House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-22.


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11:15 a.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I appreciate the member's question, I was not rambling on. First, I was giving precise dates for the procedure and tracking of this bill in response to a comment from the parliamentary secretary of the member's own government.

Second, I was also making a point in response to a comment of his own parliamentary secretary on the delay of this bill, in pointing out that the Liberal Party, the official opposition, had on four separate occasions attempted to see this bill in particular, along with others, fast tracked. It was the member's own government that blocked it every single time. It is the first time that I have seen a government blocking speedy passage of its own legislation, but it is up to those members to explain that.

Yes, I believe that Bill C-22, with this amendment, actually is a good bill. It is a better bill because of the amendment.

We heard expert testimony from justice officials themselves that we are talking about a very small percentage, a handful of those cases every year. In fact, the justice official, Carole Morency, said that according to the justice department projections we would not be talking about more than five individuals under the age of 16 but above the age of 14 who, if this bill came into effect, would find themselves in a situation where we are talking about marriage, and there would be a defence because their legal spouse would be more than five years older.

Because that same expert was able to explain what the conditions are for the solemnization of marriage in each of the 10 provinces and the territories, it reassured members of the committee that there in fact is a very clear legislative process. In most cases, we would be talking about a judge having to give consent to a marriage of that kind of couple, where one partner is under the age of 16, but over 14, and the other partner is more than five years or more older.

Therefore, the opposition parties felt that, given that a judge or a magistrate under the provincial law would have to give formal consent, it meant that the couple would have been considered in regard to whether or not the relationship had been sexually exploitive, et cetera. Therefore, we were comforted by that testimony we heard.

So yes, I think Bill C-22 is a good bill, and that is why the official opposition, the Liberal Party, is supporting it. That is why for months on end we attempted to have it fast tracked. We are thrilled that the bill is finally in the House. We hope the government will stop stalling the speedy passage of its own justice legislation.

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11:20 a.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join the debate at the report stage of Bill C-22, a bill that raises the age of consent from 14 to 16 years of age for non-exploitative sexual activity.

Debate surrounding the age of consent for sexual activity remains a sensitive subject. We all have some idea of what the age should be for consenting to sexual relations. As a mother of a teenager, this debate concerns me directly. I understand very well the concerns that other parents may have regarding this subject. The fact is that we cannot always be near our children to protect them from potential threats when they need it.

Protection of our young people has no price. For my parliamentary colleagues and me that protection remains one of our absolute priorities, if not the most important.

In short, the bill raises age of consent for sexual activity to 16 years of age. To avoid criminalizing relations between teenagers, 14 or 15 year olds could consent to having sex with another person, provided that the activity was non-exploitative and the other person was less than five years older than them. Clearly, a 15 year old person could have non-exploitative sexual relations with another person between 16 to 20 years of age, without leading to criminal charges. I would add that raising the age of consent does not affect the provisions known as “enticement of a child”, which forbid any adult in a position of authority from having sexual relations with a young person of less than 18 years of age.

Another exception of the same type would allow 12 or 13 year olds to have non-exploitative sexual relations with partners who were two years older; in other words, with 14 or 15 year old partners.

Finally, Bill C-22 also includes a transitional provision. It provides an exemption from criminal charges in cases where, on the day the legislation comes into force, youths 14 or 15 years of age and their partners five years older, are married, are common law partners or have had or are expecting a child. Then, and only then will they be allowed to continue engaging in sexual activity.

These exceptions are very important. From reading letters I received and listening to concerns expressed by social groups in my riding, I know that opinions vary concerning the age at which young people should start having sex.

However, it is important to recognize that a good number of 14 and 15 year olds have sex, mostly with young people their own age or group. Bill C-22 recognizes this and its goal is clear: it seeks to protect young people against adult sexual predators and not to criminalize sexual activity between consenting teenagers.

Bill C-22 targets adults who exploit youth, not consenting youth. In addition to protecting our young people against sexual exploitation, the bill seeks to send a message to sexual predators that Canada and Quebec do not tolerate sexual abuse of youth. In the same way, on the international scene, Bill C-22 clearly establishes that Canada and Quebec are not destinations of choice for sexual tourism. That brings me to the Internet, a phenomenal innovation that all of us can use to communicate and gain instant access to information and resources around the world. But even though it is an educational tool for our young people, it is also a new way for pedophiles and other predators to sexually exploit children and youth.

