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Pam Frampton: Voyeurism case worth watching

An Ontario teacher was acquitted of voyeurism after he snapped surreptitious pictures of female students' clothed breasts with a pen camera, without their knowledge or consent. The case has now made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. —
An Ontario teacher was acquitted of voyeurism after he snapped surreptitious pictures of female students' clothed breasts with a pen camera, without their knowledge or consent. The case has now made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. — 123RF Stock Photo

Your teenage daughter has been secretly filmed by her high school teacher, whose covert videos suggest a penchant for girls’ breasts.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

Your daughter is one of several girls, ages 14 to 18, that the teacher secretly recorded on a pen camera, without their knowledge or permission. They were fully clothed, and videotaped surreptitiously in the halls, classrooms, cafeteria and running track of their school.

Acting on a tip from another teacher, the principal reportedly caught the teacher with the camera in the act, and he was charged with voyeurism.

Sounds like a slam dunk, right?

Wrong.

The case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

London, Ont. Teacher Ryan Jarvis was acquitted by the Superior Court of Ontario in 2015.

The case was based on two key points: whether the students had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and whether Jarvis had filmed them for a sexual purpose.

The Canadian Press reported last week that while Justice Andrew Goodman denounced Jarvis’s actions as “morally repugnant and professionally objectionable,” and acknowledged the students had a reasonable expectation of privacy, he could not conclude Jarvis’s behaviour was sexually motivated.

CP reported Goodman’s decision: “While a conclusion that the accused was photographing the students’ cleavage for a sexual purpose is most likely, there may be other inferences.”

A question you have to ask yourself is why did Jarvis zone in on the girls’ breasts, if not for reasons of prurience?

The acquittal was appealed, with the majority of the judges in the Ontario Court of Appeal agreeing that Jarvis had recorded the girls’ chests for sexual purposes. However, they didn’t believe the students could reasonably expect privacy in a school setting, and the appeal was denied.

It’s one thing to be caught on a security camera walking down the hall of your school; it’s something else altogether to think that a person in a position of trust could capture images of your breasts for their own sexual pleasure, without your knowledge or approval.

“If a person is in a public place, fully clothed and not engaged in toileting or sexual activity, they will normally not be in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy,” the justices said.

One judge disagreed, using the example of a woman breastfeeding in public, saying she should be able to safely assume that no one would record her. (Ironically, The Telegram carried a story out of Cape Breton last week about a breastfeeding mom who was horrified to find she was being videotaped in a hospital waiting room by a man sitting across from her).

The court’s decision to deny the appeal was seen by critics as establishing a troubling standard.

It’s one thing to be caught on a security camera walking down the hall of your school; it’s something else altogether to think that a person in a position of trust could capture images of your breasts for their own sexual pleasure, without your knowledge or approval.

Surely the highest court in the country will recognize that this case pivots on the right to bodily privacy.

In a February 2016 article for the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society, professors Carissima Mathen and Jane Bailey outlined their concerns:

“At a time of increasing recognition of how cyber-violence undermines the equality rights of women and girls, the case is a strong candidate for correction and clarification by a higher court,” they write.

“Without such correction and clarification, decisions like this simply reaffirm the viewpoint that criminal law has no capacity to play a role in a broader strategy to end sexual violence against women and girls. Accepting that viewpoint lets law and legal institutions off the hook far too easily. Women and girls have a right to expect more.”

CP reported that an intervenor in the case — the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic — has urged the Supreme Court to convict Jarvis, saying, “The Ontario Court of Appeal’s majority decision in this case sets a dangerous precedent in terms of the privacy, bodily and sexual integrity, and equality of young Canadians in schools, with especially disturbing implications for girls and young women.”

Jarvis’s case was heard in the Supreme Court of Canada on Friday. The judges have reserved judgment for now.

It’s a decision all eyes should be watching.

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Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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