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“Cyberbullying”: Your Online Conduct Can Be Criminal

From the Playground to the Internet

“Bullying,” repeatedly saying or doing hurtful things to someone else, has been a sad reality around schools, playgrounds and elsewhere for generations. For decades, such conduct was generally shrugged off with comments like “boys will be boys” or admonitions to “toughen up.” No more. In 2012, Ontario passed the Accepting Schools Act as a response to the growing concern about bullying behaviours, as well as the tragic suicides of a number of bullied students. This act, among other things, raised the disciplinary consequences for students who engage in various forms of harassment and bullying.

While face-to-face bullying is still a problem, the Internet has facilitated new forms of bullying that can do as much harm if not more harm to victims. “Cyberbullying” has become an epidemic problem among teens and adults, and has led to a push to strengthen the laws against such conduct. Currently being debated in Parliament is the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act” which would make it illegal to send intimate photographs of someone online without that person’s permission. Sometimes referred to as “Revenge Porn,” this kind of conduct is just one form of cyberbullying, and even without any changes to existing law, those who engage in certain kinds of bullying and harassing conduct on the Internet are exposing themselves to serious criminal penalties.

Forms of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can take many forms, the most common of which are:

  • Sending mean or threatening emails or text/instant messages.
  • Posting embarrassing photos of someone online.
  • Creating a website to make fun of others.
  • Pretending to be someone by using their name.
  • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others.

Cyberbullying Can Constitute Criminal Harassment and a Host of Other Offences

Current criminal laws already apply to most forms of serious cyberbullying such as criminal harassment or uttering threats. Crown Prosecutors have consistently and successfully brought harassment charges based on online conduct under the same standards and provisions applied to physical harassment. So long as the bully has knowledge that his or her conduct is harassing another person and that the person has a reasonable fear for his or her safety, key elements of harassment under the Criminal Code, they can be found guilty of harassment and be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Depending on the exact nature of the cyberbullying behaviour, the following current Criminal Code offences could be charged:

  • Criminal harassment
  • Uttering threats
  • Intimidation
  • Mischief in relation to data
  • Unauthorized use of a computer
  • Identity fraud
  • Extortion
  • False messages, indecent or harassing telephone calls
  • Counseling suicide
  • Incitement of hatred
  • Child pornography
  • Defamatory libel

Crown Prosecutors take online bullying and harassment very seriously, and will not hesitate to seek harsh penalties for those who engage in such behavior. While the anonymity of the Internet may make it easier to engage in bullying, police and prosecutors can and do obtain information from social media companies and other internet service providers that allow them to identify the perpetrators.

If you are charged with cyberbullying or any other criminal offence involving online conduct, it is essential that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer.

Since 1996, the law firm of Mitch Engel, Barrister & Solicitor has been providing clients throughout the Oshawa, Brampton, and Mississauga areas with top-level criminal defence representation. Mitch Engel understands what acceptable police conduct is and will fight to protect you against actions that violate your rights. With an exclusive focus on criminal defence, he has keen insight into successful defence strategies and is passionate about helping his clients achieve the best possible resolution to their matters. Call Mitch Engel at (866) 761-7077 to get the legal advice you need to reclaim your life.

The materials provided on this site are for information purposes only. These materials constitute general information relating to areas of law familiar to our firm lawyers. They do NOT constitute legal advice or other professional advice and you may not rely on the contents of this website as such.