A bill introduced in the House of Commons will bring more severe penalties to people who distribute pornographic material of minors or without the consent of adults in the material.

MP Arnold Viersen (Peace River—Westlock) introduced Bill C-302, the Stopping Internet Sexual Exploitation (SISE) Act in the House of Commons on Thursday. The SISE Act would require those making or distributing pornographic material for a commercial purpose to verify the age and consent of each person depicted. It also would prevent the distribution of pornographic material when consent has been withdrawn. Those who fail to verify age and consent face escalating penalties or jail time mirroring those in the mandatory child pornography reporting laws.   

“For years, pornographic platforms in Canada have published sexually explicit material without any requirement to verify the age or consent of those depicted in them,” says MP Arnold Viersen in a release.  “As a result, egregious videos of sex trafficking, child exploitation, and sexual assault have proliferated on Canadian pornography websites. Many of these videos have been monetized, bringing in massive profits.

“Once a video of exploitation has been uploaded, it is virtually impossible to eliminate. We have heard testimony from survivors whose lives have been shattered by the reckless actions of companies like MindGeek. Countless survivors have also been forced to relive their trauma and track down their own abusers in order to have content depicting their abuse removed. We must do more to prevent these videos from ever reaching the internet in the first place. It is time to place the burden of due diligence and corporate responsibility on companies rather than survivors and law enforcement.  

“Consent matters. If a website is going to profit from making or publishing pornographic content, the SISE Act ensures they must verify the age and consent of every individual in every video.”

The proposed bill has brought support from a number of organizations and individuals who are fighting sexual exploitation in Canada.

“Individuals who have been victimized are faced with the overwhelming task of trying to remove illegal content that should never have been distributed and profited from in the first place," Canadian organization Defend Dignity says. "It’s time for pornography websites to be held accountable. Content should not be hosted without proof that all the individuals depicted are adults and have consented to both the creation and distribution of the material on that platform.”

“The pornography industry systemically fails to verify age or consent – leading to horrific trauma for survivors of sex trafficking, child sexual abuse, and non-consensually shared/recorded intimate images as their sexual exploitation is viewed around the world," says Dani Bianculli Pinter, Senior Legal Counsel, National Center on Sexual Exploitation. "It is time for a paradigm shift, and for survivors to be heard. This bill is an important step in that direction.”

Critics of the proposed bill say that the legal requirements laid out will be "virtually impossible" for websites, effectively making pornography illegal.

Gustavo Turner is a journalist and editor of an "adult industry news" website. In a tweet posted yesterday he says that the legislation would "alter Free Speech in Canada."

Another opponent pointed out that the bill is similar to failed American legislation that was introduced in the Senate by both Democrats and Republicans, in December 2020. That legislation failed, with opponents claiming it would hurt sex workers more than it helped them.