No one rushing to emulate Nova Scotia’s cyberbullying law

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
No one rushing to emulate Nova Scotia’s cyberbullying law

Canada's first law specifically outlawing cyberbullying has taken effect in Nova Scotia, just four months after the suicide of teenager Rahtaeh Parsons.

The 17-year-old Cole Harbour, N.S., girl hanged herself after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted during a drunken party made the rounds of her school.

Just three weeks after her death last April, the Nova Scotia government introduced the Cyber-Safety Act, which aims to protect not just children but adults.

"Too many young people and their families are being hurt by cyberbullies," Justice Minister Ross Landry said in a statement, according to CBC News.

"I committed to families that the province would work with them to better protect our children and young people. Court orders, and the ability to sue, are more tools that help put a stop to this destructive behaviour.

"This sends a clear message, cyberbullying is a serious act with serious consequences. Think before you text."

[ Related: N.S. cyberbullying legislation allows victims to sue ]

The Nova Scotia law allows victims to hold the parents liable for damages related to cyberbullying if the person doing it is a minor, Global News noted.

The province has also set up a special unit, dubbed CyberScan, to handle cyberbullying investigations.

Rehtaeh Parsons' father, Glen Canning, called the legislation "a step in the right direction," adding the law might have protected his daughter.

But other provinces so far have not followed suit. Some, such as Ontario, have incorporated anti-bullying provisions in education-related legislation. Ontario's definition of bullying under the Education Act includes the use of electronic means, such as web posts and texting, according to the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais.

British Columbia, where teenager Amanda Todd killed herself last year after relentless cyberbullying, passed changes to the Workers Compensation Amendment in 2011 to address workplace bullying.

Some Canadian communities have passed anti-bullying bylaws, the Globe and Mail reported last year. But while some tickets have been issued, the bylaws seem largely symbolic.

“We have a lot of education going on, but sometimes you need a little bit more than that,” Greg Moore, mayor of Port Coquitlam, B.C., told told the Globe. “The police have a sledgehammer in their back pocket called the Criminal Code, but then you don’t necessarily need that sledgehammer all the time.”

The Canadian Bar Association's web page on stalking, criminal harassment and cyberbullying says the Criminal Code contains sections that could be applied.

Provincial premiers, meeting last month as the Council of the Federation, appealed to Ottawa to sharpen the law with changes to the Criminal Code to address cyberbullying.

[ Related: Social networking site linked to cyberbullying, suicides ]

“We’re asking for the updating of the Criminal Code to recognize that there are modern forms of assault that did not exist in the past,” Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter said, according to Global News.

But not everyone thinks the answer to cyberbullying is a new law.

"It may be that Canada can find a legal lever to overcome this problem, but as Premier Brad Wall told the legislature, even that may not be enough," the Saskatoon Star Phoenix wrote in an editorial last April as the Nova Scotia law was launched.

"Parents can be goaded into taking greater responsibility and a stronger role in what their children are doing online. Schools, too, can and should be more involved.

"But just as bullying has been around for millennia, it will be difficult to prevent cyber-bullying and nearly as difficult to prosecute it."