The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act, as reported with amendment from the committee.
Mr. Rob Moore (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection) and to make consequential amendments to the Criminal Records Act.
On June 22, 2006, the government answered the calls of millions of Canadians, of victims groups, of the police, and of those who seek to protect our young people. We did this by introducing Bill C-22 and propose to raise the age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16, and in doing so, to finally and clearly prohibit adults from sexually exploiting 14 and 15 year olds.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from numerous witnesses during its review of Bill C-22. Not surprisingly, witnesses expressed support for the government's objective to better protect young people against adult sexual predators.
Many witnesses also supported Bill C-22's proposed response to achieve this objective, but there were as well some misunderstandings as to what Bill C-22 actually proposes, and I would like to address exactly what Bill C-22 does and does not do.
The government's objective with Bill C-22 has always been very clear. It is to protect 14 and 15 year olds against adult sexual predators.
Bill C-22 does this by proposing a close in age exemption for 14 and 15 year olds. Under this proposed exemption 14 and 15 year olds can still consent to sexual activity with another person, providing that the other person is less than five years older and the relationship does not involve authority, trust, dependency, and is not otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Bill C-22 does not criminalize 14 and 15 year olds from engaging in consensual activity with other teenagers, but it does very definitively and very clearly prohibit any adult who is five years or more older than 14 or 15 year olds from engaging in any sexual activity with that young person.
Of course, Bill C-22 maintains 18 years as the age of protection where the sexual activity involves prostitution, pornography or it occurs with a relationship of trust, authority, dependency or one that is otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Bill C-22 also recognizes that when the new age of protection comes into force, there may be some 14 and 15 year olds who are already married to a partner who is more than five years older than they are or who are already in an established common law relationship with such a partner, so the bill, as introduced, proposes a one time limited or transitional exception to protect these relationships.
It would protect existing marriages. It would also protect existing common law relationships where the 14 or 15 year olds and an older partner had resided in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year or for a shorter period if there was a child born or expected of the relationship and again, if the relationship was not otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Bill C-22 will still allow 14 or 15 year olds to marry a partner in provinces where that is allowed if that partner is less than five years older, where that couple satisfies the applicable provincial or territorial solemnization of marriage requirements after Bill C-22 comes into effect. As introduced, however, it would not have allowed such a relationship to be established after Bill C-22 came into effect where the partner was older by five years or more.
For example, as introduced, Bill C-22 would not allow a 25 year old or a 50 year old to marry a youth that was 14 or 15 years old because this is contrary to what Bill C-22 is all about. It is about criminalizing any adult, who is five years or more older than a 14 or 15 year old, from engaging in a sexual relationship with that young person.
Similarly, Bill C-22 did not, as introduced, and does not, as amended, propose a permanent exemption for common law relationships. By definition, such a relationship requires conjugal cohabitation of at least one year or a child born or expected of that relationship, conduct which would, as a result of Bill C-22 passing, now be a sexual assault against that young person.
However, Bill C-22 was amended by the opposition during the justice committee's clause by clause review to make the proposed transitional marriage exemption permanent.
As a result, Bill C-22 would now allow a 25 or even a 50 year old to marry a 14 or 15 year old where such a marriage is permitted under provincial and territorial solemnization of marriage laws.
Such a marriage would not be allowed at all in three jurisdictions and in the remaining jurisdictions, it would only be permissible upon prior judicial or ministerial approval, and that in four of these jurisdictions only if the young girl was pregnant. In other words, after the commission of what would now be a sexual assault under Bill C-22. The government did not support this amendment because on its face it would condone a sexual relationship that Bill C-22 condemns.
Statistics indicate that the number of youth 15 years old, for example, who are married are very few and exceptional. Nonetheless, in those jurisdictions, where it is possible for a person under the criminal age of protection to marry, presumably the court or minister who is asked to approve of such a marriage will indeed be guided by the Criminal Code, as amended by Bill C-22, in determining whether the marriage of a 14 or 15 year old to a partner who is five years or more older should be approved.
The government's preference would have been to have Bill C-22 supported as introduced. There are however processes in place at the provincial and territorial level to enable the clear objective and intent of Bill C-22's reforms to be realized in practice.
Bill C-22's reforms are long overdue and we do not want to further delay their enactment. In fact, over the past many years victims groups and the police organizations have called for Parliament to act and for too long, Parliament denied that. There are many in the House and many in Canada who are very pleased that we are now taking a step to protect our young people from adult sexual predators.
We have heard repeatedly from law enforcement that 14 and 15 year olds are at a greater risk of being sexually exploited, especially through what is referred to as Internet luring. Parents and teachers know that teenagers are big users of the Internet in chat rooms. Indeed, kids know more about these new technologies than most of us; that is, except for Internet predators.
