Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm pleased to be back before the committee.
I'm pleased to have with me Ms. Carole Morency, acting general counsel, from the Department of Justice.
I would like to make some opening remarks.
I am pleased to address the members of this committee as they begin their study of Bill .
supports a key component of the government's tackling crime commitment. It proposes to better protect youth against adult sexual predators by raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 years and renaming it the “age of protection”.
The two issues of, one, the protection of children and youth against sexual exploitation, and two, the age of consent are well known to this committee. In 1987, I and other members of this committee were also on the legislative committee that considered what was then called Bill C-15. The former bill sought to significantly overhaul and modernize the Criminal Code's response to sexual abuse. I recall that this issue attracted considerable scrutiny and commentary at the time, and today we see that this level of interest continues with —as well it should; all of us, after all, are trying to better protect youth against sexual exploitation.
Mr. Chairman, there are many things on which Canadians and parliamentarians may agree to disagree, but my understanding today, just as it was 20 years ago as a member of this committee, is that the protection of children and youth against sexual exploitation is not such an issue. Indeed, it is an objective for which we typically find universal support, and to the extent that there may be some disagreement, it is usually on how best to achieve this objective.
So this is our starting point. Canadians have told us that youth need better protection against adult sexual predators, and the government agrees. This is exactly what delivers.
The age of protection refers to the age at which criminal law recognizes the legal capacity of a young person to consent to engage in sexual activity. Below this age, any and all sexual activity with a young person, from sexual touching to sexual intercourse, is prohibited. Of course, any non-consensual sexual activity, regardless of age, is a sexual assault.
Currently the Criminal Code sets the age of protection at 18 where the sexual activity involves prostitution, pornography, or it occurs within a relationship of authority, trust, dependency, or is one that is otherwise exploitive of the young person. maintains this age of protection.
The Criminal Code sets the age of protection for other sexual activities at 14, and this is what proposes to change by increasing it to 16 years.
There is currently one exception to the 14-year age of consent; 12- and 13-year-olds can consent to engage in sexual activity with another person who is less than two years older, but under 16 years, and with whom there is no relationship of authority, trust, dependency, and it is not otherwise exploitive of the young person.
maintains the existing two-year close-in-age exception for 12- and 13-years olds, but it also proposes a new close-in-age exception for 14- and 15-year-olds, who would now be below the new age of protection. Under the proposed new exception, 14- and 15-years-olds would be able to consent to sexual activity with another person provided the other person was less than five years older and the relationship did not involve authority, trust, dependency, and was not otherwise exploitive of the young person.
Why a five-year close-in-age exception? First, our objective with is to protect youth against adult sexual predators and not to criminalize consensual teenage sexual activity. A five-year close-in-age exception also recognizes that of those youth who may be sexually active, the vast majority are sexually active with partners who are within that age range.
also provides two other time-limited or transitional exceptions. When the new age of protection comes into effect, it is possible that there may be some 14- and 15-year-olds who are already in an established relationship with a partner who is older than the teenager by five years or more, and who therefore will not fall within the proposed five-year close-in-age exception.
A time-limited exception is therefore proposed for these youth where they are already, as at the date of entry into force of the new age of protection—married, or living in a common-law relationship as already defined by the Criminal Code or as proposed by , and provided always that the relationship is not one of authority, trust, dependency, or is not otherwise exploitive of the young person. The common-law relationship exception would therefore be available for a 14-or 15-year-old who has been living in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year, as currently defined by section 2 of the Criminal Code, or under Bill , where the common-law relationship had not endured the requisite minimum period of one year but had produced a child, or one was expected.
But under either formulation of the definition of a common-law relationship, a second prerequisite always applies, and the relationship is not otherwise illegal because it involves authority, trust, dependence, or is otherwise exploitive of the teenager. As a result, neither the marriage nor the common-law relationship exception would be available where a 15-year-old wanted to marry or begin to live common-law with a 25-year-old on the day after Bill comes into effect.
