‘Revenge porn’ law will allow people to sue those who share intimate photos

Canadian news headlines

Technology has changed virtually all aspects of people’s lives in recent years, and governments are scrambling to keep pace and create laws that address new concerns. 

With the prevalence of smartphones and instant messaging, it has become much easier to share photos, including those that aren’t meant to be widely shared — such as intimate images. 

That’s why the Newfoundland and Labrador government plans to introduce a new civil (or tort) law meant to deter people from sharing non-consensual, nude or explicit pictures.

“People who have this done to them can sue the person that did it to them for financial damages,” Justice Minister Andrew Parsons told the St. John’s Morning Show. “And we’re going to try to allow as many other protections as possible.”

Not a criminal law

In 2015, the federal government criminalized the non-consensual sharing of intimate photos by making amendments to the criminal code.

If found guilty, those convicted on charges could face up to five years in prison while summary convictions could carry a six-month jail sentence and a $5,000 fine.

One such behaviour the law was meant to deter was the act of “revenge porn”, which is when private, intimate images are publicly shared online by a partner or previous partner without authorization, often after the breakdown of a relationship.

With the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, it has become very easy to proliferate photos online. Governments are now scrambling to keep up with these changes. (Igor Stevanovic/Shutterstock)

Parsons said the provincial legislation his department will introduce doesn’t deal with the criminal aspect, but gives people the ability to pursue a tort case to protect themselves and get compensation for what was done to them.

“What we’ve seen in other provinces is that they’ve moved forward now with civil legislation that gives people other means in order to deter this, to prevent it, to stop it,” he said.

“It will show people that do this, that there will be financial consequences.” 

Goldilocks legislation

There are lessons to be learned from what other provinces’ have tried, said Parsons, such as the case of Nova Scotia, which had its first proposed law thrown out by the courts after it was deemed too harsh and therefore unconstitutional.

Parsons said the burden of proof in a criminal case, where one has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, makes it difficult to actually convict someone. He said this legislation will have a much lower standard to meet as it’s based on a balance of probabilities instead.

“I want the strongest possible [law] but not one that’s going to get struck down,” he said. “There is no burden of proof of damage. Just because the image is shared, that’s the damage.”

The N.L. government hopes to deter people from sharing intimate photos of other people without permission with the new law. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

In addition to giving people the ability to sue, the proposed law would also give judges the ability to order shared photos to be removed from the internet, and that if people don’t comply there could be more punitive consequences.

The impact on people is not just humiliating, it’s caused people to take their lives.– Andrew Parsons

As well, the Newfoundland and Labrador legislation would treat minors and adults the same, whereas the criminal code treats them differently.

Parsons insists this isn’t a law targeting just young people, as it’s an issue that spans all age groups. An educational component will also be a large part of it, which would involve collaboration with schools, police and other stakeholders.

Government hopes to have a draft of the new legislation tabled at the House of Assembly during the upcoming spring session, or this fall at the absolute latest, said Parsons. 

Serious and growing issue

The justice department hopes that by giving the ability to sue, those thinking about sharing a naked or intimate photo of someone will be deterred. 

He said talking to people who have been victims of “revenge porn” or other types of intimate photo sharing, it’s devastating how brutally life-altering it can be. 

“The impact on people is not just humiliating, it’s caused people to take their lives,” he said. “We can’t understate the seriousness of it.”



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