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Backgrounder

Age of Protection Legislation

As part of its Speech from the Throne commitment to tackle crime and its pledge to protect Canadian families and communities against sexual predators, the Government has introduced “age of protection” legislation. The legislation proposes to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 years old , in order to help stop adults from sexually exploiting vulnerable young people.

Understanding “Age of Protection”

The age of protection, or age of consent as it is also called, refers to the age at which the criminal law recognizes the legal capacity of a young person to consent to sexual activity. Below this age, all sexual activity with a young person, ranging from sexual touching to sexual intercourse, is prohibited. The current age of consent is 18 years old when the sexual activity involves exploitative activity. This applies to such cases as prostitution, pornography, or where there is a relationship of trust, authority, dependency or any other situation that is otherwise exploitative of a young person. Under the current law, the age of consent for non-exploitative sexual activity is 14 years old.

Recognizing the Threat of Adult Predators

Protection of children and youth against sexual exploitation remains a high priority for Canadians. These concerns have been amplified with the use of new technologies such as the Internet by adult predators to sexually exploit youth. By raising the age of protection, the Government is targeting those who sexually prey upon some of society's most vulnerable individuals.

Building in Reasonable Exceptions

The Government equally recognizes that Canadian youth, like all youth around the world, are sexually active. Close-in-age exceptions have been included in the legislation to protect against the criminalization of consensual teenage sex. This exception would apply to 14 and 15 year old youth who engage in non-exploitative sexual activity with a partner who is less than five years older.

Under the proposed reforms, an additional time-limited exception would be available for a 14 or 15 year old youth whose sexual partner is more than five years older but with whom, when the new age of protection comes into effect, the youth is already legally married or living in a common-law relationship, as defined in the Bill.

The proposed reforms maintain an existing close-in-age exception that exists for 12 or 13 year olds who engage in sexual activity with a peer who is less than 2 years older, provided the relationship is not exploitative. The legislation also maintains the existing age of protection of 18 years old for exploitative sexual activity.

Striking the Right Balance

The protection of children from sexual exploitation is a priority for Canadians and the Government. By introducing this legislation, the Government of Canada has underscored its commitment to get tough on adult sexual predators.

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Department of Justice Canada
June 2006

 

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