Indigenous

Ontario police watchdog orders probe into handling of revenge porn case

Ontario's police watchdog has ordered a city police force to probe its handling of a revenge porn complaint where two weeks went by before investigators took any action, during which time the photos continued to spread over social media.

Email shows 2 weeks passed between date of complaint and police request to Facebook to remove images

Brooke Garlow of Cornwall, Ont., says a delay by local police on her revenge porn complaint made things worse. (Submitted by Brooke Garlow)

Ontario's police watchdog has ordered a city police force to probe its handling of a revenge porn complaint where two weeks went by before investigators took any action, during which time the photos continued to spread over social media.

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) said it would oversee the investigation by the Cornwall Community Police Service into its handling of a complaint by Brooke Garlow, 38, according to an Oct. 24-dated letter provided to CBC News.

Garlow, a mother of four, said after she went to Cornwall police it took two weeks before they moved to have eight of her intimate photos removed from Facebook. She said the delay allowed the images to spread to potentially tens of thousands of people through the Messenger app. 

Garlow said she had sent the images to an ex-partner more than a year ago.

Garlow said she filed a complaint with the OIPRD because the police inaction took a heavy toll on her life.

Garlow said she was forced to do her shopping out of town because strangers would recognize her from the photos. The images were also sent to her children's Facebook friends, she said.

"They are recognizing that there is an issue and that things weren't done that should have been done," said Garlow of the OIPRD order.

"I hope they find the officers that were involved guilty and held responsible for their lack of actions that should have taken place in the situation involving my matter."

Cornwall police spokesperson Stephanie MacRae said the police would be "fully co-operating" with the OIPRD.

MacRae said the Cornwall police continues to investigate Garlow's revenge porn complaint, but can't comment on the matter.

Focus on interactions with police

OIPRD said in its letter that the investigation would focus on Garlow's interactions with Cornwall police between July 23, the date she contacted officers about her revenge porn complaint, and July 26.

A screen shot of the second Facebook account created to spread Brooke Garlow's intimate images. (Submitted by Brooke Garlow)

Garlow said she contacted police shortly after 11:30 a.m. on July 23 when she discovered her intimate photos were spreading through Facebook Messenger. She did not speak with an officer until about 10 p.m. that evening.

Garlow asked police repeatedly over the next three days to act on her complaint as the photos continued to spread.

In a previous interview with CBC News, Garlow said she was told the only investigator trained to handle her type of case was on vacation.

MacRae has said the Cornwall police has two officers trained to deal with online crime.

Police contact Facebook

Cornwall Police opened a file on Garlow's complaint on July 23 but did not contact Facebook to have the photos removed until Aug. 7, according to a police email provided to CBC News.

Det/Const. Matthew Lemire, with the police's sexual assault, child abuse and internet child exploitation unit, sent an email to Facebook at 11:14 a.m. that day asking the social media company to deactivate two accounts and delete the images.

"At least two Facebook accounts have been responsible for distributing nude photographs of our victim to all of her contacts and friends without our victim's consent," said Lemire's email.

"These images have been distributed by the below listed accounts to thousands of contacts."

Lemire said in the email he "preserved these two accounts" using Facebook's law enforcement portal. Lemire said he also planned to use production orders for subscriber information and IP logs, according to the email.

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About the Author

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.