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Ottawa's online harms bill is not expected to force commercial porn sites for adults to verify the age of users in order to stop children accessing them, however.Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

Ottawa’s long-awaited online harms bill, to be introduced on Monday, would make websites take stronger action to take down child pornography.

The bill would force internet service providers to report internet child pornography and would create unspecified new offences under the Criminal Code.

But the government is not expected to force commercial porn sites for adults to verify the age of users in order to stop children accessing them. Instead, the government is expected to speak in more general terms about the need to protect children online.

Child-protection organizations, including the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, have been calling on the government to force websites to take down child-abuse images more swiftly.

Lianna McDonald, the centre’s executive director, was among a dozen people appointed by former heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez to an expert panel asked to help the government craft legislation to tackle online harms. She has said Ottawa needs to force tech companies to remove immediately indecent images of children as reports of victimization keep rising.

Conservative government would require websites to verify age to watch porn, says Poilievre

Ms. McDonald, in a statement to The Globe last month, said serious harm is done to children exposed to sexually explicit content, and it is time for the government to step in and force companies to ensure minors cannot access it online.

Ottawa has distanced itself from earlier indications that it planned to bring in age verification for porn sites through the bill. Earlier this week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre of “spreading lies” about the upcoming bill, while supporting a separate Senate bill that would bring in age verification for porn sites.

Mr. Trudeau was referring to the Protecting Young Persons From Exposure to Pornography Act, introduced by Julie Miville-Dechêne, an independent senator, that has now passed the Senate and is about to be scrutinized by a House of Commons committee. Bill S-210 is supported by the Conservatives, NDP, Bloc Québécois and a group of Liberal MPs, although the government is not backing it.

Mr. Trudeau accused Mr. Poilievre of “proposing that adults should instead give their ID and personal information to sketchy websites, or create a digital ID for adults to be able to browse the web the way they want to.”

“That’s something we stand against and disagree with,” he said.

On Friday, Ms. Miville-Dechêne said her bill would not make people give their ID and personal information to porn sites. It does not set out how age verification would be achieved, she said. That would be specified through regulations after the bill passes, she added. The bill also includes safeguards to ensure personal information would be swiftly erased.

“I was surprised by the declaration of Prime Minister Trudeau because what he said is not what my bill does,” she said. “I think he mischaracterized the content of my bill. I fully expect that in the regulations that will be adopted there will be age verification by third-party sites.”

She said other countries bringing in age verification to view porn online are looking at third-party verification by an independent company, to ensure adult sites can’t access personal details. France is examining a system of “double anonymity” to protect identities, she said.

In December, 2022, the Senate passed an amendment by Ms. Miville-Dechêne to bring in age verification for porn sites to Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act. But the government did not accept it, saying the legislation was the wrong place for it. They suggested at the time that the forthcoming online harms bill would be the appropriate place for age verification.

The government leader in the Senate, Marc Gold, said at the time the online harms bill would be “the most appropriate forum, in the context of that legislation, to discuss this important issue.”

Sarah Bain, director of Ethical Capital Partners, a Canada-based venture capital company that owns Aylo, which runs a number of porn sites including Pornhub, said her company did not oppose age verification but thought it should be at the device level, for example, when setting up a new smartphone or tablet.

She said there is evidence from other jurisdictions that if users have to present ID, it drives them to other porn sites, including those with less stringent standards.

Ms. Bain, a former Liberal staffer and lobbyist, said if Canada were to bring in age verification, one option would be to block Canadian users’ access to its sites.

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