It is one of many methods used by people looking to take advantage of legislation on age of consent to sexual activity. Sexual tourism must not be allowed here.

Fortunately, the Criminal Code already has provisions on Internet luring, sexual assault and relations with a person in a position of authority. I believe that these provisions are used as appropriate. As well, Bill C-22 will make it possible for victims to tell the court, freely and above all under protection, what they have suffered. That is what I wish and it is also what the Bloc Québécois wishes.

For all these reasons, my colleagues and I will support Bill C-22 so that it can get through third reading and move on to the Senate. However, we need to look beyond a tougher Criminal Code for ways to address our social problems. The answers do not all lie in piecemeal changes to the Criminal Code. There are many barriers to overcome in the fight against sexual assault of youth, and many of them will remain even if the bill we are debating today is adopted.

For example, the low rate of disclosure and reporting by victims of sexual assault is a major obstacle in combating sexual offences. It will always be impossible to intervene if young people lie or hide their relationship to protect their offender.

I listened to the witnesses who testified before the Standing Committee on Justice during the study of Bill C-22, who said that various surveys suggest that about 10% of sexual assaults are reported annually to the forces of law and order. This shows that victims are generally reluctant to report their situation because they fear the negative reactions of those around them and their attackers’ reactions. Victims fear the problems they will experience in their role as witnesses in court.

Furthermore, I was saying how difficult it can be for parents to ensure the welfare of their children. Parents cannot always be at their children’s sides. I also respect the deep desire of youth to seek a degree of autonomy and intimacy. But I hope with all my heart that, as each of them learns about life, nothing will happen to them. And the parents’ responsibility must also be taken into consideration.

Hence the importance of prevention for our children. Sex education is a must if we really want to protect our youth from sexual exploitation. Not only must it teach them about their responsibilities concerning sexuality, that is, about the various sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, but above all it must give them the tools to protect themselves better from unwanted or exploitative sexual relations.

Better sex education enables children and youth to avoid some difficult and trying situations. Sex education provides young people with information, causes them to think and helps them make enlightened decisions.

Parents, schools and social services must contribute to this learning, since they all share this important responsibility of ensuring children’s education. Effective sex education consists, particularly for adults, in delivering messages that are clear, unambiguous and appropriate to the age of the child or adolescent.

Bill C-22 is therefore a step in the right direction. The Bloc Québécois has always recognized the need to increase the protection of our children, and this bill does so.

In the circumstances, we will support this bill.

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11:25 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-22, which has as its principal design to increase the age of consent for sexual relations from age 14 to age 16.

The critics of the bill have characterized it in a number of ways: social engineering run amok; the attempt on the part of the legislature and on the part of the state to enter into the bedrooms of the nation, once again; to discriminate against our youth; and an attempt to impose morality, which is the one that we hear most often, by those individuals in our society who believe youth of ages 14 and 15 should not engage in sexual relations.

If we study the history of the legislation and, in particular, a number of the private members' bills, there is some validity to that last charge with regard to those prior bills. It is not valid with regard to this legislation.

Because it is to some degree an issue of conscience, we as a party will treat the bill as one that will not be whipped, that individual members of our party will vote according to their values and their conscience.

I will be voting in favour of the legislation. If we go to the essence of the legislation, it is says that at this time in our history as a country, as a society, it is appropriate in order to protect our youth of the ages of 14 and 15 from being exploited by predators. The best mechanism for doing that is this legislation.

It has two significant components. We are raising the age from 14 to 16 in terms of consent to sexual activity. We are also putting in what is known in legal terminology as a near age defence, and this is absolutely crucial.

The near age defence will allow individuals, couples, to have sexual relations where the age gap between the two persons is no more than five years. That will not constitute criminal activity. If it is beyond five years, then it will be criminal activity and will call for the sanctions that are provided for in the statute and in the Criminal Code more generally.

To give a quick history, the age of consent originally in Canada until the early 1900s was 12. I know this comes as a shock to a lot of people. We got that age from England, as we took its statutes and as our jurisprudence broadened itself, and we drew the age 12 into Canada. It stayed there until the early 1900s when it was raised to age 14.

There was more tinkering with the legislation and then fairly substantial was work done on the age of consent through the late seventies, into the eighties and early nineties.

