A joint federal-provincial cyberbullying report recommending that the distribution of "intimate images" without consent be made a criminal offence is receiving a warm welcome from the Opposition New Democrats who say bullies need to know they will be held accountable for their actions.
"We need to send a message to people, regardless of their age, that there are consequences to their actions. And that they will be held accountable for those consequences," said Robert Chisholm, the NDP member of Parliament for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, N.S., in an interview with CBC News.
The report, expedited following the suicide of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons in April, concludes there is a gap in the Criminal Code and recommends that a new criminal offence be created to address the gap. It recommends that the new offence carry a sentence of anywhere from six months to five years.
Parsons was 17 when she took her life. She had told her family she'd been raped, then bullied for months.
Chisholm said Parsons death and that of other teens who took their lives as a result of bullying has highlighted a "serious gap" in the Criminal Code and that's why he introduced a private member's bill in June calling for the criminalization of "non-consensual making or distributing of intimate images."
"That is ultimately the goal here, to close this gap," Chisholm said.
In light of the recommendations made in this federal-provincial report, Chisholm said "the fastest way" to close the gap is for the government to introduce its own legislation in the fall.
While newly appointed Justice Minister Peter MacKay was not available for an interview with CBC News, his office said he was studying the report and would "dedicate the time necessary" to conduct a thorough review.
Boosting investigative powers
NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin told CBC News it's important to give law enforcement the tools they need to combat cyberbullying otherwise all the efforts in the world quickly become a "waste of time."
The report "strongly recommends" that the investigative powers of the police be brought into the internet age by amending the Criminal Code to include, among others:
- Data preservation demands and orders.
- New production orders to trace a specified communication.
- New warrants and production orders for transmission data.
- Improving judicial oversight while enhancing efficiencies in relation to authorization, warrants and orders.
- Other amendments to existing offences and investigative powers that will assist in the investigation of cyberbullying and other crimes that implicate electronic evidence.
While Boivin did express some concerns around the potential for abuse, she said the report offered an overall balanced and "prudent" approach to combating cyberbullying.
Both Boivin and Chisholm noted that the report makes clear that provisions previously contained in a controversial government bill "pertaining to basic subscriber information and the requirement for telecommunication service providers to build the intercept capability within their systems," do not form part of the report's recommendations.
Bill C-30, the protecting children from internet predators act, died after it was heavily criticized for going too far by opposition parties and privacy watchdogs.
Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's privacy commissioner, was a vocal critic of Bill C-30 saying that the proposed bill would have created "a mandatory surveillance regime."
Contacted by CBC News about the joint cyberbullying report, Cavoukian said in a written statement, "I am pleased to see that multiple levels of government are taking steps to protect Canadians from cyberbullying."
The Ontario privacy watchdog said she was particularly pleased that the report included "a comprehensive review of existing protections, with a view to enhancing and modernizing the legal framework.
"Our hope is that the privacy of Canadians will be strongly protected with appropriate judicial oversight written into any new or extended cyber enforcement powers," Cavoukian said.
Cavoukian's federal counterpart, Jennifer Stoddart, also sounded the alarm over Bill C-30 saying the proposed legislation contained "serious privacy concerns."
Her office told CBC News that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner is currently reviewing the joint cyberbullying report and will provide analysis once their review is complete.
"Our office recognizes there are gaps in current law, and we look forward to contributing our knowledge and experience to this initiative in order to help individuals better protect privacy and online reputations in today’s increasingly digital age," said Scott Hutchinson, a spokesperson for the federal privacy watchdog.
Ontario's Attorney General John Gerretsen welcomed the report.
"I urge Minister MacKay to act on the recommendations in this report, and introduce new legislation in the fall session of Parliament to create this new criminal offence," Gerretsen said in a written statement.
Premiers are expected to discuss the joint cyberbullying report when they gather this week for their annual summer meeting at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., from July 24 to 26.