Mixed reviews for Internet censorship

East Yorkers have mixed feelings about a provincial bill that would censor the Internet in public schools and libraries.

Progressive Conservative MPP Gerry Martiniuk’s Bill 202 proposes that Ontario public schools and libraries install filtering systems on their computers to block sexually explicit material. The bill had second reading at the Ontario legislature on Oct. 8 and is now before the Legislation and Regulation Committee for further analysis.

But Martiniuk says parents shouldn’t wait for the bill’s enactment.

“I think we should have a uniform system across this province — but there are still steps to be taken before this bill becomes law,” Martiniuk said. “I urge parents to ensure that their particular library and school does use filtering equipment to protect their children.”

Martiniuk said that about 30 per cent of libraries and schools across Ontario are filtering pornography on their computers — and that leaves 70 per cent unprotected.

David Moore, principal of Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, said he supports any bill that will protect children from exposure to pornographic material. But he also said that governments need to be careful to not unreasonably restrict free speech.

“It really depends on what the details are…. Children need to be protected. The question is how that happens,” Moore said. “There is potential for complications when it comes to determining what constitutes as adult content and what’s not.”

The bill defines “sexually explicit material” as anything in which the principle feature or characteristic is the nudity or partial nudity of any person that is designed to appeal to exotic or sexual appetites or inclinations.

 Aaron Kapoulas has lived in East York for 15 years and is a frequent user of the Toronto Public Library branch at 701 Pape Ave. He agrees with Moore that children need to be safeguarded from pornographic images and said it is definitely “inappropriate” to use public computers to view pornography. But he also said he’s concerned about the government’ playing “watchdog” when it comes to what should be censored.

“I can understand why the government would want to screen sexual content (on public computers), but where I’m from in Greece, there’s a lot of classical art that depicts some form of nudity…. So in a sense, some nudity is OK,” Kapoulas said. “The question is… where would the government draw the line?”

Martiniuk conceded that some groups consider the provisions in Bill 202 as unreasonable censorship, but he said he’s not proposing anything like the measures in place in some countries — like China and Cuba, where there are sweeping bans on many websites, including news sites that the governments fear, like BBC and VOA. And he reiterated that Bill 202 would only apply to public schools and libraries.

Lauren McNeil, an East York resident and the mother of two children who attend Danforth Collegiate, fully supports the bill and believes it will become a necessary tool to protect children from images that she says can be “damaging” to a young mind.

“I’m all for the (government) wanting to restrict the use of computers at school,” she said. “We do the same in our home; we pay very close attention to what our children surf on the net because there’s so much stuff out there that can send the wrong messages.”