What are the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying?
It is an offence under Canada’s Criminal Code to share intimate images of a person without the consent of the person in the image. This offence came into force on March 10, 2015. This law applies to everyone, not just people under 18.The purpose of this offence is to protect the privacy a person has in his or her nudity or sexual activity.
With digital technology rapidly changing, there has been an increase of cyberbullying in the form of distributing intimate or sexual images without the consent of the person in the photo or video.
This type of behaviour can occur in a variety of situations. Often it appears to be a form of revenge: a person has willingly shared an intimate image of themselves with a boyfriend or girlfriend, and when the relationship ends, the partner may distribute those photos in what is sometimes called 'revenge porn'.
Whatever the motivation, the impact of this kind of cyberbullying can be devastating to a person's self-esteem, reputation and mental health. In some cases, these acts may have played a part in teens taking their own lives.
Judges now have the authority to order the removal of intimate images from the Internet if the images were posted without the consent of the person or persons in the image.
Anyone convicted of distributing an intimate image without consent could face serious legal consequences. For example:
- They could be imprisoned for up to five years;
- Their computer, cell phone or other device used to share the image could be seized; and
- They could be ordered to reimburse the victim for costs incurred in removing the intimate image from the Internet or elsewhere.
An “intimate image” is defined as an image that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activity or that depicts a sexual organ, anal region or breast. Furthermore, the image would have to be one where there person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time of the recording and had not relinquished his or her privacy interest at the time of the offence.
Other laws related to cyberbullying
Several other Criminal Code offences also deal with bullying, including cyberbullying.
Depending on the exact nature of the behaviour, the following current offences could be charged:
- Criminal harassment
- Uttering threats;
- Mischief in relation to data;
- Unauthorized use of computer;
- Identity fraud;
- False messages, indecent or harassing telephone calls;
- Counselling suicide;
- Incitement of hatred; and,
- Defamatory libel
Provincial laws related to cyberbullying
Some provinces have laws dealing specifically with both online and offline bullying. For more information, visit Media Smarts.
If you know of someone who has been the victim of cyberbullying that constitutes a criminal offence, please contact your local police authorities.
Federal Government Resources (in alphabetical order):
- Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
Information on Youth Privacy and tools to help advise youth about the relevance and importance of privacy when using digital technologies.
- RCMP's Centre for Youth Crime Prevention
Provides Canadians with age-appropriate crime prevention messages, information, tools and programs to prevent youth crime and victimization.
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