It was quite alarming to hear testimony at the justice committee about the savvy that these Internet predators have, the determination they have, and the network they have to go after and exploit what was then our too young age of consent in Canada. We even heard testimony of predators from other jurisdictions, other countries even, where their age of consent is higher, specifically targeting Canadian young people, so that they could have a relationship with a 14 year old; some of these people being in their 40s and 50s.
The relative ease of use and the perceived anonymity of the Internet has attracted such predators to this medium as a preferred way to lure youth. They prey upon the vulnerabilities of young people. They do so by building a relationship of trust and then betray that trust when they seek to sexually exploit them.
Bill C-22 will provide much needed added protection to 14 and 15 year olds against such predatory exploitative behaviour. Bill C-22 is both needed and supported and now is the time to support its expeditious passage.
I will take this time to acknowledge many in the House and many in my party who over the years have consistently advocated raising the age of consent to protect young people who heeded the calls of victims groups, of child exploitation experts, and of the police when they were saying over and over that Canada had become a destination for people seeking to sexually exploit young people.
I am proud of their efforts to see the age of consent raised and I am proud of the government's efforts for bringing forward this much needed legislation.
Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak at the report stage on Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection).
I would like to say, for those who are listening, that the Liberal Party of Canada supports this legislation.
Before I begin discussing the bill in detail, I wish to briefly address several remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in his speech several minutes ago. He said that there were delays with the bill and that the government was happy that the bill was finally at this stage.
I wish to inform people that the Minister of Justice tabled Bill C-22 in the House of Commons on June 22, 2006. The House then adjourned for the summer. It came back at the end of September.
It is the government's prerogative to determine when it wants to move second reading and debate of its own legislation. The government moved debate at second reading on October 30, 2006. This was after the Liberal justice strategy was announced, after Liberals and the then Liberal justice critic offered to fast-track Bill C-22 and a number of other justice bills that the Conservative government had tabled.
Debate at second reading ended on October 30, 2006, which meant that there was an agreement by all parties not to delay debate in the House and to get the bill into committee as quickly as possible. It was referred to the justice and human rights committee, which was already conducting hearings on a series of other government bills and private members' bills.
The justice and human rights committee held hearings on Bill C-22, the age of protection bill, on March 21, March 22, March 27 and March 29, 2007. Members will remember that there was a two week adjournment for the Easter period.
The House returned on April 16 and the justice and human rights committee, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, met on Tuesday, April 17 and on Thursday, April 19. The committee concluded its clause by clause and reported the bill back to the House on April 23.
The government decides when to move debate at report stage and it only decided to move Bill C-22 at report stage this week. It was in a line of bills for which the government determines the order.
If any member of that government is dissatisfied with the length of time it has taken for Bill C-22 to pass through second reading debate, committee stage and reported back, and now be at report stage debate, they need only to look at themselves in the mirror.
As the House knows, the bill has returned to the House from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. It has been reported with an amendment, as was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice.
The amendment added marriage as a defence where an accused is charged with: sexual interference, which is section 151 of the Criminal Code; invitation to sexual touching, section 152 of the Criminal Code; indecent acts, section 173.2 of the Criminal Code; and sexual assault, section 271 of the Criminal Code, in cases where the complainant is 14 years or older but under the age of 16. We Liberals worked alongside the other parties to bring this amendment through.
We are happy to see it included in the committee's report on the bill. We are also happy that, notwithstanding the fact that the Conservative members on the justice and human rights committee, including the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, opposed the amendment in committee, those members have not brought forth a motion to amend the report stage bill and remove that defence.
I had proposed an amendment to the bill. The amendment would have repealed section 159 of the Criminal Code. This section sets out anal intercourse as a criminal offence. This outdated section of the Criminal Code is a relic of Canada's past and in fact has been found contrary to Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two appellate courts, one in Quebec and the other in Ontario, reached this conclusion.
When the government drafted Bill C-22, it could have acted then to remove this archaic section of the Criminal Code or, having failed to do that, perhaps through inadvertence--I gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was by inadvertence--the government at that point could have supported my amendment in committee, because even if an amendment is beyond the scope of the bill, if the government agrees to the amendment it is then admissible and can be debated, voted on and adopted.
The government, however, decided on two occasions, when it was forced to take on the issue with this outmoded, archaic section of the Criminal Code, which is clearly a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that it would instead champion discrimination and homophobia. I think this speaks volumes to that Conservative government's values and the members of that government.
