Friday, December 13, 2013

Nova Scotia politician alleges cyberbullying, calls the authorities on tweeting teen

I wrote, some time ago, that Nova Scotia's Cyber-safety Act is poorly written, infringes freedom of expression and may be abused. I am afraid to report that I was right. An old cliché says that bad cases make bad law, but we are seeing how a bad law is leading to a bad case.

In the first publicised case referred to the CyberSCAN Units established under the province's Cyber Safety Act, a Nova Scotia politician has called the authorities after a teenager tweeted a topless but public image of the politician. (See: Lenore Zann, L Word actor turned MLA, alleges cyberbullying - Nova Scotia - CBC News and Lenore Zann, actress turned Nova Scotia MLA, launches cyberbullying investigation after teen tweets nude image of her from The L Word | National Post). Apparently Lenore Zann previously appeared topless in the cable TV program "The L Word" and a quick look using your favourite search engine will turn up images. So I'm told.

Not only did the thin-skinned politician call the CyberSCAN Unit on the young fellow, she called his parents, his school principal and the police. And I would say that she also engaged in cyberbullying him. (Not that this is new ... her previous retweets would likely hurt Rob Ford's feelings, too.)

To make it even worse, she called the cybercops on another person who had the temerity to question her judgement in responding to this. The cybercops called him and told him to take down his tweets. I find this incredibly troubling.

The problem with the law is what it captures within the incredibly broad definition of "cyberbullying":

(b) "cyberbullying" means any electronic communication through the use of technology including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, computers, other electronic devices, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, websites and electronic mail, typically repeated or with continuing effect, that is intended or ought 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, and includes assisting or encouraging such communication in any way;

Yup, anything that you do online that hurts someone's self-esteem or their reputation is cyberbullying. Did what this kid do (or was reported to have done) qualify as cyberbullying under this law? Perhaps. Did what she did qualify as cyberbullying? Yup.

Some have suggested that the law has to be so broad to capture all the harmful conduct and we should leave it to the courts and the cybercops to use their judgement in how it is applied. I'm sorry, but as soon as an employee of the government of Nova Scotia picks up the phone and tells a citizen to remove Charter protected speech from the internet, that crosses the line. That goes waaaaay over the line. Canadians have an absolute right to speak truth to power. Canadians have an obligation to call out politicians on hypocrisy and idiocy. An elected official like Lenore Zann, before publicly admonishing a minor, should educate herself about "copyrwite (sic) law", fair dealing and the criminal code. (A bit of free advice: Bill C-12 isn't the law yet and an image taken on a sound stage surrounded by a filming crew for the purpose of international broadcast on cable television likely does not qualify as an intimate image "in respect of which, at the time of the recording, there were circumstances that gave rise to a reasonable expectation of privacy".)

The tragedy is that cyberbullying is a real problem and Lenore Zann is turning this into a farce. The CyberSCAN Unit has a starring role in this farce. The previous government passed a law that is offensive to freedom of expression which will ultimately get struck down and will leave the real victims of cyberbullying with one fewer remedy.

At the risk of having the cybercops calling me (here's my number):

  • The government that jammed this defective law through the legislature without reflection and debate, solely to deflect attention away from police and prosecution failures in the case of Rehtaeh Parsons was contemptible,
  • Lenore Zann is too thin-skinned and has displayed a lack of judgement that makes her unqualified to be an elected official,
  • Lenore Zann comparing herself to Rehtaeh Parsons is OUTRAGEOUS, and
  • if a member of the Cyber Safety Unit actually phoned a citizen and told him to delete a tweet, the Cyber Safety Unit is complicit in this.

And who is going to lose? Freedom of expression and actual victims of cyberbullying. And that's a damn shame.

Update: Here's this evening's CBC TV coverage of the story, including an interview with me. It starts at 7:17.


Unknown said...

Cybercops seem to be overzealous in acting as Judge Judy and Executioner*. That is not their role, that is to be decided by a judge/jury. It's not their job to demand someone remove content. (Case and point: Zann vs. Logic, and also
It's absolutely sickening to see politicians ram through legislation that is inconceivably bad, just to score some political points. Do it right the first time, then you don't end up in a mess, or at the SCC.

Stray observations:
-Suggesting CyberSCAN be renamed CyberSCAM
-"Copywrite", hilarious
-Shouldn't Bruce MacKinnon and Michael de Adder from the Herald be in jail by now, I mean, they're bullying everyday!
-You missed a perfect opportunity to work in a 'call me maybe' joke in. "At the risk of having the cybercops calling me (here's my number, so call me maybe)"
-Give someone 20 seconds and MS paint, and the 'copywrite' infringement easily becomes satire.
-From the article on CBC, "On Twitter she wrote: 'Perhaps you've missed the new federal legislation'" You mean the cyberbullying bill that was only *just* introduced to the HoC? Does she not understand the legislative process? That makes me question her ability to be an MLA.

Hopefully this ends soon before anyone else ends up with egg on their face.

*Note: I felt the Hot Fuzz reference was appropriate as this entire thing *has* to be a joke.

SupremeLawyer said...

Excellent post. This is OUTRAGEOUS.