The tragic case of Rehtaeh Parsons, whose death sent shock waves across the country, highlighted a serious gap in Canada’s Criminal Code: a lack of legal consequences for distributing intimate images of someone without their consent.
Rehtaeh’s parents have courageously recounted the painful details of what happened to Rehtaeh prior to her tragic passing, with the hope of preventing similar tragedies in future. They have told us that she was sexually assaulted and then ceaselessly tormented as a sexually explicit photo from that night was carelessly, or even gleefully, distributed far and wide.
The case of Rehtaeh Parsons and others, like the case of Amanda Todd in British Columbia, have demonstrated that these acts of social violence can lead to the most tragic of consequences.
It’s important that as a society we reflect on the best ways forward from these tragedies in order to help prevent others. And it’s important, as legislators in the House of Commons, that we do our part without delay.
I believe that every Member of Parliament would be in favour of fixing this problem. However, the government has yet to bring any concrete proposal to Parliament. That’s why I tabled a private member’s bill to address this legislative shortcoming.
It was my hope this effort would motivate the government to act swiftly to ensure there are legal tools to intervene when someone is being victimized in this way.
Some may question the need for more protection, citing child pornography laws. To them I say that it shouldn’t matter how old the next victim is. She deserves to have the law on her side when someone decides to create or distribute explicit images of her without her consent.
My bill (C-540) will criminalize the non-consensual, malicious making or distributing of intimate images by mechanical or electronic means regardless of the age of the victim.
Bill C-540 would also fill that gap in the Criminal Code to cover cases in which a consensual photo taken of someone by a partner is distributed for a malicious purpose after a relationship breakup.
Sharing explicit images without someone’s consent is an invasion of privacy and an assault on an individual’s dignity – the effects of which will follow them for the rest of their lives. People who do so, need to be held accountable.
The new Justice Minister Peter MacKay has recently announced his receipt of an internal report with recommendations that repeat these concerns. The report has identified these same gaps and for his part, Minister MacKay has committed to “consider the report and its recommendations.”
For Rehtaeh, Amanda, and the countless other victims, I hope that the Minister moves swiftly, accepts the reports’ recommendations, and that bill C-540 gets the consideration it deserves in the House of Commons.
Robert Chisholm is a New Democrat Member of Parliament for the riding of Dartmouth–Cole Harbour in Nova Scotia.