Ross Landry addresses the media. - Metro photo
The following is a pre-arranged interview with Justice Minister, Ross Landry, which took place this morning on First Cup with John Brannen on ngnews.ca.
John Brannen: Welcome to First Cup!
Ross Landry: Good morning John. I’m pleased to have this opportunity to talk about Nova Scotia’s new Cyber-safety Act.
John Brannen: Thanks for joining me this morning, let's get right to it. Can you tell me a little about the new act?
Ross Landry: Of course. The pieces of the Cyber-safety Act that are now in force allow victims of cyberbullying to apply through the Justice of the Peace Centre for a protection order. This protection order could place restrictions on, or even help identify, the cyberbully. It also clarifies the authority of principals to respond to known incidents of cyberbullying that are having a negative impact on the learning climate of the school. And finally, victims can sue the cyberbully. In September the last piece of this act, our new CyberSCAN unit, will be operational. This unit will investigate complaints of cyberbullying.
John Brannen: And what does this law mean for parents in particular?
Ross Landry: Parents now have legal options if their child is being cyberbullied. Parents can seek a protection order for their child and they could also sue the cyberbully. Protection orders can do a few things. The court could order that a person stop contacting a victim electronically, or talking about them online. It could also ban them from using a particular form of electronic communication, like social media. In some cases, the court might order that police confiscate someone’s smartphone or computer – or it could order that they terminate their Internet access. On the other hand, parents could be held liable for damages if their child is engaged in the cyberbullying activity. They must show that they made reasonable efforts to supervise their child’s online behaviour, and that they tried to stop the cyberbullying if they knew about it.
What we’re saying here is that parents are responsible for teaching their kids about good online behaviour. If they find out their children are bullying someone online, they must try to stop it. I think responsible parents are doing that anyway. I also know bullying and cyberbullying is a challenging issue for everyone. To address this, the Province is supporting families in a number of ways. For example, youth, parents and guardians, educators and community members are participating in the Speak Up anti-bullying leadership conference on August 16-17 to engage in conversation and workshops on this complex issue. Parents and guardians can also access resources on bullying and cyberbullying at http://antibullying.novascotia.ca/
John Brannen: I see. So what does it mean for kids in these situations?
Ross Landry: We want every child and youth in Nova Scotia to know they have a place to turn if they’re being bullied. In addition to these new laws, there a resources available to them. Here’s a link that is helpful http://novascotia.ca/help/
We also want children to know that any kind of bullying is unacceptable. It’s hurtful and harmful. That’s why a new investigative unit will be up and running in September to deal with cyberbullying complaints.
The investigators’ primary goal when dealing with a complaint will be to try and resolve the issue informally. We need to be mindful that some young people may not understand the seriousness of their behavior. Having an investigator come to their door could, very quickly, take away their keyboard courage, stopping the harmful action and teaching them to take responsibility and make better decisions in future.
John Brannen: Certainly, but for me personally that begs the question: what is in fact cyberbullying? How is it defined?
Ross Landry: The issue of bullying and cyberbullying is very complex. Bullying is when someone repeatedly tries to hurt another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation, or property. Helping or encouraging someone to bully another person is also bullying.
Cyberbullying is when someone uses technology to bully someone else. The most common tools are computers, cell phones, and other mobile devices. Bullying messages are often text messages, e-mails, social media posts, or embarrassing photos or videos.
The Act defines cyberbullying as “any electronic communication through the use of technology including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, computers, other electronic devices, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail, typically repeated or with continuing effect, 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.”
John Brannen: So this deals exclusively with the online/technological aspect of bullying. But aren't there laws already in place to deal with cyberbullying?
Ross Landry: That’s a very good question. The Cyber-safety Act deals with civil options not criminal charges. Cyberbullying complaints will be referred to the police if it appears that criminal charges are warranted.
Nova Scotia has also pushed for changes to the Criminal Code and we're very happy to see them moving forward.
John Brannen: I see. So what about adults? I'm sure some adults would characterize some of their interactions as cyberbullying. Do these new laws apply to ALL cyberbullying, even between adults?
Ross Landry: Yes it does John.
John Brannen: Interesting. And I see that school principals are now accountable for what happens off school grounds and after hours. Isn't that putting a lot on their plate (are their salaries increasing)?
Ross Landry: So again, the amendment to the Education Act clarifies the authority of principals to respond to known incidents that are having a negative impact on the learning climate of the school. We know that incidents of bullying and cyberbullying that happen beyond school grounds or after school hours can impact the school environment. Victims of bullying and cyberbullying outside of school may feel unsafe to attend school. So this isn’t an additional duty for principals – they have always responded to incidents in this way.
Revisions to the Act also include a commitment to reviewing the Provincial Code of Conduct Policy – this will ensure principals, teachers, students and parents have a clear understanding of expectations and clear guidelines for responding effectively.
John Brannen: How much is Roger Merrick and the 5 investigators of CyberScan costing the Justice Dept./Government?
Ross Landry: The CyberSCAN unit is an important piece of the new Act and is the first in Canada. We anticipate the CyberSCAN unit will cost $800,000 a year. We’ll spend half that amount getting the unit up and running this fiscal year. As you’ve noted, it will have a director and five investigators, and will be set up similarly to the unit that enforces the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act.
John Brannen: It's clear the Rehtaeh Parsons case was the impetus for this legislation, but were the recent arrests in that case related to the new cyberbullying legislation?
Ross Landry: I’m not able to comment on the Rehtaeh Parsons’ case, only the police can speak to their investigation.
I can say that my thoughts are with Rehteah’s family. I know this has been a long and painful process for them. This is, in part, why we created the unit and legislation. We saw a gap and took steps to address it to help prevent similar situations in the future.
At the end of the day, this is a serious problem and we all have to work together to truly change attitudes and behaviour.
John Brannen: Indeed. Thanks so much for your time and shedding more light on this new act and what it means for Nova Scotians.