N.S. fine-tuning cyberbullying law prompted by Parsons death, minister says


HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia anti-cyberbullying law prompted by the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons five years ago Saturday is still being fine-tuned.

The legislature passed the new Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act last fall, but Justice Minister Mark Furey says his department is still working to simplify some of its language to make it more “user friendly.”

The previous Cyber-safety Act, the first of its kind in Canada, was struck down in late 2015 after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that it infringed on Charter rights.

The previous law had been passed in 2013 as part of the response to the April 7, 2013, death of Parsons, a Halifax-area teen who had been bullied. She attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo of what her family says was a sexual assault was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.

Furey says the new law should be proclaimed by June, and he’s confident it is a balanced approach that protects victims of cyberbullying while preserving rights such as freedom of expression.

“I know some may differ and suggest we haven’t gone far enough, but we have to find a balance,” he said. “The courts have intervened and have basically told us that in their decision, so that was the purpose for the new legislation.”

The new law redefines cyberbullying as an electronic action that is “maliciously intended to cause harm” or as an action carried out in a reckless manner “with regard to the risk of harm.” It also creates civil remedies in cases involving cyberbullying and the distribution of images without consent.

Victims or parents would be able to go to court to obtain a protective order to take down a web page or to prohibit an alleged offender from further contact with the victim, while victims can seek dispute resolution through the province’s CyberSCAN unit and would be able to seek an order for financial compensation for damages.

The act also changes the role of the five-person CyberSCAN unit, which previously could act on behalf of victims by pursuing their cases in court.

It now will provide a support function, assisting victims through the process of getting online images or posts removed.

Under another change, parents won’t be held responsible for cyberbullying by their children. The law also requires notice be given to alleged bullies so they can respond to accusations.

The law was pushed through the legislature last fall unchanged despite the advice of legal experts who said during the law amendments process that it will be costly and difficult for victims to use.

One witness, Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay, said the law was “too cautious” on the role of the CyberSCAN unit.

MacKay said the new law would “neuter” the unit, reducing it to an advisory function that would leave many victims unprotected and unable to navigate the court system or bear the costs involved.

Furey said Friday that he’s aware of the concerns.

“We will continue to monitor the act and the volume of uptake and the ease of one’s ability to navigate the cyberbullying legislation,” he said. “With time if there is a need to update those circumstances we will certainly do that.”

The Canadian Press