The holidays are finally over.

It started for most of us with a nerve-racking family dinner and ended with a New Year’s Eve party where we drank away the stress of having to spend too much time with our relatives. Many of us spent the eve of the New Year drunk and partying and it’s likely that at least a third of us engaged in some kind of behavior that night that we now regret. Most of this is not blackmail-worthy, but in a world where lives are ruined by crimes like revenge porn, it’s important to know what laws are in place to protect us.

Revenge porn is the publication of explicit images, videos, or films of a person without consent in a situation where the victim would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Though revenge porn at its root is used to cause the victim distress, it’s often redistributed by some porn sites for commercial gain.

Fortunately, Canadian law is on it and has been working to tackle this crime.

Before 2014 the people in Canada who distributed intimate photos or videos of others without their consent could only be charged under the Criminal Code’s provisions on voyeurism, extortion, obscene publications, criminal harassment, defamatory libel, and in some cases child pornography. Unfortunately these laws have very specific requirements to get an indictment and conviction.

For example, extortion requires that the intimate material be used as a threat to force the victim to do something. Criminal harassment requires that the conduct make the victim fear for their safety or the safety of a loved one.

Sometimes charging people under these offenses worked, and sometimes it did not.

The people who drove Rehtaeh Parsons, a Halifax teen, to suicide in 2013 were charged with the distribution of child pornography. Parsons hung herself after photos of her being sexually assaulted by four boys circulated through her school resulting in texts and Facebook messages calling her a slut and soliciting her for sex.

Though none of the boys who assaulted her were charged with rape due to insufficient evidence, two of her attackers who filmed her later pled guilty to child pornography charges and were put on probation. Many agree this is hardly a sufficient punishment for people who drove an innocent young woman to her death.

Fortunately in 2014 the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to include article 162.1 regarding the unlawful publication of intimate images without consent.

It defines intimate images as a photo, film, or video where the victim is nude, exposing their genitalia, anal region, or breasts or is engaged in explicit sexual activity in circumstances where a person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. A trip to the bathroom to use the toilet or shower is an obvious example of circumstances where most people would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The new law says that everyone “who knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct, or being reckless as to whether or not that person gave their consent to that conduct, is guilty.”

That means that it doesn’t matter whether the person transmitting the image or video intended to cause the victim harm. All the crime requires is that the person knowingly made the material available and they either knew or were aware of the possibility that the image or video was taken without the victim’s consent and distributed it anyway.

Those guilty of this offense are looking at a maximum prison term of five years. Or if they get a summary conviction, a maximum of six months in jail and/or a two thousand dollar fine.

The law limits the kinds of defenses one can use against such a charge. The motives of the accused are considered irrelevant. The only way to get out of a charge under this law is to either prove you didn’t do it, or prove that your conduct somehow served the public good but did not go beyond the minimum required to do so.

This defense was clearly added to the law to protect journalists and investigators in the execution of their professions. A journalist who snaps and distributes a photo of a politician with a sex worker when the politician is anti-prostitution could find himself charged under this act, but could conceivably argue that his actions were for the good of the public and not excessive.

If criminal charges are not laid in the face of the distribution of a person’s intimate images, in Quebec you can always sue the distributor.

The Quebec Civil Code (“the Code”) guarantees the individual right to privacy and protects people from invasions of their privacy without their consent.

As per the Code, the following are particularly considered invasions of privacy:

  • Entering your home and taking something
  • Intentionally intercepting or using your private communications
  • Appropriating and using your voice or image while you are in a private place
  • Keeping your private life under observation by any means
  • Using your name, image, likeness, or voice for any purpose other than the “legitimate information of the public”
  • Using your correspondence, manuscripts, or personal documents

If your privacy is violated in this way resulting in physical, material, or psychological damages, you can sue the perpetrator. The catch is that lawsuits are costly and invasive and it would mean going public with the extent of the violation you experienced.

The laws in Canada regarding revenge porn and privacy are not perfect, but they’re there. In 2017, let’s protect ourselves and keep the scum of society in check.

Reading about President Obama’s war-mongering campaign with regards to his proposed military strikes against the Syrian government, I was shocked to see his administration make the disturbing claim that POTUS (President of the United States) reserves the right to push the button with or without a formal declaration of War by Congress.

