Nova Scotia government takes aim at online bullying

by Gayle Wilson

The Nova Scotia government has introduced a new set of rules intended to protect potential victims of cyber-bullying.

The proposed Intimate Images and Cyber-Protection Act introduced September 5 comes in the wake of a number of high-profile cases involving the non-consensual posting of intimate images, including most recently the so-called Dropbox Six affair in Bridgewater.

According to a news release by the Department of Justice, the act responds to the harm of sharing intimate images without consent and cyber-bullying, as well as protects and upholds the fundamental freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

"Smartphones and social media have taken bullying from the playground, campus, or workplace to online and quickly in the hands of many, where the victim has no escape," Justice Minister Mark Furey was quoted saying in the release."This act will help address the issues with the original act and helps victims by providing options for dealing with the people who want to harm them."

The Nova Scotia Supreme Court struck down the original legislation in this area, the Cyber-safety Act, in 2015.

The first of its kind in Canada, according to the release, the law assisted many Nova Scotians who were victims of cyber-bullying, but was declared of "'no force and effect'" for violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including infringing on the freedom of expression.

The new act is intended to deal with actions that are "maliciously intended to cause harm to victims or that were reckless with regard to the risk of harm, but that might not be effectively dealt with through Criminal Code or other civil remedies."

The act would allow a victim, or parents, to obtain a protective order through the court for alleged offenders to stop, take down a webpage or prohibit further contact with the victim. They can also seek a referral to dispute resolution with the CyberSCAN unit and seek financial compensation for damages.

"Where action is deemed to be criminal, a victim may be advised by the CyberSCAN unit to contact police. An action under this act could proceed at the same time as a criminal investigation or prosecution," the release notes.

The act gives the CyberSCAN unit, which was created by the former legislation, authority to support and help victims navigate the process for getting images or posts removed. It can also resolve disputes and negotiate and mediate for victims, and will continue to provide public education.

According to the release, CyberSCAN has responded to more than 800 requests for help with cyber-bullying and provided more than 900 education sessions in schools.

Since the Cyber-safety Act was struck down, the Department of Justice has held targeted consultations with cyber-bullying and legal experts, Victim Services, police and CyberSCAN staff as well as with victims, families and some members of the public, all of which helped shape the act .

The department expects to draw further feedback through special sittings of the law amendments committee, with plans to pass the bill in the spring.

The changes follow from the case of six Bridgewater students who used a online file hosting service to collect, store and share intimate images of 21 different females.

Two 19-year-olds and four-16-year olds - known as the Dropbox Six - admitted in a Bridgewater court to distributing an intimate image without consent.

After a highly publicized trial, the young men were ordered this summer to complete 50 hours of community service work within six months; complete any necessary counselling; and, over the following nine months, have no contact with victims and their families unless they consent; and not access, view, store or distribute pornography.

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