A Nova Scotia judge granted a cyberbullying prevention order today as the province's unique law faced its first test in court.
Justice Heather Robertson granted the prevention order against Christopher George Prosper in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Halifax.
The case under the Cyber-safety Act centred on testimony from Andrea Paul, chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation, that Prosper was posting negative and threatening comments about her and her family on Facebook.
"I'm very pleased," Paul said Tuesday. "It sends a very strong message. Even just to come forward was really difficult."
'It was very difficult to have to put him through that, but it was also difficult to have to go through that.' - Andrea Paul, Pictou Landing First Nation chief
The case began when Paul blocked Prosper on Facebook and he started writing about her on the site. The messages filtered back to Paul and she was often asked about them while representing her community.
Paul said she initially tried to "laugh it off" and hoped the messages would stop. But after talking to youth about cyberbullying, she decided she should do something.
"I thought it was important to say something and stand up for myself," she explained.
Paul applied for a peace bond and was given the number for the CyberSCAN unit. Paul contacted the unit, the first of its kind in the country to be tasked with investigating complaints of cyberbullying.
Most cases involve adults
"I was like, I'm an adult — do you just deal with youth? They called me back and reassured me that it's a clear case of cyberbullying and they told me most of their cases were adults," she said.
Paul said she has known Prosper for much of his life and alleged that he resumed posting negative comments about her on his Facebook page after he said he would stop.
"It was difficult to have to put him through that, but it was difficult to have to go through that," she said of the court case.
The order compels Prosper to cease all future cyberbullying against Paul and remove any current statements from the internet. The court also ordered him to pay Paul $750 in court costs. The order stands for one year. The CyberSCAN unit can then apply for an extension if it feels the cyberbullying is continuing.
Prosper, who lives in Ottawa, was not in court.
Good for public safety
Roger Merrick, the director of the unit, said the ruling was significant because it was the first such prosecution brought to court.
"This was a very positive outcome for public safety. I think it allows people to come forward with these issues," he said. "I think there is a problem of cyberbullying out there. I think the public can look to us as a ways and means to stop that."
He added that it gives credibility to the legislation and the unit. The unit has dealt with more than 100 cases since September, with 45 active cases. Merrick said most are resolved informally, an approach that was unsuccessful in this case.
"This was a person trying to harm somebody and we've certainly in the past seen the harm that this type of behaviour causes,” Merrick said.
The law was passed after the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, who was taken off life-support last April after a suicide attempt.
Her family says the 17-year-old was subjected to months of bullying after a digital photo of her being sexually assaulted was passed around her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.