To the Editor:
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau:
You and I have children around the same age. As fathers, we both have a responsibility and an innate desire to protect them. That’s why I am reaching out to you again regarding the impact that violent and degrading pornography is having on our culture, especially our kids.
As we seek to confront and prevent the pervasive rape culture and sexual abuse that far too often targets women and youth, it is critical for leaders in Canada to both speak out and to take action. So I am grateful for the comments you and your wife have made in relation to the negative impacts of pornography.
I also want to thank you and your party for supporting my Motion M-47 to have the Health Committee study the public health impact of viewing violent and degrading sexually explicit material on adults and youth. I believe this is an issue that we can all work together on regardless of political party.
I first learned about the reality and impact of violent pornography when I arrived in Ottawa in 2015 as a new MP. This discovery brought me back to when I first heard about the egregious sexual violence experienced by Rehtaeh Parsons and her subsequent suicide. Rehtaeh’s story shook many Canadians. It shook me.
What gave these boys the idea that it was okay to objectify and assault a vulnerable young woman? What gave them the idea that sharing these degrading images of assault online with others was normal?
Part of the answer may lie in the mass consumption of today’s online pornography which is predominantly free and overwhelmingly features violence, degradation, and misogyny towards women. It is marketed by a $97 billion industry, making up 35 per cent of all Internet downloads, and easily accessible at the click of a button. As a result, the pornography industry is the primary sexual educator for our youth as young as 11 years old.
A year ago, I was hopeful after the unanimous adoption of Motion M-47 and I worked with the Health Committee on the study to put forward over 50 expert witnesses, almost entirely from the medical and scientific community. Unfortunately the Health Committee only chose to hear 11 testimonies and review 24 briefs. Even more disappointingly, the government MPs on the committee took steps to exclude most of the peer-reviewed evidence provided by the witnesses.
As a result, many Canadians and non-governmental orginizations were frustrated that the committee report and the subsequent government response ignored the key recommendations made by experts and focused primarily on education.
Don’t get me wrong. Educating and equipping kids to make healthy choices when confronted by violent pornography is vital. But consider our approach to smoking. We don’t just teach kids that smoking is harmful, we also take steps reduce their access to cigarettes. Any effective response to the harm of violent pornography requires both education and action to protect kids from it. That’s what we heard from the expert witnesses at the Health Committee hearings.
You may be aware that the U.K. has already taken a number of steps to address this after seeing a dramatic increase in child on child sexual abuse cases. First, they worked with ISPs to provide effective opt-in tools for parents. This past year the U.K. adopted age verification legislation that was supported across political lines and by pornography companies. Starting in 2018, anyone accessing pornographic websites in the UK will be required to verify they are over 18 years old, just like they would to gamble or buy online in Canada.
This approach makes sense and would be widely supported. In fact, the majority of testimony and briefings to the Health Committee urged the government enact age verification. Even Canada’s largest adult broadcaster strongly supported making pornography harder for children to access.
So I am asking you to put forward policy and legislation that provides parents with more tools such as meaningful age verification. We need to stop giving pornographers unrestricted access to our children. We need to prevent children from being educated by violent and misogynistic pornography that is easily accessible by any kid with an Internet connection.
I want my daughters to grow up in a culture where they are loved and valued. I want my son to grow up respecting himself and all others. I have no doubt you desire the same for your children.
Prime Minister, will you join me in building a healthier, safer Canada for our youth?
Arnold Viersen, MP
Peace River – Westlock