These are the reforms proposed by Bill . Let me go back to where I started: why these reforms are needed. As I said at the outset, the objective of this bill is to better protect 14- and 15-year-olds against adult sexual predators. Statistics Canada's April 2005 Juristat on “Children and youth as victims of violent crime” looked at all violence against children and youth, including sexual assaults. It reported that teenage girls aged 14 to 17 accounted for approximately one-third of all child and youth sexual assault victims, and the majority of offenders, 86%, were known to the victim.
Internet luring, or the use of the Internet to communicate with a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual or abduction offence against the child, accounted for 10% of all reports received by Cybertip.ca during its two-year pilot phase. Cybertip.ca is Canada's national tip line for reporting online child sexual exploitation. Of these reports, 93% of the victims were female, and the majority, 73%, were between the ages of 12 and 15.
From these few statistics, it's clear that 14- to 15-year-olds are at a greater risk of being sexually exploited, including through Internet luring, and yet they are the ones who are precisely left unprotected by the current age of consent of 14 years. Bill will change this. Unlike the law's current approach, this bill will also remove the guesswork as to what constitutes sexual exploitation of these youth by drawing a very clear line. If you are five or more years older than a 14- or 15-year-old, you are prohibited from engaging in any sexual activity with that young person.
Last, our focus under Bill is on those who would sexually exploit these youth and not on whether the young person consented to that exploit of contact. Mr. Chairman, this is as it should be.
Mr. Chairman, I said at the beginning of my remarks that Bill is a key component of this government's commitment to tackle crime, but I hope the committee will look beyond this and will also see Bill for the immediate and real opportunity that it presents to us, to stand shoulder to shoulder and clearly say with one voice that we condemn the sexual exploitation of youth by adult predators. Bill delivers on what Canadians want and, most importantly, on what our youth need and deserve.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I think, Mr. Chairman, that one of the things this bill does is clarify the law so we know exactly what we're talking about. No longer would there be any doubt as to the ages and the age limits and the type of activity we're talking about. I mentioned, Madam Freeman, that the laws of 20 years ago were very complicated in terms of what sexual activity was being prohibited, and it seems to me that we modernized it then and that we've clarified the law.
I think crown attorneys and police officers right across this country will tell you that these types of cases are very difficult to move forward. Nonetheless, I think it's incumbent upon us to take every step possible to make sure the law is clear and that there's a rational public policy framework for the enactment of that law. Of course, our job is to support those institutions in society. We don't do it just by changing the law.
I mentioned Cybertip.ca, which is an important tool in making sure that the exploitation of young children isn't covered.
I note that the budget we just announced puts in an additional $6 million for the protection of children in order to strengthen current activities combating the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. Of course, you would know, at the provincial level, that this is a concern for provincial and territorial governments across this country. I know they have programs to intervene and to assist in this particular area. I think there's a wide range of activities and support for this.
But I, for one, wouldn't underestimate the challenge in moving forward. Sometimes individuals are reluctant to come forward with accusations of this type. Nonetheless, it seems to me, in my years as a lawyer, that the criminal justice system has become more sensitive. The provisions that have changed—for instance, on witnesses testifying, removing inquiries into the backgrounds of the individuals, and that sort of thing—I believe, are steps in the right direction and help facilitate the protection of young people that we're trying to achieve.
Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being here.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Minister, I think you know that I have three concerns, one that's already been raised by on the constitutional question. Although I accept, generally, Ms. Morency's analysis, it is making the assumption that the provinces would have to back off from the federal jurisdiction, and I'm not entirely convinced that's the case. That's my first concern.
Then I have a concern that you've not included: an amendment to section 159.(1) of the Criminal Code that lowers the age from 18 to 16 for anal intercourse. This is clearly discriminatory and has been found to be so by a large number of our courts, in spite of which we are still having charges laid under that section. In that regard, my statistics show that in 2003-04, there were 78 charges laid. There were only two convictions; all the rest were acquittals. I have to be suspicious that the section is being used as a harassment, probably exclusively, against the gay community in Canada. So I'm very concerned about that not being included.
Finally, I'm concerned about this legislation where you have a relationship between a couple in excess of the five years and there's an issue of sexually transmitted disease and the young person in the relationship refuses to get care out of fear of having to disclose the name of the other one. That issue is not addressed in this legislation.
