Motion M-47 (2016-2107): Public Health Effects of Online Violent and Degrading Sexually Explicit Material

12 January 2017

Summer/Fall 2017 Update

We are calling supporters to ACT NOW by writing a letter the Minister of Health on Parliament's disappointing study report on the societal impact of violent online pornography. Read a short interview about the report with Julia Beazley, the EFC's director of public policy. We also offer new resource material to help individuals and study groups reflect on the bigger issues around pornography in our free new study guide: Battling Pornography.

March 21, 2017 Video Update

Thanks to a 2016 motion from MP Arnold Viersen, the Standing Committee on Health studied the public health effects of the ease of access and viewing of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men. The EFC posted a sample letter that individuals could use to write to their MP calling for the study to be a thorough one. However, the resulting report was disappointing.

EFC Submissions

  • Submission to the Standing Committee on Health on Motion M47: Public Health Effects of Online Violent and Degrading Sexually Explicit Material.  March 10, 2017
  • The EFC submitted Internet Pornography and Violence Against Young Women to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.  October 11, 2016
    • Excerpt:  Pornography today has moved well beyond what most of us imagine when we think of pornography. In the context of this study, the concern is that the mainstream of pornography depicts aggressive, violent, and dehumanizing sexual activity. It is steeped in misogyny, and centred around the domination and humiliation of women. It is violent, degrading, and for the female participants, profoundly body-punishing.

EFC Letters

  • June 16th, 2017 Letter to Health Minister in response to M-47 study results.  View Letter.
    • Excerpt: 
    M-47 commissioned a study of the “public health effects” of the ease of access and viewing of violent and degrading sexual imagery online. It is deeply disappointing that the committee report disregards much of the testimony most relevant to the subject of the motion.

    The committee chose not to hear directly from those who have been harmed or personally affected by pornography, or from those who deal with its effects on others. As well, the committee’s motion to limit evidence in the final report to witnesses who have published peer-reviewed scientific research on this topic disregarded the testimony of those who have spent decades studying the effects of pornography on children, adults and culture.

General Background

Pornography, with the exception of child pornography, is dealt with under the Criminal Code offence of obscenity [Section 162]. Obscenity is defined as any publication that unduly exploits sex or portrays sex with violence, crime, horror or cruelty as its dominant characteristic. The courts decide when the exploitation of sex is "undue" by considering community standards of tolerance and the risk of harm that may flow from exposure to the material. This test asks what Canadians would not tolerate other Canadians being exposed to, not what they would tolerate being exposed to themselves. It is subjective and is interpreted very narrowly, allowing much to escape the definition of obscenity.

The possession and distribution of child pornography was specifically made an offence in 1993. The Criminal Code [in Section 163.1] defines child pornography as any visual representation of explicit sexual activity involving anyone under the age of 18 or depicted as under 18, other visual representations of a sexual nature of a person under 18, and written material or visual depictions that advocate or counsel illegal sexual activity involving underage persons. There are defences based on artistic merit, and medical and educational purposes.

In January 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a challenge to the child pornography law by John Robin Sharpe. The court did make an exception for works of the mind that were used only by the person who created the work.

In March 2002, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled again on the pornographic works in the possession of John Robin Sharpe.  Mr. Justice Shaw ruled that written works were not criminalized under the child pornography provisions of the Criminal Code unless they actively encouraged sexual abuse of children. He also ruled that written works enjoyed broad protection under the "artistic merit" defence if they showed any literary qualities.

The Child Exploitation Bill (C-2) was passed by the Senate in July 2005. This bill is intended to protect “children and other vulnerable persons from sexual exploitation, violence, abuse and neglect,” by broadening the definition of child pornography, increasing maximum penalties for offences, as well as decreasing the number of legitimate defences by adding offences to the Criminal Code and Canada Evidence Act. [1]

This 2005 law replaces the artistic merits defence with the ‘legitimate purpose’ defence, which puts the onus on the accused to prove their material to be in the “pursuit of justice, science, medicine, education, or art, and [that it] does not pose an undue risk of harm to children.” C-2 also protects police officers and/or doctors who would employ such material in an authoritative and trustworthy capacity.

In November 2009 the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-58, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service. The bill eventually became law.


[1] Press Release, “Minister of Justice Introduces Legislation to Protect Children and other vulnerable persons as first bill in New Parliament,” (2004) [7 July 2005], Department of Justice Canada.

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