HALIFAX — A unique Nova Scotia law aimed at squelching online harassment is being used for the first time to reach beyond Canada’s borders to determine the identity of a cyberbully.
The province’s CyberScan unit said Monday a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge issued an order last week under the province’s new Cyber-safety Act demanding information from Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Canada’s BCE Inc.
“It is the first order in Canada for that purpose,” said Roger Merrick, the province’s director of public safety. “It’s groundbreaking for us.”
The court order is seeking records that could identify the accused cyberbully, including home addresses, email addresses, user names, given names, account names and IP addresses.
The case involves a young woman in Halifax who has recently received threatening and harassing messages from an unknown person or persons accused of hacking her social media accounts, Merrick said.
“I can’t give you too much information for fear of jeopardizing the investigation,” said Merrick, adding that police are also investigating.
The CyberScan unit has yet to hear from any of the companies involved and the process could take months to complete, Merrick said.
He said police routinely issue production orders when seeking information from online sources while investigating criminal matters, including child exploitation cases. If the information sought is found in the United States, police turn to the Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance to guide them.
In this case, the CyberScan unit is relying on civil law procedures.
“This is the first one for us … (and) there may be a different process,” Merrick said, adding there’s no guarantee the companies will recognize the court order. “This is a learning process for us, too.”
The province’s Cyber-safety Act defines cyberbullying as any electronic communication “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.”
The law was drafted after the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, who was taken off life-support in April 2013 after a suicide attempt. The 17-year-old girl’s family says she was subjected to months of bullying, much of it online.
The law received its first test in court in February when a judge imposed a cyberbullying prevention order on a man who used Facebook to threaten the chief of a native band.
Andrea Paul, chief of Pictou Landing First Nation, complained that local resident Christopher George Prosper had used the site to post abusive, obscene and defamatory comments about her and her family.
Judge Heather Robertson of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court concluded Paul had been cyberbullied. She ordered Prosper to remove all messages deemed to be cyberbullying, refrain from contacting Paul and stop cyberbullying.
The unit has the option of seeking orders to confiscate computers, cellphones and other mobile devices. Those who violate orders like the one issued against Prosper can be fined up to $5,000 and face a jail sentence of up to six months.