Proposed legislation that would make it illegal to distribute intimate images without the consent of the person in the photo was announced in Ottawa today by Justice Minster Peter MacKay.
The news follows the the high profile deaths of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, Canadian teens who took their own lives after being bullied online.
"It's an insidious form of cybercrime that ruins lives," MacKay said. "It's a crime where a simple click of a button can have irreversible, irreparable repercussions for youth."
The parents of Amanda and Rehtaeh said they felt helpless after repeatedly reporting the harassment to police.
"What we're saying today is that help is available," said MacKay.
He called on educators, parents and children to work together to stop cyberbullying. "Even if a victim changes schools, moves to another community or another country, they will never know who is aware of those incidents or images," he said.
If passed, the legislation would also empower courts to seize computers, cellphones and other devices used in the offence and provide for reimbursement of costs related to removing the images from the internet.
It would also compel the spouse of an accused person to testify against the accused in court.
The legislation defines an "intimate image" as one that "depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activity or that depicts a sexual organ, anal region or breast."
"The same technology that can open a victim to ridicule can also keep a bully anonymous," said MacKay. "There's a helplessness when victims feel that they cannot undo what has been done."
MacKay rejected suggestions that the legislation is so broad that it could outlaw the transmission of intimate text messages, or "sexting."
MacKay said he wants to modernize the Criminal Code to give police and Crown attorneys more power to investigate cyberbullying.
Mother applauds move
Amanda Todd took her own life in October 2012 after nearly two years of being the target of sexual extortion. An image of her topless was sent to her Facebook friends, including her mother, Carol Todd.
"It's a step in the right direction," Carol Todd said about the proposed cyberbullying law. "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.
"It's not only my family that I care about, it’s about every other family in Canada."
Todd hopes the legislation will be passed and send a message to anyone considering spreading intimate images.
"If there's some morality and legal consequences, maybe it will change the way they think before they write something and hit send."