The legal consequences of cyberbullying


The legal consequences of cyberbullying

Public Safety Canada (PSC) is reminding Canadians that on top of consequences imposed by schools or employers, there are also many legal consequences to cyberbullying in Canada.

One of those consequences could from a new law, The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, which came into effect in March of this year.

“It brings our laws up to date by making it a criminal offence to distribute intimate images without the consent of the person depicted,” said PSC spokesperson Zarah Malik. “The new legislation also modernizes the investigative powers in the Criminal Code to facilitate the investigation of criminal activity involving electronic communications. These investigative powers are subject to appropriate judicial oversight.”

The new law applies to everyone, not just people under the age of 18 and is intended to put a stop to a revenge tactic. According to PSC, this will help stop “revenge porn” which can happen when a boyfriend or girlfriend shares an intimate image of themselves with his or her partner. When the relationship ends, the partner then distributes the image. The PSC states that whatever the motivation is, this type of cyberbullying can be devastating to a person’s self-esteem, reputation and mental health. In some cases, these acts may have played a part in teens taking their own lives. This new offence is punishable by a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

According to the legislation, an “intimate image” is defined as an image that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activity or that depicts a sexual organ, anal region or breast. In addition to that, the image would have to be one where there person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time of the recording and had not relinquished his or her privacy interest at the time of the offence.

There are also many pre-existing laws that cover many of the actions that are common to cyberbullying. Those Criminal Code offences include criminal harassment, uttering threats, intimidation, mischief in relation to data, unauthorized use of a computer, identity fraud, extortion, false messages, counseling suicide, incitement of hatred, child pornography and defamatory libel.

Several provinces also have their own laws that deal with various aspects of cyberbullying. In Alberta, the Education Act was revised to define bullying as “repeated and hostile or demeaning  behaviour by an individual in the school community where the behaviour is intended to cause harm, fear or  distress to one or more other individuals in the school community, including psychological harm or harm to an individual’s reputation.”

The act states that students must “refrain from, report and not tolerate bullying or bullying behaviour directed toward others in the school, whether or not it occurs within the school building, during the school day or by electronic means.”

According to Media Smarts, a Canadian non-profit that develops digital and media literacy programs, Alberta has a unique law because it requires students to report cyberbullying if they witness it, with possible suspensions or expulsion for those who do not.

Manitoba is also one of seven provinces to have specific legislation on the topic. The province passed a law in 2013 that defines bullying and cyberbullying. It also makes parents responsible for their children’s cyberbullying if the parent is aware of it, could reasonably predict the effect of it and did nothing to stop it. It also allows judges and justices of the peace to have the power to issue protection orders to keep a perpetrator from contacting a target or even using any digital communications.

This article, written by Edmonton freelance writer Dave S. Clark was originally published by Postmedia Agency.