B.C. proposes new law for sharing of intimate images online without permission

VICTORIA — The mother of a teenage girl who became the face of online extortion in Canada says she was emotional to hear that British Columbia is planning legal changes to protect those whose intimate photos are shared without their consent.

Carol Todd said the legislation is an important step in protecting other youth from being victimized in the same way.

Attorney General Niki Sharma presented a bill in the legislature Monday that would create new legal rights and remedies to stop the distribution of intimate images and allow the injured person to seek compensation for their harms.

Todd said her daughter would have been proud of the progress.

Amanda Todd of Port Coquitlam, B.C., died by suicide at age 15 in 2012, shortly after she posted a video in which she used flash cards to describe being tormented by an anonymous harasser.

The video has been watched more than 15 million times.

"If she were alive to see and hear us, she would certainly be grinning down upon us and cheering loudly as change is made," Todd told a news conference. "This is the dream of helping kids that she always wanted."

Sharma told the news conference the legislation covers intimate images, near-nude photos, videos, livestreams and digitally altered images, including videos known as deep fakes.

It will require an offender to delete or destroy images or order social media platforms to remove them and scrub the images from search engines, she explained.

"The Intimate Images Protection Act sends a clear message: circulating or threatening to distribute intimate images is sexualized violence, and it can have devastating impacts," Sharma said.

She said the Civil Resolution Tribunal — an online tribunal that is part of B.C.'s justice system — is also working to expand its portal to provide information on people's rights, provide access to immediate self-help tools and to connect them to mental-health supports.

If the bill is approved, Sharma said the legislation will be retroactive or available to prosecutors back to the moment she tabled it on Monday.

"That means that people who distribute or threatened to distribute intimate images without consent are on notice that they will face new legal consequences, even if the wrongful conduct happens before the legislation comes into force."

The announcement comes as police across Canada issue cautions to parents and young people about the rise in online sextortion of youth, where criminals threaten to share sexual images unless they are given money.

Cybertip, a tip line operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, has also reported receiving an average of 70 youth sextortion reports a week.

"We missed the mark when Amanda died," Carol Todd said in an interview ahead of the news conference. "We thought it was a one-off. No one knew what (sextortion) was, but here we are 10 years later, and it's an epidemic now with young kids."

Aydin Coban, a Dutch national, was convicted in B.C. Supreme Court last year of extortion, harassment and distribution of child pornography in the teen's case.

At the time, Carol Todd called for legal changes to protect youth, including that the word sextortion to be included in the Criminal Code.

"Never in my deepest thoughts did I think that we could do it in British Columbia, but today has shown that we have," she said.

— By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press