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Trial of six teens charged with sharing images put off until fall

The Nova Scotia case is an early test of a law intended to crack down on images shared without permission.

Six boys will appear in youth court today on charges they shared intimate images of multiple teen girls without their permission.

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Six boys will appear in youth court today on charges they shared intimate images of multiple teen girls without their permission.

BRIDGEWATER, N.S. — The "large-scale" case of six teenaged boys accused of keeping intimate photos on a Dropbox account will be an early test of a law designed to combat the unwanted online sharing of naked images, a prosecutor said Tuesday after a brief court hearing.

Outside youth court in Bridgewater, N.S., Crown prosecutor Leigh-Ann Bryson said it was the first time that her region has laid charges of distributing intimate images without consent against a group of youths.

It's an important trial both in Nova Scotia and nationally as case law is still being developed for the law passed March 10, 2015, she said.

"Certainly it's one of the first large-scale cases of this nature," she said, adding she's aware of one other youth case underway in Halifax.

The teens are also charged with possessing and distributing child pornography.

Lawyers for five of the six young men appeared in youth court for the arraignments. Judge Paul Scovil set Oct. 5 as the next court date, unless an earlier date can be agreed on.

One of the youths had appeared earlier and the same adjournment date was set in his case.

Some of the teenagers and their families were also present, with one wearing a shirt and tie and another jeans and a sweat shirt. They conferred with their lawyers, and departed quickly without commenting after the adjournment.

The case gained national prominence earlier this year after the four 15-year-olds and two 18-year-olds were charged by Bridgewater police.

Police Chief John Collyer has said the difficult case required a year-long investigation and a search warrant in San Francisco to search the file where the images were allegedly held.

He's also alleged that images of more than 20 teen girls were circulated after being shared without consent in the Dropbox account.

The identities of the accused are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The intimate images law was created by the Conservative government after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, as part of a wider effort aimed at reducing the flow of explicit photos being shared on the Internet without consent.

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.

Unlike child pornography laws, section 162(1) of the criminal code can be applied both to teens and adults and it doesn't require that images involved have a sexual purpose. The penalties are also less severe. 

Bryson said she believes the law could prove to be a useful tool for the Crown and offers a chance to help people who suffer when their images are circulated.

"It's important for these charges to be available because these are offences that have a huge impact on victims," she said.

"This is something that can have a great emotional impact on the victims and depending on how far images have spread, it can be an unending impact."

Defence counsel Joshua Nodelman, who represents one of the teenaged boys, said he is going through the roughly 500 pages of disclosure documents, but keeping an eye out for the possibility of a constitutional challenge.

"It's an issue where we have a new law that hasn't been tested yet ... we should see if it passes constitutional muster," he said.

He noted that possible sentences in youth court in the case of conviction can range from youth probation up to house arrest and time in custody.

 

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