VANCOUVER, British Columbia — When Kathy Woodard learned last month that her cellular provider had become the first North American telecommunications company to sell pornography via cell phone, she responded immediately. “I started looking for another provider,” said the Catholic mother of nine children, a Telus Corp. customer who lives in Calgary, Alberta.
The backlash from Telus customers like Woodard — alongside the efforts of Archbishop Raymond Roussin of Vancouver, who spearheaded the public protests against Telus — has paid off in the war against porn: On Feb. 20, Vancouver-based Telus announced it was dropping its sales of so-called “adult content” to subscribers.
“We heard from a broad range of customers … who made it clear they were not supportive of this initiative,” Janet Yale, executive vice-president of corporate affairs at Telus, told the Globe and Mail newspaper Feb. 21. “We listened to our customers.”
One of those customers was the Archdiocese of Vancouver, which announced Feb. 16 that it had instructed archdiocesan organizations not to renew their cellphone contracts with Telus.
Earlier, in an article published in the Feb. 12 issue of The B.C. Catholic, Archbishop Roussin denounced Telus for selling porn.
“Telus Mobility has crossed the line which brings the problem of the accessibility of pornographic material further into the public realm,” the archbishop said. “Given the increasing awareness about the problem of sexual addiction to pornography through Internet access, and the abuse that this perpetuates on vulnerable persons, Telus’ decision is disappointing and disturbing.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that pornography is a grave offense that “perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world” (No. 2354).
Why Sell It?
Telus, which has 5.1 million cellphone customers across Canada, started selling pictures Jan. 8 of nude and partially nude men and women for about $3 per download.
When it was challenged about becoming a porn purveyor, the company offered two main lines of defense.
Telus noted it was legal under Canadian law to market the “adult content” it was selling. And, Telus claimed, it was actually acting as a responsible corporate citizen because it had instituted age verification procedures to ensure that its porn was sold only to adults, unlike many Internet porn websites that can be accessed by anyone.
But according to Ken Henderson, founder of the True Knights anti-pornography apostolate (trueknights.org), Telus was really concerned about only one thing when it started selling porn: making money.
“Just because something is not illegal doesn’t mean that it’s not wrong,” Henderson said. “Initially, what I thought when I heard this company was going to be doing this was, ‘Here we have just another step in the direction of mainstreaming this stuff, because of the money factor.’ That was the only reason the company wanted to provide this service — purely for the money.”
Henderson said that trying to restrict access to porn by age verification “doesn’t mean very much at all.” He cited a recent article in the Washington Post about a study that found that parents who use porn themselves are less likely to protect their children from pornography.
Said Henderson, “If you’re offering it to the general public … these adults are going to become addicted to it, just like to alcohol and drugs. And then they are not going to be as vigilant in protecting their own children from this stuff.”
Catholic mother Kathy Woodard said she was depressed when she discovered Telus was selling porn. She said there is so much sleaze available these days on Canadian television that she can’t allow her kids to watch TV, and now it looked like she would have to get rid of her cell phone because of the “adult” content that could be downloaded.
“Nobody should be able to access this,” Woodard said. “It’s not ‘adult,’ it’s infantile. It’s not mature, it’s degradation — it tears us apart, it ruins families, it abuses children.”
Jim Johannsson, director of media relations for Telus, said that the hostile public response to its cell phone porn was a surprise, since equally graphic or more graphic material is readily available through other media.
“We didn’t envision it would be considered a bold new step,” Johannsson said.
But when complaints started to flood in, he said, the company reconsidered its porn merchandising. And, he acknowledged, the criticism directed at Telus by Archbishop Roussin and other Church leaders played “a contributory role” in the Feb. 20 decision to stop selling smut.
Asked if the experience has taught Telus that it needs to pay more attention to the moral concerns of its customers, Johannsson said it was difficult to ascertain the moral beliefs of a “diverse” society like Canada.
“It’s very difficult to anticipate where is the tolerance threshold, where is the comfort level with different groups,” the Telus spokesman said. “The whole moral question is very difficult for corporate Canada to deal with.”
In a Feb. 21 statement, Archbishop Roussin praised Telus for backing down on its porn sales.
“I am pleased and grateful that Telus has decided to remove itself from the business of profiting from pornography,” he said.
“I hope that raising the profile on this issue as a societal concern will result in further reflection and study with the aim of finding solutions to the problem of pornography,” the archbishop said.
Anti-porn activist Ken Henderson said it was heartening to see such strong leadership from Archbishop Roussin in the battle against commercial pornography.
“I’m glad to see that someone in an upper level in our Church is speaking out about this,” Henderson said. “I think the bishops and archbishops in our country, and in Canada and around the world, actually, are starting to realize how serious of a problem this is. It’s encouraging.”
Tom McFeely writes from
Victoria, British Columbia.