What is Canada's 'age of consent' and what are the Liberals changing?

Who's old enough to do what? Legislation introduced Tuesday will change Canadian law so all forms of sexual activity are treated the same when it comes to setting the legal age of consent.

Legislation introduced Tuesday amends Criminal Code so same age of consent applies for all types of sex

Bill C-32 introduced by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould would stop drawing distinctions between different kinds of sex for people in different kinds of relationships. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould introduced legislation Tuesday that would effectively lower the age of consent for anal intercourse, making it the same as for other sexual acts.

The age of consent to partake in anal sex for unmarried couples — regardless of sexual orientation — is currently 18.

That will be lowered to 16, if the proposed Liberal bill passes, removing the section of the Criminal Code that specifically sets rules for anal intercourse.

Here is a quick look at Canada's age of consent rules.

What does age of consent mean?

The age of consent 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. 

Age of consent laws apply to all forms of sexual activity, ranging from sexual touching, including kissing, to sexual intercourse.

Why were there different rules for anal sex?

Anal intercourse was treated differently in all matters of law, a relic of anti-buggery laws drafted in the Victorian age to punish what was seen as a perverse act.

The LGBT community wants this to change, arguing it is discriminatory and punishes gay people, in particular, for engaging in consensual sex with their partners.

When was the last time the rules changed?

In 2008, the previous Conservative government led by Stephen Harper raised the legal age of consent in Canada from 14 to 16, the first change to the law since 1892. 

The Conservatives said they raised the age, in part, to deal with internet predators.

Are there exceptions?

The 2008 change to the Criminal Code provided "close in age" or "peer group" exceptions. 

A 14- or 15-year-old can consent to sexual activity with a partner as long as the partner is less than five years older. A 12-or 13-year-old can consent to sexual activity with another young person who is less than two years older.

In both cases, there must not be a relationship of "trust, authority or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person." (This includes: sex with a teacher, employer, coach or babysitter.)

If the partner is older than these definitions of a peer, any sexual activity will be considered a criminal offence unless it occurs after they are married to each other.

The age of consent remains 18 if the sexual activity "exploits" the young person — when it involves pornography or prostitution, or if it occurs in a relationship of authority, trust or dependency. 

How do Canada's laws compare?

Most countries have some kind of legal age of consent. In a few countries, it can be as low as 12 or when the individual goes through puberty.

But in most countries, it is at least 14. In some American states, it's even higher.

Canada's rules do not change from province to province.

In a few jurisdictions around the world, you must be married to engage in legal sex.

What would the Liberal changes to Section 159 mean?

Bill C-32 would stop drawing distinctions between different kinds of sex for people in different kinds of relationships.

Sexual activities would be considered the same across the board, and the age at which an individual is considered mature enough to make their own decisions about what they wanted to engage in would be 16, regardless of the individual's gender or orientation.