moved 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.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to commence second reading 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.
Bill C-22 would fulfill one of the government's commitment to tackle crime. With the bill, we are proposing to raise the age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years to better protect youth against sexual exploitation by adult predators. Our focus is on the protection of youth. That is why we are renaming the “age of consent” as “the age of protection”.
There are many issues on which hon. members do not always see eye to eye, but the protection of children and youth against sexual exploitation should not be one of them. This is an issue on which I belive we should be able to speak with one voice, one that unanimously and clearly condemns those adults who prey on and sexually exploit our youth.
In 2002 POLLARA polled Canadians on whether they thought the age of consent should be raised from 14 to 16 years. Seventy-two per cent of those polled said, yes, it should be raised.
The Ontario College of Teachers, the licensing and regulatory body for the 200,000 teachers in that province, reported in August of this year that 84% of teachers polled supported the government's proposal to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years.
As college chair Marilyn Laframboise said:
Clearly, teachers who spend a good part of their daily working lives interacting with teens care about students' safety, protection and emotional development. Safeguarding young people against sexual predators makes sense.
Canadians have been asking for this for years and the government has heard and answered their call with Bill C-22.
Regrettably the sexual exploitation of children is not a new problem. How it is being committed is something that is changing due, in large part, to the rapid development and ever-growing use of the Internet and other new technologies.
There can be no doubt that the Internet has been a phenomenal innovation from which each of us has been able to benefit through instantaneous and worldwide communications and access to information and resources. As an educational tool for youth, the Internet has become invaluable, but it has also provided a new means through which pedophiles and others can sexually exploit children and youth.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police, have long called for increasing the age of protection to help them combat online child sexual exploitation. Like them, the government believes that Bill C-22 would help us prevent the exploitation of youth by adults, including where it is facilitated through the use of the Internet.
Nowhere is this problem more dramatically illustrated than by the case of Michael Simonson in April 2005. Simonson was turned back by Canadian border agents after he told them he was coming to meet a 15 year old girl in Canada who he had met on the Internet for sex. He was arrested by U.S. authorities as he was returning and was charged under their laws that made attempted enticement of a minor an offence. A search of Simonson's computer showed extensive research into Canada's laws of consent and Internet luring laws. Of course there is no law against it in Canada.
After a guilty plea, Simonson was sentenced to 10 years in an American prison, followed by 10 years of probation. In Canada, he would have been scot free. The American courts are protecting Canadian children. That is a disgrace.
This is but one example of adult predators acting to take advantage of Canada's laws with respect to consent for sexual activity. Sex tourism of this sort should not, and cannot, be permitted in Canada. What a farce that Canada puts forward sex tourism laws and yet people from all over the world know it to be soft on the abuse of children in this fashion. Internet chat rooms indicate on a daily basis they know the laws. They come here because the government, until now, has refused to act on this matter.
To understand the scope of reform proposed by Bill C-22 one has to understand the current law on the age of consent.
First, what do we mean by the age of consent, or the age of protection, as we now refer to it? This is the age at which the criminal law recognizes the legal capacity of a young person to consent to engage in sexual activity. Below this age, a young person cannot validly consent to engage in any form of sexual activity. Where the activity involves exploitative sexual activity, that is prostitution, child pornography or where there is a relationship of trust, authority, dependency, or is one that is otherwise exploitative of a young person, the Criminal Code currently provides that the age of protection is 18 years. Bill C-22 would maintain this age of protection.
However, the trust provisions in the Criminal Code are very rarely, if ever, used because of the difficulty of having to rely on a child to demonstrate there was no trust exploitation. For all other types of sexual activity, the current age of consent is 14 years. In my experience people are often surprised to learn just how low this age of consent is and, indeed, to learn just how vulnerable 14 and 15 year old youth are to being sexually exploited by adult predators, including over the Internet.
Police point out that this low age is often known by sexual predators and encourages them to target Canada in search of younger victims who would not be able to consent in countries with a higher age of consent. I pointed out the prior case where that was exactly one such instance, where the American courts protect Canadian children because Canadian authorities cannot protect them under the existing laws.
