Carol Todd has won her fight to lift a publication ban preventing her from sharing the story of her daughter Amanda — a 15-year-old girl who died by suicide in 2012 after being cyber-bullied.
Although Todd has been a vocal advocate for online safety in Canada and around the world ever since her daughter’s death, a mandatory publication ban came into effect on Amanda Todd’s identity last year, ahead of the trial of Aydin Coban, a Dutch man charged with extortion, possession of child pornography, communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence and criminal harassment.
The publication ban under section 486.4(3) of the Criminal Code automatically prohibits identifying complainants in child pornography criminal cases. Unlike most other publication bans, there is no way a judge can lift it at the request of the complainant or their family, even in exceptional circumstances.
And because Amanda Todd was already publicly connected with Coban’s criminal case, the publication ban made it arguably impossible to report on the case and on Todd’s story.
In response, Carol Todd and several media outlets, including the Toronto Star, filed a court application arguing the publication ban is unconstitutional. On Monday afternoon, a B.C. judge ruled that the challenge was successful and lifted the publication ban, allowing Amanda Todd to once again be identified in connection with the trial.
Justice Martha Devlin said the content of her decision on the constitutional challenge is covered by a publication ban on pretrial motions that expires at the end of Coban’s criminal trial. The judge noted that the outcome of the court challenge could be reported.
“I am very pleased that the Court ruled today that the section of the Criminal Code that required the publication ban over Amanda’s name was unconstitutional and that the advocacy work based on her story will be able to continue in her legacy and in her memory,” Carol Todd said in a statement Monday.
The mandatory publication ban has been criticized before, in the case of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons. Though Parsons’ family became outspoken advocates for cyberbullying reforms after the 15-year-old died following a suicide attempt in 2013, her identity was placed under a publication ban when child pornography charges were laid.
“We were devastated when it happened,” said Parsons’ father Glenn Canning said in an interview last year. “The publication ban “didn’t protect her, it erased her.”
The story disappeared from the news, interview requests stopped and a school cancelled a scheduled talk, he said.
Though a court application to lift the court order failed, Parsons’ family and media outlets began violating the publication ban. Nova Scotia’s attorney general ultimately issued a directive that no one would be prosecuted for identifying Parsons unless her name is used in a derogatory manner.
Monday’s ruling means Carol Todd can now continue her advocacy without breaching a court order.
“It has always been the reaching goal of Amanda’s Legacy to be able to share her story (as she herself did with her YouTube video) in addition to providing prevention and awareness related to cyberbullying, digital safety and exploitation so that other children and families would be able to be informed and have strategies on how to reach out for support,” she said in a statement.
“With this ruling today, we can continue to work together to create a safer online world for our children.”