The Liberal government is repealing what it calls a "discriminatory" law that makes it illegal to have anal sex under the age of 18, unless it is between a husband and wife.
Right now, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 but the Criminal Code prohibits anal intercourse for people under the age 18 unless they are husband and wife, a discrepancy many have denounced as unconstitutional.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced the change today, saying the "outdated" law violates equality rights.
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"This section of the Criminal Code is discriminatory and the LGBTQ2 community has rightfully called for its repeal," she said.
"Our society has evolved over the last few decades and our criminal justice system needs to evolve as well. This legislation will help ensure that the system is keeping pace with societal change and continuing to meet expectations of Canadians."
Wilson-Raybould said the change is substantive and not just symbolic. In 2014 and 2015, there were 69 charges laid under the law, though none led to convictions. The minister said appellate courts across the country have deemed the law unconstitutional.
The bill, C-32, is retroactive to 1983, but Wilson-Raybould said the law does not mean automatic pardons. That falls under the jurisdiction of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who is studying the issue, she said.
Diversity and inclusion
"The proposed amendment would ensure, in law, that all forms of consensual sexual activity are treated the same," she said. "Diversity and inclusion have long been among the values Canadians embrace. Canadians expect their laws and their government to reflect these values."
Jake Enwright, press secretary to interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, said she backs the change.
"Ms. Ambrose personally supports Bill C-32, which will codify well established jurisprudence from jurisdictions across Canada and all levels of the judiciary," he said in an email.
The Conservative caucus has not met to discuss the legislation.
The age of consent, also known as the "age of protection" refers to the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity. All sexual activity without consent, regardless of age, is a criminal offence.
As the law stands now, anyone who engages in anal intercourse is guilty of an indictable offence and could be imprisoned for up to 10 years. The exceptions are private consensual relations between husband and wife and any two persons when both partners are 18 years or older.
Age of consent laws apply to all forms of sexual activity, ranging from kissing and touching to sexual intercourse.
Wilson-Raybould was joined by Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault, who has been appointed as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new special adviser for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and two-spirited (LGBTQ2) issues.
Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault will report directly to Trudeau and work with various organizations to promote equality, protect rights and end discrimination.
Boissonnault will be responsible for assessing a range of issues, including planning an apology to the LGBTQ2 community for past government discrimination.
Equal treatment, respect
"The actions being announced today are part of the Government of Canada's overall efforts to ensure that all Canadian citizens are treated equally and with respect," said a release from the prime minister's office.
Boissonnault said there is much work ahead to end discrimination and address historic injustices.
He said he will be consulting broadly with organizations and the LGBT community to address pardons and to ensure all various issues are properly addressed in the promised apology.
"We will take the time to make sure we get this right," he said.
In June, Trudeau raised a rainbow-coloured Pride flag on Parliament Hill for the first time in Canada's history, in recognition of the people who have "fought a long time" to secure equal rights for LGBT Canadians.
A class-action lawsuit was filed earlier this month by former public servants and members of the military who lost their jobs because of their sexual orientation.