Hon. Vic Toews (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC)
moved that Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to commence second reading debate on Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act.
Bill C-22 would fulfill one of the government's commitment to tackle crime. With the bill, we are proposing to raise the age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years to better protect youth against sexual exploitation by adult predators. Our focus is on the protection of youth. That is why we are renaming the “age of consent” as “the age of protection”.
There are many issues on which hon. members do not always see eye to eye, but the protection of children and youth against sexual exploitation should not be one of them. This is an issue on which I belive we should be able to speak with one voice, one that unanimously and clearly condemns those adults who prey on and sexually exploit our youth.
In 2002 POLLARA polled Canadians on whether they thought the age of consent should be raised from 14 to 16 years. Seventy-two per cent of those polled said, yes, it should be raised.
The Ontario College of Teachers, the licensing and regulatory body for the 200,000 teachers in that province, reported in August of this year that 84% of teachers polled supported the government's proposal to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years.
As college chair Marilyn Laframboise said:
|| Clearly, teachers who spend a good part of their daily working lives interacting with teens care about students' safety, protection and emotional development. Safeguarding young people against sexual predators makes sense.
Canadians have been asking for this for years and the government has heard and answered their call with Bill C-22.
Regrettably the sexual exploitation of children is not a new problem. How it is being committed is something that is changing due, in large part, to the rapid development and ever-growing use of the Internet and other new technologies.
There can be no doubt that the Internet has been a phenomenal innovation from which each of us has been able to benefit through instantaneous and worldwide communications and access to information and resources. As an educational tool for youth, the Internet has become invaluable, but it has also provided a new means through which pedophiles and others can sexually exploit children and youth.
Law enforcement agencies, including the Canadian Association of the Chiefs of Police, have long called for increasing the age of protection to help them combat online child sexual exploitation. Like them, the government believes that Bill C-22 would help us prevent the exploitation of youth by adults, including where it is facilitated through the use of the Internet.
Nowhere is this problem more dramatically illustrated than by the case of Michael Simonson in April 2005. Simonson was turned back by Canadian border agents after he told them he was coming to meet a 15 year old girl in Canada who he had met on the Internet for sex. He was arrested by U.S. authorities as he was returning and was charged under their laws that made attempted enticement of a minor an offence. A search of Simonson's computer showed extensive research into Canada's laws of consent and Internet luring laws. Of course there is no law against it in Canada.
After a guilty plea, Simonson was sentenced to 10 years in an American prison, followed by 10 years of probation. In Canada, he would have been scot free. The American courts are protecting Canadian children. That is a disgrace.
This is but one example of adult predators acting to take advantage of Canada's laws with respect to consent for sexual activity. Sex tourism of this sort should not, and cannot, be permitted in Canada. What a farce that Canada puts forward sex tourism laws and yet people from all over the world know it to be soft on the abuse of children in this fashion. Internet chat rooms indicate on a daily basis they know the laws. They come here because the government, until now, has refused to act on this matter.
To understand the scope of reform proposed by Bill C-22 one has to understand the current law on the age of consent.
First, what do we mean by the age of consent, or the age of protection, as we now refer to it? This is the age at which the criminal law recognizes the legal capacity of a young person to consent to engage in sexual activity. Below this age, a young person cannot validly consent to engage in any form of sexual activity. Where the activity involves exploitative sexual activity, that is prostitution, child pornography or where there is a relationship of trust, authority, dependency, or is one that is otherwise exploitative of a young person, the Criminal Code currently provides that the age of protection is 18 years. Bill C-22 would maintain this age of protection.
However, the trust provisions in the Criminal Code are very rarely, if ever, used because of the difficulty of having to rely on a child to demonstrate there was no trust exploitation. For all other types of sexual activity, the current age of consent is 14 years. In my experience people are often surprised to learn just how low this age of consent is and, indeed, to learn just how vulnerable 14 and 15 year old youth are to being sexually exploited by adult predators, including over the Internet.
Police point out that this low age is often known by sexual predators and encourages them to target Canada in search of younger victims who would not be able to consent in countries with a higher age of consent. I pointed out the prior case where that was exactly one such instance, where the American courts protect Canadian children because Canadian authorities cannot protect them under the existing laws.
The current Criminal Code provides an exception to the 14 year age of consent. Specifically a 12 or 13 year old can consent to engage in sexual activity with another person provided that the other person is less than two years older, is under 16 years of age and is not a relationship of authority, trust, dependency or one that is otherwise exploitative of the 12 or 13 year old.