Be that as it may, the bill did pass through the committee without other changes. The committee hearings on Bill C-22 proceeded smoothly and brought forth the views of many Canadian individuals and organizations who have a stake in this issue. Most stakeholders spoke in favour of the bill, while some did speak against it.
Among all parties there was a strong desire to support the bill and to see it clear the committee process quickly and efficiently. I believe the dates that I mentioned show that this is exactly what we achieved.
I would like to repeat that our party supports Bill C-22. Since October 2006, we have repeatedly offered to fast-track a number of justice bills. Surprisingly, the minority Conservative government has refused our offer. It would seem that the government addresses justice issues only when it thinks it can manipulate them for political gain. This is a government that would have Canadians believe it is taking action, but that is not delivering the goods. This is a government that is far more interested in grabbing headlines than getting results that will make Canadians and Canadian communities safer. This is a pattern that has been repeated a number of times already, as in the case of Bill C-22.
In October 2006, my colleague, the member for London West, who was then our party's justice critic, offered the government the chance to fast-track a series of six justice bills that the government had tabled in this House, including Bill C-22. The government turned us down flat. With my colleague, the member for Wascana, who is the Liberal House leader, I made the same offer again in mid-March, and again the government turned a deaf ear.
Towards the end of March, the Leader of the Opposition also made the same offer. The government again did not listen and completely ignored this last offer. To top it off, the government even had the audacity to oppose a motion I tabled to immediately move to third reading of four bills that the government itself had tabled, that is Bills C-18, C-23, C-35, and of course C-22.
Bill C-18 deals with DNA identification. Bill C-23, which is presently before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, is an omnibus bill that makes corrections and technical amendments to the Criminal Code with respect to various procedures. Bill C-35 deals with the reverse onus of proof in bail hearings. This government has stated that this bill is all-important to its agenda and to its justice policy but has flatly refused to accelerate the process in the House. The last bill is Bill C-22, which we are currently debating. This is the first time, in my almost 10 years as a member of Parliament, that I have seen a federal government impede the progress of its own legislation. Who would have thought it possible? Anything is possible, its seems, for this minority Conservative government.
In conclusion, I simply wish to say that, from the time Bill C-22 was tabled in this House, in June 2006, the Liberal Party of Canada, the official opposition, has shown its support for this bill and has attempted to convince this government to fast-track it. However, it was the government that blocked any attempt by the official opposition to quickly adopt Bill C-22. We are very pleased that, finally, this bill is in the House at the report and third reading stage. We intend to vigorously support this bill.
Hon. Marlene Jennings:
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.
Mrs. Carole Freeman (Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, BQ):
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.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
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.
Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga, BQ):
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.
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton—North Delta, Lib.):
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.
Mr. Myron Thompson (Wild Rose, CPC):
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.
Mr. Art Hanger (Calgary Northeast, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand here today in support of Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (age of protection).
I have to reflect that, to say the least, over a number of years several members in this House attempted to bring this legislation forward in the form of private members' business. This goes back to 1996, as the member for Wild Rose pointed out. I would like to thank the member for Wild Rose for his gracious comments about our efforts to move this legislation forward.
The first time the bill was actually voted on in this House was back in 1996. There was a small amount of support from the current opposition regarding raising the age of consent. The opposition, namely the Reform Party at that time, voted unanimously to do so.
This is not the first attempt to bring this legislation into the House. It has already been here. It is very familiar to those members who have served in the House over time, and rightly so. I would like to point out what prompted this initiative on our part back in 1996.
I was a police officer prior to coming to this place. I can recall numerous occasions when parents agonized over the fact that they could not take their 14 year old or 15 year old daughters out of horrible situations that adult men had lured them into. They were in terrible situations. As police officers, we agonize with the parents. We want to help parents and we know it should be done, but there was no law to back up the police. That was the name of the game. That is why this legislation has come forward.
A very high profile case hit the front page news in 1995-96. It was over this very issue. It was reported that a 14 year old Edmonton girl was having sex with her father's AIDS-infected lover. She became infected. There was nothing anybody could do to clean up the situation. She had consented to having that relationship with that 40 year old guy. Her parent, who was right there in the same house, did not object. Was there room there for the authorities to step in? I would have to say yes. I do not think any members in the House would disagree with that.
That was one issue, but a bill came forward in this House and was defeated. As I pointed out, there were members of the then government at that time who supported it.
Things have not changed over the years. In fact, they have become progressively worse. Pedophiles can see the advantage. Procurers stalked the areas where young runaway girls went. They would plot their course and lure them into their lairs. The Internet has brought this about too. It is an added dimension in this whole issue.
