Professor: Changes to age-of-consent law under-promoted
Recent changes to the law governing the age of sexual consent in Canada need to be fully explained, says a criminologist with St. Thomas University. Michael Boudreau, an associate professor with the department of criminology and criminal justice, said there's a need to explain it to teenagers. "I think the federal government has done a very poor job of educating the public about this change," Boudreau said.
The Tackling Violent Crime Act, which governs the age of sexual consent in Canada, was changed May 1. It raised the age of consent from 14 to 16 years. Under the new provisions, no one under the age of 16 can legally agree to any form of sexual activity with an adult - ranging from kissing to intercourse. Violation of the new law comes with a maximum penalty of 10 years.
A "close-in-age" exemption of less than five years allows teenagers, however, to engage in consensual sex with a partner, as long as that person is less than five years older, and providing the other partner isn't in a position of trust or authority and the relationship isn't exploitive.
The law, partially designed to deal with Internet predators, puts this country's rules governing consent closer to those in the U.S., Australia and Britain. "If you ask most 15- and 16-year-olds if they know about this change, the chances are they will say no," Boudreau said. "They are the targets of this law, but how well are they being educated about it?"
Boudreau said the changes will force a lot of youth to conceal sexual activity from their parents or school officials, if they aren't already doing so. They may fear what they are doing is morally and criminally wrong, he said. "They may think if they have a girlfriend or a boyfriend - if they're 15 and 16 - that may become illegal for them."
Boudreau said the changes may also put more onus on school officials to police students - especially those in middle school and high school.
Marilyn Ball, superintendent of School District 17, said as a partner in the education process with parents, there may be a role for educators to play. But nothing to that effect has been determined, she said. "The information hasn't come to us by a directive from the Department (of Education), so the only way our schools would be considering it (addressing the matter with students) would be through the normal process of hearing the news and responding in an appropriate way," Ball said.
"I would suggest that, at this point in time, we have schools - middle and high schools - that are so focused on concluding the curriculum requirements that those discussions are not likely to be taking place this term."
Sgt. Derek Strong, the RCMP's media liaison officer for New Brunswick, said educating the public on the changes is essential. "It will be important, through the media, to get this message out to teens and parents," he said.
Carole Saindon, the senior media relations adviser with the federal Department of Justice, said the government has put the word out on numerous occasions. Most recently when the reforms received Royal Assent, the department issued news releases and backgrounders, and held news events to explain what was proposed and what was passed by Parliament.
"All of these materials are publicly available on the Department of Justice website and have been widely reported on in the media," Saindon said. "In addition to these materials, the department continues to work with the provinces and territories as well as NGOs (non governmental agencies) to support implementation and awareness of C-2 on all aspects of the bill, including age of consent."
While the age for consenting to sexual activity in Canada is now 16, when it comes to protection for exploitive sexual activity, such as that involving prostitution, pornography, or a relationship of trust, the age is 18. The age of consent for anal sex is also 18.
3 June 2008