Members will recall the case of the young native girl who was exploited in Saskatchewan not that long ago. The judge said that the accused thought the person was 14. After they fed that young girl liquor, they sexually abused her. The judge said, because the individual thought she was 14, that there was no offence. This is the reality of the law in Canada today.
While we do have this close in age exemption with the 12 and 13 year old, its objective is to prevent the criminalization of sexual activity between two young consenting persons. Bill C-22 would maintain this two year close in age exemption for 12 and 13 year olds. The proposed reforms in Bill C-22 build upon the existing current laws by extending the current protection for those under the age of 14 years to better protect 14 and 15 year olds against sexual abuse.
I appreciate that there may be different views on when young persons should engage in sexual activity, but the reality is many 14 and 15 year olds are sexually active, mostly with peers or cohorts. Bill C-22 recognizes this reality because our objective is clear. It is to protect youth against adult sexual predators and not to criminalize consensual teenage sexual activity.
Accordingly Bill C-22 proposes to create an additional close in age exception for 14 and 15 year olds. Under this new exception, a 14 and 15 year old could consent to engage in sexual activity with a peer so long as the other person was less than five years older and provided, as always, that the relationship was not one of trust, authority, dependency and was not otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Some may question the five year close in age exemption and may instead prefer it to be a two year or three year close in age exemption, such as we have for the 12 and 13 year olds. Again, we have to be mindful of our objective with Bill C-22. It is to prevent adult predators from sexually exploiting 14 and 15 years olds, not to criminalize consensual sexual activity between teenagers.
In my view the proposed five year close in age exemption reflects a reasonable cohort for 14 and 15 year olds and one that we would find in many Canadian high schools. I note the position of Beyond Borders, for example, which has championed this issue for so many years. It, in fact, indicated that a five year close in age exemption was the appropriate exemption. There were problems with the two year and the three year, but Beyond Borders, in its very eloquent discussion of this issue, indicated that this would get the bulk of those who want to exploit our children.
Similarly, Bill C-22 acknowledges the possibility that when the new age of protection comes into force, there could be an exceptional few number of individuals 14 and 15 years old who are already in an established or pre-existing relationship with a partner who is five years or more older and who will therefore not benefit from the proposed five year close in age exemption.
Accordingly, Bill C-22 proposes to provide a transitional or time limited exception for two types of relationships, specifically for individuals 14 or 15 years old who are already in a relationship with a partner who is five years or more older than when the new age of protection comes into force. Bill C-22 proposes a time limited exception where they are already married or they are living in a common law relationship as defined by the Criminal Code or, as proposed by Bill C-22, provided always that the relationship is not one of authority, trust, dependency or is otherwise not exploitative of the young person.
Section 2 of the Criminal Code defines a common law partner as a person with whom an individual is living in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year. Bill C-22 would also provide an exception for a common law relationship that has not endured the requisite minimum period of time but has produced a child or one is expected.
Some may be surprised that we need these transitional exceptions. Let me explain why. The provinces and territories, as part of their responsibility over the solemnization of marriage, have enacted a minimum age to marry with parental consent. This age is 16 years except in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut where it is 15 years. All jurisdictions except Quebec, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador provide exceptions to this rule by allowing persons under 16 or 15 years of age to marry with judicial order, or in the case of Ontario, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, with the written permission of a responsible minister. In these cases approval is generally based upon a consideration of whether the marriage is in the interest of the person or it is expedient to allow the marriage or because the female is pregnant.
Bill C-22 would therefore provide a time limited exception where an individual 14 or 15 years old is already married to a partner who is five years or more older, as at the time of the coming into force of the new age of protection. Thereafter, an individual 14 or 15 years old could still marry another person who is less than five years than that individual provided that it is not an exploitive relationship and subject of course to the provincial and territorial legislative requirements.
As to the proposed transitional exception for existing common law relationships involving an individual 14 or 15 years old and a partner who is five years or more older, it is important to appreciate that this exception will only be available if the relationship meets the prescribed definition of common law and it is not illegal or exploitive of the younger partner.
Bill C-22 proposes this requirement for the common law relationship exception but not for the marriage exception. This is because in contrast to marriage, there is not judicial or ministerial approval of the common law relationship involving youth to ensure that such a relationship is in the best interest or in the interest of the young individual who is 14 or 15 years old.
In other words, there is no prior assessment of whether the relationship is illegal or exploitative of the young person. As a result, Bill C-22 would only provide an exception for a common law relationship involving an individual 14 or 15 years old with a partner who is older by five years or more, if it meets the prescribed common law definition, and again the relationship is not exploitative or illegal.
