Second Reading of Bill C-22, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service

Honourable senators, I rise at second reading as the opposition critic on Bill C-22, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service. I am grateful to be permitted time to reflect on this proposed legislation following its introduction in December in this chamber.

Our colleague, Senator Runciman, introduced and first spoke in support of the bill. He cited the honour and privilege we share as parliamentarians to “shape Canadian society so that our children can grow, learn and thrive in a safe and secure environment.” I wish to thank Senator Runciman for these words and for launching our study and discussions on Bill C-22 in this way.

Honourable senators, I, too, support the purpose of this proposed legislation, which is to make it harder for child pornographers to operate; it makes good sense.

Since its introduction to our lives, the Internet has presented us with incredible, ever-emerging possibilities. It is difficult to imagine getting along without it. Yet, as we all know, the Internet has an underside — a context for crime and, as a consequence, for human beings to be harmed. In my mind, there is no online criminal activity more heinous than child pornography. It is bad enough that this industry exists at all. Add to this the fact that it has been able to proliferate and to seemingly out-run our laws and the capacity to enforce them.

Honourable senators, my primary concern is with the victims of child pornography, specifically the children who are being violated, assaulted and murdered as subjects for this atrocious material.

I have a little background on legislation in Canada. In the 2001 Speech from the Throne, our government of the day committed to focus on safeguarding all Canadians from criminals on the Internet and outlined steps to ensure that our laws would protect children from those who could prey on their vulnerability.

Since then, Canada has continued its legislative enforcement and educative efforts to deal with Internet child pornography. The challenge with the Internet is keeping up. Developments are constant and they are rapid. Bill C-22 represents a necessary and timely advancement in our capacity to identify and prosecute child pornographers. It sends a message to those who provide Internet services to the public that they have a social, moral and legal obligation to report pornographic material when they come across it.

I am hopeful that Bill C-22 will be referred to committee as I have some questions on its content to be answered by the minister and other witnesses who will appear. I have concerns about certain parts of the bill that warrant study and debate.

For example, why does the bill set up two distinct reporting requirements depending on the circumstances? As I understand clause 3, if members of the public were to advise an Internet service provider, an ISP, that they think child pornography is available at a certain Internet protocol address, website or webpage, they would have to report this Internet address to an agency to be designated by regulation. However, clause 4 sets up a different reporting obligation, whereby an Internet service provider that has reasonable grounds to believe that its network is being used to transmit child pornography must report its suspicions to the police.

The rationale for these clauses eludes me and begs a number of questions, chief among them being: Why would the police not be notified in all cases? I understand that we do not want Internet service providers to have to investigate tips from the public, but we are, after all, talking about a possible offence under the Criminal Code.

The wording of the bill tends to suggest that a member of the public might not know what constitutes child pornography, but that an Internet service provider should know. Is this a valid distinction to make?

As for this other yet-to-be-named organization, I question whether it is appropriate to designate it by regulation. Who are the investigators within this organization and how are they trained? What is their code of conduct? How will information be dealt with and disposed of? Will this organization be a government agency or an arm’s-length one?

Why are we suggesting that investigative work normally done by police be dealt with by an organization other than the police? Is this done in other parts of the Criminal Code or for other offences?

In my view, honourable senators, these are far more than administrative details. They affect the strength and viability of the bill, as well as a need for accountability. The committee should explore these issues and, in the process, assess whether some should be articulated within the bill rather than dealt with through regulations. Honourable senators, I appreciate that this law is urgently needed. However, I also think we will run into setbacks if we do not engage parliamentarians appropriately.

Some of the contextual issues include preventative education. In addition to what is inside the bill, I want to know more about its context. I had the opportunity last week to speak with Marv Bernstein, Chief Advisor, Advocacy for UNICEF Canada. He talked about Bill C-22 as one part of what should be a coordinated approach to strengthening an overall child protection environment. From the perspective of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, education is a crucial part of the picture. Children and youth need to understand and reflect on activities like “sexting” and photo sharing. We have a responsibility to educate and guide young people on the possible implications of activities like these. They are not a game.

I would like a status report on preventive education programs for children on the Internet. What is the government doing and what are the next steps, if any? Mr. Bernstein is an excellent resource and I recommend that the committee include him as a witness for the study of Bill C-22.

On the issue of civil liberties, this legislation imposes a new legal obligation on Internet service providers. It requires Internet service providers to function as agents of the state in police investigations. If they do not perform this function, they can be prosecuted.

Imposing this legal obligation on the Internet service providers will better able investigators to expose online child pornographers. However, we need to have confidence that this legislation does not in any way undermine the rights or freedoms of anyone impacted by it. A balance must be reached. I am confident that the committee studying this bill will include a conscientious assessment of its impact on legal and civil liberties.

In closing, as I said at the outset, I am pleased with the purpose of Bill C-22. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada has agreed to ensure the safety and dignity of children throughout the world. I believe this legislation has the potential to enhance our ability to live up to this obligation.

Today, I have identified what I consider the most significant issues related to this bill, and I look forward to observing and providing comments as the committee sets out to examine and, where necessary, resolve these and other issues, so that at third reading we will all be satisfied.