Halifax high school student the latest teen to face child-porn charges for sexting

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
RNC officers issue warning about dangers of sexting for teens, the CBC's Zach Goudie reports

Charges laid against a Halifax-area high school student is the latest evidence that police in Canada are serious about going after sexting teens, even if some of the kids still aren't serious about the risk.

The Halifax Chronicle Herald reports a student at Auburn Drive High School in the suburb of Cole Harbour has been charged with possessing and distributing child pornography.

Police said the 17-year-old was arrested April 11 but has been released from custody and is scheduled to appear in Halifax youth court May 8.

The investigation began Jan. 9 after police received a complaint from the school. A 16-year-old female student told school staff a male student had shared a partially nude photo of her without her consent, the Chronicle Herald said.

Police said the images were distributed to other students and investigators seized a number of cell phones.

"In this case, all I can say is images were distributed in a child pornography sense by a 16-year-old male [who has since turned 17]," RCMP spokesman Cpl. Scott MacRae told Metro News.

[ Related: Teen texted photos of rival, convicted of distributing child porn ]

The school conducted its own investigation into the teen who allegedly uploaded the photo and "there were some consequences for this student," Halifax school board spokesman Doug Hadley told the Chronicle Herald.

Police have begun cracking down on unwelcome sexting in the wake of the suicides of Vancouver-area teen Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, who also attended a high school in Cole Harbour. Both young women were tormented in person and online after sexually compromising images were distributed on the Internet.

Coincidentally, Dutch news media reported Thursday that police there have arrested a 35-year-old man who's alleged to have subjected Todd to online extortion after the 15-year-old was lured into flashing her breasts on a web cam.

Todd killed herself in 2012 sometime after the image was sent to her friends via social media.

Parsons also endured months of bullying after cellphone images of her allegedly being sexually assaulted at a drinking party when she was 15 were circulated. She died last April a few days after being found hanging in her parents' home.

Police initially refused to move forward with the sexual assault case, saying there was insufficient evidence to lay charges. The case was reopened after her suicide and two teens have since been charged with distributing child pornography.

Her case also resulted in Nova Scotia and Ottawa moving to strengthen laws against unauthorized distribution of intimate images, be they of adults or teens.

Meanwhile, police have apparently received marching orders to pursue child-porn charges against teens accused of sexting images of their peers.

[ Related: How Canada has changed since the death of Rehtaeh Parsons ]

A 17-year-old Victoria girl who sent out explicit photos of her boyfriend's former girlfriend was convicted in January of distributing child pornography.

Her lawyer, Christopher Mackie, plans to challenge the conviction on constitutional grounds, arguing it's discriminatory for youth to be charged when, under current law, it's not illegal for adults to upload similar images as long as there's consent, CTV News reported.

In February, RCMP in Kamloops, B.C., charged three teenage boys with child-porn distribution after what were deemed inappropriate images were circulated online, CBC News reported.

And last month two Woodstock, Ont., boys aged 13 and 14 were charged with distributing nude photos of a young girl, according to the London Free Press.

The spate of sometimes deadly incidents involving sexting and cyber-bullying in recent years triggered a wave of public education and awareness campaigns aimed at warning teens about the long-term consequences of sexting.

"If you put those images on the internet via smartphones or computer, then they are out there in the public and bad things can happen or they can go to people that you may not want them to go to," MacRae told Metro News.

Apparently the message hasn't quite sunk in with everyone.