Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code of Canada regarding the age of protection.
This issue has been the subject of many private members' bills and proposed government legislation over many years and many studies by the Department of Justice.
It has also been the subject of much community interest, many white ribbon campaigns in strong support for raising the age of consent to 16 years of age while others have even advocated raising the age to 18.
Over the years the subject has generated numerous constituent letters, as well as press and editorial commentary in my riding of Welland. These representations have been heard and will be reflected in my support of the bill.
Bill C-22, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding age of protection, amends the Criminal Code to raise the age from 14 to 16 years at which time a person can consent to non-exploitive sexual activity. The existing age of consent of 18 years for exploitive sexual activity will be maintained. This applies to sexual activity involving prostitution, pornography or where there is a relationship of trust, authority, dependency or any other situation that is otherwise exploitive of a young person.
Bill C-22 creates an exception with respect to an accused who engages in sexual activity with a 14 or 15 year old and who is less than five years older than the youth. It also creates an exception for transitional purposes for an accused who is married to a youth or who is the common law partner of a youth and is expecting a child with the youth and the sexual activity was not otherwise prohibited before the act comes into force. The bill maintains an existing close in age exception that exists for 12 or 13 year olds who engage in sexual activity with a peer who is less than two years older, provided the relationship is not exploitative.
The history of the age of consent has evolved considerably in the past century in that the existing Criminal Code prohibitions against sexual conduct with young people bears little resemblance to those that were in place as recently as 20 years ago.
Historically in Canada, the age of consent was 12 until 1890 when it was raised to 14. At no time has it ever been set higher than 14 in Canada. At one time Canadian criminal law did provide very qualified protection from sexual exploitation for females over 14. Between 1886 and 1988 there were several incarnations of a provision banning intercourse with a girl over 12 and under 16 who was of “previously chaste character”. This qualified protection for girls, not boys, applied only to intercourse and no other form of sexual contact.
In 1988 the qualified protection was revoked in favour of new offences called “sexual interference” and “invitation to sexual touching” that prohibit adults from engaging in virtually any kind of sexual contact with other boys or girls under the age of 14, irrespective of consent.
Introduced at the same time the offence of sexual exploitation also made it an offence for an adult to have any such contact with boys and girls over 14 but under 18 where a relationship of trust or authority exists between the adult and the child. This also means that child pornography includes any youth under the age of 18 regardless of consent.
The 1988 changes implemented more equitable, broad-sweeping protection for all young people regardless of gender, type of offence or the complainant's sexual history.
As time and further reflection have passed, an additional protection for youth has been advanced. In a previous Parliament, the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-2, the child protection act. As I do support raising the age of consent from 14 to 16, I was disappointed that Bill C-2 at that time did not do this, although I understand there was no consensus or agreement from the provinces which is required for this issue to move forward.
In its place the government proposed a new category of sexual exploitation that did not consider whether or not the young person, covering youth between 14 and 18 years of age, consented to sexual activity, but examined the relationship and motives of the accused.
The argument was that this provision should effectively prohibit any exploitive sexual activity between an adult and youth under the age of 18. I do think that this was a good provision and strikes at the heart of the intention of people who want to raise the age to 18. The call to increase the age of consent to 18 was all about protecting young people between the ages of 14 and 18 from exploitation and the new provision says that regardless of whether or not consent was given by the young person. I feel this is key. The nature of the power of dynamic in the relationship would be scrutinized by the court.
The current bill is not without its critics. One criticism of the bill that has been raised by those who generally support it is that the five year age exemption is too large. Rather than allowing a five year age gap, three years should be more than enough.
Some other supporters of the bill have proposed that the age of consent be set at 18. This would eliminate the anomaly of 16 year olds who can legally consent to have sex yet be unable to vote, serve in the military, smoke or drink. Many have argued that most teenagers do not have the maturity to handle the responsibilities that come with sex, such as practising safe sex and using reliable birth control. A more appropriate age of consent, they argue, would be 18, when one legally becomes an adult.
It is interesting to note that the most common age of consent in the United States seems to be either 16 or 18. Sixteen is the age of consent in Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Finland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Singapore, the Ukraine and the U.K. Canada is now coming in line with these other countries.
Bill C-22 also addresses Criminal Code provisions regarding luring a child. Section 172.1 of the Criminal Code creates the offence of using a computer system to lure children for the purpose of committing certain sexual offences. The section lists various sexual offences, which depend upon the age of the child. The offence is committed if the child is under the particular age specified or if the accused believes the child to be under that age.
Subsection 172.1(3) sets up a rebuttable presumption that the accused believed the child was under the relevant age if there is evidence the child was represented to the accused as being under that age. There is no defence that the accused believed the child was over the relevant age unless the accused took reasonable steps to ascertain the age of the child.
New paragraph 172.1(1)(b) will make 16 the relevant age for the offence of facilitating the commission of an offence under section 151, which is sexual interference, section 152, which is invitation to sexual touching, subsection 160(3), which is bestiality in the presence of a young person, or subsection 173(2), which is exposure to a young person. These offences are being added to a list that previously consisted only of section 280, which is abduction of a person under the age of 14.
The relevant age for all four of the added offences will be raised from 14 to 16. Thus, the use of a computer system to facilitate the commission of these offences when the complainant is less than 16 is being made an offence.
Since 16 will now be the relevant age, paragraph 172.1(1)(c) is amended to remove reference to the age of 14 for offences under sections 151 and 152 and subsections 160(3) and 173(2). Henceforth, luring someone under the age of 14 by means of a computer system will be an offence only if it is done to facilitate the commission of an offence under section 280(1), which is, again, the abduction of a person under 16.
Members of our police forces welcome Bill C-22 for the very message it sends. They see a fair number of people between the ages of 14 and 16 being manipulated by older predators. Any new tools the police can use to stop predators are most welcome.
The bill will also change the way police investigate child pornography, underage prostitution and Internet luring. There will be a new group of kids being protected and a new group of pedophiles being charged.
Protecting our children, however, goes beyond a simple and arbitrary increase of the age of consent to sexual activity. It means addressing the broader issues of the safety and well-being of our children. Our objective is to develop and maintain effective, comprehensive measures to support provincial and territorial measures to improve public safety for children and to protect children from serious injury and even death at the hands of adults.
The achievement of this objective rests in a collaborative effort by the provinces, the territories and the Government of Canada. While the provision of services to children who are in need of protection is the responsibility of the provinces and territories, the assurance that appropriate offences and penalties are available for serious harm done to children remains the responsibility of the Government of Canada. By targeting extreme forms of harm through the Criminal Code, the Government of Canada will provide strong support for provincial and territorial initiatives to protect children.