Age of consent bill dies

  • September 18, 2007

{mosimage}OTTAWA - Groups that have fought for years to raise the age of consent to sexual activity raised from 14 to 16 are going to have to start all over again.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided to prorogue — or end the session — of Parliament Sept. 4, all government bills died, including the so-called Age of Protection Bill C-22.

The bill had passed the House of Commons, but became stalled in the Senate, when it was referred to committee before summer recess.

“We are terribly sorry that Bill C-22, the age of consent bill, will be lost,” said REAL Women of Canada national vice president Gwen Landolt. She hopes the government will bring it back once the new session resumes Oct. 16 with a Throne Speech, outlining the new government’s new agenda.

{sidebar id=1} Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry also considers the bill’s loss “unfortunate.”

“Why is the age of consenting to consensual sex two years younger than for your ability to drive a car?” asked McGarry. “It makes Canadians much more vulnerable to Internet luring.”

The Criminal Code’s age of consent provision came into being in 1892, during a time when girls were marrying at that age, Landolt said, noting the world has dramatically changed since then.

“Canada is one of the most wired nations in the Western world,” Landolt said, noting many children have access to it. At the same time Canada has one of the lowest ages of consent in the developed world. “The pedophiles the world over are having a wonderful time.”

Police witnesses to the Commons justice committee described Canada as a sex tourism destination, and said pedophiles were grooming 12- and 13-year olds via computer. They can legally engage in sex with 14- and 15-year olds. The age of consent in the United States is 16.

The bill first ran into snags in the House of Commons when NDP MPs tried to add amendments to reduce the age of consent for anal sex to 16 from 18, on the basis that different ages for vaginal sex and anal sex were discriminatory against the gay community.

Gay rights groups, Planned Parenthood and the Canadian AIDS Society have spoken against Bill C-22, arguing that criminalizing young peoples’ sexual activities would drive some behaviours underground and make young people less likely to seek help. Bill C-22 provided a close in age exemption so that consensual sex between teenagers would not be illegal.

“Parliament is not being asked to assess an issue of equality for the gay community but to assess unequal risks in determining our government’s commitment to the legal protection of our children,” he wrote.

The amendments failed in the House of Commons, but Landolt said some Liberal Senators planned to bring them back.

Landolt, however, does not blame the Harper government for proroguing Parliament.

“Parliament was stalled,” she said. “I don’t think he really had any choice.”

Many pundits predict a fall election unless Harper can bring in a Throne Speech that appeases one of the major parties, and thereby maintain a balance of power in the minority Parliament. Key issues that could bring down the government revolve around the military mission in Afghanistan and the environment.

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