Cyberbullying Laws in Canada

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On December 12, 2014, Royal Assent was given to make into law, House Government Bill C-13 that was passed by the Parliament of Canada to change anti cyberbullying laws. The official title of the bill is, “An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act.” The short title of the Bill is, “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act.” The Minister of Justice sponsored the bill. Here is the link to the full bill.

The bill had the public support of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), other local law enforcement agencies, as well as the conservatives. Parts of the bill were strongly opposed by others because in their minds, the bill created too much power for police in the surveillance of Canadian citizens without proper oversight. The opposition proposed that privacy rights need to be considered more carefully.

In spite of the opposition, the bill passed in Parliament. Going forward, it remains to be seen if the concerns of those who opposed the bill manifest into the problems they envisioned.

This review summarizes particular excerpts from Bill C-13 that specifically relate to the additions to laws about cyberbullying and gives an overview of the current state of pre-existing cyberbullying laws in Canada.

Here are  the provisions of Bill C-13 that now became part of the Canadian cyberbullying law:

  1. The distribution of intimate images (both photos and videos) without the consent of the person(s) shown in the images is now a crime in Canada. The legal term for this is, “non-consensual distribution of intimate images.” The common term for this is “revenge porn.”
  2. A Canadian court of proper jurisdiction can now compel the removal of the offending images from the Internet and charge the cyber bully with the costs of doing so.
  3. Property used in committing the offence is forfeited.
  4. A recognizance order is issued by the court to prevent distribution of the images.
  5. A convicted offender’s use of a computer and the Internet is restricted.
  6. For any type of criminal cyberbullying under investigation, Police can compel Internet Service Providers to preserve information that is data about communications or tracking of transactions.
  7. For any type of criminal cyberbullying under investigation, Police can get investigative warrants easier so they may intercept private communications. This extends to all forms of telecommunications on any type of device.

Cyberbully Laws Canada Already Has

Prior to the implementation of the new provisions from Bill C-13, there were existing laws in Canada and ways to deal with cyber bullying that remain intact. The Canadian laws against cyberbullying are in two areas of law, which are 1) Civil law, and 2) Criminal law. Whether or not the cyberbullying is a crime depends on the nature of the activities involved.

Civil Law

Under Canadian civil law, there is protection against defamation. Defamation is harm caused to a person’s reputation because the cyber bully spreads false information. The person harmed must be the obvious target and the false information needs to be presented to people other than the person targeted.

DefamationSlander and Libel

Defamation comes in two forms, which are 1) Slander, and 2) Libel. Slanderous things are spoken, not recorded, and exist temporarily. An example of slander is, the cyber bully calls by telephone and then makes verbal insults and false accusations directed specifically at a certain person, while the bully’s phone is on speaker, so others in the room with the bully hear the conversation. Libellous things are more permanent like publication in a newspaper, magazine, book, or on a public website.

The recourse for these type of defamation attacks is to sue the cyber bully. Slander is difficult to prove and impossible to prove without credible witnesses who give testimony in court. Libel is possible to prove. The defense for a libel lawsuit is, if the statement is actually true, a genuine criticism, or reproduced innocently without knowing it, then it is not libel.

An example of libel is a post on Facebook stating that a certain girl had sex with many guys, when she is actually still a virgin. A statement that is not libel would be a Facebook posting about a girl saying she is fat, if the girl is medically overweight (obese). Although this statement is hurtful, it is not libel because it is actually true.

If the lawsuit about a libellous statement is proven and the case won, the judge or jury awards an amount of money to be paid to the injured party for the damages to their reputation.

Creating an Unsafe Environment

In Canada, schools and places of employment have the legal requirement to maintain a safe environment for students and workers. If a cyber bully creates an unsafe environment, where a person is afraid to go to school or work because of exclusion by others, teasing, or violence, the school or employer must take actions that are appropriate to stop the bullying behaviour.

Schools have the mandate to punish bullying at school, but also if cyber bullies attack students online as well. This is why when facing cyberbullying, students should immediately talk to an adult they trust, such as a parent, adult friend, teacher, priest, or school counsellor.

Important Tip

Students can submit an online report that is safe and anonymous on the website STOP A BULLY. This service is free for all students and schools in Canada. Schools get the reports and by law must take action, which they usually do almost immediately.

Any school or place of employment that does not respond appropriately to provide a safe environment, especially when notified about the bullying problem, can be sued for damages.

Personal Responsibility

Every action taken has consequences. For example,  take the case of a cyber bully who has reason to believe that a person might commit suicide due to the bullying and then continues the bullying anyway. If the person actually does commit suicide, the cyber bully is liable for damages in a lawsuit based on having personal responsibility for what happened.

Criminal Law

Prosecution for cyberbullying under Canadian criminal law, not including the new changes mentioned above, is for one of two things, which are: 1) Harassment, and 2) Defamatory libel.

Harassment is a crime when a cyber bully makes another person fear for his or her safety or the safety of others. The punishment in Canada for a conviction of criminal harassment is a prison sentence up to ten years long.

Defamatory libel is charged against a person when an authority is attacked by a libellous action that seriously harms their reputation. In these rare cases, freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 2, balances against the Section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person. This balance determines whether a conviction for criminal defamatory libel is made. A conviction has a punishment of a prison sentence of up to five years.

What Provinces Have Cyberbullying Laws?

In Canada, the provinces with cyberbullying laws include Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Ontario.

Alberta

Alberta has a zero tolerance anti-bullying policy for all schools. By law in Alberta, the school board must provide a safe learning environment in schools, which includes a code of conduct for students that has provisions against bullying. The law requires students to report bullying and cyberbullying if they witness any. The penalties for bullying and/or failure to report bullying include suspension and expulsion.

Quebec

In Quebec, school boards, by law, must create anti-bullying plans. All the staff of the school must participate in the implementation and enforcement of the plans.

Manitoba

Schools in Manitoba are required to have an Acceptable Use Policy and a written policy that respects diversity, such as the requirement that schools accommodate gay-straight alliance groups. All school staff must report cyberbullying to their principal. Punishment for cyberbullies applies to both the original bully and any others that assist or encourage bullying behaviour in any way.

New Brunswick

Students are guaranteed a positive learning environment free from bullying or cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, even when it occurs off campus is considered serious misconduct, which must be reported by teachers to the principal and then by the principal to the superintendent of the school district. Each school has a Parent School Support Committee that advises the principal on their ideas of how to promote respectful behaviours in students and stop misconduct. Schools offer support and counselling for students who are bullies and those who were bullied.

Nova Scotia

The Cyber-Safety Act in Nova Scotia has provisions for victims of cyberbullying to request “protection orders” to limit a cyberbully’s actions, makes the cyber bullies identify who they are, and holds the parents of a cyber bully responsible for what the cyber bully does.

Ontario

Ontario has a Safe Schools Act, which includes any behaviour conducted online. Even if cyberbullying happens outside the school, students can now be suspended or expelled for this behaviour. Schools must deliver lessons on bullying prevention to all students each year.  Schools must have a bully prevention plan.

Conclusion

It is clear that Canadians take cyberbullying very seriously. With the implementation of the new law, cyberbullies in Canada will find it much more difficult to make anonymous attacks. Police in Canada now have increased latitude in conducting an investigation into cyberbullying. Hopefully this should, over the next few years, help reduce the negative impacts of cyberbullying in Canada.

If you’re concerned about what your child might be getting up to when they’re online, our Heads Up platform is able to detect any potential harmful danger or cyberbullying that may come their way.

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