What is the effect of Bill C-22's higher age of protection? It says to adults without equivocation, if they are five years or more older than an individual 14 or 15 years old, they would be committing a sexual offence if they engage in any sexual activity with that young person. It says to foreign adult predators that we will not allow them to come here to sexually exploit our youth. It says to individuals 14 and 15 years old that they deserve the same protection against adult predators as do individuals 12 and 13 years old.
It says to the international community that we take very seriously our international obligation and commitments to protect children and youth against sexual exploitation. By raising Canada's age of protection from 14 to 16 years, we will join other countries that already have a higher age of protection of 16 years or more, and we will more effectively meet our international commitments to protect youth against sexual exploitation.
It says to the police that we have heard them and we agree that we can do more to support them in their efforts to protect Canadian youth against sexual exploitation. I specifically want to commend individuals like Paul Gillespie, formerly of the Toronto city police, for his work and the work of his police officers in tackling that very difficult problem. I also want to specifically thank Chief Bevan of Ottawa who was there with us at the launching of this particular bill.
Bill C-22 proposes a higher age of consent which will give a much needed new tool to police. Police have told me that a higher age of protection of 16 years will help them to better protect those teens who are at risk of being targeted by on-line adult sexual predators.
Earlier this year, the United States national center for missing and exploited children released a report on the 2005 youth Internet safety survey, a survey of 1,500 representative national samples of youth Internet users aged 10 to 17 years. It found that of the youth who were targeted for sexual solicitations and approaches on the Internet, 81% were 14 years of age or older, 70% were girls and 30% were boys.
Similar findings have been made here in Canada. Cybertip.ca, Canada's national tip line for on-line sexual exploitation of children, and which I am pleased to note is being supported by the federal government under our national strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet, reported in March of 2005 that luring reports represented 10% of all reports received during its two year pilot phase. Of these reports, 93% of the victims were female and the majority, or 73%, were between the ages of 12 and 15 years. These reports indicate that individuals 14 and 15 years old are at greater risk of being sexually exploited through Internet luring, and so we believe that Bill C-22 will enable police to more effectively protect youth aged 14 and 15 years from on-line predatory behaviour.
At the beginning of my remarks, I quoted the chair of the Ontario College of Teachers, and I do so again because her words describe so well what the government and indeed all Canadians believe: “Safeguarding young people against sexual predators makes sense”.
Bill C-22 will safeguard individuals 14 and 15 years old against adult sexual predators. Bill C-22 makes sense. It proposes a new and very clear line. All sexual activity with individuals 14 and 15 years old is strictly forbidden where the adult is five years or more older. This will in turn better protect individuals 14 and 15 years old against adult sexual predators because it will no longer be a question of whether they consented to such exploitive activity.
I would say that as a former prosecutor, knowing the difficulty that a young child has on the stand, trying to justify the conduct or to say that there was no consent, is a very difficult burden. We want to take that burden off the shoulders of the children and put it right onto the pedophiles where that burden properly belongs.
As I have said, Bill C-22 will give police a welcome new tool to help them in their tireless efforts to combat child sexual exploitation. Now is the time for Parliamentarians to join together in support of an objective that I think we all agree is a priority, namely the protection of children against sexual exploitation.
I call upon all hon. members to support Bill C-22, so that our actions reflect our words and our commitments. Let us say with one voice to individuals 14 and 15 years old that they deserve the same protection against adult predators as individuals 12 and 13 years old currently have, and let us unanimously condemn adult sexual predators. Let us do this now by supporting Bill C-22.
Hon. Sue Barnes (London West, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-22. I am also very aware that all the justice critics need to be in committee for clause by clause of another justice bill right after this, so I am going to truncate my remarks to help get all the right people in the room who need to be there shortly after question period.
I will say at the outset that our party will support the bill. In doing so, we are following up on work that has gone on over a number of years. The Speech from the Throne of October 5, 2004 committed the government to cracking down on child pornography. Similarly, in the previous Speech from the Throne, the former Liberal government committed to reinstating former Bill C-20, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.
The bill was reinstated on February 12, 2004 as Bill C-12. It was awaiting second reading in the Senate at the time of that Parliament's dissolution for a federal election. In June 2004 the then prime minister reiterated support for reintroduction of the package as the first legislative item in the new Parliament. I know that the former minister of justice, the hon. member for Mount Royal, introduced in the former Parliament Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act. It received third reading on June 9, 2005, royal assent on July 20, 2005, and came into force in its entirety less than a year ago, on January 2, 2006. Bill C-2, then, is built on reforms previously proposed in the former Bill C-12 and proposed reforms in five key areas.
