Tories to raise age of consent, targeting sex predators
Wednesday, February 8th, 2006
OTTAWA — The new Harper government will target sexual predators who prey on children by making a bill raising the age of consent to 16 from the current threshold of 14 one of its legislative priorities this spring.
Justice Minister Vic Toews yesterday said he believes there would be broad support within the minority parliament for a bill which included a "close-in-age exemption" so teenagers having sex would not be subject to the law.
"One of the issues that I would like to see brought forward as quickly as possible is the age of protection, raising that from 14 to 16 and looking at, of course, bringing in a close-in-age exemption," said Toews (Provencher). "We don’t want to criminalize consenting sexual conduct between youth. We want to protect young people from adult sexual predators."
The Tory campaign promise to raise the age of consent is part of an ambitious law and order platform which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given Toews the job of implementing.
For years, the Tories along with others such as the Manitoba government had been pushing Ottawa to bring Canada’s law in line with other Western countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia where the minimum age of consent is 16. Currently, having sexual contact with someone under the age of 14 carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
"It was very regrettable that the former government refused year after year to raise the age of consent," Manitoba Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said in an interview.
"The Manitoba government is very pleased to see this and we look forward to the legislation, it has been a long time in coming." Roz Prober, of the Winnipeg-based child protection group Beyond Borders, is delighted Toews plans to fast-track the bill.
"We have been working on that for so long and so hard, it is just about a no-brainer in the Internet era," Prober said.
Prober said she could never understand why the Liberals refused to raise the age to 16.
"I lost all respect for the former minister of justice, Irwin Cotler, because he tended to overstate the case on 14, saying he didn't want to criminalize puppy love."
Prober said the legal change is needed so sex tourists stop eyeing Canada as a haven where they can have intercourse with minors.
"Canada has to send internationally a strong message that it is no longer legal to have sex with 14 year-olds," she said.
Toews also believes he can move quickly to deal with the rising gun crimes which were a big issue during the campaign. The Tories want mandatory minimum sentences of five to 10 years for major firearms offences.
"Let me say that there was remarkable consensus among many of the parties on the issue of gun violence, especially bringing about mandatory minimum prison sentences, strengthening that in terms of the gun violence. So I anticipate quite a bit of consensus in that respect.
"When I looked at the NDP platform, for example, instead of the five-year minimum that we are calling for, they called for a four-year minimum — sort of like a Conservative light platform. But I think that we can work together with the NDP on some of those." Among the major planks in the Tory’s $500-million. five-year crackdown on crime are:
- 1,000 more RCMP officers;
- End house arrest for serious crimes;
- Ensure anyone 14 years or older charged with a serious violent or repeat offences is automatically subject to adult sentences;
- Create a joint national task force on security;
- Seek a constitutional amendment to ban prisoners in federal institutions from voting;
Toews is also ready to move quickly to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada, an appointment which may go to a Manitoban.
He also hinted that whoever is appointed may be subject to scrutiny by a parliamentary committee, perhaps even before parliament resumes on April 3.
The Tories also plan to scrap the troubled firearms registry and briefly discussed the issue in their first cabinet meeting Monday. Mackintosh said he expects that provincial justice ministers will have a better working relationship with Toews as he was also a provincial justice minister in the Filmon government.
"He brings an insight into knowing how it has to be a partnership with the provinces in the delivery of justice," Mackintosh said.
© Brandon Sun 2006