The approach at that time was to look at the relationship and to pass legislation that said in effect that this relationship, because it is inherently exploitive, would be illegal. As an example, if the relationship was one of authority to one of subservience, that was exploitive by its very nature and therefore illegal. Therefore, a number of sections were passed during that period of time.

Interestingly, in the legislation we dealt with in the last Parliament, Bill C-2, which was really the child pornography legislation, we took a fair amount of evidence on the age of consent.

What came out from the prosecutors and police who had to pursue the exploitive type of crimes was that the sections were grossly ineffective in dealing with that type of exploitation and in particular with the 14 year olds and 15 year olds. The charges are rarely laid any more because we simply cannot get convictions. That was the word we got from the prosecutors and it is backed up by strong statistics in that regard.

There is a bit more history in terms of legislative attempts. The Reform, the Alliance, even the Conservative members of Parliament primarily but not exclusively have brought forward legislation over the last 10 to 15 years to increase the age of consent. Without exception they did not put in any near age defence. We have to appreciate what we are talking about in terms of numbers.

In the last few years there are roughly 815,000 youth in that 14 year old and 15 year old category. The estimate is that approximately 125,000 of them are engaging in various forms of sexual relations. They would be caught by this legislation. Roughly 2,500 to 3,000 are or have been in relationships where the age gap was greater than five years, moving on from six and above. Those are the numbers.

The legislation that we saw coming before the House in private members' bills would have had the effect of criminalizing some of our youth. We have to appreciate in the legislation that simply raising the age from 14 to 16, would have had the effect of criminalizing 125,000 of our youth. Both parties to the relationship would have been engaged in criminal activity because one of the parties was having sexual relations with somebody who was under 16. That was a real problem and one that I have to say those parties in their various positions did not appreciate.

I finally convinced the former justice minister from Manitoba, who is now the President of the Treasury Board, to move an amendment to Bill C-2. We did it jointly. The amendment would have had the effect of raising the age with the five year near age defence. It took some convincing. I think his staff was fairly instrumental in convincing him but that is a bit of an aside.

I am making this point because I want to take a shot at the Liberals. When the amendment came before the justice committee in the last Parliament, the Liberals and the Bloc both voted against it and the amendment went down. It never got to the House. When I heard the Liberal member from Montreal ranting about delay, the reality is this particular piece of legislation could have been incorporated into Bill C-2. The attempt was made and it would have been in effect now for the better part of two years.

If there is any delay, it certainly lies in the lap of the Liberals and the Bloc for not supporting the amendment at that time. Interestingly, two years later, I think because of a great deal of political pressure, they finally have come on side.

There are still some problems with this legislation. We have heard that today. I am going to quickly go through it. I moved amendments on each one of these in committee, two of which were ruled out of order, one of which the Liberals had also moved. That dealt with the section that is clearly discriminatory, so found by a number of our courts including two courts of appeal, in Ontario and Quebec.

With regard to the discriminatory nature of section 159, which prohibits anal intercourse under the age of 18, male or female, that has been struck down repeatedly. Neither the Liberal Party in the 13 years when it was in power nor the Conservative government currently has seen fit to move to amend the code and take that section out. By the way, I introduced a private member's bill yesterday on this. In any case, it was ruled out of order in terms of amending Bill C-22.

There is another amendment that I moved. We heard a good deal of evidence about the concern of the legislation deterring young people in the age category of 14 years and 15 years from coming forward to get health care if they suspect they have a sexually transmitted disease because their partner may be five or more years older than they are. What I was trying to do in that amendment was to provide a protection within the Canada Evidence Act.

An example is if an individual came forward and said that he or she had a disease and needed treatment. Because provincial legislation requires the doctor or counsellor who is treating the individual to report that the other individual, the older person, has that disease, the younger person may decide that he or she is not going to give out that information and therefore will not get treatment or counselling.

The legislative amendment I proposed to the Canada Evidence Act was to provide people with the privilege that if they gave that kind of information, it could not be used against them or their partner in any subsequent criminal prosecution. Again, that was ruled out of order. I have prepared the amendment by way of a private member's bill, which I will be tabling in the House probably next week.

