Editorial: What the Supreme Court really thinks about cyberbullying

It’s okay, but only when unions are the bullies


Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Bullying, we’re repeatedly told, is a growing problem in Canada. The federal, provincial and municipal governments have recently introduced new laws to put an end to bullying in schools and elsewhere; public service announcements abound. Cyberbullying is a particularly pressing concern these days.

It seems the Supreme Court didn’t get the memo.

In a unanimous ruling last week, Canada’s top court issued what looks to be a ringing endorsement of cyberbullying . . . but only when unions are the ones doing the bullying.

At issue is a seven-year-old labour dispute involving workers at a casino in the West Edmonton Mall. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, legally on strike, set up video cameras to film non-union strike breakers. Signs warned anyone entering the casino they could expect to see their faces posted on the website Casinoscabs.ca. One picket-line crosser had his picture printed on a poster designed to look like a police mug shot, as well as superimposed on the head of a turkey in a pamphlet.

Alberta’s information and privacy commissioner initially ruled that videotaping workers in this way was a violation of provincial privacy legislation. Last week, however, the Supreme Court handed down its final ruling on the matter: It turns out such behaviour is all part of a union’s constitutionally protected freedom of expression. It ordered the province to rewrite its privacy laws.

While there may be many legitimate reasons to film a picket line, it’s blatantly obvious that the purpose in this case?based on the union’s own signage and actions?was to intimidate and publicly humiliate strikebreakers via the Internet with the goal of changing their minds about working at the casino. Threatening to post pictures on a scurrilous website certainly fits within Statistics Canada’s definition of cyberbullying as “the use of the Internet to threaten, antagonize or intimidate someone.”

The Supreme Court didn’t find this connection troubling. Threats and humiliation are all part of the constitutional protections afforded unions in labour disputes. “A union may achieve its goal by putting pressure on those who intend to cross the picket line,” the judgment reads. “Strikes are not tea parties.” Pressuring strikebreakers once involved crowding entrance ways and yelling insults. Now it seems this behaviour can be moved to the cyberworld as well.

While the Supreme Court may have given its blessing to videotaping for the purpose of union-sanctioned cyberbullying, the judges are certainly not alone in accepting this sort of behaviour. Last week provided another opportunity to witness the public shaming of disputants, this time in the legal realm.

Doriana Silva, a Brazilian immigrant living in Toronto, recently made news by seeking $21 million in damages from Toronto-based Ashley Madison, an international dating website for married people who want to have an affair. Her claim involves a wrist injury she says she suffered while working for the firm. Of particular and salacious interest is the allegation she’d been employed to write “fake female profiles . . . to entice paying heterosexual male members to join and spend money on the website.”

Now it goes without saying that repetitive-strain injuries do not depend on the subject matter being typed, as Ashley Madison pointed out in its rejoinder to Silva’s lawsuit. Then the firm drew attention to photos Silva had posted on various social media websites. “In several postings, Ms. Silva can be seen clearly enjoying herself on a jet ski?an unlikely activity for someone who has allegedly suffered serious injury,” the firm said in a press release. In a flash, the storyline shifted to Silva’s own self-inflicted public humiliation.

Whatever the merits of her lawsuit, or Ashley Madison’s business model, Silva’s situation drives home the pressing fact that social media has made it possible to catch anyone at their worst or most vulnerable and preserve that moment forever. All of us, it seems, is a mere click away from permanent public embarrassment. Or cyberbullying, if you prefer. Is this the world we want?

There is much about the current political obsession with bullying that seems overwrought, particularly when it comes to passing new laws (as opposed to simply enforcing existing laws that already forbid physical abuse or threatening actions). However, if society has really decided it no longer wishes to tolerate electronic bullying or humiliations between teenagers, it ought to make sense for the adult world to start demonstrating appropriate online behaviour as well. The Supreme Court’s institutionalization of cybershaming in labour negotiations seems a particularly poor example to set.



Editorial: What the Supreme Court really thinks about cyberbullying

  1. Ain’t no problem with a union filming its members in such a manner, same as an employer might monitor their employees attendance with time cards.

    Poor article., Mr. Whyte.

    • I’m not sure how monitoring compliance with terms of employment has anything in common with intimidation and humiliation.

    • Was the filming on public property (i.e. a sidewalk or street)? If so, can’t anyone photograph/film just about anything unless there’s something illegal about the content? If the Google Streetview car happened to drive by and catch the line-crossers in a photo, what then?

