N.S. government may forego rewriting pioneering cyberbullying act
Rehtaeh Parsons is seen in this family photograph taken from Facebook.
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Thursday, April 7, 2016 4:27PM ADT
Last Updated Thursday, April 7, 2016 4:43PM ADT
HALIFAX -- Four months after a judge struck down the pioneering cyberbullying law inspired by the death of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, Nova Scotia's justice minister confirmed Thursday she has yet to decide whether to rewrite the act or appeal the decision.
Diana Whalen said the absence of the law has created a quandary for the justice system because the province's groundbreaking CyberScan unit no longer has the tools it needs to combat cyberbullying.
"We're well aware of the need for something to take the place of that act because it has really left a void," the minister said after a cabinet meeting.
"We know that the last act was written in haste. It was passed in about three weeks. We need make sure that what we write this time will withstand a constitutional challenge ... (But) I haven't committed to a bill yet."
Whalen said the five-member CyberScan unit was working with the province's schools to educate students about cyberbullying. However, she said the unit has been stripped of the enforcement tools it used to deal with 800 cyberbullying cases over the past two years.
Whalen said the province may turn to other means to deal with online harassment, which could include making amendments to existing acts and introducing new policy tools and training.
She said changes have already been made to the province's Education Act, and there has been training for police and the public prosecution service.
As well, she said no deadline has been set for filing an appeal of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court decision because the court has yet to issue a written ruling.
"We really were leaders here," Whalen said. "The other provinces were watching us ... The tragedy of Rehtaeh has resonated across our province and around the world."
The law was passed in May 2013 in response to public outrage over Parsons' death less than a month earlier. Parsons was 17 when she taken off life-support after attempting suicide.
Her case attracted national attention when her family alleged she had been sexually assaulted in November 2011 at the age of 15 and then repeatedly bullied online after a digital photo of the alleged assault was shared among students at school.
The federal government responded with legislation aimed at prohibiting the distribution of intimate images without the consent.
On Dec. 11, 2015, Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Judge Glen McDougall struck down the Nova Scotia law, saying it violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Halifax lawyer David Fraser challenged the Cyber-safety Act, saying it was written with such broad terms that it left room for "unreasonable and unjustified" infringements on freedom of expression rights.
Under the act, cyberbullying was defined as "electronic communication ... ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person's health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation."
Fraser said the law didn't clearly spell out what was prohibited and gave the impression that, "thou shalt not hurt anyone's feelings online."