The final amendment I made was with respect to what I saw as a jurisdictional conflict between the federal government and the provincial government having to do with marriage where the age gap is greater than five years. There are jurisdictions that allow judges, along with parents and guardians, and/or ministers, usually attorneys general, to allow an individual who is younger than the stated age in the legislation, which generally is 16 to 18 across the country, to marry, usually when the couple is expecting a child.

If a judge allowed the marriage to go ahead even though the age gap was greater, the police and the prosecutors could bring that couple back, and the senior person in the relationship could end up being charged with a criminal offence. The judge would have to decide whether to convict that person. There is that anomaly.

I moved an amendment which was accepted by the committee. If a couple has the authority to get married even though the age gap is greater than five years, there is that kind of authority from the provincial government so that it would not be an infringement of this section of the Criminal Code.

In conclusion, this piece of legislation is not based on the imposition of a particular set of morals. It is about protecting our children.

Around the globe roughly 60% of the population lives in jurisdictions where the age of sexual consent is 16 or older. There is no clear pattern. We cannot say that some countries are more liberal or that others are more conservative; it does not seem to follow any pattern.

My analysis of it from some of the countries I have looked at is that we simply base it on facts, not on morality, and we say that at this time in our society we require this type of protection for our youth. That is what we have done here. It is appropriate that we have done so. As I have said earlier, I will be supporting this bill when it comes to its final vote.

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11:40 a.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

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.

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Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga for his very refreshing presentation in this discussion about age. He really covered all the bases, as it were.

Indeed one wonders why the age of consent, which used to be 12, which rose to 14, should now become 16. Why should it not continue to rise? Maybe next year there will be another bill setting the age of consent at 18. It is very arbitrary, and it seems to me that it contradicts today’s sociological trend whereby young people are getting older faster.

In this context, I would like to ask my colleague from Hochelaga whether sex education might be the best approach to take for protecting our young people. Age being a very relative thing, perhaps it is not the age that should be changed. We must definitely see how, through education, we can remove the taboos surrounding this issue.

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Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. It is true that there are no doubt considerable differences from one generation to another. This may be linked to the fact that young people have greater access to information, that they have more intellectual stimulation, that they are dealing with globalization. All of this means that young people are living in an environment perhaps less closed and controlled than we did.

I can tell you honestly that at the age of 14 we were still playing dodgeball. We were not thinking about sexual relations. So for me, I was 14 in the—

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Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

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Réal Ménard .

There is nothing wrong with that, except that I was always the one in the middle when we played dodgeball.

So my colleague is right. Sociologically there are some facts that should be recognized. Young people are having sexual relations younger, that is a fact. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Everyone has an opinion. Still I do not think it is unreasonable to say that the age of consent should be set at 16. We think this is sensible and can be defended.

Obviously, what reassures us is that in the bill from the age of 14 one can consent to sexual relations, as long as the age difference is respected.

Overall, this bill is balanced and has a very worthy objective, namely that of avoiding sexual predators. That is the reason why the Bloc will support this bill. Obviously I do not think that we will go on raising the age to 17, 18 or 19. I believe this debate will never go away permanently.

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12:05 p.m.


Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the member a question from my perspective as a principal of a school from grades K to 12 for a number of years and from grades 7 to 12 for another 10 years.

On a number of occasions I had to deal with a situation involving a 14 or 15 year old leaving home. The parents and the authorities were unable to remove that young person from a consensual situation. Has the member ever taken into consideration the impact of that kind of decision when it is allowed to be made by a 14 or 15 year old? These are kids. Like he said, he was thinking about playing ball when he was 14, nothing else.

I cannot understand why we have always neglected to discuss in full the major impact that kind of decision has on families. Parents are unable to do anything about it. The authorities are unable to do anything about it. If the parents try, they are arrested for trespassing, or interference, or whatever. It is always against the parents.

Bill C-22 would have corrected that even back in the days when earlier bills were rejected, and recently when the bill put forward by the member for Lethbridge was rejected.

Why have those members not put a lot of emphasis on that kind of thing? Do they not understand the importance of family and how strong a family needs to be? This bill in its present form, unless we change it, is a hindrance to that healthy family style.

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12:05 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not understand the member's comments. The bill brought forward by his government has the support of all political parties in this House: the Bloc supports it, as do the Liberals, the New Democrats and, of course, the government.

