Cybermisogyny is an issue I take incredibly seriously. I’ve been a target occasionally and only once to the extent I felt I had to call the police, but I know far, far too many women who live in fear of having their private images shared online by vengeful exes, who have been hounded from their homes by threats and/or who deal with “always-on stalkers”, and all this while having no confidence that our legal system will care.
It has to stop. We need action from our governments. But the Conservatives’ Bill C-13, the so-called “Cyberbullying Bill,” is not the solution, not in its current form.
Earlier this year the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF) put out an in-depth report on what needs to happen to tackle cybermisogyny in Canada. On C-13, they noted that it is “extremely unfortunate” that the bill would make “protecting the rights of women and girls contingent on also enacting privacy infringing provisions that are likely unconstitutional.” Toronto feminist activist Steph Guthrie has also spoken out against the sweeping surveillance provisions in the bill, noting their similarity to those contained in a failed 2012 bill, C-30:
“I realized, as many Canadians realized, that most of Bill C-13 is not really about what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons. Buried within C-13 is a set of decent Criminal Code amendments to tackle cyber-sexual assault…One of the most troubling provisions in Bill C-30 was that it mandated the disclosure of user information to police without a search warrant. The newly designed provision in Bill C-13 very cleverly softens this, instead stating that police can request information, and the person or organization to whom they direct their request can voluntarily comply. However, the very next provision in Bill C-13 removes all civil and criminal liability for anyone who discloses another person’s information to police upon request.”
For almost a year, organizations, lawyers, academics, and even Canada’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 proliferation of online gender-based hate speech.
The Conservatives are trying to use public outrage over what happened to Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd to sneak through new and very problematic powers for police and courts. That makes me super mad. Even Amanda Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, has told the government: “We should not have to choose between our privacy and our safety.” But the government has not listened and the bill has proceeded, with its threats to privacy rights intact. It only needs to be voted on once more by MPs before proceeding to the Senate.
It’s painful to feel that the very necessary parts of this bill can’t be salvaged, but now we must urge our Members of Parliament to defeat C-13, since the government would not allow the worst parts of it to be split off.
I’m proud to have signed on to West Coast LEAF’s open letter on C-13 (text below). It was sent to all MPs on Friday and is signed by a number of non-profits who work on women’s issues, and feminist activists.
The vote is taking place tomorrow (Monday). Your Member of Parliament needs to hear from you if you want them to vote against this bill.
Following Steph Guthrie’s lead, I’m encouraging all of you take just a couple of minutes to copy and paste this letter into an email, add your name, and send it to your MP. You can find your MP’s contact info here. If you can phone their office on Monday morning as well, even better.
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*
*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.
“Artists-impressions-of-Lady-Justice, (statue on the Old Bailey, London)” by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Lonpicman – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_Of_%27Justice%27_Old_Bailey.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.