Nova Scotia

Cyberbullying laws needed that allow for non-criminal solutions: professor

A new law should allow for informal requests to swiftly take down offensive words and images, and allow for civil court actions that would hold people accountable for distributing intimate images, says Dalhousie University professor Wayne MacKay.

Victims face either a complicated police investigation or pricey civil court action

Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor, addresses a conference session on cyberbullying in Halifax on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan)

Canada needs cyberbullying laws that curb unwanted sharing of sexual pictures without always requiring police
investigations, a law professor said Tuesday.

Nova Scotia had a Cyber Safety Act — the first in Canada — from the fall of 2013 until the legislation was struck down by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia near the end of 2015, when a judge ruled that it infringed on charter rights of freedom of expression.

During a meeting of the International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law in Halifax Wednesday, several experts said that since the law was struck down, victims of online harassment have to turn either to complicated police 
investigations or expensive civil court suits.

'Some degree of urgency'

Wayne MacKay, who teaches human rights law at Dalhousie University, said in an interview he's eager for the province to follow up on a promise to amend and reintroduce its cyberbullying law and bring an investigative unit back into action.

He says the new law should allow for informal requests to swiftly take down offensive words and images, and allow for civil court actions that would hold people accountable for distributing intimate images.

"I think there's some degree of urgency," said the former chair of the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying, during an interview after a seminar at the conference. "We're allowing people to get back into bad old habits."

820 investigations over 2 years

Roger Merrick, the director of public safety investigations with the province's Justice Department, said in an interview there is no firm timeline for the amended legislation, but a legal team is working to have it ready "as quickly as possible."

During the conference he provided statistics indicating that there were about 820 investigations by the CyberScan unit over the two years before the law was struck down, and in over 100 cases there were informal resolutions to the problem.

"We could resolve the complaint informally without having to go to court. That's the benefit of the civil law," he said.

'There's certainly a gap'

He said in 13 cases the unit went to court seeking orders against online harassment.

"There's certainly a gap ... There's a gap now because we don't have the ability to deal with cases that aren't criminal but are just as damaging."

During his presentation, Merrick also said there were 118 investigations of "domestic cases," where the cyberbullying
occurred between people who had been in a relationship for a period of time.

MacKay said he's concerned about a growing trend of so-called "revenge pornography," where intimate images are shared on the internet after relationships end. 

He said it's happening more often as people come to consider it normal to share private images online, without considering how those images might be used in the future.

Taking notes from Manitoba

The professor said Manitoba has an Intimate Image Protection Act that was introduced in January that is proving useful. Manitobans dealing with revenge porn can contact the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to report cases of non-consensual sharing of sexual pictures.

The legislation provides remedies such as having the images removed from social media and having investigators contact individuals to request they remove or delete the image.

Under the act, victims can also sue in civil court to hold a person accountable financial for distributing sexual pictures
without consent.    

MacKay also noted the federal anti-cyberbullying legislation introduced in late 2013 after the high-profile death of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons.

The bill became law in March 2015 and allows for criminal prosecutions when sexual pictures are shared without consent and when there was a reasonable expectation the images would be kept private.

Parsons attempted suicide and was taken off life support after a digital photo of what her family says was a sexual assault was circulated among students at her school in Cole Harbour, N.S.