I repeat that the Bloc believes that 16 is a reasonable age to consent to sexual activity, except for the close in age exemption that I explained earlier, which relates to sexual activity between young people in a school environment. My colleague is also right when he talks about unfortunate situations where a young person entered into a relationship with an older person and where parents feared, and rightly so, that the relationship was exploitative but did not have the tools to intervene. The bill addresses that problem and this is why the Bloc is happy to support it.

The member for Wild Rose did introduce a similar bill, the difference being that his bill did not contain a close in age exemption, which made us fear that we would be criminalizing young teenagers who engaged in non exploitative sexual activity amongst themselves. That correction having been made in the government bill, the Bloc is happy to support it.

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12:05 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the debate today the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice used the language about exploitative sexual activity in a context which may have been misunderstood.

Could the hon. member from the Bloc maybe make it clear that under the Criminal Code of Canada exploitative sexual activity at any age is already a crime under the Criminal Code, and that indeed what we have here is sexual activity, with the proviso that there is a five year near in age exemption? This means, should this bill pass, and I hope it does, that a 16 year old could have sexual activity with a 21 year old.

It is not to legislate anything different than that. There is a near in age exemption, but the exploitive aspect is something that should be clearly understood, that this is not addressing solely predators, it is addressing Canadians.

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12:10 p.m.


Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, our colleague is right. Any exploitative sexual activity must be condemned. It is very relevant that he should remind us of the Criminal Code provisions.

In closing, I will say that these provisions deal with sexual activity involving prostitution or a relationship of authority.

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May 3rd, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I congratulate you formally on getting second reading on your Bill C-343, to amend the Criminal Code, motor vehicle theft. I was very proud to support that.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-22 today. The bill amends the Criminal Code to raise the age from 14 to 16 at which a person can consent to non-exploitive sexual activity. 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 to another person.

Bill C-22 will better protect our youth against sexual exploitation by adult predators and I believe it strikes an appropriate balance that will not target consenting teenagers.

The age of consent of 14 has been around since the Canadian Criminal Code was consolidated in 1892, and the change proposed in the bill is long overdue. Most of the U.S. states, by and large, have 16 as the age of consent, as do most of the states of Australia as well as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Belgium, Finland and many other countries.

BillC-22 was tabled on June 22, 2006, and we are fast approaching the one year anniversary of the government bringing forward the legislation. The Conservative government knows that a majority of MPs in the House of Commons want to pass the bill, the government's bill, and yet we are debating a bill that could have been passed months ago.

I have been incredibly disappointed with the Conservative government's constant delay of legislation that it has put forward.

The Liberal opposition has tried three times in the last six months to expedite a number of government bills dealing with justice issues and each time the Conservative Party has shown that it is more interested in gaining partisan advantage than in actually passing its own legislation.

The Liberal opposition even tried to table a motion that proposed the immediate passing of seven of the nine bills that the government brought forward. All of this legislation could have been in the Senate long ago and some even passed into law, effectively disposing of more than half of the government's entire justice agenda.

Unfortunately, the Conservative House leader raised a point of order to block the Liberal motion and caused further delays in passing serious anti-crime legislation. The citizens of Canada are seeing for themselves how hollow Conservative words ring when it actually comes to implementing a serious crime agenda.

This is not the only legislative game the Conservative government is playing. It refuses to bring Bill C-30 to the House. It is delaying private members' business dealing with climate change in the Senate. It has delayed seven different justice related bills in the past few months. It is absolutely incredible.

Over that period of time in my own riding of Newton—North Delta, the city of Surrey has brought forward its own crime reduction plan, which I spoke to earlier this week. The Liberal opposition has brought forward a plan to hire 400 new RCMP officers and fast track justice legislation on which we all agree. Instead, we have seen dithering, delay and broken promises. The biggest being the Conservative government's promise to hire 2,500 new police officers, which it did not get it done. The mayor of Vancouver brought forward more money for new police officers this year than Canada's government for the entire country.

It is time for the Conservative government to stop playing politics with the issue of crime reduction and prevention. People expect better and rhetoric will not cover for the fact that this bill should have been passed months ago.

Passing Bill C-22 will give police more tools to stop predators that our officers see on the street every day. It will bring us in line with the majority of western democracies and most importantly, it will give us an even greater capacity to protect our children.

