Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia cyberbullying law faces criticism

It has been just over a year since the province's Cyber Safety Act came into effect and one Halifax lawyer says it's time the law was changed.

Provincial government tackled 370 cases of cyberbullying this past year

A Halifax lawyer is critical of the Cyber Safety Act, which came into affect just more than a year ago.

It has been just over a year since the province's Cyber Safety Act came into effect and one Halifax lawyer says it's time the law was changed.

The law was created to help protect people from cyberbullying. But David Fraser, an internet and privacy lawyer with McInnes Cooper in Halifax, says the law's definition of cyberbullying is too broad.

He said anything online that might hurt someone's feelings could be considered cyberbullying.

"If you were to hurt the feelings of a politician  that's technically cyberbullying and you can be sued for that, you can be the subject of an order that takes away your internet access and your electronic devices," said Fraser.

"So it has the possibility of being abused and I think it's likely unconstitutional because of that." 

Fraser also believes if the law was good other provinces would have adopted it. 

"This legislation was passed prior to the last election and it got a lot of attention," said Fraser.  "But no other province has looked at or has implemented legislation like it, which strongly suggests to me that if it was a good statute other provinces would be looking to go down the same path, but they're not."

But Roger Merrick, the province's director of public safety, says other jurisdictions have been researching Nova Scotia's Cyber Safety Act and the legislation is solid.

"The fact that we have 370 investigations in one year says a lot," he said. "People are asking for help and we have been able to do that because of this new legislation."

Merrick said about 200 cases were solved through an informal process. That process usually involves the province's CyberScan unit contacting people accused of cyberbullying and asking them to stop. 

If the cyberbullying continues the case can be brought to court. So far only one case has to gone to court; the remaining cases are still being investigated.

Merrick said about half the complaints are from children, the other half from adults.

Many cases involve ex-lovers posting harassing comments or intimate images online. 

"We deal with horrific cases where there are very serious consequences to what's being communicated," said Merrick.

The emotional harm can be so significant, he said, that is can cause physical illness where victims have to take time off work or seek medical attention.

The CyberScan unit is also trying to educate the public about the dangers of cyberbullying

Investigators with the unit have held 290 public presentations in the last year, mostly at schools.

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