Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to again address the issue of Bill C-22, the age of protection, age of consent legislation. It is the second time I have been able to speak in this debate. I believe this is very important legislation. It is important to many people in my community of Burnaby—Douglas and across the country.
There are many different positions on this. There seems to be some unanimity in this place. There is an emerging consensus that the legislation will pass. However, I believe there are important opinions and understandings of sexual expression, the age of consent, what is appropriate sexual expression and relational models, that need to be part of this debate.
I am one person who does not support the legislation because of some of the serious flaws I see in it. At the same time, recognizing there are other opinions, I believe people have taken this issue seriously and we have had a serious debate on this matter, both here in this chamber and in committee. I have read most of the transcripts of the presentations at the committee.
The NDP caucus has also had the opportunity to discuss the legislation as well. Even in this caucus there is a diversity of opinion on this legislation. However, I do not think anyone wants to diminish the importance of it.
It is important that we take all possible precautions to ensure there is not exploitation, particularly of young people in our society. We all want to ensure that we have the best and most appropriate tools at our disposal to ensure young people are not exploited. How we do that, I think there can be some discussion and debate about. I want to take the opportunity today to talk about this attempt to do that.
For many of us this is a very personal issue and we come to it with various personal experiences. Some of us may come to the debate because of a concern we had of a young person who was involved in a relationship with someone much older. Others come from other kinds of experience to this debate.
As a gay man, I have a particular experience of a time when in Canada my sexual expression was criminal. It was illegal to engage in homosexual activity, to engage in a gay or lesbian relationship. I grew up in that period in the 1960s when it was criminally sanctioned. That was not an easy time for me as a young person coming to terms with my own sexuality. It was not an easy time to go through all that learning about what it meant to be a full human person, what it meant to experience one's sexual self at a time where any expression of my understanding of my sexuality could have resulted in criminal sanction. That is totally outside the issue of the age of consent. It was just plain illegal to do that.
That was a very difficult time, not to mention the social sanctions that were also present around being gay or lesbian at that time, or the ordinary difficulties that any young person might have in expressing their concerns, or their experiences or their questions about sexuality. It is difficult enough as it is. As young people, it is hard to have those kinds of discussions with people who care about us and with people who we look to for information. That is hugely difficult and remains through most of our society. However, on top of all of that, it was illegal. It was a crime to engage in that activity.
It was very difficult to come to terms with who I was as a person and who I was as a sexual person when there were those social and criminal sanctions. I do not really want to wish that on anyone else. I do not want to wish that circumstance of a criminal sanction around the time when we are learning about our sexual expression and learning about what it means to be a sexual person. Criminal sanction is a huge burden to place on anyone going through that period of time.
There are still social sanctions around relationships where there is an age difference. There are still difficulties for young people to raise their questions about expressing their sexuality, the meaning of their sexuality, dealing with health issues or problems in any relationship, let alone one where there might be an age difference. We are complicating that even further by adding a new criminal sanction around expression of sexuality for our youth.
I say this recognizing that we have very good legislation on the books now. We have a good law on the age of consent in Canada that essentially had sections of it amended in 1987 under a previous Conservative government and minister of justice, who went on to become the governor general, Ramon Hnatyshyn. The law very clearly stated that between the ages of 14 and 18 any circumstance of exploitation, the misuse of trust, dependency and authority was a sanction that protected a young person in that age group. The legislation was very clear.
I was working on the Hill at the time. I remember there was widespread support for the legislation. People saw that this was an important way to elucidate the places where harm could come to someone, the ways in which a relationship, particularly a sexual one, could be exploited. That law went a considerable way to outline that.
At the time I worked for a member of Parliament, who defended the issue. Because of his outspokenness, it generated lots of phone calls to the office where I worked. I had conversations with many people about the law. I think people understood that the law went out of its way to protect young people from exploitation and did so in many ways.