      Also, our good friend Mr. Ford had his security guards film hecklers
      in the Toronto City Hall galleries. City Hall may be private property,
      but otherwise, I assume the arguments and result would be the same.

      As for “all of us…[are]…a mere click away from permanent public embarrassment,” yes, that is definitely the case. If I happen to fall flat on my face on the street when someone has a cellphone trained on me, they could add sound effects and a laugh track and I’m suddenly a YouTube sensation against my will. I don’t think we can legislate ourselves out of that.

      • As for Ford, he very well may have been legally compliant. it’s the context and his criminal associations that make it of greater concern. We know what the unions wanted with taking pictures of people, but with Ford the possible implications are greater. (Not that that would change the filming itself, it’s just that with Ford himself it becomes more menacing).

    • The union is not filming its members, but rather people not affiliated with the union.

      • you’re right. strikebreakers. even worse!

        • Hardly worse than union thugs. At least these guys are willing to work for a living.

          • Not every person associated with a union is thug. Try pulling your head out of your a** and attempting to see things from a different point of view

  2. All we can do is wait until the last union dies a natural death and move on. These dicks have been way over-paid for way too long.

    The judges, former lawyers are obviously going to side with the money whores. If they put my picture on the internet to make me look like a criminal that might make me angry enough to become a criminal. However, if the guy is smart he will sue the
    union individual for violation of privacy. If a cop violated my rights I would sue him as an individual.

    If these humps wanted people to stand with them they would have included the minimum wage people a little better. Or at least check out their demands on a calculator.

    We, the people who make twelve to fifty dollars per hour are members of the one percent. And we live in the same country.

    They haven’t got a leg. They are greedy, stupid and selfish. Only thing worse is Kevin O’Leary.

    Brian Elwin Pomeroy

    • This is what happens when Scab replacement labour is legal It completely undermines the right to strike! I do think it’s wrong to pick on (bully) other low-paid workers like this. I agree with the Kevin O’Leary part of your post too. The rest, not so much. Your second to last paragraph doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I got out my calculator – 12 to 50 per hour equals about $24,960 and $125,000 per year, not exactly part of the one percent which includes $200,000/yr and above. I’m guessing you meant to type 99% instead. PS – Unions aren’t gonna die any time soon. “These dicks have been way over-paid…” Jealous much?

    • Most of your rights as an employee and your working conditions are a result of battles fought in the past by unions. The labour movement led to the legislation. And employers who pay well without unions in their shops usually do so in large measure to avoid having disgruntled employees unionize.
      Yes, some unions have too much power and abuse it. Consider them a necessary evil – a counterbalance to your Kevin O’Learys.

      • It’s amazing how many ignorant people there are out there regarding where the health and safety, workers comp, legal working hours, legal aid etc came from.

        Organised labour ensured that PPE is required and that your employer can’t treat you like an indentured worker when they feel like it.
        Maybe Canadians have had it too good for so long and can’t recall how harsh things were before unions.

        • If you want to see where we are headed, look at what is currently happening in the US.

          As the Depression-era workers and boomers who fought for work safety and basic human rights in the work place get old, forget, or pass away, there won’t be anyone left who remembers how or why we have occupational safety, paid family and medical leave, confidentiality, disability accommodations, or even something as basic as a written contract.

          Younger generations may well have come to take these things for granted, not realizing they were hard-won through efforts that sometimes took decades. They assume a clean, safe, and positive workplace is the status quo because they make sense. Nope, they are first and foremost that way because they are mandated by law.

          And in many US states, these laws are being unmade, rolled back, clawed back.

          If you think union bullying and harassment is bad, remember that in our parents’ day, union members were often singled out and subjected to physical and legal harassment by local law enforcement, defamation for harboring “socialist” views, job and public discrimination, and violence against their families.

  3. It’s rude and disturbing to hear macleans equating strike behaviors with cyberbullying. The comparison is completely fraudulent!

  4. I’m sorry but I’m going to disagree with this article. The casino decided to bring in non-unionized workers, instead of just using white collar workers to keep things running while it’s unionized workers picketed outside. We call this “scab hiring”. The non-unionized workers were very much aware of what they were being hired on to do, so spare me the crocodile tears.

  5. If someone decides to take a “scab” job, then they have to be prepared for some consequence. It’s not like the union was threatening physical harm. No way can this be construed as “cyber-bullying”.

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