Canada to make surfing for child porn a crime

Canada to make surfing for child porn a crime

The Canadian government, apparently breaking new ground internationally, introduced a bill on Wednesday to make it a crime to surf for child pornography on the Internet.

Canadian officials said they were unaware of any other country with similar legislation to crack down on the mushrooming child porn trade in an age when it is just a mouse-click away.

"Combating crimes committed using the Internet is crucial, particularly when it come to the most vulnerable members of our society - our children," Justice Minister Anne McLellan said.

"It's very important that our criminal code responds to a variety of changes, in this case technological...we wanted no doubt left for those who investigate these horrible crimes and those who prosecute them," she told reporters.

McLellan declined to say how the new law would be enforced, saying that was a question for the police to decide.

In Canada, as in the United States and many other jurisdictions, possession of child pornography downloaded from a computer is a crime.

The bill is not meant to catch people who inadvertently open e-mail attachments or Web pages that have child pornography, but those who "knowingly cause child pornography to be viewed," said federal Justice official Yvan Roy.

"If it's inadvertent, it's not caught," he said.

Accessing child pornography would carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.

The provisions are part of an omnibus justice bill covering everything from firearms to cruelty to animals. But its most dramatic measures are those relating to sex crimes.

It would create new criminal offenses of transmitting child pornography, for example by e-mail; of providing child porn web site addresses; and of exporting it from Canada. Each would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Importing child pornography is already illegal.

Judges would be empowered to order the deletion of on-line child pornography - as well as links to foreign child porn sites - from Canadian Internet servers.

The new legislation, which the Liberal government is able to easily push through Parliament by using its majority in both houses, would also make it criminal to lure minors by using a computer to meet them to commit sexual offenses.

And it would make it easier to go after Canadian child sex tourists, allowing their prosecution even without the approval of the country where they committed the offense.

"What we want to do as a country is to send a signal that it doesn't matter what mode of communication you use...if you conduct yourself in certain ways, those things are crimes, and they will be dealt with very harshly," McLellan said.

The bill has other provisions not related to children:

- it would double the maximum penalty for stalking, or criminal harassment, to 10 years- it would ask judges to increase penalties for "home invasions," where an intruder enters a home knowing that someone is home- it would increase penalties for cruelty to animals.

Although Canadian officials were unable to point to any other legislation banning "accessing" child pornography, they said a draft Council of Europe convention on cyber-crime would create a new category of procuring child pornography.

The council has been working on this for more than a decade. U.S. civil liberties groups have criticized it as infringing on individual privacy.

The Supreme Court of Canada in January upheld a ban on the possession of child porn but allowed personal pornographic writings for a person's own use, or erotic material taken for one's own use with the consent of those depicted.

The Canadian Association of Internet Providers, representing 80 percent of the country's biggest providers, said it would be willing to remove child porn if ordered to do so by a judge, but did not want to have to police it.

Jay Thomson, president of the association, said: "We share the government's interest in combating the use of computer systems such as the Internet to commit crimes and in making the Internet safe place for children."

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren).

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