What is more, in the previous Parliament improvements were made with Bill C-2. It was made more explicit. Issues of prostitution, pornography and luring on the Internet were explicitly dealt with in the amendments to the age of consent legislation, which were debated and passed in the 38th Parliament. Those amendments went some way to making it very clear. It took something that was already good and made it crystal clear in some very key areas, which many people have justified and serious concerns about in the ways in which young people are exploited.
It is very clear about a pimp who is pimping a person of that age group. It already was, but it made it explicitly clear. Similarly, it is very clear with regard to using a young person to produce pornography. On the whole exercise of luring someone on the Internet, the law is very clear now.
The only effect of this legislation is to criminalize consensual sexual relationships of 15 and 16 year olds outside of a certain five year age gap parameter, and that is my concern.
We have very clear legislation that outlines the problem areas in relationships with young people, as I have just explained. The current legislation goes out of its way to be very clear about how a young person can be exploited in that kind of relationship. All we are dealing with are relationships that are consensual, where a young person gives consent to be in that relationship.
We may not like the fact that 14 or 15 year olds are in relationships with who is 6 or 10 years older, or perhaps even older than that, and we may have reasons to be concerned about it. However, I put it to members of the House. I do not completely understand how criminalizing those relationships is going to add to the ability to solve whatever problems may exist in those relationships or how dragging the people involved in those relationships before the courts is necessarily going to address any of the current concerns we might have.
Why should young people involved in those kinds of relationship have to see their partners dragged before the court because of a relationship they consider to be consensual, but we consider detrimental, even though we can not prove it with the existing laws? How does that solve the problem. I think it creates more problems for the people in that relationship, particularly the young people. That is one concern I have about the legislation.
I have other concerns too. When we criminalize sexual activity, we will drive people underground. We will make it more difficult for young people to raise questions with somebody who may have advice to offer them about the course of their relationship when they have a problem, particularly if the people they are involved with are older than the five year limit.
We will make it more difficult for a young person involved in that kind of relationship to seek treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, for instance. This is a very serious issue that many sexual health educators across the country have raised. They have said that this is a serious problem with the kind of legislation we have before us.
I am very concerned that this kind of change in the legislation will drive behaviour underground. It will make it more difficult to assist people who are in these relationships, particularly young people where there might be exploitation or other problems that need to be addressed. That is another key reason why I cannot support the legislation.
There has been a lot of discussion about this legislation. The NDP debated this at our convention last September. The party referred it to its federal council. The federal council did approve a party position on it. I want to read the resolution that was passed. It says:
WHEREAS the Conservative government plans to increase the basic age of consent for sexual activity to sixteen (6) years of age; and
WHEREAS Bill C-2, passed into law in 2005, already prohibits any exploitative sexual relationship with a person under 18; and
WHEREAS there is no evidence to indicate that the proposed legislation will protect young people from predators; and
WHEREAS youth are significantly less likely to seek sexual health information or advice if their activities fall outside of the law; and
WHEREAS an increase in the age of consent is opposed by the Canadian AIDS Society, EGALE Canada, The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario and others,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Convention direct Caucus not to vote for the Conservative legislation to increase the basic age of consent for sexual activity to sixteen years of age; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NDP Federal Caucus work to ensure that the Age of Consent for anal sex be consistent with that for all other types of sexual activities.
We have a very clear party position about this kind of legislation, after considerable debate within the NDP. It is important to point out that it was a very careful debate within our party and we heard from a lot of people.
We also heard very clearly from the youth wing of the NDP that it was were opposed to the legislation. Young people took a very active part in that debate, calling for our opposition as New Democrats to this legislation. That is an important consideration.
As well, we have court decisions saying that the anal intercourse provisions of the Criminal Code violate the charter because they are unconstitutional. While we have those kinds of decisions, the government failed to integrate them into the legislation when it brought it in. That also indicates one of the important flaws with the bill.
