Amanda Todd sextortion case sets precedent, but more needs to be done, experts say
The conviction of Aydin Coban for the “sextortion” of British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd has prompted calls from lawyers and advocates for more regulation, resources and education in Canada to protect future victims.
Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said Todd's case served as a warning, but Canada “failed to act.”
“Looking back, essentially nothing has been done to be proactive and actually address the issues that put kids at risk every day: platforms that allow anonymous adults to interact with our children in unsupervised digital spaces, any time or anywhere,” she said in a statement.
Coban, a Dutch national, was convicted on Saturday of extortion, harassment, communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence and possession and distribution of child pornography in relation to Todd.
She was 15 when she died by suicide in 2012, after years of harassment from 22 social media accounts that Crown attorneys said were controlled by Coban.
His sentencing hearing will be held in B.C. Supreme Court in September.
The jury's decision came days after Statistics Canada released data showing that police-reported extortion cases rose by nearly 300 per cent in the last decade. Police across the country have also been issuing warnings to the public about a drastic increase in sextortion scams targeting youth.
Monique St. Germain, general counsel with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said the organization was “very pleased” with the Coban verdict.
But it is calling for more regulation of social media companies, like Snapchat and Instagram, where the organization has found most of the harm to children occurs.
“We need governments to step in, and to put some guardrails in place with the tech industry so that we have safer products in the marketplace,” she said in an interview.
“If we take our child to a playground and they play on a play structure, we have trust in the fact that the manufacturers of that play structure have had to abide by certain laws to make that structure safe for our children to play on. It shouldn't be any different for the technology industry.”
Snapchat announced a new feature in Canada this week called Family Center that it says will “help parents get more insight into who their teens are friends with on Snapchat, and who they have been communicating with, without revealing any of the substance of those conversations.”
The Winnipeg-based Centre for Child Protection runs Cybertip, Canada's tip line for reporting online child sexual abuse. It said it has received “an unprecedented volume of reports from youth and sometimes their concerned parents about falling prey to aggressive sextortion tactics,” amounting to about 300 online extortion cases a month.
“Parents cannot keep up. Police cannot keep up,” St. Germain said.
Todd's mother, Carol Todd, has said the type of extortion her daughter suffered has become a global problem that needs to be better addressed by governments and law enforcement.
Her daughter's suicide gained international attention in 2012. Amanda Todd had posted a video in which she used flash cards to describe being tormented by an anonymous harasser. It has been watched nearly 15 million times.
Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, was first introduced in 2013, following Todd's death, and aimed to combat online harassment by making it illegal to distribute intimate images of a person without their consent. At the time, Carol Todd criticized the privacy-related provisions in the bill.
“It's been 10 years since Bill C-13 was introduced. It needs to be revamped, and the word sextortion needs to be put in the Criminal Code somewhere,” Carol Todd said in an interview Friday, before Coban's conviction. “That's what we'll learn from this.”
But David Fraser, an internet and privacy lawyer with the Canadian law firm McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said creating a new law specific to sextortion isn't necessary, something made evident by Coban's conviction.
He said generalized laws allow police to pursue charges more freely, because technological advancements far outpace law-making. He did, however, identify two benefits to proscribing sextortion explicitly: clarity for law enforcement and recognition for victims and the emotional harm they endured.
“Extortion that takes place online is still Criminal Code extortion,” he said. “It's worth a conversation, but I did say shortly after the death of Amanda Todd that our laws were sufficient to take care of that. What failed her, it appears, was the legal system rather than the laws.”
Fraser said police have often failed to translate existing laws into an online context and he is calling for more resources and training for law enforcement.
“I believe that what was not in place at the time, unfortunately, when Amanda Todd was alive, was the will to investigate and prosecute the offence,” he said. “The fact that it worked here will hopefully foster and spur on perhaps a higher level of willingness to engage in and pursue investigations where the victim is in Canada, but the perpetrator is likely outside of the country.”
