B.C. introducing legislation targeting people who post intimate images without consent

The legislation could give victims a new option to have online images taken down and destroyed more efficiently, according to a statement from the province during early consultations. (iHaMoo/Shutterstock - image credit)
The legislation could give victims a new option to have online images taken down and destroyed more efficiently, according to a statement from the province during early consultations. (iHaMoo/Shutterstock - image credit)

The B.C. government is introducing legislation it says will allow action to be taken against people who post intimate images of others online without their consent, says the province's attorney general.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Niki Sharma said the Intimate Images Protection Act aims to provide a path to justice that will allow victims to regain control of their private images and for perpetrators to be held accountable.

The legislation will streamline the process for images to be taken down, Sharma said, and will give victims an avenue they can use to claim compensation from people who shared their photos without permission.

The province says the legislation will cover intimate images, near-nude images, videos, livestreams and digitally-altered images and videos.

WATCH | B.C. attorney general, Carol Todd speak to proposed new legislation:

It will require perpetrators to destroy the images and remove them from the Internet, search engines and all forms of electronic communication, Sharma said. It will also order online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to remove the intimate images and de-index them from their search engines.

During the news conference, Sharma put perpetrators on notice, saying there are serious consequences for distributing intimate images without consent.

"There is no excuse for your actions," she said. "This is not funny. This is not a game. You are violating a person's privacy and dignity. You are committing sexualized violence, which has cost real people's lives."

She also told people who have been victimized that they have done nothing wrong and they have the right to privacy.

"You have the right to control your own images, and no one has the right to hurt you," she said, encouraging victims to reach out for help.

Sharma said the Civil Resolution Tribunal — an online tribunal that is part of B.C.'s justice system — is working to expand its online portal to help provide people with information on their rights, tools to begin remedial action, and community and 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.

Sharing intimate images without consent is often referred to as "revenge porn," though advocates stress many who have their images shared have not done anything to deserve such treatment.

WATCH | B.C. minister says new law aimed at protecting victims: 

The government said a national hotline reported a 58 per cent increase in the non-consensual sharing of intimate images by the start of 2021, compared with the nine-month period before April 1 the previous year.

Along with Kelli Paddon, the parliamentary secretary for gender equity, Sharma was joined by Carol Todd, whose daughter Amanda died by suicide in 2012 after being harassed and sexually extorted for years.

"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 said. "This is the dream of helping kids that she always wanted.''

Todd said people have a right to be safe in online spaces.

"We should not be afraid of being able to live our lives in either the online or offline worlds," she said.

She went on to say while legislation is important, there also needs to be an emphasis on education and prevention.

The publication of intimate images without consent is already an offence under Canada's Criminal Code.

B.C.'s new legislation will help tackle the issue from a civil standpoint.

"[It] absolutely is an issue, it's an issue that, yes, we can tackle at the criminal level, but it's also important that provinces and territories introduce legislation for some civil recourse when this happens," said Signy Arnason, associate executive director with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

"It's another tool that can be used to address when people are sharing things without consent, and we know this is happening quite often, again, particularly with youth and young adults."

The criminal charge came into force in March 2015 as part of the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. The law was drawn up in response to public outrage over the suicides of Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, who, according to her family, took her own life after a photo of her alleged sexual assault was circulated.

Nova Scotia, Parsons' home province, adopted legislation targeting cyberbullying and the sharing of intimate images in 2018.

Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island also have legislation to complement the existing criminal law, while Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut do not.