N.S. cyberbullying investigative unit a 1st in Canada

Nearly three weeks after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, the Nova Scotia government has introduced legislation to create Canada's first cyberbullying investigative unit.

The legislation will allow victims and their families to get protection orders from a court if they are being harassed online.

The Cyber Safety Act will allow the the unit to investigate complaints and issue prevention orders forbidding someone from communicating online. The legislation would also allow victims of cyberbullying and their families to seek a court protection order that could result in someone having their computer or phone confiscated.

Members of the investigative unit may visit perpetrators' homes and offenders could face a $5,000 fine or six months in jail, even for a first-time offence.

Parents could also be liable for the damages.

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry said the goal is to close the gaps in the law.

"A lot of people involved in cyberbullying are young people, children in school. We're not wanting to make criminals out of them, but we want a mechanism where we can respond to situations and hold them accountable while engaging them with the school system — if that's appropriate — and with their families," he said Thursday.

"You take a young person's phone away from them for a week and that has a significant impact."

Landry said if a complaint is criminal, it will be turned over to police.

"The parents and families will have responsibilities and will be accountable for their children to ensure the behaviour is stopped," he said.

The bill, which will formally be introduced in the Nova Scotia legislature on Thursday afternoon, would also give school principals clear authority to act against bullying on or off school grounds and online.

The legislation comes nearly three weeks after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old girl from Cole Harbour, N.S.

According to Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh's mother, four boys sexually assaulted her daughter when she was 15. Rehtaeh was then said to have been mocked by classmates, enduring relentless harassment and humiliation after a photo of the attack was circulated at school and on social media.

On April 7, Rehtaeh was taken off life support after attempting to take her own life a few days earlier.

"I don't think bullying will ever end, but it's a big step in helping people get help," said Kalkidan Gevre, a Grade 12 student at Halifax West High School.

As for the investigative unit, people still need to be hired. The province said it will likely take four to six months to get the unit up and running.

On Wednesday, federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and his provincial and territorial counterparts agreed to complete a review of the Criminal Code by June as part of their efforts to combat cyberbullying.

The joint review by officials at both levels of government was initiated last fall and is meant to identify gaps in the Criminal Code that could be filled to better protect people from online harassment.