Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-313, an act to amendment the Criminal Code, prohibited sexual acts. Bill C-313 proposes criminal law amendments to raise the age of consent to sexual activity for some but not all sexual offences against children.
The protection of children and youth is an issue that is well-known to hon. members. The age of consent to sexual activity, as a component of this broader issue, is also not a new issue for us. Although I think we should agree that the protection of our youth against sexual exploitation is a priority for many, if not for all of us, it is clear that we cannot agree on the best and most effective ways to achieve this objective.
I cannot support Bill C-313 for it is an incomplete and ineffective approach. Bill C-313 proposes amendments that will raise the age of consent to non-exploitative sexual activity from 14 to 16 years for some but not all sexual offences against children.
The age of consent is not a term that is used in the Criminal Code, but it is one that is commonly used to refer to the age below which the criminal law does not recognize the legal capacity of a young person to consent to sexual activity. All sexual activity with persons below this age, ranging from sexual touching such as kissing to sexual intercourse, is prohibited, but any non-consensual activity regardless of age is a sexual assault.
One shortcoming of Bill C-313 is that it seeks to provide youth with greater protection against sexual exploitation by focusing, not on the exploitative conduct of the wrongdoer, as the Criminal Code does generally with sexual assault, but rather on whether the young person consented to be exploited. This is an odd approach.
Another limitation is that Bill C-313 only recognizes one factor as an indicator of a young person's vulnerability to being sexually exploited, namely the young person's chronological age. Bill C-313 appears to arbitrarily set it at age 16. Again, this is a bit at odds with the fact that most would readily acknowledge that not all 14 year olds have the same level of maturity and even that some 14 year olds are more mature than some 17 year olds.
Therefore I am not sure why the bill would not similarly consider the specific circumstances of the young person as being reasonable indicators of the young person's vulnerability to being sexually exploited.
Another significant shortcoming of Bill C-313 is that it does not propose to impose a uniform age of consent for all related offences. It does not amend the following offences: section 159, anal intercourse; section 172.1, luring a child over the Internet for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against the child; section 273.3, removal of a child from Canada for the purpose of committing one of the enumerated child sexual offences; section 810.1, peace bond to prevent a known or suspected child sex offender from frequenting places where children can be expected to congregate or from engaging in activity that involves contact with young persons, including communicating with young persons through the use of a computer system such as the Internet.
The most significant shortcoming of Bill C-313 is that it would criminalize youth for engaging in consensual, non-exploitative sexual activity even with peers. The bill does not provide a close in age exception. For example, it would be illegal for a 15 year old to engage in sexual activity with her 16 or 17 year old boyfriend, even though such activity may have been legal immediately before his 16th birthday and importantly, even though we all know that such activity is common. Turning these persons into young offenders does not provide them with better protection.
I do not support Bill C-313 for its approach. Instead, I think the better and more effective approach is the government's approach as reflected in Bill C-2, protection of children and other vulnerable persons, currently before the justice committee.
Bill C-2 proposes to create a new category of prohibited sexual exploitation of a young person who is over the age of consent for sexual activity; that is, who is 14 years of age or older and under 18 years.
Under this new offence, courts would be directed to infer that the relationship with a young person is exploitative of that young person by looking to the nature and circumstances of that relationship. The bill would direct the court to consider specific indicators of exploitation including: the age of the young person; any difference in age between the young person and the other person; the evolution of the relationship; and the degree of control of influence exerted over the young person.
Simply stated, Bill C-2 would recognize chronological age as well as other factors as indicators of vulnerability. It would recognize that the particular circumstances of some youth, including 16 and 17 year olds, may put them at greater risk of being exploited. It would recognize that the way in which a relationship develops, for example, secretly over the Internet, can also be an indicator.
Under Bill C-2 all youth between 14 and 18, not just 14 and 16 years as proposed by Bill C-313, would receive increased protection, irrespective of whether the exploitation was at the hands of someone who was much older or close in age.
Bill C-2 also focuses the law's attention on the wrongdoer instead of whether the young person ostensibly consented to that conduct. Bill C-2 says, in fact, that young persons cannot legally consent to be sexually exploited.
While some may debate whether young persons should engage in any sexual activity and at what age, the fact remains that Canadian youth, as young or younger than 12 years old, are sexually active.
It is clear that Bill C-313 would criminalize youth for engaging in normal adolescent sexual activity, even when that activity is engaged in with a peer. As I said, while one may not agree with youth engaging in such activity, there are other far more effective ways than using the state's strongest power, the criminal law power, to educate our children about their sexuality.
For all these reasons, I do not support Bill C-313.