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It’s Time for Canada to Get Serious About Revenge Porn

Why every province needs to follow Manitoba’s lead on revenge porn laws.

Jordan Pearson

Jordan Pearson

Image: Flickr/Sodani Chea

On Monday, Canada's first ever law allowing victims of "revenge porn" to sue perpetrators in civil court came into effect in Manitoba.

So-called "revenge porn," or non-consensual pornography, happens when a jilted ex or other party posts intimate images or video to the internet without the subject's explicit permission. In the US, people who operate sites that host revenge porn, such as the infamous Hunter Moore, have been penalized for their actions.

Here's why every province needs to follow suit, right now: not only does Manitoba's new Intimate Image Protection Act give victims the power to take opportunistic jerks to court—in addition to filing criminal charges—it also torpedoes two key defences that perpetrators in provinces lacking specific laws for revenge porn can use to defend themselves.

"You can sue under a common law tort in Ontario, but the question becomes what the defence will be—consent or ownership," said Michael Power, a Toronto-based privacy lawyer. "What Manitoba's law does, and I think this is the benefit, is that it cuts out those two defences immediately."

In Ontario, for example, a revenge porn victim may sue based on a claim of "intrusion upon seclusion," a precedent first established in a 2012 case. But this leaves the perpetrator with the ability to defend themselves by raising issues of consent and ownership, Power said. The perpetrator may argue that since the images were provided voluntarily, they were not wrong to post them.

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In Manitoba, this is now a moot point. With the new law, if the victim did not explicitly consent to the distribution of their intimate images, then there's grounds for a lawsuit. Consent is not at issue.

Having sexual images posted to the web without consent can cause extreme psychological stress for victims and expose them to real-life harassment. While many states in the US have passed laws specifically addressing revenge porn, up until now, Canada's response to the issue has been middling.

Bill C-13, which came into effect in 2014, effectively criminalized revenge porn, but drew criticism from even the staunchest anti-revenge porn advocates because it folded in all sorts of snooping provisions for federal agencies.

On the civil front, many provinces don't have any sort of specific tort for revenge porn that victims can use to sue. In British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland, for example, victims must sue using existing privacy laws, Power said.

"Any kind of tool or legislative mechanism that discourages reckless behaviour in posting images on the internet that can't be taken back is a very positive development in society," Power said.