The Toronto Star
Thursday, March 15, 2001

Child porn viewers on Net may be charged

by Tonda MacCharles

OTTAWA -- A sweeping package of Criminal Code changes introduced yesterday would make it illegal for anyone to lure children online or to even look at child porn on the Internet.

The bill is believed to be the first attempt by any country to ban the act of surfing for child pornography or viewing it on-screen at the click of a mouse.

The bill would also make it illegal to e-mail child porn, or to export it abroad.

In a bid to bring Canadian law up to date with today's technology, the bill would give judges new powers to order computers forfeited and to order Internet offenders to stay away from children.

Judges would also be able to shut down pornographic Web sites that originate in Canada or provide hyperlinks to smut sites abroad.

The provisions are contained in a massive "omnibus" bill that also revives tougher provisions against animal cruelty, home invasions, stalking, and disarming a police officer.

The bill also amends a 1997 law against child sex tourism, making it easier to prosecute a suspect in Canada for having sex with a minor in a foreign country. Until now, the law required a foreign state request that charges be laid. No charges have ever been pursued.

Most of the proposals tabled yesterday by Justice Minister Anne McLellan were introduced during the last parliamentary session, but died on the order paper because of the federal election last fall.

The sections targeting online child pornographers and pedophiles are new, however, and put Canada at the forefront of an international battle to combat Internet sex criminals, said Yvan Roy, senior general counsel with the federal justice department.

Many countries ban possession of child pornography downloaded from the Internet, but Roy could not identify any other country that bans the act of viewing it on screen, as Canada is proposing.

Roy said the European Council, working with other jurisdictions like the U.S. and Japan, is currently trying to draft a cyber-crime law that would make it an offence to "procure" child pornography.

Roy said the law aims to catch deliberate acts of accessing child pornography, not inadvertent or unintentional acts.

The new child pornography offences carry tough penalties of up to 10 years in jail. The online luring offence carries a maximum 5-year jail term.

Civil libertarians immediately raised concerns about criminalizing the mere act of "accessing" child pornography.

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby said the proposed offence is poorly drafted, overbroad, and wide open to a constitutional challenge,

"A minister looking for examples for a Sunday sermon so he can speak knowledgeably to his congregation, a psychiatrist trying to understand a patient, a journalist seeking to inform the public -- if you don't exempt these things, you wind up with an infringement of the Constitution", said Ruby.

McLellan shrugged off the concern.

"We believe that this package is about the protection of society, particularly those parts that deal with sexual exploitation of children -- protection of the most vulnerable members of society", she told reporters after tabling the bill.

Ottawa is not providing any new resources for police to enforce the new laws. McLellan said she consulted widely with police officers, chiefs of police, victims groups and the provinces, and said the bill has wide support.

Detective Inspector Bob Matthews, of the OPP's anti-child porn unit, praised Ottawa's effort to bring the law in line with the technological tools available to pedophiles.

"This is legislation we've been asking for for a long time."

Jay Thomson, president of Canadian Association of Internet Providers which represents 80 per cent of the Internet service providers (ISPs) in Canada, said his organization supports the bill's proposal to let a judge decide what is or isn't pornographic, because ISPs cannot act as censors.

"We are transmitting content that we have no control over. No different than a telephone company with respect to the conversations that take place over the telephone. We're not in a position to censor the material."

The bill also includes changes to ease ministerial reviews of wrongful convictions -- so-called "mercy" reviews -- facilitate criminal prosecutions, and to streamline registration procedures under the gun control law.

Copyright © 2001 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.