BRIDGEWATER, N.S. – The high-profile trial of six Nova Scotia teens charged with sharing intimate images of at least 20 high school girls should serve as a cautionary tale for other young people, a prosecutor says.
Crown attorney Peter Dostal said it’s hoped it will both encourage alleged victims to come forward to report similar cases, and show the consequences of sharing images without consent.
“What the hope would be is that the presence of these individuals going through court does make live the fact that these aren’t consequence-less acts and that there are real victims who can suffer real harms,” he said after a Bridgewater provincial court hearing Wednesday.
The case was put over to Oct. 19 to allow lawyers time to receive more of the disclosure, which includes thousands of pages of evidence from several electronic devices that were seized in the lengthy investigation.
Two 18-year-olds and four 15-year-olds are facing charges of distributing intimate images without consent and possessing and distributing child pornography. Their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The lawyer for one teen says he hopes the case can proceed quickly to shield all of the young people from the fallout.
Alan Ferrier said the case has already been affecting the alleged victims and accused for more than a year, following a lengthy investigation into allegations that images of teen girls were circulated after allegedly being shared without their consent in a Dropbox account.
“You’re talking about young people whose lives are in the balance,” he said. “The consequences for young people in their lives is enormous, so it’s been a long haul for them already.”
The case is one of the first in Canada involving legislation introduced in late 2013 after the high-profile death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons. The 17-year-old attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo of what her family says was a sexual assault was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.
Dostal said that while the alleged offences may not be unique, the law used to prosecute the crime of distributing such images has given the legal system an updated tool to address the problem.
“I don’t believe this conduct in and of itself is new,” he said. “However, I think that it’s only in recent years that we’ve begun catching up on investigative techniques and tools that get to the bottom of the any type of conduct that may delve into the criminal field.”
Bridgewater Police Chief John Collyer said in July he couldn’t speculate on what motivated the alleged sharing of the images, though he said police do not believe any money was involved.
“It’s a fairly complex issue,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things taking place here … I think it’s fair to say that in some cases pressure was brought to bear.”
After complaints came in from school officials, investigators seized a number of electronic devices — mainly cellphones — and handed them to the RCMP Technological Crime Unit for analysis.
The Mounties found more photos, and a search warrant was drafted to obtain information from Dropbox, a U.S.-based file-sharing service, said Collyer. Using an international treaty, Canadian officials obtained the files through the FBI, but that took a considerable amount of time, the chief said.
Collyer is currently on administrative leave while investigators look into allegations of sexual assault and obstruction of justice. Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, or SIRT, announced in August it was investigating information from an outside police force about the incidents.