Defend Dignity Statement on Bill C-63 “Online Harms Act”

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This week the federal government introduced their Online Harms bill (Bill C-63). This long-awaited bill is very broad in scope, covering issues ranging from online hate speech to child sexual abuse material (CSAM).   

Defend Dignity, and many others, feel that the sexual exploitation issues being addressed by Bill C-63 are so critical that they merit their own dedicated legislation separate from other online harms. This way these issues can be adequately and efficiently addressed, and not lost in the debate around other unrelated aspects of the bill.

That being said, Bill C-63 does have some positives as well as shortcomings in regards to combating online sexual exploitation.

We are pleased to see that the bill is trying to address some issues of deep concern such as child sexual abuse material (CSAM), non-consensual image sharing, and AI Deepfakes. These are critical issues that need legislation to keep social media giants as well as exploitative porn sites accountable as it relates to this type of content. However, while the bill would give the government tools to have CSAM or nonconsensual content removed more quickly, Defend Dignity feels it should go further and force sites to verify the age and consent of all of those depicted in sexually explicit content before it’s uploaded. 

The bill also proposes the establishment of a Digital Safety Commission, Digital Safety Ombudsperson, and Digital Safety Office to enforce the Online Harms Act. We feel these are positive and necessary steps for reinforcing the bill’s efforts to combat sexual exploitation. 

Unfortunately, Bill C-63 appears to be lacking a robust plan to protect kids from exposure to pornography. While one of the acts stated purposes is “to protect children’s physical and mental health” by mitigating “the risk…of [exposure] to harmful content online”, the bill appears to have no actual plan or framework to protect kids from being exposed to pornographic content. 

The average age of being exposed to pornography in Canada is 12 years old. Pornography exposure among children can be associated with increased sexual aggression and child-on-child sexual abuse. This is a critical issue that requires robust and clear legislation. In its current form, Bill C-63 is vague at best on this issue. 

Defend Dignity was involved in early consultation for Bill C-63 and we will continue to track with it. There are several good steps taken in the legislation and other areas that need strengthening. We intend to bring our expertise to the fore at every opportunity to impress upon the government the importance of doing more to prevent online sexual exploitation and protect kids online.

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