According to Detective Janet Hall of the Toronto Police child exploitative section, this bill will change for the better the way police investigate child pornography, underage prostitution and Internet luring. In effect, more kids will be protected and more predators will go to jail where they belong.

A senior member of the RCMP child exploitative unit has praised steps to raise the age of consent as another step toward protecting our children on line.

I am also on the access to information committee and I have heard the witnesses coming there. The Salvation Army has written that those between the ages of 13 to 15, who are most vulnerable to being manipulated into a sexual relationship, will be more protected and it will end any charge that Canada is in fact a destination for sex tourism and sexual trafficking.

Tamara Lampton from my riding of Newton—North Delta wrote to me and said: “It's not about what party is right or wrong; it's about protecting the most vulnerable in our great nation”.

Kathy Ford wrote to me and said: “I'm praying you will cast your yes vote on this bill and protect our children, who are our most valuable resource”.

Laurie Leiggett wrote to me and said: “I believe Canada must step up to the plate and be a leader in protecting children from sexual exploitation, not a haven for pedophiles”.

What does that say? This is exactly what I was saying earlier, that the Conservative government could have acted months ago to protect these children who have been exploited within that timeframe.

I realize that many members on the other side of the House agree with this legislation, but there is a big difference between moving the legislation and actually passing the legislation. The Conservative government will have to do a lot of explaining to those Canadians who are appalled at the partisan Conservative delay tactics that have stalled Bill C-22.

As a father of three young children and as an elected member of Parliament who has consistently reflected my community's desire that we be tougher on crime and work toward crime reduction and prevention strategy, I implore the Conservative government to stop playing politics with the Criminal Code and allow this legislation to pass as soon as possible.

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12:15 p.m.


Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate and respect the fact that the member is here in this institution doing the best job he can. What I have a difficult time understanding is that the member is giving a canned speech. That is a canned speech.

First of all, if he were to look back over the last 15 years, he would never have made a statement that I and my colleague from Calgary Northeast and others over here have been playing games with this. We are not playing games with this. I have never played games with this kind of an issue in all the years I have been here and members on that side of the House darn well know it. I hate to be accused of those kinds of things. I hate to be accused of that when they know it is not true.

Second, I want to remind the member that my colleague from Calgary Northeast and I approached the first justice minister that was on duty, Mr. Allan Rock, about this very issue years ago. In all those years it was never brought forward to be dealt with, never. One minister after another refused to bring forward legislation.

The last point I want to make is that in 2005 we did have a vote on this and guess who voted no? The minority Liberal government at that time voted no, so I think it is too bad that the member has to read this canned speech which is not really very accurate. It is too bad for him because I think he is a genuine man with grandchildren who wants to protect children. I appreciate his support for Bill C-22 and thank him very much for that; however, I wanted to make that comment to set the record straight.

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12:20 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member for Wild Rose standing up in the House and saying a few words.

This hon. member is going back 15 years. I would like to remind the member that if we go back just a month, I am sure he was present in the House at the time when the House leader of the official opposition brought in a motion to expedite seven out of the nine legislative bills on the justice agenda. What did we do? We wanted to support that. We wanted to make sure that we protect Canadians.

I have been in the House just over a year and a half. The member has been here longer than I. He should recall that this is the party that in this parliamentary setting wanted to pursue the justice agenda as far as we could without delaying it, but it was in fact his party that has played with our young children. If this legislation would have passed two months ago, then the youth, those 12, 13 and 14 year olds, would not have been at risk. I can say as a parent of a young family that there are many parents like me who feel that this Conservative government has betrayed those parents.

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12:20 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

I will begin, Mr. Speaker, by repeating that the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-22. We believe, however, that strengthening the Criminal Code is not the only option. Notwithstanding what the Conservatives may think, strengthening the Criminal Code piece by piece, as contemplated, is not the only way to build a better Canada.

My colleague from Newton—North Delta said earlier that when it comes to sexual exploitation, poverty is a factor. I would like to know if he was referring to poverty leading to sexual activity at a younger age or poverty causing sexual exploitation.

In Canada, fewer people are poor. It is easy to say that there is less poverty, but I would point out that—and I would like my colleague from Newton—North Delta to comment on that—while the poor may be fewer, they are poorer. Hence the breeding ground for sexual problems and predation.

I would like my colleague to enlighten us, if he could.

