Cyberbullying in Canada

 This page is a resources for basic questions and answers regarding the status of cyberbullying as a criminal offence in Canada.  If you or someone you know has been charged with a criminal offence related to allegations of online conduct, you are welcome to contact the firm for a free consultation.

 

What is the definition of cyberbullying in Canada?

Cyberbullying is the intentional harming or harassment of a person or group through the internet and other electronic means, whether through facebook, twitter, email, SMS, or web postings.  The term is generally used to refer to a wide variety of internet based conduct including negative or hateful comments, “sextortion” or blackmail using intimate personal images, and repeated, unwanted contact with a person that results in a reasonable degree of fear.  The first provincial task force to report on the growing trend of cyberbullying in 2012 concluded that it is a particularly harmful growing trend because it can be “constant and inescapable,” in the “vast and unsupervised playground” of the internet.

While the definition of the term has generally been limited to conduct involving young people, courts, academics and newspapers are now moving in a direction where the term is used to refer to many instances of online harassment regardless of the age of the perpetrators or victims.

 

Is cyberbullying a crime in Canada?

At present, there is no definition of cyberbullying in the Criminal Code of Canada.  Although charges related to online harassment are frequently laid by police and prosecuted by Crown Attorneys, these charges usually appear in the form of traditional criminal offences such as criminal harassment or uttering threats.

However, not all forms of negative online commentary is criminal.  In the United States, negative and disparaging comments may, depending on the circumstances, be protected by the first amendment.  In Canada, the courts will determine consider the frequency of the conduct, the nature of the statements of actions, and the effect or impact on the victim.  Some forms of online behavior may be actionable civilly, meaning the person responsible for the posting could be sued for money in a court by the victim, while other forms of cyberbullying may be actionable criminally, or both criminally and civilly.

A person responsible for harmful online postings may also be violating the Canadian Human Rights Act, their conduct amounts to hate or discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability.

What is the possible penalty for cyberbullying?

If you are charged in Canada with cyberbullying, you will most likely be charged with criminal harassment or uttering threats.  The maximum possible penalty for these offences if a term of imprisonment of 10 years for criminal harassment, and 2 years for uttering threats.  The likely penalty would depending on the nature and seriousness of the offence, the personal circumstances of the offender, and the impact on the victim.

If you are a youth or young offender under the age of 18, there are different possible punishments.  [click here]

 

How do police prove cyberbullying charges?

There are a number of resources available to law enforcement agencies including obtaining electronic data from internet service providers, obtaining information from social networking sites such as facebook and twitter, and obtaining cell phone and text message records from phone companies.  Usually this information is obtained by subpoena from a court, however proposed changes in the law would allow third-party companies who keep these records to provide them voluntarily to police and law enforcement agencies without court order.

How have other countries responded to internet based harassment and cyberbullying?

The United States have adopted individual state-based initiatives that involve both judicial and extrajudicial/school-based sanctions.  As of July, 2013, 18 states bullying laws specifically included definitions and policies relating to “cyberbullying.”  12 states specifically provided for criminal sanctions for “cyberbullying offences”, while 3 states had made a specific type internet “sexting” offences punishable as class felonies.

What is Is Bill C-13 or the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act and is it currently the law?

Bill C-13 is a proposed bill that has not yet been made law.  The title of the bill is the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act” and it is a significant attempt to criminalize specific types of online behaviour that have, up to now, been treated under traditional criminal definitions,

The Justice department states that Bill C-13 would propose a new criminal offence of “non-consensual distribution of intimate images” in an attempt to to combat cyberbullying.  Plainly, it would become a crime, punishable by a term of imprisonment, to distribute someone’s private photos without their consent.  Critics have expressed concern that the Bill would significantly empower police and Crown prosecutors in a way that would infringe on Canadian privacy rights.  For example, the government would not require judicial production orders if a third-party voluntarily assists in a police investigation by providing information.  It would also grant immunity from civil lawsuits to third-party service providers for providing information about customers to enforcement agencies.

What are some additional internet based resources on cyberbullying?

Define the Line – Clarifying the blurred lines between Cyberbullying and Digital Citizenship

Prev|NET – Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network

Stopabully.ca – Registered National charity dedicated to stopping cyberbullying

Bully Free Alberta – Government resource site