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Send an urgent message to Canadian legislators urging them to stop more online censorship laws

OTTAWA, Ontario (LifeSiteNews) — Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MPs lambasted Liberal Party MPs for voting against a bill designed to protect children from accessing online pornography, but a top law professor says the bill in question is loaded with an “avalanche” of issues that could open the door to more online censorship rules the likes of which have never been seen, including a digital ID mandate for internet use.

On Wednesday, MPs voted 189-133 to pass Senate Bill S-210, “An Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material” through its third reading. The bill is now before a committee for review.

The bill is a non-governmental Senate law introduced by independent Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne, who was appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2018. It was passed by the Senate in April.

Most Liberal MPs voted against the bill, with only 15 supporting it, while all NDP, Bloc, and Conservatives MPs voted for it. The fact the Liberals voted against the bill drew the ire of Conservative MPs.

“LIBERALS just voted AGAINST a bill to protect children from pornography. Bill S-210 passed the Senate unanimously. It would require meaningful age verification for those accessing pornography. In the House of Commons, Conservatives, Bloc, and New Democrats voted in favour. Most Liberals voted against,” CPC MP Garnett Genuis wrote on X (formerly Twitter) yesterday.

The bill would create a framework to make it an offense for any organization that makes available “sexually explicit material” to anyone under age 18 for commercial purposes. Anyone breaking the new rules would be fined $250,000 for the first offense and up to $500,000 for any subsequent offences.

The bill reads as follows:

The purpose of this Act is to protect public health and public safety and, in particular, to (a) protect the mental health of young persons by restricting their access to sexually explicit material; (b)  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 (c) deter organizations that make sexually explicit material available on the Internet for commercial purposes from allowing young persons to access that material.

While protecting kids from porn is worthy, bill is rife with free speech, censorship issues

Canadian law professor Dr. Michael Geist, who has been an open critic of the Trudeau government’s online censorship bills that are already law, C-18 and C-11, warned bill S-210 is an “avalanche” of bad news despite its good intentions.

“Bill S-210 isn’t a slippery slope. It’s an avalanche: Court ordered site blocking that can include lawful content and mandated age verification using facial recognition to access search or social media overseen by CRTC. Conservative MPs voted for this?!” Geist posted Thursday on X.

Geist, in a long blog post about the bill released Thursday, went as far as to call the bill “The Most Dangerous Canadian Internet Bill You’ve Never Heard Of.”

“The bill is backed by the Conservatives, Bloc and NDP with a smattering of votes from backbench Liberal MPs. Canadians can be forgiven for being confused that after months of championing Internet freedoms, raising fears of censorship, and expressing concern about CRTC overregulation of the Internet,” Geist write.

“Bill S-210 goes well beyond personal choices to limit underage access to sexually explicit material on Canadian sites. Instead, it envisions government-enforced global website liability for failure to block underage access, backed by website blocking and mandated age verification systems that are likely to include face recognition technologies.”

The bill as written says that the “Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, designate an agency, division or branch of the Government of Canada as the enforcement authority for the purposes of sections 8 and 9.”

In theory, it allows any designated regulatory agency full authority to go after an offender of the bill via court order “to the Federal Court for an order requiring Internet service providers to prevent access to the sexually explicit material to young persons on the Internet in Canada.”

In effect, the government would have the ability to use any means necessary to enforce the bill, including forcing websites, search browsers, or social media sites that simply are portals to access any web content to mandate age verification via any means, including internet users having a digital ID, facial recognition, website blocking or other means just for people to be able to use a search browser.

Online pornography viewed by kids is a huge problem, as noted by LifeSiteNews’s Jonathon Van Maren, that needs to stop.

“If we are going to halt the rise of sexual violence in our culture, we are going to have to find a way to deal with the problem of pervasive and compulsive porn consumption,” he wrote in a recent blog.

“What we are seeing with the normalization of sexual violence is the culture-wide consequences of men and boys imagining themselves as the aggressor in millions upon millions of porn scenes.”

Geist made clear that he is not against what is the overreaching goal of protecting kids from the harms of pornography but warned the bill would open a pandora’s box of government overreach by allowing any kind of website blocking via government dictate.

“While there are surely good intentions with the bill, the risks and potential harms it poses are significant,” he wrote.

“The bill not only envisions the possibility of blocking lawful content or limiting access to those over 18, it expressly permits it. Section 9(5) states that if the court determines that an order is needed, it may have the effect of preventing access to ‘material other than sexually explicit material made available by the organization’ or limiting access to anyone, not just young people.”

Geist noted that blocking legal content raises the prospect of “full censorship of lawful content under court order based on notices from a government agency.”

Some Conservative MPs tried to defend their support of the bill by claiming that any privacy issues it has could be dealt with rewrites of the bill in committee.

“You can amend the bill at Committee. But you need to vote for it at 2nd Reading to get it there,” CPC MP Frank Caputo noted in response to a post on X by Geist.

Caputo mentioned the reason the Liberals oppose the bill has nothing to do with website blocking.

“I just talked to a Liberal and website blocking isn’t the issue,” he noted.

Bill would not just restrict porn sites, but any website potentially

Geist noted how S-210 as it is written has two other areas of “serious concerns” that are not “limited to pornography sites.”

“Rather, it applies to any site or service that makes sexually explicit materials available. This would presumably include search engines, social media sites such as Twitter, or chat forums such as Reddit, where access to explicit material is not hard to find,” he observed.

According to Geist, if the bill was just limited to sites whose “primary purpose is the commercial distribution of sexually explicit material, it might be more defensible.”

“As it stands now, the overbroad approach leaves this bill vulnerable to constitutional challenge,” he said.

Geist noted how by establishing age verification systems for internet use the bill would effectively mandate that sites “require their users to register with commercial age verification systems in order to run a search or access some tweets.”

“And the age verification systems raise real privacy concerns, including mandated face recognition as part of the verification process,” he said.

Geist said that S-210 should not have gotten to where it is and should not be supported by those who value free speech and freedom of the internet despite its good intentions.

“Creating safeguards for underage access to inappropriate content is a laudable goal but not at the cost of government-backed censorship, mandated face recognition, and age-approval requirements to use some of the most popular sites and services in the world,” he said.

Send an urgent message to Canadian legislators urging them to stop more online censorship laws