Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

The parents of Rehtaeh Parsons, Leah Parsons, second right, and Glen Canning, second left, listens as Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson speaks duirng a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. DAVE CHAN for The Globe and Mail

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

Two weeks after Rehtaeh Parsons's death prompted an outpouring of concern about cyberbullying, justice ministers from across the country are debating whether new legislation is needed to combat the problem.

Ms. Parsons died on April 7, three days after she attempted suicide at her home in a small community near Halifax. Her family alleges that she was sexually assaulted by four boys when she was 15, and that a photo of the incident was widely circulated among her classmates.

Story continues below advertisement

Police did not lay charges at the time, but have since re-opened their investigation into the alleged assault, saying they received new information after Ms. Parsons's death. As that investigation continues, a growing number of politicians are asking whether the subsequent circulation of the photo points to a broader problem that Canada's legal system is not equipped to address.

Experts say the photo of the alleged assault appears to meet the criteria for child pornography, because Ms. Parsons was under 18 years of age when it was taken. That means anyone who viewed the image could, in theory, be charged with accessing child pornography, a crime that carries a minimum three-month sentence. Those who shared the image with others could face a minimum penalty of six months if convicted.

(Minimum sentences for both of those crimes were increased last year after the omnibus Safe Streets and Communities Act was passed).

But law professor Brenda Cossman says Canadian police and prosecutors are often reluctant to apply child pornography laws to young people who share or access explicit images of their peers, even when they are shared without consent or, in the case of Ms. Parsons, depict an alleged crime.

Prof. Cossman, who teaches at the University of Toronto, said part of the problem in dealing with explicit images in cases beyond Ms. Parsons's is that they are often taken or sent consensually at first, and then passed along to others who share them further. And child pornography charges, which carry both stigma and the possibility of lengthy sentences, may not be the right instrument to deal with the issue.

"I think that this is a unique problem, that isn't the same as child pornography," Prof. Cossman said. "I think we need something that is much more specifically directed to the problem of sexting and teenagers."

Criminal harassment charges could also be an option for police when it comes to extreme cases of cyberbullying. The law generally covers behaviour that is carried out repeatedly over time, and can reasonably make a victim fear for their safety or the safety of someone they know. But the specific reference to personal safety means it could be difficult to apply in many cases where an intimate or explicit photograph is shared with others.

Story continues below advertisement

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry has suggested new legislation could focus on anyone who distributes intimate photos for malicious or sexual reasons, regardless of their age. His proposal is likely to be addressed on Wednesday, when justice ministers meet in Ottawa.

Kim Mackrael is a parliamentary reporter in the Ottawa bureau.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
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.

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.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies