Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which involves both the criminal law and a number of moral assumptions, and, of course, the way we think about protecting young people. In the Bloc Québécois, my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant was responsible for this subject, and we have all stated our support for the bill. The purpose of the bill is to raise the age of consent to sexual activity. I will have an opportunity to address this, obviously without getting too autobiographical, to show that behind this there lie changes in the way we see things. There are social facts that we must recognize.
We supported this bill, which raises the age of consent to non-exploitive sexual activity—that is, sexual activity that does not involve prostitution, sexual activity that does not involve people who are in positions of authority, sexual activity that does not involve dependency, and sexual activity between young people and between other consenting individuals—from 14 years, which is the age currently permitted, to 16 years. The government has also proposed that we no longer call this the “age of consent”, but that we now call it the “age of protection”. This is one way of seeing things, but the fact is that it will be raised from 14 years to 16 years. I mention this so that it is clear.
For us in the Bloc Québécois, very early on, when it appeared in the Conservative Party platform that this idea was going to become public policy, our leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, asked that there be close in age clauses, and the reason for this is clear. We did not want young people in the same high school—for example, the school in Arthabaska, or Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, or Windsor—young people who were in grade ten and were engaging in sexual activity with young people in grade twelve, to be turned into criminals. That is why the bill contains exceptions in the form of close in age clauses.
This means that a young person who is 12 or 13 years old will be able to engage in consenting, non-exploitive sexual activity with a person two years older, and a young person who is 14 or 15 years old will be able to engage in non-exploitive sexual activity with a person a minimum of five years older. It will also be possible for a 19 year old to engage in non-exploitive sexual activity with 14 year old without risking criminal prosecution.
Logically, the bill also provides that people who are married or living common-law, with or without a child, at the time the bill comes into force will be able to continue to live together, even in contravention of the age clause. We understand that in the case of a spousal involvement, by way of a common-law relationship or by way of marriage, the relationship may continue and there will be no criminal charges.
The entire question of the age of consent gives us pause. First, the Bloc supports the bill because it is reasonable. In fact, as the member for Windsor said, half the countries on earth have already identified 16 as the age of consent for sexual activity. This is not unreasonable. I might mention a few examples: Alabama, Alaska, Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Finland and Hawaii. In more than 100 countries or states, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16.
I understand that when the government introduced its bill it particularly had in mind the phenomenon of sexual predators.
They pointed out to us, as everyone knows, that there are already provisions in the Criminal Code concerning the luring of children—I believe it is section 172—which provide for a penalty of five years or more.
However, we want to ensure that Canada and Quebec will not become welcome territory for sexual predators. It is true that in social terms, the fact that a 60-year-old person had sexual relations with a 14-year-old would be a questionable activity. There may be exceptional cases, where the conditions make that acceptable. However, as legislators, it is not unreasonable to believe that where the difference in ages is very great we are dealing with sexual relations that are exploitative or that are not healthy for the development of the persons involved.
Therefore, in the reasonable and enlightened spirit that has always characterized the positions held by the Bloc on the subject of justice, the Bloc Québécois has made it known that we support the bill. We heard from witnesses in committee and I believe that we are dealing with a good measure.
It is interesting because we began our work in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights by listening to representatives from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. It is a government agency that collects data specifically related to legal matters. I will summarize, in five points, what those representatives said to us about Bill C-22.
First, they reminded us that acts of sexual violence are the offences least likely to be reported to the police. Among all crimes and infractions, the ones least likely to be reported to the police are sexual offences. There are all kinds of reasons why this is so: fear of reprisal by the aggressor, a feeling that the offence is something personal that does not concern society, or a fear that the neighbours will know. For all these reasons, sexual offences are the least reported offences.
Second, young women between the ages of 13 and 15 are the most vulnerable to sexual violence. We can readily see that in raising the age of consent —which will now be referred to as the age of protection—to 16 years of age, the bill deals with a reality that is supported by the data.
Third, and this even more interesting, two-thirds of those charged are over 21 years old. Young men are the most likely to be charged with of this type of offence.
Fourth,fewer cases of sexual offences are dealt with by indictment. More often than not, the Crown will lay charges through summary proceedings rather than by criminal indictment. Sexual offences have one of the lowest rates of conviction. That is also upsetting. This fact was provided to us by representatives of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.
Fifth, they told us that where there are convictions, the courts are lenient in dealing with sexual offences, particularly where the victim is a young person and the accused is a family member. They also reminded us that, unfortunately, in the case of sexual offences, those who commit the offence, the aggressors, are often people who are known to the immediate circle of the victim and, in many cases, are even members of the family.
Therefore, if the bill passes, it would raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years, with a close in age exemption. At age 12 or 13, a person may engage in sexual activity with people up to two years older. At 14 and 15, a person may engage in sexual activity with people up to five years older. The purpose of this is to adapt to the reality facing adolescents who attend the same high school or socialize within the same group of peers.
I am certain that every member of this House would like to tackle the problem of sexual predators. However, I doubt anyone in this House would like to penalize young people who are sexually active.
Consider the example of two of our young pages who fall in love before reaching the age of majority and suddenly find they are head over heels. As we all know, people can be impulsive at the age of 14, 15 or 16. Of course, no one would want that relationship to be subject to criminal prosecution.
At the same time, I would remind the House that the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, which testified before parliamentarians, expressed some concerns. I would like to share those concerns with the House. The federation indicated:
The perception or reality that one could be prosecuted for participating in consensual sexual activities with a younger/older partner will likely result in young people becoming fearful and resistant to access appropriate health care services regarding contraception, abortion, STI and HIV testing and treatment, emergency contraception, etc.
STIs are sexually transmitted infections. The term STD is no longer used. They are now referred to as STIs.
We do not want to find ourselves as legislators in a position where we are an impediment as well to the impulse that young people feel to get informed about safe sexual practices. It is important for everyone to be informed. For instance, people need to protect themselves when they have sex. They need to respect the wishes of partners who are not ready to start a sexual relationship. They should not engage in risky practices, and those who might be pregnant should go get tested.
The Canadian Federation for Sexual Health told us that if the age of consent is raised, we should make sure that young people will still feel comfortable about getting the necessary information. The CFSH reminded us that it is important that sexuality be part of the curriculum in public schools in Quebec and Canada.
We could do a little survey right here. The average age in the House is obviously at least 50 and maybe even 55. I can say with some pride that I help to bring this average down. If members were asked whether they received any information on safe sex, I would not be surprised if many did not. There were taboos surrounding this subject. People said it was a family responsibility. It is, of course, but our public authorities, including schools, also have a responsibility to ensure that the sexuality of young people is discussed.
I am personally familiar with a number of community groups. For example, there is GRIS, the research and social intervention group, which goes to schools to talk about HIV-AIDS. They use a quiz and have a very educational way of getting young people to think about these realities.
We are not living in times when young people have too much information. Contrary to what one might think, STIs or sexually transmitted infections like HIV-AIDS are not regressing. That should make us ask some hard questions about our society.
The Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We are very aware of the representations made by the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health.
We believe that, socially, it makes sense to increase the age of consent from 14 to 16, as a number of countries throughout the world have done.
A private members' bill on the issue of age of consent has already been introduced. My colleague, the hon. member for Wild Rose, introduced a bill a few weeks ago, Bill C-267. His bill had the misfortune, or the inconvenience, even the extreme oversight, of not including a close in age provision. We were criticized, but that is why the Bloc Québécois did not vote in favour of the bill presented by our colleague from Wild Rose.
The Bloc Québécois is very concerned about respecting the prerogatives of the provinces. We asked many questions in committee because this obviously involves the whole issue of the legal capacity for marriage. For example, who can get married? There is a law prohibiting first cousins, people who are related, from marrying each other. The law has also been changed to allow same sex partners to marry. These are basic conditions for determining who can get married. The restrictions on degrees of consanguinity are a federal government responsibility.
Nonetheless, there are issues related to the celebration of marriage. The conditions under which it is celebrated, the regulations on who can become an officiant or whether a marriage can be publicly celebrated, and the age of consent for marriage are all provincial responsibilities.
In committee we were told that not all the provinces had the same conditions. Some provinces allowed marriage at age 15, others at 16 and others at 14. We were concerned about having the federal government respect the varied legislation in effect. We think that the provisions in the bill on marriages which have already taken place when the legislation come into effect are there to reassure us that provincial and federal jurisdictions are being strictly respected.
This is a bill we had the pleasure of studying in parliamentary committee. It is a bill founded on common sense. And it is a bill that has received very few negative comments. In my opinion, there was only one thing that the groups brought up. I say this for the sake of clarity, to properly report the different views observed in committee. We spoke about section 159 of the Criminal Code. Section 159 deals with anal intercourse, and has various provisions. To legally consent to anal intercourse, a person must be at least 18 years old. The witnesses wondered why a person had to wait until the age of 18 to have anal intercourse, but could engage in other types of intercourse at the age of 16. We did not make a big deal out of it, since this is something rather intimate. But the question remains, especially since the courts in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta and Nova Scotia, as well as the Federal Court have ruled that this provision of the Criminal Code is a form of discrimination based on age and marital relations.
I will conclude my speech here. I am happy to take any questions my colleagues may have. I will not be able to take too many since I must meet a group, but I can take a few.