Five of the six young men accused of sharing intimate images of 20 local high school girls on Nova Scotia's South Shore have pleaded guilty, closing one of Canada's largest prosecutions involving children under a law that came into force two years ago.
The sixth teenager was not in Bridgewater provincial court on Wednesday to enter a plea, but his lawyer Geoff Franklin told CBC News his client intends to plead guilty.
The Crown said he's pleased with the outcome, given two weeks had been set aside for a trial.
"This is going to mean that we don't have to subject the victims in this matter to the court process, which can have a great amount of stress on them," said Peter Dostal.
"Now that we can simply direct our attention toward the penalty phase. That's a pleasing development for us."
The six were charged following a year-long investigation by Bridgewater police in response to complaints from school officials. Officers seized a number of electronic devices — mainly cellphones.
According to court documents, several female students said they had sent nude photos, but had no idea they were being shared. The photos were initially sent through texts and the social media site Snapchat, according to the documents.
Then the police investigation revealed the existence of two Dropbox accounts that were created in the spring of 2015. Dropbox is an online file-hosting service.
The first account had approximately 60 nude and suggestive photos, with five people accessing its contents, according to the documents.
A second account had most of the same images, with four people able to access it. Both accounts were deleted about a month before the principal of Bridgewater Junior Senior High School notified police in May 2015.
Child porn charges dropped
The six teenagers also faced charges of possession and distribution of child pornography, but Dostal said those charges were dropped.
"The charge of intimate images was the one that best fit the circumstances of this case, so with that concession on the part of the defence we were satisfied with those guilty pleas," he said.
Four of the accused are 15 years old now and two are 18. They were all youths when they committed the offences in 2015, and their identities are protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The boys have agreed to attend educational training, similar to restorative justice.
"We made the decision to keep this within the court system and we think that's necessary because of the seriousness of these allegations," said Dostal.
"The programming itself is designed to recognize the intimate connection that these allegations and these offences have had with the relatively small community of Bridgewater Junior and Senior High School."
"We'll find out how they respond to that programming, and depending on how they respond, that will likely inform our position. So the ball is in their court, and we do hope they're not simply saying they are remorseful and they can actually show it," he said.
"Once we have those results, we will be able to make an informed position for the judge."
The teenagers will return to court on July 31 for sentencing.
Police have said more than 20 female victims were targeted in the case and most of them were students who attended Bridgewater Junior Senior High School.
In some cases, police say, the boys took and shared photos of themselves in order to get pictures in return. Some girls learned about the Dropbox accounts and later turned over their phones to school officials.
The names of the accused and the girls who appear in the photos are protected by a court order, but police say all of the girls involved lived or have lived in the Bridgewater area.
Distribution of intimate images without consent is a relatively new law, which came into force in May 2015, designed to combat illegal sharing of images.