Monday, March 21, 2005

Ottawa refuses to protect children from sexual predators

VICTORIA - What is wrong with the federal government, that it is so unwilling to take ons emall, important step to protect children from sexual predators?
The excuses keep changing, as the federal Liberals twist and turn to avoid making one legal change that would save young girls from sexual exploitation.
For years people have been pleading with the federal government to raise the age of consent, so grown men can’t claim that they have the right to have sex with 14-year-old girls.
And for years, Ottawa has come up with nothing but increasingly lame excuses.
We won’t let a 14-year-old drink, or drive a car, or vote. The reason is that they are children, without the maturity or judgment to consistently make sound decisions.
But Canada does think it’s fine for a 14-year-old to have sex with a man four times her age, and that it is a decision she’s fully capable of making. At an age when she should be thinking about her Grade 8 graduation, a girl is fair game for any man who can persuade her she’s in love, or dazzle her with praise and promises
Provinces, opposition parties, parents and police have been pleading with the federal government to raise the age of consent to 16 for at least nine years. With no success.
I’ve been writing about the issue for at least five years, and have watched - in genuine bafflement - the federal Liberals evade their responsibility.
Former justice minister Martin Cauchon said there wasn’t a clear provincial consensus on the change, so the government wouldn’t act. That was after every province but Saskatchewan and Quebec had supported raising the age to 16. The Liberals also said they were protecting cultural or ethnic groups with "different sexual mores," without identifying the cultures that have a valued tradition of sex with children, or why that is worth protecting.
Now the story has changed, and the supposed defence for inaction is downright insulting. Current Justice Minister Irwin Cotler says changing the age of consent could mean thousands of teenagers could be arrested each year for consensual sex with each other. Instead of protecting children, a new law would victimize them, says the justice minister.
It is patent rubbish. The U.S., Britain, Australia - Thailand, even - have higher ages of consent, without the problems Cotler predicts. Sex between individuals within two or three years of each other in age is exempted from prosecution, avoiding the issue entirely.
Yes, teens are going to be sexually active, no matter what parents or others think about their judgment. A survey of B.C. teens found nine per cent of 13-year-old girls and 14 per cent of boys had already had sex. That’s worrying, and points to other needs, like early, detailed sex education. But it’s no excuse for government inaction on the issue of adult predators.
Police have the common sense to recognize that if they find two 15-year-olds having sex in the park, that’s not a criminal matter. If they find a 15-year-old girl having sex with a 50-year-old man in a parked car, that likely is.
Changing the law would make a huge difference, giving police and parents a new tool to fight against adults who target children for sex or profit.
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, or hired them for sex.
And police would have a reason to intervene before children were lost.
The age of consent was lowered from 18 almost two decades ago, a move that has proved damaging to children’s best interests. The solution is obvious and widely supported.
The federal government’s stubborn refusal to protect children is shameful.
Footnote: The age of consent in Canada was only lowered from 18 in 1987. The move to 14 was clearly too far, and the result has been increased exploitation of children. Liberal MPs need to hear directly from Canadians who think it’s wrong for men to have sex with children.

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