How Canadians are harmed by illegal sexually explicit material online

By Evangelical Fellowship of Canada |
Computer laptop dark
Unsplash / Andras Vas

With any quick Google search, Canadians of any age can access sexually explicit material. Simple, often innocent search terms can bring up websites with sexually explicit content, much of it violent and dehumanizing. It is extremely easy to access in Canada, and we are seeing the devastating consequences of this on our population, especially children and youth.  

From March to June of this year, the standing parliamentary Committee on Canadian Heritage undertook a study on the harms of accessing illegal sexually explicit material online. The EFC had the privilege to contribute to this discussion by submitting a brief.

Our approach to the issue of illegal sexually explicit material is based on biblical principles of respect for the dignity of all persons, a desire for justice and care for those who are vulnerable. As Christians we believe it is our duty to uphold and protect the dignity of every person, especially those in situations of vulnerability. In our submission to the committee, we sought “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  

We are at a unique moment in time where the public discourse surrounding pornography, including in Parliament, seems more open to considering its harms. As access to pornography has increased at an alarming rate and now, as artificial intelligence and deepfakes continue to develop, there seems to be an urgency in the public sphere to address these issues and protect those who are vulnerable.  

The EFC brief outlined the harms of illegal sexually explicit material online, such as child sexual abuse material (CSAM) and intimate images distributed without consent. These images have devastating, often lifelong impacts on victims. Once uploaded, they are easily accessible and cause harm to Canadian viewers, as well as contribute to violence and sex trafficking.

One emerging threat the brief called attention to is the rise of AI-generated pornography, or deepfakes. As technology evolves, there is ever-increasing access to tools such as AI that increase the risks children face from the consumption, creation and sharing of sexually explicit material. These images threaten mental health, reputation, safety, and future school and career prospects. The use of non-consensual, AI-created images harasses, harms and humiliates victims. We need urgent action to develop legislation that protects victims of all ages from generative AI and deepfake pornography.

The brief also emphasized the connection between online and offline behaviour and how, for example, as children and youth consume and absorb violent content online, they may begin to mimic the behaviour they see online. This has caused an increase in child-on-child abuse and in online abusers travelling to abuse in person. Online dangers do not remain online. 

A third aspect underscored in the brief was the violence in mainstream pornography and the impact this has on viewers. While not necessarily illegal, much of the content readily available on pornography platforms features violent, degrading and abusive behaviour. The public health impact of this content is evident in the rise of normalized violence and abuse. Pornography shapes what boys and girls expect and accept in terms of sexual violence in relationships. It negatively impacts their ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships. This is a troubling idea – that as sexually violent pornography is normalized and increasingly consumed by Canadians, this will have impacts and contribute to harms faced offline.

We addressed how pornography dehumanizes and degrades humans. It removes sexuality from its relational context. It exploits human beings, presenting them as sexual objects and products, not as individuals created in the image of God, after His being and likeness.

The EFC provided the committee with recommendations that we believe will help protect both victims of illegal content and viewers and promote the well-being of our society. We expressed the urgency we feel towards this issue, as we know individuals, families and church communities are struggling. 

We recommended that pornography platforms be required to put meaningful, privacy-compliant age verification in place to keep children and teens under 18 from accessing their content, and that pornography platforms be required to verify the age and consent of every person depicted in an image or video before it is uploaded.  

We are thankful Parliament is studying this issue. But more discussion and study – and action - on this topic are needed.

What can you do?

Pray. All of these topics are heavy – we are being confronted with the ugliness of sin. We encourage you to pray for the members of Parliament on the Committee on Canadian Heritage – that they would see the urgency for enacting change and protecting Canadians. Pray also for their hearts and minds as they are faced with such disturbing information. 

We also encourage you to pray for some specific bills that are presently before Parliament – Bill S-210 and Bill C-270. These proposed pieces of legislation call for age verification, and for requiring verified age and consent in uploading pornographic material. These pieces of legislation are both important steps in the right direction for stopping online exploitation.

Reach out to your member of Parliament. Any constituent can reach out to their member of Parliament to express their concerns about the harms caused by the ease of access to online sexually explicit material. You can advocate for change by encouraging your MP to vote in favour of Bill S-210 and Bill C-270, and by speaking to them about the harms you see within your community. Find your MP’s contact information here.

Additionally, please pray for the EFC, as we continue to contribute to this important subject in upcoming months. Pray that we will be able to advocate biblical principles well and be provided with opportunities to communicate the need for change.

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The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (l’Alliance évangélique du Canada) is the national association of evangelical Christians in Canada. Since 1964 the EFC has provided a national forum for Evangelicals, fostered ministry partnerships, conducted research on religious and social trends and provided a constructive voice for biblical principles in life and society.

Originally published by the EFC, republished with permission.

The views expressed in this or any other opinion article do not necessarily reflect the views of Christian Daily International.