Having said all that, Mr. Minister, what I'm more concerned about today is that I see a motion coming before the House tomorrow that is going to usurp the function of this. I think this committee is entitled to know, first, whether your government is going to support that motion, and second, whether you are going to implement it and just take this issue away from us. If you are, we might as well just close our files and go home right now.
I know. That's what I'm saying. I appreciate that. That's their rationale. You can appreciate that I'm looking for every opportunity that makes common sense and is within parliamentary procedure to make sure our justice legislation gets through, so I will have a look at it. I actually haven't received a copy of it, but I understand it has been tabled with the Clerk of the House, and I will have a look at it.
With respect to the constitutionality, Mr. Comartin, you're very experienced in this area. When there is an activity that Parliament has a legitimate concern in prohibiting or circumscribing, it is proper for Criminal Code jurisdiction under the Constitution of this country. I have complete confidence that raising the age of protection from 14 years of age to 16 years of age will pass constitutional muster.
The bill doesn't address section 159. It doesn't address a lot of different areas. It's not meant to address all sexual activity dealt with in the Criminal Code; it's very specific. It raises that age of protection for 14- and 15-year-olds, and that applies to all types of sexual activity that is not otherwise prohibited as an assault. It protects all children, whether heterosexual or gay, under the age of 16.
With respect to disclosure, you would be aware, of course, that there are disclosure requirements on health care professionals, and that if a 13-year-old, for instance, is being sexually exploited by an adult, there are reporting requirements. We're asking that the same reporting requirements apply to 14- and 15-year-olds, because as this legislation makes clear, we intend this to be a crime. The 25-year-old who is having sex with a 15-year-old can and should be reported. It's a criminal activity.
Thank you, Mr. Minister, for being here today.
I want to especially thank you for placing the concerns of parents regarding their kids as a top priority on your agenda. Bringing this bill forward indicates some of the things I've been talking about for the 13 years that I've been here, and I'm very pleased to finally be able to address that with a minister of the Crown in order to get some changes made.
I also want to commend you on the $600 million addition to the budget to fight child exploitation. That's an indication to me that the things that need to happen are really going to happen.
I realize the technicalities that are being talked about. I was principal of a school for the better part of my life before coming here. I want to share with the minister that Mr. Comartin's figures that approximately 13% could be engaged in sexual activities at ages 14 or 15 could be fairly accurate. Compared to what I had to deal with in the school I was at for a number of years—it was a small school, but we had 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds, and I can name specifically five times where individuals of 14 and 15 were engaged in sexual relations with adults over five years older than themselves.
Each one of those situations ended in tragedy—I'm talking two or three years down the road, beyond the initial contact—devastating tragedy. They were children of friends of mine, so I know what I'm talking about regarding what it can do to families and to young people, what it can do. No, maybe it doesn't happen in every case, but I saw it, I felt it, and I was part of it. It has to stop. It just has to stop.
So I want some assurance. In every one of those cases that I mentioned in my particular situation, we tried to involve the police to remove the 14-year-old or 15-year-old from the situation. The police couldn't do anything; they were handicapped. Parents forcefully tried to move in and remove their children from those situations. Each one of them was charged with trespassing and, in a couple of cases, charged with assault for entering a premise, trying to bring their child out of something that they hated to see them involved in. Had they been successful, the tragedies wouldn't have occurred. That's why I think it's so important that we really address this seriously.
Will the authority be returned to the parents to have control over decisions made by 14-year-olds and 15-year-olds with regard to their sexual activities with people five years older or more?
Well, you certainly touched on a lot of different issues, Mr. Thompson. Certainly there has been an evolution in the thinking in this country. I think this particular change of provisions is actually overdue.
That being said, if you go back to the history of this country, go back to the time of Confederation, the age of sexual consent was 12. When the present Criminal Code, which is based on the English criminal code, was adopted and modified, the age of consent was raised to 14—in the year 1890. So I think most people would say that our views on when people become adults have changed. Certainly this is consistent with that.
So I think it's a step in the right direction to move it up to 16. Quite frankly, I think this is consistent with thinking—not just, of course, in Canada, but many other like-minded countries and jurisdictions have likewise sought to increase greater protection within the law.
