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Protecting Young Persons from Exposure to Pornography Bill Second Reading--Debate Continued

[17:50]

Honourable senators, I rise to speak at second reading on Bill S-203, An Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material.

Let me begin by congratulating Senator Miville-Dechêne for introducing this important bill and for the thoughtful effort she put into crafting it. I also want to thank her for her detailed speech at second reading. It was a thorough and well-researched exposition on the complete and utter failure of government and society at large to mount any effort to protect our children from the corrosive effects of early exposure to vicious pornography; pornography that if consumed at a young and immature age has the potential to do irreparable harm to the mental and spiritual health of the viewer.

I am the critic for the bill on this side, but I am certain I speak for all honourable members when I say that no reasonable person could possibly object to its aim, which is to shield the developing psyches of our most vulnerable members — our children — from depictions of violent and demeaning sexual acts. Bill S-203 would protect children from viewing harmful porn by enshrining into law that purveyors of online pornography must use online age-verification technology or risk fine or imprisonment.

Further, Bill S-203 would protect the mental health of young persons by restricting their access to sexually explicit material, protect Canadians, in particular young persons and women, from the harmful effects of the exposure of young persons to sexually explicit material, including demeaning material and material depicting sexual violence, and deter anyone who makes sexually explicit material available on the internet for commercial purposes from allowing young persons to access that material.

Our job here at second reading is to debate the principle of the bill, to decide if it has merit and if it is worthy of further study at committee. To that, I give an unequivocal “yes,” and I’ll be voting for it to be sent to committee.

Let me further state in no uncertain terms, I do not believe children should be viewing pornography of any kind, much less porn that is violent, abusive, demeaning or extreme in nature, which unfortunately describes most of the porn that is available on the internet today.

I agree with the preamble of Bill S-203, which states:

. . . the consumption of sexually explicit material by young persons is associated with a range of serious harms, including the development of pornography addiction, the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and the development of attitudes favourable to harassment and violence — including sexual harassment and sexual violence — particularly against women . . .

However, I also agree with Senator Cormier when he observed, after the second-reading speech of Senator Miville-Dechêne, that porn-inspired sexual violence is not limited to heterosexual encounters. The committee studying the bill may wish to amend the language in the bill to recognize that sadistic sexual violence, the mainstay of modern pornography, applies to all sexual orientations, and its power to do harm is unlimited and unrestricted.

The challenge of keeping malignant porn away from the eyes of children, as well as away from the eyes of the rest of us who do not wish to be sullied by it, is an incredibly difficult task given its ubiquity. With the portability of smart phones, porn is easily accessed no matter how vigilant or watchful a parent may be. Furthermore, our socio-cultural environment is saturated with it. To borrow a statistic from Senator Miville-Dechêne:

Over the past 10 years people have watched the equivalent of 1.2 million years of pornographic videos, and 95% of this occurs on free commercial sites where there is no age verification.

Porn is everywhere. Just today, on Twitter, quite randomly, the feminist blogger Louise Perry drew my attention to a tweet that had already received more than 300,000 likes and shares. The tweet in question described, in a tone that I would describe as a mix of self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, the “correct way” to choke a woman during sex. Apparently, the trick is to cut off blood flow without cutting off airflow. In the disgusted words of Louise Perry, “Our sexual culture is broken,” and she is totally right.

And so, too, is Senator Miville-Dechêne right to try to address that broken culture by at least shielding and protecting our children from it until they are mature enough to attempt to understand it. The potential of porn to inflict lasting damage on developing minds is well documented, and yet most children will be exposed to porn by the age of 11, whether by accident or intention, because very little effort has been made to try to curb and control its accessibility.

Meanwhile, we know that underage consumers of porn are likely to experience depression and poor academic outcomes. If they are boys, they are likely to view women and girls with aggression, hostility and often contempt. As they grow older, they are likely to experience sexual dysfunction, sexual difficulties, divorce and isolation.

While I do not feel qualified to offer an opinion on the technical merits of the digital age-verification process that Senator Miville-Dechêne’s bill depends upon to be effective, I welcome the opportunity to learn more about these technological capabilities at the committee’s study. Further, I remain interested to understand why Senator Miville-Dechêne chose to have this bill fall under the domain of the public safety minister and not the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who is responsible for safeguarding against the exploitation of children, or the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, who oversees the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act.

What I do feel qualified to say is that Senator Miville-Dechêne’s bill is an important step towards rectifying a grotesque abnegation of responsibility on the part of society towards our children. We know the extent of the mental, sexual and spiritual damage Canada’s children have endured because of the endless flow of malignant sexual material that bombards them each day. And yet, as a society, we have done virtually nothing to stop it.

I am glad Senator Miville-Dechêne is proposing a solution to this moral crisis. While this bill may be only one part of the answer, I look forward to studying it and the subject itself in greater detail at committee. Thank you.

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