Three teenaged boys to be sentenced in Kamloops high-school texting case

Three teenaged Kamloops boys have pleaded guilty to criminal harassment

By Cam Fortems

Kamloops This Week

Three teenaged Kamloops boys have pleaded guilty to criminal harassment in connection to a criminal investigation involving the texting of nude photos of teenaged girls.

The police probe garnered headlines across Canada and prompted the Kamloops-Thompson school district to bring an expert from Vancouver to talk to students about the danger of sharing too much information online.

The three boys — all 15 years of age — entered the guilty pleas in what the Crown called a “sexting” case involving demands to young girls for nude photos — demands that were in some cases persistent and involved threats to share the photos with other people.

In exchange for the plea to the charge under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, original charges of possession and distribution of child pornography were dropped by the Crown. The names of the three teens and their victims are banned from publication under a court order.

The three boys appeared in court on Tuesday, Oct. 28, for a sentencing hearing.

The police investigation began in January, after a Kamloops high-school student informed a staff member at a local school about an alleged incident.

In court, Crown prosecutor Sarah Firestone said the three boys traded images of girls who were between 13 and 15 years of age and who attended different Kamloops high schools.

The exchanges of photos and texts with girls used a variety of social media, including Snapchat, Kik and iMessage.

Firestone said the girls in some instances were under the impression the photos would disappear using Snapchat, but there are methods to retain images — methods used by the boys.

“This is strange new ground,” Firestone said. “It comes with recent developments in technology. These are things that would never happen face-to-face. I have a hard time thinking young men would come up to random strangers and asked them for nude pictures.”

In some instances, the boys sent pictures of their genitals.

In sentencing submissions, the Crown has asked for a period of 12 months of probation for the three boys, including 50 hours of community service.

Defence lawyer Kevin Church told Judge Roy Dickey the three are being made “scapegoats” for what was a widespread practise among teens in the city.

Church said 25 other boys were named in disclosure to lawyers, but Crown did not lay charges against them.

Images of as many as 32 girls, semi-clothed and topless, were circulated, according to Crown information provided to defence.

“They’ve been dragged through court to say, “‘You can’t keep doing this,’” Church said of the trio.

All images were captured on cellphones. In two instances, parents turned the phones over to school authorities after some information and applications were deleted.

Church and a fellow defence lawyer Bill Sundhu asked Dickey to sentence their clients to a lesser conditional discharge, saying the arrests and publicity have left the boys socially isolated — in particular because they were banned from using cellphones for eight months.

Defence lawyer Don Campbell argued the Crown is using the case as an example to stop similar behaviour among teens.

“It’s not the purpose of the court to use these young men as examples,” he said.

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the sentencing judge is not permitted to cite general deterrence in order to stop others — a common sentencing principle in adult court.

Firestone cited a story in Atlantic magazine called Why Kids Sext, a practice it called “‘not universal or vanishingly rare.’”

But, she added, the Crown is not prosecuting for images sent in confidence between boyfriend and girlfriend.

“We’re prosecuting pressured sexting,” Firestone said.

In one instance, one of the boys texted a girl, saying she she was “frigid” after she refused to send a photo.

All images were captured on cellphones. In two instances, parents turned the phones over to school authorities after some information and applications were deleted.

Firestone said among harm to the victims is they do not know how wide the distribution of their images, nor whether they will appear elsewhere online.

Dickey reserved sentencing until November.

Court also heard the school district meted out its own discipline, including suspensions.

When the information about the police probe became public in January, Terry Sullivan, the then-superintendent of the Kamloops-Thompson school district, said the probe involved a “significant number” of students at multiple secondary schools in the Kamloops-Thompson school district — not only in the Tournament Capital itself.

At the time, Sullivan urged parents to speak with their children about appropriate behaviour.

“Adolescence is a time where we test boundaries and we test authority and we’re looking for new experiences,” he said.

“These poor decisions could have very significant impacts that could last a long time.”