With respect to involvement with others, school officials, parents, everybody of course has a stake in this. Parents of course have a huge moral and legal responsibility for their children. I'm quite certain that parents whose children may be subject to the type of exploitation we are talking about in this bill would welcome this, as would, I'm sure, school board authorities and teachers and principals.
So I think you'll find that this committee will bring widespread support upon itself, and the House of Commons, by moving forward on it.
Mr. Minister, thank you for being here.
I'm relatively new in the legislative history of things, so I wasn't here when Bill C-2 was passed. I wasn't here when through various incarnations the then opposition asked for this type of legislation.
I refer you to the opening salvos of the your predecessor, who in October of last year suggested that Conservatives have been asking for this kind of change in the law for years. For years, the former government—I guess that would be the Liberals—refused, basically stating that existing law was adequate to protect children.
Since that time, and correct me if I'm wrong, I think this bill has changed the Conservative philosophy that a close-in-age exemption was important. Again, correct me if I'm wrong, because you were part of that caucus and that criticism, but until the tabling of this bill there was no talk from any of the Conservatives about a five-year close-in-age exemption. I think you would admit that in the spirit of compromise and evolution—to use one of your words right back at you—that makes this bill quite palatable to the Liberal side, and obviously to the other parties who are supporting it, because it's balanced, it's reasonable, and it's workable. Heretofore that was not the position of the Conservative Party. That's my first question.
The second question I don't think was adequately covered in your response to one of Mr. Comartin's usual incisive questions. That has to do with the unconstitutional aspect that groups like Egale have brought up with respect to anal intercourse and the age of protection, if you like, of 18 years.
Again, I would draw your attention to the summary in your bill, and actually the preamble, which by the Interpretation Act should apparently be taken into consideration. The summary does not specify that this bill is homing in on exactly what you think it's homing in on. It talks about sexual activity and age. While we welcome this bill, to keep the scope of the summary and the preamble, can you tell us whether you plan to fix what I would call the lacuna, the gap, with respect to anal intercourse?
Thank you, Mr. Minister.
First of all, with respect to the close-in-age exemption, it wasn't the responsibility of the opposition party to draft legislation. Certainly the opposition Conservatives were very vociferous in terms of asking that the government of the day address the question of 14- and 15-year-olds. If the close-in-age exception helps make it, in your words, “more palatable” to the Liberals, then I'm pleased about that. I think it's a reasonable amendment to have in this piece of legislation. Quite frankly, I think it strengthens the legislation, and I'm glad.
Hopefully this bill will get passed and it won't go the route of some previous pieces of legislation that have been introduced into this Parliament. I'm well aware of the fact that this is a minority Parliament and that basically none of our justice legislation can get through unless somebody steps forward and supports it.
Are you asking me if I was encouraged? I was encouraged in the last election when I heard that a number of these issues were important to political parties. So yes, I'd like to see progress made on a whole wide range of our justice legislation. Certainly this one is very important to the members of my political party, so yes, I appreciate any cooperation that we get in terms of moving the bill forward and hopefully receiving support.
With respect to your second comment on section 159 of the Criminal Code, I think I can paraphrase my predecessor by saying this bill isn't meant to cover all areas of sexual activity. There are a number—many, quite frankly—different sections in the Criminal Code that touch on sexual activity. This had a specific purpose, which was to raise that age of protection, move it from 13 to 14 and 15, to protect all 14- and 15-year-olds. I indicated that whether it's heterosexual or gay sex, they are protected under the provisions of this legislation.
I think it's a step in the right direction. Does it address every section in the Criminal Code that touches on sexual activity? It doesn't. It has a specific direct purpose. I think it's a legitimate one, and it should be supported.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, Minister.
As you know, we support the bill, a priori. Unfortunately, you haven't given us much information. Everyone wants to protect young people from sexual exploitation. However, I would like to get a little more information from you.
First of all, how many offences are we talking about? How many charges of sexual exploitation involving young persons have been laid by law enforcement officials in recent years?
