WINNIPEG – Relatives of four teenage girls who died after being cyberbullied or lured online met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday and came away optimistic that laws will be changed to crack down on Internet tormentors.
“I’m very pleased with the meeting because (Harper) took the time to listen to us,” said Carol Todd. Her daughter Amanda committed suicide in the Vancouver area last year after being sexually exploited and harassed online.
“He’s made the suggestion that he will look at it and hopefully enforce a change that will make our communities and our society safer in the digital world.”
Glen Canning, whose daughter Rehtaeh Parsons committed suicide in Halifax earlier this year after relentless online torment, said Harper promised to “do everything he can so victims have a voice and to minimize the amount of victims we have in this country.”
The federal government is already considering new criminal laws that could include a ban on distributing intimate images without consent.
“We are expediting a review of the Criminal Code with the provinces that was already underway on these very matters, to identify potential gaps with regard to cyberbullying,” Harper said before the start of the hour-long, private meeting. “And we are looking for other practical suggestions to combat such terrible acts.”
The relatives he met with had suggestions as well.
Todd said Internet and cellphone service providers should be forced to cut off service to people who engage in cyberbullying.
Canning backed that idea and suggested governments and Internet providers also must lift the veil on anonymous commenters and fake online identities.
“If you harass someone offline and you’re driving them insane, they can go to the police and they can have you arrested. But if you do it online, you can hide behind something. You can hide behind the nickname name Mickey Mouse and do whatever you want,” Canning said.
“You can drive someone to the point where they’re killing themselves, and that’s just wrong, and it has to change.”
Jo-Ann Landolt, whose niece Kimberly Proctor was murdered by two other teens in Victoria, B.C., in 2010, said schools should do more to warn students about the dangers of dealing with strangers online.
The meeting also included Pam Murchison, whose daughter Jenna Bowers-Bryanton committed suicide in 2011 after months of bullying both online and at her school in Truro, N.S.
Canning said he hopes such meetings will soon be unnecessary.
“We’re a part of the worst parent group in the country and we don’t want any more members. The idea right now of a parent … walking into a bedroom and looking at the horror of the consequences of us failing again is just not an option.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had the first name of Rehtaeh Parsons spelling incorrectly.