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12:20 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member from the Bloc for bringing this forward. In fact, I cannot agree more with him that strengthening the criminal justice bills is not the only way; preventing the crime is another way of doing it.

We have to be stronger when it comes to social programs. When it comes to poverty, I can say that I see this in Surrey and the Whalley part of my riding. When I went with my daughter to volunteer, I could see the homeless people. They are more vulnerable to exploitation when it comes to poverty.

Therefore, the government has to do something about it. When we cancelled the child care agreements, what does that tell Canadians? It tells Canadians that we are not serious about taking care of our children.

Every health professional in this country has made this clear, that the first six years of a child's life when it is growing up are the most important years. That means early learning and child care.

This is the government that cancelled those provisions that we had with the provinces. When it comes to poverty, I always stand here in the House and give my support, whether it is the homelessness situation or any social issue, and I see him supporting those issues as well.

I am very proud to see that because that is one way to alleviate poverty and take those exploited children off the streets as well.

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12:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Ken Epp

The hon. member for York West.

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12:25 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to see you sitting in the Chair. Maybe what you are doing is practising for the future, so there might be another opportunity for you.

I want to begin by applauding my colleague for his dedication and pursuit of issues like this. He never misses an opportunity to speak to the issues of protecting his community, protecting Canadians, and very importantly, protecting our children from exploitation.

I would like to ask the hon. member this. Does he recognize that the Internet has become such an explosive area for the exploitation of many people but especially our young and vulnerable children? Does he feel that Bill C-22 will be effective enough in achieving that goal?

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12:25 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member because she was my mentor. I am very thankful to her for spending a lot of time in my riding in previous years.

When it comes to Internet exploitation, I touched on the fact earlier that I am on the access to information committee. We have heard witnesses at that particular committee that there is a problem with this. We are trying to tighten that in the legislation. We are going to study access to information in those computer-related exploitation cases. We will bring in strengthening laws, so that our police can do a better job and take immediate steps to deal with this situation.

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12:25 p.m.


Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the member for Newton—North Delta is supportive of the bill. It is a very important bill. It has been introduced in the House numerous times over the years.

I will give a little history for the member because I know that he is a new member in the House and may not understand the battle that took place over all those years just to bring the bill to this point. It was generated, for the most part, by the opposition at that time, which was Reform, Alliance and the Conservative Party.

The fact that he supports the bill is probably the most important issue and I know he wants to make it as tough as possible because several times he mentioned his children. It is not just his children but it is the youngsters across this country who need protection. They are the vulnerable ones. They require the attention of this House to ensure that they live in a secure environment.

During the committee time, and I want to point this out to the member because I know he is not a member of the justice committee, Bill C-22 was amended. There was an amendment that affected the matter of relationships, that if the individuals were married, that could actually be used as a defence, so a 14 year old could be married to a 40 year old. I am wondering why he--

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12:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Unfortunately, I will have to interrupt the hon. member and allow the hon. member for Newton--North Delta a very short time to respond.

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12:25 p.m.


Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member for Calgary Northeast mentioned, I am not on the justice committee,. When it comes to the issue of marriage, I would have to read more about it and get back to him. I certainly will get back to him once I have gone through that particular clause.

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12:30 p.m.


Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like thank all members of the House of Commons who are supporting this measure. I and many of my colleagues have been waiting a long time for this.

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Northeast.

The member for Calgary Northeast and I have been here since 1993 and one of the first major meetings we had was with the then appointed justice minister, Mr. Allan Rock. At that meeting the member for Calgary Northeast pointed out to the justice minister, loudly and clearly, particularly from a policeman's point of view, the need for having this kind of legislation in place.

Strangely enough, the minister at that time seemed to agree that it was a good cause and, of course, I reinforced it from an educator's point of view. It seems police and educators work with the same people quite often on the same issues. I want to commend the member for Calgary Northeast on his dedication to correcting this situation over the years. I know he is as glad as I am today that this legislation is about to come to light and that it will happen.

I also want to point out that several members in the House of Commons are very positive about seeing this happen. Some of us think it is long overdue, but it is finally here. A colleague I would like to mention, who is my good friend but who is no longer here, is Darrel Stinson, the former member for Okanagan—Shuswap. He presented this bill way back in the early years, like many of us, and spoke many times on this kind of issue.