Secondly, you have neither confirmed nor denied the numbers quoted by our colleague Mr. Comartin. How many young persons are targeted by this bill? I know we're talking about approximate numbers, but can you confirm, or deny, the claim that 125,000 young persons will be affected by the bill?
Thirdly, the most important element is setting an age limit. What were the reason for selecting this particular age? Some people feel that it would be more effective if judges could determine the exploitative nature of the relationship and that less relevance should be assigned to age. How do you respond to that? Why was the age set at 16 years, and not at 17 or at some other number?
You've raised a couple of good questions.
It's interesting, but when you look at other jurisdictions, it's sometimes very difficult to compare the same thing. For instance, in the United Kingdom the age of consent is 16, but they don't provide what we are providing, the close-in-age exception. And we could debate whether theirs is a better law than ours; I think this is a better way to proceed. In the United States, because their criminal code is at a state level, many of the states have it at 16, but I have to tell you that many others have it at a higher age. Most of the Australian states seem to have a similar age to our own, but across Europe there's a fairly wide range.
Ultimately, this is a decision that we as Canadians have to take. I can tell you that legislation in this area is a tricky business. It's not easy. Even on those items where you'd think that you would have complete consensus, or that there would be unanimity, you find resistance.
For instance, in the spring of 1993, I was quite involved with the first bill that made it a crime to possess child pornography. If you were working in my office with me, you would know and remember that we were deluged with literature and people trying to make representations to us—many times people from south of the border who were wondering why we were getting into this area. Children participating in sex acts and being recorded did not receive universal disapproval. There was this organization called NAMBLA—something about men and boys loving each other—contacting my office and sending material. I mean, it was astounding to the people working with me that anybody out there opposed making the possession of child pornography a crime, but in fact they did.
So something as clear as that can present a challenge to those of us who are legislators. I think that underlies how difficult some of these are.
Again, I think this is an idea whose time has come. I made the point that perhaps it should have been done years ago, but that's the challenge we have.
It's also the challenge that you have, as a committee, with respect to the Criminal Code. The Criminal Code that is before us today was instituted and adopted in 1890, and we're continuously updating it. We have to update it. We have to stay one step ahead of the bad guys. We have to make sure the Criminal Code is responsive to today's concerns, and believe me, I'm very much of the opinion that this is a great step forward in protecting children and updating our Criminal Code.
I hope that answers your question.
Thank you so much for being here today, Minister, and thank you for your presentation.
As you know from the speeches the Liberals made at second reading of this bill, Bill , and from our Liberal justice strategy, which we announced in October 2006, Bill C-22 is in fact one of the bills the Liberal Party and the Liberal caucus supports. And back in 2006 we offered to fast-track it for the government, to work with the government to see that it was fast-tracked.
I'm pleased to hear in your response to my colleague Brian Murphy that you're delighted that the Liberals are supporting and that you want to see it come into effect and be enacted as quickly as possible.
So you have obviously been made cognizant of the Liberal opposition day motion, which will be debated tomorrow as part of the supply day for opposition, which makes an offer, for the third time, to this Conservative government that we are prepared to work with the government to have ; —on which you're appearing before us right now—; and deemed to have been considered by the House of Commons at all stages.
Should the government agree to vote in that way, this bill, , , , and will have been deemed to have gone through the House of Commons at all stages.
So I would hope that, given your delight in hearing that we're prepared to support Bill C-22.... You're not learning of this for the first time, because that was announced back in October 2006. The offer was made back then. Unfortunately, the government only took us up on three bills: conditional sentencing; street racing; and , payday loans. But Bills C-18, C-22, and C-23 were part of that offer. You and your government, in its wisdom, decided not to take us up on it in October. The offer was again made when we came back after the Christmas break. The government decided not to take us up on it.
We're now making it for a third time, this time in writing, as part of an actual motion on which you and your colleagues will be called on to vote. I'm hopeful, and I'm asking if you will be prepared to recommend to your Prime Minister, to your colleagues, that they vote in favour of the Liberal opposition day motion, which would deem Bills C-18, DNA identification; C-22, age of protection; C-23, criminal procedures; and C-35, reverse onus for bail hearings, to have been considered by the House at all stages and adopted.