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Trudeau jabs Poilievre over bill that could usher in digital ID for porn browsing

Justin Trudeau took an unprompted jab at Pierre Poilievre over a Senate porn bill that the prime minister says could usher in a digital ID for adults who want to browse certain websites. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dareen Calabrese Justin Trudeau took an unprompted jab at Pierre Poilievre over a Senate porn bill that the prime minister says could usher in a digital ID for adults who want to browse certain websites. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dareen Calabrese
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Justin Trudeau took an unprompted jab at his main political rival today over a Senate porn bill that the prime minister says could usher in a digital ID for adults who want to browse certain websites.

Trudeau accused Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre of "spreading lies" about the Liberal government's upcoming online harms legislation — even while supporting a bill that would create online restrictions.

"Instead of stepping up to stand for protecting our kids through responsible, serious legislation, he's 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," Trudeau said after a press conference in Nova Scotia. 

"That's something we stand against and disagree with."

On Wednesday, Poilievre confirmed that his party supports a bill that would require porn sites to verify users' ages, and that a future Conservative government would legislate the same. 

Bill S-210 passed in the Senate in the spring and New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Conservative MPs voted to send it to a House of Commons committee for study, while Liberals voted against it. 

The bill introduced by Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne, a member of the Independent Senators Group, does not specify how age would be verified. 

Options for enforcement include the creation of a digital government ID or the requirement that users scan their face using a webcam so that their approximate age can be determined — both methods the Tories say they disapprove of.

Privacy experts have expressed concerns over the potential impacts of the use of facial recognition technology or requiring users to hand over personal information to third-party sites.

Miville-Dechêne said in a statement Thursday that "age verification to access online porn is not a partisan issue" and pointed to other jurisdictions that have drafted such laws, including France, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

In France, a digital certificate is being explored, while the European Union is set to roll out a personal digital wallet for each of its citizens to use online.

The U.K. has said methods it's looking into include verifying ages through photo ID matching, facial age estimation and credit card checks.

Miville-Dechêne said "accredited third parties" would conduct age verification rather than government or porn sites, and defended the fact her bill doesn't specify how the law would be applied.

"Approving specific age-verification methods will be done in regulations, after extensive consultations," she said.

"This is the normal way of proceeding and it's what other jurisdictions have done: identifying appropriate age-verification mechanisms is a technical issue, the technology evolves constantly, and we cannot pass a bill that becomes obsolete after a few months."

Nonetheless, privacy experts have expressed concerns over the potential impacts of the use of facial recognition technology or requiring users to hand over personal information to third-party sites.

But the Conservatives — including Ontario MP Karen Vecchio, who is sponsoring the bill in the Commons — haven't proposed any alternative methods to enforce the prospective law.

Conservatives say they support the bill because children should not be able to freely access pornography online, similar to how children can not legally purchase pornography in person.

"Justin Trudeau is doing what he know how to do best – deceiving and dividing Canadians, this time misleading them on the effects of a bill that has the support of MPs from every party, including members of his own Liberal caucus," Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Poilievre, said in a statement Thursday.

He was referring to 15 Liberal backbenchers who voted alongside Tories to send the bill to committee.

Poilievre also took a shot Wednesday at the online harms legislation the Liberal government is expected to table in the coming weeks.

The Tory leader said it is part of "Justin Trudeau's woke authoritarian agenda" and will be an "attack on freedom of expression."

Trudeau said the legislation is meant to protect children from sexual exploitation and bullying on the internet.

"We keep kids safe in the school yard. We keep kids safe in our communities. We need to do a better job as a society keeping kids safe online," he said Thursday.

Trudeau said Poilievre's rhetoric was "concerning" given the Tories haven't seen the bill yet and don't know what it contains.

"So I think this is yet another example of Pierre Poilievre being irresponsible and not serious and choosing to play politics instead of actually focusing on what matters, which is how to keep our kids safe." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2024

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