Let us fast forward nine years to 2005 and look at another issue involving a 40 year old man who had been having sex with a 14 year old mentally handicapped girl and was acquitted of sexual assault. According to her mother, the girl had a mental function equal to that of someone between the ages of seven and 12. At the trial, the girl testified that she did not want to have sex, but she was too scared to say no. Her mother, justifiably, called the whole situation “sick”. The judge said he could not convict the man. Why? Because of the age of consent. He could not be sure that the girl had not consented.
With Bill C-22, there will be no question about what the decision of the judge will be. There will be no question about what the decision of the police will be. They will have the tools they need to deal with the matter.
As I mentioned, with each passing year this situation gets worse, not better. As I also previously mentioned, the Internet is a growing phenomenon when it comes to dealing with sexual luring and predation. These activities are dramatically on the increase as sex tourists and sex predators get more active in approaching and knowing how to approach youngsters on the Internet. They are going right into the very privacy of youngsters' homes using chat rooms. We need this legislation desperately.
At 14, Canada's age of consent is lower than that of many other countries, including the United States. This point has been brought up before. What that actually means in practical terms is that Canada is and will continue to be a haven for pedophiles. According to Cybertip.ca, a very significant advocacy group, about one-third of child luring cases in Canada involve Americans who have looked north of the border for younger prey.
I am going to refresh everyone's memories. Members will all remember the 2005 matter of the 31 year old man from Texas who was caught in an Ottawa hotel room, right in this city, with a 14 year old boy whom he met on the Internet. I do not think that is going to be any surprise to many people now. Some of these things were rather disturbing when we first heard about them, but they are becoming more prevalent and that concerns me. That concerns me as a grandfather now.
Nothing happened in that case, because these sex-related crimes, even though they were considered to be crimes, were not crimes because they were protected, as that individual was protected, by Canada's low age of consent law. It is becoming an all too familiar tune. I think it is one that we need to stop singing. We should stop singing it for the sake of our children and our grandchildren.
We have heard the discussions over this matter for some time in this House. As chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I have heard all the arguments there, as have other members from all parties.
It is good that there is a change in viewpoint and that now all parties in this House are willing to embrace this potential legislation. It is long overdue. It will mean that Canada's 14 year olds and 15 year olds will be off limits. A clear message must be sent to any internal predators and to predators outside the country.
I would like to put to rest the concern of some people that this bill will criminalize the consensual sexual activity of teenagers. With the exemption, it will not. I would like to see a tighter exemption, but the exemption is in there, it is a five year exemption, and I think that is a very reasonable allowance.
I would certainly like to again thank the members in this House who will be supporting this legislation, for it is long overdue. I appreciate that they have, as many members have said in the House, the thoughts of their own children and grandchildren in mind, because we have a country full of youngsters who need our protection.
Hon. Diane Finley (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member. I am very proud to rise today as the seconder of Bill C-22, our new government's very important age of protection legislation. I am also proud to follow in the speaking order the members for Wild Rose and Calgary Northeast, my colleagues. I am so proud of the work that they have done, the dedication, the hard work, the passion they have shown for many years to see that this legislation goes forward. I want to thank them for their efforts over all those years.
I am also proud to have this opportunity to speak to this crucial bill that will afford greater protection to 14 and 15 year olds against adult sexual predators.
I take such pride in our government's actions on this file. One of the reasons I entered public life is that I firmly believe that Canada's young people deserve to be better protected than they have been from the shameless and disgusting predators who would prey on them. In fact, on my entry into public life, I made a commitment to my constituents in Haldimand—Norfolk that I would fight to raise the age of consent, now what we are calling the age of protection, from 14 to 16. I am both honoured and humbled to help deliver on that promise today.
The fact of the matter is that for far too long the former Liberal government allowed our young girls and boys to be preyed upon by sexual predators who have no other motive than to feed their disturbed and disordered desires. While Conservatives through whatever party fought long and hard for years and years to increase the age of protection for our children, the Liberals made excuse after excuse after excuse for why it could not be done. Once again, shamefully, the Liberals not only did not get the job done, but worse still, at that time they refused to get the job done.
That being said, I really am encouraged to see that the Liberals now appear to have recognized the error of their ways. I encourage them and all members of this House to support this much needed, long overdue legislation.
No one can deny that the damage done to children due to sexual exploitation of young girls and boys is incalculable. No, there may not be physical and visual scars, but there are the scars that are much deeper and take much longer to heal, the emotional scars.
Our government recognizes the need to protect innocent and vulnerable children from pimps and other sexual predators. I am proud to be part of a government that is taking real action in this regard.
We recognize that Canada's current laws are inadequate and the previous Liberal government's failure to protect children from sexual predators was unacceptable. To clarify the nature and intent of this legislation, it is important to note that Bill C-22 proposes to raise the age of consent to sexual activity from 14 to 16 years and to rename it the age of protection.
