Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate today in the second reading debate on the protecting Canadians from online crime bill.
The government committed to bringing this legislation forward in the recent Speech from the Throne and has quickly delivered on this promise. This bill is a central part of the government's contribution to addressing the issue of cyberbullying and is a key element of the government's agenda to support victims and punish criminals.
It will not come as a surprise to most people to learn that Canadians have fully embraced the Internet and other mobile communication technologies, such as smart phones and social media, for communicating with friends and family, making new social connections, seeking information and creating websites and blogs.
While most people use the Internet in a constructive manner, there have been an increasing number of heartbreaking stories where young people, in particular, are using the Internet or other electronic media to engage in malicious conduct that leads to serious repercussions for the victim.
Although the issue of bullying itself is an age-old problem, technology has irrevocably changed the nature and scope of bullying. For example, bullying conducted by electronic means is easier, faster and more malicious than ever before. It also has the potential to remain in cyberspace permanently and can be done anonymously.
Over the past few years, cyberbullying is alleged to have played a part in the decision of some young people to take their own lives. These stories are heartbreaking, and I am sure I speak for all Canadians when I express our collective sorrow for these tragic events.
However, these incidents also prompt us as lawmakers to ask what we can do. What can the federal government do to prevent similar tragedies or at least ensure that we can effectively respond to these events if they occur again?
This was the exact question considered this past spring by a federal, provincial and territorial working group on cybercrime. The working group studied and considered whether or not cyberbullying was adequately addressed by the Criminal Code and whether or not there are any gaps that need to be filled.
In July, the Department of Justice, on behalf of all federal, provincial and territorial partners, publicly released the report on cyberbullying and the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.
This working group made nine unanimous recommendations with respect to the criminal law response to cyberbullying. I think it is significant to note that the very first recommendation in the report calls for a multi-pronged and multi-sectoral approach to the issue of cyberbullying and calls for all levels of government to continue to build on their initiatives to address cyberbullying in a comprehensive manner.
I wholeheartedly support this recommendation as it recognizes that cyberbullying cannot be adequately addressed by one initiative, by one level of government. In fact, most experts agree that bullying and cyberbullying are most effectively addressed through education, awareness and prevention activities. Criminal law reform represents a small but key part in this multi-sectoral approach.
Returning to the bill that is currently before us today, I am pleased to note that all of the proposals contained in the bill were recommended by the federal, provincial and territorial working group and are supported by provincial and territorial attorneys general.
The bill has two main goals: to create the new Criminal Code offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images, and to modernize the investigative powers in the Criminal Code to enable the police to effectively and efficiently investigate cyberbullying and other crimes committed via the Internet or that involve electronic evidence.
I ask all the members who have intervened so far and those who will speak following me to consider actually how the police would be able to investigate some of these cyberbullying offences, including the situation that happened in the Amanda Todd case, if we did not have these investigative powers, if the police were not able to preserve the evidence, if the police were not able to track the location of the individual who sent the bullying messages. We all know that Amanda Todd's tormentor is still at large. Would it not be nice if we could locate that person and bring him or her to justice?
I would like to focus the remainder of my remarks on the proposed new offence. The proposed offence would fill a gap related to a form of serious cyberbullying behaviour with respect to the sharing or distribution of nude or sexual images that are later used without the consent of the person depicted.
I think it is important to emphasize that the goal of this offence is not to criminalize the making of these images or even the consensual sharing of these images, such as between intimate partners or friends. Rather, this offence would focus on the behaviour that is more often becoming associated with these images, the distribution of them without the consent of the person depicted.
Quite often, the perpetrator of this behaviour is the ex-partner or ex-spouse of the person depicted in the images who is seeking revenge or looking to humiliate or harass him or her. Specifically, this new offence would prohibit all forms of distribution of these types of images without the consent of the person depicted. To secure a conviction for this offence, a prosecutor would be required to prove that the accused knowingly distributed the images and that the accused distributed the images either knowing the person depicted did not consent to this distribution or being reckless as to whether the person consented.
