Seeking to crack down on sexual predators in the era of the Internet, Canada’s government brought in legislation on Thursday that would raise the legal age of sexual consent to 16 from an unusually young 14.
Justice Minister Vic Toews said changing the law will bring Canada’s standards into line with those of several other countries, and he complained that Canada’s relatively low age of consent has attracted sexual predators from more restrictive countries.
But the proposal, first outlined in April, will also allow youngsters to have consensual sex with people up to five years older or younger, even if that means one partner is aged 14 or 15.
“Our goal in this legislation is not to criminalize teenage youth who may be involved in sexual activity with their peers,” Toews told reporters in Ottawa. “It is to make the law more effective in protecting vulnerable young people from adult sexual predators.”
Consent standards vary around the world in terms of age, gender and sexual orientation. In most U.S. states, the age of sexual consent is 16 and in some cases — Arizona is one example — it is as old as 18.
To catch a predator
The move fits well with efforts in recent years by law enforcement officials to track down adult Internet predators, Ottawa Police Chief Vince Bevan said.
“There are a number of local cases that spring to mind where had the intended activity been taken to the point of sexual contact this new law would certainly apply,” he said.
Toews predicted that the move would find broad support among the public, police forces and with lawmakers of all political stripes.
However, some advocacy groups, including the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, have expressed concern about changing the law in this way.
Former Planned Parenthood decries move
The federation, formerly Planned Parenthood, said there is no evidence that raising the age of consent will better protect young people, and warned it may discourage young people from seeking out birth control options or other assistance.
“I can certainly see that once a crime has taken place, it may make it easier for the authorities to prosecute a predator. But that’s not protection, that’s an after-the-fact response,” said Andrea Cohen, the federation’s president.
Toews introduced the legislation in the House of Commons on Thursday, the last day of proceedings before Parliament’s summer break, so debate will start only after Parliament resumes on Sept. 18.