Good morning, everybody. It's a real honour and a privilege to be here today. I got to know many of you over the process of advocating for the motion, so it's an honour for me here today to address the committee as a whole. Thank you for inviting me here.
It has been an interesting road that I've travelled for the first 18 months since I was elected. I was honoured to receive support from every party in the House of Commons for the motion M-47. I think that reflects the gravity of the negative health impacts on youth and adults who access and view online sexual violence.
Since M-47 was adopted, I have received inquiries from around the world. Countries as far away as Denmark have been astonished at M-47's success through the House of Commons. They view the adoption of M-47 as a progressive step towards gender equality and look forward to the outcome of this study.
I don't mean to add any more pressure to this committee, but other countries are looking at what Canada is going to do. We will probably set an example for the world in addressing the negative health impacts of sexual violence online. They see us as cutting edge on this issue.
It's hard to believe that it has been over 30 years since the House of Commons has taken on a study of this topic, especially the issue of sexually explicit material. Thirty years ago, the Internet never even existed. We're in a whole new world, as they say. Even back then before the Internet, that committee found that sexually explicit material perpetrates “lies about aspects of women's humanity and denies the validity of their aspirations to be treated as full and equal citizens.”
A lot of people, when they think of pornography today, think of Playboy. But the fact is that online adult content has shifted, due to the explosion of the Internet, to a much more explicit form of material, the vast majority of which features violence and degradation.
I want to share a few key statistics about sexually explicit material and the industry behind it. In Canada, the average age of first exposure to sexually explicit material for boys is 12 years old. Sexually explicit websites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, with PornHub, the largest free site in Canada, alone receiving over 21 billion visits in 2015.
Thirty-five per cent of all Internet downloads are sexually explicit. Globally, sexually explicit material represents a $97 billion industry. Almost 90% of mainstream sexually explicit content features violence towards women. Sexually explicit material has become the primary source of information about sex and a significant factor influencing sexual behaviours for children and adolescents.
Let that sink in for a minute. A $97-billion industry that makes up 35% of all Internet downloads, that is easily accessible by the click of a button, and that primarily features violence and degradation of women is the primary sexual educator of our youth, starting from the age of 12.
As a result, boys and girls are being taught that violence and degradation is acceptable and to be accepted. As they grow up to be women and men, they are denied meaningful relationships. This is impacting the physical, mental, and emotional health of many young Canadians who will grow up to be mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and legislators.
We need federal leadership through the lens of the public health model, and I hope that the study by and recommendations of this committee will set the stage for leadership from the government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain the public health model approach as: define the problem, identify risk and protective factors, develop initiatives and programs, and invest in widespread adaptation of effective efforts.
In Canada, and globally, we are the first on the stage on this issue. We need to define the extent of the harm to the health of Canadians, especially our youth. There has been extensive research undertaken regarding the impact of accessing and viewing violent and degrading sexually explicit material, but it has to be addressed within the public health model approach.
If we think back to the fight against tobacco, the key shift didn't occur until the harm was recognized and the public health model approach was taken. We explored and defined the problem, identified the risks and preventative factors, and developed a public health campaign. We saw success in that there was a widespread adoption of effective initiatives. Over the past 30 years, tobacco use by Canadians under the age of 24 has been cut in half and smoking cigarettes is no longer socially acceptable.
Now, some may say that people are not impacted by media and marketing and kids are especially impacted by what they view. But the evidence tells us otherwise, especially in research done by health organizations. For example, this year's report from the Heart and Stroke Foundation focuses on the harmful impacts of online marketing and media. I have it right here. They say, “The kids are not alright”, and that's just with regard to the food and beverage sector, never mind that the largest portion of the Internet is being used for sexually explicit materials, not food marketing.
The message throughout the report communicates the same message that child advocates and research on this issue want to emphasize. It notes:
||Marketing is big business and it is sophisticated. Millions of dollars are spent convincing our impressionable children and teens they want a whole range of products, including food and beverages that are having a devastating effect on their health.
These tactics are employed by every industry, especially the pornography industry. As I mentioned earlier, 40 years of multidisciplinary research on the emotional, social, developmental, behavioural, and cognitive impacts of exposure to sexually explicit material have been undertaken. That is why I am urging this committee to undertake a robust and in-depth study.
There are many experts who are available to speak to the committee about public health impacts of online sexually violent and degrading material. In fact, the motion that I put forward received support from nearly 60 organizations from across the country, and that has nothing to do with the front-line workers and the academics who are working in this field, or the health care providers who see the effects of this every day.
This committee needs to hear from researchers, academics, and health experts on how the evidence shows the harms of viewing and accessing sexually explicit material. Some people you might like to hear from include Dr. Kim Roberts from Wilfrid Laurier University, who works on child memory development and has consulted on thousands of cases of child sexual abuse, or Dr. Mary Anne Layden, a psychotherapist at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania. She can speak on how the exposure shapes attitudes and behaviours; shapes sexual templates; shapes gender and sexual identity; encourages risky behaviours; limits capacity to develop intimate and life-affirming relationships, both platonic and sexual; leads to body dysmorphia; can lead to habitual and addictive porn consumption; and can undermine a healthy, connected, stable adulthood for men and women.
You could also hear from Dr. Donald Hilton, a well-known neurosurgeon, who can speak on how viewing sexually explicit material can shape and rewire an adolescent brain.
The Public Health Agency of Canada lists exposure to sexually explicit material as a contributing factor on sibling violence. The noted in her speech in the House in support of my motion that there is a staggering 342% increase in the reports of child sexual abuse over four years to Cybertip.ca.