I’m shocked, because we are not dealing with some fake cowboy dumbass that somehow fell off the turnip truck and landed in the Oval Office. Rather, Obama is, according to the biography of his own life, as well as independent accounts, a former constitutional law prof at the University of Chicago or lecturer, to be more precise (having worked as a lecturer myself, I can tell you there is a world of difference between the two in the academic world). At any rate, one would hope that as a graduate of Harvard law, he would be familiar with the US Constitution’s article 1, section 8 which clearly states that “Congress shall have the power…to declare war.”

So either Obama was the world’s worst constitutional lawyer, or he has conveniently ignored the fundamentals of US law since becoming the most powerful man in the world. I for one, am betting on the second being the case.

It’s not the first time the constitutional lawyer in him has been suppressed for the sake of politics. In fact, Obama has made a maddening habit of doing just that, when it suits his administration’s agenda, whether on the issue of fighting terrorism, violating the privacy of US citizens and foreigners, or harassing journalists.

When it comes to fighting terror, through the use of state sanctioned killing of innocents through the CIA’s devastating drone program, Obama really takes the cake. He’s actually upped the ante from the Bush years by approving a massive surge in drone attacks, mostly in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But also in Yemen, where the president made a dubious defense of the summary execution by means of hell fire missile, without trial, or any form of due process, of an American teenager who had the misfortune of being the son of known Al-Qaeda terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki.

Consider that the Department of Justice, on the orders of the president, secretly subpoenaed the e-mails and personal phone records of Fox journalist James Rosen for his alleged involvement in leaking classified information to the public. The White House completely disregarded article 1 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press in its blatant attempts to intimidate the press with absurd charges of criminal conspiracy against members of the fourth estate.

All part and parcel of the new imperial presidency that long ago begun undermining the separation of powers intended to prevent the concentration of too much powers in the hands of one person or institution, but continues its alarming growth under President Obama who used to try and reassure the public by pointing to his background as an expert on the US Constitution.

If Glenn Greenwald isn’t given a Pulitzer Prize for helping the Guardian uncover the biggest surveillance program in the world and expose the NSA and government lies about the extent of their eavesdropping on US citizens and foreigners, it will only serve to highlight what he and other independent media have been saying for years about the mainstream media: that the journalistic establishment in the US has gone to the corporate dogs.

Notwithstanding (New York’s grandstanding Republican Congressman) Peter King’s calls for him to be charged with espionage and thrown in jail, most sane American politicians are fully aware that, as a member of the fourth estate, Greenwald is entitled to the protection of the first amendment. He can’t be prosecuted for basically doing his professional and moral duty to shine a light on secretive government agencies that operate in the grey area of the law and are only accountable to their political masters, rather than the people.

That said; don’t expect any more integrity from either the jackasses in the Democratic Party or those elephantine dicks in the Republican Party in this affair. The fact is they are currently falling over themselves in their attempts to look tough on terrorism by supporting the Obama’s administration’s PRISM program and his attempts to bring Edward Snowden, the whistleblower at the centre of this firestorm, back to the US to face trial for violating the Espionage Act and stealing government property for the purposes of disclosing classified information. But that’s not all, he’s also been charged with “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person” under the same act.

Snowden is facing up to 30 years behind bars, should US authorities successfully repatriate him. The question as to whether Snowden should be prosecuted by the state, unlike the case of Greenwald, is by no means clear-cut. The truth of the matter is that he has violated any number of federal laws in acting the way he did and is not protected by the constitutional right to freedom of the press, the way the journalists who broke the story are.

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Therefore, the question becomes more of a moral dilemma, than a legal one: should a man who has flagrantly broken the law in the name of the public interest be spared punishment? Were Snowden’s action those of a political dissident engaged in a selfless act of civil disobedience? Or were they the actions of a dangerous egotistical subversive unwittingly playing right into the hands of terrorists and America’s enemies?

One things for sure, many of the people eagerly labeling him public enemy number one just so happen to be those with the most to hide themselves from the public. As Snowden himself said in a recent online chat arranged by the Guardian: “to be called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honour and American can be paid.”

