Mr. Speaker, I am very disappointed that we are debating this recommendation not to proceed with Bill C-273, an act to amend the Criminal Code (cyberbullying).
This legislation was supported very strongly by the Canadian Teachers' Federation and by the Canadian Association of Police Boards, both of whom appeared as witnesses at committee. Thousands of Canadians are using the same social media now to ask people to speak to their MPs and ask them to vote against the proposal not to proceed further with the bill.
The bill was supported at second reading by the New Democratic Party. In fact, the government made a speech at first reading in which it suggested that this was a good bill and that what was wrong with it was that it did not expand to other areas of the Criminal Code. The government suggested some other areas of the Criminal Code, such as uttering threats, false identity and so on. I accepted that those could come as amendments. I expected them to come to committee as amendments.
This legislation went to second reading because the NDP supported it and also because nine members of the Conservative Party voted to send it to committee. It is a tradition in the House that when one votes to send something to committee it is because that person agrees with the principle of the bill, the person agrees with what the bill would do. The person may not agree with all of the methods by which the bill would do it, and that is why it goes to committee for amendments to change it to make it stronger. One does not say, “We do not like it”, after having promised to send it to committee and having had opportunities to bring amendments and then bringing none. My own colleague on the justice committee asked for amendments, begged for amendments, was prepared to suggest amendments, but none of this happened.
The bill is inherently about cyberbullying, the means of using the Internet, electronic media and social media in order to bully or, as I said in my bill, to criminally harass in order to spread defamatory libel or false messaging. Currently the Criminal Code defines very clearly the means of communication by which one cannot do this. To suggest that this is redundant is a fallacy. It is not redundant. The modes of communication that cannot be used are clearly listed, such as newspapers, radio, television, letters, telephone. All of these give the police the ability, when looking to lay charges, to demand the names of the people who used one of these modes of communication. They can search, get private numbers, tap phones and do all of those kinds of things.
The police boards are supporting this legislation because currently, as the hon. member for the NDP said, a crown prosecutor will lay charges. A crown prosecutor cannot lay charges when the person doing the criminal activities is not known. Currently the police do not have the tools and this is why they support the bill. They do not have the tools to be able to make an Internet service provider say who the person doing the false messaging or the criminal harassment is.
I refer to the tragic case of Amanda Todd, the young woman who committed suicide. It was criminal harassment on the Internet against this woman but the police could not bring charges because they could not find out who the person was. If the person had used the media, a telephone, wrote letters, went on television or the radio and said things, the police would have those tools. They do not have the tools for the Internet. The suggestion that it is inherent in the Criminal Code and that some judges have suggested that it applies to new media is not a good enough answer. We cannot only depend on interpretation of the law, the law has to clearly state.
My bill suggests that the law should move into the digital age and clearly name digital media and computers and other things that are used to spread criminal activity such as harassment, false messaging and as the government said uttering threats, identity fraud and so on. It should therefore be clearly stated.
What is the problem when other modes of communication are clearly stated in the bill? Yet everyone believes that we cannot state the newest mode of communication, which has not been put into the Criminal Code. No one is trying to change the Criminal Code. One is clarifying it by adding a new mode of communication. It is as simple as that.
I am quite prepared to add other areas, but unless it is clearly stated in the Criminal Code, it is left constantly to interpretation. That is my point. It is said that many witnesses disagreed with the bill, and I would like to say I have read the proceedings of the committee extremely thoroughly. Many of the witnesses, the police boards, were there; they supported the bill and said that they actually needed those tools to find the person who was promulgating these criminal activities.
We also have the Canadian Teachers' Federation that said it is not good enough to prevent. Prevention alone does not work. There has to be some kind of punitive action in some way to deal with older young people over 16 who clearly know what they are doing.
Again, nothing I am suggesting in this bill would take away the right of a judge to make a decision based on the individual facts of the case, on the age of the person or on all of those things that cause judges to make decisions and decide on sentencing. There is nothing that would prevent a judge from suggesting that looking at this issue and providing a sentence that is restorative justice cannot be done. No one is suggesting that.
There was also a discussion. I noted that most members of the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party asked people who were witnesses a very clear question, which they knew was misinformation. That was “Will this bill stop cyberbullying?”
I said, within my bill, in every speech I made in this House and at the committee, that this is only one small thing that would give the police the tools they need so that identification could be made and charges brought.
We are not just talking about children. Continually, when witnesses talked about trying to criminalize children, the committee heard me clearly say that cyberbullying is not only amongst children and amongst school children. It occurs in the workplace. It occurs in the communities. We have seen examples of this constantly. I named two, because I only had 10 minutes. I could not give an exhaustive list of examples.
Here we have all of these things that have been misrepresented. The committee had an opportunity to suggest that this is not just about children. It is also about adults. It is merely a clarification of the Criminal Code. Restorative justice and all of those things can still occur.
I am suggesting that this is not simply bullying. The thing about cyberbullying is that there is an anonymity associated with it. People can give a false name, on Twitter or whatever, and can say whatever they want. When people reach outside of calling people names, like “Oh, you're fat” or “Oh, you're ugly”, which is psychologically damaging, when people reach into areas where there is criminal harassment, uttering of threats, libel and false messaging, these are criminal acts.
When individuals over 16 or individuals who are adults do this, they do it because they know they cannot be found. My point in this bill is to say that we should give the police the tools to go to an ISP, just as they can tap phones, ask the newspaper to give the name of the person who wrote the letter, ask the telephone company where that telephone call from. They want to be able to do this with the ISPs. The police do not have that ability right now.
The misinformation spread around this bill is actually astounding. I do not understand. If there is a decision not to support the bill, then say so. The government should not go through listening to witnesses, allowing this kind of promulgation of misinformation to occur, not answering the questions properly and then asking everyone at the end of their testimony if they think the bill would stop cyberbullying. Of course it would not.
The bill would only give the police the tools they asked for, simply to bring a charge and, second, to identify the person who is hiding behind the anonymous mask of the Internet.
It is also very clear. I said in every speech I made here and at committee that there needs to be a national cyberbullying strategy, which must include all of the things we do in public health. This is a public health issue. Bullyers and the bullied tend to suffer mental health consequences of bullying whether people bully or are bullied.
Therefore, public health will talk about prevention. It will talk about public education. It will talk about dealing with the mental health issues of whatever is going on among the bullies and the bullied. However, it will also talk about law enforcement. We see that in addiction.
However, there are many stages and many facets to a national strategy, not simply prevention. We know it does not work alone. It is bringing all the facets together. When people suggested it, I said that I think this is what we eventually need to do.
Currently, what the bill seeks to do is to respond to the police—