In 1920, the offence of "seduction" (without reference to promise of marriage) was made applicable to girls "of previously chaste character" between 16 and 18.Amendments to the Criminal Code in 1988 repealed the aforementioned unlawful intercourse and seduction offences.The maximum available penalty for "sexual interference" or "invitation to sexual touching" is ten years for those prosecuted by way of indictment.
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The history of age of consent laws in Canada has evolved considerably in the past century so that the existing Criminal Code prohibitions against sexual contact with children bear scant resemblance to those that were in place as recently as 20 years ago.
The exception, of course, is anal intercourse, to which unmarried persons under 18 cannot legally consent, although both the Ontario Court of Appeal(3) and the Quebec Court of Appeal(4) have struck down the relevant section of the Criminal Code.
Prior to passage of Bill C-15, section 153(1) of the Criminal Code made it an indictable offence for any male person to have sexual intercourse with a female under 14 who was not his wife, whether or not he believed she was at least 14; the maximum penalty upon conviction was life imprisonment.
A number of documents and publications published prior to those 1988 Criminal Code amendments suggest a variety of reasons for those changes in the law.
Most often cited was the perceived unequal treatment of boys and girls, since the earlier offences related strictly to female victims.
Although a bill introduced in 1981 by previous Justice Minister Jean Chrétien had also proposed the repeal of the seduction offences, it would have retained a broader, gender-neutral version of the prohibition against sexual activity with a young person between 14 and 16.
However, Bill C-53 was never passed and a later version, in the form of Bill C-127,(2) brought about significant changes to the criminal law in the area of sexual offences but did not specifically address the sexual exploitation of young persons.
As pointed out in the 1984 Badgley Report on Sexual Offences Against Children, Canada has a long history of prohibiting sexual intercourse with young females, regardless of their consent.
Only girls under 12 were absolutely unable to consent to sexual intercourse until 1890, when the age limit was raised to 14.
The kind of scrutiny that a complainant might face in testing the proof of her chaste character no doubt also contributed to the fact that few charges were being laid under that provision prior to its repeal.