The province of Manitoba will today bring forward the first legislation of its kind in Canada to compel all citizens, including computer technicians and Internet service providers, to report any images or examples of child pornography.
The initiative is being introduced as an amendment to the province's Child and Family Services legislation by minister Gord MacIntosh and will expand the definition of child abuse, which already has a mandatory reporting law, to include child pornography.
"Under the new law, if someone comes across something they believe to be child pornography they have a duty to report it to Cybertip.ca," said Lianna McDonald , director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, the registered charity that runs the Cybertip website.
The penalty for failing to report will be up to two years in jail and a $50,000 fine, Ms. McDonald said. It's the same penalty for those who don't report child abuse, although Ms. McDonald said she doesn't know of any instances where that provision has led to a prosecution.
"What it means is that under the proposed legislation, [citizens] have a legal responsibility," she said. "The idea is to facilitate reporting."
Ms. McDonald said that making it a legal requirement might remove some of the moral qualms that exist for those who find images of abuse on a computer, for example, and might be concerned about violating someone's privacy.
"It certainly will facilitate things for people thinking, 'Should I or shouldn't I report?' It makes it clear. For companies that repair computers, it's clear they have a duty to report," she said.
The proposed law could have significant implications for Internet service providers, according to Roz Prober of Beyond Borders, an organization that advocates for the protection of children.
It's already mandatory in the United States for Internet service providers to report instances of child pornography, but the issue has not been tackled in Canada until now.
"The foot-draggers in this scenario are the Internet service providers," Ms. Prober said. "In the U.S. they can be heavily fined [for not reporting child porn] and I think that's the way to go here."
Ms. Prober said she hasn't seen the proposed legislation but expects it to be comprehensive.
Citizens will be directed to report their suspicions to the Cybertip.ca website. The site receives funding from the federal Department of Public Safety and from Manitoba Justice, Ms. McDonald said, and since 2005 it has acted as a national clearinghouse for all Internet child sexual-abuse reporting. In that time, it has received more than 25,000 reports from the public.
Ms. Prober said the site is very sophisticated and secure and would be able to resist attempts to infiltrate its database.
She said it's important the public pass on as many tips as possible because each new image allows police to narrow in on the victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse.