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Bill S-210: Vancouver Rape Relief’s submission to the Committee on Public Safety and National Security,  House of Commons

By Laurel McBride
March 4, 2024

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Frontline Perspective on the Harms of Pornography

As Bill S-210’s preamble recognizes, the consumption of pornography can result in developing attitudes favourable to harassment and violence, directed particularly against women. This rightful concern for the young people of Canada reflects the reality of women who call us seeking support and advice after experiencing pornography-related male violence which, much like rape, battery or sexual harassment, leaves them feeling betrayed and alone.

Women share with us how their male partners have been influenced by, and participate in, the ubiquity of internet pornography. For some, their former partners blackmail them by threatening to distribute intimate photographs and videos unless she acquiesces to his demands. The images may have been taken consensually at the time, but now are being weaponized as an act of humiliation and control. Conversely, he may post content online or send it to her friends, family, or new partner in order to punish her for leaving him. Some women tell us that they were raped and that the rapist(s) also filmed the attack, which further exacerbates her experience of being violated. This content being posted to the internet (and often remaining there permanently) can have a devastating impact on the lives, livelihoods, and social relationships of the targeted women.

Other times, women are pressured into sexual acts by a male partner that she feels are degrading but because he has seen it in pornography, he wants to try it out on her. Such unwanted sexual acts, performed with little regard for the woman’s bodily integrity, can leave her with physical injuries.

Not only are adult women being subjected to violence inspired by pornography but youth are increasingly subjected to, and at risk of, violence influenced by pornography’s prevalence.

In the U.K., The Observer examined data “covering 39 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales released under the Freedom of Information Act. Between 2019 and 2022, it suggested a 40% increase in reports of sexual assaults and rapes where both the alleged victim and perpetrator were under 18. There was a 33% increase in rape reports and a 26% increase in reports where the allegation was against a child aged under 10.” In an interview conducted by The Observer, “the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection, said that access to violent pornography and misogynistic content via smartphones was contributing to a “hugely concerning” trend.”[1] Cases such as that of Jade, a Vancouver Island Grade 7 girl who was sexually assaulted in 2021 by a group of Grade 8 boys in the school yard, exemplify the issue in Canada.[2]

Pornography and Privacy

A prominent critique of Bill S-210 is its invasion into the privacy of Canadians. The right to privacy in Canada is paramount, as reinforced by the numerous laws that govern the collection of personal information.

We echo the concern articulated by media and privacy watchdogs and support amendments or regulations aimed at addressing these issues, namely:

  1. Age-verification methods adopted must be able to demonstrate a proven track record for compliance in protecting individual’s privacy. France’s privacy assessment and preference for third-party providers, independent of those sites subject to age verification requirements, offers useful instruction in navigating implementation in Canada[3]
  2. Narrowing the scope of organizations subject to age-verification requirements to capture those that make a meaningful share of revenue from knowingly and intentionally distributing explicit adult content and not general-purpose websites such as Google or Reddit

On the subject of privacy, while the critiques of Bill S-210 focus primarily on internet users, it is crucial to note that the privacy interests of the individuals who are featured in sexually explicit videos are frequently disregarded by the very tech companies profiting off of their likeness.

On February 29, 2024 the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released its findings[4] in the Investigation into Aylo (owner of Pornhub and other popular pornographic websites) that it initiated after receiving a complaint by a woman whose ex-boyfriend uploaded an intimate video of her to their platform without her consent.

The findings stated that, “we found that MindGeek had a legal obligation to obtain the complainant’s consent and had failed to do so. We found that MindGeek’s consent model, which relies on the uploader to attest that they have obtained consent from each individual whose highly sensitive personal information is depicted in uploaded content, does not constitute reasonable efforts to ensure that meaningful consent has been obtained from those individuals. We further found that changes to MindGeek’s practices in 2020, and since, have not remedied this contravention.”

As outlined in the Privacy Commissioner’s report and evidence heard in the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics’ study on the protection of privacy and reputation on online video platforms such as Pornhub in 2021, the reach of the industry is immense with claims that “12.5% of the adult Canadian population” visit Pornhub every day[5]. It is clear that stricter regulation and oversight of this industry is essential to minimize the harms articulated in this brief and will require the Government of Canada in coordination with provinces and territories to take appropriate and prompt action.

[1] ‘Toxic’ online culture fuelling rise in sexual assaults on children by other children, police warn

[2] Playground attack: Response to sexual assault on school field reveals gaps in system

[3]Online age verification: balancing privacy and the protection of minors

[4]Investigation into Aylo (formerly MindGeek)’s Compliance with PIPEDA

[5]Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Meeting on February 5, 2021

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