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Cyberbullying could be added to Criminal Code

Allison Gibbard Photo

Cyberbullying is something that is increasing with the advancement of technology. Minister of Justice Shirley Bond has announced that a working group has been appointed to look into whether the Criminal Code adequately addresses cyberbullying.

Bullying is not just cruel, and new changes to the Criminal Code could make it a crime.

British Columbia wants to make cyberbullying a priority and requested that a national working look into both cyberbullying and the Criminal Code in order to investigate if revisions are needed with the criminal code to address cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying was something that was addressed at the federal-provincial-territorial meeting of ministers responsible for justice and public safety.  The meeting was held in Saskatchewan from Oct. 30 to Nov.1, 2012. In a statement released by justice minister and attorney general Shirley Bond, she explained how it’s important that cyberbullying is discussed nationally.

“This is an issue in all of our jurisdictions,” she said.

Bond also explained that during this discussion it was agreed upon to form an ad hoc working group to discover if the Criminal Code has gaps that need to be addressed because of the fast past changes that are occurring in social media and the online world due to the vast advances and changes in technology.

Assistant Superintendent for School District 59 Rob Dennis said that taking a close look into the criminal code and where cyberbullying falls under it is important.

“I do believe that it has to be included in the criminal code. Some of the cyberbullying contains graphic tweets between... people and if they were uttered in public would be a criminal offense. So this is new technology that the old criminal code does not address and so I do believe that is has to be incorporated into the criminal code in some fashion so that there’s penalty for threats and harassment that occur in cyberspace,” explained Dennis.

He also said that with the advancement in technology the criminal code may not be sufficient in dealing with the issues that new technology brings.

“The criminal code was written when there was no contemplation of cyber bullying and so I think really what it’s doing is extending or expanding what is already criminal law that has to do with harassment and physical bullying,” said Dennis.

While Cpl. Jodie Shelkie of the Fort St. John RCMP said taking another look at the code to see if it can better protect victims is a good thing, she also noted that currently there are options under the criminal code that can be used to combat cyberbullying

“There are some things there that were traditional put into the criminal code because it would happen in person but now it applies also to online. I think they’re probably just going to clarify and flesh out what’s currently in the Criminal Code so that it can be specific to the internet,” she said.

“Currently, there is provision within the Criminal Code to deal with death threats and harassment that may be done through cyber bullying but if they expand their language around what harassment and intimidation may be it may change the threshold by which we would contact the RCMP.”

Dennis also noted that currently the schools do have policies in place to help eliminate cyberbullying but he noted that for the most part it’s not something that happens on their property.

“We don’t see a lot of cyberbullying in the schools, we see most of the cyber bullying occurring in the evening and on weekends with kids.”

Stephen Petrucci Director of Instruction for School for School District 60 believes that education is also an important aspect when it comes to cyberbullying.

“In addition to any sort of legislative action, their program around the erase bullying prevention strategies is also equally important,” he said.

The Erase bullying program focuses on the idea of school connectedness which means the way students feel they belong or don’t belong in school.

When asked how dealing with bullying would change in the school if the criminal code was updated to include bullying, Dennis explained that it might change how and when the RCMP is contacted.

Shelkie agreed that there does need to be action taken against cyberbullying.

“It’s important for the bullies to know what the consequences are. First of all there’s legal consequences and second of all there are studies that show that over 60 per cent of people who have criminal records as adults are identified as bullies as children, so if they’re a bully now there’s a good chance they’ll be a bully later.”

With the advancement in technology Shelkie did say that bullying is increasing and part of the reason that she believes it’s increasing is because bullies don’t have to face their victims in person.

“It’s easier to sit behind a computer screen and bully someone,” Shelkie said.

She also explained it can be hard to track cyber bullying because people can hide their identities and specially trained computer people have to be brought in to investigate.

“That’s maybe where some laws need to come into effect where it’s easier for us to get the names of people who are using specific sites so we can investigate further that way.”

It’s clear that technology has changed the way the bullying takes place and that the government has decided to reflect that in the Criminal Code.  

Shelkie added, “If there’s something that’s going to protect victims better and it can be written into the Criminal Code to give us as police officers that leverage than I think it needs to be investigated.”



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