The Canadian government, apparently breaking new ground internationally, introduced a bill Wednesday to make it a crime to surf for child pornography on the Internet, with penalties of up to 10 years in jail.
Canadian officials said they were unaware of any other country with similar legislation to crack down on the mushrooming child porn trade in an age when it is just a mouse-click away.
"Combating crimes committed using the Internet is crucial, particularly when it come to the most vulnerable members of our society--our children," Justice Minister Anne McLellan said.
"It's very important that our criminal code responds to a variety of changes, in this case technological. . . . We wanted no doubt left for those who investigate these horrible crimes and those who prosecute them," she said.
McLellan did not specify how the new law would be enforced, saying that is a question for the police to decide.
In Canada, as in the United States and many other places, possession of child pornography downloaded from a computer is a crime.
The bill is not meant to catch people who inadvertently open e-mail attachments or Web pages that have child pornography, but rather those who "knowingly cause child pornography to be viewed," said federal justice official Yvan Roy.
"If it's inadvertent, it's not caught," he said.
The provisions are part of an omnibus justice bill covering everything from firearms to animal cruelty. But its most dramatic measures are those relating to sex crimes.
The bill would create a new criminal offense of transmitting child pornography--for example, by e-mail--punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Exporting it from Canada would also be a crime. Importing it is already illegal.
Judges would be empowered to order the deletion of online child pornography--as well as links to foreign child porn sites--from Canadian Internet servers.
The legislation, which the Liberal government is able to easily push through Parliament by using its majority in both houses, would also make it a crime to use a computer to lure minors to a meeting to commit sexual offenses against them.
And it would make it easier to go after Canadian child-sex tourists, allowing their prosecution even without the approval of the country where they committed the offenses. "What we want to do as a country is to send a signal that it doesn't matter what mode of communication you use . . . if you conduct yourself in certain ways, those things are crimes, and they will be dealt with very harshly," McLellan said.
The bill has other provisions not related to children:
* It would double the maximum penalty for stalking, or criminal harassment, to 10 years.
* It would ask judges to increase penalties for "home invasions," in which an intruder enters a home knowing that someone is home.