Bill C-31 combats cyberbulling

A new legislation would criminalize sending intimate images through technology without consent. (Photo by Ryan Hueglin)

A new legislation would criminalize sending intimate images through technology without consent. (Photo by Ryan Hueglin)

On Nov. 20, new legislation was announced with the purpose of combatting cyberbullying in light of Bullying Awareness Week.

Bill C-31 was tabled on Wednesday by the federal government.

The bill, if passed, would close an identified gap in the Criminal Code relating to cyberbullying by creating a new criminal offence prohibiting the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.

This would make it a crime for the receiver to distribute intimate images containing sexual acts or other sexual organs electronically without consent. Transferring intimate images could result in up to five years imprisonment.

The recent legislation is largely related to the tragic cyberbullying cases of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, both of which were high profile bullying-related youth suicides.

“I think it is a very important step forward,” said Dave Fraser, the director of public relations and social media at the Canadian Safe School Network. “We have seen a few provinces and municipalities have instigated their own cyber-bills or anti-bullying laws.”

“It is important to see someone take a stand federally.”

Fraser also expressed the thought that government is about “seven to eight years late” with the legislation. He explained that with the rise of technology, its influence will be crucial in reducing cyberbullying.

The new proposed bill, however, also has elicited a great amount of controversy, as it includes more than just cyberbullying legislation.
Bill C-13 also includes provisions on police surveillance of terror suspects and tracking of people who are accessing WiFi or cable TV services without paying.

“At first I thought it was great because I think cyberbullying is terrible,” said Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, a Wilfrid Laurier University prof who is the Canada research chair in international human rights.

“Since then, I understand from the news that the government has also included clauses that give expanded powers to the police that give the police access to the Internet to search without warrant.”

“I am opposed to that,” she added.

Critics are accusing the government of using high-profile cyberbullying cases to increase capacity for Internet surveillance.

“I agree with the bill in terms of that it is trying to end cyberbullying, but I think it will be hard to get there,” said Ali Berish, a student of psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“I do not believe the government should be involved in our lives on the Internet unless necessary to do so.”

Bill C-31 has passed its first reading.

Fraser continued, “We hope it reduces distribution of illicit images that has a run-off effect of fewer cyber-bullying cases.”

“The unfortunate thing about this law is that we will not know if it works until somebody breaks it.”

*This article has been updated since its original publishing date.*

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