This legislation supports a key component of our new government's commitment to get tough on crime and to afford greater protection to victims and to those who could be vulnerable to such crimes.
To be clear, the objective of Bill C-22 is to protect 14 and 15 year olds against adult sexual predators, not to criminalize consensual sexual activity between teenagers, what is often referred to as puppy love.
Currently, the age of protection for sexual activity involving prostitution, pornography or relationships involving authority, trust, dependency or that are otherwise exploitative of young persons is 18 years. Bill C-22 would maintain 18 years as the age of protection for these activities, but for all other activity or relationships, the age of protection is now 14 years, with one exception, what is often called a close in age or peer group exception.
Under this exception a 12 or 13 year old can consent to engage in sexual activity with a partner who is less than two years older and under 16, so long as the relationship does not involve authority, trust, dependency and is not otherwise exploitative of the young person.
Bill C-22 would maintain this two year close in age exception for 12 and 13 year olds, but would raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 and would create another close in age exception for 14 and 15 year olds.
In this way Bill C-22 would not criminalize consensual teenage sexual activity but would prohibit anyone who is five years or more older than the 14 or 15 year old from engaging in any sexual activity, whether it is sexual touching or sexual intercourse with that young person.
It is also worth noting that the police have been very supportive of Bill C-22. They view it as a much needed tool to help better protect those teens who are most at risk of being targeted by online adult sexual predators.
Just to illustrate the pressing need for this legislation, a recent report by the United States National Center for Missing and Exploited Children highlighted the findings of a 2005 survey of 1,500 youth Internet users, 10 to 17 years of age. The report showed that of the youth who were targeted for sexual solicitations and approaches on the Internet, 81% were 14 years old or older, 70% were girls and 30% were boys. Similar findings have been made in Canada.
Cybertip.ca, as mentioned by the member for Calgary Northeast, Canada's national tip line for online child sexual exploitation reported in March 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, 73%, were between the ages of 12 and 15 years. That is 73% between 12 and 15 years.
These reports show very clearly that 14 and 15 year olds are at very great risk of being sexually exploited through Internet luring. Bill C-22 will therefore enable police to more effectively protect youth 14 to 15 years of age from such online predatory behaviour.
Bill C-22 will also bring Canada's age of protection into line with the many other western countries, including the United States, that already have a higher age of protection of 16 years or above.
Why is that important? Because unfortunately with the current age of 14, Canada has become known as a destination of choice for sexual predators. Predators from the United States where there are tougher laws know that they come here and get away with things that would never be allowed in the United States. That is not fair to our children.
This bill also has the support of several provincial justice ministers. In fact a few years ago, all 13 incumbent justice ministers in the provinces and territories were on side. In a survey done recently, 72% of Canadians wanted to see the age of protection raised to 16 and 8% wanted it raised even higher. That is 80% of Canadians who favoured this bill or something even tougher. Parents favour it as well. I suggest that all members of the House keep that in mind as they vote for this bill.
Our primary job as the government I believe is to protect the safety, the security and the health of the citizens and residents of this country. That includes our children who are our future.
I urge all members of the House and the Senate to send a direct and clear message to Canadians that we will no longer stand for the abuse of innocent children by sexual predators. I urge them to support our legislation to better protect children from sexual abuse.
It is time that Canada stopped being a destination of choice for predators. That is our choice. That is our responsibility.
Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-22, dealing with the age of consent. There always has to be a few dissenting voices, so I will be one of them.
As we know, the current age of consent in Canada is 14, and there are already very strict provisions in the Criminal Code for youth. They provide protection for youth between 14 and 18 from exploitative relationships that involve a person in authority or trust. I know the bill speaks about the protection of youth, but I would argue that provisions are already in the Criminal Code to provide this kind of protection.
We also have very strict provisions in the Criminal Code that prohibit activities related to prostitution for anyone under 18, and I am very familiar with these provisions. I was on the all party committee that dealt with prostitution. It very strongly believed that there should be strong criminal sanctions against prostitution activities, sexual exploitation of youth under 18. There are also very strict provisions regarding pornography. Therefore, these are already covered in the Criminal Code.
I know from the messages, the emails and the people to whom I have spoken in my community and elsewhere across Canada, people are very concerned about the exploitation, harm, violence and coercion that can exist, whether it is in a sexual relationship or not, and the protection of young people generally. I concur with that. It is a very serious issue in our society and it is something on which we should focus.
