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New cyberbullying laws should pass this spring, Justice Minister says

Justice Minister Peter MacKay carries his son Kian as they arrive at Fairview Junior High School in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014.

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Justice Minister Peter MacKay is dismissing concerns his government's new anti-cyberbullying law gives police too much power to snoop into the online lives of Canadians, saying it strikes the "proper balance."

The law – Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act – makes it a crime to distribute intimate images online without the consent of the person who is the subject of the photo. But it is an omnibus bill that also tries to update the Criminal Code's wiretapping provisions to cover electronic communications.

Mr. MacKay said he hopes the new bill will pass this spring and become part of the Criminal Code before Parliament recesses for the summer.

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It is the second time the Harper government has tried to introduce laws aimed at policing online activity. An earlier version was withdrawn over intense criticism that it allowed extremely easy access for authorities to intercept electronic communications.

The Justice Minister made his comments to reporters after speaking to junior high school students on Thursday to launch the government's new public awareness campaign against cyberbullying. A series of television and online ads as well as a website are aimed at educating teenagers and their parents about the criminal consequences of online bullying and sending intimate images.

This is the first part of the campaign. A second phase will be launched next month to target youth by encouraging them to stop cyberbullying before it gets out of hand.

"Cyberbullying should not be a normal part of growing up," said Mr. MacKay. "Before you hit send you have to think about what you are sending."

Last spring, bullied Halifax teen Rehtaeh Parsons died days after she tried to kill herself. A digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted was sent around her high school. She dropped out of school, tried to get help but was not successful. She was 17 when she died.

Her father, Glen Canning, spoke powerfully to the students about the tragic impact that one embarrassing photograph had on his daughter.

That photo was shared until it eventually went through the entire school and "it was so upsetting to her that she never really went back to school … she never recovered from it and it destroyed her life so much that she felt in the end she would never have the semblance of happiness again so she ended her life," he told the students, who were packed into the school's gymnasium.

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He told them to think about how they would feel if they sent out a picture like that and the consequences it could have on their lives.

"Your life will never be the same again," he said, noting that the boy who sent the picture of his daughter told he and Rehteah's mother that "he was sorry" and that it was the "biggest mistake" of his life.

Some of the students mentioned afterward that they were struck by what Mr. Canning had to say.

The federal government's new law, meanwhile, provides safeguards as the police have to obtain warrants, Mr. MacKay argued, noting that judicial oversight is required.

"In order to modernize the Criminal Code we have to give police these powers police the Internet," he said, noting there is not much point to a new law if the police do not have the power to enforce it.

"I believe we have struck the proper balance," he said, "given the very real and devastating effects of cyberbullying. We had to something and we have to do it quickly."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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