Wednesday, February 12, 2014

More details about Nova Scotia's first cyberbullying prevention order

Yesterday, I blogged about the first cyberbullying prevention order issued under Nova Scotia's Cyber-safety Act. (See: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: Nova Scotia court issues first cyberbullying prevention order.)

At that point, all I had to go on was the media reporting. Since then, I've managed to get my mitts on the Order of Justice Robertson, the brief filed by the Nova Scotia Director of Public Safety, the affidavit of Chief Paul, and the affidavit of CyberScan Unit enforcement officer Dana Bowden. No copy of actual decision or reasoning of the judge is available. Hopefully that will be released shortly.

In the past, I've been critical of the over-breadth of the Cyber-safety Act and its definition of cyberbullying that can capture legitimate speech that is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Most of the reporting on this case focused on comments that were characterised as harassing. The crown attorney went even further:

Crown attorney Angela Jones told the court that the comments made by Prosper were “defamatory, vulgar, … abusive and obscene.”

[None of the comments that I saw met the legal definition of "obscene".]

However, the contents of the affidavit seem to tell a different tale. While certainly the communications that were alleged to have been made by the respondent were what I would call unpleasant, sometimes vulgar and certainly repeated, it also appears to be rooted in questions related to the management of the finances of the Pictou Island First Nation overseen by the complainant. I didn't see any attempt anywhere in the documents to do anything less than shut the respondent down completely. The CyberScan investigator met with the respondent and told him to stop all of his communications with the Chief, not to tone it down.

While this is the first such order, it's a bit disheartening that a statute with the potential to dramatically chill constitutionally protected speech doesn't seem to be applied in a manner to temper this overreach, as was the case when a constituent of Nova Scotia MLA Lenore Zahn was told by the CyberScan Unit to remove tweets that questioned her judgement.

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