The current Criminal Code provides an exception to the 14 year age of consent. Specifically a 12 or 13 year old can consent to engage in sexual activity with another person provided that the other person is less than two years older, is under 16 years of age and is not a relationship of authority, trust, dependency or one that is otherwise exploitative of the 12 or 13 year old.
Members will recall the case of the young native girl who was exploited in Saskatchewan not that long ago. The judge said that the accused thought the person was 14. After they fed that young girl liquor, they sexually abused her. The judge said, because the individual thought she was 14, that there was no offence. This is the reality of the law in Canada today.
While we do have this close in age exemption with the 12 and 13 year old, its objective is to prevent the criminalization of sexual activity between two young consenting persons. Bill C-22 would maintain this two year close in age exemption for 12 and 13 year olds. The proposed reforms in Bill C-22 build upon the existing current laws by extending the current protection for those under the age of 14 years to better protect 14 and 15 year olds against sexual abuse.
I appreciate that there may be different views on when young persons should engage in sexual activity, but the reality is many 14 and 15 year olds are sexually active, mostly with peers or cohorts. Bill C-22 recognizes this reality because our objective is clear. It is to protect youth against adult sexual predators and not to criminalize consensual teenage sexual activity.
Accordingly Bill C-22 proposes to create an additional close in age exception for 14 and 15 year olds. Under this new exception, a 14 and 15 year old could consent to engage in sexual activity with a peer so long as the other person was less than five years older and provided, as always, that the relationship was not one of trust, authority, dependency and was not otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Some may question the five year close in age exemption and may instead prefer it to be a two year or three year close in age exemption, such as we have for the 12 and 13 year olds. Again, we have to be mindful of our objective with Bill C-22. It is to prevent adult predators from sexually exploiting 14 and 15 years olds, not to criminalize consensual sexual activity between teenagers.
In my view the proposed five year close in age exemption reflects a reasonable cohort for 14 and 15 year olds and one that we would find in many Canadian high schools. I note the position of Beyond Borders, for example, which has championed this issue for so many years. It, in fact, indicated that a five year close in age exemption was the appropriate exemption. There were problems with the two year and the three year, but Beyond Borders, in its very eloquent discussion of this issue, indicated that this would get the bulk of those who want to exploit our children.
Similarly, Bill C-22 acknowledges the possibility that when the new age of protection comes into force, there could be an exceptional few number of individuals 14 and 15 years old who are already in an established or pre-existing relationship with a partner who is five years or more older and who will therefore not benefit from the proposed five year close in age exemption.
Accordingly, Bill C-22 proposes to provide a transitional or time limited exception for two types of relationships, specifically for individuals 14 or 15 years old who are already in a relationship with a partner who is five years or more older than when the new age of protection comes into force. Bill C-22 proposes a time limited exception where they are already married or they are living in a common law relationship as defined by the Criminal Code or, as proposed by Bill C-22, provided always that the relationship is not one of authority, trust, dependency or is otherwise not exploitative of the young person.
Section 2 of the Criminal Code defines a common law partner as a person with whom an individual is living in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year. Bill C-22 would also provide an exception for a common law relationship that has not endured the requisite minimum period of time but has produced a child or one is expected.
Some may be surprised that we need these transitional exceptions. Let me explain why. The provinces and territories, as part of their responsibility over the solemnization of marriage, have enacted a minimum age to marry with parental consent. This age is 16 years except in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut where it is 15 years. All jurisdictions except Quebec, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador provide exceptions to this rule by allowing persons under 16 or 15 years of age to marry with judicial order, or in the case of Ontario, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, with the written permission of a responsible minister. In these cases approval is generally based upon a consideration of whether the marriage is in the interest of the person or it is expedient to allow the marriage or because the female is pregnant.
Bill C-22 would therefore provide a time limited exception where an individual 14 or 15 years old is already married to a partner who is five years or more older, as at the time of the coming into force of the new age of protection. Thereafter, an individual 14 or 15 years old could still marry another person who is less than five years than that individual provided that it is not an exploitive relationship and subject of course to the provincial and territorial legislative requirements.
As to the proposed transitional exception for existing common law relationships involving an individual 14 or 15 years old and a partner who is five years or more older, it is important to appreciate that this exception will only be available if the relationship meets the prescribed definition of common law and it is not illegal or exploitive of the younger partner.