For many years, this has been called in this place. In fact, back in 1987, I believe an all party committee of the House wrote a report called “Equality for All”. One of the recommendations of that report was that there be a uniform age of consent for sexual activity, no matter what that sexual activity. That has been a long-standing recommendation that came from an all party committee of this place, and it is still to be implemented here.
It belies the bias of the government. It could indicate that there is an anti-sex bias in this kind of legislation. The failure to deal with an important constitutional issue and the whole question of uniformity of the age of consent legislation is a very serious problem with the bill. It is another reason why I will not support it.
I am glad that my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has tabled private member's legislation to deal with that particular aspect of the bill. However, I think if this had been a serious attempt to deal with the problems of the age of consent legislation in Canada, that provision would have been part of this legislation, or at least the amendments that were proposed at committee by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and others to add that provision to the legislation would have been accepted and we would have that before us today, but sadly, we do not.
I am also concerned that the legislation is becoming increasingly complex. The existing legislation that is in force now in Canada can be explained effectively. I actually wish that that legislation were taught in our schools. I wish there would be some attempt to inform young people. It probably should be taught in other places so that people come to an understanding of what the requirements are for an appropriate relationship, of what it means to be in a position of trust or authority in a relationship, what it means to be exploited sexually in a relationship, so that we could have frank discussions on that. The existing legislation is an excellent tool.
Back in 1987 when the law was changed to what we have today, the Department of Justice produced an excellent resource about the age of consent legislation. I personally, through the constituency office that I worked in, gave away probably thousands of copies of that booklet. It was such a helpful resource for people trying to understand the issue of the age of consent laws, trying to understand the importance of relationships, what they meant and how a relationship could be conducted appropriately. I am sad that that resource is long out of print because I think it did go some way to helping people understand what it would be to have an appropriate relationship.
I want to point to testimony that was offered by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the president, Mr. Jason Gratl, at the committee that was looking at the legislation. It is important to note the issues that that group raised. They saw the legislation before us today, Bill C-22, as a fundamental shift from the way Canada has chosen to deal with issues of harm to young people and of social policy.
I just want to quote from what Mr. Gratl said to the committee looking at the legislation. He said:
I'll begin with a general comment expressing our concern that Bill C-22 represents a fundamental shift of policy and attitude towards sexuality. In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the Butler decision dealing with the definition of obscenity, signalled a fundamental shift from the legislation of morality to the legislation of harm. From that point forward, the legislature and the courts were to look for specific types of harm, not necessarily scientifically measurable types of harm, but analytically discoverable harm, such as attitudinal harm--changes in people's attitudes toward each other that are fundamentally anti-social, psychological harm to individuals.
The idea was to rationally connect appreciable types of harm to the type of legislative endeavour underway. To our mind, that commitment to legislating against harm rather than legislating morality is endangered or imperiled by the approach this committee currently seems to be taking.
The existing protections for young people are adequate, in our submission. Sexual predators who exist in the world need to be taken account of, and much has already been done to ensure that those sexual predators are controlled, punished, deterred, and so forth, by the existing criminal law. The committee is well familiar with the crime of exploitation, as well as the restraints placed on persons in positions of trust, power, and authority to refrain from sexual contact with minors. Those go a long way to ensuring that young people are protected.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association raises an important point about how this legislation departs, from a recent tradition at least, of legislating against specific harms rather than against morality in general. The direction of this legislation in that broad sense is also one that I find difficult.
Other organizations such as the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, formerly known as Planned Parenthood, that do a lot of sexuality education across the country, have said that we need to be putting more resources into educating people and young people about sexuality. They said that we need to put more resources into sexuality and relationship education and that would go some way toward dealing with those kinds of problems. They do not support the current legislation. They see the difficulties it causes for health education and for ensuring that young people are able to make mature and responsible decisions about sexual expression. This legislation would complicate that.
We need to get on with promoting the excellent legislation that is currently on the books, with teaching the law that we have currently on the books. I believe that would help all of us make better decisions about relationships, make better decisions about our sexual relationships. I will not be able to support the legislation as it currently stands.