voice and raise the age of consent from 14 to 16. We must be very clear on it. We have to get the message out that there will be questions when anything goes awry. No one should be get off on the fact that the person thought the girl was 14. For me, 14 is too young anyway.

Any age is too young for a young girl to be exploited. Even if the girls were 18 or 23, why give them liquor and exploit them? It is a criminal offence. This is not something that should be debated. This debate should not be restricted in the House of Commons today. These are the hard questions we need to ask because we all know what happens.

We cannot allow the exploitation of young people to happen any longer. We have to stand up and ignore the people who stand in corners and whisper “I don't like to hear this” or “I don't like to hear that”. All members of Parliament are standing up and saying, like the member on this side of the House said, that this happens in our courts of law and that we do not want it to happen.