The first judicial order issued under Nova Scotia's over-reaching Cyber-safety Act is reasonable and moderate. But the legislation goes too far, and its potential remains troubling.
The new law was a response to the phenomenon of cyberbullying, in particular the death last year of a teenager, Rehtaeh Parsons, after photographs of an alleged sexual assault were posted on the Internet.
The first order under the law is meant to protect Chief Andrea Paul of the Pictou Landing First Nation, who had been subjected to a series of what Justice Heather Robertson of the province's Supreme Court called "almost crazy accusations," by Christopher George Prosper, a member of Ms. Paul's community. Mr. Prosper had moved to Ottawa, and did not appear in court, but the judge ordered him to remove the abusive messages and not to contact Chief Paul or her family.
But why is this law even necessary in a case such as this? Why not just seek a restraining order? Or launch a libel action?
The Cyber-safety Act defines cyberbullying so broadly that it covers a phone call that could be distressing to the recipient. A court can make an order – by phone, too – without any notice to the other party. An order can be made against a mere Internet address, rather than a named person. It can permanently expropriate any device "capable of connecting to" that address. In other words, the communications equipment of the unwitting parents of a teenager accused under the law could be seized and disposed of, for ever.
So far, Nova Scotia's CyberScan Unit appears to be sensibly resolving cyberbullying complaints. But, sooner or later, the Cyber-safety Act is going to be pushed to its limits – where it will run right smack into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.