I might reiterate, too, that former Bill C-12, by a procedural motion, a hoist motion, from the then opposition Conservative Party, was prevented from going forward a couple of years earlier.
Be that as it may, when I hear the Minister of Justice incorrectly saying that nothing was done, I have to put on the record that we did strengthen prohibitions against child pornography.
We broadened the definition of child pornography to include audio formats as well as written material “that has, as its predominant characteristic, the description of prohibited sexual activity” with children “where that description is provided for a sexual purpose“. We prohibited advertising child pornography, increasing the maximum sentences and making a number of offences have more bite.
We wanted to protect young persons against sexual exploitation. One of the things that I like in Bill C-22 is that the government has not disposed of that section that was so important, the section that talked about the exploitation of children. It had prohibited sexual activity with young persons between 14 and 18. Under Bill C-2, a court would be directed to “infer that a relationship is exploitative of the young person based on its nature and circumstances, including the age of the young person, any difference of age, the evolution of the relationship, and the degree of control or influence exercised over the young person”.
Consistent with the existing criminal law treatment of sexual assault, that bill focused on the offending conduct of the accused rather than just on the young person's consent to that conduct. That was always the concern, that it was not just an age number, because the age of 14 has been in the Criminal Code and utilized since the late 1800s. It was the “exploitative” nature, and I am pleased that the bill keeps this, because that helps in our being able to come forward with our consent today.
We did increase the penalties for offences against children.
We facilitated testimony not only for child victims and witnesses under 18 years but for other vulnerable victims and witnesses. This is procedural, to help stop re-victimization in the court process.
We created a new voyeurism offence. Today we have those cameras that take pictures; that is why we needed this.
In 2002 we also created the offence of Internet luring under section 172.1 of the Criminal Code. That prohibited the use of a computer system, including the Internet, to communicate with a young person for the purpose of committing a sexual assault against that person. It can and is being successfully charged, irrespective of whether a sexual assault actually took place. The fact of the offending conduct of trying to lure a child via a computer system is what we were getting at and it is there.
Also, just a few weeks back, a private member's bill on increasing sentences passed in the House.
Today's Bill C-22 is an improvement over former private members' bills, no matter how good the intention was. The fact is that now this bill has the five year close in age exception and that will go a long way, I think, in helping us to accept this bill and give our consent to it.
In fact, in our Liberal justice plan announced last week, this was one of the bills that we said would be put forward and given consent by our party, along with the other bills of conditional sentencing and imprisonment, as amended in committee, such as: Bill C-9; Bill C-18, an act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification; Bill C-19, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act; Bill C-23, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments); and Bill C-26, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal interest rate), which was debated in the House last week under the topic of payday loans.
We on this side will add Bill C-22 to that list of bills. There are about 11 government justice bills. This one makes six that the Liberals are prepared to move forward in the Liberal justice plan, although we do not think that these bills are universally perfect. But we could find flaws with all pieces of legislation in the House. There are sections in this bill to do with unconstitutional areas of the Criminal Code, which we could have fixed. The justice minister has chosen not to do that, but at this stage I think the protection of children should be our utmost priority.
Listening in the chamber today was one of the good police officers who has to work in this area. He was kind enough to give some Liberal members a briefing. Unfortunately, his colleague from the federal police services was not allowed to do that, for reasons unknown.
On this side of the House, we as the official opposition are prepared to support this bill. I am prepared now to move on and give my time so that critics from the other parties can all be present in the justice committee for voting measures later this afternoon on another piece of legislation. There is unequivocal support here for Bill C-22.
Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I will say quickly that the Bloc Québécois is well aware that the issue of sexual predatory conduct and sexual predators is extremely important because it goes hand in hand with the exploitation of children.
Even though we believe that there are already several provisions of the Criminal Code that address this matter, we are prepared to send the bill to committee, to work hard, to listen to witnesses—who may be working in the judicial system, in youth protection or human development—to hear all points of view. In principle, we are in favour of this bill.
At present, in the Criminal Code, there are provisions that prohibit an individual in a position of authority—a teacher, someone responsible for or in charge of children—to have sexual relations of any kind with a child younger than 14.