The problem I have with the bill is it goes way beyond that because it is a very sweeping bill. It goes much further in laying down a regime that becomes kind of a generic law, which will criminalize some sexual activity for young people. We have to look at that and distinguish where there are harms and where there are not, where there is consenting activity and where there is not.
I know at committee, Andrea Cohen, who is the president of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, which I believe was formerly called Planned Parenthood, an organization with which we are very familiar, made it very clear that the Federation for Sexual Health was not for the legislation. She said:
|| We believe it's a rather crude instrument to deal with a pretty complex issue, which human sexual behaviour is, particularly around youth.
She laid out three concerns to the committee, which she felt needed to be addressed.
The first was that young people, because of the bill, would not be feel comfortable about seeking information around sexual health services because of fear of a lack of accountability. I think the concern is if the bill is approved, young people will be less likely to seek sexual health information or advice if they know their activities are outside of the law.
Ms. Cohen also laid out a concern about:
|| The perception or reality that a young person or his or her partner would be reported to authorities and prosecuted for consensual sexual activity outside of the five-year limit will result in sexually active youth not seeking or getting the health services they need.
I know this concern was very much echoed by the Canadian AIDS Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society as well.
The second concern of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health was that the increased age of consent could be used as a justification for denying young people the sexual health education services they needed. Its concern was that it may actually place educators and health professionals in a very difficult position in that they may be reluctant to enter into conversations or exchange information with young people, under the proposed new age of consent, due to the uncertainty about their own legal obligations. We should be very concerned about this. We are in an environment where young people will be very reluctant possibly to come forward and to seek the kind of health advice, information, support and counselling they need.
The third concern of the federation was it pointed out that the Criminal Code included a clause that set the age of consent for anal sex at 18 years, which is higher than for any other type of sexual activity. It pointed out that there was no logical or medical reason to treat one type of sexual activity differently than the others.
Those were the concerns that the federation laid out. The NDP justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, tried very hard in committee to get them addressed. He tried to get amendments in the bill that would reflect these concerns, but unfortunately they were not permitted, leaving us with a flawed bill. I thank the member for trying to get those.
Members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community have also expressed their very serious reservations about the bill. People are concerned that this will lead us into a much more moralistic attitude and that will prevail. People are concerned that consensual sexual activities will be targeted, particularly in the GLBT community where there has been a history of prosecutions.
The government wants to raise the age of consent, and that is the main message in the bill. The message around the close in age exemption is not getting out. The main message is that the age of consent will be raised to 16. We have to be very concerned about the message that the bill sends out because it may create an environment where young people become very insecure and uncertain about their own rights and what they can and cannot do.
I also want to draw attention to another good presentation that was made at committee from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which raised a couple of concerns. This needs to be seen in a broader context over a lot of the legislation that we see from the Conservative government. The association said at committee:
||—Bill C-22 represents a fundamental shift of policy and attitude toward sexuality. In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada, in the Butler decision dealing with the definition of obscenity, signalled a fundamental shift from the legislation of morality to the legislation of harm.
This is a very important issue. Some members do not want to think about the direction that some of this legislation is taking. Since the Butler decision, there has been an emphasis to enact legislation that focuses on harm and the protection of individual rights, particularly where there are consenting activities. There is now a concern that this legislation will take us in another direction. We should be willing to debate this and to look at the implications and the consequences of that kind of direction. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association made an argument based on public policy and how it could change over the years.
The association also raised a concern that in the absence of evidence of harm, the rush to get through this bill is an unconsidered response to a moral objection rather than a legislative response to harms that have been shown. This is an important point.
I have heard some of the debate by Conservative members. I know they feel very strongly about their point of view, and I respect that. However, we have to also put on the table whether the legislation will accomplish what they are seeking to do, which is to protect young people from violence, exploitation, predators, rather than to put down this blanket that will criminalize youthful sexual activity even if it is consenting. That is my main concern about the bill.
The bill would criminalize consensual sexual activity for some 14 and 15 year olds. It sends a message of moral attitude and judgment rather than focus on harm and exploitation, which are issues with which we seriously need to be deal.
In the real world, teenagers do have sex. They do have sex with older people. Despite what the member for Wild Rose said, I think he said that kids were dumb, we have to recognize what this bill may end up doing in terms of the very people it seeks to protect.
This bill is flawed. I believe that it will tend to drive issues of youth sexuality underground. It will cause young people to be less open about what they need to protect themselves, and their sexual health and their sexuality.
I do not support the bill for those reasons. I do not support the approach being taken by the Conservative government. I do not support this kind of broad-sweeping legislation that I think will criminalize sexual activities of youth and will not in any way ensure their protection from predators. I have a great deal of skepticism about the bill.
