The sharing of sexual images without consent may soon be illegal in Canada.
The Nova Scotia government says the Criminal Code should be rewritten to make it a crime.
The call comes after 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons endured months of harassment after a photo of a boy allegedly raping her was sent around her school.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry says he is making good on a promise he made to Rehtaeh’s mother, Leah Parsons, during a private conversation last week.
“That we would address the issue of imaging and that was the big concern about what happened a week ago,” says Landry.
Today, he announced he wants the federal government to criminalize emailing, texting, or posting intimate images for a malicious or sexual purpose – an issue he says is hampered by outdated laws.
“A victim is a victim and a concern we have is to move this forward to make sure there are more protections within the Criminal Code for these situations,” says Dan MacRury, a chief Crown attorney in Cape Breton.
Landry plans to meet with federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson next week in Ottawa and says politicians across the country support proposed changes to the Criminal Code.
The call for change also comes at a time when photos of the boys accused of assaulting Rehtaeh showed up on a social media site, which police say could make them a public target.
“Unfortunately for social media and the posting of certain sites, there are no rules,” says RCMP Cpl. Scott MacRae. “So, basically anyone can say what they want.”
Dalhousie law professor Wayne MacKay says the ability to charge people who illegally distribute sexual photos doesn’t determine the likeliness of a conviction.
“The problem with anything, especially with social media and online, is tracking down who is doing it,” says MacKay.
He also says laws make it easier to tell the difference between right and wrong.
“It’s a statement about what we value and what’s important in Canadian society. In that sense, I think there is some value in making a clear statement that the kind of abuses and victimizing that is currently happening is not acceptable.”
Landry has asked other justice ministers and attorney generals who make up a federal cyberbullying working group to act more quickly and to provide recommendations, including legislative options, by June so ministers can act on them this fall.
Landry says he also wants to change the law so others aren’t made to feel as helpless as Rehtaeh, who passed away earlier this month after she was taken off life support following a suicide attempt a few days earlier.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Kelland Sundahl