Canada Raises Legal Age of Consent

The term “age of consent” is the age at which one is legally allowed to engage in sexual activity. In June 2006, the Harper government introduced Bill C-15, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, to raise the legal age of consent in Canada from 14 to 16. Officially, the purpose of the bill was to address the issue of adult sexual predators who seek out younger victims via the internet. The change in the law was also politically motivated, to draw attention to the Conservative government’s priorities around promoting family values.

Regardless of motive, on May 1st of this year, the Criminal Code amendment to raise the age of consent in Canada from 14 to 16 took effect; our age of consent is now in line with other countries such as Britain, Australia and most American states.  This change means that adults who have sexual activities with boys or girls aged 15 and younger could face criminal charges.  The new law includes a “close-in-age” provision of five years, which means it would be legal for a 15-year old to have relations with a 19-year old provided the relationship is not exploitative and the older person is not in a position of trust or authority.  In clearer terms, a teen under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex with an adult five or more years older.

Among the exemptions, sex between peers under 16 is okay, as long as neither is in a position of trust or authority and they are 12 or older.  Likewise, if a person under 16 (and 12 or older) has sex with someone less than five years older, they can be considered to have consented unless the older person is in a position of authority.

Why are we touching on this topic in our column? Over the years the Centre for Sport and Law has dealt frequently with cases of inappropriate sexual relationships in the sport setting. We have also written about them in this magazine. In some regards, the new law makes no difference when the relationship in question is one of trust and authority, such as between coach and athlete, or teacher and pupil. The Criminal Code has always said that young people cannot consent to sexual activity with someone in a position of authority.

However, some notable cases that we have reported on such as R. v. Weston (which involved a 30 year old coach and a 14 year female athlete) would now be decided differently as a result of Bill C-15. As well, the high profile case of Canadian Amateur Diving Association and Arturo Miranda, a discipline matter decided by a tribunal of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada in 2005, would have had a very different outcome if decided today.

This discussion on raising the legal age of consent in Canada from 14 to 16 has not touched on the ethical issues and the legal duty of coaches towards athletes, but acts as a reminder of the power inherent in the coach-athlete relationship, which needs to be respected with the utmost care.

Originally published: Coaches Plan (2008) Vol. 15(2)

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