Nova Scotia

Rehtaeh Parsons's mother hopes new anti-cyberbullying law will be drafted

The mother of Rehtaeh Parsons says it's a "failure for many of our youth" after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court struck down the anti-cyberbullying law passed in the aftermath of her daughter's death.

Nova Scotia Department of Justice says 800 complaints were dealt with under the Cyber-Safety Act

Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh's mother, said she worries about children currently being cyberbullied now that Nova Scotia's anti-cyberbullying law has been struck down. (CBC)

The mother of Rehtaeh Parsons says it's a "failure for many of our youth" after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court struck down the anti-cyberbullying law passed in the aftermath of her daughter's death.

"I'm sad for all the youth right now that need help," said Leah Parsons, adding that she was disappointed in the ruling.

The Cyber-Safety Act was the first law passed in Canada aimed at protecting victims of online harassment. The Nova Scotia government introduced it two years ago under intense public pressure after Parsons, a 17-year-old girl, was bullied, attempted suicide and subsequently died.

Parsons's family alleged she was sexually assaulted in November 2011, when she was 15, and bullied for months after a digital photo of the incident was passed around her school. She was taken off life-support after attempting suicide in 2013.

The Nova Scotia government introduced the anti-cyberbullying law two years ago under intense public pressure after Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, was bullied, attempted suicide and subsequently died. (Facebook)

In a 63-page decision released by Judge Glen McDougall on Friday, he ruled the anti-cyberbullying law must be eliminated right away because it infringes on rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That means the CyberSCAN unit at the provincial Department of Justice — created to investigate allegations of cyberbullying under the law — will stop working on 35 cases and shift its focus to public education and awareness.

A department spokesperson told CBC News that in the last two years, they worked on 800 complaints, with many of the cases involving harassing photos or bullying comments that were removed or stopped without the involvement of police.

Parsons said she hopes this isn't the end of the law.

"If this legislation is being struck down and thrown out, then they're going to come up with new legislation and maybe a CyberSCAN unit for within the police department," she said.

"Something needs to be done."

'It's a gap'

Wayne MacKay, a law professor at Dalhousie University, agreed with some critics that the law was far-reaching, but said it did have some merit.

Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay said the anti-cyberbullying law did have some merit. (CBC)

"I think it filled a hole of availability of remedies for people who right now have no such option," he said Friday. "It's a gap now that's been reinstated by this decision."

Unlike other court decisions that have struck down legislation but offered politicians a one-year grace period to rewrite the laws, the anti-cyberbullying law must be eliminated right away. It's a decision MacKay said is rare.

"I'm a bit surprised the courts struck down the legislation immediately," he said.

"It's not uncommon in cases like this to give some time for the legislature to improve on or redesign the legislation and then after that it would be struck down."

Even if new anti-cyberbullying legislation is drafted, Parsons said the current criminal harassment laws won't help those being cyberbullied — a lesson she said she learned through her own experience dealing with the police in her daughter's case.

"It was not defined as harassment because it wasn't threatening to her body. It wasn't a threatening that somebody's going to hurt her — so they didn't consider it harassment," she said.

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