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Cyberbullying law just one part of larger solution

A new Nova Scotia law that aims to protect victims of cyberbullying is just one piece of a larger puzzle in addressing inappropriate online behaviour, says Toronto criminal lawyer Tushar Pain.

The Cyber Safety Act was recently enacted to counteract cyberbullying, holding young perpetrators, along with their parents, in some cases, responsible, CBC reports.

“What is more important is to create social awareness and educate the public about the many issues involved in cyberbullying,” says Pain. “As a society, we need to develop an online culture, similar to the culture that dictates social graces and acceptable behaviour at face-to-face gatherings.”

And the guidelines must not be based on only the worst incidents of cyberbullying, as seen in the media, he adds.

“Not every incident of cyberbullying should be treated like the worst variety, not every ‘offender’ should be treated as the worst offender, and not every incident should result in the heaviest consequence. We need to remember that there are human beings on both sides of the issue and the way we address the issue should not result in a mere reversal of roles.”

The legislation, which recently came into effect, was introduced less than a month after the April 7 death of Rehtaeh Parsons, the 17-year-old from Cole Harbour who was said to have endured harassment and humiliation after a photo of her being sexually assaulted was circulated around her school and online, the CBC report says.

“The passing of this new law is certainly a signal that we, as a society, are starting to take the issue of cyberbullying seriously,” says Pain. “Only time will tell what kind of impact this piece of legislation will have. I don't think we'll see too many cases of parents being sued for their children's bullying behaviour because it takes a fair amount of time, effort, and money to sue. So, I think that will only happen in the most extreme cases. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see the provision allowing for restraining orders against alleged cyberbullies being utilized more readily.”

Perhaps most interesting, says Pain, are changes to the Education Act which will spell out a school principal's responsibilities in response to allegations of cyberbullying.

“Since it seems that most of these incidents are occurring between students, that change to the Education Act may end up having the greatest impact on how this issue is dealt with in the future,” he says.

It’s difficult to predict whether the law will be effective, says Pain.

“The law is just an instrument. How it is used will determine whether it is an appropriate response and how we use it will be determined by the culture that we, as a society, develop around this issue,” he says.

Should a similar law be enacted in Ontario?

“It seems to me that the law in Nova Scotia was passed by politicians as a knee-jerk reaction to a horrendous and extreme case of cyberbullying,” says Pain. “I think it would be better to properly study the issue and any proposed draft legislation before passing any such law in Ontario.”

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