Posted: December 16, 2009
Written by: Adam Herstein
(This article was originally posted on Slaw.ca on May 25, 2009)
When we were discussing the various ideas we had for topics for this week long series from our firm, Pitblado LLP, I told my colleagues that I wanted to use my writing opportunity to give the readers of Slaw a glimpse into something that is unique to Manitoba from the standpoint of technology and the law.
I told the group that I wanted to report on Manitoba’s recent enactment of The Child and Family Services Amendment Act (Child Pornography Reporting) (Manitoba). With the enactment of these changes to The Child and Family Services Act (Manitoba), Manitoba became the first province in Canada to enact legislation which makes it mandatory for a person who encounters child pornography to report it.
The amendment uses the same definition of “child pornography” as is used in the Criminal Code (Canada) — s.163.1(1) — and has included that definition under The Child and Family Services Act’s existing definition of “child abuse”. In the interests of space and repeating the obvious, I won’t repeat the definition here for you, but you can click through to it if you’re interested.
In addition to this, the legislation also includes some of the following features:
- an informant’s identity is to be kept confidential except as required in judicial proceedings or by consent;
- it’s illegal to retaliate against an informant;
- police are obligated to tell an employer when an employee having access to children in the workplace is charged with a related offence;
- no person will be required or authorized to seek out child pornography; and
- penalties for violating the legislation include a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or imprisonment of not more than 24 months.
As I continued to think about the new legislation, I remembered that this is only part of Manitoba’s $2.4 million anti-sexual-exploitation strategy. Part of that strategy also includes the province’s ongoing support for Cybertip.ca. For those of you who haven’t heard of this excellent website and service, Cybertip.ca is Canada’s national tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children. While the tipline is currently owned and operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, this wasn’t always the case. What some people don’t know is that it was created in Manitoba in 2002 by Child Find Manitoba which operated that service in Manitoba. Then, in 2005, it went full blown as a national website and strategy under the auspices of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection with the support of some corporate heavyweights, such as Bell, Telus, MTS Allstream, Rogers, Shaw, AOL and Cogeco.
Another feature of Manitoba’s new legislation, is that Cybertip.ca is to report annually to the Manitoba legislature. Since launching, Cybertip.ca has received almost 35,000 reports resulting in thousands of websites being shut down, at least 45 arrests and the removal of children from abusive environments. While I really wish that we lived in a world where Cybertip.ca wasn’t necessary, and that I didn’t have to trumpet the ‘accomplishments’ I just did, I know we’re all a lot smarter than that. So, when Cybertip.ca presents its next report to the Manitoba legislature, as required by the new Manitoba legislation, I suspect we’re going to see even higher numbers. Which means that the tipline is working, I suppose.
My post isn’t all plaudits, though. I did hear a story a couple of weeks ago from someone who is close to the issue which really upset me. She told me that she has been part of several submissions to the authorities concerning various individuals who have been suspected of possessing and/or transmitting child pornography, and claimed that in certain cases the authorities failed to act on the tip — for example, where someone only has a few images on their computer, rather than a large library. This really bugged me: Is there some sort of unofficial de minimis exception at play here. But to keep this in perspective, I have to acknowledge that I talked to one person involved in making such submissions—not to law enforcement or others, so I must give the authorities the benefit of the doubt.
If you, like me, have kids, you know how big of a part of their lives the Internet has become. It’s a different world out there than when I was growing up, that’s for sure. We know we need to watch what our kids are doing on the Internet. This will always be the case and it’s an unfortunate reality. At the same time, I feel a bit more comfortable knowing that my provincial government has made it, and continues to make it, a major priority to do its best to protect my children in cyberspace. This province can be incredibly progressive when it wants to get behind an issue and this is a perfect example of that.
I see the Cybertip.ca initiative as a wonderful gift from Manitoba to the rest of Canada, and especially to kids around the world. And I see the new Manitoba legislation making it mandatory to report child pornography as an invitation to the rest of the provinces and territories in Canada to get in line and do the same thing!