Demanding a grown-up debate about child porn - Macleans.ca

Demanding a grown-up debate about child porn

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Some opinions are so ignorant and wrong that those who choose to express them deserve to be shunned. We can’t, nor should we, silence any opinion.  But if a person espouses certain ideas, it’s perfectly acceptable for that person to be ostracized from public discourse. Publications, broadcasts and universities should refuse to associate with a person who says such things. They can still talk, but we needn’t listen.

Conservative mentor Tom Flanagan has expressed just such an opinion.

I’m not talking about his recent comments on child pornography.

I’m referring to Flanagan’s remarks about Julian Assange. In 2010, speaking on CBC’s Power and Politics about Assange’s publication of U.S. diplomatic cables, Flanagan said that “Assange should be assassinated. I think Obama should put out a contract.” In calling for the U.S. government to murder a non-violent foreign citizen who hadn’t been charged with any crime, for what was arguably an act of journalism, Flanagan exposed himself as a radical extremist, unworthy of a seat at any civilized table. That was the time for the CBC to boot him off the air, for his university to fire him, for his political party to oust him, for the Prime Minister to disassociate from him. Not now.

Once again, here are the words Flanagan uttered at the University of Lethbridge last week when asked to clarify his opinion on the consumption of child pornography — words that in a matter of hours cost him his livelihood and reputation:

“I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures.”

It’s perfectly legitimate to make this argument. It’s a reductive argument, it lacks nuance, but it’s an arguable position. Meaning: if you don’t agree with it, argue it. Don’t burn Flanagan at the stake or banish him from the kingdom for it. But that’s what we do to those who dare to challenge the only acceptable position a person can have on child porn: zero tolerance. And with zero tolerance comes zero intelligence and zero reason.

Child porn has become such a radioactive subject that few dare to discuss it rationally. It’s not even a topic anymore — it’s a curse, a weapon, a stigma.  Consider the headlines containing the words “Flanagan’s child porn views.” Do you want to have “child porn views”? I sure don’t. I don’t want my name anywhere near the words. Even a whiff of association with them threatens to ruin lives.

So let me bow down to the power of this monstrous term and provide the required disclaimer: I am against child pornography. I think those who create it are awful criminals. I think those who consume it are culpable as well, to a lesser degree, as they create the demand that fuels the production. I think child pornography is really, really bad.

But I dare to ask some questions:

1. When a teenage girl posts a nude picture of herself, does it make sense to charge her with producing child porn?  If she sends it to her boyfriend, does it make sense to charge him with possessing child porn? Does it make sense to charge parents for taking bath-time pictures of their small children? Should border agents be allowed to search our phones, cameras and computers for such pictures?

2. Does it make sense to criminalize computer-generated child porn and fictional texts describing child porn, as Canadian law does? Who do these materials harm?

3. It’s easy to end up with child porn on your computer that you never asked for.  Click on the wrong site by accident, and your cache will store pictures you never wanted.  Is it time to rethink what “possession” of these materials really means?

4. How common a crime is child porn in relation to how often it’s invoked? In Monday’s Montreal Gazette, Allison Hanes wrote that “child pornography is a scourge of the digital era. (The Internet) has fuelled an insatiable appetite.” But is there any data to prove children are being abused in greater numbers than before the Internet?

5. Police units on the hunt for child porn have incredible surveillance powers that allow them to spy on suspects without warrants, which Internet Service Providers don’t ask for when child porn is mentioned. Are we eroding our privacy rights and our freedoms online because we are afraid to “stand with the child pornographers,” as Vic Toews put it when bullying those who opposed his Internet spying bill?

These are questions we should debate. This is a topic we should discuss. I’m glad Tom Flanagan brought it up.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown

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