Voyeurism as a Criminal Offence: A Consultation Paper


The rapid technological developments of recent years have brought many benefits to Canadian society, but they have also had implications for such basic matters as privacy and the role of the law. Web cameras, for example, which can transmit live images over the Internet, have raised concerns about the potential for abuse, notably the secret viewing or recording of citizens for sexual purposes or where the viewing or recording involves a serious breach of privacy. In light of the Government's commitment in the Speech from the Throne to protect Canadians from new and emerging forms of crime, this may be a good time to review the law in this area and ensure that it is up to date and able to deal with new challenges appropriately and effectively.

There is currently no specific offence in the Criminal Code that addresses voyeurism or the distribution of voyeuristic materials. It is true that existing provisions of the Code apply in some cases of voyeurism, such as those that involve child pornography or trespassing at night. However, with the new technology, voyeurism itself may now involve a breach of privacy much greater than could have been foreseen when the Code was drafted – one that undermines basic notions of freedom and privacy found in a democratic society.

Incidents involving voyeurism and modern technology are increasingly receiving public attention and generating concern. For instance, at the New Brunswick Department of Justice in 1999, a male employee surreptitiously installed a video camera in the co-ed washroom and taped his female colleagues using the bathroom facilities. Similarly, a Maclean's magazine article in February 2001, aptly titled "Peeping Toms Go Electronic", described the case of a young woman who discovered a video camera hidden in the air vent of her rental apartment. The article highlighted the increasing availability of inexpensive video cameras that can be concealed in "every imaginable device" such as clocks, lamps, teddy bears, and exit signs. When technology allows images obtained by voyeurism to be posted instantly on the Internet, it raises concerns about the considerable potential harm generated by the distribution of these images.

In response to this situation and to a number of calls to reform the law by creating a new offence or offences to address voyeurism directly, most recently from the Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Justice, the Department of Justice is conducting this consultation to determine what steps should be taken.

The purpose of this consultation paper is to allow the Department to benefit from the views of stakeholders and the public on whether new offences should be created to deal with voyeurism and, if so, what the elements of these offences should be. The paper is arranged in two parts: the first provides information to place the consultation issues in context; the second looks at specific proposals and issues that must be addressed in preparing legislation. The second part also includes a series of questions on possible options. These questions are intended to help focus the discussion and to provide reference points for responses.