Handful of Liberals had joined Alliance, Tory and NDP MPs in bid to raise age of consent

Are horses more important than the safety of children? That’s the impression the House of Commons gave in late April when it unanimously passed a bill declaring the Canadien horse as Canada’s “national” horse, but struck down by votes of 163-62, and 154-71 two Canadian Alliance-inspired motions that proposed a ban on all forms of child pornography, and a raise in the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years.

The motions were supported by the Tories, most of the NDP, one Bloc Quebecois MP, and a handful of Liberals, including Dan McTeague (Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge), Janko Peric (Cambridge), Rose-Marie Ur (Lambton-Kent-Middlesex), Albina Guarnieri (Mississauga East), Tom Wappel (Scarborough Southwest), and Tony Valeri (Stoney Creek). Yet, it was defeated by a coalition of Liberal and Bloc MPs. Liberal MP John Maloney (Mississauga West) told the press that while “no member of any party in the House has anything but contempt and loathing for people who exploit children,” he explained that he voted no because the measures were so poorly worded that had they passed, they could have made the possession of certain books such as medical texts, Romeo and Juliet, and perhaps even the Bible, illegal.

In a Calgary Herald op-ed, columnist Don Martin wrote shortly after the vote that Maloney’s argument made no sense, as the House defeated motions, not actual legislation. A motion, “is not binding, legally or politically. It creates neither criminal nor victim. It merely attaches wishful thinking to the political standards of the day,” wrote Martin.

McTeague not only voted for both motions, but worked to find an acceptable compromise between the government and the opposition. “I can’t account for why MPs voted against this, but I felt very bad about it,” McTeague said in an interview with The Interim. “I’m not sure if it was really a case of party (ideology), as even the NDP voted in favour. Unfortunately, it’s more a question of people seeing this as a political issue. We should have had a lot more support for (the motions), and I think we needed more time for a real debate.” He added that while some “very strong” Liberals supported the motions, “the secularists did a much better job in getting their message out.” McTeague agreed the original motion was “only half-full” in that it did not address sex within trust relationships (the normal age of consent is 14, but teachers, coaches, and other authority figures cannot have sexual relationships with young people below the age of 18 who are placed in their trust), or the exemption that is made for teenagers who have sex with each other. Even so, McTeague points out the motions were not legislation, and calls them a “step in the right direction.”

Just a week before the vote, the Liberal MP organized an all-party forum of 38 MPs, who heard advice from police, intelligence experts, Canada Customs officials, and a psychiatrist. Canadian Alliance Justice Critic Vic Toews told reporters, “we saw things that absolutely horrified members of Parliament. The police told us children as young as six months or younger are subjected to this kind of abuse in Canada.”

Asked why the motions were necessary, McTeague mentions the John Robin Sharpe decision, in which a British Columbia judge ruled that certain forms of child pornography are legal if they contain some artistic merit. “That was a truly terrible decision. I’d call it judicial activism arguably at its worst,” says McTeague. “You need a separation of judicial and legislative powers, but judges are making, rather than interpreting laws. What I find so ironic is that lawyers and judges – people who take the written word so seriously – don’t see (child pornography) for what it really is – an assault against children. We’re talking about people who are sick and need treatment, not obscure legal decisions.”

In spite of the government’s rejection of the Alliance motions, Martin Cauchon, the minister of justice, has announced plans to introduce an omnibus legislative package this fall to protect Canadian children. It would include tightening laws against child pornography. Still, pro-family organizations such as the Canada Family Action Coalition remain dismayed the government did not support the motions. “CFAC is astounded and deeply disappointed by the Liberal government’s reckless disregard for the safety of children,” said CFAC executive director Brian Rushfeldt in a press statement. “By voting against a motion that simply asked for a formal commitment to take action, they rejected democracy itself. Why is Mr. Cauchon ignoring pleas from the Canadian Police Association, all of the provincial attorneys-general, numerous city councils, and Canadians from coast to coast of every political stripe? As of April 23, the issue of protecting our children has become an all-out war.”