Nova Scotia has a system to help people remove online intimate images. But some say it's falling short 14 March 2023 11:51 AM: A new report finds that Nova Scotians with intimate images posted online without consent are bypassing the province's cyberbullying support system and attempting to take matters into their own hands.

Alexandra Dodge, a digital criminologist at Saint Mary's University, said the problem is bad enough that many people in the situation are unaware the province has a system designed to help them.

Nova Scotia's existing support system is called CyberScan.

It was created in 2013 after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons in response to the issue of cyberbullying with intimate images. Parsons, a former Cole Harbour District High School student, died shortly after attempting suicide after an intimate photo of her was circulated. 

Dodge says the system was well known when it was established but less so now, and the problem of intimate images online continues to rise.

"They don't necessarily have all of the resources that they need to be able to respond to the real variety of cases that they're being contacted about," she said.

Numbers leap

In Halifax, the number of reported cases nearly doubled in the last five years, from 12 in 2018 to 23 in 2022, according to Halifax Regional Police.

The number of reported cases outside of the city also nearly doubled. Nova Scotia RCMP say they responded to 71 cases in 2018 and 130 in 2022. 

It is unclear how many of the images were taken down. 

Dodge says many people don't report the crime because they want their images taken down without legal intervention. She says the province needs a technical support team that is dedicated solely to removing the images. 

Current system puts barriers for youth

Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser says the province's legislation creates barriers for youth in particular.

He says after the legislation was changed in 2018 for being unconstitutional, the process became too cumbersome for youth. 

A man wearing a suit standing in a conference room.
Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser says there are many improvements that could be made to the Nova Scotia's Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act. (Robert Short/CBC)

He says "the pendulum swung a little bit too far in the other direction."

He says young people need to be able to act without a parent or guardian's consent.

Right now, if a youth wants to go to court, the process requires a notice of application, an affidavit and someone to litigate on the victim's behalf.

Previously, applications could have been brought by the CyberScan unit. That power has been taken away.

Fraser said his recommendations to lower the barriers for youth were not approved when Nova Scotia completed a review of the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act that replaced the Cyber-safety Act created in 2013. 

"The government could have lowered that barrier or put in place additional measures or provided, for example, free legal counsel, particularly for young people in order to commence these applications," said Fraser.

He also says Nova Scotia needs to address concerns around artificial intelligence. 

British Columbia's new bill recognizes images altered with artificial intelligence as intimate images. Fraser says that is something Nova Scotia could tweak in its legislation. 

"We're seeing a growing phenomenon of something called deep fakes … showing somebody in an intimate situation that they weren't actually in."

A woman wearing a cap standing outside a university.
Jean-Mari Hattingh was a victim of cyberbullying after an intimate image of her was shared online when she was 13. The law student at Dalhousie University says she is still traumatized by it. (Robert Short/CBC)

Victim calls for support

Jean-Mari Hattingh's intimate images were posted online when she was 13 and living outside of Canada.

She says she is frightened every time her phone buzzes and an unknown number pops on her screen.

She is a Dalhousie University law student now. She says Nova Scotia needs to put resources into pulling images down because it traumatizes a victim forever.

She is studying law to change things for victims who have had a similar experience.

"This kind of stuff needs to be taken seriously.… Just having resources given to you by the police isn't necessarily going to help solve the trauma.

"The suffering and the pain that you go through with having to … show up to school, and having these people know you and see these … very intimate photos of you, and them to harass you and mock you, it's just not right and it's not fair on anybody."


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