Raising the age of consent is a veiled attempt to assert conservative moral values on youth, queer and youth-led groups told Senators today.
The Senate's legal affairs committee is studying a Harper government bill that would raise the age of consent from 14 to 16. It will almost certainly pass — no political party has opposed it — but queer and youth-led groups came out Feb 22 to insist on their sexual freedom.
The proposed changes will have a disproportionate impact on gays, said Richard Hudler of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario.
"My first lover was 17 years older than me. And this is common [among gay people]," he said. "It is dangerous — considering the attitude toward sexual orientation in schools — for a young person to attempt to make sexual contact with a peer."
Other presenters pushed that point home: changing Canada's consent laws will only punish those in consensual relationships. Despite the government rhetoric of "protecting the youth", the proposed consent laws do little to actually protect youth, presenters argued.
"It won't stop real sexual abuse," said Nick Dodds of the Age of Consent Committee, a youth-led group.
Research shows most sexual abuse overwhelmingly occurs within the family, said Hudler. Raising the age of consent does nothing to protect youth in that situation, he noted.
Queer groups also spoke against the discriminatory age of consent for anal sex. Under Canada's Criminal Code, anal sex is only legal if both individuals are 18 years old. The Commons justice committee had a chance to strike down the law last year, but the chair — Conservative MP Art Hanger — refused.
"This factor sends a strong message to the gay community that hostility toward same-sex relationships is a motivating factor behind this legislation," said Hudler.
"The bill is homophobic," agreed Jeremy Dias, executive director of Jer's Vision, a youth group that seeks to end discrimination in schools. "Why can't a gay male youth make sexual decisions until he's 18?"
Perhaps most exciting was that youth overcame the barriers posed by the Parliamentary process to speak at the Senate committee.
"I'm here today to tell you that this is not what youth want," said Dodds, 19, who argued that more proactive attempts should have been made to hear from youth.
During the question and answer period, Conservative Senator Terry Stratton played into the fear of child exploitation, saying that parents are "petrified" about luring, particularly on the Internet. He also said tougher consent laws are needed to stop youth from being pulled into prostitution.
But Cheryl Milne of the Justice for Children and Youth set him straight.
"The example you gave is, quite frankly, already illegal," she responded. "We don't need more draconian laws that take away from the nuances and target youth."
The Senate will continue hearings on the Conservative government's omnibus crime bill — which include the age of consent changes — until at least Feb 25.