New legislation promises to protect British Columbians against the sharing of intimate images without their consent, a phenomenon often described as ‘revenge porn.’
Attorney-General Niki Sharma tabled the legislation as Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, sat in the gallery Monday afternoon.
Amanda died by suicide in October 2012 when she 15-years old. Dutch national Aydin Coban, 43, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in October 2022 for sexually extorting the teenager after having met online.
He was convicted in August 2022 of extortion, two counts of possession of child pornography, child luring and criminal harassment.
The legislation does not affect existing criminal code legislation, but strengthens provincial privacy legislation and offers additional recourse through the civil law process.
Sharma said the legislation will apply retrospectively to the date of the first reading, adding that it signals the government’s commitment to go after individuals who share intimate images without consent, calling the legislation deterrence.
Central to the legislation is the ability of the online Civil Resolution Tribunal to decide whether intimate images were recorded or shared without consent and order individuals to stop distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images. Living individuals as well as individuals representing deceased individuals will be able to ask the tribunal for help.
Sharma said this channel outside traditional criminal law will make it easier for victims to be heard and quickly receive help. The tribunal will also be able to ask individuals who have distributed intimate images to delete or destroy all copies and remove them from online platforms. Victims will also be able to seek monetary damages and special tools will allow minors tools to stop the distribution of their private images.
Sharma said victims are often too ashamed to come forward and those who do often face limited, complex and expensive legal options.
“We are building a path to justice for people to regain control of their private images and hold perpetrators to account,” Sharma said.
The legislation also allows the tribunal to ask online platforms like Facebook and Google to remove images and de-index them from their search engines. Whether they will comply is a different question. Individuals can seek additional relief through the Supreme Court of B.C.
Carol Todd said she hopes the legislation will help young people, which increasingly turn out to be young boys, to take back control of their lives and take actions against such crimes.
Statistics Canada reported in 2020 an 80 per cent increase in cases of non-consensual sharing of intimate images reported to police compared to five years ago.
Between 2014 and 2020, 48 per cent of youth victims of non-consensual sharing of intimate images had fallen victim to intimate partners or friends, according to a government release.
It also points out that cases of sharing intimate images without consent remain under-reported because of stigma, embarrassment and the presumption that victims lack recourse.
Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity Kelli Paddon said the legislation is a critical part to better support people impacted by sexualized violence.
“As our lives become increasingly digital, more people are sharing intimate images with each other,” Paddon said. “But when your intimate images are used against you, that’s a violation of trust that can be extremely difficult to overcome.”
People who see their intimate images shared without consent often remain trapped in abusive relationships and report feeling depressed, humiliated or grief-stricken, according to a government release.
It is not clear yet how much money the province will spend to help victims and the legislation itself raises questions about the reach of the provincial justice system as servers hosting non-consensual images may operate outside provincial borders, often hiding in the murky waters of the Dark Web.