More than 10 years after the death of 15-year-old Amanda Todd made international headlines and spurred calls for stronger cyberbullying laws, the British Columbia teen’s harasser was found guilty of multiple sexual offences.
In August, Aydin Coban, a 44-year-old man from the Netherlands accused of tormenting the teen via online threats, was convicted of all charges. This week, in a New Westminster, B.C., courtroom, Mr. Coban was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Here’s what to know about what happened to Amanda Todd, how her story resonated with Canadians, the subsequent trial and its aftermath, and Ms. Todd’s legacy.
Who was Amanda Todd?
Amanda Todd was a British Columbia teen whose death made national and international headlines in 2012. In a heartbreaking YouTube video that has been viewed more than 17 million times, the teen posted a video in which she held up flash cards recalling the many instances of abuse she encountered online and in person.
In the video, she outlined how she’d been coerced to “flash” her breasts to a man in an online chatroom. When she refused his demands for a repeat performance, he posted partially nude pictures of Ms. Todd to social media. The embarrassment and abuse that followed – both online and in person – led Ms. Todd to take her own life on Oct. 10, 2012.
How was her story of cyberbullying received in Canada?
Amanda Todd’s death triggered an international discussion on the dangers teens face online. In Canada, it prompted renewed calls for school boards and politicians to do more to keep young people safe online.
At the time, then-B.C. premier Christy Clark said that cyberbullying needs to be countered with education, not legislation, dismissing suggestions to strengthen laws to allow police to trace cyberbullies online. In 2013, following Ms. Todd’s death, the federal Conservative government introduced Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, which aimed to combat online harassment by making it illegal to distribute images of a person without their consent.
Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, has said the type of extortion her daughter suffered has become a global problem that needs to be better addressed by governments and law enforcement. She has become an advocate for online bullying legislation but has criticized some provisions in the bill.
“It’s been 10 years since Bill C-13 was introduced. It needs to be revamped, and the word ‘sextortion’ needs to be put in the Criminal Code somewhere,” Carol Todd said in August. “That’s what we’ll learn from this.”
The harassment investigation and prosecution
Two days after Amanda Todd’s death, the RCMP launched an investigation to examine the circumstances surrounding her suicide and the role that cyberbullying played.
The RCMP placed more than 20 full-time investigators on the case to conduct interviews, look through social media and review contributing factors to Ms. Todd’s death. Investigators in B.C. received hundreds of local and international tips and conducted hundreds of interviews until it grew into a global hunt that touched at least five countries.
In April, 2014, Coquitlam RCMP Inspector Paulette Friel confirmed that a then-35-year-old Dutch citizen, Aydin Coban, was arrested on an array of charges related to the Todd case, as well as several other international instances of online luring. Dutch authorities allege that the man had a sinister pattern of enticing underage girls through the internet and convincing them to perform sexual acts via webcam. Over a span of three months in 2014, they linked his online activities to crimes in four other countries – the United States, Britain, Norway and Canada.
In February, 2021, Mr. Coban was extradited from the Netherlands to Canada to face trial on charges of extortion, criminal harassment, communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence and two counts of possession of child pornography.
The trial started on June 6, 2022, and concluded on Aug. 5. Mr. Coban pleaded not guilty to all charges he faced.
Crown lawyer Louise Kenworthy told the jury in closing arguments that two hard drives seized from the Dutch man’s home had connections to Amanda Todd, including a deleted bookmark to child pornography depicting the girl. She said Ms. Todd had been the victim of a persistent campaign of online “sextortion” over three years before her death.
Mr. Coban’s defence didn’t call any witnesses in the case and his lawyer Joseph Saulnier told the jury in closing arguments that fragments of data cited by police at the trial could not link Mr. Coban to the extortion or harassment of Ms. Todd.
On Aug. 6, Mr. Coban was found guilty of all charges he faced in connection with the case. The jury presiding over his trial in the B.C. Supreme Court handed down its unanimous verdict one day after deliberations got under way.
Aydin Coban’s sentencing hearing
The sentencing hearing for Mr. Coban began on Oct. 11 in a New Westminster, B.C., courtroom, and concluded on Oct. 13.
Defence lawyers representing Mr. Coban proposed a six-year prison term for the Dutch national. Meanwhile, The Crown sought a 12-year prison sentence.
He was ultimately sentenced to to 13 years in prison. Justice Martha Devlin of the B.C. Supreme Court said Coban’s conduct calls for “sharp rebuke.”
At his sentencing hearing, Amanda’s parents delivered victim impact statements. Carol Todd placed a framed photo of a smiling daughter by her side as she read her victim statement. Norm Todd, who had declined to speak publicly in the decade since his 15-year-old daughter died by suicide, said in his victim impact statement that it’s impossible for him to imagine the threats and “lurking evil” that encircled his daughter after she was lured and exploited by a cyberbully.
“My daughter deserved to have a happy, carefree childhood and not have to worry about any kind of daily torment she was subjected to,” Mr. Todd said.
Mr. Coban is currently serving a sentence of 10 years and eight months in the Netherlands for similar charges after a 2017 trial in Amsterdam for cyberbullying dozens of young girls and gay men. He was convicted of fraud and internet blackmail. The Crown has recommended his Canadian sentence be served after the Dutch one ends.
Mr. Coban will be returned to the Netherlands shortly after the B.C. case ends and will complete any Canadian penalty in that country, where a Dutch court will decide if it should be served concurrently with his 11-year sentence or begin once the Dutch term concludes.
The aftermath and legacy of Amanda Todd
The conviction of Mr. Coban has prompted calls from lawyers and advocates for more regulation, resources and education in Canada to protect future victims.
“Looking back, essentially nothing has been done to be pro-active and actually address the issues that put kids at risk every day: platforms that allow anonymous adults to interact with our children in unsupervised digital spaces, any time or anywhere,” Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said in a statement.
In an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail, Ms. McDonald writes:
As we speak, there are many more Canadian kids fighting silently, often in plain sight of us, against online tormenters. There are far more than the public or parents imagine… We must take urgent action and demand online guardrails to keep our children safe.”
The Winnipeg-based Centre for Child Protection runs Cybertip, Canada’s tip line for reporting online child sexual abuse. It said it has received “an unprecedented volume of reports from youth and sometimes their concerned parents about falling prey to aggressive sextortion tactics,” – amounting to about 300 online extortion cases a month.
In the wake of her daughter’s death, Carol Todd founded the Amanda Todd Legacy Society to help raise awareness about cyberbullying and internet safety, as well as to provide youth and their families with mental-health resources. The non-profit hosts an annual online auction to help fund grants for community initiatives in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.
After Mr. Coban was found guilty of all charges, Carol Todd said her daughter’s legacy won’t fade even after the case had ended. “It has set a new precedent. And it’s Amanda who made this happen for us,” she said.
With reports from Patrick White and The Canadian Press