New NS Cyberbullying legislation allows police to seize phones, impose jail time

HALIFAX — Police in Nova Scotia will soon have new tools to fight cyberbullying. Provincial legislation proposed today would let police seize cyberbullies’ phones or computers, send letters to their parents, request restrictions to internet use, and even impose  fines or jail time.

The announcement comes two and a half weeks after the suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, a Cole Harbour teen who was bullied after an alleged sexual assault by four boys.

Officers said they’re happy with the flexibility the proposed legislation would offer.

“There are activities that are hurtful but that aren’t necessarily meeting the Criminal Code requirements,” said Halifax Regional Police Deputy Chief Bill Moore.

“So now this legislation will provide additional tools to be able to deal with some of those troubling behaviours.”

Victims of cyberbullying — or third-party witnesses of the abuse — could request that a new CyberSCAN investigative unit step in. The unit would be the first of its kind in Canada.

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Officers dedicated to investigating cyberbullying claims would be assigned to a case to assess what type of intervention is needed.

Depending on the severity of the complaint, police could send a letter to the accused or parents if they are a minor.

If the abuse persists, the act says they could confiscate  “any electronic device capable of connecting to an Internet Protocol address associated with the respondent.”

Authorities can also request a court order to access the accused’s phone and email records. If the person accused of cyberbullying does not comply with any of the court orders, they could face fines up to $5,000 and six months in jail.

Sources in the Premier’s office say they new legislation will hopefully pass before summer, allowing it to take affect before the new school year starts in September.

Dalhousie gender and women’s studies professor Jacqueline Warwick says the commitment to make changes are a good step, but the provincial government needs to do more to expand education to include healthy sexual behavior.

“I think there’s a toxic culture of cruelty and violence that we need to address and has deep roots in how we teach our children about sexuality and gender,” says Warwick.

“I think we could have a sex education curriculum that teaches more healthy sexual behaviour and attitudes. I think we could work on the ideas of masculinity that we teach our boys,” she says. “I think we have a toxic culture of masculinity that’s about one upmanship and dominance and swagger. And we have a culture that treats girls and women as objects increasingly. I think we need to address those things if we’re going to truly help raise better citizens.”

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“I hope that these new measures won’t be seen as threatening and punitive only. We need to be positive and constructive in our approach to this problem. Not just sort of wagging our fingers and coming down hard on kids who cross the line,” says Warwick.

“We need to find ways of helping children develop empathy and respect and responsibility.”

-with files from Ross Lord

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