Today I have heard members say that something like 80% of the population supports this measure. I do not know whether that is true or not. I am sure it is high. But, again, I think it is based on a very strong and legitimate concern about protecting young people from exploitation and predators, whether it is through pornography, prostitution or random sexual relationships.
However, I really feel that this legislation would take us beyond that, into a direction that would end up criminalizing young people who do not need to be criminalized and would actually put them into an environment where they would be less open about what is going on and less likely to come forward and actually seek protection and health.
I realize that is not a popular thing to say, but I do think it needs to be said. I think we should have very sober thoughts about this bill and what it would do. I have considered it very seriously and I have actually struggled with it, as have other members of the NDP caucus.
There are a majority of members of our caucus who support this bill, but nevertheless I feel that as a member of Parliament I have an obligation to put forward a view. I think there are some issues here that need to be addressed and for the reasons that I have outlined, I find that I cannot support this bill, not because I do not believe that children should not be protected, they should, but because I do not believe this bill would actually accomplish that.
Ms. Nicole Demers (Laval, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I listened to some of the speeches regarding Bill C-22. I must admit that the speeches I heard are similar but do have some major differences. I listened closely to the speech by my colleagues from Vancouver East and Calgary Northeast. The member for Calgary Northeast was a police detective and worked with my uncle for several years.I know how important law and order are to him.
However, while listening to the speech by my colleague from Vancouver East, I realized that, although we support this bill, there are certain points that should lead us to ask some hard questions as to some of its provisions.
I concur with what my colleague said earlier that setting the age of consent for anal sex at 18 is very discriminatory. Why are we attempting to protect boys until they are 18 years old and girls until they are 16? That makes no sense and is ridiculous. Is there a difference in how children are affected by unwanted sexual relations based on the victim's sex or whether the relationship was heterosexual or homosexual?I believe that unwanted sexual relations are abusive sexual relations and cause a great deal of harm. I do not understand why there is a difference.
At my age, 57, we have come a long way from when we believed that we could become pregnant by kissing our boyfriend. When I was very young, I kissed my first boyfriend. I felt so guilty that I did not want to talk about it to anyone. We did not talk about sex back then. We did not talk about it in 1960 and we still do not in 2007.
It is the responsibility of the adults who look after and are close to our young people—their parents and teachers—to teach them about sex, give them information, and make them aware of their sexuality.
Even today, sexuality is a very taboo subject. We speak very little about the sexuality of older persons. You might say that we do not want to admit that older persons—our parents and grandparents—have sexual relations. Yet, the best seniors' residences are those that allow older persons to have sexual relations. Just because we become older does not mean that we stop having feelings and sensations.
Unfortunately, sex has always been looked on as something dirty, something that people should do only for procreation or for momentary pleasure. In addition, very little is said about homosexual sex. Very little is said about children's sexuality. Very little is said about the sexuality of persons with disabilities. Yet they too have a sex life and are entitled to one.
We do not talk enough about sex with our children. We are reluctant to talk to them about it. In my opinion, it is not good to perpetuate such taboos and avoid talking frankly with our children about sex. It is very important to talk about it.
When we hear that children are being lured over the Internet, when we see children in hotels or restaurants with much older people, we wonder how these children could have fallen into the trap, how they could have been lured by someone who used the Internet to tell them all sorts of things that were not true. It happens everywhere.
I always monitor the websites my grandson visits. I have custody of my 14 year old grandson, and this is extremely important to me. I talk to him about sex, the dangers of the Internet and what life is really like, because I love him and I want him to become a young adult who behaves responsibly in his relationships with his friends. I want him to become someone who takes responsibility not only for his sexual activity but in all aspects of his life. I often talk to him about these dangers, and I check the sites he visits. I ask Alexis who he is chatting with, what he is doing, who someone is. He always tells me that I am worrying for nothing.
Last week, he came home on the weekend and told me that one of his friends had been approached online by someone who wanted to meet him. At that point, my grandson realized that there were dangers out there. His friend could not confide in adults and asked Alexis what he should do. He told Alexis that this person had asked to meet him somewhere. Alexis told him, “Call the police, call the authorities and tell your parents”. He said that because that is what I have taught him.
We are the primary instruments in educating our children so they know what to do when they are being harassed, when they are being approached by people who want to have sexual relations with them without their consent.
It is quite clear that, when it comes to a bill that will set the age of consent at 16 years, we sometimes ask why this is the case. I understand that, for my colleague from Vancouver East, this may seem quite sanctimonious and it is probably that reason that led the party that introduced this bill to want to have it passed. It is rather its philosophy, its thinking, its ideology that are quite different.