I could commend a lot of people, even from the Liberal side, who spoke quite strongly about getting this thing moving. It is going to happen but it is too bad that it takes so long under our process to get something accomplished that absolutely makes no sense not to get done soon. I really do not believe that some members in the House of Commons recognize or know the seriousness of allowing 14 and 15 year olds to be of legal age for age of consent.

I was an educator for about 30 years and the principal of a small town school which contained that age group. Even in small towns throughout this country there is the problem of 14 and 15 year olds being allowed to decide through consent that they can take up residence with an older person, basically for the purpose of engaging in sex or other activities, and not having to worry about getting their parents' permission. For the life of me, I could never understand how a country could consider 14 and 15 year olds anything other than children. They are young people and most of them in junior high school.

I can recall the days when we could not do anything in the schoolyard. When a 14 year old consented to get into a car and take off with a 20 or 21 year old, I wanted to run out and stop the person but I had no authority to do that because the 14 year old had the privilege of age of consent.

Many times parents came to me broken-hearted after having gone to the police and would ask me what they could do. Nobody could do anything. Yes, if children were lured or enticed and there was any evidence of exploitation in a relationship, then something could be done because it was against the law, but most of the time if a 14 or 15 year old indicated that he or she had given consent then nothing could be done.

I can name a number of cases where a father has removed his 14 year old daughter from that situation and has put her into a better place under better supervision only to be arrested and charged with trespassing or, if he forcefully entered a residence to withdraw his child from that situation, with assault or break and enter. That just does not make sense.

In 1993, when I was first elected, I said that I would like to see the existing laws, which have failed to protect our children better, changed. When I would visit some police departments I was amazed to hear about the problems, even in those days before the Internet, with child pornography and the difficulty the police were having in bringing those violators of this evil stuff to prosecution because we were too worried in this place about the rights of the criminal.

We have the Charter of Rights, which is a wonderful document, but along with the Charter of Rights there should have been a charter of responsibility: a responsibility that would protect our children and a responsibility that would give the parents the right to enforce what they need to enforce, no matter what it took because it is kids we are looking after. However, the laws of the land and the court systems would interfere and always seemed to put an emphasis on protecting the bad guy.

One of the first cases happened in Calgary. I remember a five year old girl being abducted from her backyard. This poor girl was handicapped. I believe she was deaf. Later that evening they found her body in a dumpster. She had been raped and murdered. When the perpetrator was found and arrested, do members know what happened? The perpetrator received psychiatric help. He was seen by psychologists and medical doctors. He was looked after. He was coached. All those things.

In the meantime, the family of the five year old girl, the parents and the siblings, were breaking apart at the seams. One can only imagine how they felt but where was their aid? Where was their assistance? It just was not there, unless they wanted to cough up the money and pay for it themselves.

The member for Calgary Northeast and I have recognized for nearly 15 years how wrong that was and we fought hard to get everyone to recognize with their own eyes the evilness of child pornography and to get rid of it. However, we were always blocked. Nothing is more important than the protection of our children and yet we stumble over little things. We need to stop that.

I want to pay tribute to KINSA, Kids' Internet Safety Alliance, a group I met with last night in Toronto, which is a big supporter of this bill. Its members were happy to hear that Bill C-22, the age of protection, the raising the age of consent, would be coming to light. They were so happy that they wanted me to express this morning, if I had the chance, which I now have, their thanks to the House of Commons for finally getting this done. I, in turn, want to congratulate them and their organization, right from Bill Gates, down through Paul Gillespie, through to the whole pile of people who made a big effort in fighting this child pornography and this Internet garbage that is going on. I pay tribute to them. Let us help them by making the laws right. Today is our chance, with Bill C-22, to get things started.

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12:40 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member for Wild Rose. Before I do, let me repeat that we support this bill.

At present, we can see that the low rate of disclosure and reporting by victims of sexual assault is a major obstacle in the fight against sexual offences. It is impossible to take action if a young person lies or hides a relationship to protect his or her assailant. Studies suggest that barely 10% of sexual assaults against young people are reported to the police.

I would like the member for Wild Rose to comment on this. How can Bill C-22 bring the 90% of young victims who do not report being assaulted to file a complaint? They are reluctant to report the situation because they fear retaliation from their abuser, among other things. I would like the hon. member to tell us how, once this bill is passed, these 90% of young victims will be able to come out and report their abusers.