CLF Responds to Motion M-47: Parliament Can Legislate Against Harms Linked to Explicit Material
Christian Legal Fellowship (CLF) has made written submissions to the Federal Standing Committee on Health as part of its study on the public health effects of online violent and degrading sexually explicit material on children, women and men. The study is in response to Motion M-47, introduced by MP Arnold Viersen which passed unanimously in the House of Commons on December 8, 2016. This study marks the first time in 30 years that Parliament has studied the issue of pornography in Canada.
CLF expressed its support of the motion, agreeing there is a need to better understand and respond to sexualized violence in a digital age.
Focus of Submissions:
CLF’s written submissions focus on three issues:
1. Freedom of expression is a broadly defined Charter right but limitations on expression can be justified where there is evidence of harm, defined as conduct incompatible with societal functioning;
2. Federal lawmakers can legislate in the sphere of health care on a number of grounds, including where the intent is to address a public health evil; and
3. Lawmakers can also legislate on the basis of morality when it is grounded in core social values.
1. Harm to the Vulnerable
CLF explained that although freedom of thought and expression may be engaged by even “violent and degrading sexually explicit material”, restrictions on its use are justifiable and constitutional, particularly to the extent that such materials can be linked to harm. As an organization regularly engaged in defending free expression, CLF affirmed the importance and broad scope of the freedom, but advocated for restrictions where there is evidence of harm, particularly harm that threatens vulnerable members of our society. As the Supreme Court concluded in R v Sharpe (2001 SCC 2), exposure to child pornography banalizes the awful, numbs the conscience, makes the abnormal seem normal and the immoral seem acceptable (para. 88); a conclusion CLF argued was applicable to the material at issue.
2. Public Health
CLF also set out the federal government’s jurisdiction to legislate against public health evils using its criminal law power. Where a reasonable apprehension of harm is established, the criminal law power acts as a source of authority to address a public health evil.
3. Morality as a Legislative Purpose
Finally, CLF explained that morality is also a proper basis for the exercise of the criminal law power. So long as Parliament is not imposing a standard of public and sexual morality merely to reflect certain social conventions and the standard is grounded in core social values, morality is a legitimate legislative purpose.
CLF’s submission can be read here.
The Federal Committee is to report its findings to the House no later than July 2017.
For additional information or an interview, please contact:
Ruth A.M. Ross, Special Advisor
Christian Legal Fellowship