HALIFAX – Time will tell if new cyberbullying legislation in Nova Scotia will protect young people from their online tormenters, the father of Rehtaeh Parsons said Wednesday as the law came into effect.
Glen Canning said he hopes the Cyber-Safety Act sends a strong message to bullies who use social media and text messages as weapons.
“It’s only going to be as good as the people enforcing it,” said Canning in an interview.
“We’ve really got to get people on the ground taking it seriously. I think, unfortunately, it took my daughter’s death for that to happen. You just can’t ignore these issues anymore. They’re deadly issues.”
Justice Minister Ross Landry introduced the act in April after Canning’s 17-year-old daughter hanged herself at her home in Halifax. Rehtaeh was taken off life-support a few days later.
The teen’s family has said she was bullied for months after a digital photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted in November 2011 was passed around her school.
The new law allows people to sue if they or their children are being cyberbullied. Victims can also seek a protection order that could place restrictions on or help identify the cyberbully.
“This sends a clear message, cyberbullying is a serious act with serious consequences,” Landry said in a news release.
In the case of a lawsuit, parents of cyberbullies could be held liable for damages if the aggressor is a minor.
Making parents accountable for their children’s actions is a step that’s “long, long, long overdue,” said Canning.
“Kids aren’t getting contracts with cellphone companies or Internet service providers. These are in their parents’ names and their parents should be responsible for how these are being used.”
The act also allows for the creation of an investigative unit consisting of five people dedicated to pursuing and penalizing cyberbullies, whether they’re adults or children.
Landry said the unit will be up and running in September.
Canning said he believes aggressors who hide behind computers and cellphones will be deterred by the possibility of being publicly outed as a cyberbully.
“You get the first two or three cases of this and things are going to change in a real hurry.”
Rehtaeh’s death sparked national outrage and prompted the Nova Scotia government to launch reviews of the RCMP’s original investigation into the case and the school board’s handling of the matter.
An independent review released in June concluded the Halifax Regional School Board could have done a better job, but it was hindered by the fact that Rehtaeh was often absent from class.
The report also said the Parsons family faced challenges when they turned to Nova Scotia’s mental health system for help.
Though his daughter was the catalyst for the Cyber-Safety Act, Canning said he doesn’t believe the law would have necessarily helped Rehtaeh had it been in effect two years ago.
“There was stuff in place that could have been used to help her and it just simply wasn’t because it wasn’t taken seriously enough,” he said.
“That’s what makes it different now. … We’re in a place where we’re just not going to tolerate this kind of stuff anymore.”