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Ottawa set to toughen stand against cyberbullying

Patrick Herrera/iStockphoto

The federal government is expected to announce details of a long-awaited bill on Wednesday aimed at preventing people from sharing explicit images online without consent.

The new legislation will make it an offence to distribute intimate images without permission from the person depicted in those images. The issue drew national attention following the death by suicide of Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons after images showing her alleged sexual assault were shared online.

Justice Minister Peter MacKay and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney are scheduled to make an announcement about cyberbullying Wednesday afternoon.

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Earlier this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with Ms. Parsons' family to discuss possible measures for dealing with cyberbullying. He also held meetings with the families of Amanda Todd and Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, two other teens who died by suicide after enduring persistent bullying online.

After Ms. Parsons' death, a provincial, territorial and federal working group on cyberbullying asked government officials to identify possible gaps in federal laws addressing cyberbullying and intimate images that are circulated online.

The group recommended that a new criminal offence be created to deal with non-consensual distribution of intimate images, which the government is now poised to introduce.

The working group's report, published in June 2013, also suggested that more investigative powers be given to law enforcement officials to help them conduct investigations related to online intimidation and harassment. However, the report found that it would not be necessary to create a new criminal offence specific to cyberbullying because existing laws could be applied.

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