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Victorian Age of consent

by Archives February 15, 2006

It is absurd that Canada’s sexual age of consent laws, dating back to 1892, have never been revised. Haven’t our attitudes to sex changed at all in the last 114 years?

It’s a hot topic lately, with the new minority government announcing their plans to alter at least part of the criminal code’s age of consent laws. But an important section has been totally overlooked by the governing Conservatives. The current sexual age of consent laws do not treat people of all sexual orientations equally.

A day after Stephen Harper was sworn into office, the new Justice Minister Vic Toews announced his intent to raise Canada’s current age of consent from 14 to 16 years old. The Conservatives have been pushing for this change for several years. Just last September a non-binding Conservative motion to increase the age was defeated 169-100 in the House of Commons. However, this motion did not include a close-in-age exemption, meaning young people close in age couldn’t engage in sexual activities with each other. The new proposed bill is supposed to include a close-in-age exemption and is expected to pass without difficulty.

Liberals have put off passing the law for years, not wanting to place limits on young people’s sexual freedom. The Conservatives now say the new bill is a logical step to take in this age of Internet chat. The age change is supposed to protect youths against “sexual predators.” The previous Liberal justice minister said it’s unnecessary because the law already prohibits non-consensual sex at any age.

As long as the close-in-age measure is in place, raising the age of consent shouldn’t restrict youths’ freedom too much. The only consideration lacking in the debates of both the former Liberal government and the current Conservative government is the issue of sexual equality. It is distinctly lacking in any law changes being discussed.

Currently, sexual activity is illegal with those under 14 years old unless the person is within two years of their age. This rule covers anything from kissing to sexual intercourse. The only thing it does not cover is anal sex. In the Criminal Code of Canada, it is illegal to have anal sex unless it is in private, between a husband or wife or two people over the age of 18. Although the current legal age of consent for sexual activity is 14, for bisexual and gay men to have sexual intercourse in Canada they must be over the age of 18, with no exceptions.

This section of the criminal code has also been around since 1892 and it’s about time it was updated. Discussions about altering Canada’s sexual age of consent have clearly overlooked this aspect of our law.

The Quebec provincial government declared the law unconstitutional in 1998 and the Ontario government did the same in 1995. These decisions have set a precedent for the rest of the country. It is about time the rest of Canada followed suit and made the change in law formal.

It’s time to recognize that these types of discriminatory laws are outdated. The Canadian federal government needs to start treating all Canadians equally, regardless of sexual orientation. Only then will Canada’s age of consent laws be truly just.

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