HALIFAX â€” Six male youths in Nova Scotia pleaded guilty Wednesday to sharing intimate images of high school girls without their consent, concluding one of Canada's largest prosecutions involving a relatively untested but high-profile law.
The six were charged in July 2016 after police in Bridgewater, N.S., concluded a year-long investigation by alleging the teens â€” all local high school students â€” had distributed intimate images of at least 20 girls.
"We hope that the notoriety of this case produces more awareness across the country that this type of conduct isn't simply boys being boys â€” and it's not simply a school disciplinary problem," said Peter Dostal, a senior Crown attorney with the province's special prosecutions office.
"Many instances of this type of conduct reaches the level of criminal activity and needs to be treated as such."
At the time of the offences in 2015, four of the accused were 15 years old and the other two were 18. However, all were under 18 when the offences were committed, which means their identities are protected from publication under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Dostal said the boys conspired to trade the images amongst themselves.
"This type of activity has been on the radar of schools and law enforcement for quite some time, and now that we're better equipped with the intimate image charge, we're able to have law enforcement address these concerns," he said. "This is often very troubling, very serious conduct that has devastating consequences upon many vulnerable young persons."
The case is one of the first in Canada involving legislation introduced in late 2013 after the death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, which captured national attention.
The 17-year-old attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo â€” of what her family says was a sexual assault â€” was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.
The guilty pleas in the Bridgewater case came after a series of pre-trial conferences.
"It wasn't expected, as far as we were concerned," Dostal said, adding that all of the lawyers involved were keen to speed up the court process.
The six were also charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, but Dostal confirmed those charges are expected to be dismissed when they face sentencing July 31. The pornography charges weren't needed because the intimate image charges best fit the allegations, he said.
"That satisfied us as far as what we were hoping to prove at trial," Dostal said, adding that a pre-sentence report has been ordered and an agreed statement of facts is in the works.
Each of the accused has been told to see a probation officer for "additional programing," including community-based work.
Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press