The committee should also consider that as many as one in six girls and one in 12 boys are currently experiencing sexual abuse. Dr. Peter Silverstone, co-author of a new study out of the University of Alberta states:
||When all types of sexual abuse are combined including exposure to pornography or other sexual material, the number of children sexually abused is as high as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys.
The committee also needs to hear from people from the front lines, such as pediatricians, registered nurses, psychologists, child development researchers, Canadian front-line service providers for abused women and children, teachers, social workers, and the like. They will all tell you about the direct impacts on the health of women, men, and children that exposure to sexually explicit material is having.
They will tell you that the public health issues include sexually transmitted infections; the direct impact on women who are not just minors who continue to be viewed as objects to be sexually assaulted or tortured by family members, partners, or strangers; how harming women has become normalized by the pornography industry; the prevalence of revenge porn and the resulting suicides; the direct impact on young men, including erectile dysfunction, addiction, loss of motivation; increased support for sexual coercion; and the relationship between pseudo child sexual assault and real child sexual assault.
The renowned Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre puts it this way:
||The impact of exposure to pornography, sexual exploitation and the overall sexualisation of children results in traumatic and detrimental outcomes for a child. It is our view that it is society's collective responsibility to protect children outweighing concerns about censorship.... Any exposure to adult or child pornographic images is abuse and children are detrimentally harmed and further victimized by these actions.
Yet today, the $97-billion pornography industry has unparalleled and uninhibited access to our youth, marketing violence and degradation on a level never before seen. We need to be bold. We need to take action.
As I mentioned earlier, it's imperative that we get this public health model, much the same as we did with tobacco, in a similar vein. I would advocate that when you're speaking to the Canada health ministry later—I think you're having them in as well—that you ask them how it went with the public health model that they took when they went after tobacco and smoking.
I would love to see the recommendations include a number of things: a health campaign; funding of media literacy on this issue, and for youth; implementing the training of health care providers, so they can identify some of the addiction issues that come along with this; providing treatment for folks who are addicted.
One of the interesting things about online sexual violence is that when you combine the sexual stimuli with the violence, it triggers two parts of your brain at the same time. It gives you an effect that is similar to an illicit drug, so you have a number of people who are addicted to this in the same manner. Some of the neurologists will tell you that it's the same sort of thing that happens with somebody who takes illicit drugs. Therefore, it is highly addictive.
Have some meetings with some of the provincial ministers—Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan—on this topic. Get all of the health ministers together and have a meeting just on this, so that it's on their radar. Partner with the regulatory bodies, so that they all have a bit of training on this. Make it harder for youth to access it.
Going to the questions earlier, there is an opt-in or a meaningful age verification, and talk to the Internet service providers about that. Strengthen the obscenity laws to prevent the publication of violent and degrading sexually explicit material. That may be another option.
Ensure that the education system across this country addresses this as well. I know that's provincial jurisdiction, but use whatever methods you have here at your disposal.
I was elected in 2015, same as the rest of you, but for the first time for me, and I had thought about a lot of things. I had asked a million questions to the neighbouring MP as to what it all entailed, but one of the things I was not anticipating was private member's business and getting chosen early on the private members' list. That was a bit of a curve ball for me.
We get a lot of mail, so I went through all the mail, talked to everybody I could talk to in my riding, and I had a list of about 30 or 40 things that I could do my private member's business on. Then somebody suggested I look at the pornography issue. I got six letters from my riding on that, and somebody also mentioned the Rehtaeh Parsons case. I don't know if you remember that or not, but that was a case from the east coast where a 17-year-old girl was raped at a party and then the pictures of it were posted on Facebook. I don't remember where I was or what was going on at the time, but that story stuck with me.
It was in the news quite a bit and that story stuck with me, and I always wondered what made those young men think it was appropriate to post the pictures, as if this were a brag story, on Facebook. That was baffling to me, so I started to do some research on that case. I spoke to Rehtaeh's mother and worked with her. She now has an organization, the Rehtaeh Parsons Society. Rehtaeh subsequently committed suicide, so in her memory her mom has started this foundation.
I worked with her and a number of other organizations from around the country to come up with the motion. It wasn't something that I came here wanting to take on, this fight, but it was something that struck me, I guess, and intrigued me. I thought that, if we can do some good around here, this is something to do good with.
Thank you for having me back. You've been very generous with me whenever I've been here.
Arnold, thank you very much for being here. I want to congratulate you, first of all, on the cross-party support you received on the motion. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you got a co-seconder from every single political party represented in the House.
As well, I want to congratulate you on being a new dad again.
Mr. Arnold Viersen: Thank you.
Mr. Tom Kmiec: Jillian, your third child, was born in January.
I want to take this in a slightly different direction. I sit on the foreign affairs committee. You mentioned that the pornography industry is a $97-billion international industry, and I want to quote from the International Justice Mission. They do a lot of work helping victims of cybersex trafficking. To quote them, “Cybersex trafficking has become a terrifying cottage industry with high profit margins.” They use the example of the Philippines. I want to get you to comment once I read out the stats on this.
First, there are thousands of cybersex trafficking case referrals a month, just from the U.S. alone, and 54% of the victims rescued in IJM cases are one to 12 years old. There are boys and girls being abused, forced to make explicit, violent, pornographic videos, who are as young as two years old. They also say here that in their estimation, pedophiles and predators pay $20 to $150 for these violent sex shows, which are then broadcast online. There's very much a demand side, and then there's the production side of it.
What role do you think Canada could potentially play with our international development aid dollars? You talk about the public health component, which is telling people about the dangers of what they're doing, or about how easy it is to obtain this material. How about on the production side, where people outside the country are being abused? As IJM says here, violent, degrading material is being produced for the benefit of Canadians who are purchasing it.
I'd like to get your comments on that, and your viewpoint on what more Canada could be doing.