Remove disputed portions to ensure success of cyber-bullying act: report

The West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund is adding its voice to the calls on the federal government to quickly pass parts of its cyber-bullying legislation. It also is pushing for the removal of contentious lawful access provisions in order to allow for further scrutiny and debate.

The call arises in a new report from West Coast LEAF on what it calls cyber misogyny involving online and often discriminatory sexual harassment of women, hate speech targeting sexual minorities, and stalking and threats directed at former lovers. In it, the organization makes 35 recommendations dealing with areas such as bill C-13, the protecting Canadians from online crime act, as well as civil remedies such as the creation of a new cyber-bullying tort in British Columbia.

The government’s approach to bill C-13 “has meant that the conversation in Parliament has shifted from the protection of women and girls online” to the lawful access provisions, says report author and West Coast LEAF legal director Laura Track.

“It is extremely unfortunate that government has made important legal reforms that would protect the rights of women and girls contingent on also enacting privacy infringing provisions that are likely unconstitutional,” she wrote in the report.

The report follows a similar call by new federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien last week to deal with the lawful access provisions separately. But otherwise, Track says bill C-13’s move to outlaw the non-consensual distribution of intimate images is essential.

“Bill C-13 has some welcome components in it,” she says.

The report released today tackles activities such as online revenge porn, non-consensual sharing of intimate images among youth, child sexual exploitation, cyber stalking, and gender-based hate speech and, according to Track, the aim is to ensure that “equality considerations are at the forefront” of the debate on these issues.

“Far from being harmless locker-room talk or merely ‘boys being boys,’ online hate and harassment against women and girls has real world consequences for their safety, security, and equality rights, and causes real and tangible harms. Just as society has rejected the notion that ‘a man’s home is his castle’ in which he is free to beat and abuse his wife, so too must we reject the notion that the Internet is an anarchic ‘Wild West’ that must be left unregulated in order to foster its full potential,” wrote Track.

Besides the commentary on bill C-13, the report made recommendations in a number of areas, including:

•    Creating a new office independent of government but housed within the Ministry on the Status of Women to deal with cyber misogyny and promote equality of women, girls, and other vulnerable communities online.

•    Expand the mandate of the federal victim assistance program to help low-income victims of cyber misogyny with the financial burden of removing an intimate image from the Internet.

•    Enact a B.C. cyber-bullying tort allowing victims to sue for repeated electronic communications intended to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, extreme distress or other damage to health.

•    Introduce legislation creating a civil wrong of harassment.

On the idea of a new tort, Track notes the B.C. government needs to be careful to enact a provision “while not unduly infringing free-speech rights” by defining cyber bullying too broadly.

“It will be a more effective piece of legislation that way if it’s not being challenged in the courts,” she says.

In addition, West Coast LEAF wants youth exempted from child pornography provisions under the Criminal Code while having bill C-13’s protections against the non-consensual disclosure of intimate images apply to them instead.

“We don’t want to see 16- and 17-year-old children subject to the repercussions of a child pornography conviction,” says Track.

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