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Mark Hill: Terrible service for an outrageous price—Suck it up, Canada, that’s the best offer you’re getting

Commentary

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra recently announced that the government will overhaul the airline passenger bill of rights, news that doubled as a reminder that rights are something Canadian airline passengers ostensibly have. In the aftermath of the chaos that was the holiday travel season, the Canadian Transportation Agency only issued a handful of fines to airlines who failed to compensate passengers for lost luggage and confusing delays, an underwhelming response the agency attributes to a backlog of 30,000 passenger complaints. The stern message to airlines is clear: if you jerk customers around, an overworked bureaucrat might have time to think about slapping your wrist sometime next year.   

The lack of passenger recompense is the latest example of airlines replacing “the customer is always right” with a more modern attitude of “the customer is always welcome to piss off and fly their own plane.” Canadians pay some of the highest airfares in the world, a fact partially attributed to our lack of short-haul budget airlines. Not coincidentally, WestJet and Air Canada are taking steps to ward off new carriers: WestJet slashed routes in eastern Canada to focus on strengthening their western stronghold, while Air Canada, in a touching gesture of reciprocation, did the reverse. 

Essentially, our two biggest airlines are barely trying to compete with each other. Even Canada’s staunchest capitalists rarely dream of paying more for fewer options, and while the airlines attribute the cuts to pandemic recovery measures, they also said holiday flights would “run smoothly” even as unions warned otherwise, so maybe don’t take them at their honeyed words. The Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce certainly has a different interpretation, calling on Ottawa to probe for collusion.   

Speaking of paying more for less, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal has rejected the Competition Bureau’s request to block Rogers’ acquisition of Shaw, just in case you were worried that the Canadian telecommunications industry wasn’t oligarchical enough. Canadian phone plans, as you’re almost certainly well aware, are among the most expensive in the world: a 2021 study found that it was 13 times more expensive to own a phone in Canada than in France. The disparity among the cost of internet service isn’t as stark, but don’t worry, we’re still a world leader. 

Unlike airfare, which is complicated by taxes and other fees, there is no excuse for Canadian telecom companies to point at. The explanation for bills Scrooge McDuck would consider excessive is simple: the industry is about as competitive as the 1923 Canadiens would be against the 2023 iteration after the former were unearthed from their graves. Bell, Rogers, and Telus threaten to cut jobs or rural infrastructure investment whenever a CRTC official so much as sneezes in their direction. Coordination, the polite word for collusion, is an open secret, making buying a phone plan feel like you’re dealing with a Mafia family that peddles cat GIFs. 

Vicky Eatrides, the new CRTC chair, has vowed to address high prices and a lack of competition, which is one of the most frequent stops on the Möbius strip of Ottawa studying the telecom industry, expressing outrage at high costs, instructing the CRTC to address the matter, and then folding like a cheap tent whenever the moment for action arrives. The result of this interminable process is that we enjoy a free market only in the sense that we are free to choose who screws us.   

But while Eatrides may be tilting at windmills that Rogers plans to buy the naming rights to, we should still support her crusade. Airlines and telecom companies, which already viewed the public with about as much respect as the Soylent Corporation ever did, are growing even larger and more indifferent to consumer needs, and even the resigned cynicism of Canadian consumers has its limit: small claims courts are awash in cases brought forward by airline passengers who feel abandoned by both the industry and the government. 

Eatrides and Alghabra need to follow through on putting consumers first, because it feels as though we’re on the verge of either finally reigning in corporate arrogance or forever surrendering to an environment where Air Canada expects us to feel grateful for getting strapped to the wings of their planes. It’s a headache to take on Canada’s biggest businesses, but there is no one on the political spectrum who likes giving WestJet and Telus increasingly large portions of their paycheque. And if the government doesn’t finally bring costs down, Poilievre and Singh will be happy to present their plans to voters.  

Benjamin Lamb: Politicians can no longer ignore Canada’s porn problem

Commentary

The past several years have witnessed growing policy and political attention on the economic, social, and moral costs of pervasive pornography in our societies. The 2015 British Conservative Party platform, for instance, committed to new age verification requirements for people to access websites with pornographic material. Last year, the European Union passed an omnibus Digital Services Act to regulate social media platforms’ content including removing child pornography.  

These developments have, in general terms, not yet found expression in Canadian political and policy debates. Canada ranks seventh in the world for daily porn consumption on PornHub, one of the largest and most significant pornographic websites in the world—and one which is actually owned and operated in Canada. We’re not just consumers, in other words. We’re effectively exporting pornography to the rest of the world.

