The Nova Scotia government has introduced a new Cyber-Safety Act it says takes direct aim at cyberbullying.
The legislation, announced today, involves the creation of a new investigative unit which is the first of its kind in Canada.
It also clarifies the authority schools have when dealing with cyberbullying in the classroom.
“I think it’s a really big issue that we don’t necessarily realize at the time how big of an issue it is,” says Grade 12 student Hilary Beck at today’s announcement in Halifax.
The act comes almost three weeks after the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, who was taken off life-support following a suicide attempt earlier this month.
Her family says she was raped by four boys in November 2011 and subsequently bullied after a photo of the alleged incident was passed around her school.
“Today we’re putting tools into the hands of victims, families and communities,” said Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry at today’s announcement.
The act will allow victims to apply for a court order to stop someone from bullying them online, will allow judges to order a person to stop contacting the victim electronically, or talking about them online.
A judge could also order a person to stop using a particular form of social media or other means of electronic communication and, in serious cases, a judge could order the confiscation of computers, tablets or smartphones.
“Violating a protection order would carry up to a $5,000 fine, a term in jail of up to six months, or both,” says Landry.
The legislation would also allow victims to sue the cyberbully. If that person is under 19, their parents could be held responsible.
A cyber-investigative unit will also be created, giving young people, parents, teachers and community members a place to report cyberbullying.
The unit will investigate complaints, be able to apply to the courts for protection orders, and if it’s believed a criminal investigation is warranted, the unit will hand the case over to police.
The unit – the first of its kind in Canada – will contain a director and five investigators. It is expected to be up and running in four to six months.
“If this is anywhere near as successful as the previous scanning work that has been done, then we’re very, very confident it will fill a void that presently isn’t being filled,” says Halifax Regional Police Deputy Chief Bill Moore.
Changes are also being made to the Education Act.
“We know what happens on Friday nights, Saturdays, Sundays,” says Gary Walker, a principal at a Halifax school. “It comes into our buildings on Monday and at times, we feel we don’t know what to do.”
The amendments will clarify the authority of schools to respond to bullying and cyberbullying that take place off school grounds or after hours.
“If nothing else, I’m pretty sure it will make people think twice before posting things online,” said Grade 12 student Matthew Poole.
Wayne MacKay, the chair of Nova Scotia’s Cyberbullying Task Force, believes the legislation is positive but says more needs to come to supplement what was announced today.
MacKay says parents need to made more responsible for their children’s actions and should be educated so they are familiar with the latest technology and social media, so they too can avoid violating the act.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Jacqueline Foster