This past weekend I attended the extremely well organized Christian Legal Fellowship National Christian Law Student Conference hosted by University of Ottawa law students. Kudos to organizers for a great event with great speakers, including Justice Minister Rob Nicholson as the keynote speaker for the opening session on Thursday night.

I arrived a little late as it can be hard to break away from a conversation with a Chippewa elder (and I really enjoy the wisdom he had to share), but that’s a story for a different day. Because of my late arrival I didn’t hear all of Minister Nicholson’s talk but did hear some words of wisdom shared by a Conservative elder, Nicholson having been first elected to Parliament in 1984.

We live in a hyper-sexualized culture and children are, unfortunately, not immune from it. Sex sells cars, clothes and children’s toys. Unfortunately, sex with children also sells and so do images of that action.

Nicholson was a member of the cabinet in the Progressive Conservative government that enacted section 163.1 of the Criminal Code in 1993. The production, possession, sale and distribution of child pornography in Canada is illegal as a result.

In November 1998, the law was challenged by John Robin Sharpe who had been charged with two counts of possessing child pornography. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, having been engaged on this issue since the 1980s and involved in the passing of the law in 1993, stood before the court as an intervener in its defense. The law was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, with two exceptions: written or visual presentation created by an individual from his or her imagination and held for his or her exclusive personal use; and, visual recording that did not depict unlawful sexual activity, created with the consent of the participants and held exclusively for personal use. At the time of the decision in R. v. Sharpe, that meant that those able to legally consent to sexual activity with an adult could be filmed while doing so, an age set at 14 since the enactment of the Criminal Code in the 1890s.

As Government Leader in the House of Commons, and subsequently Minister of Justice, Nicholson oversaw the introduction and enactment of legislation to reduce the gap established in R. v. Sharpe by raising the age of consent to sexual activity with an adult from 14 to 16 years of age effective May 1, 2008. Nicholson stated on Thursday evening that he was pleased to have played a role in protecting children from predators in both adding child pornography to the Criminal Code and increasing the protection afforded children by two more years with the change in age of consent.

Noting his personal concern for the protection of children, Nicholson was pleased to tell students that although Bill C-58, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service, had died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued, the government would be reintroducing the legislation when the next session begins in March.

People of faith can and do engage in the political process, making a difference and making good public policy motivated by the faith that inspires them. The students were impressed with Minister Nicholson’s perspective and accomplishments. And, we look forward to the re-introduced legislation in the hope that it will move quickly through House and Senate to continue to extend the protection of children that is part of the legacy of the Honourable Rob Nicholson’s career.

As I wrote on December 1, 2009, “Children deserve the right to be children, protected – not perverted – by all adults in their life.”

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