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Kiddie porn bill catches consensual sex

NDP's Peter Stoffer demands ISPs report content

Less than a week into the fall Parliamentary calendar, the NDP’s Peter Stoffer has introduced a familiar bill.

The private member’s bill, which he says has been languishing since 1995, would force internet service providers (ISPs) to report certain kinds of sexual online content to police.

“We don’t want the ISPs to go in and censor anything,” says Stoffer. “ISPs, if they come across material, if they suspect it, then they pick up the phone and call either the RCMP or the provincial police.”

The list of designated offences includes the production or distribution of child pornography and bestiality.

It also includes the anal sex provision, which sets an uneven age of consent for gay sex. Section 159, which has already been struck down in Ontario, Quebec, BC, Alberta and Nova Scotia, also criminalizes consenting sex between more than two adults. Some of Stoffer’s NDP colleagues have signalled that they want 159 struck, yet it remains in his bill, introduced Nov 21.

Stoffer admits that the bill isn’t up to date, but he says he’s open to changing the bill at the committee stage. The committee process, where members of all parties hear from witnesses and can propose amendments, is a good place to address concerns, he says.

“All legislation is open for debate,” says Stoffer.

Civil liberties groups have, for years, opposed similar bills that seek to censor, monitor and regulate the content of the internet.

Michael Vonn is the policy director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. She has seen a lot of versions of this legislation in Canada and internationally.

“This is of a particular vintage — the ‘Let’s get the private sector to spy on people’ vintage,” says Vonn.

Critics have likened this kind of bill to asking phone companies to report offensive content carried over telephone lines.

With no penalty for reporting, but hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for failure to report, it’s “a given” that ISPs will report all kinds of things that aren’t kiddie porn, out of fear of getting dinged.

“The idea that surveillance of the internet is going to be a panacea is very popular among legislators,” she says. “But it bears no resemblance to reality.”