When I read West Coast LEAF’s incredible report this summer, #CyberMisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate and Harassment Online, I felt like I had found an institutional kindred spirit. I knew we agreed that cyber-sexual assault (aka: “revenge porn”) should be criminalized but Bill C-13 was not the way to do it (more on that here and here). I connected with them and we decided to collaborate on additional efforts to stop the bill without throwing out the cyber-sexual assault law baby with the state surveillance bathwater. Today, their legal team sent all MPs this excellent open letter that I’m proud to sign.
On Monday, the House of Commons votes on Bill C-13. If it passes, which it very likely will, it proceeds to the Senate. If you don’t want Bill C-13 to pass, please, take three minutes this weekend to copy and paste this letter into an email, add your name, and send it to your MP. Find your MP’s contact info here. Feel free to leave your name (and if you wish, an affiliation) in the comments if you’d like it to be added to this blog post.
October 17, 2014
An Open Letter to Members of Parliament
On Monday, October 20, you will be asked to vote on Bill C-13: The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. We the undersigned individuals and organizations concerned with women’s equality online call on you to vote against this flawed piece of legislation and demand accountability for cyber-stalkers and harassers that does not unduly infringe privacy rights.
Since Bill C-13 was first tabled in November 2013, dozens of community organizations, internet privacy experts, lawyers, academics, and the country’s Privacy Commissioner have called on the federal government to split the bill into two, and to pass the provisions that address the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and gender-based hate speech online. The provisions expanding warrantless access to internet subscriber information, a practice recently held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Spencer, must, at the very least, be subjected to additional scrutiny and analysis by constitutional experts.
Addressing the non-consensual distribution of intimate images – a form of sexualized violence targeted mainly at women and girls – is absolutely critical. While a criminal law response is only one part of the solution, the provisions of Bill C-13 making it an offence to share an intimate image of someone without their consent are a critical component of accountability for those who would use the Internet to shame, harass, and intimidate women and girls. Making the non-consensual distribution of intimate images a criminal offence is a much-needed and overdue legal reform. Passage of such a law would send a strong message to would-be abusers and hackers that this behaviour is criminal in nature and will not be ignored. It would also strengthen the legal response to these kinds of cases, and encourage victims to come forward when they have been targeted. Had such targeted legislation been proposed, we would have been pleased to support it, and have little doubt it would have passed easily into law.
Instead, however, Bill C-13 gives police easier access to the metadata that internet service providers keep on their customers, and would give immunity to companies that turn this kind of information over to police without a warrant. As you have heard from countless experts already, including some of the undersigned organizations,1 these provisions are deeply problematic and are likely unconstitutional.
The safety and security of women and girls and their right to express themselves online require that police and the criminal justice system are equipped with the tools they need to fight cyber misogyny and gender-based abuse online. However, Bill C-13 goes too far. As Carol Todd, the mother of a teen girl who was subjected to months of online harassment and sexual extortion before committing suicide as a result, told the parliamentary committee reviewing this bill: “We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety. We should not have to sacrifice our children’s privacy rights to make them safe from cyberbullying, ‘sextortion’ and revenge pornography.”
Please vote against Bill C-13 on Monday, and demand instead a legislative response to cyber misogyny that holds online harassers and abusers accountable, without undue sacrifice of internet users’ privacy rights.
Action Canada for Population and Development
Amata Transition House
Atira Women’s Resource Society
Battered Women’s Support Services
BC Society of Transition Houses
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
Canadian Federation for Sexual Health
National Association of Women and the Law
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Parent Support Services Society of BC
Salmo Community Resource Services
Second Story Women’s Centre
Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund
Ann Rauhala, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Ryerson University
Colleen Westendorf, Former co-organizer for SlutWalk Toronto, feminist, writer
Emma Woolley, columnist on gender & technology with the Globe and Mail
Liane Balaban, founder of Crankytown.com
Jarrah Hodge, Canadian feminist blogger and Editor of Gender-Focus.com
Jennie Faber, Director, Dames Making Games
Jesse Hirsh, President Metaviews.ca
Julie S. Lalonde, advocate for sexual assault survivors
Lyndsay Kirkham, Professor of English, Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Humber College
Sarah Ratchford, Lady Business columnist, Vice Canada
Soraya Chemaly, writer and activist
Steph Guthrie, feminist advocate, founder of Women in Toronto Politics
Tracey Young, MSW, RSW, Social work advocate, Catalyst Enterprises BC
Joyce Pielou, BSW, Child and Family Counsellor*
Charan Gill, CEO, Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS)*
Alison Mills, feminist activist*
Ramona Pringle, digital producer*
*Signed on after letter was sent to MPs and published online.
1 See e.g. West Coast LEAF, #CyberMisogyny: Using and Strengthening Canadian Legal Responses to Gendered Hate and Harassment Online (June 2014), online; and West Coast LEAF’s submission to the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Bill C-13 (May 2014) online.