Cyberbullying bill positive but could use tweaks: prof
Wayne MacKay chaired Nova Scotia's task force on cyberbullying
The chair of Nova Scotia's task force on cyberbuylling says he's largely pleased with the province's newly-announced Cyber-Safety Act, which will allow victims and their families to get protection orders from a court if they are being harassed online.
Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the legislation demonstrates the government takes the problem of cyberbullying seriously.
"There's a number of things I like about it. First of all, it does send a clear message that this is not acceptable and that people have to be accountable," he told CBC's Information Morning on Friday.
"It has graduated penalties. You can have anything from an informal discussion to jail time, $5,000 fine, confiscation. So it's got a good range of responses."
The legislation comes nearly three weeks after the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, who was taken off life support on April 7 following a suicide attempt at her home in Halifax.
Rehtaeh's family said she was relentlessly bullied for months after a photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was passed around her school and on social media.
The Cyber-Safety Act, announced on Thursday, includes a unique investigative unit dedicated to pursuing and penalizing so-called cyberbullies, while making parents liable for their child's bullying, if necessary.
"They only can escape that by showing that they made reasonable efforts to supervise the online activities of their children," MacKay said.
"What it begs, I think, is some other recommendations. How does the parent know how to do this? There are two recommendations in the task force that indicate that the Department of Education should offer education not just on technology — which is a huge issue, the gap in technology between young and old — but also social media so that they'll have the tools to realize what is reasonable online supervision."
MacKay cautioned the legislation needs some finessing to ensure it works by including three components: education, changing the laws and preventing cyberbullying by teaching young people about how to be responsible online citizens.
"Any study looking at cyberbullying suggests you can't simply demonize the bullies and say they should be sent off to some island somewhere and they're a separate species," he said.
"Sometimes the bystanders become the bullies, sometimes the victims become the bullies, the line between all of it is quite complicated and that's one of the reasons in the report — and the government has followed through on some of this — we've stressed restorative approaches where possible."
The Nova Scotia government said it will likely take four to six months to get the investigative unit up and running.