Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Another tragic case of our indifference to young girls
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - A 12-year-old girl goes for a drive with three men. They give her beer, then try to have sex with her. She ends up in the hospital for three days.
And two of the three men are acquitted of sex assault charges, apparently because a jury accepted their argument that the acts were consensual, and they thought she was 14 - and thus legal. Just a liaison, beside a truck, on a Saskatchewan road.
I'm not going to second guess the jury because only someone who sits through a trial is entitled to do that. I am going to note that the girl was native. And that at least six times in his charge to the jury the judge referred to the two accused as "boys," an odd and inaccurate term for men of 21 and 25. And that police failed to videotape interviews with her, her medical examination was inadequate and the prosecutor didn't do a strong job of raising doubt about getting a kid drunk and then claiming consent.
I'm going to blame Jean Chretien.
This case might not have happened - and certainly the verdict would have been different - if the federal Liberals had made one simple change and raised the age of consent between adult and child to 16.
The federal Liberals have decided that sex between a 14-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man should be legal. They are not prepared to let 14-year-olds vote, drive or drink. But at 14 - at a time when she might still be deciding what to wear to her Grade 8 grad - they believe a child should be fair game for any man who can persuade her that she's in love or dazzle her with promises and dreams.
This isn't some new problem. The B.C. government and other provinces have urged Ottawa to change the age of consent, and so have Alliance MPs, child protection groups, police and municipalities. The U.S., Britain, Australia, even Thailand, are among the countries that make the age of consent 16.
But the Chretien government refuses to take a small step that would give parents and police one more way of rescuing a child at risk, and prevent men from arguing that they had the child's consent.
Why? Justice Minister Martin Cauchon says there's no provincial consensus, so Ottawa won't act.
It's a shamefully empty defence of inaction. Eight provinces agree the law should be changed. Only Quebec and Saskatchewan - where this sad case unfolded - apparently remain concerned that police would end up arresting two 14-year-olds having consensual sex.
But all the government has to do -- as do the countries cited above -- is exempt sex between individuals of ages within two or three years of each other.
The Liberals also say they are protecting cultural or ethnic groups with "different sexual mores," without identifying the cultures that have a rich and valued tradition of sex with children, or why that is worth protecting.
Then arguments for raising the age of consent are compelling; the arguments against pathetic. (I am not interested in any arguments that 14-year-olds are mature enough to decide to have sex with adults; if you hold that view, I invite you to attempt to persuade the parents of a 14-year-old.)
Raising the age of consent to 16 would give police and parents a needed tool.
When adults target children for sex or profit, society will have a weapon, a law that reflects -- as the child pornography laws do -- the fact that we view sex with children differently than sex between consenting adults.
Parents could use the threat of criminal charges to face down a sexual predator interested in a young daughter, an option that does not now exist.
Pimps and johns would both have to factor one more risk into the equation when they put young girls to work.
And never again would men accused of sexual assault on a 12-year-old be able to escape punishment by saying they thought she was 14.

The Baker Boy bumps into the Heartland reality
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Anybody still trying to figure out why B.C.'s smaller communities are unhappy about the New Era should look at Prince Rupert's Baker Boy.
Paul Mah's business has been baking bread and treats for the Prince Rupert Hospital for 20 years. It's not a huge contract - about $10,000 a year - but it's significant, especially when times are tough.
But lst month he got a two-sentence note from the Northern Health Authority. The next week's bread order would be the last. The authority was centralizing buying and a bakery in Langley - 1,500 kms away - would be getting the contract. Thanks, and see you around.
It's apparently cheaper, and that's what matters to the health authority. Save $500 on bread, and you can avoid a cut somewhere else. (The authority, citing cost pressures, has also announced layoffs at the hospital.)
I'm sympathetic to the importance of good bottom line management. It's my money they're spending.
But it's also the money of the people paying taxes in Prince Rupert. And they've got a right to be angry when they see it being sucked out of their community, and sent down to create jobs and economic growth in the Lower Mainland or a distant regional centre.
The Baker Boy is a good example of why smaller communities are feeling abused by government policies that have given them much of the New Era pain and little of the gain.
The local hospital - or court house or school or government office - is part of the economy. By using Baker Boy, a local supplier, it kept tax money in the community. It helped create local jobs - the bakery has about 20 employees. Those people paid taxes and spent their wages in the community, sent their chioldren to school.
Some of the money even went back directly to the hospital. Mah was a big supporter - and donor - when the community raised money for a CatScan for the hospital.
Local decisions, local consequences.
But the Northern Health Authority - covering almost half the province - isn't local. Baker Boy never got a chance to bid for the right to supply bread. The health authority didn't return calls from Mah or the Prince Rupert Daily News about the cancellation.
That changed. Rupert Mayor Herb Pond and council expressed their outrage, noting rightly that the hospital is part of the economic base of the community. "Now the money that circulated locally is going down to Langley," he complained. "Is this what what the province calls taking care of the Heartland?"
And finally, the decision was reversed. Bread will come from down the street, not from 1,500 kms away. The money stays in the community. (And the pastries should be a lot fresher.)
Pond still wonders why the community - like others across the province - keeps getting hit with these kind of blows without getting the chance to be involved in the decisions.
Public institutions, like hospitals, shouldn't be used as a cash cows to keep local businesses going. If there are major savings, grab them.
But any private business I've been involved with has recognized the importance of trying to buy locally. It's tough to ask people to support you when you're turning your back on them.
There's no big outrage here, no fast ferry scandal or Coquihalla-scale protest.
But it's a small, good example of why the Liberals' "Heartland strategy" is being mocked across the province.
The people who live in these communities understand their economies and how they work. They know that right now, when a job is lost, it's likely won't be replaced. They know that the ripple effects spread through communities already facing tough times.
They shouldn't expect handouts - money transferred from the rest of the province to sustain them.
But they shouldn't be expected to watch quietly as their tax dollars - and the people and businesses they support - are shipped down the road.
Footnote: Should smaller communities have seen this coming? In the run-up to the election, the Kamloops Daily News said tax cuts would require spending cuts. Liberal candidate Claude Richmond said they were all wet. "In your editorial you say that there will have to be cuts in spending if the Liberals are going to cut personal income taxes as they claim," he wrote. "That is what the NDP wants you to believe and it just isn't so."