Perhaps Greenwald summed up my own feeling on the matter best when he tweeted: “How is leaking to a newspaper and informing one’s fellow citizens about secret government behaviour espionage?”

As far as we know, Snowden didn’t sell these power point slides (if you’re reading this NSA spooks, please use more eye-catching graphics next time) to the highest bidder. Nor did he release all the classified documents at his disposal unilaterally and indiscriminately without the help of an internationally renowned newspaper, which, had his intention been to cause maximum damage to the US national interest, he could have easily done. As he said himself, to the Guardian readers “If I were a Chinese spy wouldn’t I have flown directly to Beijing? I could be living in a Palace petting a phoenix by now.”

As for the argument that so many right wing hacks and politicians of all stripes are peddling on Fox news right now, that he has revealed America’s greatest weapon in the war against Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, give me a freaking break! No terrorist worth their fertilizer would ever trust the security of cell phones or the internet for communicating their nefarious plots against us.

In a recent debate on Democracy Now about the threat to civil liberties and the work of journalists posed by the growing security state surveillance apparatus, journalist Chris Hedges made the point that people like Snowden are the only thing standing between the independent media’s ability to challenge the government and it’s violations of our basic right to privacy on the one hand and the expanding intrusions of the state into almost every area of our private lives in order to fight its quixotic “war” on terrorism, on the other.

The way we treat the Snowden case will say a lot about which side of this debate is actually winning in our society at the moment.

With all the protesting going on these days, Montreal has become a veritable political theatre for all manner of agitprop and self-expression. Of course, no anti-whatever rally would be complete, these days, without the requisite Guy Fawkes masks, bandanas worn as masks, balaclavas (aka ski masks), etc. What do all of these things have in common? Wearing them may soon be a criminal offense punishable by jail time (up to 5 years!).

I hear you shouting what the fuck is he blathering on about this time? Maybe you haven’t heard about Harper’s latest attempt to curb your freedoms with Bill C-309, a needless, excessive, overly vague new amendment to the criminal code being proposed by Alberta MP Blake Richards? Lest you think that this is yet another authoritarian measure originating from Canada’s favourite quasi-American state (props to our right wing Albertan comrades for resisting the siren song of Daniel Smith in the last election), consider that Mayor Tremblay is thinking about a very similar bylaw (for the second time since 2009) that would also make the wearing of a mask an offense at protests in Montreal.

Obviously this is an idea that, as the kids like to say, has gone viral. So may I propose my usual unbiased (Ha ha!) legal analysis on the subject? Firstly, the bill in its first reading stage of the House of Commons, would change the law to make the wearing of a mask during a riot, whether actively participating or not, guilty of “disguise with intent” and could face a rather heavy punishment. Unless they have a ‘lawful excuse,” that is. Only the law doesn’t define what this might be.

Could this law be used by unscrupulous police to pick up people in Halloween costumes or wearing a niqab, for example? Thus far, the government isn’t saying. The worst part is, the current laws already treats wearing a “disguise with intent” to commit a crime, for example robbery, as a criminal offense.

As for the Mayor of Montreal’s planned bylaw, he’s already lined up various law and order types to support his initiative, including Yves Francoeur (President of La Fraternité des Policiers et Policières du Québec) who made this ludicrous statement on the matter (my translation): ‘We don’t need to preserve anonymity in a free and democratic society like ours!”

Really!? What about whistle blowers and witnesses under police protection, Monsieur Francoeur? At the risk of getting carried away, this is seriously disturbing mentality. When you combine this type of thinking with the other legal measures taken by the Harper government (especially C-30’s privacy violating provisions), you get a legal climate in which our privacy is increasingly under threat.

Anonymity is an integral part of our constitutional right to privacy. The famous Montreal-based human rights lawyer Julius Grey believes that the authorities behind these proposals haven’t thought them through and that they won’t hold up in court. He says that if people that are in the closet or fearful of public scrutiny aren’t allowed to mask themselves at public events, they are likely to think twice about participating. In effect, then, these measures limit their freedom of self-expression and right to peaceful assembly.

* Photo by Phyllis Papoulias