Bullying is a crime

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New technology sometimes needs new laws — and in Nova Scotia, it looks like the government is taking cyber-bullying very seriously indeed. The province has introduced a new anti-cyber-bullying after the suicide of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons.

Rehtaeh, who was 17, hung herself after she was reportedly sexually assaulted and photographs from the assault were posted online.

There are still many unanswered questions in the case and no charges have been laid.

But one of the offshoots of the tragedy is Nova Scotia’s Bill 61, the Cyber-Safety Act.

The act is only in first reading, but it already has opposition support.

And some of its conditions are well worth taking note of. Not only does the law provide for court action halting bullying through prevention orders, fines up to $5,000 and even jail time of up to six months, it also hits cyberbullies (and by extension, their parents, if the bullies are minors) where it really hurts: the legislation provides the groundwork to force Internet providers to “out” anonymous users, and then enables the bullied to sue for damages.

The court would be able to grant an order requiring companies to provide: “any information that may help identify a person who may have used an Internet Protocol address, website, username or account, electronic-mail address or other unique identifier, that may have been used for cyberbullying, any information that may help identify a device capable of connecting to an Internet Protocol address that may have been used for cyberbullying, cellular telephone records, inbound and outbound text messaging records, Internet browsing-history records, and other records that would assist in investigating the complaint.”

It is a broad brush and one that carries substantial penalties for bullies and, potentially, for their parents as well.

It remains to be seen what the law will look like in its final form, and how well it will stand up against legal challenges of its powers. But it does provide a small ray of hope.

Any parent whose children have been bullied, stalked or humiliated over electronic media can tell you how devastating the effects can be. Children or teens who have no idea who is attacking them or when it will stop, forced to look over their shoulders constantly and wonder just who might be the instigator of the attacks. It may be a faceless crime; it certainly isn’t a victimless one.

And while no law will ever rid the world of bullies — we have too many, even among the highest offices in the land — this is a good step, and one that other provinces should look at enacting.

Perhaps if there are clear consequences — and consequences that are applied enough times for perpetrators to recognize that they are running a clear risk and that the anonymity of the web

doesn’t really exist when law enforcement gets involved — people will think twice before using new tools in an age-old and despicable practice.

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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  • david
    April 30, 2013 - 13:55

    If bullying truly is accepted as a crime, then what better place to establish a "penitentiary for bullies" than Newfoundland? This place has the highest concentration of bullies per square inch than anywhere else on Earth. It should be a new stream of doctoral research at MUN...

  • Gordon Gekko
    April 29, 2013 - 15:39

    It's no secret that government and police are desperate to find new ways to justify monitoring online activity. Think Vic Toews and his "you are either with us or the child pornographers" speech from last year. I don't like the idea of something as vaguely defined as "bullying" giving police the green-light to walk all over the privacy rights of anyone associated with the computers, IP addresses, and/or phones in question. What is bullying? If one kid offends another on Facebook do the police get access to mom and dad's emails as well? Lets not forget that this also mentions adult "bullying", such as in the office. What constitutes "bullying" is not totally clear, and what's even less clear is what kind of evidence the police would need to take advantage of laws such as this. People need to be very vigilant about protecting their online privacy, and not let hysteria sway us in our opinions on important new laws like this one.

  • Joannie
    April 29, 2013 - 13:42

    We recently listened to Joan Shea "mouth off" at Gerry Rogers. In her less than noble attempt to criticize and "name call", what resulted sounded much like 'bully behavior" aimed at Rogers. Shea demonstrated her own ignorance of the complexity of bullying. As Shea draws analogies between a spectator in a school yard fight and someone remaining attached to a Facebook group, well it is clear that more thought and analysis must go into such analogies than Joan Shea is capable of giving. Oh...is this bullying Joan?

  • Wondering
    April 27, 2013 - 19:54

    And it took a suicide to get this to be taken seriously. And not just a suicide, but one that was afterward made very public, thanks to the parents, with coverage even in the USA. Suicide, from whatever cause, is usually kept quiet and largely ignored by the media. The cause exposes an unpleasant side of our society, and too little exposed. How many result from sexual and other abuse? Some churches teach that suicide is a sin. Surely the sin is by those who help cause suicide.

    • Stephen Redgrave
      Stephen Redgrave
      April 28, 2013 - 08:49

      It's taken a lot more than just one suicide---probably in the thousands if stats' were available. This problem is not restricted to young people either. Grown adults (I use the term loosely) participate in bullying everyday. Bullies don't have a real life, young or old. Take away their computer and they are nobody to anyone. Best thing to do is take Facebook down a few knotches and stop treating it's content as anything more than fiction and entertainment.