This provision will be upheld and even given more teeth within the bill. However, a certain number of other provisions will be added. The bill mentions an exception for proximity in age. Persons aged 14 or 15 could consent to non-exploitative sexual activity with persons who are five years older or less. Therefore, a person aged 15 could have non-exploitative sexual relations with a person aged 16, 17, 18, 19 or 20, without any cause for criminal charges.
The other age difference exception is two years. Young people aged 12 and 13 could have non-exploitative sexual relations with partners aged 14 or 15.
The bill also includes a transitional provision, which, on the day this act comes into force, will allow young people aged 14 or 15 and their partners who are more than five years older to legally continue having sexual contact if, and only if, they are married, living in common law relationships or have children, without there being cause for criminal charges.
The whole matter of age of consent to sexual activity is extremely important. Once again, the Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle and is prepared to send the bill to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights because we want to send a very clear message. We, as a political party, do not accept the sexual exploitation of children—no more than any other party in this House does. The issue of sexual exploitation of children is extremely important to us.
The Criminal Code already has provisions on Internet luring, sexual assault and relations with a person in a position of authority. We think these provisions are used when it is relevant to do so.
The government wants to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 years in general, but have three exceptions for sexual relations where an age difference will be tolerated.
The Bloc Québécois agrees with this. In committee, we will work hard to ensure that the maximum number of witnesses are heard from and that the bill is improved where appropriate.
I will now turn the floor over to my colleague from the NDP so he can talk about this issue before oral question period.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, like the other two opposition justice critics, I will be brief in my comments. I would indicate at the outset, as opposed to some of the comments that we heard from the Prime Minister in public last week, that this is not a bill that any of the opposition parties are intrinsically opposed to. However, I am planning on moving a couple of amendments at committee.
I want to say to the Prime Minister that it was totally inaccurate of him to characterize this bill as one that has been held up by this Parliament or by the justice committee. Today is the first time that the bill has been before the House at second reading. The bill has not been here before. Opposition party members have not had the ability to delay the bill.
Bill C-22 has been sitting on the order paper. It was introduced at first reading back in June. The government, which the Prime Minister leads, has simply sat on the bill for that length of time. He should not point the finger at the opposition parties as in any way causing a delay with respect to this bill.
The issue of raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 has stirred a great deal of controversy in the country. As opposed to the justice minister's comments, the reality is that the age of consent has not been changed since the turn of the last century, that is when it turned from 1800 to 1900. At that time the age of consent in Canada was 12 years of age. It has not been lowered. In fact, it was raised at that time.
It is appropriate with the additional defences and protections that are in the bill, which is not what we got from the Conservative Party, or the Alliance, or the Reform. It was not in those private members' bills. The government has obviously come to its senses, in part because of a great deal of debate that went on in the justice committee in the last Parliament around the child pornography bill which was before the committee and which was eventually passed by the House. There was a great deal of debate at that time about the age of consent. As a result of the evidence that we heard from experts and people working in the field, this bill moves the age of consent from 14 to 16. At the same time we are building in some defences.
For those people who believe on a moral, ideological or religious basis that youth 14 to 16 years of age should not be engaged in any sexual activity and that we should make it a crime, that is not what this bill does. It never was intended to do that. In fact, if we did that, we would be criminalizing sexual activity of around 200,000 youth 14 to 16 years of age. I want to be very clear to the public that we are not doing that.
The bill also builds in a secondary defence with regard to the nature of the relationship, even where the couple has a relationship of an age grouping greater than five years. That is in a marital situation or where a child is expected as a result of the relationship.
I am proposing to move two amendments. One amendment is to clear up a problem that has been found to be discriminatory by two of our courts of appeal. The Liberal government never got around to amending it and the Conservative government has not either. It is clearly discriminatory, particularly to young people and to the gay community. That amendment is badly needed. It is an appropriate time to do it in this bill. I would appreciate the opportunity to move that amendment at committee.
I will make a final point with regard to the amendments that I will be proposing. Health care workers have a great concern about this bill and the situation of those youth who are in a relationship that is greater than five years and who contract a sexually transmitted disease. Under those circumstances, because of provincial law, people who go in to get treatment and care have to disclose all of their sexual partners. Those youth who did that may very well find that the evidence would be compelled to be used in a court of law against their partner. They would not want to do that and therefore, they may very well resist going for treatment and care, according to the health care workers.
I will be proposing an amendment to the Canada Evidence Act that will make that information non-compellable. There is precedent for this in our law. It would be a wise amendment. It would protect our youth. It would ensure that they got treatment if they were to contract those types of illnesses and diseases. At the same time, it would protect them in terms of the balance of the bill from being used as bait by predators.