Sentenced to Pay $35,000 for Sharing an Intimate Image 

Understanding the Law

Revenge is a dish best served cold, or at least so goes the expression that may have guided the actions of the woman at the centre of this story. Responsible for sharing an intimate photo of her ex’s new partner, her thirst for revenge cost her $35,000.

A difficult break-up

In a case which went to trial in Laval in March, a long-time relationship was at the root of a dispute. A couple separated after a 20-year relationship. The couple had two sons.

The break-up was a difficult one. The couple couldn’t agree on who would have custody of the children and court intervention was necessary to settle the debate. The mother was initially awarded custody of both children two days a week, until the eldest son decided to move in with his father on a full-time basis.

Around the same time, a new relationship blossomed between the father and another woman. The mother saw this new relationship as an obstacle to her maintaining a relationship with her sons.

The change in custody coincided with around a dozen suspicious logins to the father’s Facebook Messenger account. The only other person to know the password to the account was his ex.

The father’s new partner sent an intimate photo to his Messenger account, for his eyes only. A couple months later, the new partner’s neighbours, colleagues and loved ones received copies of her intimate photo in the mail along with well wishes for the holidays.

A police investigation shed light on the IP addresses used to log in to the father’s account. An IP address is a unique number that identifies a device on the Internet. The suspicious logins were tied to the mother’s personal and work devices.

However, the police investigation couldn’t confirm that the mother was the person who shared the intimate images by mail. Since doubts remained, no criminal accusations were made. The father’s new partner then decided to sue the mother in civil court, where the legal burden of proof is lower.

Question of probabilities

In a civil trial, a plaintiff must prove that their rights have been violated. Unlike a criminal trial, proof doesn’t need to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The standard of proof in a civil trial is the “balance of probabilities.” In other words, the court must be satisfied that there is more than a 50% chance that the person who filed the case is telling the truth about the harm they suffered.

The mother’s testimony was an important factor in deciding that she probably shared the intimate photo. In particular, she admitted to logging into her ex’s Messenger account, while contradicting herself on other aspects and showing a blatant lack of empathy for the victim.

A large sum of money

The husband’s new partner was entitled to compensation for the harm she suffered. The mother had to assume full civil liability.

Civil liability means that when someone harms another person, they must compensate them, for example, by paying them a sum of money called “damages”. The amount can vary enormously. It aims to compensate the victim for the negative consequences they suffered and not to enrich them. In this case, the judge awarded moral damages of $25,000 to the new partner.

Furthermore, if someone intentionally causes harm, the court can also award punitive damages. The amount awarded aims to discourage the person from intentionally harming others again, and to discourage potential copycats.

In this case, the judge concluded that the mother’s actions were intentional and awarded an additional $10,000 to the new partner.

Violated rights

But how did the mother harm the new partner? By depriving her of her right to her dignity, honour and reputation, which is guaranteed in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Similarly, the Civil Code of Québec guarantees the right to privacy. Intercepting private communications, using another person’s name and image, and using someone else’s correspondence aren’t allowed.

In the judgment, the judge considered that all these rights had been violated when the mother intentionally shared the new partner’s intimate photo. For this reason, the mother was sentenced to pay a total of $35,000.

Did you know?

In this case, the police investigation failed to prove the mother’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Had she been charged and found guilty in a criminal trial, she could have faced a maximum prison sentence of five years.