Canada's ruling conservatives have moved to raise the age of sexual consent by two years to 16, saying children need better protection from adult predators in an Internet era.

The bill introduced Thursday by Justice Minister Vic Toews would mark the first time the age has been changed since it was set at 14 more than a century ago.

"We are committed to protecting our most vulnerable citizens," Toews told a news conference.

"More and more, ordinary Canadians are concerned about the growing problem of child sexual predators, especially in the Internet age. They have looked to this government to take whatever steps it can to address the issue."

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The legislation includes a so-called near-age exemption of five years so that, for example, a 14-year-old could still have a sexual partner aged up to 19, and a 15-year-old could have a partner aged up to 20.

Toews said the proposed law is a sound way to target older adults.

Supporters say the measure would help police deal with pimps, Internet predators and international sex tourists.

Critics said the bill was a gift to far-right Tory supporters that will drive young lovers underground. They also contended it would do nothing to bolster already existing laws that prohibit sexual exploitation of children.

"It's politics," said Hilary Cook, a lawyer and spokeswoman for the gay rights group Egale.