Bill C-22 proposes this requirement for the common law relationship exception but not for the marriage exception. This is because in contrast to marriage, there is not judicial or ministerial approval of the common law relationship involving youth to ensure that such a relationship is in the best interest or in the interest of the young individual who is 14 or 15 years old.
In other words, there is no prior assessment of whether the relationship is illegal or exploitative of the young person. As a result, Bill C-22 would only provide an exception for a common law relationship involving an individual 14 or 15 years old with a partner who is older by five years or more, if it meets the prescribed common law definition, and again the relationship is not exploitative or illegal.
What is the effect of Bill C-22's higher age of protection? It says to adults without equivocation, if they are five years or more older than an individual 14 or 15 years old, they would be committing a sexual offence if they engage in any sexual activity with that young person. It says to foreign adult predators that we will not allow them to come here to sexually exploit our youth. It says to individuals 14 and 15 years old that they deserve the same protection against adult predators as do individuals 12 and 13 years old.
It says to the international community that we take very seriously our international obligation and commitments to protect children and youth against sexual exploitation. By raising Canada's age of protection from 14 to 16 years, we will join other countries that already have a higher age of protection of 16 years or more, and we will more effectively meet our international commitments to protect youth against sexual exploitation.
It says to the police that we have heard them and we agree that we can do more to support them in their efforts to protect Canadian youth against sexual exploitation. I specifically want to commend individuals like Paul Gillespie, formerly of the Toronto city police, for his work and the work of his police officers in tackling that very difficult problem. I also want to specifically thank Chief Bevan of Ottawa who was there with us at the launching of this particular bill.
Bill C-22 proposes a higher age of consent which will give a much needed new tool to police. Police have told me that a higher age of protection of 16 years will help them to better protect those teens who are at risk of being targeted by on-line adult sexual predators.
Earlier this year, the United States national center for missing and exploited children released a report on the 2005 youth Internet safety survey, a survey of 1,500 representative national samples of youth Internet users aged 10 to 17 years. It found that of the youth who were targeted for sexual solicitations and approaches on the Internet, 81% were 14 years of age or older, 70% were girls and 30% were boys.
Similar findings have been made here in Canada. Cybertip.ca, Canada's national tip line for on-line sexual exploitation of children, and which I am pleased to note is being supported by the federal government under our national strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet, reported in March of 2005 that luring reports represented 10% of all reports received during its two year pilot phase. Of these reports, 93% of the victims were female and the majority, or 73%, were between the ages of 12 and 15 years. These reports indicate that individuals 14 and 15 years old are at greater risk of being sexually exploited through Internet luring, and so we believe that Bill C-22 will enable police to more effectively protect youth aged 14 and 15 years from on-line predatory behaviour.
At the beginning of my remarks, I quoted the chair of the Ontario College of Teachers, and I do so again because her words describe so well what the government and indeed all Canadians believe: “Safeguarding young people against sexual predators makes sense”.
Bill C-22 will safeguard individuals 14 and 15 years old against adult sexual predators. Bill C-22 makes sense. It proposes a new and very clear line. All sexual activity with individuals 14 and 15 years old is strictly forbidden where the adult is five years or more older. This will in turn better protect individuals 14 and 15 years old against adult sexual predators because it will no longer be a question of whether they consented to such exploitive activity.
I would say that as a former prosecutor, knowing the difficulty that a young child has on the stand, trying to justify the conduct or to say that there was no consent, is a very difficult burden. We want to take that burden off the shoulders of the children and put it right onto the pedophiles where that burden properly belongs.
As I have said, Bill C-22 will give police a welcome new tool to help them in their tireless efforts to combat child sexual exploitation. Now is the time for Parliamentarians to join together in support of an objective that I think we all agree is a priority, namely the protection of children against sexual exploitation.
I call upon all hon. members to support Bill C-22, so that our actions reflect our words and our commitments. Let us say with one voice to individuals 14 and 15 years old that they deserve the same protection against adult predators as individuals 12 and 13 years old currently have, and let us unanimously condemn adult sexual predators. Let us do this now by supporting Bill C-22.