Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and his provincial and territorial counterparts agreed Wednesday 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.
The justice ministers met Wednesday afternoon in Ottawa and Nicholson issued a statement after the meeting saying he received unanimous consent for his proposed June deadline.
"I look forward to receiving this report. Canadians and our government want action to ensure our children are safe from online exploitation," he said.
Earlier in the day Nicholson said the issue of online bullying is a priority for his government and that he would be looking for co-operation from his colleagues at the meeting.
The justice ministers were also discussing the federal government's proposed Victims Bill of Rights. The government is looking to create new legislation and has started public consultations that will also wrap up in June.
Saskatchewan Justice Minister Gordon Wyant agreed that there is a sense of urgency to update the Criminal Code so it specifically addresses the distribution of intimate images online.
"We believe that as with child pornography the forwarding of those images is a criminal offence.There will be some subjective discussion around whether or not there was malicious intent with the distribution," Wyant said. "The whole idea here is consent. If there's no consent to distribute the image that's where we believe the offence lies."
Wyant said there are child pornography and harassment provisions in the Criminal Code but that they aren't keeping pace with how fast technology is moving.
Nicholson said the cyberbullying issue was put on the agenda for the meeting in light of the recent suicide of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons. The Nova Scotia teen took her own life after an alleged sexual assault and months of online harassment that included photos of the alleged attack.
Her parents and Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday and urged the federal government to do more to combat online bullying.
Harper said in question period Wednesday that he admires the parents' strength in the face of a "horrible and unspeakable tragedy."
He was asked by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair what actions the federal government intends to take on cyberbullying and what timeline it intends to follow. Mulcair met with the teen's parents earlier in the day. He said the Criminal Code has not kept pace with some of today's realities and that his party is willing to work with the government to make legislative changes before the House of Commons rises for the summer break.
"I would agree with the assertion by the leader of the New Democratic Party, one of the difficulties here is that investigative tools for our police officers have not kept pace with the internet age, and that must change," Harper responded. He said the government is committed to bring forward various measures but didn't specify when.
"We absolutely must speak out against the notion that some people have that anything goes on the internet. Something that is a crime is a crime if it happens on the internet as well," he said.
Help for cyberbullied teens
The prime minister's wife, Laureen Harper, was also talking about cyberbullying on Wednesday. She is helping to promote a new website called needhelpnow.ca.
In an interview on CBC News Network, she said the website gives guidance to teens and their parents on how to remove a photo off the internet. She said the website is a tremendous resource.
"I sent it out yesterday to everybody I know, and it's just a wealth of information," she said. The prime minister's wife said she talks to their two children about the dangers of using the internet and cautions them not to put too much information on it.
"A lot of children that are harmed by this, starts with a photo that they or their friends have taken. That makes it worse and they don't want to tell anybody. This website helps them find a safe adult," she said.
Nova Scotia's premier Darrell Dexter was also in Ottawa for the meeting with Rehtaeh Parson's parents and his justice minister, Ross Landry, attended the meeting Wednesday with the other justice ministers.
Landry said people who distribute intimate photos without consent must be held accountable.
"If I send you a picture or you send me a picture that you think that you want to share with me, you've given me permission to see that by sending it to me, but you have not given me permission to share it with the world," he said.