A key element of the proposed offence is the nature of the image itself. The bill proposes a three part definition of “intimate image” to guide the court in determining whether a particular image is one that could be a subject of the proposed offence. An intimate image is one in which the person depicted was nude or exposing his or her sexual organs or anal region or engaged in explicit sexual activity. The Criminal Code uses similar definitions in the voyeurism section, which is section 162, and the child pornography section, which is section 163.
However, the content of the image on its own would not be enough to qualify the image as an intimate image. The court would also need to be satisfied that the image was one that was taken in circumstances that gave rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy and that the person depicted in that image still retained a reasonable expectation of privacy in the image.
These two elements are key to ensuring that the proposed offence is not cast too broadly and does not capture images in which there could be no reasonable privacy interest. For example, if a person took sexual images of him or herself in the privacy of his or her own home for the individual's own personal use, the image would likely be found to be an intimate image. However, if that same person then posted those images on a public website, it is less likely that the court would find that the individual would retain a reasonable expectation of privacy, despite the fact that the initial recording of the image was privately done.
The proposed offence would be supported by several complementary amendments in the Criminal Code to provide protection to victims of this particularly contemptible form of cyberbullying. These complementary amendments would permit the court to order the removal of intimate images from the Internet and other digital networks, as well as make an order for restitution to cover some of the expenses incurred in having those images removed.
Further, the court would be empowered to order the forfeiture of tools or property used in the commission of the offence, such as a Smartphone or computer, as well as a prohibition order to restrict the use of a computer or the Internet by a convicted offender. This prohibition order would be essentially useful in cases of repeat offenders.
The legislation also proposes to permit the court to issue a peace bond against a person who has intimate images in his or her possession where there are reasonable grounds to fear that the new offence would be committed by that person. The proposed new offence and complementary amendments fill an existing gap in the criminal law and aim to provide broad protection to victims of this behaviour.
The point I just mentioned about getting a prohibition order against the use of these images when we know the person already has the images is very important. Now we will be able to intervene in a situation where we know these images exist and we suspect that a person might be about to use them for a bullying purpose and therefore we will be able to get them before they go out on the Internet, and that is very important.
I would like to refer to a couple of comments that Canadians have made about this bill since its introduction a couple of weeks ago. On November 20, Carol Todd, the mother of Amanda Todd, said:
It's a step in the right direction. The only thing that was going through my mind was that if this was in place three years ago when I first started reporting the things that were happening to Amanda…I think my daughter would be here.
Lianna McDonald of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection said that Bill C-13 “will assist in stopping the misuse of technology and help numerous young people impacted and devastated by this type of victimization”.
David Butt, counsel to the Kids' Internet Safety Alliance, said in The Globe and Mail on November 21, “the new bill is a great improvement over trying to fit the round peg of this particular problem into the square hole of our existing child pornography laws”.
On November 21 on CTV News, Allan Hubley, Ottawa city councillor and father of an unfortunate bullied teen who took his own life, said:
When we were younger, you always knew who your bully was, you could do something about it. Now, up until the time this legislation gets enacted, they can hide behind that.
I want to point out he was talking about the timing of the passing of this legislation. He further said, “Not only does it start to take the mask off of them, through this legislation there is serious consequences for their actions”.
In addition, on November 21 in The Huffington Post, Mr. Glen Canning, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons, said:
I am very grateful to hear that [Minister of Justice] and Public Safety Minister...have announced new legislation that will address this disgusting crime that devastated our daughter Rehtaeh.
In addition, the editorial in The Province newspaper on November 22 read as follows:
Changes in the law proposed in the bill will allow the police to drag the predators behind these awful crimes out from the shadows and into the blazing light of justice in courtrooms. Many will go to jail, which is right.
Finally, I would like to note that Mr. Gil Zvulony, a well-known Toronto Internet lawyer, said, “there is a logical theme to all of this, in the sense that it’s trying to modernize [the code] for the digital age”.
While this legislation is not a complete answer to the broad social phenomenon that is cyberbullying, it is a key piece of the broader response to address this complex issue. I strongly urge all members of the House to support it.