The Toronto Star
Friday, March 16, 2001

Porn law excessive

The Internet is a powerful tool for predators who prey on children. It is important that the police have up-to-date tools to stop this insidious form of crime/. But it is also important that law-abiding citizens feel free to sit at their computers, without fear of being watched or harassed by the state.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan needs to fine-tune her bill updating the Criminal Code to achieve this balance.

The intent of the legislation is laudable. Canadians want their government to protect children from sexual exploitation. They are appalled by the knowledge that pedophiles lurk in Internet chat rooms, waiting to lure youngsters into abusive relationships.

But the powers the minister proposes to give police are disturbingly broad. Innocent Internet users could find themselves subject to police surveillance. People who stumble onto child pornography sites inadvertently -- as almost everyone who surfs the Web has done -- could be required to justify their behaviour.

There is much to applaud in McLellan's 78-page package. Her proposals to make Internet luring a crime; to outlaw the posting, transmission, and export of child pornography online; and to give judges the power to order the deletion of Canadian Web sites publishing child pornography are all timely and welcome. p> But her plan to make it a Criminal Code offence to "intentionally access" child pornography is troubling. How will police know whether a visit to a child porn site is intentional? What will a citizen have to do to prove that he or she is not a cyber criminal? What will stop law enforcement authorities from monitoring everything an individual does on the Internet on suspicion of illegal intent? What will they do with the information they compile?

Personal privacy and freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression are fundamental rights. They must not be sacrificed in an attempt to crack down on Internet crime.

McLellan's determination to update the Criminal Code is commendable. But she has gone a step too far.

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