Canada: Legal Responses To Cyberbullying: The ‘Unsupervised Public Playground’

Should a student be suspended or expelled for posting a video on the Internet that mercilessly humiliates another student? Should a school principal be able to search a student's cellphone much like a school locker? What should happen to those students who intentionally post information about a fellow student that causes them to contemplate suicide?

Such questions arise following the tragic recent death of Rahtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old Nova Scotia girl who died in April 2013, after hanging herself. The suicide was in response to a picture, shared around Rahtaeh Parsons's school, of an alleged sexual assault involving her.

This deeply sad incident occurred on the heels of the suicide of 15-year-old B.C. teenager Amanda Todd, who experienced months of cyberbullying which started after pictures were posted of her on the Internet. Shortly before Amanda took her young life, she posted a YouTube video documenting her suffering.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is generally known as electronic communication intended to, or that could 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. It often manifests itself by students, the effects of which are experienced at school. Cyberbullying can include:

  • creating a web page or a blog in which a student assumes the identity of another student;
  • impersonating another student as the author of content or messages posted on the Internet; and
  • communicating material electronically to more than one student or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more students.

It goes without saying that children can suffer harm through cyberbullying, including loss of self-esteem, anxiety, fear and school drop-outs. Moreover, victims of cyberbullying are almost twice as likely to report that they attempted suicide compared to young people who have not been bullied. For more information about this, we recommend Nova Scotia's Task Force Report on Bullying called Respectful and Responsible Relationships: There's No App for That.

As this Report notes, the anonymity available to cyberbullies makes it easier to bully because it removes the traditional power imbalance between the bully and victim, and makes it difficult to prove the identity of the perpetrator. Anonymity allows young people, who might not otherwise engage in bullying, the opportunity to do so with less chance of repercussion. It is easier to be anonymously bold electronically than to be bold directly to someone's face. (Please see YouTube's Talent Show, Cyberbullying Prevention Commercial.)

Legislative Responses to Cyberbullying

The Todd and Parsons incidents thrust the issue of cyberbullying into the legislative spotlight. British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia, among other provinces, provided legislative responses to cyberbullying to assist victims and their families, and to ensure that school administrators have the tools they need to deal with cyberbullying on and off school property.

Nova Scotia

In April 2013, Nova Scotia introduced the Cyberbullying Safety Act which will create Canada's first cyber-investigative unit and allow families and victims to get protection orders from the court to ban a person from contacting the victim, talking about them online, or using any form of electronic communication. The Act provides for significant search-and-seizure powers permitting an investigative squad (without notice to the alleged cyberbully) to enter homes, remove computers and cellphones, and obtain records of everything an individual has done on the Internet including obtaining all texts that the purported cyberbully sent and received. The Act also provides that victims can sue cyberbullies and, if the cyberbully is a minor, their parents could be responsible for the damages. School principals in Nova Scotia will also have clear authority to act against bullying and cyberbullying on or off school grounds.


Ontario's Accepting Schools Act requires school boards and schools to prevent bullying, mete out tougher punishment for bullying and support students who want to promote understanding and respect for all, including requiring school boards to:

  • work with the school community to develop a bullying prevention and intervention plan and make the plan public;
  • investigate reported incidents of bullying;
  • support students who have been bullied, who have witnessed bullying and who have bullied;
  • inform parents about bullying incidents involving their children and discuss the available supports; and
  • issue tougher consequences for bullying and hate-motivated actions up to, and including, expulsion.

British Columbia

British Columbia introduced its Erase Bullying strategy in June 2012 and dedicated $2 million to train educators and others to recognize and address threats. In November 2012, at B.C.'s request, a national working group discussed the issue of cyberbullying and considered whether the Criminal Code should be amended to address implications associated with cyberbullying.


As part of its major revision to the current School Act, Alberta added a definition of 'bullying' in the new Education Act, which is expected to become law in 2015. Some have suggested that the new 'bullying' provisions in the Education Act are some of the strongest in the country.

The proposed Education Act defines "bullying" as repeated and hostile or demeaning behaviour by an individual in a school community which is intended to cause harm, fear or distress to one or more other individuals in the school community, including psychological harm or harm to an individual's reputation. The Act describes what is expected of Alberta students when it comes to bullying: they are to refrain from, report and not tolerate bullying or bullying behaviour directed toward others in the school, whether or not it occurs within the school building, during the school day or by electronic means. Worthy of note is that the Act creates a positive obligation on students to report bullying.

It also makes it an obligation on Alberta school boards to offer a "welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that includes the establishment of a code of conduct for students that addresses bullying behaviour."

The Proposed Legislative Responses are not a Full Answer to Cyberbullying

While the proposed legislative reforms are not expected to stop student cyberbullying, the reforms are intended to provide tools to courts, the justice system, school administrators, victims and their families to deal with cyberbullying and its effect in schools. It is a step in the right direction. The legislation sends a strong message about cyberbullying – this type of behaviour is not acceptable in our society.

Lessons can also be learned from the American legislative experience. In June 2010 the New York Times ran a opinion article about New York's legislative requirement that schools implement an anti-bullying curriculum, investigate incidents of bullying and report certain cases to the police. As noted in Education Law Blog, the New York article explores how cyberbullying is being treated in the U.S. by judges and lawyers, schools, victims and their families. One issue considered is that cyberbullying raises the common question for schools about the limits of their jurisdiction and whether (and to what extent) schools are responsible for off-campus student conduct. Under Alberta's proposed Education Act, cyberbullying extends beyond the school walls and gives authority to school administrators to address cyberbullying that occurs off school property.

While laws alone may not create kinder communities or teach children how to get along, the current legislative reforms empower school boards to appropriately address cyberbullying and send a strong message to students and their parents – cyberbullying is unacceptable, it will be addressed and will not be tolerated.

If cyberbullying is an issue your child is experiencing, we recommend you talk to your school principal and police (depending on the circumstances). You may also wish to consult Need Help Now, which is a website designed to instruct teens and their parents on how to deal with cyberbullying and how to remove pictures from the Internet.

See more at:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Events from this Firm
27 Oct 2016, Seminar, Edmonton, Canada

Alberta is going through a difficult economic period. These times can be challenging and while owners struggle to get their business through the rough patch, they want to preserve the assets and capital they have built up.

2 Nov 2016, Webinar, Calgary, Canada

“Problem Employees” come in a variety of forms but seem to take up the majority of an employer’s time. Each form brings its own challenges and each must be addressed in a different way.

30 Nov 2016, Webinar, Calgary, Canada

Legal issues surrounding contaminated sites affects landowners, developers, realtors, as well as consultants and contractors working on the front lines. This webinar will provide a practical review of how the legislation is actually being used, recent court decisions, challenges with brownfield developments, and future changes.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.