In this regard, I remind the House that we must be very careful not to fall into any traps. Indeed, as we see in the United States, the people who are the most conservative are quite often those who are the most guilty of excesses. We see this presently with Mrs. D.C, with a committee chairman and with some political figures who are being forced to resign from their positions. We saw a little earlier that another member of the Republican Party also had to resign because he was making overtures to young pages who were working for him. I do not see anyone doing this here, although our pages are quite good-looking. I am very happy that our young pages, who work so hard and so well to make our task easier, do not have to suffer such affronts.
Legislation should not be made only to maintain morality. When bills are written, we must be careful to protect the people for whom they are written. We have decided to support this bill, because we have managed, in spite of it all, to have included in the bill some measures that will limit the negative effects that it might have on some people.
I was saying that my grandson is 14. Right now, his girlfriends are the same age. However, he is 5 foot 9. He is a tall, well built, handsome young man. No doubt when he goes dancing on Friday nights, girls 15, 16 or 17 try to attract his attention. He looks older than he is. However, when someone looks like a 16 or 17 year old, that does not mean that he or she has the mindset that goes with that look or that he or she has the intellectual abilities of a 15, 16 or 17 year old.
So, I agree that we must adopt legislation to offer some protection, but we must be careful to make them fair for everybody. When my colleague from Vancouver East said that the bill would forbid anal sex between men or women 18 years old I did not understand. I was flabbergasted.
I think that we must go to the source of the problem. If we take a hard look at today's society, we realize that our children are not more sexually informed than us at their age. However, schools give sex education courses and have been doing so for many years in Quebec. Unfortunately, due to the cuts in federal transfers to provinces, services and courses for students have been reduced. Among other things, sex education courses were transformed into moral issues courses and that was detrimental to our children because they no longer know what to think and they must learn about sex through books, the Internet and the phone.
As I mentioned earlier, I look after my grandson. For me, his sexual life is part of his whole being. A few weeks ago, I took him with me to buy condoms. He was embarrassed and said: “Grandma, the parents of the other kids at school do not do that. What I am going to look like?” I replied: “You will look like a young man who wants to learn how to protect himself and the young woman or the young man with whom he is going to have sexual relations. This is what you will look like. You will look like a responsible person. Indeed, the fact that you love someone with whom you are in a relationship is not going to protect you from sexually transmitted diseases, or prevent you from transmitting such diseases.”
Now that he understands that, he has asked me if I would also inform his friends. I told him: “No, grandma does not want to become an agency that talks about and provides information on sexual relations. I informed you. Now, go and tell your friends that they should get that information at home, because it is important.”
As parents we have a duty to properly assume that responsibility. Let us stop burying our heads in the sand, and let us see the obvious.
Currently, there is a hypersexualization phenomenon throughout the world, among our young women and men, in the TV messages and on the Internet. Everything we see is hypersexualized, including messages that make us think in sexual terms as soon as we see them. It is not our children or pedophiles who are responsible for this. It is the agencies that come up with these messages.
All this needs to be re-evaluated by our society. How do we want to deal with our children? How do we want them to behave in life? How do we want them to view and understand sexuality? Sexuality is something that is good and wonderful, something that each person has the fundamental right to experience. It is something personal. By interfering with a person's sexuality, we could create a monster.
Therefore, we should not pass too many bills to prevent people from fully experiencing their sexuality, because it is a fundamental right. We are all born with sexual urges. Little children take great pleasure in touching themselves, and this is normal.
When I was young, I was taught by nuns. I remember them telling us that we had to sleep with our hands above the covers and not wash ourselves in the bathtub. At the time, there were no showers. We were not allowed to put our hands in the water to wash our lower bodies. That was prohibited. We had to use a washcloth and do it very quickly. We were not supposed to spend a lot of time on those parts even though those were probably the parts we would have wanted to spend the most time on because it felt good to clean them. I should point out that young people do not really like washing themselves.
This is why I say yes to bills that protect our young people, but we have to be careful not to go too far in trying to protect them. We must not protect them from themselves. We must protect them from people who want to hurt them and attack them.
We are trying to punish pedophiles and stop people from attacking our youth. We want to stop them from hurting our youth. We are not trying to stop our 12, 14, 16 or 18 year olds from exploring their sexuality because that is how they will become whole human beings and be able to smile as they walk down the street.
Too many of the people in this House do not smile enough. Perhaps that is because their sexuality is unfulfilled. If people were more comfortable with their sexuality, maybe they would smile more. Many of my colleagues smile often, but too many of them never smile. I would like to wish everyone here a fulfilling sex life. To ensure that our young people have the opportunity to develop their sexuality, we must protect their right to grow up without being attacked by people who want to hurt them.