Skip to main content

Cyberbullying law inspired by Rehtaeh Parsons challenged as unconstitutional

Nova Scotia's Cyber-safety Act, passed in the wake of Rehtaeh Parsons's suicide, is being challenged as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A judge has agreed to hear arguments on whether Nova Scotia's groundbreaking anti-cyberbullying law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms after upholding a protection order today in a case involving two businessman.

Halifax lawyer David Fraser asked the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to hear the Charter challenge of the Cyber-safety Act, arguing the legislation is so vague and broad that cyberbullying could be considered anything online that hurts somebody's feelings.

Robert Snell has been accused of cyberbullying Giles Crouch when the two former business partners got into a dispute.

Story continues below advertisement

Crouch has been granted a cyber safety protection order under the new law, which prevents Snell from communicating with him.

Fraser told the court the law is an unreasonable and unjustified infringement of freedom of expression rights under sections 2b and 7 of the Constitution.

He argued that the law can't simply be left open to interpretation.

"To borrow a term that I've learned on social media the Cyber-safety Act is a dumpster fire that can only be extinguished by the Charter," said Fraser. "What is at issue . . . is the incredibly broad manner in which the act defines cyberbullying."

The provincial act defines cyberbullying as any electronic communication "that ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another persons health, emotional well being, self-esteem or reputation."

Fraser also argued that there is no rational connection between the law's safety objectives and the means in the law to obtain those objectives.

"The act has to be carefully tailored to the objective (safety). But in this case its parameters are grossly broad."

Story continues below advertisement

He said the law also doesn't clearly spell out what is prohibited and simply gives the impression that "thou shalt not hurt anyone's feelings online."

The law was passed in May 2013 by the province's former NDP government in response to public outrage around the case of Rehtaeh Parsons.

The teen's family alleges Parsons was sexually assaulted in November 2011 and bullied for months when a digital photo of the assault was passed around her school.

She died after attempting suicide in April 2013.

Parsons' death also acted as a catalyst for the federal government, which changed the Criminal Code to make it illegal to distribute intimate images without consent.

Outside court, Crouch spoke in support of the law.

Story continues below advertisement

"For the sake of all the victims and in the memory of Rehtaeh Parsons I do hope that the act is upheld in this case," he said. "It's very important that cyberbullying victims have the protection that they need so they can sleep safely at night as well as their families."

Report an error
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.