Legal Experts, Others Comment on Canadian Age Verification Debate

MONTREAL—The trend in rejuvenated anti-pornography lawmaking isn’t isolated to just the United States—it has in fact grown into an increasingly widespread political movement on the international stage, especially in countries with legal systems similar to the U.S.—like Canada.

“Unfortunately, I believe that what is happening is that the world political climate has never been more perfect for conservative lawmakers to be pushing these laws,” says Corey Silverstein, a criminal defense attorney specializing in adult industry clients.

“The adult entertainment industry is doing its part in trying to combat these outrageous laws through lawsuits, social media outreach and more, but the truth is that the adult entertainment industry is tiny in comparison to the rest of the world,” adds Silverstein. “Truth be told, while most people are happy to privately discuss topics such as sex work and sexual freedom, they are reluctant to share their feelings in public due to fears of persecution.”

Parliament in Canada is considering the adoption of a nationwide age verification proposal supported by a range of multi-partisan lawmakers, like Conservative Party leader and leader of His Majesty’s Opposition Pierre Poilievre. Poilievre made headlines across the Canadian political news media endorsing Bill S-210.

S-210 was introduced by Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne of Quebec, an independent. She managed to advance the bill through the Senate, but it has since been stalled in the committee phase before the House of Commons.

AVN reported on the stall in December 2023 being linked to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government viewing the bill as an overlapping measure with its own efforts to implement age verification through regulation.

Poilievre revitalized debate on the bill when he said that it was imperative for S-210 to pass through the House of Commons. MP Karen Vecchio of the Conservatives, hailing from Ontario, is the sponsor in the Commons. 

The wire service Canadian Press indicates that leader Poilievre announced his support for S-210 by simply saying “Yes” when news reports asked him about it. A spokesperson tried to add context to the comment by stating that the Tory leader doesn’t want to adopt any proposal that could risk the privacy rights of adults. 

Trudeau didn’t buy it.

During a press conference on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Trudeau said of the Tory leader that “[h]e’s proposing that adults should have to give their ID and personal information to sketchy websites, or create a digital ID for adults to be able to browse the web where they want. … That’s something we stand against.”

Trudeau also said that Poilievre was simply playing politics, citing his open opposition to the Liberal Party’s forthcoming online harms bill that would address hate speech and terrorist threats on the web. 

Trudeau infers civil liberties concerns. If you take a tack from the debates over age verification bills in the United States, freedom of speech falls under the concern of civil liberties.

According to the country’s body of constitutional acts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, each Canadian citizen has the right to freedom of expression. It’s quite clear, similar to the First Amendment in the United States, that all residents of the nation are entitled to these rights.

“Age authentication mandates raise several civil liberties concerns,” law professor Eric Goldman of California's Santa Clara University School of Law tells AVN.

“Once an age authentication infrastructure is in place, governments will coopt it to require other forms of authentication that further deprive citizens of their civil liberties.” Goldman applied his remarks to Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. 

“Age authentication mandates will dramatically reshape the way we use and think about the internet,” Goldman added.

Aylo, the parent company of major adult tube platform Pornhub, and the ownership group of the company, a private equity firm called Ethical Capital Partners, are made up almost entirely of Canadian, American or Cypriot business entities. 

Montreal is the home of Aylo's corporate headquarters and has become synonymous with the Pornhub name and a plethora of other firms that have operational and administrative centers in and around the largest city in French-speaking Quebec. 

Being a Canadian company, Aylo would be directly impacted by S-210 becoming law. 

“Our position is essentially identical to our position worldwide with respect to age verification,” an Aylo spokesperson told AVN.

“We are supportive—we just feel it needs to be done in a way that actually protects user safety and privacy. And the way it has been implemented in many jurisdictions has been ineffective.”

The spokesperson went on to say that S-210 doesn’t meet the standard or acceptability the company wishes for. 

“Unfortunately, age verification regulations implemented around the world so far have been ineffective,” the Aylo spokesperson said.

“In U.S. states where we have introduced age verification or removed access to our platform, we have seen a surge in searches for other, often unregulated adult sites with no trust and safety or moderation processes.”

Canadian civil society organizations and civil libertarians maintain similar views of Goldman and Silverstein, both American lawyers.

For example, Brenda Crossman of the University of Toronto told CBC senior reporter John Paul Tasker that the conservative-linked efforts to restrict access to porn in both Canada and the United States are coordinated, decades-long campaigns to ban porn.

“Here we are again, singling out sex,” said Crossman, a professor of law and sexuality at the university. “Reviving this debate, that somehow accessing pornography is detrimental to women and children, just seems like something from a bygone era.”

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, posted to his blog in December that S-210 is terrible lawmaking.

“The bill should not have come this far and should not be supported,” Geist wrote. “Creating safeguards for underage access to inappropriate content is a laudable goal, but not at the cost of government-backed censorship, mandated face recognition, and age-approval requirements to use some of the most popular sites and services in the world.”