Ontario Private Member’s Bill Causes Concern

Last week I came across the news story on the YorkRegion.com News website: Libraries fight proposed Internet Blocking (June 10, 2009). It talks about a private member’s bill in Ontario that proposes the use of Internet filters to block pornographic websites from children, and how Ontario libraries are standing up against it. Considering the Bill has been sitting at First Reading since November 19, 2008, I tried to find out why it was making the local news once again. My research did not turn up satisfactory results.

From the article by Teresa Latchford:

The Newmarket and Aurora branches are among Ontario libraries against a private member’s bill that, if passed, will require them to use technology to block obscene and sexually explicit content.

The bill brought forward by Cambridge MPP Gerry Martiniuk, dealing with the sex offender registry and electronic sexual material, has made it through the first reading. But it infringes on the intellectual rights of individuals, the Ontario Library Association argued.

The Newmarket and Aurora libraries are standing strong with the message sent out by the Ontario and Canadian library associations that it is the duty of public libraries to uphold Canada’s Bill of Rights and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by providing access to all expressions of knowledge, creativity and intellectual activity.

This includes material that, in some cases, would be considered unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable by society, according to the released statement.

“The problem is filters can block useful information,” Newmarket Public Library acting CEO Linda Peppiatt said. “If someone searched for information on breast cancer, the filter will pick up the word breast and block the content.”

The legislation in question is Bill 128, Christopher’s Statute Law Amendment Act (Sex Offender Registry and Electronic Sexual Material), 2008 which seeks to amend both the Public Libraries Act and the Education Act in Ontario.

From the Explanatory Notes in the First Reading, this is how it seeks to amend the Education Act:

Every school board is required to ensure that every school of the board has in place technology measures on all of the school’s computers to which a person under the age of 18 years has access. The technology measures must do the following:

1. They must block access on the Internet to any material, including written material, pictures and recordings, that is obscene or sexually explicit or that constitutes child pornography.

2. They must block access to any form of electronic communication, including electronic mail and chat rooms, if the communication could reasonably be expected to expose a person under the age of 18 years to any material, including written material, pictures and recordings, that is obscene or sexually explicit or that constitutes child pornography.

3. They must block access to any site on the Internet or to any form of electronic communication, including electronic mail and chat rooms, if the school has not authorized users of the computers to access the site or the communication or if the site or the communication could reasonably be expected to contain material that includes personal information about a person under the age of 18 years.

A school is required to have a policy on who are authorized to use its computers to which a person under the age of 18 years has access and to monitor the use that persons under the age of 18 years make of those computers.

and the Public Libraries Act:

The Bill amends the Public Libraries Act to make amendments that are similar to those that the Bill makes to the Education Act, except that the duties of a school board are those a board with respect to every library under its jurisdiction and the duties of a school are those of a public library.

In trying to understand why this would be in the news after sitting just at First Reading since November 19, 2008, I found the following related materials from the website of Cambridge MPP Gerry Martiniuk that preceded the introduction of the Bill:

I am still unclear as to why this would be newsworthy after so many months. I bring it to our attention here since it touches on both the legislative process and libraries.

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