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$5,000 In Damages Awarded For “Reprehensible and Disgusting” Stealing of Intimate Images

BC’s new Intimate Images Protection Act makes it relatively quick and easy to sue someone who has your intimate images without your consent (or even with your withdrawn consent).

A recent case shows that a victim of wrongdoing under the Act should choose wisely which forum they sue in.  While the online Civil Resolution Tribunal can process such claims faster and cheaper than traditional court, the damages limit in the CRT is at $5,000 and such cases can be worth far more.  Reasons for decision were published this week by the CRT commenting on this.

In the recent case (JT v. Sowinski) the applicant had intimate images stored on her phone.  The respondent accessed these without permission and sent them to himself.  The applicant confronted him and he went so far as to threaten to post them on social media.

In awarding the maximum damages allowable while making it clear that more damages are warranted the CRT provided the following reasons summarizing the wrongdoing and assessment of damages:

13. I turn to the circumstances leading to this claim for damages. Between 2019 and 2023, the applicant took various sexual images of herself, or her partner took photos of her. The images were taken while in her bedroom and were for personal purposes. The applicant says on February 24, 2024, she and the respondent were hanging out with a mutual friend. The parties had never met before. While at another person’s apartment, the respondent asked the applicant if the respondent could use her phone to connect it to the TV to play music. While doing so, the respondent secretly accessed the applicant’s iCloud account and sent themself several images of the applicant nude, or nearly nude, and engaged in sexual acts. The respondent also sent 1 photo to an incorrect phone number while trying to send it to themself.

14. Later that day, the applicant noticed the images were sent to 2 unknown numbers. She called the most used number and reached the respondent. In text messages between the parties, the respondent apologized for sending themself the images without the applicant’s consent. The respondent offered to reciprocate by sending the applicant intimate images of themself. The respondent also said the applicant should take it as a “compliment” that they wanted the images, and that the images they sent to themself could be used later in the respondent’s “spank bank”.

15. On February 26, 2024, the respondent text messaged the applicant and said if they heard anything else about the respondent “stealing” the applicant’s pictures, they would “post your pictures all over social media”.

20. I find the respondent flagrantly ignored the applicant’s right to personal privacy and autonomy in sharing her intimate images. I further find their behaviour after the applicant discovered the sharing was egregious, both in their offers for reciprocal intimate images and their explanation for their use of the photos. Finally, I find the respondent’s behaviour in threatening to share the images further reprehensible.

21. As noted in prior CRT damages decisions under the IIPA, most Canadian court awards for non-pecuniary damages for the non-consensual disclosure of intimate images far exceed the CRT’s small claims monetary limit of $5,000. Here, I find the applicant is entitled to at least that amount, but I am bound by the limit. If not for the limit, I also would have found that the applicant is entitled to punitive damages to punish the respondent for their reprehensible and disgusting conduct, and to express society’s disapproval of their actions. I order the respondent to pay the applicant $5,000 in damages.

22. The applicant also provided receipts for counselling sessions she attended as a result of this incident. As I have already found the applicant is entitled to the $5,000 monetary limit, I cannot award anything further for her counselling.

Intimate Images Protection Act