Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-252, which focuses on the prohibition of food and beverage marketing directed at children.
This bill is mostly a preamble, and there is some strong language in the preamble about protecting kids from manipulative media and about their vulnerability to marketing and media. We should be concerned about marketing that is targeting kids with things that are beyond their age or could be harmful to them.
What about sexually explicit materials and their impact on kids? Numerous studies show the harmful impact that exposure to pornography and hypersexualized media can have on kids, including mental health issues such as depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, increased likelihood of accepting sexual violence or rape myths and an increased risk of girls being sexually harassed and boys committing sexual harassment. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection highlights that exposure to pornography by children may shape a child’s expectations in relationships, blur boundaries and increase a child’s risk of victimization, increase a child’s health risks through, for example, sexually transmitted infections or sexual exploitation, and increase a child’s risk of problematic sexual behaviour against other children in an effort to experiment.
We know that children’s exposure to sexually explicit content, particularly that which is violent and degrading, causes serious and significant harm to mental and emotional health. We know that much of the pornographic content published and hosted on MindGeek websites is sexist, racist or degrading to particular groups. We also know that some of the content involves actual violence or coercion, or is shared without consent.
We need to be focused on the marketing that targets children, and one of the most pressing areas is companies that publish sexually explicit material. If we want to protect “vulnerable children from the manipulative influence of marketing”, particularly harmful content online, we should be starting with predatory porn companies. Porn companies should not have unlimited access to kids online but they do, and they have no requirement to make sure those accessing their sites are actually over the age of 18.
For example, MindGeek is a Montreal-based company not too far from the riding of the sponsor of this bill. MindGeek employs around 1,600 people. It is based in Montreal and the online platforms it owns include Pornhub, RedTube, YouPorn and Brazzers. According to MindGeek's own data, its websites received approximately 4.5 billion visits each month in 2020, equivalent to the monthly visitors of Facebook. Many of those visitors were kids.
That is why last spring, when Bill C-11 was going through the Canadian heritage committee, I proposed amendments to help protect kids from exposure to sexually explicit content. Specifically, my amendment would have added to the policy objective of the Broadcasting Act that it “seek to protect the health and well-being of children by preventing the broadcasting to children of programs that include sexually explicit content”. It was supported by multiple child advocacy organizations and those fighting online exploitation in briefs submitted to the heritage committee.
Defend Dignity, a great organization, pointed out that these amendments are supported by general comment 25, which was recently adopted by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada is a signatory to it. The Convention on the Rights of the Child's general comment notes:
States parties should take all appropriate measures to protect children from risks to their right to life, survival and development. Risks relating to content, contact, conduct and contract encompass, among other things, violent and sexual content, cyberaggression and harassment, gambling, exploitation and abuse, including sexual exploitation and abuse, and the promotion of or incitement to suicide or life-threatening activities, including by criminals or armed groups designated as terrorist or violent extremist.
To be clear, they urge signatories like Canada to “take all appropriate measures to protect children from risks...relating to...violent and sexual content”. That is why Defend Dignity said, “Protecting children from the harms of sexually explicit material and society from the dangerous impact of violent sexually explicit material must be a priority.”
Timea’s Cause, another great organization, and OneChild, with a combined 32 years of experience in combatting the sexual exploitation of children, wrote to the heritage committee and said:
Today, Canadian children's access to sexually explicit content and the broadcasting of sexual violence has gone far beyond the realm of television and radio. This content is broadcasted online through digital advertising to pornography. The Internet has unleashed a tsunami of content that is objectifying, violent, and misogynistic in nature, and those viewing this harmful content are getting younger and younger....
This content greatly informs our cultural norms, values, and ideologies. In the case of children, who are still navigating the world and are in the process of developing their sense of self and esteem and learning how they should treat others and how others should treat them-this kind of material is detrimental to their development. It warps their understanding of sex, consent, boundaries, healthy relationships, and gender roles. Moreover, viewing this kind of online content has frightening links to rape, “sextortion”, deviant and illegal types of pornography such as online child abuse material, domestic violence, patronizing prostitution, and even involvement in sex trafficking.
At the heritage committee, when it came to a vote on my amendment, it had NDP support, but the Liberal Party voted it down. It was puzzling that, for the Liberals, who want to control the posts of regular Canadians and now target food advertisers, porn companies get a free pass when it comes to our kids.
I will say it again: Predatory companies such as MindGeek should not have unlimited access to our kids online. This is not new. Over two and a half years ago, we wrote to the Prime Minister asking him for help to stop this. We got no reply. Then, two years ago, MPs and senators from across party lines wrote the justice minister, and this was followed by a New York Times exposé asking, “Why does Canada allow this company to profit off videos of exploitation and assault?”
We then had an ethics committee study last year, a committee that the sponsor of the bill sat on, with 14 recommendations supported by all parties, and still there was no attempt by the government to provide oversight to a part of the Internet that has caused so much pain and suffering to women, youth and vulnerable individuals.
Now, there is a courageous, independent senator who is taking on predatory porn companies like MindGeek with the goal of keeping kids safe online. She has introduced Bill S-210, the protecting young persons from exposure to pornography act, in the Senate, which would require all that publish sexually explicit material to verify the age of the consumer.
The preamble of Bill S-210 states:
Whereas the consumption of sexually explicit material by young persons is associated with a range of serious harms, including the development of pornography addiction, the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and the development of attitudes favourable to harassment and violence — including sexual harassment and sexual violence — particularly against women;
Whereas Parliament recognizes that the harmful effects of the increasing accessibility of sexually explicit material online for young persons are an important public health and public safety concern;
The preamble then continues:
And whereas any organization making sexually explicit material available on the Internet for commercial purposes has a responsibility to ensure that it is not accessed by young persons;
This bill is at committee at the moment in the Senate, and it is hopefully headed to the House soon. When it gets here, I hope it will have strong support among all the parties.
When it comes to Bill C-252, I support the intentions and the aims of the bill, and I commend the member for Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel for her efforts. As parents, we want our children to be healthy and protect them from marketing that could be harmful.
The striking difference between Bill S-210 and Bill C-252 is that the former has a clear framework put in place to do what it aims to do, and I do not see that in Bill C-252, which is not written in a way that could actually accomplish what it claims to do. We know that Quebec passed similar legislation in 1980 to ban advertising aimed at kids under 13, and it has largely been ineffective in lowering child obesity rates.
I also believe that parents should be able to make informed food choices for their families and have affordable access to nutritious foods, the latter of which has become incredibly difficult due to the inflation crisis caused by the Liberal government.
To be successful on this, we need co-operation across all sectors, and I look forward to working with members of the House and across the economy to ensure that we have parents and corporations working together to encourage healthy living.