Contentious cyberbullying, intellectual capacity bills passed by province

The McNeil government passed two contentious pieces of legislation on the final day of the fall sitting after making minor changes to both.

Bills replace ones that were struck down as unconstitutional

Two controversial bills had their third and final readings Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC)

The McNeil government passed two contentious pieces of legislation on the final day of the fall sitting after making minor changes to both.

Bill 27, the Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection Act, will replace the Cyber-Safety Act that Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Glen McDougall called "a colossal failure" in his December 2015 ruling.

The lawyer who won that case, David Fraser, told CBC News last Friday the replacement law appeared weak.

"I'm afraid the pendulum has swung a little bit too far," he said.

Bill 27 passed with near-unanimous consent. It wasn't immediately clear what the exact vote was.

The law more narrowly defines cyberbullying. It also takes away the ability of CyberSCAN, the unit that enforced the previous law, to seek court orders compelling perpetrators to stop. Under the new law, it would be up to individual victims to seek recourse through the courts.

A minor concession offered to PC MLA Karla MacFarlane Wednesday was to include a clause to allow CyberSCAN to share information with police with the consent of a victim.

'It's not perfect'

She has reservations about the bill.

"Some will say it's not perfect, and I agree," MacFarlane said on Thursday, although she called it a "strong start."

Dartmouth East MLA Tim Halman said it's better to have an imperfect bill than no bill. The former teacher said he's still haunted by the case of Rehtaeh Parsons, who died following a suicide attempt in 2013. Her family has said she was sexually assaulted in November 2011, when she was 15, and bullied for months after a digital photo of the incident was passed around her school.

The name of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Nova Scotia teen who took her life after being bullied, was mentioned by several MLAs as Bill 27 was debated. (Facebook)

Many speakers mentioned Parsons's name while debating the bill.

"To hear her name reminds me of how important it is that this bill has moved forward to ensure our youth, to ensure all Nova Scotians have the necessary protections," said Halman.

Bill 16

Bill 16, the Adult Capacity and Decision-Making Act, passed its third reading 25-22.

A Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge found the old law violated the basic rights of Landon Webb, a young man whose parents were granted guardianship over him when he was declared medically incompetent.

Landon Webb contested the Incompetent Persons Act in court. (The Fifth Estate/CBC )

The changes to the bill were all brought forward by the government following criticism by legal experts, people who advocate on behalf of disabled people and Dave Kent, an intellectually disabled person who testified before the legislature's law amendments committee.

The changes include reviewing the act in three years time, and a clause making it clear those who are subject to the conditions imposed by the Incompetent Persons Act have the right to review that order under the new law.

Questions about constitutionality

Dalhousie University professor and legal expert Archie Kaiser dismissed that concession as inconsequential on Wednesday. He also suggested the new law might face a court challenge like the old law did.

"I do think there are problems with the constitutionality of the bill," he told reporters at Province House. "I do think there are fundamental weaknesses with it and that it may well conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

"Whether the battle continues in the Nova Scotia courts or the United Nations, it has to continue."

Both bills still need to be given royal assent.