Is C-13 Needed?: How Canadian Law Already Features Extensive Rules to Combat Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying was in the news last week with Justice Minister Peter MacKay indicating that Bill C-13 could pass by the spring. The reaction to the bill – the government’s lawful access/cyberbullying legislation – has generally included criticism over the inclusion of lawful access provisions from Bill C-30 along with assurances that the cyberbullying provisions are important and worthy of support (though experts in the field doubt whether it will stop online taunting). I discuss the dangers associated with Bill C-13 in this interview on TVO’s The Agenda.

Comments from Conservative MPs unsurprisingly point to the need to protect children from cyberbullying. For example, Conservative MP John Carmichael told the House of Commons:

Mr. Speaker, I am a parent and a grandparent. I have concerns about my children in this day and age of technology. I have watched my three-year-old grandson navigate through an iPad, and I do not have any idea how he moves through the technology. Clearly, in today’s world there is so much access to different types of attacks on our children. Obviously, entertainment is one thing that we want our children to have, but I think we also have to be wise in what we allow them to watch or see.

Clearly, there are elements who take advantage of our children and our grandchildren in this world. We have all heard horrible stories. A member spoke earlier about a resident in his community who committed suicide, with no hope, feeling perhaps that her life had been ruined. This bill brings hope to all Canadians. It brings us an opportunity to put regulation and legislation in place that will protect our children and our grandchildren from those who would take advantage of them. I think it does exactly what it was intended to do when the Minister of Justice introduced it.

Beyond protecting children and grandchildren – something we all agree upon – the Conservatives frequently point to a June 2013 report on cyberbullying from federal and provincial justice ministers as the basis for Bill C-13.

Yet despite the claims that Bill C-13 is needed to address cyberbullying, the reality is that report found that the Criminal Code already addresses most cyberbullying issues. As the report notes:

There is no specific provision in the Criminal Code for cyberbullying, or even bullying more generally. Bullying captures a wide range of behaviour, most of which does not amount to criminal conduct, for example, name calling, teasing, belittling and social exclusion. However, when the bullying behaviour reaches the level of criminal conduct, the Criminal Code contains several provisions that can address this behaviour.  Depending on the nature of the activity involved, a number of Criminal Code offences may apply to instances of bullying or cyberbullying, including:

  • criminal harassment (section 264)
  • uttering threats (section 264.1);
  • intimidation (subsection 423(1)),
  • mischief in relation to data (subsection 430(1.1));
  • unauthorized use of computer (section 342.1);
  • identity fraud (section 403);
  • extortion (section 346);
  • false messages, indecent or harassing telephone calls (section 372);
  • counselling suicide (section 241);
  • defamatory libel (sections 298-301);
  • incitement of hatred (section 319); and,
  • child pornography offences (section 163.1);

The report identifies several additional provisions that may be applicable.  The resulting substantive recommendations are very limited, namely an expansion of the harassment provisions and removing costs in libel cases.

The report also recommends a new provision on the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, however, it acknowledges that this issue extends far beyond cyberbullying and “there is limited data on the extent and the nature of this activity.” Moreover, the report notes the Criminal Code can be used in some cases: images of persons under the age of 18 would qualify under the child pornography rules, while provisions on voyeurism, obscene publication, criminal harassment, and defamatory libel may also be used. As David Fraser notes, the failure of high profile cyberbullying cases in Canada lies with police and prosecutorial failure to use the laws that were readily available, not in the absence of laws that can be used to combat cyberbullying.


  1. Scary Times
    God save us all if this bill passes!

  2. The world will end as we know if this passes!

  3. Department of Justice says:

    Response to Is C-13 Needed?: How Canadian Law Already Features Extensive Rules to Combat Cyberbullying
    By making it illegal to distribute an intimate image of a person without their consent, Bill C-13 addresses a gap in the Criminal Code that was identified by a working group of Federal Provincial and Territorial officials. That working group also recognized the importance of updating our current laws so that law enforcement authorities can conduct a thorough lawful investigation of this new offence and other crimes committed through the use of the Internet or that leave electronic evidence. Updating the investigative tools will not only assist police in investigating the new offence, but all other offences where electronic evidence is an issue.

    C-13 would provide police and prosecutors with judicially-authorized tools to investigate offences that are committed via the Internet or that involve electronic evidence. To be clear, this new legislation does NOT legislate telecommunications infrastructure modification, nor does this legislation give police additional powers to compel telecommunications companies to provide subscriber information without a warrant. This Bill does permit VOLUNTARY disclosure, which would allow in some cases, the preservation of subscriber information without a warrant.

    In her November 28, 2013 statement on Bill C-13, the outgoing federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart commended the government “for recognizing the gravity of privacy intrusions online, and for proposing action to address the issue of cyberbullying.” She also recognized that “law enforcement authorities need up-to-date tools to fight online crime at a time of when technologies are changing rapidly” and that this must be done in a way that respects Canadians’ fundamental right to privacy.

    It is true that the Criminal Code already includes some offences that can address bullying behaviour when it rises to the level of criminal conduct. However, these offences have not been updated to reflect their commission through the use of modern technologies (e.g., subsection 372 (2) Indecent telephone calls) and they do not address the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. Bill C-13 proposes to fill these gaps in the criminal law. Updating investigative tools will enable law enforcement to effectively investigate in the face of rapidly evolving technology.

  4. DoJ
    Tell your Conservative masters that it is not needed!
    A girl in BC is already convicted of distributing an intimate image with EXISTING LAWS.

  5. @Department of Justice
    This is not about “intimate” (naked) images. If it were, it would be a civil matter. (Speaking of which, how on earth did copyright infringement – copyright infringement, not assault or robbery – become criminal and not civil?)

    C-13 is not about “updating our current laws”. If it were, it would use stick-or-stone offenses, not verbal bullying (at least the online portion) and distribution of nudie pictures to radically alter privacy online.

    The fact that C-13 encourages ISPs to pro-actively violate their customers and the public’s right to privacy only makes the proposition more offensive since it mocks privacy in the name protecting it. I sympathize with any victim of bullying or harassment, and with anyone who has had revealing (naked) images published without their consent, but I will not give up my right to privacy as consolation. Day-to-day privacy simply matters more than chasing copies. There is no sense of proportion in these proposals. Simply put: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never (at least physically) hurt me. (That goes for copyright too.) None of this should be the subject of criminal law.

    C-13 is about increasing surveillance, plain and simple. The government didn’t get what they wanted with the last try (C-30, AKA “save the children”, AKA Vic Toews’ worst PR move ever) so they re-framed it in the wake of some very public suicides (it’s still “save the children” – so only a monster wouldn’t vote for it). Rather than learning from his predecessors’ failures, Peter MacKay is emulating him.

    Suicide is terrible, but what is even more offensive is seeing these tragically public cases of suicide exploited to promote a bill that eviscerates individuals’ expectations of privacy. Moreover, it is uniquely hypocritical that privacy be dismantled as an official response to such events since it is well known that violations of their privacy played roles in the suicides of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Peters. It is truly a warped sense of justice which is coming from the supposed Minister of it.