Coban was extradited to Canada in 2020 from the Netherlands, where he had been convicted of similar allegations to those in the Todd case. He was sentenced in Amsterdam in 2017 to almost 11 years in prison for cyberbullying dozens of young girls and gay men.
Darren Laur, chief training officer at White Hatter, an internet safety and digital literacy education company based in Victoria, said he wasn't surprised by the verdict given the evidence, and is pleased that it has established precedent.
“It's good to see that with this conviction, it does create case law specific to sextortion under existing extortion laws. The laws have been there. We've just been waiting for cases to go to court to create case law to support the Criminal Code,” Laur said.
“What a lot of people don't understand is that the laws in the Criminal Code are drafted by government, but it's up to the courts to interpret the law and that's what case law is all about.”
Laur, who is a retired Victoria police sergeant, echoed Fraser's calls for more police resources and for more public education and understanding of virtual crimes.
“Police in our country don't have the time, resources or training to investigate these types of crimes,” he said. “We also need to continue to educate our age-appropriate kids in a scaffolded way about what this type of crime and other crimes are.”
The Department of Canadian Heritage said in a statement the federal government is working to create an approach to address harmful content online, including the possibility of a regulatory body.
“Canadians should be able to express themselves freely and openly without fear of harm online,” it said in the statement. “The Government of Canada is committed to taking the time to get this issue right and continuing to engage Canadians, stakeholders, and affected groups every step of the way on the road to tabling legislation as soon as possible.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
For the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, CTVNews.ca spoke to several Indigenous leaders about feelings around the day more than a year since the suspected gravesites made world news, and in the weeks following Queen Elizabeth II death that took over the news cycle during a month when decolonization is meant to be top of mind.
Friday is the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day. The federal government made Sept. 30 a statutory holiday for its workers and federally regulated workplaces last year.
On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, a recent investigation into the death of a 32-year-old Indigenous man is a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle for justice that continues to elude the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nations.
The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says today's National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is about the survivors of Canada's residential schools and the children who died in them and never made it home.
Indigenous leaders in Quebec are lamenting the fact that priorities for their communities have been largely ignored during the provincial election campaign.
A revived Hurricane Ian set its sights on South Carolina's coast Friday and the historic city of Charleston, with forecasters predicting a storm surge and floods after the megastorm caused catastrophic damage in Florida and left people trapped in their homes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the process of annexing parts of Ukraine by saying he would sign laws to absorb them despite international condemnation and protect the newly incorporated regions using 'all available means.'
The Conservatives' cheeky term for inflation under the Liberals has got some MPs into trouble in the House of Commons, where saying 'Justinflation' has been deemed verboten.
Saturday at 7 p.m.: CTV W5 investigates the war with wild pigs, a destructive invasive species that has spread throughout the world and now threatens to move into some Canadian cities.
Little to no rainfall over the past five weeks in several areas of British Columbia has prompted a warning from the Ministry of Forests about drought. The ministry says Vancouver Island, the inner south coast and the northeast corner of the province have reached the second-most severe level of drought on a five-point rating scale.
Officers with the Saanich Police Department are seeking the public's assistance in locating a missing youth. Police are searching for 17-year-old Zenaeh Edwards-Helgason, who was reported missing on Sept. 21 and was last seen on the afternoon of Sept. 24 at Mayfair Shopping Centre.
A man in a wheelchair was airlifted to hospital in Vancouver on Wednesday after he was struck by a pickup truck in Nanaimo, B.C. Mounties are still investigating the cause of the crash near the intersection of Railway Avenue and Fifth Street.
Calgary's own Tegan and Sara call their upcoming Amazon series a "love letter to the '90s."
The number of people moving to Alberta is outpacing those who are leaving by a margin not seen in nearly eight years and some new residents are celebrating their choice to move.
An investigation is underway into the suspected Thursday morning homicide of a little girl in a southeast Calgary neighbourhood.
A resident of south Edmonton fought back tears Thursday as he described how he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on a cryptocurrency investment that he is now certain was a scam.
After several years of negotiations, Alberta doctors and the province have reached an agreement.
A group of downtown Edmonton business owners and neighbourhood leaders says the core desperately requires safety solutions, or the area is at risk of permanently losing investment.
The Ontario Provincial Police are appealing for a driver to come forward after they allegedly walked away from the scene of a crash that left a female dead and three others injured in Vaughan early Friday morning.
The second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is here and there are some things you should know about who gets the day off in Ontario.
Sunwing flight attendant says she saved passenger's life mid-air as pilot made emergency landing in Toronto
A Sunwing flight attendant saved a passenger's life who went into cardiac arrest as a pilot made an emergency landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport this week.
Indigenous leaders in Quebec are lamenting the fact that priorities for their communities have been largely ignored during the provincial election campaign.
A man was stabbed and killed early Friday morning and another man was stabbed and is recovering in hospital in a violent night on Montreal streets.
A 66-year-old Montreal man who is quadriplegic says he is seeking medical assistance in dying because changes to his home care services are causing him relentless pain and discomfort.
As Canada marks the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, CTV News Winnipeg will be airing a one-hour special to understand the history of Indigenous people and how the next generation is leading the way forward.
Winnipeg's leading mayoral candidate is apologizing for his leadership style at a previous job, and denying recent sexual harassment allegations.
A Winnipeg father who fatally stabbed his three-year-old daughter won’t be eligible for parole for 18 years, a judge ruled Thursday afternoon.
Saskatoon police may have located the remains of a Saskatoon woman who has been missing since September 2020.
A 26-year-old woman injured in a stabbing rampage on James Smith Cree Nation says she doesn’t know why she was attacked.
Woman found dead in Warman home had tape covering her mouth with accused’s finger prints: RCMP witness
Pictures of a woman’s body were projected on a screen at Saskatoon’s Court of King’s Bench on the fourth day of a murder trial.
A new dedicated space for Indigenous materials and resources is accessible at the Yorkton Public Library.
Some former Saskatchewan residents experienced hurricane conditions for the first time in Florida this week.
Effects of residential schools, truth and reconciliation discussed at Miyo-wîcîwitowin Day in Regina
Thousands of students, local leaders and members of the public are packed into Mosaic Stadium for Miyo-wîcîwitowin Day, an event discussing residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
Some Maritimers who lost power for days after post-tropical storm Fiona are questioning whether power utilities have properly prepared their grids for the powerful storms that are increasingly battering the region.
'This is our top priority': Nova Scotia Power continues efforts to get the province back online following Fiona
As Nova Scotia continues its clean up and restoration efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona left damage throughout the province, the focus remains on clearing trees and debris and getting the province back online.
Nova Scotians in need of financial aid following post-tropical storm Fiona can now apply for assistance from the provincial government.
OPP are on the scene of a serious crash involving four vehicles in the eastbound lanes of Highway 401 just south of London, Ont. that sent six people to hospital, one with suspected life-threatening injuries.
Law students at Western University are demanding change after a professor used a racial slur during a lecture earlier this week. During a first-year law lecture on Tuesday, a professor was explaining the specifics of a legal case that used the N word, and while explaining the case to her students, the professor read the word aloud in its entirety.
Beagle cross Feldman plays in his backyard oasis in London, Ont.’s Old South neighbourhood, and is doing much better on Thursday. Just a few days earlier, the two-year-old had a brush with death.
A protest planned Saturday in Sudbury is related to the situation in Iran, where a young woman died in custody after being arrested by that country's morality police.
Ontario Provincial Police are looking for a suspect who tried to get a student to get in his car this week in East Ferris.
Sault Area Hospital’s cardiac care unit is getting a financial boost from the province.
“Our languages belong to the kids," Diane Hill says. "That’s identity.”
It’s been almost one year since the search began.
Here are the events planned to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Waterloo region
A number of events are being organized in Waterloo region to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Friday Sept. 30.