Last Monday, March 6, 2023, our Attorney General Niki Sharma gave first reading to the Intimate Images Protection Act, a bill that enables British Columbia to reclaim control over their intimate images online.
The Attorney General began her introduction of the Bill by pointing out that it can be normal for intimate, consenting partners to share nude or nearly nude sexualized images. However, she stated, when those images are shared non-consensually, “it is a devastating form of sexualized violence that disproportionately impacts young people, women, girls and gender-diverse people.” Distributing intimate images without consent strips a person of their privacy and autonomy, and the consequences can be severe, far-reaching, and long-lasting.
The proposed Intimate Images Protection Act would give persons who have experienced the harm of having their intimate images distributed without consent the ability to stop the distribution by applying for an expedited intimate image protection order from BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal or Supreme Court. If the applicant for an order advises the tribunal or court that they are the person in the image and that they do not consent to the image being shared, the tribunal or court can order that the person who distributed the image destroy and delete it, and make all reasonable efforts to make the image unavailable to others. The tribunal or court can also order that any “internet intermediaries” (such as google, onlyfans, etc) remove the image, delete or destroy it, and de-index it from internet search engines.
And when it comes to consent, there is a provision in the Bill which affirms that consent can be revoked. Even if at one time, the person in the image told the distributor they consented to the image being shared, the legislation affirms the ongoing nature of consent – it can always be revoked. If you consented years ago to your image being shared and you now want it taken down from the internet, that is your right. You need only advise the distributor of your image and the tribunal that you do not consent to it being shared.
The Bill makes it unlawful not only to share intimate images without consent, but to threaten to share those images. If someone is threatening to distribute a person’s intimate image without their consent, that person can also apply for an order that the one making the threats refrain from sharing the image and delete and destroy the image.
Orders made by the tribunal or court are binding on whoever they are directed at. If the order is made at the civil resolution tribunal, it can be filed at the Supreme Court and enforceable as if it is an order of the Supreme Court. That means those who do not obey these orders could end up in contempt of court, which carries serious legal repercussions.
Privacy is of course a concern with this legislation. Thus, in most cases, there is an automatic publication ban provision for applicants aimed at providing reassurance that taking legal action will not result in their name being shared publicly. Distributors of intimate images are not protected from the publication ban unless they are a minor or the court or tribunal sees other reasons for protecting their identity.
Provisions in the Bill allow persons who have had their intimate images distributed non-consensually or received threats that their image will be distributed to apply to the tribunal or court for damages. That means that if the legislation comes into force, you can claim that a distributor of your intimate image pay you compensation for having done so. You can also claim compensation if they only threaten to distribute the image
One interesting thing about the legislation is that if it comes into force, it will be retrospective. Wrongdoers are on notice as of last Monday that their conduct is unlawful if they are distributing intimate images non-consensually. Those depicted in images will be able to apply for orders after the legislation comes into force for any wrongdoer conduct that is occurring right now. The Attorney General stated the following about this: “people who distribute or threaten to distribute intimate images without consent are on notice that they will face new legal consequences even if the wrongful conduct happens before the legislation comes into force.”
Since the Bill has been introduced for First Reading by the Attorney General, it is likely that it will actually come into force. New legislation in BC needs to go through a first, second, and third reading at the legislative assembly before it receives royal assent and comes into force. Sometimes this process only takes a few weeks, sometimes it can take longer. Here’s hoping it comes into force soon.