OTTAWA, December 14, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Canada’s House of Commons gave up its partisan divisions for an hour last week to debate and then agree unanimously on Motion-47, directing its Standing Committee on Health to investigate the “public health effects” of “violent and degrading sexually explicit material on adults and children” who easily view it on the Internet.
A debate earlier this year ran out of time before a vote could be taken, but it made clear the Liberal government was going to support the motion from Alberta Conservative MP Arnold Viersen. What it didn’t make clear was Viersen’s careful work to ensure the motion bridged the sharp partisan and philosophical divides the issue could have provoked.
“We worked very hard to avoid buzzwords that might set off one side or both sides. We didn’t use ‘Pornography,’ for example, because it means one things for Evangelicals and another thing to libertarians,” Viersen told LifeSiteNews. “For libertarians, it raises the issue of censorship.” Even within feminism, he added, “some see pornography as degrading, others see it as liberating.”
Viersen was thus able to not only attract multi-party seconders for his motion, but the support of nonprofit organizations far apart on Canada’s activist spectrum. “We had 50 different groups supporting us, Viersen told LifeSiteNews, “from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to the Newfoundland and Labrador Feminists and Allies.”
Viersen was motivated by several high-profile cases of sexual violence: this year’s trial of CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi for sexual assault; the 2013 suicide of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons after her drunken and violent sexual encounter with two schoolmates were circulated via social media; and the suspension of 13 Dalhousie University dentistry students, all male, who posted offensive “ratings” of their female classmates on Facebook.
“What jumped out at me about Ghomeshi (who was acquitted) was that he didn’t deny being violent. His argument was that it was consensual.” Similarly, notes Viersen, what apparently triggered Parson’s suicide was not the violent sex — but the exposure on social media.The violent sex was seen as normal.
Viersen’s motion represents a consensus that “what is viewed as normal for sex and what is normal for relationships has changed” because of the violent content presented both on pay-for-view pornographic Internet sites and the view-for-free sites that draw customers to the pay sites.
He quoted an American expert on child sexual abuse, Cordelia Anderson, who recently told him of a psychotherapy session with a 12- or 13-year-old boy who asked her, “So, when I have sex, do I have to strangle her?”
As the new consensus sees it, on the one hand is a $57 billion pornography industry forcing impoverished male and female porn performers to act out violent scenes. On the other hand, boys and girls in their early teens are learning about sex by watching the scenes and then acting them out at that age and later as adults with negative consequences for their mental and physical health and their relationships.
Lamented Anju Dhillon, the parliamentary secretary for the Status of Women Ministry, during last week’s debate: “The average age of first exposure among boys is at the age of 12. This is often before they have hit puberty, or have had the opportunity to receive proper sex education or an understanding of consent. … This is extremely frightening given that 90 percent of mainstream sexually explicit content features violence against women.”
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis added another negative effect: “Young boys, before they really have any sense of what they are getting into, go through this process of finding themselves addicted and developing these false beliefs that will have negative social repercussions.”
Viersen’s motion also avoided any reference to remedies. This too was deliberate, he told the Commons, because different divisions in society see different solutions. Speaking for both big “L” Liberals, and small “l” ones, Dhillon made it clear that education — as in sex education — would solve the problem. But conservative groups within society believe sex education will promote secular attitudes to sex that will worsen the problem.
Genuis told the Commons that while it would be good to teach people positive and non-violent ideas for sex, it was also necessary to look for the “sources of false belief that are really a central cause of the violence against women we see.” Though Genuis did not elaborate, his critique hints at the need to teach a moral basis for sexuality.
Viersen believes society as a whole must first change its attitude. Once everyone condemns the idea of children seeing pornography and especially violent pornography, Internet providers will voluntarily impose filters or restrictions, he hopes, as they have in Great Britain, that will gradually become more practical.
He expects the Health Committee to begin its hearings on the impacts of violent pornography in February.