moved that Bill C-273, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure again to stand in the House to speak to this bill.
Bill C-273 is an act to amend the Criminal Code under the heading of cyberbullying. There are three sections of the Criminal Code that are applicable here and that are currently applicable.
The first is “Criminal Harassment”, which states:
No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.
That includes repeatedly communicating this criminal harassment, directly or indirectly, to the other person or anyone known to them and engaging in threatening conduct. It is an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
The second component of the Criminal Code that I need to talk about is section 298, which is about defamatory libel.
Defamatory libel is anything that is:
published, without lawful justification or excuse, that is likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him [or her] to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or that is designed to insult the person of or concerning whom it is published.
A defamatory libel may be published directly, by insinuation or irony, in words legibly marked upon any substance.
The third piece that I attempt to change is the one that speaks to the issue of false messaging, which states:
[Anyone] who, with intent to injure or alarm any person, conveys or causes or procures to be conveyed by letter, telegram, telephone, cable, radio or otherwise information that he [or she] knows is false is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
What I am attempting to do with these three areas is amend the Criminal Code by adding “using electronic messaging” and “using a computer” to be able to continue to do these three prohibited components in the Criminal Code.
Today, if we look at any of those issues, whether it be defamatory libel, et cetera, one cannot use a telephone to do it, one cannot print it on paper, one cannot say it to someone else or say it on the radio. However, we now have a new modern mode of communication called the computer or electronic media. People have been using that communications mode in order to commit these three prohibited criminal offences. What I intend to do is add the new communications mode, which is the computer or electronic messaging, to the Criminal Code.
I want to add that it is very important to understand that cyberbullying is not an age-related thing. Bullying may be age related, such as when somebody pushes somebody in the school, calls them a name, talks to people in the school and makes fun of them. That is the kind of bullying we are very familiar with in the playground and in the school. The thing about the new method of communications, via computer, electronic messaging and social messaging, is that the person can be of any age. It goes on in offices. A neighbour who may not like us or someone who knows us in political life or another life may try to spread information about a person at any age. The insidiousness of using this mode of communication is that it is there forever. We can be 90 years old and it is still there in social media, in a computer, set there for life, whatever it is these people did that fall under the subsections of the Criminal Code I am speaking about.
Students say to us that they are bullied in the schoolyard but when they go home they know they are safe, they are with their family and friends and they can escape the harassment and the statements people are making about them. Today, it is on people's BlackBerrys, iPhones or computers. It is inescapable. They can travel from Penticton to Bonn, Germany, and it follows them everywhere. Therefore, whatever happens with respect to cyberbullying is there forever and follows people wherever they go, to whatever corner of the earth and whatever age. That makes it an insidious, dangerous and permanent form of bullying.
It is a new phenomenon that is linked to advancements in technology. One can be bullied by mobile, wireless and the Internet. Bullying can happen by posting harmful, cruel text messages or images, by posting sensitive private information about another person, by pretending to be someone else to make a person look bad or by intentionally smearing someone from an online group. Bullying, no matter where it occurs, is about power, control and human relationships. The intent is to harass, degrade and inflict harm and fear. This is different from traditional bullying as it is done with anonymity. That is another piece of cyberbullying. It is anonymous. For example, it could be from somebody named firstname.lastname@example.org. One would have no idea who the person is. Therefore, anonymity is a problem.
As I said, the reach of the Internet is international, reaches around the world and endures over the course of one's life. There are many campaigns out there to combat bullying and many are in schools. Although this type of bullying is not age restricted, recent examples of the impact of bullying that we know about are mostly in schools. Quite often adults do not like to complain. It is shameful for them to know that somebody is bullying them and they do not know who is doing it. They try to hide it and keep it secret. Therefore, the data that has been collected so far has been from a lot of information collected in schools, but I will give one example outside of a school.
As with Jamie Hubley and the high-profile case of Tyler Clementi in the United States, cyberbullying can affect one's mental health, well-being, academic performance and ability to get a job. For people who were cyberbullied when they were 25 years old, if that was pulled up when they were trying get a promotion at age 50, it might be conceived as true and the answer to the promotion might be no. It affects every aspect of one's life.
A recent study by Jennifer Shapka at UBC found that children especially do not equate cyberbullying with traditional forms of bullying and that currently all of the anti-bullying techniques we have set up to deal with bullying do not work. They work for the traditional in-your-face bullying such as name-calling, shoving and pushing, but they do not actually work to prevent cyberbullying. We need to look at this as a real problem.
In the study of 17,000 Vancouver students, 30% reported taking part in cyberbullying compared to 12% who took part in real bullying. Only 12% take part in real bullying because they are identifiable and so most do not do it. However, they feel anonymous and safe when they cyberbully and so a larger percentage have been cyberbullying.
A startling revelation was that 95% said that what happens online is only intended as a joke. However, this joking does serious and permanent harm. Again, one of the problems with cyberbullying is that people have no way of knowing if it is a joke or not. They do not see facial expressions with cyberbullying nor do they see mannerisms. It is just a clear cut statement.
Another difference is the anonymity, as I said, and I want to reflect on that end of it. It means that anyone today can be a bully because they can hide behind that anonymity. It could be someone who everyone respects and thinks is a really neat person who is doing the bullying. The perception that a bully has to be more powerful, bigger or more popular applies only in one-on-one bullying in a school yard or face to face. It does not apply with online bullying.
Much of the content posted online can follow people for the rest of their lives. It never goes away, even after their death. Therefore, there are serious implications with cyberbullying, and one is that it can lead to suicide. I mentioned Tyler Clementi. He was a young gay student who took his life after his roommate at university video-recorded his personal relationship with another young male over the Internet. Shortly afterwards, Tyler jumped off a bridge. A court recently found Tyler's roommate guilty of a number of offences, including breach of privacy and hate crime.
Those types of bullying happen every day. I believe as legislators we have a responsibility to lead by example. That is why I have introduced this legislation that I hope all members will support. It does not create any new Criminal Code legislation. It uses the existing Criminal Code legislation, the sections that deal with defamatory libel, false messages and criminal harassment.
Adding electronic forms of communication to those sections would clarify cyberbullying in the same manner as traditional print, telecommunications, television and radio are also identified under these headings. Other jurisdictions are beginning to look at how to combat cyberbullying, and this is happening in the European Union now. Actually Nova Scotia is leading in Canada in looking at this issue.
No legislation can end bullying or cyberbullying, but this change would offer a protection to the victim and decrease the risk of cyberbullying because people would understand that there is a penalty attached to it and it would take away the powerlessness that the victim feels. There is nothing more effective than public awareness campaigns, programming in schools, et cetera, but this bill would raise awareness, encourage a debate and it would lead to a Criminal Code that is keeping pace with new advancements in technology.
I hope members will support this bill. I want to stress that this problem of cyberbullying is pervasive, is not limited to any age, will follow us through the rest of our life and is now happening in every environment, whether in Parliament or among office staff, friends or community advocates. People out there are engaging in cyberbullying constantly. I want to stress that this is not an age-related issue and it can harm people for the rest of their lives and even until after death. I know there are physical and psychological effects of cyberbullying, but the fact is that it is broader reaching than the schoolyard and the office. The damage and harm continues. It is forever there in cyberspace for anyone to see or to read.