Cyberbullies are the target of new legislation announced by the federal government on Wednesday, and prominent in the discussion in Ottawa was the case of Amanda Todd.
The teen took her own life in October 2012, at the age of 15, leaving behind a video message on Youtube explaining how she was tormented by her peers online. Todd had transferred between high schools in Maple Ridge and Port Coquitlam during her ordeal.
Carol Todd, her mother, was in Ottawa for the announcement and said she was “really pleased” with the new law.
“It’s about time some legislation came into place. To have it be federal, instead of just provincial, is huge.”
The changes to Canada’s Criminal Code will ban the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, empower the courts to order the removal of intimate images from the Internet, and permit the court to seize the computer, cellphone or electronic device used. It sets out a maximum jail term of five years. The new law will supersede a patchwork of provincial laws aimed at online harassment.
Amanda was the target of blackmail attempts for two years, by a person who had a screenshot of her after she had been convinced to show her breasts.
When she refused to provide more images, the extortionist sent the picture to hundreds of her social media contacts, including family, friends, teachers and students.
CBC television’s documentary news program The Fifth Estate has this month aired a show which questions the police handling of the Todd case. Carol Todd said she contacted the RCMP several times to complain about the sexual extortion.
According to the Fifth Estate program, in November 2011 an RCMP constable e-mailed her saying:
“I would highly recommend that Amanda close all her Facebook and e-mail accounts at this time.
“If Amanda does not stay off the Internet and/or take steps to protect herself online … there is only so much we, as the police, can do.”
Todd said the new law, had it existed in 2011, would have made a difference in her dealings with the RCMP. Police would have had a potential Criminal Code offence as the basis of their investigation.
Her complaint would have been that “a crime has been committed.”
“I think it would have taken away that grey area,” she said.
“It would have been more black and white.”
The legislation alone will not make a difference – there still needs to be more bullying education and prevention messaging, and local police need training in how to deal with these new crimes, said Todd.
“Technology moves ever so fast, and we need to keep up with it.”
The government made the announcement during Bullying Awareness Week.
“Our government is committed to helping ensure that our children are safe from online predators and from online exploitation,” MP Randy Kamp said in a release. “We have an obligation to help put an end to harmful online harassment and exploitation.
“Through this legislation, our Conservative government is sending the message that the bullying and sexual exploitation of our children is a crime and will not be tolerated.”
Todd has become a frequent speaker about cyberbullying. On Monday, she was in Winnipeg for the symposium Beyond Borders – Child Sexual Exploitation in the Digital Age. So, she thought she would be strong through Wednesday’s announcement. But the discussion of the new legislation included Amanda’s story, and those of other victims like her, was tough.
“I was emotional,” she said. “It’s groundbreaking, heartwarming, emotional and bittersweet.”
“I hope she and all those other kids are looking down and just partying up there.”