Rehtaeh Parsons-inspired cyberbullying law struck down in N.S.

HALIFAX -- A Nova Scotia judge struck down a law inspired by the death of Rehtaeh Parsons on constitutional grounds Friday, ruling it violates Charter rights to freedom of expression and liberty.

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Justice Glen McDougall of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia also declined a Crown request to suspend his declaration that the law is invalid for 12 months to allow the legislature time to amend it.

In his decision, McDougall says the other option of striking down the "offending portions" of the law isn't practical either.

"The remaining parts of the act cannot survive on their own," he writes. "They are inextricably connected to the offending provisions, in particular the definition of cyberbullying. ... The act must be struck down in its entirety."

Lawyer David Fraser challenged the the Cyber-safety Act on constitutional grounds as part of a case involving client Robert Snell, who was placed under a cyber safety protection order sought by his former business partner last December. McDougall's ruling also voids that order.

Fraser argued the law was too broad and an "unreasonable and unjustified" infringement of freedom of expression rights.

The Crown said the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the freedom of expression is not an "absolute right" and some limits must be placed even on fundamental rights when social values conflict.

But McDougall says the law fails to balance an individual's right to free speech against society's interests in giving victims of cyberbullying greater access to justice.

McDougall says the law is too broadly written and as a result infringes on a person's right to liberty, too.

"I have already found that the act, and in particular the definition of cyberbullying, is overbroad. By casting the net too broadly, and failing to require proof of intent or harm, or to delineate any defences, the act limits the right to liberty in a way that has no connection with the mischief it seeks to address."

The law was passed in May 2013 in response to public outrage over the death of Parsons.

Her family alleges the teen was sexually assaulted in November 2011 and bullied for months after a digital photo of the assault was passed around her school. Parsons died after attempting suicide in April 2013.



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