Trudeau faces increased pressure to fulfil years-old promise to legislate against online harms | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing

Justin Trudeau is facing increased pressure to fulfil a years-old promise to legislate against online harms following the death of a 12-year-old boy in Prince George, B.C.

Mounties say the 12-year-old took his own life on Oct. 12 after being sexually extorted online.

Carson Cleland’s parents have gone public with the story of their son’s death, in the hopes of raising awareness about the risks of online sextortion. 

Todd Doherty, Conservative MP for Cariboo-Prince George, said he had spoken directly to the boy’s parents and heard their pleas for more to be done to protect children.

Watch | Doherty speaks about Cleland’s death in the House of Commons:

After child’s suicide, B.C. MP pushes Ottawa to crack down on online predators

Featured VideoConservative MP Todd Doherty called on the federal government to do more to protect children from online predators following the death of a 12-year-old Prince George, B.C. boy, who was the victim of sexual extortion.

“Carson Cleland was just like any other 12-year-old boy,” Doherty said in the House of Commons Wednesday. “But he fell prey to a sadistic predator.”

Doherty said he had been told that it was just 12 hours from the time Cleland was first threatened to the time of his death.

“Parents need to know just how fast this can happen [and] we need to provide law enforcement with the tools and the resources they need to bring these bastards to justice,” he said, drawing a mild rebuke from Speaker Greg Fergus for the strong language.

A boy between two adults in a posed photo.
Carson Cleland, 12, of Prince George, B.C. took his own life in October 2023 after being sexually extorted online. His parents chose to make his story public in an effort to warn other caregivers and families about the dangers of online predators. (GoFundMe/Ryan Cleland)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh referred to the death of the 12-year-old during question period as he asked Trudeau when the Liberal government will table long-promised legislation designed to mitigate online harms.

Trudeau first promised to introduce legislation tackling hate speech, terrorist content and sexual abuse material in the 2019 federal election campaign.

He made a similar promise in the 2021 contest, specifying that a re-elected Liberal government would table a bill within its first 100 days, but it has yet to do so.

Pointing to that timeline, Singh made reference to the boy’s death. RCMP say he was a victim of online sextortion, which is when an individual is blackmailed under the threat that deceptively-obtained intimate images of themselves will be publicly revealed.

“More of these incidents have been happening every year,” Singh said. “When will the government introduce the online harm bill to protect kids?”

Trudeau told MPs that the government needs to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and addressing the needs of communities subject to “discrimination and marginalization.”

The prime minister also cautioned against “associating a tragedy that happened in Prince George with actions or inactions of any particular government,” adding in French that it was inappropriate to make such a connection.

“We understand how horrific this is for the family, for the community, and we will continue to work to make sure that kids
across this country are protected,” he said.

“And that is why we are serious about moving forward in protecting from online harms.”

Young boys at increased risk

At a public forum held in Prince George, police said they are seeing an increase in sexual extortion of youth, particularly among young boys, often through online games and apps like Snapchat and Instagram.

They also said investigations are often difficult and can involve coordination with international agencies as the perpetrators may be outside of Canada.

Watch | Why extortionists are targeting more boys and young men online:

Why boys and young men are at greater risk of sextortion

Featured VideoAs internet technologies flourish, so does online fraud — and sextortion is among the most serious. The CBC’s Sohrab Sandhu spoke with experts to understand how it works, why teenage boys and young men are being targeted, and how to stop it happening.

In a statement following Trudeau’s remarks, Singh said advocates of online safety have been calling on the government to take action to better protect children, and the New Democrats are supporting that call.

“The Liberals made a promise,” Singh said. “They have delayed action on the online harms bill.”

Since Trudeau shuffled his cabinet this summer, the government has shifted responsibility for the bill from the Canadian heritage minister, who has shepherded bills related to online streaming and online news, to the justice minister.

Justice Minister Arif Virani has said the bill remains a priority for the government, and said the delay is because of the difficulty of figuring out how to regulate online platforms.

The government has yet to provide a timeline for when legislation will be tabled, with Virani saying only that he hopes to do so “soon.”

The House of Commons is set to take a holiday break beginning Dec. 15.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters on Tuesday that the boy’s death is a “tragic reminder” of the risks online harms pose, especially to those who are vulnerable.

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