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Canadian Officials, Experts Lambast Anti-Porn Senator’s Age Verification Bill

OTTAWA, Canada —  Canada’s privacy commissioner warned a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that the expansive age verification bill promoted by vocally anti-porn and anti-sex work Senator Julie Miville-Dechênel has broad censorship implications and could end up applying to mainstream services such a Netflix.

Commissioner Philippe Dufresne suggested the scope of the bill should be “dramatically narrowed” to address concerns about the affected content, The Canadian Press reported.

Canadian Heritage Deputy Minister Owen Ripley also testified, calling Miville-Dechênel’s bill “highly problematic for a number of reasons, including a scope that is much too broad, both in terms of regulated services as well as regulated content.”

The Canadian Press reported that University of Ottawa law professor and internet expert Michael Geist called the bill “fundamentally flawed,” explaining that age verification technology “is simply not there yet” to accomplish what censorship proponents like Miville-Dechênel and her U.S.-based allies and counterparts are seeking.

An Unelected Politician With Peculiar U.S. Allies

As XBIZ reported, Miville-Dechêne — an unelected official, since, like most British members of the House of Lords, Canadian Senators are appointed — is a former journalist and broadcaster who does not appear to have specialized knowledge of universal technical and systemic issues regarding third-party content moderation on the internet.

In June 2021, Miville-Dechêne spoke to the francophone CBC outlet Radio Canada for an in-depth piece on the religious motivation of the then current anti-Pornhub crusade spearheaded by MP Arnold Viersen with the support of U.S. anti-porn crusader Laila Mickelwait of the Exodus Cry ministry.

She told Radio Canada that although she does not share the ideology of Exodus Cry, she tackles the issue of sexual exploitation “under a feminist angle.”

“The issue of children watching online porn as well as the presence of illegal content on porn sites have gathered a large coalition of Canadian citizens who are ideologically different, but who agree with each other on these two precise objectives,” she added.

However, in April 2022, Miville-Dechêne said that “protecting children against pornography is both a health and a public safety issue,” echoing NCOSE and Exodus Cry terminology about an alleged “public health crisis” around watching porn and about “porn addiction,” a concept that has been repeatedly debunked.

“Exposing minors, especially boys, to online porn is associated with a number of harmful effects: addiction, aggressive sexual behaviors, fear, anxiety and an increase in sexist beliefs that particularly affect girls and women,” she told the committee.

‘Pass It Now, Figure the “Technical Details” Later’

During Tuesday’s hearing, Miville-Dechêne and her supporters argued that the bill’s purpose “to shield minors from sexually graphic and violent material, is important enough that it should be passed, with the technical details to be sorted out through a regulatory process,” The Canadian Press reported.

Academic expert Geist retorted that the bill is “fundamentally defective in its current form, and it can’t be fixed without a complete overhaul,” and that “the technology simply doesn’t exist to permit age verification at scale.”

Ripley added that, as written, “the proposed law would make it a rule for services like Netflix to verify the age of their users,” having “far-reaching implications for how Canadians access and use the internet. Website blocking remains a highly contentious enforcement instrument that poses a range of challenges and could impact Canadians’ freedom of speech and Canada’s commitment to an open and free internet and net neutrality.”

Dufresne suggested an amendment that narrowed the scope of the bill to “providing sexually explicit material for commercial purposes.”

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