Straight Talk
ANTHONY FUREY - Law makes cyberbullies of us all

Credits: MIKE DREW/QMI AGENCY

ANTHONY FUREY | QMI AGENCY

Nova Scotia has just used its good intentions to venture down the path to hell. They've made pretty much everyone a potential criminal. And other provinces are threatening to follow.

Last week, the Cyber-Safety Act came into effect.

It's a response to the Rehtaeh Parsons case - the teen who killed herself in April, a year and a half after a party at which four boys allegedly raped her. Sexual photos were distributed at school and Parsons was repeatedly harassed. The act empowers courts to issue "cyberbullying prevention orders" after someone complains.

This includes entering someone's property, seizing laptops or cellphones, shutting off someone's Internet for a year and more. Parents can be punished if they haven't set Internet and texting rules favoured by the courts.

And while the alleged bully can appeal, the conditions still hold throughout the appeals process. Violating the act comes with hefty penalties - including various fines and jail time.

So why is this the road to hell? Well, pause for a second and define "cyberbullying." Not in a loose way, but in a legally precise way. It's near impossible.

Here's how the Act defines it: " ‘Cyberbullying' means any electronic communication ... that is intended or ought reasonably be expected to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, distress or other damage or harm to another person's health, emotional well-being, self-esteem or reputation, and includes assisting or encouraging such communication in any way."

This is broad, ambiguous and so open to abuse. If you goad someone on to post a judgmental tweet or Facebook comment about someone, who in turn feels a little sad about it, you can have your Internet shut down for a year. You might even have to cough over cash to that person - as the act permits the awarding of damages.

This madness proves why we should never craft legislation in response to an emotionally charged issue while it's still in the news.

Anyone who followed the human rights tribunals' transformation into kangaroo courts will appreciate this law could have disastrous outcomes. Basically, Nova Scotians must interact on politically correct terms or say bye-bye to their phones.

Is an overreaching Orwellian law really the best way to honour the memory of a teen gone too soon?

Two weeks ago, Alberta Premier Alison Redford gave in to the hysteria and appointed an "anti-bullying minister" to cabinet.

Sandra Jansen, the new associate minister of family and community safety, had already said she's eyeing similar laws for Alberta.

Few in the current bullying debate appreciate that no legislation is required.

Serious bullying is already illegal - it's called assault, harassment, etc. Light forms of bullying - teasing, name-calling - are facts of life. Toughen up. Life is cruel.

So call the cops when appropriate. In the Parsons case, they determined there wasn't enough evidence for assault charges.

In other cases? Well, rather than cry out for the government to do something whenever a teen commits suicide, we should look at the tools already at our disposal.

Our culture currently turns teen suicides into saints, and acts like they were right to make that choice. We need to make it clear that life gets better and the pains of youth recede with time. Suicide is not an option.

Strength of character - empowering one to endure the weight of bullying, but also not to be a bully - comes from family, support networks, role models, etc. Not some ambiguous set of laws.

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