June 16, 2024

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Equality opinion

Cellphone voyeurs getting more brazen in Vancouver, with few repercussions: lawyer

“He was holding his phone towards Carolyn, the only girl in our group, at an angle which made it obvious what he was doing.” — Adam Kirschner

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Adam Kirschner was working out with friends in Vancouver’s China Creek Park last week when he noticed a neatly-dressed man acting suspiciously.

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The man had a cellphone pointed at his friend, high school teacher Carolyn Chan, and appeared to be taking photos or video of her as she exercised.

Kirschner’s suspicions grew when the man stood in watch for nearly 30 minutes.

“He was holding his phone towards Carolyn, the only girl in our group, at an angle which made it obvious what he was doing,” said Kirschner.

“I feel extremely violated,” said Chan, who is still concerned the man who appeared to take photographs of her will share them with his friends, or post them online.

“I just want people to be aware of this happening. Women shouldn’t be afraid to go out in their neighbourhoods.”

When confronted, the man acted evasively, similar to someone Kirschner had confronted the previous weekend at Kitsilano Beach.

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“This guy had his phone propped up and was filming in between my friend’s legs. I made him delete all of the videos he’d taken of her,” said Kirschner of the beach episode.

Knowing that filming in public isn’t itself illegal, Chan did not immediately call police.

Moira Aikenhead, a PhD candidate at the UBC’s Peter A. Allard Law School, said voyeurs accused in criminal court are getting bolder with filming.

Under the Criminal Code, voyeurism charges require proof that pictures were taken for sexual purposes, surreptitiously, of a person who is either nude or engaged in sexual activity. Recording someone in a public isn’t a crime.

In Chan’s case, Aikenhead said its unlikely voyeurism charges would hold up in court.

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“It would be easy for the defence to argue that the images taken were not for sexual reasons,” Aikenhead said. “Women have no clear legal rights when being filmed in public. It’s a huge problem and an invasion of privacy.”

When the voyeurism provision was enacted in 2005, the use of social media was not as prevalent. Now, with the touch of a button, captured images can instantly be shared worldwide.

“Legislators then could not have imagined that people who voyeuristically record someone could make the images instantly available to millions of others,” Aikenhead said. “The harms are exponentially different now.”

Vancouver police have note a 129 per cent increase in reports of sexual assaults by strangers this July, compared to those reported before the pandemic, in July 2019.

Police said they receive reports of people who take pictures or film others in public.

Const. Tania Visintin urged women to call 911 in circumstances where they feel “in their gut something isn’t right,” if a potential suspect is lurking.

“Let us investigate and determine what the next steps can be,” Visintin said.

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