'Deplorable' nude photo sharing of Liberal MP William Amos 'borders on cruelty' and crime in the Commons, ethics professor says

Ahmar Khan
·7 min read

By now, who hasn't been on a virtual call where someone has forgotten to unmute or hide their video? Those minor gaffes, while embarrassing, are minuscule compared to what Liberal MP William Amos went through last week. The member for Pontiac, Que. had a nude photo of him leaked to the press and shared thousands of times online becoming one of the major news stories of the day.

The image has made its way around the world. From being on late night TV shows, featured in TMZ and making headlines in the U.S., India and more, Amos’ embarrassing moment has become a global gaffe.The incident has had a jarring effect on the two-time MP.

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"The conversation [about the incident] with my wife, which I'd been sort of delaying, had to happen right away," Amos said in an interview with CBC. "And then you start thinking about your parents and your in-laws and your relatives.... Your mind is racing."

The image was captured while Amos was in Question Period during virtual parliamentary sessions, so only a limited number of people, from MPs, staff and others would have access, but it was soon shared broadly on social media. In his interview with CBC, Amos said he had family members reading about the incident in British newspapers. He admitted that when Claude DeBellefeuille, member of the Bloc Québécois brought up the incident, he was okay, seeing as she still hadn’t named him, but shortly after it was posted online.

"It's corrosive, it's destructive and it's all because of one or multiple people's decision that this was a good idea [to leak it]," Amos said.

Nude image sharing 'bordered on lines of cruelty'

When Arthur Schafer, founding director of the Centre for Professional Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, heard of the incident, he admitted he was startled not only that it had been leaked, but someone who had access to the image decided to violate Amos’ right to privacy.

“It was certainly embarrassing and distressing for the victim and bordered on the lines of cruelty,” said Schafer. “Protecting the privacy of the individual is the most important thing, and that did not happen.”

Government Lobbyist, Public Relations expert and CEO of Blackbird Strategies, Lisa Kirbie said that the image never appeared on the screen during the Question Period broadcast. In her estimation, it was an only seen by MPs and staff, which means that a government official or their team could have participated in taking the potshot at Amos.

“Sharing naked pictures of people without their consent is deplorable, under any circumstance. An MP leaking such a photograph to the media is a total violation of both the person in the image but also, I suspect, House rules. This image was not broadcast to those watching QP,” wrote Kirbie in a tweet.

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Bloc MP takes responsibility for the image

Last week, Bloc Québécois MP Sébastien Lemire took responsibility for breaching parliamentary rules, and taking a screenshot of Amos. After a call for an investigation, the MP apologized for his lack of judgment.

“Today I would like to apologize to the House for breaking the rules by taking a photograph of a colleague during question period on April 14," he said in French.

Lemire said he apologized to Amos privately, but wanted to "reiterate it publicly" for the sake of his 'family, colleagues and to anyone I may have offended."

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Lemire urged that he had no idea how the image was shared with the media. 

The image went viral once National Post reporter Christoper Nardi tweeted the photo. It quickly accumulated thousands of retweets and replies. Nardi did eventually delete the tweet, but did not post an apology tweet or an explanation why he decided to remove it. 

“Members of Parliament more than anyone should be respectful of the law and should be respectful of individual privacy and should realize sharing this image was potentially illegal, but almost certainly unethical,” Schafer said.

Is there ever a case where sharing a nude image is OK?

When it comes to media publishing certain images or information, especially concerning a public official, the ethics can be skewed and altered, according to Schafer.

“Individual privacy is not an absolute value, so it can sometimes be overridden in the interest of public interest,” he said.

In this particular case, Schafer admits the public interest argument doesn’t have the legs, as publishing the image was more for the sake of public entertainment at the cost of Amos’ privacy being violated. He noted that there was no unethical or illegal behaviour going on by Amos, so the justification of sharing it is further dwindled in his view.

“It’s difficult to make the case that the public interest required the publication of this humiliating image of someone who made a dreadful mistake,” said Schafer.

There are no two ways about it, according to Schafer, who admits there is a severe lack of ethics in the MP who decided to post the images of Amos without his consent. Taking away Amos’ power of his body and releasing that image could be debilitating for his career.

“Sharing intimate private photos for commercial gain without the consent of that person should be and often is a crime,” he said.

Canadian law forbids the publishing and distributing of 'intimate images of a person' knowing that they don't know and haven't given consent. 

On Monday, the Speaker of the House deemed the 'procedural' element of the investigation over, calling the leakage an affront to the authority and dignity of the House of Commons and warning against the 'strictly forbidden' practice of taking photo or video of private Commons proceedings. 

The Liberals, however, don't feel the denunciation was enough, and are pushing for a meeting with the all-party board of internal economy, the governing body of the Commons. 

According to the Canadian Press, if the board does not agree to impose sanctions on the Bloc Québécois MP who has admitted taking the photo, the Liberals are threatening to take it to the police.

How people should react in humiliating Zoom situations

While there have been other incidents and will continue to be mistakes made online during the work from home era, Schafer said mistakes like what Amos made need to be met with the understanding that in regular times — it likely would not have happened.

“When so many people are having to live portions of their lives online, on Zoom, we need to be more understanding that people will make mistakes uncommon to a normal workplace,” he said.

When he takes a step back to look at the whole situation and in seeing how Amos has been deeply affected by this mistake, Schafer notes that kindness and taking care of one another is important, especially when it comes to nude imagery.

“All of us (should) strive to be kind rather than cruel, to be respectful of our fellow human beings and of their dignity,” he said.