This ought to cause some reflection on the part of Canadian policymakers and the broader public. There’s a large body of evidence that pervasive pornography comes with various detrimental effects —ranging from its normative consequences for our conception of human dignity to its neurological imprint on its consumers. This point cannot be overstated: research tells us that porn consumption is associated with a raft of negative individual and collective consequences that warrant greater attention in Canada. 

Start with the neurological research. Human minds are influenced by what they consume online and pornography is no exception. According to a 2014 study by German-based scholars, Jürgen Gallinat and Simone Kühn, continued consumption of pornography effectively rewires the brain to perceive pornography as a reward. As the brain’s neural pathways get “bored” with certain content over time, there’s a need for ”novel” pornographic experiences to better activate its cranial reward system (otherwise known as the “Coolidge Effect”).

It prompts the question: if porn consumption, has such a profound impact on the brain, what does that impact imply on human behaviour and relationships?  

The list is quite long. Just consider the following: 

  • Porn consumption is consistently associated with social challenges with loneliness and poorer mental health
  • It’s also found that those interested in graphic and abusive pornography are more likely to reenact it with their partner during sex. 
  • Research by Alberta-based scholar Kyler Rasmussen finds a relationship between porn consumption and dissatisfaction with romantic or marital relationships. 
  • A separate study correlates increased porn consumption and sexual violence, and the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the United States reports that pornography is the third most common form of sex trafficking. 

These examples are hardly exhaustive. They’re merely a sample of a growing body of scholarship that documents the harms associated with porn consumption. 

Canadians are not immune to these risks. According to PornHub’s 2022 Annual Report, for instance, Canadians averaged 10 minutes of daily porn consumption on the site, which is more than an hour per week on that platform alone. Three-quarters of this porn traffic consumption was done on smartphones. The risk of course is that the ever-present combination of online pornography and smartphone technology grants Canadian teenagers an unprecedented ability to access pornography including depictions of rape and other forms of sexual violence. 

This ought to be a concern for Canadian policymakers in light of the research that proves the effects of porn consumption are not just internalized by individuals but can spill out into the broader society. Canadians are not exempt from the mental and social ills that stem from pornography. 

What options are available to policymakers? 

It starts with investigating the effects that increased porn usage in Canada will have on the mental and sexual health of Canadians. This isn’t about moral judgement or shaming. It’s about trying to understand how to mitigate the negative effects of pornography in our society. Critics will say it is an unsolvable problem. They are wrong. We have what it takes to maturely talk about increased pornography use in Canada. We also have what it takes to deploy solutions. Drawing attention to the size, scope, and nature of the problem, though, is a necessary start. 

As for broader solutions, there is a range of other steps that federal and provincial policymakers could consider. At the level of education, for instance, provinces could update curricula for students, especially in elementary school, so as to educate their awareness about the consequences of consuming pornography.  

Outside of the classroom, society should exact greater transparency out of Canada’s domestic porn industry cabal, as they meticulously endeavour to ensnare more users, regardless of the moral and health consequences. This industry should not get away with attaching more and more people to porn addiction. Their business models should be subject to the highest scrutiny and toughest regulations including going so far as to try and make their for-profit scheme untenable.

There are practical ways to gradually reduce the porn industry’s operations in Canada. Legislators should make porn producers criminally responsible if they fail to verify the age of consent when they produce content for profit. Part of this offence should entail a complete and permanent shutdown order of operations if they do not verify the age of consent. The porn industry is not just another private business; they are producing content capable of wreaking serious damage to our children’s mental health. 

On the public health side, officials could recognize pornography consumption as an official mental health addiction. This gesture would draw much-needed attention to increased pornography consumption. Community leaders should prioritize and promote recovery programs that normalize healing from pornography addiction, such as Fortify, Conversation BluePrint, and Bark. 

The good news is that all of these policy responses, aside perhaps from regulating internet content, can be implemented relatively quickly. Addressing pornography in our society may be an uncomfortable subject. But we cannot afford to neglect it any longer.

There will no doubt be arguments against these types of policies including appeals to freedom and individual choice, but these considerations needed to be weighed against the economic, social and moral costs—particularly for young people—of today’s culture of pervasive pornography. The case for action seems increasingly self-evident.

Yet notwithstanding the odd murmur or acknowledgement in parliamentary debates, Canada’s political class has been largely silent on pornography. That silence should end now. For the sake of Canadians’ dignity and well-being, implementing porn-reduction strategies is not something we should scroll away from.