Bill C-13, introduced by Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay on November 20, 2013, would make transmitting intimate images of a person without their knowledge or consent a crime.

Bill C-13, also known as the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, was developed as a legislative response to the tragic deaths of certain Canadian  youth, such as Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, who endured months of online bullying and harassment.

Should this new federal cyberbullying bill become law, distributing “intimate images” without consent would be punishable with up to five years in jail.

Bill C-13 would amend the Criminal Code to include a new offence of non- consensual distribution of intimate images as well as complementary amendments to authorize the removal of such images from the internet. The bill also provides for the forfeiture of property used in the commission of the offence. In addition, the bill provides for a recognizance order to be issued to prevent the distribution of such images. Furthermore, the bill gives a court authority to restrict the use of a computer or the internet by a convicted offender.

In the bill, the term “intimate image” is defined, among other things, as a visual recording of a person made by any means including a photographic, film or video recording “in which the person is nude, is exposing his or her genital organs or anal region or her breasts or is engaged in explicit sexual activity.”

The proposed law would also allow a judge to issue a peace bond limiting access to computers to anyone believed to be a risk to commit a new offence. Computers and cell phones could be seized from an individual convicted of a cyberbullying offence.

In addition, the bill “streamlines” the process of obtaining warrants to intercept private communications, enables the tracking of individuals and transactions if a crime is suspected, and expands police wiretapping powers from telephone data to all types of telecommunications.

The bill goes well beyond cyberbullying to give police enhanced investigative tools to tackle a wide range of crimes, including terrorism, organized crime, theft of cable, fraud and hacking.

Despite the wide-ranging subject matter, Justice Minister MacKay maintains that the new legislation is not an omnibus bill, but is targeted and specific in nature.1

When asked specifically what organized crime or terrorism had to do with cyberbullying, MacKay said that it is a crime that “really knows no borders.”2

“Canadians rightfully expect to be protected from criminals, including those online and we’re taking action today to prevent cyberbullying”, MacKay told reporters in Ottawa. 3

“Our government will continue to work toward other updates of our criminal justice system . . . to ensure that we’re holding violent offenders accountable and championing the rights of victims, wherever and whenever we can.”4

Some legal experts support the increased attention given to online bullying and harassment, but they  say the new bill is too blunt an instrument, especially where the bully is under 18. They contend that Bill C-13 contains a narrow definition of cyberbullying, but does not address the underlying misogyny and homophobia that inspires so much of the online teasing. Jane Bailey, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said “I would hate for the public to be misled into thinking that this is what will deal with cyberbullying, because I think it’s [only] a partial approach.”5

Professor Bailey stated that the problem with the bill is that it focuses on criminal and punitive measures instead of the attitudes and actions of cyberbullies themselves.6

Shaheen Shariff, a professor at McGill University, said that legislators need to have a better understanding of how people, and especially teenagers, view and use social media sites, such as Facebook.7

Professor Shariff said that not all sexually suggestive images are posted without consent or with malicious intent. She asserted that there needs to be an acknowledgement that sexually provocative language that can seem derogatory and hurtful is often used affectionately between friends, or in hopes in getting admiration from peers. Professor Shariff stated that legislators need to have a “better understanding of how young people are thinking these days.”

She said, “This has become simply part of their communication, especially when they’re teenagers.”8