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Capitol One

Raise age of consent to protect youth, activists urge

Capitol One, By Liam Gerofsky, Jan. 18, 2002

OTTAWA  — Diane Sowden's daughter ran away from home and was lured into prostitution at the age of 13, after getting involved with a 27-year-old man.

"I went to the police to get her back and they said they couldn't do anything because there was no proof that they were sexually active."

"At 14, she became pregnant. So I went back to the police and said, 'She's pregnant.' And they said, 'Well, it's too late to do anything now, because the legal age of sexual consent is 14.'"

That was almost nine years ago and Sowden says she could not believe 14 was the legal age of consent in Canada.

The Criminal Code states that a person between 14 and 17 can consent to sexual activity as long as: no relationship of trust, authority or dependency exists; there is no payment or offer of payment for sex; and there is no anal sex.

Sowden believes Canada's current age of consent leaves young teenagers vulnerable to sexual predators.

Organizing change

She founded a community group in her home of Coquitlam, B.C., the Children of the Street Society. It is lobbying the federal government to increase the age of consent to 16.

"As a parent, I know there is a huge difference in maturity between a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old. They are not as easily manipulated (at 16)."

Another group, the Canada Family Action Coalition is leading a similar campaign. The group is based in Calgary, and its mandate is to see Judeo-Christian morals restored in Canada.

Coalition executive director Brian Rushfeldt says he is concerned Read More ..d Read More ..edators are using the Internet and other methods to "prey" on younger children.

"And, if it's legal to prey on a 14-year-old and convince them to be involved in a sexual act, and there is no repercussions for that particular predator," says Rushfeldt, "we've got a law that protects the predators instead of the children."

The coalition is distributing some 1 million postcards across the country. Canadians can sign their names to the cards and send a message to Justice Minister Martin Cauchon demanding Parliament raise the age of consent to 18.

"Clearly, we feel this age would be very consistent with how we, as a culture, look at dealing with children up until the age 18," Rushfeldt says, citing the voting age, and the legal age for buying cigarettes and alcohol.

Status quo

Senator Landon Pearson, a federal advisor on children's rights, is not convinced raising the age of sexual consent will eliminate sexual exploitation.

Her research shows that the average age of first sexual activity is around 15. Raising the age of consent would criminalize a significant percentage of the adolescent population, Pearson argues.

Sowden and Rushfeldt insist that any changes to the Criminal Code would ensure teens engaged in consenting sexual activity with their peers won't be criminalized, as long as they are within two years in age of each other.

Addressing problem

Pearson's main concern with blaming the sexual exploitation of children on the age of consent is that it is "a bit of a red herring." The federal government should, instead, occupy itself with improving the Criminal Code, to make it easier for authorities to crack down on predators.

"As a society, we're not too good at getting after some of the men who are already exploiting kids."

Sowden wants changes made to the Criminal Code that would allow a social worker or police officer to apprehend a young person for child protection. As in spousal abuse situations, authorities could make recommendations to the Crown to lay charges against pimps and johns, even if the victim refuses to co-operate.

Sowden and Rushfeldt both say such changes to the Criminal Code, along with raising the age of sexual consent, would ensure Canada's youth are protected from predators.

Changing minds

During the spring session of Parliament, the Canada Family Action Coalition plans to present the results of their postcard campaign, and ask for a motion to raise the age of consent.

 This could lead to a long, complicated debate, Pearson says.

"When you look at consent, you are looking at a statement about an individual, and when is that individual old enough to consent," she says.

 "And I don't think we know for sure. Nor could we ever probably know."

The Canada Family Action Coalition campaign site" Library of Parliament research paper on age of consent